Tag Archives: LJ Cohen

On Staying the Course

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Back in the 1980’s when I first met my future husband, he taught me to sail. I’d never set foot on a sailboat before then, but I loved it from the very start. The rocking of the waves against the hull, the pressure of the wind filling the sail, the flapping of telltales. Being on a sailboat is a delight for the senses. But it is also a universe with its own rules, language, and skills.

Navigation is a great example of this. There is something odd and counter-intuitive about navigating on a sailing vessel. For one thing, you can almost never go precisely in the direction you want. And you can never ever sail directly into the wind. Then, you have to understand that turning the wheel might mean little if the wind and current aren’t with you. Even if you do everything right, sometimes the wind dies and you end up drifting.

What I learned from sailing, I’ve been able to apply to my writing as well. There are elements of my writing career that are under my control. I can study my craft, practice, seek and apply feedback, but just as it’s impossible to force a boat to head directly into the wind, I cannot control the direction of the publishing industry.

Right now, it seems like every book on the young adult shelves is either a dystopian narrative or a paranormal love triangle (or sometimes a combination of the two). If I want to see my books in the marketplace, I have a number of choices to make. Assuming that my writing is good enough for publication, I can either write what I already see on the shelves or I can write the stories that have resonance for me. If I chose the former path, then I’m sailing using yesterday’s weather report or forcing my vessel to go against my personal tide. Either way, I’m not going to get where I wish.

If I choose the latter, then I pick a course that may not take me directly to my destination, but it may be the best course wind and weather will allow. It may take a zig zag path, but if I trust in my navigation abilities, staying the course may be the only way through the doldrums.

For all of my fellow travelers on this writing journey, may you find your smooth sailing, fair winds, and following seas.

–LJ Cohen

(Photo by pwcrockett, used with attribution, cc license)

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Too Stubborn For My Own Good

Shortly after I married my husband (strange phrase–he’s my husband because I married him, right?), we were strolling along the harbor area in Annapolis, MD, when we ducked into a shop and he bought me a beautiful Zuni fetish.(**see note)

It was a bronze coyote, (the one on the photo, alongside the badger), and it began a collection that I continue to this day. I don’t have any particular personal connection to Native American culture, but the little carvings fascinate me. They are small, so they were easy to collect while in the early days of our marriage when we had to move several times. They were relatively affordable, since my husband was a medical resident and we were living primarily on my earnings. And they spoke to me. Each one has a distinct personality.

After a while, I began to recognize similarities among certain carvings and discovered there were carving families and that each animal represented certain personality characteristics.

One of the things I love about they symbolism of the fetishes, is that the personality traits are both positive and negative and that there’s no value judgement placed on it. A great example of this is the badger, who symbolizes both persistence (a positive trait) and stubbornness (a negative trait.)

I suspect that my own personality has much of the badger nature in it. As you might expect, this is both a good thing and a bad thing. My ‘inner badger’ is part of why I continue to write, hone my craft, and send new projects to my agent. That persistence is what drives me to write a book a year, every year and to believe that each one can and will sell. Badgers don’t give up.

The problematic side to my badger nature is (to use another animal metaphor) that when I get my teeth into a problem, I can’t stop until it’s solved. That leads to many, many late nights on the computer when I can’t get a photo to format correctly in an eBook conversion. When I’m attacking a problem like that, I get tunnel visioned and nearly disassociated from my body. I’ll pound on the keyboard and sit in increasingly awkward postures without feeling any discomfort until I’m finished and try to get up. Or the inability to let an argument go without getting the last word in. (Yes, it pains me to admit that one.)

I am slowly learning that making yourself right and the other person wrong is a losing proposition for relationships. That’s when my ‘badger’ needs a time out.

I think it’s helpful to look at personality traits as having both positive and negative aspects–both for understanding oneself, but also useful for a writer to understand her characters. Lydia, from THE BETWEEN has a bit of the badger in her nature, as does Ro, the main character from the SF novel I’m drafting now. Perhaps that is because the character I imprinted on most as a young reader also was ‘badger’–Meg from A WRINKLE IN TIME.

Other character traits that have mixed aspects and make for interesting characters (if not complicated relationships!) are loyalty, ambition, passion, and independence. Most often, it is a person’s or character’s strengths that are also their greatest weaknesses.

What are the positive and negative aspects of your own personality traits? If you are a writer, what about your main character? And if you’re a fellow ‘badger’, my sympathies. 🙂

**I want to be clear here–I’m not making any claim to have a totem animal. It is not my intent in any way to co-opt Native American culture. I appreciate Zuni fetishes as items of beauty that are sold as pieces of art by Native artists and have enjoyed learning about their traditional symbolism.

LJ

Losing Drama, Finding Stillness

This morning, my older son slept through his alarm, well on his way to be late for his 9 am class. It would have been so easy to lay into him about responsibility and better planning, or use guilt as its usual weapon, or snarky humor in an attempt to mask annoyance for wit. Instead, I offered to drive him.

Last week, my younger son forget to check the family calendar before buying the entry ticket for the PSAT at the high school. When he did look at the test date, he realized he had a commitment that he couldn’t change and would not be able to take the PSAT. Nor could he get the ticket refunded. My initial internal response was to launch into a lecture designed simply to make me right and him wrong.

All of those choices might have felt good, in an emotionally cathartic sense, at least for the moment. They might even have felt like some kind of victory. As if every moment of every day is a battle in a larger war.

Am I annoyed that I had to shift my schedule to drive one son to school? Sure. Am I annoyed that the other son didn’t take 30 seconds to check the calendar before buying a ticket he cannot use? Sure. But here’s my life lesson: being annoyed is my emotion. Displacing it as anger on my children accomplishes nothing useful.

I assure you, I’m no zen master, able to serenely glide through a universe of strife with a beatific smile on my face. I’m your typical harried, middle-aged woman, coping with responsibilities and obligations. (Easier to juggle chainsaws, some days.) Yet, something held me back from lashing out. Because that’s what those responses are: lashing out from anger and fear in a fruitless attempt to control what cannot be controlled.

I’ve spent too much of this year wallowing in negative emotions. My writing career isn’t where I want it to be. In over 4 years, my agent hasn’t been able to sell any of my work. The title I self-published sells  a handful of copies in any given month. It’s all too easy to look at what does sell and drown in either despair or envy.

 There’s an old joke about a man who complains to God about all the misfortunes in his life. The details of the joke don’t matter, it’s the punch line that gets me. The man turns to God and shouts, “Why me?” God’s answer? “Why not?” The past two years have been enormously difficult ones in my life. It started with a house fire in December of 2010, continued with family crises and illnesses, and just one month ago, my mother passed away. I don’t think it matters how old you are when you lose a parent. Losing your first and most emotionally charged bond in life is an enormous blow. One that I’ve been moving through with the support of friends and family.

 I’d like to think that my newfound sense of stillness is a result of that process. I do know that ridding myself of the false drama of that adrenaline-laden nearly automatic response has been extremely freeing. Not just for me, but for my family as well. The son I drove to school? He apologized and thanked me. The son with the scheduling snafu? He will be taking some practice tests on his own and has offered to repay me the ticket fee from his own money. As far as my writing goes, one word, one sentence, one chapter at a time.

LJ Cohen

Traditions, Rituals and Returning Home

“Peaches come from a can,” photo by bcostin, used with permission under a creative commons license.

Tomorrow I’m headed to our local farmers market to pick up a box of peaches. About 25 pounds worth. With any luck, all those peaches will get blanched, cooled, the skins slipped off, the pits removed, the fruit sliced, and put up in glass jars in a light sugar syrup.

I didn’t grow up preserving food or eating locally. I remember wonder-bread and Captain Crunch. Cans meant aluminum cans of terribly mushy green beans, cooked into submission. I’m not exactly sure how and when it happened (and it perplexes my family), but in my adult life, I’ve moved to eating next to no processed foods, having farm shares for vegetables, meat, and winter roots, and putting up for winter eating.

When I started canning, our friend, Gabrielle, gave us the canning jars her grandmother had used for decades. We moved those jars from the apartment in Philadelphia we rented when we first got married to Chicago where we only lived for one year, to Massachusetts where we’ve lived for the past 21. Some years, we would only end up using a handful of those canning jars, other years, we’d fill shelves with tomatoes, peaches, apple sauce, jellies and jams.

There was something magical about the connection with food, with nurturing, with the earth, and across the generations in using Gab’s grandmother’s jars.

The summer of 2010 gave us an especially bountiful harvest. Every week, I’d walk out of the farmers market with another box full of seconds peaches and spend the next few days swearing over the sticky mess, swearing I’d never do it again. Until the next week. I must have canned 30 quarts of peaches that year.

A few months later, we lost much of our house to a terrible fire that started in the basement. Firefighters had to get behind our storage shelves to reach the source of the fire, smashing our canning jars. Later, in the cleanup, we discovered intact jars of peaches in another shelf in the back corner of the basement. They had survived, but we couldn’t risk eating them. Because of the extreme temperature changes they underwent in the fire, there was a chance that the seals had popped and reset, giving bacteria a chance to grow undetected in the food.

Of all the things we lost, I think the peaches hit me hardest.

We weren’t able to move back into our home until the middle of August last year, almost exactly a year ago, today. While peach season was in full swing, we hadn’t yet had a chance to replace our canning jars and equipment. By the time we were ready, peaches had come and gone.

This year, we’re ready. In a few days, we will have a pantry shelf stacked with jars full of sliced peaches. To me, that means we’ve really come home.

LJ Cohen

dum dum dum. . . And Nothing Happened

Voice Over: (Michael Palin) June the 4th, 1973, was much like any other summer’s day in Peterborough, and Ralph Melish, a file clerk at an insurance company, was on his way to work as usual when… (da dum!) Nothing happened! (dum dum da dum) Scarcely able to believe his eyes, Ralph Melish looked down. But one glance confirmed his suspicions. Behind a bush, on the side of the road, there was *no* severed arm. No dismembered trunk of a man in his late fifties. No head in a bag. Nothing.
–http://www.montypython.net/scripts/melish.php

Last weekend, I drove an hour and a half to meet with 2 women I had only ever met on the internet.

No, wait, that’s not exactly true. I had only corresponded with one of them. She had chatted with the third on the net and thought we had a lot in common and would all enjoy each other’s company.

So, there we were, on one level you could say we were three strangers agreeing to meet one another in a town none of us were completely familiar with, all of us an hour or more from home.

Risky behavior? The set up for a cheesy horror movie? The opening of a public service announcement for online safety?

Nope. None of the above.

What actually happened is the three of us spent the day chatting, laughing, walking, and lunching in lovely downtown Northampton, walking away with a new appreciation for our fellow writers and plans to meet up again.

It’s a new world we find ourselves in. Especially for those of us who didn’t grow up in the uber-connected world of social media. We’ve all heard the stories of on-line predators and even in the cartoons, we’re warned that ‘on the internet, no one knows you’re a dog.’ http://www.condenaststore.com/gallery.asp?startat=%2Fgetthumb.asp&CategoryID=146227&txtSearch=nobody+knows++you%27re+a+dog&x=0&y=0

My experience has been of developing solid and lasting friendships through my online communities. Over the past few years, I have ended up meeting IRL (“in real life”) many of the poets and writers I have chatted, emailed, and participated in virtual groups with.

Not a single one of them turned out to be a zombie, an ax-murderer, or a dog.

So in no particular order, I want to give a shout out to some of my online-turned-meat-space friends:

M
Steve
Gary
Lois
Laurie
January
Russ
Sue
Val
Barb
Erin
Wendy
Kathryn
Megan
Nush
Heather
Grant
Becka
Sidney

While I am certain someone will have a story of an online relationship going tragically wrong, I maintain that it’s a lot less compelling to repeat a story where, like the Monty Python skit referenced in the epigraph, ‘and nothing happens.’ Which, I’m willing to bet, comprises the vast majority of these kind of interactions.

I’m also not advocating throwing common sense and basic safety out the window here. (Meet in a public place, let people in your life know where you’ll be, leave at any time you feel uncomfortable, etc.) But the reality is, especially in a community based on shared interests that you have some working relationship with (like on online critique group), your real life connections will mirror your virtual ones.

I know my community of writers would be a far poorer one without the friends I’ve made through my online writing groups.

LJ

…But I Play One in the Classroom


Photo used with permission, cc licence, Seattle Municipal Archives

We all wear a lot of hats in our lives. The newest hat I’ve squeezed on my head has writer written along the brim. While I’ve been writing novels for close to nine years now, it’s still a relatively new role for me, and it’s only been recently that I can comfortably answering ‘writer’ when someone asks me what I do for a living.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of 6th grade students in our neighborhood middle school for a Q&A session about my young adult book, THE BETWEEN. Their English teacher had taught my now college-aged son and I’ve always held him in extremely high regard. Mr. D is an enthusiastic, creative, and wonderfully supportive teacher who helps his students discover their own love of literature and language. When he asked me if I would be willing to speak with his students, I jumped at the chance.

Then I found out he had purchased several copies of the book for his classroom and students had used it as part of their work learning to be analytic readers.

There are milestone moments in anyone’s life and this was one of mine. I’ve always dreamed of having something I created used in a classroom. (Actually, my ultimate writing fantasy is to sashay in to a college classroom and tell the professor what I really meant by [fill in the blank] from my poem/novel/essay. I always hated the certainty of some teachers in their literary interpretations. This was not the issue in Mr. D’s class.) Seeing student worksheets filled out with my book’s title and my name as the author made it feel real to me in a way that simply publishing the novel had not.

These students were engaged, articulate, and thoughtful. They asked insightful questions, both about the novel, the world of publishing, and my writing process. I do think I may have daunted them a bit when I told them I had just finished the fourth revision of a project and pulled out a thick sheaf of paper with my handwritten notes all over the manuscript. I probably ended up with changes across about 25% of the text–and remember–revision number four. (I suspect their teacher wanted to stand up and cheer!)

We had an interesting discussion about how to revise and the differences between reading on a screen and reading off paper for that process. (I do some of both, depending on what stage the project is in.) I also made sure to tell them that there wasn’t any one right way to go from initial idea to ‘the end’–only what worked for them and got stories completed. (You’re never too young to reject dogma.)

My favorite moment of the conversation was when I talked about how one idea can give rise to radically different books and that if each of them were to take the core idea from THE BETWEEN, they would each write completely individual stories. I saw a lot of nodding and smiling. It turns out that their teacher does a project where they examine multiple editions of Beowulf, making inferences about the story from the cover alone and before they read it. Then they each write their own version of Beowulf based on those inferences. I suspect they were surprised at how many distinct versions of the story emerged from that project.

The level of sophistication among these young readers (and writers) thoroughly impressed me. I suspect that we will see some of these eager students represented on the shelves of bookstores in coming decades.

After this experience, I am proud to say I am a writer and I can play one in the classroom.

–LJ Cohen

Growing Pains of the Heart

This has been a time of transition, difficulty, and loss in our family. My older son is struggling to recover from hitting a major roadblock on his path to college. My younger son is working through the aftermath of his first great heartache after a breakup. I spent the past 48 hours on a marathon trip to and from the Cleveland Clinic with my father and sat with him as he made the very difficult decision not to treat a medical problem and to let the disease run its course.

There is no moving through this life without loss and pain. We have choices only in how we cope with it.

I grew up with a mother afraid of her own strong emotions. Perhaps her early personal losses, or the time she lived through made this so. Regardless, I have vivid memories of bringing her my own heartaches and losses and having them minimized.

“It’s not so bad.”
“You don’t really want that.”
“A year from now, it won’t matter anymore.”

While from a pragmatic standpoint, all of those statements may be true, that truth matters less than the underlying message I received: I couldn’t trust my own experience or emotions. It nearly crippled me.

It took me years of hard work to find and trust the core of myself. I still have to work hard at it. Long before I had children of my own, I swore I would never minimize their pain. Not that I would coddle them and go to that other extreme (‘oh, you poor thing, how terrible, let me make it all go away.’), but there is a middle path that acknowledges pain exists; pain of the heart as real as that of the bruised shin, broken bone, or burst appendix.

And another truth–you can’t compare pain. It’s all to easy from the jaded perspective of an adult to belittle those first experiences of loss. My 16 year old’s pain after his relationship ended is no less devastating to him than my experience of watching my mother’s dementia steal her from me. Loss is loss. Playing the oneupsmanship game only diminishes us.

I wanted my children to grow up experiencing both the joy of accomplishment as well as the desolation of failure. I ensured that we talked about both as a family. Along the way, in helping them navigate through their growing pains of the heart, I realized that my own heart had become more resilient, too.

I hope that I have given my children what they will need to move through their own heartaches, if not with grace, than a kind of balanced understanding.

I have come to believe we grow as human beings in facing the reality of loss and moving through it. I believe heartache stretches the container of our selves and leaves us expanded, with more room to feel. I believe this is our greatest strength, our greatest asset, and our greatest challenge.

Without the lessons we all taught one another, I would never have begun to trust my writing and my stories. I wouldn’t have been willing to risk failure or what I saw as the humiliation of rejection.

I wouldn’t have been able to sit with the terrible knowledge that my father will die, likely of the aneurism he has chosen not to treat. My heart hurts. I want to throw myself to the floor and kick and scream like a toddler in the grip of a tantrum. Instead, I gather up that toddler and hold her tightly. She will hurt, she will cry, she will rage, but she will be okay.

LJ

Making Room for the World

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely writers at Black Ink, White Paper for inviting me on board to be their newest blogger. It’s lovely to be here in such wonderful company.

Second, a brief introduction. My name is Lisa Janice Cohen, but I go by “LJ” for the most part, since the year I was born, “Lisa” was the most common girl’s name. I’ve never been in a group of people that didn’t have at least one Lisa. (Waves to Lisa Didio!) I live just outside of Boston, MA with my family–hubby and 2 teen boys, 2 dogs, and an international student from Beijing, China.

And that is a good segue into what I want to talk about in my first official post here. The ability to expand beyond your boundaries is a crucial skill for any artist. It is far too easy to fall into the trap of tunnel vision in extrapolating only from what you know. Reading and
research helps, but there is no substitute for experiencing life outside of your comfort zone.

I live in a fairly mono-cultural upper middle class to wealthy suburb of Boston. There are more people in my town unenrolled in any political party (what people think of as ‘Independents’) than there are Republicans. The vast majority of people here are liberal Democrats, highly educated, with professional jobs. There is little cultural or ethnic diversity, nor is there much diversity in thinking. While that can make for a tightly knit community, it can also lead to intolerance and a sense of self-righteousness, even narrow-mindedness.

I write speculative fiction–a mix of fantasy, science fiction, and YA work. I create worlds and people them with individuals out of my imagination. If all I am exposed to is my narrow view of the world, then what I create will be narrow as well. So aside from reading as much within and outside of my genre as I can, what else can I do to expand my world view?

I can travel and I can bring the greater world to me.

Our family has done both. When my boys were old enough to appreciate and engage with people from other countries, we began to invite international students to stay in our home. Our first student was a young lady from Kyrgyzstan.

I had to admit, to my extreme geographic shame, that I had no idea where Kyrgyzstan was before Nurjan came to live with us. (It’s a small country in Central Asia, bordered to the north by Kazakhstan and to the east by China.) Through Nurjan, we were introduced to a rich nomadic culture, to new food, new ideas, new understanding. She shook us out of our preconceived notions of life in what we always referred to in our ignorance, as the ‘third world.’


We learned about the traditions of an oral storytelling culture that revered horses and hospitality. We learned about the great conflict between traditional Kyrgyz culture and the Russian lifestyle that was layered over it during Russia’s long rule through the time of the USSR. We learned about the custom of bride kidnapping–a custom that still exists today and devastates the lives of young women and their families.

We even learned to cook Nurjan’s favorite foods, though I could never master the pulled noodles of Laghman.

In the nearly two years she lived with us, our sense of the world became larger, more inclusive, richer. And when we traveled with her and her husband to Kyrgyzstan two summers ago to attend her Kyrgyz wedding, our viewpoints became expanded even more fully. It truly was the trip of a lifetime, not just for the writer in me, but for all of us. I daresay, our children will never see their lives in quite the same way again.

Since that experience, we have opened our home to several other students, one an elementary teacher from Harbin, China, and the other, a high school senior, from Beijing.

I may still live in my small, limited corner of the universe, but my dreams and my imagination travel to a much larger place, indeed.

LJ

Rules are Meant to be Broken…

…but not because they weren’t meant to be kept. Otherwise, why create them in the first place? The problem isn’t the intention behind them, but rather their nature. They are simplifications we employ to deal with or move past issues without having to dwell on them. But because they are simplifications, they fail to handle all life’s complexities. Where they don’t fit, we must discard them. When it comes to writing, instead of helping me complete my work, they often get in the way.

In her January 20 post, guest blogger LJ Cohen called into question several accepted truisms of the writing community and I couldn’t agree with her more. Like LJ, the way I write often conflicts with accepted “wisdom.” Take the caveat against editing as you write.

The chapter I just finished is an ugly creature. In the wake of everything preceding it in this thriller I’m writing, it is abysmally weak. Convention says I should ignore its ugliness, move on to the next chapter, and not return until the first draft’s completed. However, the more I consider it, the more glaring this chapter’s failings become, creating a weak foundation for what can only become a monumental dud. As a result, I can’t go on. Word quotas be damned, I have to climb on this beast and ride until it feels right.

Consequently, one sixth of the way through the story, I’m already revising. I have no problem with that because for me the point is not quantity. If the work isn’t satisfying during the process, I may as well take up knitting. Knit one, purl two, knit one, purl two, ad nauseam…

Sometimes I wish I had taken up mainstream instead of genre literature. Mainstream authors are seldom expected to crank out books on demand. I’m sure Truman Capote’s agent and publisher wished ’til the day he died—God bless him—he had completed anything after In Cold Blood. I’m equally certain that’s where the pressure to turn out books according to schedule originates; agents and publishers would starve without a reliable supply of products to market. I also suspect that’s why so many established authors begin to produce garbage; quality and quotas don’t mix.

I’m certainly aware if I ever expect to be published, on a business level I’m producing a commodity. On the other hand, I must also remember I have readers to satisfy.

And if in the end I never get published, at least through legacy channels—haven’t discarded the possibility of an indie launch—I intend to produce something that satisfies Moi.

Raymond

Guest Blogger, LJ Cohen

I introduced myself to LJ Cohen when I realized we share the same agent and are both writing YA. I’ve since discovered we have a number of things in common, including our first name and decade of birth. (Lisa was quite popular in the sixties. Of course, we could just as easily have been named Moonbeam or Rainbow.)

Her debut novel, THE BETWEEN, released last week, and it’s as delightful as she is. Please join me in welcoming her to Black Ink, White Paper.

************

Thank you for inviting me to pen a guest post for Black Ink, White Paper. One of the absolute blessings of the rise of social media over the past few years has been the chance to meet fellow travelers on the writing road. The life of a writer can be so utterly solitary. We spend a lot of time living in our heads while story ideas, characters, and intriguing turns of phrase chase one another around and around. Even if we have supportive significant others in our lives (and I am quite fortunate, indeed, to have an utterly devoted spouse), they don’t really understand how the writer’s brain works.

My husband will often tease me and ask what my characters have whispered in my ear lately. That’s not exactly how it works and when I try to explain it to him, his eyes glaze over in the same way mine do when he’s showing me video of himself on the race track and he tries to explain the physics of the apex of a turn. (His midlife crisis was to start high-performance driving and he is now an instructor. Mine was to write novels.) In reality, my characters don’t so much as talk to me as talk to one another while I get to eavesdrop. On good days, they’ll give me much needed clues. On bad days, I have to blunder my way through scenes with the liberal application of the backspace button.

Conventional wisdom talks about two kinds of writers: plotters and pantsers. I’m not sure I’m either. Or maybe I’m a weird hybrid of both. It’s a balancing act for me: too much pre-planning and the story feels stale once I sit down to write. Either that, or the narrative line veers away from my orderly outline and I’m off the map again. Yet, sitting down to write without any pre-planning feels too much like dancing on the high-wire without a net. It’s too easy for me to write myself into dead ends and lose whatever control I have over the process.

Maybe this messy method of mine has its roots in my truly awful sense of direction. I may be one of the few people on this lovely planet who can still get lost using a GPS device. (Or as I call it, ‘the nice lady who tells me where to go.’) Before GPS became an essential three-letter-acronym in my life, I would often sit in my car and try to visualize where I wanted to go, only to completely draw a blank. I knew where I was and I knew the destination, but I couldn’t connect the dots between the two. So I would call my husband and ask him for help. At first, he would be incredulous that I couldn’t find my way somewhere I had been hundreds of times. His brain, I am certain, has a GPS implant. Either that, or he has homing pigeon genes spliced into his DNA. It did take some time, but he finally came to understand that I needed him to help me lay a breadcrumb trail. Sometimes all it took was for him to give me a single landmark between points A and B. Then the proverbial lightbulb would go off and I could see the whole trip.

I think my writing is very much like that. I have a starting point. I have a finish line. Sometimes I can draw a line between the two and have a story unfolding in front of me like the waypoints on my GPS. Other times, the breadcrumb trail is missing too many crumbs and I need help finding a crucial landmark.

Having other writer friends with whom I can brainstorm and who respect my process has made the difference between my head exploding and finished novels.

I used to worry that the way I wrote wasn’t right. I have a shelf full of craft books that tell me so. They tell me that I shouldn’t edit while I write. (I do.) Or I need to create a complete outline. (I don’t.) Or I need to get the first draft down in a red hot fury of writing. (I don’t.) That I should never go back to revise earlier chapters until the story is finished. (I do.) All that advice is likely well-intentioned, but perhaps a bit limiting. After completing 6 novels, a dozen short stories, and hundreds of poems in 7 years, I think I have made peace with my writing process. Just don’t take away my GPS.


LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. In love with words since early childhood, Lisa filled dozens of notebooks with her scribbles long before there were such a thing as word processors.

After a 25 year hiatus writing professional articles, text book chapters, assessments and progress notes for her physical therapy practice, Lisa returned to fiction seven years ago. Her first novel was written to answer her husband’s challenge to write something better than the book he had thrown across the room in disgust. Six novels later, she is still writing. She also writes the occasional op/ed piece for her local paper and has maintained the Once in a Blue Muse blog for many years.

Lisa is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency. When not doing battle with a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa is hard at work on her seventh novel, a ghost story. THE BETWEEN is her publishing debut.

Homepage: http://www.ljcohen.net/
Blog: http://ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com/
Mailing List: http://www.ljcohen.net/mailinglist/mail.cgi/list/bluemusings
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ljcohen
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