Scarlet Letters

The not-so-private thoughts and rants of Elizabeth Donald, journalist/author and founder of the Literary Underworld.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Return of Snippets

Hey look, I still have a blog! The Fall Deathmarch Tour ate me. I was going to blog about New Orleans, and Memphis, and Louisville, and Dupo, and all the other places I've traveled for the last six weeks. (One of those things is closer than the others.)

About searching for non-spicy non-seafood on Bourbon Street, trying to find our way out of Louisville in the middle of a marathon, my first photography award, and getting censored by Facebook. Somehow none of that got written down...

In the meantime, have these.

JIM: Trying to read Emerson. I want to die.
ME: Why?
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg!
ME: You mean complex. Multifaceted. Challenging.
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg!
ME: Stimulating. Formidable. Demanding.
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg! Long overstuffed windbaggery!
ME: I'm not sure windbaggery is a word.
JIM: It is now.
ME: I'm pretty sure you're not just allowed to make up your own words, English major.
JIM: Yes I can.

CHARACTER 1: You know how to defuse a bomb, right?
CHARACTER 2: I've seen it done.
BOY: Oh please. Just cut the wire that isn't part of the American flag. It's probably the yellow one.
ME: From your extensive experience in bomb disposal, natch. Where do you get this shit?
BOY: Sources.

ME: Could we get more stereotypical?
BOY: Yeah. He's the tough soldier who apparently has never seen a time travel movie.
ME: And she's brilliant but flibbertygibbet. And they have a black sidekick!
BOY: *two thumbs up*
ME: I hope this gets better.

ME: *dramatic sigh*
JIM: What?
ME: I want to play hooky.
JIM: You have to work today.
ME: I don't want to be me today. I want to be... a flower.
JIM: What kind of flower?
ME: Snapdragon.
JIM: Sounds like the kind of flower you'd be.
ME: ... wait. HEY!

JIM: Off to school. *kisses*
ME: Okay. Have a good day, learn things, play nice with the other children.
JIM: Nope, I'm gonna beat em up.
ME: Well then be sure to get their lunch money.
JIM: Will do.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Murder of Stephen King, or, Why We Write

How terrible for his ghostwriter.

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, James Patterson called off his novel The Murder of Stephen King. It was actually a concept with potential, though not terribly unique: a serial killer is reenacting the deaths in a famous writer's books. Too bad Patterson decided to base it on a real-life writer, one who has already done this story a couple of ways, who has actually been stalked and terrorized by crazy people, and who isn't much of a Patterson fan.

Okay, it was maybe a little unkind (or at least impolite) for King to call Patterson a terrible but very successful writer. Largely because it's public knowledge Patterson doesn't write his own books anymore. If his books are terrible, then he should probably hire better ghostwriters.

Still, this was a tacky novel concept, so I'm glad he pulled it. I name characters after real people all the time, but only with their permission. And while my friends are largely delighted to die in horrible ways - which tells you something about my friends - I am sure any who have actually been stalked would not appreciate it immortalized without their consent.

I still boggle that Patterson doesn't write his own books.

At times, usually in frustration when sales are low or when struggling to carry a box back to the car (books are heavy) we will complain, "Why are we doing this again?"

And there is always a fellow author to say, "Because we have no choice."

Because you love books.
Because you have stories inside you that won't shut up.
Because it's therapy.
Because it is the only thing you're truly good at doing.
Because no one is writing the stories you want to read.
Because you love making worlds.
Because there isn't enough of [your subgenre here] in the world yet.
Because you only get better by doing more of it.
Because if you stopped the voices would take over.
Because just like the readers, you gotta know how it ends.

Writer Mia Silverton told me she began her writing career this year, hearing this advice from Quinn Loftis in three parts: We write because we have to. We write because we are inspired. We write to impact and influence lives.

"I do," Mia says. "I write because I simply have to tell these characters' stories and see the truth unfold. 'We write because we are inspired.' I am exactly that. Inspired by all the books, authors and lightbringers that have touched my heart and soul during every single year and phase of my life. 'We write to impact and influence lives' - I write because I want to help change lives, through not only the characters and worlds I create, but the messages that are spoken within those pages of love and healing. A well-spoken word in the past created a shift in me when the time was needed and I feel called to pay it forward."

Nowhere in that do you read, "So that I can make a couple million bucks." And if you did, there would be this sad, sick swell of laughter from the dealer's room.

Sure, if you've reached that lovely, privileged spot where you're making a living at writing, you write to pay the rent and put food on the table. I was on a panel at some point during the Fall Deathmarch Tour about writer's block, and all of us opined that one sure-fire cure to writer's block is a big paycheck held over a deadline. Filmmaker Jack Snyder listed his St. Louis house, apartment in Los Angeles, office rent and two kids in private school as his cures for writer's block. Money is a terrific motivator.

But... the money is a motivator because we want what Patterson has achieved. We want to reach that point where you can write whatever you want, get it published, and still pay the rent. So if you reach that point... why would you hand off the good part to somebody else? What do you do with all your time, roll around in the dollars cackling like Scrooge McDuck? If you're so busy managing the money that you don't have time to do the writing part, maybe the priorities have gotten a little out of whack?

Harlan Ellison once disparaged the phrase, 'I like having written but I don't like to write, it's hard work.' "Well, fuck you, hard work!" Ellison said with his usual delicacy. "You don't like it, go out and sail sailboats. Of course it's hard work. If it wasn't hard work, everybody would be doing it. And the better you do it, the harder the work is. It's supposed to be hard. Art is not supposed to be easy.... Art is supposed to be hard. Art is supposed to be demanding. That's the way I feel about it."

So I don't pretend to understand what's going on in James Patterson Inc., and while I might envy receiving one-tenth of his (or Stephen King's) paychecks, I'll still keep writing my hopefully-not-terrible books.

Because I have to. For more than one reason.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Identity theft or just really silly?

For the second time, I've reserved a room in a Chicago library.

Um, not me. The other me.

I've often joked that I must be two people at any given time, because the ethical and practical restrictions of my job require a separation between Elizabeth-me and Reporter-me. My worlds do collide, but rarely. Most of the time, the author-editor-person is doing one thing while the reporter-ethicist is doing something else. I've sometimes referred to one as my evil twin. (Note: the author is the evil one.)

But unless I've developed a serious psychological problem heretofore unknown to me, I am not reserving study rooms at a library in a Chicago suburb. However, someone is doing so with my name and email address.

The first time this happened, I received the email notification while I was on the road in.... you know, I honestly don't remember. It might have been Nashville, or Atlanta, or Kansas City. I only remember because I was sitting in my hotel room when I called the library to ask what was going on.

They were as befuddled as I. They said they use the reservation system to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at using the rooms, but that there was no cost or obligation involved. So why in heaven's name would someone use my name and email to reserve a room? What benefit does it give them?

At any rate, I informed them that the person in the room was Not Me, and that they needed to be duly made aware because I would not be liable for any costs or damages. They agreed, and we hung up.

It happened again. An email notification that Someone Who Is Not Me used my name and email address to reserve a room on Tuesday. I immediately emailed the library back. I have not gotten a response yet.

In practicality, the impact is probably negligible. It's a tad concerning, sure, but it's not like my name isn't out there. I'm a public person, and the email account they're using is my public email. (Those with my private email, please do not share.) As I've often said, in either of my personas, anyone who tried to steal my identity would probably give it right back with an apology and a donation. If you're gonna steal, steal from someone who HAS something.

But if you don't think I'm stirring the plot sifter with this....


Friday, September 02, 2016

Snippets: Old Age Edition

ME: Oh no. Not possible.
JIM: What?
ME: When I started working at the newspaper, I was in the bureau office, and we had these two secretaries who answered the phone and took down messages on actual paper because well shut up, okay?
JIM: Okay.
ME: And one of those secretaries, a very nice lady named Connie, was pregnant. And she had a baby.
JIM: Okay.
ME: The baby just got her driver's license.
JIM: *chortles*
ME: Shut up! You may be used to being old, but I'm struggling with it!
JIM: I'm ooooold.
ME: Yes, I know, but I thought I was young until five minutes ago!


BOY: What are you doing?
ME: Baking cookies. Chocolate chip.
BOY: What for?
ME: Scouts.
BOY: Um.
ME: What? We're all supposed to bring something.
BOY: Everybody always just brings storebought stuff.
ME: Ha. When have you ever known me to bring storebought anything when I can bake?

(Note: First attempt at cookies using the new stand mixer was a success.)


ME: Honey! JCPenney is offering a special discount to senior citizens this weekend?
JIM: Not there yet.
ME: It's 15 percent off to all shoppers age 55 and older!
JIM: Not there yet.
ME: But it's only five years off!*
JIM: Hush woman.
ME: *hugs him* I'm looking forward to taking advantage of your senior citizen status.
JIM: Making me feel old...
ME: Not old! Seasoned!
JIM: *groans*
ME: Hey, your age is my age too... plus eight.
JIM: *facepalms*
ME: We've already gotten that benefit once -
JIM: That was so wrong.
ME: I can't wait. Think of the discounts!
JIM: *sighs*

The short version of the Senior Citizen Benefit Incident: We ate dinner at some Huddle House in Nowhere, Southland this past summer. At the end of the meal, I was pulling out my card when I saw the bill and started snickering. Jim asked me what was so funny, and I showed him the receipt, where the waitress had automatically applied the senior citizen discount to his meal. 

Jim facepalmed. Boy said, "That is the best thing to happen all day."

I didn't stop laughing for twenty miles.


Speaking of old... Last week I worked the night cops reporter shift in our main office. It was my turn in the barrel, as we have all been covering the shifts while they interview for new reporters. I chatted with the new copy editors, and during a break, I showed them the old darkroom (now office and storage space), as they said they hadn't seen it. I was enjoying telling them what little I know about the building's history and the history of the newspaper.

ME: I'm probably one of the last journos to learn how to develop film, since they were in the middle of transitioning to all digital when I graduated from college. Of course, I couldn't do it now to save my life.
NEWBIE 1: Those must be the negatives. *points at wall o' negatives* I can't imagine how you'd see everything in reverse... Wow, 1993. That's the year I was born.
ME: ...
ME: Seriously?
NEWBIE 1: *nods*
ME: I graduated from high school in 1993.
NEWBIE 2: *points to 1994* There's me.
ME: *facepalm* Preschoolers!
NEWBIES: *laugh*
ME: When I first came here, Jayne Matthews - rest her soul - informed me often that she had socks older than I was. I literally have socks older than the two of you.** I'm gonna take my walker back to my desk now...

* Technically 5.5 years.
** This is true. I have two pair of socks I bought for my first job at McDonald's in 1992. Kill me.

Labels: , , ,

Monday, August 29, 2016

Fall Deathmarch and/or Stalking Guide

Each year, I swear I'm not going to do this to myself anymore. I keep swearing....

No Dragoncon for me this year, and at the moment, I do not have any Atlanta stops planned. If there seems to be sufficient interest, I may plan a bungee stop in the spring tour, but in the meantime, I hope my Atlanta fans have an awesome Dragoncon! Buy lots of books!

Sept. 9-11: Memphis, Tenn. on personal business, but am happy to meet with anyone for books or art! Deadline for ordering is Sept. 8.

Sept. 17-21: New Orleans, La. for the Excellence in Journalism conference, at which I am honored to represent the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists as president and delegate. A reminder to the STLSPJ crew: if you have any opinions you wish to express on the issues we will debate at EIJ, please contact me in advance. I'll be traveling via Memphis in case anyone wants to meet up.

Sept. 25: Back home. Booked to moderate/host the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists' free public screening of Spotlight, hopefully with an after-show panel discussion of local journalists who have conducted similar investigations here in St. Louis. That program is hosted by the Missouri History Museum and sponsored by a grant from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.

Sept. 30-Oct. 2: Archon. As usual, the Literary Underworld will have its booth and hot and cold running authors in the panels, and my artwork will be on display in the art show. New this year: We hope to bring the LitUnd Traveling Bar to the Friday night party scene! That is still tentative as we are trying to make sure we can afford it and still pay the rent. Last year we had so many people ask us if the Traveling Bar would be open at Archon that we booked a room at the main hotel to give ourselves the option. See you in Collinsville!

Oct. 7-9: Louisville, Ky. for Imaginarium. Literary Underworld will be there in force, including the Traveling Bar. I've said several times that if you're a beginning author of any genre, whether you're planning to go for New York, small press, or aiming to do it yourself, you should go to Imaginarium. The programming there is more tightly focused on developing the creative arts both internally and as a business than any convention I know. Strongly recommended.

Oct. 15: Dupo arts fair in Dupo, Ill. Tentative.

Oct. 16: Leclaire Parkfest in Edwardsville, Ill. Fortunately, this one is just around the corner from my house. We will have our booth set up with books and art, and the St. Andrew's Relay for Life team will be running a used book sale for the first time. This is a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, and support is greatly appreciated (both in terms of cash and volunteers! we need warm bodies).

Oct. 22-23: Back home for a weekend crammed with personal stuff.

Oct. 28-30: Halloween. And I'm freaking home.

Nov. 4-6: Jim's and my anniversary trip, which we swear we won't cancel just because we're crazed.

Nov. 12: SPJ trivia night, the sole fundraiser for the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists. Details pending.

And that, friends, is where you can find me over the next two and a half months. I will not be taking on any new editing projects in September or October for obvious reasons, unless the client states that they don't mind waiting in line until November. I don't have a solid release date yet for Moonlight Sonata, but once it's out, I expect the travel will pick up again.

I swear I'm not going to do this to myself next year....

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, August 26, 2016

Coffeehouse Review: The Abbey

This just goes to show that second chances are usually a good thing.

Waaaaaay back in the dim dark years of... um, 2011... I had a Groupon for The Abbey, a coffeehouse not far from the main office of Ye Olde Newspaper. It was not a pleasant experience. The space was okay but nothing exceptional, the food was okay (but nothing exceptional), and the server was positively growly. I didn't know if it was because I was paying with my Groupon (I tipped!) or if it was just a naturally growly place, but it put a bad taste in my mouth before I had the food.

I'd never been back. From time to time I'd be looking for a place to grab a nice lunch, maybe get a little writing done before work. I'd do a search on coffeehouses and The Abbey always popped up, but I'd remember that unpleasant server and say, "Nah."

This week I've been working in the main office on the night shift, but dropping Jim off at school meant I had two and a half hours to kill before my shift each day. Writing time. And it so happened that The Abbey had a coupon in my big Entertainment Book, which I resolutely buy every year. I figured five years meant it was time for a second chance.

First: New location. (Probably not that new; it's been a while, remember.) The new space is much bigger and nicer, with a fireplace at one end and small stage for live readings/music on the other, plus a separate meeting room (with a door!), local artists displayed on the walls, little baskets and schtuff for sale, a humidor full of what I presume are only the best cancerous logs, a gelato case and plenty of coffee and tea. Not to mention: Drive-through!

The food also has improved, though it's not the best I've had (that would be Teaspoons, still). While I think I would have preferred my BLT croissant with mayonnaise rather than the special sauce, the pepper bacon was thick and crunchy, just like I like it. The chicken and dumpling soup was unremarkable but filling. And looking at the other plates around the restaurant, it seems like there are a variety of very nice, tasty-looking combos to be had. (Note to the kitchen: Think Billy Goat Chips! They'd really round out the plates.) You can also get a Panera-style twofer: half a sandwich, half a salad or a cup of soup, pick two.

It's noon on a weekday, so the clientele is mostly middle-aged or older folks with a few young moms. I have a feeling, however, that when school is out, the teenagers would flock to this place. Evenings likely belong to the grownups, though; according to their advertising, it's low lights and jazz, and they break out the bar - a fairly impressive selection, by the looks of it.

Downsides: It's a bit on the noisy side. Mostly full, and voices carry. That doesn't bother me; I have my earbuds so I can focus on the writing. But if you're planning a lunch meeting, be prepared to raise your voice or use the meeting room.

Upsides: A large 10-person table means a writing group could meet here easily. It would be perfect for a signing sometime, or just a quick lunch (my food was out doublefast). Wifi was easily accessed and so far has not let me down.

And, of course, the coffee. Flavorful but a tad weak for my taste - and I am not one that generally goes for mud-coffee. That would be Jim. However, mugs are giant and refills are free.

Best of all, the service is polite, helpful an friendly. I was about to make an unfortunate choice in my sandwich construction and the young lady made some suggestions that truly improved the meal. The dishes were cleared away almost as quickly as I emptied them, and turnover was handled efficiently without rushing anyone.

And I might snag some of that gelato before I go.


Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Seven Challenge

Someone tagged me to post seven sentences from the seventh chapter of a work in progress. That left me with choosing the one in edits or the one I'm writing. So I decided to give you both. I also cheated and made it seven paragraphs, because reasons.

I'm also supposed to tag seven other writers, but I'm going to be recalcitrant and say if you want to do this, go ahead and do it! It's fun.


From Chapter 7 of Yellow Roses:

Cat’s gaze roved over the carved-wood railings, the ornate Byzantine design of long-neglected walls and balconies. If she concentrated on that open-window image, she could see the colors and gilt flow over the sad remains of the theater and see the way it had been.
         A shadowy figure stood on the balcony over stage right.
         “There!” Cat pointed up at the balcony. As she spoke, the figure became clearer: the dark-haired woman she had seen in her mental window, the lovely woman in the high-necked blouse and a wide-waisted skirt. The woman stood alone in the balcony, as Justin snapped pictures and Sora gazed up in her direction.
         “Sadness,” Sora said. “I don’t see anything, but… nervousness, mixed with a terrible sadness, longing.”
         The ghost flickered as if she were in a movie herself, an old one with rough film. She turned away from Cat and another form coalesced from the shadows. A man, tall and dark in a flowing coat. He reached for her and she kissed him, holding him close. Then she broke away from him, her face crumpled with silent sobs.
         Cat could hear nothing, but the man clearly protested, grabbing the woman by the arms. She pulled away, still sobbing, her face miserable. She ran from him and he grabbed after her.
         The woman twisted away from him and lost her balance, her body falling over the low railing. The man reached after her, but caught only a scrap of cloth as she fell.


From the seventh story of Moonlight Sonata, previously published elsewhere:

Her left arm tightened against his back. “Move your hands off me,” she whispered.
“If I had a nickel…” he whispered back, obeying. That light breath of air said she was laughing again, but her body was back to that tense band of muscle. He slid his own hand to his sidearm, the back of his neck crawling.
A horrible screech split the air, as a burning acrid stench suddenly overwhelmed them. Harvey’s arm shoved hard against Horowitz’s back, propelling him off the bench and onto the ground. Harvey leaped up onto the bench and fired in two-handed stance.
Horowitz rolled over and stared at hell itself.
Giant and black, its wings stretched at least ten feet across. It rose above the bench, screeching from its twisted beak below a single strange orange eye that seemed to glow in the reflection from the river lights. Covered in sleek black fur, it reached toward Horowitz with clawlike hands.
His horrified gaze went lower. He saw what it had for him.
Horowitz fired his own gun from his prone position. He struck one of the wings, tearing a hole in the thin, fibrous material. The popobawa screeched and banked toward Harvey. She fired into its trunk, hitting it at least three times. “Now would be a good time!” she shouted.