The One Brave Edit

Last year, I wrote a 40000 word novella called “Desdemona and the Deep,” which I finished on New Year’s Day, 2018, in Paris. Then I let it lie, sleeping dog-like.

Today, thinking about a favorite Hernandezism (“A review of one of Rafael Campo’s books declared it was one brave edit away from great; that always stuck with me.”), I found myself face to face with “my one brave” edit.

Well, with 3546 brave edits, to be precise.

So far. The novella’s not QUITE 40000 words anymore, thank the Horned Lords. And I’m only on page 18 of 73.

Still. There is a feeling of sloughing off, of de-doughifying, of a bloated thing sagging, expressed of its noxious liquids.

It’s . . . nice.

But there is more work to be done.

b3dnd

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“Amateur” Means “Love”: N00Bie-Moi Invents Fan Game for Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS: Part 1

Well, we start out with my love for Robert V. S. Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS, which I did not expect to love, but after about 3 seconds at his reading at Boskone, I knew I would die if I did not eat read it all that week.

So I did.

And I said things about it on Facebook like:

Oh, man. Robert V.S. Redick. Holy yatra in the Stolen Sea. Oh, boy. Oh, damn. I just finished your book. Wahhh.

Whoa. Wait… And, like, the next one is not even DONE yet, is it?

WHY DO I DO THIS TO MYSELF? I SHOULD ONLY READ SERIES ONCE THEY ARE UTTERLY OR EVEN MOSTLY FINISHED!!!

But. I have to say. If my life falls in such a way that I never read another book—yours is a good one to end on.

 

And:

PHEW! So it’s not my imagination, all the incredibly nuanced and complicated work this book is doing!

I have felt, reading it, that it is not a book I would be able to recommend LIGHTLY, or without proper trigger warnings. But I would recommend it ardently. And fervently.

It’s… not an unflinching look at war and misogyny, but… more like, flinch-making. Worth every deeper look, but oh, the woe of this world!

But all that was back in February.

I mean, come on! Is my love of such THIN AND STARRY COBWEB STUFF that I can forget about this book in a mere two measly months? NO!

Especially not when I get a huge jolt of Girardian mimetic desire as soon as Hernandez starts reading it.

(Hernandez is my husband, by the way. Carlos Hernandez. He’s fancy. A professor, author, game designer. Has a book coming out next year, you know. Sal and Gabi Break the Universe. Awww yeah. Plus, green eyes. Curly hair. Super hot. And a genius. If you’re reading my blog, you probably already know all this because you are probably my mama. HI, SITA!  So, if you’re not my mama, lemme explain: I occasionally call Hernandez by his last name, Hernandez, because it makes me feel butch, like we’re on a football team or something, and if you know me and my polka dots and my crinolines and my hair flowers, then you know that feeling like you’re on a football team is kind of like feeling that you finally got IN.)

So Hernandez is taking his turn reading MASTER ASSASSINS, and I’m all like

WHAT PART ARE YOU AT, HERNANDEZ

and he’s like [THIS PART]

and I’m like WELL YEAH I LOVE THAT PART MAYBE I SHOULD REREAD IT

and he’s like MOTHER OF PEARL, COONEY! GET YOUR OWN DANG BOOK!

so I’m like FINE I’LL JUST BE OVER HERE ACROSS THE COUCH FROM YOU INVENTING A WHOLE NEW FAN GAME BASED ON MASTER ASSASSINS INSTEAD SO THERE!

and he perks up and looks REALLY INTERESTED, ’cause he’s (aforementioned) a game designer, and he’s all like THAT MAKES ME FEEL GOOEY, COONEY and grins at me, and crosses his feet at the ankles, so now I HAVE to do it.

Plus, we’re going to visit Robert Redick (author of MASTER ASSASSINS) at his HOUSE in June, and I want to bring him a HOST GIFT.

So making a fan game based on his book is kind of like baking brownies, right?

Especially since I have NEVER DONE SUCH A THING BEFORE! Made a game, I mean. Not baked brownies. I mean, I have baked brownies. Out of a box.

And I’ve watched Carlos (Hernandez, that is, my husband–don’t want to confuse you) make games. And like he says (he said it tonight, in fact, just now, to me):

“YOU CAN’T BE TIMID, YOU JUST GOTTA TRY THINGS!”

So I’m gonna.

I have a few ideas. They might not work. As soon as I’m done writing this blog, I’m gonna spend my evening doing two things.

  1. Scouring Redick’s MASTER ASSASSINS text for poetry and song (his text is rife with them) and poetic language (same). I want to extract about 200-250 “fragments” of poetic text and print them out on cards. The players will then draw two (maybe?) at random, and then have to write the next two lines. Sort of build a poem–or maybe a prophecy–that way. Maybe completing the poem/prophecy is the only thing that ENSURES THEIR SURVIVAL AS THEY FLEE ACROSS THE DESERT. Very thematic. Themic. Themey.
  2. Making a “paper fortune teller” or a “chatterbox.” I have to consult Youtube. This video, I think. You know those paper monster things in GRADE SCHOOL where you stick your fingers in it, and it’s sort of like Audrey II in Little Shop of Horrors, and it tells you who you’re going to marry or if you’re wearing polka dot underpants? Yeah, I wanna make one of those. It’ll be a game piece I call THE PROPHET and it’s gonna maybe be one of my main mechanics. Introduces the element of chaos. Like dice. Or maybe WITH DICE. Also THEMATICALLY, uh, THEMIC for MASTER ASSASSINS.

Hernandez suggested calling the game “CANON,” as in the players/fans making their contribution to the Redick Canon. So that’s the working title.

It’s all still very vague in my head, but bear with me. I’m new at this. And it’s all in fun. My SUPER SEEKRIT NIGHTTIME THING after working all week on my forever-fiction-revisions, 8th draft of novel, 3rd draft of novella, blah blah blah. I’ll keep you posted here. Or I’ll GIVE UP IN SHAME! Either way, you’ll probably know about it.

Maybe if I can get an iteration on its feet, you all will help me playtest it! WHAT FUN! (THAT’S RIGHT, MAMA! I’M TALKING TO YOU! HI! PLAY MY MADE-UP NOT YET REAL GAME WITH ME!)

But in the meantime, go read Robert V. S. Redick‘s MASTER ASSASSINS.

Oh, and also read this BEAUTIFUL blog he wrote about it: “Wrath, War, Love, Feminism: On Mixing a Four Shot Fantasy Cocktail in Master Assassins.

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Why Not Seafall?

Second walk of the day, and a much longer one. I wrote for several hours, and I hope to write again. But the walk was clarifying. Still thrall to that luminous gray, but unlike this morning, no drizzle to curtail me. The house is dim and warm, but outside it is brighter, and I felt more brisk almost at once.

I spent the first half admiring all the orgulous brick edifices studding the “crescents” that scythe off of Alderton. I came home by a different street, forgetting that it is the hour school lets out, or at least some schools, and that the street I needed to take happened to have one of those schools on it. O, the clamorous glee! And thus, some negotiating of noise and buses and bustling parents and enthusiastically liberated younguns and strollers.

Thoughts on walk:

Mike Allen recently reminded me of “Lady of Shades,” a story I wrote–or tried to write–in the wake of too much Hadestown. (How much is too much? Really?) I re-read the latest draft recently and thought both, “DAMN IT’S GOOD” and also “BUT I CAN SEE WHY IT KEEPS GETTING REJECTED.” And I thought, both then and two nights ago talking to Mike, that the story really needs a bigger space to unspool than the <7500 word constraint. It’s maybe not a novel-sized idea, but it could be a novella.

So then, today, as I was walking, and thinking about cities, and about “Dark Chicago” which is the setting for “Lady of Shades”–or was–and all the alternate New Yorks in urban fantasy, I wondered if I might release “Lady of Shades” from the bonds of this world.

On the one hand, it severely curtails my references, and thus an array of amusing metaphors and allusions. On the other hand, it shakes loose the myths we all know and bow to, the same stories we scrawl and scratch out, trying time and again to re-imagine, and in shucking that dust, I have a new leave to, you know, make the beast with two backs with my plot and characters. Flirt with, unfurl, it. If you get what I mean.

In my Dark Breakers novellas, I have this city, Seafall, which is loosely inspired by Newport, RI. It has mention in “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One,” first published by Ann Leckie in GigoNotoSaurus, and then reprinted in my collection Bone Swans.

The world wherein Seafall exists also plays host to many other of my stories, though they do not all take place in the same country, or even continent, much less timeline, and very rarely are the characters aware of or linked to characters in other stories. Seafall and its sister cities have a mythology that is sometimes alike, and sometimes alien, to ours. And there are cities I’ve written I haven’t yet fully explored. Or exploited. (A city can be infinite.) And there are, I hope, cities and towns and whole ranges of this world I haven’t even invented yet!

And I think one of these cities will now host “Lady of Shades.” I’ve not yet written a contemporary fantasy in this world. The latest novella “Desdemona and the Deep” (needs one more draft, not yet published) is the third of the Dark Breakers stories, and it loosely maps to our 1900-1910-ish timeline. Sort of Belle Epoch-y. What they call their “Orchid Age.”

Scoot up the timeline a hundred, hundred-fifty years? I do that, and I can really start to play. How will the world I’ve so far made look in its own future. How alike and unlike will it be to this one? And will my characters, whom I love, in “Lady of Shades” be able, finally, to BREATHE there, and become a VIABLE STORY???

One can only hope!

In the meantime, I found my second walk VERY POTENTIATING, to coin a favorite Hernandez phrase.

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My Reaper’s Gettin’ Old, And So Am I

I was just wandering through the house, muttering to myself, “I’m looking for a scrap of paper to write a list on,” and I was so careful to repeat it every time I passed a threshold, LEST I STRAY because of DOORWAY EFFECT!

(I read that article in Scientific American and was suddenly more forgiving of myself about losing track of what I was doing on my iPhone. ALL THOSE LITTLE APP-SHAPED DOORWAYS EVERYWHERE! Most particularly, doorways into the INTERNET! But if I say out loud to myself, “I am just here to check the temperature,” I can usually escape unscathed…)

…And then I found an old journal, and I brought it down to take a scrap of paper out of the unused part, and something I don’t remember writing caught my eye.

A poem? A song? About a, what, someone’s old TATTOO??? Something that begins with the words, “My reaper’s getting old, and so am I.” Why did I write it??? It reminds me of my friend Jeanine.

So I thought I’d copy it here for you. Thus SUCCUMBING to the very thing I’d tried to AVOID with my WIZARDLY incantations.

Ahem.

MY REAPER’S GETTIN’ OLD AND SO AM I

by C. S. E. Cooney

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
The ink beneath my skin
Is pale and dry
O his scythe’s a blunted sickle
And his grin is sick and fickle
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And my bicep in the mirror
Makes me cry
For his robe is black and torn
And his red eyes seem so worn
O my reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I

My reaper’s gettin’ old
And so am I
And I guess we’ll both be dyin’
By and by
But my reaper makes me mind:
Live my life so wild and kind!
‘Cause it’s old–but also wise
And so am I

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“Connect, George, connect.”

I go months sometimes without talking to people I consider dear friends. And then there are days like yesterday, where I had three separate 90-minute phone conversations, mostly catch-up, with some industry, some encouragement, some plans for the future.

And so, yesterday, I found myself repeating a few things that have been on my mind: this constant sense of discombobulation, not knowing whether I am coming or going, a floating feeling of disconnect from the present world, as if I am myself only as I was in the past, in some time before change (whenever that was), as if in my confusion I hit some sort of mental re-set that flung me back a few decades. A childlike fog, a barrier, both protective and smothering.

Since moving to New York in August, my years in Chicago have slammed me. Shattered more recent memory. Five years in Rhode Island? That quiet, bounded place. My time there is a satellite broken free of orbit, or at least cast into a long elliptical.  Now at apogee.

Meanwhile, back in a city, the biggest city yet, my memories have begun to cross. All the cities I’ve ever lived in are sinking into each other like layers of wet onionskin lightly written upon. If I write down my address, and I do not concentrate, it becomes three addresses in one. Penn Station is Ogilivie; I don’t even hear myself when I speak wrongly. My internal map is blitzed. Rego Park is Oak Park is Forest Park is Forest Hills.

All subways of the past, CTA or MTA, commingle in a single subway to nowhere, no place, just this limbo of movement filled with Scrabble. I have trouble sleeping if I play too much Scrabble too close to nighttime: my brain tumbles bright Tetris-falls of meaningless letters, trying to polish them into usable jewels. Can I somehow rearrange this Q and this W and this V and this Y and those three A’s in a single 7-letter word outside of whatever fantasy world I currently inhabit? If I can, I shall be like Kai, spelling ETERNITY in shards of ice for the Snow Queen.

The subway is infinite, an endless roaring wormhole of peeling cement, darting rats, the redolent strata of urine, staircases mosaicked black and gray with the random dispersal of chewing gum. I descend into that perpetual florescent dimness, ascend again to a white-water-rapids of humanity whose currents clip along faster than my walking pace, my heartbeat, my ability to think. All I do is cry sometimes. I have to stop and put my back to a wall, or a gate, or a pillar.

I love my work. The commute is three hours one way. I am away from home for 3 days, maybe 4, staying with friends or, more recently, Air BNBs. My work is sitting in a black box, sunk into the architecture of an alien mind, talking to myself, unspooling their storylines, exploring their characters, in all the voices at my command. My work is wonderful, absorbing. If I don’t strictly adhere to a particular sleep pattern, it doesn’t work. My flesh resents me talking to anyone on a night after I’ve been working; my spirit is willing; my spirit yearns. Sometimes it wins, and my face goes numb, my throat scraped. It’s worth it? I bought yoga balls to help ease certain pressure points in jaw, neck, back. It’s possible to sustain this pace without popping preventative Aleve every morning? It’s possible. It must be. My bladder swims with “sour water”: my drink of choice. Hot water and apple cider vinegar and honey. Sometimes a Sleepytime tea bag. Sometimes a splash of pineapple juice. It varies. What doesn’t is the amount.  I am well-hydrated. I am at capacity. And yet, still dry and greedy, gaspingly, graspingly. When I am not working, I do not drink like this.

Time away from home, away from a kitchen to call my own, it is harder to control food. Difficult to exercise regularly beyond the walk to and from the train station. Perhaps I am not trying hard enough. I am not disciplined enough. I am not, I am not, I am not. And of course, with contract work, the possibility of never working again seems to loom every month, even if that’s unlikely to happen if we go by what pattern suggests. Sometimes I do not know if I long for that guillotine blade. For someone to tell me, “Stick with writing; your narration work’s not up to par, your ratings are low, you’re a hack, really, and ruinous.” Writing, of course, is even less certain, but I’ve been at it longer. I am better at it. It exercises a hold over me.

I go from this quiet, solitary, physically tasking world, my black hole, my whisper box, back to the rails, the long ride home. Transition time. Liminal space. I have been using this time well; I have been watching TV or listening to audiobooks–something I haven’t done much of over the last few years at all, and even though sometimes I have to force-feed myself pleasurable entertainment, it always seems to charge a battery I keep forgetting is on empty.

And then, here I am again, New York, and there you are, New York, and I am crying on your sidewalks, and I am crying in your underground, I am ascending in Queens, and there’s the moonlight, and I’m almost home, and there is Hernandez, waving from the window, pointing to the door below, miming turning the key, beckoning me up, quick, quick, and I start to laugh, and my tears are drying on my face, and he throws open the door, and voila! It’s all right again. More than. More than all right. I never dreamed this rightness.

A few days at home work to unscramble me. Cooking grounds me. Writing mornings with Hernandez. Long walks in these quiet neighborhoods surrounding me. Sitting here, between the two windows of my study, looking out at the clifflike brownstones against the luminous overcast that Hernandez calls “The Other Sky.”

A certain hour of twilight, nacreous with mystery, recalls all my other twilights in a long string of opals that end here, right here, this blue fire opal burning on my breast. I am caught in the water-swirl, perfectly enraptured, utterly myself. It is fine, fine to be alive. To dream only of death and destruction eliminates an infinity of options. Is a failure of the imagination.

“I can’t be contented with yesterday’s glory
I can’t live on promises winter to spring . . .”

(Today, John Denver)

Writing-wise (is that like sunwise? or widdershins? depends on the day), I am finishing revisions for my novel, for my agent, who is wonderful, who answers my elaborate emails with courtly courtesy and encouragement, and I haven’t had so much fun writing or liked my writing so much for the last two years at least.

It’s all I wanted: to remember what it is to love writing, and I dare not think of this book’s future, or even if it has one. That’s not my job right now. I do not even know what I want from it beyond this. Beyond finishing. Beyond making myself laugh at the footnotes. I feel this fondness for the book, and for myself, and it is like a friend I have been missing.

I miss my friends, near and far, old and new, constantly, an ache of failure. Of failing to be for them what I was at fifteen, what I was at twenty five. I can talk to a friend and miss them at the same time. I see them like burning brands, like signal flames flaring across the umbral reaches of the Internet, and I still miss them. They send me emails, and I do not reply, and I think about them all the time, and I miss them. I send them emails and they do not reply, and it is all right; we’re no longer what we were, nor have the time to spare for all we desire. This decade is about something else. Wide flung nets, circling the wagons, self-care, household, career, relevance. Something. Branching out into the World Tree. I have friends who have gone missing, who feel as distant to me as I sometimes feel to myself. I do not know how to reach them, or if they want reaching. It seems best to leave them be. That ache of failure.

But joy.

Joy is local, Hernandez tells me. And whenever I do feel affixed to my location, I tend to snag on joy. I want to do better, to double-down on it, in all wry awareness. Is there a way to purge foulness but not complain about it? Is there an expression of complexity, of exploring the facets and fractures that is not also just whining? Dig my heels in, without resentment. Engage in community without fear of unfurling. Do some more dishes. Start singing again. Something.

It is not enough to know myself; I have to keep knowing myself. Whatever I say now will probably all be different next week, unpindownable, no matter how you jab. The future is tremulous quicksilver, an incoming tide. Nevertheless, I set my face to it. We have plans. We are an anthology of hope. A florilegium of possibility.

Anyway. It’s spring.

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Graduate School: An Outsider’s Perspective

my friend is Clytemnestra, my friend is an eagle

my friend is eating salmon, onion, pumpernickel

and telling me she has no hope

 

my friend has taught in China, my friend has worked in Burma

my friend has backpacked Europe, toured India

but can’t imagine a future

 

my friend is a rare intelligence, my friend was chosen for this program

my friend was one of six in the whole wide planetside

my friend can’t breathe

 

my friend is a gilded serpent, the sea-salt fruit of the world tree

a long red tongue lapping honey and pomegranate seeds

in the underground

 

my friend is tired beyond desire, my friend needs a couch to sleep on

costume jewelry for her Cleopatra, a cup of coffee, a symbol

she takes a nap in a panda mask

 

hush, household

hush, woes

hush, weariness

my friend is sleeping

 

now the kettle is quiet as a candle flame

now that old overcast sky gleams with a glancing slyness

and outside the window while you rest, a sex-crazed

sparrow cries piteously for love, for love!

he calls and calls, and then falls silent, and the Earth is rounded

like a mother’s breast, can you see it?

everything is horizon

 

 

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Boskone 2018 Schedule

Folktales Within Poetry
Friday Feb 16, 2018
6:00 PM
Marina 3
1 hour

All the Universe’s a Stage …
Friday Feb 16, 2018
7:00 PM
Marina 3
1 hour

Reading by C. S. E. Cooney
Saturday Feb 17, 2018
3:00 PM
Griffin
30 minutes

Open Mic: Myths & Legends!
Saturday Feb 17, 2018
Galleria – Stage
8:00 PM
1 hour

Sound and Fury: Storytelling in Audio Drama
Sunday Feb 18, 2018
10:00AM
Marina 2
1 hour

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RHINOCEROS

 

RHINOCERUS

for Carlos Hernandez, on his birthday

 

many are the wonders

of our waterlogged city

 

one turquoise coat: canal-colored

velvet-silk, with silver lacings

one silhouette of lagoon-maid, sleeping

on mossy steps, hair wet and

red as a painted door

one mask, black as cuttlefish served

in its own ink

one glass stylus, one glass dagger, one seal

 

then the circus came

and all these marvels

palled

 

she knew at once

Pasiphaë’s passion, and burned

bucintoro-gold

to behold the Rhinoceros

 

calm, oblivious beast

mighty in his withers

ignorant of woman

who groans behind her mask

stricken

by double-horned desire

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Dark Have Been My Dreams Of Late.

My brain took “smash the patriarchy” very literally last night, as I took a hammer to the head of a Stephen King-esque father-figure (think Rose Madder, The Shining, It), who kept trying to kill me by making me fix the roof, and then boobytrapping all points of access to it.

Finally, when a huge hammer (meant for my head) fell from the roof to my feet, I took it and went after him. He had lined up his wife and children, and was waving a gun around, talking about how he could kill all of them with a single squeeze of his trigger.

I hit him in the head.

He scoffed at me, told me to do better. I hit him again. I kept hitting him, hard. He wouldn’t go down. After one really good blow, he turned to me, eyes kind. In a gentle voice, he said, “Keep hitting me. Don’t stop till its done.”

And he was much more like my father then, and I was crying, but I kept hitting him with a hammer, because he’d kill everyone if I didn’t. He wanted me to stop him. Anyway, brutal.

In another part of the dream, we had a Gaston-like villain shouting racial slurs and abuses at the top of his lungs. A line of Live-Action Disney Princesses stood against him, shouting back in Arabic.

One of the princesses was the Cinderella. She said, “I lied about my age to work here. I’ve been 22 for 15 years. I’m 37 years old. I used to be a janitor.”

She had a sparkling blue ball gown that was an AI. It had been with her since her childhood, and grew as she grew. It had once been sort of like her teddybear and nursemaid/nightgown, and now it was her confidante and Disney Princess costume. And it looked fabulous.

Then I had to teach a class about the anthology Mad Hatters and March Hares to schoolgirls who didn’t speak English, and only spoke a little French.

So in English, French, and really bad pantomime, I started telling the story of Merlin, figuring you have to begin with King Arthur to even get up to speed on Lewis Carroll? I have a strong memory of saying, “Merlin . . . vie . . . backwards!” And walking backwards.

I tried to explain that Merlin would die just as he was about to be born by pantomiming a pregnant woman. This, the girls understood, and all started talking about how many babies they wanted to have.

So.

There was more. But those were the highlights.

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Paris est SUPER-BON!

Things I have learned:

1. My tush is PLUS TROP PLEIN D’AVOIRDUPOIS for Norwegian Air. At least, for the Exit Row seats. (That wasn’t real French, BTW. That was bruised-tush-patois!)  However, bathrooms were convenient! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI!

2. NOTRE DAME IS REAL! It was real in the 12th century, and it was real during ALL THE REVOLUTIONS, and it was real when the Nazis occupied Paris, and it is still real RIGHT NOW, RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI!

3. When you go to buy a BAGUETTE, you must hit up EVERY SINGLE BAKERY and get SEVERAL, and then, as you are walking home, it is IMPERIAL TRADITION to taste them RIGHT AWAY and compare them! The “emperor” in this case being Ellen Kushner. MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Ellen! Wahoo!)

4. Delia makes really good great good great chicken soup! SUPER-BON! SOUPE AU POULET! MERCI, MES MILLES BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Delia! Ga-DOING!)

5. Liz Duffy Adams has a sparkly green coat and she got it for $15 before she came to Paris and it was made for Paris and it was made for her and it was made for her in Paris, et VOILA! MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci, Liz! HOT DIGGITY!)

6. Mon mari est très gentil. Il est mon chevalier. Je l’adore. Also, he wiggles.
(Dit-on “remouer” ou “se trémousser” pour “wiggle”, je me demande???)
MERCI, MES MILLE BONNES DÉESSES, MERCI! (Et merci mille fois, mon cher Carlos!)

7. What else? Bakeries? Open air markets? Grocery stores? We’ve been here about 27 hours, 13 of which I was asleep, but so far it’s been all about the food. Writing to come. Soon. Right now, in fact. And so–AU REVOIR, MES BEAUX AMIS!

– C. S. E. Cooney

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