Scarlet Letters

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

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

new feature on the site

Just a quick note to let you folks know I have uploaded this season's recaps on the web site. They're spotty, because I missed a lot of TV the last five months. What can I say? I spent a lot of time, y'know, writing books. And stuff.

But thanks to the mysterious Leprechauns and their anonymous gift of a Tivo, I won't be missing anything else! At least, once I figure out how to set the stinking thing up. And I'll do my best to fill in the gaps for the season.

Formatting was a pain in the neck, so if you see any funkiness, please drop me a line. Recaps are now linked on the main page. Hope you enjoy!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

The Last Star of Morning

I had the great honor and pleasure of meeting Peter S. Beagle, author of fantasy classic THE LAST UNICORN, last year at a convention in Atlanta. The gentleman was pleasant and friendly, and I was honored to buy a signed copy of his book.

The other night, I introduced my seven-year-old to the wonder that is Beagle's decidedly-not-children's novel set to the best animation Rankin/Bass ever managed with strange, haunting solemnity and doomed love. I loved this movie as a child, and I love it still. Maybe because it was the first "kid's movie" I ever saw with a bittersweet ending, not unlike my preference in my own work.

When the music started at the beginning and America began singing the Unicorn Song, my son turned to me with huge eyes. He recognized the song, of course. I've been singing it to him since I carried him in my womb. There's something bleak and dark in that song: its imagery of the end of the world, of a dusty fountain and the last of everything wandering a still, darkened earth... and still the unicorn, that symbol of beauty and life, something lovely that cannot be seen unless you're looking for it, something of faith and eternal magic. I've often thought that in the song, the unicorn represents the magic of the imagination, that even when we are all gone, the power of that magic will continue.

See how the land dried up and turned to dust when King Haggard captured the unicorns and their symbolic imagination and faith and magic? Beagle was telling us how dull and dry our lives become when we forget how to see the magic, how to find that beauty in everyday things, when we lose our faith, our ability to believe in things not immediately apparent before our own eyes.

In all the world, Amalthea is the only unicorn that can feel regret, and there is no worse feeling in the world. It is a uniquely human feeling, the difference that is carried by sentient humans with free will.

This exchange in the Red Bull's passage just about tore through my chest and crushed my heart:

LIR: Unicorn, mermaid, sorceress, no name you would give her would surprise or frighten me. I love whom I love.
SCHMENDRICK: That's a very nice sentiment, but when I change her back into her true self...
LIR: I love whom I love.
AMALTHEA: I heard what you said. I will go no further.
SCHMENDRICK: There's no choice. We have to go on.
AMALTHEA: Don't let him change me. The Red Bull has no care for human beings - we may walk on past him and get away.
SCHMENDRICK: If we do that, all the unicorns of the world will remain prisoners forever except one, and she will grow old and die.
AMALTHEA: Everything dies. I want to die when you die! I'm no unicorn, no magical creature. I'm human, and I love you. Don't let him! Lir, I will not love you when I'm a unicorn.
LIR: Amalthea, don't.
SCHMENDRICK: Then let the quest end here! I don't think I could change her back even if you wished it. Marry the prince and live happily ever after.
AMALTHEA: Yes, that is my wish.
LIR: No. *pause* My lady, I am a hero, and heroes know that things must happen when it is time for them to happen. A quest may not simply be abandoned. Unicorns may go unrescued for a long time, but not forever. A happy ending cannot come in the middle of the story.
MOLLY: But what if there isn't a happy ending at all?
SCHMENDRICK: There are no happy endings. Because nothing ends.
MOLLY: Schmendrick, let her stay the way she is. Let her be.
SCHMENDRICK: That's not in the story. Lir knows that, and so does she.

And you people wonder how I got to be like I am. I haven't seen this movie in maybe twenty years. And I found myself tearing up when I heard that exchange. I could have written that, I think... except I couldn't, because I'm not that good. Not yet. Moments like THE LAST UNICORN remind me that I'm not what I could be, as a writer and creative person.

There is a greater joy and beauty in the world of the imagination, among those who remember how to see magic, those who hear the music as Harlan Ellison once said... and we forget, and we drive our unicorns into the sea so we can look out the window and watch them dance on the waves... but the land falls silent and dark.

There are no happy endings. Nothing ends.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Chat Party!

I'm having an online release party for my new book, SETTING SUNS! It ships Monday, and we'll be chatting about it, Infernii and anything else that comes to mind. Bonus: I'll be giving away free stuff!

WHAT: Setting Suns Online Release Party
WHEN: 8 p.m. CST
WHERE: The Wilderness Chat Room

Directions to get into the chat:

a) Go to
b) Wait while it loads. This can take a minute. You may see a little coffee cup thinking.
c) If it asks you if you trust the applet, you say YES.
d) You'll see a little black screen. Click File and go down to Connect.

There you go. It'll ask you for a login name and a password. Don't worry, no one's collecting so much as an IP address.

If you get stuck, go to the chat room attached to my Yahoogroup: I'll be keeping a window open there to help out lost chatters. :)

Hope to see you there!

:) ekd

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Last Chance!

You've got less than 24 hours left to preorder SETTING SUNS for the discount price of $11! At midnight EST Tuesday, SETTING SUNS goes to its regular selling price and you twerps missed out.

So if you haven't yet ordered your copy of the most enthralling, tantalizing and terrifying collection of short stories I've ever written, hie thee hence to and preorder yourself a copy!

Ship date is now slated for Feb. 20. In all seriousness, I'm very excited about this book. I hope you guys enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Is That a Horn on Your Head, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

(The following is an essay I have written for the Cerridwen Press newsletter. Enjoy! -ekd)

There was a very tall man with broad shoulders standing in front of me. The room was crowded, so I waited patiently until it was opportune for me to step past him. As I did so, he turned toward me and said, “Excuse me,” in a polite, friendly voice.

He had horns.

Not huge devil’s horns out of some bad fantasy movie with Tom Cruise. Just small, discreet horns about two inches long, protruding from his forehead.

Now if you looked pretty closely, you could see the thin clear band holding the horns to his head. But I didn’t want to look that closely. He was a pretty big guy. And he did have horns.

I was at a science fiction and fantasy convention. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, there are thousands of Cons every year, ranging from a small gathering of a few hundred in Nashville to Dragoncon in Atlanta, which attracts more than 20,000 every Labor Day weekend.

The stereotypes evoke images of four-eyed geeks in Star Trek uniforms saluting each other with the Vulcan hand signal and building model ships while discussing the fine points of alien technology.

In fact, this is only partially true.

In reality, these conventions have been going on since the 1930s. They began as literary conventions discussing the great science fiction novels of the time, and have since expanded to include fans of fantasy, horror, role-playing games and all kinds of genre fiction.

Con-goers tend to be fairly intellectual types, yes. That means they read. And there are some in Star Trek uniforms. There are also people in pixie wings and (as we’ve seen) horns. There are brutes in full battle gear and children in wizard robes. There are medieval gowns, black trenchcoats, velvet capes, black-feathered wings, vampire teeth and T-shirts with elaborate artistic designs. Being in costume is part of the fun for your average Con-goer, and at night, the costumes get a bit more… daring. Whatever your kink, you can find people of like mind at a Con.

The dealers’ room is an eclectic shopping mall of fun. For ones who dress up, there’s every kind of costume. I expected a vast array of memorabilia, but instead, I found the best assortment of used books this side of eBay. Beside the inevitable model ships were displays of original art in abstract and fantasy themes. Alongside blooper tapes of old science fiction shows was a small-press publisher of short-story magazines, authentic reproductions of ancient weapons and a collection of antique comic books that would have made my godson drool.

What’s your interest? Sure, there’s demonstrations of various plot-derived card games, sociological aspects of science fiction shows and history of fandom. But there were also intensive writing seminars, discussions of the future of space exploration and women’s roles in popular fiction, a subject near and dear to my heart. Ever wanted to discuss the warrior woman archetype in fantasy fiction? You’re home.

It’s easy for “mundanes” make fun of these people. They wear bizarre clothing, use strange hand signals, devote a huge amount of time to the study, discussion and observation of their chosen world. Their devotion to these fictional realms is absolute. They use strange words and wear strange disguises.

But think about the fans of the Green Bay Packers, who strip to the waist in zero-degree weather, paint their bodies and dance and scream at games. Think of the legions who sit in their living rooms or the local bar watching football night after night in absolute devotion. Think of the fans who wear enormous blocks of cheese on their heads. Are they less strange or obsessed?

And in no other place will you find men like the ones at Con.

They are courteous, having studied the Knights of the Round Table, and more willing to listen to a woman’s view than men in most other venues. If anyone ever gets out of line, there are nine burly men in kilts ready and willing to stand up for a woman whose name they don’t know.

And they have swords.

There is real diversity to be found at Con: ages range from eight to eighty, and attendees are black, white, Asian, Hispanic, you name it. After all, what’s the difference between black and white when there’s a Klingon standing behind you?

For a writer, Cons are beyond valuable. A writing seminar may charge you hundreds of dollars to listen to a “famous” writer who… needs to do writing seminars to pay the bills. At a Con, you’ll pay at most about $40 for an entire weekend to stalk published writers who are happy to pontificate about their work, and these folks are helpful. Through Cons, I have met such authors as Harlan Ellison, Anne McCaffrey, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Brian Keene. I have learned more from authors at Con than any writing seminar or college courses could ever have taught me.

Where else can you learn about the physics of faster-than-light travel a few steps away from a live sword-fighting demonstration and a workshop on how to survive a zombie apocalypse?

So if you decide to venture to a Con, leave your shyness, uncertainty and preconceptions behind. Wear black. Bring a notebook. And if you should see a man with horns on his head, smile at him. You never know – he could just be happy to see you.