Kath here. Many of you know longtime WU community member Lisa Janice Cohen from her lively guest posts and insightful comments over the years. It’s been a long road to publication for L.J., one that we can all sympathize. But now she’s announced that her YA fantasy novel THE BETWEEN is ready for launch. We love it when one of our readers realizes a dream, that’s why we’re so thrilled to be able to have her discuss her writer’s journey and her novel. Lynn Viehl of Paperback Writer, reviewed THE BETWEEN and gives it a thumb’s up:
L.J. Cohen’s classic-based magic system suits the world-building and the characters, makes sense and doesn’t smother the story with a lot of unnecessary spell gunk. I think L.J.’s skill with using the magic elements (as well as handling the Shakespearean world-building) comes from her poet side. I kept seeing that lyrical influence throughout the story, too; from the rhythms of the dialogue and the action to the descriptive passages.
Ready for a magical yet real story? Check out THE BETWEEN. Meanwhile, please enjoy our Take 5 with Lisa Janice Cohen.
Q: What’s the premise of your debut novel?
Lydia Hawthorne is a high school senior poised to take her first steps into the adult world when emmisaries from Oberon and Titania’s warring Fae courts arrive, each trying to claim her in Faerie. She is an ordinary girl trying to cope with the unraveling of her ordinary life, immersed into a world of unfamiliar politics, veiled threats, and untapped magic. Thrust into an endless cold war between the rival courts, Lydia must tap their power to survive without losing her own essential, stubborn, humanity.
Q: What would you like people to know about the story itself?
THE BETWEEN explores a landscape of change, choice, and power. In the typical changeling tale, the changeling has a lingering sense of not fitting in, not belonging to his or her life, before discovering a true identity under the glamour. Not so for Lydia. She is settled in her life, ready to leave home for college and start to make her own choices when Faerie reclaims her. The war between Bright and Shadow courts has pulled her life off course.
I thought it would be interesting to create a conflict in which the changeling rejects the glammoured life and fights to create her own identity and her own future. It was important that Lydia not be the ‘chosen one’, nor did I want her to be either a sacrificial victim or a super hero. She needed to be a regular kid with a host of strengths and weaknesses, who made mistakes and who kept going. (It probably won’t surprise any of my readers to know my hero growing up was Meg Murray from “A Wrinkle in Time.”)
Q: What do your characters have to overcome in this story? What challenge do you set before them?
There are two main point of view characters in this story: Lydia Hawthorne and Clive Barrow. Clive is the Bright Court emmisary whom Oberon has sent to retreive Lydia from where she was hidden in the mortal world. While Lydia has her journey ‘down the rabbit hole’, from her familiar life into the strange, Clive struggles with the vows he has made and his sense of loyalty. There is something about Lydia’s straightforward emotional honesty that confuses and draws him and he finds himself making promises to help her that conflict with those that bind him to Oberon. He starts to act in ways that are very un-Fae like and he will risk far more than his status at court as a result.
In addition to coping with the loss of her independence, her home, and her family, Lydia struggles with the lure of power and vengeance, especially when her human family is threatened to ensure her cooperation in Faerie. Her biggest challenge is to hold on to her identity and not become a weapon in the hand of either court.
Q: What unique challenges did this book pose for you, if any?
When I started writing THE BETWEEN, my critique partners rolled their collective eyes at yet another YA Fae changeling story. I knew the bar was going to be set high from the start and I wanted to make sure I could reference the tropes of this kind of story without falling into cliche. At the begining, I knew I didn’t want to polarize the Fae into good/evil, or seelie/unseelie courts. Instead, I re-envisioned the courts as Bright and Shadow, where Bright magic was overt and manipulative and Shadow magic was covert and manipulative. The war between Oberon and Titania had been ongoing for so long, they had drawn close to one another in their hatreds and spite, each seeking to dominate the other. Into that mix, I threw Lydia, an unremarkable teenager with a remarkable love for her family and a strong sense of fairness and loyalty–nothing the Fae would understand.
A related challenge was the whole ‘unearthly beauty of the Fae’ cliche. I wanted to turn that on its head a bit, so I had Lydia get annoyed at their glammoured perfection and wonder what they all looked like beneath the magic. She most decidedly wasn’t impressed.
I also wanted to have both a complete story in its own right as well as have wiggle room to write a sequel. Up until now, all the stories I have written have been stand alones. My six novels have little to do with one another, other than I’ve written them all and I suppose I return to explore some similar themes. (To some extent, most of my stories, both the YA and the adult fiction have elements of fantasy and magical realism in them. I like to explore the journey between the familiar and the strange.) But having never returned to a particular world for a round two, I wanted to make sure I would be able to continue the story of Lydia and the changing world of Faerie. I think I’ve left a few clues and a few ends loose enough to pick up the threads of the story without sacrificing closure for this one.
Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect of having written this book?
Any book has its delights. One of the most wonderful moments in writing this one was discovering Aeon in the maze. He had not factored in my initial planning, but when Lydia runs into the maze and wonders aloud who she has become, he answered. Not only was he integral to that scene, he became twined into the story as a whole, much like his maze is in Faerie. He went on to become one of my favorite characters in THE BETWEEN. In fact, he has a whole origin story that I am planning to tell as a short story some day.
I really also enjoyed the clash of cultures aspect of writing THE BETWEEN. Initially, the Fae understand Lydia as little as she understands them. But she grows in the course of the story and is even able to find compassion for her kin. Because the Fae have been so stagnant as a culture, so locked into their pattern of conflict, they are unable to see her unwillingness to abandon her mortal connections as anything other than a weakness.
It was also an absolute joy to work with Jade Zivanovic, my cover artist. She read the story and we communicated back and forth via email between Boston and Australia for several weeks as she worked through concept sketches and finally this brilliant cover. Seeing my work as interpreted by a visual artist was a pure delight. The characters weren’t as I had initially visualized them, but when I saw her images, I realized that she had captured them and the story perfectly. I can’t see my characters any other way, now.