River Bluff Review

I am happy to report that the annual edition of the River Bluff Review has been published, which includes one of my photographs.

My photography has been sold many times to individual people, won minor awards, licensed as book covers, and provides the context of essays and travelogues for my Patreon. But this is the first time it’s been chosen for publication by a literary journal. The program is managed by students at SIUE, and is very selective; the short story I submitted was not selected, even though my photograph was.

The photo they chose is titled “Silent Cell,” and I shot it while visiting the Missouri State Penitentiary in Missouri. Somehow I seem to have forgotten to write up this visit, and I could have sworn I did so, but cannot find a sign of it in any of my various blogs. It was an interesting experience, full of history and more than a little darkness – the penitentiary was one of the few places where executions were carried out, and the gas chamber is part of the tour. It is also the place where James Earl Ray was incarcerated before he escaped, and while on the lam, he assassinated Dr. Martin Luther King.

I took a great number of photos, trying to compensate for very difficult lighting. This is the one River Bluff Review chose:

This photo is available for purchase on ElizabethDonaldPhotography.com.

I am honored to be in fine company, and hope the annual edition does well. The River Bluff Review is not available online as far as I know, but I think it can be purchased through the English Department of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.

A poetical experiment

They already warned me it won’t work. I hope they’re wrong.

I’ve always wanted to play with Magnetic Poetry, those funky word-magnets that have remained popular long past the deaths of similar fads. I’m a words person by trade, and the idea of jumbling up random words to form beauty appeals to me.

Problem: My fridge is taken. It’s been our family tradition since before we were a family to buy a magnet whenever we go somewhere or do something fun, and thus the vast majority of the fridge surface is covered with magnets ranging from St. Louis to Jamaica to Disney World to San Francisco to Baltimore to … you get the picture. And there’s really no other surface in the house with enough metal to do Magnetic Poetry.

Surprise. My office door at the university is METAL.

I received two packs of Magnetic Poetry for Christmas: “Photography” and “Nasty Woman.” (Both from my darling husband, who knows me much too well.) I had won a “Coffee” pack a year or two ago, still in the box as I hunted for metal surfaces.

So the menfolk and I trooped over to the campus this week, and now my office door has WORDS. (Along with my shiny new kettle and French press, because COFFEE.) On both sides of the door!

First guest poet. 

They already warned me. Someone’s tried to do this before, and the students put awful stuff all over the door and they made the professor take it down. I did remove the word “pussy” from the “Nasty Woman” kit, if only because some will consider it offensive and others will use it as an excuse to put up nastiness. We have enough of that on the internet, don’t we?

A little negative, but I couldn’t help it… geddit? NEGATIVE? ….sigh.

My hallway is in the lower basement, adjacent to the radio station and the music department with a few IT techs. They seem like friendly, nice kids, and tend to wave and say hi as they pass my open door. (At first, it was a series of double-takes, since no one knew that there was actually an office in there. “I thought this was storage,” said one building service worker.)

I’m interested to see what poetical arrangements might appear on my door. I have mixtures on both sides, and if I can scrounge together a few more bucks, I might add the “College” and “Book Lover” kits, which will probably succeed in covering both sides of the door completely.

I still need to leave my drop box… 

I’m sure someone might put something nasty on it, and I’ll break that up as I need to. Someone might even steal my words. Jim was unhappy with that idea. He bought them as a gift, after all.

But this is a school with a tradition of friendly self-expression. The Rock stands in the center of the quad, and has been painted over time and time again as someone has something they want to declare. (An actual rock, not Duane Johnson, though he’s welcome to drop by anytime.) Fraternity symbols are popular, along with organizations and causes and the occasional sad RIP. And yes, they’ve had a moment or two of unpleasantness on the Rock, which is quickly painted over and excoriated by the campus community.

What will the passers-by leave on my door? What funky phrases might I find in a moment of meditation? Beauty or meanness? Juvenile humor or moments of clarity?

We shall see.

This one is from the Boy. Did I mention I’m really proud of him?

Baltimore: Here fishy fishy… and a salute to Edgar

The journalism part of my trip to Baltimore will be rightfully chronicled at stlspj.org, as I was there on behalf of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.

But I never go anywhere without my camera in hand, and I shot in the Inner Harbor, the National Aquarium, and Westminster Cemetery, the resting place of Edgar Allan Poe.

The Aquarium was my first real attempt at shooting living things, as I’ve rarely done portrait photography and never tried shooting wild animals. I have so much to learn about photography – every time I think I’ve really got this thing down, a shark turns the corner and reminds me that I have no idea what I’m doing.

It’s frustrating as hell, but it is also exciting: new things to learn, new skills to master, and I get to see pretty things while I’m doing it.

 

Or, y’know, scary things.

Do you want more? The full photo arrays and travelogue will be on the Patreon, so subscribe here if you’d like to see the cognac on Poe’s grave, swim with the sharks and find Nemo. More and more of my writing and photography is going directly to the Patreon, so I do hope you’ll sign up.

In the meantime…. Bruce says hello.

EKD_4765

August Linkspam and Future Musings

It was a quiet month here at Donald Media, largely in transition between the daily news beat and the brave new world of freelancing. I imagine bylines will be much rarer, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stopped writing.

My official last byline for the News-Democrat centered on the turbulent history of the Edwardsville and Carbondale campuses of Southern Illinois University, as another president is forced to resign. I was a bit nervous writing this story right before I switched gears, but since both sides seemed to feel it was fair, I breathed easier. If both sides are happy or both sides are mad, you’ve done your job. It ran a week after I left.

On CultureGeek: a review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society  and Christopher Robin.

On the Patreon:

• A essay titled “First Rough Draft of History” musing on departure from daily news, available to subscribers $5 and up.

• Blog posts on “Freelance Folderol, Part 1,” and on grad school: “First Class” and “Paradigm Shifts,” available to all subscribers.

• A photo essay from the Missouri Botanical Garden’s Chinese Festival, available to subscribers $3 and up.

• A fiction excerpt from Banshee’s Run, the work currently in progress, available to subscribers $10 and up.

On the home front, we spent much of August in a mad frenzy of mucking out the house (which got about 75 percent done) and setting up my office again. It had devolved into a dumping ground of storage, and still is only halfway mucked out. But I have shiny new computers in the Tower now, which should greatly expand my capability to make art and words to entertain you endlessly. Now all I need is time…

Buckle in, because I imagine the movie reviews over on CultureGeek are going to largely center on journalism movies for a while, since that’s what my grad school research will focus on. I’ve had to (at least temporarily) discontinue the Linkspam posts and the Fake News Roundups here on Donald Media, because honestly, there’s only X amount of me to go around. Those are fun features, but time-consuming, and frankly the hit counts don’t justify continuing them until or unless I acquire more hours in the day.

I’ve been asked if I intend to write political essays now that I am no longer working for the newspaper. It is very tempting, and Zod above knows there’s plenty of material these days. Here’s the thing: I don’t know what form my freelancing will take. Most freelancers I know develop a niche and specialize in a particular kind of content. I haven’t done that – if anything, I’ve been a generalist my entire career, hopping from subject to subject from day to day. In short, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that I will still be called upon to write politics, and thus it would still be inappropriate to opine about the issues of the day.

But yes, it is tempting.

Coming up this month: lots and lots of school, more Patreon work as the membership grows, the Student Boot Camp for SPJ, and the annual Excellence in Journalism Conference in Baltimore, which I will be attending to represent St. Louis SPJ. Watch my @edonaldmedia Twitter for the journalism-related material, and @edonald for personal and photographic evidence. As you might know, I lived in Baltimore for a time as a teenager, and I have fond memories of Charm City. I am really looking forward to five days staying right at the Inner Harbor, and will be shooting photos of anything that will stand still. If only I ate seafood.

In the meantime, the freelance folderol continues, the photo backlog is piling up, and the Patreon is (understandably) getting a large amount of my attention. You might consider subscribing

July Linkspam Roundup

It was my last month working full-time for the newspaper, but it sure wasn’t quiet. (As you can tell, since this roundup is about a week late.) My thoughts were much focused on the transition, as you can imagine.

On the Patreon

• An essay/travelogue from the Kansas City trip titled “Prospero’s, the magic portal” for patrons $3 and up.

• A photography array from a November shoot in Yosemite National Park for patrons $5 and up.

• “Last Week,” a series of musings on the final shifts of my daily news career, and “Goodbyes” about my farewell speech for all patrons.

• A fiction excerpt cut from an upcoming longer work titled “Banshee’s Run” that I think works as a short story by itself, for patrons $10 and up.

And other stuff, too. You might consider subscribing

In the News/Blogs

• “Should fireworks be legalized in Illinois when everyone ignores the law?

• An essay on “Annapolis,” which was cross-posted to the Patreon as a public post.

• “Our Year in Review,” a roundup for the St. Louis Pro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. We did more than I thought…

• A statement on “Lindenwood’s Legacy” regarding that university’s decision to shutter its print magazine after it printed stories considered damaging to the university’s reputation.

• “SIUE and SIUC had turbulent history before Dunn’s departure,” an examination of the history of the university campuses and what will be in their path going forward. Covering this controversy during my exit from the newspaper has been an interesting experience. Technically, this is my last byline from the News-Democrat as full-time staff, running about a week after my departure.

And elsewhere, I’m happy to announce that Highland Arts is now carrying my photography, both for in-stock prints and metal wall art. Stop by anytime, or go to the photography site and order directly from me. Custom orders welcome!

June Linkspam Round-up

At least my last month in daily journalism won’t be boring.

On the Patreon:

• A short story titled “Dead Heat,” for patrons at $10 or more.

• Blog post: “Goal No. 1 – Unlocked,” for patrons only.

• A short story titled “Sisyphus,” one of my golden oldies, open to all.

• Photo posts of a double rainbow sighting ($5 and up) and the MoBot glass show. (open to all).

• A personal essay on “Life After News,” open to all.

I also posted this essay on meeting a group of Chinese journalists.

You can get all this lovely content by subscribing to my Patreon!

In the news:

• Feature: A son’s gift to his father: 16 more years of life and counting

SIU board to vote on firing President Dunn

SIU meeting to fire Dunn illegal, chairwoman says

Board deadlocks on firing Dunn

• Granite City teacher resigns after allegations of affair with student

Storm pummels metro-east; 45,000 without power

Also, a public statement as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists regarding Lindenwood University’s decision to stop printing its student magazine after controversial (and award-winning) stories.

And finally… I was not permitted to use puns in this story. I think the loss of income going freelance will be worth it simply to be allowed to pun in public.

ME: Am I allowed to say he got stuck with the bill?
EDITOR: No.
ME: Sigh. Someday I’m gonna quack you up.
EDITOR: *stare*
ME: Look, Leader Pub’s lead is, “One Six Flags patron apparently thought it was duck season.”
EDITOR 2: Are you sure it’s not wabbit season?
EDITOR: I’m about to declare a time-out.
ME: I’m not allowed to use puns. See? No puns in my story, and it is physically painful.
EDITOR 3: Since you’re leaving, does that make you a … lame duck?
ME: *points* How come he gets away with that and I can’t make a single pun??
EDITOR: I gave him the side-eye glare.

Signing in Kansas City

Just a quick update that I’ll be signing and selling in Kansas City on Saturday, June 30. Many thanks to Contra Mini-Con 29.5 for hosting me as part of their event! I’ll have books in stock to sign and will be bringing art prints; if there’s something specific you’d like to have, please message me in advance and I’ll see what I can do.

Keep in mind that several of my novels have gone out of print due to publisher bankruptcies, so at the moment all I have in stock are the three in-print books: Setting Suns, Nocturne Infernum and Moonlight Sonata. I’m a little low on SS, so if you want one, reserve it fast.

As a side note, if you’re looking for my out-of-print books like Dreadmire, The Cold Ones or Blackfire, the only store I’m aware of that still has stock is Afterwords Books in Edwardsville, Ill. They do mail-order, hint hint.

I haven’t been to Kansas City for at least a year, and haven’t done a signing there since I was GoH at Contraception several years ago. I’m hoping to scope out some photo shoots while I’m there or en route, so if you have suggestions of good locations, please let me know!

Full details on the signing are available on the Facebook event. Hope to see you there!

One small step for me.

This has proven much more difficult to write than I anticipated, probably because this is the hardest decision I have ever had to make. 

Harder than the decision to leave Memphis and my career in the arts in order to pursue a career in journalism. Harder than the decision to divorce my first husband. And I’m not one to take a leap without considering all the options, so you’d best believe that I have discussed this with Jim, with my parents, with close friends, with mentors. Probably until they were tired of talking about it with me.

I have dithered and stalled, because once I post this, it’s final. It’s real.

I’m leaving the newspaper.

With that decision ends 21 years in daily journalism.

Wow, that was hard to type. And I haven’t even done it yet.

If you know me at all, you know how much my work means to me. I’ve dedicated my entire adult life to journalism, ever since I made that decision to quit my artistic career and pursue a different kind of storytelling, the kind that can change the world. I always knew I wanted to tell stories and be in public service, and in journalism I found a way I could do both. 

I believed it then and I believe it now, and the only difference between my passion for news in 1997 and my passion now is the amount of grey in my hair. For 18 of those 21 years, I’ve reported for the Belleville News-Democrat. I was and am proud to part of this team. The people I work with are some of the finest journalists I have ever known, with a dedication and steadfast perseverance that would stun the readers if they could only glimpse behind the scenes. 

And I have been proud to serve the people of Madison County for 17 of those years, through good times and bad. It has been my privilege to chronicle the life of my adopted home.

I’ve said often in my speeches that this is the best time in history to be a journalist, and I meant it. Still do. Ask me about it sometime, and buckle in for an essay.

Now I have a wonderful new opportunity.

Beginning in August, I will be a teaching assistant at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. I’ll be teaching newswriting, and the assistantship will allow me to pursue my masters degree. I was actually accepted last November to begin in January, but it took a while for the financing to come through, and they were kind enough to allow me to defer my acceptance to fall.

For those keeping score, my whole family will be in college together. It’s like a sitcom, only we provide our own laugh track.

With a masters, I can pursue a full-time teaching position. I can pass on to beginning journalists all that I learned in 21 years of shoveling coal into the furnace, along with the things they won’t find in their textbooks. I can focus their attention on the Code of Ethics and the ongoing debates that too often get shoved into ivory-tower hypotheticals. I can be useful to my profession, and continue my career in a new phase.

I’m really excited about this. I always intended to move into teaching when I was finished reporting, a second career in the sunset of the first. This is a little earlier than I planned, but you know what they say – life is what happens when you’re making other plans.

However.

There’s one to two years of grad school ahead of me. A teaching assistantship does not equal the salary of a full-time reporter (low bar, but still). I am blessed that Jim has a good solid job with health insurance. But we were largely reliant on my income for our family, and that means I don’t get to sit around and wax philosophical in coffeehouses while I’m in school. (What? I was in college once upon a time.)

The development of The Plan has taken up much of the winter, and if this blog has been quieter than usual, that’s why. Here’s what I’m planning to do:

• Freelance writing. I’ll be knocking on a hell of a lot of doors, and I hope my esteemed colleagues in other publications will remember me when they need someone who can turn around a story quickly and well. In part, I’ll be doing this because rent is a thing, and in part it’s because I cannot bear to give up journalism entirely. It’s been my daily life for half of the time I’ve been breathing, and I find it hard to even say my name without adding my newspaper onto the end of it, as though it is another last name. I love the work, and I intend to keep doing it as long as I am able.

• Fiction. I’m still working out how my fiction work will change. To be frank, the novels have never paid off as much as I had hoped financially. While I would dearly love to write the next Nocturnal Urges book and finish the Blackfire zombie trilogy and a half-dozen other books sitting around on their outlines, it may be that novellas and shorts will be my necessary focus in the next two years. It really depends what the market will bear: just like in journalism, you get more of whatever you click. If I see more interest in my fiction, I’ll create more fiction.

• Photography. I’ve already expanded the photography site with its own online shop, and am pursuing more local art and craft shows with an eye to moving into higher-end art shows when I can afford the fees. I’ve also opened a shop on FineArtAmerica, so if you ever wanted my creepy angels on a tote bag or greeting card, now’s your chance.

• Editing. I’ve been doing side-gig work as an editor and writing coach for many years, working with new writers and small press publishers to help them shape and grow their work. I will be taking on more clients, and hopefully with a faster turnaround now that it will be part of my “day job.”

• Patreon. Yes, I’m joining the marching legions. Frankly, this is going to be the most important part of our survival. And I’ll sing for my supper: essays, short stories, musings on grad school, on journalism and the news of the day, photography, live chats, and much more are layered in the rewards for those kind enough to support me in this new venture. 

If you’ve ever wondered, “How can I help?” – this is how.

Please subscribe to my Patreon, and share it around with others.

 

What’s not changing: Literary Underworld will continue to operate. The store remains open. The newsletter, the website and the author features will continue. 

What may change: Cons. It will basically come down to hard cash: a con may cost us $300-500 to attend, and people aren’t buying books at cons like they once were. Jim and I are always there for a con willing to pay our way, but that isn’t common anymore. So we may have some hard choices to make, and we hope our friends on the circuit will understand if we have to regretfully decline.

What’s not changing: My volunteer work. I will not have to step down as president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists or give up my seat on the Ethics Committee, because I’ll still be earning the bulk of my living from journalism. I will also continue to run Relay for Life, because cancer doesn’t take a vacation while I go back to school. 

What may change: Little things. Donations. Birthday gifts. Dinners out. Our trips to Memphis. I think it’ll basically depend on how many gigs I get each month, and our standard of living will have to adjust. 

A more flexible schedule may mean I’m free to do things I was never able to do before, like a cup of coffee on a weekday afternoon with a friend in the city, or a daytime photo shoot before the garden closes at dusk. I’m rather looking forward to remaking my life.

But this is scary. I’ve been mugged three times and won each fight, and I wasn’t as scared then as I am now. I’ve had two heart surgeries and an emergency c-section and wasn’t as scared as I am now. When I divorced my first husband, it was terrifying to think about being on my own again with a four-year-old hostage to fortune, but I wasn’t as scared as I am now.

I’m not afraid of the work load or the hustle of a freelancer. I’m not afraid of being back in the classroom after more than two decades. I’m nervous but not afraid of teaching, a whole new profession for which I am prepared only on the sense of knowing the subject matter thoroughly, and having guest lectured many times for various colleges. I imagine there’s a learning curve in front of me, but that’s exciting, too.

No, I’m afraid of the money, of not being able to support my family. I spent a long time as a working single mother. I did the poverty rounds of choosing whether to stiff the electric bill or the water bill (electric, they can’t shut you off in winter); of eating peanut butter so Ian could have a good meal; of finding non-exterminator ways to fight roaches in the apartment; of begging friends to watch my son when I had to work a Saturday shift because I couldn’t afford ten hours of babysitting.

I know poor, and I don’t want to be there again, not when Jim and I have worked our tails off to reach a point where all the bills are paid and up to date and we have a little in savings and almost no debt besides the student loan I’ll never escape. Do we really want to go back to peanut butter and cutting the milk with water to make it last longer?

I’ve had multiple panics where I call Jim and tell him I’ve lost my mind, we’re going to starve and be homeless. He always talks me down out of my tree, and tells me that he believes in me and in my ability, and we are going to be okay. Ian and Jim are both my biggest supporters, and we are all in this together as a team.

It’s not an easy thing to change your life, but who’s going to do it for you?

 

There will be a live chat TONIGHT at 8 p.m. CST in the Literary Underworld Tavern chatroom. Join me!

 

Swastikas in Our Town

It was my day off, but I went anyway. The vandalism at Sunset Hills Cemetery in Edwardsville, Ill. – Our Town – made national news from CNN to CBS. Someone painted swastikas on more than 200 graves, plus a few houses and cars. I had been called for the assignment but got the text too late; they sent the on-duty reporter instead. But I went, because I needed to see it for myself.

(Yes, it’s been pointed out that he got the swastikas backwards, so he may have unknowingly painted an Indian or Buddhist blessing of good luck on all those graves.)

A suspect is in custody, and I may end up writing about it, so I will reserve further statements until later. You can see it for yourself in these images, taken the morning they were discovered, as family members rushed to see if their families’ graves had been desecrated.