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
So this has been a pretty nifty month here at Donald Media Tower, because I won an award. *cue confetti* I was informed this month that I am this year’s recipient of the Mimi Zanger Award for fiction writing, which is the first time in several years that I’ve snagged a fiction award.
You can take the woman out of journalism, but…. no, you can’t. As soon as I heard, I started researching Mimi Zanger and found that her husband was one of the early English professors at my university and both of them were influential in developing the artistic and literary culture that thrives in my town. (She was a puppeteer, among other things!) It turns out that they lived not far from our house in the historic neighborhood of Leclaire, which has its own cool history I will narrate someday. It also turns out that their relatives still live here in town, one of their sons operates a cool restaurant near the library, and one of their nieces is a friend of mine! Small town, small world.
At any rate, I was honored and briefly speechless to receive this award, and very grateful to my professors and mentors at the university for their support as I develop my craft.
For Patreon subscribers: It’s March! You know what that means…. okay, maybe you don’t. 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. And if you sign up for the Patreon before my birthday, you also get the annual bonus! (Make sure you include your snail mail address when you sign up!) I think you’ll like this year’s offering…
I was delighted to “attend” the virtual edition of Conflation this weekend, and it was an absolute blast. I’ve been to a few virtual conventions since the pandemic began, and while they were all very educational and interesting, none have managed to recreate the socialization aspect of a con as well as Conflation did! It helped that they got us all into Second Life, which I can easily see will suck all my spare time out of my eyeballs… on the other hand, if I just reduced the amount of time I waste on Facebook and waste it there instead, I think my blood pressure might mellow out.
Next up for me is the AWP conference, which begins this week and runs for five days. In the alternate universe where the pandemic was quickly routed and none of us had to go into our caves for a year, AWP would have meant five days eating barbecue in Kansas City instead of tied to my tower desk with a ham sandwich, and I’m. not. bitter. at. all. AWP is the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, and my first conference that isn’t journalism or specifically geared to SFFH, so it should be a neat learning experience. I will be blogging about it, so watch Donaldmedia.com for updates.
Last month I warned you thatmy author website will be coming down shortly for a massive overhaul after *mumblety years of the same static design. Guess what didn’t happen? I really shouldn’t schedule major projects like that mid-semester. At any rate, I hope it will happen this month.
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.
New posters! Last month I promised you a new line of posters incorporating my photography with famous quotes, and they’re now on display in the photography portfolio and in the store, and soon on etsy. Check them out!
Also, a selection of my work was on display in the art show at Conflation – which meant it was also on display in a gallery in Second Life! That’s a nifty new venue I had never considered.
Unfortunately, I am sorry to report that due to the pandemic,Highland Arts is moving to a new space that is roughly one-third the size of their old studio, and will no longer be able to offer most of my artwork in their shop. They will continue to carry my Highland collage poster, but the rest of my work has been picked up. I wish them the best of luck in their new space and am happy to be associated with them.
As part of our Conflation promotion, I added a few free offerings to the Patreon this month along with a free ebook to any new subscribers. I will extend that promotion until my birthday on March 17, so if you were just sitting at home pondering, “Whatever can I give Elizabeth for her birthday?” consider subscribing to the Patreon! Subscriptions start at $1 a month, and you get weekly content out of the bargain!
• FREE Travelogue: The St. Louis Art Museum (Patreon)
I’m pleased (almost) beyond words to announce I have been honored with the Mimi Zanger Award for fiction writing. This is an award granted by the English Department at Southern Illinois University, where I have begun my coursework for an MFA in creative writing (in case you’ve missed all the other references to my MFA here and on my Patreon …. somehow).
The story I submitted for the contest’s consideration was written in workshop last semester. My first inclination was to share it, of course. However, it is currently under submission to a literary magazine, and thus it would be inappropriate to publish. I sincerely hope I will be able to share it with you soon.
Near as I can tell, the award is named after the wife of Dr. Jules Zanger, a professor at SIUE before it even became the university we know it today. Dr. Zanger grew up in Brooklyn and fought in World War II, as did many of his generation. After the war, he earned his degrees and met Mary Proctor – known as Mimi – while finishing his PhD at Washington University in St. Louis. Like many academics, the Zangers bounced around from Ohio to Chicago and so on before moving to Alton, Ill. and settling at SIUE. Dr. Zanger taught at SIUE for 35 years, retiring as professor emeritus after receiving Fulbright grants to study in Brazil, France and Czechoslovakia.
Mimi died in 1991. Dr. Zanger continued with his research and extensive travels, eventually remarrying and relocating to Frankfurt, Germany, where he died in 2014. His obituary states that he was “a great lover of good books, good food, good wine, good music, and good conversation. He loved fine restaurants, but was also a skilled home chef, preparing many memorable meals for friends and family. He loved and frequently attended the opera, never understanding why everyone didn’t.”
When Dr. Zanger died, his survivors indicated that memorials should be made to the Mimi Zanger Award endowment, so that it could continue to support students like me who seek to explore the joys of the written word.
It sounds like the Zangers would have been terrific people to know.
As I write this, I am playing Don Giovanni, in honor of the opera lovers, and hope that I can be worthy of their legacy. I am humbled and grateful for the honor and support of my mentors in the writing program, and look forward to all I have to learn from them.
One month of 2021 down, 11 to go, and hasn’t it been entertaining so far? I don’t know about you, but I could use a little less excitement in my news… and also a little more sunshine, because this has been the longest, grayest January I can remember.
This is Women in Horror Month, and just in case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a horror writer and a woman. I’d like to recommend this essay by Mary SanGiovanni, who is a terrific writer and very smart human, as she discusses some of the challenges facing us as women horror authors. It spurred me to do a rare Twitter rant on this issue, and I hope you’ll consider Mary’s call to do more than scan the ubiquitous lists of women writers: read them, discuss them, share their work.
But now let’s talk about what’s been going on! For one thing, I’ve slightly altered the Patreon. In addition to the new MFA Adventures posts, I’m adding book reviews (and maybe movies if we EVER get to go see them again) at the $3 level. This is in part because I’m doing so much reading and finding such neat stuff as I work through the MFA, and in part because my pandemic-induced isolation means I have very few photo shoots and no travelogues. I’ve got plenty of backlog, mind you! But until I can move around again, y’all deserve fresh content.
Meanwhile, the semester has begun at Ye Olde University. I am teaching English composition again, and studying fiction and poetry writing. This should lead to some interesting posts in the Patreon!
I’m sorry to say it looks like all the conventions for the first half of the year have been canceled. We’re still waiting to hear on the July-Dec. cons and conferences, and assuming I can get a jab in the arm, I’m looking forward to seeing folks again! However, I plan to attend Conflation in its virtual format later this month, and we’ll see what other shenanigans I can manage from my Rapunzel tower!
Not quite publicity but important: Be aware that my author website will be coming down shortly for a massive overhaul after *mumblety years of the same static design. I am not a programmer and I really suck at site design, yet I manage something like five sites. *shrug* We’re a work in progress.
In the meantime, take note my photography portfolio at elizabethdonaldphotography.com. I’ve also consolidated my webstore to offer books and photography from the same site. Never fear, I’m still part of Literary Underworld! (Which has two nifty new titles this month, you should check it out.) And my work is still available on Amazon, of course.
And I have a Patreon. I don’t think I’ve mentioned it in the last two paragraphs….
We have some new posters in development! Right now there’s just the one new poster available on the photography portfolio in addition to the older poster designs, but there are several others in the works that will be available in the store and on etsy. Stay tuned!
Whoops. Somehow November’s Linkspam never posted, and I never noticed and none of you yelled at me. That’s a sobering lesson!
Suffice to say the end of the year is now upon us, and good riddance. There’s been plenty of work for us writerfolk, but a lot of others have been suffering. It’s hard for me to complain about having to hole up in my little attic office all the time when my son the college student will have to take on a third job because his restaurant job has cut his hours and his setbuilding job is on hiatus and tuition bills are looming.
Here’s the links for the last two months of the year, and thank you for sticking with me, folks. Here’s to better things in 2021 – they’d almost have to be, wouldn’t they?
Not much to report other than the ongoing MFA work, which has been keeping me very busy. I’ve been narrating my thoughts about the MFA in the Patreon, so if you’re really interested in that material, you might subscribe. (Was that subtle?) This semester I wrote three short stories and began two others still in production. Whee!
Note to my English 101 students: Please do not read the above cartoon. It bears no resemblance to actual expectations. No, really. Do as I say, not as I do.
I’m in mid-semester here at sunny SIUE, inflicting rhetorical analysis on my students and writing fiction on deadline, which should mean more fun for you in the near future! I also was proud to serve as delegate to the Society of Professional Journalists’ national conference, which was online instead of Washington D.C. Stupid virus. I’ve returned to the student newspaper The Alestle as a copy editor as well.
There wasn’t much else to report for September, because I came down with a nasty bout of something bronchitis-like right after Labor Day and stayed sick for the entire month. Four weeks of fever is no one’s friend. (Yes, I was tested for the Voldevirus and thankfully was negative.) Working entirely from home meant I could keep working without infecting anybody. On the downside, I could keep working. Many thanks to the professors who were so understanding about my croaky ass remaining on mute during classes so as to not inflict my coughing on the Zoom call.
In better news, I’m happy to report that this month I finished a Blackfire novella that will be coming out from Crone Girls Press later this fall. I had a lot of fun writing it, and I hope you’ll enjoy it. I was startled to find that only a little bit into my MFA, I have already compiled enough short stories to fill about half of a new collection. If you’re interested in the Ongoing MFA Adventure, I’m detailing it several times a month on my Patreon.
Anyway, here’s this month’s links!
Happy to be part of the Edwardsville Public Library’s Book Festival, which had to be held online for staggeringly obvious reasons. I had to miss the first of these festivals last year because I was on the road, and that is so not a problem this year. All conventions and signings for October have been canceled, along with just about every such appearance since February. Thanks to the Edwardsville Library for helping boost the signal for the starving authors!
As usual, I would remind you of my delightful Patreon. I’m adding 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!
Monday was an anniversary of sorts. On that day, two years ago, I worked my last shift as a full-time newspaper reporter.
Those of you who’ve followed me for a while know what a big decision that was. I had worked for that particular newspaper for 18 years and in newspapers in general for 22 years, which was pretty much my entire adult life. I spent a long time thinking about the choice to go freelance and try to make a living with my words while I went through what I thought would be two years of grad school. Whee.
Last year I wrote that this decision was like jumping off the high dive with my family handcuffed to me, but without knowing if the pool was full of water. I spent the first few weeks of grad school sure I had made an awful mistake: I was too old, I didn’t fit in, I was a bad fit for academic style and the philosophical approach to the field. I didn’t exactly hit the ground running, but I adapted, and as of this writing I have finished all the coursework for the masters degree in media studies.
Several factors have delayed completion of Ye Olde Thesis, not the least of which has been COVID-brain – no, I haven’t had The Plague, but the situation we’ve all been in since March seems to have made my concentration very difficult. Wurdz r hard.
But I have never regretted my choice. It’s not an easy life, being a freelancer. I spend a lot of time hustling work and filing invoices. But I also choose what I write about, and I am my own boss. That has definitely been worth what I gave up in security and a regular paycheck.
And I’m still reporting. I do magazine articles on a fairly regular basis, and I also do some local reporting for a subsidiary of my former employer. I like to keep a foot in the game, since I hope to be teaching newswriting again in the future and I feel you really need to keep up with the profession in order to teach it, beyond reading in the trades about the general state of the news industry.
I truly love teaching. I didn’t know how I would take to it, but it surprised me by being the best part of the last two years. One of my few disappointments this year was that we could not figure out a way for me to keep teaching newswriting while I’m teaching English comp this fall, as I would happily teach both classes as long as they’d let me. All of us got hit with unexpected challenges – a baby-bird new teacher suddenly switching to all-online instruction in mid-semester required multiple adjustments of the syllabus and assignments, but fortunately my poor students were patient with me, and I’m looking forward to continuing my teaching in the English department this fall.
Oddly, my fiction work has flourished even during the grind of grad school, in ways it hasn’t in years. This year in particular, I’ve seen several stories picked up for speculative fiction anthologies and also a literary magazine, an avenue where I haven’t had much success in years past. I am hoping to see far more of that, as I begin my new MFA program next month.
Meanwhile, nothing dulls my passion and advocacy for news reporting, even as it becomes more and more tiresome to wade through the hate spewed toward us online (and sometimes more than hate, as evidenced by the treatment of journalists on the protest lines in so many places this year.)
So while I tend to think of the anniversary of my departure as Freedom Day, it should not be interpreted as freedom from my old job or the news or journalism. It was more an internal freedom, the freedom to remake my life and my work to better suit all the facets of who I am as a writer. It’s freedom from the expectations of others and the restrictions I placed on myself, not freedom from any particular employer.
Below is the speech I gave at my farewell party at the newspaper. I meant every word of it, and still do. (Yes, I wrote it down. If I don’t write down what I’m gonna say, I’ll talk forever and it’ll be full of “um,” as my students can attest.)
I remember the first time I walked in here as an employee. It was June 2000, and we won’t talk about how old some of you were on that day, Josh.
I was 25 years old and less than three years out of school. I filled out my papers and they sent me up to the bureau so I could introduce myself to the crew working up there: Doug Criss, Teri Maddox, Steve Nagy, Marilyn Vise, Jayne Matthews.
I thought I knew what I was doing. I didn’t know shit.
But I learned, because of the people I worked with here. I had editors, and colleagues, and mentors, and friends. We are a strange and often dysfunctional little family, but we are a family nonetheless.
And that doesn’t change when you walk out the door, as I’ve discovered from the number of people I’ve heard from in the last few weeks and even the last few days. They remember, and we are connected. We are a family, because we all came here for one purpose, one calling that rides above an ordinary profession.
We are here because we believe in journalism, and its importance to the community in ways that they will never understand or appreciate. No matter how awful or exhausting or difficult it gets, no matter how jaded we think we’ve become, we still show up and shovel coal into the furnace and do the work and inform people who will never appreciate it.
To me, that makes every one of you heroes.
I am proud to have worked with every one of you. I am proud of being part of the News-Democrat. I always have, and I always will be. I have been here so long that “News-Democrat” is part of my name – when I introduce myself to people out in the world, I have to stop myself from saying, “Elizabeth Donald News-Democrat.”
It’s going to be a hard habit to shake. But that’s okay, because it’s part of me, part of who I am.
I know there’s a lot of uncertainty right now – it’s weird, and there are difficult times ahead, more difficult for some than others. But I know that wherever our various paths go from here, each of us can and will stay the course with our true mission – and I don’t mean the checklist or a spreadsheet or a hit count goal. But the true mission of any newspaper: to serve and inform our community.
Each of you has been a shining example of that mission. And I don’t just mean the mentors who taught me so much of what I needed to know all these years. I mean you young ones who will carry the torch forward for us, and have taught me things I didn’t know that I didn’t know.
Your dedication, your skill, your passion and commitment have restored my faith in our profession’s future. I will always be proud to have worked with each of you.
And you’re required to stay in touch. That’s why God invented the internet.
Since I let it slip on the radio last week, I might as well go public. Shenanigans are afoot.
Recap for those playing along at home: I left daily journalism in 2018 to pursue my masters degree in media studies while launching a freelance career.
This turned out to be quite a few eggs in the baskets I was balancing on both arms, my head and the tip of my nose. I learned quickly why I got sad smiles and headshakes from fellow freelance journalists when I said I’d be launching while doing grad school. The freelance career definitely brings in what I put into it, which I can track on my bookkeeping sheet: when I was crunching hard at school, the balance fell to a minimum; in the summer, it was soaring. Well, soaring to “subsistence living,” at least.
Still, as I’ve said several times, my worst day in Career 2.0 still has not involved calling the family of a dead child and asking for comment. My barometer for stress is scaled differently.
And to be honest, working freelance suits my personality much better than working in a newsroom ever did. I enjoy the freedom and flexibility and the right to choose my own projects, even if it isn’t as lucrative as a steady paycheck. I’m still doing some local reporting as well as magazine work on a more-or-less regular basis, and writing about the things that interest me. One week I might write about balancing motherhood and an MBA program; the next about camping options along the great river road. And let’s not forget how many stories I could write about legalization of pot here in sunny Illinois.
Now as I approach the end of my masters program, I have to figure out what I’m going to do next. Originally I wrote a long and really boring explanation of all the options I considered before settling on my next step, and I have deleted it because if it bores me, I can’t imagine how stultifying it would be for you, Gentle Reader.
But something else has happened while I’ve been trundling my way through cultivation theory and media content analysis and many cans of Starbucks TripleShot: I’ve been able to take some writing classes.
What are you talking about, Elizabeth? You’ve been a professional writer since the mid-nineties!
True, but with the exception of a poetry workshop in high school, I had never taken a creative writing class in my life.
I always meant to do so – I must have signed up for fiction workshops at the University of Memphis three times, and always had to drop it because it conflicted with some other requirement for my major.
I went to untold numbers of author panels at conventions, read writing books and memoirs obsessively… but never took a creative writing class. I have had plenty of training in newswriting: undergrad included classes in story structure and investigative and feature reporting, etc. But never fiction or creative writing.
Last spring, I took a class in creative nonfiction from the English department, figuring it would help with the essays and long-form journalism I was trying to develop for my freelance work. I found it immensely enjoyable, and more importantly, my writing improved significantly.
When this last semester began, I enrolled in a graduate-level fiction workshop as kind of a trial run: could my ghosties and creepies and long-leggedy beasties translate in a literary environment? I’ve always had a taste for things that go chomp in the night, but the key to those critters and their ability to scare lies in characterization: characters with whom we can identify and language that evokes emotion. At its fundamental basis, writing of any genre must meet those needs to be truly impactful. So far, the workshop has been going very well, and I find I am viewing my own work and works of others in a new light.
So after long discussion with Jim, and a lot of personal contemplation, I rolled the dice and filled out the applications over the winter break.
Thus I am pleased to announce that I have been accepted into the MFA program for creative writing at SIUE, and will begin in the fall. This program involves intensive fiction workshopping and classes in literature as well as craft, along with a mid-program project involving writing and literacy in the community.
In academia, the masters of fine arts is considered a terminal degree – which sounds frighteningly fatal – and thus is given equal weight to a doctorate in most situations.
I have also been offered another teaching assistantship, so I will learn how to teach English composition at the freshman level. While I expect this will be the biggest challenge of my immediate future, it will also give me a much wider area of experience as an instructor. After I finish, I will be qualified to teach English comp, creative writing or journalism at the collegiate level, and if I cannot land a full professorship right away, it will at least give me a much wider variety of adjunct opportunities than solely teaching newswriting.
So it’s practical, and practicality always has to come first in my head. As I told Jim, the worst possible outcome of this insanity is that I’ll come out the other side with enough material for 1-2 more story collections, and that works fine for me.
But I am also very excited about this new venture. I’ve been given a warm welcome by my fellows in the MFA program and in the English department, and my short stories have already gained a good bit of success in literary magazines and anthologies after a looong dry spell. It’s odd that although my primary work for the past two years has been research-based rather than creative, I feel more creatively inspired than I have in at least a decade.
And when I look at the array of classes I get to take, it feels like an amazing privilege to be allowed to study there. Buckle in for a lot of discussion on sociopolitical allegory in the writings of African-American women or comparing the works of Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson or comparing and contrasting dystopian and apocalyptic fiction. Squee.
(Oh, like it’s a shock to you at this point that I’m a book nerd. I mean, have you SEEN my house? We need more walls.)
The funny part of this process has been explaining to my cohort in media studies that yes, I am voluntarily and enthusiastically signing up for three more years of grad school. They think I’ve lost my mind (they might not be wrong). Three more years of stress and term papers, of wrangling being a student and a fledgling teacher at the same time, of wacky hours and too much caffeine and poverty – don’t forget the poverty.
And that’s where I really need to throw the bouquet to Jim, who is not only supportive of my insanity, but strongly encouraged me to apply for the MFA in the first place. This is not going to be easy on him, folks. Teaching two classes and taking three means that my time for freelancing will be even more limited than it is now, and that means he has to keep his second job for the foreseeable future to keep our family in milk and toilet paper (hot commodities, man). He’s about to graduate with his bachelor’s degree, which was supposed to be the time that he gets to relax a bit.
I hear from so many women writers who have husbands or partners far less supportive of their work, who resent the time away, who make them justify the hours and expense of developing a writing career, who dismiss their work because it doesn’t bring in as much money as a “real job.” I have been there before, and it kills the creative spark to such an enormous degree when your partner isn’t committed to supporting your success, however you might define that. It fills me with gratitude to have a partner who so completely stands with me and cheers on my successes (and pours the drinks for my failures).
Perhaps he understands because he is a writer himself, or perhaps he’s just that wonderful. I haven’t dedicated a book to him yet. But really, they’re all dedicated to him. It’s pretty much a given that without Jim’s unwavering support, sounding board, sanity check and P.S. health insurance, I could not do any of the things I’ve done or will do.
So this is what I’m doing for the next three years, and I thank all of you for your continued support, Gentle Readers – with extra-special thanks to my Patreon subscribers, who help make all this craziness possible by funding the water bill each month. Of course, if anyone’s about to reap the benefits of my new venture, it’s going to be them! You can feel free to join them, by the way, and get first looks at the stories I’ll be creating in my journey through the MFA. I might also share more writing craft essays, on Patreon and on Medium, and don’t forget the photos.
It’s going to be a grand new adventure.
As to what I’m going to be when I grow up? Who says I have to?