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Author: JennyTrout

Annual Hiatus Times!

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Everybody is like, “Annual?” But this is my official, planned, not due to any sort of terrible circumstance or mental or physical health issue hiatus. I’m taking two weeks off this time around because this is usually a busy and overwhelming time for me trying to get everything around for my trip and spend time with my kids before I leave, etc. This year, even more so because *gestures to 2020 calendar*. So, to make sure I’m not burned out before I head up there and as a result, HOPEFULLY FINISH MY FREAKING BOOK. I’m gonna sit on my couch, take allergy meds, and wait out the crushing anxiety of knowing I have to leave my house in four days.

Stay safe, stay awesome, be excellent to each other, and I’ll be back after the 28th.

What the hell is that about?!

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Read the title of this post again, but do it the way Nathan Lane says it in The Producers during “Betrayed.”

If you haven’t seen Nathan Lane in The Producers you definitely should. He’s amazing.

Also, one time I saw him getting into his car and I yelled, “Yay, you’re awesome!” and he for real did not want to be recognized and just before he closed the door he said to his driver, “Let’s go, let’s go,” and I was like, yes. This is a moment I will treasure forever.

And I do to this very day.

Anyway, I had the absolute most fucked up dream I’ve ever had in my life. This is where I put the CW: Suicide but it’s like, more about the weirdness of the dream, I guess? Just heads up.

I know how much everyone wants to listen to other people describing their dreams for no apparent reason, so let’s dive on in.

The dream took place in a lot of different locations in what I consider the “Jenny’s Dreams Cinematic Universe.” There are common places in my dreams that I visit more than once and I’m familiar with all of them. A haunted house. A maze of country dirt roads. A blend of New York and Grand Rapids that has the Mackinac Bridge in it for some reason. My old high school. A mall. There’s even a baseball stadium and an amusement park, a lake, both sets of grandparents’ houses, my childhood house, a cemetery, it’s just this elaborate dream world and my dreams sometimes take place in it. But ever since we’ve been quarantined, I haven’t been able to leave these dream locations. And I’ve been bizarrely half-lucid in almost all of them.

It’s getting pretty fucking boring.

So boring that my dream self has become suicidally depressed.

I spent last night’s dream visiting these various dream locations and telling the people I met there that I wanted to kill myself. Or I’d make a grim little joke about killing myself. And nobody cared. And it didn’t bother me that they didn’t care until I woke up and went, “What the hell is that about?!”

First of all, there’s no need for concern. My dream is not going to come true. I know there are a lot of situations where that phrase applies in the history of my life but trust me, this time it’s not prophecy. Because I woke up like, damn. Dream me has it fucking rough. She is in bad shape.

Meanwhile, real me is killing it. I edited an entire manuscript in a day. I can watch the news without falling entirely apart. I’ve taken breaks to watch TV shows, not just playing them in the background while I try to concentrate on something else. Seriously, what is happening to dream me?

Another aspect of the dream last night concerned my annual writing retreat. I know I explain it every year but over-explaining is something of a talent of mine so just ride it out if you already know what I’m talking about. Every year, a group we refer to as the “Ladies of the Lake” converge in Gay, Michigan, to stay in a cabin with little-to-no cell signal, no wifi, no phone, and most importantly, no people. We spend the time writing and enjoying each other’s company and despite the insistence of Mr. Jen, “lesbian shit” has yet to occur but hope springs eternal. Because our governor eased regulations, we will be making the trip this year after all, with some changes like quarantining ourselves before and after travel, not going to any restaurants or stores in the U.P., bringing masks and hand sanitizer for when we have to stop for gas or potty, all that end-of-the-world, fleeing-civilization jazz. Usually, I can get some pretty serious writing done up there. The past two years? Ehhhhh not so much. But there have been times I’ve written 10k to 20k words per day up there.

Okay, the time I did 20k I got a tension headache and I had to go to the hospital.

Plus, there are only going to be three of us this time, rather than six, so even less distraction, unless it turns out that five other people are needed to supervise me. In which case, we never make this mistake again.

Anyway, I dreamed that we were on the retreat, which is now ten days away. And I’m freaking out because suddenly I realize that it is Thursday of our Saturday-to-Saturday retreat and I haven’t written a single word.

I woke up sweating. Chills racing all over my body.

We have reached the point in 2020 where I’m having suicidal stress dreams about things I look forward to and enjoy doing.

I went to the shower. I doubled over. I shouted at the top of my lungs:

“OH MY GOD NEXT MONTH I’M GONNA BE FORTY!”

What I guess this post is saying is, my birthday panic comes earlier every year. Death stands behind me. Owls are starting to seem suspicious to me. I don’t know how to use my TV. Immortality beckons.

That’s it. There’s not really any wrap up here but a couple people told me I should post whatever I want and I did and now you’re all suffering for it. But I’m seriously considering consulting a therapist in my dreams.

What is there to say?

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There are different types of silence at a moment like this. The conspicuous silence of people who care more about being marketable than being “political”. The forced silence of those who want to do the right thing but are frozen with the fear of what could happen to them in their homes and their communities. And then there’s the stunned kind of silence, the silence of the helpless, of people who don’t know what to say or do because the thought of a solution to the problem only just occurred to them.

I’ve spent the last two weeks doing more circulating of Black voices than that of my own. I’m white. I don’t know shit and it’s very difficult to run to Twitter and talk about writing or Chinese television or funny things my kid has said when my country stands on the precipice of a revolution none of us are emotionally prepared for. Weeks of fear and isolation in a near-nationwide quarantine has sapped us of our energy and mental health but the moment is now. We’re watching scenes from major cities that look more like what the United States warns us about in other countries. Insurrections happen over there. Where? It doesn’t matter. Just not here. Certainly, the President of the United States would never have to cower in fear from his own people, in a bunker constructed for a worst-case scenario. And if that happens, what should we do, as proud, free Americans? Vote, of course!

Vote! Vote in a system controlled by the very people who benefit most from it! Vote, because if you’re lucky, yours will be one that counts. Probably not, but you’ll never know until you try! The system has been stacked unfairly against Black voters in an effort to protect white supremacy. Of course, people are fighting back. Why wouldn’t they? No ordinary citizen truly has a say in what happens to them, to their lives, to their property, to their liberty. A whim and a phone call pitted the United States military against the citizens who allegedly control this democracy. A whim and a pen stroke could return the country to slavery and internment. All while the people we were encouraged to vote for sit back, wring their hands, and pretend they never had a hand in crafting the laws and policies that have broadened every gap, political, economic, and racial between Black people and white people.

There’s another kind of silence: the one where you know that your rage and your heartbreak are not central to an issue. Where you’re quiet because you know your voice isn’t necessarily helpful. The one where you fret that you’re not doing enough, out of fear of doing too much and causing harm. The fear of burdening an already suffering people with well-intentioned nonsense. A fear that comes from the desire to do good but also a desire to look good. I don’t want to succumb to that. I don’t think anyone wants to do that.

Rather than try to express my own feelings on the recent slayings and the brazen, homicidal lawlessness of police everywhere now that they’ve been set off their leashes, I’m going to keep RTing Black voices and smarter people than me over on Twitter, where I have more of a reach. And I’m going to give you, the rest of Trout Nation, the choice of how the blog moves forward from here. It feels very much like the days after 9/11; when are we allowed to do normal things again, without diminishing the hell we’re in? How much distraction is okay before it lulls us back into a state of submission? Do you want to see updates here or would you feel wrong about it? Would it serve as a temporary respite from the new or would it hurt or seem as though I’m pushing the importance of this time to the backburner? How do I go forward here without making it seem like I’m trying to nudge everything back to “normal”? I would feel guilty wondering about these questions but they’re near-universal among creatives of all races right now. Aside from white supremacists and privileged white anarchists, nobody wants to steal focus from the war being waged against justice in the streets nightly. Nobody in America knows how to live with the open acknowledgment that we are a broken nation and have been since July 4, 1776. Even for the people who’ve known this, having it in the air all around, the topic of every conversation in a year when an entire country burned, a pandemic swept the globe, and our president was impeached is a surreal experience. And the year isn’t even half over.

I’m stuck in the “please control your white rage, Jenny, this is not about you and your seemingly racially-inherent, socially conditioned inability to see any solution beyond violence” type of silence. I’m angry. My desire to express that anger doesn’t help. It’s just not constructive for white people to be angry because we’re the ones who did this. And I don’t know how to fix it. What I do know is that Black Lives Matter, Black people matter, Blackness matters. The system must be taken apart and reassembled from the ground up. And the work should ultimately be the responsibility of the white people who caused the problem. But again, I’m one of those white people and let me tell you: we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing because we’re still routinely surprised by the police brutality that we willfully ignore.

Denial is a dangerous, dangerous weapon.

This is all exceptionally disjointed and grim. I’m aware. Consider yourselves lucky; I’m not as in love with stream of consciousness writing as I was in high school. But while I have exactly zero answers and nothing to add that hasn’t already been said better by someone with more life experience than mine, I want everyone here to know that Trout Nation isn’t a place for fascists. It isn’t a place for violence. And it’s a place where Black Lives Matter is not a political statement. It’s a statement of fact.

Jealous Haters Book Club: Crave introduction and Chapter 0, “If You’re Not Living on the Edge, You’re Taking Up Too Much Space”/Chapter 1, “Landing Is Just Throwing Yourself at the Ground and Hoping You Don’t Miss”

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All right, all right, all right. I just lost 2,000 words of a manuscript and basically that’s four weeks of work on my fiction at this point because I’m so freaking stressed and blocked, so I’m going to get into this right away. If you’re not sure why there’s a new selection for JHBC, you can find the answer here. But why have I chosen this book, out of the blue? What is it about this book that made me skip past all the requests I’ve had so far?

I first learned about Tracy Wolff’s Crave when the story of Universal’s pre-empt of the screen rights rolled across my Twitter timeline. I hadn’t heard any buzz about the book at all until then and suddenly it was everywhere, touted as “your next vampire obsession” and “the next Twilight.” I like vampires. I like Twilight. I’m so gonna check this story out, right?

And that’s when I see who published the book: Entangled. And who was interviewed for the story? Not Wolff, the actual writer. Liz Pelletier, the book’s editor and the publisher at Entangled.

Let me give you some backstory on my relationship with Pelletier and Entangled, so nobody can be like, “BIAS! BIIIIIAAAS! You didn’t disclose that you had a personal beef with the publisher!” Well, I don’t. I have professional beef. I’ll disclose that so you can read my critique of this particular title with that in mind and decide whether or not my bias has affected my analysis of the text. So, here’s the beef:

Entangled bought my book, Such Sweet Sorrow, with a film/TV development deal already in place. It was work-for-hire, meaning my agent connected with an awesome, supportive, much-missed guy out in Hollywood who came up with the idea, brainstormed it with me, and got it representation at a major entertainment agency. Meanwhile, I wrote the book and its sequel and the series proposal and bible for the eventual television show. I sent book two off to Pelletier, my editor, about two weeks before my partner in crime died. I was devastated.

I was even more devastated when months went by with no word from Pelletier on the second book. The book that Nick and I had worked so hard to mold and shape. More months. Then a year. Then two years. Since the television show was off the table–and very likely since she does not like “controversial” authors, which I was quickly becoming in the wake of the Anne Rice dust up–my book was abandoned. A year of my work will never see the light of day. A year of work with someone who, five days before he died, was still sending me notes on the project and was pursuing a graphic novel adaptation. This was a project that both of us cared about and poured a lot of work into. And it was just out there, in a void of unreturned calls and emails.

During the waiting time, I expressed my frustration to another Entangled author at Literary Love Savannah. The author rolled her eyes, laughed, and said,  “She is always chasing the next Twilight. Or the next something. She wants a movie. If you can’t give it to her, she loses interest.”

Back to a few years before. Pelletier had contracted an author to write Pelletier’s idea for a series she once described to me as “Twilight with aliens.” The series was a big success for Pelletier and the author who wrote it. But it wasn’t enough; though the film rights were optioned, the studio let the option expire and revert back. Pelletier didn’t get her movie, no matter how many times she tried to repackage and relaunch the series over and over again. Now, Pelletier has played it safe, going for “Twilight with vampires.”

But not just Twilight with vampires.” This one…has a twist. From PopBuzz:

There’s one key detail that looks set to set Crave apart from Twilight though. Liz states that it will be told from a “decidedly feminist perspective.” Given that Twilight was panned by many feminist critics for Bella’s storyline, it will be interesting to see how Crave compares.

I agree, PopBuzz. Because the thing is, Twilight was over a decade ago. Its success has waned and its esteem in the eyes of readers–even its most ardent fans at the time–has somewhat lessened, judging by how many people expressed dismay that Midnight Sun will finally be released. Authors wouldn’t dare use Twilight as a comp in their query letters, lest they get roasted behind their backs by slush pile sorters who like to mock rubes living ten years behind the times. But Liz Pelletier seems to be the only publisher who doesn’t realize that. So, I’m absolutely dying to see how this pans out from that perspective.

So, you can see where this might end up with accusations of a personal vendetta against Pelletier or Entangled. I don’t have a vendetta. I have a grudge. Vendettas require a lot of effort and frankly, I don’t have the time to ruin anyone. I’d still be looking into this book even if it didn’t come with my personal baggage; “feminist Twilight” is just as enticing a lure for me had it come from any other publisher.

And here’s where things get really interesting: I’ve never read Tracey Wolff. At all. Ever. And this is shocking to me because she’s written a lot of books, most of them romance or erotic romance. Like, how did I miss her? Especially since she wrote for Harlequin Desire back in the day and that imprint was an auto-buy addiction for me before I started shopping at a grocery store that doesn’t carry them. I should have read at least something of hers before. Since I haven’t, I get to walk into this thing fresh as a daisy. And I’ve never heard anything bad about her that would have put me off reading this book. Everything seems pretty above-board with this one, ethically.

Plus, I actually did love Twilight, despite a brief period of insisting I only liked it “ironically” or I downright hated it because it’s what all the cool kids were doing at the time and I was furious with Breaking Dawn.

Seriously. That is how you wrap this conflict up? Really?

Anyway, I’m going into this with a brand-new-to-me author, in a book that seems to be part of a burgeoning vampire renaissance, masterminded by the woman who thought signing Alexa Riley was a great idea. What could go wrong?

Honestly, though, I’m hoping it goes right. And I haven’t really heard anything from anyone to suggest that it won’t. So let’s dive in.

October 2019 Patron Appreciation Video

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Welcome, to this extremely late Patreon reward video! Thanks as always to all my readers and supporters and people who pass links along or say, “You should check out Jenny’s blog!” 1,000x thank you. Thank you 5,000.

 

EDIT: I guess I should tell you what the video is about. It is about me, wearing Lewis Capaldi’s face like some kind of demented celebrity stalker/serial killer. No Capaldis were harmed in the making of this video.

Jamie McGuire, You Cupid Stunt

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Note: This is an incredibly image-heavy post. Rather than filling out the alt-text for screen readers, I started putting, “This is a Facebook post, text to follow” or whatever in the alt-text and then I was like, “Jenny, just put a note at the top of the page explaining that every image is a screencap of Jamie McGuire’s Facebook post and comment threads.” So, ta-da! Every image is of a Jamie McGuire Facebook post or comment thread and all of the comments are presented as-is in the body of this blog post.

Oh, and speaking of “as-is,” please keep in mind that these are emotionally charged Facebook comments flying back and forth and putting [sic] everywhere someone mistyped or made an error would have been akin to one of the labors of Hercules, so I didn’t do that.

Now, these screenshots don’t show everything. These were taken by people and either they gave me permission to use them or they sent them to me. I don’t creep Jamie McGuire’s Facebook page because I value my fleeting time on this plane of existence. So, if it seems choppy or something is missing or doesn’t make sense, it’s because I’m just working with what I’ve got.

Believe me, it’s enough.

CW: Racism, discussion of Ahmaudd Arbery’s death.

Look at my dog

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I’m on edibles, y’all.

Look at this dog:

A gray pit bull about the same size as the striped house cat it's sleeping beside. The dog has one leg thrown over the sleeping cat.

Cat included for size comparison. That pit bull you’re looking at? The one beside the normal-sized house cat? She’s full grown. We call her a teacup pit bull as a joke. She can fit under the overhang of our lower kitchen cupboards to snuggle up against the heating vent. She can also fit in your lap, which is handy for a breed that does sit in your lap regardless of their size. Her feetsers are itty-bitty. She’s just the smallest damn pit bull I’ve ever seen. Until about two months ago, I could put her in a shoebox.

Let me tell you about this dog. My Baba decided that she loved our pit bulls so much, she was going to get one of her own. She went down to the shelter where they had an adult pit bull but the shelter workers were concerned that he was probably too large and strong for an eighty-year-old to walk and they encouraged her to look at others so she wouldn’t die from being dragged six miles by a galloping pit bull.

Since we’re basically a broken record about our belief that there are no bad dogs, just bad training, Baba got a better idea. She would buy a pit bull puppy from the step-son of one of my father’s friends and train it herself.

You see that on step one, we’re already off track here, right?

The person who bred the puppies insisted that they needed to be rehomed right away. They had already been weened and were eight weeks old.

A puppy that is very clearly not eight weeks old.

Now, that? Is not an eight-week-old puppy. Even as the runt of the litter, that’s not an eight-week-old pit bull puppy. Her eyes were barely opened and very, very blue. That unicorn toy that’s roughly the same size as she is? That’s a Beanie Baby. When I saw this dog, my first thought was, “Oh my god, she’s adorable!” and then, “Oh, shit. Those scars tell me she’s not a learner.” This puppy had no bite inhibition at all. At her first vet appointment, the doctor was horrified that she’d already been weened and separated. She backed up my first assertion: “This is not an eight-week-old puppy.”

Worst of all, Baba named the dog Sophie.

Come on, family. Get it together.

You know what’s not a great combination? Pit bull puppies with no bite inhibition and paper-thin, eighty-year-old skin. It became quickly apparent that Baba could not keep the dog and all of her blood. She had to choose between the two. Because our daughter had already fallen in love with her and because we have pit bulls (the best thing you can do for your pit bull pup is to let it spend time with other well-behaved pit bulls), we took the dog. I quickly changed her name to Puppers because what kind of jerk off would have a dog named after the main character of their books?

Anyway, you know how I said that there are no bad dogs, just bad training? I stand by that and just assume that Puppers is the exception that proves the rule. I don’t know what the means, actually, because I’m not good at math. I’m not saying she’s a bad dog, per se, but she’s definitely a dog who does not give a fuck. About anything. She does what she wants and if that lines up with what I want, great! If not, too bad. She has absolutely no drive to please anyone.

We have managed to teach her some things. Not to bite, for example. First of all, we had to change any command we used with her because she’d been told “no” so often already that she didn’t even hear it anymore. “Gentle,” I would say in a soothing tone as I separated the jaws of serrated puppy teeth sawing through the flesh on my forearms, “I only like gentle dogs.” Eventually, that worked well enough to remind her to stop jumping up on people, too. I mean, at least forty percent of the time. And she doesn’t bite anymore, but she does start to bite. To correct this, I say sternly, “No pit bull face!” Pits can have a real scary looking face if they bare their teeth and they’re a breed of dog that just can’t get away with that nonsense.

One of the ways Puppers has devised on her own to curb her biting is to grab a toy, press it up against the person or other animal she wants to bite, then bite the toy. Which is pretty smart, I guess, and a great alternative to having to get the cat’s head out of her mouth. However, the cat does not appreciate having a toy jammed forcefully into her side or face, so this doesn’t always work out. Despite their perceived peacefulness in the photo above, their relationship is tumultuous at best. As a result, we often have to break up the fights resulting from Puppers’s enthusiastic, often humping-based, attempts at friendship. “Gentle!” and “She doesn’t like that!” tend to work more than the cat’s shrieking, hissing, and needle-sharp claws. Pain seems to be no behavioral deterrent at all, judging by the number of times she’s had run-ins with stinging insects, only to go back for more.

I really didn’t want another dog. At the time we adopted her, Puppers was our fourth dog, when we had just started preparing ourselves to be down to two. My seventeen-year-old beagle passed a few months after Puppers came to live with us and brought us back to three. Deep in mourning for the dog that was rarely found more than two feet from me at any time and fed up from trying to train a beast that still drew blood from me on a daily basis, I thought I was never going to love Puppers. But then, she got big enough to be allowed upstairs. Every morning, Mr. Jen would let her into the bedroom as I slept and she would attack me with love, burrowing under my head, frantically licking my face, then tunneling under the covers to snuggle, her tail thumping wildly. No matter where I go or what I do, when I get back, she’s thrilled to see me. She’s big enough now that she no longer sleeps in her crate and consistent learning/grudging acceptance of our silly rules has earned her the right to sleep in bed with me, snuggled up against my butt, so now I wake up to much calmer puppy snuggles. Then I remember how much I so didn’t want to take on another dog and how I was sure I would resent this one for being an ill-behaved little monster.

As I write this, Puppers had to be scolded for eating a tube of paint. She was remorseless.

This dog is naughty and terrible and I love her to bits. I hope hearing a little bit about her brightened your day because IDK about anyone else but my brain is flippin’ fried so this is about as high concept as I can be right now.

Puppers sleeping with her tongue out.

The Creepy Waco Story

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Welcome to the weirdest story that I finally have permission to share. The family lore almost as freaky, at least, to me, as our old haunted house. The story I promised on Twitter in the middle of the night when I was watching that Waco miniseries. That’s right. Seventeen-year-old has given his blessing. I am allowed to tell you…

The Creepy Waco Story.

When my now seventeen-year-old turned about three, we were on an errand to the post office. He couldn’t read. He pointed to the sign warning that firearms can’t be carried in the building and said, “That means you can’t have a gun in the post office.” Since there’s a picture of a gun with a slashed red circle over it, I didn’t think it was that weird that he got the gist of it. Then he said, “It’s that way in Texas, too.”

I decided to play along. “Is it?” After all, he knew Texas existed; he had aunts and uncles who lived there.

He went on, “It was that way when I lived there a long time ago.”

“When was that?” I asked because it was keeping him from being wild in the post office.

“Oh, a long time ago,” he informed me sagely. “Like six weeks ago.”

We did our post office business and got into the car, where he continued on the subject. “If you have guns in Texas the bad guys will shoot you. I got in a shootout.”

Obviously, he’d seen a cowboy movie or something. “Well, it’s a good thing you’re okay,” I told him.

Very quietly, he said, “No, I wasn’t.”

Weird response.

After that day at the post office, all my kid could talk about was Texas. He wanted to go to Texas, where he used to live. He wanted to go to Texas, where the shootout happened. Where do you want to live when you grow up? Texas. If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? Texas. And not because he wanted to see the family members there. He was adamant that he wanted to go to Texas because he used to live there.

This went on for a long time. A really, really long time. Longer than six weeks. All the way into Kindergarten where at six-years-old he made a book about himself. The teacher printed out the pages. It was up to my kid to fill out the answers, with my help, and bring it back to be made into a real, bound book with laminated covers.

From the first page, things didn’t go great:

A worksheet with the answers provided in a kid's handwriting: "My hair is: blond. I weigh: 40 lbs. I am: 44" tall. I have 20 teeth." Beneath all this is a crude drawing of a naked child crying with a sad mouth.

With absolutely zero prompting, my kid drew a picture of himself, naked and crying, in this project we had to turn back in to be made into a keepsake. So, that was going to be a fun CPS visit (his teacher later told me that he’d explained it was a picture of being at the doctor’s office, where one usually gets measured and weighed).

But that was nothing compared to the disturbing thing that happened when we got to the page about vacations:

A page of the book says: A special place I'd like to visit...travel...see..." My kid has written "TEXAS" and below that has drawn a picture of a large building with a helicopter flying over it and bombs falling.“Wow,” I said when he showed me the picture. “What’s happening here?”

“That’s my house in Texas,” he said, pointing out the different floors. “That’s where only the girls live. That’s where only the boys live.”

“And…what’s the helicopter?” I asked, getting serious creepy-crawlies.

“That’s when the shoot out happened.”

The shoot out, he explained, happened when helicopters came and people shot guns into the house. There are two doors on the front of the building. This was somehow significant to him but at six-years-old he couldn’t quite articulate it so I still have no idea what he meant. There are two hash marks, one indicating a window and another a random spot on the building. Those were important, too, but again he didn’t have any input as to why. But the bottom line was, there were bad guys and helicopters and they shot and exploded his house.

“You are not going to believe what I’m about to send you!” I told Bronwyn Green over the phone. I took a photo of the drawing with my digital camera, put the SD card into my laptop, transferred the file, and emailed it to Bronwyn, all while we were still on the phone with me just saying, “Trust me, I’ll tell you after you see the picture.” Seriously, that’s how much our lives have changed in a decade. THAT was what I had to do to send someone a photo in 2008.

Bronwyn opened the file and said, “Oh…my…god.”

“What would you say that is?” I asked.

“I would say your kid drew a picture of Waco.”

I told her all the stuff he’d said about the bad guys and the fire and the shootout; she’d heard the history of his Texas obsession before. “Is it possible he heard of Waco somewhere and he’s pretending?”

But we couldn’t figure out where a Kindergartener would have just randomly stumbled over shit about Waco, especially without me noticing. It was 2008, it wasn’t really a hot topic, even though I was pretty conservative back then. And even if he had, he’d been talking about the shootout in Texas for years. Complicating the issue, he insisted that it was his house, but that he was a policeman or a sheriff. I don’t know enough about the Branch Davidians to know if there were any former law enforcement who lived there. But it started to feel real past-lifey.

I weighed the pros and cons of showing my kid any Waco pictures because what if that started a conversation that I was in no way freaking prepared to have with a six-year-old when I was just twenty-eight. I settled on showing him a picture of the complex that didn’t have evidence of the raid in any way. I said, “Hey, look at this.”

“That’s my house!” He was totally psyched. “That’s my house in Texas.”

A few months later, my husband’s cousin in San Antonio got married. Because I’d just had my second child a few months earlier, I stayed home and Mr.Jen took Child the Elder so I wouldn’t have to juggle them both. Of course, the kid was over the moon. Finally, he was going back to Texas, where he used to live before I was his mommy (another weird phrase both of my kids have flung around, weirdly)!

Now, they were nowhere near Waco. They were in San Antonio the whole time. But when they returned, my kid’s obsession with Texas was cured. He wasn’t disappointed in Texas or anything. He’d just been there. Dream realized. Bucket list complete.

When he got older, I mentioned it to him and showed him the picture he’d drawn.

He didn’t remember anything about it.

State of the Trout: How quarantine will affect my release schedule going forward.

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This is such a weird time, isn’t it? Every writer I know has been talking about how they can’t focus on their work and they’re finding themselves revisiting old projects or scattering their thoughts over four or more at a time. It’s totally uncharted territory for many of us. We’re all sort of used to having this issue during times of stress, mental and physical health challenges, life stuff, etc. We’re also used to knowing deeply in our hearts that we’re the only one who has ever experienced this because every single other author in the world has never, ever had to take weeks off from work and just stare at the walls and those of us who do that are lazy frauds because we can’t expend the rigorous mental energy it takes to focus on a pretend world inside our heads. And now we’re all feeling exactly that same way and asking each other, “Is it just me?”

Nope. It’s just everybody.

I’m sure this applies to more than just writers but as this post is all about me, the center of the universe, I’m just giving the writer perspective. This chaotic inability to corral thoughts and feelings and make them into interesting words in an order that makes sense has actually been kind of good for me because it’s forcing me to confront some truths I was avoiding and, in the process, making myself miserable. I’ve been open about the fact that I’m struggling to finish The Daughter. I’ve been working on it for almost a year now. Yes, I had a serious mental health crisis that postponed the release. Yes, I have struggled with writing a billionaire romance in a world where billionaires are killing the planet and everyone we love. Yes, I’ve made it clear that internal politics within the genre have changed my feelings toward romance. But a couple of weeks ago, I admitted something to myself that I had been avoiding thinking about for a long, long time.

The Daughter will be the last Sophie Scaife book.

It broke my heart to type that sentence, by the way. I’ll probably cry like a baby when I hit publish on this post. But it’s time to face facts. I’ve been writing this series for something like eight years now, haven’t I? Isn’t that weird, that I can’t even remember? And that’s what’s taking me so long to write the book. I don’t want to let them go. I love these characters. They’re full-time residents of my mind. And I’m grieving because I know I can’t keep the story going. Their happily ever after is going to happen in this book, and I’m going to have to move on.

That scares the absolute shit out of me.

Years ago, I wrote a series of vampire novels that consumed my entire being. Like, all I thought about from the moment I woke up until the moment I went to sleep were these characters and the world I’d created for them. I had so much enthusiasm, especially writing that first book. I knew that because it was something special to me, it would be special to other people. When it got published, I tattooed the heroine’s initials on my wrist. But how could I ever forget Carrie and Nathan and Max and Bella and Cyrus and Ziggy and all the characters that I hardly ever think about now? I was never going to forget them. But I did. And that’s going to happen with Sophie and Neil and El-Mudad and Holli and Deja and Rudy and Valerie.

And I’m not ready. I’m not ready for them to fade away. I’m certainly not ready to grieve the end of a series while I’m in a constant state of grief over [insert frantic gesticulations to indicate every fucking thing around the world]. Since I’m not ready, I can’t make any progress. And the more time that passes, the worse the imposter syndrome becomes, and the harder it is to fight around the block, the harder it is to push.

So, as much as it pains me to disappoint people who have been waiting for it, I have to put The Daughter on hold. Again.

I promise you: it will come. It’s completely outlined, researched, and about 3/4 finished. It won’t be five years. I’m not George R.R. Martin-ing this shit. But for right now, I need to focus on other stuff. Escapist stuff, not just from the current state of the world, but from the reality that this is the last time I’ll be with these characters. I fell in love with them. I didn’t want to let them go and that was holding me back. Now, I need to grapple with that before I can finish the book.

In the meantime, I’m going to start shifting my focus away from billionaires. Jenny Trout is going to continue writing about centaurs and will be releasing the YA serial Nightmare Born in ebook and paperback (before, you could only read it on Radish). Abigail Barnette will have a series of stand-alone, small-town romance novellas set in the fictional Upper Peninsula town of Blackhawk Bay. And some of Abigail Barnette’s out-of-print backlist will be published under a new pen name, beginning with my 2011 vampire novel, In The Blood.

The cover for In The Blood. A good-looking dude with pale hair and red eyes on a red sorts of misty-ish background. The title is on it, right above the name Jennifer Morningstar

Yup. I absolutely chose that pen name because I’m a Lucifer fan girl.

Why a new pen name? Because I want to keep Abigail Barnette a name where you know you’re getting romance with overall healthy messages. Jennifer Morningstar will be writing more dark erotica/erotic horror/paranormal erotica and Jenny Trout doesn’t like it when books with extreme content or dodgy topics are miscategorized as erotic romance because Jenny Trout does not like it when she buys a book and it romanticizes stuff that is super harmful to romanticize. Also, it’s for Jenny Trout’s personal comfort level with how she marketed her own work in the past; “Can a human consent to a vampire who is capable of mind control?” was a thought that came up when considering what to do with In The Blood and Ravenous once the rights reverted back to Abigail Barnette. There will always be content warnings for readers who don’t want certain topics sprung on them, but readers who aren’t interested in straight out erotica or erotic horror will know, oh, hey. Jennifer Morningstar. Fuck those books, I’m sticking with the warm fuzzies.

So, that’s what’s been going on in my world while the world outside is in shambles. I truly apologize to anyone disappointed by the postponement of The Daughter but please understand, it’s coming from a place of love. I love those characters as much as you do and I’m going to grieve the end with you. Unfortunately, I just have to do it before I can finish the damn book.

We’re probably not terrible for being less than fine.

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Back in February, I bought a new planner. The Recollections goal planner, for those out there who are planner-addicts. I was finally feeling better enough from my breakdown to return to work. I was energized, confident, and so ready to get back to normal. I set it up with all the goals I wanted to achieve. Reasonable goals, with reasonable deadlines. Re-publish my backlist titles that are no longer available? I could do that at a rate of one per month since they’re mostly novellas. Finish The Daughter by April? Of course! Plenty of time! And in the meantime, I’d even set out a plan for how to keep on schedule with Patreon and recaps here. And IDK if anyone noticed but I totally got better at working!

And then the world ended.

Of course, my world stayed roughly the same, with the exception of not having to leave the house for rehearsals or home school activities. After all, I work here all the time. I was expecting to be at home. And hey, don’t I always complain about having to go places? This should be perfect!

Obviously, this whole “shelter in place” thing has been a boon; after all, without having to do pesky things like taking a kid to play practice, I have more time to work on those goals! I could even get ahead!

Picture this: there’s a global crisis killing tens of thousands of people. Millions will be infected by this pandemic. Every news story seems to be, “perfectly healthy human being your exact same age died two days after going to the grocery store, congrats, you’re fucking doomed.” If you live in the U.S., the President of your country may be actively trying to murder you via medical neglect if you happen to live in a state whose governor won’t praise the orange bastard appropriately. Bodies are being stored in temporary morgues made out of reefer trailers and people are dying alone while their families watch them take their last breaths over Skype.

Feeling productive yet?

Now, I know I’m not unique in feeling like I, personally, should be able to weather this nightmare and turn it into a dream come true of productivity and royalties and being a beacon of distraction for readers. Everyone working from home right now seems to be having the same difficulties. These include:

  • Not being able to concentrate
  • Sleeping too much
  • Not sleeping at all
  • Sleeping at weird times
  • Drinking too much
  • Bouncing back and forth between social media platforms and news sites in a non-stop loop
  • Panic attacks
  • Inability to do things that were formerly enjoyable.

Also:

  • Thinking you’re the only person who’s not handling their shit right now, despite all evidence to the contrary.

That last one is especially difficult for people with mental or chronic physical illness, as the drive to appear “normal” or “not lazy” can powerfully fuck with you. I mean, I spent months trying to claw my way up to “normal” things like, “leaving the house” and “focusing long enough to read a whole page of a book at once.” And now it’s just how we live? And I’m supposed to adapt to that?

I know I’m not the only person out there who’s been thrown a curveball by the entire world’s sudden agoraphobia and depression. All those behaviors people strive to correct or suppress are suddenly just what we’re all going through. Some of it is maddening on an, “oh, when the neurotypical, able people need accommodations it’s possible to make them,” level but it also hits a sore spot in the psyche: am I backsliding if this kind of anxiety and lack of executive function is a reasonable and expected part of life? And if it is backsliding, well, shouldn’t I, with my years of therapy and hard work, be better able to navigate this crisis? I have all the tools necessary. IDK, this feels like an excuse.

My friend Jill sometimes reminds me that there’s a difference between an excuse and a reason. If you’re identifying with this post, if you’re seeing things in here and thinking “hashtag mood,” let’s try to remember that this pandemic isn’t an excuse. It’s a reason. It’s the reason everyone is experiencing those delightful mental illness issues like insomnia or jacked up sleep patterns. It’s the reason you’re having a panic attack, not an excuse to capriciously lose it several times a week (or day). Nobody is living this out because they’re lazy and unwilling to try; they’re living it out because the Grim Reaper is gently elbowing us while we’re watching the news and leaning over to whisper, “Hey, how do you like what I did in Italy?”

But it’s still so hard to grasp that failure to function in the middle of a global pandemic is not the same as failure to function because you stopped taking your meds or going to your therapist. Hopefully, when this is all over, one of the lasting lessons for the world at large will be, “now you understand what life is like for the mentally ill and disabled, so please stop being a dick, we’re doing our best.” But for now, the lesson everyone needs to learn, myself included, is that at this particular moment in history, we do not have any power when it comes to keeping our lives normal. Because there is no normal. And that’s not an excuse. It’s a reason. Be kind to yourselves. And remember that if you struggle to function at the best of times, it’s too much to ask of yourself to be at the top of your game in the worst of times.