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Month: March 2019

The mystery and enchantment of the title sequence from Perfect Strangers

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“I watched the intro without sound and from it guessed that the show is about a time traveler from the 1800s who is befriended by a guy who left home for college at age forty seven.” –Charlotte Stein

Thirty-three years (and two days) ago, Perfect Strangers premiered on ABC. The long-running sitcom was instrumental in the development of the channel’s iconic “TGIF” (“Thank Goodness It’s Funny”) juggernaut that dominated television comedy in the late ’80s through the 1990s. The description Stein gave me via Twitter is about as accurate as one can get based on the information presented by the opening title sequence, with or without sound.

But if you dig deeper, there’s even more to discuss:


The season one intro begins with stars Bronson Pinchot and Mark Linn-Baker standing in front of the least popular background choice at the Sears Portrait Studio:

Bronson Pinchot (in the most '80s windbreaker ever crafted) and Mark Linn-Baker (in a sweater over a button down that honestly wouldn't look weird if you wore it tomorrow) standing in front of a background that is basically the same color as when I vomited after eating too much chocolate at Easter one year. The show's title is emblazoned across them in a hideous, yellow font.

The theme music doesn’t waste any time letting you know that you’re about to have a good time. No, a great time. No, a life-changing experience that can only be expressed through the driving beat of a Casio keyboard and a good old fashioned harmonica solo. Our leads get a Brady Bunch introduction, complete with the same shade of blue!

Bronson Pinchot, still in that '80s windbreaker, on a vertically split screen with his name in that same hideous yellow font but on a field of intense blue that clashes with every other color on screen.

Mark Linn-Baker in the same type of set up, but instead of his original sweater, he's in a way more '80s one with diagonal, intersecting slashes of green and gray.

Note Linn-Baker’s costume change here. In the opening shot, his outfit is something you could put on today and wear around town and nobody would bat an eye. Within seconds, that all changes. “Maybe the things I remember about fashion in the 1980s are too broad and extreme,” one thinks when gazing upon Linn-Baker’s solid teal sweater. “Maybe the proliferation of pop culture images featuring dated trends has altered my perception and memory of what people actually wore during that decade.”

And then you see the second sweater and you’re like, “Did someone knit the logo from a medical billing company’s corporate letterhead? You really can get inspiration from anywhere!”

Next, we swoop in on a default Midwestern neighborhood. “Sometimes the world looks perfect,” the theme song’s lyrics explain. “Nothing to rearrange.” And indeed, the scene set before us does appear to be idyllic:

A gray house at the end of a row of houses, all two-story with small front lawns and white picket fences. The gray house has what appears to be a full living room set on the damn lawn.

But right away, I’ve got a few concerns. First, why are two neighbors both dressed in long-sleeved red shirts? What’s going on with that family next door? Do they wear a uniform? Also, is that a full living room set complete with coffee and end tables just sitting on the front lawn?

Though the lyrics tell us that sometimes, the world looks perfect and no change is needed, they tack on a pretty big “however”. “Sometimes you just get a feeling like you need some kind of change.” What’s this change? Well, it looks as though this family’s adult son is finally moving out.

A slightly motion-blurred shot of Linn-Baker's character, Larry, heading down the porch steps of the gray hous. He's got a camera bag over his shoulder and is followed by a woman who is clearly meant to be his mother, as she carries a sack lunch. Another adult man, this one in a sweater vest and button down like he's wandered in from a movie about young Wall Street hustlers hands Larry a garment bag.

Well, at least one of them. Eagle-eyed viewers will note that the other guy is first seen in the aerial shot of the house, sitting on the arm of the law couch in his junior associate sweater vest and tie. Exactly how you dress to just chill on your front-yard sofa.

On the short walk to his car, Linn-Baker (heretofore referred to as “Larry,” his role on the show) collects a cast of interesting characters. For example:

Larry crosses in front of a teen girl in a ponytail and sweatband, wearing a baseball uniform, red Chuck Taylors, and a red baseball cap tucked in her waistband. Larry shakes hands enthusiastically with an old Asian man in a brown cardigan.

Baseball Girl and Extremely Russian Mr. Rogers, that latter of which could easily blend into my family photos. They’re both contributing to the creepy proliferation of the color red. Check out Mr. Rogers’s shirt and Baseball Girl’s uniform, right down to the shoes. What is going on in this neighborhood? Does Baseball Girl’s team have a game today? And everyone in the neighborhood is wearing red to show their support?

But let’s not overlook how prepared Baseball Girl is for any situation. Sweatband, ponytail, and easily accessible cap? There will be no sun in her eyes today.

Larry's mom, I guess, hands him a sack lunch.

Whoops! Don’t forget your sack lunch, Larry.

Please note the (red) car behind him. There are honest-to-god steamer trunks lashed to the luggage rack. I’m going to do the legwork right now and connect these to later events in the title sequence.

As Larry continues on his journey to the car, he encounters a little girl in a red shirt, a basketball playing boy in a red shirt, and—

Larry's family stands beside the car waving him off. There's a boy in a red shirt and track pants, a little girl in a jumper and red shirt, the other characters already mentioned, and a dude with kind of a shaggy mullet-type hairdo and a red plaid shirt. He's wearing sunglasses and leaning back on the fence, as opposed to standing behind it with the rest of the family.

Who is that guy? He stands out from the crowd. He’s not behind the fence. He can’t be caged. Look at that near-mullet thing happening because he can’t figure out what to do with his hair so the cut is kind of growing out. The casual posture. The steely dominance he exerts over his emotions. Those shades.

Is Larry fleeing from a different sitcom that none of us know about?

On the other hand, the lyrics are a little sinister. “No matter what the odds are this time/nothing’s gonna stand in my way/This flame in my heart like a long lost friend/gives every dark street a light at the end.” It sounds like Larry has attempted to escape before. Escape in his red car. From the red neighborhood.

Larry's red Ford Mustang leaves the driveway. In the background, the out-of-focus figure of a woman in a red shirt stands beside a man. Another person in a red shirt is visible on a second-story balcony.

Somewhere else in the time vortex, we find Balki, a simple shepherd. His family is also seeing him off on a grand adventure:

Balki is hugged by a woman in a kerchief, red shawl, and floral print skirt. A girl in a peasant blouse stands to the left of the shot, with another woman. A young man in a turtle-neck sweater and jaunty cap are behind them. An old man with glasses, a newsboy cap, and a scarf stands to the right

This is what I find fascinating. Compare the zany cast of characters Larry is leaving behind in his desperate flight from The Red Land. Now, check out these people. It’s all extras from a community theater production of Fiddler On The Roof. Sure, the dude in the back with the sweater on got here direct from an Irish Spring commercial they were filming on the other side of the same park, but all these other people are vaguely Old World peasants. I honestly expected Extremely Russian Mr. Rogers to pop up again in this scene. I mean, not to give away any spoilers, but it’s possible; Balki and Larry are cousins. At least one of Larry’s parents have to be from Balki’s home country of Mypos. And that is where they got those steamer trunks! I told you I’d connect it!

On the other hand, maybe I’m showing my ignorance of Eastern European sitcoms. Maybe someone in Belarus would look at this and go, “Whoa, they could be extras on Vladislav! or something!”

I imagine that Vladislav! is the Russian-language equivalent of John Mulaney’s short-lived Mulaney, but like, way more popular and successful. It would be on its eighth season if it existed.

My rampant xenophobia aside, I can see why my friend Charlotte Stein described this sequence the way she did. The only indication that Balki is departing for America in the 20th century is the sign on his horse-drawn taxi:

Balki is riding on the back of a horse-drawn cart. The cart is filled with straw, a caged chicken, and an "America or Burst" sign.

And it weirdly doesn’t get clearer from the b-roll shot of the…gas carrier that Balki rides to America?

A shot of a gas carrier ship at sea

Imagine you’re working for PG&E, just cruising along on the open sea, and this Fivel Goes West motherfucker is just blundering around the decks, getting the full tramp-steamer experience:

Balki, dressed in clothes that he probably inherited from my immigrant great-grandparents, standing at a ship railing, nothing but blue sky behind him.

We are one helpful pigeon away from a Linda Ronstadt/Peabo Bryson duet.

Another stock shot of the Statue of Liberty lets us know that Balki’s long journey has come to an end.

Or has it?

A shot of the Lake Michigan shoreline and Chicago skyline with more credits across it.

“Aha!” you’re thinking. “Not only are the credits over, as indicated by the fading theme song, but the show takes place in Chicago.”

You’re half-right. Because even though the music seems to be ending with a wistful harmonica solo, we’re following a Greyhound bus down a three-lane highway. It’s kind of like that episode of Rick and Morty where they see the commercial that follows the spokesperson back to his house and films him making a sandwich. It feels like they forgot to end title sequence where it was meant to end. We’re just voyeurs now.

Who’s on the bus?

Balki on a bus that still had windows you could open because the 1980s were like that.

Of course, it’s Balki! Don’t be ridiculous. We already know that Larry has a sweet-ass Mustang. So, where’s he at in his journey?

Larry is driving and looking incredibly tense. Like, to the point that I'm working if they actually made him drive on the Chicago expressway while someone filmed him from the passenger seat.

Look at the terror on that man’s face. Usually, driving scenes are filmed with the actor in the car on the back of a flatbed truck or something, but this dude appears genuinely terrified. Did they make him actually drive on the Dan Ryan while some PA filmed him from the passenger seat? Or worse, did they make him take the local, all-exits route? That’s fucking Thunderdome, man.

Or maybe this is just more of Mark Linn-Baker’s superb acting (no, seriously, watch My Favorite Year or listen to A Year With Frog and Toad, the dude is gifted as fuck) and he’s portraying Larry’s anxiety at nearing freedom from the Red Village at last. He’s so close to the finish line, closer than he’s ever gotten before. But what’s that in the rearview mirror? Oh, it’s only a rust-colored Dodge Dart. His fear is at a fever pitch now, but if they haven’t followed him this far, they probably aren’t following him.

A shot of the highway with a "Welcome to Chicago" sign over it.

Safe at last.

The credits finally close out with a bookend of the opening shot, clocking in at a whopping one minute and twenty-nine seconds. They don’t make ’em like that anymore. And maybe that’s because of the sheer amount of creative energy that had to go into making them. There is a backstory here. And if there isn’t a backstory here and I’ve read way too much into it due to all this marijuana, the fact remains that there were enough side characters to spark even the possibility of those storylines in my head. In fact, there are more side characters in the season one opening than there are regular side characters in all of season one combined.

So, there you have it. I bet you’re feeling particularly foolish for having read this far, but trust me: you can’t possibly feel as foolish as I do for writing it.

#GetSilent: The Anatomy of an Ignored Issue; Part One: “MAGA Martha”

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If you missed the prologue to this story, you need to read it before delving into this part; there’s simply too much to sum up to get us to this next point. All of the information in this post has come from people involved, either directly or peripherally. If they’ve asked me to obscure their identities, I have.

Also, please note: the information here is presented without screenshots. The reason for this is that there are so many, the posts will become too image heavy and frankly, difficult to read. These screenshots can be produced at a moment’s notice via email or social media if any of the “Sassies” or their supporters feel they are being slandered and need to take any of the legal action they’ve baselessly threatened others with.

In January of 2019, a reader known as Nikki was temporarily suspended from Twitter as a result of an argument with some of the “Sassies” (now consisting of M.R. Rutter, Paula M. Hunter, Gloria Geiger, and K.N. Blackburn). Nikki, it should be noted, was an early critic of Santino Hassel. As a result, she had changed her Twitter display name to “Nikki C. Fisher,” a play on “catfisher,” the popular term for someone who lies about their identity for personal gain on the internet. When Lissa Gromley blogged about her experience with the Sassies, she handed over three-thousand pages of the Sassies’ private chat to Fisher, who posted details about the Sassies’ treatment of Gromley on Twitter. As support for Gromley grew among the readers and bloggers associated with Fisher (and as another, unrelated author scandal unfolded), the Sassies employed a tactic they had congratulated themselves about in their private chat: they “discovered” information about Fisher and exposed her true identity: author Nikki Fisher.

Blackburn attacked Fisher, accusing her of “lying, and looking for notoriety.” Fisher denied lying about anyone; she’d recently unfollowed a large number of people due to their association with another author and tweeted about it, but she genuinely had no idea about Gromley or the Sassies. Still, they piled on, with Geiger boasting:

“One should use their names investigative skills when going after someone especially for they claim to be a writer. As we do investigate and research EVERYTHING! The targeting was not only inappropriate it was truly immature and deserving of the loss that followed. Meg we got you!”

Fisher responded:

“What targeting? Everyone is talking about it but no one wants to tell me where this targeting is?”

Geiger insisted that Fisher had deleted a tweet slandering Rutter, demanded an apology, and warned that her actions would harm her career. Blackburn also alleged that Fisher had deleted a tweet and also demanded an apology, going so far as to say that the people who unfollowed Fisher did so because they knew she was spreading misinformation. Yet, Fisher still insisted she had no idea what was going on.

Because she didn’t. Because Nikki Fisher, author, and Nikki C. Fisher, blogger, weren’t the same people, despite Geiger’s crowing about their extensive research. Their shoddy detective work had caused an innocent author to lose followers and readers, and they refused to back down, fully convinced that Nikki C. Fisher and Nikki Fisher were the same person.

Later that month, Gromley wrote her blog post about her experiences with the Sassies, and conflict ensued between (the real) Nikki C. Fisher and the group. Blackburn referenced her alleged career success and swollen bank account several times to imply that the “trolls” were jealous (a quick check of her Amazon profile on March 18, 2019, showed her as being the author of one book, currently ranked lower than #25,000 in each of its categories and #996,984 overall) and threatened that Gromley would be served with a lawsuit the next week (she was not, and has not been, to date). As the Twitter spat went on, a suspicious account popped up in defense of Blackburn.

Reader Angela says:

“One morning Nikki told us in a chat that she was in twitter jail for something involving all those authors. I don’t remember what tweet was reported though. So we starting being funny on twitter and doing this #FreeNikki stuff. I decided to check the mentions of the people involved and saw some random person tweeted KN and said she was looking for a series to read and found her on twitter and sorry she has all these trolls. I clicked on her and it’s just all maga. She supports the maga hat kids and said the elder was guilty of “stolen valor” and just all the crap maga people say. There’s no way this person is a romance reader in my mind. There’s also no damn way you could use any general search terms on amazon and have KN’s book show up. So I know this is all set up. So you can see what happened after that.”

“MAGA Martha” had created her account in January of 2019, very close to the time that Nikki Fisher, author, had been incorrectly doxed. Her bio claimed that she’d been locked out of her past account and that was why her current account was so new. Martha rushed to Blackburn’s defense, stating that she should block trolls and that Martha, a new account who’d only ever tweeted vitriolic conservative talking points before and nothing at all about books, was excited to buy Blackburn’s novel. When blogger Darien Moya saw Martha’s “stolen valor” remarks about Nathan Phillips, she tweeted her objections; Martha fired back, accusing Moya, a black woman, of racism against white people (though at one point, Martha, whose user pic was of a white woman with blonde hair, accuses Moya of incorrectly assuming that Martha was white).

Meanwhile, Blackburn received a one-star review on her book, a review which she blamed on the blogger Fisher, calling it fake and telling another Twitter user that she had contacted Amazon to take it down. They did not take it down, likely because the review was highly detailed, including plot points that one couldn’t know without at least skimming the book. Blackburn bragged on Twitter that she had only positive reviews and therefore this one must have been fake. One of those reviews came from “Phil.” Shortly after Gromley’s break with the Sassies, Phil posted five reviews on the same day: two five-stars for Geiger, one apiece for Hunter and Blackburn, and a one-star for Gromley that read only “badly researched. DNF.” Before that, the Phil account was occasionally reviewing the odd electronic item or books about horticulture. Phil’s passion for indie romance appeared to spring up just in time to one-star bomb Gromley and praise the other Sassies.

Except for Rutter. Because according to Gromley and others, Phil is her husband. Rutter allegedly used her husband’s account to five star her friends’ books and one-star Gromley. These actions are consistent with the Sassies’ policy of “when we do it, it’s okay.” Though they screamed down a valid, if critical, review as fake, they’re fine with fake reviews tilted in their favor.

Blackburn also accused Angela and Moya of “going after” MAGA Martha simply because Martha had stated she would buy Blackburn’s book. In Blackburn’s world, it was inconceivable that someone would be more concerned with white supremacy than with Blackburn’s books and career. She continued to insist that a personal vendetta was the only reason anyone cared about the contents of MAGA Martha’s racist tweets. Blackburn piled on Moya, mocking her for using African-American Vernacular English and demanding that Moya “use proper English” when speaking to her. When several people pointed out the racism in her tweet, Blackburn doubled down:

“Asking someone to speak proper English isn’t bigoted. If I went to Spain, I would speak Spanish. If I was speaking to a Frenchman, I would speak French. I speak proper English. I would like the same courtesy, please. 🙂 “

She goes on to taunt Moya by asking if Moya dropped out of high school and advising her to get a GED. As her racist insults escalated, Blackburn accused Moya of hiding her identity to “[…]smear others without fallout[…].”

Again, this group of authors privately bragged about bringing their sockpuppet accounts into Twitter arguments to fight on their side. When they do it, it’s “sassy.” When others tweet from their actual accounts, they’re dishonest and probably tweeting under an assumed identity.

Despite MAGA Martha’s continued abuse of Moya, Blackburn didn’t step in to shut it down, even when other readers appealed to her to do so. Nor did Geiger, who stepped in to defend MAGA Martha in a series of Tweets from her author account:

“As an author I DO NOT control the views, be it political, religious, or otherwise of my followers or readers. And I do not care it’s their right to those things. If they want to read my books then good I’m glad. But if someone else has a problem with these things, too damn bad!

“I will not follow the hypocrites and be rude or nasty to someone just because they like a politician who everyone else despises. Or because their religion is one where they worship in Mosk or are Wiccan. I will not put MY own personal views on anyone who wants to read my work

“And neither should anyone else. I watched as 2 people trashed an author and a new reader because the reader supports a politician that is EXTREMELY unpopular. Neither deserved the attack at all. And furthermore this reader is actually a very nice per who, after reading my

“Friends book posted it to HER Facebook page and told all her friends, also book readers, to get my friends books. As authors we do not want to put our feelings/views upon others shutting out those who don’t fit in our little cookie cutter life. To this reader I want to say,

“Thank you for being an awesome person and reader! You didn’t deserve that attack and neither did my friend. But I am glad you stood your ground and defended your right to be an individual. Authors do not control their audience.”

To Geiger and Blackburn, white supremacy was simply a difference of opinion that should be lauded. MAGA Martha was a brave, noble figure. Meanwhile, Martha began assembling photoshop collages of Moya’s tweets to “prove” that Moya was the real racist. These tweets included telling Blackburn that no one cared about who read her books, that nobody needed to create sockpuppet accounts, and calling Martha “Becky” and telling her to watch Fox and Friends. The strongest racial statement Moya makes in any of the screenshots is to say “AMEN!” in a quoted tweet about white people needing to assimilate into the human race, a tweet that had nothing to do with any of the Sassies.

Since I started trying to piece together this story, I’ve had several people theorize to me that MAGA Martha is Blackburn’s own alt-account. Some claim it’s Rutter’s or Geiger’s sockpuppet. But it’s generally agreed that MAGA Martha is the outlet for one of the Sassies to air her white supremacist grievances. Why else would they rally around MAGA Martha? Why else would they risk their careers by standing up for a proud white supremacist?

In a tweet, Blackburn says:

“Woke up to record-breaking sales! [star eyes, mind-blown emojis] I sold the most copies I’ve ever sold in one day yesterday, including release day. Considering yesterday’s events, I’m super grateful to everyone who voiced support or gave HMH a shot. [heart emoji] Thank you all! [heart emoji].”

Perhaps they view vocal white supremacists a crucial part of their reader base? In any case, the Sassies now sought to spin themselves as victims of a vicious attack, frequently implying that Blackburn couldn’t have committed any degree of racism due to Blackburn being “more native than not” (she is a self-proclaimed descendant of Pocahontas.) In a February Tweet, Blackburn stated:

“[…] I have an oddly large bone structure for a woman too, courtesy of the cross breed between my German/Irish father and my very Native mother (Apache, Algonquin, Cherokee, Creek, Pueblo, Blackfoot, Comanche, as far as we know).”

Some Twitter users doubted this claim, as in the past she’d talked about the love story between her Nazi-with-a-heart-of-gold grandfather and her Jewish grandmother who fell for each other in a concentration camp. Her use of the term “cross breed” and insistence that there was no racial component to telling someone not to use the language of their culture also raised eyebrows among a few Native readers; at one point in the conversation, Blackburn says:

“LOL, how dare I ask someone to speak my language!”

Later, she tries to deflect another Twitter user’s accusation of racism by claiming that English isn’t her native language at all.

People also became concerned over an unearthed tweet in which Blackburn stated that the Vikings were the original inhabitants of North America. As the latter is an oft-repeated white supremacist talking point, it led some to believe that MAGA Martha was Blackburn’s account, after all. This rumor gained traction the more Blackburn tweeted to defend her anti-black racist attacks on Moya’s speech:

“The act of speaking the language most spoken and taunt in our country is not racist. Can people use the language to say racist things? Sure. Your friends here have done it plenty. [shrug emoji]”

Blackburn now cast herself as the true victim of racism, despite continuing to argue that mocking AAVE had no racial connotations.

“Proper English is that derived from William Shakespeare, responsible for most of the modern words that we use. No, it isn’t a racial concept. It’s a literary one. Like there isn’t a big enough racial issue, let’s make words one too!”

When other Twitter users continued to point out that there absolutely is a racial component to language, especially in the United States, Blackburn leaped to a new tactic: accuse anyone who mocked Geiger’s spelling of “mosque” as “mosk” of being ableist due to Geiger’s history of traumatic brain injury.

Mocking spelling errors can arguably be deemed ableist depending on context; namely, whether or not the misspelling is intentional or a mistake. But there was no context for Geiger’s brain injury. Geiger had explained her “mosk” tweet as being the result of using speech-to-text. After people pointed out that they were unable to elicit “mosk” in place of “mosque” with their own speech-to-text programs (and because the word was used in a series of tweets defending and praising a white supremacist), they assumed Geiger’s typo was a satirical misspelling aimed to the eye dialect of the alt-right. When Geiger’s condition came to light, several of those mocking her acknowledged their mistake and called for others to stop pointing out the misspelling. But now, Blackburn and her defenders felt her anti-AAVE screed against Moya (which began before Geiger’s tweet was mocked) was somehow justified:

“Doesn’t matter. You all took place. Silence is compliance. When you don’t speak out against it, you are guilty of it. You posted it with the intent to have her mocked for having a traumatic brain injury. Seriously, think about how that makes you all look.”

Blackburn felt that Angela, who had tweeted screenshots of Geiger’s rant in defense of MAGA Martha, had done so with the sole purpose of creating an ableist dogpile. Blackburn also began tweeting that those calling her out for her racist campaign against Moya would be sued for deliberately and maliciously harming Blackburn’s business, a claim that seemed difficult to prove after all her public gloating over her success and the great sales the controversy had earned her. To date, no one has been served, though several sockpuppet accounts have emerged threatening to investigate parties involved in order to file suits.

Considering the Sassie’s previous attempts, it won’t be surprising if their stellar detective work leads to Blackburn suing the wrong individual.

In February, a screenshot of a 2016 rant from Blackburn’s public Facebook account cast more doubt on Blackburn’s motivations for mocking Moya’s speech:

“I have kept silent for the most part, but I’ve had it up to my eyebrows hearing about how the Oscars are too white and that black kids don’t have enough role models to look up to. This is my question: why are you teaching your children that in order for someone to be a role model, they have to share your skin color or heritage? My husband and I watch UFC. We still haven’t missed a fight in over two years. It’s likely that [redacted] is going to grow up watching the sport, liking it, maybe even wanting to participate in it himself. I would never limit my son by only pointing out the white fighters, or the only Irish title holder in the UFC’s history, just because we’re white and have a lot of Irish ancestry. There are some seriously gifted fighters who are black. If my son came home and said that he wanted to be like Demetrius Johnson or Jon Jones, I would tell him to go for it; work hard like they do, put your heart and soul into what you love, and one day, you’ll be as good as they are. Because when I look at people, I don’t see the color of their skin. I see their personality, their drive and devotion, their work ethic and their accomplishments. That’s what makes someone a role model, not the color of skin they were born with.”


Come back for Part Two: Down The Toilet


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I’m so happy to kick off the Northern Circle series with the re-release of my first ever shifter romance, Awakening DelilahThis novella was originally published in 2011, and now it’s here, shined up a bit (I can’t believe how much my writing has evolved with a few short years and no word count restrictions from publishers).

The cover of Awakening Delilah features a beautiful, dark-skinned Black woman in profile, in front of a misty background of a pine forest. There is a ghostly image of a doe standing over her shoulder and the logo for the Northern Circle series in the bottom right corner.


When Delilah Lewis moved from Boston to Gwinn Close, a sanctuary for shifters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she knew there would be an adjustment period. She just never thought getting shot at by poachers would be a part of that adjustment. When two sexy shifters come to her rescue, things get even more complicated. Delilah is a good girl, with a good-girl upbringing, and both men make her want to be very bad…

Miguel and Darius are in a committed relationship, but once they meet Delilah, they want more. While Delilah wonders if Gwinn Close is right for her, Miguel and Darius do everything they can to convince her to stay. But secrets from their past threaten a future with the woman they both crave. And while she struggles to let go of her boring former life, both men work to bring out the wild animal in her…

Amazon Smashwords 

The Northern Circle series is a multi-author project featuring series and stand-alone novels and novellas by Bronwyn Green, Kris Norris, and Jessica Jarman. All of the stories will feature paranormal elements and take place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (home of the Keweenaw Vortex). Look out for more books later this year!

#GetSilent: The Anatomy of an Ignored Issue; Prologue: “What constitutes an attack?”

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In January, I declared a hiatus from anything to do with the romance community to work on my mental health. I thought that I could carefully weed out the bad apples and toxic pontificators in the community and everything would be fine. Instead, I found that when you see a wide-reaching, long-running campaign of doxing, stalking, racist attacks, and threats against dogs and children, it’s a lot harder to sleep at night when you’re trying to not get involved or just watch from the fringes and you know you have the platform to bring the abuse to light.

At least, it’s harder for some people to sleep. Others are snoozing comfortably. But we’ll get to that later.

Much later. Because whoo doggy. This is a long one.

Before we go on this journey today, it’s important to note that there will be chunks of this twisted, complicated tale left out, at the request of individuals who are trying to disentangle themselves from what has been a months-long battle. Also, some parts of the story may be told out of order as the narrative calls for it due to issues of clarity and continuity; I’ll note when this is the case.

But for right now, let’s start in June of 2018, in the aftermath of Faleena Hopkins’s failed attempt to trademark the word “cocky”. #CockyGate, as it became known, sparked a sometimes heated, genre-wide debate among indie romance and erotica authors who were tired of the scammers and cheaters running roughshod over the self-publishing world. A new tag, #GetLoud, covered issues from bookstuffing to shady marketing tactics. One such popular trick used to earn the coveted orange #1 Bestseller badges on Amazon is by putting your book in a category it doesn’t belong in. For example, shortly after Fifty Shades of Grey fell out of the top slot in the erotica, erotic romance, and contemporary romance categories, readers found it inexplicably listed as the “#1 Bestseller” in “humor/pets/dogs & cats”.

Not a joke. It’s currently coasting at a sweet #257 in the “Holiday Romance” category, despite featuring precisely zero depictions of any holiday festivities.

Obviously, this kind of trickery doesn’t sit well with authors. As much as we talk about how there’s room for everyone on the playground and this is a community, not a competition, the fact remains that Amazon’s algorithm (upon which indie authors, especially, depend for visibility and book sales) doesn’t care about sisterhood. Get your book to #1 in any category, even the wrong category, and you’ve increased the number of eyeballs in front of which Amazon will place your book. It’s an easy system to abuse, and authors are right to be fed up with it. This led some on the #GetLoud tag to suggest mass reporting books that had been miscategorized.

In a private message to me, Individual A explained that at the time, emailing Amazon about which categories to place your book in would result in Amazon not only recommending inappropriate categories but categorizing your books for you based on the keywords you entered into your book’s description. For example, if I were to write a book about a vampire mechanic who falls in love with a ballerina but I was unsure if it belonged in paranormal romance or romantic comedy, Amazon might helpfully look at the keywords “ballerina,” “mechanic,” and “vampire,” and decide to categorize the book as, “non-fiction/arts & entertainment/ballet,” “non-fiction/automotive/repair and maintenance,” and “fiction/young adult/paranormal/vampires.”

I’m not sure if those are real categories, but you understand what I’m trying to illustrate here. Some of the books being reported weren’t the result of authors breaking the rules, but authors trying to follow them. To prove their point, Individual A contacted Amazon through the same channel and received a response that proved their theory, then presented this evidence to the #GetLoud tag. They warned that mass reporting books due to incorrect categories could harm innocent authors. There was a disagreement; authors M.R. Rutter, G.L. Geiger, Paula M. Hunter, and Lissa Gromley were apparently on the side that felt Individual A was undermining the goal of #GetLoud. Words and subtweets were exchanged, and it created an animosity that lingered among the four authors.

On October 28, 2018, Individual A became the topic of a group Facebook message between Rutter, Geiger, Hunter, and Gromley. In the chat, 3,000 pages of which were shared with me for this profile, Hunter revealed Individual A’s real name and links it to Individual A’s pseudonym:

“Bad to [real name redacted] aka [Individual A]. [They] jumped all over me after I kindly provided a list of Amazon categories. [Individual A] was getting nasty at Pippi about category squatting, saying that not everyone does it on purpose and then going on about stockphoto (of people)profile pictures on Amazon not being a problem.”

There is no indication of any interaction between Individual A and “Pippi” on the subject beyond a single, cordial conversation. As for going on about stock photos, that was also a limited interaction with Hunter’s sockpuppet account, a chicken persona. Individual A had merely cautioned that mass reporting might have ill-effects on authors in the indie community and that an author using a stock photo to hide their identity wasn’t uncommon or necessarily nefarious. After scouring Individual A’s timeline, I can personally find no evidence of any nastiness on Individual A’s part. Certainly, nothing that would justify Hunter’s seeming obsession with Individual A; shortly after the above message, Hunter added:

“I got plenty of screenshot on [real name redacted]. LOL [Individual A] has even hidden [their] personal info on [their] website. I got that before [Individual A] started paying to hide it.”

It seems that simply by disagreeing with Hunter, Individual A was deserving of a gross intrusion into their privacy. Whether or not Individual A was even aware it was Hunter they were talking to isn’t clear. What is clear is that this one small interaction that took place over the course of a single day was enough to incite Hunter to find Individual A’s personal information and file it away for future use months later.

An exchange with an almost comical lack of awareness followed those messages:

Hunter: “[Individual A] was tagging Meg in everything at the RWA Con. Lol.”

Rutter: “It was bizarre”

Geiger: “Omg. Stalker much”

Rutter: “I know. Creepy”

Individual A tagging someone they believed was a friendly acquaintance on social media was creepy stalking to Hunter, Rutter, and Geiger; Hunter investigating Individual A over a conversation between Individual A and Hunter’s sockpuppet account was reasonable. As was their obsession with “trolls” and “bullies” and “haters”. At numerous points in the months-long conversation, members of the chat congratulate each other and themselves in their skill at taking on people they viewed as their enemies, including finding out personal information as they did with Individual A. At one point, Geiger even brags:

“Yes but we also know how to trigger him and he knows it but he is too stupid to know how to mess with anyone of us”

The five of them (the group later grew to include author Kay Blackburn) not only celebrated the thought of causing psychological harm to the people who ran afoul of them, but Hunter continued to ferret out the personal information of other twitter users. Three of the authors ran multiple Twitter accounts; Hunter’s chicken, Geiger’s @AuthorPrime01, and an account Rutter referred to as “Maggie.” Throughout the chat log, coy references are made to “Maggie” becoming angry and unleashing abuse on a target. Hunter gloats that someone arguing with her chicken handle didn’t know it was her. Geiger simply seemed to want to keep her social media attacks partially hidden behind her secondary account. While Geiger tweeted official book news under her real name, she engaged in these Twitter fights as @AuthorPrime01. None of them seemed terribly concerned with keeping these secondary identities secret, but separating their author identity from their increasingly aggressive and cliquey online behavior was something they were certainly familiar with.

In a post to her blog made in December of 2018, Gromley explains that she and the other authors had created the Sassy Literary Ladies, a Facebook group for reader interaction. Gromley describes the private chat between the authors as a fairly common group message between online friends:

During the Sassies private conversations, we discussed many things, from how one person was in constant pain, what their family was doing, the books in general that we had published, and so forth. Every so often, I’d talk about my dog or about other things too, sincerely believing I was a part of this group and that we could share anything together without judgment.

It’s unclear from reading the chat transcript how, why, or when this changed. It appears to have done so literally overnight; after a friendly chat into the early hours of November 28th, the group goes unusually quiet. At 7:37 pm, this conversation takes place:

Gromley: “What happened to Gloria’s account? 🙁 ”

Geiger: “I paid with no interaction is not a successful page so I shut it down I’ll be doing other things anyway and I’m too busy with the group and with my Twitter which is far more successful so I worry about an author page on Facebook some other time”

Gromley: “Ohhh. Oddly, on my side your personal page isn’t showing either. 🙁 I has a sad.”

Geiger: “[shrug emoji] Facebook go figure”

Blackburn shows up to second Geiger’s comment about Facebook, and once again, the discussion in the group message slows to a trickle but nothing seems to be wrong. Everyone is busy with other things. On November 30th, Gromley informs the group that she’s updating the Sassy Literary Ladies website and asks Blackburn if she has a logo. At 6:37 p.m., Gromley posts:

“Gloria… 🙁 I’m blocked from you on Twitter. Did I do something wrong?”

When no one answers, Gromley posts again at 6:54:

” 🙁 I has a sad…”

Two minutes later, Rutter responds:

“Hey Lissa I forgot if you had a college degree. I’m doing a personal survey.”

Gromley confirms that she has four degrees, and Rutter asks where they’re from. A minute later, at 7:01 p.m., Gromley responds with the names of the schools she attended. The chat goes silent until her next message at 7:20:

“-still doesn’t understand why she’s blocked-“

At this time, Blackburn enters the chat to say she won’t be answering messages for a while due to a family situation. Gromley asks Rutter to message her, but Rutter is unavailable and indicates that she’ll contact Gromley when she returns home.

The next exchange begins on December 1st, when Rutter opens the chat for the day with:

“I got a disturbing call from a friend. Did anyone query agents and editors using my name?”

Geiger, Rutter, Hunter, and Blackburn bemoan the unprofessionalism of an author who would stoop to such tactics. Gromley appears in the chat at 12:37. No one responds to her messages. At 3:20, Rutter asks:

“I’m confused. I looked at the years you were in college Lissa and can’t figure it out. Why 4 years for an associates but 2 years for both a bachelors and a masters and 1 year for a second masters. Did you misenter the dates?”

Remember, Rutter had asked for the information about Gromley’s degrees for a personal survey. Supposing we gave Rutter the benefit of the doubt here, perhaps there was a personal survey asking about the college degrees of online friends. And perhaps Rutter asked the follow-up question because she truly feared that Gromley’s degree may have been given to her by a fraudulent school. But what follows over the course of the next few hours amounts to a cross-examination that culminates on Gromley sharing her official college transcripts on December 2nd.

At 9:05 p.m., all hell breaks loose:

Geiger: “I’m going to put this kindly as possibly. For quite some time you have been saying and doing things that are questionable. You make grandiose claims of things then later your story changes. It raises more than a few eyebrows. But I chose to let them slide. Then your behavior started to get stranger. You seemed to have a constant need for attention. Wanting all conversations to revolve around you. You’d but into a conversation I was having with Meg or Kay or Paula about your

Dog and how it’s pestering you. When our conversation was about my book covers

Or Kay’s new release, or when we were all chatting with Bean. It felt as if a spoiled child

Was demanding attention away from the child we were taking to. “Somebody come get this dog before I throw him in the closet!”

That was not appropriate and certainly not funny. If you have nothing to add to an already in progress conversation then you say NOTHING! But you chose to continuously try to get our attention away from Bean and on to you. This was extremely annoying. The next day we are discussing the song I wrote for my book 2 and you suddenly cut in with a story that has noting to do with the conversation but screamed of “Pay attention to me!” A very childish maneuver. When we were dealing with Bob and I had THOUGHT James was the culprit what did you do? YOU outed him as the troll so others would attack him. Which another account did. When I said I wanted to keep that info under wraps, as we were still investing, what was your answer to me? “OOPS” and laughing faces. When we all apologized to James… you didn’t. And you didn’t straighten out the FACT it was YOU who outed him and NOT me! But that was okay with you, right? Let me take the fall for your bad judgement. This was completely inappropriate. Did you bother to apologize to me for making me the bad guy? Did you apologize to James? No! You went on your marry little way doing as you always do, AS YOU PLEASE AND DAMN THE CONSEQUENCES TO ANYONE ELSE. We make plans for our group and you make promises you cannot keep or do not intend to keep. Aka the flyers. We had seen NO proof of them even though BOTH Paula and Meg asked to see them. Your response to their requests went completely ignored. My biggest grievance with you is your complete lack of respect and boundaries. I shared my sons post on MY Facebook page. Which is kept private for a reason and what you did is exactly why. You wormhole through my account and comment DIRECTLY to my son. This is completely inappropriate and crosses all kids of boundaries. Yes, I realize my son is a public figure and an adult, but the key words here are MY SON! Someone else would have commented to ME not Matt. All my friends see my posts about him, do they wormhole through and address him as if they know him personally like you did? No they don’t! They comment to me. Ask me to tell him they congratulate him. But you go on his Facebook and comment as if he knows you, which he does NOT! I did show your comment to Kay and she agreed that your comment came across flirty as well. I am not and NEVER will be okay with anyone using ME to get to HIM! Good grief! His career is just taking off and you cross the freaking line? Your behavior is why you are blocked on ALL my social media

And why I will NOT be speaking to you after today. We are done. And I’m completely offended at the fact you will try to backpedal like you did about using Meg and [redacted] by Querying their friends in the publishing world. How dare you do that and when given the opportunity to be honest dodge and say ‘Whoever used Meg’s name to query without permission shows a complete lack of disrespect. I’m so sorry, Meg.’

The WHOEVER IS YOU! I don’t want you to ever contact me or my family ever again. And DO NOT follow ANY of my kids social media. They already know who you are and what you’ve done. If anything, you should be ashamed of yourself, but we all know you aren’t.”

At this point, Hunter shows up to assert that all of Geiger’s allegations are true. Rutter says she’ll keep an open mind. Gromley denies every allegation and is shocked at Geiger’s insistence that she’s tried to further her career through association with Geiger’s apparently famous son, or that she’s begged for attention. The suddenly un-busy Blackburn returns for another cross-examination, telling Gromley:

“…don’t take this the wrong way, because I’m nobody myself. But…why would anyone query with your name? I mean…you’re nobody yourself.”

But she doesn’t mean it in a mean way.

Though Gromley produced her college transcripts, Rutter can’t produce the query, the name of the agent who was allegedly queried, or which email address was used for the query. Gromley insists that she hasn’t queried any agents in a year (and in her blog post corrects it to two years and asserts that she can provide proof of the queries she has made and the contents of the letters, none of which mention any other authors).

Blackburn: “I’ll be honest, this sounds…well. Very suspicious, at best.”

Rutter: “I know that. I told her that it didn’t come from my end and moved on. She did read me the first paragraph and I was appalled by the bad writing.”

When Hunter returns, it’s to add another charge to the growing list of offenses the group wishes to level against Gromley:

“Lissa, why do still continue to be friends with Craig and joined his groups after the way he behaved towards me and the bad mouthing he gave us? To me it smacks of disloyalty towards to Sassy group.”

Gromley insists she never joined any of this Craig person’s groups, though she still followed him on social media to keep tabs on him. Much in the way Hunter routinely scouted out the personal information of the “bullies” they encountered online. This, however, seems suspicious to all of them, even through Rutter admits to still being friends with this Craig individual. Gromley offers to provide screenshots of the groups she’s in on Facebook, but Blackburn says that the only thing it will prove is that Gromley left the groups, then took the screenshots. Blackburn also claims to have seen screenshots of Gromley participating in Craig’s group, but won’t produce them for Gromley.

The chat devolves from there, with Blackburn feeling “uncomfortable” with Gromley’s presence, Geiger feeling that Gromley congratulating her (adult) son on a role was inappropriate contact with her “child” (as her own friends from childhood would never dream of speaking to her children without her being involved), and Rutter criticizing Gromley’s “non-committal” answers about her education (which included providing her transcripts and student I.D. numbers). When Gromley steps away from the conversation in frustration and hurt, it’s declared evidence of wrong-doing. When she responds again, she’s “digging”. And all along, Blackburn continues to talk about how uncomfortable she is, how she’s worried about what she’s gotten into by attaching her name to the group, and how she’s not sure she wants to invest in the Sassies with Gromley’s involvement. So suspicious, that Blackburn interrogates Gromley about a GoFundMe organized by a family member and accuses her of lying about a legal matter. Again, Gromley provides too much information to appease them, giving them the name and phone number of the magistrate handling the case, as well as the case number, the county the case is going to court in, and the real names of her family members. These answers come rapid-fire, with timestamps often noting the questions have been answered in the same minute they were asked.

Eventually, Blackburn says (and please, remember this for the record in upcoming installments, it will most certainly come up again):

“I cannot be associated with someoen who lies, uses people, or manipulates.”

Gromley tells them that when she proves their allegations false, she wants an apology, but Blackburn insists:

“Sorry, but we gave you multiple chances to show us proof. You didn’t do that.”

On December 2nd, Blackburn announces the dissolution of Sassy Literary Ladies and the departure of Gromley. On December 3rd, Gromley leaves the chat.

In her blog post, in which Gromley addresses each of the group’s allegations, she also speculates on the motives of the group to turn on her:

I’ll be honest. It seemed like they got bored because nothing was going on on Twitter that they could get involved with. Cockygate, the bookstuffers, Bob Villian and so forth were over with. It was like they needed a new target […].

Now, you may be thinking, “Wow, Jenny, that’s some garden variety mean girl stuff…but what does it have to do with all the wild shit you talked about in the first paragraph of this long ass post?”

This was just a primer on how Blackburn, Rutter, Geiger, and Hunter cultivate online excitement. And as damaging as their treatment of Gromley was, it’s nothing compared what they embarked on in January of 2019.


Next time: “Part One: MAGA Martha”

State Of The Trout: cover reveal, new series, and The Year of Re-releases!

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Hey there, Trout Nation! I’ve got lots of news this time around, so lets jump right in!

First, grab your calendars and cross out “2019” because this is officially the year of Trout Freedom. One of my old publishers folded, and I got the rights back to Abigail Barnette’s earliest works, which means I can retool and republish them. Some of them (like the Naughtily Ever After series) will become full-length novels; others will remain novellas with a little spit-and-polish to update them; it’s been nearly a decade since some of them were published.

The first one up is my shifter novella, Awakening Delilah, which was first published in 2011:

The cover of Awakening Delilah features a beautiful, dark-skinned Black woman in profile, in front of a misty background of a pine forest. There is a ghostly image of a doe standing over her shoulder and the logo for the Northern Circle series in the bottom right corner.

When Delilah moved from Boston to Gwinn Close, a sanctuary for shifters in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, she knew there would be an adjustment period. Fitting into the isolated and close-knit community deep in the wilderness isn’t something her affluent upbringing and cosmopolitan lifestyle prepared her for. When two hot, bisexual shifters rescue her from poachers, both of the rugged, commanding men make this good girl want to be very bad.

Miguel and Darius are wholly devoted to each other, but shifters need a pack. When they meet Delilah and feel an instant spark, they know they have to do whatever it takes to keep her. But secrets from their past threaten a future with the woman they both crave. And while Delilah struggles to embrace the Gwinn Close way of life, it’s up to Darius and Miguel to bring out the wild animal in her… 

Do you like fated mates? Insta-lust? Hot three-way sex? Then this is the story for you. And guess what?

You don’t even have to wait for it. Awakening Delilah will be out on March 19th!

I’m also super psyched to announce that Awakening Delilah marks the beginning of a new collaboration between Bronwyn Green, Jessica Jarman, Kris Norris, and myself. The Northern Circle series will feature contemporary paranormal romance novellas, novels, and short stories set in Michigan’s Upper Penninsula.

So, be on the look-out for re-releases from me, more books in the Northern Circle series, and pick up the new version of Awakening Delilah on March 19th!

Patreon Appreciation Video

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All right, all right, all right! Time to thank all my Patreon $5 and up pledges! In a video that…did not go as successfully as I hoped. But it’s still an enjoyable, kind of maybe spooky story (but more like a cautionary tale) about me and Bronwyn Green trespassing.

I’m hoping to have corrected closed captions on this and yesterday’s video by tonight. Sorry for the delay, I’m just really inept at using YouTube’s caption system.

Mom and Wednesday See Phantom Of The Opera

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My daughter is obsessed with The Phantom of The Opera. I don’t know why. Obviously, some of this is due to her constant involvement in community theater (next Friday marks her fourth show this season), but I’d be lying if I said she only just found Phandom. When she was three, one of her Christmas presents was a set of Phantom-themed felt hand puppets (Christine, Raoul, and The Phantom). She’s been into this since she was a toddler.

Last year, I was lucky enough to give her an even better Christmas present: front row tickets to the national touring company of Phantom, which stopped in Kalamazoo in February.

I mean, front row tickets to the matinee. I don’t have front-row-at-7-p.m.-money. I’m not the Monopoly man.

Now, this Christmas present was really the ultimate sacrifice, as I knew that I would be the one who had to take her to the show. And I am not hugely enthusiastic about Phantom. Especially not when the movie is on a near constant loop in my home. But it was worth it all to hear her biting criticisms of the performers.

Since it’s been a while since she was on my YouTube channel (as she has reminded me countless times), I was happy to collaborate on this video with her, in which we discuss the cool parts and the weird parts and whether or not Gerry Butler was a good Phantom.

Spoiler: we are hotly divided on that.

Stayed tuned tomorrow for the “spooky” Patreon reward video for January/February!

Trout Trouble!

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Remember Double Steve Bonus Mondays? Well, I’m in Double Steve Trouble right now. Over Double Steve Bonus Monday, kind of. Why? I can’t go into real deep detail about it until after all the legal stuff is over, but there’s a dispute over the usage of one of the Double Steve Bonus Monday photos. Now, I need to settle out of court. So, I created a GoFundMe. I’m always asked you guys to crowdfund my fabulous lifestyle and now here I am with this glamorous lawsuit? Get out of town. It’s freakin’ Dynasty over here!

After things are settled and I can talk about the case, I have a lot of advice to give authors/bloggers/creatives so they don’t end up in a “live and learn” kind of situation. But in the meantime, if you could share my GoFundMe around, I would super appreciate it. In the meantime, you’re running a blog, keep track of where you got all of your photos from and the license they’re being used under.