Wednesday, April 18, 2018

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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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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 than 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: Here's an example: Imagine you are an actor. Spend time actively promoting 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 to support them.

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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Thursday, January 18, 2018

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.

I'm a white, cis, het woman in her middle age. I have A perspective, but not THE perspective. And to be honest, my perspective is more widely understood and accepted than those of someone more marginalized than me. While in some contexts, I may be the marginalized voice, in so many more, I am privileged. My job, when I am privileged, is to clear the way for other perspectives. And not expect a cookie or a pat on the head for it.


2. I have the responsibility to ask for what I want, not the guarantee that I will get it. 

I spent far too much time worrying about pleasing (or simply appeasing) people around me. Somehow, I was convinced that I was only likable if I catered to what everyone around me wanted and needed. This does a number of very unhealthy things: It made me believe that what I wanted was not important. It made me believe that I had to manage other people's emotions at the expense of my own. It made me believe that others - if they truly cared about me - would know what I wanted or needed. In short, it encouraged me to act in a passive aggressive way and to deny my own agency and personhood. 

3. I have learned that empathy is not the same as subsuming my needs for someone else's. 

This is closely linked to the point above. I had to learn that I had the right to have preferences that differed from those of the people around me. This reverberates in small matters and large: the movie you want to watch, the way in which you and a partner express sexuality. 

4. Disagreeing doesn't mean the end of a relationship. . . 

I used to believe I had to agree with/enjoy everything my friends did, or I was being troublesome or rude or disruptive. Somehow I was convinced that by saying "No, I don't want" or "I don't like" would end the friendship. It was *my* job to bend to the needs of those around me. What I've learned is that clearly having an opinion doesn't negate the opinions of others. We can like different things and still be friends. I know! Radical! 

5. Except sometimes it does. 

Opinions about favorite Doctors (Doctor Who), or Star Trek franchises, or pie varieties are not fatal differences. (Though I will fight with all my strength if you tell me that canned pumpkin makes as good a pie as fresh.)
I have given myself permission this year to distance myself from individuals in my life who hold political beliefs I feel are incompatible with empathy and democracy. If you make a joke in which you 'punch down' and when I try to talk to you about it, you tell me I have no sense of humor, I will walk away. If your facebook feed is full of memes that are actively hurtful to people in my life, I will walk away. If you continually act to bait me or my friends in arguments manufactured to make us justify our existence, I will walk away.  


6. WWMRD

Finally, I may indeed judge myself and others by Mr. Rogers's standards of decency. If he would have been disappointed, perhaps we need to rethink our actions. 

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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