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What are we afraid of?

I went to morning services at my temple this morning. I went because someone in the community had a yartzeit - the anniversary of a death of a loved one - and the laws of Judaism require a minyon, a quorum of 10 participants in order to recite the memorial prayer.

So I went, more in service to the community than for my own beliefs, which are conflicted and complicated.

But that's not why I'm writing today.

I'm writing to sort though my emotions and thoughts about the conversation the group had after the service, over coffee. We were talking about the incarcerated children, about immigration, and I was disappointed and upset by the opinions of my fellow congregants. And this is a community that prides itself on its commitment to social justice and social action.

Ultimately, the consensus was, sure, babies and children in detention centers is sad, but what else are we going to do? Several times, my view was challenged with this question: So would you rather have open borders?

Behind that question (and I'm sure the querant looked at it as a rhetorical one), I see fear. Fear of the other. Fear of change. Fear of loss. Fear, couched in the language of law and order and reason and fairness. And hours after the conversation, I sit here wondering what would happen if we stopped trying to logically justify our emotions and were truly honest about what we felt.

Instead of calling humans illegal, would would it be like if we could admit:

I'm afraid of people who don't look like me I'm afraid of people who don't act like me I'm afraid of people who don't worship like me Sitting in a room with a handful of people, most of whom were working hard to make me wrong and them right, many who were clearly ready to dismiss my passion as naivety, it was hard to muster any kind of answer that they could hear.
When I got home, I started to understand that using logic and reason only made it easier for them to hold to their arguments. That for every fact I checked, they would throw two more for me to counter - a hydra of data. It was a powerful defense mechanism, a way to wall away uncomfortable emotion.
As a woman, I'm far too familiar with being told not to be emotional. To being called hysterical. To being dismissed for leaning on my feelings. But to be human is to be a bundle of emotional reactions. We feel first; rationalize after. We know this. It is neuroscience, not opinion. 
I know now how I will respond to the kinds of questions posed to me today after services. I don't know what kind of answers I will receive, nor if it will change the conversation, but I will ask it anyway. And keep asking.
What are you afraid of?


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen


The Werewolf Whisperer Book Review

This past weekend I was lucky enough to get to sit down with Camilla Ochlan and Bonita Gutierrez, co-authors of The Werewolf Whisper, an independent urban fantasy series about a pair of women who team up in the aftermath of a “werewolf apocalypse”. When the Kyon Virus infects huge portions of the population, it has… Read More The post The Werewolf Whisperer Book Review appeared first on F-BOM.
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Playing Hooky

For much of the past week, I've been at StarField Farm with my friend Jayne.

She had a week's vacation and needed a major recharge. I was more than happy to have an excuse to spend time in the quiet of my personal "Rivendell" and recharge as well.

For the first time in a long time, I let myself just be. No deadlines. No writing projects. No to-do lists.

I immersed myself in the quiet and the day to day.

Watched the day lilies and was rewarded by seeing the first bloom.

There has been a little swallow's nest tucked in the beam of the back door porch. The babies had finally fledged and were looking mighty cramped in the nest, but were refusing to leave.

It's hard to see with my cellphone photo, but there are three fully fledged swallows crammed into this nest. The parents spent the better part of several days swooping over the nest and yelling at the babies to get off their asses and fly, damnit. Well, that's my translation of bird anyway.

Our most ambitious endeavor of the week entailed making strawberry rhubarb jam. The strawberries were ones I'd picked last June and frozen, when I knew I wouldn't have the time to deal with them. The rhubarb was fresh picked from just outside the kitchen door.

Until this year, I didn't know rhubarb was something to cook with or eat. It looked like weird celery. It's leaves are poisonous. Who looked at this strange plant and decided it was food?

The jam was fabulous. I adore making jam. For those of you interested, I don't use a recipe, per se, but have honed my methods from these sources:

https://nwedible.com/how-to-make-pectin-free-jam/ My favorite resource for playing with making jams.

https://www.southernfoodways.org/southern-summer-in-a-jar-jam-secrets-from-april-mcgreger/  same method as above,but with the basic ratio I've found the most helpful for fruit and sugar.


And a few links from this blog, along with photos of past year's jamming: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2012/06/strawberries.html

Speaking of local food, we also ate tons of local asparagus and strawberries. It's hard to pass up local food in season. So we didn't. :)

I also culled the peach tree. (Full disclosure - this is a photo from last year, but the peaches were about the same size this year when I culled them.) This city-mouse has never had fruit trees before, but I have learned that peaches (and many fruit trees) do best if you cull the fruit when it is small to avoid overloading the tree and having it use all its energy to make fruit. Otherwise, you get decent harvests every other year rather than every year.
There is a kind of patience you learn living like this. You can't hurry peaches. They ripen in August, no matter how impatient you are for them.
Most of the nights this week were overcast, and while there wasn't a lot of opportunity to stargaze, we did experience a wonderful consolation prize: fireflies. Jayne and I spent most early evenings on the swing out front watching the dusk deepen, waiting as the birds settled for the evening, spotted the dragonflies dancing, and the first swooping bats. And then the fireflies would rise. I know they're just bugs, but there does seem to be something magical and otherworldly about them.
So Jayne and I spent a lot of time watching the world go by. Over the course of the week, we saw birds and hawks. The aforementioned dragonflies, bats, and fireflies. A deer came to visit on two occasions and I lost count of the rabbits. (The dogs, I'm sure, did not.) Jayne thinks she saw a bobcat slink by one morning. There is a deep silence here and it sinks into your bones. 
And then there was one clear night. I had fallen asleep with the dogs in the living room. When I woke up is was well past midnight. I took some time to stand out on the front stoop and watch the stars shine overhead.
It's easy to forget the stars. It's easy to forget to look up. It's easy to forget to breathe. 


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen


Trusting the future self

Something I discovered about how I write is that I find it hard to trust myself. That is, it’s hard to trust both my future self and my past self. I think I outline so much because I am scared that my future self will be some kind of uncreative zombie and I have to give her all the tools I possibly can right now. There is always an immediacy to my writing. If I don’t write it down now, it will slip away and never get written, or worse yet, I will try to write it later and it will be something completely different than what I want it to be now. As a result, my outlines tend to be around 40,000 words. (Ten thousand more words and it would officially be novel length, people. I’m crazy.) When I sit down to write from an outline later, I look back and think “who was the person who wrote this?” It feels contrived and false. Like I was trying to jam as much stuff in it as possible instead of letting it grow organically over time. I think I sense my former self’s distrust of my future ability and it dampens me. I’ve gone back and forth with this ever since I started writing, until June 2015. We took a vacation out to Portland and Seattle. On the plane ride back, I was determined not to get motion sick like I usually do. So I had my notebook handy and tried very hard to only focus on writing. To just get stuff on the page and not pay attention to how the plane was moving. And it worked. But it also worked for my writing. I almost never write by hand anymore. It’s too slow and my hands are already hurting from working them so much that grasping a pen just seems like a silly idea. But I didn’t want to get out my laptop because I was in the middle seat and there was hardly any room. This also meant that I had no notes on the story I was about to outline. I was going to be starting Camp NaNoWriMo in a week and a half and still didn’t have an outline. This kind of freaked me out, so I was like “yeah, I better write this outline right here, right now, before we touch the ground.” But I had to do it all from memory. The story in question is one I wrote many, many years ago, then stuffed it away because it was horrible. Still, it had some good stuff I can reuse (I hope), so I had planned to rewrite it during camp. I suddenly had to recall an entire, intricate novel’s worth of outline from over five years ago. This was the beauty of it: I was only allowed to write down the important things that moved the plot along, because I couldn’t remember all the other parts. When I got home, I typed up the outline and was pretty proud of it. Then I looked back at the old version to see if there was anything I had forgotten or wanted to salvage. And I felt my inspiration faint on the fainting couch in a dramatic fashion: the previous version was not only pretty readable, there were some downright good parts I didn’t want to throw away. I told myself that my outline from the plane was rubbish and I was just going to have to keep the storyline the way it was from the old version, just make sure I updated the language and caught any inconsistencies. I was tempted by the concept of an easy rewrite. I was also scared of my airplane outline because it was honest and I had to dig deep for it. It stripped out a lot of things I loved about the story, and I wasn’t willing to admit that it was better for it. So camp started and I got about 15,000 words into my novel before I realized I was struggling. It was like pulling teeth to write even 400 words during a word war when normally I can beat out at least 1,000 in ten minutes. Discouraged, I took an honest look at my airplane outline. I faced up to the fact that it scared me because it was so swift, lean, and clean. I was scared because with all the stuff I’d left out, it meant that my voice and good writing would have to carry the load, and that wasn’t the easy way to write a book. (But it is the best way.) So I started over using the airplane outline, and things flowed so much better. I started to sympathize with the villain, care about the characters again. As to voice, well, I won’t know if I have that until I take another good, honest step back to look at it, when I have time to do that. But it sure felt good to drop all that baggage from the past and moved on with a trimmer, faster story. Two take aways from this for me: Writing an outline by hand with no notes is definitely something I will practice with my stories in the future. Even the language I used was different because I wanted to write as few words as possible. It made me say things differently, and made the outline come out so well. It also forced me to trust my future self a little more. Instead of spelling everything out, I had to just say one or two words to convey what was to be written next. Being that future person now, I appreciate the trust and the freedom to interpret it as I see fit. Trusting my future self and my past self saves time and energy. And if for some reason I do turn into a noncreative zombie in the future, having a massive outline won’t help anyway. I need to consume some brains (aka, read other people’s good writing). A lack of an outline is not the problem, nor is it a very good bandaid for the problem. I need to look at other factors that affect creativity (health, diet, exercise, enough reading, enough rest, enough honesty, etc.) In honor of my new discovery, this post is brought to you without an outline for once. Hope it wasn’t too bad. If you need me, I’ll be over in this corner going through outline withdrawal. Please only talk to me in bullet points. Also, I mistyped “bullet points” enough that autocorrect wanted to change it to bull sh*t. Lol. Please don’t only talk to me in bull sh*t. That will not help.
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Guest Post: Some Doors Will Open, but Not All: Traditional Publishing with a Small Press

Some Doors Will Open, but Not All: Traditional Publishing with a Small Press
KJ Kabza
I've known LJ Cohen since 2008, when we met in a local writing workshop and later became part of the same critique group. Since then, our approaches to our careers have taken somewhat different paths, since (happily) authors now have many publication options and ways to make a profit.
LJ mostly self-published novels. I tend to traditionally publish short stories, selling my work for flat fees in anthologies and magazines. Recently, my career got a big shot in the arm with another move in traditional publishing, the publication in January of my first print short fiction collection: THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES. Hooray!
 "Kabza's stories [are]... powerful work that is wholly original, delightfully strange, and emotionally resonant." —LJ Cohen, blurbing my book, because she is awesome

I've dabbled in self-publishing before with two ebook-only short fiction collections, IN PIECES and UNDER STARS, but unlike LJ, I lack the fortitude to make self-publishing my primary career tactic. So I was excited to see the difference that having a real publishing house behind me would make.
Well... I did see a difference. And doors did open. But my publisher, Pink Narcissus Press, is very, very small—only five people, who each have varying degrees of part-time involvement—and if you publish with a small press, be warned that not all of those Magic Traditional Publishing Doors will swing open for you.
Here are some doors that DID open, working with Pink Narcissus:
Greater chance of gorgeous cover art (and interior illustrations). My editor, Michael Takeda, dealt with finding and paying an artist, which I know almost nothing about. Access to better production quality. Pink Narcissus has vastly more experience in font selection, layout, ISBN registration, actual book printing, and so on than I do, and that experience is reflected in the finished product. More outlets, reviewers, and bloggers hearing pitches for my book. My publisher wrote the review pitch we used, and with my editor's help, I could query far more places than I ever could have on my own. Coverage by major review outlets. RAMSHEAD got good reviews in Booklist, RT Book Reviews, and Publishers Weekly, which are all outlets that are (to say the least) wary of reviewing self-published work.
However, here are some doors that did NOT open:

No possibility of coverage on several big review platforms. Many outlets were explicit about saying that they only covered books published by a "big 5" publisher. Almost impossible to organize a blog tour. For the same reason as above. Separate, harder process for asking Barnes & Noble stores to stock physical copies. I had to follow a procedure for small press books outlined via the B&N website, which is not a procedure that "big 5" books have to follow—meaning that the odds of B&N stores carrying RAMSHEAD are much slimmer. No placement in Books-A-Million stores. Pink Narcissus, like many small presses, prints their copies on demand, and Books-A-Million does not accept POD titles. Some stores are only willing to sell RAMSHEAD under certain conditions. Two local bookstores are currently selling copies of RAMSHEAD on consignment, which is great—they're selling it!—but not quite as great as being an author with a big publishing house whose books are more likely to be ordered from a bookstore by a distributor.
Of course, these are only the circumstances that surrounded THE RAMSHEAD ALGORITHM AND OTHER STORIES in particular. Other small presses may be able to step up (or have to step down) in different areas. And in RAMSHEAD's case, there are other variables at play: it contains both science fiction and fantasy (and some reviewers aren't interested in things outside one or the other), and it's a collection of short stories (and many outlets only want to review novels).
Still, I've learned a lot. The launch of RAMSHEAD was a rough road, but at least I have a few data points now. I know where the doors are.
So if, next time, all those other doors DO swing open for me, I'll be ready to sprint on straight through.
Thank you, KJ, for your post. I'm a big fan of your work and have been since that writing workshop so many years ago! And to my readers here - if you are looking for short fiction that is magical, unsettling at times, and always unique, please go read KJ's work.


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LJ Cohen

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WisCon 42 Roundup

We love WisCon! F-BOM founders Cecelia and Lindsey have been attending WisCon for the last 5 years and each time it has been a wonderful experience. For those who don’t know, WisCon is a feminist science fiction and fantasy convention. Located at the Concourse Hotel in Madison every Memorial Day weekend, the con features panels,… Read More The post WisCon 42 Roundup appeared first on F-BOM.
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I’m probably bad for doing this…

Me: “I’m probably a bad administrator for doing this, but I just don’t care right now that I’m letting the database automatically sync with our mailing list.” Friend: “Um, that’s just you doing your job well. That’s what databases are supposed to do.” Me: “Yeah, I’m just going to throw off these heavy heavy shackles of expectations that tell me I need to enter data by hand. I can’t handle that right now, even though I’m sure some judgy admin out there could.” Friend: “Uh, no one expects that. That would actually be bad because you’re bound to make more mistakes entering by hand.” Me: “I’m sure someone out there will say I’m a bad admin for answering so many emails today, but I just don’t care.” Friend: “Uh-huh. That’s not— can we talk about a topic where you don’t feel compelled to chastise yourself for doing things well? It’s annoying.” This is what it sounds like if I talked about my job like some moms talk about their parenthood. Seriously moms. This topic came up FOUR TIMES in my news feed today. When someone talks about their profession, they never say whether they are a good ditch digger or a bad one, a good dentist or a bad one, a good teacher or a bad one. They talk about it as if that is just what they are. They don’t invite others to pass judgment on them being good or bad at it by bringing the subject up. I don’t care if you think you’re a good or bad mom for doing such and such. All I know is that you are a mom, and I don’t want to be invited to judge you. I will snooze you on facebook until your kids are grown up if I keep seeing this stuff. /rant (I promise I almost never rant and you won’t see that often on this blog. Just strongly felt this one needed to be called out. I love you, fellow moms, and you’re amazing. I hope this only encouraged you and didn’t discourage you.)
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Sneak preview

Last week I talked about the letter game and how it started my story. This week, I’d like to give you an unedited preview of that first letter I sent, which sparked all the things that led me to create this unique world of cyberpunk weirdness. Please note, there are mistakes in this letter. I’m choosing to leave them because this is the actual letter I sent to my pen pal. A little background: we decided that my character would be an ambitious hacker nurse who has driven herself so hard that she hates her daily routine, and so has decided to enroll in a pen pal program just to have a social life. She thinks the pen pal program is probably fake, with letters generated by an AI, but goes along with it anyway. (Where the replies come from is actually much weirder, but that was my pen pal’s side of the story so I won’t go into it.) I decided to start my novel years later, after she has written to this pen pal program for quite some time, had adventures, and grown up a bit. So when you read the actual book, you’ll be encountering a much older Alexia. Behold the first letter, in its unedited state. Sunday, January 7, 2596 Salisbury, Smallbone:Realm 3, Earth Dear unknown pen pal, I am not a lonely person. Everything I’ve heard about your program seems to indicate that you are a tool for lonely people to help them feel some sort of companionship. Please do me the courtesy of believing that I am perfectly happy in my current fellowships. I’m not even sure why I feel like I need to explain this. It’s just, I’m afraid I’ll get some kind of letter back from you filled with psych-net links and subliminal hacks to my neural implant meant to make me feel more fulfilled. I’m only writing to you because of an article that claims successful people give themselves something to look forward to at the end of the day, and the bitty-box-of-the-month club is too expensive. Also time consuming. I hear the usual edgezones and real-time deep reality plays will consume my soul to the point where I don’t want to do anything else. They sound amazing. But I don’t have that kind of time. You are just the diversion I need and will never be captivating enough to get in the way of my work. Sorry, but I think it’s important to be honest. You’ll understand why my work is so important when I say that I’m the youngest stitcher at work they’ve ever had. Just in my hospital. Not in the world, obviously. But hopefully I won’t be a stitcher for long. They can’t keep patients coming in fast enough to keep me busy. I’ve only been working there for six months and already I’ve worked with more variety of cases than some of the stitchers who have been there for three years. Mostly it’s because none of the other nurses want to use the virus cleanser, so I get all the difficult cases. That’s ok with me. I need all the experience I can get. So what about you? I mean, I know you’re probably some artificial intelligence, (or a person pretending to be an AI,) but that doesn’t mean you don’t have aspirations or passions. All AIs were created by humans so we can’t help but put ourselves into them. So you’re probably more sentient than some of my co-workers. Especially after a double shift. What do you do when you’re not answering letters? Do you have family? I live with my mother and it’s not what it sounds like. I’m not late to leave the nest or anything. She needs a lot of care, and my father is gone. If you’ve heard of the Neural Digression virus, you know what I mean. ND isn’t exactly deadly. Just debilitating. Her entire neural plant is almost gone now, so it’s impossible for her to keep up with such a slow interface. I used to think this wouldn’t be such a big deal, but trust me, it is. It’s amazing the things she doesn’t know, and I have to dumb down my language just so she can understand me. Being cut off from the marketplace of ideas and the great voices of our time really puts you out of touch. It’s terrible, and I feel so sorry for her. Even her eyes look like they are dull and unhappy because she is confused about her world. The other day I found her trying to login directly to a part of the net she’s never been to before, instead of being directed by one of the chaperone links. One of these days she’s going to get herself hurt. Anyways, that’s about all I can think of to write before bed. Um, in case you are incapable of experiencing a good day, I will wish you a happy consciousness and good interfacing. Love, Alexia   Well, that was a trip down memory lane and a little bit cringe-worthy. But despite the all-too-common feeling of looking back at old writing and thinking of all the ways it is so bad, Alexia’s story is still vibrant and alive in my head. I can’t wait to share it with the world. Hopefully soon. I’m still working on edits.
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The Letter Game

I once read a book by Caroline Stevermer and Patricia Wrede that was written as the result of the Letter Game (you can find the book here). Here’s how the letter game works: Two people decide on a genre, a setting, and the character they will write in the voice of, and who will write the first letter. After initial details are set, no more discussion is allowed. Communication about the story may only happen through letters. Letters are written back and forth between the two people in the voices of their characters, progressing the plot as they see fit. Of course, I was inspired to start letter games of my own with other writers and friends. A lot of them got off to a really good start but petered out quickly, as life gets busy sometimes. One of these games, I sort of went overboard with creating the world and plot from which my character was writing her letters. I had plans for a long game, and anticipated that after two years of writing letters and building up to it, I would produce this great denouement that would blow the mind of my fellow epistle-creator. Well, life got busy and the letter game remained a shiny jewel in my imagination until I couldn’t stand it any longer and decided to turn it into a book. That book is what I’ve been working on for the last several years, and which I hope to publish very soon. I am so excited to see this come to life, and will be posting a cover reveal soon. This thing that has only existed in my imagination now has a cover! I can’t believe it! Until then, if you have an inclination to start a letter game, let me know! I’m always willing to start something new. It’s a super fun exercise, and can range in depth from a light-hearted few exchanges to a serious commitment on par with your monthly D&D group. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say that the letter game is the second best storytelling method I’ve come across to date (D&D being the first). If you want to be notified via email about my book news, sign up to get my newsletter. I promise, I won’t flood your inbox and will keep it relevant to stuff happening with my writing projects. Thanks, friends!
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On Twenty-four Years of Mothering

Me and my eldest, circa 1994

I have been a mother for twenty-four years.

It has definitely been a wild ride; one that no piece of advice or prior childcare experience could have prepared me for. I'm not sure this is a bad thing. There is no 'life hack' for mothering. No 'top 10 secrets of effective mothering'. No way to know what challenges and joys you will face along the way. Instead, mothering has taught me a kind of awareness and attention I didn't understand before.
Not that I was always good at it.There are a host of mistakes I made that I hope my sons have at least grown to understand, even if they haven't forgiven me for them. If I could send a message back in time for that young mother sitting on the steps with her firstborn, it would be this:

If this seems simplistic and simple, I assure you it is not.

I was 30 when my eldest was born. By then, I had been married 5 years, had been working and financially independent for 7, established in my career. My husband and I had settled in Boston and had bought a house.

I thought I was ready.

When I look back, especially at the years when my boys were small (youngest added to the family when the eldest was 2 1/2), I see a woman always on the edge of exhaustion and pushing as hard as she could. Despite having the advantages of a partnership with my spouse, a safe home, good childcare, my anxiety was always there. The background noise of my 30s and early 40s.

There is so much of those years I simply don't remember. Looking through photographs is like sorting through a stranger's life. But there are some events that are etched in my memory. Times when I was able to stay present, find that space, practice self care.

I wish I had spent more of my mothering years in that place.

It has been twenty-four Mother's Days since I became a mother. My youngest son graduates from college in a week. He and his older brother are in the process of moving into an apartment together.  They have become wonderful young men I admire.

They have helped shape the woman I am today. After all, I have been a parent for more than half my life. That is a significant role and one that I will continue to perform, even as the specific responsibilities change. 
This Mother's Day weekend, my husband and I are at StarField Farm - the place we bought to be our big next step in our lives. After twenty-four years of parenting and raising two boys to be capable young men, it is time to re-focus on our relationship. It's not a turning back the clock -- we are both very different people from the young kids we were when we first met. We're not even anywhere near the 20-somethings we were when we got married.

This place we're in -- both the literal place and the metaphorical -- reflect all the places we have been. I think we are more forgiving, more patient, more nurturing with one another because of those parenting years.

As we move forward in our lives as parents of adult children, I will remind us all: stay present, make space between your emotions and your reactions,  and practice self care.

After all these years, perhaps I am finally learning how to parent myself. 


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen


some poetry for your day

April was poetry month. I’m clearly late on this, but wanted to send some poetry your way. I know I don’t stop and appreciate poetry as often as I should. So below is a poem that I’ve been contemplating lately. Also, did you know that the Poem a Day challenge is a thing? I totally meant to participate this year but April has already passed me by. But if you want to still get in on the action, you can check out Robert Brewer’s Poetic Asides blog where he posted poetry prompts for every day in April. I’ve had this poem hanging on my wall for a couple years now, ever since my co-worker shared it with me. It has faded into the background of my life as I got tired of looking at it, then completely forgot it was there. Until a couple weeks ago when we started painting sample colors on our walls and I moved it to make room. This wonderful reminder to slow down and let creativity mature has been there in front of me every day but have I done that? Nope. The mind is forgetful. I’m hoping this will pop up in my feed a year from now to remind me again, because I likely will have forgotten by then too. A prayer of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability– and that it may take a very long time.   And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually–let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.   Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
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What Do We Look For In An F-BOM Author?

In order to demystify our process, and hopefully take down another barrier for indie authors, we want to talk about what we look for when authors submit their work to us. Read More The post What Do We Look For In An F-BOM Author? appeared first on F-BOM.
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The Art of Halcyone Space

Original art by Chris Howard
About a month ago, I revealed an earlier draft of this cover art for A STAR IN THE VOID for subscribers of my newsletter. Now, I'm sharing it widely in advance of the June 2018 publishing date of the novel.

Chris Howard has created original art for all 5 of the Halcyone Space novels.

Finally I can display all of these amazing covers together and talk about how each of the images captures the heart and soul of the novel it graces.


While all of the stories center around an ensemble cast, each story has a single character whose arc stands out to me as primary. In DERELICT, that character was Rosalen Maldonado. At the start of the story, Ro is isolated. As a result of being moved from post to post by her emotionally abusive father, she doesn't have the emotional skills or experience in trusting other people.

The plot revolves around a derelict space ship and its damaged AI, but the story revolves around Ro learning to trust herself and trust others.

I love the way Chris depicts Ro as dwarfed by the cosmos, yet looking up and out as if hoping for a better future.

Ithaka Rising
This is Barre Durbin. The story of ITHAKA RISING is the story of brothers, loyalty, and sacrifice. Children of the space station's physicians, Barre and his little brother Jem have always been under pressure to excel. But ever since Jem outstripped him academically, Barre has felt like a failure. His relationship is particularly strained with his mother who can't  appreciate Barre's musical genius.
The main storyline borrows from the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. Barre, like Orpheus, relies on his musical skills to enter the Underworld and rescue a loved one. 
I love the look of quiet determination on Barre's face in Chris's image. 
Dreadnought and Shuttle
Devorah Martingale Morningstar (Dev, and she would be the first to mention how ridiculous her name is) enters the world of Halcyone Space in DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE. She is a character who emerged as simply a minor player but after her first scene, I bent to the wisdom of my subconscious and let her be who she needed to be for the story. 
She is a materials science student at the University Micah Rotherwood escapes to. She gets abducted in his stead and taken aboard a stolen ship by her captor. But she is far from a powerless pawn and uses her knowledge and skills to sabotage the ship. 
Chris created her with an intensity that matches her character. The image conveys her strength, capability, and focus.
In the 4th novel, PARALLAX, the cover features Emmaline Gutierrez. In all the other covers, the character shown is a viewpoint character. While we never see Gutierrez's point of view, she is a major mover of the story and we see her interacting with almost all the other viewpoint characters. 
She is an old soldier whose loyalties are put to the test in this story. In a very real way, she is the last soldier standing from a conflict that she had already sacrificed body and soul to forty years earlier. 
While she appears a bit younger than I see her, Chris nailed her expression, her body language, and her prosthetic arm. There is both amazing strength and vulnerability here. She may be my favorite non-viewpoint character in the series.
A Star in the Void
For the 5th and final book in the Halcyone Space series, A STAR IN THE VOID, I asked Chris to use Ada May as the cover character.
While she is only a viewpoint character for a brief epilogue in book 4, she is the character around whom the entire narrative of 5 novels centers around. She was there at the start of the hostilities over 40 years prior. It was her genius that created the first true AIs that made space travel possible. She created the hidden world of Ithaka and its quiet rebellion against the Commonwealth. And her actions at the end of book 4 are the catalyst for the entire plot of book 5.
One of the strengths of Chris's work is that he understands that the power of a cover comes not from depicting a specific scene, but from bringing forth the heart of the story. It should be no surprise that his is a writer in addition to an artist. 
Here he depicts Ada's loneliness along with her determination. The title refers to many elements in the story: what it looks like to an observer when a ship takes a wormhole jump, the character Dev Morningstar putting herself at risk in the void for the sake of her companions, the hope Ada holds to for change, among others. 
Taken together, these five striking images have helped me tell five individual stories as well as a sixth overarching narrative that spans the entire series. Chris has made magic here and I am grateful for his talent, vision, and time.  
If these images and my commentary have piqued your interest, the first four books of the series are available at all online retailers. Links can be found: http://www.ljcohen.net 
Book 5 is forthcoming in June 2018.


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen


Futuristic Lingo Quiz

I’ve learned a lot of new terms for things as I write my Cyberpunk novel, and have included a lot of them in my book. It’s a challenge to write them in such a way that my readers understand what they refer to without directly explaining it. Characters in the world would obviously know what they mean, so they wouldn’t stand there quoting the dictionary. Just for fun, I made this quiz from some of the terms in my book. See if you can spot the fake definitions from the real ones!
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Saying goodbye to my imaginary friends

The final book; editing phase
Halcyone Space began in a moment of anger and frustration. I was getting very little traction with my prior books and decided to write a story with an ensemble cast that nobody would like. (Yes, I am not proud of my 5-year-old tantrum phase.)

I created an unpleasant loner. A drug dealer. An obnoxious child prodigy. A stoner musician. In space.

And these were the protagonists.

Ultimately, my baseline good humor and equanimity returned and I was able to take the first premise, put forward during a fit of pique, and transform it into the story of a derelict space ship and its unwilling and accidental crew.

DERELICT was completed in 2012 and was my 8th written novel. It was published in June of 2014 and at the time, I had no real intention of turning it into a series.

But then something utterly unexpected and quite magical happened - it struck gold on Amazon and sold more copies than I could have dreamed of. And I realized there was more to tell about Ro Maldonado and her crew.

Since the publication of DERELICT in 2014, every summer has seen a new Halcyone Space book. The characters have grown and changed. The politics have become increasingly complex and compelling. The stakes have ramped up, both on an individual and galactic level. These stories have taken me places I never would have anticipated, especially to a post-climate change earth even more divided into haves (highsiders) and have-nots (settlement 'deeps' - displaced persons) than our world is. 

Along the way, the characters have become quite real. Some writers describe it as the characters talking to them, or dictating the story. For me, it's more like the characters have taken up residence in my brain somewhere and when I'm fortunate, they allow me to eavesdrop.

Their voices and personalities have become quite distinct.

I have recently finished the major revision pass of A STAR IN THE VOID; the fifth and final book of the series. The characters are currently standing around looking puzzled. I'm feeling quite lost and more than a little lonely.

In some ways, this was the most difficult book I've ever written. (For those of you keeping track, this is book number 14). It took me a long time to figure out why and when I finally did, I totally had the "V8" moment: It's a lot harder to finish a series than to start it.

For each of the prior books, the world and the story expands. Have a problem as a writer? Throw a new issue at your characters. Now add a ticking clock. And someone or something in peril.

Easiest way out of blocked creativity ever!

But then came book 5.

Finally, I was faced with the need to pull it all back together in a way that fit the series organically and would be satisfying to the reader, without throwing in new shiny distractions for the characters. And all while saying goodbye to my imaginary friends.

The only thing that would have make it harder would have been to do it backwards and in high heels.

Metaphorically speaking.

Really, I'm a terrible dancer.

But I digress.

When I wrote the final chapters, there were moments when I cried. Studies have shown that what we imagine is as real as our experiences and I've been imagining these people and their world for a very long time. We've been together more than six years. As much as I've been the architect of their adventures, they've also changed me. I don't think you can create something without being altered by it.

So I will take some time to mourn the loss of this world that has been as real to me as my day to day life and characters who have become dear friends.

And now, as I prepare to ready this fifth and final installment of Halcyone Space, I understand that it is no longer my story. It belongs to the universe.

Summer, 2018


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen


Risk (why my book is like a Trireme)

When I was growing up, the video game my brothers and I played constantly was Civilizations III. It was so much fun. We would compete with each other to see who could discover Railroad technology the earliest (I think my older brother holds that record for something like 600 BC but it was awhile ago and I could be wrong). One of the first major exploration units you can build in that game is a Trireme. It’s cheap, and it’s the only boat you get until you discover more technology, and it’s really good for just scouting out your own continent. It can only go around the edges of the land and not out into deep sea. So the early game strategy was to build your first city next to an ocean square, then build a Trireme as soon as you could and launch it to explore around your continent. That way, you would know if you are on a small island or a continent and give you a sense of how much space you have to expand. It was also a good way to scout and see if there are rival civilizations in your space. And if you were really lucky, your Trireme would spot a piece of land one square away with no deep ocean in between the two, and it could jump over and explore a second body of land. But more often than not, it didn’t discover additional land and that’s where you had to make a choice. Do you send your Trireme out exploring into the deep ocean, knowing it has a high chance of sinking after every turn? Or do you just keep it close by to defend your territory, even though it’s no good at defending (but it can alert you to incoming enemies)? I always sent my Trireme out. They almost always sank. But once in awhile, they would strike land before they did and then I’d have an advantage on my opponents. “Failure is the cover charge to live the human life. How many things have you not done because you were afraid to fail?” My pastor said in a sermon a couple Sundays ago and I’ve been thinking about those words ever since. And I asked myself what I was afraid to fail at. The answer came quickly: self-publish my book. I’ve never had any intention of letting fear of failure hold me back. I’m too excited. But I still have fears. I realized that I could easily fall into the trap of tweaking things ad nauseam hoping to get them just right and never actually publish because things aren’t perfect. But this book is a Trireme. I’ll never know what’s out there if I don’t send it out. I could keep it at home, just kind of sitting around, but that’s not what it’s made for. Maybe it will sink, but it’s not doing anything if I don’t send it out. My plan is to self-publish sometime this year, but I am tentatively and optimistically hoping for end of May. If you want to know when it’s ready, sign up for my brand new newsletter here. Thanks for reading! (And by that, I mean thanks for reading my blog, and just reading books in general because that is a wonderful thing.)
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More reading recommendations

Hey there, My life is still crazy as can be with two kids. My son has turned 2, and is potty training and learning how to read already. My daughter is content to wiggle and giggle, but will be crawling soon. As busy as I am, everything is only going to get busier. So for now, all I have for you is an update on what I’ve been reading. My 6 favorite books read in 2017 Uprooted by Naomi Novik – I can’t believe I didn’t hear about this book earlier. I LOVED this book. It’s not only the best fairytale retelling I’ve ever read, it’s the best fantasy book I’ve read in a long time. I really liked Novik’s Temerraire series, and she managed to bring the same awesome writing to this book, but with a completely different feel. She’s a great writer, and I am in awe. She actually just released a limited illustrated edition of this book which had me drooling for hours. Too bad they only made 175 of them.   The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson – Such a good book! I am really disappointed there isn’t a sequel because I wanted to snatch it up right away after I finished. I found this to be the most compelling and interesting of Sanderson’s magic systems. Just goes to show that no matter how many magic systems are out there, you can create something new. I really hope he’s going to write a sequel someday. His comments on writing a sequel can be found here. As a writer, I totally understand why he hasn’t yet and what stands in his way. But if he ever does start to write it, I will be haunting his social media sites like crazy to find out everything about it I can. Mort(e) by Robert Rapino – Military-Animal-Sci-Fi/Fantasy-Dystopia-Adult-version of Homeward Bound. So basically, everyone should read this and witness the frightening journey of Mort(e), a cat who gained human intelligence and fought in the human-animal war, but fought on…well, I think he fought on both sides? Really, he had his own goals the whole time and the war just got in the way. I read this little by little on my iPhone in the dark while rocking my son to sleep every night. And since I was pregnant at the time with my daughter, rocking him to sleep on my stomach wasn’t exactly the most comfortable, and my ability to breath would slowly get cut off the more he relaxed and put his weight on me until finally I texted my husband to come in and hoist him into the crib for me. But I loved it because I got a little further in the adventure every night. And I discovered that this was one of those books you really do want to read in the dark. It added to the thrill. Sourdough by Robin Sloan – It’s no Mr. Penumbra, so try to ignore the fact that it’s written by Sloan. It is still excellent, but not as enjoyable if you’re expecting more of the same. Though it did bring yet another fascinating aspect of San Fransisco to my hungry imagination. And Sloan’s writing is great. A woman programmer who is slowly loosing her soul at her job stumbles into making sourdough bread and it changes everything. She combines technology with baking and intrigue ensues. Ever since reading this, I have been searching for the perfect sourdough and spicy soup combination, trying to recreate the experience from the book. I had a lot of questions after reading it, so I emailed Sloan himself. And he responded quickly. Twice. He not only writes great stories, he is accessible to his readers and that made this read all the more fun. Illuminae by Amie Kaufman – Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful book. This book is something between an “Ology” book and a graphic novel with its splash pages and unique layout. The story is funny, thrilling, scary, and–I mean there are space zombies and hackers, and one of the least annoying love stories I’ve ever read, so. You should go out and buy this book immediately. Buy the physical book. The beauty is in the printed pages and I think some of that is probably lost in an audio book or ebook.   Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle – A must-read for any artist (and especially for Christian artists). This answered questions about art that I’ve been asking since I was 8 years old. Of course, no one would ever think to give such a book to an eight year old, but I sure could have used it! This book was very inspiring, especially during the days when I didn’t want to write.     All books that I read in 2017: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford (2 stars) Illuminae by Amie Kaufman (5 stars) Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle (5 stars) The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (4 stars) Diastasis Recti by Katy Bowman (3 stars) Sourdough by Robin Sloan (5 stars) Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (5 stars – re-read) Ajax Penumbra 1969 by Robin Sloan (4 stars) The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (4 stars) Derelict by LJ Cohen (4 stars) Turquoiseblood by Cecelia Isaac (3 stars) Grand Theft Octo by Neils Saunders (4 stars) Mort(e) by Robert Repino (5 stars) The Mage and the Magpie by Austin J Bailey (3 stars, almost 4 though) The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson (5 stars) Stations of the Tide by Michael Swanwick (1 stars – like, not even) Uprooted by Naomi Novik (5 stars) Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer (4 stars) Flyte by Angie Sage (5 stars) Maplecroft by Cherie Priest (4 stars, almost 3) SaveSaveSaveSave
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Best Feminist Art Inspired By The #MeToo Movement

Friends, there’s a part of me that dares to hope we might actually be in the midst of a lasting cultural shift. The explosion of attention on sexual harassment of women has reached every corner, from high-powered actresses to your Facebook feed. Living with, talking about, and managing sexual harassment isn’t new for women. What’s… Read More
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