Monday, September 15, 2014

The Season of Gratitude




The Season of Gratitude

Tomatoes overflow the bowl on my counter. More
cling to spindly vines, peach-tinged blush on round
cheeks. Some will brighten to August red. Others
destined for the pickling crock, their hard olive skins
softening in salty brine. This is the time of abundance,
even as the first cool morning breathes out its frost.
Green leaches from the tips of maple leaves revealing
the colors there all along that we simply refused to see.
I am as frenetic as the bees swarming the flowering sedum,
putting away salsas and sauces, jams and fruit butters.
The work is not hard and my thoughts wander
into stark, cold places. My hands stiffen
around a paring knife, peels and cores heaping
into tiny burial mounds in the sink. It is simple
to despair, to let fruit ripen, fall, and rot on the dew
drenched ground. Death will come to all things--
hopes, dreams, apple trees. And still I fill
glass jars, wait for the canner to reach a rolling boil,
my face flush with the last of summer's heat.  

--LJ Cohen, September, 2014

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Guest Post: Deviation, a Scifi book by A.J. Maguire

Wow - this cover is amazing!

Hey Blog readers - this is Lisa. Today I am thrilled to host writer, friend, and all around awesome person, A.J. (Aimee) Maguire. Aimee and I have been reading one another's work for crit for years now and it's been a real pleasure seeing her work get out into the world.

I had the privilege of beta reading Deviation, at an earlier phase of its development, and I'm very excited to read it now that it's complete. The story deals with issues of gender politics in a way that should be more prevalent in SF, but isn't. And yet Aimee managed to write a story that isn't a polemic against the patriarchy, but a thought provoking adventure in a unique SF world. In today's guest post, she talks a little about how she did that. 

Welcome, Aimee, and thank you for writing this guest piece for the blog.


Treading the Line

My new release Deviation just received its first review and one of the comments that the reviewer made was that the “philosophical and scientific topics” I explore in the book could have easily become a soap-box. To my relief, the reviewer expressed that there was no soap-box apparent in the book and that I had managed to convey this world without coming down on either side of things too heavy-handed. 

I admit that I was terrified I was going to press some “hot buttons” with Deviation. The world I created was very male-dominated, had women tightly subjugated and in robes – not to mention scarce – and had the potential to aggravate someone into thinking I was making some political statement. 

And who knows, maybe I’ll get a Reader out there who decides that’s just what I did and makes a big hullaballoo about it.

For right now, I’m going to rest assured that at least one reader/reviewer didn’t see it that way. I know there are some books out there whose sole intent is to make some kind of point like that, but I’m not that kind of writer.

So how does an author convey a realistic world without appearing to show their own biases, especially if they know that the subject matter is sensitive?

Well … 

I’ll tell you what I did, but it’s sort of a non-answer. 

I concentrated on the characters on the page. My story isn’t about the politics of the world I created, or the science that peppers the pages; it’s about the characters. 

Specifically, it’s about two women who are taken from their home and their desperate struggle to get back. Yes, the politics block their way sometimes (or most of the time, as it were) but the focus isn’t so much on how or why those politics got there. Rather, the focus is on the character’s reactions to being stuck. 

If you’re one of those writers who likes to make political satires or use their work as a means to expose the world as we know it, then more power to you. I have nothing against that, I just don’t write that way.
I’m talking to the other writers out there, the ones who find themselves in the nail-biting position I was in while writing Deviation. Concentrate on your characters and how they react to the world and everything should fall into place. 

Thanks, Aimee! If you have any questions for her about this, any of her other books, or anything else about Deviation, please ask away in comments.

A.J. (Aimee Jean) Maguire
A.J. Maguire is a consumer of stories. She thoroughly believes that stories are the bedrock of humanity, and that the answer to every question in life can be found in the tales that we tell. She also believes that spiders are the spawn of Satan and that her cat might just be the reincarnation of Dionysus.

If, of course, a Greek god were capable of being reincarnated.

Her writing runs the gamut between science fiction, fantasy, and (soon-to-be) historical fiction. She even has a semi-horror/ghost story in the works that she intends to release as a serialized novel during the Fall of 2014. Maguire focuses on complex female protagonists who are capable of laughter even amid tragedy, or sometimes in spite of tragedy.

Maguire is passionate about her craft and constantly working to improve. She'll probably keep telling stories long into her old age (which is still several decades off) and believes that being an author is the single greatest, most wonderful gift she has been given -- apart from her son. She looks forward to every story and hopes to release many more novels in the years to come.

Buy Links:
Amazon Home Page : http://www.amazon.com/A.-J.-Maguire/e/B004K5RHSY
Barnes& Noble Page: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/c/a.-j.-maguire
AJMaguire Website : http://www.ajmaguire.com/ 

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

The roller coaster ride of being a writer



Roller Coaster at Sixflags New England. Crappy camera phone photo. Awesome coaster :)

If you've been playing along at home, you know that when I started this blog in 2005, I'd already been working on my first novel and getting ready to learn everything I could about the business of publishing in order to get signed by an agent and get my book(s) into the world.

Well, things didn't work out the way I had planned:
  • In 2009 I was able to sign with an agent, but not for that first book. Not for the second, either. The third novel was the charm for that particular hurdle.
  • After nearly a year of further revisions and polishing, (while writing novel number 4) that novel (The House of Many Doors) went out on submission, garnered praise, but no sales.
  • I moved on to novel number 5, since novel number 4 was not a YA book and my agent was looking to brand me as a YA writer.
  • In late 2010, novel number 5 (The Between) went on submission. By 2011, it was clear that book was also dead in the water. Same song as before - praise, polite rejections.
  • In the meanwhile, I had written novel number 6 (Future Tense). My agent didn't feel it was right for the market and wanted me to change it radically, even for it to have a chance. I didn't agree with her vision for the book and moved on to novels number 7 and 8.
  • Novel number 7 was written during the year of our displacement from our house fire in 2011. It was somewhat grim and I never went back to it after its first draft.
  • Sometime in late 2011, I decided that I could travel a hybrid path and started planning to independently publish The Between.  I published it in January of 2012, to lovely reviews, and minimal sales.
  • Novel number 8 (Derelict) was a fun distraction I started in the summer of 2012. The agent agreed that the story sounded fun, but felt there was no market for YA SF and urged me to write something else. I was casting about for another story, but wanted to finish this one first.
  • Then I was at Boskone 2013, chatting with a friend of a friend about the story. He turned out to be an editor at TOR and wanted to see the manuscript. When I approached my agent, she was more interested in the story and did a round of submissions to 4 or 5 editors between the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014. The SF editors felt it was too coming of age. The YA SF editors wanted something that didn't happen in outer space.
    First digression.  :head desk:  Do they even know Science Fiction??
  • In order to keep moving forward (keep swimming!) I had decided to independently publish Future Tense, as the agent declined to represent it. It entered the world February of 2014 and like The Between, garnered lovely reviews, but meager sales.
  • At this point, 5 years into our agenting relationship, we parted ways. It was clear to me that she couldn't sell the book I was writing, and I couldn't write the kind of books she could sell. 
     
  • While licking my wounds, I worked on publishing Derelict.  And then something amazing happened. It started selling. And it kept selling. More than 3 months later, it is still selling and I have earned more from publishing this book independently that I likely would have as a debut SF writer at any of the traditional publishing houses. (Median advances for SF novels are under $10,000, and most books published never earn out their advances, so that's all the income most writers can expect from their work.)
And now we're at the part of the story where I had dreamed/hoped to be and am not sure how to take it all in. I'm terrified that this is a one off and I won't be able to replicate Derelict's success. I'm afraid by the time I get the next book in its universe written, no one will want to read it. That it will suck. That all my writing sucks and this is a never-to-be repeated fluke.

So, in other words, normal writer insecurity.

While I was wallowing in all of the fear and loathing, I did manage to finish novel number 9, Time and Tithe, the sequel to The Between.  So I'm not letting the crazy roller coaster of emotions fully control me. But it is true that the self-doubt never goes away.


So if you have any magic recipe to banish it, please let me know. Or if you're riding your own roller coaster, my sympathies.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Promises Kept: Time and Tithe is finished

Working out the 'end game' (don't worry, it makes sense to me)
When I started writing THE BETWEEN in October of 2008, I had no idea it would become a novel, much less have a sequel. The story emerged from a prompt in a writer's group meeting at my local library. One of the other writers gave us the sentence: The sky went dark. We then had 20 minutes to write.

That was the beginning of Lydia's tale.

While THE BETWEEN was my first publication, it represented my fifth completed manuscript, and it took me 8 months to write its first draft. From that point in the summer of 2009 to its publication date in January of 2012, the story was revised four times before I believed it was ready for prime time.

It was only after the story was finished that I understood it was not complete. Or rather, while Lydia's original story has a complete ending, the conclusion of the novel raised a lot of new questions to be answered. I made a promise to myself that I would write an answer to those questions and tackle the monster that is a sequel.

But first I had other novels to write. Between 2009 and 2010, I wrote FUTURE TENSE. Between 2010 and 2011, an as yet unnamed and yet to be revised ghost story. Then in a furious burst of writing, DERELICT in 2012. I wasn't able to return to the sequel from hell until October of 2013, exactly five years after starting THE BETWEEN.

TIME AND TITHE took 9 months to draft. That's nearly twice the amount of time as it took me to draft DERELICT. I struggled with returning to the voice of the characters I had created so long ago, and since I had not initially planned to write a second novel in that universe, I had never created a reference bible for it. Now I had to find a way to inhabit the self I was when I wrote Lydia's story, and find a way to continue it, deepen it, yet remain true to the original. 

I think I have done that with TIME AND TITHE. What excited me about the story was the chance to explore relationships and how time changes them. In THE BETWEEN, Lydia is 18, her sister, Taylor is about 6. But time moves differently between Faerie and the mortal world, and when TIME AND TITHE begins, it's only been months for Lydia, but years for Taylor.

The sisters are now the same age.

And Faerie wants both of them.

I've been sharing snippets and short scenes on Google Plus, during #SaturdayScenes. You can read them by searching for #ljsatscenes (https://plus.google.com/u/0/explore/ljsatscenes) Scroll down to the bottom, as they are presented in reverse chronological order like in a blog.

While I'm hammering away at the revision, I've sent notes to the cover artist and am awaiting a concept sketch. If the stars align, TIME AND TITHE will be ready for release in January of 2014.