Saturday, June 27, 2015

Happy Book Birthday ITHAKA RISING!

Cover art copyright 2015, Chris Howard

Happy Book Birthday to ITHAKA RISING!

One year ago, DERELICT burst into the world, fueled by incredible luck and timing, and hit the best seller lists on Amazon. What started with a junked spaceship and a computer programmer driven to escape her abusive father continues in ITHAKA RISING, book 2 of Halcyone Space:

A derelict ship and a splintered crew are not the rewards Ro had hoped for when she helped disrupt her father's plans to start a war with smuggled weapons. But with the responsibilities of full Commonwealth citizenship and limited resources, she is forced to take her father's place working as an engineer on Daedalus station while she and Barre try to repair their damaged freighter, Halcyone. Barre's brother, Jem, is struggling with the disabling effects of his head injury, unable to read or code. His only hope is to obtain a neural implant, but the specialists determine he is too young and his brain damage too extensive.

When Jem disappears, his trail dead ends at the black market. Ro and Barre race to locate Jem before he sells his future, risking his mind for an illegal neural implant. But they're not the only ones looking for "The Underworld" and its rogue planet, Ithaka. What they find endangers more than just the three of them and forces them to confront a very different truth about the war they believed was ancient history.

I would be pretending a degree of cool and calm I really don't have if I said I wasn't concerned about the book release. All my writerly insecurities have come out to play, in force. They try to tell me that DERELICT was a fluke. That ITHAKA RISING can't possibly enjoy the same success. That I was foolish to believe I had any sort of traction in the marketplace. That I'm a poser and a fraud and an asteroid will strike our house and velociraptors will eat my dogs.

Catastrophize much?

Imposter syndrome, I am in you.

The thing is, this happens every single time I put a project out into the world. It probably will always be the case. The blessing/curse of being an artist is that intense sensitivity to both the highs and lows of the creative life.

A book release is both at the same time: the high of seeing a project through from the wisp of an idea to a complete reality. The low of the fear that this intense work no longer is under your control. When I look back through the past year of creating ITHAKA RISING, I can honestly say I am proud of the work I put in. And I am honored to be sharing these characters and their story with you.

Jem shut his eyes tight, hoping the meds would ease the symptoms. Passengers were encouraged to fixate on a still point in the distance during a jump. The display screens helped by projecting a simple vista with parallel lines, like a forest, or monorail tracks. Something that gave a geometric reference helped the strange wobbly feeling that jumpers experienced from being slightly out of temporal phase. But Jem knew that trying to stare straight ahead would only make things worse for him.

It was like he was jumping all the time, his body at war with the signals from his brain and his eyes and ears. The times he had jumped since his injury were miserable. He braced himself. The ship spiraled into the wormhole. Colors swam across his eyelids. A star-scape sparkled through his mind. His vertigo surged and he lost all sense of his own boundaries. Jem knew that it was impossible for his body to actually turn inside out, but that’s what it felt like. Nothing held. There was no up or down, no stable gravity. His thoughts fractured into a thousand glass shards.

The memory of his latest consult replayed like a vid with a sync glitch between visual and audio tracks. After his parents had left the room, Jem asked the question that had been burning in him for weeks. The doctor’s mouth moved and then her answer hung in the air, the sound cycling in frequency from low to high, from slow to fast. “I’m afraid you’re far too young. And even if you weren’t, the damage may be too great for your brain to integrate the implant. I’m sorry.”





The word melted. The colors behind Jem’s eyes flared brighter and brighter, melding to a white that seared his vision.

Pain blossomed in the space the colors left behind.

After what seemed like an eternity, his body coalesced back onto the cushioned berth. The all-clear sounded.

One jump down. Two to go.

ITHAKA RISING is available in all eBook formats and as a trade paperback and can be purchased at all major online retail outlets.

Google Play
(BN forthcoming)
Paperback (Amazon)

Signed paperbacks are available. Please contact me via email. (


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

This is how I begin

And the winners of the giveaway for the foldable white board ("RGFT" is what it's called!) are ET Anthony, JS Rowe (who had to leave her comment on the G+ thread b/c blogger was acting up), and Charley Sumner. Congrats! When you have a chance, email me: lisa at ljcohen dot net with your snail mail addresses so I can send out your prize!

Brainstorming from ITHAKA RISING
Someone today asked me about my writing process. So I thought I'd go through some of what I do and how I do it. The caveat here is that this is not THE way. It's just ONE way.

And it's not the only process I use. But it's basically the one I've used for my last several novels.

It starts with my version of the old board game Clue. Only, instead of Miss Scarlet in the Drawing Room with a Candlestick, I have a character in a situation with a problem.

In a short story, that will be all that I need to get the piece moving, and more than enough. For a novel, especially one with a sweeping story and multiple points of view, I may have this basic premise worked out for each character.

  • Jem, who needs a neural implant, but who can't get one because he's too young and the risks of putting one in a head injured patient are too great.
  • Ro, stuck back on Daedalus without resources, and a ship with a broken jump drive she can't fix.
  • Barre, playing second fiddle (see what I did there? LOL) to Ro, struggling to figure out what he does next, now that he's a full citizen and estranged from his family. 

Nomi and Micah were part of the story, as well, but they didn't have clearly defined roles and problems when I was doing the initial brainstorming.

The next step was to figure out what drove the story and how all three of these characters' issues would intersect and complicate one another. 

So I had Jem run away and contact the black market to obtain an illegal neural. Barre (his brother) is desperate to find Jem, and the ship Barre and Ro operate is broken.

Now, all of those are internal conflicts, and I had a larger, overarching story to tell about the political situation in the Commonwealth and how unresolved events from the war 40 years ago complicate the present day. So in my brainstorming, I tied the problems with the ship's jump drive to an old spacer's tale about a missing planet. And I started sketching out some of the history of the Commonwealth and the initial diaspora from Earth that set up colonies, tightly controlled by Earth's multinationals. Then I created a conflict that was essentially the Revolutionary War, except that in this war, the colonies lost.

Once I had those basics, it was a matter of tying the macro story to the micro, and getting Ro, Nomi, Barre, Jem, and Micah tangled up in still-simmering 40-year-old conflicts.

From that, I start to put together a draft of what will be the back cover blurb. Yes, it seems completely backwards, but having a 10,000 foot view of the story keeps me on track.

When Jem Durbin disappears, his trail dead ends at the black market. Ro Maldonado and Jem's brother, Barre, race to fix their derelict ship, desperate to locate Jem before he sells his future, risking his mind for an illegal neural implant. But they're not the only ones looking for "The Underworld" and its rogue planet, Ithaka. What they find endangers more than just the three of them and forces them to confront a very different truth about the war they believed was ancient history.

Some of the mechanics of how I use the portable/foldable whiteboard pictured in the image above:

I create a column for each main character and enter their starting place and their main goal On the back, are columns for world building and history. Every time I had an idea that intersected with the story somehow, I jotted it down on a relevant spot on the board.

I don't formally outline before I start writing. But I do think of the story broadly in quartiles. Having a starting place and an initial problem(s) gives me my opening scenes and the first 25% of the story. From there, I do very broad brush outlining and write additional scenes to connect the dots. While I may not know all the way points in a plot, I do know the basic shape of the ending, and by continually assessing what's missing between where I happen to be and the end allows me to fill in the gaps.

Make no mistake, this is not a simple process. There were places where I backtrack, places where I wanted to throw my laptop out the window and ragequit the story. I did find that having the whiteboard as a touchstone and a brainstorming device kept me on track. And bonus points because it's portable.

When I bought these, I bought a bunch of them and I have several in my office. If you'd like a chance at having one of these foldable white boards, leave a comment either about your writing process or a question about my process. On Friday, June 26, midnight EST I'll pick three random winners and announce it on Saturday, in honor of the official release of ITHAKA RISING. Giveaway is open to anyone. 


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Shloshim (a poem)

How long must I count shloshim? I buried
my father twenty-one days ago. In a week
I would have unpinned the torn, black ribbon
for one final time. But every day, the clock
begins anew. Fresh grief winds up
the old. Nine new names to stand for
and recite kaddish. Each one, someone's
beloved. The rituals of loss bring no rest
to the dead. The living bring casseroles, prayers,
and pie to the funeral table. I mean no disrespect--
not to the nine lost to hatred, not to their families,
joined in their death. I don't know what else
to do so I recite Hebrew words I barely read,
transliterated into helpful English. They bring me
a small comfort as I look around at the other
congregants, men and women gathered
here on an early Friday morning so I can publicly
mourn my father. A minyan. One mourner and nine
others. One life for each of the lost. Our little
chapel has no locked doors. Evil could sit here
invisible among us, too, leaving the stricken
survivors to start the count again. 
--LJ Cohen, June 20, 2015

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Audiobook Giveaway!

Win one of 5 copies of DERELICT's audiobook - valued at $24.95,
no purchase necessary. 10+ hours of audio entertainment!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

You can enter more than once, depending on the entry you choose. Click on the relevant way to enter, follow the prompts. Rafflecopter will do the rest. Giveaway 'live' between now and June 21st. If you have any questions, please ask them in the comments below. Good luck!