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No courage without vulnerability

I watched The Call to Courage (the Brene Brown Netflix special) last night and it hit me hard. Her overriding message: There is no courage without vulnerability. That failure is part of being brave. That we cannot be our full selves if we spend our energy staying armored against our fears.

I know that my best work and my best self emerges from allowing myself to be vulnerable. But it comes with so much fear tangled up with shame. It doesn't feel brave at all; it feels like I'm drowning in a whirlpool of muck.

And so I hold back. Struggling at the edge of a shit-vortex while assuring everyone around me that *everything's fine.*

And I have so many reasons why everything should be fine: Financial security. A loving and supportive marriage. A happy home. Puppies. A creative pursuit. A healthy relationship with my adult children. Good health. True friends.

So many things to be so incredibly grateful for.

And still.
And still.
And still.

I hold back.

I am afraid.

And when I try to talk about it, all I hear is myself being a whiny toddler. It's as if because I have so much support in my life, I have no right to struggle. I'm entitled, so I'm not entitled, if that makes any sense.

Maybe it's just the time of year. Anyone who's known me for long enough knows I go through a depressive spike in early spring. Why? Have no idea. It makes no sense. The light is back, the weather is warmer, the colors are returning. But every year in April and May, my anxiety ramps up.

In the past few years, it's been exacerbated by several difficult anniversaries. 6 years ago tomorrow, I nearly lost a loved one to depression and 4 years ago next month, is my father's yertzeit.

I share these things because it helps me to figure out my emotions when I write about them and because if I'm not honest about my struggles, I won't find my way through to courage.

Trust me, I'd rather hide behind my well-practiced surface persona then be vulnerable. But I'm also emotionally weary of beating myself up for not being that person.

I'm starting to understand the cost of being neuro-atypical in a world that isn't designed for me. Most of the time, I can manage all the spinning plates. I have systems in place to pay all the bills on time, make sure laundry gets done, feed the dogs, feed me and my spouse, set and follow writing deadlines, and more. But just because I can function, doesn't mean I'm not also prone to anxiety and depression, or don't get overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, or don't get panic attacks from the daily news, or am able to 'roll with it' when my routine is upended.

Most people would never see me as neuro-atypical, but the reality is I'm on the autism spectrum. And regardless of how well I can mask and function, the way my brain is made and how it works doesn't go away. I have to account for it every day. How many environments have I had to navigate today? Do I have the internal resources to make a phone call? Can I cope with a potential conflict? It's a calculus I do constantly.

Last Wednesday, I had to go to 3 unfamiliar grocery stores to buy food for Passover. It was exhausting. Not physically, precisely, but the sensory barrage and the anxiety of finding my way in a new physical space was utterly draining.

Sounds silly to be so flummoxed by grocery shopping. I've done so many difficult and challenging things in my life and done them well. Apparently, grocery shopping is not one of them.

But I did it because it needed to be done and I managed the emotional cost of it. Is that a kind of courage? Maybe. It feels more like stubbornness, but maybe that's what it has to be.

I am not looking for sympathy or answers. I'm not looking for anything from outside of myself. Maybe I just needed a place to be honest and vulnerable and even a little bit brave.



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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

What makes a professional writer?

My personal bookshelf: 8 novels published in 6 years
This is one of my periodic musings/rants on the state of publishing. As ever, this is my opinion, based on my experience and YMMV.

Depending on your definition, I'm either a professional author or a hobbyist writer. Personally, I'm not sure it matters. And I'm okay with that.

I came to writing after spending almost 25 years as a physical therapist, working in a variety of settings from hospital-based inpatient care to an outpatient private practice. I earned a good living and spent significant time and money on professional development so I could stay current in my skills.

I had the opportunity to speak at professional conferences and contribute to the research literature as well as write chapters for text books.

There is no doubt that physical therapy was my profession.

During my latter years as a clinician, I started to focus on long form fiction - as a hobby. While I can't deny holding to the fantasy of having one of my manuscripts discovered and published to world-wide acclaim, I understood that this was fantasy. Being an author wasn't my job at that point.

However, I was also the parent of two children, and as their needs changed, I also shifted my working priorities to part time employment which allowed me greater flexibility to care for my sons.

Just because my earnings decreased as I limited my work hours didn't suddenly demote my work to hobby status in the eyes of the world.  Whether I worked 10, 20 or 40 hours a week as a PT, I was still a professional. And that designation remained whether I was the primary 'breadwinner' of my family or not.

Fast forward to 2012 when I published my first novel. By then, I had disbanded my physical therapy practice and was no longer working as a clinician. I remained a licensed professional, even as I didn't earn any income in that profession.

I may have earned $500 in 2012 from that first venture into publishing.

So where did I stand as a writer? Professional? Hobbyist?

Would it matter if I said I spent time and money on professional development? Wrote consistently? Sought feedback on my work? Learned about the changing landscape of publishing? Had an agent? Went on submission?

If your definition of professional is someone who earns a full living from their chosen work, then there were many, many years I wouldn't have been considered a professional physical therapist. Without my spouse's income, there were years I wouldn't have been able to pay the rent, childcare, and basic needs for my family.

Let's fast forward again, this time to 2019.

I have 8 novels in the marketplace.

My average annual income as a novelist is approximately $6,000 - $12,000 a year, depending on if I have a new release or not. That is not by any definition 'a living' - not when you have a family to support.

So, am I a professional author? A hobbyist?

Would it change your mind if you knew I was a full member of SFWA? An invited guest speaker at well regarded genre writing conventions?

If your definition of professional has an income requirement attached, then the percentage of writers who are professionals is vanishingly small.  Yes, there are writers earning good money. They are the outliers. Trust me. I know a LOT of writers. Most of them don't earn the equivalent of minimum wage from their creative work. And some make far, far more than that.

Still others sell a ton of books and plow nearly all their earnings into promotion and advertisement, writing fast and furious in search of audience share. That is a route I have seen lead to financial success, but it requires a kind of relentless focus on the numbers (both books written and sold) that doesn't work for me and would lead me smack into the brick wall of burnout.

And honestly? I don't see all that much of a difference between my traditionally published writer friends and those who go the indie route. Some writers will do extremely well. Some rare writers will be in the right place at the right time and grab that brass ring.

Yes, hard work and discipline is certainly a factor in artistic success - and it's the only part of the process the writer has any control over - but even the most successful writers will tell you how much luck and timing had to do with it.

It was far easier for me to make a living as a physical therapist then it is as a writer. I suspect most artists of any stripe will say their 'day jobs' make more financial sense than their art work.

And none of this means that artists cannot also be professionals even as they pursue their art as part of their life. As a hobby, if you will.

I think the biggest problem with the professional/hobbyist divide is that society has conflated pursuing a hobby with dabbling and all the negative connotations it carries.

I would love to reclaim and redefine the word hobby in a way that doesn't place it on the opposite side of some imaginary continuum where "professional" is the other end.

Perhaps we would all be better off with less of an artificial separation between vocation and avocation.

If you're looking for me, I'll be searching for that elusive balance.


#SFWApro


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

You Must Read This: Madcap Superhero Edition

I don't write official reviews. That's a choice I made after I published my first novel as it feels like a kind of conflict of interest, especially when reading books in the spec fic world where I hang my own writing hat. (Other authors feel differently, and I respect that.)

What I will do is evangelize about books I've read and loved. Today I want to talk about The Brothers Jetstream and its author, Zig Zag Claybourne.

I met Clarence Young (Claybourne's cover identity) at Boskone 2019. What caught my eye was this incredible purple greatcoat he was wearing.

Readers, I coveted it. Hard.

But I didn't have the over 6' tall frame or the gravitas to have pulled it off. So I struck up a conversation with the man instead and ended up buying his book, The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan.

Why, you ask?

The purple coat may have reeled me in, but when Young described his novel as his homage to one of my hands-down favorite movies ever -- Buckaroo Banzai -- it was a no brainer.

This delightful, chaotic, romp of a novel engaged me from start to finish.  I normally race through books, but I forced myself to savor this one slowly and was rewarded by my patience because I got to spend more time with Milo and Ramses Jetstream and their brilliant rag tag crew.

Telling you what this book is about is almost besides the point. Yes, there are the eponymous superhero brothers. There are also sentient whales, vampires, Alanteans, mysterious cabals, an arch enemy (The False Prophet Buford), the leviathan who was there at the start of the universe, mystics, psychics, angels, clones, Djinn  and so much more.

The ten-thousand foot view of the plot is simple: the world is in peril. The brothers and their crew need to save it "one last damned time." The execution of this wondrous novel is anything but simple. Don't expect a paint-by-numbers plot: the cast of characters is large (and all delightfully named!), the pace is fast and furious. Young, AKA Claybourne, drops us into his fertile imagination and leaves us there to sink or swim. But if you're up for an adventure, dive in. You won't be disappointed.

I could absolutely see Buckaroo Banzai wanting to hang out with the Brothers Jetstream. I know I do.



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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

This Is Me: An Adoption Story, part 8

My adoption and search story has continued to unfold over the course of the past several months and I have a lot to catch up with. If you haven't been following along, I've now added 'next installment' links to the bottom of each post, so you can go back to part 1 and continue on.

Part 1: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-1.html
Part 2: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-2.html
Part 3: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-3.html
Part 4: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-4.html
Part 5: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-5.html
Part 6: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/08/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-6.html
Part 7: https://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/10/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-7.html


In the last installment, I had found a link to my paternal side through doing 23andme DNA testing. (I continue to have concerns about the privacy of such data and for the secrets it can uncover, as well as their ability to cause unintended pain. My choice to go ahead was, in part, informed by my sense of urgency about knowing my own medical history. I would recommend caution and careful consideration ahead of spitting in that test tube.)

And the person I found that I shared a genetic connection with turned out to be my birth father's half brother. The two half brothers shared a father (my paternal grandfather), who had gotten divorced and remarried, having children from both marriages.

This is from an email I got from my paternal-side cousin in June of 2018:


"S" was my birth father. And he was still alive.

I felt an increased urgency to make contact, after being robbed of that chance with my birth mother who passed away in 2010.

The chronology gets a little fuzzy for the next few weeks, mainly because my paternal family tree is so large and complex. Over the next few weeks, I ended up having multiple conversations via email and text with a ton of cousins, aunts, and uncles. All of them were thrilled to meet me and welcome me into the family at large.

I even got an invitation to the annual family reunion in Utah. I thanked them, and declined, both because it was coming up a few weeks from then and my schedule was already committed,  and because I knew I would be utterly overwhelmed.

Part of my paternal family 'vine' It's easy to see how complicated this can get! I started keeping everything in two family trees - one for my paternal side, one for my maternal side. This is the paternal side one, showing how my grandfather had 2 families. The left hand side is the family from my grandfather's first marriage.

The right hand side is the family from my grandfather's second marriage, which is my birth father's direct line.

Look at all the cousins!!!!

Ultimately, I got in contact with one of my birth father's full brothers and his wife who passed along my birth father's phone number with the confirmation that he did indeed want to talk to me.

So with shaking hands, a ton of questions, and more than a little uncertainty, I called and spoke with my birth father for the first time.

It was so strange. This entire journey has been strange and wonderful and melancholy and complicated. Here were two strangers on the telephone who were also undeniably joined through history and genetics. A father and a daughter connecting after 54 years of silence and family secrets.

He never knew I existed.

The maternal grandmother who had kept me a deeply buried secret in her family, and who so utterly rejected me when I had reached out in my last attempt to find my history two decades earlier, had intensely disliked him. She had actively worked to break up the relationship between Robin and her boyfriend - "S" - my birth father. And she'd been so successful, that "S" didn't know Robin was pregnant with me when she vanished from his life, leaving him heartbroken.

Like my first conversation with my Uncle Paul, there was so much of my conversation with "S" that I don't remember. I know we both laughed a lot, marveling at this wild story. We shared details about our lives. I told him about my husband and sons. "S" had been married multiple times and had three daughters with one of his wives. Which meant I had half-sisters.

Tragically, one had died in her 40s of complications from cancer. The other two were living on the west coast.

I walked away from that long conversation with my birth father feeling content. I finally had all the pieces of the puzzle about my personal history. I had contact information for more family. After being the baby of my family for so long, I was actually a big sister!

"S" and I talked about meeting in person. He doesn't travel due to old injuries and he is quite frail. But he lives in South Carolina, which is not too far for a road trip. It hasn't happened yet, but I want to make sure I don't miss the opportunity as I had lost with my birth mother and another member of this wondrous diaspora of rediscovered family who died just a few months ago. But that is a post for another day.

To be continued.. .



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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

When social media doesn't work as planned

Mya is an expert at blanket fort. 


I'm an introvert.

While that may surprise some who know me from social events, the reality is while I can be quite gregarious in public, I pay a heavy price for my energy outlay. (Case in point: I am still recovering from the intense 'peopling' during Arisia.)

For folks like me who are introverts and also creatives, the internet was supposed to be the great equalizer.
While to some extent, all those promises are part of the internet and social media, it's more of a "yes, and" proposition. The "and" part being that even asynchronous and curated interaction can be stressful. And that's when the interactions are relatively benign ones. For the time being, I'll put trolling and harassment to the side here, though those negative interactions seem to hit the introvert and/or socially stressed harder than the socially comfortable/confident.

And I certainly can't speak for all introverts on the internet. This is my experience. These are my musings. YMMV.

I tend to be an early adopter of all things techie and social media was no exception. I was part of the early AOL message board community and then jumped to blogging in 2004. RSS readers were my jam. They helped me keep up with folks all over the world using blogs to do short and longform essay writing, prose, poetry, and sharing images.

Then came the more overtly commercial platforms: facebook and twitter and pinterest and tumblr and google+, among others.

I made logins for all of them and for a time, tried to keep up with the communities of users in each one.

It was exhausting and instead of focusing on my blog and my own writing, I went from new posts here every 2-3 days to maybe writing something once a month. It was as if the entire landscape of social media morphed from a place to express myself to a place where I needed clicks to validate myself. It got to the point where I felt I was only interacting to get that little seratonin hit whenever someone would notice me.

And you know what? It was all draining. Being noticed is exhausting. Not being noticed is exhausting. Managing all those communities is exhausting.

I am not a small-talk kind of person. If I have a conversation, I want to dig deep and wrestle with the problems of the universe with you. In my offline life, I have a handful of intense friendships and even those folks understand that I may not see them or talk to them in weeks or months before picking up where we left off. I am the kind of person who will drop everything for a friend in need, but have a panic attack if I get too many social invitations in a month.

Computer based social media should have been the perfect place for me.

And I thought it was.

Until I realized how many hours I spent relentlessly refreshing notifications.

Part of this understanding has come by way of the loss of Google+. I spent a lot of time and energy cultivating relationships on G+. I found an amazing contingent of fellow creatives and just fascinating people talking about really interesting things. We shared long conversations, friendly arguments, and terrible puns. I invested a lot of myself there. And Google basically sabotaged the place - both actively and through neglect - until they announced its shuttering.

By then, I had dropped my investment in the other platforms to maintenance mode. Which is primarily where I am now: make minimal comments on posts that amuse me, try to post witty things that will garner notice. It feels narcissistic and shallow, but I can't seem to help it. The thought of putting any more work into a siloed network where users create the content and the value, but are only an afterthought to the commercial interests behind them makes me want to scream.

We've been sold the belief that social media is there for creative people to reach their audience. But I no longer think that's true. WE are the audience. And what social media is selling is our own attention back to us, but fragmented in an endless, recursive loop.

I am trying to find my way back to using the internet in a way that sustains me, rather than drains me. But I'm not sure what that looks like, to be honest.



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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

2018: The Highs, Lows, and Mediums

Not *that* kind of medium, though I wish I could predict the future.

Image of John William Waterhouse's 'The Crystal Ball" used under a creative commons license: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:John_William_Waterhouse_-_The_Crystal_Ball.JPG
I didn't set many specific writing goals for 2018 at the close of 2017. For the most part, this was because of my prior experience of setting goals and watching them crash and burn when confronted by life. However, the one major goal I had - finish the Halcyone Space series and publish A STAR IN THE VOID, was accomplished.
Albeit with a lot of blood, sweat, and tears.

When I look back over the year, it's pretty astonishing that I was able to get anything written. The political climate following the 2016 election  and leading up to the 2018 one was a confounding factor for so many creative people I know and I was no exception.

It was hard to write when I was obsessed with following political news on twitter. When news broke and kept breaking about women coming forth with their #metoo stories, I was shaken. Memories of my own childhood trauma that I had thought dealt with, constantly broke my concentration and sapped my creative energy.

I wrote anyway. Because I'm a stubborn cuss and I had made promises to myself, my characters, and my readers that I didn't want to break. Instead, it nearly broke me and from the time I finished drafting A STAR IN THE VOID early last year until this month, I've struggled to do any kind of consistent writing.

But not all is gloom and doom. When I looked back at 2018's work, I realized that I had accomplished more than I'd feared.



I wrote (and the process was painful, filled with stops, starts, and the delete key - just ask the editor of the collection) "Perpetual Silence" for the collection OF GODS AND GLOBES. It's a story that emerged from sadness and loss, and yet, I found hope in the writing of it. Creativity is weird that way.


Toward the end of the year, I was approached by the editor of LONGSHOT ISLAND and UNFIT MAGAZINE to submit for their inaugural edition of UNFIT. I dug through my story folder and found one that served the magazine's theme. "Persistence of Memory" was a story I had self published in my first collection of short fiction and took the opportunity to give it another editing pass before sending it on to be published alongside some of Science Fiction's heavy hitters.

There are a few other short stories written in 2018 that will be published in 2019 and I'm at about the 10% mark on a new novel that I'm excited to be working on.

The other writing I did was non-fiction: I took space in this blog to chronicle the incredible year I've had connecting with a birth family that I hadn't known and who hadn't known about me. I will be continuing that series, as I have so much more to share and new discoveries keep surprising me. If you want to read along, part 1 is here.


If you are so inclined to recommend any of my work to friends or for any applicable awards, I would be incredibly grateful.

I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year. May 2019 bring you joy.

#SFWApro


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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

The 10 Commandments of Elie Wiesel

This afternoon, I was listening to WBUR as I was prepping dinner, and heard a moving story about Elie Wiesel's life and legacy as told by Rabbi Ariel Burger, a former student who became a colleague and then a friend.

Rabbi Burger had put together this from his time in Wiesel's classroom and so much of it spoke to me.

Of all of these, I am most struck by the last one.

Sometimes there is no meaning. But then we must make meaning.
That speaks to me as a poet and a writer. In a world that seems dark and ominous and where I feel so very vulnerable, writing is an act of valor, of defiance, and of creation. 
I have a friend who is struggling to make sense of her past and to find a path for her future. I have urged her to start journaling, not as a means to make a living with words, but to bring clarity and self-compassion to her life. 
Until I have written down the words, I often don't truly know how I feel. Finding the way to describe an experience is akin to sorting through a pile of stones for a handful of the right size, color, and heft. I often consider each word - alone and then next to its fellows. Does it fit? Does this phrase carry the meaning I need? Do the lines resonate with one another? And above all, will the language I craft organize the tangle of emotion into something I can understand and view from outside of myself?
Then I find peace and acceptance. Patience and compassion. 
Words are my tools to make meaning from the chaos of existence. This is more than capturing the accuracy of a memory. Our minds are not video recorders. Our memories are always in flux. Our interpretations of those memories change, depending on current life events, emotions, and our interactions with others. In effect, our lives are in a constant state of creation and recreation. 
Without the transformational power of art, I would argue that we cannot make meaning. Events would crash over us like the relentless tide on a rocky beach. Without transformation, we react,  lacking the space for reflection. Without reflection, there is no understanding, no wisdom. 
That final commandment is an obligation. We must make meaning, especially when there seems to be none. And yet, there is a danger in this, too. Especially if the meaning we make is one that distorts rather than illuminates. 
As I have lived through the political upheaval in my country these past several years, it occurs to me that we have become vulnerable to letting meaning come from without rather than from within.  We practice less introspection and reflection and instead abdicate our responsibility to self by accepting prefabricated and neatly packaged versions of our experiences. Is it any wonder that so many of us feel fragmented? Strangers to our selves?
It's been far too long since I've kept a journal consistently. Perhaps it's time to return to my old practice and use it as a way to interrogate my emotions and beliefs. Maybe the meaning I seek is waiting for me there.    

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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

The Importance of Small Joys

This was the start of a thread I posted on Twitter this morning. I wanted to keep it all in one place, so I am sharing it here as well.

In every quiet moment, I try to focus on hope. And I repeat this over and over:



I struggle on social media about boosting all of the terrible acts of evil around us.

Am I adding to the despair?

Or helping to warn people of good conscience?

If I let the evil pass without comment, am I complicit?

If I celebrate small joys, am I minimizing the pain & suffering around me?

If I deny those small joys, am I allowing evil to win?

A dear friend posted this to my FB wall. Because I love word-based puns, & I'm a potter.


I had two loved ones send me silly things today that made me laugh.

I am grateful for the momentary respite. It feels right and good to find something positive to cling to.

Right now, it's a blue VW Bug with the license "Alonzz" my son sent me.

My son took this when he was stuck in traffic this morning. Any day that starts with a Doctor Who reference is a good day.


Maybe that small joy is what allows someone a burst of hope & energy to keep fighting.

So I will keep sharing silly dog pictures & groan-worthy word play.  And I hope you will keep sharing those with me, too.

As we fight. As we keep fighting.


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Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

There is no "them"; there is only us

Our synagogue sent out an email last night inviting congregants to gather for a service in remembrance and in honor of those who were slain in Pittsburgh.

I am not a religiously observant Jew, despite attending Friday morning services nearly every week. I don't keep kosher. I don't quite believe in a biblical God. But I am Jewish and have been part of my local synagogue community for nearly 25 years.

When I do attend services, I meditate. I read the English translations of prayers and argue with that God I'm pretty sure doesn't exist. I breathe. I lift my voice in song with melodies that have carved their way through me to my core. Melodies that link me in an unbroken chain with my far away ancestors. In those moments, it doesn't matter what I believe: I am whole.

Today, I woke up early on a day I might have slept in.

I dressed and drove to the synagogue.

As I parked in the midst of other cars, I wondered if any of the other people here came with hatred and harm in their hearts.

I went in anyway.

Inside the small chapel, I gathered with other congregants. Some of whom I knew, others I did not. Their eyes all wore the same haunted look. Many were red rimmed. Others were openly weeping.

It was an act of resistance: raising our voices together in prayer in a sacred space knowing that just yesterday, someone had violated such a space. In that terrible moment, our community became inextricably tied to other communities of different faiths whose peace had been desecrated by hate. To classrooms of school children whose joy of learning had been shattered. To victims of violence in our streets when a normal trip to the market or a night out dancing became a death sentence.

This is not a Jewish Issue. Or a Black Issue. Or a Muslim Issue. Or an LGBTQ Issue.

This is an Human Issue.

______________________________

I am afraid. Not so much for myself, but for my loved ones. Particularly for my children and the world they have come of age in. 
The world I have helped shape. I cannot absolve myself of my part in a terrible complacency that has allowed hatred to flourish. We believed that things were getting better. That society had moved beyond narrow tribalism to embrace a multi-ethnic culture. Perhaps the truth is I allowed myself to believe that because I was prospering. 
Over the past several years, a small voice inside keeps asking the same question: At what cost?

______________________________

What can I do to help repair a wounded world? It feels so trivial to gather to say a prayer for the dead when the living are in so much pain.
Even in my current anguish, I argue with the translated blessings. Instead of reciting the Amidah, I meditate.
May all beings be held in lovingkindness. May all beings be at peace. May all beings be free from suffering.
To those reading this, thank you for being here with me.
May you be held in lovingkindness. May you be at peace. May you be free from suffering.

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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

This is Me: An Adoption Story, Part 7

Coincidences and Connections
If you haven't been following along and want to catch up, here are all the prior installments of this strange and mostly marvelous tale:

Part 1: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-1.html
Part 2: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-2.html
Part 3: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-3.html
Part 4: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-4.html
Part 5: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-5.html
Part 6: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/08/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-6.html

Part of the weirdness of this journey for me was watching all these odd coincidences unfold. Realizing that I had a circle of friends in common with my Uncle Paul was certainly one of them, but not the only one.

Another delightful discovery was that I had a cousin who lives a few towns over from me. He and I met for an extended breakfast last December and pretty much talked nonstop. G's father is my maternal grandmother's brother, so I *think* that makes us second cousins.

(Parenthetical aside: No matter how many times I look up the difference between a cousin and a cousin once removed, I can't keep the distinction in my  head. It makes sense when I look at the genealogy charts, but vanishes after a few minutes.)

I realized, when putting this blog post together, that it's been nearly a year since G. and I met and I definitely need to reach out to him and reconnect.

So to recap:

In October of 2017, I found the adoption file that I had believed was lost in our 2010 house fire while looking for something in the attic. I fired up google and typed in my birth mother's name I found her; but she had died in 2010 Through the family tree that was posted for her, I found her brother, my uncle He and I were connected by a circle of science fiction & fantasy creators Through Paul, I was embraced by my large extended maternal-side family (cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, and my birth mother's 2nd husband) with one exception: My maternal half brother utterly rejected me That brings me up to the Spring of 2018. To that point, I had not yet connected to any of my paternal family. 
During this process, I had signed up with both Ancestry and 23andme. Despite my initial misgivings about the confidentiality of my genetic information, I decided to go ahead with the genetic testing mainly because I hadn't known at the time if I would ever get my health history from any relatives. Given that I have children, and given how much we are discovering about the importance of genetics in health and disease, I chose to risk the privacy issues. 
One of the things that 23andme does is sends you periodic reports when it finds genetic matches and gives you their best estimate on how close a relationship you share. 
In late June of 2018, I got an update from them with a new genetic match. RB was listed as a likely 1st or possibly 2nd cousin. And his last name was the same as my birth father's. This was my first clue to discovering my paternal side family!
I sent an email through the website and got a response back a few days later. Here's where it gets tangled.
The person who answered my email was LA, the daughter of RB. She had been the one to manage the DNA test for her father. It turns out that her father, rather than being my 1st cousin, is actually my half-uncle on my paternal side.
RB's half brother is my birth father, but R did not grow up with his half-siblings. They shared a father but had different mothers, as my paternal grandfather divorced his first wife, who moved with her child (R) to Utah. My paternal grandfather then remarried and had multiple children with his second wife, one of whom is my birth father. 
Through this half-uncle, I was connected to a huge branch of the family, much of which live in Utah. I have corresponded with multiple levels of cousins only to discover that one of my (2nd cousins? Removed? Gah, this gets so complicated!) is a science fiction writer with whom . . . wait for it . . . we share an entire network of mutual friends. 
Yes, folks, there are bone fide science fiction geeks/writers on BOTH sides of my genetic code. 
And it was utterly delightful when I discovered that both Paul (my maternal uncle) and Karen (my 2nd cousin, something something removed on my paternal side) were both attending WorldCon in California this summer. The two of them found one another and took a photo together for me. 
Paul and Karen - the 2 sides of my heritage meet!

To be continued. . . 
P.S. Happy "Foundaversary" Paul! It was just a year ago that we spoke for the first time!



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Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

The Potter of Akrotiri

Photos taken by me at the Museum of Prehistoric Thera



*Inspired by our current travels in Greece, my love of pottery, and the recent discovery that a skeleton discovered on Crete with unusual patterns of wear is in fact of a woman master ceramicist. 


Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.
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Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
View the full article

LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

Remembering three mothers

The Yiskor service on Yom Kippur is a powerful one. The whole day is powerful with its themes of repentance, atonement, and introspection and the memorial prayers for the dead seem to take on additional meaning.

Even more so now that both my parents have died.

This year, I spent quite a bit of time during the service thinking about the three mothers who have had a great influence on my life: the mother who raised me, the mother who raised my husband, and for the first time, the mother who gave birth to me.

I am grateful for the mother who adopted me - who believed I was a special order from G-d to her. She instilled in me a love of reading, of learning, of art, of the importance of family and hard work. If she held on to me a little tighter than I wanted, it was from an abundance of love and a fear of losing what she loved. She was a woman who had experienced deep losses from an early age and lived her life always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

I understand that now. I wish she had been able to let go of her fears and truly live.

I am grateful for my husband's mother. She died far too young - when she was 50 and Neil was in his second year of medical school. I was fortunate to have known her. She was a force to be reckoned with - passionate, energetic, fiercely devoted to her principles and her family - which is often a difficult balancing act. She raised her son to be a deeply caring and emotionally healthy man.

This year, I also said Yiskor for my birth mother. Her name was Robin. She was 17 when she discovered she was pregnant with me. Maybe if she had come of age a decade or so later, perhaps she would have been the mother who raised me, but in the 1960's single parenthood was a different proposition. For whatever her specific reason or reasons, she surrendered me for adoption as a 5 day old infant and set the course of my life on its trajectory.

It's almost been a year since I discovered her name on a website and uncovered the network of my extended birth family and have been able to learn a bit about her.

She died in 2010 at the age of 65.

I never had the chance to connect with her. To let her know I was fine. More than fine - that I had a rich and fulfilling life, complete with work that I enjoy and an amazing family.

I love and I am loved. This makes me fortunate beyond measure.

When you're an adoptee, the question of nature vs nurture is one that is never far from your thoughts. While much of who I am has been shaped by my upbringing and my experiences, it is also true that there is much of my birth mother in me: the love of science fiction, the pride in the work of my hands, the drive to create, and the passion for local, sustainable food are things I seem to share with her.

It felt right to remember these three remarkable women, all of whom have contributed to the woman I am. As part of my spiritual practice, and in the spirit of Yom Kippur, I will work to honor their memories in the new year.

May you be inscribed in the book of life.




Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.
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Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

This is me: An Adoption Story, Part 6

For anyone just stumbling on this story, the earlier installments are here:

Part 1: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-1.html
Part 2: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-2.html
Part 3: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-3.html
Part 4: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-4.html
Part 5: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-5.html

I've taken a bit of a hiatus in the tale of my adoption search. Part of that is because life is busy and full. Part because this is an emotional journey and writing about it brings back the intensity of living through it. Part, because this next piece was difficult to write.

In a prior installment, I talked about discovering I had a half brother.
I hadn't been ready at the time to contact him: it was more than enough to process all these new family member. Contacting J would be taking yet another enormous emotional risk. One I wasn't sure I was ready for.

So in February, I got to see Paul again, this time at Boskone (another Boston area Science Fiction and Fantasy convention.) This time, my husband and older son got to meet him. And they got along like they had been long-lost friends.

Paul meeting his "new" grandnephew
In fact, when I had to run from brunch to make a panel, my son and husband stayed to chat with Paul and later Paul's wife commented something to the effect that my husband and Paul could have been related they had so much in common.

At this point, it had been four months since I had found Paul and my maternal side family. I had been embraced and welcomed by them all: my uncle Paul. His half-sister. Paul's daughter. Robin's second husband Ed, Paul's cousin G, (who lives about 15 minutes from me!), and G's father, Paul and Robin's Uncle. Pretty much all of the family.

Except for my half brother J.

That February, I asked Paul for J's contact information. He gave it to me, but cautioned me not to expect much. That there was a strong possibility J would never even answer my email. And that I shouldn't take it personally.

It was very sweet for him to be so concerned, and to want to protect me from being hurt.

I assured him that no matter what happened, it couldn't be personal, since J didn't know me. And that I felt strongly about giving him the option to connect or not.

So I sent J an email. I had few expectations, but I also didn't want to make the choice for him.

I was surprised to get a reply right away. And his reply was similar to his grandmother's response so many years ago: essentially, prove who you are.

So I did. I took pictures of my adoption documents and of the notes in our mother's handwriting that were included in the file and emailed them back to him, also clarifying that I wasn't looking for anything from him other than the opportunity to connect, or at the very least, trade health information. I also directed him to this blog for a chance to get to know me at a remove.

I waited.

And waited.

It was weeks.

By the time I got a response, I had been certain none would be forthcoming.

I imagine J crafted his email carefully, aiming for whatever he believed would be most hurtful to drive me away. I won't share the specifics of what he wrote. The what almost doesn't matter. It was clearly untrue and it was clearly meant to ensure I kept my distance from him.

While I don't like making assumptions, it's hard to read J's words and not see an intent to wound. This was the kind of response Paul had been worried about for my sake.

And had I received that response at a far earlier time in my life, I might have been truly hurt by it.

But I know what it is like to love and be loved. To trust and be trusted. J's response had nothing to do with me and everything to do with him and whatever hurt and anger he has nurtured all these years.

I am sorry for him.

He had every right to reject contact. Had he done so directly and honestly, I would have been disappointed, but that is the nature of choices.

But by responding with cruelty and disdain, he revealed himself more clearly than he will ever know.

And it saddens me that he chose to lash out. I worry that he doesn't have the kind of rich emotional life and support that I have. He may be a stranger, but his is also my brother. My *baby* brother. There is that part of me that wishes to take care of him and embrace him as I have been embraced.

I did send him a reply. I didn't respond to any of the hurtful words, only told him that I would honor his wish to break off contact. I offered some of my medical/health information and let him know that should he choose differently in the future, I would welcome hearing from him.

That was six months ago.

I don't imagine there will be any reply.


Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.
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Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
View the full article

LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

Guest Post: The Metaphysics of Science Fiction

I occasionally offer my blog to fellow creative travelers and today it is my great pleasure to hand over this space to Lancelot Shaubert. 
I first met Lance through the Writer Unboxed community and attended several writing retreats with him in the past few years. He is a bright, driven, passionate artist in all senses of the word. A writer, a musician, a filmmaker, Lance is someone whose vision includes collaboration and connection. I am honored to know him. Honored to be named a mentor by him. Honored to be part of his anthology.
Lance sent this to me when I was experiencing a low moment - feeling as if my creative work was at a dead end and not reaching or touching an audience. I didn't know until reading this how profoundly my story had moved Lance. He saw in it elements I did not consciously intend, but as all art is a construction between artist and audience, I am honored by what he sees in it. 
I leave you his thoughtful piece to consider. The Metaphysics of Sci-Fi
Lancelot Shaubert



Since the meaning of anything is first and foremost the meaning of everything, sci-fi stories can carry a heavy metaphysical burden by virtue of containing lots of things: big things, small things, multiple planets full of things and so forth. When it comes to awakening the metaphysical import of science fiction inside of me, no living author has done so both through their craft and friendship more than LJ Cohen.

It seems every time we get together, she and I end up talking about meaning and philosophy and metaphysics. Time and again, both in those talks and through her work, she proves that sci-fi carries that burden better than any fiction genre other than fantasy. Take her most recent short “Perpetual Silence” from the Of Gods and Globes anthology I edited this summer. For starters, I cry every time I read her story. No exaggeration. I cry every time I read her story for the amount it says in so little, the weight it carries with such honesty and curiosity and melancholy: this is a story that gets the essence of nostalgia, of Sehnsucht.

Spoiler alert for those of you that care about such things (though I tend to think spoilers enhance rather than detract from the reading experience), but her story features a young woman researcher creating an instantaneous comms link in the distant heavens through a satellite. It’s like internet for deep space, a phone call to the other end of the galaxy. Strictly speaking, this should be impossible, but they figure it out. Problem: this instantaneous communication works like a virus and erases all lag from all communication between satellites. It’s inconvenient to the scientist long-term and she terminates her team’s life’s work in an instant of code. Why?

“She’d called the universe. The universe had called back.” She sought the ultimate consciousness behind infinite being and total reality and that consciousness responded. It scared her enough that she shuttered the program.

Think about that: she discovered and verified prayer. The story’s a metaphysical and astronomical argument for prayer. And for why we don’t pray: we’re actually scared of an answer, scared of the grounds of all reality, of the necessary and sufficient cause of being having... well... a mind of its own.

It’s not the only time an author asks such questions in a sci-fi story.

Star Wars quite famously proffered a sort of gnostic dualism as the grounds of its magic system. Dune dealt with the nature of prophecy to affect not only space, but timelines, and what time means for one’s identity. Firefly asks classic existentialist questions over and again: particularly the "Out of Gas" episode where they ask why does a screwdriver exist? Why is there such a thing as a screwdriver when there should be nothing? When a screwdriver and none of the material or efficient causes of a screwdriver can possibly contain the cause of a screwdriver’s being, moment to moment?

Heady questions from space cowboys...

The Martian, of course, asked if raw conscious courage can trump mindless matter. The Foundation (poorly, I think) asks questions based on the Hegelian picture of history (bolstered poorly by the Wellsian picture of history and mythology), questions that Sanderson picks back up in Elantris and... in a way... stumbles through to something like a more holistic picture.

The Man in the High Castle more than any asked if America would ever create true art, a true work of beauty (one that delights in making intimate the great distance between two things while preserving said distance) when we Americans obsess on the one hand with our hyper utilitarian purgation of art and on the other hand with profiting off of commodities and frauds?

If art, in other words, makes a new culture by preserving our own special uniqueness via a singular intimate encounter with what’s us and no one else, then we ought not (1) worry about profits first, for art is not advertisement, nor (2) worry about how many copies of our work exist, for art is about preserving that beatific distance in an intimate encounter and not about the proliferation of our namesake, nor (3) the efficacious or tangible or systematic affect of our work on the immediate society, for art is about the seventh generation and not about us and therefore the virtue it forms in us is far more important and far-reaching than whatever system it could tweak or technology it could inspire.

Though, strictly speaking, the Elon Musks of today are a few generations removed from the scifi of yesterdecade.

And then there’s Station Eleven, a sci-fi book written by a literary author (whatever that means) who typically writes for The Millions. Emily St. John Mandel builds a whole book out of graphic novel meta references and quotes from Star Trek claiming things like SURVIVAL IS INSUFFICIENT as well as songs and skits from a rag tag traveling orchestra and theater company — all of this points to the value of science fiction and dreaming of the future in a post apocalyptic world mostly killed off by the flu.

She ends the book with the first set of folks taking off in the first plane since the plague, dreaming of the first ships sailing in the dark since the crisis, and drawing a clean line between the sci-fi of today and the best parts of that science fiction vision which motivated The New World mythos, Columbus and all...

Whether or not the metaphysics of the 17th century was true — or whether or not the Manifest Destiny it upheld is just or beautiful or good — is a question for another day, but no one can deny that the idea of Manifest Destiny showed up first in 17th century science fiction. After all, the metaphysicians and fictioneers of that time were only following in a literary tradition solidified by Dante — an author only willfully stupid readers would claim had no metaphysical impetus behind his description of that great reversal of gravity the protagonist of Inferno experiences while passing down the frozen demon’s belly button.

____

Lancelot Schaubert has sold hundreds of stories, articles, and poems to markets like TOR (Macmillan), The New Haven Review, McSweeney’s, The World Series Edition of Poker Pro, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, and many similar venues. 
To grab a free copy of chapter one of his best written work (slated for 2019) and his best song, click here. 

Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.
Email        
First Name
Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
View the full article

LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

Guest Post: The Metaphysics of Science Fiction

I occasionally offer my blog to fellow creative travelers and today it is my great pleasure to hand over this space to Lancelot Shaubert. 
I first met Lance through the Writer Unboxed community and attended several writing retreats with him in the past few years. He is a bright, driven, passionate artist in all senses of the word. A writer, a musician, a filmmaker, Lance is someone whose vision includes collaboration and connection. I am honored to know him. Honored to be named a mentor by him. Honored to be part of his anthology.
Lance sent this to me when I was experiencing a low moment - feeling as if my creative work was at a dead end and not reaching or touching an audience. I didn't know until reading this how profoundly my story had moved Lance. He saw in it elements I did not consciously intend, but as all art is a construction between artist and audience, I am honored by what he sees in it. 
I leave you his thoughtful piece to consider. The Metaphysics of Sci-Fi
Lancelot Shaubert



Since the meaning of anything is first and foremost the meaning of everything, sci-fi stories can carry a heavy metaphysical burden by virtue of containing lots of things: big things, small things, multiple planets full of things and so forth. When it comes to awakening the metaphysical import of science fiction inside of me, no living author has done so both through their craft and friendship more than LJ Cohen.

It seems every time we get together, she and I end up talking about meaning and philosophy and metaphysics. Time and again, both in those talks and through her work, she proves that sci-fi carries that burden better than any fiction genre other than fantasy. Take her most recent short “Perpetual Silence” from the Of Gods and Globes anthology I edited this summer. For starters, I cry every time I read her story. No exaggeration. I cry every time I read her story for the amount it says in so little, the weight it carries with such honesty and curiosity and melancholy: this is a story that gets the essence of nostalgia, of Sehnsucht.

Spoiler alert for those of you that care about such things (though I tend to think spoilers enhance rather than detract from the reading experience), but her story features a young woman researcher creating an instantaneous comms link in the distant heavens through a satellite. It’s like internet for deep space, a phone call to the other end of the galaxy. Strictly speaking, this should be impossible, but they figure it out. Problem: this instantaneous communication works like a virus and erases all lag from all communication between satellites. It’s inconvenient to the scientist long-term and she terminates her team’s life’s work in an instant of code. Why?

“She’d called the universe. The universe had called back.” She sought the ultimate consciousness behind infinite being and total reality and that consciousness responded. It scared her enough that she shuttered the program.

Think about that: she discovered and verified prayer. The story’s a metaphysical and astronomical argument for prayer. And for why we don’t pray: we’re actually scared of an answer, scared of the grounds of all reality, of the necessary and sufficient cause of being having... well... a mind of its own.

It’s not the only time an author asks such questions in a sci-fi story.

Star Wars quite famously proffered a sort of gnostic dualism as the grounds of its magic system. Dune dealt with the nature of prophecy to affect not only space, but timelines, and what time means for one’s identity. Firefly asks classic existentialist questions over and again: particularly the "Out of Gas" episode where they ask why does a screwdriver exist? Why is there such a thing as a screwdriver when there should be nothing? When a screwdriver and none of the material or efficient causes of a screwdriver can possibly contain the cause of a screwdriver’s being, moment to moment?

Heady questions from space cowboys...

The Martian, of course, asked if raw conscious courage can trump mindless matter. The Foundation (poorly, I think) asks questions based on the Hegelian picture of history (bolstered poorly by the Wellsian picture of history and mythology), questions that Sanderson picks back up in Elantris and... in a way... stumbles through to something like a more holistic picture.

The Man in the High Castle more than any asked if America would ever create true art, a true work of beauty (one that delights in making intimate the great distance between two things while preserving said distance) when we Americans obsess on the one hand with our hyper utilitarian purgation of art and on the other hand with profiting off of commodities and frauds?

If art, in other words, makes a new culture by preserving our own special uniqueness via a singular intimate encounter with what’s us and no one else, then we ought not (1) worry about profits first, for art is not advertisement, nor (2) worry about how many copies of our work exist, for art is about preserving that beatific distance in an intimate encounter and not about the proliferation of our namesake, nor (3) the efficacious or tangible or systematic affect of our work on the immediate society, for art is about the seventh generation and not about us and therefore the virtue it forms in us is far more important and far-reaching than whatever system it could tweak or technology it could inspire.

Though, strictly speaking, the Elon Musks of today are a few generations removed from the scifi of yesterdecade.

And then there’s Station Eleven, a sci-fi book written by a literary author (whatever that means) who typically writes for The Millions. Emily St. John Mandel builds a whole book out of graphic novel meta references and quotes from Star Trek claiming things like SURVIVAL IS INSUFFICIENT as well as songs and skits from a rag tag traveling orchestra and theater company — all of this points to the value of science fiction and dreaming of the future in a post apocalyptic world mostly killed off by the flu.

She ends the book with the first set of folks taking off in the first plane since the plague, dreaming of the first ships sailing in the dark since the crisis, and drawing a clean line between the sci-fi of today and the best parts of that science fiction vision which motivated The New World mythos, Columbus and all...

Whether or not the metaphysics of the 17th century was true — or whether or not the Manifest Destiny it upheld is just or beautiful or good — is a question for another day, but no one can deny that the idea of Manifest Destiny showed up first in 17th century science fiction. After all, the metaphysicians and fictioneers of that time were only following in a literary tradition solidified by Dante — an author only willfully stupid readers would claim had no metaphysical impetus behind his description of that great reversal of gravity the protagonist of Inferno experiences while passing down the frozen demon’s belly button.

____

Lancelot Schaubert has sold hundreds of stories, articles, and poems to markets like TOR (Macmillan), The New Haven Review, McSweeney’s, The World Series Edition of Poker Pro, The Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, and many similar venues. 
To grab a free copy of chapter one of his best written work (slated for 2019) and his best song, click here. 

Subscribe to BlueMusings and receive my short story collection, STRANGER WORLDS THAN THESE, as my gift.
Email        
First Name
Blue Musings is a low volume e-newsletter containing notifications about book releases, sales, recommendations, and free original short fiction. Please click the box, then "subscribe" to allow us to send it to you via email.
View the full article

LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

Playing the Long Game

I'm taking a brief break from the long and twisting tale of my adoption search story to return to some hard numbers about my publishing journey. I do this periodically, mainly because I believe in transparency and it helps me maintain perspective.

First caveat: I am almost entirely self-published.
Second caveat: I do very little promotion or paid advertising. I have a small mailing list of under 1000 subscribers. I could probably earn more/sell more if I focused on this side of the business.
Third caveat: I walked away from amazon page reads to keep my books widely available. This resulted in a definite drop in income that I'm starting to recover from. It was a long term choice to eschew the immediate money for long term sustainability.
Fourth Caveat: I have learned I can write/publish a book a year and no more than that.
Fifth caveat: YMMV


This is an overview of my earnings from January of 2012 through yesterday, August 7, 2018.

I've marked when each of my 8 novels were published. They are color coded for the series they belong to.

A few things to notice:

2014 was an anomaly year. In June of 2014, I published DERELICT, the first novel in my space opera series, Halcyone Space. I did little that I hadn't done for my prior books, but this one (forgive the terrible pun) took off like a rocket.

There were fewer books being published in 2014 and Amazon's algorithms (impenetrable to mere mortals, then and now) somehow picked up on a week or so of modest sales and decided to promote the book in its genre newsletters.

Unfortunately, I had no way of capitalizing on this good fortune directly, as Amazon doesn't share its sales intel. While I had my social media links in the book and a link to my newsletter, I had no way to directly promote to all those readers.

One year later, when ITHAKA RISING was published, (book 2 of the series) I had no way to let all the readers of book 1 know it was out. And Amazon didn't magically do it for me. You can clearly see the tiny bump in income for that release. However, sales of all books over the following months were slightly higher than in the prior year.

In 2016, I had greater traction with the release of DREADNOUGHT AND SHUTTLE, again mainly due to the power of Amazon: At that point, I had taken the newer books exclusive to Amazon in their Kindle Unlimited program and a big chunk of my income that year was through page reads.

Book 5 (PARALLAX) debuted in 2017, when I had pulled out from KU to have all the books available wide. My income between mid 2017 to mid 2018 was given a lovely boost by a .99 Bookbub feature on DERELICT.


This second graph is a yearly comparison of earnings between January of 2012, when I published my first novel, through yesterday, August 7, 2018.

With 8 novels in the marketplace, and a completed series, and greater traction on non-Amazon marketplaces (especially Kobo), I'm on track to exceed my KU exclusive/boosted-by-page-reads 2016 income.

If you omit the outlier of 2014, and factor in the switch from Amazon exclusive to wide, the trend is towards higher earnings year on year with more books available in the marketplace. (Note: the 2018 bar is only 7 months of the year and doesn't include the earnings from my latest bookbundle participation.)

Take Home Messages Publishing is a long game More of your books in the marketplace translates to more potential points of contact and sales Amazon is still the biggest player in the market. Some writers choose to stay exclusive with them and can do extremely well on page reads and the specific promotional tools that gives them.  Going wide entails risk and it can take a long time to gain audience share outside of Amazon Of my 8 novels to date, 4 have earned back their production expenses, the 5th is on track to do so. 3 have not and probably will not. This is the case even in traditional publishing: good sellers bankroll poorer sellers. This is not the business to be in if you need a steady income. AKA keep your day job or have a partner with one.  Luck and timing play a larger role in financial success in publishing that any of us want to admit.  You have no direct control over luck or timing.  Hard work is necessary, but it's not enough. If you, like me, find creating as necessary as breathing, there is no hope but to keep working. 
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This is Me: An adoption story, part 5

For anyone just stumbling on this story, the earlier installments are here:
After that intense, emotional, incredible first conversation with my new uncle, Paul and I continued to talk - via phone, email, and text. Over the next weeks, we got to know one another.

I found out more about my sprawling family tree, including cousins and an aunt (Paul's half sister through my maternal grandfather) who is almost a decade younger than me! I had several phone and email conversations with her and she is lovely, kind, thoughtful, and welcoming.

She put me in contact with Robin's late second husband Ed, who she had kept in contact with.

I then had a long chain of email conversations with Ed, learning about Robin as an adult. They were very much in love and had a very happy life together. She's been gone now 8 years and I know he misses her keenly, still.  He was even able to find and send scans of some old photos of Robin, from when she was in her 20s.

My birthmother, Robin, late 1960s? Ed was thrilled to know something of Robin's survived her death. Even he hadn't known about me. He and I continue to be in contact.


I mentioned in an earlier episode of this tale that my uncle Paul and I had mutual friends. It goes deeper than that. We had been at the same science fiction & fantasy conventions, not once, but several times. Balticon in the Baltimore area and Arisia and Boskone in Boston.

These are not huge conventions. It is more than possible that he and I were at the same sessions and never knew there was anything other than a fan connection between us. In fact, we were both invited guests at cons and might have bumped into one another in the 'green room'.

Paul retired from his teaching and his work with SETI (yes, the listening in outer space for sign of alien life!) and performs as a filker - think a combination of Weird Al and Tom Lehrer with a science fiction twist. He is unbelievably smart (2 PhDs), a lifelong geek, and with a sense of humor that prizes cleverness over mockery. Reader, I adored him. Even before we met (spoilers! We got to meet!) I knew I would feel comfortable with him.

We discovered that we were both invited guests at Boskone, to be held in Boston February of 2018 - just a few months away. I was thrilled that I'd have the chance to meet him and we made plans to have my family join me there as well.

Then a few conversations later, he asked me if I would be attending Arisia - another Boston con, one that takes place in January. Because he was able to attend and was hoping to meet me even sooner.

And yes, I was also on program there. And yes, I was eager to meet my uncle in person.

And here we are.


We sat near the con's registration area and talked for hours. He would often break off in the middle of a thought to stare at me and smile, remarking how much a particular expression of mine was so like Robin's.

Was it weird?

Yes.

Was it remarkable and incredible?

Yes.



To be continued. . .

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This is Me: An adoption story, part 4

If you've been following along, this is part 4 of my adoption search story. While it reads very much like the end, truly, it marks the start of a new journey of discovery that is ongoing. Stay tuned!


After I had my hard, ugly cry and caught my breath and washed my face, I was ready to call the phone number, ready to speak with my Uncle Paul.

With shaking hands, I called..

I honestly can't really remember much of that conversation. My whole body was trembling. I'm sure my voice was strained.

Part of me was still afraid he would hang up on me, or angrily insist on proof of my story. I half expected the same kind of hostility and rejection I had received from his mother, despite the email he'd sent.

Instead he expressed wonder and astonishment.

And he welcomed me.

As I quietly cried, we traded our histories - sketches of a lifetime compressed into an hour-long phone call.

I learned that he hadn't known of my existence. That his parents and sister had kept the secret all these years, and took it to their graves.

Paul was a year older than his sister - my birth mother. He was away in college when she got pregnant. All he knew was that his sister deferred her college acceptance for a semester, saying she had some kind of job or internship in San Francisco.

What she did, was have a baby and give her up for adoption.

Then she started college in January of 1964.

Paul gave me so much more than the answers to my lifelong questions. He also helped give me context for my maternal family.

My sketchy handwritten notes
As Paul describes it, my maternal family tree is less a tree than a vine. Part of that is because my maternal grandfather (Ben) was married and divorced multiple times and had children with several of his wives.

Ben was born in Eastern Europe, walked across much of the continent, got passage on a British freighter to Liverpool where he learned English. A self-educated man, my maternal grandfather became a British citizen and traveled to Toronto. He then took a train to Chicago, because he knew they didn't check papers. He married my maternal grandmother Phyllis and enlisted in the army in WWII, and became a citizen afterwards.

Ben was a poet and he worked as an advertiser. A man who came here as an illegal immigrant and self-educated, self-taught in English.

I told Paul about my experience with his mother, all those years before. After a brief silence, he expressed regret that she had reacted in such a negative way. That she had been a fierce family matriarch and he was sorry I had been rejected.

And he told me about Robin.

She was the one who introduced him to science fiction. Yes, my birth mother was a science fiction fan. She also was a writer, a theatre costumer and set designer, and was outspoken for social justice.


I remember telling Paul my greatest regret was that I never had the chance to tell Robin that I was okay. More than okay. That I had a wonderful upbringing and harbored no anger about the circumstance of my adoption. That I had two grown sons and a family and a life that I loved.

Paul was silent for another long moment. There was a sadness in his voice when he said how much Robin would have liked to have been a grandmother.

He also told me that she had been married and had had a child - a son. My half-brother. J (and I'll be using initials for some of the people in this story, first names for others, all to protect people's privacy) had estranged himself from the family decades before. Paul had no idea why. Only that when Robin was dying, J never responded to their emails and didn't attend her funeral.

She was divorced from her first husband, but had found happiness in her last years with her second husband, Ed.

Sadly, she died at 65, of cancer and I will never know her.

The best I can do is learn about her from the stories of those who loved her.

And that will have to be enough.


To be continued . . . 



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This is Me: An adoption story, part 3

I had to laugh when several people who I'm connected with on social media mock-chided me on ending the first 2 installments of this story on cliffhangers. Yes, I'm a novelist, so part of what I do as a storyteller is to ramp up the stakes to keep the reader interested. However, where I chose to stop each piece of the story mirrors my own experience during this journey. As I replied to them: #sorrynotsorry

Here's part number 3.

Pat 1: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-1.html


Part 2: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-2.html



For several days, I sat with the knowledge that I had a new uncle in the world, and that he'd had a close relationship with his sister - my birth mother. I studied her image in the photos my friend had linked me to, searching for the kind of resemblance she clearly saw. But mostly, I tried to read between the lines of my uncle's website to figure out what kind of person he was.

Clearly, he was a geek. That was a huge point in his favor. And a scientist with an interest in astronomy and space. He'd been involved with SETI, which set my own geeky heart racing with excitement.

So in the quiet of the house one day, I decided to send him an email, through his website. I clearly stated who I was, who my mother had been. The circumstances (as I understood them) of my birth and adoption.

And then I waited.

And waited.

A few days went by and I was convinced that this, too, would be a dead end.

And I realized I didn't want it to be. More than that: I needed to make contact.

Maybe that sounds selfish. I'm willing to admit there is an element of selfishness in pursuing old secrets, regardless of how revealing them might affect other people. But there's also some degree of feeling I had a right to know my own history. And certainly, I had a duty to my children to find out about our genetic legacy.

So when I didn't get a reply, I searched for my uncle on Facebook. I figured that someone with such a large internet footprint would likely have a Facebook profile.

And he did.

That was not really surprising.

What was surprising was that we had several friends in common. People I had met and interacted with over the course of several years. One an editor of a small press out of Brooklyn. The other, one of my fellow members of Broad Universe.

By this time, I had traveled with my husband to Denver, where he was attending a conference and where in a few days, I would be attending a science fiction convention.

So from our hotel room, I reached out to my editor friend, and sent him a private message on Facebook.


And when my friend replied with his email, I sent him this:

My friend wrote back right away, that he indeed did know my uncle and would be happy to forward a message from me.

I think it was only a matter of a few minutes when I received an email.


Alone, in a hotel room in Denver, Colorado, I had the biggest, loudest, ugliest cry I've ever had in my life. Huge gulping sobs. It felt like my heart was heaving so hard it was going to tear itself apart.

I couldn't catch my breath. I couldn't sit still.

I wasn't alone in the world. After losing both my folks in a five year span, I had felt as if I'd been orphaned. All my aunts and uncles had passed away and an entire generation was gone. Never mind that I was a married woman in my 50s with a family of her own. Never mind that I had a sister, cousins, neices, nephews, in-laws, I was suddenly among the oldest generation in my family or origin. And I felt that I had no one to call on to ask for advice, or look to for their experience. It was a very lonely place.

But in that moment, I knew no matter what came next, I was not alone. That some part of me was still alive and welcomed me home.

To be continued. . . 


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This is me: An adoption story, part 2

Yesterday, I started to tell the story of my search for my birth family. If you haven't yet seen part 1, it's here: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2018/07/this-is-me-adoption-story-part-1.html

So, we're at the point last December when I realized I hadn't lost my adoption file in our 2010 house fire and that the paperwork had been in a box in the attic for the prior 7 years.

My birth mother's information
The file consisted of about a dozen pages of handwritten notes - information about my birth mother, her parents, birth father, his parents, 2 letters she wrote to the adoption lawyer, a CA birth certificate, and the court proceedings ratifying my adoption.

The last time I had googled her name was early in the 2000's and didn't find anything helpful. This time, my search turned up a genealogy website with her name on a family tree. The limited information that was there matched - including her birthdate and my first shock was finding that she had died in 2010.

My second was that she had been married and had had one child.

Somewhere in the world, I had a half-sibling.

I spent some time looking for her husband and finally found him and his email address. I sent him a message, but never got a reply. (7 months later, I still have not.) Another dead end.

I told a friend what I had found and she decided to do some internet sleuthing. She found that Robin's brother had a large internet footprint and even found his online family holiday letters, including photographs of Robin in adulthood. And though his website, I had his email address.

Everyone I showed the photos to told me how strong a resemblance they saw.

Suddenly I had to make a choice. Do I try to contact this man? How would I be received?

This was no small matter.

Because this wasn't the first time I had held these papers in my hands, facing a similar decision.


*

                  
In 1992, my first child was born. A son. With my blue eyes and black hair. My round face. It was like looking down at an infant version of my own face and it was an incredibly powerful moment: Here was the first time in my life where I was actually in the presence of someone I was related to.

It shook me.

It made me understand that my past wasn't just a matter of my own curiosity, but a deep need to connect my history with my future; especially for the sake of this new life I had helped create.

And, as a mother, I had a surge of emotion and empathy for my birth mother. If I had to give up a child, I would want to know that child was okay. That I had made the right choice for that child's best future.

I was determined to let Robin know I was okay. I was more than okay. And I felt she deserved to know she had a grandchild in the world.


These were the notes the lawyer wrote ahead of his first meeting with my birth mother

I've redacted the identifying information, but included in this document was her parents' address and phone number as of June of 1963.

I gathered all my courage. By this time, my son was about 5 months old, and looking more like me by the day.

I called the number.

A woman answered.

It was Robin's mother.

When I told her who I was, she had her husband pick up the other line, and she began to interrogate me.

I don't remember the exact conversation - it was almost 25 years ago, and I was in a highly emotional state - but the gist was she didn't trust me. She kept demanding to know what I wanted. When I tried to tell her I just wanted to make contact, to let Robin know I was okay, she strangely responded that she wasn't going to give me any money.

I tried to tell her I didn't need money. I was a physical therapist. My husband was a physician. We had just bought a house. We were fine.

After making no headway in trying to get any information about Robin (they told me she wasn't married and had no children, which I later was to discover was not true), I asked for a photograph of her.

The woman who was my grandmother offered this: she would send a photograph if I swore never to contact anyone in the family ever again.

I was stunned.

I didn't know what to say.

I stammered something about that being emotional blackmail.

They hung up on me.

I sat in front of our home computer shaken and weeping.

It took some time for the hurt to fade, but in some ways, it made me even more grateful for the incredible family I had.

*
So fast forward to December of 2017.

I have a name - my Uncle. I have his email address.

And I have the painful memory of being rejected by his mother.

More importantly, I have a decision to make.


To be continued. . .









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LJ Cohen

 

This is Me: An adoption story, part 1

How’s this for irony?

In 2010, I was finally ready to locate and contact my birth parents after years of struggling with what was right and if my own need to know superseded both my adoptive family’s feelings and the chance of exposing old secrets in my birth family.

I wrote this poem in the fall of that year. It helped me realize it was time to dig out the records I had received years earlier. I was going to do what it took: search on the internet, hire an adoption detective. But life got busy, as it always does, and I figured I’d have time during the kid’s winter school vacation.

On December 1, 2010, we were woken up by the smoke detectors blaring. Our house was on fire. And we fled barefoot and in our pajamas. Dealing with the emotional impact of the fire, being displaced from our home for almost a year, and the overwhelming amount of administrative work that followed drove my adoption search to the bottom of my priority list.

In hindsight, 2010 was a really awful year, and not just because of our housefire: It was also the year my birth mother died. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The following year - 2011 - when we moved back into our rebuilt house, I believed that the large envelop with my handwritten adoption paperwork had burned in the fire. With the lawyer who handled the adoption now long dead, his office closed, I knew there was no way to recreate the files. I only had what I remembered from them, which was incomplete.

In the years that followed, I would occasionally search for my birth mother’s and birth father’s names on google, but wasn’t able to find anyone either on the internet or on social media who matched what I knew of them.  I had registered my information on several adoption matching sites, but with incomplete information, I wasn’t very hopeful.

And it was during those years that my parents were becoming ill and their safety and medical needs occupied so much of my time and focus. There were other family crises during those years, too, and my own “curiosity” (such an incomplete word to describe my deep, primal need to know about my past and my history) took a back seat to everything else.

Parents. Adoptive parents. Birth parents. We just don’t have enough precise language to describe all these relationships.

Me, Mom, and Dad, Florida Vacation, 1969

When I say parents, I mean the mom and dad who adopted me and raised me. Hanford and Bea Cohen, both now of blessed memory. They embraced me into my new family when I was just 5 days old, never hiding the fact that they had adopted – chosen – wanted me. And there was no one in the extended family on either side who didn’t embrace me as family.

I grew up surrounded by love, encouragement, emotional security.

And yet. . .

And yet, there were always unspoken questions. Questions I knew would make my mother sad if I asked them. Which didn’t make the questions go away, it only buried them deep in my psyche.

Why was I given up?

To a young child, the unspoken, terrifying answer to that question had to be that something was wrong with me, or that I had done something wrong to not have been wanted.

It didn’t matter that my rational brain knew that wasn’t the case. As I’ve said many times: humans are not primarily rational creatures. We are emotional creatures who justify our feelings with a coating of rationality.

So my need to search wasn’t really a need to find a new family, but a need to find myself and release a hurt I didn’t really know I was holding.

And it was completely serendipitous that one day, in December of 2017, I found myself in our attic looking for the old clock radio I knew my husband had put up there because he doesn’t throw things away.

Next to the radio, were several banker’s boxes of papers we had rescued from the house and tossed in the attic when we returned after the fire, six years earlier. Boxes I had never looked through.

Until I did that day.

And inside one of the last boxes was my adoption file.

To be continued. . .


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LJ Cohen

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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

 

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.

http://justhungry.com/strawberry-jam-copious-detail

And a few links from this blog, along with photos of past year's jamming: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2012/06/strawberries.html
http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/2013/08/we-be-jammin-blueberry-edition.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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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.
—KJ
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

LJ Cohen

 

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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