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Author: JennyTrout

Dear Trout: AI and holes. AI holes. And a quick hiatus announcement.

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Quick reminder that June is when I go on my annual writing retreat to the Keweenaw Peninsula, and that will be happening next week. Once a year since like… over a decade ago, I started going up there with some friends for a week of distraction-free writing and being away from administrative stuff. I just realized the other day that I finished writing the recap of the final chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey the night before I left on my very first of these annual June retreats. All of the Boss books have been written on this retreat. I can’t even get my mindhole around it. I missed last year because I was directing The Music Man, and this year I am ready to put the words down.

Anyway, that means no content here, on YouTube, or on the Patreon for a week. But if you head over to my Abigail Barnette Facebook page, you can see the cover reveal and sale date announcement for Alpha God Rising!

Onto the questions!

How do I ask my 73-year-old dad to stop using AI to create art for his books? He recently finished a book which is getting published by a small press later this year. He’s setting up a substack and used AI to make a logo for it, then asked me to fix the text as it was the only part that didn’t turn out well (debatable tbh). As an artist, this makes my stomach turn in a way I can’t explain. I’d offer to just do the art myself but I’m not good at the kind of graphic design thing the project needs (I’m more of an illustrator) and I feel weird asking him to do something differently when I can’t help with it and it doesn’t totally affect me. I guess I’d like him to hire someone, but I don’t have a suggestion as to who. I just really hate AI art on principle, but I have a hard time standing up for myself and my principles and I’m afraid he won’t understand and it’ll be a fight for nothing. He doesn’t use AI for writing, just visual art—he’s a writer and I do both. We get along really well and I guess I’m just scared of rocking the boat.

The internet—Threads, at least, and BookThreads, in particular—sure had your back this week. The popular subscription book box OwlCrate was called out for platforming author Lauren Roberts, who allegedly shared multiple pieces of AI art depicting her characters on her Instagram. Readers who questioned OwlCrate had their comments removed, or were blocked, and outrage followed. Another author, Cassie Alexander, posted a long, long thread promoting her lecture on using AI art at Inkers Con, and it didn’t get her the reaction she’d probably hoped for. Reader responses to both of these situations made it clear: readers do not want AI. Not in words, not in art, not on social media, not at all.

If I were you, I would send your dad some links to some of these responses. You could approach it as fear for his future success. “Look, Dad, I know you’ve used AI in the past, and I’m worried that you might be hurting your bottom line. This is how readers feel about authors who use AI images.” Because readers have made it clear: if they see AI art involved, they assume the contents are AI generated, and they don’t trust the creator. A reader’s trust, once lost, is lost forever.

You could also introduce him to Canva, an app that every publishing writer should probably have, anyway. Canva has free fonts and images an author can use to make logos and promo, with templates sized for posting on social media sites. It’s user friendly and has a monthly subscription fee for people who want to access the entire library of fonts and elements. The unfortunate side of this is that Canva also makes some AI tools available to users, but maybe once he sees reader response to the technology he’d think twice about using them.

Re: the ‘dig a hole and get in it’ plan to succeed at Naked and Afraid – could you give some advice on surviving in the wild by expanding on that plan? Would you dig a hole you could lie down in and find some kind of cover for it, or is it a vertical hole you could stand in and bury yourself into until there’s just a little head sticking out for passing deers to investigate?

(I hereby declare I do not intend to dig a hole, nor get in it, nor participate in any strange TV shows I’d never heard of until a certain blog post mentioned them, as a result of any advice I may receive.)

The number one issue I see people complain about on Naked and Afraid is bugs. People have tapped out due to the psychological stress of being bitten by bugs over and over. My theory is that if you dig a hole and get in it, the flying type of bugs can’t get you. I’m sure there are bugs in the dirt, too, but not as many as the air has. You also probably won’t get cold, because your body heat will fill up the space.

My hole plan involves something deep enough that you can sit on the bottom with your head at least six inches below ground level. Not long enough to lay down in (that kind of hole requires too much energy to dig), but wide enough to comfortably sit with your knees bent. The hole can be lined with palm fronds or leaves or whatever. And yeah, I guess you could put stuff over your head.

The biggest challenges presented by what I’m just now coining “Hole Survival” is getting out of the hole to go look for food or to tend the fire or go poop. I’m envisioning some kind of rope-tied-to-a-big-rock scenario where I can pull myself up out of the hole. But you run the risk of collapsing the sides every time you exit. Clearly, I still need time to work out of some of these details.

That’s all for this week. And next week, since I’m going on that trip. But after that, I’ll be back with more great advice that probably won’t require anyone to dig a hole. Got a question you want to ask Trout? Leave it here.

Dear Trout:

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Welcome to the first installment of Dear Trout, my hopefully weekly advice column. Look, we all know shit happens, sometimes I’m gonna skip a week or something. My plan is to do two questions a week, unless this really takes off and I have to bump the number to keep up. You can submit your questions here. The form asks for a name so I can refer to you while still maintaining your anonymity, but some of you put your government names on the form, so I’m worried that I didn’t explain that part correctly. So, I’m dropping the idea of using names at all. It’s still on the form because I’m lazy. Put a good name for a penis in there, if you feel like.

On to the questions of the week:

I wish I had a fun question, but I just lost my mom and I’m a grieving, lonely mess. Do you have advice for someone who is desperate for some kind of sign, to be able to believe there’s an afterlife? I’m so afraid that she’s either forgotten me, or just isn’t out there anymore and I’ll never see her again. Or maybe she realized I was a bad daughter and hates me now.

We all know that I’m an ooky-spooky, twitchy-witchy, new age buffoon with beliefs so extreme that I sometimes bully myself over them. I’ve talked before about hauntings I’ve experienced, the fact that I was in a coven at one time, I’ve even done tarot readings on YouTube. I have no trouble, as Jenny “crystals have energy” Trout, telling you that there is an afterlife. Not just an afterlife, but more actual lives after this one, and some of them may be on Earth, a fact I think about every time I fail to recycle a beverage container. There’s an afterlife. The universe is too specific to be by accident.

One thing I can’t explain is how to believe in it. I was raised religious. I have no mechanism to doubt, so I would be talking out of my ass if I tried to even speculate on how not-doubting works.

What I find really interesting about your question is that you say you want to believe in an afterlife, but the scenarios in which your mother forgot about you or started to hate you are only possible if there is an afterlife. I feel like that’s a pretty powerful sign of two things: you do believe in life after death, and what you’re experiencing is a natural feeling of abandonment that happens after a death.

You know logically that death isn’t a choice we make. We die because we’re ill or we die because we’re old or we die because there’s an accident. But whether the death is expected or sudden, we always want an explanation. Why, God? Why did you take Aunt Hildy away? She was only a hundred and seven! It doesn’t make sense, but our logic brains can’t accept that grief is its own process. We feel our human confusion surrounding death and interpret it as something that can be cleared up with an easy answer, even while we know there is no easy answer. Your brain could be saying, “Since we can’t blame mom for leaving, let’s blame ourselves instead. Then something will make sense.”

I think that when we’re grieving, we have to be careful about how we let our brains talk to us, but doing that is exhausting on our own. I think it would be a good idea to look into getting a counselor, if you haven’t already. There are people out there who can unpack all this stuff way better than I could ever hope to, and guide you through it. And I hope things get better and you can get to a place where you allow yourself to look forward to a joyous reunion with your mother.

What is the best way to overcome executive disfunction with regards to writing? I can break the process down into tiny steps, but actually starting can take me months.

I struggle with executive function (“What? No! But you’re so consistent and organized!” they said, sarcastically), especially when it comes to focusing on just writing the damn thing. I’ve found a few things helpful. The Pomodoro Technique has worked on-and-off for me. If I can do it and really stick to the rules, I can get a good few weeks of work out of it.

When that fails, I use a program called Write or Die 3. There’s a free version online, but I bought the full program for its “Peril” mode. You set the amount of time you want to spend writing, the amount of words you want to write in that time period, and then you hit “Ready?” The program shows you a cute little animated cat, prompts you to name it, and then tells you that this cat you have just named trusts you and has no concept of betrayal before revealing that the cat is dangling over some deadly green liquid. If you stop typing, a chain will slowly begin to lower the cat toward the danger juice. It is incredibly motivating.

I’ve also found that sprinting with others is a great way to get words on the page. One of my group chats has a Discord server where we can drop in any night, from 7pm-11pm EST and use a plug-in that I believe is called Sprinterbot to keep track of our time and word counts. It ranks participants from most words to least, so if you’re competitive, that’s an extra layer of fun. But it helps to just do the activity with someone else. If this is something that appeals to people, we could always add a channel for this purpose to the Trout Nation Discord; just chime in and let me know.

But if it’s not concentration and executive function holding you back from starting, then it might just be imposter syndrome or a fear of imperfection holding you back. In which case, fuck those things. You’re allowed to write. Nobody has to give you permission. You can write the thing just because you want to. Tell yourself a date and time when you’re actually going to start doing the thing. You cannot get out of it. No excuses. The most intimidating part of starting is actually doing it, but once you start, that hard part is over. You don’t have to start from scratch on that project ever again.

That’s all for this week. Submit your questions here or give our friends your (gentle) thoughts in the comments.

I’m a disaster. Ask me how.

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Obviously, I’m in no position to give anybody advice.

But I want to.

If you would like advice from someone who, until the age of twenty-five, believed that jackalopes were a real animal and they used their antlers for digging, please leave your questions here and I will answer these questions in blog posts. You might even get useable advice. A man named Gene said that I’m insightful. And he has a moustache, so… he’s a little bit better than you.

You can ask me advice on anything. Writing stuff. Relationships. Misunderstandings. Whether that guy at work is from Switzerland or not because you’re too afraid to ask him yourself. I’ll give you some kind of answer. Don’t ask me legal or medical stuff. I won’t answer legal or medical stuff because I love not being in jail. Not being in jail is my favorite part of the day.

Send me your questions, but again, I must stress, you are asking someone whose entire strategy for success on Naked and Afraid is to “dig a hole and get in it.” I’m not a professional at anything. I’m just nosey and looking to give my life a little pizzazz with your personal business.

I would rather shit out my own skeleton than read anymore Bridgerton body-positivity discourse, and I encourage you to shit out your own skeleton, too.

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It’s all over social media. Well, depending on which social media you choose, and what the algorithm shows you. But as someone who a) follows a lot of romance authors and b) does react videos of Bridgerton on YouTube, I’m currently inundated with Bridgerton content. And that’s fine, because I’m full-on trash for anything Shondaland, it seems. But with season three’s debut came a storm of weird opinions on actress Nicola Coughlan’s body and her character’s arc in the series. And almost all of those opinions make me want to eject my entire skeleton from my body via my anus so that it may run off to the woods to live amongst the Bone People.

A war is breaking out between two factions: mostly thin, cis women who think their hot takes on what is and is not realistic for a person who looks like Penelope Featherington to expect with regard to romance aren’t the result of their deeply poisoned self-esteem, and mostly upper-straight-sized and small-fat cis women screaming at them about the liberation of finally seeing fat representation in on-screen romance.

I want to load both sides into one of those padlocked carts from fantasy movies set in the nebulous middle ages and leave them in the forest to be plucked apart by the Bone People.

Travel with me, dear reader, back to the long-ago days of the 1990s. A time when Saturday Night Live lampooned all-star snitch Linda Tripp by casting John Goodman to portray her. Tripp wasn’t fat or plus-sized. She was tall, busty, jawless, and wore unfortunate shoulder pads. But to a world in which heroin-fueled starvation had recently become the mainstream weight loss goal, Tripp was so grotesque that she had to be depicted by a famously fat man constantly eating on screen.

There’s a whole lot to say about thinness, perceived femininity, and how violently racist and anti-trans our inability to view fat women as women is, but forgive me for not diving into that here.

I was a teenager during the 1990s. Every late night talk show host joked about Monica Lewinsky’s fatness. People marveled that the most powerful man in the world wanted to fuck a fat chick. I ask you now to take a moment and google a photo of Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s. Need I say more?

As a teenager desperately trying to fit the mold of femininity and constantly believing I was doing womanhood “wrong” (questioning one’s gender was not an option for Catholic school girls), I latched onto the one fat woman who wasn’t derided by the media. The one fat woman who was celebrated for her curves and her uncompromising stance on not dieting down to a size 00. Our beacon for fat representation…

Kate Winslet.

If you weren’t there when it was happening, I cannot impress upon you enough how totally fucked up the 1990s were with regards to weight. When Titanic premiered, director James Cameron had a lot to say in print media about how his first choices to play Rose were rail-thin actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Claire Danes. There were rumors that he gave Winslet the cruel on-set nickname “Kate Weighs-a-lot.” People debated whether Winslet’s unacceptable bulk was the reason poor Leo couldn’t fit on the door. Others praised the actress’s “bravery” for her famous nude scene, presumably because no one so hideously obese had ever before dared to impose such a gargantuan pile of disgusting fat onto audiences before.

And women were inundated with these takes because Titanic was, above all else, a romance. And it was a romance in which two handsome men fought over this heroine that the media and the director of the film insisted was a hippo barely squeezed into a corset via a complex and dangerous system of industrial machinery.

This is the part where I ask you to look up a picture of Kate Winslet in Titanic. It’s also the part where I implore the universe to make Kate Winslet look up a picture of herself in Titanic, since she once famously described herself as having a “fat ass” in the movie.

Every single girl I knew, regardless of body type, latched onto Kate Winslet as their emblem of beauty and self-confidence. After all, if someone so disturbingly, gruesomely fat could portray an object of desire to two Hollywood-beautiful men, there was hope for us.

This is exactly the fucking weird discourse that’s playing out on social media at the moment. Nicola Coughlan is rapidly becoming a fat representation icon, despite being fat by Hollywood standards only. Coughlan is short, busty, and has a chubby face. But she’s still a UK size ten, well below what the commercial fashion industry shunts into the realm of plus-sized. Beside her female Bridgerton co-stars she looks undeniably larger, but are we truly defining “anybody larger than Phoebe Dynevor” as plus-sized or fat now?

If that’s where we’re headed, fine. Living in the forest with the Bone People it is, then.

“She looks like me!” women who have never had nutrition pamphlets shoved into their hands in lieu of medical treatment are crowing. “If she, this woman who dares to have a round face and short neck and still appear in public, can find love, surely I can!” By leaning hard into the “Nicola Coughlan is fat” discourse, they feel better about themselves. And their empowerment, of course, is paramount.

Meanwhile, millions of people who are actually fat are seeing this play out and making jerk-off motions so rapid and with such fervor they will eventually require carpal tunnel surgery. Or, if they struggle with accepting their bodies, what they’re thinking is, “If Nicola Coughlan is fat enough that we’re debating whether or not it’s realistic for her to be loved, then I am irredeemable. If Penelope Featherington is the upper-limit of acceptability for love (and even that is in debate) then I deserve none.”

Even I, as cynical as I am, fell into this trap for a little while. Still bearing the neurological scars from the decade in which Jane Krakowski was cast as the inspirationally self-confident fat girl on Ally McBeal, I, too, was fooled into believing that Coughlan’s amazing rack and short stature somehow affirmed that I was not, in fact, failing at femininity by being fat, even years after I stopped lying to myself about being a cis woman. And once I realized that what I was experiencing was gender dysphoria, not empowerment, I saw clearly how many people have been duped into seeing Nicola Coughlan as a fat icon. And I remembered how destructive this narrative is, and how thoroughly it victimized young women for over a decade.

It’s very easy to ignore thin people and their discomfort with allegedly plus-sized bodies on screen. But it’s more difficult to block out the voices of those who are supposed to be “on your side.” So, when those thin voices are screaming that a person who isn’t fat by any real-world definition is too large to realistically receive love, the answer is not to scream back, “Fat people deserve love, too!” but, “Do you need to borrow my glasses? Would you like my therapist’s phone number? Can I interest you in shutting the fuck up at all?”

Coughlan has herself leaned into the notion that she’s providing body positive representation, and I can understand that. She would be considered a plus-sized actress even if she were taller; look at Christina Hendricks, Hannah Waddingham, and Gwendoline Christie, all of whom bear the horrible curse of having breasts. Anything over a b-cup seems to shunt you right onto the fat list, no matter how tiny your waist can be cinched for the red carpet. Round cheeks to boot? Ask Melanie Lynskey how that shakes out at a casting call. Coughlan’s comments make perfect sense to me, because they’re being made in the context of being filmed beside women who share at least forty-percent of their DNA with literal god damn swans.

So, while I can understand Coughlan’s perception of her body and how her intimate scenes in Bridgerton empowered her, I cannot accept the public perception that her body somehow empowers “plus-sized” women. It’s as absurd and harmful as the 2010s insistence on making Jennifer Lawrence a body-positive hero. It states unequivocally to anyone who can’t shop straight sizes that they are as disgusting and undeserving of love as they’re constantly told they are. And it drags us right back into a world where we allow visual media to dictate who qualifies as human and who becomes a joke, a world that I had, perhaps naively, thought was changing.

Meanwhile, in the middle of this discourse, South Park premiered the special The End of Obesity, which skewered the double standards of a healthcare system that views obesity as a disease, but the cure as a luxury. Throughout the episode, people who can’t afford Ozempic are prescribed “Lizzo” instead, poking fun at the very idea that simply seeing fat people represented in media will “cure” our cultural obsession with weight. At the end of the special, South Park takes aim at itself for contributing to the villainization of fat people and vows to change its ways.

We have reached an incredibly sad and frustrating day, indeed, when South Park of all franchises is doing fatness discourse correctly, but the “body positive” movement cannot. And maybe that’s because South Park doesn’t feel it owes a debt to its audience the way media packaged specifically for women does. The End of Obesity doesn’t try to convince its audience that they’re empowered by its message. It simply says, “We fucked up, and we see now that all of this is fucked up.”

And in the end, that’s the only proper response to anyone claiming Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope Featherington is giving fat representation: it’s fucked up. It’s episode 56,309 of a terrible show called As Long As Women Who Aren’t Fat But Don’t Think They’re Fuckable Feel Fuckable For A Couple Weeks Until It All Comes Crashing Down Again, All This Permanent Collateral Damage Is Worth It.

I would rather shit out my skeleton, thanks.

(Jenny’s Version)

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Last week, I got an email from Harlequin’s rights division informing me of the decision made in the review I requested on some of my titles. After months of waiting for this decision, I am proud to say that I now own the first book I ever wrote, Blood Ties Book One: The Turning as well as the subsequent titles in that series.

Twenty years after I sold that manuscript, it belongs to me again. I can re-release it, with changes to lines I grew to hate (I’ve already cut “masticating emptiness” and even a “save for”). I can fix an offensive racial trope. I can tighten things, expand things, I can change what I want and hell, even keep on writing that series if I feel like it. Dr. Carrie Ames, Nathan Grant, Cyrus, Ziggy, The Soul Eater, Dahlia, Max, Bella, Bill, all of them are my dolls to play with, in whatever dollhouse I like.

And over a decade after my identity as an author was usurped, people will read these books and know that I wrote them. I’m the writer of the Blood Ties series.

Getting these rights back heals me in a way I didn’t expect. I’m not cut off from that part of my career anymore. Blood Ties isn’t my past anymore. It’s my present. As long as I hang onto it, it can be my always. These books aren’t from when I was a writer. I’m still a writer.

I didn’t even realize I was feeling that way, until I read that reversion letter. But in my mind, there was an invisible line drawn between when I was an author and the time period in which I stubbornly persisted in my delusion that I was an author long after I’d been proven a fraud.

The weird thing is how unceremonious it was. Just an email with a .PDF attachment listing the titles, with some legal verbiage about licensed artwork and trademarks. Someone hammered it out on a Monday and emailed it at close of day. Maybe it was the last thing on their to-do list. They’re never going to think about it again. But it’s made such an enormous change in my world. It’s alleviated imposter syndrome I didn’t realize was still plaguing me. And it’s made me feel like a real author again. Which is funny, because while I’m proud to be an indie author and in control of my career (let’s face it, New York publishing wouldn’t be able to keep up with my release schedule), there was still a part of me that felt like an unwelcome guest in writing because I’d been traditionally published and then politely shown the door.

Sometimes, you can’t identify a problem until it’s fixed, I guess.

Right now, I’m having a ball revising and updating these books. At first, I thought I’d just need to clean up the cringe word choices, but there will be major updates to the text. If you love the original series, hang onto your copies, because this is going to feel more like a reboot than a re-release. Major changes are coming for the characters of Ziggy and Clarence, and I’m bringing the entire story forward in time, which will require me to adjust things like Carrie needing to “fire up the modem” and print driving directions from the internet. I’d love to keep everyone abreast of these changes, but I also don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the books or who don’t want spoilers about the new versions, so that stuff will come in later posts.

Right now, Blood Ties Book One: The Turning (Jenny’s Version) is heading for a September 2024 release in ebook and hardcover. Other details about the release will be fine-tuned over the summer. Which I am calling my Summer of the Vampire, because I’m also steadily working on a theatrical adaptation of Dracula as a side project.

Prepare for me to be insufferable, is what I’m saying.

State of the Trout: Surgery, The Great Facebook Fuck-up, Donations, and a New Video

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First of all, I survived surgery! I wasn’t concerned that I wouldn’t, but I have what people around me describe as “the worst luck.” Which is kind of weird, because I’m always like, “I’m so lucky, I’m such a lucky person.” I guess I never counted the bad luck. Which doesn’t make me wrong, just slightly less optimistic.

The surgery didn’t go exactly how I expected, but I’m waiting to speak to my surgeon about that at a follow-up appointment because my experience was definitely one of those “I wanted to tell you first” kind of things. I did have to return to the hospital via ambulance that night, but I’m doing super okay now, and even did some writing. For example, the review of Poor Things I’ll be posting later this week. Spoiler: if you really love that movie with all your heart and soul, skip my review.

I also hope to post the letter I’m currently working on to send to the governors of Michigan and California, as well as their AGs. I still have only received one response from the lawmakers I originally contacted.

I cannot thank you all enough for the donations I’ve received to help keep us afloat while we navigate all of this. While my credit union overturned the fraud claims, the donations helped me to pay half my surgical co-pay, and my surgery wasn’t delayed while waiting for the credit union to make their decision and return the money to my account. PayPal, however, deemed the massive transaction taken through their service valid. After all, I’ve paid for ads with Facebook in the past, right? If I was willing to pay $25 once or twice a year, I would clearly be interested in paying thousands in a single transaction. My next hurdle is convincing them that my bank finding fraud just might be a sign that fraud was indeed committed, but as the funds were taken via ACH and not a debit card, my credit union feels my beef is with PayPal on that one.

I cannot stress enough that no one should be using Facebook ads or Facebook marketplace. A few people have told me that they only use their credit card, so if fraud is committed, they’re protected. But you’re not protected from hacks, and I believe these people are only targeting users who are active on marketplace or who are running ads.

I’ve had a few questions, comments, and concerns about the donations that I would like to address, however:

“I really wish I could afford to help.” Well, I really wish you were in better financial circumstances, too, but not because I want your money. I want you to not be worried about money. I would feel wretched if someone gave me something they didn’t have to give. The fact that you care is donation enough. Not all support is monetary. Do you read this blog? Do you like being on the Discord talking to people? Does your day feel cooler if you read something I post? That’s helping. Don’t ever feel bad if you can’t just hand me money. Don’t feel bad if you can’t be a Patron or buy my books. I’m glad you’re here. But if you wanted to do a little bit extra in a non-monetary way and you can, it would be awesome if you’d contact your local lawmakers about how Facebook uses their lax security to rob paying customers, or tell people you know that they could be in danger by using Facebook ads and marketplace.

“If you had thousands of dollars in the first place, you don’t need help.” I definitely am better off than I was when I was on food stamps, and I know how lucky I am that I got out of that cycle. But I’m not one of those rich indie authors. There are probably five of those. Without getting too into detail about my personal finances, my business account doesn’t receive weekly paychecks. I get paid once a month from some retailers, and sometimes the checks are as small as $12.00. There are quarterly royalties from my backlists and the occasional advance from a serialized platform. I pay myself a salary from the business, and I can only pay myself what the business can afford. My work requires investment: stock art and covers, editing, advertising, payroll service, website and domain fees, software subscriptions (why the fuck did everything become a god damn subscription?!), office supplies, travel (I have signing events coming up this year), postage, I even have to pay into unemployment despite being a sole proprietor, in case I fire myself someday. When I say “thousands,” what I mean is, “around six months worth of operating expenses and my salary, to be budgeted and rationed out.” Not “my vast disposable income.”

“I tried to donate, but Ko-Fi didn’t accept my payment.” Those of you who have come to me to tell me this already have this answer, but in case it comes up again: I’m not sure why Ko-Fi would reject your payment. Ko-Fi’s advice was to check with your bank or credit card people to see why the payment failed. And even if you’re like, eh, too much work, look. Your heart was in it. And I appreciate it. See item one on this list.

“If you get all your money back, what will you use the donations for?” Ultimately, I’d like to file a civil suit against Facebook. There are a few obstacles in the way, but I’ve already started my research. I don’t think I’m going to Erin Brockovich this thing; I know I won’t win, but it’s worth it to waste their time and money and hopefully raise more awareness of the problem. Every single person I spoke to at my credit union, from the fraud department to the local branch employees, said that this is a widespread issue they are very familiar with. How this has continued on is mindblowing.

In other news, as I’m slowly getting back to work, I was able to edit and post a new episode of Jealous Haters AV Club! I had filmed this before my surgery, but didn’t get a chance to caption and post it. It’s here, it’s infuriating, but the bonus is that you get to see me struggle with my speech impediment for like two minutes.

I’d love to be able to get the next Bridgerton and Buffy reacts up soon, but it’s only been a week and sitting up is still surprisingly painful after a little bit. I kinda expected I would be in bed for a couple days and then right back to normal. But that is because I am always delusional about my healing abilities. I straight up believe that I’m Wolverine.

My daughter and I also plan to do a special edition Jealous Haters AV Club installment on Ice Breaker, something that I suggested to contain and somewhat stem the flow of her pure hatred. I was like, “Why not save up this anger that’s constantly spewing out of you and we’ll make a video and you can tell like a thousand people how much you think this book sucks?” There is no ire like that of a teen reader who bought into hype and regretted it.

So, there’s stuff coming up, but slowly. Thanks for sticking with me!

The Great Facebook Fuck Up, part 3: Meta Platforms directly profits from hacks

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Since my Facebook was hacked last week, I’ve spent a lot of time looking into other people’s stories of being hacked, whether or not their accounts were recovered, and what happened to them. There is a subreddit dedicated to Redditors supporting each other and sharing tips about what happened to them and which solutions were effective. A court filing website, People Clerk, is often recommended as a method to serve letters of intent to Meta Platforms. Since some people have reported success with this method, I gave it a whirl and I’m waiting to hear back. I may be able to sue Meta Platforms in small claims court to recover the money lost in the transaction PayPal deemed “valid.”

One method that is no longer effective? Contacting the office of the California State Attorney General with a consumer complaint against Facebook. In the past, writing to the office has produced hit-or-miss results, until late 2023, when the office began responding to complaints about Meta with a form letter indicating that they are no longer responsible for helping consumers deal with Facebook problems:

Thank you for contacting the Office of the California Attorney General regarding the loss of access to your Meta social media account.
We regret that we cannot provide you with direct assistance in restoring access to your account. Our office is prohibited by law from representing individual consumers in legal matters. We do, within the limits of our resources, bring lawsuits for violations of California law in cases of statewide significance, but we do so as a law enforcement agency, representing the people of the state, rather than on behalf of individual Californians.
We are aware of social media posts stating that Attorney General’s offices can intercede on your behalf with Meta and compel them to reinstate a disabled account, recover a hacked account, or restore access to a lost account. These posts are not authorized by any government agency and do not accurately reflect the role of attorneys general in the handling of consumer complaints.

Which is really an interesting position, considering a) actual identity theft is occuring, b) people are losing all their god damn money, and c) Rob Bonta signed a letter to Meta in March directly addressing these hacks and thefts, which actually profit Meta Platforms. These complaints do not represent “individual consumers,” but a rapidly growing group of victims.

The hackers who stole my money paid it back into Facebook ads. They got into my bank accounts, but Facebook held the door for them and took a cut. If only there was some kind of office, maybe at a state level, that could investigate and prosecute theft perpetrated by businesses registered in that state. But hey, Rob Bonta signed a letter, right?

I’m a nice person. But fuck with my money, and I become intensely persistent. My autism-fueled obsession with fairness and justice wouldn’t let this slide. I put my ability to hyperfocus to work. I scoured Bonta’s past campaign contributions for evidence of Mark Zuckerberg, his wife, the organizations through which they make their political contributions, Meta Platforms, Facebook, and came up with nothing. There doesn’t seem to be a financial or political benefit to letting Meta operate a system of self-enrichment through cyber crime. So, why hasn’t the AG taken action? This is certainly within the purview of the office. Why did it take the initiative of the New York State Attorney General to address this, when Meta Platforms is, I cannot stress this enough, a company registered to do business in the state of California and which is actively engaging in cybercrime?

I wrote a letter of my own to Michigan State Attorney General Dana Nessel (but I’ve redacted specific details here for privacy):

On March 14, 2024, I became the victim of a widespread security flaw on Meta Platform’s Facebook social media service and lost a considerable amount of money. Despite 2factor authentication, my account was accessed and disabled by hackers, with no recourse to appeal. There is no way to contact a Meta representative personally to resolve this issue, as experience by many people in the same situation.

Because I ran business ads on the platform and utilized Facebook marketplace in the past, my financial information was linked to my Facebook account, but I had no way to protect that information once Meta locked me out. I believed that my account had been disabled, and therefore the information was just gone. Having fraud alerts set up on my credit union accounts also put my mind at ease. 

Overnight between March 16 and 17, multiple payments were withdrawn from my business account by Meta Platforms. These transactions were labeled as being used by their ad service. Overnight, four separate charges for [redacted] were made to Meta, as well as a [redacted] charge. Other charges were made on the 15th, for [redacted]. On the 14th, Charges were made for [redacted].

In addition to the charges to my business account, they were also able to access my personal account, and charged [redacted], which finally triggered my credit union’s fraud alert. Another charge was made to my Paypal account for [redacted].

In total, I was robbed of [redacted] Neither my credit union, [redacted], nor Meta Platforms, flagged the suspicious activity until it was far too late to prevent it. An initial email to Meta Platforms received no response.

I am a very small business owner (the approximately [redacted] taken from my business account was the only money my company had). My family relies on my income to survive. We are not rich people. This is a devastating blow. Until and unless the fraudulent charges are removed and refunded, we cannot pay our bills, rent, or feed our children. I have taken steps to secure my bank and paypal accounts (as much as I can, considering I found the fraud on a Sunday.) I have reported the fraudulent transactions to [redacted]’s cardholder services, and to Paypal. In addition, I have filed a report online to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s IC3 division, and will be filing a report with my local township police department to cover my bases.

I’m enraged at the lack of care taken by Meta Platforms to secure the data of their users, and their flagrant disregard for those who use their services. There is no way to contact Meta in these cases. They do not seem to be required to operate any kind of fraud department to deal with these cases, and, while I have CCed the California State Attorney General, other victims of this crime have been informed that the AG’s office will not longer act on complaints made about Meta. It seems that at this point, Meta Platforms is an enormous publicly traded entity operating without sufficient oversight and without regard for the safety of the data they collect.

The resolutions I’m seeking are as follows:

-The immediate restoration of funds to my accounts.

-An apology from Meta Platforms and the restoration of my original business and personal accounts so that I may retrieve my data and block this from happening in the future. As long as I don’t have access to the account and hackers do, there is no way for me to remove my banking information from their service.

-A warning from the State Attorney General’s Office to be issued to Michigan residents about the use of any of their banking information through any Meta Platforms service, such as Facebook, Facebook Marketplace, Instagram, Threads, et. al., as even a cursory internet search will uncover that this issue is widespread across the United States and receiving no attention whatsoever. Consumers deserve to know, so that they can protect themselves.

-An investigation into the insufficient fraud alert system utilized by [redacted], a financial institution operating out of and registered within the State of Michigan. And an apology from [redacted], because I’m petty and angry.

I am thankful for any and all responses and help I receive. Residents of Michigan–and the United States at large–should be warned of the dangers of using Meta Platforms to carry out any business or personal transactions. They are assured by Meta that their data is secure, but they’re either unaware of these issues (due to inaccessible “customer service”) or they simply believe they can lie to consumers and get away with it.

I CCed this letter to my state and federal representatives and senators. Monday, I received a reply from the Director of Constituent Relations at the office of Representative Rachelle Smit,
Michigan House District 43. After my surgery tomorrow and however much recovery time I need before I can deal with all of this, I’ll update with who has and has not responded. If something goes dramatically wrong and I die, please continue to tell everyone how shitty Meta is.

I also CCed this to local media, as a common thread in all the stories I’ve read online is that people simply do not understand how lax the security is at Meta and how much money they’re making from allowing these hacks to happen. I truly believe that this is not a bug, but a feature. Meta Platforms knows it profits them to allow criminals to steal from their users. There is no financial incentive for them to stop this widespread issue, and government offices pretend they are powerless.

Perhaps that’s because Meta Platforms spent more than $19,000,000 annually on political lobbying.

Please, continue to spread the word to your friends and family to disengage their banking information from all Meta Platforms services. Most people only learn of the danger once it happens to them.

The Great Facebook Fuck Up, Part 2, NOW WITH A DIRE WARNING!

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Hi! I’m Jenny, and I’ll be your cautionary tale for the day.

Last week, my Facebook account was hacked. And like many people who assume that a multi-billion dollar company has literally any safety measures in place to protect their customers, I had my banking information hooked up to those accounts. If you want to sell or buy on Marketplace, you have to give them your credit or debit card info. If you want to buy ads, the only way to do that is through your credit or debit card, or through PayPal. As an author, I obviously used Facebook ads. When my account was disabled, I was unable to remove that information. But frankly, I believed that disabled meant just that: the account was wiped from the Earth and no one was using it.

They were using it. Whoever hacked the account and got it “disabled” spent thousands of dollars on Facebook ads, utilizing my business, personal, and PayPal accounts. I woke on Sunday morning to find a single fraud alert from my bank, flagging one $900.00 transaction. By the time I locked down my cards, though, it was too late, and the contents of my bank account were gone.

While I frantically contacted my bank’s customer service line, my PayPal account was hit for an additional thousand dollars. My bank shut down my cards but, because it was the weekend, I couldn’t dispute any of the transactions yet. I contacted PayPal, who informed me how to remove Meta from the list of automatic payments, but they deemed the transaction made by the scammers valid and they let the charge, which will come out of my now depleted bank account, stand.

The first thing I’m going to tell you all: get your financial information completely disentangled from all Meta Platforms services. Take your account numbers off. Stop running Facebook ads. Take your store off Marketplace. It’s a hassle, it may create hardship in the right now, but trust me, it’s a much hardership when your account is hacked and you lose all of your money in a matter of minutes. If you absolutely must use these services, do so through a credit, not debit card, that has fraud protection. But do not run that card through PayPal to do it, as PayPal does not have fraud protection, regardless of their claims.

Remove all Meta Platforms from your automatic payments on your PayPal account. Make sure when you’re looking through those automatic payments that you remove EVERYTHING marked as Facebook; I found more than one Meta Platforms entry. I encourage you to contact PayPal directly and make them walk you through the steps so it’s done right. Don’t hang up the phone until they can assure you that no Meta-owned platform has access to you. Then, begin the process of transferring payments from PayPal to another service and get rid of PayPal entirely. You can report fraud all you want, but they won’t believe you. You are not protected if you’ve ever used their service one single time with a Meta platform. To them, that’s enough evidence that any transaction, no matter the circumstances, is fully valid, and there is no recourse but legal proceedings.

The second thing I’m going to say is that this is hitting me at a very difficult time. I have surgery in two days. I have no money. I have to pay for the surgery deductible somehow (I’m hoping that I have enough in my husband’s medical savings account) and the copays for the meds they prescribe me afterward (I so do not want to do this recovery without any pain management). My health insurance and car insurance are still fighting over my surgery from last year. I’ve just lost all contact with the readership I built on my Facebook author page over the past decade. While my bank investigates all the fraud claims, I’m at financial crisis level “have we returned all the bottles yet?” If you’ve ever thought to yourself, “One day, I should throw a few bucks Jenny’s way,” or you’re thinking right now, “Gosh, I wish I knew how to help,” there are a few options:

  • Throw a few bucks into my Ko-Fi account. The money will not go to PayPal, but a separate service that has never been linked to any Meta platform. This is the best way to help in the right now, as the funds become immediately available.
  • For a more long-term option, consider signing up for my Patreon or Ream, which is just as appreciated and helpful.
  • You could also consider buying one of my books, written as either Abigail Barnette or Jenny Trout. I don’t get the funds right away, but depending on where you buy from, I’ll receive the money either at the beginning of next month or the month after. And if you’ve been patiently waiting for the paperback version of some of the later Sophie books, the paperback of The Sister just dropped on Amazon.

But listen, not everybody has money to help out. Hey, look, we have so much in common right now! It would still be super helpful if you spread the word to your friends about getting their money away from Meta and PayPal. And maybe say, “Hey, this happened to a really cool author I know. You might like their books or their blog!” and then tell them they can only visit my site or read my books after they protect themselves from Facebook.

You’d think that this would mean the end of me using Facebook. Unfortunately, it’s a necessary evil. Most author events require you to not only have a Facebook page, but use Facebook to join attendee and author groups, and many readers only use Facebook to keep up with authors and new releases. As a result, I do have a new Facebook page for Abigail Barnette. If you were following the old page, please follow the new one, and if you could share my occasional posts there, I would be so, so grateful.

In the meantime, at least I already had gone grocery shopping, and I’ll hopefully feel good enough to check back in on Thursday or Friday to tell you how the surgery went!

The Great Facebook Fuckup of 2024

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Facebook has AMAZING 2-factor authentication. And have I ever praised their customer service? Can’t be beat.

And those lies are why you will no longer find my old accounts on Facebook. This morning, I woke up to find that after multiple password reset requests, hackers were able to take over my count and do god knows what to get it disabled permanently.

Because of their impeccable security bots, I was able to create a new account almost immediately. While I don’t have a page there for Jenny Trout anymore, I do have my Abigail Barnette page up and running again. If you followed me on the old page, you can find the new one here.

The problem now is that besides this blog, Facebook was really the only platform that I could reliably market my books to. I have releases coming up. I’m involved in a Kickstarter. I’ll be going to an event soon. All the readers who would have got that information from the old page are just POOF, gone. And there’s very little crossover between my audience on Facebook and my audience here, meaning I’ve just lost access to about a thousand readers.

Folks, I don’t sell a thousand books anymore. This ain’t 2013. So losing that audience is a devastating blow.

Being an indie author is hard and sucky nearly full time. The only fun part is the writing. But here I am, having to rebuild my readership again. I’m frustrated and angry and really sad. It feels like every time things start to look up, something bashes me down.

It would be great if you could visit the new page and share the post there. Every time it’s shared, there’s a chance a reader I lost contact with might see it. I need readers to keep writing, and this morning it very much feels like this could be the career ender and I am terrified.