I suppose I could talk about how she grew up in desert with her brothers and some clothes. But so what? Or that she acts, voices audiobooks (fiction and nonfiction- over 100 in total). Then I thought I about starting with the fact that she wrote her first novel in fifth grade and play in fourth grade, before songwriting (but ho-hum she was just branching out of poetry and geeze…. we’ve all done that).
I mean she’s really just standard… so I just don’t know. Guess I’ll just have to hope you find something interesting in this interview.. Ok, if you haven’t noted ALL the sarcasm oozing from this introduction by now? Let me help you. Cooney is an artist extraordinaire that basically makes me question every life decision I’ve ever made.
If you ever needed a roadmap, inspiration and just a picture of someone that said I’m going to do that… and then actually DID IT… well, here she is…
To hear my mother tell it, I was about four when she took me to see a show, and I informed her, pointing to the stage, that I wanted to “go there.” When she assured me she would take me to see the stage after the show, I corrected her, “No. I want to live there.”
I went to all kinds of schools, including magnets for the performing arts, charter schools for the arts, and eventually got my BA in Fiction Writing and Acting, but never with the idea I could never actually make a living at it. The fact that I am, in fact, a working voice actor, reading books out loud for a living, is a constant source of glee.
That said, while acting was my first love—musicals especially, though I was never in as many as I wanted to be, and then Shakespeare: ditto—writing was a constant, private practice. First chapter book in 3rd grade (“The Halls of Difficulty”), first play in 4th grade, first novel in 5th grade (well, “novel”), etc . . . I’ve devoted more hours to writing than to anything else in my life, and so much of my identity is wrapped up in it. The few times I’ve contemplated giving it up, the thing that stopped me is the idea that it would be a tremendous waste of resources: my own and those of everyone who has supported and mentored and upheld me over the years.
The singer/songwriter thing came much later, though I dabbled a bit in high school. It was a natural leafing out of my poetry, I think. But as a songwriter, I learned, I must always be collaborating, since I do not play an instrument. I studied voice for many years, and love to sing, but all I’ve ever known about music theory I’ve mostly forgotten. In a way, it’s a great thing: I record alone in a black box, I often write alone (or with my husband sitting near me, also writing). But music is a thing I cannot do alone. And I love that about it.
I think part of this has to do with attending conventions. There was a whole group of us (I think of us as “the goblin girls” although there were male writers and poets in and amongst us too) who were rising up together, publishing short stories and poetry in magazines. Some of us had musical or theatrical background. Some of us were poets as well as prose writers.
We figured out pretty early on that if we wanted anybody to come to our readings, we’d best band together. This seems easy but is often a difficult decision. When one has one’s own reading slot, one gets more time in the limelight. One might read, for example, a whole chapter or story. When there’s eight of you in that same time slot, you get maybe 5-7 minutes. A brief moment to shine. But more people will see you shine. It’s a way of building community.
So a group of us began to perform under the umbrella of “The Banjo Apocalypse Crinoline Troubadours.” Later, a few of us started a small musical band—briefly—with the same name and created a body of work together. When we performed, we’d try to make it as entertaining and outrageous and showy as possible—in an attempt to distinguish ourselves from all the other established readers who could garner more attention by the simple fact of them having a byline. But it was also a way to use a wider spectrum of our skills, and to be considered SFF artists not just as prose writers, but as poets and musicians.
I don’t have a favorite form per se. Unfortunately, I find it difficult to focus on more than one thing at a time seriously, although I can still dabble. When I started writing songs, for example, I sort of lost the way of poetry. And then I was revising a big nine-year novel intensely for two years, preparing it for agent rounds, and then for submissions. Part of what I know I can do is finish things. But sometimes that’s at the cost of being an awesome renaissance woman. I’d love to write more plays. I’d love to write more poetry. I’d love to write a few musicals! And all the novels. But having a job as an audiobook narrator, and trying to finish the novels I’ve started, leaves me room for only a few new projects at a time. Of course, with more determination and better time management, who knows what I shall be capable of!
I did collaborate as a playwright on a cool project my friend Miriam Mikiel Grill was doing in Taiwan. She’d interviewed about 200 women on various questions about power and beauty and identity, and we worked together with another playwright to set some of these interviews into devised theatrical pieces. I’ve written a variety of mythical songs that I’ve woven together into a sort of musical review called, cheekily, “Medusa Mia,” and collaborated with a host of poets and playwrights to make the review into more of a variety show. One of my novellas—“Martyr’s Gem”—which is found in my collections Bone Swans: Stories has a story-within-a-story, which can be performed very theatrically, with audience participation. Some artist and filmmaker friends of mine helped me turn this section in a five minute short animated cartoon teaser—that’s the closest I’ve come to screenwriting.
My favorite thing right now is Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache’s murder mysteries. These are very witty and snappy, though not vicious. They take on art and history and psychology in these thoughtful, deeply moving, even merciful ways—though she doesn’t pull her punches. Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman mysteries also amuse me (well, and of course her Phryne Fisher books), because they’ve got such attitude. Vicious-wise . . . I like Dostoyevsky’s brand of viciousness. He gets away with it because he’s not solely vicious. His Brothers Karamazov is everything. It’s monstrous. It’s hideous. It’s revelatory. It’s even, occasionally, kind. Oh, and . . . Martha Wells. Martha Wells’s Murderbot books. I die for them. I want to write like that when I grow up.
Well, I’m not sure I’m in a position to give anyone advice on how to live their lives. I will say that my parents—separately, from both sides of a divorce—told me to “follow my bliss.” It is a cliche to read here now, perhaps. But I had never heard it as a child except from them. To me, it was the first time, set down as a rule and as a permission.
The longer I live and look around and learn how there are other people who must grow up in fear—of being who they are, of what they feel they must become, of what is expected of them—the more I think that permission to be happy was the most profound gift my parents could have given me. For bliss, I lived many, many years under the poverty line, which has its own internal and external stresses. But I always lived in a way that allowed me to do what I loved to do best.
And I have been blessed in my friends. I think that building community and acting out of generosity (even when you don’t have much physically or financially, there is still much one can do virtually or emotionally to support and uphold friends) are two things to keep in mind. I know it’s hard to find community, and sometimes the search is draining, and solitude can weigh on one and prey on one’s doubts. But friends are out there, for the bold and shy alike. There are places where they gather, and if you go there, you will find them. And if you volunteer to help, it’s a way to break the ice and make your first forays into friendly acquaintanceship.
Sometimes I suffer a failure of imagination. I ask what all of this is for, where is it leading, why do I do what I do, and why does it matter? But, ultimately, I return to the idea that there is joy in our work and in the work of others. There is joy in being a part of a larger conversation, and that art itself is a long conversation that stretches back and back, that takes place over countless generations, over cultures. I just have to trust that if enough of us join into this work, we can help change the cultural conversation, bending toward beauty and justice for all “free spirits.”
I love 24 Hour New Plays Festivals. I think some of the weirdest, brightest, most energetic ideas can spring from that kind of intense collaboration and pressure. I recently saw a “best of” of a 48 Hour Short Films festival, and was likewise struck with the innovation and fun I saw. I don’t necessarily think that the finest, most polished art comes out of moments like this, but I think it’s useful to remember how much one can do in such a short time—especially working in a team. I don’t know why I thought of that. I just want to do more things that produce strange work—even if it’s just first draft stuff to mull on more profoundly in the fullness of time. Why did that thought just occur to me? I don’t know. But there you have it!
Bio (Taken From Her Website):
C.S.E. Cooney lives and writes in the Easternmost Borough of Queens, whose borders are water. She is an audiobook narrator, the singer/songwriter Brimstone Rhine, and author of World Fantasy Award-winning Bone Swans: Stories (Mythic Delirium 2015).
Her work includes the Dark Breakers series, Jack o’ the Hills, The Witch in the Almond Tree, and poetry collection How to Flirt in Faerieland and Other Wild Rhymes, which features Rhysling Award-winning “The Sea King’s Second Bride.” Her short fiction can be found in Ellen Datlow’s Mad Hatters and March Hares: All-New Stories from the World of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Mike Allen’s Clockwork Phoenix Anthology (3 & 5), Rich Horton’s Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Lightspeed Magazine, Strange Horizons, Apex, Uncanny Magazine Black Gate, Papaveria Press, GigaNotoSaurus, The Mammoth Book of Steampunk, and elsewhere.