Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, June 28, 2010


Briefly: While I like the concept of Nanowrimo, I think we can all agree that November is a terrible month to write a novel. Thanksgiving, holiday shopping, family visits.. not to mention it's sweeps month on TV.

Therefore I created Julnawrimo: Because There's Nothing Good on TV in July.

The live-and-in-person kickoff is 6-10 p.m. July 1 at the Denny's in Glen Carbon, Ill. An online component is on its way for those who don't live in the St. Louis region.

The full FAQ can be found on the LiveJournal community profile page, not to be confused with those guys at JulNOwrimo.

You can also find us on Facebook and Twitter.

Join up! Don't worry about making your 1,666 words or whatever per day. Just see if you can make SOME words each day for the month. Every word you write is another word you wouldn't have if you didn't try.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Scenes from Grandkids Week

I stuck my head in the room two of my nieces are sharing.

ME: Good night.
L: Good night, dork.
A: *giggles*
ME: Did you just call MOI a dork?
L: Yup!
ME: Did you just call the person who may or may not buy you ice cream tomorrow a dork?
L: Touche!
ME: Uh huh. I'm just saying.
L: You're my favoritest aunt ever!
ME: That's more like it.
A: Are you my aunt?
ME: Yes! Um, lemme think. *counts* Yes, I am.
A: Cool!
ME: Good night, awesome girls.

And they are.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Things I Forget to Blog About: Tuckerizing Edition

• Sara Harvey and I are rarely at the same conventions these days. Hypericon was the first one since THE COLD ONES came out. As you know, I named the kickass ex-Marine major in that book after her: Sara Harvey, zombie-hunter extraordinaire.

Sara Harvey the author and Sara Harvey the character could not be more different. Author Sara is a generous, sweet, bohemian lady partial to soft flowing clothing of impeccable style, wide smiles and body glitter - often enough that my son dubbed her the Glitter Lady. Major Sara is hard edges all the way, unsmiling with short-cropped black hair, whose idea of fashion is a black tank top and camouflage pants. Author Sara has chopsticks and ribbons in her hair; Major Sara carries at least six guns and knives, and as hard as you try, you'll only find three of them. Author Sara writes beautiful, fascinating books of undefinable genre; Major Sara says "fuck" a lot. Enough for reviewers to mention it.

As people bought copies of THE COLD ONES at Hypericon, naturally they asked me to sign them. Of course I did so, signing, "Aim for the head! -- Elizabeth Donald, 2010."

Soon word spread that the zombie hunter's inspiration was actually at the convention, and people began asking poor Sara to sign them as well. Always a good sport and unfailingly nice to fans, Sara did so.

And she did it with the only catchphrase she could think of that Major Sara Harvey uses.

"FUCK!" -- Sara Harvey.

• Mark Kaiser and I have been friends since God was a little girl, sometime in the early '90s. We were in college together in Memphis, and we actually had one date. Sort of. He stood me up. He remembers it differently, but I know the truth. Now I get to snark at him about it for the rest of time.

We lost track of each other over the last decade, and last year we discovered that through wild coincidence, we both ended up in St. Louis. He's married to a wonderful woman who is expecting their second child, and I've had the pleasure of their company several times. This is what is good about the internet, folks - it could have been many more years in the pre-Facebook reality before Mark and I realized we were in the same city. The world is big and hard to Google.

At any rate, it occurred to me that despite years of friendship, I'd never gotten around to naming a character after Mark. As we've seen, I am terrible with names, so I borrow the names of my friends, family, colleagues, random people on the police blotter… hang around long enough and you'll get eaten by a zombie. At the rate my characters die, I run out of names a lot.

I finally finished my bar scene that hung me up for a week - which just goes to show this whole book is gonna be a root canal, I swear to Christ - and started plotting the next scene. Then I felt the need to text.

ME: Muahahaha. Time to introduce Mark Kaiser the smartass tech to the new book.
MARK: Excellent
ME: You might even live.
MARK: Dream!
ME: Will Sarah mind if I feed you to zombies?
MARK: My lovely, darling wife's response: "ZOMBIE CHOW!"
ME: Oh yeah. That's love. :)
MARK: I prefer to escape the clutches of zombies, much as I've managed to scrape and charm and wit my way out of so many other tight situations in my real life…
MARK: But in your zombie universe, I might just be Baldric. [sigh]
MARK: So, introducing me to the book = you are now writing? That's my guess…
ME: Plotting the next chapter, actually.
MARK: Wife: …"Because you care about all of your zombies' nutritional needs. Made with the finest… BRAAAAAIIIIIIINNNNSSSS."
ME: I think she might have to show up sometime too.

Oh yeah. They're O.K. Our Kind.

Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull a Rabbit Out of This Hat!

As Memorial Day rolled around, I had a problem.

I'm captain of a Relay for Life team, raising money each year for the American Cancer Society. My friends know this is a very personal issue for me, as cancer seems to strike so often. I am lucky that it has not struck my immediate family. But just in this last year, I've seen several close friends undergo treatment for cancer. Just last week, a co-worker died of cancer, only five years older than I am.

Our goal for the year was $3,000 - seemingly achievable, considering we raised a little over $2,700 last year. It seemed less achievable as about half my team dropped out due to scheduling conflicts. As May drew to a close, we had raised less than $1,000.

This was a problem.

Oh, I knew there would be some last-minute donations. Some people only donate at the very last minute. Some forget to send in checks. We sell glow necklaces and toys at the event; that usually brings in some cash. We had been in talks with Dairy Queen for a fundraiser.

Still, I was looking at raising $2,000 in a little over two weeks. Hey Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of this hat! Chomp.

The deal with Dairy Queen went through, and is scheduled for Tuesday - a mere three days before the Relay. All was well and good, except for one little stipulation from DQ - the patrons have to physically hand them a coupon in order for us to get credit. And no fair standing out in front handing them coupons or leaving a pile by the register. Apparently that's cheating.

The coupons were approved and printed (courtesy of my friendly neighborhood print shop, thank you AIM Mail Center!) on Thursday. That left me with ….

Four days. Four days to get as many coupons as I could possibly manage into people's hands. Oh, I can hand them out at church on Sunday. But it's summer, and the crowds will be thin. No, I need to hit the town.

So after work today, I went on a little spree. I can't do it on duty, of course, and while someone suggested putting them on people's windshields, I think that's more "annoying and littering" than useful. Also, there might be an ordinance.

I drove to the library, but they were closed because today is the Route 66 Festival. Our Town is on the old highway, and the festival is in high form, with live music, bounce houses, food booths and all the usual conundrum. I rolled down my windows to hear the music, and stopped instead at my Friendly Neighborhood Comic Book Shop.

Hometown Comics graciously agreed to put out a stack of the coupons. He also showed me the setup they'd had for the creator of Mystery Comics, who had been in for a signing on Tuesday. His shop looks better than ever, and he's bringing in the big names - next month it's Cullen Bunn, creator of THE DAMNED.

Next I went to my favorite bookstore: Afterwords, on Main. This little new-used shop wasn't supposed to last six months, but I recently was honored to attend their one-year anniversary bash and raise a glass in honor of the terrific service they provide. Don't get me wrong: I'll do the Borders-and-Amazon thing. But I'll always check Afterwords first, and not just because they carry the complete works of Elizabeth Donald. Afterwords also took a stack, even though they were technically closed by the time I got there. That's service, man.

I intended to stop next at the Avon store, for the double purpose of dropping off coupons and picking up some sunscreen/bug repellent. I walked in and was shocked to see no Avon! What happened to my Avon store! Nothing, the owner assured me - a vibrant lady with a strong personality who was from California but grew up in Massachusetts and is the single mother of a child with special needs.

Wait, what? Yes, apparently my lifetwin runs the store that used to be Avon. Now instead of being Avon on Main, it's Bella Ragazza. Get this: it's a consortium of women business owners, artists and crafters and franchise owners who usually live off web site and personal sales, and now they rent space in Bella so their stuff is available on Main Street.

Kind of like Literary Underworld, but for craftswomen? Yeah. And we talked for quite a while, hitting it off instantly. Not just because of our bizarrely mirrored life stories, either! She took a stack of coupons to slide into the goodie bags for the party they're about to have.

Regretfully, I had more stops to make. So I bopped next door to the bead shop and art gallery run by church member and dear friend Kathryn Hopkins. It's easier to guilt an Episcopalian, so Kathryn kindly put a stack of the coupons by her front door even though she was in the middle of an art opening - new exhibit this week!

Finally I made it to my favorite coffeeshop: Sacred Grounds. And I write this as they deliver my Sicilian panini - all vegetarian, no meat shall cross the doorstep of Sacred Grounds - and my Highlander Grogg coffee is waiting for me. There's a stack of my coupons by the register now, and the barista is doing card tricks for the regulars.

As I sat here, I marveled that in one short hour, I experienced the warm, friendly generosity of a printer, comic shop guy, bookseller, woman entrepreneur, art dealer and barista, all within one mile of each other. I haven't even gotten to the fair-trade import store across the street or the local-harvest grocery down the block. The old theater is still in renovations, but the farmer's market will be open bright and early on the courthouse steps tomorrow morning.

And maybe it's only striking me now because the city TV station chose to anchor its news from Our Town today. I remember that because the ice cream shop on the other side of the library had a sign out front welcoming them and the mayor was too busy to talk today.

Or maybe it's just that I recognize how very lucky I am to have found this town. We humans usually don't realize the wonderful things until we lose them, but I've lived in so many places across the country that I recognize how very special Our Town is. It's a place with almost no crime, clean streets and a sense of community that just seems lacking in many towns in which I've lived. Oh, it has its problems. But when I call it Our Town, I really mean it.

Thank you, Our Town. I'm glad to be here. If we do manage to pull this very cantankerous rabbit out of a hat, it'll be because you rock.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Warning: Bored Authors

This is what authors do when they're bored.

Stephen Zimmer posted about a book signing, and someone replied that he wished he could raise the money for his own book signing. For the purposes of this post, you should know what Shane Moore looks like.

SHANE MOORE: Why do you need money? They should pay to bring you in.
ME: Ditto. Book signings are one of the very few author promotions that cost you nothing.
STEPHEN ZIMMER: Elizabeth and Shane replied before I saw this, and both of them are correct. Author signings at book stores should never cost the author.
ME: If there is some bookstore that's charging authors for signings, we should step on that FAST. Author smash.
SHANE MOORE: You let me know. I am IN! Grrrr!
STEPHEN ZIMMER: That makes three of us… a new Musketeers?
ME: The first person to photoshop that gets a right cross.
SHANE MOORE: *slowly pushes laptop behind chair* Who would do such a thing?
ME: Shane, I trust you about as far as I can armwrestle you.
ANGELIA SPARROW: *is placing bets on Elizabeth*
STEPHEN ZIMMER: That's what I love about Elizabeth, she's got lots of spunk! (I haven't used the word spunk in a long time, thanks for the inspiration Elizabeth!)
ME: To be clear, I was not insane enough to challenge Shane to armwrestle. Me armwrestling Shane is roughly on a par with Stormtroopers in a shooting contest with Annie Oakley.
ME: And yes, that makes me a Stormtrooper and Shane is Annie Oakley. There might be a problem with that metaphor...

Meanwhile, H. David Blalock said nice things about me. So did the aforementioned Stephen Zimmer, John Everson, Pamela Turner and Dayton Ward. Well, the last three were just acknowledging having seen/met/listened to me. They could hate my guts for all I know, but I'm linking them anyway. This paragraph brought to you by Google Search: The Quest for More Ego! :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

LOCALS! Important!

Tuesday, June 15 is my team's RELAY FOR LIFE DAY at the Edwardsville Dairy Queen! The local DQ has kindly agreed to donate 20 percent of their receipts on Tuesday to my Relay for Life team, and I am so grateful for their support.

The only catch is: you have to have a coupon for us to get credit for your order! Whether it's a Blizzard or a full-out meal, you have to give them the coupon in order for your donation to get to us. The coupon can be downloaded from YouSendIt here, or it is available as a free download on The Literary Underworld. If anyone knows of an easier way for people to be able to download this coupon, PLEASE let me know. I will happily email it to anyone.

Please feel free to forward it on to friends, relatives and anyone else in the area who might be inclined toward supporting the American Cancer Society and/or likes ice cream. I'm figuring that's just about everyone!

And, as always, you can donate to the Relay team or directly to me, if you are so inclined. We have not yet made our goal for this year with one week to go, and we need your support!


Tuesday, June 08, 2010


 Last week I sojourned to Nashville for a little reading, a little signing, a lot of selling and plenty of catching up with old friends. I love Nashville, even with half of it metaphorically still bailing out from the flood. Remember, that OTHER natural disaster that's been pretty much ignored by the rest of the country?


We first spent a couple of days staying with Stephen, a friend of mine from the dim dark years of college. There is a certain comfort in a friend who has known you since both of you were teenagers, a shorthand that allows you to talk without barriers because you speak the same language, you come from the same place. Stephen exclaimed over how much the boy has grown; I teased him about the horrifying cleanliness of his house; all was as it should be.

On our "be a tourist" day, we drove out to Cumberland Caverns. Usually we go to the Opryland Hotel, which is my favorite hotel in the wide world and I have never stayed there because I lack the funds. But unfortunately, it fell victim to the terrible flood that has devastated this city, and is still closed. My heart simply broke to see the news photos of those beautiful arboretums buried in waist-deep water.

Cumberland Cavern was fascinating. I love caves, and tour them any chance I can get. In this one, I was haunted by the intense feeling that I had been there before. I'm pretty sure I never have, but each formation and even the steep climb at the far end of the cave seemed familiar. It had a lot in common with Meramec; maybe that was it. And I've never understood why so many cave tours feel the need to include a patriotic/Christian light and sound show. The glory and majesty of the millennia-old formations is more than enough - why do we need the story of Creation played out in a light show?

On the way back through the cave, I asked the tour guide whether there were any ghost stories or folklore about the cave. She told me the terrible story of a boy sent to his aunt and uncle when his parents died, and the uncle abandoned him in the cave so they could get his trust fund. The boy's name was Chuckie and he has been spotted and heard several times in the cave.

Then, all through the rest of the tour, the lights kept winking off. The guide had to keep going back and turning lights back on as they kept malfunctioning. "Every time I talk about Chuckie, the lights stop working," she said. Stephen said it was the last time he tours a cave with a horror author.

Despite my horribly out-of-shape breathlessness at the 300-step climb (times two) at the back of the cave, the tour reaffirmed my wish to do more caves as my travels permit. We drove back to Stephen's suburb of Murfreesboro, where I indulged in girliness (manicure/pedicure) and the boys went tromping off somewhere. We ate dinner at this wonderful place Stephen knows called Old Chicago - terrific food and a nice variety of beer.

The evening finished up with us munching chocolate-chip cookies (I am the houseguest who brings baked goods) and watching DOCTOR WHO. The boy has three more specials before he bids farewell to David Tennant.


We began with breakfast at the Pfunky Griddle. If you are in Nashville at any point in your life, you must find this place. It's a charming little cafe with griddles embedded in the tables. You get an unlimited supply of batter and a dish of mix-ins, and you make your own pancakes at the table, all you can eat. It is so much fun - much more fun than making them at home. It's also a nice way to teach kids how to make pancakes - and the boy delighted in teaching Stephen, who ordinarily is allergic to cooking.

We met several friends for breakfast, including author Sara Harvey and artist Loren Damewood. We gave our drink orders and Sara ordered a decaf coffee. I gave her a Look, because decaf perverts the true purpose of coffee and seems remarkably out of character for my friend.

Sara returned my Look and grinned. "You can't have caffeine when you're pregnant."

Jaw drop, squealing and hugging commenced. The boy about leapt out of his seat - he's a big old teddy bear at heart, and he loves babies. I told Sara to buckle in for the parade of Totally Unsolicited Advice, and she said she's already created a Gmail folder for it. Ha!

We went on to the convention after breakfast, and got ourselves signed into the room and the dealer's room. Everything had gone so well that I just knew there had to be a snag. And of course there was. Somewhere between staging the booth boxes in my living room and unloading in the hotel ballroom, a box disappeared. The box containing all my copies of NOCTURNE and ABADDON. Which are only my biggest sellers and books that are 100 percent profit for me.

I considered going out and standing in traffic, but Stephen wouldn't let me. The loss of those books changed the financial dynamic of a weekend convention drastically - they sell extremely well, and their profit status means they kind of pay for everything else. The books I sell from the authors are only a 20 percent commission, which is half what a normal bookstore charges. I cannot live on commissions alone.

I devised a brilliant plan: Offer the pair of books at a small discount and free shipping. So I dug out my personal copies from my rolling red reading bag (say that three times fast) and created a display with them. Stephen still wouldn't let me stand in traffic.

My first panel was a mystery writers' panel. No, not for writers of mysteries; His Fredness (Lord High Con Chair) wanders around, grabs random authors who don't look busy and sticks us on a panel where the topic is a mystery. Then he throws random questions at us, ranging from serious (Do you outline your books before you write them?) to silly (What's your shoe size?). I had serious problems with the shoe size, as I have gargantuan feet. But I did get to warn Sara that you gain a shoe size when pregnant - and you don't get it back. The men all scratched their heads. They have no idea.

When I arrived, I sat at the end of the table and then realized I was blocking the older gentleman to my right. "I'm sorry, don't let me block you," I said, moving my books out of his way. "It's quite all right," he said in a charming British accent. I nearly fell out of my chair, because the accent could only mean that I was sitting next to Ramsey Campbell, guest of honor. Throughout the panel, we talked quite frankly about the writing life, and I could talk about the fangirl thrill when he riffed on some of my thoughts, but then I'd just be fucking shameless.

Then we shut down the booth - having sold very few books, meep - and went to dinner with Sara's gang who run the Haunted Nashville tours. It was at Past Perfect, which is a nice downtown pub with excellent but pricey food and a fantastic drink menu. Alas, I had two more panels to go, so I told the waiter that in solidarity with the pregnant lady, I would have a Shirley Temple. It wasn't bad.

As always seems the case in Nashville, I barely got back to the hotel in time for my next panel and ran like a madwoman through the halls. I am not the physique that should run, folks. I arrived and found: It's the Allan and Elizabeth Show!

This keeps happening. Allan Gilbreath is a primary editor with Kerlak Publishing, and the two of us end up on panels where the other panelists don't show. Perhaps they're afraid. Allan and I can snark and smartass for an hour with no problem whatsoever.

The panel was officially about marketing, so we told our marketing stories. Allan told us about a mall signing he finagled at which he sold more than 500 books, and I informed him that I hate him now. Then I told the story of the emergency zombie bite kits I created for THE COLD ONES' release. Those bullets were the cheapest and best promotion I ever did.

But like just about every business-oriented panel I've been on in the last year, the subject morphed into the state of the publishing industry. Allan expressed his opinion that the publishing industry as we knew it died in the last month, and something entirely new will take its place. I said I think we will see a tumultuous couple of years as the platforms fight it out, and in the end we will have a healthier blend of traditional and electronic publishing that will help level the playing field between New York and the small press. An author in the audience was advocating for the current model - the Apple backlash continues strong, despite a statistic Allan threw out that I didn't know: Apple is now worth more than Microsoft.

That went right into the roundtable readings. A hilarious typo said that "Steven Gilbreath" was in the reading with us. Now, this could have been Stephen Zimmer or Allan Gilbreath, but neither apparently figured that out. Alethea Kontis read her "Death of Brian Keene" piece from the Shirley Jackson charity, and I was highly amused. Then David Jack Bell read from his new book, which I found quite interesting.

I had been tempted to read from BLACKFIRE, but I wussed. In part, I didn't think I'd get all the way through the opening sequence in 15 minutes, which was all we were permitted under His Fredness' war on readings. *pfftft* In part, I was just a wuss. So I offered the audience a choice between the aswang battle and the opening sequence. They always go for the opening sequence. So I read the scene of Parish eating Jeff Pagliei's arm and Sara kicking ass again. I love the aswang sequence, but I never get to read it.

Then Angelia Sparrow and I wandered about, visiting the Xerps party and the Spam Poetry Slam (reading spam email as beat poetry, a Hypericon tradition). Angel called it a night shortly before I did, but first I needed to go to the roof and look at the Nashville skyline under the starscape. It is special to me, something I view alone.


My body clock has been set at a ridiculous 7:30 a.m. wakeup time, and I'd like it to stop. I was up before anyone else in the room and far before I wanted to be. We shared a pleasant breakfast in the hotel lobby - yes, I said a pleasant breakfast at a cheap hotel. That's because of Mildred. She's a sixtysomething black woman who runs the breakfast room, and she's fantastic. She makes sausage gravy from scratch every morning at home and brings it in to serve to the guests. She keeps us all fed and happy, and we love her.

Breakfast was shared with Allan Gilbreath and Kimberly Richardson of Kerlak Publishing, after which we got ourselves ready for the day's commerce. Kerlak was our dealers-room neighbor and Stephen Zimmer shared the corner, so we've all gotten fairly comfortable with each other. We had to, considering we were practically sitting in each others' laps.

Angelia took the morning shift so I could spend a little time with the boy before his father came to get him. He dressed in his Angel outfit - that's Angel the brooding vampire, in case you were wondering. It's black slacks and a black shirt, with suspenders and a full-length black leather trenchcoat. He looked terrific. We spent some time together before his father arrived, and I bid him farewell for the next few weeks. Wibble.

For the afternoon, I worked the booth. Sales had been very slow on Friday and in the morning, but the afternoon started to pick up some. I sold several COLD ONES, which was probably due to the reading the night before. I wasn't selling much of other authors, not even the ones physically present, but I was doing okay considering my two top sellers were unavailable. Gah.

At least three times during the weekend, I was presented with copies of Kerlak Publishing's DRAGONS COMPOSED anthology. This is a running gag now. For some reason, rumors abound that I am in this book. Even members of Kerlak's editorial staff (cough*Allan*cough) have mistakenly informed people that I'm in the book. I've never written a dragon story. I've never been published by Kerlak. And yet.

H. David Blalock, who is a taciturn smartass, was one who requested such a signature. I sighed and told him I was not in the book. "Neither are they," he said, showing me the title page. Sure enough, it had been signed by at least a dozen authors, each of whom indicated that they were not actually published in the anthology. Laughing, I signed, "Also not in this book! Elizabeth Donald, 2010."

Jonathan Pass, fan and friend, came by to pick up my latest, as well as some gifts. Lacking a flat surface behind the desk, I borrowed the signing table for a few minutes to sign his copies. As I was finishing up, the real person assigned to the signing table showed up: Sherrilyn Kenyon. She greeted me with familiarity as she always does, and I'm always amazed that she can remember me even though we're on a panel together no more than once or twice a year. She's just that kind of celebrity author: generous and friendly and makes an effort to remember people.

Speaking of friendly authors, Ramsey Campbell signed the single-author collection GHOSTS AND GRISLY THINGS, and the GALLERY OF HORROR anthology I had picked up at a used bookstore months before. He smiled when he saw it and said, "I haven't seen one of these in years." I confessed I hadn't gotten around to reading it, but he didn't even blink. I saw something interesting; I spoke while he was signing, and when I spoke, he stopped writing and looked up at me, listening and responding. If he could only focus on one thing, he would focus on the interaction with me, not the task of signing the book. It would wait. He was a true gentleman and I enjoyed meeting him and speaking with him. Plus, the British accent rocks. He asked if I spelled Elizabeth with a "zed." It took me a second to realize what he meant. I'm such a Yank.

The steampunk people were setting up in our room by the time the dealers' room shut down. I was marginally pleased with the take, but I knew we needed a big Sunday to make our money back. We brought up a collection of books, all the titles by authors present at the convention, and set them up in the room.

Then it was time for the most fun panel thus far. It was supposed to be about time management and writer's block, with Eric Wilson, Stephen Zimmer, Sara Harvey and me. We elected Eric moderator because he's published more books than the rest of us. He declared the subject of the panel, which we soon left in the dust. Eric had an interesting analogy between seducing his wife and seducing the Muse, and Sara and I started running with the double entendres, until the audience was in stitches and we were all twelve. "I just want to point out that it was the Christian author who started it!" Sara declared. Since then, some rumor has run about that Eric Wilson made me blush. I have no idea what these people are talking about. "Flush," perhaps. He was getting quite spicy with the descrip.

Yes, we were funny, but we also had some of the more solid discussion of the convention on the writing life, on ways to balance your time and develop a work ethic that will help you succeed. We talked about idea generation and marinade files and where you write and how you write and the pluses and minuses of Nanowrimo and all sorts of things that hopefully were useful. The audience asked intelligent questions and many in the back were authors or publishers themselves. They gave us the big room, to my shock, and it was nearly full. I really enjoyed it, and later I heard from several people how terrific that panel was. Best panel of the show.

Afterward, Sara and at least two helpers laced me into the rose corset as they finished getting ready for the steampunk party. Jonathan, the traitor, took cell-phone pictures while they did. "If those end up on Facebook we're gonna have words," I warned him.

Next door was a beer-and-barbecue party hosted by John Everson and Bryan Smith. Eridani had a party up the hall, and there were a few fan-run parties as well. The eighth floor was the place to be Saturday night.

We managed to haul Stephen out of the TV room several times, forcing him to socialize (and even take a sip of a drink!). The traffic flow through the room was strong and steady, but more than that, it was smart and fun. I stationed myself by the books to answer questions, and to my surprise, several people wanted to know about the Literary Underworld, what we do and why. I talked about Richard Matheson vs. George Romero, I answered questions about the books, I had my picture taken in the Victorian gown.

Then a girl named Victoria Dunstan came in. She was in a steampunk costume that strongly resembled an aviator's uniform, with a steampunky gun. Her chestnut hair was bound up in a bun that was attractive but functional. She was my mental picture of Coleen Greenlee, the heroine of the moribund KING OF SWORDS sf novel, though Coleen has darker hair.

KING OF SWORDS lasted 20,000 words before it died of extreme suckage. Ever since I attended Steamposium a few months ago, I've wondered about writing some steampunk. In the furor before the party, I found myself staring at the clockwork art on the wall and thinking about KING OF SWORDS. Perhaps, if KING OF SWORDS was steampunk, it would not suck. I think it wants to be steampunk. Sara wholeheartedly approved - of course, she would.

I asked Victoria Dunstan if she would let me take her picture. Of course, my camera was sitting on the kitchen table in Edwardsville, right next to the box of vampires. So I begged Jonathan to step outside and get a picture of her, then email it to me. She was remarkably patient and comfortable with my insanity. I write her real name here so I remember to thank her in the notes, should KING OF SWORDS ever prove to not suck.

The party was a nice success, and when we ran out of food and booze, we shut it down. I bid farewell to Stephen and Jonathan and others commuting, gave my respects to the various funfolk and finally had a drink, courtesy of Angel's spiced-rum flask. It was my first and only drink of the convention. I must be getting old.


You know, if I'm going to feel that rotten getting out of bed, I really should have gotten blazingly drunk the night before. I've never had a hangover in my life, but I feel like nine miles of bad road on every Sunday morning of convention weekends no matter how much or little I drink.

I took the morning shift so that Angelia could appear as an exhibit in Sara's traditional Sunday-morning costume lecture, this year on steampunk. It was characteristically slow at first, as the denizens of the con stirred themselves from post-party stupor. But as people packed out of their hotel rooms and hit the dealer's room to blow whatever money they didn't drink up this weekend, we started selling. And selling hard. I had been somewhat disappointed in our take of the first two days, and I still don't have our final totals. But the speed at which we were selling on Sunday gave me hope. I know we did better than the year before, not that that's saying much.

Nobody presented me with a Dragons book on Sunday. However, I had a brilliant moment of stupidity. Someone asked me to sign copies of SETTING SUNS and THE COLD ONES. I sign the former "Beware the teddy bear!" and the latter "Aim for the head!" But undercaffeinated and overdistracted, I signed the second book, "Aim for the teddy bear!" I was horrified and apologized profusely to the customer, who found it utterly hilarious. "It's a collector's item!" I said lamely, and he even found that funny.

I had a true ego moment later on to help compensate for my brainlessness. A customer was trying to decide what to get, and I handed him a copy of THE COLD ONES. Behind me, Stephen Zimmer piped up that he really liked that one, and from the next booth over, another reader said, "Oh yeah, that one is terrific." I laughed and said apparently I don't need a marketing department! The customer agreed and bought the book. THE COLD ONES is now within 20 copies of selling out its second print run, and I couldn't be more pleased. I love that book for my own reasons, but it is equally gratifying that so many people really enjoy it and are not shy about saying so. I also got several comments on how funny the writers-block panel was. See? If you don't know what you're talking about, make 'em laugh instead.

Angelia and I took turns womanning the booth while we packed out of the room. It's amazing how much more smoothly the process goes with an army of minions. Once the dealer's room closed, we were able to pack up the books quickly. Then upstairs for closing ceremonies.

Hypericon's closing ceremonies are always the funniest (and longest) of any show I attend, and thus I always appear. This one was a little bittersweet, because longtime chairman Fred Grimm and his marvelous wife Stephania are stepping down. For some reason they want to actually attend other cons and have a life and stuff, and Stephania would like to see something besides the consuite someday. We've informed them that they're not allowed to simply vanish. Not that they could; we'd find them. Brian Cooksey is taking over for them, and I think the con is in good hands.

They're also going to change hotels, to my regret. I have a bizarre fondness for the Days Inn in demilitarized downtown Nashville. It holds mostly happy memories for me. I like the layout, I like the larger-than-standard rooms, I like the potluck of possibly getting one of those giant tubs (god, I miss baths) and I love the view from the rooftop. At least the management promises that they'll keep the room price sane in whatever hotel they pick.

Afterward, I thanked Fred for his years of service, even if he's always giving me shit. Then I shook Brian's hand and congratulated him on his sentence - er, chairmanship.

ME: I'd like to request guest status for next year.
BRIAN: It's pretty much permanent with you.
ME: *laughing* Just saying, I want to come back.
BRIAN: You just need to tell us when you don't want to come.

My marching mass of minions (poetry!) got the booth Jenga'd into my car with top speed, and then Stephen and I caught a late lunch at the Noshville Deli. It's always good to come to Nashville, to see my friends and spend time with people who knew me when I wasn't quasi-famous. Stephen pointed out that I seem to be building quite a following in the Nashville area, which is funny considering I've never lived there. He thinks I should do signings more often there, and I very well might.

On the way home, I stopped for a venti mocha with four shots, because I needed it. Thus fortified, I followed the signs through a labyrinthine detour to see the Bell Witch Cave, which is about fifteen miles off the interstate in west Tennessee. I found my way to the dirt road leading to the site… and it was closed on Sundays. Gah! Next time. Even so, the experience - and the quaint countryside through which I drove - inspired a truly horrific short story with which I will torment my readers soon.

It was great to see the town again, but even better to see how its spirit is surviving after the cataclysmic flood that was unconscionably ignored by the rest of the country. It's as though the streets were scrubbed clean, for better or for worse, and nearly everyone seems to know someone who lost everything to the floodwaters that deluged the town only a month or so ago. The official charity of the con was Hands On Nashville, a corps of volunteers who worked their tails off to assist the less fortunate with flood damage and relief. I donated a book, as did several of my authors.

But more than that, I was impressed with the strong spirit of the Nashvillains. They are not complaining about the shameful way they have been ignored by the country. The large sign in the lobby, courtesy of the city government, thanked us for visiting Nashville and bringing our tourist dollars to town. While my heart breaks for the damage inflicted on the Opryland Hotel, I know that it will be back to its old beauty by the time I return. My friends will be there (one extra, now that Sara's cookin') and I'll be glad to see them all.

We are Nashville.

Monday, June 07, 2010

THE COLD ONES scores another big bite

 Warning: I wouldn't wait much longer to get THE COLD ONES if you haven't yet, folks. Good things are happening for my Things That Go Chomp in the Night.

I read from it, of course, and as usual they voted to hear it from the beginning. I never get to read the aswang sequence, dangit. At this point I'm considering Garage-Banding a reading and putting it on my web site just so I can get to read that sequence.

Anyway. Rough numbers coming in from this past weekend's exploits (con report pending) and strangely, I sold nearly twice as many copies as I did a few months ago in Memphis.

This is weird, because Hypericon is a mini-convention in Nashville, where I've never lived, and has at the most 300 attendees. In Memphis, where I lived for three years in college, Midsouthcon generally attracts between 1,500 and 2,000 people. And MSC really is a writers' con; between the high number of authors and publishers it attracts, Dan and Jackie Gamber's writers' workshop and the educational track in programming, we get a LOT of readers. Moreso this year than the last; total sales at MSC were easily double what they were in the Year That Shall Not Be Named.

But it just goes to show that logic and demographics only get you so far. Overall sales at Hypericon are usually just barely enough to pay our way, but they went for my zombies in a big way.

This means that we're within about a dozen copies of selling out the second printing of the Little Novella That Could. This is very nice for me and my publisher, and it makes me happy. But as always, I cannot guarantee anything about availability of my work when it's not physically in my hands. The publisher may choose to do a third printing; probably will, as it's only contracted for a year.

But that means if you don't get it quickly, it may not be available much longer. I always want my readers to be able to get my stuff. So I STRONGLY urge you, if you haven't gotten it yet, to pick it up soon before it disappears. I will make every effort to have it in hand for my fall appearances and the bookstore signings between now and then. But I cannot make you any promises.

Now back to work on the sequel...