July Linkspam

As I write this, I am beginning my last week of summer “vacation.” That last word has to be in quotation marks, because this summer has hardly felt like a break! Between my freelance work and ducking this bloody virus and managing the circus that is my family, I’ve hardly felt like I was on a break.

However, next week begins an intensive two-week training course in English composition pedagogy, which is academic-speak for “teaching English comp.” This being grad school, the readings actually start this week, and then for most of August I will be training heavily and preparing to start teaching in the last week of the month.

While I’m not (entirely) new to teaching, I am very new to English composition. Little-known Elizabeth fact: I never took English 101 or 102, nor a creative writing class until last year. Back in the ancient days (a.k.a. the 1990s), you could take a test called the CLEP (make your own jokes) and a high enough score let you skip straight to the literature classes. So I CLEPped out of English comp, and thus I have never taken or observed these classes. Whee!

Still, this is an exciting new challenge, compounded by the fact that all my teaching (and learning) this semester will be online, as well as my requiring tutoring for students who are struggling with writing skills. I am very grateful for the privilege to continue working entirely from home, as we all continue to ride out the pandemic and try to keep ourselves and our families safe.

In the meantime, journalism! This month was all about the news, as the folks in Highland kept me hopping. I also had a few essays, although I didn’t put any of them on Medium. I’m still trying to sort out what kind of material is going to be of interest on that site, and what people would like to hear from me.

Of course, the first priority is always to the Patreon, as those good folks fork over perfectly good money every month to read my blatherings. They got a couple of essays this month, as well as a photo travelogue from San Antonio. That’s the second of what will probably be four travelogues on San Antonio, and will eventually be repackaged into a travel piece. You know, in my spare time.

Essays/Blogs

The celebrity in the room (Donald Media)

Pay for it. That’s how people live. (Patreon)

Freedom Day (Patreon and Donald Media)

News

Highland parents face choice of in-person or remote learning (Highland News-Leader)

COVID may force schools to off-campus learning (Highland News-Leader)

Highland considers allowing golf carts on city streets (Highland News-Leader)

Highland teacher dances into retirement, but keeps a toe on the stage (Highland News-Leader)

Highland issues verdict on golf carts, ATVs on streets (Highland News-Leader)

Highland city manager set to retire after 40 years (Highland News-Leader)

Photography

San Antonio: The Riverwalk (Patreon)

You can always catch my latest work at ElizabethDonaldPhotography.com, and the shop is linked to all images that are available for sale. If you would like a piece customized as a poster or other item, just ask! 

Miscellaneous

We have been informed that Archon has been canceled for 2020, which was disappointing but not a surprise given the mass cancellation of just about every convention, book fair and signing this year. There are a few possibilities left for the holiday season, but odds are strong that every convention and signing will be canceled this year. I hope to see your faces again someday… 

Finally, work continues on the novella of doom, which should come out later this fall. I’m delighting in the creep factor of my haunted San Antonio (hey, if I like a city, I’m gonna infest it with monsters) and looking forward to seeing it in “print.” More about that next month, I hope! Many thanks to my awesome editor Rachel Brune, who has displayed uncommon patience with me…

In the meantime, have a cover!

Freedom Day

Monday was an anniversary of sorts. On that day, two years ago, I worked my last shift as a full-time newspaper reporter.

Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know what a big decision that was. I had worked for that particular newspaper for 18 years and in newspapers in general for 22 years, which was pretty much my entire adult life. I spent a long time thinking about the choice to go freelance and try to make a living with my words while I went through what I thought would be two years of grad school. Whee.

Last year I wrote that this decision was like jumping off the high dive with my family handcuffed to me, but without knowing if the pool was full of water. I spent the first few weeks of grad school sure I had made an awful mistake: I was too old, I didn’t fit in, I was a bad fit for academic style and the philosophical approach to the field. I didn’t exactly hit the ground running, but I adapted, and as of this writing I have finished all the coursework for the masters degree in media studies.

Several factors have delayed completion of Ye Olde Thesis, not the least of which has been COVID-brain – no, I haven’t had The Plague, but the situation we’ve all been in since March seems to have made my concentration very difficult. Wurdz r hard.

But I have never regretted my choice. It’s not an easy life, being a freelancer. I spend a lot of time hustling work and filing invoices. But I also choose what I write about, and I am my own boss. That has definitely been worth what I gave up in security and a regular paycheck.

And I’m still reporting. I do magazine articles on a fairly regular basis, and I also do some local reporting for a subsidiary of my former employer. I like to keep a foot in the game, since I hope to be teaching newswriting again in the future and I feel you really need to keep up with the profession in order to teach it, beyond reading in the trades about the general state of the news industry.

I truly love teaching. I didn’t know how I would take to it, but it surprised me by being the best part of the last two years. One of my few disappointments this year was that we could not figure out a way for me to keep teaching newswriting while I’m teaching English comp this fall, as I would happily teach both classes as long as they’d let me. All of us got hit with unexpected challenges – a baby-bird new teacher suddenly switching to all-online instruction in mid-semester required multiple adjustments of the syllabus and assignments, but fortunately my poor students were patient with me, and I’m looking forward to continuing my teaching in the English department this fall.

Oddly, my fiction work has flourished even during the grind of grad school, in ways it hasn’t in years. This year in particular, I’ve seen several stories picked up for speculative fiction anthologies and also a literary magazine, an avenue where I haven’t had much success in years past. I am hoping to see far more of that, as I begin my new MFA program next month.

Meanwhile, nothing dulls my passion and advocacy for news reporting, even as it becomes more and more tiresome to wade through the hate spewed toward us online (and sometimes more than hate, as evidenced by the treatment of journalists on the protest lines in so many places this year.)

So while I tend to think of the anniversary of my departure as Freedom Day, it should not be interpreted as freedom from my old job or the news or journalism. It was more an internal freedom, the freedom to remake my life and my work to better suit all the facets of who I am as a writer. It’s freedom from the expectations of others and the restrictions I placed on myself, not freedom from any particular employer.

Below is the speech I gave at my farewell party at the newspaper. I meant every word of it, and still do. (Yes, I wrote it down. If I don’t write down what I’m gonna say, I’ll talk forever and it’ll be full of “um,” as my students can attest.)

——-

I remember the first time I walked in here as an employee. It was June 2000, and we won’t talk about how old some of you were on that day, Josh

I was 25 years old and less than three years out of school. I filled out my papers and they sent me up to the bureau so I could introduce myself to the crew working up there: Doug Criss, Teri Maddox, Steve Nagy, Marilyn Vise, Jayne Matthews.

I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know shit.

But I learned, because of the people I worked with here. I had editors, and colleagues, and mentors, and friends. We are a strange and often dysfunctional little family, but we are a family nonetheless. 

And that doesn’t change when you walk out the door, as I’ve discovered from the number of people I’ve heard from in the last few weeks and even the last few days. They remember, and we are connected. We are a family, because we all came here for one purpose, one calling that rides above an ordinary profession.

We are here because we believe in journalism, and its importance to the community in ways that they will never understand or appreciate. No matter how awful or exhausting or difficult it gets, no matter how jaded we think we’ve become, we still show up and shovel coal into the furnace and do the work and inform people who will never appreciate it.

To me, that makes every one of you heroes.

I am proud to have worked with every one of you. I am proud of being part of the News-Democrat. I always have, and I always will be. I have been here so long that “News-Democrat” is part of my name – when I introduce myself to people out in the world, I have to stop myself from saying, “Elizabeth Donald News-Democrat.” 

It’s going to be a hard habit to shake. But that’s okay, because it’s part of me, part of who I am.

I know there’s a lot of uncertainty right now – it’s weird, and there are difficult times ahead, more difficult for some than others. But I know that wherever our various paths go from here, each of us can and will stay the course with our true mission – and I don’t mean the checklist or a spreadsheet or a hit count goal. But the true mission of any newspaper: to serve and inform our community.

Each of you has been a shining example of that mission. And I don’t just mean the mentors who taught me so much of what I needed to know all these years. I mean you young ones who will carry the torch forward for us, and have taught me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know. 

Your dedication, your skill, your passion and commitment have restored my faith in our profession’s future. I will always be proud to have worked with each of you.

And you’re required to stay in touch. That’s why God invented the internet.

The celebrity in the room

Grant Imahara is dead, and that’s a damn shame.

I’ve been a published author for 15 years and spent a lot of time in rooms with people much more famous than me. I’ve had the privilege of being scheduled for signings at Dragoncon and Archon and Midsouthcon and and and and … In the long tradition of SFFH conventions, they usually put someone like me next to a Super Famous Person, balancing out the crowds.

For example, one of my earliest signings was me and Anne McCaffrey. There were two people in line for me, and the line for Ms. McCaffrey stretched to Spain. This worked out nicely for me, since the layout of the room required them to walk past me when they left. Here, have a cover card!

Some of the Famous People I’ve signed with were cool or even dismissive, and no, I’m not naming names. Suffice to say one of them was outright rude and mocked the layout design on my book in front of the room, and another nearly ran me over with her scooter. Twice.

Others were sincerely friendly, and I prefer to remember them. I spent a Sunday morning chatting with Rod Roddenberry in an empty signing room, because seriously NOBODY shows up for a Sunday morning signing at Dragoncon. I told Rod about my father’s fondness for Star Trek back when he was a young airman during the original series, and how he shared it with me and now I was sharing it with my son, because Trek is a family tradition now. He was collecting stories like that for his eventual documentary on the impact of his father’s work. At my last Midsouthcon, I spent most of the signing hour getting terrific advice from editor extraordinaire Ellen Datlow (in between customers), and I’ve written before about my wonderful dinnertime chat with Terry Pratchett and his vest full of stars.

What does this have to do with Grant Imahara? Well, he and I did a signing together at Dragoncon in 2012, and because I was living under a rock, I actually had to look him up to see why there was a line to Spain for him, too. Everybody was at his table! Who was he, again?

Look, I’m a writer. I barely get my nose out of the computer, I didn’t watch Mythbusters. Except the Jaws episode, I watched that one. Giant rock, underneath, me. It was later when my friends were aghast: “You signed with Grant Imahara? He’s the cool one from Mythbusters!

Grant was friendly and kind. His line was extensive and the other two lines were practically nonexistent, so he kept directing people to go visit us after they had gotten his autograph. The tables were set up differently by then – we didn’t share a table, just a room – but before he left he made sure to come over and greet us lowly folk and look at our work.

That was rare for a superstar, folks. There’s a hierarchy, and definitely actors and TV personalities ranked much, much higher than scribbling writers. For any other actor, I think I would have had to stand in line at their own table to exchange a few words. Authors are better attuned to the scrabbling and desperation of gaining eyes on your work at a con, but even then, the Big-Time Names tend to forget us by the time they’re the lead name in a signing. For them to acknowledge our existence was cool; to actively encourage people to drop by our tables and consider our work was damn stellar. I know I picked up at least a few sales from Grant’s fans, and I am always grateful for that kind of support.

Others knew Grant Imahara much better than I did, but by all reports his friendly, gracious nature was reflected by everyone who knew him. I know that his genuine good nature made a far greater impression on me in that one-hour signing than any number of TV shows might have had. In an era where so many people we thought were great folk have turned out to be secret monsters, it is heartbreaking to lose one of the good guys – and so very young.

Rest in peace, good sir.

June Linkspam

It’s July! We’ve survived half of 2020! You know, just that sentence is a tad on the terrifying side. If this was the first half, what does the second half have in store for us?

Anyway. Let’s think about something happier, shall we?

I’m happy to announce the contracts are signed for a new Blackfire novella! It will be included in Crone Girls Press’s new Midnight Bites series. Well, as soon as I finish writing it! That is an important step in the process of publication, or so I understand.

Work on the novella and on Ye Olde Thesis has pretty well consumed the month, though the local news and Patreon work has continued, as you’ll see in the links.

Otherwise, life at Donald Media Towers has pretty much continued quietly, as we prepare for a funky-weird fall semester that may be partly online and partly on campus. I really need to clean the office – or at least the part anyone can see on Zoom.

Essays

• Writerversary. (Patreon)

News

• COVID-19 stalls school construction program (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland alters Fourth of July celebration (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland school leaders consider off-campus learning in fall (Highland News-Leader)

• I also wrote a piece on outdoor camping during pandemic for Outdoor Guide Magazine, which is not available online.

Photography

• San Antonio: The Market (Patreon)

Miscellaneous

• Housekeeping and Uncle Sam (Patreon), updating my subscribers on Patreon’s new sales tax and other updates. You remember that I have a Patreon and it’s totally awesome and you should subscribe especially since it starts at $1 a month?

I’m sorry to say just about every public appearance I had planned for the latter half of the year has been canceled or moved online. We’re still waiting to hear about Archon, but other than that, it’s a virtual life for me. 

Stay safe, fiends. I’ll see you on the flip side.

May Linkspam

I’m not even going to pretend to summarize May. Anyone with half a working brain cell and an internet connection knows what’s going on, and I’ve been up to my eyeballs just keeping up the butcher’s bill of attacks on journalists while covering the historic protest marches taking place worldwide. If you want to know more, the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker has a compilation much more comprehensive than mine and the ACLU is filing suit. If anything they’re being conservative in their definition of “attacked,” as I’ve seen far more than 54 journalists beaten, maced or otherwise assaulted in the course of doing their jobs.

Meanwhile, for the effect coronavirus is having on the journalism industry, Poynter is keeping a running tally of layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts and news organization closures as a result of the pandemic and shutdown. Please feel free to use this list against any idiot insisting that the media are overamplifying the threat of the virus because it’s so bloody good for us.

Of course, the State of Journalism is not really what Linkspam is supposed to be about, because if I start on the ranting essays I want to write, I’ll do literally nothing else, and I am ass-deep in alligators these days with freelance work. Here’s what I have to share from May:

Journalism

• “Fueling Our Heroes” makes stop in Highland, feeding truck drivers (Highland News-Leader)

• Highland High School creates virtual graduation for class of 2020 (Highland News-Leader)

• Pere Marquette under renovations for spring (Outdoor Guide Magazine – print only)

• Is Highland reopening yet or not? (Highland News-Leader)

• Mayor cautions city must follow state orders (Highland News-Leader)

Fiction

• An untitled short-story experiment for the Patreon group, which originated in my fiction workshop this spring. As always, the Patreon gets the behind-the-scenes stuff and the new stuff first, so you might want to consider subscribing. Hint hint.

Photography

The bloody pandemic has really damaged my plans for regular photo shoots this summer – I had multiple trips planned, and until the damn bug goes away, I won’t be able to do them.

• “Fireworks,” a photo essay for Patreon detailing my efforts to shoot fireworks into abstract sky-art. My town is going to attempt a socially-distanced fireworks display on July 3, and I will attempt to shoot it if I can do so safely.

Miscellaneous

CultureGeek is currently on hiatus due to the complete shutdown of the movie industry. If it resumes, it may be in the form of book reviews – or the reviews may find their way to this space. I haven’t made up my mind on that – I love CultureGeek and I’ve been writing it more than a decade, sometimes with others and sometimes alone. But I’m doing a lot more freelance work these days, I’m writing or managing five blogs, and the decidedly non-lucrative CG may have served its purpose. Or perhaps it has enough fans that it should keep rolling – either in its current space or in a dedicated website. I will decide that by the end of the summer, most likely.

I have recently joined the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), which appears to be the standard organization for writers in MFA programs like moi. Their conference looks to be a really nifty opportunity and it’s going to be in Kansas City next spring, which is an easy drive from sunny St. Louis. Best of all, I’m just a member, so I am not in charge of ANYTHING.

SPJ’s Excellence in Journalism is still scheduled for September, but damn near everything else I had scheduled between now and then is canceled, so it’s flip-a-coin whether I’ll be in D.C. this fall or not. I chose not to apply to Dragoncon this year before the COVID mess began – betting pools continue on whether DC will have its big party or not – but I hope to return sometime in the future when life is once again sane. Ish. The local chapter’s work is also on hold due to coronavirus, but I’m hopeful for our annual fundraiser and the monthly Freelancer Coffee Hour to resume soon. (Wear masks!)

Website work continues to be borked, as both the SPJ website and Jim’s website are completely fubar and I have to un-fubar them before I can attack the task of redesigning the rest of the websites. Did I mention I am not a programmer? I never get more than three steps into the recommended processes before I begin weeping and rending my clothing.

In the meantime, I’m working on magazine pieces and editing projects, still banging away at the Goddamn Thesis, and there’s a nifty new fiction project I’m not yet at liberty to discuss. When the contracts are signed, you’ll find out. It involves creepiness… and teeth. Muahahaha.

Stay safe out there, friends.

New photos: East St. Louis

East St. Louis Theater

I found this theater during a 2019 photo shoot in East St. Louis, Ill. It looked as though businesses had at least attempted to use the lower level in the recent past, and everything at ground level was covered in graffiti. But the upper level had fascinating scrollwork and artistic design. I know little about architecture, but I know that that building has stories to tell. 

There are a number of other images from my East St. Louis shoot, which was a fascinating trip detailed a few months ago on the Patreon.

See the rest of the photography portfolio at elizabethdonaldphotography.com.

April linkspam

It’s been a weird month, but then it’s been weird for all of us, hasn’t it? We are only two weeks from the end of the semester here at Donald Media Towers. My husband is about to finish his bachelor’s degree and not-graduate with the rest of the class of 2020; I have taken an extension on Ye Olde Thesis to get it knocked out in the summer before starting my new endeavor (read the last blog post on this list, if you missed that).

I’m under house isolation for the most part, having ventured out only for such thrilling moments as medical treatments or an insurance-funded car repair that required my actual presence for paperwork. The rest of the time I’ve been in the house, sending my essential-worker husband or son out on our errands, and sooner or later I’ll get them trained on how to follow a shopping list.

Teaching is pretty much wrapped up except for student conferences and grading the final projects, and my student work is… well. Let’s just say grad students and instructors are no less prone to procrastination or the mental malaise that has gripped so many of us in this time of plague. I see all these posts saying that it’s perfectly all right not to suddenly take up a new art form or write a novel or otherwise take advantage of all this home time… but then there’s those pesky deadlines.

So two weeks from now begins the summer, and I will not have any steady gigs for this breather between one program and the next. So it’s going to be freelancing, fiction and Ye Olde Thesis. Which probably means more essays and website design, because I can procrastinate like nobody’s business.

Most of my volunteer work is on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic. The American Cancer Society chili fundraiser/author fair scheduled for May 2 is postponed until further notice, and the Breakfastival of Hope scheduled for May 30 will likely be in August. The Cardinals ticket sale is on hold until we hear if there will be a baseball season, and right now I’m just crossing my fingers that the fall festival will happen so we can hold our annual book sale.

This has been disappointing for me, as I have lost two friends just this month to cancer and I’m more than a little pissed off about it. Rest assured our Relay for Life team will be raising money for cancer research one way or another, virus bedamned. In the meantime, you can donate here.

Essays

“Unexpected Gifts” (Medium), featuring a photo by my son, Ian Smith, because it was better than my photo by a long shot, pardon the expression. I better up my game! This one was posted on Patreon first, because Patreon always gets first dibs.

“Peace which the world cannot give, I give to you” (Medium)

Journalism

Highland High explores graduation options (Highland News-Leader)

Highland staying vigilant against coronavirus (Highland News-Leader)

Highland faces budget questions amid pandemic (Highland News-Leader)

Future of marijuana dispensaries on hold for now (Highland News-Leader)

Caterer donating meals during pandemic (Highland News-Leader)

Fiction

“Fever” (exclusively for Patreon)

(And a sooper-sekrit project I can’t tell you about until the contracts are signed. Ooo, mysterious.)

Patreon/Blogs etc.

Patreon subscribers received their annual bonus, which was a copy of the River Bluff Review, a literary magazine only distributed in dead-tree edition that included two of my stories this year. They also received a matted photograph. See what you miss by not subscribing? And there should be a lot more fiction in the coming year… for details, see below!

Elizabeth, what are you going to do when you grow up? (that itty bitty announcement here)

Elizabeth, what are you going to do when you grow up?

Since I let it slip on the radio last week, I might as well go public. Shenanigans are afoot.

Recap for those playing along at home: I left daily journalism in 2018 to pursue my masters degree in media studies while launching a freelance career.

This turned out to be quite a few eggs in the baskets I was balancing on both arms, my head and the tip of my nose. I learned quickly why I got sad smiles and headshakes from fellow freelance journalists when I said I’d be launching while doing grad school. The freelance career definitely brings in what I put into it, which I can track on my bookkeeping sheet: when I was crunching hard at school, the balance fell to a minimum; in the summer, it was soaring. Well, soaring to “subsistence living,” at least.

This may or may not be an accurate depiction of my home office.

Still, as I’ve said several times, my worst day in Career 2.0 still has not involved calling the family of a dead child and asking for comment. My barometer for stress is scaled differently.

And to be honest, working freelance suits my personality much better than working in a newsroom ever did. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility and the right to choose my own projects, even if it isn’t as lucrative as a steady paycheck. I’m still doing some local reporting as well as magazine work on a more-or-less regular basis, and writing about the things that interest me. One week I might write about balancing motherhood and an MBA program; the next about camping options along the great river road. And let’s not forget how many stories I could write about legalization of pot here in sunny Illinois.

Now as I approach the end of my masters program, I have to figure out what I’m going to do next. Originally I wrote a long and really boring explanation of all the options I considered before settling on my next step, and I have deleted it because if it bores me, I can’t imagine how stultifying it would be for you, Gentle Reader.

But something else has happened while I’ve been trundling my way through cultivation theory and media content analysis and many cans of Starbucks TripleShot: I’ve been able to take some writing classes.

What are you talking about, Elizabeth? You’ve been a professional writer since the mid-nineties!

True, but with the exception of a poetry workshop in high school, I had never taken a creative writing class in my life.

I always meant to do so – I must have signed up for fiction workshops at the University of Memphis three times, and always had to drop it because it conflicted with some other requirement for my major.

I went to untold numbers of author panels at conventions, read writing books and memoirs obsessively… but never took a creative writing class. I have had plenty of training in newswriting: undergrad included classes in story structure and investigative and feature reporting, etc. But never fiction or creative writing.

Last spring, I took a class in creative nonfiction from the English department, figuring it would help with the essays and long-form journalism I was trying to develop for my freelance work. I found it immensely enjoyable, and more importantly, my writing improved significantly.

When this last semester began, I enrolled in a graduate-level fiction workshop as kind of a trial run: could my ghosties and creepies and long-leggedy beasties translate in a literary environment? I’ve always had a taste for things that go chomp in the night, but the key to those critters and their ability to scare lies in characterization: characters with whom we can identify and language that evokes emotion. At its fundamental basis, writing of any genre must meet those needs to be truly impactful. So far, the workshop has been going very well, and I find I am viewing my own work and works of others in a new light.

So after long discussion with Jim, and a lot of personal contemplation, I rolled the dice and filled out the applications over the winter break.

Thus I am pleased to announce that I have been accepted into the MFA program for creative writing at SIUE, and will begin in the fall. This program involves intensive fiction workshopping and classes in literature as well as craft, along with a mid-program project involving writing and literacy in the community.

In academia, the masters of fine arts is considered a terminal degree – which sounds frighteningly fatal – and thus is given equal weight to a doctorate in most situations.

I have also been offered another teaching assistantship, so I will learn how to teach English composition at the freshman level. While I expect this will be the biggest challenge of my immediate future, it will also give me a much wider area of experience as an instructor. After I finish, I will be qualified to teach English comp, creative writing or journalism at the collegiate level, and if I cannot land a full professorship right away, it will at least give me a much wider variety of adjunct opportunities than solely teaching newswriting.

So it’s practical, and practicality always has to come first in my head. As I told Jim, the worst possible outcome of this insanity is that I’ll come out the other side with enough material for 1-2 more story collections, and that works fine for me.

But I am also very excited about this new venture. I’ve been given a warm welcome by my fellows in the MFA program and in the English department, and my short stories have already gained a good bit of success in literary magazines and anthologies after a looong dry spell. It’s odd that although my primary work for the past two years has been research-based rather than creative, I feel more creatively inspired than I have in at least a decade.

And when I look at the array of classes I get to take, it feels like an amazing privilege to be allowed to study there. Buckle in for a lot of discussion on sociopolitical allegory in the writings of African-American women or comparing the works of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson or comparing and contrasting dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. Squee.

(Oh, like it’s a shock to you at this point that I’m a book nerd. I mean, have you SEEN my house? We need more walls.)

The funny part of this process has been explaining to my cohort in media studies that yes, I am voluntarily and enthusiastically signing up for three more years of grad school. They think I’ve lost my mind (they might not be wrong). Three more years of stress and term papers, of wrangling being a student and a fledgling teacher at the same time, of wacky hours and too much caffeine and poverty – don’t forget the poverty.

And that’s where I really need to throw the bouquet to Jim, who is not only supportive of my insanity, but strongly encouraged me to apply for the MFA in the first place. This is not going to be easy on him, folks. Teaching two classes and taking three means that my time for freelancing will be even more limited than it is now, and that means he has to keep his second job for the foreseeable future to keep our family in milk and toilet paper (hot commodities, man). He’s about to graduate with his bachelor’s degree, which was supposed to be the time that he gets to relax a bit.

I hear from so many women writers who have husbands or partners far less supportive of their work, who resent the time away, who make them justify the hours and expense of developing a writing career, who dismiss their work because it doesn’t bring in as much money as a “real job.” I have been there before, and it kills the creative spark to such an enormous degree when your partner isn’t committed to supporting your success, however you might define that. It fills me with gratitude to have a partner who so completely stands with me and cheers on my successes (and pours the drinks for my failures).

Perhaps he understands because he is a writer himself, or perhaps he’s just that wonderful. I haven’t dedicated a book to him yet. But really, they’re all dedicated to him. It’s pretty much a given that without Jim’s unwavering support, sounding board, sanity check and P.S. health insurance, I could not do any of the things I’ve done or will do.

So this is what I’m doing for the next three years, and I thank all of you for your continued support, Gentle Readers – with extra-special thanks to my Patreon subscribers, who help make all this craziness possible by funding the water bill each month. Of course, if anyone’s about to reap the benefits of my new venture, it’s going to be them! You can feel free to join them, by the way, and get first looks at the stories I’ll be creating in my journey through the MFA. I might also share more writing craft essays, on Patreon and on Medium, and don’t forget the photos.

It’s going to be a grand new adventure.

As to what I’m going to be when I grow up? Who says I have to?

March linkspam

To say the month of March was a tad unusual would be grossly understating the case. But you’re right there with me, aren’t you?

I’m fine. My family is fine. We have the enormous privilege of working and/or attending a state university. That means when my husband’s job was put on administrative leave, he kept his salary and benefits. His second job is deemed essential, so he’s still working a few days a week. My son’s job has had its hours cut, but he still has some income. And we are all working our way through the semester via the wonders of Zoom.

I have been in the house for coming up on four weeks, with a few brief exceptions: a doctor’s appointment and two brief trips for supplies when the menfolk were unavailable. Immune-compromised means I was sheltering in place before there was a state order. I am teaching my class in a Zoom chatroom, I am working my way through my final semester from home, and if the thesis weren’t a hot mess, I’d actually be just fine.

We’ll call it a learning experience for all of us.

But I am privileged. We still have money coming in, and we got a nice big tax return just in time to help us through the worst of it. We kept our health insurance – very important for a house with as many prescriptions as I do – and we are in no danger of eviction or starvation.

Not everyone is so privileged. Some of the people I know are in dire straits. There are emergency funds popping up for journalists, for artists and writers, for students, for others in my circle that are devastated by the current mess. I urge you to seek them out – and to buy work from those artists and writers, because we are all going to need a little beauty to survive this.

And give a little extra love to the journalists. They were talking about this before it came here, and people mocked them. Then they were warning of disaster, and people ignored them. Then they were reporting on the disaster we predicted (or rather, the scientists they quoted predicted) and people blamed them. Now the disaster has hit their own organizations, and they’re being furloughed and laid off even as they were risking their own lives to give you the information you desperately need more than ever.

Support journalists, subscribe to a good paper if you can afford it, and maybe hop into the comment section once in a while to say something nice about it. Don’t stay too long – the mire might get on your shoes. But a supportive, intelligent comment on a news story would make a huge difference.

If you’re a journalist who has been laid off, here are some resources to help you. If you’d like to support good journalism, pick a fund here.

In the meantime, here’s what I’ve been up to this month. It’s not as much as you’d expect from someone who’s been mostly housebound, but may I remind you… THESIS.

Essays

An abundance of caution (Medium)

Journalism

Highland inching closer to new pool (Highland News-Leader)

Highland paramedics move to neighboring fire station during renovation (Highland News-Leader)

Highland takes steps to combat coronavirus (Highland News-Leader)

Highland citizens vote down marijuana dispensaries in advisory referendum (Highland News-Leader)

Highland bus drivers stay on salary amid coronavirus shutdown (Highland News-Leader)

Fiction

Coppice and Brake launched with a short story from me titled “Shiny People”! Here’s a blog post about it, and you can buy the dead-tree version or the ebook version right now.

And here’s a podcast of a radio interview with me and Crone Girls Press publisher Rachel Brune about Coppice and Brake, the creative process, the convention life, the changing gender dynamics in horror, and random other subjects that came to mind. Thanks to Adam Messer of WRUU for hosting me!

The River Bluff Review launched its annual edition earlier in March, including two short stories of mine titled “Dear Katrina” and “Sergeant Curious.” It’s a literary magazine and while “Dear Katrina” is part of the Blackfire series, “Sergeant Curious” has no supernatural or horror elements at all. It was an unusual honor to be selected for publication in a literary magazine outside of my usual genres. Unfortunately River Bluff Review is only available through the university.

Patreon/Blogs

Tempting to sing ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ (Donald Media)

The end is nigh… (Patreon)

The Cheshire Inn (Patreon)

That’s all the news that fits… um, except for that one other thing. That’s going to be its own blog post. Stay tuned, citizens.

Book launch today!

What timing, eh?

Well, I can’t think of a better way to pass the apocalypse than new fiction, though I am personally still up to my eyeballs in Ye Olde Thesis and all the fun times of the latter half of the last semester… plus or minus the plague. I am housebound for the duration, since I tick about five boxes on the “this shit’ll kill ya” list for the bug, which is probably the only way this thesis, five other papers and two fiction stories will actually get done.

We’re doing okay here at Donald Smith Gillentine Inc. The menfolk are still employed for now – Jim is on leave from the university but still being paid and keeps the health insurance, which makes me happy since I like being alive. The boy is still flipping burgers at half his usual hours, but he’s hanging in there. School restarts next week online, so watch for plenty of domestic squabbles over the power strip in the dining room.

I am teaching my class by remote, which will be an interesting experiment, and cranking away at the aforementioned research. Graduation has been canceled, but that doesn’t mean the deadlines don’t exist! I’m learning to use Zoom, which unfortunately shows the enormous mess behind my desk in my office, and guess what just moved to the top of the spring cleaning list?

I’ve also acquired the books for my wonderful Patrons, and they’ll be going in the mail on Monday. If you join the Patreon between now and Monday, I’ll make sure you get one? (It’s not Coppice and Brake – it’s a surprise!)

In all seriousness, I recognize the enormous privilege we have at DSG Inc., that we are able to continue doing our jobs (or at least be paid for them), and that we are (so far) healthy and well-stocked with food, toilet paper, bourbon… everything except yeast. I will seriously compensate people for yeast.

In the meantime, there’s this book! I’m really happy to be working with Crone Girls Press for the second time, as they published my story “In Memoriam” in Stories We Tell After Midnight back in October as a reprint. This release, Coppice and Brake, is a little less horror and more dark fantasy, and includes a brand-new short story from me titled “Shiny People.”

“Shiny People” was actually inspired by a panel at Archon 2019, in which we all shared “real-life” ghost stories. I told the stories of Isabel, the woman who was murdered in my house more than 100 years ago, and how we can always blame her when something breaks. Like the living room lamp, the boy’s mattress, the spatula and measuring cup, just in time for the apocalypse. Thanks, Isabel.

But there was a man in the audience who told a story I found so creepy, so fascinating, that I asked him afterward if he would mind if I wrote it as a short story. He said that was fine, as long as I named the little girl after his daughter. I was happy to do so.

I hope you enjoy “Shiny People” and the other stories in Coppice and Brake. It’s $10 from Literary Underworld for a limited time only, and if you prefer the pixel-version, you can get it for $1.99 right now on Amazon.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay home if you can, and wash those hands. Let’s live to make bad jokes about this another day.