Guest Post with L.J. Cohen author of The Between

We’ve all been sucked into a book and have been taken to another world only to be spit back out into reality. Have you ever wondered how the worlds and characters that we read about, come to be on paper? Well L.J Cohen is stopping by today to give us the skinny on her writing technique and how her characters are born.


L.J. lives in the western suburbs of Boston, MA with her husband, 2 sons, and one dog.
L.J. and her dog (Tigger) are registered as a therapy team through Caring Canines.
When she’s not reading, writing, or editing, she’s a physical therapist in a private practice.For more information about L.J. visit her website.

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This or That: A view on My Writing Process 

It seems like dichotomies are everywhere. Red state vs. blue state. Dog lover or cat lover. Morning person or night owl. Even in the writing world, you’ll hear people split between pantsers and plotters. I’m not sure I buy that we are nearly as polarized as common wisdom would say we are.

Me? I like tea AND coffee. I have dogs, but I don’t hate cats. (Hubby’s just allergic.) I won’t start to talk politics here or we’ll be here all day and never get to the writing piece, but suffice it to say, it’s easy to find enough to criticize on both sides of the aisle. About the only place I see an either/or is that I am so not a night owl.


In terms of my creative process, I embody elements of both seat-of-the-pants writing and plotting/outlining. But like most other areas in my life, I create my own hybrid. When I started THE BETWEEN, I didn’t have an idea. I didn’t have a main character. I didn’t even have a setting. What I had was a brief prompt and twenty minutes to write something to share with my weekly writing group. The prompt was the sky went dark.


So with absolutely no agenda, no roadmap, and no expectations, I wrote what was to become (with much revision) the scene in chapter one where the darklings attack Lydia on the schoolbus.


There’s something incredibly freeing about letting your unconscious free to come out and play. In that short span of time, words scribbled across the page (yes, long hand in a spiral bound notebook) with little direct guidance from me. When the twenty minutes was up, I had the genesis of Lydia and her conflict.


I continued to play with freewriting over the course of the next few weeks, writing several exploratory scenes—enough that I could begin to actually plan the structure of a novel, including other characters, the emotional stakes, the setting, and at least the start of Lydia’s story arc.


I do use outlines, but they are less like the outlines I hated to write for school papers and more like a broad brush overview of beginning, middle, and end. I may even know where the next few chapters are going, at least well enough to jot down a one sentence summary. (Lydia gets frustrated with her ‘babysitters’ and goes for a run in the maze.) Where the scene goes from there is often a bit of a mystery and an exploration.


The character of Aeon was one of those mysteries. He never showed up in any of my outlines or story concepts. He simple appeared when Lydia stopped inside the maze. I have to admit, he’s my favorite character in the story because of how he sprung organically (no pun intended) from the story process.


Different stories emerge from different places. FUTURE TENSE, a manuscript I just finished revising, emerged from a single image that came to me just before falling sleep one night—a young man, a runaway, in jeans and a hoodie. Once I imagined him, I needed to figure out who he was and what he was running from. I had to essentially interview my subconscious and what it told me was that Matt had unwelcome glimpses of violent futures he struggled to prevent. That he chose to isolate himself as a way of not getting attached to people he couldn’t stand to see hurt. That he was just about to age out of foster care. That on the way home from school, he gets gets caught up with a girl from school whose terrible future keeps torturing him.


The as yet unnamed ghost story that I just finished drafting a few months ago was sparked by seeing photographs of the SixFlags amusement park that had been destroyed and abandoned because of Hurricane Katrina. I knew I had to set a story in that park and what better story to go with an abandoned park but a ghost story?


As you can see, three different stories, three different processes.


When beginning writers ask me which way is the right way to finish a novel, I tell them the way that works.

about the book

High school senior, Lydia Hawthorne, is less than grateful when Oberon has her snatched from the mortal world and she finds out she’s actually Fae. And not just any Fae, but a trueborn with enough inherent magic to tip the balance between Oberon and Titania’s warring Bright and Shadow courts.

But that’s their game and she doesn’t want to play by their rules. Together with Clive Barrow, a Bright Court Fae with embarrassing family ties to the mortal world, Lydia fights to regain her old life, fueling her magic with the very human power of love and loss, challenging the essential nature of Faerie itself.

Read our review of The Between HERE.


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