Five Things: June 9, 2020

Okay, let’s see what’s up in the world and with me today:

He pushed himself! A study in contrasts between the two men vying to be the president for the next term: Trump is suggesting the 75-year-old man who was injured whilst being abused by the Buffalo Police sorta, you know, made himself fall harder; Biden, on the other hand, gets applause for directly and sympathetically addressing George Floyd’s six-year-old daughter at Floyd’s funeral in Houston. One may be as cynical as one likes about Biden and his motivations for making at appearance (via video) at Floyd’s funeral, but honestly it’s refreshing to see someone on the presidential level who has the horse sense to read the moment. Remember when we had presidents who could do that? Seems so long ago now.

Bon Appétit and Refinery 29 editors gone: For wearing brownface and being a real jerk to minority staffers, respectively. I’ve seen relatively little hand-wringing about what this means, and whether white editors should be judged on racist things they did at some point in the past when they were still actually adults who should have known better; now doesn’t appear to be the time for that, strangely enough. Likewise, treating minority staff poorly (or allowing them to be treated poorly). The most I’ve heard is anxiousness about what this means for the Bon Appétit test kitchen videos, which apparently a large chunk of America has been self-medicating with during the quarantine. Apparently people who weren’t being paid for appearing in the videos will be paid now? Good.

Poll problems in Georgia: Shocked, shocked I am that people in Georgia, of all places, might have experienced difficulties in voting. I’d like to believe that this issue will be resolved before November, but I would also like to believe in butterscotch unicorns as well. You can say I’m a little skeptical about the state of voting in the United States right now. It’s not my number one political issue at the moment, but it’s up there in the top ten.

Lollapalooza cancelled: Which is not surprising but still makes for a sad moment in this particular Gen-Xer’s day. Fun fact: I attended the first Lollapalooza tour (back when it was a tour and not a festival) — outside Chicago, which is where it eventually ended up when it became a festival. I went to a few more installments after that, but as they say, you always remember your first. I specifically remember Nine Inch Nails tearing the roof off the place; they were third from the top of the bill and they made it hard for Siouxsie and the Banshees and Jane’s Addiction to top them. The Lollapalooza’s organizers promise to do something online and virtual this year, and I’m sure that it’ll be fine. But I think everyone will be happier if and when in person musical festivals come back.

A less than welcome summer first: Say hello to the first horsefly of the season, thankfully on the outside of the window screen:

In real life, this dude is roughly the size of my thumb, which means it’s pretty big. They’re nasty customers and they like to pick fights with my car as I’m heading down the driveway. I’m not entirely sure why; my Mini Countryman may be small, but it’s still exponentially larger than they are. They’ll be around through early September at least. Oh boy.

Big Idea

The Big Idea: C. S. E. Cooney, Jessica P. Wick, Amanda J. McGee, Mike Allen

This Big Idea post for the collection A Sinister Quartet represents an actual record: The largest number of authors co-writing a single Big Idea piece. I’m going to get out of the way here and let them do their thing.


A Sinister Quartet pays tribute to the legacy of collections of dark fantasy and horror novellas like Stephen King’s Different Seasons, the main difference being it’s written by four authors rather than one. The book started life as a duet, with a notion that it might be published with two covers like one of those vintage Ace Doubles, but became a quartet in its final form. We the contributors (C. S. E. Cooney, Jessica P. Wick, Amanda J. McGee, Mike Allen) decided to interview each other about our Big Ideas in the order we appear in the book.

Okay, we start with Claire Cooney—why is your story structured using the language of cinema?

Claire: The idea for “The Twice-Drowned Saint” has been around for years. My first draft was mostly a tone of voice and a series of images—an angel with eleven eyes, a ritual sacrifice turned miracle, a jaded narrator awakening to the horrors and wonders of her world. Perhaps voice and image together meant “cinematic” to me, because in draft two, I began using the language of movies to help me pin the narrative to a specific place and time. I wanted a secondary fantasy world that was experiencing a timeline much like our early twentieth century. I wanted weird angels, sorcery, and fallen gods in conversation with global wars fought with modern weapons, the progression of silent film to talkies and technicolor, plus some really cool motorcycles.

I’m very happy that Mike sparked my deadline fuse and got this story burning again; I’ve never written four drafts of novel-length fiction in a mere four months before. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever attempted, but it also bows to some of my earliest published stories. There’s a sense of personal history here, of inward scope and infinite possibility, that, to me, is pretty breathtaking. And if I am wonderstruck, I hope my readers will be too.

So, Jess. The threat in “An Unkindness” seems to have its roots in a fairyland. Why fairyland?

Jess: First and foremost: Fairyland is my jam. There’s nothing so chilling as the amoral righteousness of fairyland. I grew up imbibing myth and folklore, pretending to bargain with fairies and kelpies who might steal me away—not because they wanted to hurt me in a mean way, but because that’s just what fairies do. There are rules to follow and break and obscure and follow and wield. Secondly, it was important to me the external threat feel beguiling but scary, that most readers—and Ravenna—would immediately judge it “bad.” I wanted a threat that could strike at the heart, because the heart is what I’m chiefly interested in. All of the characters in “An Unkindness” regard themselves as right and knowing best. But they can’t all be—can they? Fairyland is a place that can reveal, obscure, or both; it revels in moral quandaries and ambiguities while at the same time kind of telling us that, no, actually, there are True Things. What better origin for a threat?

Now to Amanda. Why a modern-day retelling of a fairytale?

Amanda: It’s funny you ask, because I originally conceived of this story as a Civil War era retelling. It was also going to be epistolary. So obviously the final story became something very different!

As for why a retelling—I think I’ve always been fascinated with how stories change in their adaptations, but I first really became conscious of how much things transform in adaptation when memorizing lyrics to “Black is the Color” which is an old folk song I first heard covered by Gaelic Storm. I was listening to a radio show on Gaelic and Appalachian music and they played an old Appalachian tune which was clearly derivative, but wildly different. Most of those changes had to do with cultural values evolving. So I wanted to see how a tale set in a different time might evolve and transform itself. Thus, eventually, “Viridian” was born as a modern-day piece. I plan to do a handful of other fairytale retellings in modern times because I really enjoy exploring them in this context. I hope that I’ll bring the true horror of fairytales home to modern readers in a way that’s true to their roots.

Mike, you’re last. Why do you keep writing creepy stories about buttons?

Mike: It’s not the buttons that keep me hooked, so to speak, so much as it is the notion of a predator that craves to learn your deepest, most unpleasant secrets and can assume your identity once it has done so. It just happens that when I was first struck by this idea, it was inextricably visually entwined with the image of a person’s skin being unbuttoned so the monster could access the prize inside, a metaphor literally made flesh. I’m somewhat surprised at how often I’m drawn to revisit this world and further chronicle the fates of the people who encounter these monsters, both those that escape and those that don’t.

My gamble (I admit it is one) is that my novella “The Comforter” (threequel to my horror tales “The Button Bin” and “The Quiltmaker”) is so bizarre that it doesn’t matter what you knew going in, thus it’s a standalone. There are other stories of mine it also ties into, for the first time codifying an “Allenverse,” fun for me but a hazardous place for its populace.

We’ve found that the four stories connect in unexpected ways, even though all were written independently. Shapeshifting of some sort happens in all four stories. The angels in Claire’s story and the monsters in Mike’s have in common chaotic, patchwork forms. Jess’s story has a fairytale feel, while Amanda’s retells a fairytale. Claire’s and Jess’s stories take place in secondary worlds, while Amanda’s and Mike’s are set in present day reality. All the stories have central relationships involving siblings, either familial or found. All use cultural references and genre tropes to set up expectations that then get walloped in the snozz.

Oh, and there’s cannibalism. Many varieties of cannibalism.


A Sinister Quartet: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt.

The authors’ web sites: C. S. E. Cooney|Jessica P. Wick|Amanda J. McGee|Mike Allen

The authors’ Twitters: C. S. E. Cooney|Jessica P. Wick|Amanda J. McGee|Mike Allen

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