Newton Author Brings Inspiration to Young Adult Bookshelves
Newtonville resident and novelist LJ Cohen recently published her first novel, "The Between," a book written for young adults, but has gained some attention from adult readers as well.
For many writers, inspiration comes from a favorite author or a beloved book. For Newtonville novelist Lisa Janice (LJ) Cohen, inspiration comes from just about anything.
"I'm the writing equivalent of a magpie," Cohen says. "I take inspiration from everything -- from music, reading, pieces of art [and] stories I hear on NPR."
After years of writing and seven novels under her belt, Cohen's work finally hit the bookshelves earlier this year with the debut of her young adult novel The Between.
Published in January, The Between tells the story of a young woman ready to head off to college when suddenly she is transported to a world of Faeries, where she is caught in the middle of a war between Oberon and Titania.
Cohen, who also works as a private physical therapist, explains that the story in The Between came from a couple of different places; the first spark showed up in a short story idea she had while at a writing seminar where she remembers thinking, "wouldn't it be funny if there was a faerie witness protection program?"
Then, while in another writing group, Cohen was given a simple writing prompt where she was asked to start a story based on the line, "the sky turned black," and the first chapter of the novel took off from there.
Aside from the writing groups and seminars, NPR shows and music, Cohen says much of her writing inspiration stems from her own taste and her history as a reader. Cohen says she always gravitated toward science fiction and fantasy novels and remembers loving A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
But as a young reader, Cohen went through children's literature quickly, and there was not a lot of young adult fiction available for her.
So, as she got older and began her life as a novelist, Cohen started writing for young adults.
"I know how important it was for me when I was [a young adult] reading books that I connected with," Cohen says.
Cohen's 16- and 18-year-old boys also play an important role in her career as a writer of young adult fiction; they give her inspiration to write and provide feedback.
"I really wanted to write stories that they wanted to read," she says. "They are my first readers -- they're amazing."
Not only do her kids read through her rough drafts and first editions, they also encourage her to keep writing. Oftentimes, when the boys would get home from school, Cohen says they would ask if she had finished her "homework", or her goal of writing 1,000 words a day. If she had not reached that goal, she would sit down with her kids as they finished their homework while she worked to 1,000 words.
The teens also bring a unique inspiration to Cohen's writing: music. While writing her latest novel -- a ghost story that takes place in an abandoned amusement park -- Cohen says her kids introduced her to music by The National and Florence and the Machine. Those music groups, she says, helped her get into the right mindset for writing the ghost story.
"I listened to a lot of Florence and the Machine -- there's something about the quality of her voice and the music that really spoke to me when I was writing the ghost story. It has an ethereal sound to it," Cohen says.
In addition to the ghost story, Cohen says she is also working on a revision of story she wrote a few years ago about a young boy in foster care who has "unwelcome" glimpses of the future. She's also working on a children's novel with Australian illustrator Jade E. Zivanovic, who did the cover art for The Between.
But those are not the only stories Cohen has up her sleeve; a number of novels are in the works, motivated by the positive feedback from her family and her readers.
"It's been remarkable," she says. "I've had a bunch of incredible reviews on Amazon...and positive emails from people," Cohen says. "I think the emotions of the characters are universal, emotions of wanting home and security and having autonomy...we all have those."
Cohen, who has done events with Newtonville Books, is planning a reading and signing event at Pandemonium Books in Cambridge. A date for that event has not yet been set. The Between is available in eBook and trade paperback formats.