Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, April 28, 2014

Happy Birthday

Today is my little sister's birthday.

I don't care that she's turning thirty-six. (Ha ha, Mel, I ratted you out.) She's still my baby sister, and the biggest regret I have in life (alongside getting student loans) is that she and I have spent most of our adult lives living in different time zones.

It sucks. I want to hang out with her and get manicures or girly shit like that. I want to have lunch with her, just for the hell of it, and talk about nonsense. I want to call her up at the end of a tough day and say, "First margarita's on me."

Social networks help alleviate it a bit. Neither of us is one for long phone conversations; we talk by text and internet.

There are a lot of reasons why this year's especially difficult. I don't intend to detail them right now. Suffice to say, it's a special year. And I want to be there.

Since I can't, I'll settle for embarrassing her with photos from that long-ago day when my parents brought me the best plaything a girl ever had. According to reports, three-year-old Me ran around telling relatives and neighbors to "come see my new baby!"

Happy birthday, Squirt. I love you. See you at the corner.


Thursday, April 24, 2014

Guest Blog: "Wrote What?" by H.C. Playa

In case you haven’t read the disclaimer on my publisher’s website, Fated Bonds contains erotic scenes. If my book ever appeared on television, it would be on HBO. 

Aside from the usual hero and heroine romance, there’s a secondary romance. It just happens to be between two males. Since I wrote the love scenes between Tala and Alexander explicitly, it was only fair to do the same for Kevin and Derrick. In both cases, the sex is a part of the character growth and an expression of their affection for the other person. 

Some readers may think, “ick” at the idea of reading about two men, but the love of those two characters was no less “right” than the main characters. They deserved the same stage as the main characters. I’m well aware that there are people out there who disagree. They can read something else.

Of course, there’re logistical differences to consider. In the rough draft, I basically took my best guess and then passed it to a fellow writer who could comment from firsthand experience. I spoke with others and accepted critiques in order to portray something outside of my experience. 

Writers research all sorts of things. This was just one more thing which required research. I didn’t know anything about guns or police codes, or cars for that matter. It’s important to point out that the individuals I spoke with volunteered to help. It is never okay to poke into someone’s private life for writing fodder without permission.

I’ve heard some people claim that as a cis hetero female, I have no business writing anything outside of that. They are welcome to their opinion. For one, I’m writing fiction. I don’t know what it’s like to be a werewolf either, or a man for that matter. Writing is about portraying people. Their habits and preferences are simply pieces of the character, but people are people. Society likes to shove everyone into little labeled slots, but there is really no such thing as a typical woman or a typical male. 

When I write characters, I try to envision each as individuals and let them tell me who they are rather than slot them into a predefined “male,” “female,” or “other” stereotype. While I cannot pretend to speak of another’s experience, I can look deeper and explore the human experience we all share.

As a treat, here’s an excerpt from Fated Bonds, my newly released novel:

For a year, he’d mooned and dreamed about this man, and now that he’d finally met him, it turned into a lecture. Kevin shook his head and stood. “Look, thanks for distracting him, but I don't need a lesson on magic. Professor Applegate is my adviser, so I can't afford to make him my enemy.” He proceeded to pack up his laptop and set aside the reference books for the library staff to reshelve. He went out of his way to avoid looking at the man as he prepared to leave. He paused after slinging his backpack over his shoulder, recalling what the man had said to Professor Applegate. “What did he mean by 'your kind'?” 
The man flashed him a grin which revealed pointed incisors. 
Going to run away from the bloodsucker?” 
Kevin's head snapped up. “I am not one of those types of people.” 
He tilted his sunglasses down and peered over them, revealing the faintest red-rimmed crystal blue eyes. “So why are you avoiding looking at me?” 
Kevin blushed as he tried to think of something innocuous and ended up staring at his feet. “Uhmm- I gotta go,” he finally blurted. He spun around. 
Well, I'll be damned.” 
He took no more than two steps before the guy grabbed his arm, jerking him to a stop. “Want to go get coffee?”

You can find Fated Bonds on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or order from InkStained Succbus. Also, feel free to check out my blog (, find my on Facebook (HC Playa), or follow my on Twitter (@HCPlaya). If you’ve read the book and liked it, consider leaving a review on Amazon.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

BAMM BAMM (Maxwell's Silver Hammer...)

Scene: Impending meeting of the Eville Writers.

SNARKY BARISTA: Oh, I didn't realize you guys were coming in today.
ME: Oops. We moved the meeting by a week and I think we* forgot to tell you.
SB: Any idea how many will be here?
ME: As usual, I have no idea. Could four or forty. They never tell me.
SB: *laughs* What can I get you?
ME: Something caffeinated.
SB: *laughs* That we've got.
ME: Let's see... should I be good or bad...
SB: Bad. Bad is always more fun.
ME: Yes, but I don't think I've written nearly enough to deserve being bad. ** So I guess it's a large iced coffee, Splenda and skim.
SB: *rings up* And you don't have a discount card, right?
ME: Nope.
SB: I didn't know if we'd broken you yet. Ten to forty percent off!
ME: *grin* Not yet. I'll join when it's free.
SB: *evil* You know, it would've been free by now. You're in here every couple of weeks...
ME: Well, don't bring logic into it...
SB: I'm just saying.
ME: It's the principle of the matter.
SB: Of course.

Oh c'mon, BAMM. Go on and make your silly card free. Before y'all yell at me, I stopped at my local independent on my way here to buy the book they've been holding for me. But BAMM does have coffee, and enough tables for my writer's group.

Time to get to work. I've got a press release to write, press packets to put together, emails for the authors at next weekend's author fair, and I won't tell you how far behind I am with website updates and bookkeeping.

...writing? Do I still do that?

* By "we," of course I mean "I," since no one else is crazy enough to steer this ship.
** And all the "bad" stuff costs twice as much, but that's beside the point.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Frustration, thy name is health

"It takes six months to get in shape and two weeks to get out of shape. Once you know this, you can stop being angry about everything else and just be angry about this."
-- Rita Rudner, para.

Oh diet app, bite me. Nice little pop-up telling me "you aren't eating enough calories!"

Yes, I've noticed. I have done everything my doctors told me to do. I track everything I eat - even a bite of bagel at church. I stay under 1800 calories a day with a balance between protein, fat and carbohydrate. I work out several times a week, both cardio workouts and strength training in the weight room. I take my meds like I'm supposed to even when they make me sick.

And since the docs switched me to the new med two months ago, I've gained 16 pounds. Yay? Wasn't that supposed to regulate my screwed-up endocrine system so it could operate like a normal human? Do normal humans work out, diet and gain weight?

Diet app, you are my constant companion on this nonsense. You know what's really fun, diet app? It's when I finish off the day, and you pop up with, "If every day were like today, you'd weigh (number redacted) in five weeks!"


Tired of doctors telling me that there's nothing I can do about it. Tired of hearing that Problem A means I can't treat Problem B, and Problem B is causing the main symptoms leading to Problem A. Tired of seeing "borderline" blood chemistry. Tired of showing them the meal tracker and exercise log and hearing, "Well, you're doing everything right..." Tired of hearing that I just have a screwed-to-hell endocrine system and all the dieting and exercise in the world isn't going to work. These are doctors saying this.

Tired of sitting on the bench at Six Flags because it's too embarrassing to squish myself into the chair. Tired of being tired.

And if I see one more goddamn meme lecturing, "Eat less, move more!" I might go nuclear on someone.

So I made an appointment with an endocrinologist. Let's fix me.

She can see me in September.



So now I can just be angry about THAT.


Monday, April 21, 2014

A few brief announcements...

Just a quick update to let y'all know that I'm returning to Hypericon in Nashville this summer. We are delighted to return to this show, which is always a blast! Thanks to the Hypericon crew for accommodating us, and we look forward to celebrating with Sara Harvey, Stephen Zimmer, Angrlia Sparrow and the crew from Inkstained Succubus, among many others!

I've been accepted as a guest at Dragoncon again, so I'll be back in Atlanta on Labor Day weekend. The following weekend, I'm attending a journalism conference in Nashville. Since it doesn't make sense to go back to St. Louis and double back the next day, I'm looking for any place in the southeast for a coffeehouse or book signing. Even in Atlanta! I didn't get to stop long when I zoomed through last fall.

Finally, I'm pleased to announce that I will be editor guest of honor at next year's Midsouthcon! MSC has been a mainstay of my tour schedule for the ten years I've been a published writer, and I attended as a college student back before I had the faintest idea I would someday be an author myself. It means a great deal to be a GoH in Memphis, my adopted city.

And it happens three days after my fortieth birthday. I mean 39-plus-tax. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.


Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Guest Blog: Peter Tupper

Greetings. My name is Peter Tupper. I’m a writer and journalist in Vancouver, BC, and I’m here to tell you about my new book, An Angel Has No Memory, published by Inkstained Succubus.
“Hello, I’m Rose Chung,” she said, extending her hand. “You must be Ms. Marro?” 
“Teodora. Call me Teo. Welcome to the Fulfilment House.” The other woman shook her hand and smiled a slightly crooked smile. She wore the dark suit which seemed to be the informal uniform for escorts at the Fulfilment House. Rose could see a needle pistol in an underarm holster under Teo's jacket and the ID card clipped to her belt. “I’m here for your orientation. Follow me and let me know if you have any questions.”
The Fulfilment House, which occupied several floors of an office block in the Pasadena arcology, reminded Rose a little of a casino: dark earth tones, no clocks, no windows, nothing to remind people of the outside world. There were also the security cameras watching everything, like the eyes of a tarantula. She could see attractive people in exercise wear doing yoga, exercising or painting. They must be the Assets she’d heard about.
An Angel Has No Memory was submitted as part of anthology, which fell through for lack of contributions. Inkstained Succubus decided to publish it as a stand-alone short story ebook. This gave me pause, as that is a new form of publishing.

How long is a book? SFWA says that a novel has to be at least 50,000 words long, and most novels today are much longer. But a novel isn’t the same thing as a book. A book can theoretically be of any length, contain multiple works by multiple authors, or even just be a compilation of LOLCats.

How long is a story? Hemingway wrote a story in six words: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.” I once asked a romance novelist what was the difference between a category romance and a literary romance. She said, “About 20,000 words.” Category romances are meant to be short, fast reads, compared to more involved reading of literary stories.

I don’t read a lot of fantasy, and I’ll admit it’s partially because I’m intimidated by the sheer size of some fantasy works published today. Looking at the thousands of pages of George RR Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series makes me cringe. Even if I like it, I’m not sure that I’d like that much of it.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the last fantasy novel I read, Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea (1968), the first of the Earthsea books. In less than 250 pages, Le Guin included action, adventure, coming of age, backstory, romance, magic, travelogue and more. A little bit of everything, skillfully arranged into a compact, aesthetically pleasing package, like a bento box lunch. Though this was the first of a six-book series, the narrative stands alone. The reader is invited continue the saga, not commanded. If you visit a used book store (remember those?) you’ll see that most of the older books from the 1960s and 1970s are relatively thin, but in the 1980s and later the books get thicker (and correspondingly more expensive). Each represents a more significant investment in time and money.

The short story has also shifted in how it is published, distributed and read. Apart from the red-headed stepchild format of the chapbook, for the most part the short story was distributed in magazines or anthologies. SF&F magazines are a troubled medium, with pay rates that haven’t changed since the 1980s, and minuscule readerships. My local mega-bookstore has the SF&F digests in the magazine section, on the opposite end of the store from the SF&F paperbacks and hardcovers.

Compare that to a short-story instantly downloaded to your reading device for a few dollars. In the post-Kindle era, we see a wide variety of short works of fiction and non-fiction published alone and for individual sale. It’s too early to say if this format of publishing and reading will last. It might be a fad, or it might lead to a new golden age of short fiction, adapted to our modern, hyper-busy age.

That does come with new challenges. There aren’t magazine editors to act as gatekeepers or taste-makers, who might champion a new writer. You might buy an issue for one writer you know you like and end up reading something new. A given work has to fight for recognition in new ways.

There’s an instructive parallel in the evolution of music publishing in the last few decades. There’s no intrinsic reason a pop song has to average three and a half minutes, or an album has to cover both sides of an LP. 45 rpm records with two singles dominated the market, until the rise of the LP in the 1960s, which allowed the concept of “album rock.” Post-Napster, the single track has surpassed the album as the primary unit of consumption, with listeners assembling their tracks into their own playlists on their music players. This creates new possibilities in both content and format. Popular songs have shifted from strong, flowing rhythms to keep the listener on the same radio channel to sharp, memorable opening hooks to keep the listener from hitting “Shuffle.” The medium informs the message.

My zombie erotica story “The Charge of the Soul” was published by Forbidden Fiction as both a stand-alone ebook and as part of the Touched By Death anthology. The data set of sales is too small to draw any conclusions about whether people prefer to buy their short fiction a la carte.

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