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Cosmic Adventures: An Interview with Chris Coward, author of Perpendicular Women

Chris Coward

Chris Coward has been a Congressional liaison assistant, ghost writer for CEOs, editor for national magazines, college English instructor, marketing manager, and president of the Florida Writers Association. She now devotes her professional energies to writing speculative fiction.

She earned a master’s degree in English with a concentration in professional writing and editing from George Mason University and a bachelor’s degree in philosophy with a minor emphasis in physics from the College of William and Mary. She adores her family, bestie friends, and sweet dogs, Minnie and Grey.

Perpendicular Women, which has enjoyed critical acclaim and won multiple awards, is Chris’s first novel. The sequel is in the works.

For more information, check out Chris’s website at chriscoward.net, her Facebook page here, or email her at chrisbusiness@comcast.net.

You can buy Perpendicular Women here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.


Tell us the story of your book’s title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?

First, I want to say how delighted I am to sing the praises of Atmosphere Press and to thank you for all you do for your authors.

Titles. They’re a big deal. They need to work hard: grab the reader, convey what the book is about, and make the reader want to know more. All in a few words.

For my book, the title evolved along with the book itself. The first working title was Her Other Life. That was when the story was envisioned to more narrowly explore dysfunctional family relationships. Then everything grew—the characters, cosmology, plot, settings, and themes—and the author.

Did the final title take forever to find? Yeah. It took as long to find the title as it did to write the book: fourteen years.

How did it feel when you first saw your book cover? Or when you first held your book in your hands?

How does it feel to win the lottery? Okay, I haven’t done that, but holding the printed book in my hands has got to come close.

We writers pour our hearts into writing our books, ping-ponging between crushing doubt and elation, but doing the work, always doing the work, until we say to ourselves, yes, let’s go.

When the proof comes in the mail, we tear the package open and lovingly hold the tome in hand. We yearn to post the cover online, to knock on every door and say, look, look at this! But some things have to wait for launch, the delay accruing joy like compound interest.

In my own case, when the launch came, what a cover to post! Atmosphere’s design team did a phenomenal job.

Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?

Don’t we all have those watershed moments—maybe an incident, something small, that has stuck with us, felt like the catalyst that redirected our lives?

My catalyst was sparkles in the sidewalk. I was a six-year-old with crossed eyes. Reading was a challenge, even with prisms in my glasses, so writing wasn’t something I even contemplated. But I loved to think. So one fateful Virginia winter afternoon, I was walking behind our apartment wearing my favorite fuzzy hat, feeling a little smug that I didn’t have to take a nap like my friends did. Then I stopped. There they were: sparkles in the cracked sidewalk. I wondered: Were they real? Was the ground really there? Or was it all in my mind?

As I grew up and life turned practical, the sparkle-effect took a back burner. But something else emerged. A love of reading. With a hand over one eye, I read horse stories. Nancy Drew. Navigating my adult and teen years after three eye surgeries, the list expanded—Brontë, Bellow, Vonnegut, Gregory, and, more recently, Robinson, King, Hawking, Franks, Weir, and a host of others.

Which leads us to now, to the point where I get to write, feel the joy of embracing a six-year-old’s sense of wonder, and contemplate the many ways the world sparkles.

What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?

Hey, I’m a debut author, so I’m a relative unknown. My early jobs included serving as a costumed hostess at Christiana Campbell’s Tavern in Colonial Williamsburg during college and serving as a receptionist for a general contractor. After graduation, I wrote Congressional testimony for the Drug Enforcement Administration, then hopped onto the mommy track, in turn, owning an editing business, teaching college English, editing national magazines, and heading marketing departments for two Florida companies.

Laid out like that, it seems a bit of a yawn, but no. I believe the yawns of our lives are the grist of our futures. For an author, the darndest things may inspire a setting. For an engineer, they may inspire a design. We grow, and our experiences enable us to shape our success.

What was the most rewarding/meaningful part of publishing your book?

The most rewarding thing was gaining the freedom to think. Too often we’re pressed to do “something else” that is “more important” than thinking about such things as metaphysics and cosmology. Now as a writer, I can ponder all I want, relatively guilt-free.

Another reward, ironically, was camaraderie, which I’ve had the good fortune to find in my writing groups.

Writing groups not only help us hone our craft but also support our relentless efforts to balance writing with whatever else is on our plates: day jobs, child-rearing, caregiving, or volunteer work. Our tribe knows what it’s like to stay up late, wake up at dawn, tap keyboards through lunch hours, or wag laptops to Starbucks to squeeze in two more minutes of writing. And when the unexpected happens, they’re there for you. A year and a half ago, I contracted long covid, and still I battle that special kind of fatigue, special kind of suffocation, frightening heart palpitations, proverbial “giraffe baby legs,” seizures, and brain fog. No longer can I set aside a specific time to write, but rather I have to grab those moments when I can focus before my thoughts take flight. My writing groups provide unique support, metaphorically taking me by the hand and saying, We get it.

If your book had a soundtrack, what are some songs that would be on it?

Perpendicular Women celebrates the empowerment of a band of women, each of whom has been diminished by circumstance—each of whom reaches deep within to find their courage. Two songs come to mind: Kelly Clarkson’s “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)” and Katy Perry’s “Roar.” In “Roar,” a quiet, underconfident woman faces terrors with humility, grit, and a touch of humor. Just like the characters in Perpendicular Women.

What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?

I’m going to be grand here. I hope readers find the resolve to define themselves, the empathy to help others, and the conviction that we are a community, all connected, and our actions matter. And maybe allow themselves an occasional small luxury, such as a silky spoonful of crème brûlée.

At the outset, I had a perfect reader in mind. She was approaching middle age, or a little older—curious, a seeker of life’s meaning. Maybe looking for answers to complement her religious beliefs. Maybe feeling a little empty as her children become independent. Maybe wondering what’s out there beyond what our puny human senses can detect. Maybe missing the intellectual stimulation she basked in while in school. Or simply wanting an escape from her treadmill of ordinariness. As I wrote, these were the readers I spoke to.

It was a surprise, then, to discover the book resonates with unexpected demographics. Young people. And men. Lesson learned: sometimes the “perfect” reader is defined less by demographics than by mindset.

What new writing projects are you currently working on? Or, other projects that are not writing?

To be blunt, my focus is researching long Covid and finding a treatment that works.

However, I’m also working on the sequel to Perpendicular Women—a sparkles-in-the-sidewalk project that focuses on no less than the transformation of humanity. In it, a new team leverages the multiverse to explore dangers to humankind. We’re talking threats from AI as well as our species’ own penchant for self-destruction. The outcome? No spoilers here, but I’m willing to bet it’s something you won’t see coming.

How was working with Atmosphere Press? What would you tell other writers who want to publish?

When I started this book, I believed that traditional publishing was the holy grail. I researched a range of options and spoke to dozens of authors who published in various ways. Their reports were daunting, usually somewhere between horrifying and meh. Then on the message board of Authors Guild I read about Atmosphere. I liked that Atmosphere functions much like a traditional publisher, differing primarily in its economic model, author commitment, and responsiveness. Yes, I would recommend Atmosphere, and I would go so far as to say that I believe that the Atmosphere approach must be the wave of the future.


You can buy Perpendicular Women here.

Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.

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