So…. it was March, and that means I turned 39-plus-tax. Again. Shush, you who can do math. For Patreon subscribers: I have made it my tradition to send my loyal patrons a free bonus item in the month of March, usually something they can’t get anywhere else. Why March? Because it’s my birthday, so YOU get a present.
But grad school is still a thing, so the project has been delayed. It’s moving forward and I hope to have your bonuses in hand and into the mail within the next month. So since I am slow, if you sign up for the Patreon in April, you also get the annual bonus! (Make sure you include your snail mail address when you sign up!) It’s available to all levels, which begin at $1 a month.
Now for the rest of what’s been going on….
The AWP Conference kicked off my March with five days of intensive panels and discussion among my fellow writers and MFA denizens. AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and it was my first conference that isn’t journalism or specifically geared to SFFH. I live-blogged the entire experience on Patreon, as part of my ongoing series sharing the MFA experience with my patrons, and I hope you find it interesting and helpful. I gained a great deal from it, including the terrific keynote performance by U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo, as well as discussion of some issues in the freelance writing world that will consume much of my professional life in the months to come.
Last month I warned you that my author website will be coming down shortly for a massive overhaul after *mumblety years of the same static design. Guess what STILL didn’t happen? After having created and launched about four websites on WordPress, I decided it was time to actually know what I’m doing, and so I am taking a class (in my spare time, ha ha) to teach me the finer points of WordPress. Better website ahoy!
Note that I’ve also consolidated my webstore to offer books and photography from the same site. Never fear, I’m still part of Literary Underworld! And my work is still available on Amazon, of course. But if you’ve been interested in picking up an Elizabeth Donald book or photograph, try the website first.
Up this month: Not much, since it’s the final lap of the semester! The Society of Professional Journalists’ regional conferences are virtual this year, and will be taking place on April 10.
New posters! A new line of posters incorporating my photography with famous quotes is my latest project, and they’re now on display in the photography portfolio and in the store, and on etsy. Check them out! Have any quotes you wish were on an awesome poster? Let me know!
AWP: Wednesday/Thursday (Patreon) – finding agency as a woman writer, life in academia without tenure, women writers over 50 (not there yet!), nonfiction of the apocalypse, code-switching, southern short fiction, sociopolitics in fiction, #PublishingPaidMe… whew!
AWP: Friday (Patreon) – the art of the craft essay, anthologies, building literary magazines, agents, small press publishing
AWP: Saturday (Patreon) – Finding our own paths to creativity, genre-bending fiction, ageism in publishing world, small press books
AWP: Sunday (Patreon) – digital thesis repositories
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, 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 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!
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!
Every year, I tell myself I’m not going to do it this year. I’m not going to schedule myself into a pretzel every fall and say “yes” to everyone. And then I look at my profit-loss sheet and remember that rent is a thing, and if you write horror and you’re not out and about in the fall, you ain’t workin’.
The first round for the Fall Deathmarch was, of course, Excellence in Journalism. There’s a summary of that excellence conference pending for St. Louis SPJ, but believe me, it was a terrific week and absolutely the first place I’d go if I were job-hunting in media today. Also, San Antonio is a nifty city and I’d love to go back with the family someday.
• Breakfastival of Hope, Glen Carbon, Ill., Sept. 14. Okay, so technically this isn’t a public appearance: I won’t be speaking or signing anything. But those of you who have followed me for a while know that I have lost an inordinate number of friends to cancer, and I am sick of it. I have been a team captain for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life for more than 10 years, and this year the local Relay has opted to do a daytime food festival instead of the traditional all-night walk. So look for me and the St. Andrew’s team at the photo booth, where you’ll be able to ham it up as a superhero or Disney character.
• SPJ Student Journalist Boot Camp, SIUE, Sept. 21. This is one of the best programs we do at St. Louis SPJ: we put together a small group of student journalists with working professionals in the area and help them learn a bit about how the job is done today. I’ll be conducting the session on ethics and generally herding the cats.
• Writers of the Riverbend, Alton, Ill., Sept. 27. This is at Maeva’s coffeehouse in Alton, and I’ve been attending as long as they’ve been running it. Books will be on hand; I may or may not bring art to this one depending on space. But if you’re planning to attend and would like a specific piece, please let me know and I’ll be sure to have it on hand!
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill., Oct. 4-6. Always a highlight of the year, Archon is our hometown convention and we will be there in force! The Literary Underworld will have its usual table just outside the dealer’s room, and we will bring the Traveling Bar to the Doubletree, so be sure to come by and say hello!
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky., Oct. 11-12. Who tries to do two major cons back to back? Crazy people who don’t sleep. Imaginarium is a terrific convention, more of a writers’ workshop crossed with a film festival and a ton of fun. Literary Underworld will once again have a table in the dealer’s room and run the Traveling Bar, and I’ll be presenting on a number of topics, including a two-hour workshop on the business of writing.
• Leclaire Parkfest, Edwardsville, Ill., Oct. 20. This is another fundraiser I run for the American Cancer Society: Used books for sale during Leclaire Parkfest, which is a nifty little festival celebrating the history and culture of the Leclaire village. Don’t look for it on a map: it was annexed into the city of Edwardsville many decades ago, but I’ve lived here since 2012 and I absolutely adore Parkfest. Look for us under the pavilion on the far side of the lake, and pick up some books while you’re there!
• Grownup Book Fair, St. James, Mo., Oct. 26. I’ve never been to this one, so I can’t say how it goes! But I’ll be there with books and art.
• St. Andrew’s Book Sale, Edwardsville, Ill., Nov. 1-3. No signing or speaking, just volunteering … but if you love books, you should check out this sale. Books start at 50c, and cover all topics imaginable. It’s a terrific way to get a jump on your holiday shopping.
• ContraKC, Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 8-10. This is a small, adults-only convention in KC, and I’m happy to be back after having to miss it for several years up to last year.
And… then I get a break! Whee! Until, of course, the holiday markets start up. And we won’t talk about research and term papers and my students and Ye Olde Thesis. (Send chocolate and booze, please.)
So I hope to see you characters while I’m out on the road (which is, y’know, pretty much the only way anyone’s going to get to see me!) Who needs sleep?
I’m pleased (if belated) to announce that two of my photos have been on display in the Behind the Lens photography exhibit in Ellisville, Mo. for the last few days.
I’m not sure how much longer the exhibit continues, so if you’re in the area, you might check before stopping by. (No, I didn’t win the contest.)
Gator Stare was taken toward the end of the shoot at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Smiley here was waiting for me and perfectly reflected in the stillness of the water around him. I thought this one turned out remarkably well considering I had to adjust for shooting through glass, a task at which I am not always successful.
(What, actually get that close to an alligator, no matter how small? I love y’all, but no. I like my hands more.)
I’m not sure why I was in an animal mood when I submitted to Behind the Lens, but somehow I ended up picking my few animal shots. This pigeon accompanied me to the top of the Empire State Building in 2013, when I was on a whirlwind tour of New York City with my dear friend Keith DeCandido and his wife Wrenn. This is the view from the top of the Empire State looking toward Central Park, and for some reason, it really wanted to be in black and white.
My friend the pigeon seemed to follow me around, as if showing off his city. Yes, tourist, this is my town. I only had 24 hours in New York on the Furlough Tour for my one signing, but I’ve always meant to go back when I could spend some more time.
For more of my photography, please visit elizabethdonaldphotography.com. Most images can be custom-ordered in any print size or style, except some of the images shot for news photography. Also: I will have a selection of prints available at the Melting Pot festival in Granite City, Ill. this Saturday.
I am happy to report that my sort-of first academic conference went well, in that I completed my presentation and no one threw anything at me or shouted “Heretic!” and tried to chase me from the building. My barometer for “went well” might be a little low, but remember, I work in the news business.
Technically my first academic conference was the Walter Cronkite Conference on Media Ethics and Integrity, where I spoke about the 2014 project to rewrite and update the SPJ Code of Ethics a couple of years ago. I was a bundle of nerves there as well, but I was not presenting original research; merely reporting on a process in which I was part, and with extensive assistance from then-chairman Andrew Seaman and former chairman Kevin Smith.
The conference took place the first weekend of March at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, Okla., which is just south of Oklahoma City. I flew down on Feb. 28 and took the afternoon to look around Oklahoma City before settling in to be all academic and stuff.
This is the first academic conference where I was presenting my own research, and as my friends and colleagues know, my research last semester was wrought with blood and tears, so I was more than a little uneasy about the presentation.
But no moreso than my traveling companions, both of whom are my fellow first-year masters students and at least twenty years younger than I, the younglings.
I’m glad to report that AEJMC is a fairly low-key and welcoming conference, with three or four presentations per hour in small rooms with receptive audiences. Following the presentations, there is a respondent (who apparently was tasked with reading all the papers) who gives initial feedback, then questions and comments from the audience.
The respondent for my session could not make it, which was both a disappointment and a relief – I hope for real feedback, but I’d be just as happy not to get it in front of a live studio audience. I’m shy.
I attended many other sessions as well, and got a sense of what kind of research is taking place on the academic side of the field. This is different than the usual trade conferences I attend (and certainly different than the pop culture cons).
The trade conferences tend to be focused on practical applications, career advice, recounting of methods and approaches, and other how-to’s for performing and promoting journalism.
At the pop culture cons, there’s usually people in costume. This was not present at AEJMC.
Here are some of the research projects I heard presented:
• A game-based intervention on adults for media literacy did not yield the expected results, but showed promise for refinement in helping to promote the ability to discern fact from fiction in news content.
Note: The more education one has, the more one interacts with text and the more time you spend on content, the more likely you are to be able to discern fact from fiction and resist manipulation. Yet another nail in the coffin of “not everyone needs an education,” in my opinion.
As one person in the audience suggested, it is high time universities considered mothballing the old-fashioned “speech” class requirement in favor of intro to media or media literacy for all undergrads. Not every professional adult is going to give speeches in their work life, but everyone will need media literacy going forward. Food for thought.
• Along that line of thought, West Texas A&M University developed a service learning model for media literacy. Freshman students went through a five-week training course in media literacy, then went into the area high schools and taught the principles of media literacy to high-schoolers. The high schools want to incorporate it into their curriculum, but are swamped with mandates and limited on time and resources.
The program emphasized the importance of balance and fairness, evaluating sources, internet censorship, citizen journalism around the world, the impact of social media, and more. Then by teaching it to younger kids, the students learn better themselves.
Note: The program focused on finding a middle ground between championing journalism’s goals and successes, and dwelling endlessly on our errors and doom-and-gloom challenges. Teaching young people that all media is suspect, that journalism is dead and everyone online is awful does not help foster the next generation’s ability to navigate the media landscape or build a better one.
Or, as one speaker put it, a critical look at mass media should not turn into a conspiracy-theory cynicism that serves only to further tear down the profession and the industry.
• An examination of automated journalism in China. There have been previous studies of this, but focused only on such news in English. What is automated journalism? Apparently, news stories that are aggregated by algorithm, with no humans involved.
This is a beast heretofore unknown to me. The creation of aggregate stories alone was a bit of a shock to me a few years ago, when it tore down the age-old prohibitions on citing and linking our competitors’ work by compiling “stories” with links and citations to other news organizations. But at least those stories still have a living, trained journalist doing the compiling and evaluating the sources’ veracity. This is the closest thing I’ve seen yet to replacing journalists with robots.
It’s safe to say I’m not a fan.
Fortunately, the study found that readability and expertise rated higher for human-written news than automated, although for some reason readers rated credibility marginally lower for humans than machines. If you want to read more about Robby the Robot Journalist, Emerj did a piece on news by A.I. in January.
• Research on health podcasts found that doctors and people who have been personally diagnosed with an illness carried much higher credibility with podcast listeners than hearing the same information from a podcast host who did not have medical credentials. It also had a higher impact on health behaviors, and a higher interest in downloading and following the podcast in the future.
Another podcast study focused on commercials: the average is 5.1 commercials per podcast in the top 100 iTunes-distributed podcasts, up from 2.4 a decade ago. About 31 percent were sponsorships, and 87 percent directly or indirectly related to the subject of the podcast.
• This one will not please my teenage son: While 71 percent of Americans age 18-24 are habitual Instagram users, as much as 25 percent would qualify as “problematic users.” Social media addiction is a real, trackable thing, folks.
The addictive gratifications of compulsive Instagram use rival those obtained by food, sleep and sex, though they do not have a classification as a mental disorder (yet). They defined it as a state of unconscious activity, of compulsive use with multiple gratifications. I am probably mangling this definition, but it was an interesting study.
• In popular culture, there were examinations of Mad Men as a paradoxical feminist text, the portrayal of bisexuality on CW shows, the representation of Asian Indians in American film over the last 10 years, and the Kardashians’ impact on awareness of the Armenian genocide.
Don’t laugh. I didn’t know either, but they’re an Armenian episode and have apparently made a significant impact in advocacy for genocide victims and awareness of Armenian culture in exile. Who knew?
Also, the average CW viewer watches eight hours of TV a day. When do they work or sleep?
My colleague Rahul Menon did the Indian film study, and found an increasing number of positive portrayals of Asian Indians as hardworking, funny and helpful, though still fewer than half are actually portrayed by Indian actors.
Finally, there was a study on the impact that popular culture can have on people’s perceptions of mental illness. Specifically, they studied Batman and Beyonce, focusing on an article about Beyonce’s struggle with depression and Batman knocking the hell out of someone who said bad things about someone with mental illness. I’m paraphrasing, because this is already a long blog post, but it was an interesting study from the University of Missouri.
The answer is: yes, it makes a difference – but the study itself didn’t quite bear that out. Popular culture changes opinions, which sounds like a DUH, but in academia you need research and statistics to back up the things that should seem obvious, because sometimes it’s not. The “parasocial relationship,” which is academic-speak for our ability to identify with a fictional character, is key to whether the popular culture icon can shift personal opinion in real life. In short, mental health stigma can be reduced if it is responsibly discussed in media, but the message and the media matter.
Also: More than 80 percent of the audience was familiar with Beyonce. Only 69 percent were familiar with Batman. What?
This is a quick-and-dirty rundown on two days of research discussion, and apologies if I have mangled anyone’s research. I was honored to be there with my little study on journalists’ portrayal in film, and gained some ideas and feedback for my continuing research as I proceed into … wait for it … my thesis. But more on that next year!
Note: I visited the Oklahoma City National Memorial while I was in town. A narration and photo array will be pending on the Patreon.