Nina Simone (who I’ve written about before) was probably the inspiration behind the eponymous character, Coalrose, the final novelette in my collection Skin Deep Magic. The story is in the form of a chorus of vignettes—all recounting their encounters with Zoe Coalrose, who is a kind of dark muse/patron saint for outcasts. The cast includes: a lesbian junkie, a casting director for the Negro Follies, a tattoo artist, and gay widower. The piece is influenced by Geoff Ryman’s novel, Was, his fugue-like narrative that uses The Wizard of Oz as a touchstone. Ryman was an instructor during my time at the Clarion West Workshop in 1996, and he read and critiqued the first draft. Coalrose was immensely cathartic to write. I don’t know how to classify it—magical realism? paranormal? historical fantasy? Though it has darkness, I view it as a hopeful piece. It’s a homage to survival.