I’m delighted to announced that I have been selected to join the Second Life Fantasy Faire as a guest author, and will be reading an excerpt of my work on Second Life at 4 p.m. SLT (that’s 6 p.m. CST, if I calculated correctly).
Fantasy Faire is a weeks-long celebration of all things fantasy in Second Life, and it is a benefit for Relay for Life. Those of you who have read me for a while know that I am a Relay for Life team captain, and my team has raised more than $50,000 for the American Cancer Society over the past 15 years or so.
My own Relay for Life just got postponed from this weekend to sometime in June, but my team has already met its goal for fundraising (not that we’re stopping). It’s bittersweet as always, because there are far too many good, close friends who are no longer here because cancer took them too soon. Most recently I lost my Uncle Brian to cancer in October , and earlier this week honored my dear friend Andy, who was a year younger than me and lost his fight in 2020.
It’s a delight and an honor to be selected to join the authors reading for this important cause, in the hopes that someday we can stop adding names to the list of those cancer has taken from us.
Fantasy Faire opens up on April 20, and when I have more specific information and landmarks for you, I’ll be sure to share them. In the meantime, my team’s progress is being charted here.
What a weird month March was! I kicked off with my much-anticipated trip to Seattle for the Association of Writers and Writing Programs convention, which I wrote about in exhaustive detail for Patreon (see links below). I also posted a great deal on social media and photography is pending, so if you’re interested, you should subscribe to the Patreon and get access to all my previous posts! (See how I subtly worked that in?) I fell completely in love with Seattle and enjoyed the hell out of my time at AWP, returning fully reenergized to make all the words!
Unfortunately, three days after returning from Seattle, I started getting sick. I thought I’d caught the usual confluenza, but by the end of the week I was in hospital with pneumonia in both lungs. I had top-notch medical care, solid insurance coverage and my husband with me the entire time, so I count my blessings while acknowledging the privilege I have to be treated and recover without fear. I’ve been out of hospital a week at the time of this writing, and I’m not yet fully recovered – they say it may be a month or two before my lungs are back at their previous capacity, and I’m also looking at physical therapy for a while.
I want to thank all the people who sent their well-wishes to me in the hospital and after my release, who sent supportive messages to my husband as he fretted, and offered to help out as best they could with any of our needs. It makes an enormous difference in the isolation and claustrophobia of a hospital room to hear that people are thinking of you and praying for your recovery.
Of course, it had to hit six weeks before graduation, and now I am significantly behind in all the projects I am spinning as I prepare to finish grad school. That also means very little freelance work was done this month. I am canceling most public appearances and reducing much of my “extra” work in an effort to recover physically and catch up on my work. I know you will understand, and rest assured this summer you won’t be able to shut me up.
As mentioned above, my illness required canceling most appearances this month, including the Second Life writing workshop scheduled for April 1. I’m in communication with VRazetheBar to reschedule the workshop for a later date, after my voice and lungs return to full capacity. I’m looking forward to resuming events in metaverse and real life soon!
The event I couldn’t cancel was the Banned Books roundtable on March 28. As president of both the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists and SIUE Sigma Tau Delta Honor Society, I was the moderator, and no one was more nervous than my poor understudy when I was in the hospital. Fortunately I got out in time to rest up for the roundtable, my voice held out and I didn’t have a horrible coughing fit in front of a live studio audience. The event was very productive, with a robust conversation ranging over a lot of topics relating to book banning and the current backlash on education. There was news coverage in advance of the event and of the event itself, which I really appreciated. I’m not sure everyone understands exactly how much worse this issue is compared to previous years, but as one of the panelists put it, this is one issue on which journalists cannot afford to stand by the sidelines. The First Amendment protects us all, and it needs us to defend it.
I’m also keeping my guest lecture on the practical application of journalism ethics for SIUE’s Mass Comm Week, which will also include the First Amendment Free* Food Festival co-sponsored by St. Louis SPJ and the SIUE Alestle every year. That’s when we offer students the opportunity to sign away their First Amendment rights for free pizza, and it always turns out to be a terrific object lesson in the importance of the First Amendment. Other than that, I’m trying to rest until ConCarolinas and Paris in June!
I’m also glad to announce that I was accepted at Dragoncon once again, and will be returning to the Labor Day marathon after a long absence.
• SIUE Mass Comm Week: Ethics, Edwardsville, Ill. April 18 (presenter)
• ConCarolinas, Charlotte, N.C. June 2-4 (guest author)
• TechWrite STL, St. Louis. Date TBA. (presenter)
• Imaginarium, Louisville, Ky. July 14-16 (guest author)
• Dragoncon, Atlanta, Ga. (guest author)
• SPJ Conference, Las Vegas. Sept. 28-Oct. 1 (presenter)
• Archon, Collinsville, Ill. Sept. 21-Oct. 1 (LitUnd only)
• ContraKC, Kansas City, Date TBA. (guest author)
Note: Not all articles are available online, and some may be behind paywalls.
Currently bustling away on a screenplay for my adaptation class, the MFA thesis and some badly overdue fiction work I owe to editors who are being astoundingly patient. Nothing to see here yet, move along…
• Ten tips for AWP (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: That’s a wrap (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: Attack of the inkstained wretches (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: Hey, there’s a convention here (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: Klondike Gold Rush (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: The Emerald City, Pt. 1 (Patreon)
• Quote unquote: Ray Bradbury (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: So many evergreens (Patreon)
Note: Recently I indexed all the entries I’ve posted on the Patreon going back to launch in 2018. I wanted new Patrons to be able to easily find the work that they’ve missed, and hopefully seeing how much work is on the Patreon might encourage some good folks to subscribe. (Hint, hint.) Seriously, subscriptions start at $1 a month, and I truly believe some of the best work I’ve ever done is on the Patreon. Check out the index here.
• Seattle photodump! (Patreon)
• AWP 2023: The Emerald City, Pt. 2 (Patreon)
Now that all the relatives have been informed, I am free to share the sad news that Violet “Pat” Byrd Stribling has passed away.
Grandma Pat died a few days ago, peacefully in her sleep and in the company of family. She was my mother’s stepmom and my last surviving grandparent, so the sadness I feel at the time of her passing is a selfish one, as a generation of my family is now gone, their stories continuing only in our memories.
But as Uncle Mark points out, Grandma Pat is now reunited with the love of her life, Papa Ivan. They were married in a chapel in Yosemite National Park, which was Papa Ivan’s favorite place. An Eagle Scout, he led generations of Boy Scouts to their merit badges in the shadows of Yosemite’s mountain cliffs, and took me and my sister on our first camping trip in Yosemite, if my long-thin childhood memory serves me. I remember the chill of the morning sunlight, and Papa Ivan showing me Half-Dome.
Papa Ivan and Grandma Pat lived in Merced, California, the city of my birth. Whenever we would return to the hometown to visit my mother’s family, there would always be a day of adventures with Grandma Pat. I remember she had a dog that scared the heck out of me, as most dogs did when I was young. My sister remembers her ice cream floats with Tab soda, which is a memory I cannot recall, honestly. Her house was eclectic and fun, and she showered us with love.
Pat was fond of miniatures and dollhouses, a fascination she imparted upon me. When I was three years old, she built me an amazing dollhouse – easily as tall as I was that year, three stories and entirely from scratch – no kits for Grandma Pat!
That dollhouse became the center of my childhood imaginings. It was home to legions of Barbies throughout the 1980s, and in the 1990s became the setting for a dozen haunted-house games where I would make up “choose your own adventure”-style stories for friends and babysitting kids. It got dingy, a door vanished, the staircase disappeared, but that just added to its mystique. As I grew up and learned about miniature construction, I always had big plans for restoring it, but life and starting my own family got in the way.
Believe it or not, I still have it. It’s in my basement, carefully propped up on blocks so it doesn’t get wet in our occasional floods, and probably home to more than a few spiders by this point. Many times when living in places too small for storage and especially when moving from place to place, I’ve considered donating or getting rid of it – it really is a big dollhouse. And while I never have ascribed to gender norms and would have happily rehabbed it for my son, he never showed any interest.
But I have never been able to let it go. To do so would be more than giving up a part of my childhood – it would feel like giving up Grandma Pat. Only as an adult did I realize the work that must have gone into designing and building that dollhouse from scratch for a three-year-old granddaughter. It was a work of love, and such things can’t be cast away.
Papa Ivan and Grandma Pat had been married at least 40 years by the time he died in 2007, and she’s been on her own ever since. I have not seen her in several years, as it’s been some time since I returned to Merced. We exchanged Christmas cards and emails, and she joined Facebook along with the rest of the family, but like many in her generation, she rarely posted or responded.
Now she is gone, and I think my mom put it best when she said, “She was simply awesome, a very unique person, a wonderful stepmom, a good friend, and she and my dad shared a beautiful marriage for many decades. How wonderful that she’s dancing in his arms once again! It’s as it should be. Thank you, Lord, for the gift of this delightful human being who was part of my life for 60 years.”
And now I am able to cry, but it is really our loss for which the tears come.
As most of you know, I’ve been a Relay for Life team captain for more than 15 years, raising money for the American Cancer Society. For several years, my team has organized a used-book sale at Leclaire Parkfest, a local festival celebrating the history and culture of this little village (which was swallowed up by Edwardsville sometime in the 1930s, I think?)
It’s not a small undertaking. The books are set aside all year long by the volunteers at the St. Andrew’s Book Sale, which has about 20,000 volumes offered in a quarterly sale. For Parkfest, we have to load all the books into trucks and vans, haul them to the Park, set up at least a dozen tables and set out all the books. Then at the end of the festival, we pack up the remaining books to donate to other nonprofits.
This year books went to the Head Start program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, to SIUE Phi Kappa Phi to distribute to area Little Free Libraries, and to Metro East Literacy Project. The volunteers came from St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Phi Kappa Phi and SIUE Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society foolish enough to elect me as president this year.
We had a fabulous time, and our volunteers were awesome. Want to know how awesome? Some of the books left over last year had been stored in a church member’s barn, and when we were unloading, we discovered that several of them had brought unexpected visitors. To be more specific, we opened a bin and a mouse jumped out onto a volunteer’s arm!
We have since dubbed Olivia “The Disney Princess of Sigma Tau Delta,” as clearly she can charm the wildlife.
The mice apartments, as we started calling them, were taken to a nearby wood and set free by the students. The damaged books had to be thrown away, of course, and I supposed I’m going to have to get used to sacrificing books when I take over running the St. Andrew’s sale next year. But my philosophy has always been, every book should find a good home – and we did that this year, with all but two boxes of books sold or given away to literacy causes that will make good use of them in our ongoing efforts to celebrate the written word.
The gross total for the sale was $946 for the American Cancer Society, which was actually higher than I anticipated while not quite meeting the amount last year. It will be reduced a little by expenses, but not many; now that we have Frodo the Bookmobile, we don’t have to rent U-Hauls anymore for hauling large quantities of books.
A million thanks go to our terrific volunteers, who didn’t just endure the mice and keep hauling books. They stayed, they came back to pack up, they hauled tables back to the church, and three of them even followed us all the way to O’Fallon, Ill. to deliver the last of the books to Metro East Literacy.
Here’s a few pics from Leclaire Parkfest, with my thanks to everyone involved. It’s a great start toward our fundraising for 2023, and I’m happy so many books found a home.
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?