5 Questions for LJ Cohen

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALJ Cohen is another member of Broad Universe, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting, encouraging, honoring, and celebrating women writers and editors in science fiction, fantasy, horror and other speculative genres.

LJ is a Boston-area novelist, poet, blogger, ceramics artist, geek, and relentless optimist. After almost twenty-five years as a physical therapist specializing in chronic pain management, LJ now uses her anatomical knowledge and myriad clinical skills to injure characters in her science fiction and fantasy novels. When not bringing home strays (canine and human), LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming.  

She is active in SFWA (Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America) and Broad Universe, and blogs about publishing, general geekery, and other ephemera at http://www.ljcbluemuse.blogspot.com. A Star in the Void (book 5 of the SF/Space Opera series Halcyone Space) is her most recent novel.  Derelict, the first novel in the series, was chosen as a Library Journal Self-e Select title and book of the year in 2016.

She stopped by to tell me about A Star in the Void:

Control the wormholes, control the galaxy. 

For over fifty years, the Commonwealth’s lock on wormhole transit has enabled the military government to keep its grip on commerce, travel, and the community in diaspora off Earth. But everything changed once Ro Maldonado resurrected the damaged AI on a derelict spaceship. When she and her accidental passengers aboard Halcyone stumbled upon a hidden planet and Ada May, its brilliant but reclusive leader, they became entangled with her covert resistance. 

Behind the scenes of the Commonwealth lurks an even bigger enemy: the Reaction Chamber, a powerful shadow organization of politicians, business moguls, and crime cartels that has co-opted and infiltrated all levels of the government. The Chamber knows Halcyone is the key to finding and eliminating the resistance. As people close to Ro and her companions disappear or die, it’s clear their enemies are closing in fast. 

When May vanishes through an impossible wormhole, taking the leader of the Reaction Chamber with her, she abruptly shatters a decades-old stalemate. Now Halcyone and her crew must decode May’s revolutionary wormhole technology and locate the missing scientist before the Reaction Chamber obliterates the resistance and exploits its resources to seize complete control of the cosmos. 

This is the culmination of the series that began with Derelict, a kindle bestseller and award-winning science fiction novel.

A Star In The Void ebook Cover revised

Did something in the real world inspire the Halcyone Space series and, in particular, A Star in the Void?

There were a lot of elements from both current and historical events that inspired the entire series. One of the foundational elements of the series was my musing about how the colonies might have developed had England won the Revolutionary War. Not that the novels are anywhere near an allegory of that, but thinking about how central control of distant colonies creates political strife helped inform my world-building. 

Climate change also became a critical component to the politics of the series —particularly beginning with book 2 (Dreadnought and Shuttle) — and the relationship between the wealthy who were able to buy their way into the new cities and the climate refugees forceably resettled and contained in shanty-towns.

The shadow government in the series (the Reaction Chamber) was inspired by the real-life Boston based “Vault” — a secret group of politicians, businessmen, and crime bosses who met in a restaurant built in an old bank vault. They essentially controlled the direction of the city’s development for decades until the mid 20th century. 

What is your favorite scene A Star in the Void?

About midway through the book, there’s a quiet scene with Dr. Leta Durban and Dev Morningstar, where Leta reveals what had happened to Dev’s parents after they disappeared when she was a child. Dev’s parents had gone off-planet to a mining colony to earn money to support their family, leaving Dev and her brothers with their grandmother on the refugee settlement on Earth. No money ever came and they never heard from their parents again. 

Leta Durban was the mining colony’s physician. She’d tried to make the company pay attention to the terrible and unsafe work conditions, to no avail. After dozens of miners died through the company’s negligence, she thought things would change. But the mine operators were fined a pittance and she was fired for whistleblowing. 

It’s a small scene, but it acts as closure for both women, as well as catalyst for each of them to fight for what they know is right, regardless of the personal risk.

From the time Dev shows up in Dreadnought and Shuttle (book 2), I had been anticipating having these two women meet. The scene is as powerful as I had hoped. 

What was your writing process like as you wrote A Star in the Void?

Because this was the 5th and final book of a series, it was a lot more difficult to draft than any of my prior books. Every open plot thread from the prior volumes needed some sort of resolution. And the 5th book needed to have its own complete and satisfying arc. 

I started by listing all the open plot threads and all the characters’ goals and problems. I sketched out what I thought the endgame should be for all of that, paying particular attention to where things had ended with book 4. 

I think A Star in the Void is the most intense of the 5 books, because if you look at the entire series as one large story, this final book was like the final act of a massive novel. But it also needed to function as a standalone story with appropriate pacing. 

Some of my process was similar to any book I write: I do a very loose outline — more like a broad-brush model of the story — then set a goal of a thousand words a day. I do read back to what I’ve already written and do some structural editing as I go, but always with a sense of forward movement. 

I use y-Writer to draft my stories, as it has tools to allow me to keep track of each character and/or individual threads of the story.

What was the best thing that happened during your promotion of the book?

Getting emails from readers who were simultaneously mad at some of the outcomes, but who also thought it had to be the way I wrote it. And the fact that many readers confessed to crying at the end! 

What do you have planned next?

I’m in the process of putting together the big picture view of a whole new story. New characters, new universe. It doesn’t have a title yet, but its broad themes are inspired from this verse by Rabbi Tarfon: “It is not your responsibility to finish the work of perfecting the world, but you are not free to desist from it either.”

I start nearly every project with an overview. It tends to change some as I discover the story, but having this “ten thousand foot view” helps me stay close to the heart of it. 

Multiple worlds are connected in the quantum realm. Most are safely sealed off. Most have no knowledge that they are but one in an infinite multitude.

A few people on a few scattered worlds can see though the multiverse. Most of those go mad. Fewer still are able to bear the burden of so many possibilities. Those are seers and are either considered cursed or blessed. The reality is some of both.

Perhaps one in a billion has the ability to slip from world to world and becomes a Traveler. Always, there is balance. A Traveler comes, a Traveler goes, never more than any world can bear, treading lightly to encourage balance. Until now.

Three individuals from three different worlds are drawn to one another through the thinning walls between the worlds. None of these three are Travelers in truth, but they are all that is left. They discover something is hunting Travelers and obliterating them and the balance they bring from the multiverse. 

Together they must rescue each other and fight a foe they cannot name to heal the worlds before the walls dissolve for good.

For more about LJ and her books, visit http://www.ljcohen.net or her Amazon page: https://amzn.to/2UuMIgm.

You can pick up a copy of A Star in the Void: https://amzn.to/2QKn8VO.

A Star in the Void - Cover Art

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. I'm also co-author of a series about a succubus and her angel. In addition to blogging at CemeteryTravel.com, I blog about my morbid life at lorenrhoads.com.
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