Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, April 30, 2007

Relay Sale

As many of you know, I'm captain of a Relay for Life team. Our goal this year is $2,000. Last year we raised $1,700, in part because of your support. I know everyone reading this email knows at least one person who has fought cancer, and too many of us have lost friends and family to the disease.

For the month of May, the profits from everything I sell off my web site - T-shirts, SETTING SUNS, etc. - will go to Relay for Life, the fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. If you've been waiting, now's the time.

Buy something. Donate directly - links are available on the site. Buy a luminary in honor of someone who has battled cancer - they will be lit at the event and light our way as we walk all night. However you choose to give, GIVE. Please.

Thank you for your time, and as always, for your support.

Monday, April 23, 2007

ShowMeCon Report!


Well, I'd like to say I learned something about anime by being part of ShowMeCon/Anime St. Louis for a weekend, but I'd be lying.

That's not entirely true. I learned what yaoi is. I learned what "glomp" means. And there is some connection between anime and the delicious cookie sticks known as Pocky that escapes me.

I also learned that anime teens read, and they have energy, and I hope they come to our side of the Force soon.

I spent most of my weekend at ShowMeCon in the Authors/Artists Alley, hawking my books beside Van Allen Plexico, Shane Moore, Barri Bumgarner, Sara Harvey and Angelia Sparrow. I am happy to say that I sold out of nearly everything I brought: buttons, magnets, books, T-shirts... oh wait, I forgot to BRING THE T-SHIRTS WITH ME. *thumps self* All I brought home was a handful of SETTING SUNSes, a stack o' money and a smile.

I'd also like to recognize two young ladies, whose names I do not know. One of them wanted to buy my book so desperately she offered me a third-party check, which of course I couldn't accept. So she went to a bank with Saturday hours, OPENED AN ACCOUNT, and got her check cashed so she could buy the book. Another young lady had no cash on her or checking account, so she used the hotel's business center to Paypal the money to me and showed me the receipt. I would have taken her word for it. I am always humbled when people are that enthusiastic about my work. It means a great deal to me, to know that they are touched by it. Otherwise, I'm just talking to myself.

That said, there were multiple problems with the con, which probably have been detailed in a dozen blogs by now. The hotel truly screwed over the con, triple-booking the space and refusing them access to several rooms. Giving everyone the benefit of the doubt, I'll assume that's why there was so little programming on the ShowMeCon side of the program. I personally had several panels, but there could have been a lot more going on, and all of us were willing to serve.

The ones who truly got screwed were the gamers. By all reports, the gaming rooms were booked for a wedding by the hotel, and upon seeing the empty guest room offered for gaming, the powers that be refunded the gaming companies their money and sent them home. People who had come for the gaming also had their money refunded, but as one person told me, that doesn't compensate him for the day off work or travel to way-out West County. I think there was more of a problem with communication - while the con people I spoke with were working hard and seemed to know what was going on, person after person told me they couldn't get straight answers from anyone.

However, I understand the con will be at a new hotel next year, one that's closer to the city (appreciated by us Illinoisians) and possibly prepared for a con? That would be nice. Dear Hotels: A con will take over your hotel. Lie back and enjoy the cash they bring with them. Do not bug them and they'll be a cash cow year after year. We're friendly folk. We won't eat your hotel. Love, Confolk.

I can't complain for myself. Well, I can complain about the hotel and the bullshit I had to endure just to get my room. But I got my spot in the Alley and I sold well. My panels were well-attended and audiences had intelligent, thoughtful questions. Indeed, the "science fiction in television and film" panel got carried away and we talked more than an hour over our limit, so it was a good thing it was the end of the evening.

One thing I might recommend for the con: readings. We authors like to read our work - it makes people want to buy it. (Hopefully.) Frustrated by the lack of readings, three of us commandeered an empty panel room at 9 p.m. on Saturday, shouted "AUTHORS DOING READINGS!" out into the hallway and went to work. I went first, reading the first chapter of ABADDON. Reaction was positive, though I must apologize again to my fellow authors - several people left when mine was done, because it's a long-ass passage. I suck! Mea culpa, ladies, I didn't mean to hog the audience.

But we had a steady stream of people coming in and out, so we took turns. Each of us would read an excerpt, and discuss the process and the business a bit. It was really the highlight of the con for us, money notwithstanding, and the readers seemed to enjoy it. Authors' Open Mike!

Many thanks to my lovely roommates Angelia Sparrow, Sara Harvey and part-time flunky Katie Yates (with spawn). We had such a wonderful time, despite the traumas. As I told someone already, it's hard to argue with money. But more than that, I really was inspired by the energy of the young people who lined up around the block - ON SUNDAY - to see us (and some anime actor guy, I suppose). As the artist guest of honor told them, we need you young people. We need your energy. I hope you tried something new (and legal) this weekend, and I hope you come back.

I know I will.

P.S. Pay no attention to what Shane Moore says - my name is NOT McDonald. I would have smacked him, but he's a cop. That's a felony.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut's Rules of Writing

Rest in peace, Mr. Vonnegut.

As related in the prologue to one of his short-story collections, here are Mr. Vonnegut's rules of writing:

1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
4. Every sentence must do one of two things - reveal character or advance the action.
5. Start as close to the end as possible.
6. Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them - in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

There are far too many stories I have read that violate the hell out of No. 2. I cannot bring myself to watch THE SHIELD or RESCUE ME or other shows that seem to depend entirely on our loathing for the central characters. If I want to watch someone motivated solely by selfishness act like an asshole and hurt the people he allegedly cares about... Well, there are places I can look, let's just say that.

Seriously, this is one of the best lists I've ever seen. Stories that meander about being pretty (No. 4), characters that are consumed with languor and nothingness (No. 3) and spend the first nine chapters "setting the scene" (No. 5) annoy the hell out of me, but I've never seen them so properly castigated.

I personally am fondest of No. 6. It's a fundamental basis of my work that people really only appreciate something once they've lost it, that in grief, tragedy and crisis we see people for who they truly are. Mr. Vonnegut, of course, said it better.

I struggle with No. 8 myself. But then, suspense should come naturally, right? Something that comes to the reader because the story is Just That Good. As his were.

Mr. Vonnegut, I hope you are sitting back on a chaise lounge with a martini and sharing a pack of Pall Malls with Hunter S. Thompson and Arthur Miller. We won't see your like again soon.