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April 28, 2013

Professor writes about new language of love

PLATTSBURGH — Elizabeth Cohen first attempted fiction when she was 12, but it didn’t turn out quite right. 

At 53, she tried again with “The Hypothetical Girl,” a collection of stories about online dating and what technology has done to love.

As an assistant professor of English at SUNY Plattsburgh, Cohen’s teaching focuses on poetry and writing memoirs, but her imagination took over when she began encountering people through online-dating sites.

“These stories came to me and asked to be written. I know that sounds crazy and silly,” Cohen said.

Cohen turned to the Internet to find love after her marriage ended, and she began to piece together stories about the people she met online. Although none of the stories are entirely true or follow her life, the core of the book is something that is real to her, she said.

“The ideas and seeds of (the stories) come from experience,” Cohen said. “Writers are spies in the world. We really are thieves; we can’t help it.”

To Cohen, fiction is a search for a deeper truth.

“The word ‘fiction’ is fiction to me. The kernel and soul of every story is something you think is eternally true,” Cohen said.

Stories in “The Hypothetical Girl” reflect various issues that Cohen came across while meeting people in a virtual world.

“You’re meeting someone’s mind before you meet them physically. In a way, you’re removing the chemistry factor and going to the chemistry of the soul,” Cohen said of online dating.

A few of the stories are humorous and whimsical, while others are darker and even scary. Cohen is interested in experimental fiction, so she included a story that allows the reader to choose from three different endings. The final option, section C, is a scary ending that Cohen said is the least tasteful part of the book.

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