C’mon, Hallmark/Netflix

Ideally Netflix, for the People Who Actually Fuck factor.

By which I mean: here comes a list of things I want to see more of in Christmas romance!

Before I start, though, yeah, this has been an erratic year blog-post-wise, what with the plague and the drinking and the editing three books and the election and the post-election drinking and the post-court-ruling drinking. I’ll try to get back on a once-per-week schedule next year, but I’m not going to promise anything: I don’t even tell cute yet naive boys that I can be relied on, these days.

SPEAKING OF CUTE BUT NAIVE BOYS, here are some Christmas romance plots/plot elements I would watch the hell out of. I may write one or more someday, but I have at least two books on the list ahead of that, so…have at it, anyone else! And if you know of any fiction like this that’s out there already and meets my criteria (no jealousy/love triangles/monogamy as a sign of love, no rape, no pregnancy as a major plot element) by all means let me know!

* Historically speaking: Tudor era! You have twelve entire nights! You have masked balls! You have people dressed like Silent Hill monsters demanding entrance to your house so they can make you gamble with weighted dice! Also, if you need an evil figure, Hank the Shit and his various enablers are RIGHT THERE for a lot of it.

* Star-crossed love between one of the little guys who dances for Snow Mister and his Heat Miser equivalent. (IDK if it’s romance, because it’s an established relationship, but Mrs. Claus’s number in that movie makes me think she has either some 1970s Feminist Career Longings or some Gender Considerations going on, and I would be into either or both of those stories.)

* That legend where animals can talk at midnight on Christmas Eve. Seriously, how has the Heartwarming Pet Christmas Film sub-industry not gotten on this train yet? So many movies where the puppy can suddenly tell people where the kidnappers put the plucky orphan, or the cat can reveal that Alice actually loves Bob, but Charlie was blackmailing her, or the adorable snake can warn their owner about a fire! It’s made for winsome covers and pun-filled titles!

* Workplace romance between two or more of the Spirits of Christmas Whatever. You know how it is, after a hard night of convincing misers that it’s actually better not to be a total dick once in a while.

Christmas Present totally seems like the orgy type, BTW.

* My editor Mary’s idea where the child of a stingy billionaire somehow can give away as much of their parent’s money as they want until the holiday ends.

* Also, “All the Tender Sweetness of a Seasick Crocodile” needs to be the title of something.



Redemption Arcs

Okay, so it’s Wednesday, and I absolutely failed to post on the 4th for obvious reasons, and then on the 11th because I came back from a hotel and promptly fell over.

Tonight still isn’t going to be a giant post, because wow brain not happening and also I’m editing the third book in the Sentinels trilogy, which is probably why brain is not happening. But I do exist, and I’m writing, and I am…nope, not gonna talk about my outlook, lest I invoke the wrath of whatever from high atop the thing per Sorkin in one of his better moments.

If you have some cash and want to help us take away the senate from the Worst Turtle and his accomplices, check out Romancing the Runoff! So many things up for auction, and proceeds go to Fair Fight, Black Voters Matter, and the New Georgia Project. It’s awesome!

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about redemption because of some bad political Twitter takes, and some other bad writing Twitter takes. I did a longish Twitter thread about the political aspect, but to summarize/put in a longer-lasting format:

In fiction, my willingness to invest in a character’s redemption is inversely proportionate to how similar that character is to real life assholes. Vampires, goblin kings, and the literal Devil? Lots of leeway. Regency Dudes? Can get away with being a bit of a snotty asshole before learning better and proactively making it right with no hope of reward (Darcy) but not being a giant dysfunctional puppy-killing weirdo (HEATHCLIFF).

Republicans/libertarians/Proud Boys/etc? Fuck no. I can start caring about them after they’ve admitted to being assholes and started trying to make up for their past. I have no interest in seeing them get to that point, in fiction, and in real life? People mostly don’t change, and of the few people who do, most of them don’t put in the work to do so unless there are social consequences. Look Past Political Differences Because They’re Really Good People may be bullshit enabling if it’s a thing you’re doing yourself, and definitely is if it’s a thing you’re telling other people to do.

Along those lines, the closer a fictional villain is to actual RL assholes, the less I’m willing to buy into their redemption. Loki, sure, if you assume his fascist turn in Avengers was extremely influenced by Thanos or the Spacevoid. Snape? Even before JKR turned out to be a TERF asshole, Snape could go to Hell. Over in Star Wars, I felt much worse for Darth Vader before the prequels revealed Anakin as Generic Angry Young Man, and Kylo? NOPE.

Basically, if the villain seems like someone who, in RL, would mention Ethics in Games Journalism, I mostly want him to get eaten by something, not be redeemed and find happiness.

Granting all that, redemption still needs to be a thing the redeemed person works toward, not the results of people bearing lovingly with bad treatment or patiently taking assholes by the hand and explaining decency. With that, fictional arcs I actually like:

  1. Darcy: As above. Actual misdeed not egregious, gets yelled at and changes without expecting a reward.
  2. Dr. Strange: Changes on his own, and also can’t get his old relationships back.
  3. Lucifer: Was the literal devil. I don’t love how the Fox episodes shade toward “redemption” meaning “becoming monogamous,” but fuck it, it’s Fox.
  4. Scrooge. While he doesn’t change proactively, and he is very similar to many RL people, I can’t resist an arc that’s basically “the fucking undead and/or seasonal demigods BEND TIME ITSELF to kick your ass until you buy and distribute enormous geese to the downtrodden.”

    God bless us, every one.





Bothering People for Democracy: A Log

I’ve been phone slash text banking since sometime in, shit, how even does time work? September? August? Are those months? I think those are months. They sound familiar. Things I have discovered:

Even when you put “just text STOP to unsubscribe” right in the initial message, a lot of people would rather have a bunch of feelings at you. This works, by the way, exactly as well as just writing STOP, but is harder on your fingers, so…you do you, I guess?

A surprising number of people in 2020 think that swearing slash asking for nudes slash discussing my mom’s theoretical sex life is going to shock and alarm the person on the other end. I do hear some questions/alarm about it on the text channel, so I may just be the most jaded person for this job, but I think most people under 50 these days react to “suck my dick” about as much as we do to “thou art a scoundrel and a blackguard.”

Actually, that last one would get my attention. Try that, People Who Have A Lot of Feels About Texting. (And if you have to pay for it, I get that–I really wish carriers would indicate people who have to pay to get texts so we could opt them out pre-emptively–but otherwise? God, you can just ignore it. Been doing it since 2008.)

On threats, I feel like I am indeed one of the more jaded people out there. I reported a couple to the person handling that, just in the hopes that whoever it was would end up on an FBI watchlist, and the team captain was very concerned for my welfare.

But honestly, I grew up AFAB on the Internet. Some Boomer on the other end of an anonymized caller threatening me? Really, dude, you might as well just tell me you’re sending bad vibes in my direction.

Plus, I learned to drive in Boston. “Fuck off and die,” is how we say good night.

After the people who are just Very Upset About Texting In General come Conservatives Who Want You To Hear Opinions. And like the Very Upset About Texting crowd, a lot of them put a great deal of effort into it. If you just say “I’m a conservative,” or “Yay Trump” or whatever, you get the autoresponse and we move on.

A fair few people do not do this. A fair few people really want you to know their feelings about Biden, or liberals, or the Satanic baby-killing conspiracy of the month. Does this mean a conspiracy to kill Satanic babies? It’s fun to ask. It’s also fun to ask them to define “socialism” and then how it applies to Biden. You get paragraphs of misspelled texts with A LOT OF ANGRY CAPSLOCK.

I like to imagine their forehead veins throbbing.

Other people who don’t get that you can just…not respond? I Don’t Vote Because Both Sides Guy. We don’t get demographic information, but I would place non-insubstantial bets that this guy is white, cis and, well, a guy. He certainly has the white cis guy love for the sound of his own voice, and he does not like being told that he’s immature.

Hands down the best, though, was the following exchange:

Person: “Oh, I’m not voting.”
Me: Entire trained paragraph about how voting is a great way to make your voice heard, and there are a lot of important down-ballot races even if you’re not in a swing state or don’t like the candidates at the federal level, etc. etc. well-meaning etc.
Person: “Have you ever heard of the Illuminati?”
Me, inwardly: Well, this conversation is a VERY DIFFERENT conversation than the one I thought I was in.
Person: Goes on to tell me about evil old men who control everything (I mean this is true but it’s not like McConnell and Graham are making any fucking secret about it) and your vote doesn’t count because they’ll just pick the president.
Me: “…okay, when I said everyone should get involved in society, I should clearly have made an exception or two.”

I swear to God this happened.

I am endlessly regretful that I didn’t respond with FNORD FNORD FNORD.

Anyhow. Election soon. If you live in the US, vote Democrat (or Biden/Harris on the Working Parties ticket if you live in NY) or piss off. I’ve had cider and I’m done being diplomatic.




Drunk History: Crowley Like 4 Or Something: Crowley Harder

You know how I said there was a lot of this guy? There is A LOT OF THIS GUY. Like, I’m basically just going from what I’ve heard referenced in other occult stuff and Wiki, and I’ve done four blog posts already and Wiki has yet to get to Late Life, FFS. Crowley was clearly one of those dudes who couldn’t get the morning paper without starting a fire and writing a lengthy poetry cycle about it.

Sort of the Victorian occult version of people in the news right now, no? Except thank God our current attention leech doesn’t write poetry, like, that is the one thing that would make the situation worse.

Speaking of which: the VP debate is tonight, which makes it a great night for the “Drunk” part of this title. Tonight’s refreshing and wholesome beverage is St. James Brand Strawberry Wine, which my mom bought for me because she’s awesome and accepts that she’s raised an alcoholic hummingbird.

So when we last left Crowley, he was being an “occult bodyguard” to the Earl of Tankerville (actual name that I could not get away with using in a book) who was “afraid of witchcraft,” which is Weird Brit Occultist for “has sucked half of South America up his nostrils and is commensurately twitchy.” In his occultly-bodyguarding capacity, Crowley took Tankerville to Morocco and France.

Note to any cocaine-addled British nobility reading this: I would be a fucking fantastic occult bodyguard. I could protect you from all the witchcraft. DM me.

Aside from that, Crowley continued following his own drug-and-S&M star, punctuated by writing–horror stories, poetry, and pieces for, of all outlets, Vanity Fair. I am not even kidding. One of those last was titled “On the Management of Blondes,” and I say, from the depths of my heart: ew.

Founding his own magical order was pretty inevitable. One, as I mentioned, that was more or less mandatory for Victorians of a certain class–like a mystical version of foxhunting, or gout. Two, of course Crowley would go total Oh Yeah, You Think You Can Kick Me Out Mathers? about the whole Golden Dawn thing, because: Daddy Issues, possibly in both the paternal and the sexual sense. The fact that Alex named his order the “Silver Star” does nothing to dispel this belief.

Naturally, he also translated it into Latin–hey, Latin is sexy, so say Giles and Fenris, I have no beef with that–and then he abbreviated it as “A: A” but with a little three-lobed burning eye I mean three-ball-pyramid between each letter. Why, you might ask? Well, Llewelyn, everyone’s favorite source of Extremely Fucking Basic Wicca, says that the pyramid means “something further is hidden,” and also that the A balls A balls “possesses the secret Masonic “Lost Word.”

A completely unscientific prediction, by me, says that 100 out of 100 Masons think this is complete bullshit.

Noooot that the Aballs (and it really is sad that it was so goddamn silly, because “Silver Star” is a pretty name and Argentum Astrum is cool until people start making ass jokes, WHICH THEY WILL, but hey) weren’t influenced by the Masons. If I haven’t said it before, I’ll say it now: occultism, especially 18th and 19th century Western occultism, is more incestuous than a V.C. Andrews dynasty. The Golden Dawn got a lot of the rank-and-ceremony stuff from Masonic rites (which a lot of adult men in the UK knew, because Freemasonry and the Grange and so on were both socialization and social support networks in the days before insurance or social security or the Internet) and the Three Lobed Burning Star ripped off the GD like whoa.

Oh, excuse me, “expanded on” the GD. The lowest six ranks of Astrum are the Order of the Golden Dawn, Because Take That, Samuel McGregor, That’s Motherfucking Why. I will give Crowley credit for an impressive amount of pettiness here, and I speak as someone who initially named her fictional world’s evil god after a girl she hated in middle school. (I changed it a little later, not so much out of forgiveness or whatever but because it was one of those Evil God Apostrophe Names that went out of style in 1992.) Honestly, this level of intricate and detailed yet deniable spite makes me like the guy a little more.

(I would bet money that, had it been plausible, Bang Mathers’s Mom would have been one of the initiatory rites. I mean.)

After the Golden Dawn comes the Rosy Cross, because why the fuck not just go on ripping off names? We’re fucking Victorians, it’s what we do. And theeeeen the top three ranks are the Order of the Silver Star, which used to be/hopefully is not these days sometimes abbreviated as the “Order of the S balls S balls”: balls or not, those are some YIKES ASSOCIATIONS.

The highest rank, Ipissimus, is also the Double Secret Highest Rank, because nobody who gets there is actually supposed to let on. Crowley…at least strongly implied that he’d gotten there, because Crowley.

There is also an entire controversy about the possible translations of the name. Nobody ever said 19th century occultists didn’t know how to cut loose.

One of the tenets of the order is that members can’t accept payment for initiation or other stuff. People who are still around today may actually abide by the spirit of that, but Crowley 100% accepted “donations,” which were “not payment” in the sense that the office softball game is “not work.”

Just to add fun to 1970s conspiracy-theory books and people who actually believe in conspiracy theories, Crowley then called the “Official Organ” (snrrrrk) of the Silver Balls, a magazine called The Equinox, “The Review of Scientific Illuminism”.

Do I know what that means? No. Does anyone? Did anyone, including Crowley? Probably fucking not.

Now I’m going to go watch the debates and scream drunkenly at Mike Pence.



Cover Reveal, Yay! Other Stuff Blerg

My plan today was more Drunk Occult History, because believe you me there’s more Aleister Crowley to go. The dude is like the Energizer Bunny of pretentious coke-addled Victorians.

However…did you know that alcohol can go bad? This is a total upending of my worldview: it’s alcohol! You can use it to clean out wounds! It prevented our ancestors from all dying of giardia and cholera and dysentery!

But noooo, apparently if your at-the-time boyfriend gives you a bottle of chambord and you forget about half of it and then eight to ten years later you get it down from the back of your parents’ liquor cabinet and drink a glass, there are Consequences, one of which is that I can’t manage booze for the foreseeable future. I can barely manage food.

Luckily, Sourcebooks unknowingly came through, with–ta-da!–the cover for Nightborn, sequel to Stormbringer.



Nice, huh?

Little House Reread, Because Fuck It

It’s this or doomscrolling right now, so: a series of notes I made while re-reading Little House in the Big Woods.

CW: Racist terminology–not repeated here, but in book.

This series is one of my points of evidence that a book doesn’t need a Big Deal Central Plot to be interesting, and “Big Woods” has the most of that going on. The other books each have a sort of through-line, whether that’s moving to a place or the Laura-Almanzo romance or (and sometimes and/or) Nellie Fucking Oleson, but this one just has the Mary-Laura rivalry and only about two chapters of that. It’s really just How Life Was For a Year in the 18Somethings, but it’s remained popular/compelling for almost a hundred years.

I have never eaten bear. Venison, yes, and enjoyed it. (Same with moose, when we lived in Maine, and bison, though neither of those enter into these stories.) Has anyone reading this eaten bear? If so, what does it taste like? I shot many of them in Oregon Trail, but that’s about it.

Lizzie Skurnick, in “Shelf Discovery” mentions the sheer number of disarticulated game animals here, and also the general food porn of the first two books in the series especially, but I will further note that these books are probably 50% responsible for my generation going so cottagecore/weird prepper, depending on your political leaning,

“It wasn’t Susan’s fault that she was only a corncob,” sounds very Bless Her Heart, and I want to adapt it to the various racist Susans/Suzannes in the romance industry.

Panthers: Fucking Terrifying is a major theme in this particular book.

Aunt Eliza’s story at Christmas (tl;dr: dog starts acting really weird/aggro about her going to the spring, she’s scared, turns out there was a ginormous panther waiting there) is basically “Faithful Gelert,” but with a happier ending. And I’m for that!

Ma is way less about Jesus and propriety here than she is in later books. I don’t know if that’s because Laura was younger and Ma didn’t think she had to start making her a Proper Christian Lady yet, or they were further away from people–Ma is definitely a what-will-the-neighbors-say kind of lady–or what. I can’t imagine the Ma of Plum Creek or Silver Lake being so sympathetic to the fact that Sunday is The Fucking Worst, or admitting that the standards of her time were uncomfortably restrictive.

YIKES casually racist 19th century songs. Apologies: they sort of slip this one in here, and I’d forgotten it was part of this book.

Bears also feature significantly here.

I was today years old before I realized that “Horse Marines” is an innately satirical term, though apparently also was at least one military group, and also a horse who was a Marine? Thanks, Google.

OMG THE DANCE. Pretty sure this and the pig bladder are the things most people remember from this book, thus covering both ends of some sort of spectrum.

Uncle George seems to have been in the Civil War when he was 14, so, yeah, “wild” is probably the best that could be hoped for there.

“Back hair” means something VERY DIFFERENT today than it does in old-school books.

God everyone’s dresses are so damn pretty. And none of them is what we generally think of as “fancy” when we’re talking Historical Stuff–no velvet or silk or whatnot.

“Maple sugar never hurt anyone.” Words to live by.

“Then somebody would have to be unselfish and polite.” This is just all of Behaving Well As a Child summed up in one weary sentence. Likewise “had to be unselfish” re: sharing the swing in the next chapter.

I’m so glad I’m not a parent sometimes, and not only because I will never have to pretend I give a shit about a sixth-grade ballet recital. Like, I understand wanting to instill altruism and sharing and similar as virtues because nobody wants to find out they’ve raised a Libertarian, but I also remember from my own childhood how much I haaaaaated “share your toys with your guests” and similar. (Especially when they weren’t my guests, they were my parents’ guests’ kids.)

19th Century color theory was weird. Whether it was this blondes-wear-blue-brunettes-wear-red thing or Anne Shirley being unable to wear pink because she had red hair, I spent a lot of my youth being confused about who got to wear what colors and why. Let us not even discuss the whole Red Issue, in general.

The springtime trip to town is where the whole Mary/Laura Hair Color Issue starts up. I was surprised to see it so late in the book, to be honest–which goes back to what I said earlier about this not really having/needing a through-line.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that kids, regardless of who they are or when/where they live, like shiny rocks more than is at all reasonable. See also: those bins of polished stones in museum gift shops.

I think reading the bit where the stones tear Laura’s pocket out, as a kid, was the first time I realized exactly how pockets work.

God, Carrie makes out well in the early books, just out of Mary and Laura not quite being able to divide things among themselves. She gets a bead string in Prairie, too. Granted, then she grows up and is Generally Sickly and gets picked on by Eliza Jane Wilder, so I guess we should let her have what pleasure she can.

In a purely fictional novel series, Laura and Clarence would have gotten together when they grew up, which illustrates the difference between fictional and real romance nicely. Also, I want copper-toed boots.

This “ask your aunt whether she likes gold or brown hair best” thing is not the worst thing Ma does or says in the series, by A LOT, but it is the most bizarre.

That is to say: Ma is racist as hell later on. It’s awful, and being “a woman of her time” does not excuse it, especially as the rest of the Ingallses, while also racist, are at least racist in a less openly hostile way. But a white chick in the 19th century being racist is not per se surprising. It shouldn’t be an expected thing, but it kind of is.

From even a perspective of self-interested parenting, though, why the fuck would you have your two under-ten, close-in-age kids go ask the aunt they clearly really admire whose hair she likes better? You don’t have to be a modern caring parent ot even give much of a damn about your kids’ self esteem to realize that this question is just setting yourself up for a headache.

Like, oh, the aunt is smart and diplomatic but the kids fight about it anyhow and one of them smacks the other? GEE NOBODY COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING, CAROLINE, YOU UTTER BOOB.

Being glad that your sibling has to do all the chores is also Peak Childhood.

And yeah, the rivalry plot also gets resolved in like two chapters. 

Bees just never sting Pa. This is completely unexplained.

The bit with Charley (tl;dr: spoiled brat makes trouble with the harvest, YELLOWJACKETS ENSUE) is, I think, good at illustrating the difference between kid readers and adult readers. A lot of people re-reading this as adults react with horror to the whole thing and yeah: the kid is eleven, it’s not his fault his parents spoiled him up to that point, he ends up in a pretty wretched state. These people are not wrong.

But, and maybe it’s because I don’t have/want kids, or am immature, or was a particularly mean-spirited child, but I remember reading this whole thing with relish. It’s the same as when a teacher yells at a kid who is Not You: one of the great joys of childhood is seeing another kid deservedly get it in the neck.

Pa is totally some variety of frustrated druid. 

Back!

Yeah, yeah, I keep saying that. I’m a dreadfully unreliable creature. Ask any guy I’ve ever known. ­čśŤ

But with the help of my awesome editor, I’ve gotten the sequel to Stormbringer pummeled into shape, and made my way through a couple of other projects, and figured out what the hell I’m doing with my tabletop campaign. (The PCs are fighting the forces of the libertarian centipede ungods thr,ough diplomacy. And throat-stabbing. Also tactical psionics.)

So I sort of have a brain now. It’s great!

I’m still living with my parents, and probably will be mostly doing that until the end of the year if not later. It’s mostly great! I’m seeing less sf stuff than normal and more old-school Perry Mason, not to mention way too much political analysis (and I will overlook Morning Joe eulogizing Reagan every five minutes if it switches some people away from Trump, but they better shut the fuck up about that after Nov. 4, because every time Scarborough mentions “believing in the values of Reagan” I snarl back YOU MEAN IGNORING AIDS OR WHAT and then Dad spills his coffee and it’s a whole thing), and, since my nephew’s also around a lot, a whole bunch of Nick Jr.

I do not get the appeal of “Spongebob Squarepants.” Like, at all.

I also have unearned Cool Aunt cred simply because I know who the main Transformers are. It’s not even a main fandom of mine! I can’t distinguish the different series that well: there are the shitty Michael Bay movies (okay, the first two have semi-engaging plots buried in piles of toilet humor and Women Want Commitment, You Know? fuckwittery), there’s a series centered on rescue vehicles because it’s for young kids and/or the children of hippies, there’s the main series which has probably been rebooted a time or five, and there’s the one where everyone is inexplicably dinosaurs, but I suspect there are three to seven more that I’m mostly unaware of.

But I’m the only person around here who knows how big a deal Optimus Prime is. The bar is low, which is probably good for my future old-age care.

I keep trying to grow turnips, and turnips keep sprouting and then flopping over. I may or may not have grown potatoes. The jury is likewise out on parsnips, which have very healthy-looking foliage but may not be doing a damn thing underground. Something ate all my watermelon plants, and I’d be inclined to resent that, but I don’t know where we’d store watermelon anyhow. The squash is looking…plantlike? I don’t know. Very healthy little stalks, zero actual squash so far.

The world continues to be awful and on fire in seventeen ways. Everyone should vote, if they can. Everyone should vote Democrat, if they can, and I DO NOT WANT TO HEAR FROM WHITE CIS PEOPLE ABOUT “THE ESTABLISHMENT,” like, there is actual fascism going on, the current administration got close to two hundred thousand people killed, harm reduction is a thing and this is not a fucking high school production of RENT and every single character in that except Mimi is fuck awful anyhow. (Angel comes close to being OK but kills a dog, so no.)

So I’ve been text/phone banking, which means getting sworn at a lot by the sort of person who thinks that’s impressive or intimidating, even though it’s 2020. Does anyone out there actually believe calling someone a bitch is going to register? Because we’ve had the internet for 30 years now.

Read “Star Daughter,” which is amazing and 100% recommended. Read “Harrow the Ninth,” which is really well done, and which I need to read again: the first part is fairly trippy and confusing, and to be honest it was really good that the series started with Gideon’s POV, because Harrow is a bit of a pill. Understandable–blah blah teenager blah blah trauma blah blah–but understandable and tiresome are not mutually exclusive. Fortunately, the side characters and the world building and so forth carry the first part well, and then everything gets awesome.

Next week: Little House in the Big Woods, or WTF, Caroline, Part 1 of Eleventy-Million.

Future Plans: Little House Reread

I think I’ve maybe gotten most of the ranting out of my system.

FOR NOW.

I’ve also been re-reading many People Are Stuck Inside Forever historical novels, which inevitably led to re-reading “The Long Winter,” which led to me noticing some stuff about the Little House series. And I figured I’d blog about it, in the sporadic way I’m doing everything.

Preliminary disclaimer post, though: holy shit these books are racist.

I’m not really qualified to talk about that, especially since other people have done so already and with more background. Check out https://bookriot.com/i-grew-up-with-laura-ingalls-wilder/ and https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/little-house-prairie-was-built-native-american-land-180962020/, as well as Ana Mardoll’s reread, which takes a more socially-critical look than I’m going to: http://www.anamardoll.com/2012/08/little-house-lets-read-big-woods.html.

Personally, I can do the thing I do with Lovecraft and other old SF books, where I cringe at bits and then sort of shunt them off into a form of mental discontinuity. Both privilege as a white chick and a lifetime of Disney movies have also let me treat historical novels the way I do both “1776” and “Hamilton”–essentially, divorce the work from what it’s based on and pretend it all takes place in an AU where the protagonists are way better people and, in this case, didn’t then raise a libertarian trashfire.

This isn’t a thing everyone can or should do! If the concept of the books or passages from them make you nope the fuck out, that is totally fucking understandable, because even with all the above, some things are still YIKES for me. (Plus, nobody has to read anything they don’t want to. This isn’t ninth grade, you don’t have to suffer through two hundred pages of Hemingway to pass anything.) I’m not responsible for kids, which is great for the world in general for SO MANY REASONS, and I don’t know that I’d give the books to them if I was. I also would be seriously reconsidering this whole thing if Wilder or her horrible daughter were in any position to benefit from the attention.

That said: “talented” and “good” don’t go hand in hand, stopped clocks are right twice a day, et cetera. The Little House series does some things really well (food and/or clothing porn, the proto-cosmic horror of Nature, the Nellie Oleson arc), and some things interestingly (the increasingly Jesusy bits in Silver Lake and Long Winter only for religion to drop back down again in Little Town and Golden Years, the point at which the Laura-Mary relationship changed), and I’ll probably be rambling mostly about those.

I’m going to skip Prairie. Not only is it the one with the most egregious racism–there’s a gross stereotypical Native American bit character in Long Winter, and a minstrel show in Little Town that…ugh…but Prairie is really concentrated Oh God No–but, despite being the one to lend its title to a whole series, it’s also kind of the least significant. Aside from a cool trippy bit about malaria, there’s not much there (OTHER THAN THE RACIST BITS) that isn’t in the other books: you’ve got hints of the Mary-is-a-Priss, Laura’s-a-Tomboy aspect of Big Woods and the Nature Can, and Will, Fuck You Up theme from later in the series, and that’s pretty much it,

There are biographical reasons for that–the family actually moved and then came back to Wisconsin, so a lot of the events and dynamics in Big Woods sort of bracketed the ones in Prairie–but the effect is that you don’t need to read and/or care about Prairie. Summary: the family goes to take over land the government has stolen from the Osage, there’s a lot of racist bullshit, they build a house and get malaria, Mary is the goodiest-two-shoes ever oh my GOD, they find out that they’re for serious stealing the land even by the gross racist standards of the US Government, and they leave the end.

Also you don’t get malaria from watermelons. For the record.

I will also be denying that “The First Four Years” and similar exist, because fuck you, do not subvert your happy ending. See above re: AU, and in this one Laura and Almanzo had an awesome farm and stayed near her parents and nobody lost their shit about the New Deal. Fuck off, reality.

Not Oppressive, Still Obnoxious: The Necessity of Minding Your Own Goddamn Business, At Least to People’s Faces

So last week I spent some time getting annoyed at twee pagans and whiny single people, as one does, and didn’t have the room or time to go into another point I’d meant to make in more depth: behavior doesn’t have to be systemic oppression to be insensitive, obnoxious, or just plain deserving of an ass-kicking. The person practicing ska at 3 AM in an apartment building is probably not perpetuating or benefiting from an unjust system, at least not directly. The friend-of-a-friend who never bothered learning their limits or even telltale signs and ends up puking on someone’s rug at every single party without ever offering to pay for cleaning isn’t necessarily privileged. They’re still both assholes and should probably be fired into the sun.

There’s also a form of being a dick which is, although not really relevant to the privilege/oppression axis in and of itself, still bizarrely socially tolerated or even encouraged: being a goddamn busybody about other people’s lives. I started calling it the Harper Valley PTA approach, because that song is great and I first encountered the phenomenon when acquaintances were needlessly “concerned” about my personal relationships, but it covers a lot of ground.

Let’s start with the obvious. Nobody likes Have You Heard the Good News About Jesus Guy. At our most charitable, we understand that Good News About Jesus Guy is a brainwashed young sap whose cul–I mean, “church”–demands that sort of thing as a method of further brainwashing, but that doesn’t mean we need to put up with him. If your faith doesn’t overlap with Amway sales, you know this. If it does…you’re not going to like anything else on this blog, I’m pretty sure.

Nobody likes Amway salespeople either. And if I want to buy essential oils or Tupperware or cosmetics or sex toys, I’m a grown adult and I WILL ASK, LEANNE, OH MY GOD.

(I’m not saying that all the girls I hated in middle school grew up to get involved in MLM scams, but there’s a significant proportion.)

Now expand that.

Have You Heard the Good News About Not!Jesus Guy? Have You Heard the Good News About Veganism Person? ALSO ASSHOLES. People who try to convince you that their version of camping, or ballet, or Space Westerns are So Different and you really really need to just try them, after you’ve stated that you don’t enjoy those things? DICKS. People who feel the need to mention that you’re dressed too sexily or not sexily enough or not following the proper trend or have too many facial piercings or tattoos? CAN, AND SHOULD, DIE IN A FIRE.

And actually, sidebar before I go on: pressuring friends/family/SOs who are meh about your hobby to join that hobby isn’t just being a jerk to them. It’s being a jerk to everyone else who *does* enjoy that hobby, and doesn’t need Pouty SO Healer Who Doesn’t Want to LARP But Their Clingy-Ass Boyfriend (And It Is Nearly Always A Goddamn Boyfriend, Let’s Be Honest) Whined Them Into It along, glaring at everyone and checking their phone in the middle of intense roleplay scenes. “Let people enjoy things,” means “don’t drag disinterested people along and make it suck for the rest of us because you’re weirdly evangelical about your hobbies, STEVE.” (It also means “don’t intrude on activities you have no interest in because you’re jealous/clingy/otherwise a bracket fungus posing as a person and should not be dating, ALSO PROBABLY STEVE,” but that’s a different issue.)

Assume that adults are adults and that, unless you frequently party with the Amish, adults have resources. Assume that if people are your friends, they’ll observe your lack of eating animal products or your church attendance or your collection of Firefly DVDs (and it’s fine to mention things briefly, in context, like “oh, yeah, I’m an atheist so Easter is more about cheap jellybeans” or “we went on a hike this weekend and I saw a cool bird”) and will ask for more information if that’s something they’re interested in.

Otherwise, drop it. Jesus, Richard Dawkins, the cows, and the science fiction genre will be juuuust fine without you being a pain in the ass, and your friends will remain your friends.

Now that I’ve said people who are interested will ask…asking, itself, is often a dick move.

There are things you don’t need to know about other people. There are things you don’t have the right to know about other people. There are topics people are sensitive about, and choices that nobody has to justify, and no, it’s not “just being friendly.” The spectrum on which you suck ranges from being a pain in the ass about things you could Google to thoughtlessly bringing up potentially┬á painful topics out of selfish curiosity to what some internet forums call “JAQing off,” or advancing your own agenda under the guise of “just asking questions”.

Right off the top: DO NOT ASK PEOPLE IF THEY WANT KIDS. DO NOT ASK PEOPLE IF THEY’VE “MET ANYONE SPECIAL”. DON’T ASK UNEMPLOYED PEOPLE HOW THE JOB SEARCH IS GOING.

If you’re close enough to know, they’ll tell you. If you’re not close enough for them to tell you, you don’t need to know, so shut the fuck up and get a hobby.

(“Tell you,” doesn’t always have to be direct–if your friendship occasionally involves “ugh, dating is THE WORST” and similar phrases, casual follow-up “not much luck, huh?” questions are fine.)

Similarly, if you do ask–WHICH YOU SHOULDN’T–and they answer rather than throwing a glass of red wine in your face as you so richly deserve, or if they themselves mention not wanting kids/a house/a SO/etc, don’t ask why. Don’t tell them they’ll change their mind, or feel like you have to justify your own kids/marriage/whatever by convincing them otherwise. Otherwise, a “…so, what *is* the divorce rate these days, Janice?” type of answer is the least you deserve.

And I’ve seen it less, but: fellow single/childless people, we don’t get to ask either. You know the Miss Manners thing about sex, politics, money and religion not being polite subjects of conversation? Kids and relationships count as “sex” in this context, and employment counts as “money,” at least when they’re hypothetical. (“How’s Little Timmy liking summer camp?” or “Work treating you okay?” are different if you have a reasonable certainty that Little Timmy and the job are both generally going along fine.)

Relatedly: FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO NOT ASK ANYBODY WHY THEY GOT DIVORCED OR BROKE UP, WHAT THE ACTUAL HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU THAT YOU WOULD EVEN THINK THAT’S OKAY?

Seriously, if that seems like an acceptable question for you to ask anyone, at any time, please do everyone the favor of removing yourself from human society. Move out to the desert. Talk to cacti. Eat scorpions. Jesus fucking Christ, I can’t believe this even needs mentioning AND YET.

Likewise, if you deviate from allocishet monogamy at all, there’s a way-more-substantial body of people than there should be in 2021 who think they get to know how your sex life works. THEY DO NOT. If you believe in a non-Christian religion, a fair number of both Christians and atheists are under the impression that you need to know their opinion of your faith and put up with being badgered about your rationale for following it. YOU DO NOT. THOSE PEOPLE ARE AWFUL HUMANS.

This is an area where some questions are okay from some people, if those people genuinely want to know–and have done their homework on sensitive subjects where they could just Google things–and have the standing with you to ask.

As someone who’s not monogamous, “Wow, how do you schedule?” is fine as a casual-acquaintance joke. “I’d be interested to hear how you keep from feeling lonely or jealous, if you’re up for explaining,” is totally cool *from close friends and immediate family,* but not from someone I’m in one game with or put up with once a year at Christmas. “Oh, so you’re okay with cheating?” or “Wow, how do you live like that?”…FUCK OFF.

Similarly, as a pagan, “Oh, are you doing anything for that solstice coming up?” is great! “Hey, I’d love to hear more about what you believe sometime!” is a friends-and-family thing. “Aren’t you worried about going to Hell?” or “How do you believe in that stuff?” will make me hate you.

(Note: I’m speaking here as a member of non-standard but not oppressed groups. People need to be extra careful about what they ask, say, Muslims, or transgender people, and I FUCKING WELL BET that the gay person sitting next to you at a wedding does not want to discuss whatever dumbass thing Mike Pence just said.)

“But I just can’t imagine wanting to–” You don’t have to.┬áPeople can want different things from life, things completely incomprehensible to other people! It’s fine! I don’t demand that my friends who like camping explain that. (I just assume that they’ve fallen victim to an alien mind control plot to get us all eaten by bears, thus leaving Earth ripe for conquest, and I’d rather not draw attention to myself. :P) I┬á stay home and I hope they have fun, because it’s zero skin off my nose.

Lest you think I’ve turned hippie: none of this means you can’t be judgmental, even over petty things. I’d recommend knowing *why* you’re being judgmental, but, like, I have Opinions about toe-defining running shoes worn in non-running contexts, the phrase “making love,” Chloe from Lucifer, and people who give all of their kids names starting with the same initial.

Furthermore, if someone’s behavior is provably, unavoidably hurting other people or putting them at risk, absolutely confront them. Tell your TERF relative to fuck off, yell at people not wearing masks in stores, send Nazis’ pictures to their employers/colleges. Deck Richard Spencer. If you know someone’s in an abusive relationship (and that doesn’t mean cheating, or A Relationship You Personally Wouldn’t Like) try to intervene in a supportive, effective way that I am 500% unqualified to describe–check out Captain Awkward.

But: provably, and unavoidably. I myself think that the all-one-initial naming scheme is a pretty reliable path toward a book depository window, but I don’t *know* that. (Also, it won’t do Jason, Jennifer, and Joanne any good to get in their parents’ faces now: the damage has been done.) My friend’s SO who can and will quote the entire Python canon at so much as a mention of hamsters is…what he (probably he, let’s be honest) is, and I have to decide how much the friendship is worth putting up with that bullshit, but my friend is an adult and can leave if they want.┬á You Could Do Way Better is not a conversation I have the right to initiate, however enthusiastic I may be when it comes up.

That, as I’ve said about other things, is why God made mutuals and brunch, or the car ride home from the party. There’s a time and a place for a long sip of gin and tonic followed by “…well, it’s certainly *a* choice,” or “…okay but Boston is *full* of ex-fratboys with faces like potatoes who are at least somewhat less annoying than he is, so…” or just “…oooooof *course* they did. Lord.” After you’ve pulled out of the driveway, by all means turn to your friend, ask if they noticed that Madison was wearing a purity ring, and engage in as much eye-rolling as will let you get into the rotary safely.

But to people’s faces, if they’re not hurting anybody other than your sense of taste or reason? Don’t ask. Don’t tell, either. Get some kitting, and mind it. People who do otherwise deserve neither politeness nor consideration.