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!
I’m delighted that an original story will be coming out in March in Coppice and Brake, a new anthology from Crone Girls Press. “Shiny People” was inspired by an incident at a convention, actually, and I had so much fun writing it. Find out more about the anthology and my funky little story here.
I’ve also been crazy busy with some SPJ events. In February, SPJ will host a seminar in Google Tools at St. Louis Public Radio, which is going to be fascinating if you’re a journalist, data reporter, or giant nerd. (Or all three, which is pretty common.) We’re also moving forward with a trivia night in April, and there’s the annual First Amendment Free* Food Festival… and on the fiction side, the Eville Writers are rolling again after the winter break, while Literary Underworld is preparing for the first convention of the year in February and I’ve started planning for our fundraiser author fair in May. Whew!
Meanwhile, the semester has begun at Ye Olde University, where I am once again teaching newswriting and writing for the mass media. I am taking two courses that are delightfully fun, and womanfully attempting to finish The Thesis. I have other words for the thesis, but they’re probably not appropriate for a public post.
A friend said the other day, “I don’t know where you get the energy.”
“What energy?” I replied.
“To do all the things you do,” she said.
I laughed. “It’s an act!”
As of this writing, it is 14 weeks to graduation. Oh hey, there’s today’s Daily Panic Attack! Back to work.
I did photo shoots this month for a couple of private clients, which are not currently permitted for public display. As I write this, I’m in Springfield, Illinois and will be shooting at a couple of sites here while my husband is rabble-rousing with his union.
I’m also delighted that two of my short stories will appear shortly in the River Bluff Review. By next month’s Linkspam, I should be able to share with you the details on its publication and how YOU can snag a copy.
I’m happy to announce that I will have a new short story in the upcoming Coppice and Brake anthology from Crone Girls Press.
“Shiny People” is a creepy story inspired by someone I met on the convention circuit, and original to this anthology. It’s a ghost story – or is it?? It was a lot of fun to write, and by all appearances, I will be in good company for this nifty anthology. Here, have a cover reveal:
If you live in the St. Louis area, you can choose “local pickup” for your delivery option. You will receive an email letting you know when and where to go to pick up your book. Otherwise, shipping is a flat rate no matter how many books you buy, so feel free to load up!
The ebook preorders will be going up in February, and the anthology is scheduled to release in March. I’m delighted to be part of Crone Girls Press, and look forward to seeing my fellow authors’ work in print.
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)
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.
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!