I’m delighted to finally attend the Edwardsville Author Fair in person!
They’ve been holding this festival of the written word for a few years now, and each year it has conflicted with another major event: Dragoncon, the Society of Professional Journalists, etc. Then last year the event was virtual, of course, because the Voldevirus required all such things to be in Zoomland. Thus I was actually able to participate after a fashion!
I thought I was going to have to bow out this year again, because I am president of the St. Louis chapter of SPJ and will be representing them as delegate at the annual conference next weekend…. which was supposed to be in New Orleans. Sadly, the Voldevirus strikes again and I will not be chowing down on beignets at Cafe Du Monde. The SPJ conference will be entirely virtual. (Of course, it’s likely it would have struck a landmine anyway, since Hurricane Ida is aiming at the Gulf Coast with a fury.)
But that leaves me home and free-ish to finally participate in my hometown’s book festival! I’ll be stepping in and out of the festival to participate as needed in the SPJ conference events, but my husband will be on our booth selling our books and my art throughout the day. Look for us in the author section of City Park 9am-2pm Saturday, Sept. 4.
This wasn’t exactly how I’d intended to christen my new website, but here we go: as of July 31, my oldest title Setting Suns will be going out of print.
Setting Suns wasn’t my first book, but it was the first to appear in paperback. Way back in the dawn of the ebook era, my first novel Nocturnal Urges came out from Ellora’s Cave Publishing, but they only published in ebook (two years before there was even such a thing as a Kindle!). If the ebook did well, they released it in paperback later.
Nocturnal Urges came out and it sold well, won awards and the publisher demanded a sequel despite all the people insisting, “I’ll wait until the real book comes out.” I kept yelling, “It IS a real book! Ebooks are real books!” Now people look at my paperbacks and say, “I’ll get the ebook,” and I want to yell, “Where were you in 2005??”
I was working on that sequel when Frank Fradella, founder of New Babel Books, came to me with the idea of putting my short stories into a collection. I’d published a handful of short stories in horror and science fiction magazines that had a disturbing habit of going out of business right after they published me. I was the Typhoid Mary of the small press in the early 2000s. Frank suggested collecting those stories and writing another half-dozen or so just for the collection, and thus Setting Suns was born.
It wasn’t my first book. But it was the first time I opened a box of books and saw my name on the cover. Ask any writer about that moment, and see the look in their eyes when they remember.
Setting Suns has been in print for 15 years, give or take, and that’s one hell of a good run for a small press collection. It won the Darrell Award for best short story for “Wonderland,” a weird little Frankenstein riff told entirely in emails and online chats that gave Frank apoplexy in layout, and contains two of my most popular short stories: “Sisyphus,” a tragedy exploring toxic grief and lost love; and “Jesus Loves Me,” known as the Evil Teddy Bear story.
The Evil Teddy Bear still exists, here in my office. And there were T-shirts.
But there are other stories that didn’t get as much attention. There’s “Prisoner’s Dilemma,” a literal funhouse horror piece that looks at the different kinds of love a person can have for the people in her life, plus crazy man with gun.
There’s “Silent,” which was one of my very first short stories to be published for money, that smacks of a haunted house as told by The Twilight Zone. There’s “Deep Breathing,” a future-world submarine scarefest involving a monster several readers have referred to as “Cthulu-esque” which was funny because I’d never read Lovecraft at that point.
There’s “Memory Lane,” another escapee from Twilight Zone about a husband’s desperate search to find his missing wife, and the dark secrets that come to light. That one began as my first attempt at a short-film screenplay, rewritten as a short story for Setting Suns.
There’s “Gauntlet,” an action-flick of a science fiction story set in my Sanctuary universe that only reaaaaally dedicated readers know about, since it’s had a couple of stories published but the novels remain in the trunk until I get them to not suck. Three of the Setting Suns stories are set in Sanctuary, but “Gauntlet” is my favorite.
There are even two stories that would qualify as “literary” with no SFFH elements whatsoever, though entering an MFA program and exploring literary fiction was the absolute last thought on my mind in the waning years of my twenties.
After 15 years, Setting Suns is still the “entry drug” for Elizabeth Donald fiction. Long-time readers sometimes tell me it’s their favorite of my titles (which is a little humbling since I’ve published maybe thirteen books and novellas since then, give or take a few).
I’m gonna miss the old girl.
I want to thank Shane Moore, publisher of New Babel Books, for working with me to put Setting Suns out of print with grace. It will be available through July 31 if you haven’t snagged the ebook yet, and we still have a few in stock if you want the print edition.
I also want to thank Frank Fradella, who is no longer with New Babel Books, for his contributions to making Setting Suns what it was. The book was Frank’s idea, and his editing, layout and design coupled with the cover art from Darren Holmes made a wonderful book that I was proud to call my first.
Thanks also go to Jason R. Tippitt, who co-authored one of the stories with me (“I Live With It Every Day”) and served as sounding board and inspiration through much of the book’s development. I very rarely work in partnerships – I don’t play well with others – and it is a testament to Jason’s patience and skill that our story turned out well. The book was dedicated to Jason, who is a fine writer and I hope you’ll hear more from him in times to come.
It’s been a terrific run for my first “real” book, at least as far as I’m concerned. I hope you enjoyed the ride.
It is staggeringly obvious that this is a work in progress. Please don’t judge! I’m a writer, not a programmer. The final version of this site will be much shinier. In the meantime, please be patient with my learning curve!
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.
I’m happy to announce that my new Blackfire novella, Yanaguana, is now unleashed on the world courtesy of Crone Girls Press.
It walks along the San Antonio river, and it carries all your fears in its grasp.
Paul Vaughn and the Blackfire team have been summoned after several mysterious deaths, because that’s what they do. They face the things that lurk in shadows, and they save unknowing civilians from their grasp.
But this one will challenge Blackfire more than any they have yet faced, as they must fight not only the demon that lurks along the Riverwalk… but the things they fear the most.
A standalone novella preceding the events of The Cold Ones, Yanaguana adds another chapter to the Blackfire series and will hopefully introduce new readers to this world of ghouls and beasties. Paired with two other novellas under the Crone Girls Press collection Foul Womb of Night, Yanaguana is now available for $2.99 from Amazon or FREE for Kindle Unlimited readers.
While I’ve got you… I have a few people to thank. Because nobody writes a book alone, as much as we like to pretend.
Many thanks to David Szucs, officer and gentleman, who provided a sanity check for military parlance; to David Tyler, who answers my rambling messages at two in the morning; to Ian Smith, who helped me devise what’s going on with new characters Juliet and Tommy; and to my husband Jim Gillentine, who always cheerleads.
As usual, many thanks to the real Parish Roberts, Jim Bell, and the late Vic Milan, who let me steal their names for characters more than a decade ago.
Thanks to the good people of the Alamo Trust, who kindly gave me permission for a photo shoot and visit to the historic site, and the staff there who answered my many questions. San Antonio is a wonderful city, and I always show my love to the places I visit by infesting them with monsters.
Special thanks to Rachel Brune, editor extraordinaire who is blessed (or burdened) with indomitable patience and grace.
Finally, thanks to the real Sara Harvey, who couldn’t be more different than her fictional counterpart, except that they both kick ass.
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?