Friday, September 29, 2017

Interview With Romance Writer Dahlia Donovan

Photo:  Dahlia Donovan

What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?

I’m not sure what really influenced me to start writing. Reading was always part of my life since I was taught to read at the age of three. The first story I ever wrote was about bears—I was eight. The first romance I wrote was much, much later in life. It was inspired by a crazy dream.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

Not a routine, per se. I need white noise, so I usually have both music and the TV on at varying volumes. I’ll often start writing by hand, and I have to have a certain kind of pen and paper, or I can’t write.

In your book, The Misguided Confession, the protagonist (Elaine Gibbs) is autistic.  How did you come to the decision that she was/should be? Are any of the other characters in your books neurodivergent and/or disabled?

Elaine actually appears first in the Blackbird series, a paranormal romance series that I indie published.  I knew from the moment I included her that she’d be autistic. I’ll fully admit to putting quite a bit of myself into her.  I tend to be a ‘pantser,’ I fly by the seat of my pants when I write, so characters tend to evolve organically and not so much as a product of plot or outline.
After the Scrum featured a character with anxiety and PTSD. My current series, The Sin Bin will feature a pair of autistic twins, a disabled military veteran, and a man who suffers from PTSD.  Almost all of my stories have featured at least one neurodivergent or disabled character.

You write (mostly) gay male romance.  What compels you to pen stories of men loving men?

So, being a pantser comes into play here as well, I just enjoy writing love stories. Sometimes those stories are about two men who fall in love and sometimes they aren’t.

Did you struggle with writing from a male character's perspective when you first started out?  Do you have any tips on writing different genders?

I don’t really remember struggling to write from a male POV. People are people, after all. Mannerisms and reactions are slightly different, but I’ve always been a people watcher. I think this is where being autistic comes in handy. I’ve spent so much of my life observing people to avoid ‘standing out’ that I’ve learnt quite a bit about how men and women behave.

Rugby appears fairly often in your stories.  What draws you to it as a story aspect?

Is it shallow of me to admit that the men are often very attractive? That’s part of it. I think what draws me to it more is the idea of rugby players who have retired. All of the rugby stars in my stories have left the game whether voluntarily or forced. What intrigues me is exploring how someone who has excelled to the point of being a sports star responds to losing that aspect of their life.

The Caretaker (published July 2017) features a May-December romance. Were there challenges in writing a love story with characters from different generations?  If so, what were they? 

Not really, at least not for me. Almost all of my romances have featured an age gap of at least a few years if not more. I think the only challenge is making sure to acknowledge there is the potential for issues either between the couple or amongst their extended family and friends.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)

My favourite author of all time is Jane Austen. I love her sense of humour and how she approached the absurdities of humanity. She didn’t shy away from showing people at their worst but managed to make it tragically funny.

What were some mistakes you made in writing/publishing when you first started? What has been your biggest validation as a writer to date?

The great mistake I made when I started was underestimating the importance of a good editor and a good book cover. I was very lucky to find a brilliant editor to work with rather quickly, though.

Biggest validation? I’m honestly not sure. Seeing my book in print was pretty epic. Or, perhaps having another author tell me that I was their favourite writer, which was a special moment for me.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on The Lion Tamer. It’s the sixth book in The Sin Bin series. I’m about a third of the way into the novel and enjoying it immensely.
Biography:  Dahlia Donovan wrote her first romance series after a crazy dream about shifters and damsels in distress.  She prefers irreverent humour and unconventional characters.  An autistic and occasional hermit, her life wouldn’t be complete without her husband and her massive collection of books and video games.

Buy The Caretaker physically here.
Buy The Caretaker digitally here.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Surprise, No Disability!

Scenario:  A character you like is disabled and, as the book progresses, you love that character more and more.  Maybe he/they/she has your disability, maybe a condition or disease not often covered well in literature.  Either way, you’re digging it.  You tense as the climax nears.  The showdown starts and the character has a revelation:  He/they/she was never disabled in the first damn place.


There are books using “fake disability” as a plot twist, and there will probably be more once one or two make it big.  Disabled people rarely see ourselves in literature, so a portrayal we relate to that turns out to be a “mistake”, “shock”, or “drama” is very disappointing.  Plus, it makes our truths seem more tenuous.  Wheelchairs, diseases, canes… they’re all for able-bodied people’s entertainment.

And, these “plots” are definitely for the able-bodied, not us.  Our disabilities are used to tug at the heartstrings of those who have no clue what it is like to be us, who pity us and keep their distance, who donate to a charity and pat themselves on the back.  They want to see the cripple struggle for a “normal” existence and then be “cured”.  It gives able-bodied people a good story, a narrative they agree with:  Disabled people should do everything to live as close to being able-bodied as possible (even if it could kill them)… and then be cured. 

Disabled people don’t get much to choose from in the realm of media when we desire representation.  Many of us are leery when we see a new book with a disabled protagonist or a neurodivergent character in a sitcom. 

Able-bodied/neurotypical people don’t understand it because, to them, any representation is something we should be grateful for.  Any effort should be praised!   They believe these things because they have plenty of representation for themselves and, since it is rare to see a cripple in a movie, they definitely remember it.  They think, because they can name three or four examples of gimps in cinema or books, that there are a lot.  In their social circles, the only disabled people they see or remember are frail grandparents in nursing homes so surely, the amount of people in media reflects the amount of disabled people they’ve met!

Meanwhile, disabled people are stuck with problematic portrayals, sifting through and hoping to find a gem of a character among the drivel.  A book where the plot twist is that the king is really the court jester, or the president is an alien from a war-loving, though inept, sub-race from a parallel universe where our hero saves the day… crutches and all.

Have you ever read a book where disability was used as a shock or twist?  How did you feel about it?

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Chameleon Moon by RoAnna Sylver

Image:  A stylized, explosive ball of flame takes up most of the background, descending upon tall buildings that seem to circle the area.  The title of the book and the author's name are in thin, black script across most of the ball of flame.  Small helicopters near the upper corners patrol a smoggy sky.  In the foreground at the bottom of the image, two people stand: A woman with bright pink hair, purple dress, with her hands on her hips, and the other, a bald reptilian man in a black tank top. 

Parole is a crumbling city that is constantly burning and closed off from the rest of the world.  Its inhabitants have powers both great and terrible, but everyone fears two things:  Parole someday tumbling into the fire underground, and Eye in the Sky, the government surveillance.

Evelyn and her wives Rose and Danae are part of the resistance, a movement to keep citizens safe and Parole standing. When Evelyn bumps into Regan (a reptilian man with amnesia), things are set in motion that will test the city and its heroes, if it doesn’t kill them first.
Let me get this out of the way:  Amnesia and dystopia/totalitarian regimes are tropes I’ve read a lot.  So much, in fact, I groaned inwardly when I found out this book had them.  Not again, I thought to myself.  But, this book is more than I first gave it credit for.

The characters are diverse, caring, hopeful, badass, and realistic.  Evelyn and her family are so sweet together and you can tell the three women love one another and their son.  Regan longs for the feeling of love and acceptance he sometimes finds, just out of reach in his lost memories.  Zilch is a nonbinary (stitched together) person looking for their heart.  Even secondary characters are given adequate detail and personalities.  Everyone can (and does) fight for what they love and believe.  Parole is populated with people of a variety of skin tones, sexual orientations, disabilities, neuordivergences, superpowers, and places on the gender spectrum.  Villains are sometimes harder to pin down than one would think.

Parole is a vivid setting.  The details are plentiful but don’t bog down the story in any way.  The buildings inside Parole are adequately described, but the city itself is the real star with cracks in the sidewalk, constant smoke in the air, the white noise of helicopters always patrolling.  I could see it clearly in my mind.

The stakes felt high and the pacing was good.  Though it seemed like there might be a little too much “down time” for the characters at points, even that is essential because of the novel’s tone.

One of the things I liked most about this novel is the hope in it.  The characters face horrors every day (no one in Parole comes away without anxiety, PTSD, or depression) but everyone still loves and dreams.  Our heroes strive to make a better city than the one they fell asleep in.  There is emphasis on chosen family and acceptance, just as you are.

A few things to be aware of:  This book features a drug that is addicting and sometimes fatal, though no detailed descriptions of someone taking it.  There are descriptions of characters burning and an instance of torture.   And, the book ends with things unresolved (there is a sequel out right now).

I definitely recommend this book.

Friday, September 8, 2017

What Would an Organization of "Us" Entail?

My thoughts on what disabled and/or neurodivergent writers would benefit most from in an organization.  This is all subject to change.  Feel free to add what you think is necessary.


1.  The best place to start is online.  Many of us can't travel or cover the expenses of starting an organization... online can help with that.  Anything done at a physical location will need significant financial backing.  Even if online is the only place this exists, it could still be significantly beneficial.  Unless it's a nonprofit, I don't see it branching out to "the real world" much.

2.  We need intersectional disabled/neurodivergent poets and writers in some of the top positions.  They know more about true inclusion and can find pitfalls or gaps that someone white, cishet, Christian... can't.

3.  It would need to be accessible in as many ways as possible.

4.  Membership wouldn't be a requirement for all things.

The organization would offer:

1.  An online conference, free of charge.   Possibly, one offline that's low-cost.  Most-to-all presenters would be disabled and/or neurodivergent writers.  There would be no stairs to get onstage.

2.  Workshops and classes, online (at first).  These would be for small groups, as to not overwhelm anyone.

3.  Small prize "gifteds".  Writers would apply, much like a grant, but receive something they need for their work like new reference books, software, etc.  No cash given.  Many of us can't apply for grants without jeopardizing medical care or grocery money...

4.  A mentor program (may be online only).

5.  A newsletter serving to promote member events, new writing, etc.

6.  Working with certain literary magazines, virtual fellowships could be created similar to the Kathy Fish Fellowship.  Other types of fellowships could follow.

7.  Contests.

What the organization wouldn't do:

1.  Create a retreat/residency.  I'd love one, but think a separate organization would be best for this.

2.  Be present at the AWP conference.  We have a great disability caucus there, already.  Members can go anywhere they want, of course.  We just wouldn't be there in an official capacity.

3.  Offer full-on grants.

4.  Charge membership fees.  There might be unavoidable charges for some workshops or whatever, but these would be kept minimal.  Finances are a barrier we don't need to impose on each other.

5.  Have a new press associated with it.  A press is a full-time commitment.  Unless the organization becomes so successful it has "departments', it isn't going to start one.  If an existing press wants to partner... that's different.

I'm certain there are things I'm forgetting in all of this.  The organization's goal is simple:  Connect disabled and/or neurodivergent writers together and provide resources to further craft and careers.  

Everything would only work if a significant group of us banded together and made it so.  I don't have nearly enough funds or know-how to begin this alone, hence the tiny blog.

What would you add in all this?  Do you think an online organization would be helpful enough?

Friday, September 1, 2017

Interview With Speculative Author LJ Cohen

Photo: LJ Cohen

What influenced you to start writing and how old were you when you started?

I started keeping a journal when I was quite young. I think, even then, I understood that I needed to write in order to know what I was feeling. I probably started writing poetry and short fiction by the time I was 8 or 9. For reasons that I only sorted out decades later, I was drawn to the written word far more than to any other art form.

You write (mainly) sci-fi and fantasy novels.  What do you think speculative fiction can accomplish that literary fiction can't easily replicate?

I'm not sure literary work *can't*, but speculative fiction can shine a light on current society without triggering the reader's defensiveness more easily than more realistic fiction can. Whatever the story highlights, it's not about them, but about others. It's less threatening, less confrontative. And yet, powerful. Look at the incredible power of Handmaid's Tale. Perhaps its impact is stronger because it's not quite our reality, but could be.

Do you have a writing routine? If so, what is it? If not, why not?

I'm really great at setting up routines and not quite so good at sticking to them. However, when I'm actively drafting a novel, I set an intention of writing 1,000 words a day for an average of 5,000 words a week. For the most part, I hit those goals and end up with a solid draft of a novel in 4-5 months. I don't really have rituals associated with my writing. I don't need a special environment or particular music versus silence. I don't write at a specific time of day. When I started writing my first novel in 2004-ish, my children were still in grade school and I had a 25 hour a week physical therapy practice. I had to learn to write whenever I could squeeze a half hour out of my other responsibilities.

You have aphantasia (the inability to "see" mental images). Do you have trouble knowing how much detail to add to a character or setting for readers?  Are there any tricks/methods you use when creating new settings?

Wow. Yes. When I was first starting to write and use a critique group, I didn't know I had aphantasia. My writing peers would tell me my dialogue was solid but that I wrote "floating heads in black boxes." It took me a long time to understand that my preference is for spare description when I'm reading and when I'm writing.

I could never understand why writers - especially of fantasy - would spend so much time on lavish, flowing descriptions of setting. My reaction was to page flip until something happened. I 'got' that we were in a forest after the first paragraph, but then the writer kept on describing. It was painful for me to read. Impossible for me to write, even if I wanted to.

I had to find a compromise that included visual description in a way that felt authentic to the reader. I would spend time looking at things in the world and practice describing them. I would ask readers if they had enough grounding in visual description. My husband is hypervisual, where I am not visual at all. I often ask him to read my drafts to make sure I include enough for the reader.

My first drafts are still very light on description and heavy on dialogue and movement. For whatever reason, I find it easier to use visual description through the eyes of my characters than in exposition.

What solidified your decision to be an independent author?  What do you like most about going indie?

I had gone the traditional route and managed to sign with a literary agent in 2008. She went out on submission with 3 of my novels but wasn't able to make a sale, despite glowing rejection letters from many of the big 6 editors. Because I had managed a solo physical therapy practice for many years, I was familiar with running a business. I was also very computer/tech savvy and comfortable with html and css. So creating my own imprint and publishing my work was a good fit.

I love the creative control and I have amazing partners in my publication journey, including my cover artist and editor.

You make beautiful ceramic pieces as a hobby.  Does the inspiration/creative process for ceramics fuel your writing?  Why or why not?

Part of my drive to do ceramics is to have an artistic outlet where I can let go of my need to be perfect. If you've ever wrestled to center 5 pounds of sloppy clay on a wheel, you'll understand that! It's also something I do at a communal studio, so I can be with other artists. That's a needed balance to the long stretches I'm alone at the keyboard with only my characters for company. It's also a truism that my best ideas come to me when my hands are in the clay and I can't  possibly stop to write them down! In a lot of ways, clay is even a better fit for me than writing as it's a very kinesthetic endeavor.

However, if you think it's hard being a writer and making a living, talk to a ceramics artist!

What are the best aspects of writing a series of novels?  What are the worst?  Do you prefer writing a novel in a series or a stand-alone novel?

The best aspects of writing a series? Getting to stay with familiar characters and watch them grow. I don't struggle to find their voices as I move into a new story. The characters are just there, waiting for me. The most difficult? Making sure I don't screw up on continuity issues.  By the time a story makes it to publication, my head is crammed with multiple versions of events. I can't always remember which version is the one that ultimately made it into the book and which was cut. Which is why keeping a series 'bible' is so critical.

I don't really prefer one over the other. Writing a stand alone allows the writer to have a greater degree of closure on a story and sometimes that's the story that wants to be written.

Short stories (you say) are the hardest for you to write.  Why is that? What form of writing do you find the most rewarding?

Yes. They are! I think, just as in the running world, there are people who are natural sprinters (short story writers) and those who are more comfortable as marathoners (novel writers).  There's something about planning the long arc of a plot that is my natural writing rhythm. I envy those writers who are good at both.

My hard drive is full of abandoned snippets of short stories. Of all of the short fiction I've written, there are about a dozen I think of as successful. I still poke at it because some stories aren't novel-length projects and the short story is a beautiful format.

The irony is that my first writing love was the ultra condensed: poetry. And I still return to it often.

Who are your literary influences/favorite writers? (They need not be disabled/neurodivergent.)

My literary influences include the sci fi writers I loved as a child: Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Andre Norton, Ray Bradbury and Madeline L'Engle. The books they wrote became my companions and my comfort as I grew up.

My favorite contemporary writers include Patricia McKillip (her prose is magical and lyrical), Lois McMaster Bujold (I have read and re-read the Vorkosigan books so many times!), Mary Oliver (an amazing poet. Read "Wild Geese"), and Rick Wayne (his characters are iconoclastic and he does some incredible things subverting genre tropes. And we're working on a co-writing project, so you should definitely read his work!)

How do you deal with the (inevitable) negative reviews?  Any advice for the rest of us?

Yeah. Negative reviews. They happen. It's inevitable. While the best thing is not to read reviews, it's almost impossible for me not to. I don't like to admit it, but a negative review will send me sulking. But only for a little while.

Not everyone will love your books. That's okay. I find great comfort in reading the reviews of my very favorite books - ones I consider classics or must-haves on your bookshelf - and find excoriating one and two star reviews. It's subjective. There are books, shows, and movies that people rave about and I just don't like them.

Ideally, the negative reviews are because the book is garnering attention outside of its typical audience. That's good! It means it's reaching a wider readership. Chalk it up to that and keep writing!
Biography:  LJ (Lisa Janice) Cohen is a poet, novelist, blogger, ceramics artist, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. She lives just outside of Boston with her family, two dogs (only one of which actually ever listens to her) and the occasional international student. When not doing battle with her stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix (aka "other dog") or hanging out with her lab/hound mix (aka "good dog"), LJ can be found writing, which looks a lot like daydreaming. She writes SF, Fantasy, and YA novels under the name LJ Cohen.

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Twitter: @lisajanicecohen