Mosaic progress

Since we are no longer renting but own our own house I can DO STUFF. Current project is to turn the concrete backyard into something a bit more lively. Mosaic in progress. Just applied grout. Tomorrow, I’ll polish it off.

Writing progress: The Strange is on the go again :)

At last, I have news on the writing front.  After months in the planning-mines, hacking away, I have started writing again on The Strange,  third book in the Babylon Eye series. I have deleted more than 16 000 words, and written more than 20 000 new ones. Things are looking much better. New things that have appeared in the story: a locomotive-beast, and a viral lathe.  Things that haven’t changed: Isabeau is just as prone to getting into trouble, although she thinks she’s much more sensible now. Meisje the cyber dog has a much more active role now too, she’s no longer just following orders. After all, Elke is in deadly danger!

(On another note, my next book will contain only characters who can speak. Writing non-speaking dog characters has been interesting but frustrating)

Day Zero Diary: Rite of spring

Today I became one of the thousands of Capetonians who queue at a spring for water.

This one is not very popular, as it’s very slow. You have to wait for ages while your bottle fills. Also, I didn’t realise that you need a hose to siphon the water down from the little pool where it gathers. Luckily a kind man let me use his.

It’s hot. Cicadas sizzling. Waiting your turn, watching wasps and butterflies enjoying the spilled bits of water.

Day Zero diary: Waterwise living in Cape Town

There’s one topic on everyone’s mind in Cape Town at the moment: the fact that we’re running out of water. I started changing my water habits  more than a year ago, since the second half of 2016, so I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned so far.

I’m middle class and can afford to do things like install a rainwater tank. I live in a house and I have my own car, so I’m fortunate to be able to do many of the things listed below. I don’t have children and I work from home, which makes saving water much easier. On the other hand, I do have a limited income. Boreholes and RO filter systems are out of my reach. My plans won’t suit everybody, but hopefully something in this post will help somebody else out there who’s in the same position.

Warning: bodily fluids and  bodily functions get discussed, so if that’s not your thing, maybe don’t read this post 🙂

What are your priorities?

The big lesson I’ve learned is that I had to change how I thought about water. Without clear priorities it’s hard to make decisions, and I go into a mental tailspin. The drought is outside of my control and I had to learn to accept the things that I can’t change, and focus on the things I can control.

My priorities, in order of importance, are:

1) Don’t get sick, or put other people’s health at risk.

2) Don’t damage the environment (really part of number one, if you think about it).

3) To be sensible about money.

4) Find ways to keep myself happy, ward off fear, depression and anxiety.

Reducing the amount of water you use can be profoundly challenging. It means you have to face deeply seated fears and prejudices. For example, hygiene is important, right? But hygiene doesn’t mean keeping clean and fresh and smelling like a rose. It means preventing the spread of bacteria, viruses, molds, things that can make people sick.

Smelling sweaty doesn’t make you sick. Neither does having greasy hair. Having a bathroom that smells a bit of urine also doesn’t make you sick.

On the other hand, being sweaty, greasy, and dealing with stinks does impact on my number 4 priority, which is staying happy. Because of this I find ways to stay as clean as I can and keep my environment as pleasant as I can, using the absolute minimum of water.

Getting water

We use three sources of water. Municipal water, grey water, and rainwater. Since we use the absolute bare minimum of municipal water, we have very little grey water as a result. For this reason rainwater is an important part of our plan. We are fortunate to live in a house with a roof and gutters. When it does rain (not often these days!) we can harvest and store the water. I spend a lot of time looking at the weather forecasts 🙂

This little rainy cloud icon is now my favourite image.

 Water tanks are expensive and they are hard to get hold of as the high demand has created waiting lists. Apart from our 1000 litre Nell tank, which is what we have space for and could afford, we have also installed 120 l bins on each of our gutter down pipes.

This was the cheapest way we could find to catch the most water. B installed a tap in each bin, made of irrigation components. The bins are raised on concrete blocks so that it’s easy to put a bucket under the tap.

There’s a hole in the lid so that the pipe can go right down into the bin.


Challenges for the future: cleaning the rain water. We have a first flush diverter on our 1000 liter tank so that the dust, bird poop and pollution that has settled on our roof doesn’t go directly into the tank, but the water is still not very clean.  When it rains after a long break, the water is murky and yellow. At the moment the plan is to use this water for flushing the toilet, washing clothes, etc. But we might need to find a way to filter it for drinking.

Storing and carrying water

I bought a couple more of the 120 l bins pictured below and use those for storing water that overflows out of the gutter bins. That means a certain amount of running around with buckets. We plan to connect these together with overflow pipes so that won’t be necessary any longer. These aren’t the best value for money-per-liter storage, but at the time the bigger barrels were either not available, or too expensive.

Our plastic jerry cans can be a pain to pour with, as they only have one handle and no air hole. One handle makes it awkward to hold a heavy can full of water as you’re pouring it, and you can easily hurt your back. The absence of an airhole means it’s hard to pour without splashing and spilling.  Air flows into the container to replace the water that is pouring out of it, and if the only opening for the air is the one the water is flowing out of, this creates turbulence. The water gurgles and gouts rather than pouring smoothly.

The solution is to make a small hole or two, no bigger than about 2 mm wide. This is enough to allow air into the container while water is pouring out of it. Work carefully and slowly when making the hole so as not to crack the plastic.

For the handle, tie some strapping around the container and secure with gaffer tape. It doesn’t look pretty, but it’s lasted surprisingly well, and makes it much easier to handle the can.

We also found that this “blue chem” pool sand extractor pump works great to get the last little bit of water out of the bath and bucket. Scooping gets old quickly, and it scratches the bath too.  This pump works like a big syringe, drawing about 2 liters of water into its body, and then letting you squirt it out into a bucket. It saves your back, although it gives a good arm and shoulder workout, accompanied by a jolly farting sound as you push the water out.

Toilet: yellow, brown and red.

Up to now we’ve been flushing the toilet with grey water from washing ourselves, our clothes and our dishes,  as well as rainwater. Of these, dish and clothes water is by far the stinkiest and dirtiest. You can’t really store it, especially in warm weather. More on that later.

Everybody knows the mantra of “if it’s yellow, let it mellow, and if it’s brown, flush it down”. Flushing less means using less water. But it’s really not ideal to have your pee sit in the toilet bowl for hours. While various enzyme products and vinegar certainly help, you do end up with a stinky bathroom. Not the worst thing in the world, but it impacts on my priority number 4, happiness!  And what about when you get your period? What are you supposed to do “when it’s red” ?

These days, we pee in containers and pour our pee down the drain outside. When we have a bit of excess greywater we use it to dilute some pee and pour it on our plants: excellent fertiliser. I wish I could use neat pee on the plants, but apparently that will eventually kill them. Sometimes I’ll pour a little bit of vinegar or Pro Bio septic tank stuff down the drain to keep it from stinking.

What do I pee into, you ask? Men can use bottles, but what about women? Squatting over a bucket is not ideal. Well, I use a oval one liter yogurt container of the Pick & Pay brand. It’s the perfect shape (narrow to fit between the thighs) and has a tight fitting lid. Every now and then I flush the container out with a touch of diluted Pro Bio septic tank liquid or vinegar. This also makes having my period much easier, since most of the blood ends up in this neat little plastic container which can be poured separately down the drain.

Another mostly female issue is toilet paper. Women wipe more than men do because of the way we pee, and if you put all that paper in the toilet, without flushing every time, it will soon block up.  Solution: small bin with a lid next to the toilet. All the pee paper goes in there, and gets emptied into a bin outside. Some people apparently burn this paper but I don’t have anywhere I can easily burn things 🙂

I thought this  pee paper bin would stink, but it doesn’t. Empty it frequently, and wipe it out with a bit of vinegar every now and then. We are planning to build a composting toilet, but it’s a challenge when you don’t have a garden.

Washing yourself

One of the great ironies of this drought is that middle class people like me have had to learn how to wash ourselves in the way that is perfectly normal for the majority of South Africans. It’s surprisingly easy to stay clean without using lots of water.  You don’t need to wash yourself every day, just sponge armpits and crotch as needed.

I know that not many people will want to do this, but one of the best ways I’ve found to save water is to buzz-cut my hair very short. I feel cleaner, look neater, and don’t need to use liters of water keeping my hair clean.

Once every 3 or 4 days, I  wash myself and my hair thoroughly in about 5 liters of water. I use a small plastic tub with clean water to start with, and stand in a large plastic tub to catch the water that runs off me as I wash. A sponge works well to soak up clean water and squeeze it out over myself.  Another pro-tip: I use body lotion instead of soap. It works the same as soap as far as cleaning goes. In fact, people who are allergic to soap wash themselves like this all the time. The reason this saves water is that, unlike soap, it’s not harsh on your skin. It’s not absolutely crucial to rinse of every speck of body lotion, although I find that it rinses off easily in any case.

When I’m clean I apply my mixture of  scented cream, a scoop of aqueous cream with a tiny, tiny smidge of clove oil and a drop of essential oil. An oil that smells nice, like rose geranium or mandarin. The practical reason for this is that the clove oil kills bacteria, and works well as a deodorant. The other reason is that it smells good and makes me happy.  Clove oil by itself is nasty stuff and can burn you, so make sure it’s well diluted.

I also indulged and bought myself plastic bowls and sponges in attractive colours. It was a cheap way to lift my mood. A little bowl in every wash basin helps catch all those little trickles of water as you rinse your toothbrush, or your hands.

Washing clothes

We only wash our clothes when they are truly dirty. This means hanging them out to air and wearing things more than once. Another trick is to freeze sweaty garments for at least 24 hours in a ziplock bag. This kills the smell-causing bacteria and means you can wear it at least once more. Freezing B’s t shirts has means that we now do our laundry only once every 2 weeks, instead of once a week.  This is a big saving of water, as our machine uses about 60 liters for a wash.

Using the right detergent is important too. For some reason our front loader machine produces very dirty water that gets stinky very quickly, if you’re catching it in a bucket and intend to use it to flush the toilet, like we do. Washing our clothes in Pro Bac detergent (pictured above) helps, as it has the necessary enzymes and probiotics to deal with the stink-causing bacteria, and it means the water can stand for a bit longer before it smells like the thing from the black lagoon. Pro Bac is also not harmful to the environment, so I’m fulfilling my first two priorities, health and environmental sustainability.

I’ve experimented with using rain and grey water in our front loading washing machine. Perfectly possible. I just pour it into the soap dispenser until the pump stops going and the washing cycle starts. It does mean hanging around to fill the machine again between rinses, but I have a plan about that too…watch this space 🙂

Washing dishes.

Washing dishes only once a day means piles of dirty things attracting flies. To prevent that, I pile everything into a container with a lid.  This container doesn’t only stop the flies, but it is also such a pretty colour that gives me shock of colour-happiness every time I see it.

We also have a furry pre-dishwashing machine called Pippin.

It’s a hard job, but he’s up for the challenge! Once he’s cleaned out all the juices and bits, it means I can give the dishes a thorough wash with soap and water without the water getting quite so dirty quite so quickly.

Dishes get washed in a plastic bowl that fits inside the sink so that none of the water goes down the drain, and we can use it to flush the toilet. Remember to check the murky water for lurking teaspoons. There’s something profoundly disturbing about having to fish cutlery out of your toilet.

Dishes get rinsed in another plastic bowl. These bowls get greasy and dirty, and that can be a health hazard. I pop the bowls, along with the washing up sponge, into the microwave and zap them for a minute or so to kill any bacteria. I also wipe the bowls out with…wait for it…vinegar. This also keeps the flies away.  Also notice the Pro Bac dishwashing liquid.  Using this means that I can use the greywater from washing dishes to water my plants.

Dish water can be very dirty. You can’t really keep it for more than a few hours before it becomes a stinky, oily, bacterial soup. Water that’s too dirty for the toilet (it does happen!) goes onto our plants.

Once we no longer have municipal water, we’ll have to find other ways to deal with dirty dishes. Eating straight out of the pot, maybe? I don’t want to use paper plates if I can avoid it. I don’t have a place I can burn them, and I don’t like the idea of adding to the pollution level.  I’ve already started thinking about what food to buy and cook. It’s ironic that the very foods that are easy to store in bulk, like rice, pasta, and oats, are also the ones that need the most water to cook.

So that’s the most important lessons I’ve learned so far. I hope somebody finds this useful.

Now, all we can do is wait to see what happens and try not to get too worried about this situation. Best thing: I found a beautiful place nearby our house where I can walk Pippin, surrounded with water 🙂


Just a note: I moderate comments here very closely. This is not a free-speech zone. I will delete any comment that isn’t kind, helpful, or positive.



Update: writing progress

Some of you have read my books The Babylon Eye and The Real and are waiting for the third in the series, which I’m planning to call The Strange. But things are not going so well. Usually by this time of year, I’m finished with the first draft and deep into re-writing. This time, not so much.
I’ve never had so much trouble with a book before and I think I’ve finally figured out why. I don’t think this is one book. I can’t seem to compress the story into a single volume. There’s just too much going on. I’ve been frustrating myself in trying to find a way to bring the story to a conclusion, when it actually needs to play itself out.

What’s probably going to happens is that either The Strange is going to be much longer than the first two, or its going to be two books (“Strange” and “Stranger”?). Either way, my dreams of launching early next year have evaporated.

For those of you who have read the first two books, I can let you know that Meisje the cyber-dog gets her own point of view again like she does in the first book, Elke gets a whole new love interest who might actually be a nice person for a change, and of course, we see quite a lot more of the Strange world.

Launching soon: “The Real”

If you are in Cape Town on the 16th of February, come to the launch of The Real, the sequel to The Babylon Eye. We’ll be at The Field Office coffee shop, 34 Salisbury Road, on Thursday 16 February at 6pm.  My other novels will be available, including The Babylon Eye (in print for the first time) and a discount will be given to anyone who has purchased either The Real or The Babylon Eye in e-book.

Book description:

The Muara. A ruined sea-side resort, shattered by the weather, buried in sand. Three children scavenge a living on the abandoned beaches and in the sand-swamped houses. This is their home and its desolation is their security…but their safety is an illusion. 
Under the sands of the Muara, in an underground room, is a secret that could destroy them and everything they know.




The layers of language in The Babylon Eye

Several people who’ve read The Babylon Eye have asked about the languages used in the book. I put quite a lot of thought and research into that aspect of the world building. This explanation of my process will probably make more sense if you’ve read the book!

I wonder how many readers picked up on the fact that while the book is written in English it is really, as it were, translated from whatever language the characters in this alternate world actually speak. They never refer to their own language as English. One clue is that every now and then one of them will consider another character to be rather “anglo”, suggesting that they don’t think of themselves as anglophone. This is my own private joke, as I have an allergy to people who think of English as the default language, and consider all other languages to be foreign, no matter the country or context.

I decided early on in the planning process that the world I was creating would be very similar to ours but that its history would have some significant differences. These differences don’t have a direct impact on the plot but they do shape the world and especially the names and words used.

For example in the world of the book, Germany  won the First World War and the United States doesn’t exist, being a collection of smaller countries. The Second World War never happened and  at the time the story is set in, Prussia is still one of the dominant powers although some of the American countries have been gaining influence over the last decades.

Closer to home, South Africa (called Nieu Batavia in this world) was never a British colony but stayed Dutch until it gained its independence. This had an impact on the names of places and people.  The character names tend to be Dutch or Germanic rather than British, for example the main character Elke is diminutive of Adelheid which is a German name and her surname is Dutch. Some of the place names are Malay (this is more apparent in the second book, The Real). Dutch titles like mejuffrou (which means miss) and meinheer (the equivalent of mister) are used for ordinary people, while the high status Prussian characters retain their German “Frau” and “Herr”.

The names for the different castes of Strangers, (the people from the other world), are all words that mean “ghost”. Geist is Germanic, glim is middle English and eidolon is Greek.  This suggests that these terms were chosen by people from our own world rather than being official strangeworld titles, probably chosen to match some the unpronounceable strangeworld equivalents.

The first Strangers who contacted people from our world used a form of Latin. This is a clue that there must have been contact between the worlds before, and that the Strangers’ culture is not utterly alien to our own. Of course, Latin wasn’t necessarily their mother tongue, but a bridging language they knew we would be able to understand. Many of the names of things in the Eye itself are influenced by Latin, for example the dexter and sinister states of the Eye, and the soluster, the chandelier-like light that lights up the main levels of the Babylon Eye. Even the cubbies, the tiny living quarters of most of the population of the Eye, is rooted in the Latin word cubile.

On the other hand, the slang and the swearwords used by the working people in the Eye is a little different. For that I mixed in a lot of Polish, Zulu, Afrikaans, Russian and Spanish, based on the idea that the mechanics, cleaners, drivers and other workers would have come from all over the world.  Since the Eye has quite a communal culture and was, originally at least, to have a open and non-hierarchical structure, the working people had a say in the running of the Eye and its customs. This is reflected in the official terminology. For example the court, the body that is responsible for hearing legal cases, is called a “stolik” which is the Polish world for “table”.

The names people call themselves differ from what other people call them and reflect their status. The lowest of the Stranger castes, the untattoed ones, are called “weeds” and “blanks” and other rude names by those who shun them, but they refer to themselves as Fugado, the fugitives. Using “blanks” (in this context, referring to somebody without tattoos to signal their status) as a insult was another in-joke, a play on “blanke”, a term which has a completely different meaning in Afrikaans, being a term for a white person and which is not usually considered and insult.

I could go on! There is so much more. I’m busy with the third book in the series now and have a whole new universe of titles, place-names and slang to figure out. I’ve been digging around in Somalian, Arabic, Assyrian, Yiddish, and some of the other ancient languages for inspiration. Only a small part of this shows in the finished book, of course, but I hope that it helps to make the world feel richer and more real.

Not Chlorr of the Mask

I made a small mask-face that started out inspired by Garth Nix’s character “Chlorr of the Mask” who features in his Old Kingdom series. Although it started out as Chlorr, it ended up not looking like her at all, so for the moment, it’s nameless 🙂


I started with Super Sculpey firm polymer clay with some cowrie shells for eyes…


Worked a bit more…


And a bit more…


Painted with acrylic…


Added gold and aluminium foil…


…and quite a lot of hair.


The Babylon Eye is launched!

A cyber-dog, lost in the void between worlds. The woman who must find the dog to win back her  freedom. A spy’s betrayal that could kill them both.

It’s alive! The first book in my new “Linked Worlds” series, The Babylon Eye has been published and is available from Amazon.  I’ve dropped the launch price to $0.99 for the first three days 🙂  It’s the first book of a three-part series. I wrote The Babylon Eye in 2015 and have just finished writing the sequel, The Real. I plan to publish The Real in February 2017.


The Babylon Eye is a science fiction novel set in Cape Town, South Africa, where technology from an alternate world is used to create cyber-beings and bio-mechanical hybrids. Access to the other world is through the Babylon Eye, a space-station-like town that exists in the void between the worlds.

The story follows Elke Veraart, a prisoner who used to be a member of a vigilante group that protected rhinos and other endangered animals from poachers. Before she was imprisoned, Elke was a talented trainer of gardags, cybernetically enhanced attack dogs. Elke is offered a deal. One of the most advanced gardags is missing, and presumed to be lost in the Babylon Eye. If she can find this creature, her prison sentence will be commuted and shell be win back her freedom. But Elke soon realises there are other hunters on the gardag’s trail, and they’re willing to kill to protect their secrets.

You can buy the ebook version of The Babylon Eye here.  The print edition will be published early in February 2017.

Cover Reveal: The Babylon Eye!

Everything’s ready for The Babylon Eye launch, including the final cover design. Here it is:


The Babylon Eye is a science fiction novel set in an alternate version of Cape Town, South Africa, a world in which the divisions between nature and technology are blurred. The setting, the Babylon Eye, is a  town set in the portal between two worlds. The technologies of both worlds combine to create cyber-beings and bio-mechanical hybrids.

And what is the story about? Here is the description:

Meisje is no ordinary dog. She’s a gardag, a cybernetically enhanced living weapon. She’s also lost, hungry, and lonely. Elke Veraart is on Meisje’s trail. If she can find the dog she’ll win back her own freedom. If she fails she’ll be sent back to prison.

As she closes in on the gardag, Elke finds her admiration for Meisje growing. And Meisje, weak with hunger, begins to wonder if she could trust the woman who is hunting her. Then Elke discovers that there are other hunters searching for the gardag and that her orders have changed. She no longer has to find Meisje. She has to kill her.

If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published, you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

The Babylon Eye Cover: discarded designs

I don’t think I’ve ever gone through so many different versions when designing a book cover! The Babylon Eye went through quite a few look and title changes.  Since I’ll soon be doing the cover reveal for this book, I thought I’d share some of the discarded designs. Keep in mind that the look of the design isn’t the only criterion, it has to convey the genre, set up reader expectations for the tone of the book and also be adaptable enough so that it’s possible to make tie in the sequel’s cover.

First attempt: at this stage the title was just Babylon Eye (no “The”) The dog is too flat and a bit clumsily drawn. Also not to sure of that title typeface!


In the next one the dog’s pose was inspired by the Persian bull mosaics from the Ishtar gate (there’s an Ishtar gate in the story).  The main problem with this design is that it doesn’t really convey that the book is science fiction.



Something completely different for the next one. I’m not very fond of books that show the characters on the cover myself, but it’s a popular look. But my attempt doesn’t really work. It hovers uneasily between a sort of children’s book look, and something a bit more serious. I also really don’t like the fake plasticy gold of the title.  And Meisje (the dog) looks a too goofy!


At this stage I was spinning my wheels and trying out different titles. The ghostly author name in the top left is not intentional!


My next idea was to focus on the main character. Yet again, a title change.  This isn’t too bad but it doesn’t feel right for this particular book. I liked the typefaces though.


And after many more attempts, I ended up with my final design and title. Watch this space for my cover reveal 🙂

If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

The Babylon Eye ready to launch…

My next book, The Babylon Eye, is about to be published. It’s something a little different for me, science fiction set in alternate world South Africa.  I had a lot of fun with it. The main character is my age for a change.  It’s been interesting writing about a woman in her forties. Her age means that there’s space for her to have had a complicated and rich past life before the story even begins, something that’s not always possible with a teenage protagonist.

For the past few weeks I’ve been focusing on the print and ebook formatting. It’s a finicky process but I do enjoy it, although it does bring out my obsessive streak. Choosing the exact right symbol for the text separator took my much longer than I’d like to admit 🙂


If you’d like to be notified when The Babylon Eye is published, you can sign up for my mailing list. I only use it when I launch a book (about once a year) so you won’t be inundated with emails 🙂

Writing Update

I’ve just completed another two book series which I hope to publish in the last half of 2016. This is something new for me: science fiction set in alternate world Southern Africa, and nothing to do with Crooks & Straights or any of my other books. The series title is “The Babylon Eye” but I have not finalized the titles for each of the books yet. Here is a description of the first book:

Meisje is no ordinary dog. She’s a gardag, a cybernetically enhanced, living weapon. She’s also lost, hungry, and lonely.

Elke Veraart is on Meisje’s trail. If she can find the dog she’ll win back her own freedom. If she fails she’ll be sent back to prison.

As she closes in on the gardag, Elke finds her admiration for Meisje growing. And Meisje, weak with hunger, begins to wonder if she could trust the woman who is hunting her. Then Elke discovers that there are other hunters searching for the gardag and that her orders have changed. She no longer has to find Meisje. She has to kill her.

I have just started the third book in the “Babylon Eye” series and don’t have any immediate plans to write more books in the “Special Branch” or “Sisters” series, but you never know! 🙂

If you want to be notified when I launch these books, you can sign up for my New Release Email List 

If you are curious about these new books, here is a link to the visual inspiration for book one and book two.

Meet Science Fiction writer L J Cohen

Today I have a guest! 🙂  Writer L J Cohen has kindly let me interview her. She’s just launched her latest book, DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, book 3 of the Halcyone Space series of science fiction space opera adventures that began with DERELICT and continued with ITHAKA RISING.

Here’s the book description:

When a materials science student gets kidnapped, she’s drawn into a conflict between the young crew of a sentient spaceship, a weapons smuggling ring, and a Commonwealth-wide conspiracy and must escape before her usefulness as a hostage expires. 

Lisa has agreed to give away an ebook copy of one of her books right here on my blog. To participate, leave a comment stating which of her books you’d like, if you win the draw 🙂 We’ll pick a winner in 7 day’s time. (If you don’t know which book to pick, see below! There is a short description of each.)


Do you write for a particular age group? Who is your ideal reader?
When I started writing, I thought of myself as writing YA novels because so many of my protagonists were older teens. But my stories are transitioning to less true coming of age tales than speculative fiction stories that have some young adult characters. My idea reader is a teen or adult who enjoys character-based adventures in fantasy or futuristic settings. Given the emotional stakes, I wouldn’t recommend most of my books to readers younger than 12, even if they are strong readers, though that is something I leave up to parents/guardians to decide.

Which of your books would you recommend a reader should start with? What is it about?
By the time this gets posted, I will have six novels published. There are three possible entry points to my work: the standalone urban fantasy FUTURE TENSE, THE BETWEEN, book 1 of my fantasy/fae changeling series (Changeling’s Choice), or DERELICT, book 1 of my SF/Space Opera series (Halcyone Space). However, I do attempt to write my series novels in such a way that readers can start anywhere and still have a fully enjoyable experience.

In FUTURE TENSE, a 17 year old foster kid struggles to keep the people around him safe from the danger he glimpses in his prescient visions. THE BETWEEN is the story of what happens when Oberon and Titania pick the wrong changeling to become a pawn in their war and that young girl clings to her stubborn humanity. In DERELICT, a group of teens stranded on a sentient spaceship must work together or risk being killed when the ship’s AI wakes believing it’s still fighting the war that damaged it decades ago.

(You can find all of these books at Lisa’s Amazon Author page)

What qualities do you like using in your characters?
That’s a good question! I like to give my characters traits that have both positive and negative features. For example, Ro Maldonado, the main character in DERELICT and Lydia Hawthorne, the main character in THE BETWEEN both have the traits of stubbornness/persistence. Depending on circumstances, this is either a good thing or a very bad thing!

Jem Durbin, also from the Halcyone Space novels, is curious and creative. While he’s great at problem solving, he doesn’t have the maturity to know that sometimes asking questions can be dangerous. It lands him in some very hot water in ITHAKA RISING. Matt Garrison, from FUTURE TENSE has an almost overdeveloped sense of responsibility. While he never runs away from owning his problems, he also doesn’t let himself rely on others or ask for help, which is nearly his undoing.

I think if a character has only positive or negative character traits, it makes for boring reading.

Some people believe that it’s important that a book have a message beyond just the story itself. How do you feel about that?
I don’t think you can avoid imbuing your writing with messages – writing is only partly a conscious process and our subconscious mind is a very tricky bastard. However, I don’t start out trying to embed a particular message in my writing. Do my stories have a message beyond that of the story itself? I’m sure they do. And those messages are probably as much a result of what I put into the story as what the reader reads into it. I do think I have recurrent motifs and themes that show up in all of my work: identity, trust, and choice. Others don’t get to choose your identity. Trust starts with trusting yourself before you can trust others. And choices made out of fear are almost never the right ones. I’d love to know what messages others see in my work.

Is there anything that you have a “chip on the shoulder”about as a writer?
Stories that rely on tricking the reader to work. I hated The Life of Pi. It was beautifully written, immersive, original, and magical. All up to the final chapter where the author basically popped out and said ‘Ha, tricked you. Aren’t I clever?’ It was one of those ‘and it was all a dream’ endings which completely break my trust in the narrative and in the author. I haven’t read a single other word Yan Martell has written.

What are you reading at the moment? Is it any good?
I’m currently reading several manuscripts for critique and can’t name them. The three last published books I read were Aftershock, Rick Wayne’s episode 5 of The Minus Faction (loved it!), James S.A. Coreys’s Abaddon’s Gate (very good), and Audrey Faye’s Grower’s Omen (loved it!).

I’ve come to a place in my leisure reading that if I am not enjoying a story, I stop reading it. Life’s too short and there are too many books out there. And just because I abandon a book, it doesn’t mean it’s not good, just that I didn’t really enjoy it. There is so much subjectivity in what makes a book good and what I love may not be what someone else does.

Thank you for inviting me to your blog!

More about Lisa:

LJ Cohen is a novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. She lives in the Boston area with her family, two dogs, and the occasional international student. DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (book 3 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space), is her sixth novel. LJ is a member of SFWA, Broad Universe, and the Independent Publishers of New England.

Some links to LJ Cohen:

Twitter: @lisajanicecohen


Writing companions

Who says writing is a solitary occupation? Although the birds are much less distracting than Pippin, who keeps lying on my feet, groaning, and accidentally switching the power off at the wall.




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