Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, February 23, 2015


Dueling laptops...

BARISTA: Angela?
JIM: *grin*
ME: What?
JIM: Every time I hear the word Angela, I think of The Beast Within.
ME: Your dream girl.
JIM: She is not.
ME: She is too. You first wrote about her years before we were together, and she was so obviously your dream woman. And she was blonde.
JIM: But now my dream woman sits before me and she is brunette and lovely.
ME: Nice try. Rolling your saving throw there, what do you think you got?
JIM: At least a five.
ME: Four, maybe.
JIM: Well, if we were playing D&D, but in Mage it's a five.
ME: That might be the nerdiest thing you've said all month.


While packing for the weekend show, I summoned Jim to the bathroom in a panic, as I was in immediate need of solace. I explained to him that I had been packing up my medications for the weekend, and discovered that my pill organizer was too small.

"I'm going to have to buy one of those stupid big ones with separate compartments for morning and night!" I wailed.

Now, what should he have said?

"I'm sorry, hon." - Nice, safe, supportive.
"You're still young." - Lying, but supportive.
"You're my beautiful wife and I love you." - His standard response.

Instead, he says this.

"Welcome to middle age."

Aaaaaaaaarrrrrrggggghhhh. I informed him with frowny-face that it was exactly the WRONG thing to say to a woman three weeks from turning thirty-nine-plus-tax. He hugged me and said, "Welcome to my world, hon."

I give you the wife side-eye, dear sir.


BOY: Mom! Did you buy me soda today?
ME: No.
BOY: Graaaah! Why not?
ME: Because I'm an evil mean monster who lives to ruin your life.
BOY: I'm down to two!
ME: Noted and logged.
BOY: Whyyyy didn't you buy them?
ME: Because I forgot. Duh.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2015


I'm totally spoiled, folks. Yesterday, Jim did the dishes, laundry and put on a load of towels before leaving for class.

Today, as I battled the zombie plague, he went out twice to get me chicken soup and Tylenol, made me tea and Jello, and helped me up and down the stairs when the headache became incapacitating.

Totally. Spoiled. Sorry, ladies, I got to him first.

Jim: I left the socks on the bed because I didn't know which drawer to put them in.
Me: Well, you're just fired then.
Jim: *sticks out tongue*


Saturday, January 31, 2015

Where he gets this mouth...

Subject of carversation: Math classes.

JIM: I'm pretty sure he'll let us use notes for the test.
BOY: They let me.
ME: Yeah, I saw your notecard for your last math test. I didn't know you could write that neat. Or that small.
JIM: I better do the same. With the notes I can enter the formula in the calculator -
ME: I gotta say, the most amusing part of this whole experience was catching you using your computer as a giant overpriced calculator because you couldn't figure out how to use the scientific calculator.
BOY: Seriously? It's, like, the exact same calculator I use!
JIM: I figured it out eventually!
ME: Man. You both are so freaking spoiled. When I was in college, we didn't get to use notes. We didn't get to use a freaking calculator.
BOY: That's because it hadn't been invented yet.
ME: ...
BOY: *giant grin*
ME: I will jump into that backseat and smack you right through the window, Spawn.
BOY: *whistles*
ME: We had calculators. I kept it right next to my abacus, so shaddup.
BOY: *wisely silent*
ME: Man. Where did he get such a smart mouth?
JIM: *look*
ME: Hush, you.

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Friday, January 30, 2015

So, those big announcements....

If you were not among the crew in tonight's author chat...

Just kidding.

You lost the chance for awesome freebies! But you still get to find out my current shenanigans.

• If you haven't heard, I'm going to be editor guest of honor at Midsouthcon in a couple of months. This is quite an honor, especially since Midsouthcon has a special place in my heart. It wasn't my first con; that was Shore Leave 13, and since Shore Leave is coming up on No. 37, I'll just let you figure out the math all on your own. (Funny, I've never been back to Shore Leave since. Must rectify that.)

But I went to Midsouthcon with a handful of friends when I was in college. The guy I was dating vanished into the gaming room (story of my life) and I tried a LARP for the first time, which was awesome, and inspired a short story that became a novel which is still unpublished but probably the darkest thing I've ever written, up to and including Yellow Roses.

I also attended a handful of writing panels, which I recall because it launched the germ of an idea in my mind. I'd been writing stories since I could pick up a pen, but I never tried to get them published. Instead I wrote a science fiction novella for my friends, printed it off at Kinko's and gave it to them as Christmas presents. That was the most publishing I ever intended to do. But those panelists made it sound like you didn't actually have to a) live in New York, b) be the child of someone famous or c) have Dumbo's magic feather in order to get a book published. It would be nearly 10 years before I finally did it, but the idea started there.

So I'm honored beyond measure to be GoH for Midsouthcon, and I do hope you'll join us. It's a chance to talk about the editing side of my work, which I don't get to do nearly as often as the writing aspect. It also happens to coincide with my birthday, which is the four-.... um, 39-plus-tax. So we might possibly throw a shindig.

• What other reason might we have for said shindig? I will be premiering TWO (2) books at the show. Yes, TWO. And y'all thought I wasn't doin' nothing but gettin' hitched last year. (Diagram that sentence, boys.)

I am pleased to announce that our friends at Seventh Star Press have contracted the Nocturnal Urges vampire series. This is the series that really launched my career, consisting of three books: Nocturnal Urges, A More Perfect Union and Abaddon. We are currently editing them into one compendium volume, which will be released at Midsouthcon. And if I'm very good and work very hard, we might be able to take preorders by Conflation. If the compendium sells well, I'm hopeful to write more books in this series for Seventh Star.

The NU series was my breakout hit, winning awards and gaining me attention that has allowed me to build my career. It also let me play around with allegory; the laws and societal constructs that plague my Memphis vampires were drawn from the Jim Crow laws and the separatist attitudes prevalent in American culture. The demise of Cerridwen Press cut short the story only halfway through, and I would love to tell the rest of my tale. Here's hoping!

• The other book? At long last, Moonlight Sonata. This is the book I first announced several years ago, inspired in part by you. Yes, you. I have multiple universes running in my work, including NU, Blackfire, the Sanctuary books, and the as-yet-unpublished Yellow Roses world. Moonlight Sonata brings many of these together in a collection of short stories and two novellas, most of which are drawn from these universes. Some of these pieces have seen print, and others will be brand new to you.

Circumstances beyond all our control have delayed it time and again, but this time we're pretty sure it's going forward. I consider it a follow-up to Setting Suns, which introduced the Sanctuary series as well as my similar Twilight Zone-style creepy horror. I've always been more about the shadow behind the curtain than the snarling beast, and Moonlight Sonata reflects that.

The other day, someone said that reading Gethsemane made him sleep with the light on. That's the best compliment a horror writer can get.

• I intended to offer a promotion during the chat, and I forgot, because I'm all brilliant like that. We are kicking off Relay season, raising money for the American Cancer Society. For the rest of this weekend, anyone who donates to my Relay effort will receive a free ebook; for donations of $25 or more, you get a signed Gethsemane (limited edition chapbook!). Only while supplies last. Click here to donate! Then be sure to email me so that I know you want in on the promotion.

That's all for now! But I've got more on the way...

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

TurboTax and zombies

Today's addition to The List: TurboTax. Or more specifically, the company that makes it: Intuit. Which really put its foot in it this year.

I've been doing my own taxes since college. Nobody needs to try to understand my bizarre accounting system but me. It makes sense to me, okay? I started with "Taxes for Dummies," a pile of library-copied forms and a No. 2 pencil. I moved to web-based versions as technology advanced, and I have used TurboTax Deluxe downloaded software to do my taxes for years with no problems. I understand how the system works and they carry over much of my stuff from year to year, so I just need to fill in my sales and royalties, etc. It's helpful not to have to re-calculate the square footage of my office each year.

I should have paid closer attention. Seems TurboTax has recalibrated its software versions, and you can no longer use Deluxe to file the forms for home office deduction and Schedule C (read: side business income). For that, you need TurboTax Home & Business, at nearly twice the cost.

Boo hiss, TurboTax. I will be requesting a refund, I think. I like your product very much and have never had complaints about it, but this is nothing but a money grab. There is no blooming reason why we should have to upgrade to a higher product just for a home office and Schedule C. You are not keeping customers this way; you are already the highest-priced tax prep software by a factor of three, so we really don't need all that much encouragement to jump ship.

Not very Intuit-tive. (What? Love me, love my jokes.)

Hmm, looks like H&R Block's software includes the Schedule C at Deluxe level... and we won't even talk about TaxAct, which is about a quarter your price.

EDIT: Now this is how you scramble. Seems that H&R Block is offering a free version of its Deluxe software to angry, disaffected TurboTax customers. It's actually set up an email account:, and if you email them your name, email address, whether you use a Mac or PC and a scanned receipt of your TurboTax purchase, they'll send you a link for a free download of the deluxe product plus state. Given that H&R Block has less than a third of the customers that TurboTax does, according to Forbes, that's some serious hustle.

EDIT EDIT: On the other hand... I called TurboTax to get a refund on my angry-making software. The nice, polite lady immediately offered me a free upgrade. Apparently there are quite a few angry customers applying for refunds. Bravo to TurboTax on belatedly understanding customer service.

I took the upgrade; I don't want to deal with a new software program if I don't have to. So, if you (like me) already bought TurboTax and will need to report side business income (or have investment income, which I absolutely do not), call 800-445-1875 and request an upgrade. I appreciate good customer service, even if it originates from a really bad decision.

But you'd better believe I'm looking very closely at next year's version, Intuit. If you don't restore the Schedule C at the Deluxe level, H&R Block is getting my business next year.


Totally unrelated but funny....

Last night I dreamed I was Batman. Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Batmaaaaaan.

See, now it's stuck in your head, too. I was in some kind of resort and I was Batman, and there was a Robin who looked nothing like Chris O'Donnell or Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and we were capering about trying to... I dunno, prevent a jewel theft or something. I am unclear on the details.

Then I woke up, because that happens at least three times a night, and after I fell back asleep it was Zombies 101, barricading the house and everything. Fighty fight fight, because I dream in action-adventure movies.

Now here's my question: Why couldn't I have been Batman when I was fighting zombies?

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Isabel's latest triumph

Last night, Boy and I were watching TV in the living room when we heard a thunderous crash on the other side of the house.

Jim was at work, so he could not be responsible. Boy's eyes widened, and as I stood up to investigate, he said, "No, wait, take the baseball bat." Um, did anyone know where the baseball bat is? No? So I investigated anyway.

Boy's room was... well, it wasn't any more catastrophic than the last time I dared to look. If anyone knows how to get a teenage boy to clean his room, do let me know. Our room was substantially un-disastered, the bathroom was in its usual mild disarray....

Then I opened the closet.

The closet grid system had partially collapsed, dumping all my stuff and half my clothes on the floor. (Jim's side was totally fine. Naturally. Isabel likes him.) 

Later investigation showed that a small fishhook-shaped connector had snapped. Jim found a reasonable replacement at Home Depot, and conducted the repairs this afternoon because that's what people do on a national holiday, with zip ties to strengthen it against a reoccurrence.

But first, he had to empty the entire closet. There is only one in the house - well, two, if you count the coat closet under the stairs. Boy doesn't have a closet, so he has a wardrobe with drawers and hanging space that he has only partially destroyed. Jim and I share the only actual closet, which is long and narrow and has the wire shelving to allow us to store everything from towels to pillows to our clothes. 

That's what is now vomited across our bedroom.

I hate clothes. So why do I have so many?

I had entirely forgotten the closet project while I worked up in my office all day. I came downstairs to make dinner (basil cream chicken with spinach noodles tossed with browned butter and mizithra) and saw the bedroom.

ME: Aiiiieeeee!
JIM: Yeah.
ME: I forgot. 
JIM: We have to sort all this tonight.
ME: No. I don't wanna.
JIM: We have to if we ever want to sleep in here again.
ME: Let's not. We can just close the door and pretend this room doesn't exist.
JIM: Then where do we sleep?
ME: I've got a cot up in my office, I'm good.
JIM: Great, what about me?
ME: You can sleep on the couch - no, kick Boy out of his room. You get his bed.
BOY: How about no?

Isabel hates me. My bridesmaid Sara even brought me an awesome little charm for a wedding gift to help ward off the ghost so that she wouldn't misbehave. It vanished almost immediately. I'm not kidding. Cannot find it anywhere. During and immediately following the wedding, the coat closet rod snapped in half (solid wood), the handrail ripped out of the office stairwell, the coffeepot lid broke, the bed frame collapsed (okay, that was Boy)....

And as I'm typing this, the keyboard has vanished from my iPad screen. I can still type, but the letter keys do not appear. It has taken me ten minutes to type this paragraph. Not. Kidding.

Okay, Isabel, I get the hint! I'll stop complaining about you on my blog and go put my closet back together! 


Saturday, January 17, 2015

The love of a godmother

This morning was spent in the company of current and former co-workers, as we shared stories of the late Jayne Matthews and celebrated her life with laughter. That's what she wanted, of course; she had told me years ago that she would be annoyed if no one was telling funny stories at her funeral. Jayne, we gave the best we had.

In my case, by the way, I told the story of Jayne's "divorce present" to me in 2003. I didn't need to preface it with explaining Jayne's opinions on marriage, because as soon as I mentioned it, there was a scattering of rueful laughter. Everyone who ever met Jayne knew her opinions on marriage.

We celebrated her life and her passion, and bid her farewell the best we knew.

But that wasn't the only goodbye today. My mother informs me that earlier today, my adoptive godmother died. By the way, it may be January but 2015 is fired.

This takes a little explaining. As is the tradition of the Episcopal Church, I was baptized as an infant. I had godparents, including a Catholic monsignor, but I never heard from them as a child or as an adult. I think I met one of them once as a young woman, and my mother told me when the monsignor passed away, because I think it was in the news.

Maynard and Lois LeCocq were my sister's godparents, and they were devoted. Because there was simply too much love in them to play favorites, they adopted me as well. Every birthday, I got a lovely little card from Maynard and Lois. Every Christmas, there were presents mailed all the way from California - for both of us, not just the one to whom they had a religious obligation. And every time we flew back to the town of our birth, we were welcomed as family.

Maynard left us several years ago. The last time I saw Lois was in 2012, when I flew out to see my mom's family. Lois and I had a nice chat at church - because of course, she was still attending St. Luke's, the church where my late grandfather was pastor and where my sister and I were baptized and my mother was married.

Perhaps the vanishing act of my own godparents made me that much more grateful for the LeCocqs. They showed me the love of family when they had no obligation to do so, and I was always humbled by their kindness. I have never had the privilege of being a godparent to a child; I stood as sponsor to two friends in college who had chosen the Episcopal Church, and it was an honor to be their godmother, even as we crack jokes about it since both gentlemen are older than I am. Our relationship was different than that of the traditional godparent, to guide the child and support the parents.

The LeCocqs showed me what to look for when my own son was born. The man we chose for Ian's godfather was my partner at my first newspaper job, a good man and a dear friend. Tom has always been there for Ian, and he and his wife are family in every way.

It is heartbreaking to hear of Lois's death today. Once again I wished that I had kept in better touch, written more letters, mailed more pictures. I knew her health was not the best, even in 2012 when last I saw her. But I know through our shared faith that she and Maynard are reunited now, and that must be such a blessed joy.

But I am weary of saying goodbye to people. Fred Grimm. Dave Wenrich. Jayne Matthews. Lois LeCocq. All within the last few weeks. My heart is too full with unsaid goodbyes.

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