C.S.E. Cooney was born in the Arizona desert. Contrary to popular lore, she was not left out in the waste to be suckled by the saguaros. Her publication credits include: Subterranean Press Online Magazine, Twilight Tales' Book of Dead Things, Annihilation Press' Hell in the Heartland, Goblin Fruit, and Tales from the Dim Unknown (issues 1 & 2). She is part of the Chicago Writer's Coven of Chicago, which meets every month at Kate the Great's Book Emporium, where she is a manager.
STEPHEN M. WILSON: How did you end up migrating from Arizona to Chicago?
C.S.E. Cooney: My father has lived with my stepmother and brother in Barrington for the last 13 years, and I was already familiar with the area from visits. After high school and massage therapy school and some real-life work, I was ready for college. Real college. Where I could study theatre and writing. Where do you go? L.A. didn't appeal to me, and New York scared me to death. Chicago seemed so friendly, so full of theatre and music. The word "springboard" always came to mind. And yet, for all Chicago's accessibility, it was still a word I could dazzle my friends with.
WILSON: We met at WHC07 in Toronto where we were both part of the poetry reading hosted by Twilight Tales. Talk a little about your involvement with Twilight Tales and with the Chicago Writer's Coven.
Cooney: The first time I heard about Twilight Tales was in a letter from Gene Wolfe. He included a flyer and told me I might like them. I kept the flyer magnetized to my tiny fridge for two years then threw it out. After another year of talking myself into it, two visitors to our bookstore mentioned Twilight Tales, within about a month of each other. Fearful of hexing myself, I grabbed my friend Katie and talked her into going with me. The first night we went, it was a shop-talk with some editors. A very small, non-threatening, smiling, friendly group. The next time, I went by myself to the open mic. Then Tina Jens sort of adopted me -- she has bright, big wings and I fit under them nicely -- and roped me into MCing one night. But I really got to know the TT folks when Tina sent out a call for staff at the World Horror Con in Toronto. It meant a free ride and a paid membership; I'd never been to Canada; I practically begged them to take me and make a slave of me. The only other World Horror convention I'd attended was in 2002, with Gene and Rosemary Wolfe, when Gene and Neil Gaiman were Guests of Honor. I'd always wanted to try another one.
The Chicago Writer's Coven is what we call our writer's group at Kate the Great's. Our members have varied over the last three years -- mostly people we've heard read and wanted to work with/learn from/hang out with, and now we're a nice cohesive group. We like diners a little too well, and our collective sense of humor borders from bawdy to downright certifiable, but I wouldn't trade it for all the joo-ells of Arabia.
WILSON: At that reading, you blew me away with your recitation of “Wild Over Tombs Does Grow” (the 200+ line poem included in this issue of Doorways). Later, you ‘preformed’ the same piece at a reading at Kate the Great's Book Emporium which was attended by Mort Castle (Doorways’ fiction editor) who was also impressed and suggested that you submit it to us. Do you think that “Wild Over Tombs Does Grow” was fated for Doorways?
Cooney: O Fate! Or Luck! Or Synchronicity! Or, as my father would say, "Some of us call it Grace." I am certainly glad and gleesome that Doorways took it, because hardly anyone wants those longish sorts of poems. At least, that I've found so far.
WILSON: Do you believe in the supernatural?
Cooney: I believe in stories about the supernatural. I believe in other people's supernatural. I have not experienced - nor do I expect to experience - the supernatural. But I can make other people believe in it, can't I?
WILSON: Goblin Fruit recently published another of your long poems. Do you generally find it difficult to find markets for these mini-epics?
Cooney: I admit that I've not researched the market thoroughly, but the few places to whom I'd wanted to sell my poems wouldn't have them. But I am learning to look harder, see farther, surprise myself, take names, kick ass and be grateful for the kindness of editors like Amal El-Mohtar and Stephen M. Wilson.
WILSON: What kind of time goes into writing a piece of such length and how in the world do you memorize it? Do you also write shorter poetry?
My shorter poetry is mostly personal, or for friends. At the World Horror Convention, I challenged myself to 30 lines or fewer (I think you inspired that), and came up with "The Hollow Witch," which satisfied me greatly. The amount of time it takes to write a longer one? Well, there are phases. Initially, I just rip it out. Maybe a few hours? Then I lose track of time, because I tweak it, and read it aloud, and bother my mother and my best friend, who (most helpfully) praise it, and then I tweak it some more, and send it to my father or Gene (with slightly more trepidation, because their comments are -- most helpfully -- more discerning than effusive), make cuts, clean it up, and by that time I've read it aloud so many times it's memorized! Practically.
WILSON: Your work has a mythic quality to it. What/who are some of your influences?
Cooney: I read a lot of myths and folk tales in my early days. (Still do, come to think of it.) Ye Olde Edith Hamilton and the Bulfinch's. My fantasy reading had a strong classical background - Tolkien, Lewis, etc. For horror, Lovecraft, Poe and King. Then, I read a lot of fantastical fictions: McKinley, McKillip, LeGuin, Emma Bull, Lois McMaster Bujold. But I always wrote my story poems and had nothing to compare them to, other than "The Highwayman" by Noyes and "Annabel Lee," and others of that ancient ilk... Then I read Neil Gaiman's "Baywolf" and "The White Road" in his book SMOKE AND MIRRORS and I saw that he even called them story-poems! Which, in my ignorance, was a word I thought I'd coined!
WILSON: You’ve chosen to publish under your initials “C.S.E.” instead of your first name. What prompted that decision?
Cooney: Truly? It was one of those high school decisions. C.S.E. Cooney looked cooler on the top right hand margin of the loose-leaf than Claire Cooney. Too, I felt mischievous at the thought of anonymity. And the signature scrawl is easier. Someone mentioned that I should use my full name, because there are few enough female fantasy writers, and I should stake my claim... But C.S.E. Cooney continues to suit me.
WILSON: This is your first writer’s interview, what’s the one ‘first impression’ that you would like to leave for future fans?
Cooney: Oh. Jeez. Future fans should read "Wild Over Tombs Does Grow," and ignore this interview. That would make a nice first impression.
WILSON: Where would you suggest Doorways’ readers stop for a bite to eat when in Chicago?
Dear Doorways' Readers: I just went to this place called Hamburger Mary's on Clark and Balmoral, and it was so over the top and fun. They have a "Buffy the Vampire Burger," with red wine and garlic. And they bring you your bill in a high heel.
WILSON: Thank you for your time and allowing us to publish “Wild Over Tombs Does Grow.” I wish you much success. Btw, what in the world are ‘the saguaros’?
Cooney: They are a kind of cactus found only in the Sonora Desert. They're the tall ones that look like aliens trying to pass as humans. You see 'em in every cowboy movie.