Behind “The Drowning City”

Venice Church postcard

Chiesa dell’Assunta ai Gesuiti in Venice’s Cannaregio is where the story begins.

I’ve only been to Italy once. The owner of our penzione in Florence told us she hoped we would arrive in Venice during the day because it rose from the water like something from a dream. This proved to be true. The train from the modern city skated over a narrow causeway, as if floating across the lagoon to the fabled city of canals.

The old city itself was marvelous. It was too easy to get lost, which only made it seem more magical.

After we’d checked into a hotel room with a ludicrous glass chandelier, my husband Mason and I went to look for the vaporetto to San Michele in Isola, the cemetery island. On our way, we passed the Church of Santa Maria Assunta detta Gesuiti, which looked just as Alondra describes it, except for the shadows gathered behind the choir rail. Instead, the sun-filled church was bright and all its marble adornments were amusing and cheerful. The stone balcony with its marble draperies really did make me laugh.

Venice stone balcony postcard

It’s all stone: even the tassels, even the drapery.

The Siren was inspired by Renee Fleming, who I saw perform as Salome with the San Francisco Opera. At the beginning of the second act, someone pulled the fire alarm by accident. Strobe lights started to blink at the edges of the stage. It could have been a disaster as three thousand people, many of them elderly, hurried down the slick marble steps to escape the Opera House.

Fleming tried to continue singing, but the audience was restive in the dark. Even the orchestra got distracted.

She could have gone backstage, hidden in her dressing room or escaped the theater altogether—both of which would have been completely understandable—but instead she remained on stage, apparently very calm. She flounced exaggeratedly over to the armchair at the front of the stage, flopped down into it, propped her fancy shoes up on the ottoman, and arranged her brocaded skirts. As someone who suffered from debilitating stage fright, it was a revelation for me to see someone so calm in a potentially life-threatening situation. Fleming was so self-possessed in the face of the audience’s worry, I fell in love with her.

That’s another favorite, but you get the idea.

Cassio, the brilliant sound engineer in my story, was named for the mass-produced plastic keyboards of my youth. It’s a stage name he chose as a joke. His sonic wizardry was inspired by talking with my musician husband, whom I would love to see perform in Venice.

I’m prone to ear infections. The first time I punctured both eardrums as an adult was just as painful as Alondra describes it. In fact, I took notes the next ear infection I got, with the intention of putting it into a story.

“The Drowning City” was originally published in nEvermore: Stories of Murder, Mystery, and the Macabre, edited by Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles. I was a Kickstarter backer for the project, buying in at a level that allowed me to submit to the anthology without any guarantee my story would be accepted. As it turned out, that was the best $50 I’ve ever spent! I was thrilled to appear in the table of contents alongside Tanith Lee (one of my childhood heroes), Margaret Atwood, and Christopher Rice.

In 2016, the book won Best Anthology of the Year at the Paris Book Festival and was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in an Anthology.

After its initial publication, the story was reprinted in Best New Horror #27, edited by Stephen Jones. That was my first appearance in a “best of” anthology, my first experience with signing a signature sheet to appear in the front of the book, the first time my fiction appeared in a hardcover book—and the first time I shared a table of contents with Neil Gaiman: one of my life goals.

You can read the story in the newest collection of my Alondra stories, now available for your kindle on Amazon:

Nancy Kilpatrickauthor of_Thrones of Blood seriesPower of the Blood series

About Loren Rhoads

I'm the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, as well as a space opera trilogy. I'm also co-author of a series about a succubus and her angel. In addition to blogging at, I blog about my morbid life at
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