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TGPMIO, or “The Ballad of Kristy Marie.”

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All images in this post are screencaps of a Facebook conversation. In lieu of alt text (which is character limited), text will be reproduced in the body of this post. Some names have been redacted to protect innocent bystanders. Also, a content warning: I make a flippant remark about religious CSA, and there’s some lazy fatphobia.

Pride month 2024 was a shit show online. Every social media platform invented their own version of the evil, probably lying for attention bisexual woman who brings her straight boyfriend, Chad, a hardcore white supremacist and violent homophobe, to Pride celebrations, and debated why this imaginary woman shouldn’t be allowed to do that. And when bisexuals and transgender people pushed back with questions like, “How do you know Chad is straight and cis?” they were accused of centering themselves and inserting unsafe people into the community.

Literally, this started on June 1st.

Another great feature of Pride month was the phenomenon of local news stations reporting on Pride festivities… after they happened. I didn’t see a lot of visibility for local Pride festivals, to be honest. Any of them I knew about, I knew from LGBTQA+ people who specifically mentioned them to me. The rest of them, I found out after the fact, when a local news outlet reported on them, then sat back and let the rage engagement commence. They knew exactly what they were doing when they posted their stories.

Maybe I should be ashamed of myself for taking the bait, but I’m wracked with an awful summer cold and tired and cranky and my interaction with one Kristy Marie on Facebook was the only joy I really got out of Pride month.

Redacted: Hastings DID IT!! Organizers created such a wonderful family-friendly space and it was BEAUTIFUL. The vendors, the drag queens, Spencer Lajoye….it was all perfect. I hope next year is somehow even bigger and better (although it’s always hard to beat the inaugral event!) What a great way to close out Pride Month 2024. *hands in a heard shape emoji* *ASL I love you emoji* *fistbump emoji* I hope everyone felt LOVED and SAFE and SEEN today! My family loves you!

Kristy Marie: [Redacted] drag queens and family friends don’t go together.

Redacted: Kristy Marie Huh, were you there? Went perfectly fine!

Kristy Marie: [Redacted] keep your babies close.

Jenny Erwine (that’s my private FB name): Kristie Marie “Mamas, keep your babies close! I was at Target, trying to avoid the Pride merchandise section and a man walked past us, pretending to be shopping. He even had milk and eggs in his cart, as if that would fool me. I knew in my heart that he was a drag queen trying to groom and traffick my DD! I grabbed my DD and fled to my car. I’m literally shaking right now.”

That’s you.

Kristy Marie: Jenny Erwine eat another donut.

Jenny Erwine: Kristy Marie “Hey there, Warrior Mamas! Today I was on FB and a DELUSIONAL alphabet person MOCKED MY CHRISTIAN BELIEFS after I tried to protect the children out there from their depravity. I was so mad, I was SHAKING. I had to step away from my computer and pray to Jesus. I asked him with an open heart, ‘Jesus, what should I do? Your followers are under constant attack. How do I respond to this minion of the devil making fun of my innocent FB post?’ And I had a moment of spiritual clarity. I know that His grace compelled me to make a lazy fat insult. He knows my heart. He knows that I’m prettier than everybody else, because that’s what my youth pastor would say when he was letting me drink Boone’s Farm in his RV (so I would be safe when I blacked out). God is good. Stay safe, mamas!”

That’s you.

Kristy Marie: Jenny Erwine do you have kids or are you just fat?

Jenny Erwine: Kristy Marie “PRAYER WARRIORS! You will never BELIEVE what a fat person said to me on the internet. Not only did they suggest that drag performers DO NOT harm children (which we all know is a LIE), they also mocked my Christian beliefs. I laugh reacted as hard as I could, and I called them fat more than once, but they refused to back down in the face of my very clever retorts. DH says I’m very, very funny, and he would know, because he has some of the funniest friends (like Kevin, who does this hilarious gay guy voice whenever he and DH go on their boys’s weekend fishing trips to Saugatuck). I have never been so ANGRY in my life. I’m LITERALLY SHAKING. I almost threw up. Please pray for me, because I’m not sure I can handle much more of this BULLYING.”

That’s you.

Kristy Marie: Jenny Erwine cry harder

Jenny Erwine: Kristy Marie “Okay, usually, I don’t make posts like this. Positivity is power and through Him all things are possible! But sometimes, ooh, people on the internet can burn. me. up. First of all, this FAT PERSON who doesn’t’ even care about children starts talking about gay things to me OUT OF NOWHERE. I told her she was messing with the wrong mama bear and she would NEVER be taking my kids to get GROOMED at a drag show. Do you know what she did? She mocked my faith and refused to engage me directly! All she did was write these posts pretending to be me on Facebook. As if I would ever let a FAT HAG like her see my posts. I don’t understand how people can be such BULLIES just because someone is a strong Christian who lives faithfully by His word! I can’t even get DH to put her in her place, because he’s at The General Wood Shop up in GR right now, buying lumber to build DD a playhouse. Pray for me to have grace and patience with this sinner, because this mama bear needs it!”

That’s you.

Kristy Marie: Jenny Erwine you got a lot of time on your hands doncha miss piggy? I’m sure you can find one last pride event to go to. I’m sure they have lots of
ho-hos *peace sign emoji*

Jenny Erwine: Kristy Marie “You’ll never believe what I said to this FAT COW who was trying to lure my children away from Jesus’s light! I called her Miss Piggy and said she could get ho-hos at the pride festival! And then I said she must have a lot of time on her hands because she kept replying to me. *sideways crying laughing emoji* I have time to reply because we’re at T-Mobile waiting for DH to get his phone fixed. It kept making this weird little noise that was like a thump and then a xylophone? I know it’s from the game Grindr, because he plays that all the time, but it’s not supposed to be sending notifications constantly, so I know he got hacked. Pray this doesn’t end up costing too much to fix, because we just tithed AND we have our trip to Branson coming up.”

That’s you.

Kristy Marie: *six of the over eleven replies Kristy Marie sent in two minutes with just my name tagged and no other text*

Jenny Erwine: Holy shit I broke her.

[End Screencaps]

Obviously, I hit a little too close to home with that Grindr comment.

The thing is, Pride Month news stories from mainstream outlets are never about lifting up LGBTQA+ people and spaces. They’re always about giving the bigots a platform to scream and call us child molester.

If local news outlets care about anything other than clicks and engagement, they would be reporting on these things before they happened, so that people could attend them. They could interview organizers, so that people could see that it’s not the local government spending hard earned tax dollars on Pride, but dedicated individuals running everything on donations. Hey, wouldn’t that make a great story? The fact that in most places in the U.S., Pride festivals need donations, sometimes from corporations who aren’t squeaky clean when it comes to social issues in the first place, to keep running? Exposing that might, I don’t know, encourage people to donate.

Maybe someone could report on the fact that some cities require Pride festivals to pay the police to be in attendance, and then insist the festival be over-policed, so that the organizers can’t afford to stage the festival at all. Or they could cover why a Pride festival would even need to be policed in the first place.

Spoiler alert: it’s because of the behavior exhibited in those local news story comment sections.

Pride doesn’t need visibility after the fact, and it shouldn’t focus entirely on the elements that guarantee to provoke outrage. But social media engagement is paramount to local media these days. Anything to get laugh reacts and angry diatribes. And it doesn’t matter where they’re from; Kristy Marie might not even be from Michigan. There were several posts made by people very concerned about grooming and child molestation at Hastings Pride who weren’t even from the United States, including a man from Canada who spoke endlessly about “carnal lust,” even in conversations that weren’t about sex.

I’m convinced that straight men think about two men having sex more than gay men think about it.

I’m so glad it’s Canada Day and people like Kristy Marie won’t have as many Pride news stories to bother them. I’m glad straight men around the world will no longer be plagued by relentless thoughts of brawny, leather clad bears, their muscles rippling under a sheen of sweat illuminated by throbbing disco lights.

But mostly, I’m glad Pride month is over because it’s just another battleground, even within the community. And it’s so god damn tiring.

Dear Trout: Brothers and Board Games

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This is a long one. I can’t afford therapy yet and it would be pointless to try family therapy since we’re thousands of miles away.
A week ago, I (35 NB, Seattle WA) made the difficult decision to stop talking to my younger brother (33 M, Boston, MA) for a few months. I’ll call him on his birthday, but until then, I need to chill out. We’re developing the exact same dynamic our father has with his older sister: he trashes her, low-level insults her, and makes it clear he still thinks she’s a child (they are in their early and late sixty’s, respectively). But he talks to her every day and invites her to every family event, and gets upset if someone doesn’t like her. He has done this for nearly forty years. My aunt effectively tunes him out, but attends every family event and responds to his calls. My dad is a hateful, cruel man and my aunt is terrible and disgusting. I am desperate not to wind up like them but I think I became at least toxic and no one’s telling me.

My younger brother reads the frequent messages I send him, and even saves and rereads them. He does not call or send messages to me, though, despite recognizing my phone number and greeting me eagerly when I do call. We were really close as kids. I feel like I’m putting all the effort into the relationship, and he thinks I’m largely invisible. Except when he asked me to be in his wedding. It was a society wedding, and I am poor and have no social skills, and it was just weird to hear “it would mean a lot to me for you to be in my wedding” when he never calls or emails, but instead expects me to. It was like we were eight years old and ten years old again: arguing became shouting, he hung up on me, and my mom had to get involved so we’d talk to each other again. Why did he want someone he largely ignores (me) to be in his wedding? This was four years ago and I remain confused. What did I miss?

He visited at a family event recently and I was the first person he hugged. He beamed and was so glad I was there. I hardly ever attend family events. A day later, he invited me to dinner with his wife, who is polite to me and I am painfully shy around her despite wanting to be friends. Some other family showed up, and, cue the low-level insults. SIL was horrified. I shrugged and looked away, but was really glad she didn’t join in. The insults have been going on for a decade and finally I snapped because he said one low-level insult too far. Part of me thinks he won’t notice me not sending him messages for awhile, but I know in my bones that he will notice right away and be heartbroken. it’s not forever. i’ll just say my life is boring.

How do I avoid turning out like my aunt? How can I stand up to my brother and get him to quit insulting me? From now on, I will call him three times a year and send him messages maybe three times a year separately. Nothing like i used to, because I need to stop putting in so much effort. It breaks my heart and I totally cried when I made this decision. I risk him not liking me anymore, which I dread.

Primarily I would like validation and good wishes.

Phew, there’s a lot going on in this one, and while I know you’re saying you want validation and good wishes, I’m going to have to be Tough Love Jenny a little bit, so hold tight, okay, and then I’ll have validation and good wishes at the end.

Your family does have a toxic dynamic. You see the same dynamic developing between you and your brother as between your father and your aunt… but you largely blame only your brother for that, and you seem to expect him to change it all on his own.

Don’t get me wrong: you are one-hundred percent totally justified in not wanting your brother to belittle and insult you. I don’t know if you’ve had that conversation with him: you treat me the way Dad treats Aunt, and I want a healthier and more loving relationship than that with you. If you have had that conversation and he’s continuing to ignore it, if you’ve tried to explicitly convey to him that his behavior toward you isn’t okay and he keeps violating that boundary, cutting him off is probably the best option. What you’re describing, though, isn’t cutting someone off. It’s taking a break and resting up for the next battle. Ignoring him, then making excuses for why you ignored him without ever addressing the issue, only reinforces that he’s allowed to treat you this way without any consequences. And it sounds like that’s exactly how your aunt handles your father.

But if you haven’t explicitly discussed your feelings about this at all with him, and you’re just waiting to see if he figures it out himself… he won’t. You’ve both been raised in the same family, with the same toxic examples of familial love. Your brother is likely treating you the way your father treats your aunt because that’s what’s been modeled for you both. His actions are shitty. Does he know they’re shitty? Or does he believe this is how a brother shows love to a sister? My bet is the latter, based on his confusion at your refusal to be in his wedding. His behavior toward you suggests that he believes you’re in a mutually loving and healthy relationship, and seeing your aunt endure this same behavior without objection has just reinforced that belief.

If you have had a boundary-setting conversation with him, don’t tell him you just got busy and couldn’t call or text. Tell him flat out that you didn’t message because he violated that boundary. And if you haven’t had that conversation yet, don’t lie and say it was just something else keeping you from messaging him. “I stopped messaging you for a while because I was trying to think of the best way to approach this subject with you, but it’s time we had this talk.”

Now, I can’t guarantee that he’s going to hear you out and change his behavior immediately. He might dismiss your concerns entirely. He might say you’re overreacting. He might not be able to accept that your family has flaws. And in that case, unfortunately, you have to decide whether or not you want to stay locked in the role of your aunt for the next fifty years, or if you need to step away from your brother entirely until he recognizes the toxicity inherent in your relationship.

Here’s the validation and good wishes part: You’re not imagining that you’re in a toxic situation. You really are. And recognizing that was emotionally mature. I hope that things work out for you and your brother and hashing this out brings you closer together. But if it doesn’t, I hope (and believe) that getting this out in the open and setting boundaries is going to bring you peace.

While I think I have come up with my own answer to this question, I am curious how others answer it as well. Growing up life was a series of goals: high school, college, live overseas for a bit, grad school, a job, etc. But, after getting a job I enjoyed, I realized that I no longer knew what came next. For some, they go down the family path (find an SO, get married, have kids, usher kids down the education path), but that never appealed to me. So, I felt like I’d reached a plateau. It was not great for my mental health. So that is my question: what do you do once you’ve reached your goals and don’t know what to do next? When life has always been a series of mountains to scale, what do you do when you can’t see the next peak to climb?

Make another mountain.

Life isn’t like the game of the same name. You don’t have to make it to the finish line with a carload of pink and blue pegs and a paid-off mortgage. If the traditional path doesn’t appeal to you, you’re not a failure if you don’t take it. But that does leave you with the job of making another path. Maybe that can be your first goal.

It doesn’t have to include culturally approved milestones. It doesn’t have to be productive or look important to anyone else. You could just get up every single day and make a goal of doing something you’ve never done. Make a bunch of them. Make them big and small. “I’ve never run as fast as I can to the stop sign on the corner.” “I’ve never learned Russian.” “I’ve never run for local office.” Actually, that last one might not be good advice; you might end up drain commissioner or something. But you get where I’m going with this.

Nobody on the planet has ever lived the same life as someone else. So nobody on the planet should be measuring the worthiness or validity of their lives on someone else’s. Celebrate that you’ve completed the goals that you cared about. Now, you get find out what’s really going to make you happy.

That’s my three cents for the week. Got a question you want to ask Trout? Leave it here.

The Entitlement of Traditional Publishing

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On June 23rd, literary agent Hillary Harrell of KT Literary took to Twitter to discuss a submission with a concept they* loved:

screenshot of tweets for proof; text to follow.

Just read a query that was essentially THE ROAD meets DELIVERANCE (#YA) and now I want someone to write this for me, please?

It was followed by hashtags, a starry eyed emoji, and utter bafflement across author social media on every platform.

Morgana Bourggraff, whose Twitter username indicates that they are currently querying agents, asked:

but not the querier?

To which Harrwell responded:

Hi, no, the author did not pitch it as such nor was the opening strong enough.

Another Twitter user, Jamie Damato asked:

with respect, do you not see how it’s actually kind of insidious for an agent with industry influence to reject a querying writer with no power and then try to get someone ELSE to write THEIR concept but “better” just because they didn’t use those specific comps?

echoing the rest of us, who were understandably apoplectic with rage. Absolutely, it’s “kind of” insidious. It’s despicable. It’s unprofessional. It’s unforgivable.

And it happens all the time.

In 2019, I tweeted extensively about the link between Kim Richardson’s The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek and the blatant similarities in JoJo Moyes book The Giver of Stars. The plagiarism was obvious: Moyes “wrote” a scene allegedly based off a historical anecdote that also appeared in Richardson’s book. But it wasn’t a historical anecdote at all. It was fiction, written by Richardson, who coincidentally wrote for a different imprint at the same publishing house as Moyes. And while tons of questions remain unanswered (why and how did Moyes, an author from the UK, become so gripped with interest over a niche bit of Appalachian history? What incentive did the publishing house have to investigate these claims? Are we supposed to believe that their in-house lawyers ever had any intention of bringing suit against themselves?), the scandal itself went quietly away. Moyes will continue her career as a wildly selling author and staple of celebrity book clubs. Richardson will probably always feel a pit of injustice in her stomach when she looks at the book she poured her heart, soul, and countless hours of research into. And, as always, traditional publishing and name recognition have won.

This is the way traditional publishing works.

Take the ongoing lawsuit brought by Liz Freeman against Tracy Wolff, Emily Sylvan Kim, Entangled Publishing, and Liz Pelletier, among others. The original filing is an eighty-six page catalogue of similarities from plot, scenes, character names, and sometimes clearly reworked passages of text. While some of the similarities wouldn’t have been damning on their own, the sheer number of “coincidences,” along with the basic facts that Wolff was Kim’s client and good friend, and that Freeman’s book was submitted to Entangled and pitched to Liz Pelletier herself (facts which Entangled’s lawyers don’t deny), seem suspicious, don’t they?

If you haven’t heard of the lawsuit, you’re not alone. It hasn’t received the industry-wide attention it should be receiving. Why? Because Crave was a hit, as was Fourth Wing, and therefore aspiring traditional writers can’t discuss it. What if they miss their big chance to be the next Fourth Wing at a publisher that’s experiencing such success that a pre-order listing with no title or blurb shot to #1 on Amazon within hours? If they keep their head down (or publicly dismiss the severity of the infringement as “there are no new ideas”), they might get into Pelletier’s good graces. And they certainly won’t cross anyone else in traditional publishing.

In 2003, an aspiring author I knew submitted to a major publisher. It was rejected on the basis of the heroine being an exotic dancer, something the imprint “doesn’t do.” Less than six months later, a book with a very similar plot (including the exotic dancer heroine that the rejection letter claimed was verboten by imprint rules), was published, written by a successfully midlist author. Though there were slight changes to the story itself, the back cover copy was the aspiring author’s query letter. Word-for-word.

What recourse did that aspiring author have? Social media didn’t exist in the form we’re familiar with now. There was no way to call them out. And even if she had, this was before Amanda Hocking blew the doors wide open for self-publishing. The only chance this aspiring author had at being a “real author” was to court traditional publishers. If she’d sought justice, she probably wouldn’t have gotten it, anyway (authors in her position rarely do), and it would destroy her chances of ever successfully submitting to any publishing house.

And this is how traditional publishing always wins: they hold the power. If a publisher or agent decides that your manuscript is good enough to publish, but would make better sales with someone else’s name on it, they’ll just have someone else rewrite it.

KT Literary Agency did make a statement regarding their now-former agent’s behavior:

screenshot of Instagram post for proof; text in post.

We at KT Literary have decided to part ways with an agent whose recent public statements directly contradict our values and the trust we work to build with our clients. We are reaching out to affected clients to discuss their representation options and ensure continued support. Thank you for your patience and understanding. KT Literary.

But what did this agent get fired for, other than getting caught? Is it truly about damaged trust between author and agency, or did Harwell break a code of silence within an industry that continues to exploit querying authors to pad their wallets and elevate their more profitable clients?

I think we’d all like to believe it’s the former. But any realist knows that it’s the latter.

*All unknown pronouns have been replaced with the gender neutral singular “they”

Correction 6/25/24 – Agent Emily Sylvan Kim was misidentified as Emily Silver Kim. Kim is not affiliated with author Emily Silver.

Dear Trout: AI and holes. AI holes. And a quick hiatus announcement.

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Quick reminder that June is when I go on my annual writing retreat to the Keweenaw Peninsula, and that will be happening next week. Once a year since like… over a decade ago, I started going up there with some friends for a week of distraction-free writing and being away from administrative stuff. I just realized the other day that I finished writing the recap of the final chapter of Fifty Shades of Grey the night before I left on my very first of these annual June retreats. All of the Boss books have been written on this retreat. I can’t even get my mindhole around it. I missed last year because I was directing The Music Man, and this year I am ready to put the words down.

Anyway, that means no content here, on YouTube, or on the Patreon for a week. But if you head over to my Abigail Barnette Facebook page, you can see the cover reveal and sale date announcement for Alpha God Rising!

Onto the questions!

How do I ask my 73-year-old dad to stop using AI to create art for his books? He recently finished a book which is getting published by a small press later this year. He’s setting up a substack and used AI to make a logo for it, then asked me to fix the text as it was the only part that didn’t turn out well (debatable tbh). As an artist, this makes my stomach turn in a way I can’t explain. I’d offer to just do the art myself but I’m not good at the kind of graphic design thing the project needs (I’m more of an illustrator) and I feel weird asking him to do something differently when I can’t help with it and it doesn’t totally affect me. I guess I’d like him to hire someone, but I don’t have a suggestion as to who. I just really hate AI art on principle, but I have a hard time standing up for myself and my principles and I’m afraid he won’t understand and it’ll be a fight for nothing. He doesn’t use AI for writing, just visual art—he’s a writer and I do both. We get along really well and I guess I’m just scared of rocking the boat.

The internet—Threads, at least, and BookThreads, in particular—sure had your back this week. The popular subscription book box OwlCrate was called out for platforming author Lauren Roberts, who allegedly shared multiple pieces of AI art depicting her characters on her Instagram. Readers who questioned OwlCrate had their comments removed, or were blocked, and outrage followed. Another author, Cassie Alexander, posted a long, long thread promoting her lecture on using AI art at Inkers Con, and it didn’t get her the reaction she’d probably hoped for. Reader responses to both of these situations made it clear: readers do not want AI. Not in words, not in art, not on social media, not at all.

If I were you, I would send your dad some links to some of these responses. You could approach it as fear for his future success. “Look, Dad, I know you’ve used AI in the past, and I’m worried that you might be hurting your bottom line. This is how readers feel about authors who use AI images.” Because readers have made it clear: if they see AI art involved, they assume the contents are AI generated, and they don’t trust the creator. A reader’s trust, once lost, is lost forever.

You could also introduce him to Canva, an app that every publishing writer should probably have, anyway. Canva has free fonts and images an author can use to make logos and promo, with templates sized for posting on social media sites. It’s user friendly and has a monthly subscription fee for people who want to access the entire library of fonts and elements. The unfortunate side of this is that Canva also makes some AI tools available to users, but maybe once he sees reader response to the technology he’d think twice about using them.

Re: the ‘dig a hole and get in it’ plan to succeed at Naked and Afraid – could you give some advice on surviving in the wild by expanding on that plan? Would you dig a hole you could lie down in and find some kind of cover for it, or is it a vertical hole you could stand in and bury yourself into until there’s just a little head sticking out for passing deers to investigate?

(I hereby declare I do not intend to dig a hole, nor get in it, nor participate in any strange TV shows I’d never heard of until a certain blog post mentioned them, as a result of any advice I may receive.)

The number one issue I see people complain about on Naked and Afraid is bugs. People have tapped out due to the psychological stress of being bitten by bugs over and over. My theory is that if you dig a hole and get in it, the flying type of bugs can’t get you. I’m sure there are bugs in the dirt, too, but not as many as the air has. You also probably won’t get cold, because your body heat will fill up the space.

My hole plan involves something deep enough that you can sit on the bottom with your head at least six inches below ground level. Not long enough to lay down in (that kind of hole requires too much energy to dig), but wide enough to comfortably sit with your knees bent. The hole can be lined with palm fronds or leaves or whatever. And yeah, I guess you could put stuff over your head.

The biggest challenges presented by what I’m just now coining “Hole Survival” is getting out of the hole to go look for food or to tend the fire or go poop. I’m envisioning some kind of rope-tied-to-a-big-rock scenario where I can pull myself up out of the hole. But you run the risk of collapsing the sides every time you exit. Clearly, I still need time to work out of some of these details.

That’s all for this week. And next week, since I’m going on that trip. But after that, I’ll be back with more great advice that probably won’t require anyone to dig a hole. Got a question you want to ask Trout? Leave it here.

Dear Trout:

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Welcome to the first installment of Dear Trout, my hopefully weekly advice column. Look, we all know shit happens, sometimes I’m gonna skip a week or something. My plan is to do two questions a week, unless this really takes off and I have to bump the number to keep up. You can submit your questions here. The form asks for a name so I can refer to you while still maintaining your anonymity, but some of you put your government names on the form, so I’m worried that I didn’t explain that part correctly. So, I’m dropping the idea of using names at all. It’s still on the form because I’m lazy. Put a good name for a penis in there, if you feel like.

On to the questions of the week:

I wish I had a fun question, but I just lost my mom and I’m a grieving, lonely mess. Do you have advice for someone who is desperate for some kind of sign, to be able to believe there’s an afterlife? I’m so afraid that she’s either forgotten me, or just isn’t out there anymore and I’ll never see her again. Or maybe she realized I was a bad daughter and hates me now.

We all know that I’m an ooky-spooky, twitchy-witchy, new age buffoon with beliefs so extreme that I sometimes bully myself over them. I’ve talked before about hauntings I’ve experienced, the fact that I was in a coven at one time, I’ve even done tarot readings on YouTube. I have no trouble, as Jenny “crystals have energy” Trout, telling you that there is an afterlife. Not just an afterlife, but more actual lives after this one, and some of them may be on Earth, a fact I think about every time I fail to recycle a beverage container. There’s an afterlife. The universe is too specific to be by accident.

One thing I can’t explain is how to believe in it. I was raised religious. I have no mechanism to doubt, so I would be talking out of my ass if I tried to even speculate on how not-doubting works.

What I find really interesting about your question is that you say you want to believe in an afterlife, but the scenarios in which your mother forgot about you or started to hate you are only possible if there is an afterlife. I feel like that’s a pretty powerful sign of two things: you do believe in life after death, and what you’re experiencing is a natural feeling of abandonment that happens after a death.

You know logically that death isn’t a choice we make. We die because we’re ill or we die because we’re old or we die because there’s an accident. But whether the death is expected or sudden, we always want an explanation. Why, God? Why did you take Aunt Hildy away? She was only a hundred and seven! It doesn’t make sense, but our logic brains can’t accept that grief is its own process. We feel our human confusion surrounding death and interpret it as something that can be cleared up with an easy answer, even while we know there is no easy answer. Your brain could be saying, “Since we can’t blame mom for leaving, let’s blame ourselves instead. Then something will make sense.”

I think that when we’re grieving, we have to be careful about how we let our brains talk to us, but doing that is exhausting on our own. I think it would be a good idea to look into getting a counselor, if you haven’t already. There are people out there who can unpack all this stuff way better than I could ever hope to, and guide you through it. And I hope things get better and you can get to a place where you allow yourself to look forward to a joyous reunion with your mother.

What is the best way to overcome executive disfunction with regards to writing? I can break the process down into tiny steps, but actually starting can take me months.

I struggle with executive function (“What? No! But you’re so consistent and organized!” they said, sarcastically), especially when it comes to focusing on just writing the damn thing. I’ve found a few things helpful. The Pomodoro Technique has worked on-and-off for me. If I can do it and really stick to the rules, I can get a good few weeks of work out of it.

When that fails, I use a program called Write or Die 3. There’s a free version online, but I bought the full program for its “Peril” mode. You set the amount of time you want to spend writing, the amount of words you want to write in that time period, and then you hit “Ready?” The program shows you a cute little animated cat, prompts you to name it, and then tells you that this cat you have just named trusts you and has no concept of betrayal before revealing that the cat is dangling over some deadly green liquid. If you stop typing, a chain will slowly begin to lower the cat toward the danger juice. It is incredibly motivating.

I’ve also found that sprinting with others is a great way to get words on the page. One of my group chats has a Discord server where we can drop in any night, from 7pm-11pm EST and use a plug-in that I believe is called Sprinterbot to keep track of our time and word counts. It ranks participants from most words to least, so if you’re competitive, that’s an extra layer of fun. But it helps to just do the activity with someone else. If this is something that appeals to people, we could always add a channel for this purpose to the Trout Nation Discord; just chime in and let me know.

But if it’s not concentration and executive function holding you back from starting, then it might just be imposter syndrome or a fear of imperfection holding you back. In which case, fuck those things. You’re allowed to write. Nobody has to give you permission. You can write the thing just because you want to. Tell yourself a date and time when you’re actually going to start doing the thing. You cannot get out of it. No excuses. The most intimidating part of starting is actually doing it, but once you start, that hard part is over. You don’t have to start from scratch on that project ever again.

That’s all for this week. Submit your questions here or give our friends your (gentle) thoughts in the comments.

I’m a disaster. Ask me how.

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Obviously, I’m in no position to give anybody advice.

But I want to.

If you would like advice from someone who, until the age of twenty-five, believed that jackalopes were a real animal and they used their antlers for digging, please leave your questions here and I will answer these questions in blog posts. You might even get useable advice. A man named Gene said that I’m insightful. And he has a moustache, so… he’s a little bit better than you.

You can ask me advice on anything. Writing stuff. Relationships. Misunderstandings. Whether that guy at work is from Switzerland or not because you’re too afraid to ask him yourself. I’ll give you some kind of answer. Don’t ask me legal or medical stuff. I won’t answer legal or medical stuff because I love not being in jail. Not being in jail is my favorite part of the day.

Send me your questions, but again, I must stress, you are asking someone whose entire strategy for success on Naked and Afraid is to “dig a hole and get in it.” I’m not a professional at anything. I’m just nosey and looking to give my life a little pizzazz with your personal business.

I would rather shit out my own skeleton than read anymore Bridgerton body-positivity discourse, and I encourage you to shit out your own skeleton, too.

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It’s all over social media. Well, depending on which social media you choose, and what the algorithm shows you. But as someone who a) follows a lot of romance authors and b) does react videos of Bridgerton on YouTube, I’m currently inundated with Bridgerton content. And that’s fine, because I’m full-on trash for anything Shondaland, it seems. But with season three’s debut came a storm of weird opinions on actress Nicola Coughlan’s body and her character’s arc in the series. And almost all of those opinions make me want to eject my entire skeleton from my body via my anus so that it may run off to the woods to live amongst the Bone People.

A war is breaking out between two factions: mostly thin, cis women who think their hot takes on what is and is not realistic for a person who looks like Penelope Featherington to expect with regard to romance aren’t the result of their deeply poisoned self-esteem, and mostly upper-straight-sized and small-fat cis women screaming at them about the liberation of finally seeing fat representation in on-screen romance.

I want to load both sides into one of those padlocked carts from fantasy movies set in the nebulous middle ages and leave them in the forest to be plucked apart by the Bone People.

Travel with me, dear reader, back to the long-ago days of the 1990s. A time when Saturday Night Live lampooned all-star snitch Linda Tripp by casting John Goodman to portray her. Tripp wasn’t fat or plus-sized. She was tall, busty, jawless, and wore unfortunate shoulder pads. But to a world in which heroin-fueled starvation had recently become the mainstream weight loss goal, Tripp was so grotesque that she had to be depicted by a famously fat man constantly eating on screen.

There’s a whole lot to say about thinness, perceived femininity, and how violently racist and anti-trans our inability to view fat women as women is, but forgive me for not diving into that here.

I was a teenager during the 1990s. Every late night talk show host joked about Monica Lewinsky’s fatness. People marveled that the most powerful man in the world wanted to fuck a fat chick. I ask you now to take a moment and google a photo of Monica Lewinsky in the 1990s. Need I say more?

As a teenager desperately trying to fit the mold of femininity and constantly believing I was doing womanhood “wrong” (questioning one’s gender was not an option for Catholic school girls), I latched onto the one fat woman who wasn’t derided by the media. The one fat woman who was celebrated for her curves and her uncompromising stance on not dieting down to a size 00. Our beacon for fat representation…

Kate Winslet.

If you weren’t there when it was happening, I cannot impress upon you enough how totally fucked up the 1990s were with regards to weight. When Titanic premiered, director James Cameron had a lot to say in print media about how his first choices to play Rose were rail-thin actresses like Gwyneth Paltrow and Claire Danes. There were rumors that he gave Winslet the cruel on-set nickname “Kate Weighs-a-lot.” People debated whether Winslet’s unacceptable bulk was the reason poor Leo couldn’t fit on the door. Others praised the actress’s “bravery” for her famous nude scene, presumably because no one so hideously obese had ever before dared to impose such a gargantuan pile of disgusting fat onto audiences before.

And women were inundated with these takes because Titanic was, above all else, a romance. And it was a romance in which two handsome men fought over this heroine that the media and the director of the film insisted was a hippo barely squeezed into a corset via a complex and dangerous system of industrial machinery.

This is the part where I ask you to look up a picture of Kate Winslet in Titanic. It’s also the part where I implore the universe to make Kate Winslet look up a picture of herself in Titanic, since she once famously described herself as having a “fat ass” in the movie.

Every single girl I knew, regardless of body type, latched onto Kate Winslet as their emblem of beauty and self-confidence. After all, if someone so disturbingly, gruesomely fat could portray an object of desire to two Hollywood-beautiful men, there was hope for us.

This is exactly the fucking weird discourse that’s playing out on social media at the moment. Nicola Coughlan is rapidly becoming a fat representation icon, despite being fat by Hollywood standards only. Coughlan is short, busty, and has a chubby face. But she’s still a UK size ten, well below what the commercial fashion industry shunts into the realm of plus-sized. Beside her female Bridgerton co-stars she looks undeniably larger, but are we truly defining “anybody larger than Phoebe Dynevor” as plus-sized or fat now?

If that’s where we’re headed, fine. Living in the forest with the Bone People it is, then.

“She looks like me!” women who have never had nutrition pamphlets shoved into their hands in lieu of medical treatment are crowing. “If she, this woman who dares to have a round face and short neck and still appear in public, can find love, surely I can!” By leaning hard into the “Nicola Coughlan is fat” discourse, they feel better about themselves. And their empowerment, of course, is paramount.

Meanwhile, millions of people who are actually fat are seeing this play out and making jerk-off motions so rapid and with such fervor they will eventually require carpal tunnel surgery. Or, if they struggle with accepting their bodies, what they’re thinking is, “If Nicola Coughlan is fat enough that we’re debating whether or not it’s realistic for her to be loved, then I am irredeemable. If Penelope Featherington is the upper-limit of acceptability for love (and even that is in debate) then I deserve none.”

Even I, as cynical as I am, fell into this trap for a little while. Still bearing the neurological scars from the decade in which Jane Krakowski was cast as the inspirationally self-confident fat girl on Ally McBeal, I, too, was fooled into believing that Coughlan’s amazing rack and short stature somehow affirmed that I was not, in fact, failing at femininity by being fat, even years after I stopped lying to myself about being a cis woman. And once I realized that what I was experiencing was gender dysphoria, not empowerment, I saw clearly how many people have been duped into seeing Nicola Coughlan as a fat icon. And I remembered how destructive this narrative is, and how thoroughly it victimized young women for over a decade.

It’s very easy to ignore thin people and their discomfort with allegedly plus-sized bodies on screen. But it’s more difficult to block out the voices of those who are supposed to be “on your side.” So, when those thin voices are screaming that a person who isn’t fat by any real-world definition is too large to realistically receive love, the answer is not to scream back, “Fat people deserve love, too!” but, “Do you need to borrow my glasses? Would you like my therapist’s phone number? Can I interest you in shutting the fuck up at all?”

Coughlan has herself leaned into the notion that she’s providing body positive representation, and I can understand that. She would be considered a plus-sized actress even if she were taller; look at Christina Hendricks, Hannah Waddingham, and Gwendoline Christie, all of whom bear the horrible curse of having breasts. Anything over a b-cup seems to shunt you right onto the fat list, no matter how tiny your waist can be cinched for the red carpet. Round cheeks to boot? Ask Melanie Lynskey how that shakes out at a casting call. Coughlan’s comments make perfect sense to me, because they’re being made in the context of being filmed beside women who share at least forty-percent of their DNA with literal god damn swans.

So, while I can understand Coughlan’s perception of her body and how her intimate scenes in Bridgerton empowered her, I cannot accept the public perception that her body somehow empowers “plus-sized” women. It’s as absurd and harmful as the 2010s insistence on making Jennifer Lawrence a body-positive hero. It states unequivocally to anyone who can’t shop straight sizes that they are as disgusting and undeserving of love as they’re constantly told they are. And it drags us right back into a world where we allow visual media to dictate who qualifies as human and who becomes a joke, a world that I had, perhaps naively, thought was changing.

Meanwhile, in the middle of this discourse, South Park premiered the special The End of Obesity, which skewered the double standards of a healthcare system that views obesity as a disease, but the cure as a luxury. Throughout the episode, people who can’t afford Ozempic are prescribed “Lizzo” instead, poking fun at the very idea that simply seeing fat people represented in media will “cure” our cultural obsession with weight. At the end of the special, South Park takes aim at itself for contributing to the villainization of fat people and vows to change its ways.

We have reached an incredibly sad and frustrating day, indeed, when South Park of all franchises is doing fatness discourse correctly, but the “body positive” movement cannot. And maybe that’s because South Park doesn’t feel it owes a debt to its audience the way media packaged specifically for women does. The End of Obesity doesn’t try to convince its audience that they’re empowered by its message. It simply says, “We fucked up, and we see now that all of this is fucked up.”

And in the end, that’s the only proper response to anyone claiming Nicola Coughlan’s Penelope Featherington is giving fat representation: it’s fucked up. It’s episode 56,309 of a terrible show called As Long As Women Who Aren’t Fat But Don’t Think They’re Fuckable Feel Fuckable For A Couple Weeks Until It All Comes Crashing Down Again, All This Permanent Collateral Damage Is Worth It.

I would rather shit out my skeleton, thanks.

(Jenny’s Version)

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Last week, I got an email from Harlequin’s rights division informing me of the decision made in the review I requested on some of my titles. After months of waiting for this decision, I am proud to say that I now own the first book I ever wrote, Blood Ties Book One: The Turning as well as the subsequent titles in that series.

Twenty years after I sold that manuscript, it belongs to me again. I can re-release it, with changes to lines I grew to hate (I’ve already cut “masticating emptiness” and even a “save for”). I can fix an offensive racial trope. I can tighten things, expand things, I can change what I want and hell, even keep on writing that series if I feel like it. Dr. Carrie Ames, Nathan Grant, Cyrus, Ziggy, The Soul Eater, Dahlia, Max, Bella, Bill, all of them are my dolls to play with, in whatever dollhouse I like.

And over a decade after my identity as an author was usurped, people will read these books and know that I wrote them. I’m the writer of the Blood Ties series.

Getting these rights back heals me in a way I didn’t expect. I’m not cut off from that part of my career anymore. Blood Ties isn’t my past anymore. It’s my present. As long as I hang onto it, it can be my always. These books aren’t from when I was a writer. I’m still a writer.

I didn’t even realize I was feeling that way, until I read that reversion letter. But in my mind, there was an invisible line drawn between when I was an author and the time period in which I stubbornly persisted in my delusion that I was an author long after I’d been proven a fraud.

The weird thing is how unceremonious it was. Just an email with a .PDF attachment listing the titles, with some legal verbiage about licensed artwork and trademarks. Someone hammered it out on a Monday and emailed it at close of day. Maybe it was the last thing on their to-do list. They’re never going to think about it again. But it’s made such an enormous change in my world. It’s alleviated imposter syndrome I didn’t realize was still plaguing me. And it’s made me feel like a real author again. Which is funny, because while I’m proud to be an indie author and in control of my career (let’s face it, New York publishing wouldn’t be able to keep up with my release schedule), there was still a part of me that felt like an unwelcome guest in writing because I’d been traditionally published and then politely shown the door.

Sometimes, you can’t identify a problem until it’s fixed, I guess.

Right now, I’m having a ball revising and updating these books. At first, I thought I’d just need to clean up the cringe word choices, but there will be major updates to the text. If you love the original series, hang onto your copies, because this is going to feel more like a reboot than a re-release. Major changes are coming for the characters of Ziggy and Clarence, and I’m bringing the entire story forward in time, which will require me to adjust things like Carrie needing to “fire up the modem” and print driving directions from the internet. I’d love to keep everyone abreast of these changes, but I also don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t read the books or who don’t want spoilers about the new versions, so that stuff will come in later posts.

Right now, Blood Ties Book One: The Turning (Jenny’s Version) is heading for a September 2024 release in ebook and hardcover. Other details about the release will be fine-tuned over the summer. Which I am calling my Summer of the Vampire, because I’m also steadily working on a theatrical adaptation of Dracula as a side project.

Prepare for me to be insufferable, is what I’m saying.