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?

…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.

once, a short story killed me

once, a short story killed me

I recently read two books that gently removed my brain, fiddled with it as softly as a piranha eating breakfast, and put it back in all reconfigured, chewed upon, and terrible.  The first  was At the Mouth of the River of Bees, by Kij Johnson.  The other was Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl.  Both short story collections, both heart-eaters.

Before this year, I wasn’t sure what I thought of short stories.  I knew I couldn’t write them, and wasn’t sure I liked reading them.    I certainly hadn’t read many of them.  But because my attempts at making them always churned out glittery, half-masticated beasts with broken legs, I knew it was time to get better.  This meant reading, because as a writer, reading is possibly the second most important thing to do (the first involves going outside and letting life punch you in the gut—again and again and again).

So I went to Clarkesworld.  I read some E. Lily Yu (who I love, and please, Ms. Yu, won’t you finish your novel so I can eat it?) and then listened to some more E. Lily Yu, while I was working on this piece (which explains why the elk in the drawing looks a little tragic).  But as much as I inhaled those pieces, short stories still weren’t utterly my thing.  So I decided to trick my self.  I got a couple collections, which are like novels-in-disguise (because when you sardine a bunch of stories between two bread-like covers, you get something that looks pretty much like a book).  I began with Wonders of the Invisible World, because this review said it wasn’t going to be “like consuming a box of crackers.”  And it was right!  The stories in this book are not crackers.  Or at least, they aren’t saltines.  They’re more like pita chips–far more delicious, but still missing something (hummus, obviously).

The next collection I read was At the Mouth of the River of Bees.  It contains The Man who Bridged the Mist, which won the 2012 Hugo Award for best novella.  Whatever your thoughts on the Hugos, this probably means it may have been pretty good.   At the moment, I don’t feel like commenting on the Hugos (just don’t want to dive into that particular bag of slugs just this moment), but the story is most definitely good, and most definitely deserving.

What happened after Bees was an accident.  I never meant to buy Catherynne Valente’s The Melancholy of Mechagirl–though I desperately wanted to (after all, it in contains my favorite poem ever in print form).  But then I was writing this paper about myth and story and hearts and robots–and suddenly, this book became very necessary.  So I bought it, because I had a reasonable excuse (wanting something so badly I found a way to trick myself–again–into getting it).

At this point, you might want to know more about the piranhas and brain-eating I mentioned earlier.    It’s this: because of these two books, I love short stories so hard right now.  I’m learning so much about form, and what a short story can be, sometimes I can hear my brain clanking around in my skull it’s still so shock-frozen (the piranhas obviously have ice-picks for teeth).

Now for the funny thing: I just sold my first story, to Shimmer–a story I wrote months before reading these books.  So, while I’m not so confident I feel could free climb El Capitan, I’m feeling a bit better about my ability to write short pieces.  I have a number of new stories with sharper edges, that do stranger things with stronger grins, and soon they’ll be sent out–and if I’m lucky,  find homes.

The piranhas ate my brains, but they left a few scraps, a few loose teeth, and right now, I think I can feel it all regenerating.



This is the way of the world: you get what you want and you’re just left wanting more.  My first professionally published poem is now available through Strange Horizons.  Needless to say, I am QUITE excited.  Even so, it’s a quiet excitement.  A spontaneous black hole excitement.  At random points in the day, I’ll remember: someone gave me money for my words.  My blog is no longer the only place that publishes me.  That says something!  Justification!  I’m REAL.  And then, after the blip of joy that inevitably follows such thoughts, I think moremoremore.  Getting published is good incentive to keep trying to get published.  It’s some sort of drug, I guess.

So.  The poem.  TATTERTONGUE:

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?

(…read more)

*** *** ***

Speaking of more, not long after this poem was released, I received another acceptance for another poem.  Won’t say much about it now, except alien vampires.

Ekphrastic 20/Wonders of the Invisible World

Floss, spider webs, flax , from scalps
these are the wonders
the wanderers, their fish-belly key.
A blonde prism/on, wonder ous.

Good luck finding
the invisible, if you’re too dark to
turn to cold breath to
grub between the silken rawhide.

I also reviewed this book.

Anyway.  Twenty ekphrastic poems.  HEL.  That’s a lot.  Only it’s not, considering that I’ve been writing these things for exactly a year and a month (I posted my first ekphrastic on January 15th, 2012).  Only twenty to show for all that time?  Obviously, I’m not trying hard enough.  I started writing them for deception.  I wanted to trick my skull-meat into thinking about art.  Not just swallowing it (yes, brains have mouths).  But recently, I’ve started reviewing each book I read, and that’s working far better.  Poetry’s too abstract (if you make it so); I can get away with too much shiit and say too little.

So, I’m going to hit 25 ekphrastics and stop.  But not really.  My next poetic project is this: work through Lewis Turco’s The New Book of Forms, which is what it says–a book of poetic form.  Countless kinds of poetry for me to learn.  I’ll go through the whole thing, form by form, week by week.  Embarrassment by embarrassment.  You have permission to jeer at my ass-baring.

….in the meantime, I’m going to go cuddle my last few weeks of ekphrasis.


Previous ekphrastic: Ekphrastic 19/Sisters, Pain of Salvation (Sean Thomas covers)


What the hel is ekphrasis + Ekphrastic Poetry Archive (For poems about A Game of Thrones, anime, music, The Hunger Games, Blood Meridian, etc–basically, just the stuff to fulfill your brain’s literary sugar-cravings.)

celestial wolves

celestial wolves

I don’t use bookmarks because I’m paranoid that someday I’ll lose my mind. You’d think I’d try to find some better insurance against memory loss, but Escher made my brain-mechanics. Which probably spells doom for me either way. But I’m hoping that memorizing page numbers will save me from Alzheimer’s.

There was a point to all this.

Oh. Right. I forgot, just like I forgot to finish Kim Stanley Robinson’s latest book, 2312–which happens to be why I started this post in the first place. So, the book: I started it, gobbled it, and then stopped reading the thing five pages from the end. Why? That’s a question I can’t answer. All I know is that I’m a little in love with the main character, Swan–a wolf-chasing sculptor of planets who runs around the solar-system trying to solve the mystery of her Mercurial city’s murder. Among other things. (Of which there are many.)

Sometimes I felt distant –the pain Swan’s supposed to feel when her grandmother, her ‘everything,’ dies never resounded–but you, know, she ate some aliens once, which makes her a little extra-terrestrial, so resonance probably isn’t what I’m supposed to feel. And yet. In those last five pages, I was grinning so hard when she finally (silently, Swanishly) said yes to her toad-ish lover. And, of course, I share infrasonics with her, for the wolves and her feral depth.

So maybe I’m confused, maybe our aortas tangled a little–but it was the alien in her that knotted us together, no so much her humanity. Which seems to speak of how we humans are as disparate as the elements–and as inseparable. Which, in turn, speaks to the core of the book: spacers verses earthlings, spacers as earthlings, earthlings with space-longings. We are star-stuff.


Books read, 2013:

Prince of Thorns
Wonders of the Invisible World

glitter and mayhem

It all started on Twitter. We were basking in the glow of Chicago’s Worldcon and missing that special feeling that comes from hanging out with friends at a convention.

John mentioned that if he went to next year’s Worldcon in San Antonio, he wanted to throw a glitter party for all the science fiction and fantasy people that he knows. Michael helpfully showed John a link to The Rollercade, San Antonio’s #1 roller skating rink that does black light/glow-in-the-dark roller skate parties. Not exactly a glitter party (and what was that anyway?) but pretty awesome nonetheless.

We decided in an instant that not only were we going to the San Antonio Worldcon, but that we had to go to The Rollercade for a glow-in-the-dark roller skating party.

But why just throw a glow-in-the-dark roller skating party when you can also make it a book release party? And what’s better than a glow-in-the-dark roller skating party celebrating a book about the secret history of 20th Century nightlife/party culture?

Nothing, that’s what.

So we’re editing, assembling, and printing an anthology as a co-production with Apex Publications between now and August of 2013 when we’re all in San Antonio for Worldcon. Yes, that’s foolish and overly optimistic, but it fits the title that Kat Howard unintentionally gave us: Glitter and Madness. Lynne quickly crafted a writing prompt:

Roller Derby, nightclubs, glam aliens, (literal) party monsters, drugs, sex, glitter, debauchery, etc.

Glitter & Madness will be published by Apex Publications and will feature a standalone novella from New York Times bestselling author Seanan McGuire set in her InCryptid universe. We also have commitments from other talented writers including Alan DeNiro, Amal El-Mohtar, Daryl Gregory, Damien Walters Grintalis, Maria Dahvana Headley, Kat Howard, Vylar Kaftan, Jennifer Pelland, Tim Pratt, Cat Rambo, Tansy Rayner Roberts, Diana Rowland, Sofia Samatar, David J. Schwartz, William Shunn, and Rachel Swirsky. There will be an open reading period so we can uncover glamorous writers that we’ve overlooked.

Lynne M. Thomas
Michael Damian Thomas
John Klima

Yanked from the Glitter and Madness Kickstarter page.  Support ‘em so we can read Seanan’s story.  Also, debauchery. !



As I prepare myself to rejoin the elves, goats and plant-powered cities of my current manuscript (FABLE), I’ve been drawing.  You’d think that rereading the first half might be more conducive to the whole preparation effort–especially since I took a 2-month long break to work on my band’s EP–but I’m just going to pretend that that’s not the truth and instead, give you a glimpse of Moss, one of two main characters in FABLE (he’s the one who has his apartment invaded by a narcissistic fire-elemental pop-star–the other anti-hero of the tale).

This is obviously just the line art, but I’ll be honest: I’m relieved.  I’ve finally (finally) figured out how to achieve clean digital line art.  That took far too long.  (Also, for whatever reason, the image looks a tad fuzzy on my screen; if you have the same problem, click on the picture–that should take you to a crisper view.)