Elizabeth, what are you going to do when you grow up?

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.

This may or may not be an accurate depiction of my home office.

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?

Book launch today!

What timing, eh?

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 hope you enjoy “Shiny People” and the other stories in Coppice and Brake. It’s $10 from Literary Underworld for a limited time only, and if you prefer the pixel-version, you can get it for $1.99 right now on Amazon.

In the meantime, stay safe, stay home if you can, and wash those hands. Let’s live to make bad jokes about this another day.

February Linkspam

How can you tell that we are in a fever pitch in ThesisLand? We’re almost a week late with February’s linkspam.

Also: It’s March, which is my birthday month, and thus every March I give a free bonus to my lovely Patrons. The kind folks who subscribe to me at Patreon make it possible for us to cover some of our bills while I’m wending my way through grad school, and that means everything.

If you’re not a Patron, you can still get in in time for the March bonus! Sign up here – subscriptions start at $1 a month. You know you spend more than that on a candy bar (ouch, remember when they were 50 cents?)

Also this month:

Essays

Never show how you make the sausage… or do you? (Donald Media)

To dust we shall return (Medium)

Blogs/Reviews

Superb Owl 2020: Wave that mustache! (CultureGeek)

Psst. Patrons only (Patreon)

News

Highland denies additional funds for art fair (Highland News-Leader)

Highland to broadcast meetings live (Highland News-Leader)

Feasibility study suggests need for school construction (Highland News-Leader)

Highland moves forward with streetscape (Highland News-Leader)

Photography

A walk through the orchids (Patreon)

The Cheshire Inn (Patreon)

Fiction

The River Bluff Review release event took place March 3 at the Cougar Bookstore on the campus of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. This year’s edition includes two original short stories from me: “Sergeant Curious” and “Dear Katrina.” Here’s the post about it.

And don’t forget that Coppice and Brake is coming out March 21! That one includes an original story, “Shiny People.” You can still preorder your copy for $10 here.

March and April are going to be thin months, folks, thanks to Ye Olde Thesis and a bunch of late-semester gotta-graduate stuff. Jim and I both graduate in May, and we are going on VACATION right after. But there’s some fun stuff on the horizon, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you as soon as the T’s are crossed and the I’s dotted. Thank you for your patience.

Welcome spring!

River Bluff Review release event set

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!

January linkspam!

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.

Also this month:

Essays

The Newspaper (Medium)

Learning to fly (Medium)

Me vs. the Mouse (Patreon)

News

Highland paramedics need new housing during renovations (Highland News-Leader)

How to keep your New Year’s resolutions at school (The Alestle)

Highland provides incentives to Trouw Nutrition (Highland News-Leader)

Budzban steps down for political, social projects (The Alestle)

Highland to issue bonds for new public safety building (Highland News-Leader)

Feasibility study recommends major renovations for Highland schools (Highland News-Leader)

Photography

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.

Fiction

Sausage-making: An incomplete WIP (Patreon)

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.

Anthology! New story coming out!

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:

I will be taking preorders for the print edition starting now, and will be offering them at Conflation in a few weeks as well. Click here to preorder it for only $10!

If you missed it, the last anthology was Stories We Tell After Midnight, also from Crone Girls Press. It’s also available for $10 by clicking here!

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.

Fall tour wrapping up!

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.

New anthology!

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.

Spoooky.

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.

The print edition is not yet up on Amazon, but you can preorder that as well from Literary Underworld! Ordering from LitUnd means you can opt to have it signed if you wish. You can also order it as a gift with optional gift wrap.

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!

Fall Deathmarch

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.

Onward!

• 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?

June bylines

Colleges help students with autism reach higher education (Diversity IS Magazine) – this actually published in May, but I missed it for last month’s roundup.

Inspection debate in Highland still simmering (Highland News-Leader)

Highland Council mulls over allowing food trucks (Highland News-Leader)

The Spindler Building: If Walls Could Talk (Patreon)

Dark Phoenix rises, and it’s not so bad after all (CultureGeek)

“Alleged victim” (Donald Media)

The Alestle asks: What’s your favorite MRF memory? (The Alestle, just compiling quotes this time with photography in the gallery)

The historical marker sits close to the road, while the site itself is somewhere back in the trees. The land that once housed the Mississippi River Festival’s music acts has since been used as a radio-controlled airplane field, an outdoor astronomy lab and the current

Highland city leaders decide against granting funds for Chamber’s art festival (Highland News-Leader)

Highland weighs number of inspections required for new housing (Highland News-Leader)

Fiction: Prologue to Yellow Roses (Patreon)

Note: I have finally remembered to update my Contently site with more samples of my work. I try to keep it at no more than 100 clips, a sampling of my various nonfiction works. Click the link to see more.