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!
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.
There are eight groups of usefulness in a Medieval garden.
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 laughing the next morning.
something. something had occurred.
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?”
suddenly, 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 blow-your-brains-out-best-of-NYC 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
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
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.
astonishing. four years, and I’ve only just learnt this. what’s next? what will I love most next?
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 Tor.com–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.
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.
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.
O WOE (like WHOA) WAS ME!
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.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Hated it as a teenager. Loved it in my late twenties. Now have very fond memories of my late twenties. And very confused memories of myself puffed up on feelings of superiority and loathing at the age of 15. Where did that even come from?
Black tea with honey and milk. I don’t even remember a time when I didn’t like it. But my friend and former boss Katie assured me that when I started working at her bookstore in my early twenties, I scoffed at the idea of hot black tea with things in it. (I always drank iced tea straight.) Um. I now drink hot black tea with honey and milk or almond milk every day. WHAT WAS I THINKING?
The second half of Stephen King’s IT. I realized upon a later re-read that it’s not so much the second half. I just like all the parts with the kids in it better. But those parts sort of flow through the adult parts.
Cussing. Oh, how infinitely superior I felt, flinging pure purple lightning streaks of Shakespearean-level insults at my friends instead of using the more common vulgarities of the four-letter word variety. Now I just like it all. Deadwood maybe does it best.
Jim Carey. I mean, dude was everywhere, and everyone was talking like him, and everything you heard was “Allrightythen” and “Do NOT go in there!” and I maybe sort of projected my weariness with imitation and repetition onto the actor. But then I read an amazing article by Steve Martin on the physical comedy genius of Jim Carey, and I realized I was being a jerk IN MY OWN HEAD.
Jeans. I still only own one pair. But I think they’re COOL. I put them on when I want to feel incognito, but with a hint of adventure and do-anything-ness.
I’m sure there were more things. So much more. But it’s nice to know I’ve grown up some by age 37.
It is March 1st, and I am 420 pages into my new revisions. Out of 670. 250 left. I’d like to get through them in 20 days.
That’s 12 and a half pages a day, which doesn’t seem like much considering it’s revisions. Not, like, an entire rewrite. Right? Except for some chapters. A lot of them. And most sentences. You know.
I also have copyedits due for DESDEMONA AND THE DEEP . . . soon. Three days? Must look. Oh, and acknowledgements! Well! Today’s the day I print that MS out, just watch me. March crept on fast. I’ve been busy making lasagna, I guess.
Rick Riordan had the most FANTASTIC idea for the Sal and Gabi Book Birthday. He said everyone who has a copy should dress up as their ALTERNATE SELVES and take SELFIES! I’ve been thinking–who’s my alternate self (or one of them) and what would they wear and what would they even THINK of Sal and Gabi???
The whole thing’s got me thinking about my own book launch for DESDEMONA. Carlos and I had the idea of throwing a Gentry Moon Masquerade somewhere, and everyone can come dressed up as their Gentry/Goblin/or fabulous human haute-couture selves. When? We don’t know. Sometime in July, most likely. Book is out July 23rd. Where would we even hold such a thing?
Hadn’t I just read Tooth and Claw last year on Jessica Wick’s recommendation?! Yes! AND LOVED IT!
The book was Starlings, a collection of short stories and poetry originally put out by Tachyon Publications.
The more I read the email, the more excited I grew. It included this NPR review first thing in the synopsis:
“Starlings isn’t really a short-story collection. It’s something better: a written showreel, illustrating yet again that [Walton’s] imagination stretches to the stars (or the starlings), and that she’s endlessly inventive in finding new methods to express it.”―NPR Books.
Believe you me, I lost no time in telling Tantor YES!
In fact I might have said, very solemnly, that it would be my honor, and that Jo Walton is one of the scions of our genre.
Yes, I said “scion” to the casting director. I don’t know what came over me. JO WALTON!
So, come the end of December 2018–the 26th to be exact–I commuted my usual three hours to the studio in Old Saybrook, and spent three intensely delicious days mouth-deep in Walton’s prose.
I stayed over in a local bed and breakfast. I looked forward to waking up every morning and getting right to work. It was like being handed a slice of Krampus cake! It was like discovering the Yule log was made of CHOCOLATE. So delicious.
One of my favorite things about Starlings is that it is less like your typical single-author short story collection and more like a writer’s workshop–tool box, wood shavings, concept art and all–spread out in front of you for your pleasure and perusal. Structure experiments, POV experiments, form poetry, a play, short stories that were more like extended jokes, short stories that might have been the seeds of novels, and some stories that cut so deep they are with me still.
I felt like the collection was an act of generosity on the author’s part, as if Walton were telling us: “Here are some things I made. Here’s a bit about how I made them. Hey, isn’t this poem fun? And yes, Cooney, I’m afraid you DO have to narrate a 90 minute play with GREAT DOZENS of mythic characters ALL by yourself, just as if you were Mel Blanc in a Looney Toons cartoon–have FUN!”
Okay, maybe she didn’t say that last bit. Maybe that was more what my brain said to me. Maybe a little TOO gleefully, truth be told.
Also–BONUS!–I got to co-narrate Starlings with Rudy Sanda. We’ve been two voices on the same book before–a multi-POV piece of Canadian fiction called Republic of Dirt.
Just because we narrators happen to co-narrate a book doesn’t mean we ever get to see each other; a narrator’s life is solitary. We (happily) spend our days in a little black box, talking to ourselves. (BEST JOB!)
But we DO bump into each other in the halls. Rudy always seems to be the first narrator at the studio and the last one to leave. I find it very comforting to pass by his recording booth, and hear the wild, wide array of voices he has mastery over, and his relentless pursuit of perfection. Apparently, Rudy has some of the fewest pickups of all narrators, like, ever. In the whole history of ever. I am so excited to share voices on this book with him!
Today is Starlings‘ audiobook birthday. And I am just so proud to have been part of its realization in this world. I want to thank Jo Walton and thank Tantor and thank SCIENCE FICTION ITSELF for the opportunity.