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Observation Journal — story patterns

Kathleen Jennings has the MOST extraordinary mind! I love her observation posts about story structure. I mean, I love everything about her, really. Read her books. Buy her art. But also, THIS POST!

Kathleen Jennings

This observation journal page continues a previous activity, playing with story structures.

I read through a few more short stories and made notes of the big segment-moods through which the stories moved. I was trying to think of these shapes separate from those stories, but I do wish I’d made a note of what stories they were! One of them was an M.R. James.

Double handwritten page of observation journal. On left page, 5 things seen, heard, and done, and a picture of a toy rabbit. On the right, notes on story structures.
Rosettes of lichen, ants in an apple.
(The page number at the top right should refer to p115 instead of 111 — this system is useful but not infallible).

If this approach to thinking about stories (written or drawn!) resonates with you, I encourage you to make your own list based on short stories you like. But for completeness, here are all the short story shapes from this page and the previous one:

  • Ordinary — inkling — confirmation
  • Reluctance — engagement — deepening
  • Humorous sketch…

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Mellification! IT EXISTS!

I just wanted to say that today, while writing, I REALLY wanted the word “Mellification” to exist, but I didn’t know that it did, so I went on a deep-dive etymological search!

I started with “mel,” which I knew meant honey (because of the French “miel” and also because of “mellifluous”) and trying to find the roots of “saponify,” which means to turn something into soap (it turns out I didn’t need the “sapon”/soap part, just the “ify” part, which comes from the Latin facere, “to make.”)



Well, and also to this gem, within said article:

“Mellification is a mostly obsolete term for the production of honey, or the process of honeying something, from the Latin mellificāre (“to make honey”), or mel (“honey”). The Ancient Greek word mélissa (μέλισσα) means “bee; honeybee; (poetic) honey”.

I needed this word for SALISSAY’S LAUNDRIES, because of what happens to human blood when it is afflicted with gentry enchantment. It turns to honey, you see. Or at least grows sweeter, and sometimes sparkles in the dark, and, well, does other strange things when, for example, injected into mice. BUT YOU’LL SEE!

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Salissay’s Laundries: Research Tabs (and Teasers)

I’m having so much fun writing Salissay’s Laundries–or maybe, I should say, researching it–that I must simply share all my currently opened tabs on the subject. FOR POSTERITY.

I’m currently almost 5000 words in, and probably just about halfway done. It will be one of the three new stories in my Dark Breakers collection, along with “Longergreen” and “Susurra to the Moon,” as well as the revisions and expansions of “The Breaker Queen” and “The Two Paupers.”

I haven’t done any huge, specific announcements about Dark Breakers yet, or a cover reveal, but that should be coming soon.

But while I’m here, DO let me share! This isn’t the extent of it by ANY MEANS, since I also close tabs when I’m done with them, but here’s today’s sampling:


London Lives 1690-1800: Crime, Poverty, and Social Policy in the Metropolis: Workhouses Article

Workhouses of the Georgian era (Wikipedia)

The Representation of the Workhouse in 19th Century Culture (PDF)

Seventy-Four Years in the Workhouse

The Workhouse: Story of an Institution (A Tour)

The Workhouse: Story of an Institution (St. Pancras)

Ten Facts About Irish Workhouses


(I have done a lot of reading about these over the last few years, so these next few are really just a sampling.)

Magdalene Laundries in Ireland (Wikipedia)

Atlas of Lost Rooms: ‘Asylum’ on the site of the Sean MacDermott St Laundry since 1822. 

History Collection: These Religious Prisons Turned Orphans, Young Girls, and Pregnant Women into Slaves Inside Convent Walls (This was AMAZING and has a whole link tree to further reading that I found FASCINATING!)

Inwood’s Old Magdalene Asylum

New York Times’s “A Blot on Ireland’s Past, Facing Demolition”

The Last Days of a Laundry

Abbotsford Convent: Magdalen Laundry

Mother and Baby Homes Commission of Investigation (Wikipedia)




Bad Money: Ancient Counterfeiters and Their Fake Coins (ALL THIS RESEARCH BUT I HAD TO CUT THE METAPHOR! Ah, well. Maybe I can recycle it some day!)

Here’s from my cut file:

After a lifelong career as an investigative journalist, I am—if you will excuse the seeming boast—a woman considered above reproach, ruthless in the pursuit of Truth, firmly on the side of the People. But I do not believe that there is such a thing as “above reproach,” the other side of that old, tarnished “fallen women” coin. Beware this stuffed coin! It is a counterfeit! A fake! False scrip! I, like you, dear reader, am human. Ignorance and imperfection are part of this mortal coil. When I make a mistake in my reporting, I print a correction. Sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes the damage is already done. When I harm someone, I apologize and try to make amends. This does not mean my apology will be accepted, or that the amends will, in fact, compensate for the hurt I caused.

Scientific American: Of Lice and Men: An Itchy History’s “Lousy Heirlooms”

Finally, I will leave you with a snippet from today’s draft. Now, don’t get too excited or critical. It’s a first draft. Things change. Like my false money metaphor that I loved and lost. (See above.)

Yet there was a rhythm in that washing room, a song within that thunderous noise. It was a song of celebration, a proud song; it lauded human invention and human industry. I found it overwhelming and also beautiful. If I did believe in the gentry, I could also believe that this song could cure whatever spell they set upon me. It took over me bodily, worked me harder than I was perhaps willing to work, and left me, by my luncheon, wrung-out and elated.

But I did not mean to waste the rest of my afternoon breathing steam and elbow-deep in suds. I meant to go exploring. And so, on an exploratory journey to the toilets, I found my way into the Infirmary, the Kitchen, and lastly, to the Confinement Room, where a pregnant young woman was bound to the iron rails of her bed by manacles of iron.

She looked at me, and I thought for a moment I could see her eyes glow green in the dark, like a wolf’s, before she turned her face away. But I approached  her nevertheless.

“Can I help you?” I asked softly. The closer I came to her, the less I smelled the overpowering odor of the room—old blood and sour milk and the fug that settles in an inner chamber with no windows or ducts to conduct air into or through it—and the more I smelled a scent like cream and violets, like lavender and wine, like antique silk and new-cut grass and heavy velvet and crushed autumn leaves.

“You?” she asked, turning once again those strange (sea-glass) eyes upon me. “What can you do, mortal?”

“I—” I began, but that is when I was caught. 

“Miss Dee, is it?” asked a kindly voice behind me. I say “kindly” but it was a kindness that chilled all the nerves running through my spine, till I felt my vertebrae crackle like icicles.

“Her Holiness the Abbess Caelestis the Fifth will see you now.”


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Highlights from Ig Nobel Prize–winning studies and patents are presented in dramatic mini-readings by luminaries and experts (in some field).

Saturday, August 14th, 8 PM

Duration: 1 HOUR





In an 2019 essay in Nature Sylvia Spruck Wrigley wrote about the dearth of older female characters in science fiction, the treatment of the few who do exist, and how those trends reflect the ageism, sexism, and other biases of the here and now. How can we change this dynamic? What can science fiction learn from fantasy, which often includes wise and powerful older women—and why hasn’t science fiction borrowed those ideas and characters already?

Sunday, August 15th, 3 PM

Duration: 1 HOUR





I will be reading from my forthcoming novel SAINT DEATH’S DAUGHTER!

Sunday, August 15th, 3:30 PM

Duration: 30 Minutes (really, it’s more like 22!)

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Concordance, Conschmordance

One of the MOST FUN THINGS about writing in the same world for a thousand years–stories that take place in different countries, in different parts of the timeline, some of it history and some of it myth and all of it in translation, but same damn world nonetheless–is that you get to reference yourself all the time and it’s all these little jokes EVERYWHERE.

Like Twice-Drowned Saint has this section that talks about two movies, but the two movies are two of my old stories (one of them in Bone Swans), and some of the first fiction I ever published: “Life on the Sun” and “Godmother Lizard.”

There’s a character in Saint Death’s Daughter, Havoc, who is loosely related to the Jack o’ the Hills stories. And my short story “From the Archives of the Museum of Eerie Skins,” forthcoming with Uncanny Magazine, has cameos from “The Witch in the Almond Tree” characters.

And don’t get me started on all the Dark Breakers references.


This bit (below) was always in THE TWO PAUPERS, but now I’ve made it even CHEEKIER, and only those who’ve read BONE SWANS (and who remember it) will get it.

Also, THIS TIME, I added in an artist that I’ve named after my friend Lea Grover (author of Becoming SuperMommy). I used to model for Lea, back in Chicago. She’s got my butt up in her living room.

Lea, I think, would fit right into the Dark Breakers world. She’d certainly ROCK the Voluptuist movement of the New Century. She’d be one of the premier artists of Seafall, and give Elliot Howell a run for his money. And HE’D be HER biggest fan. So there.


“Desdemona had opted to dress as the iconic Swan Princess from legend, Dora Rose. Everyone knew the story; it was the sort of thing Voluptuist artists scarfed up like cheap wine and day-old bread. There were several famous paintings on the subject. (Gideon favored Leha Borgrove’s watercolor-and-inks over Elliot’s oils; Elliot tended to idealize the female and animal form, but Leha wasn’t afraid to make her swan girls ugly, mighty, and mean.) There was also a ballet (which Gideon had never seen), an opera (which he loathed), and a play that Ana had written for the Seafall Fringe Festival (which he had gone to watch every night, although Ana didn’t know that).”

– “The Two Paupers”: Revised and Expanded for Dark Breakers

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Our “Sinisterversary”!

PARTY TIME! Authors C. S. E. Cooney, Jessica P. Wick, Amanda J. McGee & Mike Allen celebrate the one-year birthday of A SINISTER QUARTET!

Dear Fellow Readers,

Last year, mid-pandemic, Mythic Delirium put out an anthology called A Sinister Quartet: four long fictions falling under the “weird dark fantasy and horror” category.

Some stories were inspired by fairy tales, some by myth, some by nightmare, and we are celebrating all of them in our one-year anniversary celebration!


To get in the mood, we have the authors’ playlists for their stories, recipes based on their stories, and even drinks! Egad!

If you’ve already read the book and feel like dressing up like your favorite characters, that is totally welcome. The authors are already plotting to do the same for each other!

Register for your Free Ticket, and at noon on the day of the event, you’ll get your Zoom link for that evening!

More About the Authors!

C. S. E. Cooney is the World Fantasy Award-winning author of Bone Swans: Stories. In early 2022, her novel, Saint Death’s Daughter, will be forthcoming from Solaris , as well as her new short fiction collection, Dark Breakers, from Mythic Delirium.
Jessica P. Wick is a writer, poet, and editor. She co-founded Goblin Fruit with Amal El-Mohtar, a quarterly e-zine of fantastical poetry, and is a passionate advocate for the reading aloud of poetry and fiction. Her poetry has been nominated for the Rhysling Award and received honorable mentions in Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. Her short fiction can be found scattered across the internet.
Amanda J. McGee is a mapmaker by day and a writer by night. She has degrees from Hollins University and Virginia Tech, where she studied languages, politics, and infrastructure. She is the author of the fantasy series The Creation Saga, one half of the podcast Pop Fizz!, and blogs weekly on books, movies, anime, and writing advice.

Mike Allen, publisher at Mythic Delirium Books, is the editor of Mythic Delirium and Clockwork Phoenix. His horror story collection Unseaming was nominated for the Shirley Jackson Award and contained a finalist for the Nebula Award for short fiction. His most recent collection of verse, Hungry Constellations, was a Suzette Haden Elgin Award nominee. Allen also is the the arts and culture columnist for the Roanoke Times.

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Our Mermaid Story is LIVE!

Hey, hey, hey! Carlos and I are IN THIS ONE!

Issue #4 of MERMAIDS MONTHLY features our collaboration story, “A Minnow, or Perhaps a Colossal Squid,” which takes place on La Isla de las Mariposas, at the court of Reina Ténebra–and also in the depths of the sea, amongst the Sirenas of Garganta!

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Locus Magazine! Reviews! My audiobook! The Witch in the Almond Tree!

First of all, this whole Locus Magazine review by Amy Goldschlager is SO GREAT and it makes me SO HAPPY that Iof course recommend you just CLICK THROUGH AND READ IT AND SHARE MY GIDDY JOY!

This is the quote that Locus chose to tweet about, which makes me LOL my PANTS OFF!

I wrote a little bit about the process here.

This WITCH IN THE ALMOND TREE audiobook is a very dear project to me.

I, with my friend, New York director Miriam Grill, who’s been living with us throughout the pandemic, decided to make a little experimental audiobook in our downtime last year. (It was all downtime last year.) (I mean, I exaggerate. We managed to keep very busy. But as for making my living as a voice actor? That… didn’t happen. At all.)

Mir wanted experience directing audiobooks–she mostly directs for stage (well, and also sometimes for VR, and now for Zoom, and now for film; she’s very intrepid!)–and I wanted to put something new into the world. Also I wanted to work again with my awesome brother, Jeremy Cooney, and also with designer Brett Massé, and… well, you see where I’m going?

So we recorded this in Carlos’s and my bedroom at Queens, in a sort of tent fort/cubicle made of blankets and bookshelves, and Mir directed it, and my brother edited and produced it, and Brett did the cover, and Carlos was VERY GENEROUS as patron and supporter of THE ARTS, and here you have it!

Other than narrating Francesca Forrest’s Gown of Harmonies for her ongoing charity for the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts last year, and sometimes narrating a few short stories for podcasts, I don’t usually record from home these days. I like going into a studio and just… being the “talent,” you know? (I suspect I’m just lazy.)

Also, the amount of toilet flushing, raucous blue jays, roaring of the (Wyrm of) LIRR, planes taking off and descending from BOTH JFK AND LA GUARDIA, and the spontaneous construction (drilling, hammering, grinding, etc) that just APPEARS OUT OF NO WHERE the MOMENT you start recording, you wouldn’t even believe!

But 2020 was… well, was 2020.

And we all did what we could with what we had.

And now Amy Goldschlager has listened to our little erotic fairy tale collection audiobook, and she has written about it in Locus, and it is all SUCH an honor, and a DELIGHT, and I am SO HAPPY.

You can buy it here, if you want!

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Mi Caballero Infernal

for Carlos Hernandez

most days he is mostly human,
or seems so:

writes dexterously, swears joyously, wears sweatshirts,
checks his iPhone, showers daily, bemoans the need for spectacles,
promenades amongst a virtual professoriate, holds office hours on Zoom,
drinks more coffee than is good for him, eats only cereal (except
when he comes flirting for a sweet thing, that he,
in his wisdom, requests I hide from him, in some dark corner
of my wardrobe, or high up on a shelf that is
mine alone, that he pretends he cannot see or reach).

you know.
normal things.

but then,
there are other signs,
some, extremely subtle:

a rectangular dent (only present in a certain
mood of mischief) appearing in the flesh beneath his left eyeball;
a tendency to prance or cannonball or piggyback–
with no provocation or otherwise word of warning–
and demand, in altered voice, “an ostrich with a diamond collar!
a ruby monkey! a zombie chicken with rockstar eyes, wheezing
with the agony of the damned!”
to bare his throat and bay for meat: rare, bloody;
for lujo rum in a dark and dusty bottle;
for a rainy day in Canada with a fine cigar; or,
spinning on his heel–pouncing!–he stares at me
with all the earnestness of a capricious spirit, and offers
anything–everything!–name a gift, he says–
“name it–and I’ll put a girdle round the Earth in forty minutes!”
as his eyes begin to glow,
not so subtly,
in the dark.

this is when I begin to suspect,
slowly and with circumspection
(with a growing sense of having thought this all before–
thought, yes, and been made to forget):

that it was not a man I married.
not an ordinary man.

no ordinary man.

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For Bek, on Her Birthday

First, to celebrate you, Bek Huston, I drew four cards from the Baraja del Destino, from our game Negocios Infernales.

You are the artist of these cards. Carlos and I are in constant awe of your rapidity, your cheerfulness, your thunderous talent, your ability to revise, and your glorious collaboration skills.

Without you, none of these cards would exist, and neither would the game as we know it.

Second, to celebrate you, Bek Huston–I adjure you, Tattooed People of the Midwest: make an appointment at her shop!

Third, to celebrate you, Bek Huston, I take these cards you helped us make, and I write you these four mini-poems:

Genius Prefers Effort Over Genius

in your veins run 
dreams like spilt ink
strange constellations scratched
on the bruised back of the sky
sleeping, you smile
with the Mona Lisa serenity
of a world-weary Sun
how art can break
a body open
one needle at a time

Where Have You Gone, O My Skeleton?

when your treacherous left arm 

how you sat up, 
and spilled 
extravagant kaleidoscope oracles 
from your right? 

Pain is the Opposite of Thought

for the woman 
who wields needles
for the woman 
who works miracles
for the woman 
who riddles the dermis with holes 
to flood our subsurface with color and 
codify our memories in flesh 

for this woman
I wish 
a sanguine clarity 
an easing of anxiety 
a handshake between her shadow-self 
and the lamp of power 
that is her living body

The Soul Loves All. The Mind, But Some.

let she who has been shushed
hush the lips
of the loudest
let she who has been bound
her broken shackles
let she who has been erased
stitch her place
in the stars
the west wind our witness
the east wind our witness
the south wind our witness
the north wind our witness

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