Scarlet Letters

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

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Snippets: Deskbound Edition

Two things you must know about this Snippet: I am currently in the process of sorting, filing, and reorganizing my office for greater efficiency and less clutter. This is a work in progress.

Also, we are still a one-car family, so Jim is heavily dependent on the bus system for his transportation to and from work. And he is still on the night shift while I'm on the day shift, which means texting is our primary form of marital communication. On this particular day, I had assignments in Collinsville and Belleville.

MAN: Where is your stapler?
ME: My stapler is on my desk.
MAN: ...where?
ME: In plain sight. On the desk.
MAN: Your desk is a war zone.
ME: My desk is not a war zone. I know exactly where everything is on my desk.
MAN: Your desk is a disaster. Your desk looks like a kaiju stomped through it.
ME: My desk is in a state of transition.
MAN: Your desk is in a state of chaos.
ME: Just use the stapler and stop messing up my desk.
MAN: I couldn't possibly mess up your desk.
ME: Get outta my office.
MAN: Ha! No wonder I couldn't find it, it was between two boxes.
ME: Those are stacks. I'm sorting paper.
MAN: Your desk is frightening.
ME: Better quit making fun of my desk, it'll eat you up.
MAN: I'm away from the desk now, I'm safe to make fun of it.
ME: That's what you think.
MAN: Your desk will be known in the history books as the Battle of the Paperclips.
ME: I'm not speaking to you.
MAN: I saw the spores from your coffee cups lining up on your desk forming battle formations. I could have sworn I heard a bugle sounding the charge.
ME: It's a good thing that I had my phone off during my interview, because I would not have been able to resist texting you four-letter words. And there are no coffee cups on my desk. I think.
MAN: You know you love me.


MAN: My bus still hasn't shown up.
ME: Which bus?
MAN: The one from Leclaire downtown.
ME: I don't know what to tell you, it was due at 4:34.
* checks listings*
ME: Um, due to construction there is no bus for Leclaire today.
MAN: It's okay. I'm on the campus. [Neighbor] Mike saves the day.
ME: Whew.
MAN: Now if he could only save your desk. You should take pictures of the battlegrounds for the sake of history.
ME: My desk is a LOT better than it used to be, meanypants.
MAN: I heard a little bugle sound.... then a tiny voice yell, "Charge!" Thus the Battle of Paperclip Hill began... the carnage....
ME: I'm still not speaking to you.


ME: Did you bring up my costume trunk from the basement?
MAN: ...
ME: Now I'm definitely not speaking to you.
MAN: Sorry.
ME: Then I will have to bring it up myself and if I fall under its weight and die alone on the basement floor YOU'LL BE SORRY.
MAN: Ask Ian. We have him for hard labor.
ME: He has volleyball tonight.
MAN: He can do it when he gets home.
ME: At 10? I need to pack.
MAN: Oh.
ME: Nothing wittier than that for the blog?
MAN: I'm witted out. The Battle of Paperclip Hill took it out of me.
ME: I shall have to reinspire you with Boy's Life jokes.
MAN: Shoot me now.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Snippets: Writers' Group Edition

My writers' group meets biweekly to work on our books and share our progress. And sometimes our conversations are more fun than the work we're allegedly doing.

ME: So, I have three people down for the May group signing.... who's down for the one in March? Sela?
SELA: Nope.
ME: Is that because it's at oh-my-god-thirty in the morning?
SELA: Yup.
ME: *bawk bawk bawk bawk*
SELA: I don't believe in mornings.
HUNTER: Mornings are for making sure the coffeepot lid is on tight.
ME: I have a man who makes the coffee. He is required to do so.
SELA: Oh really.
ME: Yes, it's in the Bible, man makes coffee. It's in the Book of Hebrews.
WRITERS: *crickets*
DIANE: That was bad.
ME: See, I make that joke a lot at home and nobody ever laughs.
SELA: That's hard to imagine.
ME: I'm unappreciated in my house.

At least ten minutes later...

ME: So I'll be passing along the names to the other organizers, and I will let you know if we get any progress on [other project]-
WRITERS: *laughter*
SELA: *crying*
ME: *choking*

Work pretty much ended for fifteen minutes as we roared with laughter. And as Kat left an hour later, she was packing up her computer and muttered under her breath, "Hebrews..."

And we lost it again.


Subject was vacation trips while writing and the benefits of on-site at Disney World vs. off-site.

ME: See, I really regretted staying off-site for that convention, so we were absolutely about staying on site. And we never left, it wasn't a thing.
SELA: Right, because why would you? Well, Universal.
ME: I lied. We did leave - not Universal, because money - but we abdicated one day to go to the beach and see the ocean.
SELA: Yeah. I don't like the ocean.
ME: ... How is it you're the romantic one?
WRITERS: *laughter*
ME: Even me, the romance-challenged, I'm awed by the ocean!
SELA: It smells funny.
ME: *gapes*
SELA: It smells like dead fish, okay?
MICHAEL: I can just see this now in her book: "I reached out for his hand, and the scent of dead fish wafted over me - "

Aaaaand we lost it again.


ME: That was the best thing about Jamaica. The bar was open pretty much from breakfast.
SELA: I miss Key West. They had frozen key lime pie on a stick.
WRITERS: Ooooooh.
ME: See, I have a terrific recipe for key lime pie and I live in a house of men who do not appreciate it.
SELA: That is sad.
ME: Jim is all, "I'm not really one for key lime," and Ian says, "I don't like pie."
SELA: Did you drop him on his head as a baby?
MICHAEL: You can not like specific kinds of pie, but to not like pie...
ME: He was clearly switched as an infant by a changeling.
SELA: Clearly.


ME: The most frustrating thing is that I lost eight pounds in Jamaica.
SELA: How did you manage that?
ME: I have no idea. It was all buffets and gourmet restaurants. I ate constantly, paid no attention to carbs, drank like a fish and no, I did not exercise. I sat on my butt on a chaise lounge - no, I did exercise. I swam to the swim-up bar for rum cream.
SELA: Well, clearly that's what you need to do.
MICHAEL: Sure, put in a pool next to your kitchen.
ME: In Illinois. Sounds legit... I'll just ask my doctor for a prescription for Jamaica.
SELA: Can I have one too?


MICHAEL: *stares at computer in frustration*
ME: If you keep glaring at it, it'll fix itself.
MICHAEL: I need one more sentence and this story is done.
SELA: How about "the end"?
ME: That's coming.
MICHAEL: I thought it was done a week ago. But it needed more.
ME: "Call me Ishmael."
SELA: No, that's the beginning.
ME: Rats.


MICHAEL: There. The end.
ALL: Yaaaay!!! *clapclapclap*
DIANE: So, now you'll start another one?
MICHAEL: Oh, it's already started.
ME: See, now you're just making the rest of us look bad.


ME: Before I forget, I tossed this out on the Facebook group and response was positive. Everyone likes it here at the library? I should book the next two months here?
WRITERS: *chorus of yes*
SELA: And if they're ever not available we can go to Kool Beanz.
ME: I love Kool Beanz.
MICHAEL: Now there's no food here, so you'll have to start catering.
ME: ... I'll bring key lime pie.


MICHAEL: The Unseen comes next -
DIANE: The Un-sin?
MICHAEL: Un-SEEN. The Unseen is the new title.
ME: The Un-sin is a completely different book, and probably written by Sela.
DIANE: It's sin, but not quite as bad as full sin.
ME: Kinda half-sin.
SELA: They're sinning, but it's fade to black.
ME: Like those sweet romances, the ones with no swearing and no sex.
SELA: There's sex. You just don't get to see the sex.
ME: Where's the fun in that?
MICHAEL: I'm still trying to work Hebrews into my story.

Aaaaaand we lost it again.


Monday, February 20, 2017

Moonlight Sonata and the Hamsters of Amazon

Announcement! The Kindle edition of Moonlight Sonata is now available for $4.99!

I named my pet raven Edgar. He's happy to meet you.

Q: Wait, the book's been out a week. Why is the ebook just now -
A: Because I'm not Beethoven.
Q: What?
A: Amazon got the ebook version of my new short story collection mixed up with the various renditions and publications of Ludwig's Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor, which he called "Quasi una fantasia" and we call "Moonlight Sonata."
Q: That seems like a difficult mistake to make.
A: Well, it's not like I didn't know it existed. In fact, I listened to the sonata several times in the playlist I developed while writing the stories in this book. Along with a significant portion of the soundtrack to Sons of Anarchy. It's that kind of book.
Q: So that's why there hasn't been an ebook up until now?
A: Yes. The little hamsters running in the wheels at Amazon got my short story collection confused with a classical music piece written 215 years ago.
Q: Those aren't very smart hamsters.
A: Never mind, hamsters. It's all sorted out now. We're good.
Q: So I can buy the ebook now?
A: By all means. Of course, if you prefer the dead-tree edition in paperback or hardback, those are also available from the hamsters at Amazon or from, and at fine booksellers near you, especially if you go in and request that they carry it. Hint hint.
Q: Wait, I have Kindle Unlimited.
A: Then you're in luck, because it's FREE to you. Go snag it!
Q: Is there anything else I can do to help along your amazing literary masterpiece?
A: I'm so glad you asked. If you are so moved, please go review the book on Amazon. This helps a lot in terms of showing up in search results and being recommended to other people. It's me and Ludwig, folks. Do you know how many musical recordings there have been of the Moonlight Sonata? And, of course, recommend the book to your friends! Forward them this message, or just post the link on social media. Word of mouth is the name of the game.
Q: The book isn't about Beethoven, right?
A: Nope. No half-crazy German composers. Ghosts, monsters, a dead voice from the radio, a haunted church, a covered bridge to hell, immortal love and a few extra ghosts.
Q: Sounds spooky.
A: That's the idea. Hey, did you know that the full name of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata was Sonata quasi una Fantasia per il Clavicembalo o Piano=forte composta e dedicata alla Damigella Contessa Giulietta Guilietta Guicciardi da Luigi van Beethoven Opera 27 No. 2 in Vienna presso Gio. Cappi Sulla Piazza di St. Michele No. 5? 
Q: ...I did not know that.
A: Maybe that's what I should have titled the book. What do you think, Hamsters of Amazon?

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Sunday, February 12, 2017

Weekend: Project Home

It was a lovely, warm weekend here in the Midwest, so naturally Donald-Smith-Gillentine Inc. spent it indoors.

We had one of those lovely rare weekends where we had no obligations, but the far-less-rare status of no money. We spent all the funmoney this month on our Valentine's Day dinner (1808 Chophouse, and man, that was gooooood). So we tackled two long-delayed projects: my office and the Boy's room.

Now, he's a teenage boy. I don't expect pin-straight neatness. The only young male I ever knew who could keep a room tidy was my friend Stephen, and we've all agreed he's a mutant. At one point in Boy's youth, I turned to a fellow choir member in frustration for advice. His children are brilliant, personable, super-achievers, poster children for the new millennium.

ME: Tom, it's all agreed you raised the perfect kids.
TOM: ... okay?
ME: You did this! Successfully! So please, share the secret: How did you get them to clean their rooms?
TOM: We didn't.
ME: What?
TOM: We just sort of closed those doors and pretended those rooms didn't exist.

This strangely made me feel better. But not much. Yikes. How can a kid who absolutely must have the movie/TV show started before he can begin eating his snack and will not brush his teeth until he has gotten dressed because these things must be done in order live in such chaos! Momproblems.

But I cannot throw stones. My office looks like the police definition of "there appears to have been a struggle." I work every day in my home office for the newspaper. And every night I run my businesses and write my books there. Paper breeds on every flat surface. Two years ago I clear-cut it back down, but it's like the papers are gremlins and someone threw water around. (Come to think of it, I can't guarantee the office is gremlin-free. I heard some strange sounds the other night.)

In the meantime, Boy has managed to destroy his bed. And his dresser. Don't ask me how this is possible. It's an ordinary twin bed, and we recently discovered the springs are poking through the bottom of the mattress into the box spring. And ripping through all the bedding on the way. There are holes right through the center of the mattress, and while I know it's the springs that have sprung, it looks for all the world like he took a sword and drove it right through the middle of the bed like Arthur returning Excalibur home.

(He swears he didn't stab his bed with a sword. I believe him. Because I sold the sword three years ago.)

To add to the fun, the bed frame is all bent out of shape. He's also too tall for it - his feet hang off the end. His dresser decided to pile on the fun by almost literally falling apart. I paid $20 for it at a yard sale, so I guess I got my money's worth. Jim examined it closely and declared it totally irreparable. And that was before we found that the door to his armoire has half-ripped off of its hinge, destroying the particleboard keeping it in place.

Demolition Boy's desk and bookshelf have survived intact. Somehow. Probably because they get the least use... STARE. I'm used to the high level of destruction Boy manages to cause simply by the sheer friction of his constant motion - ask me sometime about how a seven-year-old child manages to destroy not one but TWO glass light fixtures several feet over his head using only foam.

To be fair, the dresser was not in the best of shape when we bought it and the bed would need to be replaced even if it hadn't been shredded because it's not HIS fault he is now six-foot-two and 200 pounds. Still, we're looking at the replacement of a mattress, box spring, bed frame, dresser, bedside table (long story), comforter, sheets, mattress pad, plus a shoe organizer and possibly some room-darkening drapes plus the armoire if we can't fix that door. I swear, we used to just throw his shoes into a square bin. Because they were tiny.

In the meantime, I have spent untold hours and gone through almost a box and a half of hanging folders and still have not uncovered the surface of my desk. It occurs to me that this so-called paperless society we've been waiting for is still a long time coming. I've got a book launch happening this week, so I really wanted to get through the mess before my off-duty focus turns to that. Whoops.

Finally, we called it quits a couple of hours before the menfolk had to go to work Sunday night, and we escaped into the now-chilly sunshine to do some photography. Boy got a really nice Nikon Coolpix from my folks for Christmas, and he took some startlingly good shots at the Garden while I did some casual portraits of Jim for *mmmmf* shhhh it's a secret. *whistles*

In all, surprisingly not the worst weekend we've ever had, considering we spent most of it working. In part because I got to hide up in the office and avoid breathing oh my god the dust if I were there I think I'd be coughing until Easter. In part because I actually feel like we accomplished a few things, even though I'm rather discouraged at how long it's going to take to reorganize the office. The desk, the filing, the office supply shelf, the shipping center, the photography desk, the library... everything needs to be pretty much torn down and put back together.

I'm considering a flamethrower. I doubt the landlords would approve.

However, I did spend the entire weekend with my menfolk. That's always good. Progress was made. The floor in Boy's room is visible. We got some nifty photos. The only bad thing about the weekend: it's too short.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017


MAN: My boss is allowing me to take two hours' vacation time so I can go to this extra credit thing on Thursday.
ME: You mean the Google Tools training workshop?
MAN: Yeah. It's 10 points extra credit for my newswriting class.
ME: Don't you have like an A in that class?
MAN: B. And it's a tough class, I can tell I'll need all the extra credit I can get.
ME: Okay. Dork. Have you reserved your spot?
MAN: I'll tell [professor] tomorrow.
ME: That isn't how you reserve your spot.
MAN: How do I reserve my spot?
ME: You have to RSVP with the president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.
MAN: Okay, then I need... hey, that's YOU!
ME: *giggles*
MAN: I plan to attend the workshop, Madam President.
ME: You're supposed to RSVP by emailing, I don't know that I can just waive the rules for you...
MAN: *raspberry*

MAN: I need to decide what elective I take next semester.
ME: You know what I think.
MAN: What do you think?
ME: That you should take some form of women's studies or women's literature or feminist theory.
MAN: Why is that?
ME: Because women are 50 percent of the human species and you should study our contributions. Because it'll help you write women better.
MAN: *long look*
ME: And it will help you understand ME.
MAN: ...
ME: *bats eyelashes*

MAN: Trap.

ME: Why can't you hear a pterodactyl in the bathroom?
BOY: *sigh* Why?
ME: Because the p is silent.
BOY: That's not even funny.
ME: Yes it is.
BOY: It doesn't even have to be in the bathroom.
ME: The P is silent!
BOY: ... That is not good.
ME: Yes it is.
BOY: I don't even like bathroom humor.
ME: Excuse me, which of us is the teenage boy?
BOY: That doesn't mean I have to like bathroom humor, Mr. ASSUME!
ME: That's MS. Assume to you.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Cover reveal for MOONLIGHT SONATA!

T-minus one week for the release of Moonlight Sonata, and I couldn't be happier. This collection has been a long time coming, and I'm delighted that this macabre mix of old friends and new stories will finally see print. Some of the pieces have been previously published, but at least half have never before seen the light of day, and I hope you'll like them.

Wanna see a cover?

I love my creepy little crow. I think I'll name him Edgar.
From the back cover:

All that can kill you is what you carry with you.

Imagine a haunted church, where the ground has turned sour and something walks in the shadows to the mournful hymns.

A silent covered bridge that no one dares to cross.

Angry spirits that cry out from beneath the ground of a cemetery that will not lie still.

An ageless man bound in love to a mortal woman, forever moving, forever haunted.

A police officer chasing a suspect into the woods - and suspects they are no longer alone.

A woman preparing to leave her husband, watched by unseen eyes in the corner of the room.

A voice that can speak only through a radio, a voice from beyond death itself.

A man haunted by an ageless face that brings tragedy to his life whenever it appears.

A girl whose imagination carries her beyond the point of no return in a future where dreams become reality - and so do nightmares. 

These are the dark, ethereal songs of Moonlight Sonata, stories bound to disturb your sleep and chill your heart. A new collection from the award-winning author of Setting Suns and Nocturne Infernum, Elizabeth Donald has been called “a storytelling ability to rival that of Stephen King.”

I thank a gazillion people in the afterword, so if you want to see the full list, you'd best buy the book. But I wanted to take a quick moment to thank my editor, Allan Gilbreath, who put up with approximately four bazillion emails over the course of this book's production; the Eville Writers, who've lived and suffered with this thing almost as long as I have; Man and Boy, speaking of living and suffering; the First Readers, who know who they are; and Seanan McGuire, for letting me use one of her lyrics as the perfect introduction to this collection of creepy tales.

As usual, I'm running preorders, which reserves you a copy in the first print run and helps us kick off the book's release. Trade paperbacks are $15 and hardbacks (!!!) are $30. Yes, my first hardback. Preen.

Are you local to the metro-east/St. Louis? Select "local pickup" and pick up your copy at a book release event! I set up in a coffeehouse for an evening and you can drop by and pick up your copy without paying for shipping. If you've never ordered from me before, know that I am happy to autograph/personalize your copy and of course there's no additional charge.

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