The Most Perfect Book to Ever Book: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

If you crossed Catherynne Valente with N.K. Jemisin, you might be lucky enough to get something almost as extravagantly epic as Saint Death’s …

The Most Perfect Book to Ever Book: Saint Death’s Daughter by C. S. E. Cooney

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Saint Death’s Daughter by C S E Cooney (ARC)

A copy of this book was very kindly provided me by the publisher. I can’t promise that this didn’t influence my feelings about it, but a book is a …

Saint Death’s Daughter by C S E Cooney (ARC)

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Upcoming Events (Virtual and Otherwise)

Friday April 8th: (virtual) Writers in the Air
8 PM EST

Authors Lisa Bradley, C. S. E. Cooney, Vida Cruz, Gwynne Garfinkle, Carlos Hernandez & Cassandra Khaw read to you from work published in 2021 and 2022.

Register for free at our Eventbrite Page!

Thursday April 14th (virtual): Kew and Willow Panel: Expanding Fantasy: How the New Garde of SFF Writers is Making SFF More Inclusive
Thursday, 4/13 at 7 PM EST

Authors Rob Cameron, C. S. E. Cooney, Anya Josephs, Mimi Mondal, and Carlos Hernandez (moderator) talk about SFF and representation, hosted by Kew and Willow Bookstore.

Register on Kew and Willow’s Crowdcast!

April 22nd-24th (IN PERSON!!!) Planet Comic Con Kansas City

Carlos and I will be hanging out with our publishers at Outland Entertainment, demoing our TTRPG Negocios Infernales, and perhaps a few other events. More info to come!

May 6th, 6 PM: (IN PERSON!!!) Saint Death’s Daughter Author Talk and Q&A (and kind of my BOOK LAUNCH!) at The Savoy in Westerly!

Soon, soon, SOON–on April 12th in the States and April 14th in the UK–the decade-and-a-half work that is my novel Saint Death’s Daughter will be OUT IN THE WORLD!

Hopefully, we shall be celebrating that in OH SO MANY WAYS! One of them is our in-person BOOK LAUNCH with my friends in Westerly (and hopefully, from New London, Norwich, Kingston, and maybe a few folks from around Providence and Boston, if one can entice them out!)

I AM SO EXCITED TO SEE MY FRIENDS AND CELEBRATE IN MY FAVORITE TOWN IN THE WORLD!

You can pre-order Saint Death’s Daughter from The Savoy (my former local indie bookstore when I lived in Westerly, workplace of the GREAT JESSICA P. WICK), or from Kew and Willow (my current local indie bookstore). Or from YOUR local indie bookstore! Or to support indie bookstores at bookshop.org! Or from any of these places that our Simon and Schuster distributors list!

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Seeress at Dawn

A poem for Sharon Shinn

Inspired by the Elemental Blessings she drew on March 28th, 2022, precisely 11 hours before this was written

the seeress sleeps on her couch of coins
lumpy pillow, cold, but comfort still
each coin of a thousand etched in blessings
some fresh-minted, most tarnished
a scattering as ghost-worn as she

she wakes, stretches
her skin freshly impressed
with wave, wind, wood
fire and earth
(and also the extraordinary)

before these red marks fade
before this aubade of temporary tattoos
plump themselves forgotten
she takes stock of what must not be taken for granted:
time, triumph, synthesis
the great powers of intellect and integrity
of restlessness, of serenity
soft graces and invisible benisons
the bedrock floating between lake and lava
and steadiness
and breathing

she rises, our seeress
goes about her duty
sore from sleeping on so many bright blessings
raw from such a sound sleep
such a round and cutting sleep
far from the downy comforts of childhood
and the wide mattresses of wilder years
far, even, from the vigil pallet laid down near sickbeds
she rises, leaves her couch of coins
trailing blessings
from the hem of her night rail

after all her many beds
in all her many houses
this is what is left: her temple
bone and blood, breath and thought
and this flesh
that moves more slowly now
deliberate, and with such care
all but bruised with blessings

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Dark Breakers: Blurb and Review Round-Up

Cover art by Brett Massé

Dark Breakers is on sale in many, many places books are found. Ask your local indie, or take your pick from:

Hardcover: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon FR | Amazon DE | Amazon AU | Bookshop

Trade Paperback: Barnes & Noble | Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon FR | Amazon DE | Amazon AU | Bookshop

Ebook: Amazon | Amazon UK | Amazon CA | Amazon FR | Amazon DE
Amazon AU | Nook | iBooks | Kobo | Google Play | Weightless


BLURBS

“Welcome to a Gilded Era like you’ve never before known and will never be able to forget. C. S. E. Cooney’s Dark Breakers will transfix and transform you, and, should you chance upon its characters in a glittering hallway, you had best be wearing your fanciest moonlight, and be ready to dance. If Titania herself were to commission a book, it would be this one.”

—Fran Wilde, two-time Nebula Award-winning author of Updraft and Riverland

“C. S. E. Cooney’s prose is like a cake baked by the fairies—beautifully layered, rich and precise, so delicious that it should be devoured with a silver fork. Since you can’t eat Dark Breakers, I suggest you read it slowly, savoring every slice. And if it gives you strange dreams—well, what did you expect of fairy cake?”

—Theodora Goss, World Fantasy and Mythopoeic Award-winning author of The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series

Dark Breakers is a magnificent parure of novellas and matched stories, a suite of jewelled and velvet tales, delicately linked and ferociously glittering. A baroquely intense confection with a core of typewriters and coal fortunes, Dark Breakers is compounded of voluptuous invention and ferocious structural loves—for new romances and old friends, for the works of hands, for mortality and its gifts, and all the possibilities of worlds bleeding, weeping, wandering into each other’s arms.”

—Kathleen Jennings, World Fantasy Award-winning author of Flyaway

“Few people create worlds as lavish and sensual as those that spring from Cooney’s effervescent imagination. Her writing isn’t so much inspirational, but inspiration itself: gentry-magic spun into pages and paragraphs of glittering, fizzing, jaw-dropping beauty.

—Cassandra Khaw, British Fantasy Award-nominated author of The All-Consuming World

REVIEWS

“Throughout, Cooney’s descriptions are extravagant and gorgeous, and the musical cadence of her prose makes it exceptionally easy to be drawn into the worlds she weaves. Though the focus on worldbuilding sometimes eclipses narrative consistency and plot development, the rococo flourishes and delicious sensory description anchor the overarching story nicely as its different strands come together. Romantic fantasy readers will find a lot to love.”

Publisher’s Weekly

“…lovely, extravagant, colorful, passionate–like all of Cooney’s work.”

Rich Horton’s review in Issue 733 of Locus Magazine

“…Cooney is the Mistress of the Liminal; her words and imagery thrive in the borderlands, the middle spaces where wildly different visions of life and creation, different understandings of responsibility and obligation, and different cultures, politics, and systems of power come together in interactions strange, beautiful, and dangerous.”

SFF Librarian’s review on Ancillary Review of Books

“…Cooney loves words. Not love as in the sound of her own voice, but in the willingness and ability to surprise herself, to find not just a serviceable word but — as befitting a love affair — the rapturous one. When I imbibe her rhythmically-composed sentences, her judicious one-liners sharp as Prince’s syncopation (all tied to her enthusiasm for playfulness) I feel her love and am in love myself.”

Zig Zag Claybourne’s “unabashed glee” on Black Gate Magazine

“…This book is jewel-tones and gilt and bells of bone. This book is secrets and yearning, terror and triumph, wonder and wildness. This book is a whisper and a song and a howl…”

Siavahda’s review in Every Book a Doorway

“…Worth the wait. These stories beautifully illustrate the overlapping layers of creativity, love, ambition, and self-identity that propel us as individuals and thus as a society.”

Anthony R. Cardno’s review on anthonyrcardno.com’s Book Reviews

“…I’ve been taking my time reading it, trying to make it last as long as possible because this book is as tasty as ice cream and as dizzying as an entire bottle of wine.”

Kathryn Adams’ review at Pixelated Geek
Illustrations by Brett Massé

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Infernal Boskone: Our Writing Workshop and Game Demos for Negocios Infernales

It is 9:38 PM on Saturday night, and Carlos and I are officially done demo-ing our game Negocios Infernales at Boskone.

The convention was so generous as to give us THREE demo spots, right in the game room. We had any number of tables at our disposal, and three 50-minute spots to show newcomers some of the mechanics, ideas, and mini-games that make up the whole Negocios Infernales TTRPG that we’ve been designing together, forthcoming soon from Outland Entertainment.

Not only did we have demo spots, but they gave us a slot to do a writing workshop called “Using Games to Write,” where we hosted one of our Infernal Salons (as we did at WindyCon in November, and during the Strange Horizons fundraiser in October as well), wherein we drew cards for our participants, set a timer, and wrote to the prompts offered, then immediately took volunteers to read what they had just written aloud. Pretty much everyone who wrote read.

And it was, as usual, surprising and glorious. I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising anymore, but beauty and craftsmanship is always sort of freshly astonishing, isn’t it? Like… you don’t get tired of a really spectacular dawn, no matter how many you’ve seen.

Carlos and I wrote to prompt too, in solidarity. I was going to type mine up here for you, but both he and Robert V. S. Redick insisted over dinner that it need just a bit of polish to be complete flash story… And that I needed to send it out for publication and thus not put it on my blog, so… Sorry.

However! I wanted to share with you two of the different Character Creation sheets I made during two of our demos. The first demo was so full that all Carlos and I had to do was run them all through the act of Character Creation, but for demos two and three, there were fewer people, so we got to participate. ALWAYS A PLEASURE.


For the afternoon session, I created GOLFILLA “FILLA” DE LA CALLE

With the other players during the “Character Creation” mini-game, we each took turns drawing four cards, one each for MOTIVATION, ROLE IN COURT, MAGIC, AND DOOM. (See below for more about the seven suits of La Baraja del Destino.)

Negocios Infernales is a game where players have perfect information about each other, though the characters may still keep secrets. We can use any part of the card–the suit, the adage, or the image–to inspire our role-playing, or–at this stage–our character creation.

MOTIVATION is your character’s engine: what gets them revved up, what drives them to do what they do, to go where they go, what stops them cold.

I drew a Sangre card that read: You will see your true reflection in the edge of an axe.

My Motivation, therefore, was: Whoever I am, I have never seen it reflected in my own appearance. I wear my skin like an ill-fitting garment, handed down to me from a house of charity, cast off a hundred times till it is mostly patch and vermin. I want better. I want a reflection I find beautiful.

ROLE IN COURT is exactly that: but it is also my secret “Clark Kent-like” identity. La Reina needs a legit reason to keep her secrets wizards around. If word got out that the uber-religious queen of zealous Espada kept wizards in her court, we all would get auto-da-fé’d back into last year (before the aliens came).

I drew a Lágrimas card that read: After the world ends, you won’t mind rainy days.

My Role in Court? Minister of Drains. An over-fancy title for the court plumber. It was not long ago that Espada was open gutters and cesspits, but the sewer system isn’t as yet incredibly sophisticated. I’d like to change that. THE CLEANEST DRAINS IN THE WORLD.

MAGIC. Keeping in mind our characters’ Motivations (and that, as wizards we are the type of people who would willingly “sell our souls” to “devils”–i.e., aliens, but we don’t know that–to gain “magical” powers), we choose our Magic next. It’s a demi-god/X-Man level of power, not a godlike/Supermaan level of power. It has to be able to be active and useful in the moment of roleplay, used to solve a variety of problems.

I drew a Hueso card, which read: Ruins are ruins for a reason.

In the excitement of the card draw, I began to riff on what I saw, forgetting to consult my actual motivation. You can see where I crossed out my first thought and spun it into the next iteration. If we had gotten to the roleplay (we only had a 50-minute demo, so we just did Character Creation and World-Building at Boskone), I might have tweaked it further. As it was:

Initially: I can find the weakness in structures–organic or otherwise–and encourage them. Speed illness, bring decay, age out of time, scour and flense to the bare bones beneath. Then, later: But also: find flaws to fix them. (This, I thought, would be useful as a plumber, and as a person who has problems with their own appearance.) Organic and otherwise (architectural, for example.)

DOOM operates mechanically–if it fires at all–much later in the game. It’s a way to forestall a lose condition by personal sacrifice. Whether or not your wizard would choose to “activate their Doom” for this reason is another matter entirely. Suffice to say it acts like a sword of Damocles hanging over your wizard’s head. For their part, the aliens would have given you your “powers” freely, with no strings attached. They just want you to evolve and join the Cosmic Consciousness. You, however, are constrained by your culture and belief systems to believe that you deserve terrible things to happen to you because you “sold your soul to devils.” You INSISTED on a Doom.

Mechanically, a Doom cannot result in the death of your character. (You still have to be able to play!) Oh, no. It’s a fate WORSE than death. A living (and intimately personal) hell.

I drew an Aire card that read: There cannot be a soul. There must be a soul.

Keeping in mind my Motivation, my Doom was thus: At the moment of my Doom, the person I have always wanted to be will walk out of my body, separate from myself but full-formed. I can never become them. They are their own being: a lost possibility, an eternal reminder.

I really liked my “Golfilla” character. Poor tragic plumber! I should have liked to see what shenanigans she and her co-wizards got up to!


A few hours later, for our evening demo, I made a character for ESTRELLA DE LA VEGA, LA DOÑA DE LA TAPIZ!

I must have gotten really warmed up by that evening (it was a long two days of delicious workshops, concert rehearsals, panels, readings, and my DARK BREAKERS BOOK LAUNCH), because I REALLY enjoyed our third and final demo!

For MOTIVATION I drew an Espacio card that read: Tools re-write reality. (I was particularly pleased with this draw, as it had been one of the three I’d gotten during our workshop, and resulted in a piece of flash fiction only the day before!)

Concentrating at first mainly on the Espacio border, I wrote: There are fish in the sky! Faces in the stars! Every star is a lamp lit to light the darkness of another world. These are things I’ve known since childhood. These are things my family laughed at me for. For these thoughts, I am reviled. But I’m right! I know I’m right!

For ROLE IN COURT, I drew and Aire card: The soul loves all. The mind, but some.

For this one, I focused deeply on the thread, the mouth. I was reminded of a Jessica P. Wick story. I wrote: “I am la Reina’s Doña de la Tapiz. I embroider promises in the flesh, punishments, debts, forgiveness. I stitch lying lips closed, a mark over the heart of a celibate dedicating themselves to the goddess. I stitch the left hand of a debtor, the right hand of the newly married…

(I was so excited about this, I wanted to go on. Think of Ugolin stitching Manon’s ribbon over his heart in Manon des Sources, shouting, “Je t’aime, Manon! Je t’aime!” Yeah. That’s the stuff.)

For MAGIC, I drew a Hueso card that read: Will you die at once, or by degrees?

(Note: when the aliens give us wizards “magic,” it can also be a piece of tech, not necessarily a power we make happen with our minds. Both are allowed! I was playing around with tech this time, inspired by the execution’s hood and cloak. I was thinking both of my Motivation and Role in Court this time, while imagining what my character would “barter her soul” for.)

I wrote: I was given a black cloak and hood by the Benefactors, stitched of a material black as the sky between stars. It is impervious to destruction. It is buoyant in water. It flies. It conceals me in darkness. It enables me to slip through shadows into other places–not always the places I intend to go. (Also, I haven’t really gotten a hang of the whole flying thing.)

Note: it is fun to have a power that you can easily see backfiring. It can also be hilarious in-game, especially when you fail a magic check!

Lastly, for DOOM, I drew a Rayo card that read: Is that the cry of a dying star?

Thinking particularly of my Motivation, I wrote: On the day my Doom befalls me, I hear and see the death of the stars in real time. Their cries reach me: the great collapse into singularity, the crushing, universe-bending well. How they scream. How they scream.


I wish I could tell you all our World-Building we did in the last two demos, but since we each acted as a scribe for one of the other players, each of our personalized Espadas was scattered in different packets that the players got to take home.

In the game itself, there would be one shared sheet for World-Building that would be part of that game’s memento: a collaboration between all players, kept in the “Annals of Espada.”

It was REALLY cool though.


A Little More about 7 Suits of La Baraja del Destino:

🧜🏾‍♀️ LágrimasThe Tears of Life
Things break. The world is full of melancholy. But tears can be joyful. Pain can save us. Our insignificance is both woe and comfort. And one never knows what strange secrets the unfathomable seas may hold.


🐷 CarneThe Meat Of Life
Carnality, desire of the flesh, consumption, gluttony. The triumph of self-interest over community. The instinctual and the impulsive. Whatever else we are, we are always our bodies.


❤️ SangreThe Blood of Life
Loyalty, affiliation, kith, kin, connection. Sacrifice and duty. Some ideas are worth dying for. The desire to be moral, even though you fall short so very, very often. 


💀 HuesoThe Bones of Life
We all must perish. Time is relentless, aging and weakening inevitable. What shall be your legacy? Focus on the big picture. Stay strong: until you can’t. And then, when it’s time, die well.


🌬 AireThe Breath of Life
Intellect, religion, philosophy, art. Dreams, plans, life’s vicissitudes. Fate, ever capricious, blows us to and fro. Rarefied beauty; unspeakable nightmares. And at the center of it all, your soul.


⚡️ RayoThe Spark of Life
Raw power, elemental forces, energy, electricity, fire. The engine of both miracles and cataclysms. The hidden reserves raging in every living thing. And sometimes, those reserves are unleashed: with wild, unpredictable results!


🛸 Espacio: The Spaces Between and Beyond

The immensity of the cosmos humbles us. But if we continue to build marvelous tools and ask hard questions, perhaps someday we will better understand both the universe and our own recondite hearts.

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Carlos Hernandez’s Boskone 59 Schedule

Carlos’s Boskone Schedule!

Using Games to Write 
Format: Workshop
18 Feb 2022, Friday 17:00 – 17:50
Marina II (Westin)

Writers have a long tradition of using games, competitions, and other playful activities to inspire their writing. In this workshop, we will be using the cards for a roleplaying game that C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez are developing — macabre and ghoulish things, these cards! — to inspire participants to write. Then, we’ll have a mini-salon where participants can share the fruits of their gamic inspiration! [No sign-up required! No limit on people who can attend!]

C. S. E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez

Negocios Infernals Demonstration (Fri Session) 
Format: Demonstration
18 Feb 2022, Friday 20:00 – 20:50
Harbor III (Westin)

A game that centers around The Deck of Destiny, consisting of 70 cards. Much like fortune tellers read cards to portend futures dire and blissful, the players interpret the cards they…

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Boskone 59 Schedule

Using Games to Write 
Format: Workshop
18 Feb 2022, Friday 17:00 – 17:50, Marina II (Westin)

Writers have a long tradition of using games, competitions, and other playful activities to inspire their writing. In this workshop, we will be using the cards for a roleplaying game that C. S. E. Cooney and Carlos Hernandez are developing — macabre and ghoulish things, these cards! — to inspire participants to write. Then, we’ll have a mini-salon where participants can share the fruits of their gamic inspiration! [No sign-up required! No limit on people who can attend!]

C. S. E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez

Negocios Infernals Demonstration (Fri Session) 
Format: Demonstration
18 Feb 2022, Friday 20:00 – 20:50, Harbor III (Westin)

A game that centers around The Deck of Destiny, consisting of 70 cards. Much like fortune tellers read cards to portend futures dire and blissful, the players interpret the cards they draw to determine their magos’ successes, failures, and fates. Together, the magos quest on behalf of Reina Resoluta to save Espada — or, depending on the luck of the deck, just to save their own skins. Players are magos who think they have sold their souls to the aliens in exchange for powers. In reality, they are auditioning for the privilege of joining the “cosmic consciousness” of the aliens, thereby beginning humanity’s next evolution. Please note that this is not a full game, but a demo showing you how it’s played. This session will cover character creation and world building. [3 – 16 players. You must be 18+ to play this game as it is rated M. Intermediate.]

Carlos Hernandez, C. S. E. Cooney

The Next Sound You Hear: SF/F/H Audiobook Recommendations 
Format: Panel
19 Feb 2022, Saturday 12:00 – 12:50, Carlton (Westin)

Audiobook fans are always looking for knowledgeable suggestions when it comes to books, authors, and narrators. Want more of the same, but similar? Or something really different? Our panel shares some carefully curated audiobook recommendations. 

Erin Underwood, Tonia Ransom (NIGHTLIGHT Podcast), C. S. E. Cooney, Mur Lafferty

Negocios Infernals Demonstration (Sat Aft Session) 
Format: Demonstration
19 Feb 2022, Saturday 16:00 – 16:50, Harbor III (Westin)

A game that centers around The Deck of Destiny, consisting of 70 cards. Much like fortune tellers read cards to portend futures dire and blissful, the players interpret the cards they draw to determine their magos’ successes, failures, and fates. Together, the magos quest on behalf of Reina Resoluta to save Espada — or, depending on the luck of the deck, just to save their own skins. Players are magos who think they have sold their souls to the aliens in exchange for powers. In reality, they are auditioning for the privilege of joining the “cosmic consciousness” of the aliens, thereby beginning humanity’s next evolution. Please note that this is not a full game, but a demo showing you how it’s played. This session will cover character creation and worldbuilding. [3 – 16 players. You must be 18+ to play this game, as it is rated M. Intermediate.]

Carlos Hernandez, C. S. E. Cooney

Group Reading (Fantasy): E.C. Ambrose, C.S.E. Cooney, Tim Griffin, Sarah Jean Horwitz 
Format: Reading
19 Feb 2022, Saturday 17:00 – 17:50, Griffin (Westin)

E C Ambrose (Rocinante Books) , Tim G222, C. S. E. Cooney, Sarah Jean Horwitz

Negocios Infernals Demonstration (Sat Eve Session) 
Format: Demonstration
19 Feb 2022, Saturday 20:00 – 20:50, Harbor III (Westin)

A game that centers around The Deck of Destiny, consisting of 70 cards. Much like fortune tellers read cards to portend futures dire and blissful, the players interpret the cards they draw to determine their magos’ successes, failures, and fates. Together, the magos quest on behalf of Reina Resoluta to save Espada — or, depending on the luck of the deck, just to save their own skins. Players are magos who think they have sold their souls to the aliens in exchange for powers. In reality, they are auditioning for the privilege of joining the “cosmic consciousness” of the aliens, thereby beginning humanity’s next evolution. Please note that this is not a full game, but a demo showing you how it’s played. This session will cover character creation and worldbuilding. 3 – 16 players. You must be 18+ to play this game as it is rated M. Intermediate. 

C. S. E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez

Brimstone Rhine and Friends in a Concert to the Stars! 
Format: Concert
20 Feb 2022, Sunday 13:00 – 13:50, Harbor I (Westin)

Join C. S. E. Cooney (singer/songwriter “Brimstone Rhine”) and friends as they perform songs of science fiction, myth, magic, and speculation — possibly with a dose of poetry and drama thrown in!

C. S. E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez, Dr. Mary Crowell

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2011-2021: A Reflection on the Last Ten Years

On December 12, 2011–my 30th birthday–my mother and I rolled over the Rhode Island state line in her burnt-orange Honda Element, our Uhaul trailer trundling behind us. Years later, after I met Carlos, that Honda Element became a vehicle of marvelous escape in one of his dreams, and he thereafter referred to it as “the car of my dreams.”

With the help of our friends the Kendzias, we soon found an apartment in Westerly, near Wilcox Park (which we always called “the Victorian Strolling Park,” because it was). Julia Rios came down from Boston to help us unpack. It was raining and freezing, and I had more than 50 boxes of books that we carried up to our garret apartment. Years later, when new roommates Jessica P. Wick and Betsie Withey moved in, we referred to that apartment as “the Belfry.”

Neither my mom or I had jobs. In 2011, we were still deep in a recession. People kept asking us why we moved to Rhode Island of all places. But to two women from Phoenix and Chicago, Rhode Island might as well be Avalon. It was as mythical and beautiful and strange as any story. I had visited once when I was 9 or 10 and I’d been wanted to return for 20 years. It was a whim, perhaps, but it was a whim I’d worked for the last three years to make happen. That my mom was making it happen with me (it was the first time we’d get to live in the same state, in the same town, in the same house for over ten years, and it was about time!!!) made it even more adventurous.

We were very poor. We had to apply to SNAP benefits. We got groceries from two of the local food banks. We went to the library a lot. When we did get jobs, they were part time and for minimum wage. My mom worked at Home Depot. I worked at Mystic Aquarium, in Admissions. Later, she joined me there in the Membership Department. We cooked a lot of food together with the groceries we had. We joined the community garden. We went on walks in the local nature preserves–Rhode Island is rich in those!–and on beaches. We made day trips to exciting new places. We made friends. Some of our first friends in the area were Ken Schneyer and Janice Ookomian in Rhode Island, and Faye Ringel in Connecticut.

Sometimes, when I could scrape a few dollars together, I went down to Perks and Corks for a chai tea and to watch whatever band was playing. Sometimes it seemed that Westerly was made of musicians. So I started making up music. I think I wanted friends, but I didn’t quite know how to make them. I was fairly solitary for about a year and a half–with the exception of my mother and a few friends I saw once every few months–and then people started saying enough was enough. I had to get out more.

Now, I’d been fairly social in Chicago. So much so that I was socializing more than creating, which felt unbalanced. By the time I left Chicago, I was really ready for some alone-Claire writing time. And I had it! I’d been writing.

Between 2012 and 2015, when my mom moved back to Phoenix to take care of her house there, and my two new roommates moved in, I’d published (some small press, some pro-rates–which really helped with groceries and bills, let me tell you!): “Canary of Candletown,” “Witch, Beast, Saint,” “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One,” “Ten Cigars,” “Martyr’s Gem,” “Godmother Lizard,” and “Life on the Sun.”

I’d self-published The Breaker Queen, The Two Paupers, and The Witch in the Almond Tree.

In 2015 and 2016, Bone Swans and Jack o’ the Hills came out, as well as my poetry collection How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes.

I’d written a lot of poetry in that time too, much of it published in Goblin Fruit and Mythic Delirium. Some of the songs I was writing with Caitlyn Paxson for our “Distant Star Ballads” album project (ha! Still in the works) had done enough world-building for me that I was able to write a poem featuring some of the same characters “Voyage to a Distant Star.” I’d written two EPs worth of music in 2014, for which I crowdfunded via Indiegogo in 2015, resulting in Alecto! Alecto! and The Headless Bride, both which I had pressed into CDs and made digitally available on Bandcamp under my (LOL) rockstar (more like folkn00b) pseudonym “Brimstone Rhine.”

A few years later, we finished Corbeau Blanc, Corbeau Noir: the backers’ album, songs written for those who helped fund the first two EPs at a high level.

In 2012, Caitlyn Paxson brought me to Canada. I’d adapted my story “Braiding the Ghosts” into a two-woman show for the Ottawa Storytellers, and performed it with Ruthanne Edward at the National Arts Centre. After, I flew to Prince Edward Island to meet my two best friends since high school, Mir and Kiri. Kiri paid for the house. All I had to do was get there. My stipend from the NAC performance paid for my ticket. Meeting in PEI in our thirties was a pact we’d made as teenagers. An extraordinary time. And also a strange, bittersweet one. We were not who we used to be. I’d love to try it again, now that I’m older and know to expect that, even to celebrate it.

I met Carlos Hernandez in 2014 at Readercon, befriended him in a very casual Facebook-y way, and then in a deeper way in early 2015. We collaborated on an epistolary short story “The Book of May,” which ended up in Clockwork Phoenix 5, and decided we wanted to keep writing each other letters, but as ourselves this time. He lived in New York. I lived in Rhode Island. We had a romance of letters. And visits. And Skype. And phone calls. And trains. And long commutes. That was from 2015-2017, when we were married in October.

I was in theatre, too–which, to get back to an earlier point–is when I actually made local friends in my area. I had a great deal of training in the theatre, but very little opportunity until that point to put it to use. I’d always been working 2-3 jobs in Chicago, and my most recent job ended too late in the evening, and was a 90 minute commute from home, for me to ever make rehearsals. I could be involved in 24-hour theatre festivals, but that was about it. Most of my performing outlet was at writing conventions, where I got to perform my own work–prose, poetry, and music–for an audience. I craved theatre. But at that point, I wasn’t even sure if I could do it anymore.

Enter Flock Theatre. Faye Ringel was acting as dramaturge for Anne Flammang in Flock’s production of As You Like It. She had a few people already in mind already for her leads. The director worked with the company before and had a fairly good idea of its stable. I was an unknown quantity, but she thought I’d be good for the shepherdess. I went to the audition and the callback. I rocked it. What’s more, I knew I’d rocked it—with a certainty. (All I ever wanted to do was Shakespeare and Sondheim. This was like finally being able to breathe. Like being let off a 10-year leash.) I went home from that callback exhilarated but also resentful that I’d end up a shepherdess. But life surprised me.

Reader, I ended up with the leading role of Rosalind. Ellen Kushner sent me several articles about drag kings, so I could really think about my inner boy. I knew I could do the role. But it was a role I’d only seen more, well, thin bodies pull off. I had this image in my head of “trouser roles” like Rosalind belonging to a certain type, and I was not it. But those articles were really helpful, and it made me start thinking wider… about those who identify as men and boys in my life, and how they came in all sizes and types. And I figured my inner Ganymede was kind of cranky, kind of sarcastic, liked chewing gum, wore spectacles and a Kangol cap (at least, in rehearsal), and, when roused, had a great deal of ebullient, trickster energy. I loved him.

With Flock, I went on to appear as Mrs. Daldry in In the Next Room, or, The Vibrator Play. I was a witch and a murderer in Macbeth, the evil queen in Cymbeline, and both a courtesan and an old woman in Dangerous Liaisons. Later, after moving to New York, I did a brief stint as the maid in A Long Day’s Journey Into Night–in the Monte Cristo Cottage, Eugene O’Neill’s childhood summer home, where O’Neill had actually set the play!

I made many friends in Flock, but in particular Eric, Dorian, and Kelsey. We still group-text sometimes, and see each other whenever I’m back in the area. I miss having friends and theatre so close. It’s funny to have moved to New York City, but to feel further from the theatre than even when I lived in Chicago. It just seems less… accessible to me here.

Now that I was on the East Coast, it was easier to attend the Boston cons. I was also invited to be a part of two writing groups. One lasted just a few sessions. It consisted of Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, Kat Howard, Lev Grossman, Theodora Goss, and Cat Valente. But most of us didn’t live in the same state, some of us had demanding jobs or children, and it fell apart quickly. But one of those early meetings was the inspiration for my novella “The Bone Swans of Amandale,” so I’ll always be grateful for that. At the time, I felt so low on that particular literary ladder as to be invisible. I knew I was workshopping with giants. It made me dizzy.

The next writing group–which also met in Ellen and Delia’s living room–is still more or less ongoing. We call ourselves RAMP, for reasons I will not get into, but trust me, nothing you imagine is the reason why. It’s Ellen, Delia, Carlos, Joel Derfner, and Liz Duffy Adams. They’re very precious to me. I still feel I’m workshopping with giants, but it also feels like family.

From 2012-2015, I’d done some narration work for Podcastle, Uncanny Magazine, and Tales to Terrify. Between that and my recent stage work with Flock, my resumé was brolic enough and my audition professional enough to land me a contracting gig with Tantor Media, where I became an audiobook narrator. I always wanted to be an actor for living. All my life I’d been told I could never make a living acting. So I’d bent my will and energy to writing books instead. But in 2015, finally, I was making a living wage–ACTING! And acting in the service of books. Which was where my particular expertise lay.

2015 was an enormous year of change for me. My mother returned to Phoenix. I got new roommates. I had a new job in my field–and it demanded resources from me and a sort of personal upkeep I’d never paid attention to. (8 hours of sleep had never been so absolutely necessary before.) I was in a romantic relationship for the first time since I was a teenager–and a long-distance one, no less. I was recording albums, to the best of my ability. I had what I can only describe as panic attacks, except they kept happening for good things, which was confusing. Things were changing fast, and I was hard-pressed to keep up. Some things fell by the wayside, and some people too. That was hard on all of us.

Between 2015-2017, I was recording maybe 2-3 audiobooks a month. I was commuting to New York to visit Carlos. I was getting my novel Saint Death’s Daughter (it was called Miscellaneous Stones: Necromancer back then) submission ready for agents, and submitting it, and then getting feedback, and revising it (again and again) and submitting it. In the fall of 2017, just before I got married, Markus Hoffmann of Regal Hoffmann and Associates became my agent. He called my manuscript a diamond, the kind of thing someone like him always hopes for. He gave me concise but intense feedback. I started drafting again.

In 2017, Carlos got his Disney Hyperion contract to write for Rick Riordan Presents. Rick Riordan had read Carlos’s collection The Assimilated Cuban’s Guide to Quantum Santeria from Rosarium Press and passed it on to his editor, Stephanie Lurie. found Carlos on Twitter and asked him out to lunch. They bonded over a legendary Cobb salad.

It’s funny: Carlos and I sometimes reflect on the odd parallels of our careers. My collection Bone Swans and his collection Quantum Santeria came out within 6 months of each other. I won the World Fantasy Award for Bone Swans, and Carlos got a Disney contract, and our careers sort of went molten at the same time, though in different ways. Until then, we were both revising the fourth drafts of our respective novels, and dreaming of one day having a book contract.

In 2017 and early 2018, I was working on Desdemona and the Deep as well as revising Saint Death’s Daughter. In 2018 Ellen Datlow accepted Desdemona for publication from Tor.com. It came out in 2019. At the end of 2019, I wrote The Twice-Drowned Saint for Mike Allen and a little novella project with a few other authors we’d been talking about, A Sinister Quartet. Of course, what was meant to be a 40,000 word novella turned into a 65,000 word short novel, but that couldn’t be helped. That came out in the summer of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic, when Carlos and I were sojourning in Phoenix: a blessed but accidental exile that started out as a week-long visit and ended up being three months. Also in that time, we got an offer for Saint Death’s Daughter.

At the end of 2019 and in the early months of 2020, Carlos and I were commissioned to collaborate on a screenplay for an indie filmmaker. It was a format in which neither of us had written. It was interesting work, and I’m deeply sorry it fell through. I learned a lot, struggled a lot, and still feel slightly sunburnt about it all. I don’t regret the experience, but I am not eager to try again soon. At least, not in a writer-for-hire capacity.

I knew Saint Death’s Daughter wouldn’t be coming out till 2022, and I didn’t want a whole year to go by with nothing to show for it. I’d always wanted to re-write those first two self-published novellas The Breaker Queen and The Two Paupers (which were set in the same world as Desdemona and the Deep), and to add a few other stories as well to make a collection called Dark Breakers. Either I would self-publish it or propose it to a small press. I did mean to get it all done sooner, for a 2021 publication date, but… You know. The best-laid plans and all.

So in the first half of 2021, I finished all that up. Rewrote those novellas, adding about 15,000 words each. Wrote a new novella “Salissay’s Laundries,” a novelette “Longergreen,” and a short story “Susurra to the Moon” and handed it off to Mike Allen at Mythic Delirium for Dark Breakers. I am so grateful for Mike and Anita Allen, for taking so many risks on me.

In 2021, I was also finishing the final sets of edits for Saint Death’s Daughter, collaborating on a few promised short stories with Carlos, and working with him on our storytelling RPG Negocios Infernales.

From July 2020 to October 2021, we had my best friend living with us, taking refuge and taking stock during the first year of the pandemic. Imagine us: a one-bedroom apartment in Queens, two professors teaching from home, and me in an office made of bookshelves in my bedroom, trying to write. Certainly my audiobook narration work had dried up in 2020, but this year, I got to do nine of them–and I could even walk to the studio. A nice change from my 3.5 hour commute from New York to Tantor’s studios. Though I’d do it again in a heartbeat, if it were safe.

On December 12, 2021, I turned 40. Those were my thirties. Those, and so much more. So much even I can’t remember. Friends made. Families bonding. Roads traveled. Countries visited. Mentors lost. Friends lost. Family lost. Careers careening. So many opportunities. So many pitfalls. Such love. Such love. Such love.

I could never have imagined my thirties in my twenties. All I knew was what I had been promised, that “your thirties will be your throne. You don’t know spit till you’re thirty,” as my friend Stephanie Shaw said.

I look to the next ten years. I hope I survive them. I hope I thrive–that we all thrive. I know I’m in for heartbreak. But I know I’m in for exquisite heart-flowering too: that vital rose aflame, that crown-knot of fire.

Quick now, here, now, always–
A condition of complete simplicity
(Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flames are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.

T. S. Eliot

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Solstice Eve

Solstice eve:
Terry’s just finishing up her Tolstoy book
her corner of the Twitterverse sighs like a sleeping bear
and lays its hashtags to a well-earned winter’s rest

Solstice eve:
semester’s end, and my boy lolls in our gorilla nest
jacked into Twitch, all its blessed, relentless content
a comfort fugue, fuel for his frying-pan brain

Solstice eve:
I’ve counted up the minds I’ve mainlined into mine this year
all the romances, mysteries, fantasies, space operas, all that time
and all these worlds that others built which I have dwelt in

Solstice eve:
I think of the floorboards I will never clean, what I’ve let go
what failures I must set my shoulder against, the scale on the bathroom tile,
the chart on the wall, the list I am always rewriting, never finishing

Solstice eve:
Omicron is among us, and my mother’s coming soon
my best friend will arrive to rest here after her booster
I will make chicken soup with dumplings; I will feed her

Solstice eve:
it’s colder, darker, and I’m full of rosy slumber
barefoot, and my hair turned winter-umber
reading of rare December tornadoes–but where is the snow?

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