Scarlet Letters

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

Friday, February 05, 2016


Man: I wouldn't mind going camping this year.
Me: We can't do it lightweight.
Man: What?
Me: Can't do it lightweight. Camping. It's in-tents.
Man: ...
Man: *closes eyes, rolls head back*
Me: *innocent grin*
Man: Bleeeechy.
Me: Sorry. There was too much at stake.

Beatles: "We all live in a yellow submarine..."
Me: Dear. Your hippie drug music is getting stuck in my head. If you don't change the song, I shall have to kill you in your sleep.
Man: Good.
Me: Good that it's getting stuck in my head, or good that I'm going to kill you in your sleep?
Man: Both.
Me: That's disturbing.
Beatles: "A yellow submarine.... a yellow submarine...."
Me: Look, I love the Beatles. And I understand that this music was very important for people of your generation, but...
Man: Yup.
Me: But now it's an earworm.
Man: Yup.
Me: You're not going to reply to that at all?
Man: No, because you're making fun of me for being old.
Me: It's not really 'making fun' if it's factual...
Beatles: "We all live in a yellow submarine..."

Me: Okay, seriously. What are we doing for Valentine's Day?
Man: When is it?
Me: Feb. 14.
Man: *look* I mean -
Me: A week from Sunday. You're working and I'm working, so we have to do whatever we're going to do on Friday the 12th.
Man: I don't know, what do you want to watch - um, do?
Me: Not "dinner and a movie."
Man: But there's Deadpool!
Me: We are not going to see Deadpool.
Man: I know, you don't want to go see it with Ian and me.
Me: I will go see it, if only to keep up with the Marvel Universe. But not on Valentine's Day.
Man: We can go to lunch, and then a cafe and write...
Me: *stares*
Man: What?
Me: Working on my laptop. Exactly how is that different than every other day?
Man: Oh.
Me: If I'm not mistaken, February is your month to come up with our date idea.
Man: We can go to the Botanical Gardens!
Me: In February. When nothing is blooming.
Man: We could run away for the night like we did last year.
Me: Nope. Even if we scrape together the money, we have the SPJ Student Boot Camp the next morning, we have to be back super-early.
Man: Oh yeah.
Me: Our good friends at Groupon have ideas. Roller skating...
Man: No.
Me: Rock climbing...
Man: No.
Me: Burlesque.
Man: No.
Me: In-house wine tasting... see, in the end that's just a stranger in your living room dropping off wine.
Man: Yeah, no.
Me: Extreme laser tag?
Man: Hell no.
Me: Why is it that I always have to come up with the romantic date ideas when you are the romantic one? You wanted to go to Deadpool!
Man: That was a joke!
Me: You made the joke hoping I'd say yes.
Man: We-ell....
Me: In every relationship one person is the romantic, and you were elected! How can you be so relentlessly sappy and romantic in every other respect and never have any ideas for date night?
Man: I suck in this specific area.
Me: And I'm the one who's romance-challenged, but I always have to come up with the idea! Okay, we stay home in our pajamas, order in, eat two pounds of chocolates and get silly drunk.
Man: No! We can't do that!
Me: Why not? It sounds better than most of our ideas.
Man: Because it's Valentine's Day!
Me: Okay, then you come up with something.

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In which I link to myself...

... but there are a number of thoughts in this week's review of The Affair over on CultureGeek that I think might be interested in those of you reading this blog.

It seems like the show is trying to say things about the roles we play in our lives, about striving to be more than we are and our inevitable failures to live up to our own expectations or the expectations of others. This is where The Affair stops being a soap opera: while it is certainly melodramatic, it does not ascribe to a candy-coated happily-ever-after view of love or marriage or even sex. Even the layers have layers, and there is no one who does not end up trapped at some point or another. The Affair seems to say that more than money, status, education or circumstances of birth, it is those we love who trap us the most - and yet money, status, education and circumstances of birth play the vital parts in each person's life as it unfolds. There is no action without consequence.

Go check it out, and let me know what you think. I've been mulling some of the questions the show raised, and will probably expound on them later... when I'm not so bloody tired.


Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Cutting the cord

One of the fun (?) things about doing the taxes: Finding out you made a smart choice. And I'm going to share this one in detail, because if my Facebook feed is any indication, some of you are considering the same choice. Here's how it worked out for us.

In February of last year, Jim and I decided to cancel our cable. Now, that was a big thing for people who watch as much (too much!) television as we do. We're selective-ish about what we watch, but even with our standards, we follow a good many shows. I pick what I watch for CultureGeek, and we also have a necessity to keep up with science fiction and horror television for our respective writing careers.

We were paying Charter for internet, landline and a full cable package. That was running us about $1740 a year, or $145 a month. For the record, when we dumped them, they were about to jack that up to $175 a month, or $2100 a year.

We opted to keep the landline for emergencies and so that we have a SpamPhone - you know, all those places that want your phone number and you don't want to be deluged with their stupid ad-texts? That's worth a small fee each month. And of course, we kept the internet. I work from home, after all, and our house has way too many items with microchips that need wifi.

That dropped our Charter bill to $71 a month, or $852 a year. But what about all those shows we watch?

Streaming. There are many options, and the camps are beginning to fall into religious wars over which is the best. I hear lukewarm-good things about Roku, and less about the Amazon thingie. We're an all-Mac household, so we picked up an Apple TV for $99 (right before the price dropped to $59, dammit). It ties into the family iTunes account to give us all access to everything we already owned, plus all the streaming services.

We already had an Amazon Prime membership for the free shipping. Its TV offerings were, sadly, limited, at least in terms of shows that interest us. Still, for the sake of completion, let's include the $99 a year for that one. ($49 a year for students.)

Hulu Plus costs $7.95 a month, or $95.40 a year. Of the shows that we care to watch, Hulu carries the majority of them. It has Agent Carter, Agents of SHIELD, Blindspot, Bones, Castle, Gotham, Minority Report (RIP), Quantico, Sleepy Hollow, Supernatural, SVU and Daily Show. (God, when you look at it, how do we ever manage to write books?)

Netflix costs $15.98 a month because we stubbornly refuse to give up the DVD option even though we never use it. Sigh. So that's $191.76 a year, or $95.88 if you're smarter than we are and just go for streaming. It carries Daredevil, Jessica Jones, House of Cards, Orange is the New Black and sometimes Doctor Who, though I understand that's going to be a thing now.

What, are there still shows that don't fall in those categories? Yes. Which leads me to iTunes. Buying by season or by episode, we were able to pick up American Horror Story, Bates Motel, Criminal Minds, Walking Dead, Fear the Walking Dead, Madam Secretary, Rizzoli and Isles and Supergirl. Wow, that must be expensive, right? Apparently our total outlay was $204, not including four or five movies we rented or bought via iTunes.

Okay, seriously, I don't watch all of that. There are three of us, you know. But in all honesty, I've watched most of them. I sort of dabble at Gotham and Supernatural, and we gave up on this season of American Horror Story about three episodes on. But the point of this isn't holy crap Elizabeth watches too much TV, but about the practicality of cutting the cord.

In the end, despite our TV-gluttony, we saved hundreds. Even adding together Charter (including the landline), Amazon Prime (at full price), Hulu Plus, Netflix and all those iTunes purchases, we still ended up spending at least $500 less over the course of the year than we spent last year on cable alone. And it'd be significantly more if we let go of the landline and the stupid DVD option for Netflix. Sigh.

There are flaws to cutting the cord, of course. I have yet to figure out where I can watch Colbert, other than pulling it up on my computer (I prefer to let TV shows run on the big screen while I work on my computer at night). And then there's live stuff. I bought a digital antenna ($24.99 from Amazon Basics) that worked perfectly fine every time we wanted to watch live TV (which isn't very often), yet strangely failed us during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day, dagnabbit.

And there are a few shows still difficult to find. I am oddly addicted to The Affair and Homeland, which are available on iTunes. But if you want to watch them without paying $30 for the season, you can opt for a free month's trial of Showtime's streaming service and binge-watch them both and then cancel before they start charging you $10.99 a month. Or you might find that Showtime is worth the cash; in which case, consider adding it to your Hulu membership for $8.99 a month instead. If you're a Game of Thrones fan, you might choose to go for HBO's streaming service, or just buy it outright on iTunes. It does take a little more work.

But in a decidedly unscientific poll taken of People Who Live In My House, no one misses cable. We were spending more than $500 more per year for stuff we never watched. We had hundreds of channels and never watched most of them - even as much TV as we watch. This way, we only pay for what we want. And it makes us more selective - no, really. Since I'm paying by the episode for American Horror Story, I stopped paying when it lost my interest.

Now where's that $500... I must have left it somewhere...


Saturday, January 30, 2016

Guest Star: Not Ready For Prime Time

Today's Guest Star post is from Sela Carsen, romance writer and the newest Underlord with the Literary Underworld. She has some wise words about being ready to publish - i.e., not as soon as you think. -ekd

I read a post this morning from a young writer who couldn't understand why no one was buying his book. Pricing was certainly an issue, which he fixed, but he was still puzzled.

I clicked over to the book and read the "Look Inside" feature. Ah. I saw the problem.

He's not ready.

Every author I know wrote for years before we even considered putting our work out for publication. We acknowledged that our first works were not up to par. Their quality was not at a professional level and not ready for publication, but we kept writing. Not publishing, writing. We spent years learning our craft: plotting, characterization, word choices, sentence structure, pacing... honing our most basic grammar and punctuation skills.

And finding your voice? For many of us, that's not a destination we reach once and settle. It can be a lifelong journey of discovery.

This young man said he had taken down and republished his story (book one of five) more than once, acknowledging that even the current version was only about halfway decent. He published a story he knew wasn't ready - wasn't even close to ready. Now, I don't know that any of us are ever 100 percent satisfied with everything we publish, but I also don't know anyone who would put out a book that they feel is only 50 percent ready.

And then expect people to pay for it.

And then come back to buy books 2-5.

I don't know this young man, so I don't know how well he takes direction, or if he's ready to listen to someone tell him that his book is ... not good. Not ready. Not where it needs to be to succeed. But I had so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to tell him to continue writing the next book. And the next one. Write a million words. But don't publish them. Use them as learning tools. With every word he writes, strive to improve. By the time he's written those first million words, he'll be ready. He'll have experience. He'll have picked up a lot of information about the market, and about how to market along the way by hanging out with and learning from other writers doing the same thing he's doing. Learning, striving, and improving.

I wanted to tell him to compare the last 10,000 words of his million words to the first 10,000 of his current work, and he'd see a difference so great that he'd hardly believe he's the same writer.

Based on a review of his work by someone he's acquainted with, he didn't seem open to criticism, so I didn't tell him. Someone else will. Someone he knows better than a stranger on the internet. And he'll either listen or he won't.

But I hope he does eventually heed the voice of experience. I hope eventually he writes a story that changes the world, or at least makes people smile and feel better.

I hope that for all writers.

Sela Carsen was born into a traveling family, then married a military man to continue her gypsy lifestyle. With her husband of 20 years, their two teens, her mother, the dog and the cat, she's finally (temporarily) settled in the Midwest. Between bouts of packing and unpacking, she writes paranormal romances, with or without dead bodies. Her latest works include A Wolf To Watch Over Me and Runespell, both available at as well as Amazon and other fine booksellers.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016


ME: I cannot believe he ate all those cookies.
MAN: What?
ME: There are several chocolate chip cookies missing this morning.
MAN: Well, I had a few.
ME: James!*
MAN: They were there! I thought they were for the family!
ME: They were not for you!
MAN: Who were they for?
ME: The Relay team! We have a meeting! I bake for meetings!
MAN: There wasn't a note or anything! You know, the cookies were just sitting out there looking all delicious, and there was no note or force field or magic spell protecting them so...
ME: That's what I forgot. Next time I need to cast a magic spell over my cookies. How many did you eat?
MAN: Four.
ME: James! That means Ian didn't eat any! You have less self-control than a teenage boy!
MAN: You should've cast a spell.

SCENE: Boy has just completed his nightly shower, complete with musical renditions from the late 80s.
ME: One of these days I'm going to record you singing in the shower.
BOY: Okay.
ME: And put it on the internet.
BOY: And I'll get likes because I'm awesome.
ME: *sporfle* Hurry up, I wanna watch Buffy.

BOY: Wow, Riley's huge! He's a giant!
ME: That's just because he's standing next to Buffy. She's little.
BOY: Yeah, she's teeny, but he's enormous.
ME: *googles* The actor is Marc Blucas, and he's six foot two.
BOY: ... I'm an inch taller than he is.
ME: Uh huh. Of course, that doesn't mean he's not enormous.

ME: *creaky step*
MAN: Where are you going?
ME: Up to my office.
MAN: Noooo.
ME: Oooookay. Do you require some husband maintenance?
MAN: Yes. It's another dimension up there.
ME: It is not.
MAN: It is too. You'll go up there and never come back.
ME: Dear, there's no bathroom in my office. I have to come down. Besides, coffee.
MAN: You'll disappear and never be seen again!
ME: Oh brother...

* His real name is Jimmy. It's on his birth certificate as Jimmy. It's not short for anything. So naturally, when he annoys me, I call him James.

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

I married a werewolf

SCENE: Getting ready for work after sleeping on the couch last night. The reasons for this will shortly be made clear. From behind the closed bedroom door...

MAN: *sleepy cry of protest*
ME: *enters bedroom* Problems?
MAN: You went away. Why did you go away?
ME: I did my best, dear. But I gave up about five a.m. and slept on the couch.
MAN: Why?
ME: I can hang in there through snoring, and the CPAP makes interesting hissy sounds. But when you started growling and humming in your sleep, that's when I gave up. The couch is not comfortable, but at least it's quiet, and I got to say goodbye to Ian.*
MAN: Growling?
ME: Seriously. You're a werewolf now?
MAN: Am not.
ME: Are too. You were growling.
MAN: I can't help it! I was asleep!
ME: Growling! I knew it. I married a werewolf. I should have known when you were writing your series that it was autobiographical.
MAN: Andrew is not a werewolf.
ME: Honey, he's a werewolf.
MAN: He is not!
ME: He's a shapeshifter who turns into a huge furry beast that can kill anything with a swipe of his claws. He's a damn werewolf.
MAN: Who flies.
ME: Fine. He's a werewolf who flies.
MAN: If you're going to use that word to describe Andrew you have to say he's a werewolf who flies.
ME: Absolutely, I can see how that makes a huge difference.
MAN: *snuggles* I'm sorry I growled.
ME: I think there was even a full moon last night. I'm going to ask our friends if they have any silver.


* Boy leaves for school at 5:30 a.m. Nobody is happy about that, especially Boy.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Snippets, Buffy edition

Boy: Can we watch another episode?
Me: No.
Boy: Why not? 
Me: Because it's 3 a.m.
Boy: Oh crap.
Me: Yeah. 
Man: *snore*

Boy, watching evil ventriloquist episode: "Uh uh. Boarding the train to Nopeville."

CHARACTER: Well, we didn't get a busy signal, so we know she wasn't online.
BOY: Huh?
ME: *press pause* Okay, back then when you wanted to get online, you had to dial up through the phone line.
BOY: Wait, what?
ME: *long technical explanation*
BOY: Why didn't you just use wifi?
ME: Okay, let me start again.

The Buffy Binge has now reached season two, "Innocence." Boy says he now understands why everyone says Joss Whedon is so mean to his characters.

Me: I told you it got darker.
Boy: And they delivered.
Me: Right between the eyes. 
Boy: And then they all went home to kill themselves?

Me: What is taking so long?
Boy: I'm getting a snack!
Me: Again? You're missing Xander/Cordelia kissing!
Boy: And I walk slower.

Upon watching Angel...

BOY: Yes! Yesyesyesyes!
ME: *pause* Excuse me!
BOY: It's That Guy! The guy from Leverage! Yes!
ME: And The Librarians now, but those came later.
BOY: Yes!
ME: ...And at the time, I was saying, "Hey, it's that guy from Angel..."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hobbies at which I suck

I have pretty much one inescapable talent: Choosing hobbies at which I suck.

I love to hike. I am the world's slowest hiker, and was even before my health issues. I used to weight-train before the Knee Incident, but you'd better believe I'm not posting my lifts. We won't even get into my "dancing."

I played the cello from second grade until midway through high school, and still have my cello (albeit in grave need of repair). I was a terrible cellist.

I learned the basics of piano from my mother, a virtuoso classical pianist who has performed at Carnegie and Tanglewood. The apple fell very far from the tree.

I like to do needlework, and color, and decorate cakes, and keep plants, and various crafty things that help keep Michaels in business. I suck at all of the above (and I'm so slow on needlework I still haven't gotten to Boy's Christmas stocking by age 17). I have the creative heart of an artist without the... what's the word... talent.

Sucking at a hobby doesn't really remove the joy from it, at least, not if you remove your ego from the equation. It just limits the opportunity. I still like plunking about on the piano, but I don't do it where ears can hear. I decorate cakes for my family, and at least they're tasty. And the remains of my attempts at gardening make for good mulch.

One thing at which I don't entirely suck is photography. It's turned into a small side business, and with the acquisition of my new Nikon (thanks Dad!), I'm hopeful to expand my skills to do much better work. In the meantime, convention season is looming...

ME: So, funny story.
JIM: What
ME: I needed to order the canvas print rack before the next show so I can efficiently display the prints. The rack was finally on sale for $35 plus $10 shipping. But if you bought certain products that the site had on sale, your whole order ships for free. Devious weasels.
JIM: Yep
ME: So I wandered around the site looking for products that offered free shipping at about the same price as the shipping. And I found a set of acrylic paints that costs $12. Well, if I have to pay the extra cash anyway, why not get something for it instead of wasting it on shipping?
JIM: ...
ME: Which is how I ended up ordering paints approximately 400 years after the last time I painted anything.
JIM: Lol
ME: I am the world's worst painter. My paintings are buried in the basement where they won't get loose and hurt someone. Someday I need to develop a hobby at which I don't suck.
JIM: Lol
ME: That was your cue to name a hobby at which I do not suck.
JIM: Oops.
JIM: Writing. Cookies.
ME: Writing - not a hobby.
ME: Cookies - form of sustenance required for life.
JIM: [redacted]
ME: Well, now that makes this conversation unfit for the blog.

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Dear Joss Whedon

You're making my life difficult, and not in the usual leaf-on-the-wind manner. (Too soon! Too soon!)

We're in the middle of a Buffy rewatch, which doesn't really count as a rewatch when Boy has never seen it. Well, technically that's not true. A few years ago I tried to introduce him to the ways of the Buffster, but it seems I tried a little too early. He couldn't relate to "high school as a metaphor for hell" when he hadn't been to high school. He gets it now.

It was fairly simple up to the end of Season Three (which was just as awesome as I remember). But now we have the complication of Angel. It's a good show as well - it had its stumbles, but it's a bit more mature, a bit less black-and-white with its morality and has some interesting and complex storylines.

There's also mega crossovers.

And this is where you're making my life difficult. How do we handle it? Do we watch all of Buffy through (uck) Season Seven, or do we stop and watch Angel through its five years, or do we trade off, watching each episode in airing order?

The latter is what we've chosen. (Heh. Chosen. Shut up, I amuse myself.) First episode 4.1 of Buffy, then episode 1.1 of Angel, and so on. (By the way, Jim, that's where you have to catch up. More binging this weekend!)

This is awkward binge-watching, but how else will I explain the Faith, Spike and Oz crossovers in the first season alone? And then Buffy shows up, and then there's other wackiness that starts on one show and ends on the other, and whoa spoilers that time Willow shows up and...

I think the crossovers pretty much ended once Buffy switched networks, but by then we're committed. I suppose if we really wanted to get silly, we'd spend Buffy S7/Angel S4 interwoven with Firefly SOnly *sob*. Then we could get the full Joss experience, and possibly go mad.

Best part: My mother bought Boy a Sunnydale High t-shirt for Christmas, per his request. (He says thanks, Grandma! Loves it.)

Worst part: He wore the Sunnydale High shirt to school. And no one got it.

The earth is doomed.

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