Folktales in Space! (The Moon Phoenix)

Folktales in Space! (The Moon Phoenix)

This piece originally appeared in my story “Cinderseed” which can be read here. The tale was shortened during the (necessary) hack and cut of editing, so here it is in full:


There once was a bird that lived on the earth-circling moon. It pecked at moon-rocks for food, and laid empty eggs that crumpled into anti-matter and vanished. The bird was alone, but didn’t wish to be alone. However, it was no longer young, and living on the moon for so long had brittled and whittled its bones. Returning to the heaviness of earth would break its wings.

In its despair, the bird ceased laying, in hopes that the negative presence of its unlaid eggs would erase it from the moon and subtract it from the cosmos—a more permanent, fitting death than the crush and color of the earth. But the bird didn’t die.

The hunger of the creature’s belly-locked eggs flared into a clutch of resilient sparks that revolted against its despair, and began to forge in the bird a slow change. Its beak hardened to a needle of obsidian, and its skin and plumage iced over. Inside the bird’s chest, however, its heart warmed and blistered with heat, and after endless days of enduring this pain, the burn became too much–the bird had to pluck out its own heart.

The bones in its neck creaked and cracked as it bent its head. The needle of its beak frosted-over when the bird pricked its freezing skin, but thrust deep before the cold could break it. The bird’s bill seized its heart, plucked it free, then tossed the organ up–a bloody thing, gold and dripping as the sunset–and swallowed it down.

The heart, broken open by the gnaw of the bird’s stomach, became heavy and hungry as a black hole, and ate the bird from the inside out, leaving only a few puffs of down. Soon, though, light crackled from these featherlings and a new bird rushed forth, blue as the aurora that raced across the earth at night. Its wings were greater than the moon, and beneath the bird’s weight, the lunar rock broke and plummeted to earth.

The bird watched the rock fall until nothing remained of it, but a haze of moon-dust. And then, instead of following its path, the new-born creature took flight into the deep of space.


The Moon Phoenix

Sex and Cinderseed

Virginity ended when I was twenty. Before that night of carpet and green-glass light, there were other nights: nights when sex was something that existed in books, on computer screens, and threaded through internal monologues (or external, if I was on my bike and the night was dark and empty). The words in my head, and the words that I read, tended to be carnal.

Short story: I thought a lot about fucking.

Shorter story: I’m fucking human. A fucking human. A human that fucks. A human.

But there’s an interesting sexual truth to be found in thumbing through old stories, the words I wrote in 2010 and before. While the books I write tend to be snarled rhizomes and roots of palimpsests, and marrow, and fascination pounded seed-like into the ground to grow into groves of fungal trees supported by giant underground networks of mycelium, my short stories are more…momentary. More vicious. They have teeth, and they are mine.

At least, my stories of today are. In 2010, they were quiet and withdrawn. Stories about foggy people, dispersing–or wanting to disperse–like vapor. People who found all their bliss in a single bite of hyper-sexual brownie (at the time, I edged around the sex, and call it aphrodisiac). But whatever the time, however, my stories have always been flashes of me that breach my interior and break out onto the page, where some level of deciphering can be managed. Often, they are lies and diversions, tricks to make you think they aren’t their writer, but ultimately, my words are the existence I’ve made for myself from the gunk caught in my existential filters.

Which is how I know that, four years ago, I thought a lot about fucking. But it was peripheral fucking. I knew I wanted to fuck, and be fucked, but when said fucking was the centerpiece of my brain, I was on the edges. My short stories had sex on their edges, ghost-words that alluded to intercourse, but nothing more. I thought about death, and dissolution, and fictional people having sex, but I was still a virgin in my head.

These days, in my skull-space, I still don’t think much about sex and myself. My stories, however, are an intimate act, braver and wilder than before: I sort through the entrails of me and fucking, and both are split bellies. Not just genital-thrust fucking. I mean fucking in a bigger way–brutal acts of mayhem, learning to take the world, or let it take you.

So when my editor asked if I was interested in writing a short piece of erotica as a precursor to my forthcoming novel, Skyglass, the decision was quick and easy. Of course I was interested in writing something sexy. I’d wanted to explore the back story of one of my two main characters, Phoenix, anyway–a girl who’s more fire than flesh (literally), whose back story is probably better described as an, uh…erotic history.

Even outside the velvety depths and shallows of erotica, it just makes sense to layer the fat of a story on a backbone of sex (if you’re going for something more straightforward, at any rate). Look at traditional narrative structure–stories are sex: foreplay, climax, afterglow. Plot triangle. But when I set out to write this story, I didn’t want the sex to be a ghost, a vital, but invisibile map to follow. I wanted the story’s climax to be a climax. An orgasm. I wanted sex to be empowering, the catalyst.

I wrote “Cinderseed”. A story of birth, the story of a creature of heat stolen from her sun-home, forced to navigate the cold and nasty human world. She has to find a new fire, hers, her own, taking it and making it as she goes–in part through the thrust and grab and friction of sex.

Read a sample here. Or acquire the whole thing here, out now from Cherry Bomb (Sparkler Monthly‘s adult imprint).

I had no second thoughts when I wrote it. Stories are sex, and erotica is story, after all. But I’ll admit, when I first started talking to people about the piece, I stressed the story, the story! (Because, as much as “Cinderseed” is about sex, it’s also mostly story and–oh, who am I kidding, they’re the same almost always THE SAME) Because maybe I was embarrassed? Or felt the need to make it important, give it gravity? Because for some reason, my brain has been trained (or I’ve trained it so) to think that sex for sex in literature isn’t important. Or gravid. Now? I probably still put the same emphasis on narrative, but in my head, I know it’s all padding, justification, mostly unnecessary, because really–who the hel doesn’t want to read about fucking?

new poem up at strange horizons

new poem up at strange horizons


or so begins my new poem, Ekphrastic 22/The Drowning Girl, now up at Strange Horizons, as part of their special speculative poetry issue.  It features a number of excellent poets, and poems (I recommend Jessy Randall’s Food Diary of Gark the Troll, and Rose Lemberg’s The Rotten Leaf Cantata).

When I first wrote Ekphrastic 22/The Drowning Girl, I said this about it:

…(an) ekphrasis made by the book I’m sharing my bed with now.  The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan.  It’s a haunting of a book; already it’s dredged up echoes in me.  I dreamt with the light on last night, and felt the resounding truths all day at work (two pieces of sausage in a cup of soup, a ribcage in what I wish were the wind, empty bowls, crab forks).  (Will write them down later.)

Anyway, many thanks to Sonya Taaffe for contacting me about this piece.  I’m glad it’s found a home outside my skull (both bloggish and bone).

Writing on My Feet

Writing on My Feet

For months, I’ve been sick of sitting.  I perch on my chair, well-intentioned and driven: I will write 4,000 words, a blog post, answer emails/interviews/facebook messages from friends who deserve more, better attention than my easily-distracted mind can offer.  I have a butterfly brain, regularly diverted by the winds of tangent (tumblr, for example, is a temptation-ridden custom-tailored black hole overspilling with Lokis, blood-stained elk skulls, Totoro gifs, and cosmic jellyfish).

One thing I know about myself is that I function better when I move.  Anger can be destroyed with a bike ride, deadend cyclic anatomical self-antagonizing can be crushed by thirty minutes of high-intensity interval training.  So I’ve known for awhile that the reason I spend more time aimlessly flipping tabs when I sit at my computer is because I’m sitting, stationary.   The solution, naturally, is to stop.

The past few weeks, I’ve been sitting (bad!) and thinking of various solutions.  I knew I wanted a standing desk, and that I didn’t want to spend any money, or nail something together, if I could avoid it–mostly because I wanted to be standing, now, and not work too hard to do so (which, really, just sounds like another bout of laziness).  At any rate, two days ago, I decided that my computer was staying off until I’d solved my problem.  I stood for a moment, thought, and promptly found a solution.

My solution was percussive: I found a drum.  As a drummer, this wasn’t exactly a challenge–my apartment is full of them.  But the trick was finding the right one.  The right one turned out to be a cajón.  Which is amusing, since this particular drum is meant to be sat upon.  Happily, though, when resting sideways on my desk, it adds just the right amount of height for me to stand and type on my laptop (or distract myself with an inverted drum, which loses none of its sonic potential).  Return it to the ground, and I have my drum again–or a chair, if I’m being lethargic.

I like  my instruments to be instruments, but I’m also the kind of person who like an uncluttered, multifunctional space.  The musical desk satisfies my obsessive-percussing and organization-addiction in a single hit (a gong hit that rattles through my skull and satisfactorily shakes the compulsive quirks of my brain).




Where have you been, Tattertongue?
     lying with pelvis and ribcage
     wanting want
     old. old.
reading the mouth for
     sugared ginger for
     blood sausage

Why did you leave?
     there was a forest
     of snapping saplings
     old. old.

What did you find?
     the vertebrae
     they were chopped

(An excerpt from my poem Tattertongue, which secured third place in Strange Horizons’ 2013 readers pole. A poem about starvation, Loki, and suspension.  Thanks to all who voted.  Other news: I recently sold an ekphrastic to SH; it’ll be out in February.)

…honey dripped in Loki’s gaze

TODAY is the last day to vote for my poem on eating and horse-boiling (Tattertongue), published last year by Strange Horizons.  There are a number of different categories to vote in, and lots of excellent writing to explore, if you feel so inclined.  If you happened to enjoy my poem, and feel it deserves ranking, please vote!  It’s under ‘poetry,’ then ‘Tattertongue, by Jenn Grunigen.’  Many thanks!

Cast your vote here.

Fandom’s OTP: fanfic/folklore

Is fanfic the new folklore?

That’s the thought that’s been pacing in my skull for seven days (and counting).  Ultimately, my answer is probably no.  But I can’t stop thinking about fic in relation to other things.  I’ve spent half a decade avoiding fan-communities/works, because as much as I love it all, getting involved is hugely invasive and hungry for attention–and then Mjolnir struck me in the ribcage, cracking it open for heart-access, and when I got up, it was with obsession.  The THOR/Norsk fandom wriggled in past my cracked ribs, crawled up my throat, and eventually settled in with my (very few) intellectual faculties.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a  lot about folklore, and literature, and the headstrong crossover between the  two, mythpunk*.  With the appearance of an old obsession (fanfic/art),  all these electrochemical signals naturally collided with all the force of mid-Ginnungagap (am I giving myself too much credit?  I am.),  and I began noting the similarities between fanfiction and folklore.

(Warning: most of this is brain-vomit.  I’m just letting my thoughts dance about unchecked.)

Obviously, there’s a lot of fic that spins around rewriting lore, replacing traditional characters with, say, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin; tweaking gender roles;  contorting tropes to better fit plotlines and character arcs; and, of course, the addition of lots (and LOTS) of sex (not that folklore shies from fucking–it just tends to be more graphic and long-winded in fanfic).  This use of lore is especially prevalent in the THOR fandom–which is only to be expected, given the source material, though in this case, replacing the characters isn’t always necessary.  However, the re-imaginings are frequently slant, are often re-imaginings of re-imaginings, as a lot of fic  is based on the movies, which are based on the comics–etc, etc, you know what I mean; stories are reincarnations of stories are reincarnations of stories; it’s just the nature of the beast…

Anyway, my point is folklore can be like fanfiction: a retelling.

Call them tropes, stereotypes, fanon, canon, tale-types, or motifs plucked from the Aarne-Thompson Index–fanfiction, like folklore, is full of repetition, darkened mirrors, and doppelgangers.  Think of the endless pairings, the descriptions (hurt/comfort, angst, AU, PWP, etc)–they’re all filters, methods for us to pick and choose how we like to feel.  To find a new iteration of the familiar.  I often read fanfic for the experience, to get that certain clutching of the upper-chest and throat, to find an emotion catharsis, to experience the characters I obsess over, until they’re more, deeper, than obsessions–until they become human.

Perhaps that’s elevating fanfic too high.  But maybe not.  What do we seek in fanfic?  Humanity–a potent, emotive dose of humanity.  And isn’t folklore for learning about humanity, for feeling it like a punch to the gut?  The stories aren’t always right, sometimes they say wrong things, and in this way, reveal the many, amazingly snarly, nasty truths about the nature of human creatures–but all the repetition that occurs in lore, all the circling, all the  characters with news faces, but familiar hearts?  Sometimes, it’s all just the human-beast’s collective voice speaking to us.

So maybe folklore and fanfic are just two different voices speaking to, and of, the same spinal things in us.  Folklore’s a primal, bone-fed voice; fanfic is a spitfire tale-spinner that feasts on and subverts our memetic hearts.

*For the record, I don’t think mythpunk has much to do with the bridge between fanfic and folklore, as I don’t feel that bridge is particularly anarchic in nature.  But mythpunk’s been on my brain, so I mentioned it.  I think the reason it came to mind is that there may be a parallel relationship between mythpunk and myth-driven fanfic (mythfic?)…

The Skalds of Thunderfrost

Like Thor and Loki?  Listen to folk metal.

Before I go further, let me freely admit that I am biased.  I play in a neofolk metal band.  I listen to folk metal.  But hear me out–folk metal is obsessed  (sometimes too much, I admit) with putting myth and lore into song.  Feral, shadowed, gut-pounding song, that is also sometimes cheesy, sometimes terrifying, sometimes so sad it’s all you can do not to freeze and sink into the earth and bury yourself with its bones.

But folk metal is especially keen on Norsk lore.  Give me some time, and I will post songs very appropriate to Thor and Loki, but for now, have this song-tale:

Fejd’s Gryning, played with all traditional Swedish instruments (minus the drum set and keys).  Admittedly, not quite folk metal, but I still call it such, because its spine is wild and chaotic and dark (also, heavy percussion and double kick–which as a drummer, is always satisfying).  Also, lead vocalist Patrik Rimmerfors is kinda how I imagine Thor when I read fic…

Anyway.  Personally, I think Thor would be a great lover of folk metal.  Loki not so much, perhaps.  He, I think, is more of a melodic doom-metal sort of guy god.