Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, August 30, 2010

Author kaffeeklatsch at Dragoncon!

Because y'all said you wanted it… an informal Meet The Authors Kaffeeklatsch has been scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday on the atrium level of the Marriott! Since we can't exactly reserve space, look around for the sign and a handful of ink-stained wretches gulping Starbucks.

Definitely joining me will be author Angelia Sparrow and Kerlak Publishing editor/author Allan Gilbreath. Tentatively we will also be joined by John Everson and Van Allen Plexico, pending scheduling changes. I've invited a few others still checking their schedules. We will probably pick up some more once the show gets going; follow my Twitter (@edonald) for updates and changes.

EDIT: Adding nonfiction author Fiona Broome!
EDIT: Tentatively adding author M.B. Weston!

Anyone and everyone is welcome. Very informal. We're just going to sit and talk and answer your questions if you have any. Don't bring anything for us to read; we're brain-dead by Saturday morning at Dragoncon. But we're happy to talk and give advice and probably snark at each other quite a bit. (Allan, I'm lookin' at you.)

And if none of y'all show up, we'll just chat with each other.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chronicles of the Muse: The Return

This was written while rewriting the original NU novella into the book Nocturnal Urges. Isabel was a voice born to make me write about emotions and true love and sex and all sorts of things that don't have a caliber attached to them. She tries, at least. -Mgmt.

Jan. 27, 2004

ME: Fuck.
ME: Not you. This sucks.
ISABEL: Well, it is a vampire story.
ME: God, you're dumb. We're heading full-tilt toward the Most Predictable Ending in Mystery History.
ISABEL: Hey, that rhymes.
ME: You know what this means.
ISABEL: Uh, no. I'm new here.
ME: Shower.
(I hop into the shower)
ISABEL: Why are you doing this?
ME: It's how I solve blocks. Nothing to distract me. I stay in the damn water until I figure out the problem.
ISABEL: You must have a great water heater.
ME: Now I do. When I lived in the apartment, I damn near got pneumonia solving some of the problems in "The Polaris Passage."
MUSE: Hey.
ME: Jesus! You scared the shit out of me.
MUSE: Shower, huh.
ME: No thanks to you. I've had to resort to Isabel the Flowery Romantic for my muse. Where the hell have you been all month?
MUSE: On vacation. Fuck this bullshit.
ME: Thanks for the encouraging words. What do you want?
MUSE: I know how this crap ends.
ME: Yeah, so do I. We wrote the synopsis, remember? We're stuck with the ending.
MUSE: But what if...
ME: No what ifs.
MUSE: You wanna stick with Snow White's bullshit or you wanna give me a crack at it?
ISABEL: Are you speaking to me?
MUSE: Can it, princess. (whispers in my ear)
ME: HA! I like it. It's awful. I mean, it's just so tragic and sad.
ISABEL: You can't kill me off. It's not allowed. Happily Ever Afters Only.
MUSE: I'd take my chances.
ME: Leave her alone.
MUSE: Wuss.
ME: Bite me.
MUSE: You gonna write it my way?
ME: Yep. You are such a bitch, you know that? They're gonna cry.
MUSE: You're welcome.
ISABEL: Why am I afraid?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Chronicles of the Muse

Many years ago, I began writing stories of the Muse. She lives in my head, and she's the source of my work. She used to be the only source, but after a while she got some companions. She's not all that happy about it. Because I thought it might entertain you, I think I shall reprint some Chronicles of the Muse in this journal. And maybe it'll entice her to come back and visit me. 

These entries were written when I was writing Nocturnal Urges. The book to which she refers, Absence of Light, is the third book in the Sanctuary series, as yet unwritten. - Mgmt.


Oct. 28, 2003

My mental picture of The Muse looks a lot like Aurora Crawford. She's darker than I am, with long hair she keeps in a braid so it'll stay the fuck out of her face. She's got a Sarah Connor physique, a nasty scar on her arm* and chain-smokes, although I've never smoked. She wears a black tank top, black jeans and black combat boots, plus a black leather jacket when I let her out to play.

Her basement abode** is very plain, with a thin mattress in the corner, a punching bag and weights. She carries a combat knife and a Desert Eagle .44 at all times.

She gets restless often, and starts beating on the basement walls when I won't let her out to play. She's not a very cheerful person, but she's a demon for work.

She's banging on the door. She wants to talk about Absence of Light.

I don't. I have too many other things to do. But she kicked open the basement door.

MUSE: You gonna listen to me now?
ME: No. You hear me? I said no.
MUSE: Look, bitch. I've been working like a mad bastard all month.
ME: And I greatly appreciate it. We've gotten a lot of work done, and I think it's going to pay off.
MUSE: (muttering) Not the way YOU run things.
ME: What was that? What did you say?
MUSE: Nuthin. Look, I'm not saying we write the whole fuckin' thing. Gimme a two-page treatment.
ME: You don't know HOW to do a two-page treatment.
MUSE: That's not MY fault. I write fast and clean. Then you get to messin' with it and it gets twice as long.
ME: Oh, bite me.
MUSE: Don't tempt me, woman. Let me do the fuckin' treatment.
ME: No! I said no, you hear me? Get back down in the goddamn basement and get to thinking about something that will actually make us some money!
MUSE: No fuckin' way. I am not messing with that bullshit YOU wanna do next.
ME: What? We could SELL that one!
MUSE: It sucks. It sucked when we wrote it, and the smell ain't improving with age.
ME: Well, we're not doing Absence of Light, either. I can't believe you even have a goddamn title.
MUSE: Hey, bitch. I can go on strike, you know.
ME: Go screw yourself. We're doing the ghost story next, and that's final.
MUSE: Fuck you!
ME: Right back at you.

(Muse slams basement door, pounding of battered punching bag ensues.)

* She got the scar from a broken glass bottle in a drunken fight years ago. She wasn't drunk, the guy she was fighting was.
** It strongly resembles the basement of the house I lived in from 2000 to 2003.

Nov. 19, 2003

MUSE: *knock knock*
ME: You're supposed to be working.
MUSE: You know, Thomas has a seeeecret.
ME: Yeah, I know.
MUSE: But does the public know? I mean, that's the sort of thing that could be really damaging to him. Dereliction of duty, conduct unbecoming, causing the death of a hero of the resistance, fucking MUTINY...
ME: Everybody knows about that. [redacted names]... they all know.
MUSE: But it was never made public.
ME: Nobody would believe them anyway. Everybody else is dead.
MUSE: But what if [redacted] left them some proof...
ME: [redacted]'s already holding the letter.
MUSE: That's personal. Someone else would have this proof. Proof that Thomas' camp wouldn't want to get out...
ME: Shut up.
MUSE: And what if the someone else was murdered...
ME: Thomas wouldn't do that. He's a war hawk, not a murderer.
MUSE: Wouldn't THAT be interesting.
ME: Would you shut the fuck up? We are NOT doing Absence of Light! So get the fuck downstairs and think vampire!
MUSE: *sulks* Just go write this down. I'll work on your fucking vampires. And I'm gonna name one of 'em after YOU.
ME: Go fuck yourself.

Dec. 2, 2003

ME: (knocking on basement door) Hey! Open up!
MUSE: What the hell do you want?
ME: We had a deal, missy. You stay the fuck out of my dreams!
MUSE: Don't blame me. The Dream Fairy sends whatever she wants. I had nothing to do with it.
ME: Uh huh. Sure. Post-apocalypse? A journey across the U.S. on foot? Several familiar faces?
MUSE: That's not in Absence of Light. Can't blame me.
ME: Nooooo. But it sure as hell fits with the stuff you want to be working on, isn't it?
MUSE: (smirks) Fun, wasn't it?
ME: Oh yeah, leading a group of people in the world's biggest long-term hike, dealing with food supplies, medical crises, keeping track of the whole group so no one gets misplaced, and that old son of a bitch who wouldn't take orders from a woman... that was a ball.
MUSE: Make a great story, huh? Even another novel? After all, how is the ELA supposed to contact the West Coast? Pick up the phone?
ME: Goddammit! Vampires! Would you think about Isabel?
MUSE: I don't like Isabel. She's dull as dishwater.
ME: Me neither! So let's fix her so she becomes someone interesting! We've only got four weeks and might I remind you Christmas is coming?
MUSE: I'm getting my twenty bucks back.
ME: Ha! I knew it! You and the Dream Fairy are plotting against me!
MUSE: Should've known even a super-intense plot dream wouldn't get through YOUR thick skull.
ME: I don't believe this. This is mutiny!
MUSE: Tell it to the Dream Fairy. I've got work to do.

Dec. 4, 2003

ME: (kicks down basement door) I knew it!
(Dream Fairy and Muse look up from the table where they're playing cards.)
MUSE: Hey, I'm not allowed a break?
ME: You. You traitor.
DREAM FAIRY: Surely you are not addressing me.
MUSE: And don't call her Shirley. (They both crack up.)
ME: Oh great, it's the Subconscious Comedy Hour. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

To Harper Memorial Scholarship: Thank You

Nobody gets into this business for fame and fortune. In fact, if you throw that cliche at a journalist, you will get a sarcastic quip and possibly a pica pole thrown at you, since there's no other practical purpose for a pica pole anymore beyond backscratcher and self-defense implement.

There's a great moment in Ron Howard's movie THE PAPER, in which Robert Duvall tells Glenn Close, "If you try to make this job about the money you'll be nothing but miserable, because we don't get the money. Never have, never will." This is more true now than ever, as newspapers everywhere are trimming budgets, laying off staff and even making the paper smaller.

There is a tendency among us all to cut out what we consider to be superfluous: training, and professional organizations like SPJ. But now is when SPJ is the most useful, when we need intelligent programming and thoughtful discussion among our peers.

Over the last year and a half, I've had a crash course in making gold out of hay, as outgoing chapter president Kelsey Volkmann and I have worked with our small-but-mighty board for the St. Louis chapter to provide relevant and useful training in monthly luncheons. Our guest speakers and topics have ranged from how to moderate comments on newspaper web sites to the trials and ethics of covering a natural disaster to a crash course in freelancing.

We don't have any money in our little chapter. But we have a lot of ideas, and we know how to beg, borrow and cajole to get good people to come talk about the work they love. Each month, we see people filling our little luncheon, and we always come away reinvigorated with new ideas and a renewed sense of purpose.

SPJ can give us that reinvigoration. While my current membership extends only back to 2009, I've been unofficially involved with SPJ since my college days in the 1990s, and always supported the philosophy of journalists helping journalists - particularly in a time when we rank below politicians and used-car dealers in the public trust.

We need that more than ever in a time when our profession is riding out a paradigm shift in our very nature. We need solid grounding in journalism standards and ethics for the newcomers to our profession, which is why I am honored to be a part of the Ethics Committee as well. But even we old hacks need SPJ and the resources it offers: we know that there is no end to the new things we can learn from each other. It is too easy, day in and day out, to feed the beast and lay out the front page and look no further than the next web posting.

Sometimes we need a little more. Particularly now, when so many of us consider leaving the profession entirely, believing there is nothing new to be found on newsprint.

I don't believe that. I don't believe our profession is dying or obsolete, no matter how many bloggers crop up or how many industry experts declare us dead.

I believe we are in the middle of an exciting change, a synergy between print and electronic media utilizing the best of both worlds, melding the complex reporting and structure of a newspaper with the immediacy and widespread distribution of broadcast news. I believe that when the dust finally settles, we will find that good work always finds a home, that the people will always need news written and reported by professional journalists, and however we deliver them that news, they will respond to it.

That's why I am deeply honored and humbled to be a recipient of the Harper Scholarship. I never had the honor of meeting Mr. Harper, but I have heard from many who knew him that he was a strong and intelligent leader, an executive director who placed a high priority on training. It is that philosophy of journalists helping journalists that led SPJ to create the Harper Scholarship, so those of us who lack the means to participate at national will have the opportunity to do so.

I will act as a delegate for the St. Louis chapter to the convention. I will speak on a panel about social networking and ethical journalism, and meet with my fellows on the ethics commission. But I know that I will bring back far more to my newsroom than I give to the convention. I will bring back ideas, answers and more questions, and share them with my colleagues so they, too, can learn something new and improve the craft we love so much.

Thank you to those who saw fit to choose me for this scholarship. It is my honor to accept.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

random thought of utter hubris

If I was to arrange an unofficial kaffeeklatsch at Dragoncon, would anyone be at all interested? I see the other authors arranging a time to sit and chat with readers, and wonder if that's something I should be doing, if I have fans that want to talk to me without the formality of a panel.

Nothing as organized as a Q&A, just a comfortable place to talk and answer questions like "When the hell are you going to publish Sanctuary" and "how long before I get my next Nocturnal Urges fix," which are the two questions I get the most this year. :)

On the other hand, if I just end up alone with a latte, I will feel really fucking stupid.


Monday, August 16, 2010

Dragoncon sked!

Keep in mind this will likely change, as there are always tweaks to the schedule between the time I get it and the time I show up at the con. I will be live-Twittering as much as I can remember throughout the show at @edonald, so check there for last-minute changes.


• "Under the Skin: Body Horror and Deformation in Horror Fiction," 5:30 p.m. Friday, Cairo-Hyatt
• Art Reception, time TBA Friday, Marriott
• Maybe finally after six years see the dang parade on Saturday.
• "Oil Disasters: Human-Made Apocalypses," 2:30 p.m. Saturday, L508-Marriott
• "Love Rots: Zombies in Erotica," 10 p.m. Saturday, Montreal/Vancouver-Hyatt
• Autograph session, 10 a.m. Sunday, M301-304-Marriott
• Reading, 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Roswell-Marriott
• "2012: Are We Doomed?" 4 p.m. Sunday, L508 - Marriott
• Atlanta Radio Theater Company's performance of "At the Mountains of Madness," if I can get to it Sunday night. Who's with me?
• "Dark Fantasy: Really Dark or Humorous?" 10 a.m. Monday, Manila/Singapore-Hyatt
• "Cult of Personality: Doomsday Cults," 1 p.m. Monday, L508-Marriott

When I'm not at my panels, you can find me and/or my stuff at the Kerlak Publishing booth in the exhibitors' hall at the Marriott. All of my in-print titles will be available for purchase, there and at the reading and signing on Sunday.

What will I read? I thought I might give you a little BLACKFIRE. If you're interested in that kind of thing…

At this time, I am not planning to host a party. I do, however, intend to attend a few. :) See y'all in Atlanta!

Monday, August 09, 2010

Dorchester and the ebook revolution

The publishing world went nuts over the weekend when Dorchester Publishing announced they would stop publishing all mass-market paperbacks in favor of ebooks. There will still be trade paperback releases for the ebooks that do well.

This affects not only Dorchester's romance line, which is what the wider publishing world i focusing on, but Leisure Books, the horror imprint. Leisure is arguably the biggest horror publisher in the U.S. - anyone know somebody printing more monsters than Leisure? There are authors with books coming out in a few weeks who are suddenly being told their books will be ebooks instead. Yikes. It's an entirely different marketing strategy, and I really feel for them.

It is apparently a "stay in business" move, as retail sales for Dorchester fell 25 percent last year. As of a few weeks ago, mass-market was still the plan. God knows I wouldn't want Leisure to crash and burn. Half my bookshelf is Leisure mass-markets, and a good number of my author friends are Leisure minions.

Everyone, however, seems to be freaking out over Dorchester's decision to use POD for its trades. There is a continuing belief that POD is the same as self-publishing, and I want to drive a stake through this idea. POD is a technology, nothing more or less. Print on demand technology has advanced to the point where I can hand you my traditionally-published book and my POD book and you can't tell which is which. POD has allowed small presses to stay alive without investing tens of thousands of dollars in giant press runs they'll never sell.

And bookstores don't care. As I've talked with bookstore after bookstore, they don't care how it's printed as long as the terms on the Baker & Taylor screen are reasonable. Self-publishing and vanity presses generally have highly unfavorable terms for booksellers, and that's why they don't order them. I've seen everywhere this weekend that "bookstore won't stock POD!" and that simply isn't true. My books, let me show you them.

So if Dorchester does it smart - and they're partnering with Ingram, so it looks like they will - and they offer returns and a 40-percent discount to booksellers, the books will get into stores.

Whether the authors can survive without mass-market, that's another story. For one thing, I wonder if the contracts specify a good royalty for ebooks. Standard among e-pubs is 35-40 percent of cover price, while the traditional royalty for a print book is 7 percent. If you only get 7 percent of the ebook, that's a shitty deal. I am not a Leisure author, so I am not privy to the vagaries of their standard contract. But I know publishing, and generally if someone's going to get bent over, it's going to be the author.

I remember what it was like trying to promote and sell when all my books were in ebook form only. It was damned hard. Here, take this cover card and remember to order my book when you're at your computer three days from now. Would you like me to sign it? The cover card, not the book. Because you can't sign an ebook. The stigma also was huge; I've said many times how much shit I took, as though I wasn't even an author even after NOCTURNAL URGES came out and sold like crazy and won awards and had glowing reviews, because it wasn't a "real book." There's the famous bio-rewrite, where they amended the bio I sent in to call me an "aspiring author." Yeeeah.

But that was in 2004, before the Kindle and the iPad and the ebook explosion, which is still in its infancy. People are finally taking ebooks seriously, nearly a decade after Ellora's Cave exploded with romance ebooks as a viable business model. As of a few years ago, romance was the only genre making money in ebooks - the ultimate brown paper wrapper, plus romance has always been the cash cow of  publishing, with the largest market share of any genre (fiction or non-), $1.36 billion in sales last year and approximately 75 million readers. Source.

Now with Kindle and iPad, a lot of smart people are telling me that ebooks are the way we'll all be reading books in a few years. Print books will never go away, but they'll become rare, like the limited editions the collectors' presses put out. You know, those fancy $75 super-deluxe books signed in blood by the author and cover artist delivered by bands of singing angels? Yeah, I don't have any either. I'm just a poor working author.

One author told me this week he didn't see that happening in his lifetime, or not until he's an old man. Another told me a few months ago he sees it happening within two years. Somebody's gonna owe somebody a drink.

The argument I like the most is that if most books become ebooks, then an individual title becomes less of a financial risk. Not risk-free - despite public perception, a hell of a lot of work goes into an ebook. Editing, development, production design, cover art, marketing, none of that is any lighter on the pocketbook for an ebook than a print book. All they save are trees.

But without the cost of the dead tree, it might spur publishers to take bigger risks. Publish more books by unknown authors, try subgenres and cross-genres that might not be in the conventional wisdom that vampires must sparkle to sell. Give a chance to midlist and small-press authors who don't quite conform to the top ten on Publishers Weekly's list. It could add to the diversity and creative freedom of genre fiction, and help some of us struggling authors achieve a higher level of financial success and readership than we have before.

That's the upside.

In the meantime, I know I'm watching this damn closely. And I can bet it will come up at every convention, seminar and kaffeeklatsch this fall. As for myself, it doesn't affect me. Yet. But you better believe all my stuff is available in ebook.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The last time I'll bug you... (this year)

Y'all know my Relay for Life team finished up about $500 short of our goal. That's not so bad, considering we lost a few team members and were pushed indoors by a monsoon.

But I have until the end of August to make our goal and by God....

Since the Relay in June, my team has raised another $295. Because my team rocks. Special thanks to Macie Boyd, who came up with the bulk of that. Go Macie!

That leaves us $205 to raise by the end of the month.

I know I've asked before, and next year I'll be asking again. But this is important. This is cancer. We all know someone fighting cancer. Most of us know someone who died of cancer. It respects no boundaries. It kills our friends and family and loved ones, but it can be beaten.

Help us fight it. Even if all you can spare is the five bucks rattling around in your Paypal account. If you haven't had the chance or thought it was too late... help us out now. I know we can do it. Click the link below to donate via my Relay page.

If you prefer to donate to the whole team, their page link is here. Don't believe their totals; they haven't added in some of our funds raised yet.

As an extra sweetener, if you forward me your email receipt for your donation, I will send you your choice of an Aardvark short story (from or a coupon for free shipping. It's not much of a sweetener, but it comes from the heart. Send the receipts to elizabethdonald at yahoo dot com.

Thank you for putting up with my Relay blatherings all year, my friends. Your patience and support is always appreciated.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

a funny thing happened at the signing...

In the final few moments of the library author fair last Sunday, a woman was rushing from author to author to pick up books before we packed up. Bless her, she was buying book after book. She came to my table, looked at my array of horror and grief and misery, smiled and said, "I'm going to take a pass on you, if that's okay." I laughed and said that was fine.

And it is. Really. People largely seem to feel guilty when they just don't care for horror. I'm sure it's just politeness, because clearly I wallow in the death and pain because it gives me sadistic glee. But my work isn't for everyone. It isn't for children, it isn't for those who are prone to nightmares, it isn't for those who are squeamish about the Bad Death or emotional trauma. I wish I could write The Bridges of Madison County, because it would make a better Christmas present and my grandmother would be thrilled. But alas, my work is that of things that go chomp in the night.

I packed up and my son and I started to leave. Outside, we ran into the woman again. We smiled and nodded, and as she passed, she doubled back and said something I couldn't quite catch. Before I knew it, she had slipped a five-dollar bill into my bag and dashed back toward the library. I called after her, "Wait, don't you want a book?" She vanished.

I still am not sure what happened. Perhaps she felt guilty for not buying a book, or thought (quite erroneously) that she had been rude earlier? Perhaps we just looked hungry. At any rate, I feel like I owe her a copy of The Cold Ones, which is only six bucks and thus the closest to what she gave me.

She wasn't rude. Not at all. Rude was the guy who came up to me in 2004 when I was on tour promoting Nocturnal Urges. He looked at the undeniably-erotic cover, looked at me and said, "The only difference between this stuff and Penthouse Forum are the words, 'I never thought this would happen to me.'" He took two steps away and dropped my cover card on the floor. And yet he lives. I was mellower then.

There were the people who rewrote my biography to call me an aspiring author when my books were only available in ebook form. There are occasionally the people who lecture me as to the evils of my ways, because obviously I am a closet sadist who doesn't understand grief or loss to be writing such horrible things. There are the people who roll their eyes at a woman writing horror, because clearly it's all about the vamporn and we must have shelves full of fluffy sighing romances.

And yet they live.

I didn't know what to do with the woman's five dollars. So I asked my son what he thought we should do. He thought about it a moment, and said, "Disney jar." It's the big mason jar we decorated with Mickey Mouse stickers a few years ago, and into it goes all our spare change. When it gets full, we deposit it into our Disney Vacation account. By my reckoning, we'll have to fill the jar about 15 more times in order to afford Disneyland. Five bucks gets us a little further along that road.

So thank you, Mysterious Lady of the Library. If you see me again, I owe you a Cold Ones. It may not be your thing... but it makes a great gift.