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Author Interview: LJ Cohen

Future Tense by LJ Cohen
LJ Cohen, Chris Howard

Today, Examiner got to hold an exclusive interview with LJ Cohen, author of young adult books Future Tense and The Between.

Her newest release, Future Tense, is told from Matt's perspective, who has spent his life in foster care. Matt has a very unique view of the world, since he can see glimpses of the future, ones that usually predict death. Matt couldn't save his parents when he was little, and he's worried he cannot save his classmate's life now.

For a young adult market that has been flooded with supernatural abilities, Future Tense is a breath of fresh air. The focus is largely on Matt's coming-of-age. He has a lot of emotional problems that he battles throughout the piece, making it very raw and contemporary in feel.

What was behind the decision to have Matt in foster care?

The original idea that eventually turned into the story of Future Tense was an image in my head of a run-away. I knew the protagonist was going to be an isolated kid, somehow, struggling with the need for emotional connection even as he also had to push it away.

I needed to find this teen and figure out what got him to this place.

One of the elements that seems to inform much of my writing is my experience as an adoptee. While I was inordinately fortunate to have been adopted into a loving, nurturing family as an infant, it's all too common for kids to get stuck in a system that even when it works, takes its toll on the resilience and emotional well-being of the child. Kids in the foster system, especially older kids, tend to be invisible in society. When they are portrayed in the media, they are shown in extreme stereotype, either as the victim or the criminal in a message-laden after-school special. I wanted to show Matt as a regular kid and the hero of his story, a kid making the best of a less than ideal situation. Too many main characters in YA speculative fiction are far more privileged than the majority of kids in society. As much as there are elements of Future Tense that are fantastical, I wanted Matt's experience to be grounded in the kind of reality that exist in our current world.

In your story, Matt isn't the only one with an ability. What was the reasoning for including more than just Matt?

I have a problem with the 'special snowflake' element in so much of YA fantasy. The chosen one is such a tired trope and I didn't want to fall into that cliche. Yes, Matt is special, but he's also surrounded by people with varying degrees of skills and talents, some paranormal, some more typical.

Trina, his foster sister, is someone whose 'talents' I deliberately made a bit ambiguous. Partly because the story is told through Matt's point of view and he's not too sure of his own dubious gifts. Partly because people show a whole range of abilities in life.

In a world where prescience is possible, other abilities should also logically exist.

What's one piece of advice you would give Matt if you could?

Not everything is your fault. And sometimes terrible things happen even if you do everything right. So just do the best that you can.

Matt continues to push Amara away out of fear. Yet, there's also a part of him that wants to connect. What was the hardest part of writing these two very distinct feelings?

Not having Matt come off as whining. By all objective measures, he has a tough life. But it's also the only life he knows and as such, having him spend the story in a 'woe is me' place would not only be tedious to read, but not true to how he views his circumstances.

It was important to have Matt experience a place of sanctuary (the foster home and his karate dojo) as well as express his natural humor.

It was easy to write the scenes with Amara in them. In some ways, I regret having decided to tell the story only through Matt's eyes because she is such a strong and resilient young woman.

Not really a question, but I really wish we could name Matt's sweatshirt, since it has such a big, recurring role in the book. If his sweatshirt had a name, what would it be?

Estupido! Because of the scene where Amara tells him how he knew his name.

Thanks so much for stopping by, LJ! Be sure to purchase Future Tense on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, and Createspace. It is well worth the read! You can also keep in touch with LJ Cohen through her website.