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Jealous Haters Book Club: Beautiful Disaster chapter 5 “Parker Hayes” or “Obvious Foil”

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First of all, I was so certain that I had written like eight of these recaps. Then, I went back and read through them to refresh my memory and I realized there were only four. But they’re long, like books on their own, because these chapters are fucking endless. Expect to see shorter chunks going forward every now and then, so I can actually deliver recaps to you.

Since we last met, something interesting happened on Ms. McGuire’s Facebook page back in the day before my mental breakdown. About seventy of you sent me screenshots but unfortunately, I couldn’t get them posted here or make snarky comments about them until after January 1, 2020, in what was already supposed to be The Year of Minding My Own Business.

I guess if someone is mentioned in something, though, it is their business. And I’m a total bitch and am more than willing to keep this boring-ass “literary feud” going because I genuinely dislike this MAGA garbage woman.

A facebook post by McGuire that reads: "Gracie... seriously... you need an intervention. I'm here to help. I haven't had someone follow me around the internet to be my personal social media police since Jenny Trout seemed herself the author patrol. You have enough time for this? That's... kinda sad." She follows it up with a gif of Regina George from Mean Girls saying, "Why are you so obsessed with me?"

I was like,  “Awww, thanks for constantly thinking of me, Jamie!” because our only direct altercation online ever was about her celebrating the fact that one of my publishers wasn’t paying authors and was suing blogger-turned-catfisher Jen Frederick for reporting it on her blog. That entire mess was a thousand years ago (and we mutually blocked each other on all social media that night) and since McGuire is an anti-vax hardcore conservative who’s firmly pro-Kavanaugh, I haven’t really felt the need to keep tabs on her. But somehow, she needed to name-check me in a conflict with another author that arose when McGuire chose to fat shame a child.

No, seriously. This whole thing stemmed from an incident where she questioned whether or not a fat teenaged dancer was really practicing as much as she claimed in an inspirational video because McGuire was certain that no once who danced as much as the girl in the video could possibly be fat. I was not involved in any of it, in any way. I hadn’t even heard of the associated drama. If I’m Quebec, she’s Rio de Janeiro, that’s how far apart we are where social media is concerned.  But wow, she sure jumped to my name. Maybe “fat” is just a concept she associates with me in her mind.

My only thought here was that McGuire hoped she could bait me into joining her fat-shaming drama, but the author who went full Wolverine on her ass did a fine enough job. So, all McGuire achieved was yet another self-delivered blow to her public image.

But in her defense, I’ve heard that clown college is actually quite stressful.

On to the recap!

“We all have a lawyer friend!”

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This is going to be quick and dirty, everyone. It started out as a Twitter thread that got too long. But I think it’s important.

I need to address something that is going to sound like an attack on specific individuals. I promise, it’s not. Because it’s not those specific individuals I see doing this. Keep that in mind as you read this post.

With the RWA stuff going on, we keep seeing a lot of tweets that say, “Don’t people know how many LAWYERS we have in the romance genre?!” They’re right. There are a lot of lawyers in romance.

But there are more people with working-class jobs.

While it’s awesome that we have people well-versed in the law who are willing to throw their knowledge into the ring as a tool to help the genre, it’s starting to feel a little bit like, “See, we’re valid because we have smart lawyer-type people!” Yes, the genre has been dismissed as, “Oh, those are written by bored housewives.” But just because that’s used as a dismissal by other people doesn’t mean we should throw those bored housewives under the bus in order to convince people that the genre is valid. Because here’s the thing: those people you’re screaming “LAWYERS! LAWYERS! LAWYERS!” at? They’re not listening anyway. They’re never going to change their opinions.

And the people I don’t see tossing around, “LAWYERS! LAWYERS! LAWYERS!” seem to be…the lawyers. It’s almost like they view their profession as a normal human job and not a paid superhero position and don’t see their involvement in the genre as the sole reason it’s a force to be reckoned with.

It’s starting to really sound like, “Romance isn’t THOSE people. It’s SMART people.” As if bored housewives, people who don’t go to college, disabled people who turn to writing when they’ve been denied access to or accommodation for secondary education, etc. can’t be as creative and intelligent as everyone else. As if the only way our work deserves respect and acknowledgment is if we can disavow the reality that there are far, far more people who come home from working at a supermarket or a daycare to squeeze a few hours of writing in between dinner and bedtime. If we removed their contributions to the genre, the shelves would be bare. There is room to celebrate and be proud of the genre without ignoring the diverse backgrounds and circumstances that led each of us to become romance authors.

And it’s a hell of a lot more intimidating if we frame ourselves as sleeper agents that have infiltrated the courts, factories, farms, schools, and families.

State of the Trout: New Year, Not-New Book! And other business-type things you know I don’t like to talk about.

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Hey everybody! It’s the very first day of 2020, and most of us are looking into the next decade with a “clean slate” mindset with regards to our resolutions for the roaring twenties. Today was the day I had planned to get back to running but it turns out I’ve just left my running clothes hanging up in the bathroom since the last time I used them way back in September. They needed a wash back then, too, let me tell you. Since Facebook tells me it’s bad luck to do laundry on New Year’s Day and OCD tells me that’s probably true and I’m putting my whole family at risk if I dare to clean the only sports bra I have that fits me, I guess I’ll be putting the miles off until tomorrow. I’m pretty nervous, truth be told; I haven’t run since breaking my foot. I’m a little afraid that I’ll start out and like four steps in the whole thing will break again.

But that’s not why I’m here today. My running goals and broken foot don’t really affect you. You’re probably wondering why I even told you about them. Because my family is tired of hearing about it. That’s why.

Anywho, I told myself I would also come back to work on January 1st, and here we are. With actual, real work to present to you. If it had required a load of laundry, I wouldn’t be here. Just keep that in mind.

Back in the early days of the ’10s, I wrote a series of baseball romances for an indie publisher. Later, I got the rights back and intended to republish them but I’m very much like Walt Disney in that I like my head to be cold and also I keep moving forward. Going back to work on something I already wrote feels like rolling backward. But one of my resolutions for the year and the rest of my career, basically, is to treat my business more like a business and make those tough business decisions that won’t keep everybody happy. As a result, any backlist that I release is going to be Amazon-only. Not because I don’t appreciate my readers on other platforms but because the amount of time and frustration I invest in putting work on other platforms (I am easily overwhelmed, friends) has actually held me back from re-releasing the old work that I could be making money from. So, please don’t hate me as I re-release my old stuff on a single platform. I still plan on selling new work wide.

So, back to that baseball romance I was telling you about:

Close-up portrait of muscular man posing with a bat under the title, "Long Relief" and the author's name, "Abigail Barnette."

Billionaire entrepreneur Maggie Harper has lived and breathed baseball since birth. But being the coach’s daughter never prepared her for team ownership, and all the business savvy in the world can’t help her navigate the complications from a sizzling one-night stand with a player who definitely wants something more.

After pitching a disastrous game that cost the Bengals the championship pennant, veteran reliever Chris Thomas knows his days as a player are numbered. There are more important things to be worried about than the sexy new team owner, but Maggie’s hot-and-cold act is driving him to distraction. A woman has never come between him and the game before, but now he has to make a choice between his love of playing ball and his rapid fall for Maggie.

Caught between doing what’s right for the team and what’s right for them, Maggie and Chris have to decide what’s more important: a championship season, or a chance at love?

Preorder now at Amazon.com!

Long Relief will be out January 7th, so I hope those of you who don’t already own it haven’t spent up all your Amazon gift cards yet.

So, with that, this State of the Trout is concluded. Happy New Year, and gosh, I really hope 2020 is gonna be great for everybody in Trout Nation.

The Top Ten Most Bonkers Moments From This Weird Ass Damon Suede Interview

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Not long ago, I declared 2020 The Year Of Minding My Own Business.

But it ain’t 2020 yet.

If you haven’t been following the coup taking place behind the scenes at Romance Writers of America, you’re probably going to want a primer. As always, Smart Bitches, Trashy Books has a great explanation of what went down, and Clair Ryan broke it down Barney-style for those of us who couldn’t keep up. So many people who are more familiar with the RWA than I (a non-member) am have written eloquently about the problems in the organization that are systemic and extend far, far past any one individual. I have no real contribution to make and didn’t plan on blogging about any of this. My voice is not so unique and insightful that I could somehow stampede into the organization’s business after leaving it in 2005 (and briefly rejoining a couple of years ago for one year before I bounced again) and say anything other people haven’t already said better and with more authority. I’m 100% on Courtney Milan’s side in this and staunchly against the trash fire RWA has been for a long, long time, and that’s really all I have to say about the overall kerfuffle.

But Damon Suede. Boy howdy.

In addition to sending his husband into a social media battle on his behalf, Suede has been revealed to be a name-dropping opportunist and outright liar (which you can read about in Ryan’s post). Suede has always been a gifted self-promoter. A constant fixture at the biggest conventions, charismatically holding events and speaking on tough-to-get panels, he somehow managed to book speaking gigs and keynotes throughout the ’10s despite publishing his first book in 2011 and not releasing any new romance fiction since 2017. After writing only five novels in a genre that routinely sees authors putting out that many books a year, Suede decided to write books about writing and charge a rumored $3,000 per day to give workshops to whatever certified MacArthur Fellows would pay that ridiculous amount of money to him. Then, with the unwavering confidence of a mediocre-at-best white man, he decided that with less than ten years as a romance novelist, he was ready to lead the genre as president of the Romance Writers of America. Which he ran for unopposed. Because he manipulated the other candidate into dropping out.

Since straight cis white ladies love nothing more than the idea of having a Gay Friend™, Suede managed to rise to elite circles in Romancelandia, like a genre fiction Anna Delvey. Anyone who criticized him or had negative experiences with him were hushed up with accusations of homophobia (even if they weren’t straight, themselves) or by the mere power wielded by people in high places. One friend remarked to me that she’d “always had a bad feeling” about Suede but was too afraid to voice it to anyone because “he hung out with all the big names.” Now that his desperate power grab to turn Romance Writers of American into RWKKK has been exposed, people have started airing their grievances in public, including passing around this interview from September, which…shouldn’t have reflected well on him at the time but for damn sure doesn’t now.

Damon Suede is not the sole cause of the Make Romance Racist Again initiative. He’s just trying to direct the current assault. The genre and organization have been rife with white supremacist ideals for a long time. In no way should the Suede narrative drown out the much, much more important issue surrounding how and why Milan was removed from RWA or the numerous stories from RWA members of color who have been victimized and discriminated against (check out the links on Ryan’s blog). While I have no vote in RWA, no experience or helpful insight in repairing an organization that has been damaged by Game of Thrones-level maneuvering, and nothing that could even remotely resemble any kind of even hypothetical solution that a smarter person hasn’t already come up with, I am super bitchy, hold big grudges on behalf of my friends, and have long been waiting for this dude to step one damn toe out of line. In the midst of all this heartbreak and chaos, my contribution is mockery. For we must laugh, even in the darkest of times.

Theydies and Gentlethems, I give you…

The Top Ten Most Bonkers Moments From This Weird-Ass Damon Suede Interview

  • He claims to have read 1200 words a minute in childhood. 1200 words a minute is 72,000 words an hour, which means that as a child, Damon Suede would have been capable of reading Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables in a little under twelve hours. The target reading speed for a third-grader in the United States is 107 words per minute. The average for adults hovers around 200 without any speed-reading training.
  • He believes acting is a “blue collar” job. There are many reasons child actors drop out of the game in their teen years. I guess we have to add “too posh for it” to that list now?
  • The interviewer is super psyched about kids committing suicide at college. At around the 1:47 mark, Suede begins explaining why he didn’t go to Cornell, a.k.a. “Suicide U,” to begin his career as a theme park designer (seriously). For some reason, perhaps it was just an inability to follow Suede’s frenetic conversational pace, the interviewer gives a long, slow, “Niiiiiiice,” upon learning that the university has a high suicide rate.
  • Suede’s jewelry-obsessed Disney-lawyer family apparently inspired him to destroy the RWA. “For me, I wanted to take everything apart and then put it back together and make it tick. And so, it’s that Aristotelian biology thing.” A man can reveal a lot about himself when he opines on his desire to destroy everything made by others and resurrect it under his own power. Honestly, maybe we all should have seen this coming, at least since September. Special recognition goes to comparing himself to a legendary Greek thinker while also inadvertently implying that Aristotle was some kind of Dr. Frankenstein. Perhaps most chilling is the smile he gives when the interviewer asks if Suede is still smashing things apart. Suede’s reply? “Everything I do.”
  • Suede comes at writing from the unique perspective of being aware that readers exist. Due to his extensive background in theater and movies and television and comics and watchmaking and living at Disney World like a special, special boy, Suede thinks about how readers are going to read what he writes. Unlike the rest of us, who don’t have such a learned and interesting background (or seemingly endless disturbing metaphors about splitting readers open) and who are uniformly shocked at the revelation that other people can see the words we put down in the books we write. While most of us are concentrating on writing stories just the right length to level our coffee table in paperback form, Suede has figured out that the true secret to great writing is putting the words in the right places to make a reader enjoy what they’re reading. I’m so glad a man has finally explained this and apparently gets paid $3,000 a pop to explain it in person.
  • Despite the fact that he’s only published five books and never made a bestseller list, he has the type of fans only a rockstar could love. Suede claims that his readers are so unhinged in their worship of him that he’s been chased Beatles-style through hotels, ripped out of taxi cabs, had fans camped outside of his home, and thirty-nine people have tattooed his name or book covers on their bodies. In other words, Suede is in that exclusive sphere of author worship usually reserved for authors like Stephen King, Anne Rice, or Cassandra Clare.

    With five books.

    And no bestsellers.

  • His readership is a lot cooler than the old fuddy-duddies who follow much, much bigger names in the genre. Name dropping Eloisa James, Suede says she complained that her fan base is made up of “gentle, seventy-year-old women who cry over their walkers,” while his readers are “young, browner, cooler,” and have piercings and tattoos. Now, I don’t know Eloisa James but I know that she writes historical romance and that “gentle, seventy-year-old women” basically sign her paycheck. If his claims are true, that would make James a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes. If his claims aren’t true, he’s a real dick to talk about her readers in such disparaging, misogynistic stereotypes and attribute them to her in a damning soundbite. But hey, at least he managed to work in that people of color read his books, right?
  • Gay romance is anti-patriarchal despite being all about men? Somehow? Girl-on-girl books, though, not so much. Suede asserts that women are the primary readers of M/M romance because the stories involve relationships where “everyone has power.” Not only do power imbalances in gay relationships exist, but that imbalance also exists in tons of M/M fiction aimed at a predominately straight female audience who want to read a hetero relationship they identify with, but without any women in it. Still, Suede considers f/f books a tough sell due to the lack of male vulnerability in the narrative and not, like, straight lady homophobia and internalized misogyny. Considering the fact that publishers used to reject f/f books with phrases like, “no pink parts,” I’m inclined to say that misogyny, not feminism, drives much of the m/m romance market. But what do I know? I’m just a queer person with a coochie.
  • The first reference made to a female author’s work comes seven minutes into this ten-minute video about a genre pioneered and dominated by women. And the reference is to Jane Austen.
  • Suede’s vision for Romance Writers of America is…wait for it…diversity. After the interviewer asks Suede what his vision is for RWA, Suede rattles off a lot of statistics about the genre, followed by, “Somebody asked me what my vision is for RWA […].” Like, dude…the guy sitting across from you, desperately trying to get a word in, is the one who asked you that question. But the rest of Suede’s answer is somehow even more shamelessly lacking in self-awareness. “I believe everyone deserves a place at the table. Everybody,” he insists, turning to the camera to clap his hands and issue the directive, “We need to step. it. up.” Of course, he’s very careful to insert the caveat that while everyone deserves opportunities, that doesn’t mean everyone gets to be successful and every author is responsible for their own success. And we’ve seen proof of that philosophy in the past week. Apparently, Suede is fine with his “browner” fans tattooing his name on their bodies and hell, they can even have a seat at the table if they want to try their hands at writing, but god forbid they criticize an RWA member for overt racism. God forbid they take up too much elbow room at that table, or speak too loudly. And by the way, if you don’t succeed, it’s probably not due to any systemic issue in publishing. You’re just not self-promoting as hard as Jacqueline Susann.

Watching this video, I can only shake my head. This man has been telling everyone all along exactly who he is. Why did so many people ignore it? Why did so many big names signal boost him and bring him into their cliques? How did someone this obnoxious win so many hearts? And how much OTC allergy medication can an adult male take before he turns into Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch? This interview was from September. Has it worn off yet? When it does, will Suede regain the power to feel shame? Or was he born without that gene? So many mysteries. Sadly, they probably won’t be solved before the clock strikes midnight on January 1st, so I’ll be left to wonder while minding my own damn business in 2020.

Bitchy New Year, everybody!

Allow me to address your bullshit, Lucia Franco defenders.

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CW: CSA, Rape, Grooming, Reproductive Coercion

Update: Lucia Franco defenders are now doxing those who dared to speak up about this, posting their home addresses and, in the cases of pseudonymous authors, their real identities, online. This puts people in real danger. If you are a Lucia Franco fan, please let her know that this is happening and that she has a moral obligation to speak out against this strategy of “defending” her. The one-star bombing and mass-reporting of books to Amazon in an attempt to see them removed as punishment? That’s shitty behavior. But the sole purpose of doxing is to terrorize. Those of you in groups with her or who follow her FB page, please tell Franco that this reflects incredibly poorly on her and that a statement of some kind to her fans is necessary to avoid being seen as complicit in endangering other human beings.

If you’ve never heard of Lucia Franco, she is the author of the indefensibly popular Off Balance series. The story, regarded by one Twitter user as “a phenomenal work of FICTION,” is a five-book series about the sexual relationship between a fifteen-year-old gymnast and her thirty-year-old coach who is grooming her for the Olympics. Oh, and obviously, to commit statutory rape with her.

Rejecting this premise, especially in the wake of the Michigan State assault cover-up, should have been obvious. A fifteen-year-old girl can’t consent to a thirty-year-old man, let alone a thirty-year-old man who has sole control over her success in her chosen field. Add to that the fact that this thirty-year-old man has a live-in girlfriend and refuses to engage in safe sex practices (relying on his partners to repeatedly take morning-after pills)…nobody would see this as romantic, right?

The first book, Balance, is, in fact, categorized as romance and has been embraced as a swoon-worthy love story by many readers on GoodReads (names redacted to avoid accusations of an attack or pile-on):

“This story was HOT. I mean, call the fire department and have them on standby hot. I’m in the middle of a heat wave and this was just added kindling to the inferno, hot.”

“Raw and intense, yet sensitive and touching. It will keep you hooked till the very end. Forbidden Romance at its finest.”

“Nothing could have prepared me to be hooked that much by Adrianna and Kova’s taboo relationship. Lucia Franco achieved to shape a story bursting with sinful attraction, but also containing a level of raw emotion that left me overcame by all the feels!”

“To all the fans of fifty shades of grey, kova is the new christian grey. Oh my heart!”

Please note that last one.

This book has 2,095 ratings on GoodReads. Over half of those are five stars.

Balance came out in 2016. So, why is all hell breaking loose just now? I have no idea. In October, the romance media site Frolic recommended it to readers (the recommendation has since been removed and the article edited; at the time of writing this, they had not included any explanation for its removal or acknowledged that the article was edited). This week, bloggers were discussing it openly on social media. The latest book in the series just came out, so maybe that got this whole thing kicked off? All I know is, the Lucia Franco defenders have crawled out of the woodwork to defend her right to classify this “beautiful, complicated love story” as a romance right alongside books featuring heroines who are not being groomed for abuse by their gymnastics coach. As usual, accusations of “bullying,” “trolling,” “persecuting” and “a witchhunt” have flown and the usual defenses have come out. I would like to address them all in one place. Because they are willfully obtuse.

“Free speech! You can’t censor someone just because you don’t like what they write!”

You’re right. Authors and readers on social media can’t censor anyone unless they have access to governmental power that would allow them to do so. I agree that Lucia Franco has every right to pen whatever kind of story she would like. I do not agree that criticizing the book is somehow quashing her free speech or censoring her. Allegations that authors worked together to get her book removed from Amazon out of “censorship” are laughable; Amazon isn’t the government and the book violated KDP TOS, which states:

“You must ensure that all Book content is in compliance with our Program Policies for content at the time you submit it to us. If you discover that content you have submitted does not comply, you must immediately withdraw the content by un-publishing it or by re-publishing content that complies through the Program procedures for Book withdrawal or re-publishing. We are entitled to remove or modify the metadata and product description you provide for your Books for any reason, including if we determine that it does not comply with our content requirements.”

One of those content requirements vaguely specifies that they reserve the right to remove objectionable content or remove books that provide a disappointing reader experience. If readers complained about the book, Amazon can review and pull it (according to some bloggers, it’s possible this is not the first time the book has been removed). Them’s the breaks, kids.

“Don’t like? Don’t read!”

This is not Fanfiction.net, Sunshine Susan.

“You probably haven’t even read it!”

You don’t have to read a whole book to know if you enjoy the themes it contains. That’s what the blurb is for. If I pick up a book about military intelligence, I’m going to put it back down. I’m not going to read the whole thing to decide if I was interested in the subject. And if I picked up a book that sounds like it could be just awful, I don’t have to read it before deciding whether or not I want to read it. That’s what critical reviews are for. No one is required to read a book romanticizing pedophilia before they’re qualified to say that romanticizing pedophilia is wrong.

“Wait, you’re reading it? Why read it if you know you’re not going to like it?”

Because you told us that we have to, Sunshine Susan. In order to criticize the book, we have to read it. Those are the rules you set down. Now, you don’t want us to read it? What are you afraid we’re going to find? Evidence? Because people are finding evidence.

“You don’t understand the genre!”

Many of the people criticizing the book are avid consumers of Dark/Taboo Romance but found that actual child rape was a step too far. Some of the critics are authors in the genre who don’t want their work associated with child rape. Go figure.

“Authors work hard! How would you feel if someone got one of your books pulled?”

I know as well as anybody how much work goes into creating a story and making it happen on the page. It’s grueling. After almost two decades, I almost don’t even enjoy it anymore. And I do feel for authors who’ve seen their books yanked off of Amazon by mistake for weird, vague reasons. But this isn’t vague. This isn’t an author who’s had their book about consensual age play between two or more grown adults removed because the guy’s name is Beast and it got flagged as zoophilia. This is a story about a thirty-year-old man having intercourse with a fifteen-year-old and how romantic and passionate their affair is. I can’t imagine how it would feel to have a book like that pulled from Amazon. Because I would never write that.

“It’s just fiction!”

Time and again, “It’s just fiction!” has been used to justify the nurturing of reprehensible attitudes. “It’s just fiction!” people cried about the novel that, purely by coincidence, published right before a huge spike in sex-toy related injuries. Sure, individuals are responsible for their own choices but that extends to authors, as well. If your choice as an author is to dangerously misrepresent a subject or craft a story that feeds into damaging cultural biases, readers can choose to speak about that.

“That stuff happens in real life! This is an important issue!”

Is it fiction or not? The defense, “It’s just fiction,” doesn’t wash if in the next breath we’re being told to value the realism inherent in the work. And yes, child sexual abuse is an important issue. Writing about important issues requires delicacy. If the authorial intent here is to raise awareness of sex abuse perpetrated by coaches in junior sports, perhaps she shouldn’t have chosen to frame it as a beautiful love story. The relationship between the coach and the gymnast is portrayed as sexy, desirable, and forbidden. It’s written specifically to titillate the reader when they’re consuming this story about a grown man having sex with a child. If you’re defending it as an “issue book” or positioning it as some kind of statement piece then you’ve just cast Franco in the role of a person advocating for pedophilia, not against. That’s probably not as helpful as you think it is.

“I dated older men and–”

Nope.

“The author is a really nice person and–”

Nope. She could make Tom Hanks look like Ted Bundy and her book would still be about a kid getting raped and manipulated by a predatory authority figure.

“Women should lift each other up, not tear each other down!”

This is not a petty, Real Housewives-style backstabbing spat here. This is a social media discussion about a book that was made freely available for public consumption in which child sexual abuse is dressed up like a consensual sexual relationship. No one is “tearing down” Franco. They’re responding rationally to the normalization and romanticization of pedophilia. Yes, she’s a woman. She’s also furthering attitudes that harm women and girls. It is impossible to “lift her up” without turning away from actual victims and potential victims. If people are less concerned with helping an author achieve success than eradicating cultural attitudes that create more sexual assault victims…boo hoo, I guess?

“Frigid bitches, assorted misogyny in the name of supporting women.”

Obviously, the disgusting crones attacking this book are doing so because they don’t enjoy sex, or don’t get any sex because their lives are joyless. Our spider-infested genitals haven’t known a moist touch that isn’t just mildew from neglect and disuse. When we open our legs, it sounds like a door creaking in a haunted house. And of course, it’s undeniably feminist to insinuate this by calling us prudes and making references to straight-laced Victorian literature and Jane Austen. Oh, how boring are we, the unhappy, sexless few who don’t find child molesters the sexiest, most Alpha panty melters of all time. And this isn’t a misogynist position to take; everyone knows that saying a woman’s value is based solely in her sexuality is okay, so long as you’re defending child rape. So, too, is using, as one defender did, the quote, “God save us from women,” from an Outlander book. Yes, it’s women and their womanishness that is causing this problem. If only women could just be cooler with rape and abuse and stop being so ugh, gross and girly. Also, they should stop being jealous because jealousy is clearly the only motivation a woman ever has when criticizing another woman, as we have no critical thinking skills.

I’m sure there are many other ridiculous, eye-roll worthy takes out there but I’ve been away from blogging lately and my tolerance to abject bullshit is astonishingly low. In closing: you can write or read whatever you want but you can’t escape criticism or analysis of your work.

Oh, and since this needs to be pointed out: FUCKING KIDS IS WRONG AND THAT’S WHY THEY HAVE LAWS ABOUT IT.

A Decade In Pointless Review

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Even though the ’10s were a great decade for me in a lot of respects, this current trend of taking stock of what you accomplished and sharing it with social media in a positive and uplifting way is bumming me the shit out. Could I write about how I gave up at a career-low only to bounce back and have a huge self-publishing hit and a blog series blah blah blah? Sure, but in the midst of a mental health crisis, it just feels…disingenuous. It reduces my life over the past ten years to just the good things and to be frank, sometimes the good things don’t outshine the bad. So, here are the important stats to take away, I guess. A lot of them are animal-related. I just like animals.

 

Cars paid off: 1

Student loans paid off: 2

Bones broken: 2

Doctor Who Doctors who sent me birthday wishes: 1

Times I went to Georgia: 3

Doctor Who Doctors I met super briefly via Skype: 1

Literary feuds: 5

Black bears petted: 1

Years I was allowed to drive: 6

Vacations that involved natural disasters: 1

Times I saw Billy Joel in concert: 3

Real Christmas trees: 0

Good Presidents: 1

Lawsuits: 1

Fandom awards for fanfic written specifically about Anthony Head as Uther Pendragon in Merlin7

Homes foreclosed on: 1

Name changes: 1

Great Horned Owls I spotted in the wild: 3

Funerals I ruined: 0

Funerals someone else ruined: 1

 

Surprised our kids with a trip to Disney World: 1

Times I saw a Bald Eagle running on the ground: 1

How stupid it looked, on a scale of 1-10: 10

How disillusioned I was, on a scale of 1-10: 8

Community theater productions: 8

Broadway World Regional Awards nominated ensembles performed in: 1

Seizures: so many.

Dogs that died: 2

Rats that died: 5

Hamster that died: 1

Corporations formed: 1

Father/daughter relationships tentatively repaired: 1

Visits to a mystical vortex: 3

Deer I shot at: 5

Deer I shot: 0

Deer that almost killed me: 1

Toxic friendships ended: 4

TV show finales that made me furious: 1

Phones dropped in toilets: 3*

Crafts I learned to do: 6

Times I attended mass: 17**

Times I worried about demon possession: constantly

Therapists: 3

Low brass instruments salvaged from someone else’s trash: 1***

 

Now, it’s November. There’s no reason to assume I won’t see another owl or drop my phone in the toilet within the next few weeks. If anything does happen that’s on this list, I’ll come back and update the total. But some of these would be downright weird as repeats.

Let everybody know some of your important stats for the decade. They don’t have to be inspirational or teach some positive lessons or anything. That shit is getting boring as hell. Let us know how many times you went to the dentist or watched Frozen. Tell us how many miles you put on your car or how many of your relatives died. Just throw out the highlight reel for the decade. And avoid Instagram until January.

 

*some phones were dropped in toilets multiple times

**best estimate

***it was a baritone

 

 

Well, that was a pothead move if I’ve ever made one.

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I don’t know if this has ever come up before since I keep my public persona so guarded, but I smoke a lot of weed.

A lot of weed.

Officially, so far as the State of Michigan is concerned, I’m using it to treat chronic pain due to Fibromyalgia. But it works for two other conditions I have, as well. When it’s available, I use high CBD, low THC strain called Charlotte’s Web to treat my Epilepsy. I use high THC strains to dull my pain but they also help treat my anxiety and OCD symptoms.

Obviously, the perfect time to stop using it is right before I start therapy, right?

Because I’m a ridiculous pothead, I had the thought, “you know, I’ve been smoking weed all day every day for like twelve years now. Maybe if I take a break for a month, it’ll reboot my system or something and I won’t have to smoke as much.” And I just…stopped. I stopped using a drug that I relied on to treat my anxiety while beginning therapy for PTSD.

My husband and my friend Bronwyn Green urged me to just go ahead and start smoking again, with Mr. Jen pointing out that it wouldn’t be okay to stop taking my Xanax or Zoloft “just to see what happens.” I often struggle with the urge to stop taking medications when I’m at a low point. This was no different. My brain had tricked me once again, sorting cannabis into the “not really a medicine” D.A.R.E. bullshit bin in my mind.

Nice try, brain. You stupid dick.

So, I started smoking again and hey, would you look at that? My panic attacks have lessened from three-to-five per day to whole days without one. Seriously, I have now gone two days without a panic attack. I had previously told someone that this was the most boring mental breakdown I’ve ever had because I wasn’t interested in anything. I couldn’t do anything or focus. Usually, I craft or paint or draw when I’m in a bad place. This time, I had no drive at all.

Today, I actually felt like working. I couldn’t do much, but I did some. Last night, I did some crafting. I even can watch a whole episode of The Crown at a time without wondering where the hell I am and what happened in it at the end.

I guess I’m just writing this as an update at this point. But kind of to celebrate that I was able to actually do something. I know I’m not better yet and I know there are going to be more lows. It’s still pretty cool to be able to recognize a high.

No pun intended.

State Of The Trout: “IDK what the fuck is going on” edition

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Hey there, party people. If you’ve been here a while, you know that I struggle with my mental health. Sometimes I’m up, sometimes I’m down, sometimes I’m non-functioning. Right now, I’m in the non-functioning stage. Since I’m open about stuff like this I thought I would keep you all abreast of what’s going on. If you’re not in a good place mentally, probably you should stop reading here. You don’t need my bullshit on top of yours.

About three weeks ago, I had another major breakdown. My husband (who is awesome) was talking me through things. We’ve both had pretty harrowing experiences with the death of loved ones in the past three years. Mine was being at the ER with my grandfather as he died. For my husband, it was finding his mother dead in her apartment.

“It’s just like with your mom, right?” I asked him through hyperventilating, panicked tears. “You see her that way every single day. You remember finding her every single day and you like, relive it constantly.”

And he said, “No, Jen. I don’t.”

And then he said, “That shouldn’t be happening to you.”

For the past three years, any time I haven’t been bombarding my brain with something, anything to do, I’ve been in that emergency room. Taking a shower is hell because there’s nothing in there to distract me. I step under the water and I’m walking up to the desk with pills and clothes clutched in my hand, only to have the nurse say, “We don’t need those right now.” And in my head, I change things. I shove the bags at them. I scream at them that they have to take them, that they do need them. Or maybe the scene begins standing outside the trauma room, watching them perform CPR on my clearly dead grandfather. He’d fallen when he’d had his heart attack or stroke or whatever it was that took him out and he’d hit the back of the toilet, badly injuring his head. The scene was gory and chaotic and I see all of it in mind several times a day, even when I’m not actively reliving the scene. My mind has to be constantly in motion or else I’ll get trapped in that night. But I also can’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes at a time. I check social media. I play a game on my phone. I write a few lines of a blog post. I write a few lines of a book. I text someone. I eat something. Rinse, repeat. If I try to focus for too long, the distraction fails me. I take several naps every day.

This has been going on for three years and I thought it was just a normal part of grief.

As a result, I’ve really isolated myself. I avoid my friends and extended family. I don’t want to talk to anyone. I get constant anxiety attacks. On a family vacation to Great Wolf Lodge, my kids took part in a CPR demonstration. Watching them do chest compressions on Rescecutation Annie while Tom & Jerry (one of my grandfather’s favorite things to watch) played on a TV in the background sent me right back to that emergency room. I wasn’t at a waterpark with my kids or my husband. I was trapped in that memory, all alone. I rationalize withdrawing from people and events with, “If I don’t stay close to people, it won’t add any more of this grief when they die.”

And that’s weirdly true. I didn’t feel grief for the five loved ones who’ve passed away since. I didn’t go to their funerals, except for one. When my best friend’s mom died, I did manage to go to the funeral. I sat on my bed, dressed and ready to go, repeatedly slapping myself in the face and calling myself a selfish bitch for not wanting the leave the room. That self-harm gave me the motivation to get to the church.

Self-harm is a huge component of my sickness. The night my grandfather died, I broke my big toe kicking a crash cart. Since then, I’ve intentionally and repeatedly scalded myself, pulled out chunks of hair, clawed my face and arms bloody, slapped myself, and bashed my head into the wall hard enough to cause a concussion.

Through all of this, I’ve consistently told myself that I am weak, I am selfish, I’m just being dramatic, I don’t deserve to think I’m actually sick, and most importantly, everyone is tired of me talking about it. I’ve become boring, people hate me, and everyone thinks I should suck it up. So, I’ve gone on, sitting in the shower and reliving a traumatic experience, telling myself I’m being childish because other people have it worse or have had worse things happen to them, locking myself away to slap my own face and call myself a bitch because I can’t get work done or stay on top of the housekeeping or because I lost my temper and yelled at my kids. I tell myself I’m awful and that everyone would be better off without me. Some days, my bright side thought is, “One day, I’ll be dead.”

That shouldn’t be anybody’s glass-half-full scenario.

A few days before the anniversary of my grandfather’s death, my grandmother fell. When I arrived, she was sitting on the floor in the bathroom, more embarrassed than hurt but unable to get up. The ambulance came. She was fine, just bruised and twisted up a little. She didn’t even go to the hospital. I drove home screaming. Just screaming. It didn’t make me feel better but I couldn’t stop. I just drove and screamed, drove and screamed. I pulled into my driveway and stayed in the car, repeating over and over, “It didn’t happen again. It’s not happening again.” But it was happening again. The drive to their house, the time of year, the ambulance, the fall in the bathroom, and suddenly I was back in that hospital room and I couldn’t get myself out.

My husband said that’s not normal. He made me call the doctor. When they asked me why I needed an appointment, I broke down. “There’s something wrong with me mentally and I don’t know how to get help. Help me.” Thankfully, they had an appointment that day. I went home with a prescription for Zoloft and a referral to a therapist. Seeing the therapist made me feel better and worse. I went into the office full of anxiety, sure I was going to be sent away after being scolded for wasting everyone’s time. Because I’m not as bad off as other people, because worse things have happened to other people, because my problem is that I’m lazy and stupid and I just want attention. Obviously, that didn’t happen but I was pretty sure that it should have. She gave me the number for a suicide helpline and all I could think was that I should never tie up their phone with my problems because other people deserved to live more than I ever would.

Through it all, emails have gone unanswered. My work has suffered. The book I wanted to release this month? It’s not even halfway done. I’d planned out a whole schedule for this blog for 2019. I haven’t gotten a quarter of it finished. Every now and then I’ll hit on some kind of “organization system” that seems to work but then it all falls apart because it’s a skyscraper built on a foundation of popsicle sticks. My memory is shot. If you asked me whether an event happened last year or the year before, I couldn’t tell you. I forgot that one of my uncles is dead. Earlier this week, I was shocked to realize that a friend of mine got divorced from her husband. It wasn’t that she hadn’t told me or I didn’t know. I just…forgot. Sometimes, I’m in a daze where I don’t know what’s going on at all. My grandmother mentioned my mom today and I couldn’t remember ever having met her.

Yet on the outside, I can fake being remarkably capable. I’ve been volunteering at local theaters. A friend who sang in the pit with me on a production said, “You were the one I was listening to so I could remember where we were.” I’ve been props master for several shows and pulled off feats of frantic mid-performance hot gluing. I’ve had big roles that required dancing, singing, and memorizing lines. I can pull all of that stuff off. I can stick to a running program (when my foot isn’t broken) and hit my goals. I can hang out with friends and laugh and talk and seem like me. But I stopped being me a long time ago. I have no idea who I am anymore.

I’m probably going to make more posts like these. Long, rambling, poor-me pity-parties that will result in weirdos sending me emails telling me to kill myself or leaving comments here talking about how much they hate that I’m dramatic and attention-seeking. It’s okay. I already think that stuff myself, all the time. And I do way better at it than any random internet person ever could. Because deep down, I know that this is ridiculous. Nobody wants to hear this bullshit. And I do write it in such a melodramatic way. But right now, I have all of this…whatever. I don’t know where to put it, so it’s coming out here.

But I promise it won’t be all my self-focused bullshit, all the time. As I said, I can be pretty good at faking being capable. But this is what’s going on behind the curtain. I just felt like being honest.