Scarlet Letters

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

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

THE COLD ONES up for sale!

It's early! THE COLD ONES is now available on GenreMall. It looks very shiny! I don't know that it's going to be available on Amazon, so if you're not buying from me, buy it from them!

If you're excited about it, go to their blog post and thank them for carrying it!

And spread the word! Anywhere and everywhere. Let people know it's available! Yes, I get paid if you buy it from them, so feel free. Support small press, buy THE COLD ONES and aim for the head!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Before I had this blog, I had the Scarlet Letters.

I wrote a regular column in college and later for my first paper. Then I went online, writing my own webzine with a weekly column, news roundup, quote of the week... sound familiar? :)

Anyway, I recently found the Scarlet Letters. Wow, I was YOUNG. Because I live to humiliate myself, I think I'll share some of my columns from the dim dark years of my youth.

Dr. Mom, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Rain
(c) 1998

Rain makes me think about my mother.

Whoa! Stop, don't run away yet. I swear, this isn't a whiny, Freudian, weirdo-on-the-analysis-couch rant about my mom. I have a point here. Bear with me.

When I was a kid, I noticed that my mom was always in a good mood when it rained. I'd be sitting at the kitchen table after school, staring out the window with that woe-is-me expression that can only be mastered by bored kids, and she'd be baking something and humming perfectly in key (Mom is a musician) and I'd think she was nuts.

How could anyone be in a good mood on a rainy day? Rain was icky and cold. Rain got into my sneakers and soaked my socks until they stank when I got home. The rain always got inside my backpack and got my favorite books wet, and let me tell you, nobody messed with my books when I was a kid.

Rain was gray and depressing, and worst of all, you couldn't go out and play. So I thought she was nuts.

When I got older, I thought of rain differently. I was a theatre major, and actors and artists really look at the world a different way than normal people do (theatre folks, don't slam me for that, I was once one of you, so I get to say this stuff).

Rain brought a damper to the inner spirit. It embodied the death part of the death-life-death cycle, and reminded me of my own mortality. Rain symbolized a lessening of the essential life force within a human spirit, and darkened the aura, and so on and so forth.

I was nuts.

But my mother still loved the rain. She was far more likely to leave a chipper message on my answering machine on a rainy day, and I'd drop by and she'd have a fire going (in the fireplace, silly) and smile far too cheerfully for such a dismal day. I thought she was nuts.

After all these years, I think I finally understand why she loves the rain. This is nothing she told me, you see, just what I started to understand.

My mother knew that rain did indeed mean death. But she was a mother, and mothers understand life and death a little better than the rest of the population. They have an intimate experience with the creation of life. My mother understood that a little death is necessary for a rebirth.

So now, whenever it rains, I think about my mother, and the lessons she taught me without saying a word.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

I'm gonna live forever

One of my least-kept secrets is that I am a former actress/singer.

Back in the dawn of time when dinosaurs walked the earth and I was a young lass, I had stars in my eyes. I fell in love with the theater when I was thirteen. Because I had a deep voice, they always cast me as the mother, the adult in the crazy crew. But I really wanted to sing and dance and fall in love and die tragically on stage. Preferably all at the same time.

In retrospect, I think I always wanted to tell stories. Sing and dance them, write them, true or false, just so long as I could spin the story for you. My love affair with theater was genetic - my parents met on a production of "Arsenic and Old Lace," and my family's history with music and the stage goes back generations before them. I grew up listening to my mother's piano downstairs, and would make up stories to match the music. (Which was inconvenient when she stopped mid-song and I had to rewrite quickly.)

I tried out for every play in junior high, high school and on to college as a theater major. I was accepted into a fine arts program at a major university on full scholarship. I studied acting, playwriting, stage combat, dance. I learned more about the human condition in three years as a theater major than I had learned in the twenty years of life beforehand. It was a way to live a thousand lives all at once, a bit of immortality.

And I auditioned. Play after play after play, dramas and comedies and musicals, and sometimes - rarely - I made the cut. I performed fight scenes in a corset and hand-jived my way across the stage to fall in love with Kenickie. I sang my heart out in the blue spotlight, I stood by my man Bill Sykes, and I told Dr. Rank he must leave and never come back. I drank Juliet's poison, wept over my dead daughter Shelby and had a hysterical fit when I heard the plane might crash.

I still remember all the nonsense words to "We Go Together." I can't remember what I had for breakfast this morning, but I remember rama lama lama ka-dingity ding de dong and all that came after it. I could sing the whole thing for you, if I were drunk enough.

My scholarship covered my education, but it sure didn't feed me. My voice did that, after I lost a couple of jobs to the demands of the theater. I sang in church lofts and dingy basements, in smoky bars and at children's birthday parties - the latter wearing a terrible gypsy costume and pretending I knew how to read palms. I knew the lyrics to every Streisand torch song and every Disney ballad up to POCAHONTAS. Sometimes I ate Krystal burgers to stay alive (what we here in the midwest call White Castle) and a good month meant Spaghettios and Hamburger Helper.

Unfortunately, I wasn't very good. I could sing, I could follow the choreography and I could recite the words, but a teenage girl hasn't lived enough to have the emotional vocabulary for the work I wanted to do. I never fit on stage, and more and more I ended up backstage, rigging the lights and rewriting the scenes in my head to make them come out better. I did better dangling above the stage tightening a fresnel with a C-wrench tied to my belt loops than I ever did standing center stage trying to work on my mind-body connection.

I had a dream. I was going to run a theater company. We would produce black-box plays that were new and different, and we'd donate the money we raised to charity. We could save the world through art. God, we were so fucking young - me and the friends I connived and cajoled into joining me. I had grand plans beyond the theater - an art festival, a musical revue, independent publishing. All to save the world.

The first play made money for the inner-city arts/tutoring program I worked for in between singing gigs. The second play broke even. The third play never made it to the stage.

When I was twenty-one, I hung it up. It was never going to happen for me. My teachers knew it, and I knew it.

I was going to take a year off and work, but my father talked me into journalism school. I could still save the world, but using my mind and my talent with words instead of my voice and my dancing shoes. It fit, and I never looked back.

But every once in a while...

My son fell in love with music before he outgrew diapers. I have pictures of my toddler boy jamming in front of the band at the neighborhood block party. He's a handsome fellow, a born showman. He plays the guitar and the violin and is making noises about the piano. He sings along with me in the car and I catch him dancing. A lot. He's fascinated by "That's Entertainment" and (ugh) "High School Musical" and anything about the drive to perform in a young person.

God save us all. I was rooting for medical school.

Tonight, my boy begged and pleaded and cajoled and groveled to get me to take him to see FAME. I groused about the nonsense of remaking perfectly good cheesy '80s movies, but he begged with the big brown eyes and I forked over the cash, grumbling, "This movie better not suck."

It doesn't. Well, not any more than I expected. A bit of the grit is lost, and I can't say as the music really stuck with me the way the old stuff does. But they picked some fine young talent to take the kids' parts, and I wasn't bored.

The boy was enthralled.

He kept leaning forward during the song and dance routines, and he really felt for the boy whose mom didn't understand his love of performing. No parallels there, right? Face, meet palm. Then he surprised me by running to the bathroom during the big final dance number.

Sort of. Because he confessed that he didn't go to the bathroom. He snuck into the little tunnel between the theater and the lobby so he could see and hear the final number... and dance. He had to dance. He couldn't help it. So he hid where people couldn't see him and he danced.

We sang all the way home. During our evening cuddle session, he made me look up famous song-and-dance numbers ranging from Gene Kelly on rollerskates to the original FAME dance. He also swiped a flyer from the theater lobby advertising a dance school. He wants to soar, and I tell him to eat his eggs.

Heaven save me. There is no escaping it. It has him in his grasp, the beast I barely escaped with my mind and diploma intact. I never wanted him to let the stage break his heart like it did mine. There was a character in the movie, a voice teacher who explained to her students that she tried for years to make it on Broadway and never got her break. But sometimes, she said, she goes to the theater and thinks, "I could've done that. I really think I could've." Yeah, I get that.

To a certain extent, every kid wants to perform. But theater, music, art - it's in my family's veins. In my case, there simply wasn't the talent to go with it. Oh, I still sing with my church choir and the occasional wedding. Sometimes when I'm focused in the newsroom, I would start humming, and the photographer would yell at me to shut up. Sometimes when I'm working my booth and get bored, I start to sing, just to amuse myself. It passes the time on long car trips - I can get all the way through the good-parts version of LES MISERABLES between St. Louis and Memphis.

And every once in a while, I see or hear the parts I once wanted for myself. And I think, "I could've done that. Now that I'm older and more mature... I really think I could've."

But when my friends try to get me to do the karaoke thing or go out for this or that, I tell them I'm retired. I forgot how to fly. And then I see that same love in my son's eyes, and I don't know what to do - to encourage him as we're supposed to encourage our children's dreams, or to guide him toward something that will feed him, so he won't have to struggle to stay ahead of the bills every day as I have for my entire adult life.

"Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I'll show you a happy man," says the Latin teacher - and Mr. Keating replies, "But only in dreams can man be truly free. 'Twas always thus, and always shall be."

My boy wants to live forever.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

DIY publishing

Let me be clear right up front: I've never self-published and never thought I would. The closest I've ever gone is the short story I write once a year to raise money for the American Cancer Society.

It's hard enough to get a shred of respect in the publishing world as a) small press, b) a woman and c) a horror writer who dared to put sex in two of her books. Every time I've pitched a bookstore on carrying my stuff I've had to prove (practically by blood oath) that it wasn't self-published. I've had my bio changed to call me an "aspiring author" after I had two books on the shelves at Borders, I've been sneered at and mocked to my face at conventions, and naturally, I'm broke.

But there was a panel at Dragoncon that has been weighing on my mind lately (and yes, I know I'm almost a month late in doing a DC write-up; I was deathly ill, sue me). It was the panel on the future of publishing, and I was going into it yawning because at every show I've done this year, every panel has degenerated into "the future of publishing." I've started to call it "run in circles scream and shout." We're all panicked, the world is changing, midlisters are being bumped and bookstores are dying. Help!

Michael Stackpole and I have met many times, and I've always admired his adaptability to the changing nature of the fiction market. Stackpole was the first author to sell short fiction on the iPhone/iTouch, and he talked about it to a halfway-receptive audience. I think I asked him more questions than the audience did, because I was fascinated. Not just about selling via iTunes and his web site - though that is fascinating - but the sea change it represents in fiction.

Ever since, and especially as I've worked to get up and running, I've been thinking about it. If Michael Stackpole can earn $2 a short story hawking his fiction online, why can't I? Why can't my fellow writers, who do such wonderful work and spend months - years - trying desperately to get their stuff published?

I currently have two short stories making the rounds, not including reprints. One of them is on its seventh submission. That's six magazines that have rejected it for various reasons. If the current magazine rejects it, I'm pretty much out of markets. It's been making the rounds since May 2008, folks. That's pretty quick, to tell you the truth. I believe it's a good story. It's kind of a departure from what I usually do, but I really like it.

The other one is a little newer. It's only been rejected once. That's because it's a weird science fiction/horror/fantasy mix that doesn't quite mesh with any particular magazine. Currently it's sitting on my sub board because I can't think who to send it next. That sf mag won't want it because of its graphic violence; that fantasy mag won't like the time-travel setting; that horror mag wants a more realistic premise.

Why not sell it myself?

If I were to land it with a top-notch mag, the most I can hope to get is 5 cents a word. I'd get about $250. That's a nice chunk of change for a short story. But to be honest, I rarely make the top mags. I'd probably have to settle for 1-2 cents a word -at most, $50. For a novella-length work, I've been paid as little as $20. Nobody makes a living on that.

I might make a better living selling it for $2 a pop off my web site. And I bet I could scrounge up a few other authors with those unsalable short stories who wouldn't mind earning some extra bucks. Free money, right? Design a nice cover, email PDFs in return for actual dollars. Stackpole has to share 40c to $1 per sale with Apple; I can do it myself.

But then there's that whole "self-publishing" thing.

I asked Stackpole about that. He said something interesting: if there are members of the writing fraternity who are going to sneer at the money he makes off the iTunes deal because it's technically self-pub, he doesn't give a damn what they think. They're being snobs. Now, you do need editing, he said - nobody should just rip and read to the public. Pay someone or bribe an editor friend, but get a second (third, fourth) pair of eyes on the work. But if this is the way the world is going - and it's certainly looking that way - might this not be the savior of short fiction?

I mean, I could wait the rest of my life for someone to come up with a horror/sf/fantasy anthology about time-traveling murderers. Or a magazine editor who likes me.

I'm finding it hard to convince myself to send out my stories yet again, to wait six to eight months for what is usually a gigantic NO, all so I can earn $20 to $50 and the slim hope that somebody gives me... respect. Yeah, that doesn't pay the hotel bill. I scrounge for reasons not to do it, and I can't seem to find them.

I am thinking very hard about this.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

DREADMIRE update and COLD ONES questions

Because there have been questions...

If you ordered DREADMIRE and indicated you wanted the first edition, you should have received it by now. If not, please contact us at so we can spank the postal service and get you a new copy.

If you ordered DREADMIRE and indicated that one or more copies should be the second edition, however, your order has not shipped. The second edition has not yet been released by the publisher. As soon as we have the books in hand, your orders will ship. We have not forgotten you! If you had other things with that order, we have been holding them. If you would prefer we send them right away, please email us and we'll get that done.

I appreciate your patience with the second edition. I've seen the cover art, and hopefully it'll be worth your wait. I love that book and I know you guys will enjoy it when it finally comes out. I'm in contact with the publisher and keeping tabs on its availability.

Regarding THE COLD ONES, I've been assured that we're on track for the Oct. 1 release and it will be available and on hand at Archon in St. Louis next weekend. The publisher will have a booth in the dealer's room (besides our booth) and we're planning a big book-release shindig during my reading on Saturday afternoon. You can save money by picking it up at Archon; otherwise they will ship when we get back from the show.

Naturally, all books you buy directly from me are signed unless you request otherwise. If you do not indicate in your reservation/order how you want it signed, it'll just be my name, no personalization. We do not charge extra for signing.

Remember, too, that preordering THE COLD ONES does not obligate you to any money right now. You're just reserving a copy so we know how many to order. You'll get a bill before we pop them in the mail and you're under no obligation. But if you don't reserve a copy and we run out, I can't guarantee how many I'll be able to get.

There will be other places to buy it - from the publisher, at The Genre Mall, at conventions - but if you want it from me, it's best to reserve a copy. It's a service I'm providing to my loyal readers, to make it easier for you guys to get the books that you'll never find at Borders.

Please feel free to contact me or Katie if you have more questions. And remember, you can order my entire backlist from - currently open in beta form and taking orders, shipping every Tuesday.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How I Did It

Sometimes memes are nice, when they work as writing prompts instead of lists. There's one running about selling your first short story.

Mine is weird. I belong to, only back then it was Back then you could still get quality critiques of your work, because the site wasn't the size of MySpace. I got a lot of critique that helped build me into a better writer.

And it happened, the way people think it might happen and it almost never does. Someone stumbled across my portfolio, found a piece I'd written and asked to buy it. It was the New Jersey Self-Assessment for eleventh-graders. You know those reading comprehension tests, where you read something and have to answer five questions about it? That year, the New Jersey juniors read my piece.

I was paid $75. Not bad for a first sale. I photocopied the check before I cashed it, intending to frame it, but of course I lost the photocopy. I keep thinking it'll turn up someday...

Two years later I sold NOCTURNAL URGES and the rest is history.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Whew. Not bad for 45 days. That's an average of 912 words per day, which isn't Nano speed, but I'll take it, particularly since that included two conventions, three illnesses, four parental crises and a partridge in a pear tree.

I forgot what this part was like. The part where you can't stay away from the book, where everything (including food, sleep and the company of other humans) is a distraction from THE BOOK. Can't sleep, book will eat me.

Come to think of it, did I eat dinner today?

Last Friday I got amazingly, catastrophically sick. And you know what pissed me off the most? That it hit in the middle of a really good scene.

I don't know if the book is Good Enough yet. But I've always known this was the book I was meant to write. Whether anyone else in the publishing world will agree with me, whether the readers will find it as fun and heartwrenching and exciting and goddamn fantastic as I do, whether it will ever become the book I want it to be - I don't know. But I do know this. I can't die until this book sees print. Cause it's all downhill from there. :)

I'm having fun again.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Cold Ones at Archon!

Okay, I've (barely) survived the latest round of travel fun, and I'm so pleased with the responses to THE COLD ONES! Special thanks to the fine folk who hung in there at my Dragoncon reading for an hour and a half - they didn't even fidget. :)

I'm pleased to announce that THE COLD ONES will hit shelves on Oct. 2, courtesy of Sam's Dot Publishing. I'm further pleased that it will cost all of $6. That's just a titch more than a venti Frappuccino, folks.

Because we've had some difficulties with preorders this year, we're doing things a little differently this time. You may reserve a copy of THE COLD ONES in advance, but you don't pay until shipping. Send an email to booksales@... and you'll get your copy reserved. You'll get a bill in your inbox before shipping, and you can choose your method of payment. But please, do reserve your copy! I need a headcount so I know how many to acquire for my readers.

Naturally, it will be available from the publisher, on Horror Mall and eventually at, which is about to go public to the wider world. But this novelette will only be available for one year, guys. And once the print run is gone, I can't guarantee more.

Personally, I'm very happy with this book - I think it might be the best thing I've yet published. Your mileage may vary, and I hope to hear back from you as you read it.

So reserve your copy today! Deadline for reserved copies is Sept. 21. And if you're going to be at Archon, keep your eyes open for further news on our celebration! It'll be a blast.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009


There have been some changes! Here's where to find me in the week o' crazy:


4 pm Autographs in Marriott 301-304
Show up! I'll sign whatever you've got. Trust me, it'll be the shortest line you'll stand in all weekend. :)

10 p.m. Little Deaths in Hyatt (Montreal/Vancouver)
The ubiquitous sex-and-horror panel.


2:30 p.m. Reading in Hyatt (Marietta)
Reading from THE COLD ONES! There will be chocolate and prizes! BE THERE!

5:30 p.m. Vampires vs. Zombies in Hyatt (Montreal/Vancouver)
I'm not sure which side I'm supposed to be on in this one... I for one welcome our new undead overlords.

8:30 p.m. Undead in Dixie in Hyatt (Montreal/Vancouver)
I want to suck your blood, y'all. Watch me try to hide the New England accent as I talk about infesting Memphis with vamps.

10 p.m. Zombie Prom
(My presence has been requested. I do not dance in front of humans, so I can only assume I am to be zombie chow.)


11:30 a.m. The Sacred & The Profane in Hyatt (Montreal/Vancouver)
Religion and spirituality in dark fantasy.

4 p.m. It Isn't Easy Being Green in Marriott (L504-505)
Environmental disasters or just crazytalk? Switching hats, I'm there as a representative of the media, so I could probably use a bodyguard for this one.

5:30 p.m. Zombie 201
(I am not officially on this one, but my presence has been requested. :))


10 a.m. Challenges for Today's Writers in Hyatt (Manila/Singapore/Hong Kong)
The run-in-circles-scream-and-shout panel.

11:30 a.m. Law & Disorder in Dystopian Future in Marriott (L504-505)
Escape from New York, here we come. :)

Holy flying dragons, Batman. I might as well pitch a tent in the Montreal/Vancouver room, but that's okay. I like working. Seriously, if I'm comped a badge I consider it my job to provide as much content and entertainment as possible.

Any time I'm not doing the above, you can find me in the exhibitors' hall with Kerlak Publishing, hawking the books. Clearly I'm not going to be much help there, but then I often find we sell better when I stay away. :) I will have my full backlist in stock, plus a few rare items. No, I won't have second editions of DREADMIRE - they're not out yet.

But I will be taking reservations for THE COLD ONES! Not preorders - you don't have to pay in advance. Just sign up saying you want one, and when it comes out in October you'll get a bill. You can prepay if you want - I'm not turning down money - but we got into a big headache with that over DREADMIRE and I didn't want to get nuts.

As usual, the first thing I do is a signing - which is before people meet me and/or buy my stuff. So feel free to chase me down later for an autograph. Yes, I will absolutely sign books wherever you want to catch up with me (except the restroom). No, I do NOT charge for autographs or pictures.

As far as I know, we are not having a party. I will post if that changes, but I believe we intend to follow Vernard around until he finds a spot, because at Dragoncon, the party is wherever Vernard is.(Vernard runs and hides.) V, haven't I named a character after you yet?

Seriously, do sound off and let me know if you'll be there! Please introduce yourself to me! I love meeting readers face to face. The schedule is nuts and we'll all be exhausted, but that's part of the fun.

See you in Atlanta! Now if only I can find a place to park...