Posted in Uncategorized
Remember my Young Adult serial, Nightmare Born, which was a Radish exclusive? Well, good news! It’s no longer exclusive (although, Radish readers, fear not. The chapters you unlocked will still be there!). On October 27th, Nightmare Born will be available in ebook and paperback. I’m so proud of this story and so happy to be reclaiming my roots in Urban Fantasy with a new series! And check out this amazing new cover from Covers By Kris!
Conceived in dream. Born a nightmare.
There are a lot of things I know: story structure, Hollywood trivia, what makes a director great… It’s the stuff I didn’t know–who my real father is, that my uncle is a demon, the fact that I’m not human–that’s gotten me into so much trouble.
After ripping my crush’s heart out–literally–I discover that I’m not just a normal autistic seventeen-year-old. I’m the daughter of the King of Nightmares, the cruel and excessively goth ruler of the Nether. Now, I’m stuck at Miss Perkins’s School for Girls, learning how to exist in a world where things really do go bump in the night.
Dangerous magic, treacherous enemies, unfairly hot vampires, and magic schools are all tropes I love in movies. But throw them into my real life? Hard pass. And I still have to deal with queen bees and bullies while unraveling a conspiracy that could crumble the very foundations of reality as we know it? That’s bullsh–
Nightmare Born is available to pre-order as an e-book on Amazon; paperback buy links and other platform pre-order and purchase links will be added as they become available.
Everything is ruined! Enjoy this list of the funniest spontaneous things I’ve ever seen and heard and come back to mentally when I need a chuckle (and remembered while writing this post).
Mr. Jen and I were stuck behind a car taking forever in the McDonald’s drive-thru. Soundgarden’s “Spoonman” was on the radio. Finally fed up, Mr. Jen, in a near-perfect Chris Cornell impression, yells, “DECIIIIIIIDE MAAAAA’AM” along with the music.
The Liberty Bell
My BFF Jill and I went to see the Liberty Bell together. In the gift shop, the famous picture of Thomas Jefferson handing Benjamin Franklin the Declaration of Independence was hanging on the wall. Jill looked up and said quietly, “Hey, can I get your John Hancock on this?”
Out raising teenaged hell with some friends, we decided to go to a local church’s playground to smoke weed at around two in the morning. My friend Sean launched himself from the car shouting, “SWIIIIIIIIINGS!” as he ran at full speed across the church’s lawn. We heard an enormous, ringing clang, and Sean was suddenly flying through the air, arms and legs flailing. At the edge of the playground were a series of iron balance beams that were exactly knee-high to Sean and totally invisible from the particular angle that Sean had been running.
Balancing Act #2
Auditions for the Celery Flats Shakespeare Festival in Portage, MI were always held in the big barn behind the theater. The Celery Flats is an area where people go jogging and biking and skating on the trails and there’s an old-timey village. It was very hot, so the barn doors were open on both sides. I just happened to be seated directly across from the doors that looked out onto a busy section of the skating paths. A man on rollerblades skated into view and stumbled, somehow ending up with both legs off the ground, but in a sitting position. The frame of the barn door cut off my view of the impact of his fall, so for a few seconds, he flew past in the air as if he were seated on an invisible bus driving by.
My Best Behavior
A friend is the granddaughter of the much-beloved former mayor of a humble Michigan town. He was being honored during their town’s annual parade and my friend invited me to come along, provided I didn’t “do anything weird.” We viewed the parade from risers reserved for special guests and their families. Before the parade started, there were some kids riding their bikes along the route. One of them fell and without a second thought, I pointed with my arm fully extended and shouted, “HA! That kid just fell off his bike.”
Years ago, I jokingly said I would have sex with Bill Clinton. My Grandpa Pat shot back, “Jenny, that man’s had a heart attack. He can’t do that kind of heavy lifting.”
Gramps Burn #2
As a child, I had a huge gap between my two front teeth. I was around ten when, at the dinner table, I stuck a toothpick into the gap and said, “Look, it fits in there!” Grandpa Pat said, “Jenny, you can fit the log that toothpick come from in there.”
While preparing for my Uncle John and Aunt Wendy’s 25th-anniversary party, my cousin asked my Grandma Z, “What time does the party start?” In my best Ke$ha voice I sang, “Well the party don’t start ’til I walk in!” To which my Grandma Z replied, dryly, “The party starts at four, Jenny.”
Devastating Dad Joke
My stepdad tells my sister and I that we’re “pretty in two ways. Pretty ugly, and pretty apt to stay that way.”
Mr. Jen and I were driving down the road with all of our windows up, yet somehow the mere sight of a field of flowers gripped Mr. Jen with a sneeze so powerful, his head went around and around three times to wind up for it.
My BFF Holly and I were terrible kids. Just terrible. One day, while her sister, Nikki, was in charge of the house, I put salt in Holly’s glass of Coke while her back was turned. This escalated into a food fight that doused the kitchen in water, condiments, flour, eggs, and anything else remotely wet. The fight then moved into the guest bathroom, where toothpaste and shampoo became involved and, I regret to say, one tube of chapstick, which Holly rolled all the way up and smashed into my ear. By the time Nikki noticed that we were wrecking the house, the damage was done. The cupboards, floor, walls, even the ceiling in some spots, not to mention the furniture in both rooms and the adjoining hallway were covered with the nastiest mixtures imaginable. Nikki turned to us, pure, totally justified murder in her eyes, and shouts, “GET. OUT!” She pushed us out of the sliding glass door before we could grab our shoes, so there we were, walking down the road barefoot in Michigan in April when Holly’s dad pulls up. He leans out the window and says, “Hey there, Lil’ Pups. Where are your shoes? It’s cold out.” And Holly, with the most pitiable, Dickensian orphan expression I’ve ever seen, replied somberly, “Nikki kicked us out of the house without our shoes.” Their dad drove back to the house angry with Nikki, who was left to clean up the mess because as the adult at home, she let things get out of hand. That’s right. I said “As the adult.” Nikki wasn’t way older than Holly and I; we were fourteen and far, far old enough to know better.
After complaining about a wasp nest in a tree outside our house, I came home to find my cousin D-Rock standing on our roof with a can of homemade napalm and a bow and arrows. Her brilliant plan? To shoot flaming arrows into the nest. While drunk. And on a roof.
It occurs to me that I may have told all of these stories before. But I’m just trying to get back into the swing of writing something every day. At the very worst, you chuckled at the same thing twice.
IMPORTANT UPDATE: Maranda’s comment about her four-year-old’s pee experience reminded me of my kid’s four-year-old pee experience and I cannot believe I didn’t share it in here before. So, I give you:
Rest In Pees
We were in the car on a long country road late at night. My four-year-old needed to pee, so I pulled over, got him out, and said, okay, go potty. A car was coming by, so I was keeping an eye on them as my kid did his tinkle business. As the headlights flashed past, I saw that the spot my son had chosen to pee was a roadside memorial for someone who’d died in a car crash.
Dear Anonymous Exes:
I don’t know why I’m writing this letter. Maybe being surrounded by the plague and therefore constantly reminded of my own mortality has enticed me to look back on my life and start listening to Tori Amos albums again. Maybe watching my oldest child race toward that arbitrary mark of adulthood, the eighteenth birthday, has forced me to see my life through a wiser, more nostalgic lens. Certainly, my recent mental health struggles, rooted in ABA therapy in childhood, have made me scour my past for “aha!” moments to reflect on from my new perspective.
This new perspective is rooted not just in the arduous process of undoing or at least, learning to live with the way my personality was grafted onto me for the convenience of the adults in my life, but also from the stability of a relationship in which my partner and I have grown together and weathered personal changes and life’s traumas. As a romance writer, I constantly get asked if I draw on things from real life. I do, but not in the raised-eyebrows-wink-wink-research way people assume. It doesn’t take a ton of research to know whether or not you’d like to write about specific sex acts; emotional conflict has to be mined from personal experience to ring true. It’s all well and good to describe hurt or new love or anger with those words. It’s another thing to go back and in time and remember a specific moment when you felt a specific brand of one of those things.
As I struggle through this point in my career, wondering if there’s still room for me to write romance or if I still care about and enjoy the genre as much as I did when I started, where I’m going from here, I’ve been thinking about you, exes. Here are some messages to you, in no specific order, with no identifying markers and the continuity on shuffle:
You are in your forties. Please, do not buy a skateboard.
I will always consider you one of the loves of my life. I don’t know why I left you for a guy who’s considering buying a skateboard in his forties but after seeing the way you treated your partners after me, I’m so glad I did.
I shouldn’t have dated you. I was in love with your ex-girlfriend, not you. I just fundamentally did not understand my own sexuality and it caused me to misdirect my affection. Sorry I hurt you.
Okay, now that I think about it, I’m not 100% sure you’re actually going to buy that skateboard. Please, please tell me you’ve given up your shoplifting habit.
I know you had sex with the upstairs neighbor.
Dude, that was my first breakup. I’m sorry I cried so hard. I bet you felt terrible and you were really a nice kid.
The moment I met your parents, I knew we weren’t going anywhere.
After you broke up with me, I saw you from the window of my bus on the way home from work and I cried.
It was weird that you chose to dump me while I was asking you a question about Froot Loops.
You were too old to be dating a seventeen-year-old.
I should have lost my virginity to you.
Turns out, I’m not a terrible mother after all. I mean, I’m definitely not the mother you would have wanted for your children, so everything turned out for the best.
You smelled like a wet dog.
Hey, was that you in Red Lobster in 2008 waiting to go on a date, looking like you just got done painting houses? Pull it together, yo.
She’s out of your league, bro.
Your opening line was hilarious but I shouldn’t have gone home with you.
I can’t believe I let you break my heart.
I didn’t leave my watch at your place because I wanted an excuse to see you again. I left that watch at your place because I didn’t want to have to see you again. I just bought a new watch, bro.
In the future, don’t brag to the person you’re dating about how badly you treated all the people you dated before.
Your IG is ridiculous. We get it. You’re rich. Just like your parents.
Your IG is ridiculous. We get it. You have abs.
Your IG isn’t too bad. But your kids are ugly as hell.
You’re wrong about blowjobs being unhygienic but honestly, my neck has never been so relaxed in the early stages of a relationship.
I’ll admit it, I checked up on you out of curiosity. I’m so proud of the you that I knew years ago. I’m not gonna go digging but please don’t be a fucking Trump supporter.
I shouldn’t have lost my virginity to you.
Remember that time we were going to get groceries and you said, “Do you have the keys?” and I said, “Yeah,” and then we immediately started having tear-our-clothes-off sex on the floor right in front of the door? That was probably the coolest thing I’ve ever been able to pull off, in terms of smoothness and sexiness.
Why the fuck do you keep running into me right when we’ve both just noticed someone else’s fart? It isn’t my fart!
Your Crazy Ex You Probably Still Tell Horror Stories About
PS. If I see you on a skateboard I’m gonna circle the block to make various demoralizing remarks, loudly.
Trapped in a solid block of dread so cold that the tips of my toes are constantly numb.
That can’t be a coincidence.
It’s generally accepted that stress can cause or exacerbate health problems. Is stress what I’m feeling when I see mailboxes and sorting machines hauled away on trucks just days after President Trump openly admitted to intentionally sabotaging mail-in voting? I’m sure there’s some stress there.
I sleep a lot.
Way more than I should, in strange patterns, waking early in the morning only to go back to bed four hours later. Sleeping until evening, moving to a new location to nap.
On September 11, 2001, I watched the news until mid-afternoon. Then I slept, too overwhelmed to be conscious. Like most people, the rest of that week doesn’t register. Was it like this, back then? The constant exhaustion from fear? Or is this worse? Is it longer-lasting? Or did that dread just roll over into dread about the Forever War, into dread about Trump, into dread about…all of it. Everything.
I wake up to consciously relax my muscles.
Even in a deep sleep, I’ll rouse to find my body tensed for flight. I breathe deeply and work through the progressive relaxation tricks I learned in therapy for C-PTSD.
It’s almost a relief to be terrified of something tangible. I have a reason to be afraid, now. A legitimate reason to dread the months to come. As the optimistic left counts down the days to the election, I know that November isn’t the end of all of this unrest but the official beginning. Americans are now living in a time period that won’t be covered as thoroughly by future textbooks as will the events to come.
“Recall Whitmer!” demands a row of signs along the road. Recall the governor, for trying to save you from yourselves. Kill your family by gathering in large groups to own the libs.
There is a bar at the end of my street, constantly surrounded by motorcycles. The Confederate flag graces nearly every one of them. There are “Bikers for Trump” among them. They are armed. My husband tells me not to put up political yard signs. He goes to work every night worried about his employees being shot for enforcing the mask mandate.
The Proud Boys are coming.
Kalamazoo, the city that is my second home, will be host to a pro-fascist invasion on Saturday. “I guess I’m getting pepper-sprayed this weekend.”
But I’m broken. The stress, the fear has left me fragile. When am I going to die? From the virus? From violence? When violence erupts, be it a revolution, civil war, or outside nations fighting against our tyranny, being in the wrong place at the wrong time will be a more common cause of death. Does it matter if a rubber bullet ends my life or a real one?
I’m not sure what’s real.
I dissociate more often, doubting if I should be afraid or if I’ve finally lost my mind completely.
Driving to my once-weekly grocery trip, I wonder if this will be the time that the snotty-looking Shipt shopper who’s always there, always maskless, infects me by standing too close in the check-out. On the way, I see church parking lots packed all the way out to the road, “Pray for our country” on their signs. Yards are covered with cars for big family gatherings on the lake. Kids are laughing, splashing, chasing each other. Facebook sports vacation photos of maskless families beaming at popular attractions. Did I make the virus up? Is this all in my head?
I take walks in my yard.
The wellness books say it’s good for you. So do all of the herbal apothecary books I’ve purchased.
I’m making medicine from the plants I’ve foraged. I’ve learned how to identify wild, edible foods. It’s no longer about wellness. I think toward the future, to what my husband, a retail grocery manager, said when I asked him to tell me, truthfully, if we’ll run out of food in our area. He looked at me and said, uncomfortably avoiding my eyes, “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to learn how to grow food indoors.” I tell him he’ll need to get a deer license this year. I promise I’ll dress his kills.
I was right.
On election night, when I was being “hysterical.” At every turn of the knife thrust into the backs of people in this country, I was “hysterical.” Because “He can’t do that.” And “They won’t let him.”
They let him. He did that. Already vulnerable people have been made more vulnerable, dehumanized for the next step in what “hysterical” people have seen coming all along. The rise of fascism, because it’s preferred to communism or socialism. Because the people voting against their own interests in order to win a childish game have brought us to this point.
I wish I wasn’t right.
About the past, about the present, about what will come in the future.
But I think I am. I know I am. I try to tell myself to qualify my statements. “Remember when they called you hysterical? You don’t want that to happen again.” Was I hysterical? Is it rational to give up hope in a hopeless state? Is it easier than accepting that things are going to get worse? What if some of us can’t simply ignore politics and agree to disagree when our neighbors will be dragged from their homes in the night. Is it hysterical to plan for what is rapidly becoming an eventuality? Or is it foresight?
So many horror stories revolve around entities that thrive on fear. The moral of those stories seems to be that denying one’s fear is appropriate; that fear is worth punishment. That if you are afraid right now, you’re doing it to yourself. And as I watch these punishments play out in popular culture, I think about what our aversion to fear is doing to us. We equate fear with death, so if we don’t fear, we won’t die. Immortality gained by hubris. And yet all around us, we see evidence that it doesn’t work that way.
Being afraid keeps you alive. It also keeps you tense in your sleep.
It’s too exhausting to consider what a new world will look like after the dust settles. It’s too painful to consider a world many of us will never see.
So I stay frozen.
I stay numb to everything around me. I withdraw further into myself. I put my dreams and goals aside for the moment; I don’t know how to accomplish them in this liminal space. I don’t know if they’ll ever be feasible ever again. I make new dreams of simple things, but they’re formless. There isn’t really a “future” I can see clearly anymore.
Right now, there’s just survival.
Posted in Uncategorized
All right! Back at it again with the actually good book we’re reading. Now, some have reminded me that I also thought The Mister was a good book when we started it but I was really forcing myself to be generous with that one. From what we’ve seen so far with Crave, the author can actually write sentences that don’t make you want to hurl yourself from a helicopter into the caldera of an erupting volcano.
Need to catch up?
Some people have noticed that this story has veered wildly off the course set by the blurb my friends wrote for the fictional book cover. That’s because this nonsense is flowing through me. I am a conduit for the whims of the universe. And that universe is full of Greek mythology because that and ragging on Nathaniel Hawthorne were the only parts of English class I liked in high school. #OriginalClashOfTheTitansWasBetterThanTheRemake
Honestly, I thought I would have transitioned into stand-up comedy. No, seriously, that was my bucket list item for this year. I was going to do an open mic night. I wasn’t going to tell anyone I know, I was just going to drive to a whole different city, do an open mic night, and cross it off my list of things I’ve always wanted to do but never did. Some of my jokes were about turning forty and how people start assuming you can’t learn or do or be anything new at that age.
And it’s true. All through my thirties, my friends and I were telling people that it’s never too late to go back and get your doctorate or your real estate license or learn how to be in roller derby. After all, Alan Rickman didn’t start acting until he was forty!
Well, now I’m forty. At the end of the world.
I’m fired up to do new things, take different directions, reinvent myself as a person. How the hell do I do that now? I can’t go out and start a weird, midlife crisis grasp at my stand-up dreams that never panned out. I can’t go to improv classes or form an experimental theater group. I can’t up and run off to New York to chase the dead hope of the Broadway career that didn’t happen then and will never happen, now.
I’ve lived my life fantasizing about the stuff I’ve always wanted to do. I saw turning forty as a golden opportunity and I was going to Rickman the hell out of it. Maybe I would move to L.A. and try writing for television! Maybe I could try my hand at acting in small films in Chicago! What if I decided to ride my bicycle around Lake Michigan? I could do it all.
Instead, I’m seriously considering starting a YouTube channel that’s just me riding my bike around town with a GoPro looking for the flock of cranes.
I guess the thing I’m struggling the most with right now is the idea that I’m not the only thing holding me back. Somehow, my lack of courage to pursue everything life has to offer was totally acceptable but forces I can’t control are completely devastating. Maybe I was expecting to suddenly shake loose the bonds of self-consciousness and soar to the heights I’d imagined when I was a kid acting out Yentl in my living room. The point was that I had a choice.
Now, I don’t have any of those choices. So, make a cautionary tale out of that as you will.
I’m usually miserable on my birthdays. Largely because I struggle daily with this idea that the circumstances of my birth made me a problem, that I started all this trouble by being born. I try to be happy but there’s always a weird thing in the back of my head saying, this is the day you ruined your mom’s life. This is the day you burst, in all your larval obnoxiousness, into a world you still don’t understand well enough to navigate without inconveniencing someone. But the milestone birthdays always seem to be about a transition between now and next.
So, here I sit, having just become forty, trying to remember the upsides and downsides of every milestone birthday. Not including my seventeenth, which isn’t a traditional birthday milestone but was a new frontier in making out because my boyfriend put his hand up my shirt and I touched it through his jeans.
For the sake of symmetry, though, I’m thinking specifically about decade milestones.
Ten years ago, I turned thirty not knowing that I was about to have some of the most painful transitions, transformations, and losses of my life. I’m still processing those. They can’t be left behind easily or summed up in hindsight. It’s all still too close. I didn’t know I’d have to give up my name. But I also didn’t know that I was about to become a much cooler person in that new identity.
Twenty years ago, a boy who would become one of my most painful heartbreaks leaned over during a late-night showing of the first X-Men movie to whisper happy birthday in my ear. I didn’t know then that only a year later, I’d find my soulmate and have two children before my next decade started. I had no idea how much the world was going to change, and how much my world was going to change. And I’d never even considered writing a book.
Thirty years ago, I was trying so, so hard to be a human correctly. To make people love me. To not annoy anyone too much. To take my pills and go to my therapy and not allow my erratic emotions to become a burden on my grieving family. To not be selfish and make a traumatic loss all about myself. To not sin, to pay attention in church, to perform the deeply ingrained and complicated rituals of two incredibly strict religions. But I also had a sweet-ass scrunchy and only four years to go before I’d meet some of the best friends of my life.
So much has changed in forty years. I can’t assume it’s all going to be for the worst. Or, I can. I just shouldn’t. But I’m so afraid that forty is going to be this weird-ass decade where I start drinking smoothies and pretending avocado doesn’t taste like butter someone dropped in the grass and also one of the children I birthed is going to be an adult in six months and I’m sitting in bed at 1:30 in the morning on my birthday drinking 64 oz. of Tang out of a big plastic pineapple because that’s how we party when time and mortality are making themselves so, so damn present.
Speaking of presents, this year, in lieu of diamonds, sacred objects, or the gift of song, I just really want someone to write me a Community fanfic where I’m friends with Troy and Abed.
CW: mental illness, suicidal ideation
To: “Depression” (firstname.lastname@example.org), “Anxiety” (email@example.com), “C-PTSD” (firstname.lastname@example.org)
From: Jenny Trout (email@example.com)
Subject: What team? WILDCATS
Dear mental illnesses. As you may have gleaned from the subject line, I come to you with a proposal of teamwork. We’re all in this together. You’re the Troy to my Gabriella, the Ryan to my Sharpay. Actually, the everyone to my Sharpay. The important part is, I’m Sharpay at the denouement of every HSM story after she realizes yet again that being a team player is better for everyone and we all help each other to be stars. And that’s why we’re all going to do that from now on.
Depression? I totally understand where you’re coming from. You’re right; somedays, it’s just too overwhelming to get out of bed. And you’re trying to do the right thing by me in supporting, nay, encouraging me to take a break. But sometimes, you want that to be a forever break. And that doesn’t work for me. I know you think you’re helping when you suggest that wading into freezing lake water with my pockets full of stones might be an easy way to get some time off. And I know a lot of the time, this is an idea you’ve already brainstormed with C-PTSD. But the advice you two are coming up with? Really not working for me. Imagine if I really did drive my car off a bridge. What if I lived? Can you imagine the bullshit hassle? First would be the hospital stays, then the hospital bills, probably some surgery, some in-patient psychiatric supervision, and then when that’s all over you’ve got to fight with two different types of insurance, it would be a nightmare. By the way, Anxiety is really good at extrapolating things out that way. I’m sure that if you just consulted with it, you’d see the downside to this plan, and the other plan, which is the one where I neglect bills, notices, important mail, my children, my pets, my friends, my hygiene, basically I just cancel whatever is going on that day to stay in bed, Google all the reasons people hate me, and just leave Big Mouth running on a constant loop in the background until Depression Kitty shows up and I momentarily pay attention so I can chuckle with wry humor at how same and a mood it makes me feel, without ever acknowledging that I shouldn’t take pleasure in the fact that everyone in society is fucking miserable all the time, always, forever, isn’t the helpful shuffling around of my schedule as you think it is.
But Anxiety, while I appreciate how you constantly motivate me to be and do better, I think we can find a better way of doing that. Maybe a pep talk that doesn’t start with me getting up to refill my water bottle and ends with my entire family being homeless because of that minute-long break. You definitely shouldn’t be sharing my biggest fears with Depression; it has absolutely zero productive ways to use them. What generally happens, I imagine, is that you see me not working and you think, well, she’s never going to get back to it. And if she doesn’t get back to it, she’ll be another day behind. And if she gets too far behind, we’ll be homeless and probably dead and eaten by rats in an alley. I guess I can see where that might be a concern. After all, my failure to manage our life is the reason we almost were homeless. And admittedly, there are two rats in my office. But I think the more important point we need to focus on here is that those rats are in a cage. They’re probably not going to eat us. Also? People probably do think I’m lazy. But remember: what other people think of us? Is not the end of the world. We have to keep on keeping on. Remember how we started taking those pills and OCD decided to go on hiatus? Consider sucking up some of those brain-altering pharmaceuticals, yourself.
Now, C-PTSD. You and I have a lot of work to undo. ABA ruined what should have been a perfectly awesome brain. But you and I have to be on the same page here. Having my own emotions isn’t actually inconveniencing or hurting anyone, just so long as my actions aren’t inconveniencing or hurting anyone. I’m also allowed to set boundaries. I shouldn’t be grateful that my friends and family love me despite all the shitty things about me. I should be grateful that my friends and family love me and recognize all the cool things about me. And nobody is trying to kill us. Nobody will reject us if secretly, in the quiet of our mind, we let ourselves be mad or sad or uncomfortable. And that touch of the ’tism that ABA was supposed to fix? It’s not the burden to everyone around you that you think it is. Like, 70% of all the people you choose to hang out with are also “on the spectrum.” Look, we deserve to not be victimized by weird childhood traumas we couldn’t express because bad therapy trained us to pretend we were fine with everything all the time and that if we weren’t fine with it, that was selfish of us. I promise, hand-to-god, that we do not have to be constantly tense and ready to defend ourselves or flee from imaginary dangers like someone coming to the door. Yes, they might be pushy. Yes, you might have to assert yourself in a way that might feel rude to them. I promise, they don’t know we’re broken and also, we’re not responsible for how they feel when we don’t want to go to their church. Oh, and PS. expressing our anger at Papa in the one whole argument we ever got into his whole life? Didn’t kill him. Time and Russian-level alcohol consumption did that. We’re not to blame, no matter how much our perception of how our emotions damage other people insist otherwise.
You guys. We’ve got this. We can be a team. Imagine how much time off you’re going to get once you’re not constantly bombarding me with all this helpful advice. Look how much better we feel now that we’re letting go of some masking behaviors. Imagine if all of us could just kick back, put our feet up, and function? I know we can get there.
Jenny, the brain you ride around in.
Ahhhh. You know that feeling when you read a book and you’re like, this book was written specifically for me?
Full disclosure: This book actually was written specifically for me. Knowing how much I crush on late-night talk show host Craig Ferguson, Scarlett Parrish set out to write me a dirty story that for weeks was simply titled Fergporn. I waited patiently as she sent me maddening updates, all the while promising that she was nearly done. But the god damn thing kept getting longer. What started out as a novella with a target of 40k words about a comedian banging his ex during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival grew and grew and grew…into an incredibly touching and tragic story about what-ifs and could-have-beens.
Please excuse the really ridiculous gushing you’re about to read here. I am not going to give you an objective review at all. I’m just going to projectile vomit my feelings at you and those feelings are achingly bittersweet and shockingly horny.
Afton Collier is a recently divorced actress who’s returned to her beloved home city, Edinburgh, to nurse her broken heart. Unfortunately, it’s also the city where her heart first got broken in a toxic relationship with Glenn Peterson, who’s moved on to become a talk show host in America. Twenty years after Glenn—”Oosh,” as Afton remembers him not so fondly from their drugs-and-sex fueled past—disappeared from her life without a word, he returns to Edinburgh to perform a one-man show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For reasons Afton refuses to truthfully acknowledge to herself, she invites him to stay at her in the apartment she views as a palace of her marital failures.
Now, this whole set up could easily have turned into a “and there was only one bed!” situation. It also could have fallen into the trap of “oh my god, just talk to each other!” due to the internal nature of their conflict. Instead, the abrupt, unresolved ending to their romantic relationship and their two decades of keeping tabs on each other from afar makes you fully sympathize with Afton’s inability to disclose the painful aftermath of Glenn’s departure from her life.
So, those paragraphs alone should have sold you, right?
Wait. There’s more.
Afton Collier shares her author’s proud love of Embra and its history, which winds in and out of Afton and Glenn’s personal history like a parallel love story. From memories of Oosh quoting the Burns poem for which Afton was named, to the stark reality of managing recovery in a culture proud of their alcohol consumption. The land that comforts Afton is part of what drove Glenn away; you feel the pull between her love of her homeland and her resentment toward Glenn for leaving without her.
As a first-person POV heroine, Afton wrestles not only with the abrupt end to her marriage but also the unresolved issues that have kept Glenn on her mind for years. One of these (mild spoiler ahead) is the abortion she had at age nineteen, after Glenn, then thirty, fled to America. Afton’s feelings about the pregnancy she ended are complex; though she knows she made the right choice and doesn’t regret it, she does regret that she had to make the choice at all. I’ve never seen a romance novel present abortion in such a nuanced way, where the heroine is allowed to be relieved and fully comfortable with having an abortion while still wishing the circumstances could have given her another choice.
Glenn is everything I love in a romance novel hero. Not just because I have a thing for Scottish late-night hosts, but because I have a thing for damaged men who struggle with their own vulnerability. Glenn knows what he did to Afton is unforgivable; he spends as much time apologizing to her for the past as he does putting his foot in his mouth in the present. His tendency to be “on” instead of genuine is painfully relatable, especially when it fails him.
Now, let’s discuss the sex. This is a book about a heroine who’s nearly forty and a hero who’s almost fifty. They’ve had active sex lives and aren’t shy with each other once they decide to act on their rekindled attraction. Their chemistry and banter outside the bedroom made the easy reconnection of their intimacy completely natural and a heartbreakingly sweet contrast to the emotional intimacy left unresolved for decades.
The longing and the angst and the relatable drama pulled from realistic circumstances despite the fame and notoriety of main characters working in a highly visible industry makes Take Me Home not just the best romance novel of 2020, but possibly the best I’ve read in my life.