Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester is happy to host C.S.E. Cooney on our Author Spotlight this day-before-Halloween! We’ve been fans of this author, poet, and now audiobook narrator for quite some time. Her work includes novels, short stories, novellas, poetry, plays and more, covering the realms of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She’s visited us to talk about faeries, and she’ll be back on November 14, from 2:00 – 4:00 PM for her release of Bone Swans.
Thank you so much for joining us, Claire! What was the inspiration for BONE SWANS? What were the steps you took to bring it from initial inspiration to the finished book?
Since BONE SWANS is a collection of 5 novellas, let me take you through the inspiration for each of them (briefly). The first story is called “Life on the Sun.” The vague plot/character relationships idea for this story came from a dream I had all the way back in high school. I tried to write it several times, in modern settings, without magic (it was one of those chase through a maze, bad guys after you, band together with your friends to escape the authorities dreams), and then gave up. Later, years later, I had this idea for a cool secondary world, sort of a fantastical version of the Sonoran Desert where I grew up (Phoenix, AZ mainly) mixed with that feeling you get from reading the Arabian Nights. The first time I wrote in that world, I set another dream-inspired story there called “Godmother Lizard,” published by Black Gate in 2012. I dropped some clues to future characters to “Life on the Sun” when I had the idea to set this story there as well.
“The Bone Swans of Amandale” came from a few things. I have a minor obsession (so itty bitty, hardly worth mentioning, maybe have written about it a few times, you know, like in my novella The Witch in the Almond Tree) with Grimm’s fairy tale “The Juniper Tree,” sometimes called “The Almond Tree.” One day, I was attending a writing group at authors Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman’s house, and I saw a copy of “The Pied Piper” in their living room. It was gorgeously illustrated by Mercer Mayer, and I fell in love with the cheeky rats that danced on every page. Author Theodora Goss, staring wistfully out a window and looking like a Swan Princess, happened to mention she’d always wanted a rose named after her. It was no great leap, then, to invent a character named Dora Rose who happened to be—you guessed it—a Swan Princess. But the Maurice the Rat, the first person narrator of the story, was the real hook. I got his voice in my ear, and I guess his voice was that month’s iteration of my Id, because I’ve never had so much fun writing a character before or since.
“Martyr’s Gem” is another story idea that sprang from a dream. I really liked the idea of trying to write a mystery set in a secondary world. And I really liked the idea of two young people coming together as strangers to wed, and learning to love each other under tragic circumstances. One of them is hell-bent on revenge, while the other, though desperately in love, is trying to stay true to his moral center.
It is fairly easy to see that the roots of “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One” comes from the old fairy tale “Rumpelstiltskin.” I’d wondered, idly, if I could perhaps write a love interest involving a character normally considered a villain or a demon. What’s more, could I retain for his character what in most stories is considered his grotesqueness, and turn it on its head—so that in loving him, we see those very “deformities” as an integral part of his beauty? This one is set in the same world as another story of mine “The Last Sophia” published in Strange Horizons in 2011, and there is some character cross-over there as well, though it is not necessary to have read one to enjoy the other.
Last comes “The Big Bah-Ha.” I don’t have an exact idea where this comes from. I know I was living in Chicago. My roommate at the time was an awesome actress named Gillian Hastings, whose aunt BeeBee had been a clown once. Combine this with stories from my stepmother’s childhood about “playing Barkas,” a horrific piece of Chicago history about the serial killer John Wayne Gacy, a supernatural race of carrion-eating clowns I’d once created called “The Tall Ones,” and an idea for a plague that leaves the world populated by children only, and that’s sort of what you get. “The Tall Ones” and specifically the character of the Flabberghast make their first appearance in a story-poem of mine called “Wild Over Tombs Does Grow,” which appears in my poetry collection How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes.
Okay, so you know how I mentioned Maurice the Rat above? Let me just say again how much I ADORED writing Maurice! He’s a shapeshifter, one of the Rat Folk, so when he’s not a dapper, dashing, debonair rat, he’s a seedy, beady-eyed, highly suggestive (I dare not say “gentleman”) human(ish) male of questionable social status and no morals to speak of. But one thing you can say for him—he loves Drama, and he loves Dora Rose.
…I guess that’s two things.
Also, I loved him as a foil for my OTHER favorite character I ever wrote (who am I kidding? At one point or another, they are ALL my favorite characters… Like Sharrar Sarth from “Martyr’s Gem” or the Flabberghast from “The Big Bah-Ha”), the Pied Piper. I don’t know that I have ever written anyone so shining, or so broken. I have big plans for Nicolas and his Oracles. Who are they, you ask? Well. Maybe read “Bone Swans of Amandale” and find out.
What else can we expect from you in the near future?
Well, currently I am grinding away at a fourth draft of my novel Miscellaneous Stones: Assassin. I plan on it being the first of a trilogy (Miscellaneous Stones: Necromancer, and Miscellaneous Stones: Psychopomp), but much depends on if I can sell the first one. I also want to finish up my Dark Breakers series, which is three novellas set around a mansion very much like the Vanderbilts’ “summer cottage,” The Breakers of Newport, RI. Only, of course, this series is set in a secondary world—the same world, in fact, as “How the Milkmaid Struck a Bargain with the Crooked One” only much, much further up the timeline. Which means there are goblins. And magic midnight masquerades. And things.
Of all the things I’ve written since moving to Rhode Island from Chicago and Phoenix, this series is the most heavily influenced by being and breathing in the East Coast. The first two, The Breaker Queen and The Two Paupers, are written and published, available as eBooks on Amazon. The third and final installment is yet to come; I’d love to have it out by the year’s end.
What is/are your passions when you’re not writing? How do you make time for your non-writing hobbies/things you love?
Well, my other passion besides writing is acting. And—by the grace of the Graces, known and unknown—this year I got the COOLEST JOB IN THE WORLD as an audiobook narrator at Tantor Media. This means, wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles, that I am making my living by voice acting! Since I went to school for writing and acting, this is the first time I’ve been able to earn a living wage by my degree. It is profoundly moving, terribly exciting, exhilarating, terrifying, ALL THE THINGS. Also this year, I released my first EP as my alter ego the Imaginary Rock star Brimstone Rhine. It’s called Alecto! Alecto! And it’s all songs based on women in mythology that I’ve long admired. Go on and have a listen. It’ll only take twenty minutes. I’m working on my next EP right now “The Headless Bride.” It’s coming along, but slowly. This is my first year doing anything like this, and I need so much help! I’ve loved collaborating with various (real) musicians, and the Indiegogo campaign I ran to fund it all was a mighty success. I’d never done a thing like that before either—and the results were pretty mind-boggling. I guess that’s how I’d describe my whole 2015, really. Mind-boggling. Where do I find the time? Uh… I’ve not really had a lot to spare, actually. Barely keeping my head above water. But so far, not drowned—and look! An album, a story collection, nearly 30 audiobooks recorded since April, and a fifth done with my novel revisions. It’s something. Though I often feel it’s not… enough. But I think we all feel like that, don’t we? No matter what we’ve done, it always feels like we should have done more.
Maybe next year.
Where can people find your work? (Besides ABSW ;)–though they should totally check here first!)
I keep a pretty updated list of links on my website: http://csecooney.com/publications/ but also on Amazon.com of course!
How can we follow your work, share your awesomeness, or otherwise stalk you in a totally non-creepy way?
Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/C.S.E.-Cooney/e/B004NIOMCW
LiveJournal: csecooney.livejournal.com—though these days it mostly mirrors my website’s blog.
Thank you so much for sharing your awesomeness with us, Claire! We look forward to having you in person at the store on 65 James Street in Worcester on Saturday, November 14, from 2:00 – 4:00 PM!