Coming soon to the website! In the meantime, here’s a selection of shots from my recent adventures in Paris. The group included my mother, Patrice Stribling Nelson; stepfather Curtis Nelson; and sister Melanie Caputo. We stayed in an 1830s apartment building within sight of the Eiffel Tower, ate at street cafes and visited Notre Dame Cathedral and the Musee d’Orsay, among many other places.
I enjoyed the French atmosphere and lifestyle, with fresh baguettes and ripe strawberries at street stands within walking distance, experiencing the metro tunnel system and riding a cruise boat along the Seine, and exploring the cultural history of Paris from the opulent Opera de Paris to Shakespeare & Co., bookstore hangout of Ernest Hemingway and the Lost Generation (and later, Allan Ginsberg and William S. Burroughs of the Beat Generation). My favorite spot was Notre Dame, which unfortunately is still sequestered for renovation from the great fire of 2019. They are on track for reopening the great cathedral in time for the 2024 Olympics.
The view from my garret window.
Chess players outside the famous Shakespeare & Co. bookstore.
The famous chandelier of the Opera de Paris, featured in novel, movie and stage play The Phantom of the Opera. Looks pretty secure…
Notre Dame Cathedral, behind construction walls.
One of the many gargoyles, some of which were damaged in the fire.
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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As I write this, the semester is one week old and I’m already behind. How does this happen? I’m developing my lesson plans as I go for my English composition and rhetoric class, so please pass the bourbon. So far my students haven’t dropped en masse and no one is driving me from the campus with pitchforks and torches shouting “heretic!” so we’ll call it a win for the first week.
I’ve had round one of the classes in advanced literary editing, where we will be focusing on producing the annual issue of Sou’wester; and my fiction workshop, where I will continue to develop short pieces (and you Patreon folk will get to see them, muahahaha.) My tutoring gig starts next week, and I will be returning to assist the good folks at the Alestle student newspaper.
I’m still mostly housebound, which has been nice and all but I would really like the virus to go away now, okay? The next two conventions for me are/were ContraKC in November and Conflation in February, and it’s still up in the air whether those events are taking place. If they do, then I need to decide if I can attend. I miss seeing you characters!
As usual, I would remind you of my delightful Patreon. Yes, I know, you hear about it every month. But I’m starting a new feature, as I begin a three-year MFA program in creative writing: I’m going to share what I learn with you, in the hopes that those of you interested in writing or the MFA experience will find it useful. So if you were thinking of joining the Patreon, now’s a great time!
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.
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.
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!
Last spring I began an experiment in poetry and creativity with a healthy dose of silliness: the Door Poetry experiment.
To summarize: I have a metal office door, and it’s on a fairly well-traveled hallway in the lower level of my building at the university. Students from three departments use this building often, and many exit by passing my door.
Sometimes they stop to make poems.
I bought a bunch of Magnetic Poetry kits and covered my door with them. I was told that the students would be immature and I’d have to take it down, and so far it hasn’t been that bad. Maybe once every other week, someone will put something “witty” on my door that I need to break up.
Most of them are short. Some are poignant; some are silly. Sometimes they start small, and then others will come along and build on them. It’s not just students, either: I’ve seen (and heard tales of) professors, secretaries, janitors, administrators…
Everyone has a little bit of poetry in them.
So here are a few samples from the first two weeks of the fall semester, courtesy of the anonymous Door Poets.
It’s been a crazy busy month, though one of the weirdnesses of freelance magazine writing in particular is that you’ll do a pile of work in July, but it doesn’t appear until September or November. Still, by my standards, July was a bear of a month.
This month I celebrated my one-year anniversary of full-time freelancing, and we haven’t been evicted yet! I go into greater detail in “One Year Later” as listed below, but suffice to say it’s been an interesting, rewarding and ultimately positive experience, and I have a lot more to learn.
Also, this month I launched on Medium, which allows me to share essays and get paid by the click. I’m still figuring out exactly how it works, but a lot of good writers seem to be making money there, and what I’ve read so far is good quality. Please feel free to check out my page, and if you are so moved to click and “clap” for my work, it is deeply appreciated.
As it discloses, I am personally affiliated with The Alestle at SIUE, having served on its board for years and worked with the students this summer in an editing and advisory capacity; and my SPJ vice president is the Alestle program director. However, I believe this gives our opinions greater weight, not lesser: we know for a fact that this “student journalist” does not exist, and our responsibility to call out unethical behavior per the SPJ Code of Ethics is not lessened by our connections to the student newspaper.
Finally… I didn’t write this one. But the local newsmagazine, Edge of the Weekend, featured my family in an in-depth profile for their back-to-school edition. The weirdness of three family members all going to college together finally made print. The photos used are mine, because my menfolk are my favorite photographic subject. Many thanks to Jill Moon, magazine editor for Hearst Illinois, for thinking of us.
We’ve gotten a lot of attention on this story, and it’s been really sweet to see how many people are cheering us on and supporting us as we enter our second year of family-wide higher education and abject poverty. Six jobs, three tuition bills, two impending graduations and one car. It’s been… interesting.
And in three weeks…. here comes the fall semester!