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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.

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 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.
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

 

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.
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

 

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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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

 

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. 

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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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LJ Cohen

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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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LJ Cohen

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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

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

LJ Cohen

 

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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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

 

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

 

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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The Art of Halcyone Space

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

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

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

Derelict

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

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

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

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


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Saying goodbye to my imaginary friends

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

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

And these were the protagonists.

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

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

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

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

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

Their voices and personalities have become quite distinct.

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

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

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

Easiest way out of blocked creativity ever!

But then came book 5.

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

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

Metaphorically speaking.

Really, I'm a terrible dancer.

But I digress.

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

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

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

A STAR IN THE VOID.
Summer, 2018






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So you want to be an ally

This post emerged from my observations and experiences, especially over the past year and in response to the #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo movements. This is by no means an authoritative or complete guide to allyship - that would be a pretty large ego-driven statement - but it is something that's been bouncing around my head and I thought I would start to lay it down in words.
I welcome comments and suggestions.

1. Examine and understand your motivations
You don't get cookies or gold stars or a cool t-shirt for performing the role of ally. It's not something you can cross off your bucket list, like "Visit Iceland" or "Climb Mt. Everest."

Being an ally is a position or identity you stake out in your life. An avocation, if you will. More like being an amateur painter or musician. And as such, it means committing to a lifetime of practice and learning.

And if your motivation for being an ally is "so people think I'm a good person", stop. Just stop. You are making this all about you and your ego.

2. You must be willing to risk your position
Congratulations - you have come to a point that many do not: you recognize that you have benefited from society's inherent biases. That while you may have worked hard for what you have, you started out at a more privileged position or easier difficulty level. And you want to do something about it. That's great. A level playing field seems like the right thing to fight for.

There is no fight without risk.
There is no change without loss.

You may lose your standing in your family, your place of worship, your profession, your neighborhood.

If you do your work well, you may see yourself be passed over for promotion or opportunity in favor of someone in a less privileged position. And that may hurt, because deep down, whatever our politics or outward actions, we believe we earn what we have achieved.

Understand that in a more equitable world, you may not always get the winning lottery ticket. If you've always gotten them in the past, that will feel like a loss, instead of a correction to a rigged game.

3. Amplify, don't shout over
The main jobs of an ally are to listen, educate, and amplify.

Listen: make sure you really understand what the people you wish to ally with want. And this may be more difficult that you think. There is rarely complete consensus in any group and just as you cannot speak for all white people, you cannot think that anyone speaks for all people of color, or all women, or all people in the LGBTQ communities, or all Muslims, or, or, or. And that's not even acknowledging that individuals can and do belong to more than one marginalized group.

Educate: Educate yourself and your fellow folks in privileged positions. Read foundational source texts from folks in marginalized groups. For all that is good and pure in the world, DO NOT MAKE THOSE YOU WISH TO ALLY WITH do the emotional labor of educating you.

Amplify: Say you are an actor. Promote movies with actors from marginalized groups. Talk them up on social media. When someone praises your role in a specific show, thank them and recommend something from a group you wish to be an ally with. Same for artists, musicians, writers, etc. Use your platform to boost voices that wouldn't otherwise be heard.

Frequent shops owned by people from marginalized groups. Use the power of your economic privilege.

Signal boost; don't obliterate with your voice. That's a callback to point #1: If you are talking OVER marginalized voices in your effort to be an ally, you aren't. That's ego. Examine your motivations.

_________
I wrote this post as much as a reminder for myself as well as for my fellow white folks, both allies and potential allies. I know this is not a complete list and if I have make any errors or omissions, I apologize and will edit as needed. 
Know that this is hard work. Know that you will make mistakes. This is okay; learn from your mistakes. No change happens easily. Change can happen. It must.





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A lifetime of learning

Fred Rogers, image in the public domain
From the outside, I pretty much look like a competent grown-up. Someone who has it all together. Well, I have been circling around the sun on this blue planet for over 5 decades, so I've had a long time to learn some stuff. But the reality is, I'm still learning and I'm still changing. And, no, I don't have all the answers.

I have learned to think deeply about all sorts of things and especially to interrogate my own most closely held beliefs. Honestly? That's my definition of adulthood - being willing to examine your biases and change them. It's toddlers who hold to irrational beliefs and throw tantrums when they are challenged. Grown ups shouldn't do that.

All too often they/we do.

These are some of the things I've been thinking about/lessons I'm working to learn:

1. Not everything is about me. Not everything is for me. Every space doesn't need to cater to me. Shutting up & listening without needing to offer my opinion is a useful skill.
2. I have the responsibility to ask for what I want, not the guarantee that I will get it.  3. I have learned that empathy is not the same as subsuming my needs for someone else's.  4. Disagreeing doesn't mean the end of a relationship. . .  5. Except sometimes it does. 
6. WWMRD
If you have lessons you'd like to share, please add them in comments. This list is certainly not exhaustive and I'm still learning every day. Just don't challenge me about the pumpkin pie. ;) 

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My Arisia Schedule

I'll probably be wearing my TARDIS sneakers. . . 

This coming weekend, I'll be attending Arisia, one of the Boston area Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions. It's one of my favorite cons - essentially a 4 day party with a hotel full of fellow geeks.

Cosplayers and gamers and authors, oh my.

In addition to several panels and a reading, I'll be hanging out in the dealer's room with the lovely ladies of Broad Universe.

I'll have copies of my novels to autograph and look forward to chatting with readers, friends, and fans.

I hope to see you there!

Broad Universe Rapid-Fire Reading Adams Sat 10:00 AM

Description Come discover your new favorite writer as members of Broad Universe read short excerpts from their work. Each writer has just a few minutes to show you what she’s capable of! We offer chocolate and the chance to win prizes. Broad Universe is an international organization that supports women writers, editors, and publishers.


Kids and Families on the Autism Spectrum Burroughs Sat 11:30 AM

Description In this open-ended discussion, we will explore a wide range of issues related to children, parenting, communication strategies, schooling, and family issues that often come up when someone in the family (or perhaps more than one person!) is on the autism spectrum. The goal is for everyone to come away with a better understanding of how to work with themselves and with the people around them, whether they identify as an Aspie or not. Bring your questions!
Prospective participant information Panel participants can be people who identify as on the spectrum, those who are in close relationships with people who do, or professionals who have experience in this area.

Technology's not a Cure: Disability in SFF Burroughs Sat 4:00 PM

Description Uncanny Magazine's _Disabled People Destroy Science Fiction_ Kickstarter reached almost all of its stretch goals, and completed funding. _Defying Doomsday_, an anthology of post-apocalyptic survival fiction that focuses on disabled characters was published in 2016. The conversation around disability in SFF is growing, but there are still many problems and problematic tropes in common use. Where do we, as a genre, need to go to create a better genre for disability representation?


Writing Series, Sequels, and Spin-Offs Douglas Sun 2:30 PM

Description It's no secret that book series have a better chance of discoverability. What’s the secret to writing a successful series? How do you plan and develop multi-book series that sell? Create series arcs? And how do you keep track of multiple plotlines and characters across many books? How can you expand existing material to create a series? And when is it time to pull the plug and move onto other things?


Oh, and I'll also be displaying my ceramics in the art show!

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LJ Cohen

 

2017: A Year in this Writer's Life

I suspect most of you will understand when I say I won't be sorry to see the last of 2017. With a few notable exceptions, it was a difficult year, personally, professionally, and in the world at large.

Still, I have been fortunate. I have good health care and our family has financial stability. Those two things alone make me an outlier.

And, while I haven't written as much in 2017 as I had wanted or planned to,  it was still a full year of writing news and personal news.

Writing Life Chris Howard knocks it out of the park again with this cover image.
Publications  2017 saw the publication of PARALLAX, the 4th book of my space opera science fiction series Halcyone Space. 
I also contributed a new original short story to the anthology ORPHANS IN THE BLACK called "In the Clutch", unrelated to the universe of the Halcyone Space books. It's a bit of an homage to Earnest Shackleton and the Endurance mission. With reptilian aliens. 
Writing in Progress The drafting of book 5 (A STAR IN THE VOID) has been going more slowly than I had anticipated, but I'm still working within my original publication time frame of Summer 2018. 
After several false starts, I finished another short story for an upcoming themed anthology and am awaiting editorial notes. It's a bit more on the literary side than my novels and I'll be interested in seeing what readers make of it.
In other new writing, the Vito Nonce project that I'm co-writing with Rick Wayne has taken a brief hiatus as both of us are working on finishing current series, but will be a focus in the new year. 
So between novels, short stories, blog posts, and poetry, I've probably eked out 50,000 new words in 2017. Considerably less output than I've managed in prior years, but I'll take it as a victory. 
Events and Honors I addition to attending ARISIA (and garnering an invitation to participate in 2018) and participating in programs at BOSKONE and READERCON, this year marked a convention first: 
One of these days I'll learn to to take goofy photos.
But not this day.
I was invited to be a Guest of Honor at G.A.M.E. in Springfield, MO. They folks at G.A.M.E. were gracious and welcoming and I had a great time meeting old and new fans and talking about SF&F tropes that needed to die. 
This year also found me in Denver to attend MILE HIGH CON. The highlight was getting to meet Nathan Lowell in person for the first time since meeting him virtually 4 years ago.
DERELICT picked up a new honor in 2017: It was chosen as the inaugural title for a new Feminist Book of the Month Club, featuring speculative fiction titles. It also had another run on Amazon as a best seller during a sale in the fall, introducing the series to a new group of readers. (Welcome!)
This fall, I was able to spend a productive and wonderful week in the company of writing community friends from Writer Unboxed when we gathered for a retreat in the wilds of Vermont. 
And finally, in December I was interviewed by my fellow Broad Universe member Rona Gofstein along with Kevin Ross Emory on their show: Dragons & Unicorns & other creative creatures. 

So if you've ever been curious about my creative process, my stories, my ceramics work, or just what to hear my squeaky voice and watch me talk with my hands, have a look.   

Personal Life  Star Field Farm rises
In January of 2017, my husband and I closed on a home in Central Massachusetts on a 54 acre piece of property that is part farmland, part Rivendell. Ultimately, it will be where we retire to. In the meanwhile, it will be a personal and writing retreat space.
In March of 2017, my gallbladder and I decided to part ways. It was less an amicable divorce than a forced separation. I don't know how it is faring, but I'm a lot healthier without it in my life. 
My birth mother, circa 1962 The year ended with an incredible discovery: my birth family. After decades of searching, and after believing that door had closed permanently, I have made contact with aunts, uncles, and cousins related to my (late) birth mother. It has been quite a journey finding new family in my 50s and discovering that, yes, poetry and geek are carried in the genes.
I suspect that I'll be continuing to process what this all means for me over the coming year both in my journaling, my poetry, and my stories. 
#SWFApro


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Darkness. Balance. Transformation.

There is beauty, too, in the starkness of winter. 


This isn't something I don't already know.

It's not something that I haven't been through numerous times before.

It's not even particularly revelatory or interesting.

It just is.

The ability to be sensitive to emotions and subtle changes around me is both a blessing and a curse. It's what fuels my creativity, but it also triggers anxiety and depression. That very sensitivity means that my filters are porous. It doesn't take a lot to bring me joy, but it also doesn't take a lot to bring me sorrow.

I've had a hard time staying in balance vis à vis my emotions of late. It expresses itself in multiple ways including fatigue, isolating behavior, and difficulty writing. From the outside, it can look like depression and it probably has some of that in the mix, but it also doesn't feel particularly bad. What feels bad is the guilt and irritation I experience from not having gotten things done.

There's a weird energy this time of year. All these subtle and not so subtle messages of Do! Buy! Engage! That kind of external mania turns me inward, as does the shorter days and the cold.

I don't think cyclic shifts in our productivity and activity is bad or wrong. As with most things, it's complicated. It depends.

Right now, I'm almost 2 months behind where I wanted and needed to be in drafting book 5 of the Halcyone Space series. And I'm trying to figure out how to keep on track while honoring my self and my mental and physical health. So bear with me here as I talk it out and work to make sense of it.

*
Creativity doesn't just happen; it's transformative. Both as its process and in its outcome.

In order to create, we must collect elements from the world around us - sensory experiences, emotions, ideas, memories, objects - and change them, imbue them with layers of meaning to form something new. That is one meaning of transformation.

The other is how that new creation, be it a painting, a poem, a novel, a song, or any other expression, changes the creator and the audience.

So we transform to create and our creation has the potential to transform us.

That's a lot of responsibility, along with a process that can seem messy or magical or just impenetrable.

But it starts with that sensitivity. Those porous boundaries. And they don't discriminate in what they take in.

*
Like many folks, I've been following the news cycle. It's nearly impossible to avoid it. My social media feeds used to be full of dogs, recipes, travel, book news, and Doctor Who memes. Now it's overwhelmed by fear, calls to action, outrage. And yes, there's a lot to be feared, much work to do, and to be outraged over. 
I don't think I can isolate myself from everything. Nor would I want to even if I could. Even if I felt no personal responsibility to the world, my creativity cannot live outside of it. That porous filter between me and everything? It can't be set to only take in some things and not others. Not if I want to continue to transform and create. 
And yet, I'm tired. The amount of energy it takes to preserve my emotional safety is enormous. It feels like I've run short of resources for anything else. So my writing suffers. My organization suffers, my social connections suffer. 
*
None of this is to imply I don't also have great joy in my life. While this year has brought incredible challenges, both to the world and to my small part of it, it has also given me much to be thankful for, not the least of which is StarField Farm and the beginning of a new adventure with my husband. Then there is the discovery of my extended family, found after a near 40 year search. (Another blog post for another day.)
*
I live in a part of the world where the days are getting shorter. Where creeping darkness is more than just a metaphor. It feels like the calendar year is accelerating to the end with all of its artificial marking of accomplishments that somehow need to happen in a particular timeframe. 
*
I don't have answers. I am doing the best that I can.

I will end with a few lines from Mary Oliver's brilliant poem, WILD GEESE. I need this reminder.
Perhaps you do, too.

May you find the balance you seek in the days to come.

#SFWApro



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LJ Cohen

LJ Cohen

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