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Catching figs

As my semester draws to a close, one of our projects has been an online anthology of work centered on “Imagining Madness,” a semester-long examination of madness in fiction. Not to be confused with actual mental illness, it centered on people perceiving the world differently or whose ideas or behaviors violated the normatives of their society. 

My contribution to the anthology was “Catching Figs,” an essay examining Esther of The Bell Jar and what it reflects of second-wave feminism. I was also selected to present this paper at the SIUE Graduate Student Symposium this semester, and my poster slide from that is included below.

If this kind of literary analysis interests you, you can read my revised essay here. Then click around the other offerings and see what people have written. There are poems and character studies and much more. It’s really been a delight and a fascinating discussion all semester, and I’m going to miss it.

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April 2022 linkspam

It’s no coincidence that this month’s meme is Toni Morrison. All this semester I have been studying Morrison, as I am privileged to attend a university that offers a class solely focused on her writing. The nuances and intentionality of her prose are powerful and inspiring, and I’ve greatly enjoyed exploring her work. So far we’ve done deep dives on The Bluest Eye, Sula and Song of Solomon, with side trips into her essays and academic writing. I can already tell that I’ll be digging out Beloved and Paradise over the summer.

My Deep Thoughts on Morrison and my other studies in the MFA program are a continuing feature on the Patreon. I recognize that I have an enormous privilege to be able to pursue an MFA in creative writing and spend three years developing my craft and studying literature, and not everyone has the financial or practical freedom to do so. Therefore I am sharing what I learn on the Patreon, so that my readers get an MFA by proxy! Or something like that. 

As we enter the homestretch of the Longest Semester of My Life, the travel schedule is picking up. As I write this, I’m one week back from Memphis and heading to Wichita later this week, with more travel on the horizon. Am I coming to a show or festival near you? If not, drop me a line and I’ll see what I can do. 

Meanwhile, I’m delighted that the anniversary edition of Setting Suns is out now! “But wait, Elizabeth, I already read that book.” Sure you did, but this anniversary edition has a new short story, a new afterword and other tweaks. I am very happy with the way it came out, and many thanks to Kody Boye Publishing Services, who did a great job on the book.

We premiered it at Midsouthcon this past weekend, and had a great time seeing our old friends and meeting some new ones. The official release event is slated for April 15 at Spine Books here in St. Louis, and I hope to see you there! 

More about the Setting Suns release on the blog, but in the meantime, here’s where you can pick up a copy:

Signed copies direct from me
Amazon
Kindle

A nightmarish funhouse turned deadly.
A couple trapped in a futile journey through time.
A single baleful eye watching from the deep.
An assassin waiting in a snow-covered tree.
A toy that seems to have a life of its own.
A pair of soldiers trapped between death and something worse.
A tenebrous hand reaching out of the shadows.

These are the award-winning tales and terrors of Elizabeth Donald, writer of things that go chomp in the night. This new anniversary edition is being released 20 years after the first story was published, now including a bonus short story and the author’s reflections on twenty years of twilight tales.

In that space between evening and nightfall, between consciousness and sleep, the moment when the light fades and the shadows take over… These are the lands of the Setting Suns.

Publicity/Appearances

In March I simultaneously attended the national conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs and Midsouthcon on the same weekend, which was a hilarious bit of scheduling. Many thanks to my husband and our fellow Literary Underworld authors, J.L. Mulvihill and Rachel Brune, for their patience as I dashed up to the hotel room for AWP panels, then back downstairs for a Midsouthcon panel. Rinse, repeat. 

Kimberly Richardson of Viridian Tea House gave a wonderful review for Nocturne Infernum with five out of five cups of tea. “This is one hell of a book,” she declared. Check it out here!

I am so excited to be reading and signing Setting Suns on April 15 at Spine Books here in St. Louis. Spine Books specializes in indie and small-press publishing, primarily from local writers, and I’m honored to be featured in their Friday night showcase series. The fun starts at 6 p.m. – check out the Facebook event for details!

Other highlights of the coming month include the SPJ Region 7 Conference in Wichita next weekend, where I am presenting on the practical applications of the SPJ Code of Ethics; our annual (ha ha) SPJ Trivia Night (postponed five times due to COVID); the First Amendment Free* Food Festival; and the Afterwords Bookfest in Edwardsville, Ill. on April 30. Whew! It’s going to be quite a month. 

I’m also pleased to announce I will be attending ConCarolinas this summer as a guest author. I’ve never been to this particular con, so I’ll have to see if I know anyone there…

Coming up:
• SPJ Regional Conference, Wichita, Kan. April 8-9
• Spine Books signing, St. Louis, Mo. April 15
• Afterwords Bookfest, Edwardsville, Ill. April 30
• Smithton (Ill.) Library signing, May 28
• ConCarolinas, Charlotte, N.C. June 3-5
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. July 8-10
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Oct. 7-9 
• SPJ National Conference, Washington, D.C. Oct. 26-29 (tent.)
• ContraCon, Kansas City. Nov. 11-13 (tent.)

Journalism/Essays

• Highland council considers deficit budget (Highland News-Leader)
• Highland residents have options for rising utility bills (Highland News-Leader)
• Voters to decide on $40 million school construction referendum (Highland News-Leader)
• Embracing the werewolf (Medium)

Fiction

I premiered a few pieces at my Midsouthcon reading, including two literary fiction stories from my MFA workshop and a selection from Setting Suns. Happy stories about bunnies and unicorns, of course. 

In the meantime, read a bit about how this anniversary edition of Setting Suns came to life in “Twenty years of fever dreams.”

Patreon/Blogs

• Old Home Week at Midsouthcon (Literary Underworld)
• King Lear, identity chameleons and Andy (Patreon)
• Housekeeping and linkage (Patreon)
• Five cups of tea for Nocturne Infernum (Patreon and Elizabeth Donald)
• On the road again (Elizabeth Donald)
• Welcome to Crone Girls Press (Literary Underworld)
• Another slingshot around the sun (Patreon)
• My birthday present to you! (Patreon)

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January linkspam!

If you’re like me, you’re entering this brand new year with hopes that it will not suck as much as the previous two years. So far we don’t have a lot of indicators in that direction, as my email is crammed full of nervous announcements about classes going online, cons and festivals being canceled, and7 other things that complicate my life and pocketbook. 

My good friend John Hartness, author and publisher at Falstaff Books, is never one to mince words. He posted this week, “Y’all get your damn shots. This damn plague is starting to fuck with my business again, and getting between a redneck and his money is not a good move. So get your shit straight, get your shots, and maybe we can finally put this fucking disease behind us.” He went on at extensive, profane detail, and if you are friends with John on Facebook, you should really go read it. It’s a thing of beauty.

As of this moment, my classes are all still intended to be face-to-face with the exception of my fiction workshop, and I’ll be teaching and tutoring face-to-face as well. Other events are starting to look questionable, so while I’m listing them here, please keep an eye on ElizabethDonald.com to ensure that an event is going forward as planned. 

And get yer dang shots. I want you alive, healthy and able to buy my books.
 

Publicity/Appearances

Who does a book signing outdoors in December in Illinois? This woman! The Edwardsville Winter Market took place Dec. 4, and was treated to fairly reasonable weather, which means I was only half frozen to death by the time the family showed up to collect me. (What? They were not dumb enough to actually stay with me all day.) 

This was followed by the Collinsville Author and Artist Fair, which was blissfully indoors and oddly had a much lower turnout. That’s maybe not as surprising when you realize it was the day after the tornado struck Edwardsville. It’s obvious that my family and I were unharmed, as I am writing this newsletter, but thank you to all who reached out to us in concern. We were lucky; the workers in the Amazon warehouse on the Edwardsville-Pontoon Beach border were not. The Edwardsville Community Foundation continues to raise funds to help those impacted by the tornado, and you can donate here.

Coming this month: the Millstadt Library Author Fair, which kindly did a terrific write-up of my novel trilogy Nocturne Infernum in advance of the event. “Unique, modern, intelligent, and feisty, Donald’s stories are more than entertainment – they are political statements about civil and sexual rights, independence, privilege, agency, and STILL MADE ME BAWL at the sad romance of it all,” they wrote, and that’s going on the website! Funny thing: through their post I discovered that their library system has several of my books available, including some that are seriously out of print. 

I’ve also been informed that Conflation is moving to a mostly-online format in late February. Awaiting details, but however the Goddesses decide to run the show, I’ll be there in any way I can. 

On the publicity side, Cuppa Words is kindly featuring me for the month of January! Here is my introduction, and all month they’ll be talking about my work. I’ve been happy and proud to be associated with Cuppa Words for the last few years, and look forward to another great year with them. 

Coming up:
• Millstadt (Ill.) Library Author Fest, Jan. 15
• Conflation, St. Louis, Mo. Feb. 25-27 
• Midsouthcon, Memphis. March 23-26 (tent.)
• AWP, Philadelphia. March 25-27 (tent.)
• AuthorCon, Williamsburg, Va. April 1-3 (tent.)
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. July 8-10
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Oct. 7-9 
• SPJ National Conference, Washington, D.C. Oct. 26-29 (tent.)
• ContraCon, Kansas City. Nov. 11-13 (tent.)

Journalism/Essays

• Elon Musk is a bad Person of the Year… but not for the reasons you think (Medium with intro on Patreon)
• Brewpub closes only weeks after opening (Highland News-Leader)
• A kidney for Christmas (Metro-East Living)
• Schools on alert after violence threat (Belleville News-Democrat)
• Council approves gas station over residents’ complaints (Highland News-Leader)
• Highland Police move into new station (Highland News-Leader)
• Local contractor gets $113 million Air Force base contract (Highland News-Leader)
• Highland voters to decide school construction referendum (Highland News-Leader)
 

Fiction

I’m happy to announce that Spine Bookstore is now featuring my work, along with that of many independent and small-press authors in the bi-state area. I’m delighted to be part of this new concept and look forward to events beginning soon at the shop and cafe. Spine is located on Arsenal in St. Louis near Benton Park, and is definitely worth a stop. 

In addition, River Bluff Review went live early, including my short story “Fever.” It’s available online for free here.

Patreon/Blogs

• ‘Fever’ is published! (ElizabethDonald.com)
• A blessed season (Patreon)
• New story published! (Patreon)
• A Second Life (Patreon)

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December linkspam

Happy holidays! I am delighted to announce that I will be an adjunct instructor at St. Louis University beginning in the spring semester. Yes, probably the last thing I needed was a fifth job, but I’m very excited to be teaching journalism again. Never fear, I am continuing in my assistantship at SIUE teaching English composition in addition to my MFA classes, editing work at the student newspaper, my freelance writing and reporting work, my volunteer activities… I think I forgot a job in there somewhere. 

Only one week left until the semester is over and the signings end for a little while, at which point I will… do more writing. And probably bake some stuff, seeing as how the holidays have enveloped us. I appreciate the patience of the Patreon people in particular, as pickings have been slim while I trundle through to the end of the semester. The Literary Underworld and Elizabeth Donald shops are bustling with the holiday orders, and please see the infobox at the end of this newsletter for deadlines to order in time for Christmas. 

That said, we just finished Thanksgiving, and if I haven’t done so up until now: Thank you. Yes, you, particularly. You stick with me and this newsletter, you support my work and many of you subscribe to the Patreon and/or buy the books. That keeps the lights on in my house and feeds my family, and I am always humbled by your continued support. As every year, I give thanks for you. 
 

Publicity/Appearances

November kicked off with ContraCon in Kansas City, which was the last Literary Underworld event for the year and at which we won Best Booze! This is an honor we have received before, and I can only assume it is our staggering array of bottom-shelf liquor and menu of geek-themed cocktails that wins us these accolades. Seriously, I am so pleased that the Traveling Bar brings so much joy to our guests at the cons, and it absolutely makes it worth hauling all those boxes of booze around the country.

Jim and I took a long weekend to Galena, Ill., which is a lovely little town with an old-fashioned Main Street and plenty of ghost lore that we’ve intended to visit since our first anniversary. On the drive up, I was pondering: when was the last time Jim and I traveled anywhere outside the St. Louis region that did not involve books, signings, public appearances or the kids? We’ve had family vacations and a few overnights in St. Louis and St. Charles, Mo., plenty of solo travel, sadly a few funerals, and more cons than we care to admit. But honestly, to meet those parameters, we’d have to go back to our honeymoon in Jamaica. It was a delightful weekend even if the ghosts were a bit of a disappointment, and soooo much food. 

I was delighted to return to Writers of the Riverbend in Alton, Ill., which is partly a sale and partly a networking opportunity for writers of the Alton-Edwardsville-St. Louis region. As always, there were familiar faces and new acquaintances, and I had a great time. Also, the charcoal mocha at adjacent Maeva’s Coffee cannot be beat. 

I was also happy to host write-ins all month long for the Eville Writers’ Nanowrimo, and the first-ever write-in for Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society at SIUE. (See, I opened my big mouth and suggested it and thus I was put in charge. This happens a lot.) Two more holiday markets coming up in December, and then I’m staying home for whole weeks. 

On the publicity side, I (briefly) contributed to another author roundup for Sean Taylor’s Bad Girls Good Guys blog, on “The End.”

Coming up:
• Collinsville (Ill.) Winter Market, Dec. 11 – last of the year!
• Millstadt (Ill.) Library Author Fest, Jan. 15
• St. Louis SPJ Journalist Boot Camp, Feb. 15 (tent.)
• Conflation, St. Louis, Mo. Feb. 25-27
• Midsouthcon, Memphis. March 23-26 (tent.)
• AWP, Philadelphia. March 25-27 (tent.)
• AuthorCon, Williamsburg, Va. April 1-3 (very tent.)
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. July 8-10
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Oct. 7-9 
• SPJ National Conference, Washington, D.C. Oct. 26-29 (tent.)
• ContraCon, Kansas City. Nov. 11-13 (tent.)

Journalism/Essays

• Substitute shortage forces Highland schools to cancel class (Highland News-Leader)
• New police chief sworn in (Highland News-Leader)
• Alhambra, Grantfork schools renovating for security (Highland News-Leader)
• SIUE investigates reports of frat racism (Alestle)
• Highland residents to vote on school referendum (Highland News-Leader)
 

Fiction

I’m delighted to report that my short story “Fever” will appear in the River Bluff Review literary magazine next spring. While ostensibly it seems like a COVID story, I swear I wrote it just before the Voldevirus hit, so the fact that it refers to a terrible illness is entirely coincidental.
 

Patreon/Blogs

• Writing the Adventure (Patreon)
• Body horror in MFA Land (Patreon)
• The Dance (poem) (Patreon)
• Job No. 5! (Elizabeth Donald and Donald Media)

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Job No. 5!

Now that all the paperwork is being filed, I am free to announce that beginning in the spring, I will be an adjunct instructor at St. Louis University.

I’m delighted at the opportunity to teach news editing at SLU’s communications department, and very grateful for the recommendation from my former-and-sometimes-current boss at SIUE. I’ve had several productive conversations with my new department chair, and spent a lot of time in the past several weeks planning out a syllabus and evaluating possible textbooks. It’s not a class I’ve taught before, but editing is a significant part of the newswriting class I taught for two years at SIUE and certainly I have enough professional experience in the topic. 

Never fear, I am continuing in my work as a teaching assistant at SIUE. I’ll be teaching English composition again in the spring, working in the Writing Center, assisting the editors of the Alestle, taking a full course load in my progress through the MFA, and continuing to write for my freelance clients, including the Highland News-Leader. The Patreon continues, as does the Literary Underworld and the ongoing tour/travel schedule (plus or minus pandemic cancellations). I am hammering away at the thesis for the first masters (more like driving a stake through the heart of a vampire, there…) I am still president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists, running the Literary Underworld and the Eville Writers, and captain of a Relay for Life team. And somewhere in there I probably should write another book.

So if you’re wondering why I haven’t emailed you back, take note of the above paragraph and gently remind me to pull my head out of the books once in a while. Who needs sleep?

Silliness aside, it’s a terrific opportunity and I’m really looking forward to the challenge. 

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And the winner is…

Me!

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.

Crossposted from DonaldMedia.com.
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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.

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?

Crossposted from DonaldMedia.com.

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