Scarlet Letters

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Well, things are moving again. This time I have my son to thank.

Monday night he asked how much I got done while he was at vacation bible school. I confessed I'd spent the time reading the draft scripts for 1989's BATMAN. One of the pluses of writing the CultureGeek column is that pretty much any nonsense I read on the web can be construed as "work," because eventually I will end up writing a column about it.

Kiddo asked me to tell him the Dreadmire story, and maybe he could help. I started telling him the story, and he suggested the spot I was in might be improved if someone was chasing Our Heroes before they get to the swamp. Thank you, Kiddo. That made it a lot more fun.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
11,848 / 50,000

I still don't know who Alesia is. She's sounding a lot like Azure, and that needs to stop. I may need to do a character study on her, and on Tam. Because nothing makes any sense unless Tam is worthy of their love and devotion. And so far, he just isn't. He's Dudley Do-Right, and I feel the urge to slap him. He needs a flaw. Obsession, perhaps? God knows his fixation on Wynter borders on the pathological.

Anyway. In case anyone cares, which of course you don't, this is the current unofficial soundtrack for DREADMIRE:

1. Full Blown Rose: "Somebody Help Me"
2. David Bowie: "As the World Falls Down"
3. Art Garfunkel*: "That's All I've Got to Say"
4. Madonna: "What Can You Lose"
5. Jon McLaughlin: "So Close"
6. Israel Kamakawiwo'ole: "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World"
7. David Bowie: "Within You"
8. Meat Loaf*: "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad"
9. Bonnie Raitt: "I Can't Make You Love Me"
10. Bonnie Tyler: "Holding Out for a Hero"
11. Josh Groban*: "Let Me Fall"
12. Jefferson Airplane: "White Rabbit"
13. Amanda Marshall: "Beautiful Goodbye"
14. Avril Lavigne: "My Happy Ending"
15. America: "The Last Unicorn"
16. Metallica: "The Unforgiven"
17. Triumph: "Fight the Good Fight"
18. America: "That's All I've Got to Say"
19. Moulin Rouge**: "El Tango de Roxanne"
20. Queen: "Who Wants to Live Forever"

* Shaddup.
** This song pretty much inspired the plot.

Friday, July 25, 2008

radio dramas return

Dark Fantasy is doing what I have long hoped podcasting might eventually do: return the radio drama to our airwaves.

Please click here for their submission guidelines.

I'm up to my eyeballs in projects, but don't think I'm not seriously thinking about this. Adapting one of my short stories to a script format? Hmmm. Squee.

Sometimes, when stuck on a scene, I will switch to script format and write it that way. I've busted through many a block using this technique, and it never fails to jar loose some characterization. In fact, my short story "Memory Lane" began life as a one-act-play script, just to see if I could. I sometimes wonder if it lost something in the translation to prose, as some readers have told me they lose track of which character is which. There's maybe one too many men in the room. On the other hand, it's regularly cited as my most disturbing story by male readers. So, win for me.

I am bookmarking Dark Fantasy's sub guidelines, but more to the point: I hope to see more radio drama on the podcast airwaves. There is so much we can do with this marvelous and FREE* medium. So many ways to be creative and entertain the world. Exciting, yes?

* Technically.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Dreadmire woes

One pill makes you larger
And one pill makes you small
And the ones that mother gives you
Don't do anything at all

-- "White Rabbit"

I wonder what would make this book come alive? Short of driving down to Looosiana and spending a weekend paddling through a swamp, that is. And don't think I haven't considered it.

They're not talking to me yet.

I was reading in TheFerrett's blog about his chance to ask Neil Gaiman (!!) questions, and don't think I'm not jealous that said Ferrett got to see THE DARK KNIGHT with NEIL GAIMAN. (!!!!!)

"I read a book once," he said after a pause. "Can't remember the name of it, but that's because I put it down after eighty pages. It was written well enough, I suppose, but the lead character was someone so unlikable that I realized that if I met him at a party, I'd make my excuses after five minutes and find another room to be in.

"So I thought, 'All my characters should be people I'd want to talk to at parties.' That's my - well, I'm just formulating it right now, but it's my Party Theory. Why would I like this person enough to spend time with them at a party I'm having a good time at? What about them would make me want to stand next to them and chat?

"If you don't know what it is, you should find it."

--- The Ferrett


I don't know if all my characters would be a lot of fun at parties. Crawford, for example, would not be a lot of fun. She'd be looking to jump out the nearest window, or possibly get in a fistfight with somebody. Torrance would be brooding, because it's what he does best. Maybe he and Ryan could get into a brooding contest. I take bets on who wins!

Diego, on the other hand, would be a blast. Until, y'know, you died horribly with him grinning at you, your blood dripping from his fangs.

Gee, maybe there's another Nocturnal Urges book in me yet. :)

Maybe my little quartet isn't talking to me yet for a reason. Maybe I need to do character studies. Oh god, do I have to? It was the only thing that woke up Samantha for me, but ye gods it takes a lot of time and effort.

So far I have, oh, 654 words into the next chapter. This is the "getting to know you" section. In THE WIZARD OF OZ, this is when the characters do their introductory songs so you learn what their main problem is. In FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING, this is when the hobbits eat a lot before the Ringwraiths attack. In THE LAST UNICORN, this is the time on the road to Haggard's castle.

How do I usually solve these "dead zones"? Um, I kill somebody. Action, yanno. Swing a sword, kick some ass. But usually I have a better sense of my characters by this point.

• I think Kancethedrus, whose name I'm finally learning to type without copy/paste, is a little too dull in the first chapter. I'm gonna smarten him up a bit. Also, either he or Tam has to be a smartass, because they're both way too serious. (Why so serious? Yeeks.)

• Angiss is going to develop a singing voice. Somebody's got to be the morale officer of this little crew. Also, how hard is it going to be for a halfling to keep up with two full-grown, top-shape Moor Knights? Pretty hard, I think, and we need to address that. Seriously, did we ever find out how the hobbits kept up with Boromir et al?

• Alesia. SHADDUP. She bitches too much. We're toning her down a bit. Someone wrote recently that modern fantasy frequently has strong=bitch, and it annoys them. I hadn't thought of that. I think Samantha manages to be strong without being bitchy, but Crawford... well. We call her Full Metal Crawford for a reason. And Cat...

Let's move on. :)

I'm also going to resist the urge to make Alesia a feminist prototype. She's in a proto-medieval society, so there are going to be certain patriarchal traditions in place. She has an independent streak, which results in her not being married by the age of eighteen. That's enough feminism for her. She's our audience surrogate, the one who doesn't have any powers or fighting ability or special anything. She's Everywoman, and I need to keep her that way.

But more than that, I need to get over this persistent thought that I've got to hurry up and get to "the good stuff." If what I'm writing isn't the good stuff, it needs to go. Maybe we need another peril before the Darkhoppers. An early menace that they can bungle fairly badly. Give everyone a chance to stretch their legs.

Monday, July 21, 2008


This is happening too often these days.

I've got it all. Caffeine. Music playing. I'm not too tired and the chair is comfy. The boy is in bed and if I just keep my back to the apartment, I won't see all the chores I haven't done.

My travelers are at the edge of the swamp. It's time to go in.


I keep failing to follow my own rules: just keep swimming. It doesn't have to be perfect the first time. It doesn't have to have emotional resonance and depth. Not yet. That comes after you get the words on the page.

And yet.


Tomorrow I think I shall have to resort to the coffeeshop with no internet. I've got the morning off before my night shift, after all. I did intend to do a little housework, but by 10 a.m. I shall be at work for ze book. Four hours. I will bust through this.

Or go paddling through a swamp this weekend. Anything to get through this. It's happening too often.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mail Empowerment

With ABADDON's release looming, I'm building my plan for world bookstore domination. Recognizing the need for a mass independent appeal for the book, as one can no longer count on Borders and Amazon to save us, I have been compiling a database of all the appropriate brick-and-mortar independent booksellers in the country.

This is what keeps me busy while I'm watching DOCTOR WHO. I'm up to Michigan in the American Booksellers Association and I've already got 314 bookstores.

If life were fair, I'd send them each a pitch kit: my bio sheet, a rack card and bookmark, ordering information on ABADDON and my backlist, Nocturnal Urges matchbooks and a cover letter.... all nicely packaged in a shiny black folder with flames marking the front.

On the other hand, I'd like to actually turn a profit.

So I figured I'd get it down to a cover letter and an ABADDON pitch sheet, maybe with a bookmark. Then I calculated the cost of sending 600 9x12 envelopes under the new postage rates.

Downsize again. What's a postcard cost?

I am clueless on direct mail. I know emailing them all is possible but very spammy. Direct mail ain't much better, but somebody's got to tell all those bookstores I exist. So I started doing some reading on direct mail - what works?

Get this:

How do you get people to act on your mailings? In his book, On the Art of Copywriting, direct marketing guru Herschell Gordon Lewis says you should tie your benefits to one or more the “Five Great Motivators” --


Wow. All I want is for somebody to buy my book. Um, in my business fear is a good thing, yes? *blink blink* I want them afraid. Score one for me, yanno?

This is why big-time authors hire marketing consultants and other people in suits who do this thinking for them. My fan base is small but mighty, and while I know they'll go to their bookstores and harangue them into carrying the book, in order to achieve a wider appeal, I really have to push them myself. And yet I am clueless.

Greed? "Um, I need airfare to next year's cons, buy my book." I don't know if that counts.
Guilt? A picture of my son wearing the T-shirt that says, "Buy my mom's books or I'll starve." He's cute. It could work.
Exclusivity? "Sure, I'm haranguing 600 independent stores, but YOU'LL be the only one in Pahrump, Nevada to carry my book!"
Need for approval?


Um, are we talking about MY need for approval? Because that's pretty deep, psychologically speaking, for a buy-my-book pitch. Also, I'm not sure we can fit all this shit on a postcard. They're gonna charge me extra.

Maybe I should go on the world's biggest road trip. Physically visit every bookstore in the country that isn't owned by Borders or Barnes & Noble. That could be fun, you know. San Francisco alone would take a week.

On the other hand, gas is still $4.19 a gallon.

Now we're back to fear.

Friday, July 11, 2008


Yes, I still get them. LOTS of them. Sniffle.

Tempest has suggested making today Post a Rejection Letter Day. I'm not getting into the kerfuffle that started this whole thing, but I think it's an interesting concept.

Unfortunately, I have no interesting rejection letters. I have some with suggestions and many with invitations to submit again - these are always encouraging.

It's funny. I have a short story that's been rejected several times. Rejected by one magazine for not having enough horror, by another for having too much horror, and by a third for being too "science fiction." I have a novel that was published, decried by some critics as not having enough sex, and lost an award for having too much.

I give up. I write what I write, and hope to find somebody with a press who likes it.

Rejections are a part of writing. I have to keep a spreadsheet to remember where I've subbed and been rejected, so I don't send the same piece to the same magazine twice. I also have a bulletin board in my office with postings of everything that's out right now and where it stands.

The key is to treat rejection as an opportunity. If there are suggestions offered, take a look at them and see if they might have a point. Unless a major rewrite is needed, let no more than a week go by before sending it back out. Yes, it stings - you had visions of that terrific story landing with a grade-A magazine and then it would get noticed by the big reviewers and you'd win awards and get a book contract and put a down payment on a house...

Well, I'd tell you to breathe deep and conk yourself with a bottle of Jack Daniels, you're clearly insane. But that little flight of fancy still happens every time I put a story in the mail (or email). It's that breath of hope that keeps us sending out the stuff, and it's one of the few compensations in a job that usually leads to heartache, poverty and carpal tunnel syndrome.

So you just go ahead and dream. When a rejection comes, take it for what it's worth. Then you turn it right back around. You never know, right?

Monday, July 07, 2008

biting the bullet

Three subs today. Two more could get the verdict any day. Of course, those are the biggies. *gnaw nails*

Now if only Swamp Thing was going as well. It's funny how real life can destroy your focus. Okay, the last few days have been crazy busy, with the holiday and kid-time and did I mention taking my son and niece to Six Flags for eleven hours? For some reason, I didn't have the brain power for the swamp after we got home at 11:30 p.m.

I suppose I can chalk today up for productivity. Tomorrow, unfortunately, I must empty all my kitchen cabinets in preparation for the exterminator. But it would be nice to think I could scrape an hour or three for fiction.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

The Squee Heard Round the World

So the squee you might have heard echoing a couple of days ago came from a surprise I didn't expect this year or maybe ever.

Cerridwen is putting ABADDON into print. Perhaps as soon as next month. I fell out of my chair.

The third-quarter print list went out on Tuesday and ABADDON is on it. Now, that means they could put it in print anytime between now and the end of September. Suddenly I am far busier than I expected to be this summer. Promo campaign begins NOW.

That's why I'm currently running the Bookstore Contest again - each local bookstore you post on my YahooGroup gets you an entry in a contest for cool prizes. Go forth and post! I lost my entire database of independent bookstores to a succession of stupidity last year, and I need to rebuild it.

I'm also considering having a real-life book release party, a gathering in some public place as an official kickoff event that I can publicize and possibly gain some attention. I have the disadvantages of trying to sell a horror novel that is a) published by a non-horror publisher and b) the third book in a series.

The good news: I get to keep my Man On Fire cover. Squee!

I am happier than I can say, but not just because I get to make money (hopefully) and get a print release out this year. I am happy because I believe ABADDON to be the best book I have yet published, and its less-than-stellar sales as an ebook - despite killer reviews and winning the Darrell Award - have been the biggest disappointment of my career to date.

I am also happy because I have heard from so many of you that you really want this book in print, that you love the stories but ebooks just don't yank your chain, that you're waiting for the paperback to read it... Much of writing I do for love or money, but this one, more than any other, I do for you guys. That, and it's superfun.

The website will be updated shortly, and I'm continuing to develop my evil plan for world bookstore domination. Advice and assistance would be vastly appreciated.

Thank you all for your support. I don't know if anyone was emailing Cerridwen with requests, or if you just sent good mojo. But I do know it doesn't happen without you.

P.S. If you want to catch up on the series before ABADDON comes out, you need Nocturne, which contains the first two books in the series. Want a signed copy? I'm selling them directly by mail and at cons.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Bookstore Contest!

We did this once before, my friends, but unfortunately an address book crash cost me my entire database.

So once again, it's time for the Bookstore Contest!

It's easy to enter. Just post the name and street address of a bookstore in your area. It would be helpful if you could include the name of the owner or manager, and some hint of what kind of books they carry.

Ineligible: Borders, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million and Waldenbooks; Christian bookstores, used bookstores (unless they also carry new books) or university bookstores; comic book stores. These may be fine establishments, but they do not serve my evil plan for world domination.

For each bookstore you deliver, you get one entry in the contest. I have some nifty prizes just dying to go out.

Oh, and an announcement.

But you have to wait for that.