Scarlet Letters

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Return of Snippets

Hey look, I still have a blog! The Fall Deathmarch Tour ate me. I was going to blog about New Orleans, and Memphis, and Louisville, and Dupo, and all the other places I've traveled for the last six weeks. (One of those things is closer than the others.)

About searching for non-spicy non-seafood on Bourbon Street, trying to find our way out of Louisville in the middle of a marathon, my first photography award, and getting censored by Facebook. Somehow none of that got written down...

In the meantime, have these.

JIM: Trying to read Emerson. I want to die.
ME: Why?
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg!
ME: You mean complex. Multifaceted. Challenging.
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg!
ME: Stimulating. Formidable. Demanding.
JIM: Boooooooorrrrriiiinnnnngggg! Long overstuffed windbaggery!
ME: I'm not sure windbaggery is a word.
JIM: It is now.
ME: I'm pretty sure you're not just allowed to make up your own words, English major.
JIM: Yes I can.

CHARACTER 1: You know how to defuse a bomb, right?
CHARACTER 2: I've seen it done.
BOY: Oh please. Just cut the wire that isn't part of the American flag. It's probably the yellow one.
ME: From your extensive experience in bomb disposal, natch. Where do you get this shit?
BOY: Sources.

ME: Could we get more stereotypical?
BOY: Yeah. He's the tough soldier who apparently has never seen a time travel movie.
ME: And she's brilliant but flibbertygibbet. And they have a black sidekick!
BOY: *two thumbs up*
ME: I hope this gets better.

ME: *dramatic sigh*
JIM: What?
ME: I want to play hooky.
JIM: You have to work today.
ME: I don't want to be me today. I want to be... a flower.
JIM: What kind of flower?
ME: Snapdragon.
JIM: Sounds like the kind of flower you'd be.
ME: ... wait. HEY!

JIM: Off to school. *kisses*
ME: Okay. Have a good day, learn things, play nice with the other children.
JIM: Nope, I'm gonna beat em up.
ME: Well then be sure to get their lunch money.
JIM: Will do.

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Murder of Stephen King, or, Why We Write

How terrible for his ghostwriter.

In case you missed it a few weeks ago, James Patterson called off his novel The Murder of Stephen King. It was actually a concept with potential, though not terribly unique: a serial killer is reenacting the deaths in a famous writer's books. Too bad Patterson decided to base it on a real-life writer, one who has already done this story a couple of ways, who has actually been stalked and terrorized by crazy people, and who isn't much of a Patterson fan.

Okay, it was maybe a little unkind (or at least impolite) for King to call Patterson a terrible but very successful writer. Largely because it's public knowledge Patterson doesn't write his own books anymore. If his books are terrible, then he should probably hire better ghostwriters.

Still, this was a tacky novel concept, so I'm glad he pulled it. I name characters after real people all the time, but only with their permission. And while my friends are largely delighted to die in horrible ways - which tells you something about my friends - I am sure any who have actually been stalked would not appreciate it immortalized without their consent.

I still boggle that Patterson doesn't write his own books.

At times, usually in frustration when sales are low or when struggling to carry a box back to the car (books are heavy) we will complain, "Why are we doing this again?"

And there is always a fellow author to say, "Because we have no choice."

Because you love books.
Because you have stories inside you that won't shut up.
Because it's therapy.
Because it is the only thing you're truly good at doing.
Because no one is writing the stories you want to read.
Because you love making worlds.
Because there isn't enough of [your subgenre here] in the world yet.
Because you only get better by doing more of it.
Because if you stopped the voices would take over.
Because just like the readers, you gotta know how it ends.

Writer Mia Silverton told me she began her writing career this year, hearing this advice from Quinn Loftis in three parts: We write because we have to. We write because we are inspired. We write to impact and influence lives.

"I do," Mia says. "I write because I simply have to tell these characters' stories and see the truth unfold. 'We write because we are inspired.' I am exactly that. Inspired by all the books, authors and lightbringers that have touched my heart and soul during every single year and phase of my life. 'We write to impact and influence lives' - I write because I want to help change lives, through not only the characters and worlds I create, but the messages that are spoken within those pages of love and healing. A well-spoken word in the past created a shift in me when the time was needed and I feel called to pay it forward."

Nowhere in that do you read, "So that I can make a couple million bucks." And if you did, there would be this sad, sick swell of laughter from the dealer's room.

Sure, if you've reached that lovely, privileged spot where you're making a living at writing, you write to pay the rent and put food on the table. I was on a panel at some point during the Fall Deathmarch Tour about writer's block, and all of us opined that one sure-fire cure to writer's block is a big paycheck held over a deadline. Filmmaker Jack Snyder listed his St. Louis house, apartment in Los Angeles, office rent and two kids in private school as his cures for writer's block. Money is a terrific motivator.

But... the money is a motivator because we want what Patterson has achieved. We want to reach that point where you can write whatever you want, get it published, and still pay the rent. So if you reach that point... why would you hand off the good part to somebody else? What do you do with all your time, roll around in the dollars cackling like Scrooge McDuck? If you're so busy managing the money that you don't have time to do the writing part, maybe the priorities have gotten a little out of whack?

Harlan Ellison once disparaged the phrase, 'I like having written but I don't like to write, it's hard work.' "Well, fuck you, hard work!" Ellison said with his usual delicacy. "You don't like it, go out and sail sailboats. Of course it's hard work. If it wasn't hard work, everybody would be doing it. And the better you do it, the harder the work is. It's supposed to be hard. Art is not supposed to be easy.... Art is supposed to be hard. Art is supposed to be demanding. That's the way I feel about it."

So I don't pretend to understand what's going on in James Patterson Inc., and while I might envy receiving one-tenth of his (or Stephen King's) paychecks, I'll still keep writing my hopefully-not-terrible books.

Because I have to. For more than one reason.

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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Identity theft or just really silly?

For the second time, I've reserved a room in a Chicago library.

Um, not me. The other me.

I've often joked that I must be two people at any given time, because the ethical and practical restrictions of my job require a separation between Elizabeth-me and Reporter-me. My worlds do collide, but rarely. Most of the time, the author-editor-person is doing one thing while the reporter-ethicist is doing something else. I've sometimes referred to one as my evil twin. (Note: the author is the evil one.)

But unless I've developed a serious psychological problem heretofore unknown to me, I am not reserving study rooms at a library in a Chicago suburb. However, someone is doing so with my name and email address.

The first time this happened, I received the email notification while I was on the road in.... you know, I honestly don't remember. It might have been Nashville, or Atlanta, or Kansas City. I only remember because I was sitting in my hotel room when I called the library to ask what was going on.

They were as befuddled as I. They said they use the reservation system to make sure everyone gets a fair shot at using the rooms, but that there was no cost or obligation involved. So why in heaven's name would someone use my name and email to reserve a room? What benefit does it give them?

At any rate, I informed them that the person in the room was Not Me, and that they needed to be duly made aware because I would not be liable for any costs or damages. They agreed, and we hung up.

It happened again. An email notification that Someone Who Is Not Me used my name and email address to reserve a room on Tuesday. I immediately emailed the library back. I have not gotten a response yet.

In practicality, the impact is probably negligible. It's a tad concerning, sure, but it's not like my name isn't out there. I'm a public person, and the email account they're using is my public email. (Those with my private email, please do not share.) As I've often said, in either of my personas, anyone who tried to steal my identity would probably give it right back with an apology and a donation. If you're gonna steal, steal from someone who HAS something.

But if you don't think I'm stirring the plot sifter with this....