30th Anniversary Celebration Interview and Sale: Part Final

/ September 30th, 2022 / No Comments »

Six dark fantasy and horror titles
discounted to 99¢
for an early Halloween start

See a map of how my stories and upcoming novel connect

Read the beginning of my 30th anniversary interview

Read the second part of the interview

Read part three

Reflecting on your published works, what pieces are you most proud of? What pieces do you still think about reworking?

It’s hard to pick favorites: so many of these pieces represent some sort of milestone, little or huge, at least to me.

An obvious choice is “The Button Bin,” which remains, fifteen years after Lawrence Watt-Evans first picked it for publication in Helix, the story of mine that has caused the biggest stir. Any time a creepy image involving buttons starts making the rounds, I’m going to get tagged, it’s inevitable. (It had not occurred to me until typing this paragraph just now that the “The Button Bin” came out right at the midpoint of these thirty years — fascinating!)

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

Another story that came out in 2007, a fateful year for me, was “The Hiker’s Tale,” which served as the seed that grew into my dark fantasy novel Trail of Shadows, which Broken Eye Books plans to unleash next year. Both of those stories took a long time to gestate, and both have generated multiple sequels, prequels and spin-offs. (As the map shows!)

I’d be remiss if I did not take a moment to plug “The Sun Saw,” which in July at last became available in the anthology wherein it was intended to debut, The Leaves of a Necronomicon, edited by the late, great Joseph S. Pulver, Sr. The publisher, Chaosium, generously let me use the story in my Aftermath of an Industrial Accident collection in 2020. There’s a character in “Sun Saw,” John Hairston, who has seen a lot of action in other stories since I first thought him up.

Regarding reworking, any story can benefit from further tweaking. In the run-up the publication of Unseaming, Thomas Ligotti himself advised me to use the republication of stories in a collection as an opportunity to further refine them. All of them.

If there’s project I’d love to have another go at, its my debut novel, The Black Fire Concerto, which came out in 2013. Not because I would want to make major changes to it — some more polish would not hurt, but my heroines, my villains and villainesses, my ravening ghouls, my surreal settings, my gory set pieces, my loopy over-the-top magic feats, all embody what I was aiming for, a kind of madcap zombie-fic tribute to the likes of Michael Moorcock and Roger Zelazny.

But I had plans for the book to be the start of a four-book series. (In fact, the second book, The Ghoulmaker’s Aria, exists as a complete first draft, and I know the titles of books three and four.) However, the publishing imprint that brought out Black Fire Concerto folded almost as soon as it opened and my novel shot so deep under the radar sales-wise that I concluded that I could not justify the time investment it would have taken to complete the series. What’s heartbreaking is that Black Fire does have a few fans who still ask me from time to time about the next installment. I dream of someday having a window of free time to complete the series and mount a proper large-scale re-launch.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

Speaking of reworking, does your process differ from the start of a project versus how you edit completed drafts?

In my experience every piece demands a different process; there is no One Right Way. Given that, I’m going to answer this question more generally.

The single most important step in writing any work of fiction — though it applies to all types of writing, but I feel its especially important to stress this with novels and stories: finish the first draft. Get to the end. Do whatever you have to do to make that happen. You will never see your work in print if you never finish it.

A technique that I co-opted and swear by is the “three-sentence rule,” because “a thousand words a day” is out of reach for many of us who write as a side hustle. The “three-sentence rule” is simple: no matter how tired or busy you are, you can always add three sentences to a work in progress. Some days that is all you will manage. Some days you’ll catch fire and write a lot more.

Once you have that complete draft, that is your clay. You can take however long you want to shape it however you like. Feedback from a few trusted beta readers who you can handle criticism from can be a huge help. Once again, you have to walk that balance beam, staying true to your vision while recognizing that the jewel in your head might on the page still be a lumpy rock.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

Since I’ve gone into armchair vizier mode here, I want to add, for whomever might see this; if you decide to write a novel, you would benefit from doing research into how the various processes for seeing a novel through into print work in current times — before you start, even. There’s nothing like spending two years on a project and then learning that all your assumptions about how the business works — assumptions that you based major creative choices on — are wrong.

If you had to pick a central theme or style throughout your work, what might that be?

I’m most comfortable not sticking to a single style. “The Button Bin” drew some gripes because I wrote it in second-person present tense, which for some readers is apparently equivalent to having a suit put on inside out and backwards. “Let There Be Darkness” (collected in Unseaming) is written in future tense. “The Cruelest Team Will Win” (collected in Aftermath) gets told in straightforward first person colloquial voice. I have high fantasy stories, science fiction stories, gritty noir stories, subtle stories, extreme stories. Whatever the performance requires.

I’m definitely drawn to the dark and disturbing, though, whatever style I happen to be working in. I suppose that was true with my poetry as well, though it emerged in smaller doses. I mean, I didn’t think of my poetry entirely in those terms, as I definitely produced verse I thought were light, but look at how Amal El-Mohtar chose to describe my poetry in her introduction to Hungry Constellations:

“Let me tell you about Mike Allen’s poetry. This is a man who delights in breaking bodies: butchering, splitting, flaying, dismembering, then seeding landscapes with viscera until they too become bodies—bodies invaded, bodies stuffed, bodies contaminated. This is a man who carves words into and out of bodies, be they skin or sapphire, corpses or constellations. But somehow Allen skirts gore and clinical detachment both: there is a precision and an economy to his horror that’s reminiscent of clockwork, architecture, astronomy. Imagine a clock with bone-gears, a skin-tree growing liver-fruit, a ship knifing a face into the moon, and you’ll have something of a sense of what lies before you.”

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

Back in 2007, as part of a promotion for Weird Tales during the years when Ann VanderMeer was editor, I wrote an essay trying to explain “the Fascination of the Abomination,” which I am hardly the only author to exhibit:

“It’s almost as if the author is acting on a spiritual dare: take the worst truth you can imagine, and I will show you that things can be far worse, that the core of your being is not equipped, can never be equipped to cope with the worst that’s out there, even the worst that’s inside you. And I will dare to entertain you, not so much by what I tell you, but how I tell it. (And this is how, perhaps, those of us who have the Fascination transmute it into something we can manage? I can’t really claim to know the answer.)”

I believe that’s the game I am still playing.

How did starting Mythic Delirium impact your personal writing career?

My unexpected career as an editor and publisher helped me in the networking department, I suppose you could say, in that it had the unexpected side benefit of giving me reason to meet people I otherwise might not have.

I guess as one example: when Mythic Delirium became part of the DNA Publications stable, that first issue under new management included a poem by Ian Watson, a prolific sf novelist from across the pond who was in a phase of his writing life where he was producing a lot of poems. My debut poetry chapbook, Defacing the Moon, also came out under the DNA banner about the same time, and Ian, on reading and liking it, pitched one of his own, which I ended up editing, The Lexicographer’s Love Song, and that led to us collaborating as writers on things like the kooky novelette “Dee-Dee and the Dumpy Dancers” that appeared in Interzone (collected in Ian’s Saving for a Sunny Day) and the poem “TimeFlood” that Gardner Dozois published in Asimov’s Science Fiction (collected in Hungry Constellations) and which I still think is one of the best and wildest pieces of writing with my name attached to it, period. Another example of collaborative work I’m super-proud of would be “The King of Cats, the Queen of Wolves” written with my friends Sonya Taaffe and Nicole Kornher-Stace, originally published by Apex Magazine when Catherynne M. Valente was editor, and also collected in Hungry Constellations.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

Many of the creative partnerships in my life began with Mythic Delirium or projects that started under or ended up under the Mythic Delirium Books umbrella. I told the story of Mythic Delirium in some detail in the editorial that introduced the final digital issue of the zine, and as Mythic Delirium as a venture turns 25 next year, I expect to share even more as I, while wearing my publisher hat, line a bunch of new book releases and projects up to celebrate that silver anniversary.

What is your most recent publication? What are you currently working on?

Not counting the latest piece written for my day job at the Roanoke Times (which as of this writing happens to be an editorial about the idiotic “Little Mermaid” movie controversy), my most recent publication would be my sci-fi horror story “Matres Lachrymarum” in the April issue of Cosmic Horror Monthly. I have to say, the folks behind this magazine are doing something right, because I got a pretty big positive public response from that story, or at least what counts as one on the scale I work in.

“Matres” is a sort of sequel to “Drift from the Windrows,” a story I wrote for Broken Eye Books’ Tomorrow’s Cthulhu anthology that has since been included in my Aftermath collection. Invites to play in H.P. Lovecraft’s universe are fun; I prefer not to name-drop all his made up monsters and gods and instead let the reader infer what beings might be manifesting from the things my characters see and experience.

I have drafted a couple of new stories that, once they see print, will add a couple more polygons to the story map. One is a Hierophant story, one is a Hairston tale.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

What I’m most excited about though is the release of my next novel, Trail of Shadows. I’m incredibly grateful to Broken Eye Books publisher Scott Gable for granting a home to this wayward monster of a book, which has been with me, evolving in fits and starts, for many years.

Trail of Shadows grew from my short story “The Hiker’s Tale” (included in Unseaming) and its novelette sequel “Follow the Wounded One” (included in Aftermath of an Industrial Accident). To share a little secret, “The Cruelest Team Will Win” (also included in Aftermath) is actually a sequel to Trail of Shadows. “The Feather Stitch,” published last year in Lackington’s, connects the Trail of Shadows universe to my “Button Bin” stories, sewing it all together into one big scary “Allenverse,” so to speak. (You can see, on the map I made, how the strands connect.)

The few and the proud who have followed my tales in all their scattershot appearances might not have been aware of it, but the narrative of Trail of Shadows has been an unseen source of gravity, in the manner that anomalies in a planet’s orbit ultimately reveal that there’s another unseen planet exerting force from further out in the void. I’m psyched beyond words that at last I’ll get to call this dark world into the light.

Assuming I live long enough to add three more decades to my writing career, Trail of Shadows will be a great way to kick them off.

Finis

Inspired by “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker”

Again, I want to thank Sydney Macias for the interview questions, and C. S. E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez and Cassandra Khaw for these wonderful AI-generated imaginings of my worlds and monsters!

 

30th Anniversary Celebration Interview and Sale: Part Three

/ September 25th, 2022 / No Comments »

Six dark fantasy and horror titles
discounted to 99¢
for an early Halloween start

See a map of how my stories and upcoming novel connect

Read the beginning of my 30th anniversary interview

Read the second part of the interview

How did you rise to become the president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association? What was that experience like?

I want to phrase this in a way that’s respectful of those who are no longer with us.

I only became aware of the Science Fiction Poetry Association in 1998, the first time one of my poems was nominated for a Rhysling Award. The organization, though, had been around since 1978!

In 2002, Anita and I and a whole contingent of people involved with DNA Publications traveled to Arisia in Boston. At that convention there was a meeting conducted for SFPA members. I had joined and was curious, but I found the meeting disappointing. I left with what I will call, tongue-in-cheek, a dangerous thought: “I could do this better myself.”

Inspired by “Lilith,” antagonist from “The Cruelest Team Will Win” and Trail of Shadows

To drill down a little into why I felt that way, what I had hoped for was to find an organization that advocated with vigor for this art form I had come to embrace, and that served as a center of gravity for an enthusiastic community. At that time, SFPA fulfilled neither function. (Others may disagree, but that was my takeaway.) At best, it managed the bare minimum needed to keep from dissolving, and once volunteering took me behind the scenes, I realized the organization hung on by threads.

My bid for president resulted in the first contested election in the SFPA’s history. The group is approaching its 45th anniversary, so I guess you could say my time at the helm, only two years, was a short interval within SFPA’s lifespan. But it was intense. There are things that now I might wish I had done better, or differently, but perhaps most important in the first place, things got done.

Some of the things I tried, like establishing a regular SFPA presence at Readercon in Boston, including an official Rhysling Award ceremony, ultimately fell by the wayside — but those ceremonies were glorious while they lasted. Some things that I tried and failed to do, like changing the organization’s name to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association, eventually happened without my involvement. Some things, I shouldn’t have been so pigheaded about, like the founding of the Dwarf Stars Award, a proposal I initially fought against, believing that adding award categories would detract from promoting what we already had. Some of the things I helped establish have evolved to a point where they present new problems: the annual Rhysling Anthologies, which collect all nominees for members to read before voting on the winners, went from DIY stapled-together zines to pretty print-on-demand paperbacks sold through online bookstores under my watch, but now the award gets so many nominees that SFPA is having to figure out how to prune back what goes in those books, because they’ve become impractical to print.

Above all else, I wanted to project an image of an organization that was active, that was engaged, that was making things happen. I wanted potential newcomers (and disgruntled expats) to see what we were up to and want to be part of it.

Inspired by “Lilith,” antagonist from “The Cruelest Team Will Win” and Trail of Shadows

I worked with poet and editor Roger Dutcher to complete The Alchemy of Stars, an anthology collecting the first twenty-five-plus years of Rhysling Award winners — the book had been stuck in limbo. I worked with SFPA Founder Suzette Haden Elgin, a wonderful person who I still miss, to publish the Science Fiction Poetry Handbook, a treatise of sorts on how sf poetry can be written that she was offering as a fundraising tool to the association she started. I reached out to members who had dropped out and asked them to come back and I hard-sold the organization to prospective new members wherever I could within the resources I had at the time.

In the end, though, backing away was the right thing to do. I made myself accept that I had made my investments and what happened next was up to others. From what I gather, in the years since, even during rough patches, SFPA has never come close to backsliding to the state it was in when that “dangerous notion” took hold of me.

Perhaps one amusing measure of my success could be the awkwardness those efforts sometimes cause me to this day, now that I’m no longer writing much poetry or sticking my nose into Poetryland affairs, because people who encountered that man on a mission remember him vividly and presume he and I are still the same person. At one time I really was at the center of that intriguing world, where the audience might be small but the artists are often up to really interesting, even mind-stretching things; but now people come to me for advice on, for example, a press to pitch a poetry collection to, and I can only shrug: I have no idea!

One thing I hope more speculative poets will take to heart is that publicly complaining about a lack of respect will never draw that respect. Instead, make the case for why speculative poetry deserves interest, even admiration. Share a poem you wrote, or one you like that someone else wrote, and let listeners hear why those words challenge and delight. That tactic always worked for me.

What genres/forms do you find yourself most comfortable in now?

I’m not comfortable sticking to any one genre, really, though most everything I write ends up having some sort of dark element or twist.

Inspired by “Lilith,” the antagonist from “The Cruelest Team Will Win” and Trail of Shadows

When he wrote the introduction to Aftermath of an Industrial Accident, the amazing Punktown author Jeffrey Thomas perceptively nailed my joy and my curse: “Many writers endeavor to establish a certain style or voice or tone, to clear a small but distinct plot of ground they can build within, so as to create a kind of brand that inspires recognition in a reader … But those writers who do as Mike does have a special place in my heart. And what Mike does, as I say, is just about everything. In these pages you will encounter straight up horror. Experimental horror. High fantasy. Science fiction. Poetry. The consistency, here, is simply excellence.”

Maybe I would be better off if I stayed in one lane and reworked similar themes and techniques over and over, but it’s just not how I roll. Obviously, I take a lot of pride in my work, but I’ve little interest in limiting myself to producing cookie cutter-styled stories for the sake of “brand-building.” (That’s not to say it’s innately a bad thing — if the muse entices you to build a brand, more power to you!)

In terms of forms, I am absolutely much more focused on fiction these days, to the degree that I can set aside any time to focus on creative writing.

As a poet I wrote a number of series: there was the “Disturbing Muses” series of ekphrastic poems based on the lives and works of 20th century artists, there were series that riffed on my “Petting the Time Shark” and “Defacing the Moon” poems from early on in my poetry-writing career, a trilogy of “Midnight Rendezvous” poems, a lot of concrete poems that, really, were inspired by the Alfred Bester-esque way Harlan Ellison played with text on the page in some of his stories. My poem “Phase Shift,” which is half upside down, is a direct reaction to “Theory of Tension” from Mind Fields, Ellison’s collaboration with artist Jacek Yerka.

My friend and colleague Nicole Kornher-Stace once challenged me to write stories the way I wrote poetry, and the result was “Twa Sisters” (collected in The Spider Tapestries) an ekphrastic short story full of concrete poetry tricks like two or three vertical columns on a page indicating simultaneous actions from multiple points of view. I’m really proud of that story — Nicole’s point generally though was that I was demonstrating a fluidity with poetry that wasn’t always evident in my prose. Now it’s skewed the other way.

Inspired by “the Mothers” from “Drift from the Windrows” and “Matres Lachrymarum”

And I’m creating several series of short stories — I don’t always plan installments in advance, but more and more of my tales are connecting as I spy opportunities to tie together unexpected threads. There’s a map I made that shows how all the published pieces (or in the case of my novel Trail of Shadows, soon-to-be-published pieces) connect.

I don’t think at the moment I have the discipline (or the spare time!) to generate the tons and tons of background notes involved in world building, but a sort of world building is happening nonetheless, the way globs of quicksilver randomly clump together to form an advanced model of Terminator.

How does your work as an editor differ from what you like to write? Do you think there are reasons for those differences?

It amazes me still: My tastes when selecting poetry and fiction to include in projects like Clockwork Phoenix and Mythic Delirium run in distinctly different directions from the subject matter I choose to tackle as a writer.

This might seem a little dotty, but I genuinely believe that the name I picked for the publishing portion of my side hustle, Mythic Delirium, had some effect on how my preferences as an editor grew. I brainstormed the name while I was still a student at Virginia Tech, and at that age I thought of it as both a term that suggested a wide tent under which all sorts of surprising genre combinations might reside, and as an excuse to create a cool logo to adorn a magazine cover. (Prime example, the logo that artist Tim Mullins came up with in 2000 and refined in 2009, and that we still use, even though the zine closed in 2018.) Shepherding a publication with the word “mythic” in the title steered us in a direction of mythic content, I am sure of it.

I didn’t daydream of editing as a youth and the notion that this was something I had a talent for never occurred to me until I tried it and didn’t fall flat on my face. (The story behind that first anthology I put out in 1995, New Dominions: Fantasy Stories by Virginia Writers, is a wild one, and too complicated to go into for this occasion. I did talk about it in the interview I gave Locus in 2017, if you’re super-curious.) As a result, I think it’s fair to claim that my skills and interests as an editor evolved as their own separate thing, independent of my interests as a writer, which are more closely related to my formative interests as a casual reader.

Inspired by “the Mothers” from “Drift from the Windrows” and “Matres Lachrymarum”

The way I read as an editor is rather unlike how I read for fun. (Of course, what I find fun isn’t particularly typical, either.) I want as an editor to be genuinely surprised, to finish a piece feeling that I have never ever read anything quite like that before. The title I came up with for the anthology series I’m most associated with, Clockwork Phoenix, is meant to evoke unclassifiability and even impossibility, a creature of a nature so contradictory it cannot exist, yet somehow on the page it does.

Thus, as a writer, I gravitate toward generating my own personal versions/visions of The Books of Blood, Angry Candy or Grimscribe: His Lives and Works — but as an editor, an occupation that sprouts from a different era of my creative life, I want the poetic, the mind-bending, the beautiful, the genre-blending, and though I won’t shy away from darkness I also snatch up helpings of the joyful and the just plain (or very not plain) strange, because I want to shape a well-balanced experience, thought-provoking, exuberant.

As a writer, I want to tip readers into the abyss. At least most of the time.

On to the end of the interview


 

30th Anniversary Celebration Interview and Sale: Part Two

/ September 23rd, 2022 / No Comments »

Six dark fantasy and horror titles
discounted to 99¢
for an early Halloween start

See a map of how my stories and upcoming novel connect

Read the beginning of my 30th anniversary interview

How do you feel about the way your poetry was distributed versus your prose?

Humans plan, gods chuckle. In this particular channel, the way this principle applied had to do with how I imagined my career would go vs. how it really went down. I had an early burst of short story sales, but my writing skills didn’t yet match my ambition, and further sales of stories came few and far between.

Inspired by “Father,” the monster from “Let There Be Darkness”

However, the poems I was writing at the same time started to find homes with greater and greater frequency, and that encouraged me to crank out even more poems. Ten years on, only a handful of my stories had seen print, but I’d had dozens of poems published, including years of repeated contributions to the respected small press journal Tales of the Unanticipated. Quite a few of those TOTU pieces were intensely experimental. I loved the freedom poetry gave me in that regard.

2002 saw my earliest appearances in Strange Horizons. That’s also the year a quirky online outlet called EOTU Ezine published “Epochs in Exile: A Fantasy Trilogy,” a genre-blurring piece about aliens and dragons that I co-wrote with fellow Roanoke author Charles M. Saplak. The next year “Epochs” ended up winning my first Rhysling Award — tied for first place in the Science Fiction Poetry Association voting, in fact, with “Matlacihuatl’s Gift” by my longtime friend and colleague Sonya Taaffe.

Not to mention, my poetry-only DIY zine Mythic Delirium had after a mere two issues been added to the DNA Publications stable of magazines, which meant it was suddenly a sister publication to the likes of Aboriginal SF, Absolute Magnitude and Weird Tales. Mythic Delirium did not get national newsstand distribution — boy, would that have been impractical — but large ads for it appeared in magazines that did!

Inspired by “Father,” the monster from “Let There Be Darkness”

I noticed people in the speculative fiction field referring to me as a poet, and even discussing my work on occasion. It was never my intention to only be a poet, but I think it was only natural that I leaned into what was working.

Growing up in Appalachia, making those solo reading explorations absent any interaction with sf fandom, I got the impression that poetry and fiction walked hand in hand in the speculative field. Reading essays about J.R.R. Tolkien led me to T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” — not to mention, Tolkien himself published a poetry collection. Poetry appeared (and still appears!) regularly in Asimov’s Science Fiction, to which I subscribed as a teen.

It wasn’t until I started interacting with a much broader swath of the genre community that I met fans, authors and even editors who reacted to discussions of “science fiction poetry” the way those comically wrong characters in the Reese’s Cup commercials exclaim in horror at the thought of blending peanut butter and chocolate. Really, it was one rude awakening among many — the belief I had that people who enjoyed such inspirational, aspirational literature would embody those qualities themselves, that bubble got popped over and over again; I mean, many definitely do, but hardly all. More specifically, much closer to the heart and art, I often found myself having to defend my choice to write the kind of poetry I did after years of just presuming most all genre authors wrote the stuff. This played a large hand in my volunteer work for the Science Fiction Poetry Association; there’s an upcoming question about that, so I’ll save further elaboration for then.

Inspired by “Father,” the monster from “Let There Be Darkness”

Let me skip ahead and say that I think nowadays the field is even more filled with writers who tackle novel series and 14-line poems with the same enthusiasm and editors who appreciate writing as a creative expression that takes many equally valid forms.

I never stopped trying my hand at fiction, and I think one of the interesting ironies involved in accomplishing something with poetry that approximated “success” is that I had to accept I was pouring my best creative energy into a show that would always have a small audience. I didn’t stop writing, editing and publishing poetry, but I pushed harder at fiction editing and fiction writing.

Nothing came easily. I wouldn’t say anything happened along the lines of a breakthrough — but more of my stories found homes, and one of them, my 2007 horror tale “The Button Bin,” made the Nebula Award shortlist. Honestly, being a Nebula finalist didn’t throw any doors wide open for me, but I got first hand experience at playing to a much larger audience, and that at least encouraged me to keep going.

By 2012 a number of events professional and personal had conspired to dull my interest in both the genre poetry scene and the writing of poetry. I wrote a poem called “Hungry Constellations” that I intended essentially as my swan song to that phase of my writing life; it was kind of every theme I had ever tackled, wrapped up into one. That became the title poem of my final large-scale poetry collection, so far the only one that you can buy in an e-edition (and part of the 30th Anniversary Sale!). Dominik Parisien edited Hungry Constellations and did a great job assembling an overview of the wild stuff I got up to as a poet.

Inspired by the “button people” from “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker”

A couple years after that, the relative obscurity of my short fiction paid off on a scale I never would or could have believed, as a new slew of readers “discovered” me even though I’d been around for nearly a quarter century.

Right book, right cover, right endorsements, right timing: my debut horror collection Unseaming (which kicks off with “The Button Bin”) sold thousands of copies, landed on the Shirley Jackson Award shortlist and strongly hinted to me what the way forward should be.

(I suppose it’s worth noting here that since 1998 I’ve been employed as a newspaper journalist. I keep high walls of church and state separation between my side hustles and my day job. Because of that, folks who hear me talk about my years writing poetry and fiction wouldn’t necessarily know that my career as a journalist has all along been happening simultaneously; I’ve written thousands of news stories, feature stories, columns and editorials. Every once in a while the streams cross, but for the most part I make sure the twain don’t meet.)

Nowadays, thirty years on, the poles have reversed. Most of my creative work that makes it into print is short fiction, with poems few and rare.

Inspired by the “button people” from “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker”

Yet poetry hasn’t left the building. My most recent collection, Aftermath of an Industrial Accident (which I think of as the follow-up to Unseaming) mixed a few poems in with the stories. Aftermath kind of got obscured by the COVID-19 pandemic, so I feel like a lot of people aren’t aware of its existence — but it also landed on the 2020 Shirley Jackson Award shortlist, which completely bowled me over. It also made the Locus Magazine Recommended Reading List, a first for me as a writer after all this time.

While Sonya Taaffe was poetry editor at The Deadlands, she reached out to me to see if I could come up with something, and for a brief time I found that headspace that I was working in back in the mid-to-late ’00s, when I wrote poems like “Picasso’s Rapture,” “The Strip Search,” “The Journey to Kailash” and “Machine Guns Loaded with Pomegranate Seeds.” The result was “Astynome, After.” So my poetry bug, though mostly dormant, still lives.

At Readercon about four years ago, multiple Hugo nominee Yoon Ha Lee caught me in the hall and told me that my Weird sci-fi poem “Metarebellion” from back in 2002 had a huge impact on him when he read it. Needless to say, that disclosure meant quite a lot to me!

On to Part Three


 

30th Anniversary Celebration Interview and Sale: Part One

/ September 23rd, 2022 / No Comments »

1992 was the year I graduated from Virginia Tech, and also the year Anita and I got married. We celebrated that anniversary with a two-part adventure; the first part took us on an artists’ retreat by beautiful Burke’s Garden in Tazewell County, Virginia; the second part saw us in Pennsylvania, visiting the Mutter Museum, witnessing the Philadelphia performance of Rammstein’s Stadium Tour, and making music of sorts at Ringing Rocks Park.

That anniversary, however, is not the one I’m celebrating here on my long-time, often-neglected homepage. That same summer of ’92, my first published short story appeared in a small press magazine — and from there began a long and strange career.

Inspired by “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker”

I wanted to celebrate 30 years of this life in some way; at first I contemplated a reading but the logistics were daunting and any announcement seemed like it would be easy to miss in the continuing climate of alarming news and social media chaos. I settled on something more permanent and in a way more casual — but even this I could not have pulled off without considerable help. My thanks to Sydney Macias, Assistant Editor for Mythic Delirium Books, who came up with questions that could guide my ramblings as I went on a lengthy, multipart look back. My thanks too for the especially fun contributions from Cassandra Khaw, Carlos Hernandez and C. S. E. Cooney, who fed words and characters of mine from more than twenty years worth of short stories into Midjourney and provided me with inspiring results that could serve as illustrations for my odyssey.

It made sense to me as well to make the fruit of this thirty-year labor available cheap with an early Halloween discount:

Dark Fantasy and Horror E-books: 99¢ Discount Sale!

 

 
Aftermath of an Industrial Accident

Amazon
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iBooks
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The Black Fire Concerto

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Hungry Constellations

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A Sinister Quartet

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The Spider Tapestries

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Unseaming

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A Map of How My Stories Connect


 

… and what books they appear in.
Added note: “The Comforter” appears in the anthology A Sinister Quartet

The 30th Anniversary Interview: Part One

How has your writing changed between the start of your career and now?

I think back on the version of me that existed in 1990, 91, 92, meandering toward the end of my days as an undergraduate, starting to get somewhat serious about submitting stories and poems to magazines, and the preconceptions I had then about how writing worked, how publishing worked, how readers chose what they want to read, and I can’t help but think that every single one of those preconceptions has proven wrong in some way.

That’s not so surprising. In those pre-household internet, pre-social media days, growing up in Appalachia, I didn’t meet anyone who shared my particular set of interests in significant numbers until late high school and college, and even then my specific set of eccentricities made me the square peg — though I note with tongue-in-cheek that I was more like a multi-pointed star of some sort, really, when it came to fitting in. Certainly I had no one to compare notes to when it came to getting published.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

I did receive some vital encouragement from my creative writing professors at Virginia Tech, Ed Falco and Lucinda Roy — especially Falco. Though I was just one of many hundreds of their students over the years, those interactions meant a lot when it came to focusing my resolve, as I didn’t start college thinking of writing as a lifestyle choice.

I also honed storytelling skills running a four-year long Dungeons and Dragons campaign, that served as the locus of my social life, and ended on the final day of my senior year. One of the consequences of my increasing need to devote spare time to straight up writing is that gaming fell by the wayside. Back then, who would have thought?

From one angle, it was a small miracle that I made that first short story sale right as I graduated. (Hokie Class of ’92!) And yet, if I’m being honest, I think that, viewed from an angle of quality, those very first small press, pay-in-copy short story sales that I pulled off thirty years ago happened before they should have. (My first monetary payment happened two years later: $10 for a two-line poem, ha ha!) I sold those stories during the desktop publishing revolution that enabled a proliferation of zines of all kinds, creating a proving ground for aspiring writers — since essentially anyone with access to the right software and a sturdy laser printer could become an editor and publisher. I mean no disparagement by that; after all, that’s how my own path to being and editor and publisher eventually materialized.

Inspired by “Let There Be Darkness”

But, were I to receive any of those stories in my inbox today as a submission to an anthology, I’d reject them without thinking too hard about it. They have imaginative moments but they’re pretty disheveled in the prose and plot departments.

What those early successes did do was encourage me to keep trying in the face of many subsequent rejections, and gradually, with practice, get better. I sometimes fret as to whether writers getting started in the 2020s have any equivalent environment for joining the game at the entry level, at least when it comes to over-the-transom encouragement to refine one’s craft. I’m aware that there are all sorts of information and support networks available for writers that weren’t so easy to find thirty years ago, but networking doesn’t help everyone equally.

Those early successes also set me up for a bit of a humbling once I enrolled in the M.A. in Creative Writing program at Hollins College (soon to become Hollins University). Here’s a thing you should never do: submit your already-published work to your critique group, thinking this will result in a round of admiring comments. Nope! I got to hear all about the story’s flaws. That brief embarrassment turned into a vital lesson that I had more work to do.

At the very end of my year at Hollins, I wrote the beginning of a novelette that would prove — five years later! — to be my first professional fiction sale (at least as some define professional). For the record, it was “Stolen Souls,” which you can read nowadays as its own e-book or as part of The Spider Tapestries.

Inspired by “The Spider Tapestries”

I learned that above all else, the key to pursuing writing as any sort of career or side hustle has to be perseverance. Don’t bank all your hopes on any one piece. Keep trying. Seek out feedback, and use what feels right for what your creation needs. Accept that every draft has room for improvement, and learn how to make those improvements. Being a writer requires holding two thoughts in one’s head essentially simultaneously, that the things you create are amazing and deserve to be showcased, and that the things you create are raw clay that require extensive refinement.

I suppose the main difference between my writing then and now comes with all the accumulated lessons in between. The inspirations still spark from more or less the same places: hallucinatory art, heavy metal music, dreams, disturbing life experiences.

Continued in Part Two


 

Mythic Delirium news: “An Unkindness” by Jessica P. Wick from A SINISTER QUARTET a Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy selection

/ June 5th, 2022 / No Comments »

We live in an era of time distortion.

Mostly it’s a bloody distressing state, but occasionally there’s a boon — such as this wonderful and unexpected opportunity to congratulate A Sinister Quartet contributor Jessica P. Wick, whose debut novella “An Unkindness” has been selected for inclusion in the latest volume of editor Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy series, slated for publication later this year.

How is that a time distortion? Well, not that anyone can keep track of when things happened in our endless Groundhog Day reliving of 2020, but A Sinister Quartet actually was published in 2020 (in fact the second anniversary of the book’s release just slipped by) and the latest edition of Horton’s “Best of” series is in fact the 2021 Edition, delayed by pandemic and economic shenanigans.

All the same, we’re delighted for Jess, and thrilled that this honor befalls our strange and beautiful anthology. A Sinister Quartet is a curious hybrid even by our standards, half fantasy with degrees of dark shading, half horror with a fairy tale tint. “An Unkindness” explicitly ventures in to the realm of princesses and fae queens, but contains scenes as twisted and intense as any horror tale worth its salt.

Just as arresting as the marvels and terrors of the fairy realms as Jess imagines it is the droll voice of our haunted narrator, Princess Ravenna:

The only person who has never pointed out how ridiculous my dread of ravens—and by that reckoning, how ha ha amusing—is my older brother, Aliver. Even friends are ghoulishly eager to explain that not only is it impossible for a ‘mere bird’ to do me injury, but that one lives in my name. This is the last thing I wish to be told, excepting perhaps ‘here is a raven to keep as a pet, look he likes you.’ The words ‘mere bird’ are spoken by those who have never gone hawking or seen crows mob a larger predator or spent any time observing nature at all, and I have received far more raven-themed gifts than anyone, whether their name is Ravenna or not, should be forced to put up with.

If pushed to give a cause for my fear beyond ‘ravens are scary,’ I might mention a terrifying unkindness—was ever a collective noun so apt?—of raven puppets I was given when I was still a child. Each raven was meant to represent a different kind of person I might become in the future, outfitted according to their prophetic narrative. Those puppets lurked in a dark clot above my wardrobe until the nightmares grew so sharp my nurse removed them.

We’re proud to see “An Unkindness” join the ranks of the many stories and poems we’ve published over the years that have become award finalists or winners and selected for Year’s Best showcases — that even though Mythic Delirium is teeny tiny, we remain mighty.

Fortuitously, if you haven’t read “An Unkindness” yet, the e-book edition of A Sinister Quartet happens to be on sale for 99 cents as a part of our promotion of C. S. E. Cooney’s new short fiction collection Dark Breakers. That promotion will last at least through the end of this week, so don’t let it pass you by.

See the deal on A Sinister Quartet e-books

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

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

Cross-posted from Mythic Delirium Books

Forthcoming from Mythic Delirium: THE COLLECTED ENCHANTMENTS by Theodora Goss (w/ cover reveal!)

/ May 23rd, 2022 / No Comments »

Day job demands have slowed us down here at Mythic Delirium Books — more specifically, they’ve slowed me down — but that doesn’t mean the machinery is idling.

Here’s a bit of proof: we’re delight to announce the acquisition of The Collected Enchantments, a major new tome from Theodora Goss that features selections from her previous collections (In the Forest of Forgetting, Songs for Ophelia, Snow White Learns Witchcraft, all available from Mythic Delirium) as well as previously uncollected works and original stories and poems. It’s about 170,000 words of wonder from the author of The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter!

Check out the stunning cover art from Catrin Welz-Stein:

Cover art by Catrin Welz-Stein

Here’s a few more details about what The Collected Enchantments holds within its pages:

A wicked stepsister frets over all the ways in which she failed to receive her mother’s love. A lost woman travels through an enchanted forest looking for someone who can remind her of her name. A girl must wear down seven pairs of shoes to gain help from a witch. A fox makes a life with a human, but neither can deny their true natures. A young woman returns to her childhood home and the fantastic stories she left there. A man lets himself be taken prisoner by the Snow Queen to prove that the woman who loves him would walk barefoot through the ice to save him. Medusa cuts her hair for love.

The Collected Enchantments gathers retellings of folk and fairy tales in prose and verse from World Fantasy and Locus award-winning author Theodora Goss, creator of The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club series. Drawing from her Mythopoeic Award-nominated collections In the Forest of Forgetting and Songs for Ophelia and her Mythopoeic Award-winning tome Snow White Learns Witchcraft, and adding new and uncollected stories and poems, The Collected Enchantments provides a resounding demonstration of how, as Jo Walton writes, Goss provides “a vivid, authentic and important voice” that, in the words of Jane Yolen, “transposes, transforms, and transcends times, eras, and old tales with ease.”

We began the year with a notion to publish this volume in June, but those ambitions have proven over-ambitious, alas. This book is definitely coming! But too much is not yet ready. Once all the ingredients are assembled, we’ll announce the new schedule.

We are, however, accepting pre-orders for the e-book editions here on the site; that much as least we are ready to do. Stay tuned for more news about this exciting project.
 

Click here to pre-order the e-book.

 

Cross-posted from Mythic Delirium Books

Four new stories so far in 2022, plus some nice poem news

/ March 27th, 2022 / No Comments »

In 2021, with the exception of a handful of poems (and more on that below) I was pretty dormant as a writer of published fiction (all the action was on the journalism side of my life, subject matter that I don’t discuss here — that’s a whole separate, compartmentalized thing, like church and state, or Matt Murdoch and Daredevil, or Hannibal Lecter pre-Silence of the Lambs.)

So it’s pretty wild to arrive in 2022 and have four new short stories published within three months.

Three of them I’ve made previous mention of. The very first week of January brought the publication of “Falling Is What It Loves” in issue #69 of Not One of Us. I wrote about that in more detail in this post. It’s a story that’s more personal to me than they normally are, but also features an alien that juggles its own multi-dimensional eyeballs.

Next up came the Plutonian Press anthology Pluto in Furs 2, which contains two new stories from me, “Abhors” and “This Rider of Fugitive Dawns.” (And also a story from my mentee Hysop Mulero, “This Is You On Lust.”) I’ve written about these tales before, too, but I did not yet have the book in hand. Now I do, and it is quite the beauty — you should get one, too! [Photos by Anita Allen]

And now, something completely new. I’m thrilled to share that Cosmic Horror Monthly is about to bring out another fresh-from-the-oven story from me, “Matres Lachrymarum.” I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with zinemasters Charles Tyra and Carson Winter to aim this Lovecraftian nightmare your way. Thanks, too, to beta readers C.S.E. Cooney, Carlos Hernandez, Amanda McGee and Cathy Reniere, to Sonya Taaffe who helped me with the title, and to the members of the Virtual Gumbo Cafe who kept me company as I worked on the first draft.

“Matres Lachrymarum” is set in the same grim future as my story “Drift from the Windrows” that appeared in Tommorrow’s Cthulhu, Tales to Terrify and Aftermath of an Industrial Accident — circumstances have just, um, advanced a bit further down the road to hell, heh, heh. To anyone who might wonder whether the title is a Dario Argento reference, the answer is — kind of?

The April issue of Cosmic Horror Monthly is on its way to mailboxes right now. Look how beautiful! Here’s how you get one. [Images courtesy Cosmic Horror Monthly]

My creative output last year, at least the published creative output, amounted to three poems — and now two of them are nominated for the Rhysling Award! My thanks to the members of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association who found my poems “Astynome, After” and “Dispelling the Arcana” worthy of nomination, and my gratitude to editors Sonya Taaffe of The Deadlands and Henri Gendreau of The Roanoke Rambler for giving this works their original homes.

Their second home is pretty spiffy too. Take a look!

It occurred to me to investigate whether I now have enough uncollected stories to assemble a fourth collection and shockingly, the answer is, yes, barely. But I have no such plans just yet. Let’s see what the rest of 2022 brings.

A flock of rave reviews for DARK BREAKERS

/ March 27th, 2022 / No Comments »

Dark Breakers by C. S. E. Cooney has been racking up rave reviews faster than we can keep track of them. (Admittedly, a new-ish day job has distracted me!) Here is a belated attempt to play catch up.

It’s been nice to see Mythic Delirium’s dark horse entry in the “hopepunk” genre catch on so beautifully. The responses have been not just laudatory, but stunningly eloquent.

By the way, in the interval, Cooney’s first major international publisher-released novel, Saint Death’s Daughter, appeared in bookstores physical and virtual. You need to check Dark Breakers out for sure, but you ought to check this other book too, really you should.

Now then, to the reviews!

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

In Locus

There have now been two reviews in Locus Magazine, the industry journal for speculative fiction.

In his last review as a short fiction columnist for Locus, published in February, Rich Horton gave Dark Breakers a look, and focused especially on the original novella “Salissay’s Laundries,” which he dubbed “lovely, extravagant, colorful, passionate – like all of Cooney’s work.” He also included “Salissay’s Laundries” on his monthly Recommended Reading list.

You can read that review here.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

And then in the March issue, columnist Ian Mond reviewed Dark Breakers in its entirety, and in the course of a review full of superlatives also tossed in some retroactive additional love for “The Twice-Drowned Saint,” Cooney’s short novel included in our anthology A Sinister Quartet.

As I found with ‘‘The Twice Drowned Saint’’, it didn’t take long for me to be hooked by Cooney’s world-building: her Gilded Age secondary world and the mythology of three nested realities – human, fairy and goblin – cleaved apart by a centuries-old war … there’s Cooney’s magical ability at imbuing her worlds and characters with a life that goes beyond the page – a reminder that fiction is also a potent drug to us mortals.

Buy the whole issue to read the review — it doesn’t cost that much, there’s plenty more great stuff inside and Locus is absolutely worth supporting.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

Among the Book Bloggers

Out in book blogger land, this amazing review: Siavahda of Every Book a Doorway felt the need to invent words to explain how much she loved Dark Breakers, because ordinary language just didn’t cut it.

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. … Dark Breakers is beautiful beyond the power of words to describe, but even more incredible is what it does to you. Lighting you up inside, snatching your breath away, holding you hypnotised because it’s a reminder, a promise, a proof you can hold in your hands that the world is so, so far from grey. That it’s worth getting up in the mornings, darlings; it’s worth it to keep carrying on, because we have art and magic and wonder and books like this!

Read the full review here.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

At Ancillary Review of Books, Jeremy Brett aka “SFF Librarian” shared a lovely review of his own that suggested a potential political appointment for the author:

There are few authors that merrily dance so close to the borders of Fairyland as C.S.E. Cooney. Should the mortal world ever establish diplomatic relations with the fae, Cooney, whose warm writing beautifully merges the otherworldliness and sheer strangeness of fairykind with the rich and familiar emotions of humanity, would make an excellent ambassador… for either side of the line.

Read the whole review here.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

Reviewer Anthony Cardno gave Dark Breakers a 5 out of 5 rating in his own review that examines the books characters and craft:

These stories beautifully illustrate the overlapping layers of creativity, love, ambition, and self-identity that propel us as individuals and thus as a society. … You do not have to have read Cooney’s novella Desdemona and the Deep to enjoy these stories, but if you have (or when you do), you’ll pick out the connections easily enough. They all stand alone very well, and all feature Cooney’s trademark love of language. If you’re like me, you’ll be so invested in the stories that you won’t notice the amazing craftwork, but it will hit you afterward how amazing is Cooney’s knack for the right descriptive word in each moment.

Read the rest of his review here.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

And neither last nor least, but the one we’ll happen to conclude with, from Kathryn Adams at Pixellated Geek:

Tasty as ice cream and as dizzying as an entire bottle of wine. … Cooney absolutely revels in her descriptions of a roomful of dancers in full costume, of gentry life, of high society, of the darkness in the cellar of a workhouse, of a quiet forest glade beside a cabin in the mountains. The gentry become drunk on human writing, human art, human mortality. Humans are dragged into the complicated politics of the gentry where rivals fight for the throne using sculptures and captive poets and venom. Cooney describes the paintings and mythology of this world in a way that you can almost touch and smell as well as see.

Read the full review here.

☆ ★ ☾ ☼ ☽ ★ ☆

If you want to touch and see a signed copy of Dark Breakers, well, there’s a deal for that….
 

Cross-posted from Mythic Delirium Books

Presenting DARK BREAKERS: video and interview with C. S. E. Cooney + launch sale

/ February 15th, 2022 / No Comments »

Today the special pre-order sale that we have been holding on e-book editions of C.S.E. Cooney’s new collection Dark Breakers officially switches to being the launch sale for the book, as as of today Dark Breakers is officially out in the world and available. The discounting of the e-book price from $6.99 to $2.99 will continue through the end of the month.
 

We’re pleased also to have added our longtime partners in business, independent e-bookseller Weightless Books, to the list of platforms carrying Dark Breakers. Weightless, too, is participating in the discount launch sale.

Here are links where you can get those discounted e-books:

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

And for the trade paperback and hardcover editions, all the links you could possibly need are here.

To celebrate the dawn of Dark Breakers, we have a couple of fun things to share with you. First, here is the “unboxing video” that author C. S. E. (Claire) Cooney recorded earlier this year when she finally got to open her boxes of contributor copies:


 
Second, we have a deep-diving interview with Cooney about how Dark Breakers came to be and what makes its three worlds tick, or click, conducted by our new-ish assistant editor, Sydney Macias, who has been working with us behind the scenes since Spring 2021 and at last makes her “debut” on our site with this delightful feature. Read on!

SYDNEY: How would you characterize Dark Breakers — is it a collection, a mosaic novel, both, something else? Other works of yours have sometimes blurred the distinction between short fiction and novel, how would you categorize your previous books?

CLAIRE: I think Dark Breakers falls under “collection” in a shared world. I discovered Charles de Lint’s books as a teenager, and I loved to read his short stories, novels, and novellas that all seemed to connect to each other. Characters in one story would have a friend, barely mentioned in passing, who’d end up being the protagonist of a whole other book! It was a way to build a world (or even just a single city) over time. I connected to an entire community that never existed outside the bounds of his pages.

This was different from a series of novels with a set protagonist, whom you get to know deeply over time, and watch how one person, or even a group of people, change over an arc of years. I loved series like this too, but wanted to play with a more weblike network of shared-world stories written over a span of years, changing as a city changes, as a community changes (and as I, the writer, change).

Categories of fiction—short stories, novelette, novel—are mostly only useful for magazine guidelines and award requirements. Sometimes I’ve set out to write a novella that ended up being a short novel—indeed, almost too short for a proper novel! It was a novella in everything but length! It was a novella in intention.

This has happened, I think, twice by accident. Many times a short story has ended up needing a lot longer than the word limit I was trying to hit with it. The novum, perhaps, was too ambitious for the length, or perhaps there were too many characters to handle in too few pages. It’s hard to say.

I could say “the story wants this” or “the story demands that,” but that sort of thinking is next to useless when it comes to selling a story to a given magazine or anthology. Writing a story is one thing. Writing a story for other people to read (hopefully, potentially) is another. That requires a little more discipline as far as word limits, genres, and even sometimes themes go. If a writer is going the route of publishing in magazines and anthologies, and submitting their materials afterwards for awards, they will definitely be highly motivated to stay within certain word limits and genre lines for the sake of eligibility.

 

SYDNEY: What genre tags might you apply to this collection?

CLAIRE: Well, let’s see here.

For the collection as a whole, probably: #fairyfiction, #gildedagefantasy, #fantasy, #darkfantasy, #portalworldfantasy (to an extent), #secondaryworldfantasy, #urbanfantasy (not our world, not present time, but definitely set in a city, mostly), in some cases #fantasyofmanners, and since I really love the sound of it: #hopepunk

I was looking at popular romance and fantasy tropes that some writers use for hashtags on Instagram and in the FanFic community, and tried my hand at breaking down Dark Breakers a bit that way.

I’m actually not sure how useful this is, but categorization is always fun, or at least kind of hypnotic. Well, for me anyway. I find it relaxing to alphabetize books and organize my jewelry boxes, so…

For “The Breaker Queen”: #forbiddenlove, #alienhero (for “alien” read “gentry”), #fishoutofwater (this is on a world-to-world scale rather than small town to big city, but I still think it stays), #hiddenidentity, #shapeshifters, #richestorags, #royalty, and in a stretch #secretbillionaire (if you want to count a Gentry Queen disguised as a human maid a secret billionaire).

For “Two Paupers”: #enemiestolovers, #sharedpast, #quest, #cursed, and to go with that (a bit cringingly) #beautyandthebeast (Gideon’s a real beast—of the “jackass” variety—and I love him and all, but he’s a big problem. But sometimes people change for the better).

For “Salissay’s Laundries”: maybe #ghost (for a given definition of “ghost,” even by gentry standards), #partnersinfightingcrime, #grimdarkfantasy, and #socialjusticefantasy—in the style of its soul-sister novella Desdemona and the Deep.

For “Longergreen”: #lovetriangle, #grievinglover, #secondchanceatlove, or maybe #soulmates. Plus, there’s a definite #maytodecember vibe going on, except it’s complicated because immortals vs mortals. You can have an older mortal and a younger immortal, but someday that’s going to change, and the mortal becomes dust, right, and the immortal keeps going on.

For “Susurra to the Moon”: #comicfantasy, maybe, (sort of?) #sciencefantasy—since the story mainly has to do with two gentry queens wanting to go the mortal moon, but also having to deal with little things like human space agencies. It’s really just a #lark, if you know what I mean.
 

SYDNEY: Why did you choose the Gilded Age as a backdrop for this collection?

CLAIRE: There was a reason I initially chose that era when I first began “The Breaker Queen” and “The Two Paupers”, but then there was a reason I stuck with it. This was a project that spanned several years. I wrote the first two novellas before I wrote the last three stories, and between, I wrote Desdemona and the Deep: a standalone novella in this world, not found in Dark Breakers. Therefore, in “Salissay’s Laundries”, the first story in this world I wrote after Desdemona, I found myself leaning in and going a bit darker and more political, matching Desdemona’s tone and intent.

When I moved to Rhode Island in 2011, I spent some time going on a few day trips, visiting forests and beaches and the towns surrounding my little town. It was Sharon Shinn who advised me to visit The Breakers in Newport. The mansion was everything a lady with a life-long love of glittery, golden things could want: appallingly lavish, extravagant, and deliberate. The thought and care and pride that were poured into the architecture and art, not to mention the grounds themselves, were mind-bending. Every block of marble and platinum panel and renaissance-style painting had its reason and its place. The whole thing was almost oppressively impressive—as it was built to be. That the Breakers was considered a “summer cottage” by the Vanderbilts who lived there almost made me guffaw. For the rest of us peasants, it was a palace.

My first thought when thinking about setting a story there was that the main character might be some serving maid who worked there by day for the humans, but by night, walked through the walls into another Breakers entirely, where she ruled as queen. Every serving maid’s fantasy, right?

For a while, I tried to set my story in the actual Breakers, but historical fiction requires so much research if you want to get it right. I was also uncomfortable knowing there might still be living relatives of the historical figures I would be writing about. It felt… confining. So I branched out into what I liked best: secondary world fantasy. I love world-building! Such liberties I could take! But I wanted to use so much of what I was learning about the Gilded Age, all these delicious details, all this sumptuous stuff. I wanted the vocabulary.

And then, of course, the older I got, and the more research I did into that fin-de-siècle era, the more I started seeing parallels between that age and ours, the great disparity of rich and poor, the swift innovations in industry, the high cost in lives and resources, the growing agitation for women’s rights, workers’ rights, civil rights. That’s when it became less of a pretty setting for a fantasy story and an opportunity to use this secondary world as a canvas upon which I could re-imagine my own.

 

SYDNEY: What were your sources of inspiration for the Valwode?

CLAIRE: So, have you ever seen the movie Legend? There’s this wood, and it just kind of… twinkles. The light is just so. There are little things that seem to skitter and watch from the corner of the screen. There are monsters in the bogs (Meg Mucklebones forever), and trickster pixies, and—of course—the Gump. You randomly run into unicorns at the stream beds. And this reminds me of the forest in the The Last Unicorn, that the title character keeps sweet as spring by her very presence.

There are so many forests in fantasy and science fantasy, but my first visceral, visual influence were probably 80’s fantasy films: from Willow where the death dogs hunt you, to Labyrinth where the Fireys leap out at Sarah and dance for her, taking off their heads off and throwing them at each other—then insisting she do the same. There’s a wood in the one (or several) of the Ewok adventures, with, I think a Witch Queen who turns into a raven, and Krull, with a teleporting Black Forest full of outlaws who are occasionally infiltrated by changelings. Plus, all those fairy tales full of forests, where the protagonist often ends up.

I named the Valwode to marry the words “veil/vale” and “wood.” There’s some wordplay with “veil/vale,” as in “piercing the veil” to see into another world, and “vale” as in “the Valley of the Shadow of Death,” and “vale” as in the Latin for farewell. I can’t remember if it was Neil Gaiman or Terri Windling writing that Faerieland and the Land of Death share marchlands, but I always liked that idea. There are different version of fairytales that have fairies stealing people away, or Death stealing people away, or sometimes the Devil stealing people away: the stories are similar, as are the bargains those left behind make to get their lost love ones back. So that’s something I think about when I play with the gentry of the Valwode, and the Valwode itself: beautiful, deadly creatures in a beautiful, deadly place, where “immortality” and “death” might as well be synonyms.
 

SYDNEY: There’s a lot of art making in the book: painting, sculpting, writing. Why did you choose art as such a strong tie into this world of magic?

CLAIRE: Probably there’s some compensatory writing happening there. When I started The Breaker Queen, I was living below the poverty line, working a $10/hour job part time, and getting food regularly from the food bank. I was living in an attic apartment with my mother in Rhode Island. We didn’t have much, and every single bill was stressful. And yet, I was deliriously happy. I finally had time to write. I was living in a new town, in a new state—one I’d always wanted to live in—and while I didn’t have any money, what I had oodles of was time. Time to write! At last!

So often the lot of artists is to be very poor, to do one’s art in one’s spare time, while trying to scrape together a living the rest of the time. Historically, some artists had (or even have, present tense, with such virtual platforms as Patreon) patrons to help them make ends meet while they make art. One story artists sometimes tell themselves is that artists are special, somehow more wise and insightful than your average (choose a color)-collared workaholic, that they can see further, feel more, recognize patterns and therefore transcend them, offer something invaluable and necessary to society’s survival with their work, etc.

It’s a good story, especially when you’re debating whether to pay your electricity bill or your college debt installment that month. It helps one go on.

I don’t think that artists are actually any better than anyone else on any given day. Generalizing by group is rarely a good idea. But it was fun, and a relief in those early days, to give my artists the gift of the Valwode: just for being themselves, utterly themselves. Though impoverished, each character’s connection to their art (both innate and learned) gave them the ability to not only transcend class, but whole worlds, and also granted them protection where otherwise they might vulnerable.

Later, in “Salissay’s Laundries”, after a certain four-year presidential term was over, I guess I wanted to give journalists that same protection. And after several friends, and friends of friends, and family of friends died in late 2019 and throughout 2020, I wanted to give a gift of possible immortality and infinite love to the elderly.

And then, in “Susurra to the Moon”, goddamnit, I just wanted to have some fun.

 

SYDNEY: There are some really compelling couples in the book. What were you most excited to explore for these different relationship dynamics?

CLAIRE: Again, I wrote the first two novellas quite a while ago, and was strongly influenced already by my incessant love of the romance genre, both romcom and romantic fantasies. I wasn’t as aware of romantics tropes as I am now, and maybe would have done some things different (i.e., Gideon and Analise in “Two Paupers”).

Gideon and Analise are some of my favorite characters, and long before any of the Dark Breakers stuff had even been conceived, I’d written them a one-act play that, years later, became the basis for their backstory. They’ve always fascinated me, and the more I grew up, the more I wanted to do right by them.

It’s so seductive to slip into certain tropes, and “the male jackass with the heart of gold and the female who redeems him” was so much under my skin that I never questioned it. In my most recent revision and expansion of “Two Paupers” for this collection, I was go glad to dive in with my eyes a little more open, a little more aware of tropes and habit, and question them, pry them open a bit.

Since writing “Two Paupers,” I also, you know, fell in love and got married, which helped. It helped even more that my husband is an award-winning SFF writer himself and an English professor, and when he sees a character behaving in a way that makes him squick (especially a male character, who’s supposed to be lovable by the end and not a toxic, radioactive mess you want to bury in a cave beneath the desert), he’ll tell me so. In no uncertain terms.

I really like the relationship in “The Breaker Queen”, because it takes the hot immortal thing (like every male vampire and female human lover ever) and flips it. I also like riches-to-rags story, where the end goal isn’t more money and power, but a life well lived, and even an awareness of death that makes life sweeter, dearer, more intentional. It also allowed me to recreate the “blonde, buxom, dairy-maid type” in a male image—and not only that, but in Elliot’s image: someone wise, insightful, slow to judge, and loyal.

I loved revisited the character of Salissay in “Salissay’s Laundries.” She has a cameo in Desdemona and the Deep, and I always wanted to know more about her. I like to think of her as a queer, uncanny Nellie Bly. While this story is not a romance, I liked to pair up a sort atheist journalist who doesn’t believe in gentry with the gentriest of gentry, and see what happens.

In “Susurra to the Moon”, I loved to take two characters who, all the way back in “The Breaker Queen”, had nothing to do with each other, and over time and several stories (including Desdemona and the Deep), have ended up completely transformed and in love with each other. I had so much fun showing them off in a domestic situation, long after (by human standards) their love story originated. What is 60 years of married to a gentry, after all? What do immortal gentry hanker after? Mortal things, of courses. Like the moon.
 

SYDNEY: What are you working on next?

CLAIRE: I am working on a book called Fiddle, which actually takes place—again!—in this same world of Dark Breakers and Desdemona and the Deep. It is a wild, rompy, rom-com-y goblinpalooza, and it makes me laugh out loud even to write it. There are goblins, demons, gentry-babes, Fathom Folk, all sorts, and they all get into such a mess. There’s also a spaceship, and prophecies, and a that-world-equivalent of our own 1980’s, so it’s hysterically fun to research. Right now it’s kind of wild, and I’m reluctant to tame it, but eventually the plot will heel at my command, even if, at present, it’s a bit of a wolf pup.

Sydney Macias (Assistant Editor, Mythic Delirium Books) is a practicing novel writer whose interests take form in metaphysical settings. She is working toward a Bachelor of Fine Arts with an Emphasis in Writing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Follow her on Instagram at @_syd.mac_.


 

Cross-posted from Mythic Delirium Books

One week till DARK BREAKERS: an ARC giveaway, a pre-order discount sale & a few sweet reviews

/ February 8th, 2022 / No Comments »

There’s only a week left until Dark Breakers, the new collection of short fiction from World Fantasy Award winner C. S. E. Cooney, manifests physically in the world.

This is Mythic Delirium’s first new title since the release of the Shirley Jackson Award-nominated Aftermath of an Industrial Accident in 2020. To whet appetites for pre-orders and purchases, we’ve reduced the price of e-book editions of Claire Cooney’s new collection by more than half-price, from $6.99 to $2.99, and we’ll hold that line at least through the book’s official launch events — which, more about that below.

Meanwhile, some great reviews have appeared ahead of publication day, and one has a giveaway attached to it.

ARC giveaway

Over at Black Gate, author Z.Z. Claybourne wrote a glowing evaluation of Dark Breakers, declaring the the book “an art deco mural under the guidance of Galadriel, Zora Neale Hurston and the Brothers Grimm. It reads the way a bite into gold that has been warmed like chocolate would feel,” that contains “that sense of being consumed by things we can’t understand; the hell of being where you feel you don’t belong; the ache of wanting dangerous things, places or people to be beautiful.”

Claybourne generously allowed us to use the publication of his review as an occassion to also launch a giveaway of hardcover and trade paperback ARCs of the book. To enter the giveaway, all you have to do is leave a comment under Claybourne’s post at Black Gate sharing the name of your favorite story collection. If you’re reading this post on the Mythic Delirium blog, then I imagine you should already have some candidates in mind!

Click here to read the review and enter the giveaway.

More rave reviews

Author Amanda J. McGee also posted a lengthy, thoughtful review over at her blog, saying among other things, “If you love rich worlds, fairies, goblins, and shorter tales which each have their own astonishing conclusions, this collection will delight you.” You can read the full review by clicking here.

In the newest issue of Locus Magazine, in the final review written for that publication by short fiction critic and editor Rich Horton, he singles out Cooney’s original novella “Salissay’s Laundries,” including it on his monthly recommended reading list. He writes that “it’s lovely, extravagant, colorful, passionate – like all of Cooney’s work.”

Our favorite of the Netgalley/Goodreads reviews that have appeared so far has to be this 5-star gem that calls Dark Breakers one of the best books of the year: “The characters were delightfully eccentric and lovable, the prose was gorgeous and the over-all atmosphere just felt so lush! As an artist, this book was a total feast for my imagination.”

Boskone launch + pre-launch price special

Toward the end of next week I will be traveling to join Cooney and her marvelous author husband Carlos Hernandez at Boskone, my first in-person appearance at a convention since 2019; we’ll be doing what we can to launch Dark Breakers in the flesh, and I’ll also be appearing on a few panels. Watch this space for more information next week.

Having shared all of that, just to remind you again, all three editions of Dark Breakers (hardcover, trade paperback, e-book) are available for pre-order, and the e-books are more than half off as a promotion for the launch — so if you’re at all intrigued, buy today and make sure you don’t miss out. See links below.

Pre-order now!

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

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

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

 


 

Cross-posted from Mythic Delirium Books

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