I’m delighted to report that the St. Louis Writer’s Guild has asked me to talk to them about how to portray journalists in fiction.
This is pretty much my biggest soapbox, as you know if you’ve been following me for any length of time. The Thesis That Will Not Die is focused on journalists’ representation in film, ranging from Spotlight to Die Hard, under the cultivation theory of media consumption. Like most academic theories, it uses convoluted language to explain that which is patently obvious: watching media that portrays a group negatively leads to negative impressions of that group. Representation matters.
I’ve done this kind of talk before, usually to pop culture convention panels where we discuss how the movies have mangled us. I haven’t done it for a group solely comprised of writers before, and I’m quite happy for the opportunity. I’ve said many times at cons and writing panels: If you’ve got a journalist in your story, for the sake of Edward R. Murrow, talk to a journalist. You wouldn’t write a brain surgeon or a police officer or a deep-sea explorer without doing research; don’t assume that you know how journalism works because you’ve read the news.
At any rate, I’m looking forward to this opportunity, and thank the Writer’s Guild for inviting me. I’m not sure if it’s open to the general public or only Guild members, but I’ll be sure to let y’all know.
I’m pleased (almost) beyond words to announce I have been honored with the Mimi Zanger Award for fiction writing. This is an award granted by the English Department at Southern Illinois University, where I have begun my coursework for an MFA in creative writing (in case you’ve missed all the other references to my MFA here and on my Patreon …. somehow).
The story I submitted for the contest’s consideration was written in workshop last semester. My first inclination was to share it, of course. However, it is currently under submission to a literary magazine, and thus it would be inappropriate to publish. I sincerely hope I will be able to share it with you soon.
Near as I can tell, the award is named after the wife of Dr. Jules Zanger, a professor at SIUE before it even became the university we know it today. Dr. Zanger grew up in Brooklyn and fought in World War II, as did many of his generation. After the war, he earned his degrees and met Mary Proctor – known as Mimi – while finishing his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. Like many academics, the Zangers bounced around from Ohio to Chicago and so on before moving to Alton, Ill. and settling at SIUE. Dr. Zanger taught at SIUE for 35 years, retiring as professor emeritus after receiving Fulbright grants to study in Brazil, France and Czechoslovakia.
Mimi died in 1991. Dr. Zanger continued with his research and extensive travels, eventually remarrying and relocating to Frankfurt, Germany, where he died in 2014. His obituary states that he was “a great lover of good books, good food, good wine, good music, and good conversation. He loved fine restaurants, but was also a skilled home chef, preparing many memorable meals for friends and family. He loved and frequently attended the opera, never understanding why everyone didn’t.”
When Dr. Zanger died, his survivors indicated that memorials should be made to the Mimi Zanger Award endowment, so that it could continue to support students like me who seek to explore the joys of the written word.
It sounds like the Zangers would have been terrific people to know.
As I write this, I am playing Don Giovanni, in honor of the opera lovers, and hope that I can be worthy of their legacy. I am humbled and grateful for the honor and support of my mentors in the writing program, and look forward to all I have to learn from them.
If you’re a horror writer, October is always your busiest month of the year. If you’re not working in October, you’re not working.
That said, October is super-mega-special busy for me – in a normal year. In October 2015, I visited eleven cities in two time zones, flew on four airplanes through three airports, drove 2,017 miles, hugged and shook hands with approximately four zillion people, stayed in five hotels, rode public transportation without number, attended at least a dozen public events, visited the Magic Kingdom twice and averaged five hours’ sleep. All while working my full-time job at the newspaper (plus or minus a few vacation days).
So this was the strangest October I can remember since my first book was published, because I went nowhere. I mean, I left the house a few times. We successfully moved my stuff out of my university office, and then we moved the Literary Underworld and all its trimmings to a storage facility. Yes! LitUnd now has a warehouse! (Kinda.) It was taking over my house, which has more than enough piles of detritus that it doesn’t need the competition.
I also left the house to go to a pumpkin patch and get this year’s carveable gourds. Look, I will put up with a lot to stay safe from COVID, but some things are sacred.
If it were not for COVID, I would have flown to Washington D.C. for the SPJ conference and to Atlanta for the College Media Association conference. I would have attended Archon in Collinsville, Ill. and I’d be raring up for ContraKC in Kansas City next week and I would have been running the Leclaire Parkfest book sale for the American Cancer Society and somewhere in there I’d probably have had a stark raving mad nervous breakdown but that’s standard for October too.
Instead, I was home, teaching my class and attending what I could via Zoom, and happily celebrating the release of Yanaguana from Crone Girls Press!
So even though I stayed home and didn’t “see” anyone, I still feel like it was one of my busiest Octobers ever, and I can’t remember how I did my usual Octobers without losing my mind. I have no doubt, however, that I will sign right back up next year for the usual Fall Deathmarch, because really… I miss y’all.
Have I mentioned yet that Yanaguana came out last month? Okay, okay, ya heard it. Seriously, though, I had so much fun playing with the Blackfire crew again, and I’m so grateful to my fantastic editor Rachel Brune for including my little novella in Foul Womb of Night, the first in Crone Girls Press’ Midnight Bites series.
How to survive a horror movie: 2020 edition (Medium)
Wait wait don’t tell me…. Yanaguana came out. Just so you know, your purchase of Foul Womb of Nightgets you more than just me. There are two other novels of military-themed horror by Adam Stemple and Gustav Bondoni included in the collection, and all for $2.99 (or free if you’re on Kindle Unlimited).
No photo trips again this month (I am going out before the leaves turn, COVID or no COVID) so here’s a flashback shot for you.
This image is “Fields of Pennsylvania,” a picture that nearly killed me. I was on the Furlough Tour in 2013 and trying to make my way across the toll roads of Pennsylvania for an early dinner in York before heading up to New York City. I think. That whole tour is something of a blur.
I was annoyed at the tolls, but the view made it worth every penny. The scenery was simply astounding, and when I saw this field with the farm at the treeline, I swerved my little rental car over to the side of the road and got out on the highway to get this shot. I didn’t have my good camera yet, so I had to be content with the resolution of my small point-and-click. It’s one of my favorite images from the tour, and still doesn’t do half justice to the beauty of Pennsylvania in the fall.
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I’m happy to announce that my new Blackfire novella, Yanaguana, is now unleashed on the world courtesy of Crone Girls Press.
It walks along the San Antonio river, and it carries all your fears in its grasp.
Paul Vaughn and the Blackfire team have been summoned after several mysterious deaths, because that’s what they do. They face the things that lurk in shadows, and they save unknowing civilians from their grasp.
But this one will challenge Blackfire more than any they have yet faced, as they must fight not only the demon that lurks along the Riverwalk… but the things they fear the most.
A standalone novella preceding the events of The Cold Ones,Yanaguana adds another chapter to the Blackfire series and will hopefully introduce new readers to this world of ghouls and beasties. Paired with two other novellas under the Crone Girls Press collection Foul Womb of Night, Yanaguana is now available for $2.99 from Amazon or FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers.
While I’ve got you… I have a few people to thank. Because nobody writes a book alone, as much as we like to pretend.
Many thanks to David Szucs, officer and gentleman, who provided a sanity check for military parlance; to David Tyler, who answers my rambling messages at two in the morning; to Ian Smith, who helped me devise what’s going on with new characters Juliet and Tommy; and to my husband Jim Gillentine, who always cheerleads.
As usual, many thanks to the real Parish Roberts, Jim Bell, and the late Vic Milan, who let me steal their names for characters more than a decade ago.
Thanks to the good people of the Alamo Trust, who kindly gave me permission for a photo shoot and visit to the historic site, and the staff there who answered my many questions. San Antonio is a wonderful city, and I always show my love to the places I visit by infesting them with monsters.
Special thanks to Rachel Brune, editor extraordinaire who is blessed (or burdened) with indomitable patience and grace.
Finally, thanks to the real Sara Harvey, who couldn’t be more different than her fictional counterpart, except that they both kick ass.
I’m happy to report that my new novella, Yanaguana, will launch next week and preorders are open NOW.
Part of the new Midnight Bites series from Crone Girls Press, Yanaguana will be released with two other novellas under the title Foul Womb of Night, centering on horror among the military or paramilitary. A prequel to the first Blackfire novel, Yanaguana follows Sara Harvey and Paul Vaughn as they face a mysterious force killing people in San Antonio by forcing them to face their deepest, most paralyzing fears.
Also included are Goblin Hole by Adam Stemple and Frozen Meat by Gustavo Bondoni, ranging from the trenches of World War I to the frozen wastes of the Antarctic.
I had a wonderful time writing Yanaguana. Of course, it’s always fun to ride with Sara and the gang, whether they’re facing down an aswang ghoul in the Phillippines or a redcap in the British Isles or a Russian rusulka lost in Memphis or, y’know, zombies. Yanaguana takes us in some new directions with the Blackfire crew, and let me explore some aspects of the team that we haven’t seen before.
If you’re wondering about the previous Blackfire books… well, they’re out of print. Sorry! The good news is, you absolutely do NOT have to have read the other books to understand Yanaguana. It was intentionally written as a standalone novella, so while it will certainly tie in to the events in the other books, you will not be lost if this is your first adventure with Sara and the team.
And I really loved exploring San Antonio. They make guacamole at the table, man.
I hope you enjoy Yanaguana as much as I enjoyed writing it.
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.
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!
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…
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:
• 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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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’m delighted to announce that River Bluff Review will premiere on Tuesday, March 3 with a celebration and reading at the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
This year’s edition of River Bluff Review will include two of my short stories: “Dear Katrina” and “Sergeant Curious.” The event is open to the public, and will include authors reading excerpts from the book.
I will be late in the program, because I am teaching at that time, but I will skedaddle across the quad as soon as my class is done. How does an author skedaddle? Come to SIUE and find out!
The event begins at 4 p.m. in the Cougar Bookstore, located in Morris University Center. Please join us!