Bread We Eat in Dreams

Bread We Eat in Dreams

Illustration By Kathleen Jennings

Subterranean Press proudly presents a major new collection by one of the brightest stars in the literary firmament. Catherynne M. Valente, the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making and other acclaimed novels, now brings readers a treasure trove of stories and poems in The Bread We Eat in Dreams.

In the Locus Award-winning novelette “White Lines on a Green Field,” an old story plays out against a high school backdrop as Coyote is quarterback and king for a season. A girl named Mallow embarks on an adventure of memorable and magical politicks in “The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While.” The award-winning, tour de force novella “Silently and Very Fast” is an ancient epic set in a far-flung future, the intimate autobiography of an evolving A.I. And in the title story, the history of a New England town and that of an outcast demon are irrevocably linked.

The thirty-five pieces collected here explore an extraordinary breadth of styles and genres, as Valente presents readers with something fresh and evocative on every page. From noir to Native American myth, from folklore to the final frontier, each tale showcases Valente’s eloquence and originality.

Limited: 250 signed numbered copies, bound in leather
Trade: Fully cloth-bound hardcover edition

Table of Contents:

  • The Consultant
  • White Lines on a Green Field
  • The Bread We Eat in Dreams
  • The Melancholy of Mechagirl
  • A Voice Like a Hole
  • The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland—For a Little While
  • How to Raise a Minotaur
  • Mouse Koan
  • The Blueberry Queen of Wiscasset
  • In the Future When All’s Well
  • Fade to White
  • The Hydrodynamic Front
  • Static Overpressure
  • Even Honest Joe Loves an Ice-Cold Brotherhood Beer!
  • Optimum Burst Altitude
  • The Shadow Effect
  • Gimbels: Your Official Father’s Day Headquarters
  • Flash Blindness
  • Blast Wind
  • Ten Grays
  • Velocity Multiplied by Duration
  • Aeromaus
  • Red Engines
  • The Wolves of Brooklyn
  • One Breath, One Stroke
  • Kallisti
  • The Wedding
  • The Secret of Being a Cowboy
  • Twenty-Five Facts About Santa Claus
  • We Without Us Were Shadows
  • The Red Girl
  • Aquaman and the Duality of Self/Other, America, 1985
  • The Room
  • Silently and Very Fast
  • What the Dragon Said: A Love Story


From the New York Times:
"Ms. Valente, too, is adept at updating the tall tale, but also writes with grace and power. She was a poet first, and her precise and lyrical ear is apparent throughout 'The Bread We Eat in Dreams.' Her first sentences are especially inviting. 'These days, pretty much anything will turn you into a vampire' ('In the Future When All’s Well'); 'When I kissed her she tasted like Mars' ('Red Engines'); 'Santa Claus is real. However, your parents are folkloric constructs meant to protect and fortify children against the darknesses of the real world' ('Twenty-Five Facts About Santa Claus').

'It’s clear in these 26 stories and (a few) poems that Ms. Valente’s writing DNA is full of fable, fairy tale and myth drawn from deep wells worldwide. No one else besides Ms. Valente is going to tell us with absolute authority that 'the dragon’s a classic, the ’57 Chevy of chthonic threats,' or 'Outside, the night road to Pandemonium ran smooth and swift through the northern counties of Fairyland.'

From SFRevu:
“Cathrynne M. Valente's latest collection of short stories, The Bread We Eat in Dreams, showcases her lyrical, poetic writing to excellent effect, not least in the actual poems scattered amongst the prose stories in this collection. Valente's writing evokes the dreamlike cadences of fairy tales, but while some of the stories are thematically based on fairy tales, others apply this same aesthetic to stories about future dystopias and the emergence of sentient computer programs. Valente is an incredible author, and this collection shows off her versatility and her talent… I cannot recommend this collection highly enough. Valente has one of the most beautiful prose styles of any fantasy author writing today, and she combines this with a deep insight into human nature and the lives of those too often marginalized and excluded by the stories that we, as a society, choose to tell. Valente's stories are a magnificent corrective to this marginalization.”

Have a look at Cat's Story Notes for The Bread We Eat in Dreams:

The Consultant

I was out at dinner one night a few years back, and a friend called me out of the blue. Without announcing himself, he said with some urgency: “Quick! I need a fairy tale consultant.” I laughed. “I oughta put a shingle out with that on it. Like a detective.”

And sometimes the reasons behind a story are as easy to explain as that. Not often, but sometimes. Like most traditionally masculine genres, noir has always drawn me for the precise reason that it is so unfriendly and impenetrable to women. How can I gouge a hole in it? A place to live inside? The detective in a noir novel, not even very subtly, acts as a knight in a fairy story anyway. Noir is as full of thin archetypes, sudden violence, quests, riddles and dead, sleeping, helpless women in need as anything featuring glass slippers and an unfortunate compulsion concerning the number three. They are not different in kind, only different in their intended audience.

One of the threads that has led me through the labyrinth of the real world has always been that my life looked like a fairy tale. Not in the colloquial sense of a quite nice and easy and sparkly story, but in wicked stepmothers and lost voices and lost mothers and darkness to survive. Seeing the pattern, when I am brave and wise enough to manage it, has been what’s kept me from damseling up the place. And in my fiction, I so often am explaining in ways big and small how fairy tales and myth are real life, no different, no better and no worse, and how there is power to be found there, both in telling the tale and having it told to you.

I write these story notes in a small office with an honest-to-god shingle out front. Frosted glass on the door. Snow, not rain on the ground. Bright, hard, Maine sunlight instead of night. But I’ll tell you something: it’s not a bad job, being a fairy tale consultant. You never know who will walk through your door.

White Lines on a Green Field

I was raised by athletic extrovert wolves. I was the bookish kid in a family of jocks, with a trio of siblings all gifted at sports, standing taller than I, running faster, hitting farther. I never had any ability at all save at off-kilter sports: sailing, ballroom dance, archery. But I grew up steeped not only in the culture of sports but the folklore of it. I was born at the University of Washington, and though I really couldn’t have cared less about the outcome of any given game, I knew I was a Husky, dammit, and the death to the Washington State Cougars. Ritual colors, chants, seasons, loyalties. It was as much a part of the formation of my little brain as fairy tales. Because, in a very real sense and as has been observed by finer folk than I, football is a fairy tale. One that America lives and breathes.

The idea of a story about football, and high school, prom and homecoming and the other great fictions of the American folkloric cycle, had been floating around in the back of my head for some time. It came together with a hard snap one night while I was talking to Seanan McGuire, an urban fantasy author with whom I have spent many such late nights talking and scheming. I was hoping for some thing or other to work itself out, and signing off, she said cheerfully: “Leave a cookie for Coyote!”

And the line popped into my head: “Let me tell you about the time Coyote took the Devils to the State Championship.”

Because high school, especially the high school created out of the stories we tell about high school, John Hughes movies and each generation’s television shows about pretty white kids shambling toward graduation and coming of age novels, is a trickster’s playground. It is one of the greatest exports of American media, as the boarding school is for Britain. And if I believe anything in this world, I believe that myths and folklore are real in any sense that they can be, that they recur and repeat constantly because they are about life on planet earth and the first and last ways we try to explain it. And Coyote, whose traditional adventures span sexuality, politics, family dynamics, and the creation of the world, absolutely goes to high school and both illuminates and destroys it. And so does Rabbit. And so did I, and so did you.

The Bread We Eat in Dreams

I moved to Peaks Island in 2008--a small place, a chunk of stone and folk in the bay off of Portland, Maine. When I put my finger on the map and made the command decision to hitch my wagon east, I really knew nothing about it other than that it had three vital features I was looking for in a geography: it was in Maine, a place I’d dreamt about living since I was a child reading too many Stephen King novels and becoming slowly convinced that Maine was where They Keep the Magic in America; it was an island, which as a lifelong sailor I had always loved; and it was Not Cleveland. This is not to malign the city by the lake. I am not a Cleveland native and had been for three years an uneasy import from Parts Every Which Where, bound too long by a love of Lake Erie. I can’t help it. I fall in love with natural features, inanimate objects, and very occasionally weather patterns. And I pursued my love of Maine to the island where I sit writing about writing these stories.

Once I got my bearings here, I discovered what a truly extraordinary place Peaks Island is, how unusual and often dark its history, how many utterly peculiar things have happened here. I won’t play island historian just now, but take my word for it: strange things have always been afoot here.

And perhaps the strangest thing from the perspective of a 21st century girl primarily connected to humanity via the Internet, who has not known the name of her neighbors since she was playing Barbies with them, was becoming part of a village. For oh, yes, we all know each other’s business here. Everyone knows your name. You aren’t local til you’re six generations in but there isn’t a soul who wouldn’t be happy to tell you about everything from the shootout between lobsterman down at the dock to Thankful Griffin’s ghost still playing the Victrola down at the old Litchfield House. Every place is a palimpsest, but an island, especially one a scant two miles long and a mile across, so isolated and of itself, is triply so. Every house has been lived in by half the island. This one was a brothel when the Navy took over during WWII. This one was where the miller had his hands cut off in the 17th century massacre that still goes unexplained. This one used to get crocodiles sunning themselves on the lawn back when the island was a theater resort, the Coney Island of Maine, and it being the late 1800s, a menagerie down by the sea was de rigeur.

I wanted to write about this. A village story. A story about connection and imports and where you go when you lose your life. A New England story--which means horror. New England is a country by, for, and about horror writers. Haunted by them, you might even say. It means Cotton Mather, who I once heard described as New England’s first horror writer and never forgot the idea. It means the Old World peeking in at every corner.

And I’d had this melancholy title hunting around in my skull for a story to attach to.

The Melancholy of Mechagirl

I have a complicated relationship with anime. I’m married to someone who loves it and having lived in Japan for a few years I am assured that I should love it, too. But I am not an avid consumer of the form. Here and there I have found beauty and strangeness, but more often googly eyes and bad dubs and unsettling gender issues. And my own relationship with Japan has always been complex--I have written so often about my experiences there. They deeply inform who I am. But I never thought of it as the mother-font of geekery and weirdness. It was a place, one I came to love, and constantly tried to see for itself--a task which, as for any place, requires dedication and vigilance.

But in the end, it’s true, I have watched a whole lot of anime. And I’ve had questions.

In one sense this was written very lovingly for my husband. I sometimes feel my mission on planet earth is to Take Things Seriously in a professional capacity. That includes pop culture, and it most certainly includes giant robots with girls inside. As with any mythology I seek to inhabit, I asked myself what it would really be like. If you didn’t have to tell a structurally sound narrative, which war, both the reason for mechas and the reason for my time in Japan, rarely is. The alienation and separation from self and reality, the other self, the wartime self, so much bigger and smaller than the everyday self. What would this girl lost in a machine really be like? There is something tragic and absurd and powerful about the image, which is why it is such a common one.

Underneath the language of the poem, which crushes words together and hops and slides in the frenetic rhythm of anime soundtracks, is something very personal to me. That’s always the danger, when you strap on your armor and knuckle down to writing poetry.

A Voice Like a Hole

Once upon a time in the 80s there was a series of fantasy novels and anthologies concerning a place called Bordertown. It was a crazy thing full of runaways and half magic machines and half machine magic and punk elves wearing leather jackets and riding motorcycles and not behaving very much at all like Legolas. A lot of very famous and wonderful writers wrote in the shared world, and a lot of very lost and bookish and punky or longing-to-be-punky kids read them. And some of them grew up to be fantasy and science fiction writers, too.

When I heard about the new Bordertown anthology, I asked, not very quietly, more in the “Pick me! Pick me!” tone of voice, to be allowed to write something for it. I had read the books when I was younger, when I was myself a teenage runaway. I felt like I had something to add to that rich world, and to be able to be involved in an official revival was deeply thrilling.

What I had to add was my own experience. I ran away from home when I was sixteen (unlike Fig, I slid perfectly into that narrative) and never went home. I packed unwisely: Keats and Lord of the Rings and Medea and no toothbrush. I grew up the rest of the way a little bit homeless, a little bit in shelters, a little bit with understanding friends and boyfriends. I got my degree slowly; I wrote all night at Denny’s to have someplace warm to sit and that was how I learned to make stories.

Bordertown has always been the province of runaway stories. But I had never written about my own, nor spoken much about it. Some things are private.

No, I’m just kidding, nothing’s private. When I say private I mean “I just haven’t written about it yet.”

So I wanted to bring to Bordertown a real runaway story. Of course no fairy country opened up to me. (Not then. But it does not escape me that given the tight knit community of genre writers and that I am friendly with many of the original Bordertown authors, I may have made it there after all, with a delay of many years.) And that reality, too, I felt was important to bring to the narrative of the greater shared world. Sometimes it just sucks and you don’t get a magical kingdom in trade.

I think the heart of the story is not in the details of Fig’s homelessness, but in the conversation she has in the shelter concerning the generational divide, the feeling that their parents had used up all the ease and magic in the world and left nothing for them. All around and everywhere this is becoming a major issue of my own generation, and it is true in many ways and untrue in others, but that is always the way when dealing with unsettling magic.

The Girl Who Ruled Fairyland--For a Little While

While writing The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, or to be more accurate, when I was near to finishing it, I had a notion for both a sequel and a prequel. The sequel seemed unambiguously to be about September’s shadow. The prequel, as plainly, was to be about Queen Mallow. The ways in which her coming to Fairyland was both like and unlike September’s. The sense of her as a person rather than a quasi-mythical figure. The glimpses of the Green Wind and other familiar faces--and the world of the fairies before they disappeared.

I did not, however, feel that necessitated an entire book. Since the gap between the online publication of Fairyland and the print publication was so long, I wrote a novelette to bridge the real-world gap.

This is certainly the first bit of Fairyland that does not center on September’s point of view. I doubt it will be the last. It was a chance to make Fairyland bigger than one little girl’s story.

This version of the Tithe plays up Fairyland as an analogue to Hell--which theme has been present since the capital was named Pandemonium. Given the history of fairy lore, the comparison is inescapable, if we are to be honest and not people the world with toothless fairies with little more weight than sparkly dust-motes. But Hell is only an underworld, and Persephone could tell you it’s not so bad down there.

It’s hard to say too much about this story without it becoming a laundry list of spoilers for the rest of the series. There is much here that connects to the later books, but I, as an always-sly narrator, cannot shine a light on them.

How to Raise a Minotaur

I am a Taurus, astrologically speaking. My mother taught me astrology, palm reading, Tarot, numerology, the complete, collect-em-all New Age set when I was a child, in the pre-critical thinking universe. I learned well enough to make my living as a fortune teller for a time (while writing my first novel between readings).

The book my mother favored, for some reason, had it in for Tauruses. Oh how stubborn and loud and boring they are, the stupid cows. I was little. I did not like being called a cow. Only much later did I realize that a minotaur was an obviously superior mascot for my sign. At which point, as I am stubborn and loud and given to bashing my head into things, I acquired a new nickname among my friends almost immediately.

And I seized upon the idea of the minotaur as a girl. The labyrinth, built for Ariadne as a dancing floor, was always a feminine image, the female body coiling and inescapable. Monstrous sons have it fairly well in Greek myth. Despite the horns, in my mind Theseus found a woman when he stumbled into the minotaur’s chamber. No monster could be as foul as a woman, after all. How stubborn and loud and boring, the stupid cows.

Mouse Koan

It is not without chagrin that I admit the following: by my count, at the age of 33, I have been to Disneyland thirty-six times. (One of those was Disneyworld.) My mother took us nearly every summer, as she lived in California and my father did not, and thus Disneyland, that temple of childhood, was a thing she could provide with ease when I visited on school breaks. And as I grew up it just kept happening. I’d find myself there again, for whatever convoluted reason.

I had my cynical phase: oh, this is all terrible crass commercialism, isn’t it? Look at them ruining fairy tales and plasticizing childhood and being Disney all over everything. For shame.

For New Year 2007 I went to Disneyworld with friends who had never been before. This is when the length and breadth of my experience with the Mouse came out into the open. Because the “Disneyland” area of Disneyworld is laid out exactly like its California counterpart, and I knew it like I know the streets of the town where I grew up, or the Zelda World Map. I knew every ride and every twist in the paths. I knew the good times to line up. I knew it and I still loved it, despite still thinking all the cynical things that good postmodern girls do concerning megacorporations. I led my friends, grinning and manic, around the park, showing them everything for the first time and seeing them giggle and shine like kids.

And right there, I decided that Mickey Mouse was a Kami. In Shinto, there are eight million gods and counting. Every possible thing has a god. And Mickey, to me, is the god of Joy and Radical Hedonistic Pleasure in the Face of Corporate Avarice.

And this is his tune.

The Blueberry Queen of Wiscasset

Wiscasset, a town about an hour north along the Maine coast from where I live, bills itself as the oldest town in Maine. I’m not sure, to this day, what exactly that means, but it certainly looks impressive on a sign. It’s one of a chain of little towns clinking up the long, gnarled coast of the state, towns defined by their food or craft festivals (One has a Pumpkin Regatta, but there’s Lobster Bakes everywhere, Potato Festivals and Blueberry Days) and their influx of summer people. Driving through it on the way to an audiobook festival further north, the title of this story reared up in my head as soon as I saw the name of the town.

Pageants, like football, are an American mythos, and there is something compelling about them even if they are dire in all sorts of ways and not in any way a healthy part of your complete cultural memesphere. But they are trials, in the end. They are a ritual selection of a king or a queen, something we here in the New World seem to obsess about to an untoward degree. It’s a search for something extraordinary. And the more regional and small stakes the pageant, the more interesting it is to me. The famous butter sculptures in the Midwest, effigies of maidens, utterly compel me. Anything that over-the-top half-druidic sympathetic magic does, especially when practiced by the very folk who would insist that they certainly do not believe in fairy tales or any of that kiddie/pagan stuff.

Given the smallest empty space, and we will fill it with mythic narrative. With blueberries on top.

In the Future When All’s Well

This story is unofficially dedicated to my sister, Heather, who is a soccer star. She was a Classic American Teenager of the 00s in a way I certainly was not in the 90s, very beautiful and athletic and popular. So often, because many science fiction and fantasy authors are geeks, we make our protagonist geeks as well, the known territory of the lonely smart kid. I was interested in writing a genre story about a jock.

The genesis of this story was purely that I was asked to write a vampire story for a YA vampire anthology at the height of the Twilight craze. I accepted and promptly had zero ideas for anything new to say about vampires. So I went back to the source, as is the wont of anyone with as much Classical education as I have stacked up behind me. And if you look at what folks thought would turn you into a vampire in the time known as the day, you will find a truly dizzying list of mundanities. Becoming a vampire seemed like something pretty much inevitable, given the number of activities that would bring on the night.

And while giggling over my books I called upstairs to my husband.

“I definitely should not write this story about vampires and how easy it apparently is to trip over your own feet and turn into one in total Valley Girl voice, right?”

“Oh my god,” my husband said. “That sounds horrible. You should definitely not do that.”

“I’m from California! I come by it honestly. I can TOTES talk like that. If you don’t watch out I will do it FOR A WEEK.”

But it was in my head already, Scout’s voice. And I wrote the story over three days of some of the most excited writing I had done in awhile. And though I did not grow up with my sister and know her less well than I should like, she came to infuse the character.

Look, sis--I made you a hero.

Fade to White

I am the child of advertisers.

Usually, when a person says such a thing, they mean that the ubiquitous advertising of their world shaped them as a person.

I mean I am actually the child of advertisers.

My grandfather owned a large and successful advertising firm in Seattle after making his bones in Chicago on that other Madison Avenue. My father went to work for him and continues in that field to this day. I have strong memories of the offices, the secretaries, coloring at someone’s desk while waiting for my father to get off of work. As a small child, I played the Adorable Kidlet We Are Deeply Concerned About Not Having Saved Enough for College/Bought the Right Insurance For/Qualifying for a Home Loan So As to Provide a Yard For in several commercials. Advertising and marketing were part of the language of everything in my world.

I’d wanted to write an atompunk story for awhile--there’s something terrifying and compelling about the monoculture of the 1950s set against a fear of and love affair with nuclear weapons and power. The hyperactive enforced cheerfulness.  The conviction that being a uranium prospector was a legitimate career path and various entirely noxious, cancerous substances would save us from everything from dirt to death. And the obsession with family and generation that our current powers that be remember with such fondness. Most gender dystopias deal with controlling female fertility; I wanted to boil men down to their semen the way women are reduced in both the actual world and in fictional miseries. That women are only eggs is a given, taken as read. That men’s fertility would be as tightly controlled, if not more, seems inevitable to me.

Advertising and marketing are the language of everything. You can see everything about a culture distilled in an ad. It’s not often pretty, but it’s very succinct.


In Marguerite Feitlowitz’s excellent A Lexicon of Terror, she studies the ways in which language, particularly Argentinian Spanish, changes with the advent of a totalitarian regime. I first read the book in college as part of an Argentinian history class. A man who had lived through the Proceso, a junta of horrifying violence and both philosophical and personnel connections to Nazi Germany that ruled the nation around the year I was born, came to speak. The first time I heard him say his friend “was disappeared” rather than “disappeared,” my blood went cold. Such a simple thing, a verb becoming transitive, but it said everything.

The process of writing Deathless involved an immersion in Russian and Eastern European history where, I promise, this phenomenon is no different. It seems to be a constant: when a government wants to control people, they control language. In post 9/11 America, we’ve seen this happen in English. It’s astonishing how many of the usages in A Lexicon of Terror are now common in American English. (Insurgents instead of soldiers, the total perversion of the word freedom, terrorist used to describe anything and everything.) It is grimly fascinating, to see the naked attempt to contort every possible word into a political statement in favor of the status quo.

What happens ultimately is that a whole language becomes a code. No word is simply itself, it also stands for something else, often doubling back ironically on its new meaning anyway, because it takes time to forget what words mean. Communication nears a singularity of impossibility. This upside-down logic is part of the reason magical realism so often springs up in totalitarian nations. It isn’t magical, really. It’s just realism. Expressing a world run by wizards who believe profoundly in magic words.

Red Engines

This is a love poem, have no doubt. It is a poem that exists because I met someone years ago who was younger than I by a decade, who was so beyond any need for me in her world or any of the old conceptions of love and belonging she seemed a little alien and terrifying, the way beautiful people who don’t want to be with you always do. She seemed like a new, post-human thing. A girl headed to Mars while I stayed on earth. A girl for whom my fairy tales had no meaning and in whom she had no role.

Sometimes the reasons behind poems are simple, so simple as to be beyond stating, universal.

Once upon a time there was this girl.

The Wolves of Brooklyn

One evening, while one of the great rollicking snowstorms that treat the Atlantic Seaboard like its own personal bowling alley racked up a perfect game all over us, a Brooklynite friend of mine named Danielle blogged:

“We walked home down Flatbush and were eaten by wolves.”

And it was a thing that needed to be written.

Many of my high school friends now live in New York, by chance. Or possibly not by chance, given that my friends were all actors and dancers and New York is Where You Go when that is what you want out of the world. I am continually surprised by my own familiarity with and affection for the city, having grown up on the West Coast. But I am most interested in how powerfully it is a focal point for all the dreams of people coming in search of something meaningful and even magical in the same place. We see New York on every screen and in every story--it is the urban face of our culture. We get this idea that it is real in a way the rest of the country is somehow not. It is Where Things Happen. This idea is embraced and enforced by New Yorkers, but it is primarily made of unreal things: books, television, movies.

The Wolves of Brooklyn, which should never, ever be read by anyone who went to high school with me and could see quite clearly who is who in this story, is at its heart about that quest for the real.

One Breath, One Stroke

In Japanese calligraphy, this is the ideal. Your breathing is as important as your brushwork. One breath, one stroke of the brush. It is a meditative activity, and a sacred one.

A significant portion of my stories about Japan are necessarily written from an outsider’s perspective. I am not, after all, Japanese. This one is an inside story--the characters are all yokai, Japanese demons or mythical creatures. I have always taken it as a mission

Kathleen Jennings
Catherynne M. Valente
336 pages
United States
Out of Print