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Rhode Island Launch!

With news of the New York Launch to come! But for now . . .

Come dressed in a costume and mask of your choice! Think the goblins of Labyrinth or Lord of the Rings . . . or the elves of Hellboy 2 (or Lord of the Rings). Think Jim Henson’s muppets in The Dark Crystal. Or the “bloomin’ fairies” of Legend. Use your imagination. Paint your face! Go fancy! Or dress in what’s comfortable, and just show up! All that’s cool.

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Chattel, Uncastled

Yesterday, in the Disney car to Carlos’s gig at the “Bronx is Reading” book festival, I was struck with the most FASCINATING idea for a short story.

Like, I haven’t been so weirded out by an idea since the Big Bah-Ha.
And I have to say, after two LONG years of revising a VERY LONG NOVEL and a MAXIMUM WORD COUNT NOVELLA, a new idea was like MANNA FROM ABOVE.

(I mean, I’ve written two or three short stories in that time, but all of them have been to spec, for anthologies. And one has never even seen the light of day.)

But something NEW? Just for the sake of ITSELF?

It has been, mi enjambre, so LONG.

Thought I’d try handwriting the first draft of my new story. IT’S WORKING! Part 1 of 4 is done!!!

And it’s been building up constantly in my head ever since. When I described the idea and its unfolding scenes to Carlos, not only did he start crying at one point, he was also TOTALLY IN. Already helpful, and not a word written yet. Just standing in the kitchen, drinking our coffee and tea, as new worlds build and bubble around us. Paradise enow, right?

So. Instead of revising and expanding the DARK BREAKERS 2-in-1 edition this morning (it can wait) (even though Brett Massé’s new cover art is TOTALLY BOSS!), guess what I am going to do???

That’s right. STORY, DARLING, WE ARE ON!

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Readercon 2019 Schedule: C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez


2:00 PM Salon 4
Latinx Authors Tear Down the Wall

Panelists: Lisa Bradley (mod), Carlos Hernandez, José Pablo Iriarte, Julia Rios, Sabrina Vourvoulias

Isolationist governments portray immigrants (and citizens perceived as foreigners) as vectors for disease, crime, and terrorism. Currently, the U.S. administration is demonizing Latinx immigrants in this fashion, and oppressing asylum-seekers from Central America. How can authors dismantle anti-immigrant myths while portraying immigrants in all their human complexity? Led by Lisa M. Bradley, Latinx writers will discuss their work regarding borders and immigration, providing historical context and exploring possibilities for future stories.

(See Clarence Young read: 2:30!)

3:00 PM Salon A
In Memoriam: Gene Wolfe

Panelists: John Clute, C.S.E. Cooney, Chris Gerwel, Elizabeth Hand (mod), Howard Waldrop

Gene Wolfe (1931-2019) was Readercon’s first guest of honor, and for good reason. His Book of the New Sun series was not so much groundbreaking as earth-shattering; his short fiction equally displayed his virtuoso talent for unsettling and disorienting the reader. He dipped into numerous genres and refused to be bound by the conventions of any. Join us to remember our friend and colleague and to explore his extraordinary body of work.

6:00 PM Sylvanus Thayer

Readers: Carlos Hernandez, C.S.E. Cooney


10:00 AM Salon 4
Compassionate AI

Panelists: Amal El-Mohtar (mod), Carlos Hernandez, Matthew Kressel, Natalie Luhrs, Kestrell Verlager

In a 2018 tweet, Amal El-Mohtar described the artificial intelligences in Martha Wells’s Murderbot series and in Jeph Jacques’s Questionable Content webcomic as “gorgeously compassionate.” This is a reversal of the long-running trope in SF of characterizing AI as cold, scheming, and murderous. Where else can readers find compassionate AI, and what makes these depictions so vital and appealing?

12:00 PM–2:00 PM Sylvanus Thayer
Workshop: From Page to Stage: Techniques, Tricks, and Improv Games to Help Writers with Public Speaking

Teachers: Martin Cahill, C.S.E. Cooney

Performers C.S.E. Cooney and Martin Cahill will help writers improve their public speaking through improv comedy exercises and theater games, showing how public speaking is rooted in confidence, trust, and drama. The workshop will include some warm-ups and techniques, as well as an opportunity to practice in front of others. Bring a sample of your work to read aloud.

3:00 PM Sylvanus Thayer
Dramatic Readings from the Ig Nobel Prizes

Panelists: Marc Abrahams (mod), C.S.E. Cooney, Rose Fox, Heath Miller, Sonya Taaffe

Highlights from Ig Nobel prize-winning studies and patents are presented in dramatic mini-readings by luminaries and experts (in some field). The audience will have an opportunity to ask questions about the research presented. Answers will be based on the expertise of the presenters, who may have a different expertise than the researchers.


11:00 AM Salon 3
Lloyd Alexander, Existentialist

Panelists: C.S.E. Cooney, Andrea Martinez Corbin, Chris Gerwel, Marissa Lingen (mod), Sonya Taaffe

Lloyd Alexander, translator of Jean-Paul Sartre, wrote an existentialist epic fantasy series. As Jesse Schotter writes on Full Stop, “The end of The High King, and Taran’s choice to remain in Prydain… salvage[s] the idea of free will within the deterministic framework of the genre.” How did existentialism influence Alexander’s other work (Time Cat, the Westmark trilogy)? What are other examples of existentialist speculative fiction epics? With the present deconstruction of prophecy-driven epics, how can writers learn from Alexander’s work?

(12: See Julia Rios read)

2:00 PM Abigail Adams
Brimstone Rhine in Concert

Performers: C.S.E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez, Faye Ringel

Mythic music by singer-songwriter C.S.E. Cooney, with Faye Ringel on piano and Carlos Hernandez on ukulele and cajon.


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for Patty Templeton and Brett Massé

on the occasion of Gene Wolfe’s birthday


they say

a jar of it will still taste

sweet, sealed up

in pharaoh’s tomb

they say it heals wounds

like when they buried him

in rain, and riverboats, and

strawberry stone


this spell

you cast across the USPS–

what does it portend?

some golden immortality? or love’s

relentless industry?

substance or accident,

I let nothing linger

some gods you take

and eat

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Shelf-life of a Time and Place

by C. S. E. Cooney


are finite

have a half-

life, gather


with disuse


grasp one

it brightens, also


rough edges worn

details crumble



what remains

pale treasures

smudged prints of

the past


but follow

follow their trail

back and back, until–



for gene



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The Small Delights of the Day

Last night Carlos said, “I’ve downloaded a new game. I’d love to share it with you. I know next to nothing about it, except that I love this game company and you get to play a female archeologist who deciphers ancient languages.”

He sounded so shy about it! Meanwhile, I’m all, “Let me read you ALL my FAVORITE BOOKS!”

..,Which has resulted in me currently reading him a chapter aloud from both Pratchett’s Night Watch and McKillip’s Riddle-Master of Hed every night.

Play a game with him? Least I can do.

The game is Heaven’s Vault, a text-based video game on a secondary world and/or science fictional planet. (Same dif, feeling-wise.) The world-building is really splendid–with different tabs for timelines following the personal, imperial, or galactic–and the choose-your-response mechanic in every scene is fun, although I keep wanting to be nice to the robot, and the choices–no matter which ones I make–indicate that the character is snarky and hates robots.

But the deciphering of ancient texts mechanic is really beautiful, and though Carlos says the interface is not very intuitive (he was moving us around) so are the graphics.

The characters move the like ghosts through the world. A deliberate choice, I think, underscoring one of the world’s mysterious structures: “Loop Philosophy,” this idea that there is no history–and therefore no need for archeologists–as time is in a continuous loop. Like a clock-face. Interesting choice for a choose your own adventure!

My flight for Chicago is boarding. Farewell.

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There are doors everywhere. Farewell, my Gene.

I had the phone call last night. Carlos and I were working on our respective novels. We were making ourselves laugh. He’s been a bit sick, so he was coughing too. We both were having hot tea.

Gene Wolfe’s daughter called. Right there. Mid-paragraph. I looked at my phone today, and saw the call lasted two minutes. Two minutes. Strange.

I called my father after, to tell him. He answered–just before he had to play for Mass as Saint Anne’s in Barrington, where Gene and Rosemary used to go to church. They sat right up near the musicians, always. Papa kept saying he was sorry, sorry. He was so much looking forward to driving down with me to see him. I’d bought my ticket for the 24th. It was going to be a father-daughter road trip. Later, he texted and told me his mentor also died on Palm Sunday.

I asked Carlos–I was barely coherent–if we could listen to “Witch of the West-mer-lands” by Archie Fisher. “Of course,” he said. We sat on the couch and listened to the Stan Rogers version. Gene was the one who introduced this song to me. He’d sing it, softly, and his voice would always crack when he got to, “And wet rose she from the lake / and fast and fleet went she / one half the form of a maiden fair / with a jet-black mare’s body,” as if it were the most beautiful verse in the world. He was like that with poetry, Kipling especially. Sometimes he’d read his own work, and I’d hear that same crackle of deep emotion.

Carlos, who never got to meet Gene, but who was weeping with me, asked if he could read me something. I nodded. And he took Bone Swans off the shelf and read me Gene’s forward. It is a love letter from first to finish, in Gene’s inimitable voice. I asked Carlos to read me the first paragraph of my acknowledgements: my love letter in response. We were very good friends. He was one of my finest teachers.

He was momentous.

Anyone I ever met at any convention–my Goblin Girls, the Mythic Delirium crowd, my writing group, my poets and fellow writers–those friendships are all due him. That includes my husband, who I met a Readercon. Gene introduced me to conventions, drove me to several of them. Anyone I met through Twilight Tales, forming a large part of my Chicago Writing Community–Tina Jens, John O’Neill, Mike Penkas, Brendan Detzner, Josh Doetsch, Darci Stratton, Martel Sardina, oh, more, many more–I met them because he sent me the Twilight Tales flyer and kept telling me to go.

All my early short stories, much of my early poetry, even knowing how to submit it, even knowing that I should submit it–and keep submitting it–are due to him.

What is owed here? What is owed? No vulturous sentimentality. No deep-sink into ferocious isolation. Only a great giving back. Only a continuation of the work. That fountain of welcome and generosity and good, hard, practical, useful, beautiful advice, and that light touch of teasing, a hesitation to hurt anyone. That is only some of what I learned from him.

I talked to Gene the day before yesterday. Did he know me? I don’t know. But he knew I was his friend, and he responded with benevolence and good humor, a willingness to talk, no matter how tired he was.

I had called and called and almost gave up trying to get a hold of him. When I told him this, he laughed and said, “I’m not that hard to get a hold of.”

Perhaps not. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough. But this time I did.

Amal just taught me this word: “wajbet.” I’ve been holding onto it like a talisman all this last week. It is an Arabic word that means duties, family ties, obligations. The thing you do even when it’s hard to do it. “Wajbet,” I told myself, every time my stomach twisted and I hit re-dial.

Carlos told me, “Set alarms. Call every few hours.” (My alarms are still there on my phone: “Call Gene. Call Gene.” And there they will stay.)

Teri, his daughter, told me which hours to call. She was and is amazing; she was so diligent about reaching out to me, over all these miles, after all this time. I am so dazed and grateful.

Because of this, because of them, I called again and again–even though it is the thing I don’t do well at all. Because of them, I got to talk to him. And I feel so graced. And so grateful.

I sent Gene a letter the same day I talked to him. Now he will never read it. The thought pinches at my chest. I have this terrible, perpetual pinch, right beneath my breastbone. If I try to take deep breaths to ease it, the tears come again.

I don’t know what else to say.

I have written about our friendship before, at Ultan’s Library and at Black Gate Magazine. Gene Wolfe is the first person mentioned in my acknowledgements for Desdemona and the Deep, though he didn’t know that, and now never will. He will always be first in my acknowledgements.

I am so damned sad and sorry, so glad and grateful, and nothing feels right, and everything feels raw, and the sky is blue and beautiful, and there is birdsong and forsythia, and I am staring at a shelf of his books even as I write.

Ellen Kushner has just texted me that Notre Dame is on fire. The world is so bewildering and relentless, and I will end this here, before I spin out into metaphor.

Below, I hope you will take some joy in 20 years of pictures. Not enough. But there is enough to share.

World Fantasy maybe? 2002? Or World Horror. That’s Patrick O’Leary I think.
Neil, Gene, Teri, and Rosemary, 2008
These are his hands.


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In the Bonnefont Cloister Garden

There are eight groups of usefulness in a Medieval garden.

1. Household.

alone beneath the not-yet-budded quince you walked
head ducked, arms tucked behind you
I took quiet pictures, thinking:
someone ought to look at him, someone
ought to see!
it might as well be me.

2. Medicine (Poison).

the night before the Cloisters, there on the parquet floor
the ritual of divorce:
my mother told her story, you yours
I danced to tin-canned drumming, gibbering deliberately
we flung open doors, windows
chased demons, yipping
burnt sage, banged pots, clanged pans
ate ice cream, fell
exhausted onto couch and camping mats, awoke
the next morning.

something. something had occurred.

3. Aromatic.

two moments:

that time I thought:
“Don’t cling too close; let him walk his way, choose his favorite door: monastic or cathedral, flamboyant or unicorn, oak or stone or iron . . .”

then, within the hour:
“Ah! But he is happy in my company. Content with the capitals and corbels I stop to admire. He did not come to this place with friends to wander alone.”

later, sipping tea
in the long dim cool of Cloister Cafe
I was so bold to say:
“May I put my feet on your chair?”

the space was clear.

4. Kitchen and Seasoning.

after the Cloisters
you took us out to Ivan Ramen
the Gourmet Noodle, the Sacred Bowl of Orkin
the starstuff of celebrity
I sat beside my mother, our elbows
constantly communicating
you, opposite us both, watching
watching everything as with my wineglass, I grew warm
grew rosy and outrageous, also somehow less
able to keep eye-contact
you were smiling, a direct beam
such a look as I had never seen

5. The Arts.

A series of Facebook messages:

I want to be a tree when I die, I said. Put my ashes in an eco-urn, I said, and turn me into a tree.

Bullshit, you said. I want to be a dragon when I die. Where’s the eco-urn that does that?

It’s the tree that turns into a dragon when it dies. It’s a process.

Ah, I was being a shithead–but you turned it into poetry!

Sarcasm and poetry go hand in hand. Either one makes the other more interesting. Do you want to collaborate? We could write a story . . .

Shall you start, or shall I?

6. Love and Marriage.

neither of us believed in the institute of marriage. we didn’t even have rings, not then. in the end, all we brought with us to the justice of peace was:

a.) my best friend
b.) a fountain pen
c.) an orangutan marionette
d.) a panda mask
e.) a collapsable top hat
f.) a parasol

and our judge was jolly, and she laughed for joy, and she said, “By the power vested in me by the State of New York,” and 393 years of history rushed over me, and she was gargantuan, a giantess, and you were as you always have been–the exception to my rule–wearing a plaid shirt and an expression like the first burst of magnolia blooms, and Mir was our witness, and our signatures were sure, and then it was over, cake pops at Starbucks

7. Magic.

there has been
death since then, most ruinous
meteoric ascension of vocations
exponential increase of community
hard labor, swift deadlines
new music, new instruments to play it on
adoration, anxiety, banquets, baguettes
Paris and Venice, picnics, books read
philosophies discovered, poems plastered on walls
poems telling me, over and over:
there will be plenty, love, plenty
when I, gasping
fear going empty

and if I weep more now than when I met you, love
it is because the world is so much dearer
I am not so at ease with leaving it
as I was before

8. Salad.

something you told me lately:
you do not love a side-salad.
no, no, you insisted, let’s make a dinner of it!
make it interesting.
white lemon balsamic vinegar. chickpeas. avocado. almonds. arugula.
put it in a single bowl.
you love bowl food.
you’ll eat anything in a bowl.

four years, and I’ve only just learnt this.
what’s next?
what will I love most next?

Carlos Hernandez, Poet
To My Love When Love Began, by Carlos Hernandez

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Announcement: The First Two Dark Breakers Stories Are Officially Out of Print

I received an email early this morning, telling me that when they clicked on the link to see the first two Dark Breakers novellas on Amazon (The Breaker Queen and The Two Paupers), the link was broken.

I had expected this, as I recently took those books “off the shelf.” I thought the process would be a relatively simple thing: I click “Unpublish,” and no one will be able to buy them anymore.

I wanted those earlier versions to be out of print for a while, so that I would have a chance to refurbish them. Because I’d made Desdemona and the Deep a standalone novella for–and because of the many discoveries and maturities of world and characters that occurred in the writing of it–there were a few structural changes I wanted to tinker with in the first two, so that all the pieces fit more beautifully together.


I did not expect the next thing the email writer said: that, remembering that they had already bought the first two books, they opened their Kindle app–and discovered the books they had bought were gone.

Now, I remember something like this happening in early in the Kindle publishing era . . . but I also remember there being an uproar amongst Kindle users, people who’d bought their books and rightfully owned them, to discover that they’d just disappeared.

This was not my intention. I don’t want to take anything away from people who have supported me and bought my work in the past. People have the right to their out of print copies and first editions! Just like I have the right to take my books off the market for a while! But just like I’d never sneak into someone’s house and steal their OWN BOOKS off the shelves, I’d never have intentionally taken away these older copies from them.

I have written to the KDP people, and hope to have a satisfactory answer for you. As for what I can do personally–if your copy of The Breaker Queen or The Two Paupers has gone missing, please email me at csecooney (at) gmail (dot) com, and I will email you a PDF of the older, out of print version.

Meanwhile, The Breaker Queen (a fully realized but slightly older version) was reprinted by Lightspeed Magazine here: Issue 89, October 2017. And Rich Horton reprinted The Two Paupers (again, the older, original version) in his Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. Both are still in print. Desdemona and the Deep comes out with this coming July.

I am really sorry for all this trouble. I will try to fix it. I am hoping to get to the refurbishments in June. There won’t be much to them–just enough that I didn’t want any more people buying them until I had a chance to look at them again.

As you can probably tell, my few tentative forays into self-publishing did not make me an expert; if I’d been one, I’d probably have known this would happen, and would have already tried to find a workaround. Please forgive me.

— C. S. E. Cooney


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The Lost Waterman, The Gift of Gold

When I was in high school, I took a trip to San Francisco with my mother to visit a friend of hers, the DJ Lee Baby Simms. We went on a ferry ride. I was very romantic. I stood on the deck and sang Loreena McKennitt songs very loudly to the waves.

Gradually, I became aware of being watched. A young fellow–but older then me. We struck up a conversation. He was German, from Stuttgart. I was from Arizona.

“Which part?” he asked.
“Phoenix,” I said.
“Which part?” he asked.

I paused, thinking, MMMN. HOW COULD THAT POSSIBLY MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO HIM? HE LIVES IN GERMANY! . . . maybe I shouldn’t say anything more.

He explained, “I was an exchange student in Phoenix.”
“Oh, in that case! The Metrocenter area.”

He was a college student, studying law. I was possibly going into my senior year? In any case, we decided to be pen pals. Email pals, really, but such lovely long emails.

Anyway, it was Loffer (his nickname was Loffer) who told me that as a writer, I really ought to have a fountain pen. “All true writers have fountain pens.”

Since he was European, and older, and wrote a damn good email, I decided he was probably right, and I announced my intention to the world that I needed a fountain pen.

The world (my mother) heard. She bought me my first pen–a blue marbled Phileas Waterman. I loved it. (Here is what it looked like. This article makes fun of its looks, but the writer loved it anyway. I rather loved its looks.)

After years of use, I somehow lost it. And then, knowing me, LOST it.

I probably wailed, probably to the internet, and to all my friends. Was I no longer a real writer now that my fountain pen was lost???!!! THE HORROR! THE HORROR!

I was maybe 22, 23 at the time.

Again, the world (my friend Janet) heard. Again, I was given the gift of a Phileas Waterman. And I’ve cuddled it close ever since. (Almost 15 years now.)

Until last week, in Orlando.

ICFA was a beautiful conference, certainly one of the most relaxed. I had a gorgeous time. I had beautiful long conversations with people who are important to me for various reasons; I had writing time with Carlos; we had an amazing reading together with two other very, very fine writers. I got to dress up!

And the day of our reading and signing, I wore my Waterman tucked oh so sweetly into my bosom (NOT for the first time) (not by a LONG shot) for easy access. (See earlier “cuddled close.”) I even had occasion to use it! It always surprises me when people want things SIGNED.

That’s the last memory I have of my Waterman.

Probably while I was undressing for sleep, it slipped away from my multiple layers of sartorial splendor and rolled under the bed. Or I could have left it on the signing table. Or a hundred thousand other iterations of fate. In any case, it was not in any of my backpacks, purses, or pockets when I (finally) unpacked from ICFA two days ago.


It’s not that I need a fountain pen to remind me of my identity. But by this time THAT Waterman was more like a friend. I’d had it even longer than the original. It was my go-to pen, my letter-writing pen, my travel pen.

I do have a second, cheaper travel fountain pen too, that I used more devil-may-carely so as not to risk the Waterman. And I also have The Most Special Fountain Pen Ever, which is hand-carved from wood, decorated in gold, and looks like something one buys from Garrick Ollivander in Diagon Alley. (That never leaves the house except on super SUPREMO occasions wherein we are, for example, signing our wedding certificate in front of the Justice of the Peace).

But it was my . . . dear pen. If that makes any sense. It wrote like a dream. It was full of Yu-Yake, a burnt-orange ink that Amal El-Mohtar gave me as a present.

Anyway. I know it’s just a thing. An object. But. The melancholy.

Yesterday, after recording the latest quarterly issue of Fireside Magazine in Brookly, I went to meet Hernandez after he got out of his classes. We were going to go eat SPICY RAMEN. But on the street, he stopped, and looked at me, twinkling, and said, “You know, if you can wait to eat a while . . . we’re right next to the Fountain Pen Hospital.”

Oh. He loves me.

They told us there, in no uncertain terms, that the Phileas Waterman had been discontinued, oh, 15 or so years ago. The burn! The pain! If I’d bothered to look around at OTHER brands (which I did later), I’d have seen that there were blue-marbled-with-gold-accents fountain pens in various vitrines all over the store. They were also in the $300-$500 range. So I’m glad I didn’t see them. Instead, the first thing we did was go straight to the Waterman case for a sense of continuity–if not of style, then of brand.

And I chose this slender gold and silver thing. It looks light, just right, just the thing for a travel pen. We got a converter cartridge, so I can use my inks. And Carlos bought me a new bottle of turquoise-blue Ama-Iro ink for more quotidian use (burnt-orange is good for poetry, letters, signing books extravagantly).

There will always be a blue marbled Phileas Waterman-sized absence in my memory that my beloved pen-friend (well, pen-friends, if you count the first one) used to inhabit.

But my own even MORE beloved Hernandez, who loves to fix things, gave me a brave new pen to counter that lacuna. Because he is a darling. Because I am very, very lucky. VERY LUCKY. PRIVILEGED in my family and friends.

(Remind me to pass on the gift of a fountain pen to a young writer . . . or, I suppose, I could save up and buy some kid a computer, you know? I know which one SOUNDS more romantic, but also, let’s face it, practical is good too.)

I am so grateful. So happy. I will write many letters. I will write many things. I will probably even still wear it in my bosom, sometimes. But I will say to myself every time:

“Self, there is a pen in your bosom. Remember that and soyez-sage!” Which will, naturally, fix everything.

Fountain Pen, New Ink, with Amal’s ink photobombing the background.


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