Scarlet Letters

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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

okay, really finis

Zokutou word meter
61,458 / 60,000

Love always takes. Love cuts deep and watches the blood flow. There is power in love, the power over another, leveraged whether or not the recipient is even aware of it. Love is ties that bind, love is agony digging into the skin. Love always hurts. That's why I firmly believe no one can choose to love and certainly doesn't choose who they love. No one would choose the abyss. It chooses you.
-- the author

Love and faith have to overcome death. Otherwise, what good are they?
-- Angiss the bayou halfling

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Zokutou word meter
60,958 / 60,000

Okay, just about finis. Of course, as soon as I declared the damn thing done, my brain coughed up another brilliant idea, right in the middle of our trip through the Way of Lights. That little something missing from the ending. Another voice in Alesia's head. Except, of course, it will require several additional moments throughout the second half of the goddamn book. Which at least gives me something to do at tomorrow's write-in besides spellcheck.

Still, tonight is the Wineglass Ritual. And tomorrow I will send it to the publisher, and pending edits, I'm done.

Now what to do next.

This has been bugging me for some time. Oh, I have a handful of things I've procrastinated on, edits due on a couple of projects sent back to me with a "fix this and we'll reconsider." And there's the Christmas sale to kick off, next year's tour to plan, plenty of work to keep me occupied.

I suppose I'll also spend at least a month doing some short stories. I'm woefully behind on developing new short projects and there's plenty of subs that need some followup.

But I need to pick my next big project. Time ticks on, and once Swamp Thing hits the shelves, I don't have another major project lined up. Options include:

• Another Nocturnal Urges book. There's plenty to be done there, and in all honesty, a lot of me wants to return to torment my Memphis crew. Creatively it would be a lot of fun. Business-wise, I'm not entirely sure it's a good plan for a lot of reasons.

• A sequel to Yellow Roses. I had planned to do at least one. But something tells me it would be a good idea to sell the first book before writing the second.

• The goddamn haunted church book. Tried to write it twice and it died both times. But somewhere in this project I found my work ethic again, and I think that's all the church book needs. Part of me wanted to save the premise for a potential Yellow Roses sequel, but a standalone would be a good thing for me right now. Dither dither dither.

• Sanctuary. I lost count of how many readers told me on tour this year that they loved the Sanctuary stories and when is the novel coming out? There's the passingly important fact that the goddamn thing would take half the year to whip into shape - optimistically - and has no publisher. I like to think I could get one. I like to think a lot of things that aren't terribly realistic. :) I love that book, always have, but diving into that series tends to send me way off track creatively. Bottom line: it will eat the year, with no surety that the damn thing will find a home.

There's a handful of other things swimming around in the marinade file, but these are the four top contenders. And I honestly have no idea which to do next. The fact is, I need to feed the beast and keep books coming out on a quasi-annual basis. The biggest thing that killed me last year and half of this year was that I had no new book to sell. I can only justify doing this as long as it's bringing in cash - otherwise, it's a selfish distraction from the work that provides for my son.

Usually I feel pretty good about finishing a book. And I do feel good about this one. I got to play with some top-notch monsters, break a dozen hearts and make my First Readers cry, which is always a good time. I got to say some things about respecting the balance of nature and the value of natural harmony that I really enjoyed. I think I set up a good start for this series, and whether it's me writing more books or other authors, there's a lot of places they can go with what I began. I don't take jobs just for the paycheck, and this one grew into a labor of love. I just wish I knew what I was doing next.

Salud, Dreadmire Gang. Kudos to Alesia, Tam, Kancethedrus and Angiss, along with all your friends and foes. It was a lot of fun making mud pies with you. Sorry about those mosquitoes.

Golems R Us

I really hate the golem battle.

I originally intended them to face only one golem, but it was so dull I added two more, and still I don't like it. It needs something, a twist or a trick I could have implanted earlier on. Can't think of a thing, but that might be because it's 1:52 a.m. Hating this scene. Granted, it's "and then there were two," but yikes, my guys need to actually have a good fight or something.

On the other hand, the Chapter Twelve heartbreak was sufficiently destructive that I felt all warm inside. There might be something wrong with me. Plus: "Go back to sleep, Kiddo, I've got golems to kill." I am the weirdest mom in Illinois.

Yesterday's Favorite Fuckup:

• They rushed at the cage, dragging out their own man out before Slive. (Department of Redundancy Department)

Today's Favorite Fuckup:

• The phrase "thrashing throes" is not a good phrase. No, really. It's just not. It's a sign that you need to hang it up for the night, even if you are 48 hours to deadline and booked most of the weekend.


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57,344 / 60,000

An annoying side effect of working until 2 a.m. each night: you completely digest your 7:30 p.m. dinner and are starving again, because your metabolism thinks it needs to keep working. It is quite difficult to go to sleep with a growling stomach. But if you eat and then go to sleep, your metabolism shuts down and you just lie there getting fatter in your sleep. You know this, because you've been a midnight writer for four years now. But still you are unable to manage your food intake so your stomach will shut the hell up when it's time to sleep.

On the other hand, you could go write some more about the bile golem comprised of rotted body parts. That generally kills the appetite.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Sunday Deathmarch*

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
47,474 / 60,000

Take another look at that wordcount. It's 47474. I could not do that again if I tried.

Not a bad session, considering I spent a good portion of the afternoon restructuring Chapter Eight and had to stop for dinner and a two-hour game of Disney Monopoly. Yes, my sunny Sunday afternoon consisted of swamp battle, barbecued ribs, Monopoly and cannibalism. There is nothing weird about my life, not at all.

Many thanks to Ohari for explaining to me the proper way to treat an arrow wound. For those of you keeping score at home, you don't want to pull out an arrow because it's duh, triangular, so you'll rip hell out of the victim pulling it out. Best is to shove it the rest of the way through, break off the arrowhead and pull out the shaft. Of course, depending on its placement, you could be screwed anyway.

Today I did a lot of Twittering while working. Here's a few choice conversations:

GINGERSNAPS: It probably isn't proper for me to be praying for a touchdown and then cursing when they don't get it.
ME: God understands. He's an Orioles fan.

ME: Shit! Was staticky, touched laptop and it crashed. Lost four pages. That never happened before. SHIT!

(In other news, Pages sucks ass as a word processing tool. The search for a cheap copy of Word for Mac continues.)

ME: I have the dumb today. Kancethedrus is therefore on copypaste because I keep misspelling his damn name.
TONYMAST: How the hell do you pronounce that??
ME: Kahnss-eh-THEE-druss.

ME: Okay, maybe we should have dinner before I write the cannibalism scene. Because we're having barbecued RIBS.
MARIADKINS: Writing a domestic violence scene. What do I eat before I write that??
ME: Tums.
EVENINGSCRIBE: Oh look, the other white meat!
ME: Halfling: The Other White Meat. Oh, that's a T-shirt waiting to happen. And I'm going to hell.
EVENINGSCRIBE: Please tell me his name is Bob. Please. HalflingKabob!
ME: You are so not right.
EVENINGSCRIBE: *curtsies prettily* Why, thank you!

ME: "Alesia rose, nocking an arrow and searching the shadows for a Target." Do they have discount stores in Dreadmire?

ME: Crap! I need them to pull the fugging arrow out of his chest, but it's dumb to do it in mid-battle... maybe if they cast a shield spell?
EVENINGSCRIBE: Where in his chest? He's gonna bleed out.
ME: It's just a flesh wound. :)
OPALTURTLE: Could they maybe break it off so it's not sticking out so far, then pull the rest out later? Pulling out arrows, particularly in chest wounds, could lead to all sorts of bleeding problems. They wouldn't be able to stop excessive bleeding in the midst of a battle. Which could lead to him dying anyway.
ME: I moved the arrow. That's what's so good about writing; reality conforms to my whim.
PATRICKS: Need to build a giant robot powered by monkeys on bicycles to do my yardwork. But then would have to clean up after monkeys, so perhaps not.

I'm still far behind where I'd like to be - now would be a good time to be done, so I could do minor cleanup from now until deadline. But clearly I only do my best work with my back against a wall. Next: ginormous elf battle.

* Concept stolen from Elizabeth Bear, please don't sue me.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dreadmire update

As of today, I am officially moving my target word count to 60K. Longer would be even better, but I believe in aiming for reasonable goals. The work is going well enough that I think I'll hit 60K.

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
43,156 / 60,000

I'm dithering over the chapter after they leave the elf village. This is how it's currently structured:

a) Angiss has another vision of Wynter.
b) When he wakes up, Tam and Kance fight over the Quest.
c) Alesia wakes up from a nightmare and cuddles with Kancethedrus.
d) They are all awakened to fight the ghoul.
e) They are captured by the Evile.

It could happen this way:

a) Alesia wakes up from a nightmare and cuddles with Kancethedrus.
b) They are all awakened to fight the ghoul.
c) Time passes. Angiss has another vision of Wynter.
d) When he wakes up, Tam and Kance fight over the Quest.
e) They are captured by the Evile.

I rather like the second structure better. For one thing, it gives more passage of time so everything doesn't happen at once.. It puts the encounter between Alesia and Kance before the fight, underscoring that Kance is getting testy with Tam for more reasons than Tam's obsessiveness and builds up to their confrontation in Chapter Ten. Also it puts more space between the fight with the ghoul and with the Evile. As it is, the two basically meld into one big fight, which doesn't make much sense. Pretty much I wrote it that way because after writing the fight with the ghoul, I didn't feel like fighting the Evile too, so I basically wrote, "Stuff happened and they lost. End chapter." If I've got battle fatigue, so does the reader.

On the other hand, that means I have to rewrite the damn chapter and I'm running out of time. I've never missed a deadline yet and I don't intend to start with this book. Dither dither dither. Also, that means beefing up the battle with the Evile. Time crunches on.

There's also the passingly important fact that I'm totally wiped. Tomorrow afternoon will be some serious swamping. I want it done by Thanksgiving so I at least have a day or two to fix the new scenes before I send it to the publisher.

Today's amusing typos:

• "Alesia stepped out of the cage." Um, that was supposed to be "cave."
• "They sat that way for a while, curled in the fire." Oooh, burn.

ME: The swamp is love.*
PATRICK: Not if it doesn't have a giant robot powered by monkeys riding bicycles in it!
ME: You are seriously disturbed, Patrick my dear.
PATRICK: A giant robot powered by bicycle-riding monkeys is completely plausible. That could totally happen.
ME: In a swamp. Notice the problem with bicycles. SWAMP.
PATRICK: The bicycles are inside the robot, powering the mighty robot legs. Unless it springs a leak they are perfectly safe.
ME: Until they sink into the muck!
ME: Another one! "They sat that way for a while, curled in the fire." Ouch!
PATRICK: "And then a giant monkey-powered robot stepped on them. The End."

The Patrick in question, by the way, is Patrick Sweeney, owner of Firefly Games and deputy executive director of the Game Publishers Association. He is a very cool guy and good friend. He is not my publisher. Otherwise I'd be writing about a giant monkey-powered robot. Inexplicably in a swamp.

* This came from a bit of philosophical subtext running through my head this evening. More on this when I have brains again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

a Thanksgiving suggestion for my fellow writers

I know a lot of authors read me here and elsewhere. Here's my suggestion for us this holiday season:

A Recovering American Soldier
c/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue,NW
Washington,D.C. 20307-5001

Send a signed book. Do it today. Hell, do it today and do it again next month. Surely those folks could use something besides daytime TV to occupy their minds.

I'm not the only one. Let's see if we can't make this a big thing, eh? Pass it on.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


I should dock the payment for all the FirstReaders. In the first draft, the boat lands on a sidebar, folks. SIDEBAR. As in an article that accompanies a larger article in a newspaper. Usually, see, a boat would land on a sandbar. I think I was a little tired when I wrote that.

Also, I don't pay the FirstReaders. Well, some of them get cookies.

Met up with the Nanoers again today. I find this is very helpful in keeping me going. I really think it's valuable. I've never been able to write with anyone else around before, and it's good when everyone's on the same work ethic: crank it out. Also, I can never remember whether farther or further is distance, and someone always knows that shit.

Tomorrow: major rewrite of the elf village sequence. That's going to take some serious caffeine.

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37,094 / 55,000

Peter S. Beagle and My Boy

****This entry brought to you by the fact that LJ is down. Your normal writing-only content will resume as soon as my tremors have eased, which is probably about the time LJ comes back.****

My son was extremely excited to bring me the PTA newsletter this morning. Since the PTA newsletter isn't usually a big deal in our household, I was curious as to the cause. It seems the PTA newsletter interviewed various students about their favorite authors, and my son...

NO. He did not say, "My favorite author is my mom!" And you know, it didn't occur to me until right now to be annoyed! HEY! Shouldn't I be his favorite author? Sure, he's far too young to read any of my books, but hey buster, those books help pay for our palatial estate (read: two-bedroom apartment) and the shoes on your feet and the glasses you broke!


Anyway, it seems my nine-year-old responded thusly to the PTA:

"My favorite author is Peter S. Beagle. He wrote THE LAST UNICORN. My mom met him at a convention. I am really into fantasy. He is very cool to me. I like his books."

All together now: AW.

My son struggles with reading. He was diagnosed as language-delayed at age four, and has generally tested well below his grade level in reading. The problem is, he loves it. He loves books and stories. He prefers picture books because they help him puzzle out what's happening in the book, but he'll struggle on through chapter books because they have better stories. I read to him, of course, and that he really loves because it's my voice and I can explain things to him he doesn't understand.

We've read everything from Judy Blume to a brief stab at the Harry Potter series (much too long and convoluted for an ADHD boy, but he adores the movies). THE INDIAN IN THE CUPBOARD. An attempt at THE SECRET GARDEN (too girly for his taste). I made a deal with him once that when we struggled all the way through JOHNNY TREMAIN, we would rent the movie. Oops, still need to do that.

Currently we're reading IN GRANDMA'S ATTIC, a wonderful collection of stories I adored as a girl that gives real insight into what life was like on an 1880s farm.

We've never read THE LAST UNICORN.

Well, I have, several times. But he hasn't, and I haven't read it to him. And I know he hasn't read any of Mr. Beagle's other work. I imagine his fascination comes mostly from the movie, and from the fact that I know and respect Mr. Beagle and my son has heard me speak of him several times.

That, and it's really cool to have a signed DVD when you're nine years old.

I think when we finish IN GRANDMA'S ATTIC, it might be time to sit down with the book of THE LAST UNICORN. And then I think about THE PRINCESS BRIDE, and THE BLACK STALLION, and THE DOLLHOUSE MURDERS... wait, that last one might not be a good idea. Well, I liked it. But then I was writing tragic Smurf fanfic at age six, so what do I know?

His comment was chosen for the newsletter, for which he was inordinately proud. He breathlessly related the story of the weekly assembly, and how he was called up to the stage to read his comment to the whole school. I think he got coolness points for the part where his mom met a famous author.

(No coolness points for Mom actually BEING a decidedly-less-famous author. Humph.)

I keep to myself the way my heart breaks to see him struggle with reading. I know by his age I was tearing through Nancy Drew and every horse drama I could find, and in a year or so I'd discover GONE WITH THE WIND and the historical epic, and a year or two after that science fiction would grab me... But more than that, I remember how the written word inspired my imagination. Every word I read opened my mind a tiny bit more, every story expanded my world, and I wanted that excitement for my son.

I've often felt there are two worlds among us: those who read and those who do not. As Harlan Ellison told me, you either hear the music or you don't. How awful it must be for him to stand halfway between those worlds, hearing the music but not comprehending it?

the bite of a monstrous mosquito

I can't take credit or blame for a mosquito with an eight-foot wingspan. Not my idea. Everyone, please go blame Randy Richards, creator of Dreadmire. He's the sick and twisted one. Muahahaha.

ME: I forgot how much I enjoyed hurting my characters in chapter seven. Does that make me a bad person?
SELENA: Since your characters are figments of your imagination, it just makes you a masochist.
ME: But I enjoy the screams of anguish from my First Readers as they experience the misery and grief. Is that unChristian?
SELENA: Would that make it the Passion of the Christ?
ME: Didn't see that one. I read the book. :)

Arr, arr.

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34,614 / 55,000

Saturday, November 15, 2008

bonus chapter: achieved

Well, my basic goal for this afternoon's write-in was to get through the new chapter detailing a flashback to Wynter's adventures. Achieved, more or less. What I learned, however, was that my son is not always capable of sitting quietly while I work.

Granted, he's... my son. But he did very well at the previous write-in, armed with his MomSchool bag full of workbooks, crayons, books, etc. He worked steadily on his MomSchool workbooks while I cranked out the work. This time he had all that, plus toys at the coffeehouse and his DVD player. Yet for some reason he simply could not focus on any one activity. At all. Every fifteen minutes or so he needed something, and that meant no focus for me, either.

I'm not at all happy with the new scene, but I think I'll be able to fix it. Now all I need is to make time slow the hell down so I can finish it all on time. Today was not a good day for mom-writer-life balance, folks. I could've used a clone of me cleaning the apartment, doing the shopping, and washing towels. And another clone to play with the boy, baking cookies, doing needlework while we drink hot cocoa and load up on the holiday movies. With the third me holed up with a double espresso, mired (pardon the pun) in the swamp.

Unfortunately, there's only one me. So tomorrow is cleaning/cooking day, and I'll do the next chapter... sometime soon. The frustration level is high, and I think the work is suffering. But there's only the one me, and she's broke.

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28,846 / 55,000

Friday, November 14, 2008

Method writing and tragic love

Some actors are Method actors. Take a personal experience that created an emotional response similar to what your character feels, and draw on it. This was very difficult to accomplish as a young college student. I was supposed to play Nora of A DOLL'S HOUSE, a woman with a domineering, degrading husband, in a scene with a tender, kind man who truly loves her. A fantastic scene in a wonderful play, and yet as a nineteen-year-old unmarried girl, I couldn't draw on any life experience like this. I had to draw from my own limited experiences in love and extrapolate what it would be like if such things happened.

Now I wonder if I need to be a Method writer. Is there such a thing? Can I create such a thing? To some extent, all writers are Method writers - we draw on our own experiences to inform our characters and stories. But this problem needs greater resolution.

Tam has to be worth it. Kancethedrus and Alesia don't do what they do for Wynter. Alesia never even meets Wynter, and Kance isn't exactly her biggest fan. They do it for Tam, because Tam loves Wynter with an obsessive, powerful love that goes beyond all reason, all sanity. That makes Tam a little less positive a protagonist. We need to make Tam worth their sacrifice, particularly for Alesia. If we understand why Alesia does what she does, it makes Tam worth it. Maybe.

So I find myself remembering a long time ago when I loved a man. He wasn't the Great Love of My Life, but I fell in love with him all the same and despite my best efforts. I liked to pretend it was just a crush, just a little fantasy. But it wasn't. I fell in love with him, and he didn't want me. Didn't hate me, liked me just fine as a person... but didn't want me. I accepted that with dignity and grace. But it didn't stop me loving him. That's not how love works.

And I realized that when I saw him again. How I wanted to be around him, to talk to him, laugh with him, because it was enough just to be near him. It was as though he was the fire in the room and I needed to be near him or I would be cold. At the same time, I recognized that nothing had changed. That it was dangerous for me to be with him, to let myself fall into him as I had before. Because it let my mind go to places it couldn't go, imagining things that would never happen. While I wanted to be with him, I knew he was dangerous for me, setting myself up for another heartbreak, and all without him knowing.

That's Alesia. If anything, her pride is stronger than mine. That's why she fights with Tam all the time, in his obsessive quest to find the mysterious Wynter. She can't get too close to the fire, or he'll burn her up, and all without understanding it. The story of Dreadmire is the story of unrequited love.

The problem, then, is Kancethedrus. Because I don't know how men react to unrequited love. I've written about it many times, but I don't know how they live it from inside. Do they know it's hopeless, or do they keep pressing onward? In my experience, they never give up until smacked in the head with something heavy, and even then they'll come back bloody and staggering, because someone told them A Man Fights For What He Wants. Which is true, and at the same time tragic.

Hell, in the end all love is hopeless, all love is tragic. Every love ends with a breakup or one of them dies. Every love story ends in tears. If my work has any meaning, any theme, that is it.

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19,530 / 55,000

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Today I did something I never did before: went to a write-in.

I'm not officially doing Nanowrimo, because it requires you to upload your work and I can't do that when it's under contract. But the local Nano group is active and fun, so I've kind of been lurking on the outskirts.

After freezing my tuckus off herding Cub Scouts in the Veterans Day parade, we went to Denny's, where the Nanoers were working. The boy ate the world's ittiest hot dogs - "Mom! They're tiny!" - and I worked on the book.

Surprisingly, it worked well. The boy studiously work on his MomSchool papers while I typed, and I got a good bit done. We might have gotten more done if we'd had more than an hour or so. I was very pleased - it's possible, then, that I could take him with me to other write-ins and see what I get accomplished.

I truly wish I knew why it's so hard to write at home. It can't just be my lack of an office. There has to be a reason why the atmosphere is not conducive to creativity. There has to be.

Tomorrow is a night-shift day. I'll spend the morning doing a few chores, but by noon I want to be writing until my shift begins. Progress, baby.

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16,731 / 55,000


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13,654 / 55,000

In case anyone's counting. :)