Skip to content

Month: October 2015

Growing up in a haunted house

Posted in Uncategorized

Since it’s Halloween, the internet is full of more scary stories than usual. At this time of year, people love to recount their tales of spooky encounters they’ve had, but you rarely hear stories of haunted houses that are positive.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever mentioned it on the blog, but I grew up in a haunted house.

When I was born, my mother and I live with my grandparents. Parts of the house we lived in were rumored to be two hundred years old; once during construction on the oldest room in the house (the dining room, which had been a single room cabin), my great-grandfather found a bottle of whiskey with the date 1773 molded into the glass. other parts of the house had been added on over the years, and for most of those my family owned it.

If I’m remembering correctly, the first generation of my family to live there was my great-great-great-grandmother, one Mrs. Euphemia Putman Pickles, famously arrested (well, famously in my family) for engaging in a “fisticuffs altercation” with a Mrs. Knickerbocker over some allegedly stolen hay. As far as I’m aware, she’s not one of the ghosts in the house. I guess she could be, but no one’s ever found themselves on the wrong end of the spectral punch, so I doubt it.

The house is located two miles outside of the very rural town where I still live. For many years, there was an undertaker here, but not a funeral home (there is one now; the family who used to own it gave out full-sized candy bars on Halloween and commended us for our bravery, as they didn’t get many trick-or-treaters). The nearest hospital is twenty miles away, a nearly insurmountable distance before the advent of cars In the early twentieth century. Our little farming community did see the addition of a small hospital (it is now closed), due to a flux of tourism relating to our many pristine lakes and the fact that we were a stop on the now defunct Chicago, Kalamazoo & Saginaw Railroad. The point of me telling you all this is to help explain that for a very long time, people in this community lived in their homes, died in their homes, and were prepared to go to their final rest in their homes.

One such unfortunate soul was my grandmother’s little brother, Tony. During a typhoid outbreak in the 1940s, he contracted the sickness at seven years old. He died on a cot in front of the window where my grandma now keeps her phone. When he was alive, he used to wake up his parents by running into their room, putting his hands on their bed, and kicking his feet up against the wall. That still happens; small handprints on the bed in the same bedroom push into the mattress, and kicking rattles the wall. Tony has also been seen walking around the house by various family members. I believe I’ve seen him once, though I mistook him for my son (who very much resembles him) until I remembered that my son wasn’t with me.

Another family member who’s been spotted is my great-great-grandfather. He’s been seen standing at the top of the stairs. I remember that every night, reliably, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. It wasn’t the creaking and groaning of an old house (when you live in a very old house, those fade into background noise you barely notice anymore), but the sound of a person coming down at a normal pace with weight on each step, exactly as it sounded whenever anyone came down.

When he died, his casket sat in the bay window in the living room, where the Christmas tree goes now. My great uncle was very young at the time, and was found sitting in the coffin with his grandfather, combing his hair. This is a cherished memory in my family, and spoken of fondly.

I swear we are not the Addams family, though I do wish they were somewhat distant relatives.

Another dearly departed family member who prefers to hang around is my great-great-grandmother, who died in the room that later became my bedroom. She loved children, my mother, especially, as she was a toddler during the years that my great-great-grandmother was bedridden, and would run into her bedroom every morning to greet her. When I was a child, I never had a creepy feeling in that room, though as I got older I became inexplicably freaked out by it.

A few months after my son was born, we stayed the night at my grandparent’s house, in my great-great-grandmother’s room. We put our son in a crib at the end of the bed and, because the room could get cold at night, hung a blanket over the end of the crib in case we needed it for him in the night. Sometime in the night, I woke to find my son lying perfectly centered in the crib, the blanket not only folded over his chest, but under his little arms and tucked into the sides of the mattress. The next morning, I asked my grandparents if they’d tucked him in during the night. My grandmother hadn’t gotten up in the night, and my grandfather said that while he got up to get a snack, he didn’t go near the room for fear of waking the baby. My grandmother’s explanation? “It must have been my grandma. There never was a baby warm enough for that woman.”

And that was the matter of fact attitude with which my entire family approaches the house. We all know it’s haunted, we’ve all seen and experienced things there, and it’s no big deal. Though one of my cousins is terrified of the place, and my aunts agreed that I was nuts for staying there alone when I was a teenager, the house doesn’t bother me. I’ve always liked the way it feels like you’re not alone. Being in a non-haunted house is lonely when no one else is there, but you can be the only living soul in my grandma’s house and still feel like it’s a busy house with lots of people in it.

The most recent person to pass away in the house was my grandfather, several years ago. While I haven’t seen him in the house, I do one day hope to. And I hope the house stays in the family for many more years to come. I’d hate to think of our departed loved ones trapped in some Beetlejuice-style scenario with people who don’t appreciate them.

No, romance novels are not all the same, but thanks for offering your uneducated, unsolicited opinion.

Posted in Uncategorized

 “But a romance novel isn’t exactly ‘ Infinite Jest.’ though some bodice-rippers are dirtier than others, there is a formula — at some point, the wealthy heiress or the lady-in-waiting hooks up with the horse wrangler or the errant knight, and jeans come off or, well, bodices get ripped.”   —Justin Wm. Moyer,  The Washington Post

If you’ve heard the term “bodice-ripper” lately, ten to one it’s because some clueless journalist is writing a story about romance novels. This week, the stories have been about Laura Harner and her plagiarism of Becky McGraw and Opal Carew. The story has gone somewhat viral in the news media, showing up not only at The Washington Post, but at The Guardian, Jezebel, and the Daily Mail. Despite the seriousness of the allegations, commenters on several of the sites appear to agree with Moyer’s blanket assessment of all romance novels.

Detractors come up with the same tired excuses to hate the genre time and again. It’s criticized for being formulaic; in his Washington Post article, Moyer goes on to accuse romance novels of having a “fill in the blanks quality”. This is particularly rich coming from a journalist who largely copied and pasted his entire story from The Guardian.  If Moyer had bothered to contact  McGraw, or any other romance author or reader, before writing his article (as Allison  Flood, author of the Guardian article did), he may have found someone willing to  clear up his misconceptions and help him save face. Of course, that would have required actually communicating with silly people who are clearly below him.

Echoing Moyer’s asinine position, some commenters on the Guardian article felt that Harner’s plagiarism was a  non-issue, since the formulaic qualities of these novels rendered them all exactly alike.

Let’s examine this allegation, shall we? Why don’t we compare The Liar, by Nora Roberts, in which a widow learns that her late husband was a con-man and falls for a small-town contractor, all while raising her three-year-old daughter and living  in the dangerous shadow of her husband’s lies, with Virgin River, by Robyn Carr, in which a widowed nurse moves to a small mountain town, where she rescues an abandoned baby and falls in love with a former Marine. “Wow,” you might be saying. “Those books both have  widows! They both have children! They both have small towns! How can you possibly tell them apart?”

Well, one is a romantic suspense with danger and murder, and the other is a feel-good romance about learning to love again. Sure, they have things in common, but so do many high fantasy books. You can find plenty of superficial similarities between Tolkien’s  Lord of the Rings saga and Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series (an all-powerful dark villain, an ancient horn, shadowy black wraiths), but does that mean they’re the same story? Does it mean either series is less worthy of praise, or that one doesn’t have value? What if we throw fan boy favorite A Song of Ice and Fire, by George R. R. Martin, into the mix? After all, that series also has a chosen one named after a dragon,  so it’s practically indistinguishable from The Wheel of Time,  and therefore not any good.

To say that all romance is the same because they all share genre conventions is like saying all sports are the same because at the end of the game, someone’s going to win. Yes, in a romance novel there will always be  a character who meets another character and falls in love, but that’s hardly a “fill-in the blank” template. One of the characters can be anyone; a reporter. A cowboy. A vampire. The other could easily be a fairy, or a detective, or a billionaire. And the obstacles to true love are not going to be the same for a sheik and a hotelier as they would be for a werewolf and a DEA agent. Setting, too, influences the plot as much as the characters; a Regency heiress simply can’t have the same life experience, motivations, and dreams as a space explorer in the year 2309, unless we’re talking in the extreme abstract.

In the mainstream press, romance novels are a joke. Despite raking in $1.08 billion in 2013, the industry is still derided as worthless. Maybe it’s because 84% of all romance readers are women, and romance writers are mostly women, as well.

No, wait. There is no “maybe”. That’s exactly why.

If misogyny didn’t come into play, why aren’t people like Moyer roundly mocking Nicholas Sparks for his formulaic novels?  If future civilizations unearthed Nicholas Sparks’s catalog, they would likely believe that the entire Earth was made up solely of North Carolina. The same with the frequent New England settings of the novels of Stephen King, who has also written numerous stories in which something spooky happens to a white male writer.

To take a broader look,  how many men have written novels in which unlikely groups of heroes from vastly different personal backgrounds band together to win the day? And what about superheroes? Men and women with various powers and themed outfits, all bearing the burden of a super villain arch nemesis and the dangers of their own hubris. It’s a largely male-dominated genre, defended to the death by a largely male-dominated audience who are just as passionate in pointing out the differences between their favorite heroes as romance readers are in pointing out the abundant variances in their genre. Yet, only the former has reached a place of pop-culture relevance that earns it respect. Even if that respect is given somewhat grudgingly to comics, romance readers and authors can only expect to find derision and snide hostility from people who refuse to read the books, but who are all too willing to offer their uneducated, unsolicited opinions.

All romance novels are not the same. All romance readers are not the same. A quick perusal of the romance category on Amazon could prove that in three clicks. But if detractors educated themselves, how can they make their snide, wholly unfounded remarks? How can they display their superior taste, if they can’t put millions of women down?

If a journalist were writing an article about heart surgery, we would assume that they would consult an actual cardiac surgeon. Simply editorializing on the subject and calling it reporting would never fly. So why do we accept that writers who display open distaste for the romance genre, and who clearly have no working knowledge of it, have the authority to report on it? Unless a journalist is willing to reach out to authors and readers of romance, or at least research the genre before denouncing it entirely, then they — and we — would be better off if they didn’t write about it at all.

State of the Trout: “Some news, mostly reassurance that I’m still working” edition

Posted in Uncategorized

Hey everybody in Trout Nation! I’m finally catching up with all the work I got behind on while I was on vacation. But I’ve still got other work that I’ve got to do in order to get The Baby to you guys on its November 10 release date. So, in the meantime here’s some stuff that’s going on:

There’s a new chapter of The Afflicted. If you haven’t been reading my free New Adult horror serial on Wattpad, Halloween is the perfect time to start. I believe you have to sign up for a Wattpad account to access the content, but it’s worth it because there are some great free books on there. You can read The Afflicted  from the beginning here, or read the latest chapter here.

Writing exercise while I was bored led to The Boss from Neil’s POV. Every once in a while on Tumblr, I’ll get  an anonymous message asking me if I’d ever consider writing The Boss from Neil’s POV. Now, I’m not going to pretend that I’m getting hundreds of messages here. It’s probably the same anon over and over and over again. But the other day I was really bored and kind of in a funk and I couldn’t concentrate on anything, so I decided I would write the beginning of the first chapter of The Boss from Neil’s point of view (you can read it here). The response I got — from anonymous people and not-so-anonymous people — was that they would like to see more in Neil’s point of view. So that’s something I started working on, and hope to release within the next year.

A long time ago, I said that I couldn’t understand why authors would write a book, then rewrite the book from another character’s POV. Then, I took a different stance where I was like “okay I can see why you would want to do that, but isn’t it really hard? I could never do that!” Which is why wrote first time the way I did. Two different POV’s, written at the same time, so I didn’t have to remember all the little details. Now I’m doing the exact thing I thought was going to be so dreadfully hard. So we’ll see how this goes.

Let’s talk about the next Buffy recap is going to work. Because  season two ends with a two-part episode (that’s pretty fast paced), I don’t necessarily want to leave a break of a full month between the recaps, which is what has sort of been happening. I also don’t want to do it all in one giant recap, because I’ll be a lot to read in one sitting. So I’m going to release two recaps closer together, maybe separated by a couple of days. Some of you were asking about how that would work, so that’s what I’ve come up with.

That’s pretty much all I’ve got from the news desk, at least until The Baby releases. Expect some promo posts  and hopefully the recaps before then.

Diets, language, and co-opting each other’s experiences of fatness

Posted in Uncategorized

I’m trying to lose weight.

I know, I know. I ate fifty chicken nuggets this weekend. The messed up part of that is that it didn’t put me over my Weight Watcher’s points for the week.

As a person who’s looked to for fat positive viewpoints, I feel like a bit of a traitor. At the very least I feel like a hypocrite. Once you come out and you say “I’m here and I’m fat and I like myself,” you take on the mantle of representing body positivity 24/7, whether you want to or not. If you’ve just begun your journey, or you’re comfortable with yourself and your fatness, or if you struggle with your self-esteem as it relates to weight, it doesn’t matter. The moment you step into a place of visibility, people feel your fatness no longer belongs to you. It’s owned by others, and they’re going to use it to represent their social viewpoint.

I recently saw a post on Tumblr where there was a quote from Rebel Wilson, saying that she had been “good” on her diet. “Good” meaning that she was sticking to her diet and losing or maintaining her weight, as opposed to not dieting and not exercising, which would be “bad”. There’s no denying that classifying behaviors associated with weight gain as “bad” while granting the behaviors we associate with weight loss or fitness, “good” in a moral sense is harmful and unproductive to people’s self-esteem. One commenter was absolutely outraged to see that Wilson had used “good” in this context. Others deemed Wilson problematic on this issue and lamented that there would never be a celebrity who is comfortable in their own fat skin.

In other words, Wilson dared to not be the perfect fatty, and in doing so was letting down people to whom she had absolutely no responsibility. Now, if her comment bothers you to the point that you didn’t want to buy clothes from her new plus size line…well that’s an understandable reaction. No one has to buy Wilson’s clothes, but why should she be vehemently criticized for using what is common, if harmful, language that’s impressed upon women in Western cultures from the moment we gain a single unwanted pound? Fatphobic language subtly brainwashes us. It’s not a conscious choice to use these words and phrases. For many people it’s an automatic response, even if we’re aware of why our words are harmful (More than once I’ve caught myself saying that I was “really good today” about my eating habits). So why is it unforgivable? Why is the response to these instances hostility instead of sadness?

Rebel Wilson works in industry where her entire livelihood depends on her appearance. if Wilson did not rock the stereotypical feminine look, if she didn’t have long hair or cute bangs or false eyelashes, if there wasn’t some indication that she’s striving to glam up, she would have no job. Further, and directly related to her “good” diet comment, fat actresses are required to talk about how much they exercise, how much they eat, how “good” they’re being. They, like all fat people, must justify their fatness to strangers, just as thin celebrities have to claim to eat McDonald’s or pizza for every meal. This is no different than what any woman in any field faces; you’re more “professional” if you wear makeup and a traditionally feminine look. If you don’t adhere to these conventions, you might not have a job. Is it really reasonable to demand that Rebel Wilson risk her job, her livelihood, to combat an unfair system that’s actively oppressing her and forcing her to conform in order to succeed in the first place?

None of those things apply to my weight loss motivation (of which I remain uncertain). I fear that my desire to lose weight will be interpreted as a betrayal of fat people, as a betrayal of body positivity. I’m not dieting and exercising to stay healthy; I’m already pretty healthy, with regards to heath issues traditionally (if incorrectly) associated with obesity. I’m not losing weight because I think I’ll gain some career advantage; nobody sees me doing my job, anyway, and writing about my fatness has been a huge part of my career. I’m losing weight to change my body, but I don’t hate myself, and I’m not doing it out of some newfound feeling of “truly” loving myself enough to diet. I’m viewing this attempt at weight loss as a matter of appearance alone, no different than getting a new tattoo. Maybe i’m buying into antifeminist standards of beauty. Maybe I’m bowing to peer pressure. All I know is, this time, deciding to lose weight feels different. I’ve dieted out of despair before. I’ve dieted out of self-hatred. I know what those feel like, and they don’t feel the way I feel now. I’m comfortable with my body, I’ll be comfortable if I don’t lose weight and I’ll be comfortable if I do lose weight.

At the same time, I’m not sure I’ll handle any potential backlash with grace. Despite how open I am about fat oppression and how vocally I oppose fat hate, my weight can sometimes be a sensitive subject–not because I hate myself, but because I hate it when people disrespect me because of my weight or presume to know how I feel about it. And that goes for both fat haters and fat people who view every fat body as a platform for their own body politics.

I would ultimately love to live in a society where appearance wasn’t commented on. A place where we’re not judged by how we look. But we don’t live in that society. It’s great that there are people out there who are able to remove those harmful influences from their lives. It’s maddening that if you’re not striving for thinness or hyper femininity, if you’re not worshipping in the cult of the bikini bridge and the thigh gap, you’re automatically labelled as self-hating. I love it when women realize that it’s not a sin to love yourself as you are, or that it’s not unhealthy to have any good feelings about yourself. But not everybody can feel that way, and that’s because of those societal pressures from which none of us are spared. We can ask them to listen intently and watch their own words, and we can scorn people who refuse time and again to do either of these things. But we’re exerting a new kind of pressure on women, to force their experience of fatness into a mold, and to stifle their emotional honesty in favor of willing the problem to fix itself.

Fat hate does not exist because women are being fat incorrectly. Fat hate does not exist because a Hollywood actress (or underrated blogging genius) does or says something that contradicts a certain ideology. Rebel Wilson’s comment wasn’t a judgement against you, just like my weight loss is not my judgement against fat women. I sincerely hope everyone can respect that, just like I’ll continue to respect women of all body types equally, despite any changes I might make to my own.

Jenny Reads 50 Shades of Midnight Sun: Grey, Saturday, May 21, 2011 or “THE BIGGEST CHAPTER EVER: PART TWO”

Posted in Uncategorized

Well, here’s something shitty that happened. Twilight fans were waiting with rapt anticipation at the prospect that Stephenie Meyer might release Midnight Sun, the rewritten version of Twilight from Edward’s perspective, on the tenth anniversary of the original book’s publication. Instead, they got a rewritten Twilight with gender-swapped characters that they never asked for. Fans were heartbroken. Why did Meyer do this?

Well, because of E.L. James. At New York City Comic Con, Meyer told an audience of fans that she feels Midnight Sun is cursed. She’d actually started writing it again:

“What do you think was the top story on Yahoo the next morning?” she asked the crowd. “Grey.”

In other words, E.L. James stole from Meyer again. James also stole from the Twilight fans she exploited to barge her way to the top, then disparaged and distanced herself from when she got tired of their support.

“It was a literal flip the table moment for me,” Meyer reportedly said.

She deserves to flip that table. She was blatantly ripped-off by a woman whose monetary success threatens to surpass her own. E.L. James may very well make more money off Meyer’s creation than Meyer did. Meanwhile, Meyer’s fans are angry with her because she can’t commit to finishing something that very obviously causes bad feelings for her due to the situation E.L. James has caused. In 2013, Meyer said that Twilight was no longer a “happy place” for her. I wonder why?

This is bullshit. No matter what you think of Twilight, Stephenie Meyer has been repeatedly victimized by E.L. James, who’s going to smile her shitty little smile all the way to the bank. E.L. James knows what she did, but at this point she’s so successful, there’s nothing to be done. And Meyer can’t really speak out too forcefully about it because as a big name author, she has to Be Nice. I can’t even begin to imagine how it must feel to have something you care about stolen from you by someone who will never face a single consequence for it.

On that infuriating note, onto the recap.

Another book plagiarized by Laura Harner

Posted in Uncategorized

Last night, I posted a story about Laura Harner, one of those rare authors capable of producing a high-volume of words in a short amount of time. Of course in Harner’s case, it’s not a matter of simply being prolific. Author Becky McGraw caught Harner in the act when word-for-word sections of her novel, My Kind of Trouble, appeared in Harner’s Coming Home Texas. It appears that Harner lifted McGraw’s entire novel, changing character and setting names, pronouns, and occasional phrases to disguise McGraw’s book, a M/F romance, into a M/M romance.

A commenter on my original post about Harner recognized Opal Carew’s Riding Steele in Harner’s Deuce Coop serial. Though the Deuce Coop series was pulled from most major retailers, as of this morning it was still available on All Romance eBooks. EDIT: Since posting, Harner has also removed the books from All Romance eBooks. Let’s do the “compare screenshots” game. For those who aren’t able to view images, don’t worry; I’ll excerpt the appropriate text for you. I’ve got your back.

Don’t Do This Ever (an advice column for writers): Plagiarism Warning edition

Posted in Uncategorized

If you’re an author of paranormal, cowboy, SEAL, firefighter, highlander or motorcycle club romances, I urge you strongly to look through the extensive backlist of one Laura Harner, an unusually prolific author of M/M (male/male) romance. So prolific, in fact, that her GoodReads author page lists seventy-five releases since 2010.

If you’re not quick with math, that averages out to 15 novels a year. Some authors do put up those numbers, but their output is considered exceptional. Harner’s output is exceptional for a wholly different reason.

Two days ago, author Becky McGraw accused Harner of plagiarism in a Facebook post:

HOLY CRAP — do people have no morals about STEALING these days? I was just notified by a reader that she started reading M/M romance recently and read a book by another author that is almost VERBATIM my book My Kind of Trouble with the exception it’s a m/m book!! I need a recommendation for a good literary attorney fast!!

Lowlights From The Happiest Place On Earth

Posted in Uncategorized

Yesterday, I shared with you a few fun stories about my vacation to Disney World. But with the good comes the bad.  Now, there isn’t much that’s bad about a visit to Disney World, but the bad things? Are infuriating. Let’s review a couple:

Double, side-by-side strollers. I don’t know who invented these, but I hope they realize that they’re monsters. I don’t know whose idea it was to make these a real, rentable thing in the parks, but I hope they realize that they’re an even worse monster.

Let me just speak to the inconsiderate double-wide stroller parent directly for a minute. Look, I get it. You have many children. And it’s difficult for the little ones to walk (and the not-so-little ones–we’ll get to that later) or for you to keep track of them all. And there’s nothing wrong with double strollers, in theory. It’s just the way you drive them.

For example, when my family was waiting to watch the Boo To You parade, and you forced your double, side-by-side stroller through a walkway too jammed with spectators that even a very thin person or a small child couldn’t make their way through. The off-duty cast member I’d been chatting with about the Headless Horseman suggested an alternate route that would be less congested; you agreed that way would probably be easier, but you still rammed your stroller into my husband and rolled it over the top of the cast member’s camera bag. Why would you do that?

It was because you were using that stroller. It robbed you of your sense, humanity, and spacial reasoning. You weren’t a pedestrian anymore, you were an Army Ranger at the wheel of an armored vehicle, mowing down sand dunes like they were cul-de-sac speed bumps. You were drunk on the power that double-wide stroller gave you. May god have mercy on your soul.

Jeffrey, you’re eleven years old. Speaking of strollers, let’s talk about children in strollers who are too old for strollers. Jeffrey was one of them.

As I stood under an awning, slathering sunscreen on my vulnerable Michigan skin, a woman pushed her rented stroller up to a bench near us. Her son was grumbling about something, and they were having a tense, under-their-breath exchange as the kid unbuckled himself and climbed out. As he sullenly took a seat on the bench, the woman snapped, “Jeffrey, you’re eleven years old! Act like it!”

Before anyone jumps in to say, “You don’t know if that kid is neurotypical! You don’t know that he wasn’t disabled!” well, you’re right. I have no way of knowing which of the hundreds of children over the age of twenty-five who were riding in rented strollers sized for toddlers were disabled or neurodivergent. But I do know that it’s highly unlikely that all of them were. While I don’t know Jeffrey’s story, I’m using him as an example of the overall attitude of the parents, regardless of his personal circumstances. Everywhere we looked, children who were well past the age where a stroller should be an option were lounging in them, or walking their feet on the ground to pull themselves along in them.

Look, I get it. At the end of the day, is it any skin off my nose that Jeffrey will still be using rented strollers in theme parks when he’s twenty-six? Not really, I guess. But the number of strollers that were in the park was absurd. They hindered you literally everywhere you went. And to see a kid who’ll be old enough to drive a car in five years sitting in one, having a preteen verbal spat with his mother, only made that problem more infuriating. One less stroller in the crowd would have meant one less stroller cutting through my path without so much as an excuse me, one less stroller halting suddenly in front of me without warning, one less stroller blocking a path or a bench. So it’s hard not to begrudge seventh graders lounging around in a stroller, sassing their parents when they could be walking like the rest of us.

Speaking of kids whose names are now burned into my brain… If you’ve ever been to Disney World, you’ve probably seen the ridiculously long line for the Seven Dwarves’ Mine Train. It’s like an hour, forty-five minutes wait at best. Except during extra magic hours, when there are fewer people in the park and the line moves along faster. Because this line is absolutely torturous, near the end there are some fun activities for bored kids who are waiting. One is a casual gaming experience like you could get on your phone, where you sort gems on a huge touch screen. Another is a fountain that releases water lit in various colors when you put your hand under the sensor. The last are some really neat, spinning barrels that project an animated image on the ceiling of the mine portion of the waiting area.

These are all terrible if there’s barely any line. And the reason they are terrible are Gretchen and Baylor.

These kids appeared to be siblings in a group of cousins led by two sisters who were their moms. I gleaned most of this dynamic from their loud conversations about stuff going on “back home,” conversations that were happening while they remained oblivious to the fact that while most of their party had moved up in the line, easily by fifteen feet, two of the kids were still standing at whichever of these activities they’d been captivated by. These kids were probably about thirteen and ten, respectively, and their names were Gretchen and Baylor (guess where one or both of his parents went to college). I know their names, because inevitably, as all of us behind this part stood gnashing our teeth and waiting for the kids to just move the fuck up already, their mother would notice them lagging behind and yell, “Gretchen! Baylor! Don’t make me have to tell you again.” And of course, she would have to tell them again, because she wouldn’t watch them for longer than it took to issue that weak parental non-threat.

For added fun, imagine these names being pronounced with some kind of southern U.S. accent that made them sound like “Gritch-in” and “BAYlooore.” I swear their mothers must have been former Texas pageant queens. And they weren’t the only inattentive parents we encountered. They were everywhere, staring at their phones and ignoring their bored children in long, hot lines. On the bus one night, a kid of about ten was using the straps meant for standing passengers to swing back and forth, nearly kicking another passenger until the bus driver intervened. Only then did his father look up from his phone and mutter, “Yeah, buddy, you can’t do that.”

A fool and his money are soon using the Disney dining plan. Disney World has a reputation for being extremely expensive. Because Disney World is extremely expensive. People have to save up for a long time to be able to afford the resort and the travel costs, and once you get there, you can plan on dropping around fifty bucks per meal, even at the most  modest dining locations. Luckily, Disney provides you with a dining plan option. There are various levels of this plan, but the one I think most people go with, out of a fear of starving to death, offers two “quick service” meals, one “table service” meal, and two snacks, per person, per day. If we had chosen this option as part of our vacation package, it would have cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $1400.00.

All told, between souvenirs for all four of us (including an outrageous amount spent on a Princess Tiana costume with all the trimmings at Castle Couture), the occasional purchase of over the counter medication or bandaids, and meals, we spent considerably less than that. As in, hundreds of dollars less.

So, if the plan is designed to save families money and make things more convenient for them, why does it seem to be more expensive? Snacks. Every time we stopped for ice cream or a bottled water, someone would be in line near us muttering about how to spend their snacks. They just weren’t using them that often, and were left with tons of these left over opportunities for ice cream or popcorn that they just didn’t want but had already paid for. Or, parents would be standing outside of a “quick serve” restaurant, lamenting the fact that they’d split meals between their two toddlers, leaving them with eight superfluous meals they’d paid for, but simply wouldn’t be able to use up.

I’m sure the dining plan is awesome for some people. I vaguely remember it being awesome when we used it in 2007. But this time, I actually felt relieved that I didn’t have to figure out how to spend money I’d already spent.

Fastpass? More like…slow…pass. Okay, that wasn’t my best work. But I stand by this: Fastpass is ridiculous.  Fastpass is a system wherein you sign up for certain times to ride popular attractions (sometimes you get a Fastpass for priority seating at the fireworks or other shows), then you show up during those times and go to the front of the line.

I won’t go into all the ways various changes to the system have made Fastpass go from an interesting concept to a total frustration, but I will say this: it’s stupid to tell a large group of people to return to one specific spot during a specific time frame in an effort to make things go faster. It just doesn’t make sense. In the mornings, before the first Fastpass windows began, lines for some things could be long, but they moved at a steady pace. Then suddenly, Fastpass people would show up. They’d be put into their own line, which would feed into the main line further ahead, allowing them to skip over huge chunks of the waiting crowd. And since they could only show up during a specific window of time, that Fastpass hour would double the standby line.

There were times that the Fastpass line had a wait time that rivaled the standby line. So what was the point? Instead of standing in a line for twenty-five minutes, you stood in this other line for twenty minutes?

I’m not a crowd control engineer. Maybe Fastpass is a way to keep people from getting in line until they feel they have the incentive to, thus thinning the crowd in the standby line during non-Fastpass hours? But that would really only work if you rode just one time (my son rode Splash Mountain four times on our last day alone). Maybe it really does work great and it’s not observable to the naked eye? But for the average person waiting in either line, it seems like a big old mess.

If you ever win the lottery, though, and you want a true Fastpass? You can hire an official Disney “guide” for between $400 and $600 bucks per hour to let you skip the lines.

So, those are some of my Disney complaints. Overall, the vacation was amazing, but you know me. I love to have something to bitch about. Now I’m going to try to resume normal operations and pretend my neck isn’t crispy from forgetting to put sunscreen on it.