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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Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reality of a writing life

I have a friend who is struggling with the distance between where he'd hoped he'd be in his career and where his career stands.

We've had a lengthy email conversation and I thought I'd pick up on some of the points and show them here.

This is my experience and I have some sense from other personal stories that it's not atypical.

2004-2005 Wings of Winter 150K mess. Trunked.
2005-2006 MindBlind Urban fantasy/thriller. Trunked.
2006-2007 House of Many Doors
YA ghost story. The book that landed me an agent from queries. Agent unable to sell.

I still believe it’s a salable project, on hold for the present time.
2007-2008 Heal Thyself Alternate world fantasy.

Agent uninterested.

Revised in 2012. Got a revise & resubmit from Angry Robot, but was dealing with personal/family matters and focused on writing Derelict by then.

Was revised and resubmitted in 2016, rejected by Angry Robot in 2016.

May be unsalvageable.Trunked.
2008-2009 The Between
YA Fantasy

Agent came close with several really encouraging rejections with major publishers.

Chose to self-publish in 2012 while still agented to see if I could gain some traction/audience to entice a publisher with a different project.

Sold approx 500 copies, 1500 free downloads.
2009-2010 Future Tense
YA Urban Fantasy.

Agent declined to shop.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 350 copies, 600 free downloads.
2011-2012 Ghost Story
YA horror/thriller.

First draft only, never revised.
2012 Derelict (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Agent submitted, but unenthusiastically. We parted ways in 2013.

Self published in 2014.

Sold approx 13,000 copies to date.
2013-2014 Time and Tithe
YA Fantasy

Sequel to The Between.

Self published in 2015

Sold under 100 copies, under 300 free downloads

2014-2105 Ithaka Rising (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

Self published in 2015

Sold over 2,000 copies.
2015-2016 Dreadnought and Shuttle (Halcyone Space series)
SF/ Space Opera

Self-published in 2016

Sold approx 1,500 copies.
2016-2017 Parallax (Halcyone Space series)
SF/Space Opera

To be published in June of 2017
2017 Vito Nonce Project
Cyberpunk thriller

In process

The novels listed here represent well over a million words of fiction, written over the course of 13 years.

I have still yet to earn in a year of writing and publishing what I earned working as a physical therapist, even in the years in which I worked part time around the needs of parenting.

By many metrics, I am a success. (One of the first indie members of SFWA, strong reviews in Publisher's Weekly, invitations to SF&F cons.) But I am unable to support myself on my creative earnings, much less pay for health care or support a family.

My gross cumulative earnings since 2012 from my writing are $45,000, unevenly distributed across the years, with my most successful year being 2014. That's 5 1/2 years of income. Do the math: it's not a very lucrative business.

I am able to focus on writing because I needed to leave my physical therapy practice for reasons relating to family and care-giving, not because I had any illusions of quitting my day job to make it big in publishing. It has continued to be possible for me to write because our family can be comfortable on one income - my husband's.

If I didn't have his income to rely on, I would likely be working as a physical therapist and writing around the demands of my working and family lives. It continues to surprise me that I don't produce significantly more now than I did when I was working 30 hours a week and had school age children. In fact my first five novels were written while I was still in PT practice.

I don't think enough writers share enough real data about writing and publishing. Feel free to ask me any clarifying questions you might have.



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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Poetry is everywhere

A few days ago, I was helping a friend move from the bottom floor to the top in a 2 family house. We had the doors open between the two apartments so we didn't need to set down boxes to open/close doors on every trip.

On a water break, we heard a strange noise from the upstairs and when we went to investigate, found this poor grackle trying to get out through the closed windows. 

Despite being released back outside he returned twice more.  This morning, I sat down to do my free-write pages, and this emerged.

For Bliss

When something gets inside, beats its wings
against the window of your room, you must
trap it, hold it with firm hands close to your chest.
No matter your heart drums a hummingbird's
tattoo, cup the frantic wings gently. Don't squeeze.
The creature needs to know panic
means the false clarity of glass. Don't think
like a captor: this is not your prisoner. The security
of your hands is not a cage, but a promise. Walk
toward the open sky. Use a lullaby voice. Sing
if you must. It's all right to be afraid. You are both
afraid. Once you have crossed the threshold
let your hands open like a pair of wings. Wait.
There will be a brush of feathers. A flash
of iridescent green catches your eye. The wind
strokes your hair and face like a lover, whispers
in your ear all the secret words for flight.

LJ Cohen
April 29, 2017


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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Creativity, Frustration, and Burnout

It was the best of jobs, it was the worst of jobs. . .

When people ask me what I do (which is the typical first encounter questions in the US, as if doing is more important than being. When I remember, I ask instead 'What do you enjoy?') I tend to reply with something like this:

"I have the best job in the world. I get to make stuff* up for a living."

And I'm not lying when I say that. I've done other things for work, most notably a 25 year career as a physical therapist. I truly loved being a PT. It was something that was both a job and a calling and in my long career, not only did I directly and positively impact the lives of thousands of patients, I also directly nurtured the careers of dozens of clinicians as well as helped shape the way chronic pain is managed throughout the profession.

Still, being able to live a life of creativity through my writing is amazing. It's what I always dreamed of doing, since early childhood. It's hard to top that with any career, no matter how successful.

There are days where going back to the routine of evaluating and treating a patient seems the simpler path. You know that famous opening line from A TALE OF TWO CITIES? Yeah. Turns out Dickens was right and was probably also talking about the life of a creator. Definitely a best of times/worst of times gig.

Understand, I'm not complaining. No one is holding a gun to my head and forcing me to write for a living. And I went into this gig knowing how mercurial it would be: How long the odds of success. How having a day job or a patron went with the territory. How few writers made a full living from their writing. How much luck and timing counted, even when the hard work was done and I had a solid book, with solid editing, and a solid cover.

Knowing all of that doesn't make it easier to understand why amazing books get overlooked. And I'm not even talking about my own work, here. Over the years I've been working this author/publisher gig, I've had the pleasure of reading some incredible novels and meeting (both virtually and in person) some incredible authors. 

And we're all struggling with having our books discovered. This isn't an indie vs traditionally published dichotomy either. I personally know:

  • a NYT bestselling genre author who, trapped in midlist hell, broke with her agent, stopped writing her own titles and now only ghostwrites;
  • a traditionally published author with a 3 book deal, the novels have been well reviewed and well received, and she'd drowning in her day job, desperate to be able to leave it and afraid to do so;
  • an indie writer whose work is simply astonishing and well-loved by his readership, but who can't seem to get that big break that causes the work to catch the attention of Amazon's algorithms;
  • actually, that last point for at least a dozen writers I know and whose work I have recommended over the years. 

I'm not even sure what the point of this blogpost is, to be honest. My fellow writers already know this; they live it. I suspect that most of my blog readers are fellow writers, so we're all singing to the same choir. 

Maybe it's simply to remind myself that this is the work that I love. As frustrating as it can be, I keep stringing words together to make sentences, turn those sentences into paragraphs. And somehow, those paragraphs stack up over and over and end up telling a story.

I'm a storyteller. It's what I do, who I am, and what I love.

*Depending on the audience, that gets changed to 'sh*t'



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