It’s been a wild month to close out a wild year. The first week was consumed with finishing out the semester, writing term papers and grading my students’ projects.
Then I hopped a plane to Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., for my pilgrimage to the now-defunct Newseum and to visit my family. There are many photos and stories to be told there, and Patrons and Medium subscribers will probably see them first. You might consider subscribing! (See, I can be subtle…)
There are also shenanigans afoot. I’m not free to talk about them yet, but suffice to say “busy” doesn’t really cover it.
Toward the end of the month, I took a bit of a break and enjoyed the holiday with my family. I hope you were able to do the same. But now it is a new year, and we must roll up our sleeves and set about achieving the impossible on a daily basis.
I stood outside the Newseum once, but I didn’t go in.
It was May 2015, and my niece had just graduated from high school. My son and I road-tripped across the country to watch her walk across the stage, and for a little mother-son bonding time. We explored Baltimore, which is a city always dear to my heart after living there for a few years as a teenager. I introduced him to Berger cookies (“too chocolatey” – it’s like I barely know him) and the historic sailing ships in the Inner Harbor.
One day, we took the train into Washington D.C. We had just the one day to fit it all in, and we had prioritized. He wanted to see the real Declaration of Independence – one of his favorite movies as a child was National Treasure, and while he was maturely confident that there was no buried treasure map on the back of the Declaration…. well. He wanted to see it.
So we did the National Archives first, and the Museum of American History. We skipped Natural History because the dinosaur exhibit was shut down (and really, to a teenage boy… it’s all about the dinosaurs) and I sadly skipped Air and Space because the U.S.S. Enterprise was in refurbishment. Priorities, man.
We walked the entire length of the mall, past the Museum of African-American History that was still under construction and even then was an amazing sight. We visited the Washington Monument and spied both the Capitol Dome behind its scaffolding and, itty bitty from several blocks away, the White House. He had expressed a desire to visit, but it seems you needed to make reservations through the office of your local Congresscritter, and we had not thought to do so.
Then we walked the rest of the way to the Lincoln Memorial, which was second on his list only to the Declaration of Independence (which was much more faded than the one in the movie, he was sad to note). It was raining by then, and we ended up trapped by Abe’s big foot for a while as the storm drenched the area.
We visited some war memorials, including the Wall. Then we had the long walk back to the train station through the rain, which drenched us enough that it killed his cell phone and my umbrella. It was a very long, exhausting day, but one of the all-time heights of our travels.
The only regret we had was that we didn’t have time to do more museums and historic sites. Washington is lousy with them, it’s true. You could kill a week there and not see everything. But one day was absolutely not enough.
I lingered outside the Newseum for more than a hot minute. I knew there was no way we could add it to our schedule. It was an enormous draw for me, of course, but unlike many of the other sites, it was not free. It would have added $50 to our costs to go in, and money was very tight that year. We wouldn’t have time for more than a short walk around, and really, I was prioritizing his interests.
After all, I’d been to D.C. a few times before when I lived in Baltimore, and he had never been. Also, he is smarter than I am, and has no intention of going into the news business. He wants to make movies and theater. He certainly has absorbed an appreciation for journalism – you can’t be raised by a single mom reporter and not understand the news. But it’s not his thing.
It’s okay, I told myself. We will come to D.C. another time, maybe when my husband can join us, and we’ll see the Newseum then. I’ll drag them both kicking and screaming if I have to, but I’ll see it next time.
Then came the announcement last month, breaking the hearts of thousands of newsnerds. The writing had been on the wall for some time, as the Freedom Forum has struggled to make ends meet at the Newseum’s costly location on Pennsylvania Avenue. Just like me, tourists passed on paying $25 to visit a museum of journalism when there were so many free or nearly-free options around them.
But for me, the announcement was a stab to the heart, especially since so many cretins thought it was hilarious to tie the death of the Newseum to the supposed death of newspapers. I suppose there are actual parallels – people who refuse to pay for something eventually lose it, but a museum is one thing; the loss to the American public as they lose journalists and newspapers is incalculable, and they don’t even realize it.
I kept thinking of that moment, standing outside the Newseum in the rain and wishing for more time, more money. What if I had known it was my only chance, that within a few short years it would be shut down, passed on to Johns Hopkins, and its collection shunted to some warehouse where it will be loaned out to temporary exhibits?
Is this really necessary? I thought. Can’t some billionaire buy them a building somewhere? (Paging Jeff Bezos.) It doesn’t have to be on the mall, it doesn’t have to be a stone’s throw from the White House. I wouldn’t care if it was in Scranton, Pennsylvania or Fresno, California or right here in St. Louis (which, by the way, would be fantastic).
There should be a Newseum, always. There should be a place where we go to remember how important journalism is to our democracy. If news is the first rough draft of history, then can there be anything more important to preserve for our understanding of our own national story?
I found myself moved almost to tears, and finally, I could not stand it any longer.
My semester ends next week. Thanks to the internet, I can work from anywhere with wifi.
I have family in York, Pennsylvania, which is not close to Washington D.C…. but it’s in shouting distance.
Happy to report that this month saw my first piece with a new client, Current Magazine. I’ll be following up with the ongoing controversy between NPR Illinois and the University of Illinois, which appears to have repercussions for most of public radio, so stay tuned! (so to speak)
It is ironic that today is #thankyoupatrons day, when I have been so slack the last three weeks in providing content for my loyal patrons.
It has been a trying semester – but so have they all! It is a great privilege to be where I am, to study these complex and difficult subjects, to conduct research into issues relating to journalism and my advocacy on behalf of the profession. It is also a great privilege to be requested for so many conventions and signings and speaking engagements, and while I may get very tired in the annual Fall Deathmarch, I never forget that it is a privilege.
My freelance journalism has stepped up of late, with magazine gigs beginning to supplant the local news. The local work is important, steady work, but magazines pay much better, and gaining more steady work in magazines will help support my family. (Also, I am famous for writing too long in my nonfiction. Magazines like that.)
I find it somewhat ironic that, a year into my graduate studies, I have found reinvigoration of my fiction writing as well. Two of my stories have been accepted into anthologies in the last few months, and I just received word that two more stories have been accepted by a literary magazine.
And thanks to the Medium platform, I’m starting to gain success in creative nonfiction: the personal essay. It’s small money, but it’s money, and that’s lifeblood to the freelance writer. That is another aspect of my work that grad school has opened up to me, one that I truly enjoy.
My patrons support my Patreon through thin months like this one and months where I have new content every week bolster our budget, help pay our bills, and take some of the pressure off me to kill myself chasing low-paying gigs to fill in the budget.
My family is surviving – in fact, thriving, despite our insanity of putting three (3) adults through college at the same time. The Patreon is part of that, and I cannot thank them enough.
And I hope you might consider joining them. The photo essays, travelogues, short stories, personal essays and more comprise some of the best work I’ve done, and I would love to share it with you.
This weekend I’m at ContraKC, an adult relax-a-con in Kansas City! I’m delighted to be back at Contra, which is the first convention that honored me as GOH several years ago and the people here have welcomed me as part of their family.
I’m looking forward to good conversation, good booze and BBQ second only to Memphis (sorry, KC, my heart belongs to the Bluff City).
And this will wrap up the Fall Deathmarch, which started way back at Labor Day, spans six states and I don’t want to speculate on the mileage. After this I’m settling back home for a bit, plus or minus a hometown signing in December and a possible trip to Washington D.C. for a photo shoot and visit to the Newseum before it dies.
Thanks to everyone who came out to see me at my various stops, who supported and cheered and bought books and art – especially that latter part, since that’s how I make my living. Extra thanks to my fellow authors and minions, especially my husband and son, Sela Carsen, David Tyler, and anyone else who helped us schlep books all over the midwest.
Touring is a grueling life living out of a suitcase with boxes of books and booze perpetually living in my mudroom so it can be loaded into the car next weekend, but it also has an extraordinary benefit: the chance to meet and talk with so many people who enjoy my work. That is a true blessing, and I am thankful for it.
You know how every year I say, “Man, the fall tour is killing me. I’m not doing this to myself next year.” And then I do it anyway? Yeah, that’s what September and October have been like. I have not had a quiet weekend at home since Labor Day, and I won’t for several more weeks. I’m not complaining (much), because it’s an incredible privilege to be in high demand, for conventions and book fairs and other groups to seek me out and ask me to attend.
But holy Hera, am I tired.
In the meantime, I did some stuff. Here’s the collection of links from the last two months. Keep in mind that I post the best of my work on Contently, and I try to keep it at the top 100 pieces of the last five years, so if you want to read the collected works of one Elizabeth Donald, that’s a good place to go. In the meantime, here’s some of the work of the last two months:
Do keep in mind that Medium has a paywall after the first few reads, and Patreon requires a subscription. I would absolutely love it if you subscribed to my Patreon – starting at $1 a month – and I do my best to give my Patrons first crack at my work and plenty of freebies – like this month, when my Patrons got a free copy of the new anthology! (See more below.)
How to survive a horror movie: 2019 edition (Medium, essay)
Jumping off the high dive: Freelancing the first year(Medium, essay)
La Gloria and five hours at the airport (Patreon, essay)
It’s a little too cute – I can’t quite get behind giving myself a speech or a team-bonding activity with just me. But I can definitely get behind the happy hour.
In all seriousness, somehow the one-year anniversary of Donald Media kind of slipped my attention. July 27, 2018 was the day I departed the world of daily news, but this site launched more than a month beforehand: June 11, when I announced my impending departure and launched the Patreon, which was my first freelance endeavor.
It’s funny – a lot of the things they tell you to do when you go freelance were impossible for me. I could not begin freelancing on the side to build up a client base while I was still at the newspaper, because it would have been a violation of my terms of employment to write for competitor papers while I was on staff. Other than my fiction work , I had to wait until I was actually gone before I could query potential clients.
It’s kind of like jumping off the high dive and waiting until you’re in midair before you see if there’s water in the pool.
I didn’t go splat. I didn’t immediately start making six figures, either. I started in what I knew – local news – and that continues to be a major income stream for me. I branched out into magazines and find that they really suit me well. I used to joke at the newspaper that I was built for magazines, because I was famous for writing too long. It turns out that wasn’t a joke.
I did stumble quite a bit that first six months, because I realized why the experienced freelancers shook their heads sadly when I shared my exciting plans to freelance full-time while going to grad school. That first semester nearly killed me and I was only taking two classes and teaching one. This semester is actually easier with three classes as student and one as teacher, because two of them are independent studies. And by “easier” I mean that I’m not staring at myself in the mirror and chanting “you have not made the biggest mistake of your life” and “yes, you are smart enough for this.” They shook their heads because they knew that “full time” for a freelancer is a hell of a lot more than 40 hours a week punching a clock at a desk.
It did get disheartening sometimes, especially in those early months when I only had one or two clients and my Contently portfolio was thin. There’s also the matter of my family: I have a husband and son who are also in college, and sometimes we are up to our eyeballs all at the same time. I have an obligation to my family for my time, support, food and finance, and that requires diligent effort.
Then my work took another side turn when I took a class in creative nonfiction. It was just supposed to be an elective to supplement media studies, but it turns out I absolutely love it. I was always writing creative nonfiction in the form of personal essays and the occasional rant, but I didn’t know there was a form to it or that I’d be really good at it. Or that people would pay me for it.
In many ways, the practice I got in that class has reformed my image of what Donald Media can be – and really, Donald Media is the term for all my freelance work under one umbrella:
Local news reporting (including the student newspaper)
Volunteer work with SPJ and public speaking advocacy for the profession.
Editing and writing coaching in fiction and nonfiction.
All of that is partnered with my fiction work (albeit only short stories until I finish the bloody masters), my teaching, and of course school. I need to pass this semester and two more classes next semester, finish and defend Ye Olde Thesis, and I’m done. I will have the masters, which makes me eligible to teach.
It looks like a lot. It IS a lot. I’m working harder than I’ve ever worked in my life, and with that I include the 65-hour weeks constantly on call at my first full-time reporting job with a baby at home.
And yet. It’s stressful and difficult and the money is what it is and sometimes I have to chase it. But I have the great privilege of doing the work I love and being my own master, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
So, happy year one to the troops, congrats on all we’ve done, and here’s to that happy hour.
I’m happy to announce a reprint of one of my favorite short stories will appear in an upcoming anthology from Crone Girls Press.
Now, I know we’re not supposed to have “favorite” short stories, because they’re all my babies. But let’s face it – some stories are just more fun than others. “In Memoriam” features the return of Cat Suarez, the photographer who sees dead people from Yellow Roses. What is Yellow Roses, you ask? You may be new here… that’s the best novel I’ve ever written, perpetually pending in publication. Apart from her debut novel, Cat shows up in a couple of short stories in Moonlight Sonata, which is still in print and available in ebook too (hint hint).
Stories We Tell After Midnight is edited by the indomitable Rachel Brune, and includes stories from Jane Hawley, Adam N. Leonard, Christy Mann and several others.
A changeling binds a young girl to a mirror and takes her place…
A salesman pursues closing a deal until it costs him everything…
An ancient Duchess graciously invites you on a tour of her orangerie…
This is the world of Crone Girls Press. Here, the shadows keep their secrets and the moon hides from deeds cast in her glow. In these pages, the Fae walk as human, the dead burn with their anger at the living, the creatures that live in the dark places of the wrong zip code creep out of the shadows and into the kitchen. Stories We Tell After Midnight is a collection of short horror fiction from established names in the genre as well as a number of debut authors.
So, how can you get your hands on this awesome collection? You can preorder the ebook from Amazon for 99c right now! After release on Oct. 21, the ebook will cost you $4.99, so preorders are definitely in your best interest.
As you might know, my fiction work has taken a back seat while I am going through the masters program, since there is actually a limit to how many plates I can spin at any given time. But it was a delight to return to my scary fiction worlds for this project, and I’m quite grateful that it met Crone Girls’ needs. I’m looking forward to reading the other stories, and I hope you enjoy them all.
Also: If you’re local, you might drop by Maeva’s in Alton tonight! Writers of the Riverbend will feature at least 20 local authors, including myself, and I will be taking preorders for Stories as well as selling books at the event. Hope to see you there!
Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to do it this year. I’m not going to schedule myself into a pretzel every fall and say “yes” to everyone. And then I look at my profit-loss sheet and remember that rent is a thing, and if you write horror and you’re not out and about in the fall, you ain’t workin’.
The first round for the Fall Deathmarch was, of course, Excellence in Journalism. There’s a summary of that excellence conference pending for St. Louis SPJ, but believe me, it was a terrific week and absolutely the first place I’d go if I were job-hunting in media today. Also, San Antonio is a nifty city and I’d love to go back with the family someday.
• Breakfastival of Hope, Glen Carbon, Ill., Sept. 14. Okay, so technically this isn’t a public appearance: I won’t be speaking or signing anything. But those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have lost an inordinate number of friends to cancer, and I am sick of it. I have been a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for more than 10 years, and this year the local Relay has opted to do a daytime food festival instead of the traditional all-night walk. So look for me and the St. Andrew’s team at the photo booth, where you’ll be able to ham it up as a superhero or Disney character.
• SPJ Student Journalist Boot Camp, SIUE, Sept. 21. This is one of the best programs we do at St. Louis SPJ: we put together a small group of student journalists with working professionals in the area and help them learn a bit about how the job is done today. I’ll be conducting the session on ethics and generally herding the cats.
• Writers of the Riverbend, Alton, Ill., Sept. 27. This is at Maeva’s coffeehouse in Alton, and I’ve been attending as long as they’ve been running it. Books will be on hand; I may or may not bring art to this one depending on space. But if you’re planning to attend and would like a specific piece, please let me know and I’ll be sure to have it on hand!
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill., Oct. 4-6. Always a highlight of the year, Archon is our hometown convention and we will be there in force! The Literary Underworld will have its usual table just outside the dealer’s room, and we will bring the Traveling Bar to the Doubletree, so be sure to come by and say hello!
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky., Oct. 11-12. Who tries to do two major cons back to back? Crazy people who don’t sleep. Imaginarium is a terrific convention, more of a writers’ workshop crossed with a film festival and a ton of fun. Literary Underworld will once again have a table in the dealer’s room and run the Traveling Bar, and I’ll be presenting on a number of topics, including a two-hour workshop on the business of writing.
• Leclaire Parkfest, Edwardsville, Ill., Oct. 20. This is another fundraiser I run for the American Cancer Society: Used books for sale during Leclaire Parkfest, which is a nifty little festival celebrating the history and culture of the Leclaire village. Don’t look for it on a map: it was annexed into the city of Edwardsville many decades ago, but I’ve lived here since 2012 and I absolutely adore Parkfest. Look for us under the pavilion on the far side of the lake, and pick up some books while you’re there!
• Grownup Book Fair, St. James, Mo., Oct. 26. I’ve never been to this one, so I can’t say how it goes! But I’ll be there with books and art.
• St. Andrew’s Book Sale, Edwardsville, Ill., Nov. 1-3. No signing or speaking, just volunteering … but if you love books, you should check out this sale. Books start at 50c, and cover all topics imaginable. It’s a terrific way to get a jump on your holiday shopping.
• ContraKC, Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 8-10. This is a small, adults-only convention in KC, and I’m happy to be back after having to miss it for several years up to last year.
And… then I get a break! Whee! Until, of course, the holiday markets start up. And we won’t talk about research and term papers and my students and Ye Olde Thesis. (Send chocolate and booze, please.)
So I hope to see you characters while I’m out on the road (which is, y’know, pretty much the only way anyone’s going to get to see me!) Who needs sleep?
First, I’m delighted to report that one of my images will be on permanent display in the Ellisville (Mo.) City Hall. It’s “Pigeon of New York,” found here (second photo from the top). It was in their temporary Behind the Lens photography show, and apparently they really liked it!
The annual ebook for my lovely Patrons was finally completed and emailed to all current Patreon subscribers, and I thank you for your patience. Anyone who subscribes to the Patreon this month is also going to get the ebook as a welcome gift. I remain exceedingly grateful for the Patrons, whose generosity allows me to rely on steady income through the sleighride of these two years in school.
The fall semester kicked off in August, and heaven knows that’s going to swallow my life! One of my classes is on anti-media rhetoric, so that should be an interesting theme to my blogging this fall. I’m doing an independent study on the philosophical aspects of media ethics, and of course, I begin work on Ye Olde Thesis. Thoughts and prayers.
And now, to this month’s work! Or at least that which was published this month…
I’m off to San Antonio later this week for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, where I am honored to represent St. Louis Pro to the important business of the Society of Professional Journalists. I will be meeting with my colleagues on the national ethics committee, and skulking about the panels on issues ranging from freelance survival to the ethics of covering suicide. I hope to get free long enough to get some nifty photos and possibly develop a travelogue on San Antonio, which is a new city for me.
I’ll be live-tweeting the conference at @edonaldmedia, so if you do the Twitter, feel free to follow me there if you really want to hear all about the things we journalists do when we’re away from adult supervision. It’s going to be 101 in the shade while I’m there, so whatever’s left of me will be reporting back next week!