Scarlet Letters

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

Monday, March 30, 2015

Look out, toddler behind the wheel!

Or so that's what I always see. Someone needs to tell me that I'll get used to seeing my kid driving the car in which I am a passenger, because every time I look over at the driver's seat and see Boy, I see the little seven-year-old imp whose feet couldn't quite reach the petals, grinning at me as he played at driving.

He's not bad at it, really. We've been woefully inadequate at taking him out to practice, in part because of our crazy schedules that never intersect, and in part because it's immensely stressful. Look, I know he isn't likely to kill us, not as carefully as he drives right now. But the consequences for even a minor fender-bender while he's at the learner's-permit stage are so disastrous that it makes me five times as nervous.

Plus, it's MY new car. We were supposed to teach him on Jim's old piece of crap. Which didn't last long enough for Boy to get a learner's permit.

At one point I declared it was just too much, and Jim needed to take over the instruction. Boy vetoed that one. "He's even more nervous than you," he said, and demonstrated Jim's death-grip on the Oh-Shit Handle over the passenger seat.

BOY: *rolls through stop sign*
ME: See, that's a rolling stop, otherwise known as illegal. Your grandfather used to call it a California stop, but that's because he learned to drive in Los Angeles.
BOY: On a Model T.
ME: I am so telling him you said that.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Weekend random

For the record, brain, it was not very polite of you to come up with the title and two-thirds of the plot to the next Nocturne novel at church today. Especially since we're obligated to about three more projects before we could possibly get to that one. It's gonna be kickass, though.


Day two of Waiting for Dreamhost. Something like Waiting for Godot; when something goes wrong with my website, they respond instantly, and sometimes I can even get a live chat for help. When something goes wrong with the webstore, I must post in the forum and wait for a reply.

It's been more than 24 hours and no response. If I call them, the price is $99. Waiting. Waiting... Let's make bets!


Boy: Are we doing anything Tuesday?
Me: *parabola-mouth*
Boy: What? Oh. Oh my God.
Me: *supersniffle*
Boy: It's your birthday Tuesday, isn't it.
Me: *pout*
Boy: I may have to do some shuffling. I forgot.
Me: For the record, that's the last time you get a free pass on forgetting, meanypants.
Me: *transcribes conversation for Man*
Man: That was mean.
Me: Him or me?
Man: Him. Yours was well played.
Me: I'm a mom. We have advanced degrees in guilt.


The to-do list before Midsouthcon is so long I can't even. Awaiting deliveries, ordering promo materials, assembling booth materials. This is probably one of the biggest attempts we've ever done:

• I am editor guest of honor at the show. Both of us are guest authors.
• We will have two (2) booths with a hired flunky.
• We are premiering the new book, Nocturne Infernum. (Preorder a copy!)
• My photography will be featured in the art show.
• We will be hosting the Literary Underworld Traveling Bar.
• Both boys will be sleeping on our floor.
• If we can finalize the arrangements, we will be gathering with friends for an unbirthday dinner.

So all I need to do before Thursday is finish designing the booth sign, order it, order art show prints, mat them for hanging, design and print art show sign, finish this waaay overdue editing project, design and print flyers, do hotel reservations for the Indiana signing next month, remind one person to pick up the posters and another that my books are heading to her house, upload six new titles to LitUnd, refill Boy's meds, inventory LitUnd Traveling Bar and restock, repackage and replace booth materials, write up that [redacted item that was supposed to be last week], return the cable box to Charter, receive final shipments, pack our suitcase, make restaurant reservations, confirm badge reservations, order a bed frame, get last books added to inventory and updated in system, and turn thirty-nine-plus-tax.

I think I need a bigger car. And about two more weeks. Come to the show and see what's left of me, Memphis!

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Friday, March 13, 2015


BOY: *drops TV remote on the hardwood floor for the 900th time*
ME: *glare of doom*
BOY: I've got it! I've got it. It... still works. Sort of. Don't press too hard on the left side.
ME: Would you go get a newspaper?
BOY: Why?
ME: So I can roll it up and smack you over the head with it.
BOY: I didn't mean to!
ME: Okay, we can't change input anymore. Quit breaking my shit!
BOY: Watch your language.
ME: Yeah, it's really goddamn unladylike to swear.
BOY: You'll never catch a husband with a mouth like that.
ME: *choke*

Out-smartmouthed by my own spawn. The student becomes the master.


ME: Can you snag me a glass of milk?
BOY: *dramatic sigh*
ME: Oh please. It's not that big a trial.
BOY: *more sighing*
ME: Dear Mom, thank you for going to the grocery store after work and spending your hard-earned money buying food to fill my belly. I appreciate your sacrifices for my well-being.
BOY: Thanks Mom...


ME: Metro-East Lutheran is having its home and garden show this weekend.
MAN: *mimes zipping lip*
ME: What? It's a home show!
MAN: And garden.
ME: *glares*
MAN: I can hear the screams of the poor plants now.
ME: Excuse me. *leaves room*
MAN: *follows me to bathroom* Oh no, the plants cry, it's Elizabeth!
ME: *emerges with spray bottle*
MAN: Noooo! *flees*
ME: *chases Man, spraying him with water* Mock my gardening, will you!
MAN: *runs into closet, hides*
ME: Muahahahaha.
MAN: *from inside closet* Noooooo! The poor plants!

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett and a Vest Full of Stars

I've told this story before. But it bears repeating, given the death of Sir Terry Pratchett today. The author was mourned by more than his friends and family; he was mourned by the many readers who loved his work and had the honor of meeting him and being charmed by him, as I was, on one of the more nervous days of my life.

In 2007, I attended a convention where the famous Terry Pratchett was the guest of honor. I was a nominee for an award and much consumed with my own panels, making sure there were people on the booth in the dealer's room, assisting my friend with her book release, and other such convention business.

On Saturday, Pratchett had been scheduled for a signing one hour before me. Only one hour, which meant that by the time he was done, the line still stretched to Spain. There were a handful of us supposed to go on after Pratchett, which is a bit like scheduling a bar band to follow the Beatles. Fearing a riot, the powers that be kept Mr. Pratchett in place and moved the rest of us into a nearby ballroom.

I ended up next to Selina Rosen of Yard Dog Press, which always guaranteed snark. Selina and I had a long-standing threat of arm-wrestling dating back to my first nomination for the Darrell Award. It's a long story. The details don't matter; what matters is that we were so bored we finally arm-wrestled. And she kicked my ass. As anyone who has ever met Selina could have predicted. (As I tried to move her arm, she asked, "Are you trying? For real?" It was just sad.)

We had a few wanderers in and out, and I sold a book to a guy who made the fatal mistake of eye contact. Occasionally Selina stuck her head out into the hallway and yelled to the crowd waiting in the Line to Spain: "We will sign Terry Pratchett's books! No waiting!"

All weekend I had heard about Terry Pratchett, and the gentleman I was dating at the time was an enormous fan. I didn't know his work well enough to be starstruck yet. But he was so incredibly popular that he was basically this unseen force moving about the convention in other areas, with a wake of eager fans.

Evening fell, and I entered the banquet hall, nervous in my new cocktail dress and clutching a tiny good-luck charm. I decided to be optimistic and selected a table near the front that had some empty chairs. I was unaccompanied, as my gentleman friend was manning our table during the banquet. I asked if the seat was empty at the table near the front, and a friendly older gentleman in a black suit with subtle, sparkly stars imprinted on the vest assured me that it was.

I got the surprise of my life when he spoke in a wonderful British accent and someone referred to him as Terry.

Yes, I had dinner with Terry Pratchett.

We had a lovely time, conversation about the writing life and convention travel over chicken that was not actually made of rubber. At one point, Terry Pratchett said he'd been doing some reading about Tennessee, in particular the famous "body farm."

Blank looks all around, except me, because I know all about the body farm! They leave donated corpses out in various terrain to observe how they decay, to help students learn forensic techniques. Terry Pratchett and I talked at length about how weird and cool it is, while the others looked at their baked chicken as though it had suddenly turned over nasty.

"The thing I found strange," Pratchett said, "is that when they are finished with it, they give the body a proper burial. But none of them knew him in real life. What, exactly, do they say over him? 'Thank you for rotting for us'?"

I laughed myself silly.

Less than an hour later, I won the award. When I stepped up to give my brief speech, Terry Pratchett was clapping for me. It was one of those lifetime high points.

It was only months later that Pratchett announced he had been diagnosed with Alzheimer's. He insisted publicly that it should not be treated as a funeral, and I tried not to do so. But I remembered that dry wit and marvelous curiosity, and I was angry at a disease that would take that away from him before it took his life. He had a rich and wonderful life, yes, but he was only 66 years old when he died today. He should have had another twenty years of weaving tales, folks. I lodged an official protest with the universe.

I never saw him again, and never got to thank him for helping a nervous young author relax and laugh over dinner, award or no award. He was a true gentleman, a fine writer and we are all the poorer for his loss.

I hope he is now free from the shackles of disease, and wherever he is, he wears a vest full of stars.

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