Scarlet Letters

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

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Dream Fairy has a plan

Okay, normal people do not have these dreams.

I dreamed that I met with an agent who had brokered a deal for another collection of short stories. She had everything in place, including a cover, and I had a week to get the stories together. "But I don't have enough short stories for a collection!" I protested, but she didn't care. "Write them," she insisted.

Then I talked Steven Shrewsbury into writing the introduction on the horror short story as an art form, probably because my subconscious is still intimidated by Shrews' 350 published stories. Dream-Shrews was very agreeable. Less agreeable were nameless editors I was contacting to get rights back to some of my short stories so they could be reprinted in this collection. Which is funny, because I actually have the rights to much of my stuff by now. I think.

I spent the whole dream in a panic attack about getting this thing together by my fictional agent's unrealistic deadline. When I awoke, I was relieved that I no longer had to meet said deadline... and disappointed, because I don't have the deal.

I think the Dream Fairy wants me to write that story about the man with the knife. Okay, okay! I can take a hint!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Hypericon Sunday - Denouement


My wonderful minions (I even bought them MINION buttons) were so understanding about letting me free from booth duty. The first panel of the day was on constructing a space combat game that actually follows Newtonian physics. Now, I'm not constructing a game, but I am constructing space combat. So I attended the panel with Professor Rob Knop, designated physics nerd, and took notes on how Newtonian physics would apply to space travel and combat.

It's always humbling to be the dumbest one in the room. Everyone knew more about physics than me, including the teenager in the back. I took Physics for Dummkompfs in tenth grade and passed, fleeing it for molecular biology as fast as I could manage. I got about 80 percent of what Rob was saying, mostly because he was patient with my stupid questions. I still don't quite get why we can't go faster than light, because I don't get how space and time are tied together, because I'm not fuckin' Einstein. But I think I'll be able to write a better space battle this week, so thanks to Rob Knop. Who offered his email for future consultations, poor sucker.

Originally I was not going to be on the marketing panel. Then His Fredness asked me to be on the marketing panel because, and I quote, "You market yourself relentlessly." I think that's a compliment. Then he said never mind. With such ambiguity, I showed up anyway. They had plenty on the panel, so I sat in the front row with Mari Adkins to mock. Also because I had real questions, like the best way to approach a bookstore with whom you do not have a preexisting relationship.

At this point I emerged and had a panic attack. Somehow it had gotten to be 12:30 p.m. and I was not checked out of my room. Worse, my key no longer worked. I had a brief insane thought that Angelia had somehow packed up all my things and checked out, which made no sense but I called and asked anyway. "Uh, no..." I never did find out why my key stopped working, but the hotel let me back in to pack at the speed of sound and haul my cookies out of the room without a penalty.

It was the last hour of the show, and I decided to treat myself to two (2) books. I knew I wanted Alethea's BEAUTY & DYNAMITE, because I've meant to pick it up the last two times I saw her. And I also picked up Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus' ORGY OF SOULS. Of course, both Wrath and Maurice had fled the hotel by then, so I'll have to catch them at another show. Alethea signed hers for me, and she always makes the rest of us look bad with these adorable little cartoon decorations in multiple colors. I have the most hideous signature, it's really awful.

We popped up for closing ceremonies, where His Fredness recognized Alethea and me as having attended every Hypericon since the beginning. Someone suggested we be given guest emeritus status, whatever that means. Hey Fred: does that mean we get comped hotel rooms next year?

Stephen showed up to help me pack up the booth, then treated me to a lovely linner at the Noshville Deli. Of all the people I see in Nashville, Stephen has known me the longest, and it's always good to spend time with framily. Even if he does nag me like a mother hen.

The drive home was less fun, despite a glorious Illinois sunset and good tunes on the iPod. A five-hour trip took more than seven hours thanks to a really stupid construction layout on I-57 complicated by a jackknifed tractor trailer. They had us merging to the right lane, then back to the left lane, then to the right again.... I idled for an hour and a half and nearly stalled out my car. But I had Twitter to keep me from going flipping insane.

I had the mad urge to stop at a cheap roadside motel and write short stories all night, driving back early in the morning. I resisted, but oh, I wanted to. After all, I'm kidless right now. I can do anything I want as long as the bills get paid.

In all, it was a terrific show. I haven't done the math yet, so I don't know how well we did financially. But I got to see friends and colleagues, talked about my favorite subjects, picked up a handful of new authors for the Literary Underworld and feel more revitalized for my career than I have in months.

In fact, I very well might write tonight. Wouldn't that be something?

Hypericon Saturday - Breaking the Laws of Physics


I love Hypericon for many reasons, but one of the top reasons is that His Fredness never schedules anyone before 10 a.m. This is one of the many reasons we love Fred. But I was hunting Fred, because there was a zombie panel at 1 p.m. and I wasn't on it. Now, it wasn't Fred's fault, per se - he couldn't know that I had a zombie novella coming out because nobody knew it - I was announcing it at the con. But I wanted on that panel.

Keep in mind, Fred likes to give me shit. I'm noticing this trend among my closest friends and certainly my family. Those who like me the best give me the most shit. I'm all sweet and gentle to them, and this is what I get? I swear, I don't know what the world is coming to. *ducks*

Because I know the best way to find Fred is to find his wife Stephania, I went to the con suite. Stephania dashed my hopes, said she can't keep track of Fred at con without a bell around his neck. So I grabbed a diet soda instead and who should show up but Fred! He sat down with us as I drank my soda and Stephania glued a costuming trophy together.

ME: Oh great Fredness, will you put me on the zombie panel please please please?
FRED: Do you have a zombie book?
ME: Yes! It comes out this fall.
FRED: *smartass grin* I dunno, it's kind of an all-guys thing...
STEPHANIA: Oh, you did not just go there.
FRED: *chortle*
STEPHANIA: You will put her on that panel or I will superglue your head to this table.
FRED: See, I can't now, because Steph told me I have to. She ruined it for you.
ME: Oh Fred. Fred Fred Fred. Don't make me name a character after you.*

* Point of disclosure: I already have. The fire chief of Jericho, Illinois is a cranky fellow named Fred Grimm. He is about as un-Fred as can be. Much as Major Sara Harvey, principal character of THE COLD ONES, is the antithesis of Sara Harvey the Glitter Lady: harsh, cold, all-business, shoots people in the head. Still.

I got on the panel. I may have been kidding in my threats, but Stephania looked deadly with that glue. This meant, of course, that Fred had to give me shit during the panel as well. He is so going to be monster chow someday.

Still, it was a great panel. Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, Jonathan Maberry, David Jack Bell and me. Yeah, I was the little fish in THAT ocean, but that's okay. We had a good chat. Brian Keene cracked me up with his intro: "I've written 26 novels, four of which were zombie books, and nobody every remembers the other 22."

I laughed about twice as hard at that as anyone else, because it's exactly how I feel about the goddamn vampires. Hey, I loved writing the vamps, I still think they've got a lot more to say, but I was so very tired of being introduced as, "Elizabeth Donald, she writes vampires." Among other things! I always insist. And with the whole TRUE BLOOD and TWILIGHT craze going on, it's like I can't escape the damn vamps.

Quasi-seriously, perception is everything. I wrote exactly three vampire books, only two of which had any sex whatsoever. But half my reputation is STILL as a vamporn author. Someone happening by the booth saw me setting out my books, Sara Harvey's steampunk fantasy CONVENT OF THE PURE and a handful of other books on the non-smut rack. I can't remember who it was, but he looked at it, snickered and said, "You've got all this girl stuff, and there in the middle is Shrews."

Which is true, Shrews writes raw, testosterone-y horror**. But I wouldn't call the eyeball-squishing scene in CONVENT particularly girly, nor the murder in NOCTURNE that so eviscerated the victim that the cops are calling him Hamburger Boy, or the grisly lynch-murder of a black vampire on the steps of the Memphis cathedral in the opening to ABADDON. And while it's not out yet, the Evile in THE DREADMIRE CHRONICLES should scare the bejesus out of you... or at least make you look at your dinner in a whole new way.

You want sex? Try the scene where Samantha fucks Cristoval to keep him from going ballistic, and Diego is locked in the closet listening, and when they're done he says, "My turn?" I described that scene in another panel and Jason Sizemore muttered, "You're twisted." Yes, I am. I write horror. Women write horror, and some of the stuff we're writing is pretty damn twisted. Somewhere we got the reputation of being fluffy angst, and it's not accurate (TWILIGHT aside), and if Literary Underworld does nothing else, I want to get rid of that impression. End of rant.

I got to talk about THE COLD ONES, which is funny because it's just a novella, but I seem to be talking about that more than DREADMIRE, which comes out next month. There might be a flaw in my plan. But the zombies are strong at Hypericon, and we had a lot of fun talking about the appeal of the apocalypse and fun things to do with your neighbors' remains. What, you want sanity? Don't talk to writers.

I worked the booth for a bit - the boy had been picked up by his dad by now, and I'm kidless for a few weeks, SNIFF! Then it was on to the short story panel. I joked earlier that if they wanted to talk about writing short stories, I'd speak, but when it came to selling short stories, I was going to shut up and listen to the others. Short stories are hard for me, and selling them is fucking nightmarish. I think I must do something fundamentally wrong in my approach, because the rejections are constant.

It was Scott Nicholson, Alethea Kontis, David Jack Bell, Shrews and me again. I swear, Fred scheduled me and Shrews like Velcro. At previous shows this year, just about every panel digressed into a discussion of the state of the industry. This was really the only panel I was on that did so, and it's not like we can help it. The short story market is inextricably tied to the state of the industry. Harlan Ellison himself said if he was getting started today, he has no idea where he'd go to get his stories published.

Toward the end, we were asked how many short stories we'd published. Everyone was in single to double digits. I felt all impressive with my twenty-odd stories, preen and gleam. Then fuckin' Shrews pops up with his bio, and I nearly choked him with his own book. That man has published more than 350 short stories. Granted, he's been published since 1989 and I started in 2004. Still, you better believe I cornered him at the parties later and started asking him stupid questions like, "How the fuck do you have time to work a day job, raise kids, write books AND crank out that many short stories?"

That's the best and worst thing about connecting with fellow authors at cons. You are at once intimidated by the accomplishments of your peers, and inspired by them to strive for more. I think Shrews might be my new hero. People ask me how I can stay on top of all the shit I do - he makes me look fuckin' lazy.

Another panel on making characters real, and that led into a fun discussion of character-driven stories vs. plot-driven stories. I have to say, in all honesty, my work is much more plot-driven. I rarely think of a character and then a story suggests itself around him. I often think of a story and the character grows into the person the story requires instead. But I wasn't about to admit that, sitting between publishers Jason Sizemore of Apex Books and Dan Gamber of Meadowhawk Press on either side of me, having just stated they prefer character-driven stories. This explains much of my publication record.

Still, it was a fun panel, particularly since we had no designated moderator and so we made Sizemore do it because he was the last to arrive and the middle seat was open. Heh.

I missed the costume contest and Fred Lookalike competition because I was getting compressed into the black leather corset, duly altered by Sara. I love the corset, though it does mean I can't sit down or bend over. How did women live every day in those damn things?

Dressed in our finery, we wandered the halls, where the parties were in full swing. I also missed the presentation of Bryan Smith's birthday present - we authors all pitched in our money to buy him a print of his first book cover painting. Brian Keene was the mastermind and I wished I'd had more money to toss in. Bryan's a good guy, and I don't get to see him and Rachael enough.

Rachael was in an evil streak - she lobbed several eyeball candies into my cleavage. See, I've been giving Bryan shit on Twitter because of the eyeball violence in his books. Someone's always gouging eyeballs, eating eyeballs, forcing someone else to eat eyeballs ... like Shrews with ripping off testicles, is Bryan with the ocular violence. I can read Shrews all day, but eyeballs are my particular squick. Bryan therefore stated his next book will be titled EYES and it will be all eyeballs. So Rachael special-ordered eyeball candy for their party JUST FOR ME, and took great delight in biting one in half before me... displaying the bloody interior to my horrified eyes.

It's good to have friends.

Meanwhile, we were attempting to break the laws of physics. See, someone had Twittered last week that people should "Come to Hypericon! Meet Brian Keene, Wrath James White, Mari Adkins and Elizabeth Donald! Not all at once, though, that would break the laws of physics."

Now, I know Brian and Mari, but I'd never met Wrath. And all weekend, it seemed three of the four of us would be present. It was mostly Wrath and me that were the problem - in the dealer's room, the three of them were present and I was in a panel. I showed up and Wrath had vanished. I asked Mari once what Wrath looked like and she gave me The Look. I found out later that Wrath is hard to miss - a damn-near seven-foot-tall, hawt black man, unfortunately married. Dangit.

There in the hallway, I saw Brian and what could only be Wrath, but no Mari. I told Brian to sit still for once and ducked into parties until I found Mari. I dragged her back to the elevators and Brian hid behind the soda machine. Smartass. We hauled Wrath away from his conversation and he about killed me with this: "Oh, hello, I don't think we've met but you have large breasts, so I like you." When I finishing choke-laughing my ass off, I said, "You're funny, you can stay."

We took a picture, the four of us, and broke the laws of physics.

The rest of the evening was a series of parties, mostly the kind I really like - sitting in a room, drinking an adult beverage and talking shop. Much of it was in Bryan Smith's Soultaker party, which was nifty with gross stuff (besides the eyeballs). I drank some concoction in another party that tasted like Crystal Light but made me woozy. I dropped by the Hookah Picnic and ate baklava with Angelia among the strawberry-flavored smoke.

At one point, I was walking down a hallway and a young woman in a cat costume said to her friend, "That's Elizabeth Donald, the zombie author."

I stopped dead.

I turned around and went back to her.

I said, "THANK YOU."

The poor girl was totally confuzzled. She had seen me in the zombie panel, therefore I was a zombie author... I nearly wept, folks. I was a ZOMBIE AUTHOR and not "that chick who writes vamporn, you know, like TWILIGHT?" If she were a man I'd have kissed her.

Best of all, Stephen and his crew showed up - and Stephen was wearing ALL BLACK. I dragged him kicking and screaming out of the British TV room so I could get a picture with him. I told his crew they need to help me get his pants size, because my next goal will be to get him to wear jeans. I forgot to snoop around his closet when I was in his house and find out his sizes.

Late Saturday the parties started to die down, most of my crew had called it quits. I wasn't tired, but I needed air and the balconies overseeing the lovely Nashville cityscape (and cool-weird BatBuilding) were crowded. So I went outside the hotel *gasp* and walked around the neighborhood for a bit.

Sometimes it's good to get a little perspective.

Hypericon Friday - Giant Beavers, Cherry Stems and Zombies


All right, enough silliness. Time to work.

Flunkies lined up, we proceeded to the con for booth setup. The work Katie and I did clearing out all the detritus really paid off. The boothstuff was reduced to one rolling box of doom, and Katie organized all the books by title into fewer boxes, eliminating the endless trips to the car and the annoying jumble behind the booth. Brava Katie.

Therefore booth setup was much less painful than previous shows. I really like our design this year: Louisiana gothic, with moss-green crinkled not-silk draperies, cobweb black lace toppers, creepy-fabric accents on the racks and strings of little human skulls. What's that you say? I've got a dark-fantasy swamp romp coming out next month? Well, I suppose it's a coincidence!

The new display for the buttons worked amazingly well, especially when propped against the box of stained glass, which looks very nice on the black lace (too bad I can't auto-generate a window behind every booth, eh?). Also, the portable speakers for the booth music were great, and the batteries hold up nicely. Better than the batteries for the iPod, in fact.

Booth set up and ready to go, I handed off the duties to Sara and fulfilled my promise to the boy: we went to see UP. Review forthcoming, but the shorthand is that it was charming and diverting, though not the OH COOL! that THE INCREDIBLES was. Many people said if you aren't crying at the end, you're obviously a Cylon. Sign me up for the glowing spine, because I wasn't. But maybe that's because I saw it coming about twenty minutes into the movie. Full review will be on CultureGeek later this week.

Back to work, and the boy settled in with a stack of DVDs and the Disney Channel in the hotel room. I worked the dealer's room for a bit, and Friday sales were spectacular - in fact, we seemed to do better the longer I stayed away from the booth. Hmm. Maybe that says something.

Friday night was the meetup at some saloon Sara knows. Angelia Sparrow volunteered to stay behind and watch the boy, which meant she was floating in a Jacuzzi at the hotel pool while we were getting lost in downtown Nashville and molested by a giant dancing beaver.

No, I am not making that up. Jon Klement, David Tyler, Tim Harlan and I accidentally parked on North Third instead of South Third and there was a giant anthropomorphic beaver and.. it wasn't pretty.

KLEMENT: *comment deleted*
ME: Didn't I say the first of you to make a beaver joke got smacked?
KLEMENT: *smartass grin*
KLEMENT: *laughs*
ME: And you're a CHILDREN'S author!

Dinner was lovely, as I got to catch up with old friends like Panya/Michael and Loren Damewood and Stephen was there with his posse. We missed the Apex crew, who apparently arrived, ate and left while my gang was wandering in the wilderness.

Accomplishment of the day: I tied a cherry stem in a knot with my tongue. Twice. Never did it before. I feel all special.

Unfortunately, we got rather lost on the way back and I was ten minutes late for the 11 p.m. reading. Fortunately (?) there were six of us, so I just waited my turn. I missed Alethea Kontis and John Everson (rats). I'd heard Brian Keene's readings before, because I read everything Brian writes like a rabid fangirl, but I got to hear some good stuff from David Jack Bell (a.k.a. the author I didn't already know) and Jonathan Maberry, crown prince of zombies.

I decided to read from THE COLD ONES because I'd just finalized the deal on the zombies - what? You want details? You'll just have to wait! Because YOU didn't go to Hypericon! I talked about it there! Sucks to be you! *pffftft* Or you could go join my YahooGroup, which will be getting all the details shortly. I was going to read the battle with the redcap, but instead I went with the opening zombie attack. I started to lose people, which bodes ill, but by then they'd been listening to author after author for over an hour, so I'll try not to take it personally. *sniff*

Lucky me, I went second-to-last, because nobody wants to follow Shrews. He read from TORMENTOR, which is about to jump to the top of my TBR pile. A lot of authors see readings as recitations of printed work. I see them more like the group reads we used to do in the theater. Shrews sees them as full-on theatrical performances, with the kind of volume and inflection that can only be achieved by a six-five hulk of a man used to bellowing over loud machinery. I wish someone had been taping it, because it was a sight to see.

On to wandering, my favorite con activity. I dropped by a few gatherings, loitered about, caused trouble and disappeared. I got to bed at a remarkably sane hour of 1 a.m., I think. If my memory can be trusted.

Hypericon - Preshow Show

How does one write up a blast like Hypericon? It's like a crazy, inebriated and decidedly geeky family reunion, except you like these people.


The boy and I got a spectacularly late start - thanks, all you sources that waited until 4:30 p.m. to call me back. I spit my last breath at thee. With a little extra spit-up for UPS, which was delivering a box of SETTING SUNS and thought 5 p.m. was a good delivery time. I almost left without it, except SS is perennially my best seller.

I was on four hours' bad sleep, as I always have - ahem - performance anxiety before cons. I'm shy. And to be honest, I've had more than a little insecurity about my career of late, given the massive writer's block, the book that hates hates hates me and last year's publication setbacks. Whinge whinge complain bitch.

This one was a big mess to organize, what with two cons the same weekend. The lovely and talented Miss Katie handled DieCon in St. Louis while I was gallivanting about Nashville, and we had extra silliness to prepare for two cons at once. I don't know that we'll do that again, unless we could be sure to get Katie some backup - I understand it was more than a little stressful.

Still, the To-Do List of Doom got checked off in time and we hit the road, with the boy happily ensconced between booth fixtures and boxes of books. He is a patient kid. Then we discovered the entire state of Kentucky was under construction. Bad enough the slowdowns in the Rend Lake area of southern Illinois, but I swear Kentucky hates me.

We got to Stephen Reksten's place outside Nashville after midnight, and the boy was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow. As in, I had to wake him up to remove his jeans. Adorable. Personally, I lasted about fifteen minutes.


Stephen slept in! Astounding. When 8 a.m. came and went and he was still sleeping, I worried that he maybe had a heart attack in his sleep or something. I also debated sliding into bed with him so he'd really have a heart attack when he woke up, but I am not that mean.


Instead, I ran to the store for some supplies and got to baking. I really love to bake, especially to decorate cakes, and I jump at the opportunity. So I whipped together a coffee cake, plus some chocolate chip cookies (which were INTENDED for the booth but some little munchers got to snacking) and a double-chocolate layer cake with boiled dark-cocoa frosting for Stephen.

See, I've been friends with Stephen Reksten since he was nineteen, I was seventeen and dinosaurs walked the earth. And one of the hilarious things about the Admiral is that chocolate works on him like booze works on normal people. I never come to visit without bringing a bar of dark chocolate. But since I discovered how to boil natural high-fat cocoa for a rich buttercream frosting... muahahaha.

Thursday was our tourist day. We began with brunch at the Pfunky Griddle, a place Sara Harvey knows that lets you make your own pancakes. The griddle is in the middle of the table and you get unlimited pitchers of batter, little containers of mixins... I keep describing this place to people and they look at me like I'm crazy. "If I want to make pancakes, I'll make them at home for free!" Yeah, but... it's cool! The pancake place was Sara's idea, and then she and her darling husband ordered tofu sandwiches instead.

Tofu. Seriously. In Nashville. They ate tofu. As though it were food.

If I'd had money, we'd have hit the Adventure Science Center or the Nashville Zoo, both places the boy would have loved. But since the world sucks right now, we went to the Opryland Hotel. If you've never been to this place, it is simply the coolest hotel in the world. There's a river runs through it - no, I'm serious - and the various wings each have a slightly different flavor to the vast indoor gardens and shops. I'm particularly fond of the New Orleans wing, where the signs along the walls came from real Nawlins pubs, and the waterfall in another wing.

When I am rich, I will stay at the Opryland Hotel.

I caught quite a few flowers for my photography collection, and the boy had a blast. We stopped by a Barnes and Noble for a reward - the boy got all A's and B's on his fourth-quarter report card (except for a C+ in math, and I can't throw stones for that). He also got first place in his class for the Advanced Reader program. Huzzah!

His present: TREASURE ISLAND. Kicking off Mom's Summer Reading Program. If he reads the book and does a book report for me, he will get another book AND a surprise. He doesn't know it, but the surprise is a day at a water park. Shh, no one tell him. I had to cancel our Six Flags season tickets this year, so it should be an extra surprise treat.

We canceled our usual Thursday-night meet-n-greet at Fido's - sniff - because His Fredness (chairman of Hypericon) said there would be stuff at the show. So Sara and I dolled up and attended. It was a nice crowd, sang happy birthday to the lovely Stephania Grimm (whose name I have apparently been mispronouncing for five years and no one told me) and we caught up a bit.

Fredness promised us readings, but they never happened. It's just as well. My zombies might put people off the pizza. Also, please note that Alethea Kontis has captured the only photo in existence of Sara Harvey not smiling.

Coming soon: Yeah, Donald, but what about the con??