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1/20/2021: “Aurora”

AURORA

For Carlos

after the fireworks are ended

[fireworks: joy upended, ordinance
of dedication, starlight confetti
unfettered celebration, the blitz
that is balm, the bombs of bliss]

after I have smelled my husband’s
neck to satisfaction

[there is nothing like it; I can-
not retain it, sunlit heart-
beat, happy soapscent
cleanly, comely, last-homely-houseiness
but ever and above this
the haecceity of him]

after I have announced my
intention to pen
a poem

[this is totally Amanda Gorman’s fault
I blame naught else, nor name no other
nor uphold the goldgleam of
any other queen than she
who is, today,
poetry]

after the nurses and the teachers and
the students and the astronauts and the
soldiers and the grocers and the Legends and
the Foo Fighters and the chefs and the drivers
and the Seamus Heaney-spouting Mirandas making soft eyes at us from Washington Heights
have compelled me cry

[from the other side of Troy]

after all this, yes, I have sat me my fine ass in all its rosy sitzfleisch down, in my cotton nightgown, with my clown-stained fingers, with this pen that only sort of works, and awkward chocolate staining my shirt, on this borrowed table, in this borrowed space that we have for a grace of time, where we have dined in solitary splendor and remembered the revelry of silence, remembered that in isolation there is also solace, and I am stuffed so spiffily with the iconography of dawn, with wine-purple pantsuits and repurposed wool mittens, the nacreous unity of ten thousand pearls, earnest children in their kitchens working to feed the world, that all I can breathe, all I can see, all I can sing at the end of all this is

[aurora]

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Story/Poem Round-Up: What I Wrote in 2020

The Twice-Drowned Saint, a short novel in A Sinister Quartet

Locus Review by Ian Mond

“The book opens with Cooney’s sublime short novel “The Twice Drowned Saint”

…There’s so much to adore about the “The Twice-Drowned Saint”, everything from the inventive worldbuilding that fuses technology with magic; to the byplay between Ish and Alizar; to the Jekyll and Hyde nature of Ish’s Uncles forced to lend their bodies to the incorporeal angels, while also doing what they can – when their minds are their own – to undermine Gelethel’s cruel rulers. I particularly fell for Ish, though. More than her jaded but not overly cynical perspective, and her lively relationship first with Alizar and then Betony, it’s her love for cinema, and especially her father’s movie scripts that will sadly never be produced, that makes her such a wonderfully sympathetic character.”

Locus Review by Rich Horton

The Twice-Drowned Saint” is… as extravagantly imagined and lushly but playfully written as we have come to expect from Cooney.”

Review by author Francesca Forrest:

“…I think this may be my favorite thing I’ve read by Claire–and I’ve read lots, all of which I’ve enjoyed. But this was just–it was a whole other level. It reaches for something really big and achieves it.

It starts out an acrobatic tale of an angelic city that’s really a kind hell hole–(most of) the angels are creepy abominations who delight in human sacrifices offered them by starving refugees desperate for the safe haven the city represents in a war-torn world. OVERTONES, right?

(I say “acrobatic” because Claire has this prodigious imagination and she lets it run all over the place–it darts hither and yon like fireflies and then holds you fixed while it dances on a high wire like Philippe Petit. She’s a roller coaster, but if you just let yourself ride the roller coaster, it’s actually taking you to a destination…)

…In the end I was left with the impression of Hieronymus Bosch blended with CS Lewis–in the best possible way…”

…On the strength of this story alone, A Sinister Quartet is worth purchasing, but from the excerpts I heard the other day, the other three stories will also be wonderful.”

Review by Little Red Reviewer:

“…On a scale of zero to ten, the Cooney is a twenty, easily one of the best things I’ve read this year….

And now we get to C.S.E. Cooney’s “The Twice Drowned Saint”.   I loved so many things about this story, but what makes the story shine so bright is the worldbuilding.  The way Cooney does world building,  she makes the world absolutely gigantic, and then she focuses the lens onto these intimate moments in people’s lives…

…My clumsy words don’t do justice to “The Twice Drowned Saint”. Just read it. It is a sunrise, where all things are beautiful and possible,  and it is blood on the ground surrounded by those who lap it up, hungering for more. This is one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read this year.  If you are on the fence about reading / buying a small press novella collection from a bunch of authors you’ve never heard of, “The Twice Drowned Saint” alone is worth five times the cost of the collection.”

Review by Anthony R. Cardno

“…And through it all, there is Cooney’s masterful use of language, soaring into the ethereal and plummeting through the earthen – colors and sounds and smells evoked with unexpected turns of phrase and exacting word choice. Sometimes the story feels sf-nal, sometimes high (almost Biblical) fantasy, but it never feels at odds with itself despite the mix of genres…”

“Or Perhaps Up,” in Where the Veil is Thin

A review from “Betwixt the Sheets“:

“My favorite story in the collection is ‘Or Perhaps Up’ by C.S.E. Cooney. I had never heard of her before, but Wikipedia states she’s best known for her fantasy poetry and short stories and has won the Rhysling Award for her poem ‘The Sea King’s Second Bride’ and the World Fantasy Award–Collection for ‘Bone Swans. 

It feels almost tragic that I’ve never read anything penned by her before, as she writes with an ethereal mixture of hope and despair that tugs right at my heart. I seldom become so invested in a short story as I did with this one. She managed within just a few pages to make me care deeply for each of her characters and I love the world she created. This story and this author were an unexpected gem buried within the pages for me.”

Review from FantasyLiterature.com

“Or Perhaps Up” by C.S.E. Cooney: Reeling from a recent breakup, a young woman meets disaster when she unearths an abandoned swan boat from a carnival ride and tries to take it out on the water. Along the way, Cooney beautifully fills in the warm relationship between the woman and her mother. The story is funny in places, though in a drier way than McGuire’s entry, and then when the heroine capsizes and finds herself in a surreal watery realm, the prose becomes dreamlike. And then the mother-daughter relationship reemerges to break your heart.”

“The Wyrm of Lirr,” a poem in The Book of Dragons: An Anthology

Enthusiasm from Amal El-Mohtar:

“So far I’ve only read my dear CSE Cooney’s magnificent poem, “The Wyrm of Lirr,” but I would frankly buy the collection on its strength alone.”

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Our 1-Minute Merry Krampus! Video

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HAPPY HERNANGROONEY HOLIDAYS!

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Undergirding: The Twice-Drowned Saint

I woke up with my first “conscious” thought this morning being, “I forgot that’s where stars came from: the belly of a chuffer fish!”

I don’t know what a chuffer fish is, but I bet they’re chuffed to be a stellar incubator. And I don’t know if it was because of that waking fantasy of origin stories, or the fact that a new friend of mine just checked out my book Bone Swans: Stories from her library that I got to thinking about origin stories, their structures, and their substructures.

This year, my short novel The Twice-Drowned Saint came out in A Sinister Quartet. (I may have mentioned.) I should probably do a review round-up of it soon, but until I do, here’s my favorite: Ian Mond’s from Locus.

I haven’t talked much about it structurally, and I think the amount of people who have read both The Twice-Drowned Saint and Bone Swans is probably pretty small. So there’s not going to be a lot of people who are going to get my little jokes: Carlos, my mother, a few friends.

But the idea that a new friend would soon be reading Bone Swans fresh, and then, maybe–maybe!–try her hand at The Twice-Drowned Saint was exciting. Because she’ll get my jokes!

Okay, well, not a joke exactly. They’re like inside jokes, but really they’re just self-referential allusions. The structure of The Twice-Drowned Saint is a story in 15 parts, and each part is a “shot” in filmic terms. (The narrator is a movie-maker, or will be, and has been close to a form of cinema all her life.)

It’s in 15 parts because “fabulous fucking Gelethel” (Ish’s words, not mine) (okay, both our words), the Angelic City, was once ruled by 15 angels who ate their god.

Now, at the beginning of the story, there are 14 angels. The 15th angel was the one that walked away. (Shades of Omelas. Which, of course, are shades of Brothers Karamazov, as I found out for myself when I gave that big raunchy hilarious heartbreaking darling a read a couple years ago–talk about origin stories!) I’d originally thought to do the thing in fourteen chapters, but it wouldn’t fit.

WHICH WAS APPROPRIATE. I was quite pleased with how that turned out.

The mind’s substructures are more interesting, sometimes, than its facade. Anyway.

Anyway, there’s this bit–this joke–about the cinema. The narrator is playing a double feature at her movie palace, two oldies called Life on the Sun and Godmother Lizard. One’s a sort of a war movie and one’s an epic fantasy–you know, familiar genres–but they’re also old stories of mine. Early works.

“Godmother Lizard” was one of my first bigger stories published for pro-rates–in Black Gate Magazine, back in the day. And “Life on the Sun” is the opening story in Bone Swans. What they have in common with The Twice-Drowned Saint–and what they always did, even seven or so years ago when The Twice-Drowned Saint was a messy chunder-splash first draft on the page–was that all three take place in the desert cities that cling to the underbelly of the Bellisaar Wasteland.

As a writer I knew that, of course. But who else was to know that this was a wasteland I’ve walked in since I was eighteen or so? Before it even had stories to populate it? Before it was anything but a glaring white heat with a name? Who was to know if I never said anything?

It delighted me to bolster the backbone of this novel’s world with the remnants of old stories. It’s a trick I do more often than anybody really knows–like putting my friend Amal’s name (or any of her nicknames) into most of my stories. (She’s even in The Twice-Drowned Saint, but you won’t know that unless you know what her family calls her.)

I put a lot of my friends in my stories. Just hints.

And maybe that’s why I put my old stories in my new ones. Because they are still my friends. And I don’t want them to be forgotten.

My new novel–the big one–Saint Death’s Daughter–will be published in spring of 2022. Look for Bellisaar in the pages. Look for mention of Gelethel, of Rok Moris and Sanis Al (from Life on the Sun and Godmother Lizard). Look close enough, and you’ll see hints of Desdemona and the Dark Breakers stories twining in and out, in hints, in shadows.

Same world. Different continents. Different timelines. Different gods.

I feel like I’ve got my own mycorrhizal network going on here. It’s my secret delight. Or it was secret–sort of–until I wrote this.

Hey, and if ya don’t know, now ya know, Mr. President.

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World Fantasy: Friday

I started my World Fantasy Con today with a reading by Sharon Shinn, whom I met through John O’Neill at a World Fantasy in California many a long moon ago.

She read from Quatrefoil, now on sub with her agent, and I WANT IT RIGHT NOW SO I CAN FINISH IT, CURSES! MULTIPLE CURSES!

Next up for me (watching it right now): a panel called CARIBBEAN FANTASY, with the wonderful, WONDERFUL Brandon O’Brien moderating. (I got to meet Brandon at WorldCon last year in Ireland, and his poetry MADE ME WEEP!)

Other speakers are Tracey Baptiste and Karlo Yeager Rodriguez! Rodriguez is originally from Puerto Rico, is now in Maryland (amongst, he says, the cows). His most recently publication in Uncanny Magazine is “This Is Not My Adventure.”

This is Baptiste’s first WFC. She is originally from Trinidad and Tobago, and now lives in New Jersey. (No cows around her, but lots of forest preserves.) Her first novel is Angel’s Grace, mostly writes for children–picture books through adults–and is probably best known for the Jumbie Series, a trilogy. She also writes short stories for adults.

After this panel, I’m going straightway to POETIC FANTASY, where I hope Brandon O’Brien will make me cry again, and also Mary Soon Lee in it and I LOVE HER STUFF.

Other speakers in POETIC FANTASY include new-to-me Holly Lyn Walrath, Mandy D. Chew, C. H. Lindsay, and JayRod Garrett moderating.

At five-thirty, Ken Schneyer is reading, and I MUST attend that! His new short story collection just came out this year, and Carlos and I both had the honor of blurbing it: Anthems Outside Time: and Other Strange Voices.

Then come my own two panels, at 6 and 7 (Eastern) respectively:

Tell Me a Story: Audiobooks and There’s Comedy in my Fantasy!

Then I’m going to take a break until Kathleen Jennings’ reading at 9 PM, because I can’t miss that, or I will ANGRY-GOAT-FAINT!

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World Fantasy: Thursday

So far at the World Fantasy Convention, I:

– caught a part of the Amazon, Goodreads, NetGalley, and Edelweiss, Oh My! panel

– saw Sheree Renée Thomas, Ellen Datlow, Ann VanderMeer, Rich Horton, and Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald in “A Gathering of Voices: The Importance of Anthologies.”

(OH, AND I JUST GOT THE WORDPLAY IN THE TITLE–HA!)

The energy, rapidity, experimentation, and range of the short story being celebrated by powerful editors still excited by the work was pretty great!

– downloaded a bunch of books in my virtual book bag, including:

  • Maurice Broaddus’s Pimp My Airship
  • S. Quiouyi Lu’s Inhalations
  • an anthology called The Devil’s Ways
  • an issue of Uncanny Magazine
  • Small Gods
  • Beautiful Venom
  • a poetry sample of Mary Soon Lee’s Sign of the Dragon

…oh, you know. Stuff.

– chatted away with Sharon Shinn in Facebook private messages JUST LIKE CATCHING HER IN THE HALLWAY AND DRAGGING HER AWAY FOR TEA (not easy to find people at this con) (apparently they’re trying to get a Discord up by tomorrow)

– went and bought the Dominion anthology because I liked what Ekpeki Oghenechovwe Donald had to say on the anthologies panel

– And then I watched the Queering Fantasy panel with Cheryl Morgan, Corry L. Lee, S. Qiouyi Lu, and Jerome Stueart. Love the subtlety of queer representation in a work of art vs queer ideology in a work of art.

– opening ceremonies now

Gonna hop off to watch Kenesha Williams ROCK her Author Guest of Honor slot at J9 Vaughn’s NO SHUSH SALON, which I adore. Carlos and I have been guests there before.

And then I’ll try to catch Matt Kressel’s reading, and the latter part of Black Women in Fantasy.

ETA: THE MATT KRESSEL READING WAS AMAZING! I NEED THAT NOVELLA! It’s something like Trash Junker Jess or Space Junk Jess or something–no, it’s SPACE TRUCKER JESS–but it’s a working title, so whatever, and anyway, it MUST BE MINE!

Also, I caught the last half of Black Women in Fantasy, with Sheree Renée Thomas (thunder and lightning and ancient futures!), Eugen Bacon (so deeply in love with words and playfulness), Christine Taylor-Butler (I always like to hear her speak; so smart!!!), and Nkenna Onwuzuruoha (wonderful moderator, deeply listening to everything everyone was saying).

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Slow Structures, Growing in the Dark

I was not seven minutes into the High Strangeness podcast before I’d turned it off and was making notes for The Devil and Lady Midnight.

I’m not exactly COMMITTED to writing it. Not yet. In my mind, my sole commitment is to my novel edits. But at night, when I’d normally be playing Scrabble while listening to the same Georgette Heyer book for the umpteenth time “to relax,” or whatever, if I happen to try something new, like this podcast, and it happens to make me sit down with my journal and jot some notes long-hand, that is… is actually a relief.

It doesn’t feel like work. It feels like getting away with something.

So. The Devil and Lady Midnight.

Is it going to be serialized radio/podcast theatre? Is it going to be serialized live Zoom-specific theatre? Is it going to be a play in eight short shocking sections? I STILL DON’T KNOW.

But I think I have a structure.

And I have the old, old one-act whence the story seed arises.

It is the cause, it is the cause, my soul.

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What We’re Reading

It helps, picking up Don Quixote again after watching a few a Harley Quinn episodes. I suspect it would’ve helped, too, if we’d watched a few, say, Coyote and Roadrunner episodes from Looney Tunes.

These guys get SO BEAT UP in EVERY CHAPTER.

They are jumped upon, bludgeoned, cracked over the head with lanterns, and—most lately—tossed on a blanket by a bunch mule drivers with too much time on their hands and a spare corral.

Anyway, I thought CANDIDE was violent!

But if I only imagine it as a cartoon, it’s totally okay. Even—or maybe especially—when poor Sancho begins to “erupt from both channels,” when he drinks Quixote’s “magic elixir.”

But before we read a chapter of THAT, we read the first section of Piranesi, when the three tides came in. We are going to read it in short sections like that. Like poetry.

And speaking of poetry, we began two of the five nominees for the National Book Award in poetry:

●“A Treatise on Stars,” by Mei-mei Berssenbrugge (New Directions)
●“Fantasia for the Man in Blue,” by Tommye Blount (Four Way)

We are waiting for these to arrive:

●“DMZ Colony,” by Don Mee Choi (Wave)
●“Borderland Apocrypha,” by Anthony Cody (Omnidawn)
●“Postcolonial Love Poem,” by Natalie Diaz (Graywolf)

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All Our Projects, Past and Present

October is such a big month!

This last weekend was the first ever FIYAHcon, and it was stunning to behold. I wasn’t there all weekend, but I caught a few panels (my husband Carlos Hernandez moderated one on Middle Grade SFF, and I really wanted to catch the Usurping Lovecraft panel, which I heard was an incredible success), the big interview with GoH Rebecca Roanhorse, the Ignyte Awards (hosted by Jesse of Bowties and Books; they were COMPLETELY charming, plus dog!), and the closing ceremony. It was enough to make me wish I’d been screen-locked to it beginning to end.

Hopefully, when FIYAHcon meets in MeatSpace, I can attend and devote all my attention to it, for there will be no other distractions, nor the haze of ZoomFatigue. Such great, good work.

Ah, and if you have not yet subscribed to FIYAH Magazine, now is really the time! I have their JOY issue queued up and ready to be read on my Kindle. One can also donate to support their work!

One of my favorite things I did this month was host an EPIC Read-Along-A-Thon of Kathleen Jenning’s Travelogues: Vignettes of Trains in Motion. We had 21 people show up, from all across the U. S. and Australia, and 14 people took turns reading the text, which I’d divided into stanzas and color-coded the stanzas so as to assign the colors to “passengers.”

Since there are nine vignettes, we called each of the vignettes “journeys,” and Carlos and my roommate Mir (a New York City director) played the train conductors, ushering us in and out of the trains. It was pretty joyous.

At the end of September, Mir and I collaborated on making an audiobook together. She directed a collection of some of my shorter work–erotic fairytales and dark fantasy–called The Witch in the Almond Tree and Others Stories.

It was my first time working with a really hands-on director, and her first time directing an audiobook, so we both learned so much from each other and the experience. Every day it got more and more fun, especially since the material we were working with was pretty… phew. RAMBUNCTIOUS.

I plan to release the ebook collection on Amazon in about a week or so, and shortly thereafter, the audiobook on Audible. Though I have a little experience in self-publishing, I am still experiencing a bit of a learning curve here, but thankfully, I know many smart people with many skills. My brother Jeremy Cooney engineered and produced the audiobook, and my friend Brett Massé designed both the cover and layout. I am looking forward to sharing this with you.

Meanwhile, I am almost 2/3s of the way done with my novel edits for Saint Death’s Daughter. Well, initial novel edits, I’m sure. I have been writing this book for so, so long. I’ve done so many drafts: first, on my own, then after several rounds of beta-readers, then as it went through its Great Agent Rounds, and now with an Actual Editor Under Contract! It is easy to slump, to think, I have been writing this FOREVER. (10 years is a LONG TIME!) And will it EVER END? But at the same time, I am deeply aware that 1.) the work is STILL pleasurable (and it hasn’t always been), and 2.) It keeps–wildly–getting better.

I just… I also have other projects I want to work on. (Like the next in that series!)

One thing that’s been percolating lately (I think I mentioned it a blog or so ago) is taking an old idea for a stage play I was developing with Marissa McKown in Chicago and turning it into a, let’s see, maybe radio play series. Maybe 8 episodes. Like a mini-series. I’m going to listen to a few of the latest, greatest innovations, see what’s up, and see if I can explode out the old idea into a new form.

I even know the title:

THE DEVIL AND LADY MIDNIGHT.

Let me brainstorm episode titles off the top of my head, just for fun, right here and now:

Episode One: Coming Soon to an Underground Near You
Episode Two: Happy Birthday, Mr. Og
Episode Three: That Insolent Bastard of the Garden
Episode Four: Desire is a Broken Pomegranate
Episode Five: The Ruins Our Voices Leave Us
Episode Six: Az, What is That Singing?
Episode Seven: Lady Midnight, Clothed in Flame
Episode Eight: Lucy Lumen Takes a Train to Nowhere

Well, that was fun.

Anyway, then there’s my whole Distant Stars album project, and my whole Dark Breakers collection idea, not to mention those two novellas–Fiddle and I Shall Make a Ruin of Myself–that I drafted last year that I’d love to dive back into and get on the market. As well as… well, Carlos and I are very excited about some developments with our game Negocios Infernales, but more than that I cannot say for now.

As Ysabeau Wilce‘s redoubtable Flora Segunda would quote the Coyote Queen as saying, “There’s no way out but through.”

And so–back to my edits.

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