Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, June 26, 2006

Greetings from Nashville!

First of all, let me give kudos to the Hypericon staff. Darrell LuAllen, Fred and Stephania Grimm, Chip Allen and all the folks who run Hypericon make it the great show that it is. I imagine they're all still sleeping. Folks, if you haven't experienced the fun that is Hypericon, put it on your list for next year.

I've remarked to several people now that it's damned rare to find a con with no assholes. No egotistical guests lording over their minions. No drunken stupidity (well, a minimum of it). A serious lack of Drahmah. So often the juxtaposition of fandom personalities, sleep deprivation and the seesaw of caffeine and alcohol leads to mindless stupidity and some drunken idiot ends up weeping on the ledge.

Not at Hypericon. Fred pointed out that last year, their security staff consisted of one guy with a big stick, and they had fewer problems than cons with a staff of twenty. This year, the guy and the big stick were joined by a handful of teenagers, all helpful and polite and as far as I know, there were almost no problems.


I zoomed into Nashville late Wednesday to stay with my good friend Stephen Reksten, who kindly offers me crash space whenever I'm in town. In return, I bring him very large chocolate bars and beer that he'll never drink.

Thursday was spent in the company of the lovely Sarah Sanford and her minions - er, husband Drew and two little ones. They, however, did not accompany me to the Thursday Night Shindig, because they have children and they're not allowed to have fun anymore.

The Shindig was, of course, a great success. It was a meetup of several folks I'd only known online, and a few old friends to boot. We ate and we drank, we snarked and we laughed. Pictures were taken, and for some reason I’m not smiling in any of them, despite the ninety times I laughed my fool head off. I think Rachael Wise kissed Sara Harvey, which is rather amusing since both are heterosexual committed women, but I make no judgments on other people's lifestyles. I am now ducking everything they're throwing at me. Hey, they started it.

After we bid everyone else farewell, Rachael and I got to spend some time getting reacquainted at the Bow-Wow Coffee Shop on Hillsboro. Okay, I'm guessing at the name of the coffee shop, but it was something like that and there was a definite dog theme.

I was fighting mental weirdness the entire time, because the last time I was on Hillsboro Avenue, I was attending another Shindig three years ago. I was with someone I loved very much, who is no longer with me. I was with friends I haven't seen in a while. And although I didn't know it, one of my dearest friends at that table would disappear - quite literally - in the ensuing years, and I have not seen nor heard from him since. No one, not his friends nor his family, know where he and his wife have gone. We miss him very much, and I worry what has happened to him.

But balancing all that was Rachael, who redefines energy for us lowly mortals. Rachael is undergoing radiation therapy for fourth-stage breast cancer. And yet she outpaced me in strength and good cheer, by far. We talked about everything, from my son's scholastic struggles to the merits of literary fiction vs. the popular fiction that her husband (the brilliant Bryan Smith - read his stuff) and I write to the insane things that drug companies send her out of the blue as a cancer patient. Really, what does Prilosec think Rachael needs with a giant Bunco set, including feather boa? Is that supposed to take her mind off the radiation treatment? And by the way, how does heartburn medication help treat breast cancer?

I stumbled back to Stephen's immaculate house - you could do surgery in his home, I swear the man buys stock in cleaning products. He would likely have a heart attack in the e.coli-fest that is my apartment.

Fortunately Friday was a sleep-in day for me. I woke up in time to do a little work - heaven forfend I leave the laptop alone for a weekend - and packed up my stuff to shift base of operations to the Days Inn Stadium. In case you are unaware, the Days Inn is not exactly in the nicest area of town. Last year, someone walking alone got shot with a paintball gun. My sick brain immediately came up with sixteen different dramatic situations involving a paintball gun - looks real, hurts, but not actually killing you! - and that just proves I shouldn't be allowed out in public.

But the hotel itself isn't bad. It's cheap - though far from the cheapest on the con circuit - and the rooms are okay. They get extra points for gigantic bathtubs, but alas, I didn’t get to use it this trip. Next year.

I had hours to kill and I was starving, so after the usual check-in rigamarole, I drove into the city in search of sustenance. After wandering around for a while, I found the wonderful Blackstone Brewery, not far from the Episcopal Cathedral. Coincidence? You decide.

I had a delicious burger, so-so dessert and a lovely pilsner beer that made me wish I'd brought a whole crew along. But those losers were getting ready for the convention and stuff. Back I went to attend opening ceremonies, listen to a fascinating discussion of "Religion and Science Fiction" with Tim Powers and Steve Savile, make sure my books were available in the dealer's room, and hightail it to my first panel: "Begin at the Beginning," with Glen Cook and Geoffrey Girard.

Poor Geoffrey. He is the victim of a silly story about a panel two years ago involving Mark Tiedemann, Geoffrey and me that has grown sillier with time. I don't know why this story has gotten such legs, but we should all give him a break. Pretty soon he's going to hide under a table when he sees he's been scheduled on the same panel with me.

I might add that Geoffrey and I exchanged books at the con - I had intended to pick up his TALES OF THE JERSEY DEVIL at previous conventions and never got around to it, and he wanted my anthology SETTING SUNS. Of course, we signed each others' books. I was half-silly, half-apologetic, and signed it, "To Geoffrey, always a good sport." He actually wrote something very nice, and now I feel like an ass. So I bid you all to go buy either JERSEY DEVIL or his new book, TALES OF THE ATLANTIC PIRATES.

The panel turned out to be much more interesting than "how to start your book." As always, I can tell them how NOT to do it - don't start with seven pages of backstory (the original SANCTUARY), and don't try to be a smartass with "It really was a dark and stormy night" (A MORE PERFECT UNION - note to all, it was supposed to be FUNNY).

The biggest problem with that panel was also the only real problem I encountered at the convention: karaoke. The hotel bar offers very LOUD karaoke every evening, and they were right on the other side of a decidedly un-soundproofed wall from our conference room. At one point, Bryan Smith slipped out to see if there was anything to be done, but alas, it seems not. We talked louder, and tried not to cringe. Later, I heard Keene and some of his minions crashed the karaoke bar and there was some sort of incident involving a large quantity of beer and the song "Mandy." Oh, how I wished I could have witnessed THAT.

We discussed the pros and cons of the action prologue, the brilliance of Shirley Jackson's HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and other such things that sound best while intoxicated.

Speaking of which, I came prepared. I brought a case of Schlafly Pale Ale to the convention. It is a microbrew you can only buy within 200 miles of St. Louis and is the finest beer in creation, in my humble opinion. I brought it largely to share, but also to make good on my word. Allow me to explain.

When SETTING SUNS came out in February, I became obsessive about watching its performance on Amazon. Yes, we all know those rankings are meaningless. But there was something hypnotic about watching the numbers go up and down. At one point, it rose to number 17,000 on the overall list, and for one brief hour, I outsold Brian Keene, an author for whom I have a great deal of respect and whose work I enjoy.

I posted about this on the net, of course, because God forbid I keep my mouth shut. Somehow Keene heard about it and posted back, congratulating me and saying we should share a beer for our success. When I finished laughing, I promised to bring him a beer at Hypericon.

I am a woman of my word. I brought Keene a Schlafly Pale Ale at his premiere party for THE CONQUEROR WORMS, a post-apocalyptic opus I am currently reading. He laughed and accepted it with good grace, right next to the big cake covered with gummy worms and little army-men.

The Worms Party was a blast, though I deeply, profoundly regret not volunteering for the "trivia contest." The questions were things like, "What's this party for?" "Who wrote CONQUEROR WORMS?" and the prizes were autographed limited editions and collections of rare graphic novels. I tried not to drool on someone else's copy of WEIRD TALES with Stephen King from 1991. I was tempted to make a run for it, but my name was on a poster and a tag around my neck and they'd probably catch up with me eventually.

On Saturday, I had every intention of making it to the short-story panel - not to speak, to listen. I have never been as comfortable with the short form, as my newspaper editors will agree (pausing for furiously nodding heads) and a valid criticism of SETTING SUNS is that most of my short stories read like the prologues to novels. Alas, Friday night's debauchery caught up with me, and I think I only had two beers. I'm getting old.

Instead, I went directly to my first event of the day: my signing. Alas, I hadn’t actually done much of anything yet. No one knew to buy my stuff. Fortunately, the signing was in the dealer’s room, so I had company and could pretend to be just another dealer for an hour. I did sell a handful of books, and several more over the course of the weekend. I can definitely declare the convention a financial success, selling all but three of the books I brought with me.

I made it to the Powers Hour, to listen some more to guest of honor Tim Powers. Mr. Powers is without a doubt one of the nicest and least affected gentlemen it's been my privilege to meet on the circuit. A friend later noted that he makes an effort to make sure everyone on the panel gets the chance to talk, not just him, and I can attest that he does it so unobtrusively that you really don't notice his deferral.

He talked about religion in science fiction and how his Catholicism has informed his work without overcoming it; about Phillip K. Dick and some amazing (and hilarious) stories that put a human face on the Great Man for me; about wrestling with his first publisher and how THE ANUBIS GATES was originally rejected. This makes me feel much better, of course.

And… Tim Powers bought my book. That makes him the first guest of honor in three years of doing this professionally to buy my stuff. I did not gush like a fangirl. But I also could come up with nothing better to write on the front page than, "Hope you enjoy the book!" That’s a panel I want to see at a convention someday: "What do you want us to write in your book? Because we haven’t a frigging clue."

Boom into my next panel, to which I was added at the last second: "Finding the Fear," with Brian Keene, Rafael Cariaga, James Newman and Deborah LeBlanc. I immediately kicked myself because I have at least one of Newman's books on my shelf at home and neglected to bring it for him to sign.

Also, since I was added to the panel after the schedule went to print, I imagine the others were wondering what the hell I was doing up front. After I opened my mouth, I wondered too. It's the only panel where I really made an ass of myself, babbling on without thinking the damn thought all the way through. I spent much of Saturday reconstructing what I should have said about a subject I find deeply fascinating, and using examples from my own work that didn't suck. My only defense was that it was nearly two o'clock and I hadn't had food or caffeine yet.

No break yet, because immediately thereafter I was on "Love and the Beast" for the obligatory paranormal-smut panel, with Julianne Lee (whom I remembered from previous cons, and it was great to see her again) and the always generous Sherrilyn Kenyon. Jason Sizemore of Apex Magazine was our moderator-slash-zookeeper. For some reason, I was more awake in this panel, and I think I may even have spoken in coherent sentences. I switched gears from SETTING SUNS to the Nocturnal Urges series, with hopes that they might remember it in three months when NOCTURNE comes out.

As much as I wanted to stay and watch my friend Sara Harvey (whose first novel is coming out soon, watch this space) discuss "Magic in the Here and Now" with Kenyon and others, I needed food and caffeine. I fled to the con suite, where the wonderful Stephania Grimm was cooking. Yes, cooking. Hypericon is not satisfied with Little Debbies and a bag of chips for consuite food. There are vegetables, homemade sloppy joes, pizza balls and oodles of sandwiches for the eating. Mmm, now I'm hungry again.

I had only an hour before dashing back downstairs for "Preparing for the Novel," with Shane Berryhill, Toni Stauffer, Mary Buckner and me. And Tim Powers, who was another one of those last-minute additions. At first we were worried, because the panelists outnumbered the audience and we figured the "Future of Comics" panel upstairs with Keene and company was drawing them away from us.

But as the hour went on, we grew to almost filling the room. The questions were interesting and we tried to answer them as best we could. Powers has an amazing technique, outlining everything down to dialogue before writing. His outlines sound like my rough drafts, where the characters might as well be talking on a blank soundstange, because description and sensory detail is my personal bete noire.

At this point, I had a problem. I wanted to get THE ANUBIS GATES, Tim Powers’ breakout novel that won the Phillip K. Dick Award and numerous other honors, and get him to sign it. Unfortunately, Glen Cook the Eternal Bookseller of Conventions had sold out on the first day. I therefore gathered a posse consisting of Sara Harvey, Sara’s boyfriend Matt and my dear friend Dana Franks (yes, just like the reporter in the Nocturnal Urges series) and made a mad dash to the Davis-Kidd bookstore in downtown Nashville. They were the only store in the city that had a copy of THE ANUBIS GATES, and only one was left.

We darted back with just enough time for me to change clothes before my reading. Of course, I was my usual wreck, and probably decidedly un-fun for anyone to be around. I have the Terror of the Empty Room, which seems to happen on occasion. There were only a handful, so Dana was a good flunky and went around offering people Dove dark chocolates to attend. It was my own fault – I chose an evening time slot, which was really stupid. In the end, we had a respectable crowd, most of whom I knew personally.

I read "Sisyphus," of course, because I can’t seem to NOT read that story. It always seems to draw them in, and I’m a sucker for what works. Then I took a vote and issued a line-item veto on reading "Jesus Loves Me." They love the demonic teddy bear, folks. But I can’t do the bear’s voice. I just can’t do it. I feel like an idiot.

So I read "Deep Breathing," its inaugural appearance before an audience, and it seemed to be greeted well despite me stumbling over it. You’d think as long ago as I’d written that story, I wouldn’t still be stammering over the words.

After the reading, Stephen and his friend Jonathan FINALLY showed up. I ribbed them a good bit about missing my reading, and they suggested a second one. The room was free and I had no plans, so the hell with it – I held a second, impromptu reading of "Sisphyus," and other people actually came in to hear it.

By then my tang was tungled up and I needed a beer. Off we went in search of a party. Being a convention, we found one. Or two. Or three.

What happens at con, stays at con.

Actually, I pretty much behaved myself this time. I learned my lesson at Melodee Britt’s Dragoncon Party of 2004 and the Absinthe of DOOM. I lost brain cells that night and my liver is still regenerating. Stephen and I party-hopped and enjoyed a lovely view of the Nashville skyline while he fretted about his car (a valid concern, given the neighborhood).

In every con, there’s the Room Where the Guests Go To Hide. Unfortunately, I could not find it this time. Rats. But people-watching always garners some fun, and I passed out goodwill in the form of Schlafly bottles to anyone who did not annoy me.

Note to Joe the Sisko: You swore you’d buy my book and get your minions to buy it as well if I gave you a microbrew. I’m holding you to it. See, folks? I’m not above bribery. Why do you think I serve Dove Dark Chocolates at every reading?

I crashed at the relatively early hour of 1:30 a.m. Dana stayed with me, and we had a leisurely morning chatting before she had to wend her way onward. I picked up my books – selling several more on my way out the door – and said my farewells before embarking on the six-hour drive back to St. Louis.

No, I didn’t stop at the Metropolis Superman Museum. It was a close call.

In all, a terrific con. A great crowd, wonderful hosts and as always, people worth the drive to meet and chat. I’m already looking forward to the next one. And this time, I’m bringing more beer.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Brief Super-Rant

I've been watching "Look, Up In The Sky," a two-hour documentary on Superman as a cultural icon, for several days now.

I'm watching it in short increments with my son. We don't watch a lot of television - no, really, I watch most of it after he goes to bed. But his favorite television show is SMALLVILLE, one of his favorite movies is SUPERMAN, and he is utterly beside himself about the new SUPERMAN movie. I predict by the time the hype is over, he'll be after me to redecorate his room from its current Mickey Mouse theme to reflect the Man of Steel.

And after all, there are few icons so appropriate. Superman has gone through his ups and downs (notably George Reeves' suicide and the debacle that was SUPERMAN IV), but has remained remarkably whole and untouched by the seventy-odd years he's been flying about our popular culture.

When Christopher Reeve stood before us and declared he was there to fight for truth, justice and the American way, only Lois laughs. Only Reeve could have said that line, and made us believe it. Poor Brandon Routh. He has very large red boots to fill.

But that wasn't what infuriated me tonight. I was watching a bit more of the documentary and it got to the section on SMALLVILLE. Now, I love SMALLVILLE. It's one of my guilty pleasures, and not just because all the men are hot. (Seriously. Even Papa Kent and Lionel Luther are smokin'. How is that possible?) It's cheesy, contrived and overwrought with teen-drama nonsense. And I don't care, because it's FUN. It's fun in ways that older, better-written, better-acted and more intelligent series have forgotten how to be.

I have never minded that SMALLVILLE essentially ignores the canon of Superman as established in the comics. After all, Superman's canon has changed more times than DC can change inkwells. They've restarted their entire universe - twice - killed Superman and brought him back. Sometimes Superman is the savior of Earth in a decidedly Messianic role, especially as reflected in the Mario Puzo script for the 1978 movie. Sometimes in the comics, he was sent by an evil Jor-El to conquer Earth. Or so I've been told. I'm not enough of a geek to have read ALL of them. I do, however, have friends that geeky, who will be happy to correct me in my multiple errors.

I was happy to see in the documentary that the decision to make Clark Kent and Lex Luther boyhood friends was not entirely outside of canon, either. Apparently that originated in an ancient episode of the Superboy comic. That should stave off some of the "revisionist history" grumblers. Besides, it makes so much sense for Clark and Lex to begin as friends. (Or, if you believe the slashfic writers, lovers. I ain't goin' there.) Who do you hate more than the one who was once your closest ally?


I was watching the documentary and reminding myself to stop it before it gets to the parts about SUPERMAN RETURNS, because my son will want to watch that part. The two creators of SMALLVILLE were talking about the casting for SMALLVILLE.

These two men had the colossal gall to state that they were interviewing Annette O'Toole for the role of Mama Kent, and had no idea she had been in SUPERMAN III. As Lana Lang.

Now, I could understand it if they didn't know she had, say, pencilled an issue of the comic book. Or was a big fan. But she was the FEMALE LEAD in one of only FOUR modern-day movies about the hero central to their series. The only woman to play Lana Lang, on whom they intended to base a ridiculous percentage of their series.

I'd like to think they could have found time to watch SUPERMAN III. They didn't have to like it. Most of us didn't. But watch it. And perhaps look at the resume of the FAMOUS ACTRESS they were considering casting in their show. Perhaps they would have noticed SUPERMAN in big letters on her filmography.

To make matters worse, poor Annette is laughing as she talks about that interview, and she knew all sorts of Krypto-Trivia that the creators didn't know.

I always assumed SMALLVILLE was a labor of love from long-time fans. If I know more about SUPERMAN history than they do - as in, I knew Annette O'Toole played Lana Lang, duh - then why the hell were they making the series?

Ah, disillusionment. But I needen't have worried. Because there was Christopher Reeve again, inspiring in a cape and in a wheelchair, reminding us that true supermen don't need to fly - or even to walk. The Big Blue Boy Scout is coming back, and little boys wait excitedly for their hero - for the brave man who stands between little boys and danger, for the father who is always kind, friendly and protects them from all the scary things in the world. For the father who never speaks in anger or dismisses them with a cold shoulder, and never, ever leaves.

For all the little boys, and the rest of us who could use a hero, I hope Superman really is back. If only because when my son looks at him and believes, so will I. If only for a moment.

Friday, June 16, 2006


I'm happy to announce that TANDEM is now available for purchase on the Ellora's Cave web site!

Jericho Trail was too dangerous to hike alone—those were park rules. That's how Chris and Reed ended up hiking together - two strangers.

Chris went to the woods to be alone, to think and find peace in a time of trouble. Reed went to the woods for a good time. But he had no idea the trail would be so difficult — or that he would share it with such an intoxicating woman.

Separated from the world, the dangers of the trail are nothing compared to the dance between two lost souls, forced together by circumstance but drawn together by the fire burning their blood.

TANDEM is part of the Fun In the Sun series of erotic novellas released all month from Ellora's Cave. It is an ebook, and costs only $2.99. C'mon, it's gonna fund my appearance at Dragoncon. You wanna see me at Dragoncon, don't you?

Go! Buy!

And as always, thank you for your support.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Chat Party!

And this one's going to be a little different.

I'd like to introduce the Sleepwalkers writing group, of which I am proud to be a member. And for the first time ever, we'll all be in ONE PLACE. Yup, the chat party on June 13 (yes, that's Tuesday the Thirteenth; Friday was unavailable) will put all five of us in the Wilderness Chat Room for you to meet and greet. I'm sure it will be dignified, intellectual and respectful, with a minimum of snark. Surely.

WHAT: Sleepwalkers Chat Party
WHEN: 8-10 p.m. EST June 13
WHERE: Wilderness Chat Room (see instructions below

JEFF STRAND ( is the author of the upcoming thriller PRESSURE, which has gotten such terrific reviews that the rest of us are salivating to read it. He's already cut a name for himself writing horror comedies such as GRAVEROBBERS WANTED, NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY; HOW TO RESCUE A DEAD PRINCESS; and SINGLE WHITE PSYCHOPATH SEEKS SAME, as well as others. Jeff is the king of titles, I tell you. 

FRANK FRADELLA ( is not only author of the brilliant VALLEY OF SHADOWS and SWAN SONG, but owner and publisher of New Babel Books. Yes, that means he's my publisher, too, so everybody be nice to him. Have I told you yet that you must go buy SWAN SONG? I did? Well, go buy it. Now. It's a hell of a ride. Frank is also creator of iHero Entertainment and editor of CyberAge Adventures Magazine, among about a dozen other projects. We don't know when he sleeps.

KIT TUNSTALL ( is the author of nineteen (yes, that's a one and a nine together) novels and novellas, all written in the last three years or so. Just recover from that for a moment. Her Blood Lines series of erotic vampire romances is published by Ellora's Cave, along with many of her other books. Her latest is ABLAZE, and somewhere in there she helped me get my foot in the door for publishing. 

JAY SMITH ( is the author of RISE OF THE MONKEY LORD, which means he's also the guy who was handing out Monkeyrangs at Philcon and therefore matches only the Ellora's Cave condom lollipops for creative promotion. He is also the author of SERTSA & ERISA: BLUE COLLAR GODS and runs Zebrapix Productions, a web design company.

ELIZABETH DONALD ( - yes, that would be me - is the author of the award-winning Nocturnal Urges vampire series and SETTING SUNS, an anthology of creepy horror stories. She's the one with the red matchbooks and is famous for killing off her characters en masse. 

Each of us will be giving away prizes, including free books, trinkets, maybe even the chance to get a character named after you. Oops, that one's me, so count on it being a corpse. Jay might even come up with something with a monkey on it. Isn't that enough for you people?

Be there or else! You don't want Jeff's critters coming after you.

Wilderness Chat Room Instructions

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.
e) It will ask you for a login name and password. You only have to do this step once. Don't worry, no one's logging so much as an IP address.
f) If you get lost or hung up somewhere, go to the chat room in Elizabeth's YahooGroup ( and scream for help. She'll be keeping an eye out there for lost chatters.

Monday, June 05, 2006

a gentle reminder...

This coming weekend is Relay for Life. That means yes, I'm in my annual panic. I have a team full of Episcopalians to direct, which resembles herding cats in no small amount.

In the meantime, you have three more days to donate. All funds go to the American Cancer Society for research and support services for cancer patients. Today I wrote my check to purchase two luminaries in honor of two friends currently facing cancer. One is in her third bout with the disease... and she's exactly one year older than I am.

There is literally no one untouched by this disease.

There's a Paypal button on my web site at the link below. All donations are tax-deductible. If you prefer not to go through my web site for whatever reason, Paypal your donation (marked as such) to elizabethdonald at yahoo dot com.

And just to sweeten the pot, anyone who donates gets his or her name entered into a drawing for a free book.

Keep the faith.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

New publications! (not mine for once)

Rock Us All Down (Torquere Press) by my dear friend Angelia Sparrow!

Once Upon a Time...
Rapunzel and Medusa fell in love.

$1.99. What a deal!

Official Blurb:
Once upon a time, Medusa and Rapunzel fell in love. That's the premise of this legendary tale. Fusing the Rapunzel and Medusa legends, author Angel takes what could be a really bad hair day and makes it an erotic lesbian myth.

Medusa is a priestess. Rapunzel is a witch. They come together and apart while the world changes around them, living the lives of those cursed, and blessed, by the Gods. Can they find the balance they need to keep their love alive?

"A Night In Electric Squidland" (Lone Star Stories) by the brilliant Sarah Monette!!
And it's FREE.

"Sleeping Beauty, Indeed" (Torquere Press), an anthology including "Undertow," a story by the terrific Meredith Schwartz!

$5.95 at

And that's just this weekend, folks. I continue to be amazed at the productivity and creativity of the writers I am lucky enough to call friends. Brava, ladies. Everyone go forth and buy.

Just save a few bucks for TANDEM, okay? A week from Friday!