Guest Post: LJ Cohen on Organic Diversity in Science Fiction


This week, I bring you author, artist, and “yet another woman owned by two dogs” (I think there’s a secret plot by canines!).

LJ Cohen (pictured left) is  another of my infamous sisters from Broad Universe, a non-profit organization that supports women writers of fantasy, science, fiction, and horror.


Take it away, LJ!




Diversity in Halcyone Space

by LJ Cohen

I didn’t plan to create a book that checked off boxes in some kind of diversity bingo. Somehow, I seem to have written a series with:

– a female computer engineer,
– brothers (the sons of the space station’s two physicians) who are of mixed race,
– a lesbian relationship,
– a privileged son of a disgraced diplomat who grows drugs (and is one of the protagonists!),
– women of color in prominent positions of authority,
– and characters with various disabilities that are neither miraculously healed or that render them ‘noble’ in their ‘suffering’

The characters of the Halcyone Space series (DERELICT and ITHAKA RISING) grew organically from the first idea of the story – that a group of teens inadvertently resurrect a long-derelict space ship. I have long enjoyed ensemble-based science fiction and in my brain,; this story mixed elements of Firefly, Farscape, and Lost in Space. What mattered to me, as a writer, was that the characters reflect the world at least as diverse as my current world is. In fact, I couldn’t imagine a future space-faring culture that would be LESS diverse than our current day existence. (Can you tell that I was raised on Star Trek?) So I looked around at the people in my personal community and created a cast of characters that reflected its messy individualism in all its glory.

There is a spectrum of cultural, social, economic, disability, gender, and sexual preference boundaries (this is not an exclusive list of our potential human diversity). I occupy my own space on that ‘map’, as do my friends, neighbors, and family members. The challenge I face in writing is how to honor both the shared humanity of each of my characters as well as their distinctiveness. Ultimately, each of the characters stepped up to the challenge of their unique personhood, and the story that takes place around them is richer for it.

I’ve had several readers ask (both in personal contacts and in reviews) why I stuck a relationship between two women into a science fiction book. (This implication being that I ‘ruined’ a perfectly good SF story.)

I could reply with reasons from my personal life, but that’s not really the important answer. In fact, the reason why this 50-something heterosexual cis-gendered woman wrote about an emotional attachment between Ro and Nomi was because those questions are still being asked. If the relationship had been between Ro and any of the male characters, it would have been viewed as the default and no one would have questioned it. Someday, I hope that we will be there with same-sex couples.

And still, I didn’t plan this out at the start. I created Ro and Nomi and after working through their initial scenes, it was clear that their characters would create a strong emotional bond. It served the needs of the story and was consistent with the needs/arc of the characters.

Jem Durbin – one of the brothers – sustains a head injury in DERELICT and must deal with the consequences of his injury in ITHAKA RISING. He struggles with his disability, and the choices he makes because of it drive the story. Another character, Lieutenant Commander Gutierrez, is a woman who is career military. She was injured in the war that takes place 40 years prior to the events of both stories, and has a prosthetic arm. It is consistent with her character that she would choose an arm for function rather than aesthetics, and this is something that becomes part of the plot. It helps the verisimilitude of the story that I worked as a physical therapist for almost 25 years.

When we write fiction, we are almost always exploring ‘the other’. Certainly all the characters I create have some aspect of myself or my experience, but that is only a small part of who they are. It is my hope that each member of the cast of the Halcyone Space novels is fully themselves and that I have handled the specific aspects of their diversity, particularly the ones that I personally do not share, with sensitivity and honesty.


Excerpt From ITHAKA RISINGCohen_Ithaka Rising small Cover

After a restless sleep, Ro grabbed a quick shower and rummaged through the pile of clothes on the floor of her quarters for the least dirty set. She wrinkled her nose. Now that she was official again, everything needed to be sent through the cleanser on Daedalus.

At least Halcyone wouldn’t get kicked out of her docking space. But Ro would be so much busier now. She’d already cut down her sleep to four hours with the liberal use of caffeine and stimulant pills. There was a limit to how long her body would tolerate the abuse.

She worked her hair into a tight braid. A memory of Nomi unbraiding it made her hands tremble, and she dropped the wire she was using to tie it off. “Damn it.” Ro knew she owed Nomi an apology. And not just Nomi.

Her hair rebraided, Ro stepped into Halcyone’s main corridor and nearly tripped over a trundle loaded with musical instruments. Barre emerged from his quarters across the hallway and stopped short, staring between the cart and her.

“I have nowhere else to go,” he said, his dark eyes staring directly at her. “And despite your belief to the contrary, you do need me here. Unless you can play one of these for Halcyone.”

“Look. I’m not—” Ro was going to say she wasn’t good at this. At this friendship thing. Or the communications thing, but Barre cut her off.

“I’ll do what I can to get the ship working. I know I’m not my brother.” A frown narrowed his eyes for a moment. “But I owe at least that much to you.”

He didn’t understand, she could tell. It was so much the other way around. She just couldn’t find a way to say it. Barre pulled several stringed instruments from the cart. Her micro beeped with a list of tasks Mendez had prioritized for her. Ro waved her hand over it to silence the alert. “Can I help you?”

Barre shrugged. “Knock yourself out.”

They emptied the cart into the tight confines of his room without speaking. It felt comfortable to just be doing something. It was what she was best at. The words were so much harder. “I can take the trundle back.” Ro sighed, thinking of all the time she would have to spend away from Halcyone. “Mendez put me back on staff. I have to head to the depot anyway.”

“That’s new.”

“As of yesterday. But we get to keep Halcyone here as long as we need to and have access to the resources to fix her.” If they could fix her. Ro squashed that particular fear and looked up at Barre. She hoped he got her use of ‘we’ and heard the apology in it. “It means I have to spend time at the station. Do you think … are you willing to keep working on her? Can you get Jem to help?”

He was scowling at her, his expression just like his mother’s. She hoped he didn’t think she just insulted his abilities. But Jem was better at troubleshooting. Even Barre knew that.

“You haven’t even asked about him once since we got back here. Now you want to use him?”

It was hard not to look away. Yes, she was going to use him. The same way she used and drove herself. If Jem was anything like her, that’s what he’d want, too. Something in Barre’s eyes made her bite back her sharp reply. She took a deep breath and replayed what he’d said. She hadn’t asked about him … Shit. “What’s wrong?”

“He has a head injury, that’s what’s wrong.” Barre’s face darkened.

“But the surgery—that was supposed to fix it, right?”

“He’s broken. Like Halcyone. And I don’t think anyone can fix him.”

“Oh, crap. I’m sorry.”

“Sorry that he can’t help anymore? Or sorry that he got dragged into your mess?”

Heat rose up through her chest and burned across her face. Ro turned, nearly tripping on an upended drum at her feet. She wanted to kick it, to leave it in pieces strewn across the floor. Instead, she compacted the anger into a tiny black hole and added it to all the rest. Someday, it would eat its way through her, leaving emptiness behind.

“Shit. I’m sorry,” Barre said. “That was out of line.”

She slammed her hand down on the trundle, paired it to her micro, and turned to go.


Why wouldn’t he leave her be? “What?”

“It wasn’t your fault. What happened to Jem.”

The pain in his voice was as unsettling as her own anger.“

He wouldn’t even have been there, except for me screwing up.”

Ro closed her eyes, wishing for the clean problems of code and machine. “I’m sorry,” she repeated, not sure what else to say.

“I know. Me too.”

Her micro buzzed again. “I’ve got to go.” She turned around. He was leaning against the doorway, his head bowed, dreads falling forward to cover his face. His large hands circled the neck of some kind of flute, his grip so tight Ro was sure the instrument would snap. In the silence, she could only hear the pulse pounding in her ears.

With shaking hands, she stepped forward and reached for the flute. Barre jerked his head up and for an instant, his knuckles tightened even further, turning gray against the shiny silver metal, before his hands loosened and his shoulders slumped.

Ro set it down on the bare steel desk and left, the empty trundle following her out of the ship and into the station.


LJ Cohen is the writing persona of Lisa Janice Cohen, poet, novelist, blogger, ceramics artist, local food enthusiast, Doctor Who fan, and relentless optimist. Lisa 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 a stubborn Jack Russell Terrier mix, Lisa can be found working on the next novel, which often looks a lot like daydreaming. ITHAKA RISING is her 5th published novel.






Twitter: @lisajanicecohen



email LJ:

Interview with Inimitable Author Mary Holland


Genre: Fantasy All Jamie Pel wants is a quiet life in his demesne and someone to share it with. As the secondary heir—the spare—of the Magne of Pel, his uncle, he’s avoided the pomp and ritual other Magnes and their primary heirs seem to relish. But with talk of a nascent slave trade circulating in Gallia, the Magne of Pel recruits Jamie to join an observation mission to the Scour, the blasted, burned-out territory where people sell themselves into slavery to get out. With nothing but good intentions and a desire to steer clear of drama, Jamie obliges, but while he’s out-demesne, his uncle and beloved cousin—the primary heir—are both killed, elevating Jamie to a powerful position he’s spent his life trying to avoid. Returning home, he discovers traitors and thieves under his own roof and a tinderbox of ambition and intrigue about to explode among his fellow Magnes. With Magic afoot and a vicious power struggle stretching to every corner of Gallia, Jamie doesn’t know who to trust or where to turn. But if he doesn’t rise to the occasion—and soon—all of Gallia could be absorbed by the blighted Scour, and everything—and everyone—Jamie loves could be destroyed.

Most of you know that I take on editing and proofreading jobs from time to time.  I’m picky about those jobs because they take away from my writing time.  When Mary Holland asked if I’d be interested in proofreading her newest novel, The Dog of Pel, I didn’t hesitate to scream, “Yes!” Mary’s other works, The Bone Road and Matcher Rules, were high-quality literature, and I knew The Dog of Pel would be, too.

I also know Mary through our joint work in Broad Universe, a non-profit organization that promotes the works of women writers in fantasy, science fiction, and horror.  Her caustic, quick wit is delightful, and nobody ever accused Mary of not being the brightest tool in the shed.  She’s well-read, and she shares her knowledge freely.  She’s also a hard worker who believes in doing a job the right way, so I knew she was telling the truth when she said that she’d revised the novel until her eyes bled.  Every proofreader wants to hear those words because it means our jobs will be that much easier.  I took on the job, and it turned out to be as enjoyable as I expected.

I love the characters in the story, and I love the smooth prose Mary whips out like she has a pen dripping with it.  As a fantasy author, I appreciate her imaginative storytelling, and I thoroughly enjoy her style.  I envy the cover, and I can say that the print version’s cover is even better than it appears digitally.  The Dog of Pel is fun and suitable reading for Young Adults and Adults alike.  I believe teenage boys will absolutely love it, and I hope it gets the notice it deserves from librarians.  It would be a fantastic addition to a fantasy collection, particularly in a school library.

Available at Available in ebook and paperback through the following online retailers:

I give you the initimable Mary Holland and The Dog of Pel!

Questions I Enjoy Answering

Why is your protagonist a white man?

That’s the character I envisioned and while he is definitely male, I never mention the color of his skin. I do as little physical description as I can get away with because I believe readers visualize the protagonist in each story as a variant of themselves and a detailed description gets in their way. Also, character descriptions are boring to read.

But a man? You’re a woman!

Well spotted. I believe any competent writer can put themselves into pretty much any character, bisexual, transgender, man, woman, puppy, an alien with green tentacles, you name it. And I did have a beta reader, an actual man, check out Jamie’s reactions for credibility. He passed.

Why don’t you write a series?

I have a short attention span.

Seriously, I have a lot of stories I want to tell, and I get frustrated if I stay in one world too long. The other new characters yammer for attention. I do have a beginning idea for a story set in the world of the Deom, which would be a sequel to The Bone Road, but I’m not working on it at the moment.

Why does it take you so long to write a book?

I start writing before I work out all the ramifications of the plot. Then I get stuck multiple times and have to rewrite older sections to fit. This can go on for months. I’m attempting to discipline myself; so far it’s not working. Also, I don’t write every day because life happens.

What’s the hardest part of the story to write, the dialog, the exposition, the narrative?

The damn descriptions. I hate writing “The green salon was hung with pictures of the hunt, the heads of dead animals, and brass hunting horns. Even the ink well on the writing desk was a horse’s hoof.” Those sentences took me three minutes to compose and bored me to death; also I stole the last bit from Virginia Woolf. On the other hand, I love dialogue; my characters can blither on forever. And I’m constantly writing more backstory and chopping it out.

What comes first, the world, the character, or the plot?

The character, every time. I visualize a character and build a backstory around her and then build her world and then, only then, do I start building the plot. Which obviously gets me in trouble is when I get impatient and start writing pre-plot.

Why aren’t you famous?

Beats the hell out of me.

Thank you for granting me this interview, Mary!  And thanks for sending The Dog of Pel out into the world.

Author Bio

Mary Holland is the author of Matcher Rules, The Bone Road, and The Dog of Pel. After managing a corporate research library in Silicon Valley for twenty-five years, mostly to support her fantasy and science-fiction habit, she now writes full-time.

She lives among the redwoods in California’s Santa Cruz Mountains with three cats and one husband. Find her online at

Journey to Owl Light – Guest Post by Vonnie Winslow Crist


I met Vonnie a couple of years ago at the Broad Universe dealer’s table at Balticon.  She struck me as a kind and gentle person.  Her eyes gave away her creativity.  When I learned that she was willing to do a guest post about her new illustrated story collection, I was excited.  Now that I’ve read it, I’m excited for YOU!  She’s a delightful storyteller, and you’re going to love reading not just the collection of stories (rush out and get them NOW!), but also about how that collection came to be.


Journey to Owl Light

by Vonnie Winslow Crist –

I’ve had dozens of science-fiction and fantasy stories, poems, and illustrations published in magazines and anthologies – which is lovely. But for readers to really get a taste of my work, they’d have to spend a substantial amount of money to acquire even a dozen of my stories, a smattering of my poems, and a handful of my black and white speculative art. Quite impractical!


So in 2011, an Indie publisher released my first story collection, The Greener Forest, to good reviews and reasonable sales. The stories (and poems and illos) in The Greener Forest are dark fantasy (goblins, dark fairies, zombies, and such) – some tales were previously published, and others newly written. It felt great to be able to offer readers more than 50,000-words of my writing at a good price.


2012 found me working hard on my first young adult fantasy novel, The Enchanted Skean, for Mockingbird Lane Press (another Indie publisher). Eight months gone by, multiple edits completed, and 95,000-words polished, the novel was released in 2013. Again, positive reviews and modest sales kept my fingers to the keyboard. As a bonus, The Enchanted Skean ended up a Finalist for the 2014 Compton Crook Award.


WhiMaybe6_owl_light_cover.199195526_stdch brings me to 2014’s release of Owl Light from Cold Moon Press. (Yes, again it’s a small Indie publisher). I’d written more stories and poems (and had some published in magazines and anthos) and I’d drawn additional illos since 2011 which I wanted my readers to have easy, reasonably-priced access to. Strangely, most of these pieces contained owls and occurred between the hours of dusk and dawn. That is, they occurred during Owl Light, described by me in a quote at the beginning of the book: “In Owl Light, that darksome time when creatures of the shadows move amongst us, how easy it is to believe in the mysterious and magical.”


This time around, I included science-fiction, fantasy, and a few ghost tales in the over 50,000-word collection. It seemed to make sense to choose writing (and illos) which were a little darker for Owl Light – so I did! The back cover blurb gives a good description of what lies between the book’s covers:


In Owl Light, mystery and magic are close at hand. A deer hunter encounters the Daughter of Winter. Ghosts join a holiday celebration. A clockwork owl is the key to preventing murder. A gravedigger unearths a vengeful trow. To save the woman he loves, a dwarf strikes a bargain with faeryfolk. A sideshow attraction wishes to be normal, with unexpected results. And an anthropologist must choose between her modern world and an ancient culture.


These stories and more dare the reader to step into Owl Light, where early stars flicker, owls wake from slumber, and shadows appear where shadows ought not be. But be warned: Owl Light dims to darkness, dreams change to nightmares, and dawn is more distant than you know.”


Where will my writing take me next? I’m not sure, but there are short stories yet to be published in a collection and several novels begging to be completed. Perhaps this evening as the moon rises and owls call from woods’ edge, I’ll know the answer.


For more information about Vonnie, visit her website: , follow her blog: , be her fan on Facebook: and Goodreads: , follow her on Twitter: , and pin her books on Pinterest:


To buy Owl Light and her other books, check Amazon:, Amazon UK: , or Barnes & Noble:


Thanks for stopping by, Vonnie!  And thanks for taking us on the journey to Owl Light with you.  🙂


Interview with Kelly A. Harmon

Let me introduce you to one of my favorite Broads, sister member of Broad Universe that is–Kelly A. Harmon.  Before I start the interview, here’s a little background for those of you who haven’t yet met Kelly.


Kelly A. Harmon used to be a newspaper reporter.ff4f5fbdb6180ad8976f4f.L._V192633363_SX200_

She found reporting to be by turns exciting (covering murder trials) and excruciatingly boring (covering itty-bitty town council meetings). Most other stories managed to fall in between those extremes on a sliding scale of interesting.

Eventually, she moved away from full-time reporting and editing owing to boredom of the routine. Stories were still interesting, but the rote mechanics of the job became anathema.

Nonetheless, she still writes non-fiction…because she can’t seem to leave it alone.

When not crazed with the need to freelance, she writes fantasy and dark fantasy with the occasional science fiction piece. Her story, “Lies,” short-listed for the Aeon Award. Her award-winning novella, “Blood Soup,” is recently re-issued by Pole to Pole Publishing and available electronically.

Her other short fiction can be found in several anthologies, including: Hellbore and Rue, Black Dragon, White Dragon, Triangulation: Dark Glass and Bad @ss Fairies 3: In all Their Glory.


Twitter: @KellyAHarmon

Facebook Friend:

Facebook Fan Page:


I met Kelly at Balticon in 2013 while we both were volunteering at the Broad Universe information table.  I liked her lethal humor from the start.  This year, I had the chance to chat a bit with her while she was volunteering at the same table in the dealer’s room at Balticon.  Later, we sat in on a live podcast, and what I learned about her is that she’s incredibly bright and maybe a little shy.  So, when she agreed to do this interview, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Much to my delight, she dove right in with both feet and held back nothing.  In fact, I learned something from this interview, and I hope you will, too.

Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions and letting me share you and your work with my readers, Kelly!

Morgen: I’ll start with a bit about the path your writing career has taken, Kelly. You started out in journalism and still keep a one hand on your keyboard in non-fiction as a freelance writer. Aside from your journalism and non-fiction writing, you’ve published a number of short stories and a novella. Stoned in Charm City, however, is a debut for you as a novelist. And congratulations, by the way! First, what prompted you to move from shorter pieces to a full-length novel?

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Kelly: It seems like this novel is an afterthought, but it’s not. I’ve always written novels. I just haven’t always published novels. In the past it was just so difficult to get one noticed. But the publishing industry is going through such upheaval. There are more options for authors with the ability to go indie or to publish with a small press.

I recently had an offer on a traditional fantasy trilogy that I’ve written, but the contract terms were so egregious, I turned it down. In the past, I might have signed the contract anyway—just to see my book in print. Now, writers have choices.

I plan to get that trilogy in the hands of readers as soon as I’m able.

Morgen: What did you find most challenging about writing a novel versus a short story or novella, and what did you find easier (if anything)?

Kelly: I find it more difficult to write a short story. It’s hard for me to keep out the myriad of sub-plots my brain wants to include.

I like being able to expand on my ideas in different kinds of long form. The fantasy trilogy I mentioned is three distinct books tied together with interwoven plots. Although there’s a satisfying resolution at the end of the each book, there are a few things left unfinished in the first which pick up in the next two books. But everything is resolved by the end of the third book.

The Charm City Darkness series is different in that each book is standalone. You can read them out of order if you want, but Assumpta is still the main character, and everything takes place in and around Baltimore. It takes a different mind-set to write in a series versus a trilogy. I really enjoy the challenge.

Morgen: In your non-journalistic writing career, you’ve published mostly dark fantasy and fantasy stories. Stoned in Charm City is a bit of a deviation for you, in that it adds an element of the paranormal to what might otherwise be contemporary/urban fantasy. Clearly, it was an intentional choice on your part as the writer. What do paranormal elements add to what you hope readers get out of Stoned?

Kelly: I hate to admit it, but there was nothing intentional about Stoned in Charm City. I hadn’t sat down to write urban fantasy or include anything paranormal at all. (This is where you find out I’m a pantser…)

Morgen: Gasp!

Kelly: Stoned started out with an overheard conversation. My brain started filling in the gaps of the missed bits of dialogue. Pretty soon, I had this character, Assumpta, who was arguing with a demon, and I needed to tell her story. The book practically wrote itself after that (as did the second one, A Favor for a Fiend, slated for publication this fall).

What do the paranormal elements add? On the surface there’s a lust-interest, Jak…who used to be human. Beneath that, there’s a question about relationships and loyalties and questioning beliefs. I didn’t intentionally set out to make a point, so I don’t want to comment on what it means. People can draw their own conclusions.

And coming back to your point about me writing fantasy and dark fantasy, I’ve written some horror, too.  If you enjoy really dark stuff or ghost stories, check out the anthology Deep Cuts: Mayhem, Menace & Misery.

Morgen:  References to things one might associate with Catholicism are a major part of Stoned in Charm City. Character names, Assumpta Mary-Margaret and LaSpina (Italian for thorn), are one example. What was it about Catholicism that drew you to use it as the frame for your story?

Kelly: Since the story revolves around a demon problem, I needed a plausible framework for conversing with demons. Although they’re not the only Christian faith to “combat evil” (if you will), the Catholics have been training their priests and exorcising demons for centuries. It seemed a logical choice.

I made Assumpta an Irish Catholic girl, born on the day of the Assumption – a celebrated Catholic holiday. But she’s got several gifts: she can find things that people have lost using a pendulum, and she does spot-on numerology, and she sees auras. All of this is in direct conflict with Catholic precepts. So, there’s a lot of questioning her faith and her belief in god.

I asked my editor to make sure that the book doesn’t come across as “preachy.” The religion is there, but it’s the backdrop—mostly.

I liken the Charm City Darkness series to “The Exorcist meets Buffy.”

Morgen:  Where can readers find Stoned in Charm City and other works by you?

Kelly: You can find my works at most major retailers on line. Here are direct links to buy Stoned:


Barnes and Noble:



Morgen:   What will we see next from you? Book 2 in the Charm City Darkness series? Something altogether unrelated?

Kelly:  The second book in the series, A Favor for a Fiend, is slated for Fall publication. Also: look for a few more short stories either stand alone or in anthologies by the end of the year. You can follow my website for announcements ( or join my mailing list (see the blog, top right) for news on books and short stories as well as giveaways.

Morgen, thank you for hosting me! It’s been a pleasure!

Morgen: The pleasure has been all mine, and I know it will be my readers’ pleasure, too!  I look forward to digging into A Favor for a Fiend!

QUESTION FOR READERS:  Kelly and I have a little disagreement ongoing.  I say the young woman on the cover looks like a version of Kelly.  What say you?