Blog Tour: LJ Cohen

I’ve never done one of these before, and it sounds like a fun idea. A blog tour! Basically, authors with new releases write up articles or answer questions on other peoples’ blogs. So today we have LJ Cohen, author of the Halcyone Space series (and others. Go check her Amazon site to see if there’s anything in her list that you think looks interesting)

After reading an Advanced Review Copy (ARC) of her latest book, Dreadnought and Shuttle, I decided I’d send her a few questions.

1) There are so many aspects of your books that I enjoy, it’s hard to pick a favourite. From the characters themselves, to the “history” (our future) on Earth, the technology, realistic injuries with interesting lingering symptoms, and fun with physics (I LOVED space billiards in Dreadnought and Shuttle). So my question has to be, what’s your favourite part of your writing?

Wow – thanks! Space billiards was a lot of fun to write. It kept me amused for days. My favorite part of the writing? I think it is in finding the right turns of phrases that fit the characters and their settings. In our everyday language, we use colloquial expressions so often, I suspect we are nearly blind to them. I know I am. In writing dialogue and close point of view narration, I would find myself relying on those expressions: needle in a haystack, cat and mouse game, throw someone under the bus. But those aren’t anything relevant to the future world of Halyone Space or my characters’ lived experiences. So I needed to find the day to day expressions they would use. Someone might get ‘thrown under the afterburners’ for example.

Dev – being a planet-sider – often says ‘what in the world. . .’ or ‘what on Earth. . .’, where Micah, being a spacer, rarely if ever uses ‘Earth’ in his turns of phrases. He’s more likely to say ‘what in the cosmos . . .’ instead. It’s those little things that I really enjoy layering in my writing.

2) Ro and Barre both play important roles as Halcyone’s “accidental crew.” We see each of them deal with different issues, and both feel necessary on board. Let’s say disaster strikes, and only one of them is available to pilot Halcyone out of trouble. In your opinion, which one of them is more vital to the safety of the ship and crew, and why?

That’s a really great question! Especially since it is relevant to the story line in book 4. (No spoilers!) As much as Ro would be angry with me for saying this, I think Barre would be the pilot Halcyone herself would choose. While Ro is the coder/hacker/engineer and it’s her code mods that brought Halcyone back to life, Barre’s relationship with the AI has evolved into a close partnership that Ro really doesn’t understand. To her, computers – even ones a sophisticated and with complex personalities like Halcyone – are not beings. Barre sees Halcyone as a fellow crew member more than as the ship’s computer. And with his growing skill at communicating with her directly through his neural, I suspect he and Halcyone would make quite a team.

3) If humanity was to create a moon base, or Mars base, in our lifetime, would you like to get off world?

Yes. It has been a dream of mine since the time I was a child. I believe I have the skills to be valuable to a colony, but unless biotech comes up with the ability to turn back the clock and lengthen my telomeres, I suspect I’d be too old to be considered.

4) You paint a pretty bleak picture of Earth. How likely do you think it is that Earth will suffer the way you depict it?

Unfortunately, all too likely.

I’ve experienced some of the effects of sea level rise in the increasing number and severity of storms on the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland. My in-laws live on the Eastern Shore. They’ve already lost their home once to a storm. It seems like higher storm surges are now the new normal. I suspect their property will be scoured clean and taken by the sea sometime in the next decade or so. Same thing is happening in Cape Cod in Massachusetts, along with so many other coastal areas.

And I extrapolated from some of what happened during Hurricane Katrina and Super Storm Sandy combined with the increasing permanence of refugee camps all around the globe due to military conflicts. It didn’t feel like such a big push to get to the settlements I described in DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE.

5) I’m always interested in what inspires authors. What is your writing process? Is there anyone in particular who inspires you?

I spend a lot of time listening to NPR (National Public Radio in the US) and particularly love the stories they do on science and technology. I also love TED talks as a source of inspiration. Stories about the crew of the International Space Station are hugely inspiring as well. I loved the recent photo of the astronaut with a “don’t panic” towel in honor of Douglas Adams and Towel Day. The fact that so many of the astronauts are huge SF geeks makes me happy.

My writing process probably looks really boring from the outside! When I’m drafting a novel, I set a goal of 1,000 words a day and hope to average 5,000 words a week. I write on an old laptop that will need to be replaced soon. A lot of the letters are worn off the keyboard and it’s running Windows 7. I use a program called y-Writer which lets me break down the story into chapters and scenes. And I start at the beginning and keep going until the end. I know there are writers who can easily write out of chronological order, but that’s not something that works for me. My brain is stubbornly linear.

I struggle with keeping my focus single-tasked on the writing, especially when I hit road blocks in the story and to be perfectly honest, I waste a lot of time on the internet. But I still am able to finish a solid first draft of a full novel in about 5 months on average.

6) I look forward to reading more adventures in your galaxy! Any idea how many books there will be in total?

I’m planning on 5 books for this story arc. However, it’s a big universe and I suspect there may be other stories set there. I have an idea for a story about a freighter pilot in the period right after wormholes were discovered and just as hostilities are starting to break out between the colonies and the Commonwealth – forty-five years or so before the events in DERELICT. I’m not sure yet if that will be a series of short stories or a full novel.  

7) Where can people find you and your books?

The best place to find up-to-date links to all my books and where they are available is on my website: http://www.ljcohen.net

I’m fairly active on Google+, less so on Twitter and Facebook

Currently, all my novels are available on Amazon for kindle. Some are also available more widely. As I don’t use DRM (digital rights management) in any of my work, if you buy it in one format and need it in another, it can be converted. I am also happy to furnish the format of the reader’s choice.

Thank you for inviting me on your blog!