Scarlet Letters

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

Friday, March 31, 2006

a quick note...

It seems the distribution problem with SETTING SUNS has been sorted out. If you've been waiting to order SETTING SUNS from your local bookstore (and really, why would you wait?), you can now go in and ask them for it.

And honestly, even if you have the book, you can help by asking the bookstore clerks if they carry the book. The more a bookstore hears, "Do you have SETTING SUNS by Elizabeth Donald? It's from New Babel Books," the more likely it is they may decide to stock a few copies. Capish?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

new website!

Happy to report I have purchased!

I don't know why I didn't think of it earlier. Fortunately, it had not been purchased by a porn shop, as was the case with Scarlet Letters. Now I have a web site solely dedicated to the Nocturnal Urges series.

The site is pretty simple at the moment, and I will have more offerings in the future. For now, please drop by and let me know if there are any coding errors or funky design elements. Remember, folks, I do all my web design myself. With Netscape Composer. Real web designers just started crying. What can I say? I'm HTML-challenged.

Major kudos to Devin Harris, my brilliant graphic designer. Folks, if you ever need work done, give her a call. She designed the neat series graphic.

(And no, that's not the cover image for INFERNII, it's just a placeholder. I have to finish writing it, and then contract it, before we get a cover. Patience!)

Monday, March 27, 2006

Midsouthcon Report

• Let's get the award out of the way: It's an honor just to be nominated. No, seriously. I was in fine, fine company. In fact, the woman sitting next to me had a stellar novella, at least what I could tell from her reading, and I was proud to come in behind her. Her name is Tracy S. Morris, her novella TRANQUILITY appeared in DOUBLE DOG #2 by Yard Dog Press. Go forth and buy.

My dad texted me: "It was fixed. Blow up Memphis again." I laughed out loud. But in all seriousness, A MORE PERFECT UNION is both an extremely sexual book and a violent serial-killer mystery dealing with dark aspects of obsession, sexual hypocrisy and madness. It's not for everyone, particularly the sexuality. A few members of the committee let me know they didn't hate it, and that's enough for me.

And by losing, I did not have to arm-wrestle Selina Rosen. I may be nuts, but I'm not fuckin' crazy.

• I love hotels. I always sleep well, stretching out on clean sheets that someone else washed and made up without me having to do anything. Happiness is using two towels when you get out of the shower - one for your hair and one for your body. Hotels rock.

The Holiday Inn on Democrat, however, is getting a letter from me again this year. I sincerely doubt that Midsouthcon is the only convention they have every year, with a large number of people checking in at roughly the same time. This is the second year in a row I have been forced to stand in a line that stretches to Spain, then told I have to stand in another line that stretches to Tibet. I don't mind waiting a few minutes, and I would only mind a bit if if I had to wait in a fairly lengthy line. I DO mind being forced to stand in line TWICE. Every year. Also, there was mold in the shower. AGAIN.

It's too bad, because this is a really great hotel, attractive, reasonably priced with nice rooms and plenty of amenities. They just need a real kick in the ass in terms of service.

• Chocolate martinis taste very good and intoxicate well. They do not, however, sit well in my stomach. Odd, considering how much chocolate and alcohol I consume (separately) at cons.

• Carlin and Renee Stuart ran a great Party Where the Guests Go To Hide, a.k.a. the Chocolate Martini Party. There is always a Party Where the Guests Go to Hide, and I've often found that's the best party at the show. Terrific hosts and friendly folks. And I'm not just saying that because they bought my book.

• My reading went very well. Thanks to the shills, as well as the strangers who wandered in. I read "Sisyphus," because it's the best advertisement for SETTING SUNS. Then I read "Gauntlet," which is a difficult read and being basically a long action scene, I wasn't sure how well it would read. Responses were positive, so I'll practice it a few more times before the next con.

Then I realized I had fifteen minutes left. The lovely Sabrina Hunt sprang a surprise on me - she requested I read "the demon bear." Yikes! So I read "Jesus Loves Me," and came in just in time. Writing "Jeeeeeesus looooooves meeee" looks nicely creepy. Saying it out loud? A hell of a lot harder. Reports were positive, however, and hopefully they weren't just being nice.

And, of course, I served Dove dark chocolates. I believe in bribery.

• I met a fine gentleman who has practiced the art of knot-tying since he was ten years old. He was an artist in the show and demonstrated his work at the con. He is a member of the International Guild of Knot-Tyers - yes, there really is such a thing, and it's often popular with older seamen who grew up in the old Navy learning intricate knots none of us will ever understand.

This gentleman wound a lovely cuff bracelet on my wrist at the Chocolate Martini party. He showed me how to make the knots, and I lost track after the first two turns, considering how long it took me to learn to tie my shoes as a youngster. His "knots" are more like intricate weaves, weaving a pattern without loom or needle, just his own fingers. It was fascinating to watch.

He recently got into knot-tying with metal wire. He is able to create an entire cuff bracelet out of a double strand of silver wire, and solder it only once. He can make full chain mail that's really knot-mail, light and comfortable, all simply "tied" together.

His name is Loren Damewood. His web site is Go forth and... look, at least, if you can't afford to buy. He let me keep the cotton bracelet. He doesn't know it, but he is SO going to be in a story someday.

• Speaking of parties, the Hypericon Party was happening, folks. But then, we knew those folks can throw down. Fred and Stephania Grimm were, as always, charming hosts who sat and chatted with me for... what was it, HOURS? People were flowing in and out, and hopefully many of them will realize what a great time Hypericon is and will hie themselves to Nashville in June. I'm looking forward to it!

• Sold nine books in hand sales, everything I was carrying with me. The five in the dealer's room, alas, did not sell. But then I did wait until Saturday to approach a bookseller about it. Dumb me. Next time, find booksellers on Friday. At any rate, I sold enough books to make the trip more than worth it, and maybe those folks will read it and like it and tell others about it.

• I think all cons should do autographs the way Midsouthcon does. Instead of scattering autograph sessions throughout the weekend, forcing you to miss some of them and run about like a chicken with its head blown off by a rock-salt shotgun, Midsouthcon sets an hour in which we all set up shop for autographs. Yes, most of them were there to see David Weber, but we got some pity shoppers, and at least two of my sales were impulse buys from people waiting to see Weber. It's a lot less bruising to the ego than, say, being paired with Ben Bova at Archon and watching the line that stretches to Iraq while the only folks waiting to see me are my relatives. It's time-efficient and lets us set up shop for an hour. Pretty please?

• Special thanks to Tim Gatewood of the Darrell Awards committee; to Fred and Stephania Grimm; to Carlin and Renee Stuart; to Mike Kingsley; to fellow panelists Glen Cook, Selina Rosen, Rickey Mallory (Rickey, were we stapled together on the panels or what?), Lee Killough, Annie Windsor, Haley Elizabeth Garwood, Alan Rodgers, and anyone else I forgot.

• To whoever the guy was who greeted me, "Hey, sexy," as I walked through a party: I apologize for laughing in your face. Way uncool. And to the nice guy who offered me his jacket when the room got icy cold from the open window - thank you, that was very nice of you and I forgot to say it in the hubbub. They closed the window anyway, so it didn't matter. I have such bad manners.

• A thank-you and big hug to David and Kori Tyler, for being terrific hosts, and for having adorable spawn. It was great to see Carla Jones, Andy Winemiller, Jon Flanigan, Patrick Stubblefield (sans his wife, whom I now believe to be IMAGINARY until I get to meet this woman), and Jesse Morris. Hopefully it will not be another year before I wander back into town.

I also find it hilarious that almost every one of the above had presents for my son. He made out like a bandit. You can thank the Tylers for the Battlestar Galactica: Season One recaps that will wend their way to you this summer - they bought me the DVDs!!!

• May I just say that Angelia Sparrow and her daughter are TERRIFIC roomies. It was practically a slumber party, complete with carb-fest junk food. Fred hit up Angelia for Hypericon, so let's all go pressure her to join us! It'll be a blast.

Angelia read "Cake Under the Mistletoe," her Darrell-finalist short story easily described as "gay werewolves at Christmas." It's available at Torquere Press. Go forth and buy. C'mon, it's only two bucks, and from the reading, it's worth far more. I reiterated my belief that Angelia needs to write for EC but yesterday.

• Finally: I need to be more careful what I say on this journal. I mentioned that I was looking forward to picking up some Corky's barbecue while in town. Sure enough, David and I had a great lunch on Thursday. Mmm, barbecue. He kindly bought me two bottles of sauce to take back home. Then Angelia shows up at the room with a GALLON JUG of Corky's sauce.

I am now the proud possessor of a metric fuckton of barbecue sauce. I have to buy a grill. You twerps haul your asses up to St. Louis and we'll have ourselves a nice cookout. As it seems I'll be barbecuing.... until the next time I go to Memphis.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Put On My Blue Suede Shoes and I Boarded a Plane

Actually, I boarded my car and drove to Memphis.

I love this city. I lived here for three years as a young woman, and it has always held a place in my heart. I've lived all across the country - moved 26 times at last count - and Illinois is my home. But Memphis is sort of where I'm from.

Updates will be sporadic, as I've got a heavy schedule for the past few days. But I look forward to seeing any denizens of the Underworld while I'm here. And hopefully I'll get to visit downtown and gather inspiration for INFERNII.

After all, at least once a year I need to wave hello to my vampires...

Monday, March 20, 2006

V for Vendetta and Authors' Egos

Regrettably, I have never read V FOR VENDETTA. It is now on my short list of Stuff I Must Read Yesterday.

I thought it was a good movie in the way that movies should be good - exciting, a few plot twists I didn't see coming, characters of dimension and thought-provoking as well as emotional. I have no idea if it's anything like the graphic novel, but I enjoyed the hell out of it, and I'm surprised it's not causing more controversy, given its themes.

The episodic nature of a graphic novel shows a little, in a segmented structure that nevertheless works very well. Many have slammed it for being too much of an action film, when the novel is one of ideas and philosophy. However, being an aficionado of action films, I'd say it's actually rather light on the action. V only really gets his game on two or three times, and the scenes are brief.

What can you say about a movie in which you begin by thinking the "hero" is an official loon, and end by cheering on his lunacy? This is BEAUTY AND THE BEAST crossed with 1984, and the combination is more effective than I thought possible. The only point where I found it unrealistic is... I can't tell you. It would spoil it for you. Suffice to say Evey (Natalie Portman) is a far more forgiving woman than I am.

I did note that Alan Moore's name did not appear anywhere. Since he's the novel's author, I did a little snooping. I thought perhaps Moore had had a falling out with them over some change made to the story to put it in the movies, or maybe they declined to pay him what he was owed. Something reasonable.

It seems Moore, who severed his relationship with DC Comics years ago, wanted nothing to do with the movie. But on a publicity tour, producer Joel Silver gave the usual line to reporters about how he was looking forward to meeting with Moore and discussing the movie with him. This was clearly the usual bullshit Hollywood people feed the entertainment press: "This is the finest cast and crew I've ever had the pleasure of working with." But Moore demanded a public retraction, since he'd made it clear he wanted nothing to do with it. Silver would not retract, so Moore insisted his name be removed from the movie.

You know, I have the utmost respect for brilliant writers like Harlan Ellison and Alan Moore. But it's hard to maintain that respect when they act like spoiled children. You can't bitch about how Hollywood butchers your movie when you refuse to have anything to do with it or even speak to the people doing it. Be a snob and eschew Hollywood if you wish, but don't throw tantrums. Personally, if Hollywood ever went for one of my books (insert laugh track), I'd not only want a say in how they did it, I'd insist on being in it. Nonspeaking, if the union requires. Third corpse from the right, that's me. Just give me my close-up, Mr. DeMille. Look, Ma, I'm in the movies!

Moore's original beef with DC, by the way, is that his contract says he only gets the rights to V FOR VENDETTA or WATCHMEN when they go out of print, and DC's never going to let them out of print, so he cries foul. Well, if he were anyone else, I'd say read the damn contract. My contracts say the same thing, and they also say how long they can stay in print and define what "in print" means. Don't whine if you didn't negotiate your contract.

I just don't understand these people. Moore may be a better writer than Neil Gaiman (a debatable point, to be sure), but Gaiman treats his readers like human beings and is a class act on the circuit. Harlan Ellison may be a better short-story writer than Stephen King (again, go for the debate) but King is a consummate gentleman in his public appearances and Ellison threatens to tear off the heads of fans who annoy him. No, I'm not exaggerating. I was there.

That said, I keep reading Moore as I eagerly read Harlan Ellison. The man is separate from the work. If I stopped appreciating the art of every sonofabitch who annoyed me, I would never be able to watch another Schwarzenegger movie. And you all know what an action fan I am.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Darrell and His Other Brother Darrell

I took a one-day vacation yesterday to celebrate a momentous occasion. No, not St. Patrick's Day. That's what all of YOU were celebrating. I selfishly chose to focus on my own birthday.

Yes, I was born on St. Patrick's Day. I think that's why my middle name is Kathleen. I spent the thirty-first anniversary of my birth with a good friend, her son and my son. There are worse things in the world than watching two boys who pretend to be brothers play in the backseat.

There shall be a longer post on the Most Haunted Small Town in America, which we explored in a half-day driving tour. Oh yes, there shall be a post. When I figure out how to upload pictures onto this thing.

At any rate, my birthday was enlivened by a few people singing into my voice mail, numerous text messages and e-cards... and the arrival of a box of books. SETTING SUNS has finally arrived - two weeks later to me than to the customers! - and I can start sending out copies to all the kind people who have ordered them from me.

It was also brightened by the official news that A MORE PERFECT UNION is a finalist for the Darrell Award. The Darrell, in case you don't know, is a juried literary award granted to mid-southern science fiction, horror and fantasy. NOCTURNAL URGES won the award last year, along with being a finalist for the Prism and came in fifth among 188 novels in the Preditors & Editors Reader Poll. I've worked hard to be able to say all that in a sentence.

Seriously, I love that MPU is finally getting some love. My faithful readers know it was hit by the Katrina Curse: the book came out a week after Katrina struck. No one was buying books that week - all our money went to relief efforts. And no one was buying books that week - all our attention was on the news. Rightly so. There were many people who lost a hell of a lot more than I to Katrina. But MPU sank fast and quiet, and I've always regretted that, because I think it's a good book. Not everything I write is good, believe it or not! I've written some stinkers. But MPU isn't one of them.

If it wins, my father says I'll have "Darrell and his other brother Darrell," a joke he's been dying to make since I won the Darrell last year. I'll find out next weekend, at Midsouthcon in Memphis.

In the meantime, console yourselves by.... um, buying a book? MPU is still available as an ebook from Cerridwen Press. In a few months, however, NU and MPU will be released in a single print paperback - available at your local Borders, a feat even my blessed SETTING SUNS has been unable to achieve. Oh yeah, that's available from New Babel Books and on See how I did that? They throw you out of the Small-Press Midlist Authors' Guild if you don't find a way to work your book into every conversation.

Now to go enjoy some sunshine. Happy Hangover Day!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Requiem for a Cat

I found my cat dead in the living room this morning.

It wasn't a surprise. Dabney was seventeen years old. I'd acquired him at age fourteen in Massachusetts, back when dinosaurs walked the earth. He'd followed me across the country, through college, marriage, divorce and more states than most human Americans live in all their lives. He'd been failing for months, and skidded downhill over the weekend. If he'd held on much longer, I intended to have him put down, as a mercy. We still have Marina, the girl cat two years younger than Dabney and his lifelong companion.

Poor Dabney. When we got him as a kitten, we thought he was a girl. We named him Tallulah. We had a family tradition of naming pets after actors, and we were quite surprised when Tallulah turned out to be a Dabney instead. For the rest of his long life, people always assumed Dabney was a girl. Always. I don't know if it was his soft white-and-beige fur or just something about the eyes, but the poor cat had gender confusion long before we had him neutered.

My son is seven years old. He has never lost so much as a goldfish. We have been blessed in my family, and the few deaths we have experienced in his lifetime have not been people who touched his life. I consulted with smarter people than I before I decided to bury Dabney in my father's back yard, as my apartment building lacks a lawn and I doubt my landlords would appreciate a pet cemetery addition.

After digging the grave, I picked up my son from school. He was a little "nervous," he said. He uses the word "nervous" to describe all uncomfortable emotions. When he says he's nervous about Dabney, I know he's not really nervous about the cat. He's experiencing grief, and doesn't know what to call it.

When we got to Dad's house, I carried the box in which Dabney's body lay around to the back. I must admit, we looked strange. A grown woman and a little boy standing over a box and a pile of dirt in the back yard.

He has never been to a funeral. Until today, he did not know the meaning of the word "funeral." In order to make him comprehend the word, I had to remind him of the episode of SMALLVILLE in which Clark's father died. I explained that funerals were for us to talk about our loved ones, to help us move past the sadness into fond memories. Then he understood.

Understanding death, however, is a tougher task.

I told him we should pray, and he immediately suggested the Lord's Prayer. He knows it by heart, and the Sunday School teachers tell me he likes to lead the rest of the children in it each Sunday at Children's Chapel. So we said the Lord's Prayer. Then I told him I wanted to say my own prayer. I have no strong convictions on the theology of kitty heaven. I'm making up this parenting thing as I go along.

"Dear Lord, thank you for the time we spent with Dabney. You gave us seventeen wonderful years with him, and he never harmed anyone in his long life. Help us to remember good things and forget the sad ones, to be glad that Dabney's pain is over. Help us to take care of Marina, who will miss her friend. Help us to be good caretakers of your creations, Lord. And thank you for our pet. Amen."

My son looked up at me and asked if he could say his own prayer. I told him to go ahead.

"What do I say?" he asked.

"Whatever you want," I replied. "Whatever you feel. Just talk to God."

He clasped his hands and bowed his head. "Our Father," he began, because to him all prayers begin that way. "Take care of Dabney. I'm going to be sad, and I'm going to miss him. I hope he's happy now and I hope I see him again. Amen."

And that's when he started to cry, and God help me, I was glad. For a moment he seemed to understand, to feel it, and it seemed healthy for him to move forward. I held him until he stopped crying. Then we petted Dabney one more time, and I wrapped our cat in the Toys R Us bag and put him in the hole.

I buried him while the my son watched, and he seemed better, easier in the mind. I placed what few sods had survived my clumsy digging on top of the small grave. I worried whether I had dug the hole deep enough. I worried whether I should buy a paving stone to place on top of it. I worried whether animals would come along in the night and dig it up.

We cleaned up our mess, returning Dad's shovel to his garage. Then we sat on the back porch and looked at the grave for a moment.

Kiddo looked up at me. "So when does he get better?"

Hoo boy. Back to square one. I explained again that he doesn't get better. Dabney's gone. Forever. The boy seemed sad. I put the box and other things back in the car, and came back to get him.

He was kneeling beside the grave. He took a handful of dirt and sprinkled it on top of the grave. Just like he saw Clark Kent do in SMALLVILLE. He looked so small and sad, trying to act like a hero. I hugged him and told him it was okay to be sad, okay to cry. He teared up a little, but didn't cry.

And then as we drove away, he asked if we could go to the pet store and maybe they could do something for Dabney. And I explained again that no one can do anything to help Dabney. He's dead, and we've buried him. I know, Kiddo said with an eyeroll, as if that fact were not completely contradictory to his magic-pet-store request.

Tonight, we curled up on my bed for nighttime cuddle, and Marina jumped up with us. He petted the cat behind the ears, and she was almost aggressively affectionate, pushing her face against us. We cuddled with her, our little haphazard family. And I try not to worry, not to fret about whether I dug the hole deep enough, whether I did the right thing by holding a cat funeral, whether I've done my job as a mom to explain these things.

I still don't know if my son understands what death is. I don't know if I understand it. Last night Dabney was alive and purring against my chest, and now he's gone. Do any of us really understand it? Maybe all we can do is sprinkle the dirt on the mound and say our prayer to whatever power in which we believe. And hope to see them again.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

self-published cheating

So, is it cheating to make an entire blog entry a link to another blog?

Because I could take the opportunity to chat you up on the difference between small-press POD and self-pub, and why you should never, ever self-publish your novel.

But why should I, when Brian Keene has already done so? Go to and take a look at his entry.

Now, I disagree with Brian on three points. First, I do think there are some books that can are such niche-market books that they cannot gain an audience. I'm thinking specifically of Jay Smith's RISE OF THE MONKEY LORD, a novel that would likely appeal to horror role-playing-game fans. That's a pretty narrow market, and Smith chose to self-publish. While I think he might have eventually found a publisher, I can't fault him for taking the most direct route, and the book has got some buzz. I might add that CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL started life as a self-published book. I might find CHICKEN SOUP and its endless progeny to be treacly pablum, but think about this: Someone rejected that book and its zillions. Ha.

I also think there are some writers who intentionally choose to self-publish because they aren't interested in the things Keene talks about: respect in the industry, a future career in publishing, scads of money. They are people publishing their work for close friends and family. I know several of these people. They don't care what publishers think of them. I sometimes wish they would consider other paths, because their work has potential. But I respect their decision.

The third point: Keene says the first novel that has been rejected by everybody from Random House to Podunk Press is a bad book. That ain't necessarily so. I think there are books that are really good, but suffer from presentation problems. There are books with a strong story, interesting characters and creative detail... but the author can't spell. There are florid metaphors in place of clear description. He's got one too many characters in his locked-room mystery, and by combining the scullery maid with the parlor maid, he can clarify everything and not lose any cohesiveness.

That's where an editor comes in, and that's the main problem with self-published books. If an author decides he absolutely must self-publish, he has to hire an editor. There are plenty of good editors out there. I do it myself; many other authors do. We're not free. We have too many projects going to work as volunteers. But it's worth the investment to hire someone to go over the book and pay attention to the details. You always, always, ALWAYS need a second pair of eyes to which you are not related.

I've published three books and am on to my fourth. On some books I've had editing so far up my nose I was afraid to sneeze. On others there was so little I was worried that some error I couldn't see would get through into the final product. I've come to realize what even some big-time authors with a zillion books have yet to comprehend: Everyone needs an editor. A good editor recognizes what is unique about your book, your voice, and lets it through. But a good editor also catches your mistakes and helps you shape the raw material of your book into something better.

If you want to publish only for a small group of people and you don't care what anyone in the industry thinks about you, hire an editor, then self-publish with my blessing. For everyone else: go read what Brian Keene says. And try not to take it too personally when he calls you a chowderhead. He's just being himself.

Monday, March 13, 2006

In Memory of Rick

We do not speak ill of the dead.

I don't know where this tradition began, but we never say bad things about those who have passed on. There is always someone grieving, and it seems like spitting on their pain. Perhaps that is part of the blessing. Perhaps by enacting a personal moratorium on unresolved anger and forcing ourselves to remember only the good, we move one step closer to accepting our loss, to letting go.

I wrote a story once about two people trapped in a literal whirlpool of grief. Having reached the stage of the most pain, the most anguish, they can choose to move on... or to sink back into the whirlpool. All that it takes to move on is to let go, to accept and forgive.

It's easy to forget, sometimes, that every man and woman who walked the earth was once someone's child. Once someone held him, sang him to sleep at night. As someone said, we try to remember the good, happy fellow we knew, and try to forget what went wrong. It is the blessing that comes with letting go. Otherwise we sink into the whirlpool.

It would have been better if the farewells could have been said. Forgiveness sought, bridges mended. Someone in a movie once said that all we take with us into the next life is what we carry with us to our deaths. If we carry only anger, that is all we get to keep. I don't know if I believe that.

But I do know that there are many people mourning you. All of us, remembering the good, remembering laughter and smiles and trying not to think that bridges could have been mended. Forgiveness achieved. Blood is thicker than tears. It didn't have to be this way.

So we will raise a glass to you, and hope that there is, indeed, a next life. That in that place of perfect understanding and absolute forgiveness, we may all meet again, and say all that was left unsaid.

A brief synopsis (so to speak)

For the writers out there, I refer you to this excellent article on writing a novel synopsis:

I've read some baaad synopses of good novels, folks. There's nothing harder to write. I'd rather write a Dear John letter than a synopsis. When writing one for SANCTUARY, I repeatedly shouted, "If I could have told the damn story in three pages, I WOULD HAVE!"

But they are necessary, and they're a major part of selling the book, and this article shows better than any I've read how most people screw it up. It's worth your attention.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006


To shamelessly steal from another blogger, I bring you the Peter David Proposed Ending for THE WEST WING:

Moira Kelly's "Mandy" simply evaporated between seasons 1 and 2. No mention was even made of her. The running in-joke behind the scenes was that, if a character disappeared from sight (such as Sam or Ainsley) they'd moved to Mandyville.

I would just love to see Mandy show up in the last episode in which CJ is walking down a corridor and Mandy just falls into step next to her, talking to her about something. And CJ just acts as if she's been there the whole time. Maybe at the end of the scene CJ says in an offhand manner, "Hey...haven't seen a whole lot of you lately. Where you been?" and Mandy just says, "Meetings." And they head off in opposite directions.

That amuses me.

Though Peter David and I agree most strenuously that while the class reunion planned for the finale of what was once the best show on television is excellent, the missing man is Aaron Sorkin. I find it amusing that a main character in Sorkin's new dramedy is a TV show creator who was forced off his own show by the network - and NBC is letting him run it.

Sooner or later networks might realize that the best work, creatively AND financially, comes from a single madman or -woman's driving vision.

Witness BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER for the first three seasons, when it had Joss Whedon's undivided attention... and how it faded into dreck when Whedon was focusing 85 percent of his attention on the late, seriously lamented FIREFLY and 10 percent on ANGEL. Witness the best of THE X-FILES, before Chris Carter got bored and wandered away, letting the arcs spin more wildly than the teacups at Disneyland. Witness Steven Bochco's entire career, as he hopped from L.A. LAW to NYPD BLUE to MURDER ONE... and we'll just try to forget COP ROCK. Look at David E. Kelley, who ran THE PRACTICE and ALLY MCSQUEAL simultaneously and went on to BOSTON PUBLIC just as THE PRACTICE sailed over the shark.

Speaking of sharks, compare the incredible single-minded vision of Steven Spielberg's JAWS to the sequel, which had three directors and a rewritten ending. The first ALIEN movie was a Ridley Scott masterpiece of a haunted house, and the second was a brilliant Vietnam allegory wrapped up in a hellishly good action film by the just-warming-up James Cameron. The third movie... well, it had three different scripts, one of them by the famed William Gibson, before the truncated written-by-committee ALIEN 3 hit theaters. I didn't hate it, unlike everyone else. But it wasn't the same.

More and more, the world of DVDs are inspiring us to look to television's graveyard for the dearly departed shows that remind us that there was a time before BEAUTY AND THE GEEK 2 and FEAR FACTOR. Personally, I miss the brilliant early years of QUANTUM LEAP, SLIDERS, NEXT GENERATION and DEEP SPACE NINE. Since I've already come out as a geek, I might as well admit to being a 'Phile.

They've all gone to Mandyville. There's a few worthy successors - my guilty pleasures these days are SMALLVILLE, SUPERNATURAL and VERONICA MARS - but the days of quirky, strange and creative seem to have gone the way of Mandy and her friends. I'm not going to claim that television has always been brilliantly written and inspired by creativity over rank greed - anyone but me remember WOOPS? - but as we sit and wait for the next X-FILES to come along, cable is spinning off into another round of assaholic antiheroes and the great ensemble shows are shuffling off the stage, three seasons after jettisoning the good writers that made them great.

I won't miss THE WEST WING. It jumped that fabled shark when NBC kicked Sorkin out with his mushrooms. The show's quality took a nosedive and despite critics' assertions that the tiresome eighteen months of Vinick-v.-Santos has "rejuvenated" the show, I stopped watching before John Spencer sadly left us. I'll watch it bid farewell, though, and hope they can make some attempt to do Sorkin's creation justice in its final bow. It's been written by committee and directed by ratings. But hey, the scripts were in on time!

So long, President Bartlet. For a while, you made us think, and that's pretty damned rare for television. We wish all of you well.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Looking Before You Rush In Where Angels Fear To Tread, and Other Mixed Metaphors

The following is a writing editorial originally penned for the Writers' Circle, on how to spot a scam:

You don’t need an agent.

Whoops, I already lost you, didn’t I? Get your buns back here and finish reading. Yes, I know. I heard that one a hundred times when I was an unpublished author striving for a crumb of reassurance that I was not kidding myself, and I discounted it as quickly as you just did. The agent opens the door to New York Magic, right?

The publishing world is huge and strange, and follows its own rules while making up new ones as it goes along. It is difficult to navigate it. But an agent makes it no better. And a bad agent can make it worse.

I’m starting off with agents because they are the easiest scam among those preying on authors. Here’s the way it works: Jimmy P. Sleaze with a Chicago or New York address contacts Beth, an unpublished writer. He says, “Hey, I love your work. Send me more and maybe we can do business.”

Beth sends in her work, happy and excited – someone has Discovered her! Then the letter comes back from Jimmy: “It’s very good, but it needs a polish before we send it to the three publishers I have dangling on a hook for it. We can send it to Janie Smith, she’s a friend of mine. She’ll do it for a fair fee.” Beth is disappointed that her work needs work, but still excited – after all, there are bumps on the road to success! She forks over the money. She also pays the bill from the agent for phone calls, copying charges, postage…

What Beth doesn’t know is that Jimmy Sleaze and Janie Smith are actually in this together and always have been. Jimmy has no connections in New York and Janie has no intention of doing anything substantive with the novel.

When Beth finally gets sick of being bounced back and forth between Jimmy and Janie, they’ll bring in Pat. Pat runs a “publishing” house, you see. It’s really just a web site and a P.O. box. Beth will happily sign a contract with Pat, satisfied that finally her investment of time and money with Jimmy and Janie has succeeded – she is an author at last!

While Beth is celebrating with family and friends, Pat has sent a badly-formatted PDF of her book, unedited and unread, to a POD chop shop somewhere in the U.S. Pat might put the book up on his web site, but I wouldn’t bet on it. There will be no ISBN. It will not be listed on Ingram or Baker & Taylor. You will not see it on And of course, Beth never gets a penny. Depending on how carefully she read Pat’s boilerplate contract, she might not get the rights back to her own book for years, if ever.

You’re sitting there thinking, “It can’t happen to me.” Of course it can. When you get a moment, go to Brian Keene’s blog ( and scan down to his entry last week about how a man who ran around in a stork thong at conventions managed to convince several highly-respected horror authors – people already published by New York, mind you – to sign with his small press. And then proceeded to never pay them a cent.

Intelligent, published authors with savvy and the advice of brilliant survivors like myself have signed contracts with total losers and con artists, seeing their books vanish without ever breaking the surface of this publishing sea. It can be something as simple as never publicizing a book, “publishing” it without actually sending a copy to anyone. It can be as complex as Publish America, that enormous POD service that billed itself as a real publisher until the massive lawsuits convinced it to admit it accepts anything sent to it, unedited. You know how they finally caught Publish America? A group of respected authors sent them a “novel” in which each chapter was written by a different person, with no idea what the others were writing. One chapter was the same sentence, cut and pasted a thousand times. It was a shambles – and Publish America accepted it without reservation.

Let’s be clear – there is nothing wrong with a printing service., CafePress… these folks are not publishers. They are printing services. If what you WANT is self-publication, go for it. This is not a treatise on self-pub vs. paid publication. That’s a different column.

What I’m talking about are people who pretend to be real, paying publishers but are actually scam artists using POD technology to masquerade as publishers. As far as I’m concerned, scammers who target unpublished writers have to be among the lowest on earth. If you’re going to scam someone, scam someone who actually HAS money.

So how do you tell? After all, POD is no longer the catchword to stop you. Most reputable small presses have managed to stay alive by using POD services. It’s simply cheaper to hire a good POD to do runs as small as 25 books at a time, rather than invest in a 2,000-book run that may or may not sell out.

For agents: your first stop is the Association of Authors’ Representatives ( Check to see if the agent talking to you is a member. If s/he is an AAR member, s/he has to abide by the organization’s code of ethics, and you can be assured s/he’s a real agent with real connections who is out to help your career, not scam you. Now, there are some reputable agents who are not members for whatever reason. That’s your first question: why aren’t you a member of AAR? Then you proceed to a list of questions helpfully available under the FAQ of AAR’s web site, mostly concerning their business practices. You ask these questions after establishing that this person is interested in representing you and BEFORE you sign anything. Honestly, if the agent found you on, odds are it’s a scam.

Wait, you said I didn’t need an agent! That’s right, you don’t. I’m onto my fourth published book and I don’t have one. Most of the authors I know don’t have one. Most of the work you’ll do for your first few books you can do yourself, and without giving up 20 percent of what little money you’ll make. The cruelest joke is when an author has published a book or two and is tired of the constant marketing and sell-sell-sell required to make it in small-press publishing, so she signs with an agent. And discovers that agents don’t DO marketing. They do your contract negotiations and leverage you a better deal with New York. That’s it. Bookstore signings, conventions, web site, online promotion… it’s all on you, folks. But that’s also another column.

For publishers: First thing is to check out what they’ve already published. Buy a book. Contact the author and ask him or her how they were treated. What kind of promotion did they do? How heavy-handed was the editing? How long have they been in business? Can you find Piddledydump Books on On Shocklines or other respected online booksellers? I wouldn’t worry too much if you can’t find them in Borders – getting into bookstores is a whole mess in and of itself, and many reputable small presses can’t get the big stores’ attention. Their loss. But if you can’t find their books ANYWHERE, including on their own web site, run away.

Then you read over the contract. And then you find a published author to read it for you. If you know a lawyer who has publication-rights experience, beg them to review it. You’re looking for things like who owns the copyright, because you should ALWAYS keep the copyright. Look for exactly which rights they get and which you keep – never sell all rights. Look for your royalty and how it’s computed – on net or gross, paid quarterly or biannually, etc. Look for provisions about your advance, author copies, discounts on future copies, etc.

A word about advances. Don’t be surprised if you don’t get offered one. That does NOT signal a scam. Most small press can’t pay royalties in this brave new world. They will offer you some free author copies, so take them and smile. The good news is, that means you’ll be getting checks from the first book you sell.

What you’re really looking for when scam-proofing your upcoming book deal is any sign that you will have to pay for ANYTHING. There’s lots of ways the bad guys will try to sneak past your Super-Deluxe Scam Blocker. They’ll tell you it’s totally free to you – but if you want an ISBN, you have to pay a little “extra.” They’ll say you can have a dull beige cover – or color artwork by an artist if you’re willing to pay a fee.

Run away from these people. They are scam artists. Pure and simple.

Rule No. 1: You Pay For Nothing.

The publisher signs the contract with you and gives you your advance (or not). The publisher pays for the typesetting, layout, setup fees, ISBN, artist fee, listing in various distributors, access fees to, everything. You. Pay. For. Nothing.

Exceptions: Your own marketing efforts – which better be legion if you’re going to have a prayer – and registering the copyright with the U.S. Copyright Office. Also, you’ll pay a highly discounted fee for your hand sales – selling the book yourself. That’s it.

(A word about copyright, while we’re on the subject: You keep the copyright, which is why you get to pay the copyright fee. Sometimes they’ll do it for you, if they’re nice, but sticking you with that fee is NOT the sign of a scam. But do not register your copyright until final publication. You’ll just end up having to do it again. Do not succumb to the paranoia of modern thievery that says if you don’t copyright your work someone will steal it. You own your work from the moment you put pen to paper, and no one you’re dealing with is going to steal it – it’s cheaper for them just to buy it than take the risk of swiping it.)

Now, remember our friend Beth? The one who fell into Jimmy and Janie and Pat’s well-laid trap? Well, it’s possible that Beth’s work isn’t totally perfect, you know. She might need a little help. So once she has wrested her manuscript away from them, she might end up sending it to a real agent – who tells her it needs editing before it can be published.

Beth goes running into the woods! Not again! Wait a second. Because this is a real agent, who didn’t tell her she had to send it to This Particular Editor. No scam here. There are plenty of editors out there who are perfectly capable, ethical and willing to help you turn your work into something salable. I do it myself – my editing service charges $1-4 a page, depending on the level of editing the customer wants. There are others, charging various fees for various services. If you do enough poking around, you can find someone capable of helping you. Look for experience in editing, not writing – any writer can claim to be an editor, but look at the typos in some recent books published by New York and you’ll know that’s not necessarily the case.

The moral of the story: Don’t jump at the first offer you get. Wait for the good ones. Do your homework. Ask around. Ask ME – I’m always willing to do a quick scam-check on contracts, services and agents. I’m not infallible, but I’ve got good connections. Or do it yourself – the Science Fiction Writers’ Association runs an invaluable service called Preditors and Editors, hosted by It is your very first stop upon getting an offer from anyone. (

And remember: You. Pay. For. Nothing. That’s why they call it PAID publication.

early-morning web updates

I am posting this entry at 1:07 a.m. This should serve as the definitive answer to the folks who ask me the question I hear more often than Stephen King hears, "So where do you get your ideas?"

The question I hear is, "How do you do it all?" Reporter. Single mother. Book author. How do I do it all? Easy. I update my blog at 1:07 a.m. after reprogramming my web site while waiting for a cake to finish baking after working the night shift. My apartment is a mess, I'm two years behind in my filing, the scrapbooking materials are shoved into a drawer for six months on end and I haven't even noticed my vacuum cleaner's broken. It's easy to do it all, folks. Give up sleep, cleanliness and a life.

The cake is for a co-worker's retirement party tomorrow. God bless you, sir, and enjoy your sail off into the golden fields of not-working-anymore. I wish I were going with you.

But before I go sign up for my 401(k), I wanted to let you loyal denizens know that there's a new feature on the web site. Contrary to popular belief, I did not create this feature just because I had one space in my button grid with "This space for rent." Because I really could have used the rent.

Instead, I created the Readers' Corner. I couldn't think of a snappier title. It's 1:10 a.m., folks, who are we kidding? The Readers' Corner is a collection of reader comments on my work. As far as I'm concerned, what you readers have to say is more important than what the critics may say. I've been lucky to receive very strong critical reaction to my work, and it's a blessing. But when readers write to me and tell me how my work has touched them, I feel truly blessed.

Soon to be added to the Readers' Corner: reader photos! One of the advantages of having an honest-to-Zod in-print book. Go on, show my book wherever you may be! Hold it up in front of a landmark in your hometown! Set it up with your favorite stuffed animal! Extra points for white angel bears and non-U.S. locations!

The lawyers-in-a-box insist I remind you not to do anything perverted to my books just to garner yourself an X-rated photo. It will not be on the web site and the only one it will amuse is the authorities. Also, by sending your comments/photos to me you grant me permission to use them in promotional material, blah blah blah.

It's 1:14 a.m. now, and the cake is almost done. Then I can go to sleep. Not that I mind spending these early-morning hours with my noisy upstairs neighbors, the creak of the ceiling fan, the infomercials on the Sci-Fi Channel and you guys. But I tend to be more, y'know, conscious after real sleep. I'm just saying.

Now the grid is full, and I can't add any more features to the web site until I think of three to create a whole new row. I look forward to/am terrified by the thoughts of what you people can dream up. The cake is ready, and I'm going to sleep. Good night, and good luck.

P.S. I lied. The Sci-Fi Channel doesn't go to infomercials for a few more hours. Mulder and Scully, baby. That ought to make for GREAT dreams.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Reader Voices

First of all, the biggest belly laugh of the week comes from dear friend and Muppet Rat Devin Harris. She had this to say about SETTING SUNS:

"It's creeping me out. I will never own a teddy bear again. ::shudder::"

She then created a marvelous icon, with a cute little teddy bear and the words, "Can't Sleep: Bear Will Eat Me." I about died laughing.

In case you're wondering what we're smoking, one of the stories in SETTING SUNS centers on a little white teddy bear with angel wings. Muahahahaha. It's the one titled, "Jesus Loves Me."


My sister told me a colleague in her office borrowed her copy of SETTING SUNS to read during her lunch break. SHE NEVER BROUGHT IT BACK. The colleague snuck it home with her. My sister is now royally annoyed. "My husband is out of town, I actually have time to read and she TOOK MY BOOK!" she fumed. As I snickered.

A reader told me the book arrived and she and her husband actually argued over who got to read it first. I cause marital strife!

Other comments:

"Evocative is a terribly over-used word, but it's all I can come up with to describe "Setting Suns". Elizabeth's writing is clear and concise, mixing the normal with the macabre, throwing Rod Serling against a 2006 backdrop and letting the strangeness flow."

"Seriously ... check this book out if you're at all a fan of horror or suspense fiction. Elizabeth has the potential to hit the big time, and it starts here."

"She delves into the human psyche to find not only what's on the surface of their relationships, but the hidden secrets and pasts that make the characters tick. 'Sisyphus' alone is worth the price for this book - it's the ultimate tortured love story, times 10. If you want to read stories that stick in your head for days to come, this book is for you."

"Never has a collection of short stories made such a lasting impression in my mind.... a book that spans the gamut of things we fear as humans. Unlike other suspense/horror stories I've read, these don't rely on the 'slash-em-up' blood-type themes to terrify readers. Elizabeth instead uses the small niggling things hiding deep in our minds that none of us likes to think about to bring her tales to terrifying life. "

"This anthology contains one of the finest stories I have ever read, "Sisyphus". If O. Henry and Stephen King had collaborated on a love story, this is what they would have written."

My personal ego aside, it is really gratifying to hear you folks are enjoying the book. That is, after all, what I'm here to do.

Now I'm going to sneak into Kiddo's room and see where he's put the REAL angel bear... That thing still creeps me out.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Sanctuary Series

As those of you who have read SETTING SUNS know, there are three stories set in the Sanctuary universe in that anthology, and I'm getting questions.

For those who haven't, and/or are new to my work, I wrote SANCTUARY for the first time when I was a teenager. I revised it in college, and again in 2002. It is the work dearest to my heart, despite its many and multiple flaws.

SANCTUARY tells us what happens when the aliens come to invade and conquer - and we lose. As the Gahid - my strange crystalline-insectoid aliens with an even stranger religion - occupy Earth and scoop up shipfuls of humans to cart offworld as slaves, chaos reigns on the surface. Cities degenerate into gang wars, while others flee to hide in the rural wilderness for as long as they can stay ahead of the Gahid.

In New York City, a cadre of military families takes refuge in a half-finished underground military base. They are hiding, not fighting, and as the years go by, their children grow up without seeing the sun. But when the leader's daughter takes over, she leads them back to the surface, to join with the street gangs and try to retake the island.

More than that, though, I tried to explore that we don't know what we have until it's gone. In a larger sense, we don't appreciate the freedom to walk and breathe without fear until merely looking at the sky can get you killed - or worse. In a smaller sense, we don't appreciate the place people hold in our lives until we lose them - something more than one character experiences. Okay, a LOT of characters experience. SANCTUARY has a 59-percent death rate among speaking/named characters and earned me my decidedly undeserved reputation as a murderous author.

SANCTUARY was read by my writers' group and twenty or thirty of my closest friends. They seemed to like it quite a bit, enough that they keep bugging me about publishing it. When I look at it now, I tend to cringe a bit. The language is stark and dull, the scene transitions are awkward, it's more than a little melodramatic and the structure is just strange to me.

I wrote a companion novel, THE POLARIS PASSAGE, a few years before NOCTURNAL URGES took off and my career changed in a windstorm. I hesitate to call POLARIS a sequel - it's a completely different book, with different characters and an offworld setting. The only thing the two have in common is the Gahid, and their galaxy-spanning empire of slavery.

POLARIS follows escaped slave Azure, born into slavery and complete ignorance of who and what she is. She has never seen a person who looks like she does. When she is sold to a slaver, she escapes on a space station and runs into a trio of operatives from the Polaris Passage - an interstellar Underground Railroad that helps ferry escaped slaves to free planets where slavery is illegal. But when the freighter captain who helped her escape is arrested and charged with a capital crime, she faces a choice: to give herself up and save her friend's life, condemning herself to slavery; or let him face the consequences of his choice, and continue fighting for freedom with the newly-found love of her life, the psychic Sinda.

It's a much darker book than SANCTUARY. Some of the most wrenching, violent and sordid scenes I've ever written are in that book. Sad to say, I got most of them from historical research into the practices of slavery in 19th-century America. I can't make up some of the things they did. I'm not that twisted.

POLARIS is a much more grown-up book than the action-movie-put-to-pen that is SANCTUARY. It deals with religious mania, the institutionalization of slavery, the search for identity and the impossibility of true love. It is also far too allegorical, with an Elijah Lovejoy knockoff who practically spouts anti-slavery dogma word-for-word from my historical research. Also, it has a very ambiguous ending. That was in equal parts, "Elizabeth doesn't know how to finish this book on a happy note given everything we've been through," and "Elizabeth doesn't want to make it too much of an ENDING because she wants to write the next five books in the series."

And there are more books:

There is TERRA FIRMA, a Lewis-and-Clark-like walk across the remains of America by the survivors of SANCTUARY to contact other human enclaves.

There is KINTARA, the follow-up to POLARIS with the previous book's survivors trying to rescue slaves during a war between the Gahid and the K'Ryat, a mysterious alien race that'll make the Gahid look like non-evil teddy bears.

There is ABSENCE OF LIGHT, the struggle of the Island to go forward with a new society without its greatest leader, starring the OTHER survivors of SANCTUARY.

There are two Polaris standalones: An untitled struggle between a slave girl raised as nobility on a slave planet and her older sister, ruler of the planet; and MISSION, possibly a novella, an adventure in freeing slaves on the space station where Azure escaped, starring a few survivors of POLARIS.

And I know how the SANCTUARY and POLARIS storylines will tie together. In the last book. Titled SORIKASI. No, I'm not telling you how it ends. If it ends. God knows I'm not J.K. Rowling.

This is the series I always wanted to write. Only the first two are written. The rest are in my head, waiting to come out. I harbor no illusions that they will look anything like this when finished. But everything I've done - the Nocturnal Urges series, the short stories, everything - has been in large part to position myself to be able to do this series, to do it well and get it published with a science fiction publisher who will let me take it where I want and the clout to make it visible.

So what's taking so stinking long?

Time. Money. Influence. My lack of all three.

SANCTUARY and POLARIS both need complete rewrites before they could be submitted. I did once send SANCTUARY to an agent, who rejected it, probably unseen. Nobody ever heard of me.

In the meantime, I have the next Nocturnal Urges book to finish and publish. Then I'll rewrite YELLOW ROSES and try to convince Leisure to consider it.

That's the thing. That's what really would kick the Sanctuary series into high gear. If I sold YELLOW ROSES or a similar book to a New York publisher. If they gave me a $5,000 advance (fairly standard), it would fund my writing business for two years. That would give me a year to get the books revised and submitted, and another year to catch back up with more horror and resume my PAID publishing.

At this time, I just can't afford to take time out for a year and rewrite the books. I tried that after NU - I wrote YELLOW ROSES and didn't publish it because it needed a rewrite, and that threw my money situation out the window. If I didn't have a day job, maybe I could write one book in the morning and one at night. But it just doesn't work that way on two hours' writing time a night.

But the series is never far from my mind, and I have not-so-idly perused the large and small publishers of good science fiction, picking my top choices.

I'm glad it has such a strong following from the few who've read it. I'm hopeful the three Sanctuary stories in SETTING SUNS - which were just like coming home - might spur more interest. Crawford and her soldiers, Azure and the Polaris gang... they're my kickass partners in crime, and they never fall completely silent.

And who knows? Anything can happen.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Muppet Rats List

If you've ever seen the movie, THE MUPPETS TAKE MANHATTAN, you'll remember the Muppet Rats.

Kermit and friends needed to get New York City talking about their big Broadway show. So Kermit set free Ratso and the rest of the Muppet Rats in an upscale restaurant. The rats scurried under tables and started talking in loud rat voices about the show. People overheard them and started asking each other about this new show coming to town. That's the Muppet version of a whisper campaign.

(EDIT: I have since been informed the leader of the Muppet Rats is Rizzo. I am deeply ashamed for having misremembered this. Clearly I need a weekend marathon of Muppet movies as a reminder. Alcohol optional. Anyone care to join me?)

I have my own Muppet Rats. Other people, more respectful people, might call them fans. They run amok on the internet posting about my work, exhorting (some might say threatening) others to buy them. You know who you are. You know I love you.

Every author without a publicist relies on their own Muppet Rats to sell the work. In this age of five million books on, it just doesn't get done without the Muppet Rats. Tired of the same old shtick being recycled over and over? Listen to the Muppet Rats instead of Entertainment Weekly.

There are several books out or pending that need love just as much as SETTING SUNS (available at or, what, you think I was gonna miss a chance to hawk my own book?). These are good people with good work, and they deserve your serious consideration. Not just because I know them personally (though really, isn't that enough for you?) Because I think you really will like their work. And we know I'm never wrong. ;)

In no particular order, my Muppet Rat List for March:

• SWAN SONG, by Frank Fradella. The first release from New Babel Books and a hell of a superhero novel. It is not a graphic novel, which seems to be a misconception several have held. It's a hell of a ride and takes a serious look at the toll being a hero takes. This book deserves your love, people. Comic/superhero fans - if you don't buy this book you're a dummyhead. I'm just saying. Note: Buy it on Amazon if you wish, but we small-press authors make much more cash per sale if you buy it directly from the publisher. Your call.

• PRESSURE, by Jeff Strand. Just went up for preorders today. This is Jeff's first "serious" novel, and the back cover alone gave me that big "aw hell, I can't wait" grin. There's the super-deluxe fancy limited editions for $50 or $250, but we normal folk can get the trade paperback for the much more reasonable $25. Wahoo! Seriously, this tale of two childhood friends - one seriously disturbed, one disturbed by him - is likely to rank a 9.5 on the Creep-o-Meter. Give it a shot.

• DEATHBRINGER, by Bryan Smith. Zombies are unalive and seriously unwell in this latest from the author of HOUSE OF BLOOD. I have it on good authority that this book is not for the squeamish. I am therefore eagerly awaiting my copy. I am currently reading HOUSE OF BLOOD, and so far enjoying it immensely. Besides, we should thank Bryan for the very nice things he said about SETTING SUNS. Until DEATHBRINGER makes me steal my son's nightlight, in which case I may sue him for infliction of emotional distress.

• THE CONQUEROR WORMS by Brian Keene. I've sung Keene's praises in this space several times, and not just because he gave me good career advice over beers last year. THE RISING and CITY OF THE DEAD were definitive zombie novels. The far-less-known-and-that's-a-damn-shame TERMINAL was more than a bank robbery gone bad - it was a real glimpse of life in blue-collar Pennsylvania with struggles that are all too familiar to those of us in the American trenches. Keene has a common touch that Stephen King once had, a keen (heh) sense of what the sinking middle class is really afraid of in this brave new world. He finds those fear buttons and hammers the fuck out of them. Now the book originally titled EARTHWORM GODS is on its way, and I'm (figuratively) camped outside the bookstore for it.

There you have it. Muppet Rats are muttering. You should listen. After all, it was a good show.