Scarlet Letters

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

Wednesday, August 26, 2015


JIM: You're evil!
ME: Am not! How am I evil this time?
JIm: "Kill her, kill the main character." Even my editor said if I did that my readers would hate me.
ME: So? Screw em.
JIM: Evil! Just because you always kill everyone...
ME: Do not!
JIM: Do too!
ME: Sometimes they live! Dale* lived, and he will go on to have many other adventures!
JIM: *mutters* He just won't want to live after what you did...
ME: I don't believe in happy endings.
JIM You're living one but you don't believe in them.
ME: All love stories end sadly. They either break up or one of them dies.
JIM: Evil!


JIM: I guess two of my classes won't be on Blackboard, since I don't see them yet.
ME: You can always do what we did when I went to college.
JIM: What's that?
ME: Find out what your grade was at the next class.
JIM: No. I want to know now.
ME: You kids and your technology.
JIM: I'm not going to college in the days of stone knives and bearskins -
ME: *response redacted*


During a horror movie...

MOVIE: *jumpscare*
ME: Meep! *grabs arm* Protect me, brave strong man.
JIM: Wait here. I'll run for help.
ME: Oh, my fucking hero.



ME: Tell me stuff like that doesn't make you want to write.
JIM: Oh yeah, it does.
ME: Me too. My head is all full of super creepiness now, and I want to write all the things. But I have to go to bed. If I didn't have to work tomorrow** I would totally pump some caffeine and get to writing.
JIM: Mmmm. *peruses Amazon*
ME: YOU could write.
JIM: I might.
Me: You could write about a struggling writer trying to support his family, and sitting at the dining table working on a story while everyone else is asleep. And suddenly there's a horrid face at the window.
JIM: *looks at large window* No.
ME: Why not?
JIM: I don't want to see anything at the window!
ME: It's a story! Write it!
JIM: It's your story, you write it!
ME: Okay fine, I will! Um, tomorrow night. Still have to work. 
JIM: I have my own story idea percolating.
ME: Well, then get to it. *mutters* and it'll probably have a happy ending...

* Infinity, 2011. 
** Took place Friday.

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Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Fall Deathmarch

I have really got to stop doing this to myself. I am too old to run around the country like this.

First, I must offer my regrets to the fine folks at River City Comic Expo in Little Rock. There will be many fine guests there this weekend, so please show up and visit with them!

So that kicks me off at Dragoncon, where some postal shenanigans unfortunately delayed my official confirmation and thus my panel schedule is pretty light. At the moment, all I know about are panels on the Writers Track at 2:30 pm. Friday and Sunday, an Apocalypse Rising panel at 4 pm. Saturday, and my reading will be at 5:30 p.m. Sunday. More panels may be added in the future, and I will offer chocolate and a free limited-edition chapbook to attendees at the reading on Sunday.

Naturally, a limited presence means less opportunity to sell books, especially in a zoo like Dragoncon among 65,000 of my closest friends. But I will be there, and I'm bringing the new book as well as some older titles and out-of-print rarities. I will not be bringing art unless someone specifically requests it, so if you'd like photo prints or posters, check out the store and let me know ASAP.

If I can, I will find a centrally located spot and camp out there in the evenings, bag beside me, and you can find me if you'd like some books. Please do! I have a hotel bill to pay!

On my way back, I may try to do a coffeehouse in Nashville Monday night. Anyone interested? If so, please let me know, and I'll set something up.

The weekend after that, I'm at Imaginarium in Louisville, Ky. with the full Literary Underworld. Last year's Imaginarium was delightful fun, but it was more than that. As I watched the programming last year, I thought, "If I were a beginning author again, there is no better place I could be than here." Everyone knows Stephen Zimmer does the best literary tracks on the mid-south tour, and he outdid himself at last year's Imaginarium.

My part includes my "Business of Writing" seminar on what to do when the book is written, and the LitUnd crew will be in full force in the dealer's room - which will be open to the public, so if you are in the Louisville area and aren't going to the convention, you can still come by and shop! If you do, please look for us under the grinning skull and say hello. Both evenings we also will have our Traveling Bar in our room for author cocktails, and I am looking forward to pouring the cheap booze once again.

The next week is Excellence in Journalism, the joint conference of the Society of Professional Journalists, Radio Television Digital News Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists. I will be attending in my capacity as president of the St. Louis Pro Chapter of SPJ, as well as a member of the national ethics commission and as voting delegate for St. Louis Pro. Fortunately, this time nobody's going to ask me to speak, except maybe at the ethics commission meeting, so we can all reminisce about the good old day in Columbus. *ducks*

EIJ takes place in Orlando this year, and I am flying, so I am only bringing books if someone specifically requests it. Check out my website and let me know if you want me to bring stock. And if any of my Orlando pals wants to have coffee, let me know! Fair warning, though: I'm landlocked at my hotel unless I grow wings or taxis are free. We do get one day's admission to the House of Mouse, but it hardly seems like fun without Man and Boy. If I have time, I might pop over there just so I can get some pictures of New Fantasyland, take a selfie at the Scene of the Crime and make Jimmy cry.

The next weekend I actually get to stay home and unpack, only I'm working my Sunday shift for the newspaper - what's left of me.

The following weekend is Archon! And I'll be several tables away from one of my fearsome gods, Harlan Ellison. I stalked Ellison at my very first Dragoncon, and learned more in a weekend than I had in a year of studying the industry and reading every book on writing I could find. I wrote an essay called "Stalking Harlan: Here Be Dragons" about that Dragoncon, and I think I shall have to repost it before Archon. I am simultaneously excited and terrified to meet him again.

Archon is always a great show for us, both for sales and for conversation with readers, fans and friends. Literary Underworld will be there in force, and you can find our booth on Authors' Row... but no cocktails this time, folks. We can't afford the main hotel for Archon, so we will be commuting from our home where we keep the good booze.

Then I have a weekend off, I think. My brain keeps telling me I'm obligated to something that weekend, or maybe it's just that I'm so overbooked this fall I can't comprehend of a day off. Finally, we have Leclaire Parkfest, which thankfully is one day and only a block from our house, so it's a nice quiet coda to the Fall Deathmarch. That one will be just me and Jim with books and art.

At this point I expect I will be accepting only local signings for the Christmas season, unless someone makes me an offer I can't refuse. Next year is booking fast, too, and honestly, I'm not booking this many things in a row in the future.

I'm getting too old for this shit. I promise if y'all buy more books, I'll stay home and write more. How's that for a deal?

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Mama Pauline and Papa Dick

Those of you who follow our family on Facebook know we were hit with some rough times this past month. Jim's mother passed away, and while it was not wholly unexpected given her health and age, it was a heartbreaking loss that has affected us all deeply, especially Jim.

It's hard to know what to write, because her story really isn't mine to tell. What I know of Pauline Adams came largely from stories told by others. I know she was a stalwart mother of twelve children, ten of whom survived infancy, nine who lived to mourn her. I know she had the bravery to stand on her own as a divorced woman in the early 1970s, which can't have been easy, especially since (I think) at least seven of her children were still at home.

And I know how much she loved Dick Adams, Jim's stepfather. They married when Jim was very young, and Papa Dick, as they called him, must have been one hell of a man. There's hardly a person in Jim's very extended family whose voice doesn't choke up when they speak of him. Sadly, lung cancer took him away twenty years ago, and Pauline has been quietly waiting for him ever since. And each year, when Jim walks with me in Relay for Life, he does it in Dick's memory.

The first time I met Pauline, it was a family dinner in a noisy restaurant. She had just recovered from a bad cold, and had not recovered her voice. Thus, my first impression of Pauline was that she was very quiet and soft-spoken. This, however, shows the problem with first impressions. She may not have been able to speak much that day, but by all reports from the family, she was a firebrand of a woman who could smack you into next week if you got her wrong.

Jim told me a story once about a time in the late seventies when Pauline and Dick had started a small business. It was a furniture store, and not in the best neighborhood of Memphis. One day, a group of punks tried to rob the store. Pauline was on duty with only one other person, and there were eight of them.

Pauline pulled a .45 out from under the counter, aimed it and said, "I got five bullets in this gun. Which five of you want to die?"

The store was not robbed that day, or any day after. The neighborhood gang called her Jesse James.

There wasn't a single person who didn't have a fond memory of Mama Pauline's cooking, from her homemade fried chicken to the famous strawberry cake to biscuit bread. Several times I tried to wheedle recipes out of her, but Pauline belonged to a different era and culture of fine southern cooks. Her recipes were all up in her head, and her hands knew how much flour and salt and bacon grease and lard to cut in. I can't even think where you'd get lard these days, but I learned to keep a coffee can full of bacon grease in my fridge, not that I've yet figured out what to do with it. In Jim's eulogy, delivered with emotional grace at the funeral last week, he said "the angels will be well fed," and I think he's right.

She was Mama to her children and Nanny to her grandchildren, and I can never forget how she accepted me and Ian with love long before Jim asked me to marry him and we formally joined the family. Ian spent one long, very hot afternoon with Nanny, hiding under the air conditioning like the Illinois boy he is, talking stuff and nonsense all day as though he was grandson by birth.

Some people simply have a gift for love.

The moment I remember the most came at the end of that noisy restaurant dinner. We were gathering up our things and heading out into the parking lot, helping Pauline along as she had limited mobility even then. As we gave our farewells, she gave me a hug much stronger than I expected from one so small and deceptively frail.

Remember, her voice was gone, so she had barely spoken all evening. But she pulled me close and whispered in my ear, "I'm so glad he found you."

Thank you, Mama Pauline, for your love and acceptance, and for raising the wonderful man who became my husband. The tears shed last week were for us, for how much poorer we are for your absence, so keenly felt especially by Jim, who still wants to call you every few days for a chat. We know that you are finally shed of the pain and weakness that came with injury and age, and that you are reunited with Papa Dick at long last.

Rest at last, a well-earned peace. Heaven knows you were loved.

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