Saturday, June 24, 2017

Finding my way home, again



I'm sure there are a myriad of reasons why I have been feeling rootless and anxious over the past months. Ultimately the reasons matter less than my reactions to them and while I've made my writing and publishing deadlines this year, it hasn't been without difficulty.

And it has been with the knowledge that I've wasted enormous amounts of time, lost to endless checking of FB, Twitter, and Google Plus.

I've tried more organizational techniques than you can count. They all work to some extent, for a little while and then I'm back to losing time at the screen or looking productive while researching yet another organizational system.

The other day, I pushed myself to go strawberry picking. I had had it on my to do list all week, and finally by Thursday, I had run out of excuses and knew that if I didn't do it that day, it wasn't going to happen this year at all. The season is short and doesn't care about my excuses.

So I drove out to the self-pick farm and spent the morning gathering strawberries in the lovely sunshine, under an intensely blue sky.

By that night, I had dehulled, chopped, and weighed out 3 pound portions of the 12+ pounds I'd picked and readied them to make jam. (One canner's worth is already done, the other packages are in the freezer waiting for their turn.)



What I realized in sinking into the process of making jam is the thing I've missed this year has been simple immersion. Doing one thing with my full concentration and intent. It's what ceramics helps me achieve, and I've only been at the studio sporadically.

Concentration is like a muscle. If it's not exercised, it atrophies. My ability to focus fully as been eroded by the coping strategies I turned to when I was under stress. In the end, they are maladaptive strategies and I need to build in more adaptive, more nurturing ones.

But I have to do it in a way that doesn't feel punitive.

Making endless to do lists haven't helped me in the past. It only makes me feel worse when I don't get to what I know will help.

So I'm just going to use this to remind myself how much better I feel when I take regular walks with the dogs, make jam, spend 10 minutes meditating, read a poem, do a bit of yoga, spend time at the studio, free write.

These are things that help me feel more like me. The doing of them is its own reward.

Today I took a long walk with the dogs in the woods. Aside from the ticks, it was a wonderful day. I found myself breathing in a deep and easy rhythm while sun and shadow made patterns on the trees. As I relaxed more and more, I started thinking about an old writing project that has been stalled for more than a year and came up with a different way of looking at the problem.



This is progress. This is self-care. This is coming home.

#SFWApro



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Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Happy Book Birthday


I have done everything I can to give PARALLAX its best chance for success. The rest is not up to me.



Last night on twitter, I posted a bit about this - how by the time a book is out, it no longer belongs to the author. And let me tell you, that lack of control is terrifying.

Think about it: For the time it takes to draft a novel, the author is the Supreme Being On High. We create worlds out of our imaginations. We literally put words into our characters' mouths and thoughts into their heads.

So forgive me if I find this phase of the process enormously nerve-wracking. 

I wrestle with the hope that PARALLAX will find its readership and be a big success along with the dread that it might not earn out its production expenses. Realistically, I understand that later books in a series never sell as many as the initial books. I just hope I'm in that sweet spot where it will sell enough to keep the series going and perhaps reignite interest in the first books.

There are some wonderful opportunities on the horizon including a partnership with the folks who brought you HerStoryArc in their new F-BOM (Feminist Book of the Month) project.  I'm very excited at the prospect of bringing the Halcyone Space books to a new readership.

But, still I worry. It's the natural habitat of the writer. I'll be anxious about PARALLAX for some time to come, through it's first few weeks of sales, its first reviews. I'll worry that someone doesn't like it. Then I'll worry that no one's talking about it.

While I hate to say this part of it hasn't gotten any easier for me, despite the fact that PARALLAX is my 7th published novel, at least I'm in familiar territory. And that means I can acknowledge the intense emotions and keep moving forward.

I'm already immersed in a new world with new characters on a new project. That's the only antidote I've found to writer's anxiety.

And while I have your attention, let me remind you that PARALLAX is book 4 of Halcyone Space and all 4 books are available widely, wherever ebooks are sold. They are also available in trade paperback editions. You can find links to all purchase venues at www.ljcohen.net.

The novels of Halcyone Space

DERELICT (Halcyone Space, book 1): 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.

ITHAKA RISING (Halcyone Space, book 2): A young computer genius struggling to function with a grievous head injury is willing to risk his life to get a black market neural implant, but what he finds is a planet that shouldn't exist and a rebellion that threatens the stability of the Commonwealth.

DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE (Halcyone Space, book 3): 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.

PARALLAX (Halcyone Space, book 4): Halcyone's crew is drawn into a conspiracy threatening to reignite a galactic war when they discover the hidden power brokers who have been quietly manipulating the Commonwealth for decades.

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Friday, May 26, 2017

The process of Parallax

The novels of Halcyone Space





One of the questions I'm frequently asked by writers and non-writers alike is what does my process look like.

So I thought I'd do a quick overview, using PARALLAX as an example. The way I do this is by no means the only way or the best way; it's what I've settled on after writing more than a million words of fiction over the past 13 years. As always, YMMV. (Your Mileage May Vary)


July 2016:  Begin drafting during a week long retreat at a friend's summer home in Vermont.

This is the phase where I take a cheap Staples brand single subject spiral bound notebook and start brainstorming. Since this is book 4 of an ongoing series, it also means creating a document that outlines who knows what when at the end of book 3. It also includes reviewing the private wiki I have for my series bible.

August - December 2016 : Focus on drafting the story, including the goal of 1,000 words a day, for an average of 5,000 words a week. In any given week, I may not reach this goal, but I complete an approximate 100,000 word draft in 5 months.

December 2016 : After a 2 week hiatus after completing the draft, return to the story and complete a rough outline of the 4 quartiles of the book( This step is roughly based on Larry Brooks' Story Engineering and is particularly helpful in assessing the pacing of the story) as well as a chapter by chapter precis of each separate storyline. (Ro & Nomi, Barre, Micah & Dev, Jem & Gutierrez)

Because this book contains 4 storylines that must intersect, it is a more complex task than in other of my novels. I used a large white board. Across the top were the characters, down the side were the days, so I could see at a glance where everyone was at any given point in time as the story moved forward.
Initial 'alpha' read feedback received from several intrepid readers. First revision completed incorporating their story-level (big picture) feedback.

January 2017 : The completed 1st revision is sent to a cadre of beta readers, some who have read all of the series to this point, others for whom this is their first story in the series. This is a deliberate strategy because I want each story to be able to stand alone as well as work well together.
At this point, I solicited a back cover blurb from a writer in my genre.

February 2017 : Beta feedback comes in. It is read, assessed, and correlated. What I look for is patterns and consistency. If more than 1 reader has feedback on the same issue, it's flagged to review. If a single reader has a strong piece of feedback, it's flagged for review. Other issues - especially ones where it's what one reader has an issue with, but another notes it's what they love - are typically looked at as individual taste.
Several readers give me fairly substantiate critical feedback which requires careful assessment and consideration. I make changes to the story as a result.
March 2017 : As a result of the beta feedback, the 2nd revision is completed. After another few week hiatus, I print the manuscript out and do a 3rd revision.
Cover artist provides the initial draft of what will by month's end become the final cover.
Draft manuscript is sent (marked as such) to the author who agreed to read in order to provide a blurb.

April 2017 : Manuscript is sent to the editor. Continuity edits, copyedits, and proofing is done. The manuscript is returned.

May 2017 :  Editor's edits/suggestions are reviewed, considered, and incorporated in what is now the 4th and final revision. The manuscript enters the production phase.
Front and back matter is generated, beta readers are contacted for permission to thank them in the acknowledgments.
eBook formatting is done (using Sigil, an epub editor), print typography is done. Both take about 20 - 25 hours inclusive, as I have created templates and an efficient workflow for both.
Cover typography is created to echo the look/feel of the other books in the series. Files uploaded to CreateSpace and physical proof ordered. 
June 2017 : Publication. Final novel is approximately 110,000 words. During multiple revisions, approximately 15,000 words were excised, 25,000 words written/rewritten.


As the author/publisher, I:
write the draft
revise the draft
code the ebook
format the print book
give notes to the cover artist

I outsource:
the editing
cover art
cover typography/design

The key is to know your strengths and play to them. Hire what you are not comfortable and skilled in doing. Set a schedule if that helps you keep on track. Having been through this process multiple times now, I can reasonably and reliably hit this production schedule.

If you are working with an external publisher or publishing multiple books a year, your timeline will look different.

Feel free to ask me anything about the process, or describe how yours is either similar or different.

#SFWApro








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Monday, May 22, 2017

For my parents on what would have been their 62nd anniversary

Hanford and Bea, circa 2007

Today would have been my parents 62nd wedding anniversary.

They married later in life than their peers: in 1955, they were both over 30, my mother considered an 'old maid' for her generation.

It wasn't until the end of my father's life that he opened up to me about his biggest regret: that he felt he was never able to make my mother happy. There was a core of sadness in her that nothing could fill. Not financial security, not material things, not experiences, and not even what she claimed to be her heart's desire: a second child.

My mother was unable to successfully carry a child to term after my older sister was born. After years of miscarriages, they turned to adoption, which in the late 1950s and early 1960s was a difficult and often secretive enterprise. They had been turned down by many agencies for being too old to be adoptive parents. (Remember, this was a very different time.)

My father told me the day he realized he couldn't make my mother happy was the day he flew home from California after they adopted me as a 5 day old infant: Even that didn't change her.

She died several years before my father did, after years of encroaching dementia. He was her main caregiver through that time and kept her safe in their home with the same devotion he applied to trying to make her happy their whole lives.

In a series of very frank discussions my father and I had in his last months, I hope I was able to show him that no one can make another person happy. That he had not failed as a partner. That she did love him and that her inability to be happy was a deep wound she must have carried her whole life.

I hope he was able to forgive himself for not being able to do the impossible.

I think of them both today, with deep gratitude for their love and support as well as a bittersweet sorrow for the sadness they both carried.




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