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Citymeals on Wheels

This month’s DESDEMONA’S TITHE is to Raices, and it comes due on the full moon–which is in about 11 days. That is coming, but it is not today’s work.

The other day, Carlos and I got a letter from Citymeals on Wheels. Perhaps it is because I have been writing to both of my living grandmothers more lately, and feeling the fragility of all our lives so keenly. I should have written them more often, for years. When Gene died, I regretted not writing to him more often, not calling him because I was never very good on the phone–though he was! Oh, I regretted many things.

Anyway, what caught my eye about the Citymeals on Wheels letter was that, included in the text asking for help with delivering meals to homebound elders during the holidays, was a placemat, with a line on it where one can sign one’s name. A beautiful sort of personal touch, I thought.

I approached Carlos rather tentatively and asked if we could maybe sign it in memory of his mother. A delicate question, you may well imagine.

He stopped what he was doing (making music), got up from his synthesizer, and hugged me. That was answer enough.

Emma would feed people. Emma always fed people. And so will we, in her name.

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A Celebration of Desdemona and the Deep in Reviews and Pictures!

Dear Friends,

Publishing is so funny; Desdemona and the Deep came out from Tor.com not even three months ago, but it seems in some ways it was another lifetime.

…Another season, anyway, and the world rolls on. It debuted in the bright heart of summer, and now it’s the first day of October.

But in many ways, Desdemona really is an Octobral book, isn’t it, with its goblins and bargains, its tithes and transformations. I hope that this October and for many Octobers to come, readers will discover Desdemona for the first time, or take it out for a re-read, or use it as a basis to play dress up! That Alyssa Wynans cover is such a perfect palette for autumn!

Here are some pictures from both my book launches, and some gorgeous fan art that my beloved friend Caitlyn Paxson made for me as a present. WHAT A GIFT!

Also to celebrate, I received news of three great reviews for Desdemona today all from Locus Magazine, October 2019 issue! One from Liz Bourke, one from Amy Goldschlager (for the audiobook), and one from Rich Horton!!!

Yikes! I let my subscription Locus lapse in the furor of summer: TIME TO RE-UP!

Here are some snippets:

C.S.E. Cooney won the World Fantasy Award for her collection Bone Swans. She has a strong – even glittering – track record with short stories, but Desdemona and the Deep is her first book-length work . . . At any other length, it would lose something of its impact: shorter, and it would not have time to build up the momentum for its series of punches; longer, and the effect of its short, sharp, furious poetic dismantling of assumptions would be diluted away from its pointed achievement . . . Desdemona and the Deep is an eloquent, elegant novella about power, art, consequence and change. It’s also pleasantly queer and drunk on language, which appealed to me deeply. I recommend it.”

– Liz Bourke, Locus

Professional audiobook narrator Cooney . . . reads her own tale with joy and confidence. She is delighted to tell you her story and you will be delighted to hear it. Cooney also does a great drunk voice, and some really fun character voices. I particularly liked the voice of the assistant to Desdemona’s mother; it reminded me a lot of Jane Horrocks’ character Bubble on Absolutely Fabulous, if Bubble were American and somewhat smarter. Edgy, romantic, earthy, and colorful.

– Amy Goldschlager, Locus (audiobooks)

I’ve been looking forward to C.S.E. Cooney’s Desdemona and the Deep for quite a while, and having arrived, it doesn’t disappoint . . . The best thing about this book is the prose – lush images and glorious words mix in a sometimes comic and sometimes earnest olio. . . There is always the music of the writing, and the comic coloration, and the engaging and just awakening Desdemona to keep us entranced.

– Rich Horton, Locus

And now some PICTURES!

This first gallery is from my first launch at the Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly, Rhode Island, where I lived for five years. So many people helped with this event! My friends even decorated the store to look like the Valwode!

And here’s the second launch, at the GLORIOUS Astoria Bookshop in Queens, where I currenly live. This place is wonderful! Please check it out if you get the chance! Well-worth an adventure!

And here is my darling Caitlyn’s fan art!

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SciFi/Fantasy I’ve Narrated: With Narrator’s Opinions!

SERIES

Mayhem Wave Series
By Edward Aubry

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

This was the first series I’d done wherein a fellow author heard me read some of my own work at a convention and, understanding that I narrated for Tantor Audio, specifically requested me to read his work when Tantor bought the audio rights to his books. What an amazing boost to my confidence! I will always be grateful. These are big, sprawling, unpredictable adventures with everything from dinosaurs to fairies to high tech trains to cannibal houses to dragons to laser guns. Okay, maybe not laser guns. But maybe not NOT laser guns too. It’s an interesting world full of colorful characters. This was also the first instance that, after a few weeks in the recording booth, I happened to glance in the mirror, and was surprised by the sight of my own face. I’d been so immersed in Aubry’s world for so long that I’d forgotten what I looked like, and expected to see a different character’s face instead of my own. Time in the “Whisper Room” can be very strange!

1. Prelude to Mayhem
2. Static Mayhem
3. Mayhem’s Children

Fate Weaver Series
By ReGina Welling, Erin Lynn

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

After I recorded the first book in this series I got a note back requesting me to be a little more “funny.” This was such a challenge; how to be vocally funny? They are indeed funny, fast books, full of witches and wisecracks, gods and gallivanting. I wanted to do them justice. One of the things I tried was really “activating my cheekbones”–basically, smiling while talking. Relax, have fun, but also concentrate on varying the vocal levels, so as to help the jokes land better and more naturally. And there were many jokes! These are glib, sassy books–even occasionally steamy! Sort of a mash-up of a mystery, a matchmaking rom-com, mythology and good ol’ fashioned MAGICK.

1. Match Made in Spell
2. All Spell is Breaking Loose
3. To Spell and Back

Grimm Agency Series
By J.C. Nelson

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

This is one of your put-upon protagonist must-save-the-world series, with a lot of interference from those who wish to invade, rule, and/or destroy it. It’s in the vein of, say, Buffy or Supernatural–taking place in a world like ours, except . . . paranormal. Now, I recorded these a while ago, but I remember I had SO MUCH FUN with the voice of one of the main villainnesses in particular: I believe, the Faerie Queen. She was French. Plenty of action, some romance, some friendships made through rescue and then through work, and MANY monsters to fight!

1. Free Agent
2. Armageddon Rules
3. Wish Bound

Cat’s Eye Chronicles
By T.L. Shreffler

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

First of all, the author of these books was just so sweet to work with, very communicative. I rarely have a chance to interact with the author, and for fantasy books especially, I really crave contact! Since I write fantasy, and since so much of the language of fantasy is invented, I want to make sure I am interpreting the writer’s vision as close to correctly as, well, an interpreter can! Second of all, I really enjoyed voicing the Harpies. You heard me: there are are harpies. Third, I started getting a little crush on Crash/Viper, and let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like living in the voice of your latest crush.

1. Sora’s Quest
2. Viper’s Creed
3. Volcrian’s Hunt
4. Ferran’s Map
5. Krait’s Redemption

STAND ALONE BOOKS

Inherit the Stars
By Tony Peak

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Book

This, again, was pretty early on in my narration career, but I do remember that author Tony Peak was SO AWESOMELY PROMPT and COMMUNICATIVE in his response to my request for pronunciations. I mean, I think he overnighted them to me via email. That was extremely helpful, because this is a sci-fi novel, with many kinds of planets and peoples. I remember this book had many female characters, including the protagonist–there was, in particular, a soldier (a captain? a general?) whom I particularly liked, and loved every time I got to voice her. I also remember noticing the strong colors of this book: lurid, alien, beautiful neons, like a favorite weird movie remembered from a 1980’s childhood. Also, I recall the sensation of being slightly cold the whole time I was recording: since the cryosleep chamber plays an enormous role in the plot!

The Rattled Bones
By S. M. Parker

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Book

Now, this was a really interesting read–and one I’d’ve read on my own had I just picked it up at random to read for pleasure. It’s YA and it’s a mystery–and it’s also a ghost story. There are horrific elements: historical racism (really awful stuff, and sensitively researched, I thought) and vengeful spirits. This is also a book about grieving. The teenaged protagonist Rilla Brae is QUITE powerful: a young lobster-boat captain. I’ve never read a protagonist like her before. I really loved her, and her grandmother, and her strange, wild, maritime adventure. I remember there was a complicated friendship, a realistically unsatisfying relationship–followed by a much better one. And so many cool things about MAINE!

Starlings
By Jo Walton

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Book

Ah. Ah! I have already blogged separately about narrating Starlings, because it was SUCH an experience! If you are interested, please read it at this link.

Suffice to say, this book was an HONOR and a HOOT to narrate, and I was SO EXCITED to have the chance! Not only did I get to do a good bulk of the stories (with my co-narrator Rudy Sanda doing the others), but I got to narrate the poetry. AND A WHOLE ONE-ACT PLAY! WITH ALL THE VOICES! I never felt so much like Mel Blanc in a Looney Tunes cartoon in my whole life!

Here is my favorite Audiofile Magazine review I ever got for anything I’ve done:

Beginning with a rousing introduction, C.S.E. Cooney offers an enthusiastic narration of Walton’s first collection of short fiction and poetry. All told, there are 20 stories, a one-act play, and 15 poems, many of which are populated by memorable characters and marked by sly humor. The challenge for the narrator of a collection like this is allowing for each piece to have a life of its own, rather than disappearing among so many others. A second narrator, Rudy Sanda, delivers a couple of stories, but the strength of the audiobook comes from Cooney. With Cooney’s deft narration, playful energy, and ease with accents, listeners have the opportunity to lose themselves in each fantastical story. A.S. © AudioFile 2019.

Mad Hatters and March Hares
By Ellen Datlow (editor)

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Book

If you stan Lewis Carroll, I think the stories in this book will both feed your obsession and challenge it.

As with the above-mentioned book, Mad Hatters and March Hares was another of those rare works that blew my skull apart at the sutures to try and voice. (Co-voice, actually, with the fabulous Eric Michael Summerer.) In addition to being an audiobook narrator, I also write fantasy; I even had a story in this particular anthology, my first work published under Editor Ellen Datlow, another scion of the genre! Also as with Starlings, I was so anxious about doing right by these stories–not least because I either knew or held in high esteem most of the authors–that it was one of the most difficult books I’ve ever narrated. Nothing shows me my own limitations as a voice actor so ruthlessly as being given something so beautiful and varied and brilliant to narrate that I almost can’t bear it. But I was the one on the ground, and I did my absolute best–sweating the entire time!–and I will forever be humbled to have had the chance.

Bone Swans and Desdemona and the Deep
By C. S. E. Cooney

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About These Books

Well, these two books are my own works–which sold to Tantor Audio and Recorded Books respectively. Bone Swans: Stories is my collection, and won the World Fantasy Award in 2016. Desdemona and the Deep was just released in July of this year (2019). The collection, comprising five novellas/novelettes, runs a gamut of flavors: from sword and sorcery, to a couple re-told fairy tales, to a fantastical murder mystery, to . . . something that’s just plain nightmarish carnival weird. The second is a standalone work juuuuuust longer than a novella (word count-wise) but meant to be one nonetheless.

They both are full fantasy books, all of the stories taking place in different secondary worlds. Although: HINT–the story called “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One” in Bone Swans takes place in the same land as Desdemona and the Deep, only the latter is several hundred years in the future, in the equivalent of our “Gilded Age.”

I wish I were a full-cast of Academy Award-winning actors, each with their impeccable timing and distinctive voices and emotional surprises. I wish I could match in the air what these works sound like in my head. But I have to say, I also love, love, love, love, love narrating my own work. I have read aloud from my stories my whole life to anyone who would sit still long enough to listen: my mother, my brothers, my best friends, and now–my husband–and the idea that I am also reading my own work aloud to people I may never meet is deeply satisfying and warming.

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Mystery Series I’ve Narrated, with NARRATOR OPINIONS

WITCH CITY MYSTERIES
by Carol J. Perry

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

The first book in this series was the first book I’d ever narrated, and so it will always be very special to me. I love Lee Barrett in all her guises: real psychic disguised as fake psychic, teacher at an arts’ school, investigative reporter. I like how much she likes (and knows!) her cars. And I really like all the Salem history woven in. Plus: CATS! Plus: WITCHES! 

1 Caught Dead Handed (2014)
2 Tails, You Lose (2015)
3 Look Both Ways (2015)
4 Murder Go Round (2017)
5 Grave Errors (2017)
6 It Takes a Coven (2018)
7 Bells, Spells, and Murders (2018)
8 Final Exam (2019)
9 Late Checkout (2019)

Charmed Pie Shoppe Mysteries
By Ellery Adams

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

This is one of those slipstreamy, multi-genre books. It’s a mystery, yes–but there is also MAGIC! I love a good magical food book, and this one has plenty of that, plus a horde of fabulous aunties always sticking their noses in. And fairies. And sirens. And firefighters. So. Yeah! Warning: you will want to eat pie more than you ever have in your life if you read these. I MADE SO MANY PIES WHEN I WAS RECORDING THESE! Savory and sweet! My favorite was a bacon, onion, apple, cheddar pie!

1. Pies and Prejudice (2012)
2. Peach Pies and Alibis (2013)
3. Pecan Pies and Homicides (2014)
4. Lemon Pies and Little White Lies (2015)
5. Breach of Crust (2016)

Webb’s Glass Shop Mysteries
by Cheryl Hollon

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

I love learning more about different kinds of glass-making and glass-blowing techniques in each book. The main character, Savannah Webb, is a patient teacher–and her wide array of students are always getting into scrapes. My favorites are the elderly twins, though: Rachel and Faith. They’re in every book, and grow more goofy and lovable every time we meet. I really love the community in this book as well, the close friendships across different ages, artists, and neurotypes. Plus! An adorable Weimaraner! (For you dog lovers.)

1. Pane and Suffering (2015)
2. Shards of Murder (2016)
3. Cracked to Death (2016)
4. Etched in Tears (2017)
5. Shattered at Sea (2018)
6. Down in Flames (2019)

Margot Durand Cozy Mysteries
by Danielle Collins

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

Another series that is bound to make you hungry–and to want to go on a cruise. These are desserty-books, with dreamy, dreamy pastries, and with a no-nonsense protagonist who makes room in her life for the unexpected–and opens her heart and home to family, even when they’re being a bit troublesome.

1. Croissants and Corruption (2017)
2. Desserts and Deception (2017)
3. Pastries and Pilfering (2017)
4. Muffins and Murder (2017)

Cat Latimer Mysteries
By Lynn Cahoon

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

These books are awfully fun because the protagonist, Cat, is a writer and an introvert–but she runs a writers’ retreat in Colorado–where she’s forced to interact with people! Her best friend does all the extravert meet & greet stuff, and the food–so, like any good cozy, droolworthy recipes abound–but Cat still has to step up and be social from time to time. She gets better at this as the series continues. She’s constantly under deadline, and constantly finding dead bodies. Animal interactions include (eventually) a very fine horse, some kittens, and a hot handyman.

1. A Story to Kill (2016)
2. Fatality by Firelight (2017)
3. Of Murder and Men (2017)
4. Slay in Character (2018)
5. Sconed to Death (2019)

Stormy Day Mysteries
By Angela Pepper

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

Stormy Day just kept making me laugh! Unusually for the cozy mysteries I’ve done so far, she has a great relationship with her father (mostly the parents in cozies are deceased or absent or hard to get along with, with a few exceptions), who is a retired police officer. She’s also a small business owner and an entrepreneur. Her problem is not clumsiness or reckless behavior; her hamartia is an overabundance of efficiency! Interestingly complicated friendships as well. I quite enjoyed these books, and would have read them on my own had I just randomly picked them up.

1. Death of a Dapper Snowman (2014)
2. Death of a Crafty Knitter (2015)
3. Death of a Batty Genius (2015)
4. Death of a Modern King (2015)

Tara Holloway Mysteries
By Diane Kelly

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

What I liked best about this series was that they weren’t primarily about murders–the mysteries are primarily TAX FRAUD! This is so refreshing and interesting–and makes for a nice change. They aren’t bloodless, though–but they are rompy, and full of shenanigans, and Texas, and some great partnerships, business relationships, friendships, and romances!

1. Death, Taxes and a French Manicure (2011)
2. Death, Taxes, and a Skinny No-whip Latte (2012)
3. Death, Taxes, and Extra-hold Hairspray (2012)

Daisy’s Tea Garden Mysteries
By Karen Rose Smith

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

Another delicious series. And I mean, the soups! The sandwiches! The muffins! AND OH THE TEAS! I always come off narrating one of these books with a strong urge to go to Alice’s Tea Cup in New York, where I live; they serve fancy teas there. SO MANY LITTLE SANDWICHES! Anyway, a great cast of characters, takes place in Amish country so there are friendships across cultures, and I like that the protagonist is middle aged, widowed, with two daughters. She is extremely thoughtful and sensible, but also just about to begin a new and beautiful chapter in her life: as a businesswoman, yes, but also as a woman whose daughters are all but grown, and who is only now growing past her grief. If only people would stop dying in her vicinity!

1. Murder with Lemon Tea Cakes (2017)
2. Murder with Cinnamon Scones (2018)
3. Murder with Cucumber Sandwiches (2019)

Purr N Bark Pet Shop Mysteries
By T. C. LoTempio

Narrator’s Opinion: What I Like About This Series

This is the most recent book I’ve narrated (in fact, I just got back yesterday from the studio), and the best thing about it are the two cats: Purrday and Kahlua. But also: small town Connecticut as a sort of updated old-fashioned noir comedy backdrop. And two out of work actors back from Hollywood who decide to take the latest murder investigation into their own hands. My favorite character is the protagonist’s sidekick, Gary. I HAD SO MUCH FUN DOING HIS VOICE! I love him. Large cast of friends, huge gossip network, and too many motives abound!

1. The Time for Murder is Meow (2019)

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Waves, Palaces, Transient Spaces: Some Things I’m Thinking On

I’ve taken to wearing earbuds whenever I come back into the city from an out of town job. Sometimes I listen to music or an audiobook, but the truth is, I can’t actually hear whatever’s playing at that point. That point of re-entry.

After a week spent in a black box talking to myself (the glamorous life of a professional narrator), Penn Station, in Manhattan, on Friday night, at rush hour, takes away my… I want to say “everything.” But that’s gross exaggeration. It takes away my ability to comprehend much of anything but the need for a wall at my back and a good cry.

But earbuds help, and something playing in the background. I don’t like being distracted. I don’t like not hearing what’s around me. But there’s just… too much… around me.

What seems to be working well right now is an “ocean wave” soundtrack. No music or anything, just waves.

Up from the Amtrak tracks: waves. Through station noise and waiting lines and cross-crossing, hellbent, one-track bee-liners: waves. Down the ramp, down the stairs, down that hall where the NJ transit people are rushing en masse toward me and I’m struggling upriver of them, up those cement stairs and to the platform to await the E: waves.

And while, yes, it makes me feel like I am, indeed, underwater, it also takes away the feeling that I’m drowning.

Or reduces it somewhat, anyway. So that’s nice.

There’s a line in Eric Klinenberg‘s Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life that I recently read that I want to remember here.

I remembered just the sense of it while I was on the subway, when my train stopped, and I was caught in that metal worm, caught between two brick walls, stuffed with strangers, down down down, and the announcement overhead was something something gerbils marbles mumble something sorry for the delay, and my agitation began to rise. I remembered just the sense of this passage, and I could breathe a little more easily again. Because I believe in it more than I believe in myself.

Let me find it. And while I’m at it, let me recommend this book.

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Tina Connolly’s Patented Time Capsule Mostly Unrhyming Poem (™)

The other day, my friend Tina Connolly posted the most fabulous picture of herself and her sunshiny shoes, and I swore to myself that I would write a poem about them, and here it is:

TINA CONNOLLY’S PATENTED TIME CAPSULE MOSTLY UNRHYMING POEM (™)

by C. S. E. Cooney

not glass nor fur nor iron
nor red slippers to dance your death in
but sunshiny shoes with strong rubber soles
real leaf-kickers, city-trekkers

not stoles of mink or lynx or wolf
nor cuffs of lace to dip your wine in 
but brown adventure jacket, battered, dapper
owned by many, always yours

not pre-ripped, pre-faded, sexy/shabby denim
nor embroidered like a wild west that never was
but turquoise jeans, color of a merrow’s blood
rolled to sea-wave navy at the cuffs

may your socks ne’er be matched
may your lenses ne’er be scratched 
may your gleam never dim
may the hum on your lips be a hymn
to human genius

may the laundry of our lives brighten us 
may the dishes of our lives polish us 
may the theatre of our lives mischief us 
may the kerchiefs of our lives babushka us
and all our friends and lovers rise to strengthen us 
when fragile we fall to the bedrock below

and if fragile you fall to the bedrock below
may your sunshine shoes and strong rubber soul
bounce


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Transition State: About to Write

Before I start my writing for today, I want to say as how yesterday Carlos gave me–almost without thinking about it!–the perfect title for this novella I’m about done first-drafting.

I WANT TO TELL YOU BUT DO I WANT TO SPOIL THE SURPRISE???

Decisions, decisions.

When I’m finished with this one, I’ll have two–count ’em TWO!–first drafts of two VERY DIFFERENT novellas. And then I think–I do think–I might be ready to start revisions again.

After an intense 2 years of final revisions for Miscellaneous Stones: Necromancer to get her submission-ready, and for Desdemona and the Deep to get her publication-ready, I was pretty burnt out, writing-wise, and wondering if I would ever have a new thought in my head ever again.

And I guess I have my answer.

Both stories need a lot of work. They’re just sweet baby spiderling drafts, after all.

And I have, of course, the new round of Dark Breakers revisions to do to get them ready for the re-release. (Ideas about that . . . more to come . . .) And I have another first draft of a novella I wrote a few years ago. Total mess, but . . . I REALLY want to revisit it. And, and, and . . .

My beauties, I have to tell you. I am excited.

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The Grand Finale of Mr. Fox

A long time ago, someone wonderful (was it Sonya Taaffe? Amal El-Mohtar? Caitlyn Paxson? S. J. Tucker? Francesca Forrest? Jessica P. Wick?) introduced me to John Pole and Terry Yarnell’s “Mister Fox.”

It is the creepiest, gorgeousest, FOXIEST Mr. Fox song EVER!

You can hear it for yourself at this soundcloud link, sung by Jenni Cargill-Strong, and read the lyrics/sheet music at Mudcat. Anyway, I adore it.

And then, for some charity art event sometime, I wrote a pastiche/sequel to it. Not for money or anything, just for love and continuing the conversation.

I ran across it today, since I had cause to use the word “potash” and I remembered I’d learned the word “potash” in order to write this song/poem. So I thought I’d dig it out and give it all to you. It’d be sung to Yarnell’s perfect tune, filk-style.

The Grand Finale of Mister Fox 

Outside Mister Fox’s garden
Two maids gazing at the wall
Jenny of the Ax says to Suzie Long Bow:
“For Mary and her golden ball!”
The wall is high
Sometimes girls can learn to fly

In they ran to fetch the ashes
All that’s left of Mary now
Iron and rust her little casket
Buried ‘neath the willow bough
The wall is high
Past barbs and shards they slip on by

“I see you, Suzie! Jenny, I espy thee!”
Cries Mister Fox from tower tall
His teeth are white, his fine braid glistens
His eyes are gold as Mary’s ball
“The wall is high
We built it well, my ghosts and I.” 

Murdered ladies, shades and shadows
Here a peasant, there a queen
Shield-maids all, in brazen armor
Their wounds a bright and bloody sheen
The wall is high
None enters who returns thereby

But three strange things did Jenny carry
Nitrate of potash, sulfur, coal
Suzie had flint, her steel and tinder
Both girls shared a common goal
The wall is high
A hail of boulders from the sky

The house it shakes to the foundation
The garden gate blows open wide 
The willow cracks right down the middle 
Mary’s casket lay inside
The wall is high 
Mary, don’t you weep or sigh 

They hunt him through the empty hallways
Bowstring taut and blade edge keen 
Mister Fox, he taunts and teases them 
Always laughing, never seen
The wall is high 
The dead say, “Seek — your prey is nigh.” 

At last they found the thirteenth bedroom 
Suzie galls him toward bed 
With her silver ax and her strong heart singing 
Jenny chops his pretty head 
The wall is high 
Suzie shouts, “Bleed!” and Jenny growls, “Die.” 

Now Mister Fox, he wanders restless
One haunt more in that doleful hall
From his shoulders trails a big black counterpane
He cradles close his bloody skull
The wall is high…

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“Little Man Jamie”: New Draft

 1. Well, Jamie was born number nine of out ten
Sis took one look, said, “Ma, try that again.”
Daddy said nothing–no, nothing at all
But went out a brought home a goat so small
A little black goat for his Jamie

2. So James had his hat and his grin and his goat
Shoes made of rags and a sheepskin coat
When Jamie was glad, he could sing all day long
And when he was sad he would sing this song
A secret song only for Jamie

Refrain

“Little Man Jamie,
Won’t you come to the stars?
I’ve got a home there
And it’s bound to be yours
Little Man Jamie,
Won’t you fly and be free?”
Says no one in the world to our Jamie

3. Our James wasn’t able to work in the mines
We tried him at the colliery, but he sang all the time
We told him to sort out the coal from the rocks
But Jamie, he turned them to building blocks
A tower of coal for our Jamie

4. James tried to tell us: “Oh, it’s good to be me!
“See, my heart is a hive for the honeybee!”
Daddy strained and he strained to make sense of those words
Like the babbling of brooks, or the chirping of birds
He chirped like bird, did our Jamie

Refrain

5. One day came a stranger to Candletown
His face was a mask and his smile was a frown
He played on his pipe, oh a sweet dancing tune
And all of the children danced out of the room
All of us danced except Jamie

6. Our Jamie jumped up and he cried, “Me! Me!”
But the man laughed and said, “None so daft as thee.”
Oh, he played and we danced and our eyes grew dim
He carried us off, but he didn’t take him–
He didn’t take with him our Jamie

Refrain

7. Jamie, he wailed, little Jamie he cried
Curled up with his goat, wouldn’t go back inside
Oh, his sisters and brothers, we left him behind
To sleep in that ship made of silver so fine
To dream and forget our dear Jamie

8. Daddy came out and he sat at his feet
Didn’t say nothing, but he said it so sweet
Gathered his son up, pet goat and all
And walked him on down to that ship so tall
A silver ship all for his Jamie

Refrain

9. Went up to the stranger who watched from his mask
He said, “I am your man if you do as I ask
The strength of my body, the sap of my bone
Yours to devour if you give him a home
A home in the stars for our Jamie.”

10. “He’s not worth my trouble,” that pied piper sneered
“Nor hath he half the wisdom to be afeared
He raiseth his arms when it’s low he should bow
I bare all my teeth and he grins even now
So why should I take thy Daft Jamie?”

Refrain

11. Dad stood his height, and it reached to the sky
And he looked the fiend right in his deep yellow eye
He said, “Sir, I’ve got nothing to stake but my life
You’ve taken my children, I’ve lost my dear wife
And now I must part with my Jamie.

12. “You may be as rich and as shrewd as a king
My boy wants so little and he loves everything
You may be as mighty and deep as the sea
But Jamie’s worth twenty-one thousand of thee.
You don’t know the worth of my Jamie.”

Refrain

13. The man in the suit took his pen, made a mark
And his yellow eyes flashed like a lantern in the dark
“Say your goodbyes then, and kiss ere you part–
For I’ll take your lad, then I’ll eat up your heart.
You bargained your heart for Daft Jamie.”

14. Daddy said, “James, oh my sweet little man
Go on, do your best now, as only you can
I’m sick and I’m old and I’ve not much to give
But a chance at the sky, and a long life to live
You’ll live in the stars now, my Jamie

Refrain

15. Jamie awakes in a new silver coat
Nibbled and frayed by his silver-eyed goat
He sings to the walls, they ring back like bells
He dances while everyone else broods and dwells
There’s no one as glad as our Jamie

16. And it’s good to reflect in this unending dark
There are things worth the weight of a whole human heart
O my sisters, my brothers, come rise to that call
We’ll tear out our chains from this high silver wall
And follow the song of our Jamie

Little Man Jamie,
Won’t you come to the stars?
I’ve got a home there
And it’s bound to be yours
Little Man Jamie,
Won’t you fly and be free?
“I’ll fly wide and high,” sings our Jamie

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Our Jamie

I think the Dublin concert went well.

I also think I need to re-think my song “Daft Jamie” from the title on down.

My character Jamie is a little boy with some mental disabilities who always wanted to explore the stars. He sings a song to himself that no one else can understand about this yearning. His father, though, who has always shared a special bond with his boy, gets it. When Jamie’s brothers and sisters are abducted by a sort of alien Pied Piper, his father sacrifices his own life to ensure that James has a place on the same starship–so that he won’t be left behind.

Jamie is named after the penultimate victim of the Burke and Hare murders, James Wilson, who was locally known as “Daft Jamie.” I did this because when I read about him, and the awful way he died, I just wanted him to _live_. And since I was writing these Distant Star Ballads, I thought he could live there. His story sort of collided with the Pied Piper story and my song “Daft Jamie” came out of it.

It’s a cruel song, about a bad bad bargain. And a little boy getting his heart’s desire at the end comes at a terrible cost, and may not be such a great thing anyway…

But I’m not sure, ultimately, the cruelty of Jamie’s nickname—which says something about humanity and human history—is worth the cost of singing it.

Need to tweak a lot of lyrics and think the whole thing through again.

There’s a video of the original here, on Facebook, from 5 years ago. It’s changed even since then, minutely. I will have to keep chewing on the idea of nuance, complexity, point of view, necessity, what serves the story, and the world.

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