Film Corner: Fright Night

Note: This post was previously posted on Patreon.


Today's Amazon Prime offering feels very appropriate for the Halloween season: "Meet the new neighbor, Jerry Dandridge. He's charming--and utterly lethal. That's because he happens to be a vampire." I've never seen the first Fright Night (1985, I believe) before but I have a vague awareness of it enough to know this is a sequel. I'm a big fan of modern reboots because they're interesting and sometimes great and sometimes terrible (and sometimes impossibly both at once), so I'm curious to see how this holds up.

The movie opens with some really terrific heavy music that is hella portentous and I'm here for it. We zoom over a middle-of-nowhere suburb where all the houses are cookie-cutter identical. A television plays a scary Vegas magician who looks like he's honing in on Criss Angel's territory before cutting to news that a woman in a grocery parking lot was accosted by a man who tried to bite her. Sounds like we might have a vampire problem!

A teenage boy barrels through the house in a panic, hiding under his parents' bed which also contains his parents' dead bodies. Ahhhhhh. We don't see the vampire who kills him but for a moment's glimpse, which is precisely how you want to do an opening like this. RIP, that kid. I do love that we're establishing vampires exist right upfront; I have a vague sense that maybe the first one had a bigger air of mystery about whether vampires were real and/or really in the suburbs? But you can do that with a remake, you can get down to brass tacks with the mystery twist because everyone already knows it. I approve.

Film Corner: Nope

Note: I recommend watching this movie without reading my review first. It's so much better, I think, if you go into the viewing experience for this film not knowing anything about it. It's a scary movie, yes, but not a jump-scare movie, if that makes sense. As far as content warnings go, there's some pretty graphic animal death and animal violence.


We're going to watch NOPE tonight, which I've been looking forward to as a big fan of Jordan Peele's GET OUT, and the previews for this looked amazing. I think that was back when we still went to theaters, in the Before Times, before covid. All I know about this one is that it has aliens and occurs on a horse ranch. Sort of like SIGNS, but with a Black family instead of Mel Gibson? I think we can all agree that's an improvement. "The residents of a lonely gulch in inland California bear witness to an uncanny and chilling discovery."

As always, there will be spoilers!

December Newsletter (Update!)

There is a lot more rain and water overall up here in Chicago than in Fort Worth / Dallas. That was one of the reasons why we chose Chicago; we were tired of living in a desert while climate scientists kept warning that droughts are just around the corner. But with all this water comes the risk of floods. I was warned of this by friends when we moved up here (not a "stay away!" warning, just a "be aware!" warning) and then experienced it firsthand when our temporary housing flooded not once, not twice, but three times before we were able to close on our house. (And that was sewage flooding, which is the worst kind of flooding.)

This morning I woke up to find that (a) I'm kind of under-the-weather because the humidity and air pressure has been doing bad things to my sinuses and (b) our basement flooded overnight.

Really, it couldn't have happened better than this. We specifically paid more home insurance to cover flooding and they're already working with the plumber and the cleaning team to take care of things. We have been cleaning non-stop because a friend is coming to visit for Christmas, which means that we literally just finished unpacking and putting everything away downstairs, which means that it's not a maze of soaked cardboard boxes full of water-damaged belongings. We bought elevated furniture (desks, bookshelves) and designed the downstairs (wall shelving. lots of wall shelving) around the flooding issue so all our stuff is elevated off the floor and mostly safe. Additionally, it's mostly rain water instead of sewer water (...mostly) so the smell isn't as bad as it could be. After the insurance deductible and the ruined rugs and the one water-logged box we hadn't unpacked yet, we'll probably be out about $2,500 to $3,000 dollars. Obviously not what anyone wants to hear right before Christmas, but it could have been so much worse.

Those are the pros. Cons: We were a little blindsided by this because the house does have a sump pump but apparently those can get clogged and backed up. The plumber is trying to figure out why that happened and if we can make sure it won't happen again. And as previously mentioned, we literally just finished unpacking and putting everything away downstairs, so this is emotionally a real kick in the teeth--we had been looking forward to being able to use the downstairs over Christmas break to get back to our resin products and making art to sell on Etsy. The cleaning team has to basically move everything in order to take up the bottom foot of drywall and replace it, or else we could be risking mold and foundation damage. We're really grateful that they're on top of things and that the insurance is being cooperative, but obviously this isn't fun. The cats don't understand why they've been confined upstairs (which we have to do, because they will drink the water) and everyone is a little bummed at having to quarantine upstairs. We'll survive though!

Anyway! I mentioned this on the public discord but I know not everyone keeps up with things there, so I wanted to make a mid-month newsletter post about what's going on here. Sending you all love and hope that you can stay safe and warm.


[TW: Transphobia]

The other big thing I need to report is that a story broke today in the Washington Post that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton's office has been trying to compile a list of transgender adults in Texas by querying for a list of numbers, with a list of names to follow, of everyone in Texas who has changed gender marker on their driver's license. Gillian Branstetter spread the story on Twitter.

Needless to say, this is extremely scary. It sounds like--best I can tell from the reporting--that numbers were pulled together but not individual names...yet. I want to call attention to this because Kissmate would be on any such list as this. Before our relocation, many people assured us that we were overreacting to move out-of-state. They told us that Governor Abbott and his administration were "only" going to go after transgender youth, and that adults were going to be safe because Republicans may hate trans people but they know they can't do anything about law-abiding adults. Well, now we have evidence that they are planning to do something about trans adults, because there's no reason to compile a list like this unless you're planning to use it.

I'm scared for my trans community still in Texas.

"Reading is Ableist" and Other Things I Haven't Said

I think it is very silly that I have to address this, but I have not said--nor do I believe--that "reading is ableist". I do not even know what those three words would even mean when applied in that order; reading is a skill that some people have and some do not, but a skill is not inherently ableist to possess or wield. What I said was that mocking people for not reading is ableist because some people cannot read.

At this point someone will mock my statement that "some people cannot read" by bringing up that audiobooks exist and forgetting that there are people with disabilities which preclude them from reading those too. And that disabilities which preclude print-reading can coexist alongside disabilities which preclude audio-reading and that it's just a generally good rule not to mock people for not engaging in a complex skill like, for example, reading.

Reading: Not ableist (nor can I fathom how it could be).

Mocking people: Often very ableist (and rarely kind or necessary).

December Newsletter (2022)

Winter is very definitely here! We weren't really sure what to expect when we moved up to Chicago and people kept warning us about the cold weather. Contrary to popular belief, Texas has pretty cold weather too it's just cold for a shorter length of time. We have, in fact, experienced the fun of living through 20 degree weather in a drafty poorly-insulated house while waiting for four days for the power to come back on and our various elected representatives vacation in the sun. Compared to that, a slightly longer winter in a house with working electricity and decent insulation sounded like it might just be an upgrade!

So. We are currently very cold, but we are also as cozy as we can be. I am learning that "cold" here is less a function of actual temperature and more a function of accompanying environmental factors. A sunny day that is calm (not breezy) and dry (not wet) can be in the 20s and still feel fine; a cloudy, windy, wet day can be in the 40s and feel like death. And I apparently brought my allergic-to-weather-changes allergies up here with me because I have turned into Sniffles the Under-the-Weather Monkey and have been running a 101-102 temperature. Not sure what that's all about, but we're weathering the storm. 💕

Medical Updates: We're kind of in a holding pattern on this one. Kissmate is still in a lot of pain. He's going to the doctor soon to talk about when to schedule his surgery, which we're hoping will be a lot cheaper here than it would've been in Texas. We're a little unsure what recovery will look like, since our house here is divided into two levels separated by stairs (this is apparently very standard in Chicago) but probably he'll be confined to the bedroom for a few weeks and we'll marathon-watch old Sherlock Holmes episodes or possibly Dragonball Z. Unrelated but also medical: I am going on T soon and very nervous and excited about that.

Twitter Updates: I've been watching what is happening on Twitter with trepidation. I am glad that the site hasn't imploded for the sake of folks who rely upon it for their livelihood, especially sex workers and disabled people surviving on crowdfunding. Yet I am very alarmed by the behavior of the new ownership, which has been increasingly hostile as he tweets out deliberate Nazi "memes"--which are, in my opinion, really just Nazi messages cloaked behind a cowardly claim of joking. I don't feel like I, personally, can safely or ethically participate in the use of that site anymore, though I will absolutely miss the social camaraderie there. I will remind folks here that I have a public Discord that I am trying to use in place of Twitter; I would love to see you all here if you like.

Chicago Update: We replaced the stolen Pride flag on our lawn with another one that we tied to the flagpole and would need, like, scissors or a knife to remove and it is still there! Victory! We are very happily settling into our new little safe space. We almost finally have all the boxes unpacked and we feel... we feel home. More than we have ever felt before, this place feels like a place we made for us. It's good.

Cat Update: The babies are doing very well. They've figured out that heat comes from vents in the floor, so we placed little basket cat-beds at the foot of several of the beds and they all have their favorite spots picked out. Some of the others (Cookie, Crispin) basically just don't leave the bed, ever. They really like the heated blanket that we put on over the main comforter. Cheddar is starting to get a little closer to us; he's figured out that when we sit on the toilet (lol) we're not going to be moving anytime soon so he can sit nearby about a foot or two away and watch us. He's a very curious boy. He's also filling out and getting nicely rounded, losing that "hungry street cat" look he had before. I'll try to get some pictures up later in the month.

Other Updates: We're this close to setting up our old "packing corner" where I shipped out books and bookmarks and resin crafts from our Etsy. I owe a lot of Patron bookmarks! I haven't forgotten, I swear! Kissmate is really keen to reopen the Etsy store and get back to work with resin, though he'll probably have to keep a slow pace until he heals up.

I hope to get you a new fairytale story soon, a few live-reacts of things, and maaaaybe a Narnia chapter? (fingers crossed) And cat pictures! And I found a folder of old live-reacts that we wrote and planned to post but then never did because of the hectic move stuff, so I need to edit those and get them posted as well.

Let me know how you're doing in the comments? I worry. Sending love.

November Newsletter (2022)

Happy November, y'all. 💕 We're inching closer to winter up here and it'll be interesting to see if we're as unprepared for a Chicagoan winter as everyone here fears we are. Our plan is to hibernate as much as possible, and we at last have window blinds so we're hoping that will help! (In the nick of time, too, because the windows were getting very very cold. I'm not sure how insulated they are.)

Some Bad News: I said last time that I thought we pretty much had everything under control and that was apparently bad luck because I then immediately got very sick with some kind of sinus infection from Mars and then Kissmate started having extreme pain that confined him to bed and culminated in our doctor warning that he needs invasive surgery as soon as possible. We've got a GoFundMe up to cover the costs that insurance won't cover, and I think we're setting some kind of record for yearly surgeries to remove various organs, sigh. I feel like a Ship of Theseus except that we're not putting new organs back in to replace the ones we take out.

The Good News: Otherwise, aside from medical issues, things are going about as well as can be expected. We still have contractors essentially living with us, because it turns out when you move into a 100-year-old house that was renovated by a house-flipper then you run into little things like "your heater was incorrectly hooked up to vent through your dryer and that's why you smell gas downstairs; don't light a match until we can get this fixed" and "oh, sorry, you wanted the window in the bathroom to be able to CLOSE in the winter? that costs extra" and stuff of that nature, but I'm trying to view it all as, like, an adventure.

I can say that our mental health and emotional states have improved immensely by not being in a locality where we could be arrested or killed for being queer. The worst thing that has happened so far is we're pretty sure our homophobic neighbor stole our little Pride lawn flag. Which is to say that it was stolen by parties unknown and when we replaced it, he could be heard loudly complaining on the sidewalk that it was back again and "some people just put any old trash in their yards". This is, of course, still a huge improvement over the Texas situation.

Cats: I know Cheddar is the darling of the internet, so I'll focus on him for this update, lol. He is still very wary of us approaching him directly, but I have also done so by accident several times (he looks like Chip in the dark) and then apologized and backed away when I realized my mistake. So he's learned that if he holds still and just gives me an alarmed "why are you approaching me" look then I'll bank off. He still loves the under-the-bed pillow we put under the bed for him. A few days ago, I lay on my stomach on the floor and hand-fed him chicken puree while he lay on that pillow. So he's living a happy pampered life. Everyone else is similarly okay, though Cherry accidentally tripped me hard a couple days ago and the contractors were all very worried that I'd dropped dead on them. That was a little stressful.

Live-Reactions: I really really miss having a place to live-watch and live-read things. I popped back onto Twitter when the Medical Emergency happened and I was desperate, and the response there confirmed that Twitter is not a safe place for me now. Which honestly sucks very much. But I've gone ahead and spun up a public discord where I can share things, and that can be found here. You are all very welcome to join and I hope you do!

Sending you all love and hoping we get through this safely.

October Newsletter (2022)

We have a house! We are no longer in temporary housing! We no longer have to worry about being maybe-homeless if our AirBnb hosts get angry with us, nor do we have to deal with a sewage-flooded basement which was a thing there for a couple weeks! We are very excited about this change in situation!

The Good News: SO MUCH. I am afraid I'm going to miss something, that's how much good news we have. We're in a house we really like (even if it does need a lot of work, it's good work that we can look forward to doing). Thanks to all your help, I've found a pain doctor who isn't perfect, but he is willing to keep me on my current script of meds, which is ultimately what we needed the most. Thanks to help from the wonderful Captain Awkward we've found an amazing general practitioner doctor who is fat-accepting, trans-friendly, and actually believes in adult ADHD which was something we really struggled with in Texas. Now that we're in our own bed again, my pain is coming rapidly back down to "normal" levels. The cats are doing well in the new house and are thriving at having their cat towers and blankets and everything else with their scent on it back. Cheddar had an eventful few days, but he's back out of the wall and we'll get the holes repaired soon.

The Bad News: Hardly anything! Money is going to be a little tight for a bit because there were some flaws in the house that the seller didn't disclose. (We had Roto-Rooter out here the second night, lolsob, and we had to get a plumber out to redo the shower floor because it wasn't done right and there was a leaking situation. Plus, it turns out that some of the walls don't have insulation--we can thank Cheddar for finding that out! And we need to fix that before winter, and install blinds, or we're going to be very cold!) I'm going to try to pick up a few extra hours at work to help pay for all that, and I have Kissmate at my side to help me. We're a little worried because our next door neighbor is enthusiastically homophobic who introduced himself by coming over here and ranting about F-slur gay people and how he didn't want Those Trans Folks Around His Kids, but he also seems perfectly convinced that we're a cishet couple who probably agrees with him. We'll see how he reacts when we put up the garden rainbow flag that Kissmate wants to install.

Plans!!: I really want to finish up a post on Prey on Hulu, and I'm watching for Nope to come available to rent on a streaming service because I've heard it's really good. Kissmate is pulling together some great cat pictures for y'all this month, and he has such a good eye for photographs. And I'm hopeful to be able to get back to writing fairy tales! I've been reading some lovely flash fic on Tumblr lately when I wind down to sleep and it's been great for recharging the brain batteries!

Check-In: How are y'all doing? I miss interacting with everyone on a daily basis.

Live-Read: Bloody Benders

Editor's Note: This was previously posted on Twitter on July 2022. (I think.)

Do y'all remember my #PrairieFires live-read tweets?

There was mention of a prairie serial-killing family who was contemporary to Laura Ingalls Wilder's time period, the "Bloody Benders". Laura and her family almost certainly never met the Benders, but her daughter Rose kept pushing her to include them in her Prairie books until Rose seemed to gaslight Laura into believing that Pa met them. There's now a book about the Benders out by a crime author I like, called Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie. I am trying to read it (I'm still having trouble with my eyes) and it is a TRIP.

Little Slaughterhouse on the Prairie by Harold Schechter

Back when the US government stole land from the Osage Nation and parceled it out to white people to settle via the 1862 Homestead Act in Kansas, a family called the Benders took a parcel of land located close to the main road from Fort Scott to Independence to open an inn. Because of the way the land was parceled out, they were neighbors to the local trading post but still miles away from anything resembling "other humans". So you have to understand that this "inn" wasn't inside a town. It was a solitary building sitting on the prairie.

This "inn" didn't have quaint things like multiple floors and guest rooms and such, unlike whatever Dodge City saloon hall you might imagine. It was a 16x24 foot rectangle with a cellar. That had a trapdoor. The trapdoor will be important later.

The best and most frustrating thing about researching the Benders is that NO ONE AGREES ON ANYTHING ABOUT THEM. The mom may have been named Kate or Elvira (REALLY). The dad might have been John or William. Their son may not have been related to the family at all. Their daughter was either hotter than hot or uglier than sin, but no one could agree which one it was.

Here's a great quote: "You may read that she was “a large, masculine red-faced woman”; that she was a rather good-looking red-haired girl; or that she was a siren of such extraordinary charms that one has to call on every famous beauty, from Cleopatra to [Lily] Langtry". We pause to process our complete and total surprise that contemporary writers were obsessed with the daughter, Katie, and whether she was the prettiest woman who ever lived or the ugliest.

She and her mother were said to have given themselves to the Devil, so that's fun.

Katie liked to style herself as "Professor Miss Katie Bender" in printed handbills that she distributed throughout the region advertising her faith-healing abilities. She also conducted seances, told fortunes, and sold love charms. Very side-hustle. [TW: Hypothetical Incest, Infant Death] She may or may not have had a sexual relationship with the man who may or may not have been her brother and they may or may not have gotten rid of several infants they had together, but this is all very much speculation and NO ONE KNOWS.

(Kissmate is reading aloud to me, which helps with my eye-strain, but he also has to pause every few sentences to say "wait WHAT" so that's fun, lol.)

ANYWAY, the 16x24 building was basically cut in half with a curtain. The front half had a "grocery" with a small stock of canned goods, coffee, and tobacco for visitors to buy. The rear was their kitchen and bedroom where all four adults slept. The kitchen was important because it had a table and two benches, one of which was backed right up against the curtain. (SO SOMEONE CAN SNEAK UP ON YOU WHILE YOU EAT? YES, WE'RE GETTING THERE.) Inn-guests got a straw pallet next to the family to cuddle up. Cozy!

Guests to the Bender's home noticed a terrible stench coming up from the floor plus a lot of flies swarming around the floor. That's probably nothing! One girl who visited for a seance was a little startled when the Benders cornered her in the kitchen with an axe; she ran for her life (she claimed they shot at her with a gun when she fled!) and quickly moved to Nebraska with her husband. Without telling anyone what happened. As one does.

Confirmed kill count so far: 0

A month later, two boys found a dead body near the Bender's land--a local stonemason who'd gone missing when he was on his way to Independence. The money he'd taken with him was gone, but there were wagon tracks nearby matching the Bender's peculiar wagon. (Their wagon wheels were set up in a strange manner that made their tracks very recognizable. This, too, will be important later. The wagon's rear axle was significantly wider than the front one. Unclear whether this was a stylistic choice or something they'd jury-rigged together like the rest of their building projects.)

Kill Count: 1

During a blizzard, a Mrs. Leroy Dick saw the Bender men traveling away from their home in their wagon, which is a very odd thing to do during a prairie blizzard. Following a winter thaw, the bodies of two dead men were found on the prairie, killed in the same way as the last dead guy, and dumped around where the Benders had been driving. Very suspicious!

Kill Count: 3

Over the next year, 9 men traveling through the Bender's county went missing.

Kill Count: definitely probably 12!

These missing persons were big news! Papers were upset about how dangerous the roads were! There was a lot of ink spilled about highway bandits and robbers! The book doesn't say, but I am certain that lots of white people probably blamed Native Americans!

Leroy Dick--ah, you didn't think we'd hear from the Mrs. and her husband again, did you?--received no fewer than SIX anguished letters from family relations asking where their sons, husbands, etc. had disappeared to. One of the missing men had a newborn baby daughter with him, as he was leaving the territory after his wife died in childbirth. Um. I'm pretty sure that's not going in a happy direction so let us hang a big TRIGGER WARNING: BABY DEATH on this thread from here on out, ok?

A friend of the missing widower tried to retrace his buddy's steps and found: starving horses hitched to an empty wagon. He took the horses safely into custody and continued on his search. At his last known stop, he said his next step was to stay overnight at the Benders. Uh oh. UPDATE: THAT GUY IS NOW MISSING TOO.

Kill Count: The last 12 guys + this 1 guy + the baby I didn't count earlier because she was a surprise = 14.

Missing Guy's Missing Friend has a Brother who is now going to retrace HIS steps. This is like a fairy tale wherein people keep falling into the same pit. However, THIS guy is a lawyer AND a colonel AND a newspaper founder AND a state senator! That is a lot of hats to wear! His name is Alexander York which I am going to include here, despite my desire to keep my live-reads sparse on names, because I feel like that many hats means this guy will be important. So: Everyone, meet Colonel York.

York pulls together a search party to scour the prairie for his missing brother. They narrow down that his last known location was the Bender inn. The Benders recalled that the missing guy had stopped by, bought some supplies, and ridden on. Maybe he was killed by outlaws? When this vague outlaw "lead" didn't pan out, Katie offered to go into a trance to communicate with the missing brother. She announced that the spirits couldn't assist because there were "too many unbelievers present". The colonel needed to come back tomorrow, alone. KATIE, I DON'T THINK THIS IS GOING TO WORK.

Colonel York leaves with his search party and doesn't return the next day. Unclear at this time whether he smelled a rat or just didn't believe in spiritualism. Either way, wise choice! You avoided the pit, York! There are now 11 unexplained missing men in the county. (Kill count: 15? It's unclear how many of the 11 have already been counted.) Seventy-five men of the county, including the two Bender men, meet to discuss this! The Benders did not have any suggestions regarding this rash of missing men. Fast forward a week later and a guy finds an abandoned wagon. Again, two half-starved horses were still hitched to the wagon. The horses (and a hungry dog) were saved and taken back to town.

Prairie CSI went over the wagon and determined that it was the Bender's wagon. BUT. There is an important detail that I missed just now. Remember that town meeting? The non-Bender men resolved to search EVERY HOUSE in the county to, I guess, see if anything was amiss. So it would seem that the Benders had a good reason to get out of town. The wagon had been abandoned after breaking down, so did they go from there on foot or did they have another ride? We don't know yet! Because instead it's time to: SEARCH THE CRIME SCENE.

A neighbor notices that the Bender Inn doesn't look right. The cows and such are just wandering around loose and hungry. He notifies Leroy Dick and Colonel York, who bring a search party to check the place out. The house is completely in order. Some clothes are missing, but all the food and store supplies are still on the shelves. But they find 3 hammers (previous bodies were found with their heads smashed in) and a German Bible wherein someone had recorded "cryptic dates".

Penciled inside the Bible cover were:
- birth and death dates of family members
- several recent dates
- these accompanied by the phrase "Slagh Day"

The Benders were German. I'm not sure if that would transliterate to "Slay"? The search party found the indoor air to be heavy and fetid. They found the trapdoor and opened it, and the scent was so foul that everyone had to run outside. York--who doesn't do anything by halves--suggested that the entire house be pried apart and the floor taken up.The entire cellar floor slab was coated with blood. Under the slab the ground was saturated with gore. Looking for bodies, they checked the orchard and found graves. York quickly found his missing brother--dead and buried.

Ah, this seems important:

@McNutcase. "Schlag" is German for "hit" as in hit with a hammer...

The search party non-fatally hanged the nearest neighbor who ran a trading post on the grounds that he must've known what the Benders were up to. The newspapers were shocked and outraged given that the man had an impeccable reputation and was clearly innocent, although that "clear innocence" is a little in question given that he was convicted 23 years later of the torture and first-degree murder of his teenage daughter, so it's unclear what the hell was going on with that guy! (His name was Rudolph Brockman, if you want to research him more.)

A second neighbor--this one definitely innocent--was also non-fatally hanged a few times in search of a confession that led nowhere. This is why vigilante mobs are notoriously bad at the whole "justice" thing. They wanted someone to blame and focused on nearby bystanders. INCIDENTALLY, this is the search party that Laura was eventually convinced to say her Pa was a part of, so it's actually a rare moral point in his favor that he wasn't present at the time.

[TW: Child Death, Mutilation, Torture] More digging uncovers eight more bodies (9 so far!) including the missing widower and his baby daughter. The men are all naked and (confusingly?) castrated. The baby had been buried alive with her father. Note: The Benders are still missing at this point!

We're going to do a calm CSI-style chapter. The Benders' methods seemed to be: when a single isolated traveler who looked like he might have money came through, they sat him at the table with his back to the curtain. They'd sneak up behind the curtain, crack his head with a hammer, and then dump him into the cellar through the trapdoor. From there, he was stripped of his goods and clothes, then they cut his neck in order to drain him. If the ground wasn't frozen, they'd bury him in the orchard; if it was winter and they couldn't dig the frozen earth, then he'd be carried off in the wagon and dumped in the creek.

The best motive anyone could figure out at this point was robbery, but several of the victims had very little money on them and seem to just have been killed for the fun of it. Society didn't have a "serial killer" designation at that time, but that's the best word we have for them now.

Back to history: The entire nation's newspapers go nuts with delight at having something lurid to write about. They compare the events to Edgar Allen Poe's short stories and reach for the gothic in order to convey the facts. The papers then quickly begin to make up new details, speculating on a Satanic cult.

The Bender farm is *instantly* turned into a tourist attraction, with people flocking in to see the site. They have to walk for miles or hire a wagon, but there's still HUNDREDS of visitors wanting to see the graves. They are literally walking all over evidence and taking shingles and stones as souvenirs! WHY ARE PEOPLE. The town has to intervene to bury the victims, but not before people have robbed the dead of their hair. Within a WEEK the entire site has been picked clean. ONE WEEK. Everything, even the timbers of the house, are gone. The only thing left are the holes where the cellar and graves had been. That's how long it took tourists to pick the place clean. Tourists that had to come by wagon! Not, like, neighbors!

Kissmate is horrified. I'm reminded of the conversations we've been having about modern True Crime fans? Not ALL of them, of course, but the ones that go way too far and hamper ongoing investigations? Because there's this very odd human desire to be a part of these stories? I'm remembering how when that one guy went missing after his girlfriend turned up dead, there were people who flew out to Florida to walk around on his parents' lawn and harass them and it was all way too much and I was afraid someone would get killed. There's this need some people seem to have that drives them to become part of a story that isn't theirs to be part of, or to memorialize it as "theirs" in some way due to their intense interest, and it's very strange and maybe unhealthy? Those poor victims of the Benders should not have been desecrated like that.

Speaking of, now dozens of witnesses come forward to tell the story of their Close Encounters with the Benders and how they survived against all odds. One man claimed to have visited Katie for her faith-healing powers. He and his buddy refused to eat with their backs to the "killing screen" and instead ate standing up and were after able to escape. A second witness, a priest, was unnerved by the way Pa Bender kept walking around the house with a heavy hammer in his hands. Remembering the strange missing persons reports in the area, the priest went to go "check on his horses" and drove away as fast as possible.

Another man caught Pa Bender sneaking up on him with a hammer. This one *drew his gun* and Pa dropped to the floor and claimed to be fixing a "loose floorboard". Ballsy McSurvivesalot walked straight out and drove off. A fourth man was passing through the grocery store and heard "gurgling noises" under the house. He asked about it and Pa yelled at him while Katie tried to coax him to "stay for lunch". He wisely lit out of there.

Assuming these are true--and I feel a lot of them are!--it becomes increasingly clear that a lot of people felt there was a bad vibe going on at the Bender Inn and just didn't know what to DO about it. The only "law" in the area seems to have been Leroy Dick, a township trustee. Like, I'm sure there were a lot of fake stories too! But these aren't very lurid if they're fake. You want a fake story to have, like, a stretching hand reaching out to you! Not "I heard a weird noise and left".

That said, this observation is hilarious: "the editor of the Kansas Democrat couldn’t help noting how “remarkable” it was that “every man who has visited that portion of Kansas in the last year has taken dinner at the Benders. Of course they all had narrow escapes.”

Note: The Benders are still missing!

Authorities put out their names, possible aliases, and descriptions along with a reward of $500 for the capture of each of them. Colonel York also puts up his own money and investigators. A lot of Civil War veterans get involved and nobody finds anything useful. For several years, the newspapers speculate that every elderly couple or random stranger taken into custody is a FUGITIVE BENDER, but no.

Love this line: "The notorious clan was spotted in so many places—including Paris—that headlines began referring to them as “The Ubiquitous Benders.”" You can see why Laura was under so much pressure from Rose to include the Benders in her prairie fiction: they were THE celebrated murder family of the time and Rose loved chasing lurid headlines. Ironically, I think if Laura HAD included them it would have greatly dated the books in a bad way.

SOME YEARS LATER, a woman becomes convinced that her friend (I think? This part is very unclear.) is actually her aunt and also Katie Bender. This is evidenced by the friend telling her strange stories about cellars and murders in Canada. (Which is not Kansas! This part does not make a lot of sense!)

Nevertheless, Leroy Dick is brought out to look at the supposed Katie Bender and her mother, thought to be Ma Bender. No one is sure where the male Benders are, but the two women are taken into custody and brought to Kansas. Everyone who sees them identifies them as "definitely Katie and Ma" even though it's been 16 years since anyone saw them. Somehow in this time Ma was supposed to give birth to a girl who then grew up and gave birth to this niece who is now an adult. (How?? Maybe the niece, Frances McCann, was supposed to have been adopted?) Anyway, it *sounds* like these two women being put on trial as "Ma" and "Katie" are either very confused OR serial killers of a totally different Canadian family that also had a kill-cellar but with more daughters. Bloody Benders, but an all-girl cast reboot, like Ghostbusters.

The trial defense pointed out that several of the neighbors did NOT recognize the women as Katie and Ma. So basically we're just pitting 16-year-old memories against each other. The "Ma" woman plausibly testifies that she's someone else entirely and was being held in prison (for an abortion!) during the Bender murders. Seems plausible! The "Katie" woman insists that she's not Katie Bender. Her attorney apparently doesn't ask about all the cellar murders she told Frances about. Wise attorneying, but I confess to wondering about it!

This is apparently a preliminary hearing to decide whether these even are the Benders. The presiding justices decide that the women probably are the Benders. The attorneys see the writing on the wall that if this goes to trial they will lose, and instead hire detectives to prove that the women weren't in Kansas during the murders. Very smart attorneys!

Public sentiment turns slowly towards the women in their favor when it becomes known that the accuser--the alleged niece, Frances McCann--was guided in her accusations by her own dreams. There is also the matter of the reward money that she is keen on collecting. Then the defense's private investigators come back with proof that the two women were nowhere near Kansas and are who they say they are. And this is why you should always hire a good defense attorney.

The prosecutor dropped the charges and the two women were set free. They were penniless, so the county sent them home at taxpayer expense (yay!) and the attorneys and their PIs were apparently not paid (boo!) but here's hoping it fleshed out their resumes nicely? I guess?

Note: The Benders continue to be missing!

People speculate whether they have, perhaps, been found and killed by vigilantes. There are eye-witness accounts of people present at the deaths! All of the accounts are contradictory as fuck! Laura Ingalls Wilder comes back into play with her tale about Pa Ingalls being part of the posse that killed the Benders, with the author noting that this is flatly impossible and therefore either Laura lied or confused herself. It's honestly very frustrating to me that Laura was believed for decades until someone thought to CHECK. THE. DATES.

Note: The Benders are still missing!

And that's the end of the book. Nobody has any idea what happened to the Benders and if someone is telling the truth about having killed them, they haven't provided proof. It is possible the Benders are still out there as vampires. Who knows! Note: If you are one of the four Bloody Benders, you are morally obligated to tell someone and give yourself up to the authorities. Thank you!

September Newsletter (2022)

I'm not sure whether I miss Twitter, but I definitely miss being able to post quick updates about myself without feeling like I'm trying to walk a balance between "spamming you all with email updates" vs "potentially scary radio silence". Maybe I need to embrace doing post updates to newsletter posts, but without sending out an email update for each--then the people who want the updates will have them and the people who prefer fewer emails will not be spammed. Something for me to think about.

The Good News: We're in Chicago, which means we're out of Texas, which means that no one can legally hurt Kissmate for being trans or us for being queerly married. We've found a perfect-for-us little house that we're in love with, and it will be ours for the living in by the end of September. The cats have adjusted to the situation better than I feared, and even Cheddar has started to come out and sit near us in the evenings to be friendly.

The Bad News: The temporary housing situation that I secured for us is... not great. An infestation of ants means we can't keep food in the apartment and we're ordering out more than I'd like. But the real issue is that the bed is stuffed with bricks and straw; sleeping on it or on the emergency air mattress we bought on the first night is wreaking havoc on my bad spine. I wake up every night crying out in pain during my dreams, which means that poor Kissmate isn't getting sleep either (not that he'd ever complain, but it hurts me to hurt him like this). Last night I was crying so much that Chip ran upstairs and lay on top of my back, purring as hard as he could, trying to fix me.

This problem is temporary, I hope. Once we move into our new home, we can set up the special adjustable hospital-style bed that I've been using for years to manage my back pain. But it means that in the interim I haven't been able to work on any new fairy tales or live watches, and I'm so sorry. I don't want to leave you all without any new posts, so I'm going to dig out some old character studies I wrote for a Changeling roleplaying character back in the day and I hope they bring you pleasure--I think they will. (And while I don't have a post written about it yet, I highly recommend checking out Prey on Hulu; it's really good and I want to write about it later when I can sit up at a computer again.)

July Newsletter (2022)

Hello and thank you all for being here! This newsletter is a few days late because I wanted to talk to our realtor before I posted the latest news. I have a really good realtor friend who helped me in my divorce and he came over today to help us list the house. He feels like the housing market in our area is still very strong and that the house could sell in a couple weeks. From then I think we have a 30-day wait while a contract is ironed out. In theory, we could be out of here by the end of August, which would be amazing.

Realtor Friend also set us up with another realtor friend in Chicago. He's very nice and sounds exactly like Philip Seymour Hoffman (which is both delightful and a little sad because he was such a lovely actor and I miss him). He's going to visit the house we found and liked on Zillow, and go through a "video tour" with us. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm imagining him holding up a phone or ipad while he walks us through the house. We really like the pictures on Zillow, so we hope this one works for us.

Why Chicago? Well, it's a very safely blue state unlike some of the other blue states we were looking at where locals kept warning us that it was swiftly turning purple or even red. The housing prices and cost of living there is comparable to what we're living on in Texas, unlike a lot of places in California or Oregon or Washington where we just could not afford. Illinois is moist and temperate and not a desert, which was something we were worried about what with all the impending climate change--Nevada and New Mexico and even Colorado all seem to be getting drier and drier. We'll be close-ish to Canada in case of emergency. It feels like a safe landing place for two queer people on the run.

What next? Well, we hope to be out of Texas as soon as humanly possible. Kissmate will then need to take a year off from school in order to establish state residency before he can attend at in-state prices. We'll spend that time getting our new living space in order and working on our resin work. (Thank you so much to everyone who has participated in our moving sales!) And then, I... don't know! We've been so tense and so focused on basic survival for so long that it seems strange and almost wrongly luxurious to plan things like "visit a library?" or "go to a beach?" Fun? In this economy? We shall see!!

Friends, I am tired and so so so so so sore from packing but I can't stop grinning like a kid in a candy store. We're moving and we're going to be safe. We're going to be safe. I am so happy. Thank you so much, all of you, for helping us to get out.

Writings: Copyrights, Licenses, and Creative Commons

Okay, no, you know what? I've got five minutes and too much Sprite inside me. We're going to talk about Creative Commons and copyright, okay? Give me a second. This is an American thread because I am an American. Just to be clear. I do not know the nuances of international copyright law. I am also not a lawyer. I am very definitely not YOUR lawyer. This is not legal advice.

Everyone sorta knows what copyright is, right? If a corporation like Disney makes something, it's under copyright and they own it and you don't and it's an enormous pain in the ass. Because it means that if you want to use or make or sell anything based on Disney's work, you either can't or you have to pretend your thing is totally original and that's why these charms I bought for my resin work are called "Cartoon Princess Charms".

Clay charms designed to look like Disney princesses.

OBVIOUSLY that isn't Rapunzel, Cinderella, Ariel, Belle, Merida, Giselle, and Snow White, and any coincidental resemblance is on you. Et cetera.

Now here's the thing: in America pretty much everything you make is automatically under copyright--YOUR copyright--when you make it. (That used to not be the case; you used to have to register copyright and people sometimes forgot and accidentally public domain'd entire movies.) "But, Ana, I don't want my work to be under copyright! I want people to be able to use it!" Cool! We do that with a license. A license outlines who and how someone can use a copyrighted work.

Big companies like Disney make licenses that are complex and targeted to a single person: For eleventy million dollars, Bob Johnson has a license to print Tangled beer steins. Or whatever. But you can also make licenses that apply to *everyone*, not just Bob Johnson. That's where Creative Commons comes in: some smart folks sat down and created a bunch of licenses that you can copy and apply to your work. Have you ever seen something like this on a webpage?

28mm Dead Male Villagers byCurufinis licensed under theCreative Commons - Attribution - Non-Commercial license

(That's printable dead bodies for your D&D table, by the way, in case the name worried you a bit.) The Creative Common licenses generally mean that people can use your creative work without having a lot of hoops to go through. Here's a page of theirs that actually helps you pick what kind of license is best for you.

>> LINK:

Each license starts with "Creative Commons" and then adds on words (as needed!) that outline more restrictions. "Attribution" means you have to credit the author. You can use the work, adapt it, sell it, whatever, but you need to say who the original work was by.

>> LINK:

"ShareAlike" means that if someone mods the thing, their new work (based on your old work) MUST be distributed under the same license as your work. This is a way of making sure that a big corporation can't take your design, modify it a tiny bit, and then apply a restrictive copyright to THEIR modification of YOUR work so that now nobody can use it freely.

>> LINK:

"NonCommercial" means other people can't sell the thing you designed. They can use it for themselves, or give it away, but they can't sell it.

>> LINK:

You might think that's a great one, but it can really suck for small creators like myself and it can limit how much your design is used. If you think about something like, say, dice: how many people can make dice at home, versus how many buy their dice on Etsy? If you came up with a real cool style of 3D printed dice that looked like, idk, the moon and the faces are all the lunar seas, then if people could print and sell it, it'd be all over Etsy. If no one can sell it, then only people with 3D printers at home can make and use 'em.

You might be okay with this! That's fine! Creative Commons is meant to be flexible! I just wanted to explain why you might want to think carefully about what you want for your design, rather than packing on license conditions thinking More = Better.

"What if I make a NonCommercial license but say that small businesses can still use them?" Well...that's really kind of you, but that's kind of tricky to navigate. What constitutes a "small business"? Does that include Etsy, who takes a percentage of sales? Most small business owners are very very risk adverse, so they're probably going to either avoid your design entirely OR maybe 1 in 10 will email you for clear and direct permission. EVEN WITH PERMISSION, small creators can still be harmed by automated systems. I have *explicit written permission* for almost all the material on my YouTube channel and I *still* get copyright strikes from bots.

Going back to Creative Commons licenses, there is also the "No Derivatives" license which means that people can use your design but not build on it in any way. No modifications!

>> LINK:

"Ana, what if I hate the idea of having my work under copyright, even implicit copyright that I didn't ask for?" I'm glad you asked! You can use a special Creative Commons license, the CC0, to place your work in the public domain!

>> LINK:

I have actually left instructions in my will asking that all my works be placed in the public domain upon my death, because I care so much about document preservation. By the way! My first novel, Pulchritude, is actually distributed under a CC license. You are technically free to copy and redistribute Pulchritude freely without paying me money! People pay me anyway!

Which brings me to: people LIKE to tip creators. So regardless of which license you feel is right for you, make sure to have a way for people to pay you money in gratitude for the cool thing you designed. Lastly: Artists need to eat and nobody should feel bad over what copyright license they chose to apply to their work. Don't harass creators for making difficult choices!

Thank you! Thread is over! Go home! Love you!

NOTE: Some, but not all, Creative Commons licenses are copyleft licenses. "Copyleft" has an actual meaning and isn't just "copyrights we like".

MORE NOTE: For the record, the Progress Flag is under a Creative Commons license which means it can be freely used and distributed! and that's a good thing! and the creator is nonbinary who uses xe/they pronouns and shouldn't be harassed or misgendered! AND if your favorite store doesn't sell that flag, it's not because they hate the flag, it's because they're nervous about the licensing issue. Etsy is known for taking down shops that are accused of infringement, even IF everyone is behaving. This is an Etsy problem, not a flag problem, and I only mention it here because I understand people are confused when they don't see a great flag they love among someone's cool online shop. Small biz owners have to make a lot of these decisions behind the scenes.

@EmbertheUnusual. Out of curiousity, what kind of license would it be if I want my works to be freely available *except* if you're using them for stuff like promoting hate speech or other creepy shit?

Oh! This is a really good question, okay, hang on, let me get my typing fingers on. So here's the thing: You can write a license to use your work that says ANYTHING. Now, not everything you write is enforceable and that's for the courts to decide. But you CAN write a license that says "if you use this software, you have to give me your firstborn child." (The courts will not enforce that license, but you can write it.)

I have seen licenses that say "you can use this freely, but if you see me on the street you gotta buy me a beer." Big companies have to figure up how much beer they could be liable for in court before using that software. There are coders who have thought about how to implement licenses which promote the public good or at least can't be used for evil. One of these is the Do No Harm license. Here is the full license text. If you want to modify that license text to add/remove things that you feel should be on that list, you totally can!

>> LINK:
>> LINK:

Now, that's explicitly a software license and not an art license. But what you could do is merge the two with something like:

This work must not be used by any person or organization that:
a) lobbies for, promotes, or derives a majority of income from actions that support or contribute to:
[list of things]
b) lobbies against, or derives a majority of income from actions that discourage or frustrate:
[list of things]
When these conditions are met, the work may be used under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.

I am not a lawyer but I think this would cover you. Mind you, if a hate group did use your thing, you'd have to pay to take them to court. Which would suck. But that's true for all copyright violations, really. But ultimately at the end of the day, you can license your work any way you want. Licenses like Creative Commons just make it easy for you to take a pre-written license rather than making one yourself from scratch. It's like... a boxed cake mix vs measuring out flour.

By the way: even if you want to give your work away for free, if you even THINK a big corporation might want to use your thing (and you're okay with that), leave an option for people to (a) email you and (b) BUY a license. "But, Ana, why would a corporation want to BUY something that's free??" License laws are complicated. A lot of businesses are risk adverse and would rather spend $25 per copy of your software than use it for free and risk a lawsuit later for reasons. Money = papertrail = safety. They don't want to worry that the license WAS free but then you changed it on your website and they forgot to keep a copy and the wayback machine didn't archive it and now they're in court and... so much easier just to throw money at a license and say "look, your honor, we paid."

There are also licenses that will explicitly say that something is free to use/sell/etc. for a company with less than 50/100/etc. employees. Things like that. (Like I said, you can write anything in a license. How it's enforced is up to the courts.) LAST BUT NOT LEAST: While I have you here, if you ever take a viral picture and CNN wants permission to use it, make them pay you. This isn't legal advice, I just want you to get paid.

Once again: I am not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice, I have drank 3 Sprites in 1 hour and my purpose is entertainment only and not education. I have a cat on my head as I type this. Good night.

Genderpocalypse: Into The Mist

Into The Mist by PC Cast


From the back of the book: "As men fall to the mist, the age of womankind begins to rise. The Power meets The Stand in this gripping take on female power and the inevitable destructive path of violent patriarchies.

The world as we know it ends when an attack on the U.S. unleashes bombs that deliver fire and biological destruction. Along with sonic detonations and devastating earthquakes, the bombs have also brought the green mist. If breathed in, it is deadly to all men--but alters the body chemistry of many women, imbuing them with superhuman abilities.

A group of high school teachers heading home from a conference experiences firsthand the strength of these new powers. Mercury Rhodes is the Warrior, possessing heightened physical powers. Stella Carver is the Seer, with a sixth sense about the future. Imani Andrews is the watcher, with a rare connection to the earth. Karen Gay is the Priestess, demonstrating a special connection with Spirits. And Gemma Jenkins is the Healer, a sixteen-year-old student who joins the group after losing her parents.

As they cross the Pacific Northwest, trying to find a safe place to ride out the apocalypse, the women soon learn that they can't trust anyone, and with fresh danger around every corner it will take all their powers to save themselves--and possibly the world. With timely commentary on power and community, Into the Mist delivers a thrilling and fantastical feminist future."

(Ana) Despite my reputation as the genderpocalypse-hater, I had high hopes for Into The Mist. Going into the reading, I believed that the author tries to be a trans ally (and I still do). She has stated very clearly on Twitter that the mysterious mist in her book kills based on gender identity rather than biology. I knew, too, that she has a reputation as a skilled genre writer.

Twitter: Malicious Compliance

Let's talk about what "malicious compliance" means under an oppressive government entity. This could be a historical entity (example: Nazi Germany or the American Confederacy) or a fictional one for my writer mutuals. Malicious Compliance is the act of complying with a law or rule in the worst possible way, out of protest for the unjustness of the law. The idea is to:

- slow down the process
- protect or hide a victim from harm
- inconvenience others
- tie up valuable time and resources

Many people were saved in Nazi Germany because certain people made a big fuss about the paperwork not being 100% correct. There are also outright acts of strategic disobedience applied in these situations. Slave populations have often "accidentally" broken critical tools.

Let's say you're writing a fictional dystopia wherein the government requires teachers and nurses to register all known queer children with the state, or with their parents, for discriminatory purposes. What can your characters do to stymie this process? Well, first, they're going to need to have a plan in place. Most people aren't good at coming up with malicious compliance on the spot, especially if they've been steeped in a dystopic environment that beats into them that their value is defined by their productivity as a worker.

Plans they could make include:

- Is the registration filled out in a paper form or letter? Can it be filled out and "lost" in a drawer?

- If computerized, can the character "forget" to fill out the relevant notes section on the child?
Can the character warn the child?

- Maybe tell the child about the rule and ask if they meant their "friend" is queer and they need advice for their "friend"?

- Maybe they meant queer as in strange, or gay as in happy. Kids don't always know the meanings of the words they say.

- Can the system itself be tampered with? Can the database be safely loaded with false data to waste the authorities' time?

- Can the child's data be lost in the system by using the wrong name or spelling or address?

- Is there a time limit by which the character has to turn in the child? Can they just wait indefinitely? Or leave it until the last minute, then take a vacation, and forget? These things happen.

A good fictional example of bureaucratic stalling is "Will Save The Galaxy For Food" wherein a Lawful character buys time by insisting that a squadron of soldiers are NOT allowed to "redecorate" the place they're invading and therefore MUST put on little paper booties.

Writers need to understand that if they want readers to like a character, that will NOT be accomplished by making them an efficient worker bee for fascists. You might think a "good" character would just quit rather than be complicit in a bad system, but there are other ways to do good: slowing the bad guys down, obfuscating the truth, redirecting their energies: Chaotic Good Trolls for the cause.

Let's say your fictional government entity is requiring "gender passports" so people can work and play and go to school. Your character is a doctor:

- Can you just sign the patient's paperwork and take their word for it? Will anyone really know if you didn't do an exam?

- The rule may say to perform certain tests, but may not specify HOW or ON WHAT (there's lab samples around here somewhere) or how to INTERPRET the results.

It is your character's ethical responsibility to protect the patient, not to follow an unjust law that puts them at risk.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Ana, I'm not a writer so I don't need to research this." But you do consume fiction, yes? You watch shows or movies or play games? This is a very common trope and it's important to understand it fully so you can appreciate the nuances. I think it's important to understand certain tropes so you can appreciate what's happening in fiction--otherwise you might not understand why a hero is "cooperating" with fascists rather than just passionately quitting in an act of useless defiance.

It's also very important to be able to tell the difference between characters who are complying willingly (collaborators) and characters who are complying maliciously (resistors). You need to be able to tell the good guys from the bad guys in your movie, right? So I'm going to strongly recommend that everyone, writers and readers and viewers alike, put some real thought and research into what malicious compliance and bureaucratic stalling mean to you personally.

Feel free to drop fictional or historical examples in the comments, for writing inspiration!

I want to expand some thoughts on this thread that I couldn't get to last night. We talked about malicious compliance: following the letter of the law, rather than the spirit, in order to slow fascism and help the innocent. Let's talk about fictional sabotage now. If you've seen a lot of action movies, you're probably familiar with the concept of, like, the Star Rebels blowing up the Death Factory where all the killdroids are made. But sabotage comes in all kinds of forms!

For example, did you know that most slave societies that we have records for were often deliberately "clumsy" and would break tools that would require the entire workforce to halt for a day or more. The sabotage was focused and directed, not willy-nilly, and it worked because the ruling classes wanted to believe that the slaves weren't smart. Especially if a tool was considered complicated or complex. Nothing takes me out of a story faster than an oppressed workforce that is working at peak efficiency. Even good workforces have accidents; your oppressed surly fictional District 12 or whatever should have plenty of accidents to their name!

Does your hero work with computers? Can he slow down the network with accidental Reply Alls to internal memos? Can he lose key patient data by restarting his machine before saving? Can he reboot his machine during an OS upgrade and ruin the entire image? Your character doesn't need to be a super hacker to do basic stuff like this; even computer experts make basic mistakes like these.

If your hero is a manager, she could confuse and stall cases by randomly reassigning workloads. Like, in the case above where the dystopian government is investigating all queer children, she could reassign their cases internally every week, bringing progress to a halt. Or by having assignments consolidated into a morning stack that everyone just works off of as they come in, sorted by priority, but she keeps changing the priorities. Maybe she uses the chaos as an excuse to create more chaos: daily progress meetings that last 2-3 hours at a time. Requirements for status updates that take an hour to fill out and are needed every day for every case.

Readers love to hear about creative ways someone mucked with someone else's progress; lean into that desire because it's a great source of entertainment. Well placed comedy can help leaven the bread of tragedy, if you will. Think of all those Shakespearean bumbling fools who were ever getting in the way of the other characters. They're audience-favorites for a reason!

Film Corner: Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe

The Rise and Fall of LuLaRoe

I'm in too much pain tonight to sleep, so I think it might be time for some more LuLaRoe documentaries, because I think LuLaRich didn't delve deeply enough. For example, I am hearing from someone in my DMs that LLR would sometimes terminate retailers if they sold other MLM merchandise from other suppliers? That seems an important counterpoint to all that talk about empowering women to start their own businesses!

This documentary we're about to watch isn't free with Prime, but it IS free with a 7-day trial of Discovery+ so there may be a few more documentary live-tweets from me in the coming 7 days. It's called THE RISE AND FALL OF LULAROE, which is a very nicely dramatic title.

We start with one of DeAnne's pep-talks about how great the retailers are for being entrepreneurs with their own businesses, and again I have to stress that they *terminate* retailers if they sell, say, makeup from another MLM company. That is not a normal retailer-supplier relationship. We have a lot of opening testimonials (quick shots) from former retailers who felt scammed and lost money. I do appreciate seeing more retailers from the "bottom 80%". LuLaRich seemed to focus on the top 20%.

Those Washington deposition tapes are just a wealth of DeAnne saying "I don't know" over and over to stonewall basic questions. I do enjoy that we get to see quite a few of the leggings and the early designs. They're bold, yes, but I do think they're cute. (Shame about the rampant copyright infringement!)

*presses finger to ear* Okay, I am hearing from someone else in my DMs that the "terminates retailers for selling from other MLMs" clause depended on whether the merchandise was deemed to be in 'competition' with the LLR merchandise? But, again, this is not normal demands from a supplier?

To return to my usual hypothetical examples, Hanes does not tell Wal-Mart that WM can't carry any Fruit of the Loom in their stores or Hanes will terminate the relationship. Or, well, they COULD tell Wal-Mart that but WM would tell them to hit the road. The fact that LLR could demand that their retailers "exclusively" sell their goods and no other "competing" merchandise indicates the extreme power imbalance here between the retailer and the supplier.

An expert walks us through the pyramid process, though they don't include the detail from LuLaRich that after 13 levels you run out of human peoples on earth. Another expert explains that the internet really expanded the concept of the Tupperware Party. You're no longer limited to neighbors for people to sell/recruit to; you can throw virtual "parties" on Facebook Live and so forth that can reach around the globe.

Amanda Montell (author of the book Cultish, which several of you have recommended) demonstrates the pitch of the "side hustle" in an extremely effective manner. I love her gregariousness. One retailer calls LLR an example of "the American work ethos on steroids" because, again, so many of these women were perfectly willing to work and hustle! This wasn't, like, the Monkey Jpegs where they just expect to buy a thing and sit back while it accrues value.

Montell talks about the overlap of MLM and Mormon (and, I would add, various christian cults) because they're raised to evangelize and witness, and that skill comes into play with sales/recruiting for MLMs. Another expert drops that DeAnne's family is basically descended "Mormon royalty", which I did not know. That certainly was not mentioned and did not come across in the LuLaRich documentary.

One of the interviewees actually grew up adjacent to DeAnne in her Mormon community and church, so that's an interesting perspective to be exposed to. There is talk about how enthusiastic and high-energy and visible (insta, social media) DeAnne likes to be. They discuss DeAnne's "origin story" selling maxi skirts out of the trunk of her car. Montell talks about how they frame the story such that the pyramid-style recruitment wasn't even DeAnne's idea, it just "fell upon her" as part of the "American dream". Innocent!

I must say, I am REALLY liking the interviewees here in this "Rise and Fall" documentary. I mean, I liked the interviewees in LuLaRich too, but these are adding a lot of sharp, interesting new points. I really appreciate that we're seeing more from the lower-pyramid victims. A lot of these women look like normal people I know and my heart goes out to them. They talk about relating to DeAnne's origin story.

"I feel like LuLaRoe's message was 'Every body is beautiful. Our size ranges went up to an 18-20, so I felt like it was really size-inclusive." *winces* Okay. Not everyone is deep into fat activism. But, uh. Yeah. For those not in the know or not familiar with American sizing, size 18-20 or 1x is the low end of "plus size". I have rarely seen stores go past 34-36 or 5x, but we need inclusive sizing that goes up even higher than that.

DeAnne tells people to go out and "find five people a day" and build a relationship with them to recruit them. The introvert in me is shrieking. As mentioned in LuLaRich, "trainers" with a certain number of underlings get a gold watch as a status reward. People were supposed to write down "50 names" of people you could recruit. I would not be able to do that! And they draw the point that in a Mormon community, it's much easier to make that list. DeAnne was drawing off that existing infrastructure.

Mark repeats that they're offering "full time pay for part time work". Vivian Kaye, a business advisor and actual entrepreneur, explains how much that is NOT the reality for most/all small businesses. Money doesn't magically just fall into your lap like that.

Even the "top 20%" at LLR who were making huge amounts of money were still hustling constantly to recruit, recruit, recruit, and were spending everything they made into direct marketing--travel, trips, ostentatious displays of wealth. So literally NO ONE was getting full time pay for part time work; even the early adopters who were making 6-figure bonus checks were hustling so much that they had to hire nannies, cooks, etc just to feed their families.

Vivian Kaye talks about how mothers are pressured to stay home in an economy where daycare costs more than most jobs bring in. But women long for fulfillment and community and stimulation, so the whole "boss babe" appeal is very strong.

Another retailer is talking about- they had 4 kids and adopted 7 more. Uh. Oh. Um. *hesitates* Look, she seems really nice but there are a LOT of issues with the adoption industry and foreign adoption, which is what they opted for ON A MISSION TRIP. *wince* That's... we're just going to move past that and talk about the LLR cruise.

DeAnne urges them to qualify for the cruise prize, with higher sellers/recruiters getting better rooms. To qualify for the cruise, a retailer has to sell $12,000+ merchandise per month for six months. Mark (and others) have repeatedly said they don't track sales to customers, so I'm not really sure how they verify those sales. Perhaps the tracking changed over time? The documentary notes that the basic startup kit for joining LLR has gone from the initial $5,000 cost to $499 now.

The cruises and parties, which are heavily shown on instagram and facebook, are designed to be aspirational and play on people's fear of missing out: they don't want to be left out of the community. Montell talks about how the MLM events are run like revival meetings: high energy, high community, a sort of group ritual that boosts your serotonins. "These are bonding events."

Vivian talks about how the person "on top" is talking down to the flock and demanding their tithe of time and evangelism: the followers were supposed to bring in more money and more people. An events team planner talks about LLR's mission statement and how everything was all about positivity, joy, a wonderland, and (most importantly) "this could be you" if you bought in. They were selling a life style, an aspiration.

...I love this man and his attitude. Bless him. They hired him to wear leggings and dance for the crowd. "The whole atmosphere was overwhelming joy and excitement. A wholesome party! No alcohol! I don't need anything to help me party!" Again, much like a revival meeting, people were asked to get up on stage and give a sob story--a "why"--for why they wanted to be a part of LLR.

Now we have a nice widow with white hair and purple edges who is living in and running a shop out of a formerly-LuLaRoe-branded Airstream trailer. I really do love how many more retailers we get with this documentary. LuLaRich had, I think, 5 that appeared regularly through the four episodes and it was nice to get their deep-dive throughout, but this is giving more breadth to add to their depth.

She talks about how LLR insisted that everyone hashtag "because of LuLaRoe" for every good instagram post. And bad instagram posts? You weren't supposed to even have those anymore. Delete those posts, and delete negative comments. A retailer talks about how she was reprimanded for "being negative" because she was trying to address customer concerns rather than just delete-and-block (and burn a customer connection!). That is stunning.

Purple Tips talks about how the "surprise" nature of the boxes was addicting, "like playing a scratch off lottery ticket". Unboxing would typically be done live on a facebook stream, with customers sharing in the enjoyment of discovery and scrambling to bid. "Once you start getting good boxes, you go 'oh, I'm gonna order another one because I sold half my box'." Remember from LuLaRich that retailers really shouldn't be ordering new stock until they've sold at least 70% of their old stock.

These purchases are almost impulse buys, not careful spending based on customer data! But just because you sold 10 shirts today doesn't mean tomorrow will be the same! If anything it's LESS likely, because your customers have fewer shirt needs now, thanks to today. God, I really am reminded of someone's story of a small comic shop that stocked based on vibes and predictions of which playing cards would go viral / rare / popular. That's not wise business planning! A reputable supplier, especially one with all the "mentors" that LLR claims to have, would be teaching these "new business owners" not to order stock based on vibes.

Like. Okay, hang on, this is important to me. I have an Etsy shop, right? That shop lets me sell my paperback books at a higher royalty than I get from Amazon, yay. So I have in stock:

- Pulchritude
- Poison Kiss
- Survival Rout
- No Man of Woman Born
- Cinder The Fireplace Boy

Just like an LLR retailer, I have to make decisions about how much stock to carry and how to store it. There's no point to buying 1,000 copies of a book that I sell 5 copies of every month, right? I'd have to store all those extras and the money would be sunk/gone. Nor would it make sense for me to just decide to keep it simple and keep 20 copies of everything on hand, because they don't sell at the same rate!

Pulchritude is my earliest book and is a raw little gut-punch of a book about domestic violence and living with an abusive husband. It doesn't have a happy ending and I'm upfront about that! I love it dearly but it doesn't fly off the shelves and that's okay.

Poison Kiss and Survival Rout are part of a series that I'm still working on. Because most people like to start with Book #1 and not just jump into Book #2, that means I don't sell as many copies of Survival Rout as I do Poison Kiss. (The first book in a series generally sells better than the second, third, etc because people buy and then the book languishes on the To-Read pile that so many of us have in this wonderful time of SO MUCH TO READ, NO TIME TO READ IN.)

No Man of Woman Born sells like gangbusters because a lot of people seem to like it and it's additionally on a lot of "what to read instead of Terfamort" lists that go around whenever the Terf Queen acts up. I used to see regular sales boosts whenever she went viral. And Cinder The Fireplace Boy is selling very well too (thank you!) in part because it's the newest of the group and you are all wonderfully supportive + a lot of you have kids who like fairy tales.

What I have to do is track sales data over time and use that to determine what to keep in stock! I usually keep about 3 copies of Pulchritude, 4 of Poison Kiss, 3 of Survival Rout, 20 of No Man, and 30 of Cinder. It takes ~2 weeks to get more from my printer. So those numbers are based on the maximum of what I think will sell every 2 weeks, i.e., the length of time to get more stock in.

Now sometimes--like when Cinder first released--I'll go viral and there will be a run on the store and I'll sell 30 overnight. (YAY!) Then I'll need to order 30 more right away. But what I don't do is think "oh! I'll order 60, since these are selling so well!" I don't do that because virality is a fickle mistress and usually doesn't last more than a day or two. Now, if I was selling out EVERY two weeks, for a month or two, I would seriously consider adjusting my stock numbers upwards.

To bring this back to LLR, it seems like a lot of these sellers didn't have that knowledge (and it's something I really only learned over time and with some retail training in my younger days) and a lot were just... ordering based on vibes. Note that this does not mean that these women were foolish or not smart!! A lot of this business stuff isn't something you're born knowing or just intuitively understand without training! People get *degrees* in this stuff!

Purple Tips underscores this point: if you sold half your box and turn around and buy another box, you haven't actually turned a profit in cash. (You have a "profit" tied up in inventory, but can you get money back out of it? Only if you sell or return in.) Vivian Kaye talks about how LLR created a sort of "collector hysteria" around the leggings, with people buying hundreds of leggings, more than they could wear in a lifetime. DeAnne tours the factory line, telling people to buy-buy-buy all these new limited prints.

We get to hear about how the Stidhams (Mark and DeAnne) flaunted their wealth with a huge house, luxury cars that broke a land speed record, and expensive accessories. The goal was to show that you too could become like them. An expert explains that the choice to hire all their adult children as executives meant that the business leaders would always be "loyal" to the family. (Which is not the best thing for the business!)

Ooh! One of the interviewees talks about prosperity gospel, which I previously mentioned in another thread. She explains that this view of God is that if you are good and favored, wealth WILL follow. Again: wealth is guaranteed to the retailer IF they just work hard. Mark: "You want to know if you're good to your fellow man? Check your bank account." My god. I really hate the prosperity gospel heresy, and the interviewee subject talks about how intertwined it is with the modern "American dream".

Purple Tips (I just cannot catch names with this documentary, they go by way too fast!) talks about how the trainings convinced her to buy way too much inventory. "If you buy more, you'll sell more, because people will come to you." Since a lot of the selling was done online, there was a lot of magical thinking about an audience that was just waiting to come to you. Without the internet, you would have been limited to in-person sales and would've had a more realistic idea of your prospects. By which I mean: You can't sell 5,000 leggings in a town of 1,000 people. But you think you can sell 5,000 leggings to an internet full of infinite people. And you were told to buy more stock because that meant the odds of getting good/rare leggings.

I find this "unicorn" talk very interesting. LuLaRich mentioned "unicorn hunting"--when you're looking for a specific print that you want--but made it sound like a cultural term that just reflected personal preferences. But here in "Rise and Fall", it's more insidious and makes the stock boxes seem more like "loot crates". The retailers are actively hoping for "unicorns" in their stock that are in high demand.

This is fascinating to me because, remember!, these leggings aren't being auctioned! They sell for a flat rate of $25. So a "unicorn" piece isn't worth more than a dud, except in the sense that it's a guaranteed sale that won't sit on your shelves for weeks. BUT. LLR is playing up the "unicorn hunt" by telling people that having rare prints will drive customers to YOUR shop. But will it *retain* them? If I'm looking for something and find it on Newegg instead of Amazon, that doesn't mean I'll go to Newegg first next time.

It's like... they're using the new idea of the internet to promise retailers infinite customers, but using the old idea of brick-and-mortar stores to tell retailers to expect customer loyalty. If I'm an LLR buyer, then I'm just going to shop-hop to gather what I want. I'm not going to become "loyal" to one seller over another just because one time they had those Jack Skellington leggings I wanted. That's not how online shopping works.

In a recorded video, DeAnne tells them to "order every day" and "do not wait for things to be restocked". That is absolutely terrible advice and again feels like these stock boxes were designed to trigger gambling addictions--which I did not expect or see coming! I used to order inventory for a big box store and there is no reason to be ordering from the same supplier EVERY DAY. "Every dollar that we made, they would tell us to reinvest in more clothes." / "The more you buy, the more you sell." I am stunned by how blatant this is. Like, if I can just go on a side-rant about ethics here, it is maddening to me that none of the retailers are being encouraged to set aside a tithe of their income into savings for the business in case of a rainy day, pop-up expenses, and so on.

A designer (not the same as LuLaRich) talks about how they had 3 designers with a quota of 1,000 new patterns every day. Some of the prints are really cute! Those are the ones that make it into commercials. If this had been a sensible legitimate company (who owned their own IP and didn't steal images!) they could have tracked popularity and put out reprints. Reprints wouldn't even mess with the "FOMO" (fear of missing out) mentality because limited runs of reprints always snap up. But I don't even know how LLR would track popularity--they seemed to send returns right back out to other retailers rather than inventory them.

Without some kind of tracking to show that GREEN CLOVER sold out 0/3000 but that MARK STIDHAM FACE* was coming back and languishing in the warehouse at a stock of 2400/3000, how would they even know what to reprint?? (* Yes, they made leggings with Mark's face on it.)

I do wish I knew more about the refund policies that LLR had over time! Because if I were doing these facebook lives, I'd give a piece two (2) showings TOPS and then send it back for a refund. Some of these retailers talk about pieces they couldn't move for MONTHS. Given how shady everything else has been, I *assume* that refunds were heavily discouraged and that you were scolded for being "negative" or not trying hard enough, and we do know that the customer service dept was overworked. So I imagine that's why. But still.

This is, again, a way in which LLR is failing in their stated goal of training and empowering girl bosses. Big retailers do NOT keep ugly, unwanted merch on their shelves for 6+ months on end in the hopes that someday their prince will come. A warehouse worker talks about the moldy leggings issue and how "thousands" of leggings were left in the parking lot as overflow storage overnight.

Oh! Meg Conley is going to talk about the people who make the clothes! Thank you, Meg! I have been wondering about this since the beginning! DeAnne touring the factory: "We don't judge anyone. We just accept how they do things in their country." I can only assume she's preemptively fielding accusations of this being an underpaid sweatshop. She points out there is air conditioning. ...that seems to be all we're going to get on the workers. I wish Meg had been allowed to go on more about that. We're moving on to the manufacturing issues stage wherein the leggings developed holes.

MommyGyver talks about how new recruits were being urged to max out credit cards, borrow from children's college funds, and other risky methods in order to afford that initial $5,000 buy-in. A retailer talks about how she was pressured by LLR to pour all the money she made right back into inventory. This is maddening! They're being told to buy inventory with no thought for whether the *demand* will stay steady (especially as *supply* radically increases)! Even if demand would remain steady (despite the supply glut) it's unreasonable to tell business owners to pour ALL their profits back into the business. You're supposed to take a wage for yourself! You're supposed to set aside a savings buffer!

This entire business model of never keeping any money--of pouring it all into inventory and direct marketing (i.e., Louis Vuitton bags and markers of success)--is just so dangerous. One bad month and your electricity is cut off! "I really had enough inventory, but I bought more things. That's what gets you more in trouble." She has $25,000 worth of inventory in her garage and no way to recoup that money because no one wants to pay for those clothes. Another retailer had inventory that wouldn't move so she had to take out a loan to buy MORE inventory that would sell. So I guess this is one of the "no refunds" phases of the company's lifespan.

Ah! Vivian Kaye is a "business coach" in addition to being an "entrepreneur" (per the card title) and it shows: she's explaining that LLR was utterly devoid of safety nets, because "you aren't a business. You are a 'retailer' for another company."

*buries face in hands* LLR wasn't teaching them to set any money aside for end of year taxes. So now retailers are having to declare bankruptcy because you can't pay the IRS with leggings. I'm just so angry and sick watching this as someone with a tiny business of my own. This is stuff that... it's not HARD, but it's not INTUITIVE. People need to be taught this. LLR was making them attend mandatory 2-day training events and giving daily advice videos and they didn't hire a goddamn accountant to teach their retailers how not to end up owing everything to the IRS. That is so many levels of unethical and bad business. It IS bad business to let your retailers go under into crushing debt!

Montell talks about how the community would drop people the moment they expressed a desire to leave, and how damaging that is within cults and cult-like atmospheres. She explains that MLMs aren't like your average scams and work based on cult tactics. They use gaslighting tactics and community pressure and psychological tactics. Ultimately, the methods of manipulation between MLMs and cults are the same. They were even told to wear the same clothes, look the same, act the same. "Looking out into the audience... Everybody was twins."

Vivian Kaye says they're most likely targeting middle-aged white women in middle America, while using a lot of Black vernacular to appear diverse and relevant. "They're using the Black vernacular to profit...but we're only there for seasoning." The retailers being 95% white did not come across as clearly in LuLaRich, partly because 3 of the 6 interviewees were Black and brown women.

Oh, this was NOT made clear in either of the documentaries at all. There is a big difference between a "100% return policy" and a return policy that you can only take advantage of if you leave the company entirely.

@DefectiveBecca. Oh no, you could not return anything unless you went out of business. Even bigger issue, you could not discount anything by even $1 unless you quit. Your only choices were sell at the very overpriced full price or give it away for free.

*primal screaming* People were burning their onboarding packages ceremonially when they left LLR, and in doing so were accidentally destroying important evidence of the company's false claims. So they had to be told not to do that. As part of the Washington state case, LLR had to pay $4 million back to Washington resident retailers.

That's quite a string, especially if a refund option hadn't been available prior to that!

@DefectiveBecca. Yeah and once they got rid of the 100% buyback and went to 90%, one of the strings attached was that it could only be product purchased in the past year.

Meg Conley explains that pyramid schemes are actually built for people to fail, that failure is an integral part of the system, because that's where the money comes in. (If people had taken their profits and stopped buying new stock, LLR wouldn't have that money.) Vivian Kaye points out that the system is built to funnel money up to the top. "Capitalism is the root of all evil." LOVE HER.

I really enjoyed that documentary. I do think it was worth watching, especially for Conley and Montell. I feel like in some ways it did better than LuLaRich in terms of showing the damage, but I felt LuLaRich laid a better foundation of timeline and events. One of the ex-retailers is already in another (better?) MLM company. Another admits to ambivalent feelings about MLMs but she buys from them. Purple Tips advises staying far away from MLMs as both seller and consumer.

Final slides say that LLR's 2020 income disclosure statements listed average retailer gross yearly profit as $10,000 and median gross profit as $1,444. "Retailers must cover their startup costs, including racks and hangars, ongoing costs like shipping and packaging, or professional services like a bookkeeper or attorney." The American dream: an 80-hour a week job that pays an average of $10,000 a year. When I think of how many hours those women worked, just to work themselves into bankruptcy... it's really tragic.

I think that's all for LLR, at least on this timeline. Big big big thank you to @DefectiveBecca for all her information that she's given to us during this live-watch!

June Newsletter (2022)

Hark, a newsletter! This one is late but that's on purpose: I have been hyper-focused on finishing my Snow White story for my Patreon, and on collaborating with my new narrator as we work on getting a Cinder audio book out the door for everyone! I got to receive his first draft samples of the first 10 stories this week and I love them so much! He has a great voice for fairy tales; I feel like I'm back in the library as a kid, listening to a librarian read. Or like I'm curled up by the fireplace while a fictional father reads to us and we sip hot cocoa.

This has been a busy month so far. I had a couple twitter threads take off that I'll probably preserve here for historicity. Kissmate has gone back to school for the summer semester and is doing homework from dawn until dusk. I'm so proud of how hard he's working; we both want to get out of this state as quickly as possible, and finishing his degree is a huge step towards that goal. In my own little spurts of free time I work in our resin workshop, as the little income we get from that goes entirely towards our moving fund.

That's all I have for right now! I've got to get back to writing on The Golden Bird, which features the most foolish protagonist in a Grimms story that I have ever encountered.

Content Links
My Patreon: Here.
@KissmateKittens: Here.
My Ramblings Deconstructions: Here.
My YouTube Let's Plays: Here.
My Favorite Tumblr Funnies: Here.

Film Corner: LuLaRich (Ep 4)


Today we're finishing the LuLaRich documentary with Episode 4. Becca explains that in 2017 LLR changed the bonus structure to revolve around sales-to-customers (which LLR wasn't tracking, according to Mark, so was that all self-reported?) instead of sales-to-retailers. Bonus checks plummeted. While this certainly saved LLR money in the short-term, I suspect the motivation behind the change was to make the company seem less pyramid-schemey. I do wonder if a lawsuit was closing in at this point.

Another change around this time is the refund/buyback policy. LLR initially creates a forever 100% refund policy. Two things happen: (1) New people on the fence flood in because now there's no risk. Your investment is safe! (2) Older retailers flood out, seeing perhaps the writing on the wall after the stinky leggings saga. LLR pays out a million or so dollars in refunds, gets nervous, and yoinks the policy about 2 months in. They go back to the old refund policy with a bunch of new stipulations: original packaging, no seasonal, no elegant, and leaders' refunds are handled differently.

The "original packaging" stipulation is particularly insidious because you have to open the leggings to see that they're moldy and sun-damaged! A leader explains that her $15,000 inventory could not be returned. (A lot of retailers were encouraged to display clothes on racks, outside the plastic packaging.) The help line employee talks about how painful it was to field calls from people being ruined by LLR. Employees would cry in the bathroom. Those who do send in for refunds are left dangling, being told "that the accounting department doesn't have phones" and being given the run-around with money they need back.

Already I'm seeing a clear line in how cults treat ex-members: they become fair game to abuse and harm. A reputable supplier would treat leaving retailers better than this, to encourage future business if the retailer changes their mind. Now we get lawyers involved. Kelly has $20,000 worth of inventory to return but LLR isn't producing the money (seemingly because she missed the shipping deadline due to a miscarriage).

I strongly suspected that LLR was sending the returns back out as "new". Here is confirmation.

@DefectiveBecca. So as if it wasn't bad enough that the design team was being forced to crank out ugly prints, the deck was further being stacked against the retailers because unsellable returned merchandise was being shuffled in to new orders.

What is fascinating to me is that LLR could've gone back to older designs that had been popular and ordered re-prints! A new run, like when a book run sells out! But they were so convinced that fashion exclusivity and FOMO was the only way to sell. Lawsuits pile up and now we get to the copyright infringement. The designer explains that they were told to take art from Google and then "change [the art] at least 20%". I want to scream. That isn't- no. No.

That's not how copyright infringement works. That's not how intellectual property rights work. I can't just take Harry Potter, replace 20% of the text with my own words, and publish the result as my own! But the designers aren't even doing that much at this point and designs are just being ripped directly off the internet willy-nilly. I feel like the documentary is NOT forceful enough on this point. No company is "forced" to steal art. That's a choice that was made at top levels and filtered down. They could have bought the designs from the artists, or hired them for their creative vision. They choose to steal instead.

There's a Facebook group that @DefectiveBecca posted in the comments which hunts down LLR infringement. It's fascinating.

A copy of The Last Unicorn movie and an LLR print with a very similar looking white unicorn with blue hair and heavy lidded eyes.

In each case of stolen art, the original looks so much better than the hastily ripped version. They could've licensed these images! (So much seems to be ripped off of Shutterstock! You can buy distribution rights RIGHT THERE ON THE SITE.) I'm sorry, but I just have to post some of these because I think it's important to understand just how much of this company was built on theft. This is NOT appropriate!

Multiple unicorn designs, just ruthlessly butchered.

DeAnne holding up LLR merchandise on the left, the suspected original on the right.

Closer view of the original: a colorful unicorn head made from clever paper-craft work.

DeAnne holding up a design on the left with the suspected original on the right.

Picture of LLR leggings with a unicorn and memey sunglasses. Suspected original on the right.

There's just so many.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of a geometric raccoon face.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of a fox curled up like a cat.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of an elephant with stylized henna designs inside.

LLR merchandise on the left, suspected original on the right. Image is of two betta fish with long decorative fins.

This is an image of a smores snack. It very clearly says no commercial use allowed.

This is an image of a watercolor flamingo. The LLR print loses all of the fine detail and just makes the beautiful art look smeared.

This is an image of cartoon ninjas bearing colorful headbands and waist-sashes.

This is an image of a camera with floral details on the body.

This is a tattoo of a triangle flanked by two roses.

That last one is a tattoo of a triangle flanked by two roses. Tattoos are covered by copyright protection! In addition to the copyright lawsuits, and the refund lawsuits, suppliers begin to sue LLR. Their dyer/cloth provider claims that LLR placed orders they knew they couldn't pay for, if I understand correctly. MyDyer alleges that LLR was spinning off dozens of fake LLCs (limited liability companies) to hide/protect money from incoming lawsuits. "Seventeen LLCs were set up in December 2017 alone." I can think of no reason why LLR would need that many!

This part is interesting because the party line has been that LLR leadership just didn't know what they were doing, that the whole debacle is incompetence and not malice, that they just grew too big too fast. But *someone* knew how to shuffle money around in LLCs!! That's not something you're just born knowing how to do. Standing up an LLC is tricky and kinda complicated. I have one for my indie author business! I couldn't set up a second one on my own to save my life; I needed massive amounts of help to do the first one.

One of the retailers quietly resigned, didn't burn any bridges. LLR still owes her $100,000. Despite her gentle handling of the situation, other retailers were told not to talk to her. This is VERY common in cults. Shunning former members makes it harder for people to leave. If they leave, they lose all their friends and even family! Also, it means that people still in the cult can't hear from the leaver why they left and/or if their life is better now after leaving. One retailer was "terminated" as a retailer (she found out privately 4 hours *after* a company announcement that "someone" had been terminated, no specifics on who) and was left with a massive amount of merchandise she couldn't return.

Washington state files suit alleging that it is impossible to make money from LLR just by selling clothes, that you have to recruit others in order to profit: I.e., a pyramid scheme. This Washington state suit is presumably the source of the deposition footage that so thoroughly contrasts how open and forthcoming Mark and DeAnne are in interviews vs. how closed and obstructed they are under oath. It's a WILD contrast to see them blank-faced and saying they don't know anything, they don't know their own job titles, they don't know the Instagram hashtags, they don't know company bonus policies, they don't know their own nephew, the former event coordinator.

The son (?) being deposed with them comes off as that special sort of smirky Republican who thinks they don't have to take the law seriously. When asked what he did at the LLR events, he smugly replies "danced my butt off." I again am reminded so much of the cultish "bleeding the beast" mindset and the insistence that the government exists to be defrauded, mocked, and treated with irreverence to be used and ignored.

An attorney explains that a legitimate MLM company must have a refund/buyback policy, a 70% rule wherein retailers don't buy new stock until they've sold 70% of their old stock, and that sales are going to 10+ customers and not just other retailers. The MLM expert explains that successful prosecution is very difficult and rare, and that a lot of this is "political theater"; LLR is still in business.

Most of the individual suits seem to have gone to arbitration, which doesn't surprise me since the *monetary* damages haven't been much more than $100,000ish. Not surprising but disappointing. I think a more punitive punishment would've been better, to shut down LLR and send a message to other would-be MLMs. And there are so much more damages here than monetary. The emotional abuse, the careers ruined, the years lost, the houses and cars repossessed.

At least two of the retailers have divorced from their husbands. One lost everything and is on the verge of declaring bankruptcy, which is just really tragic. I feel for her. All the former retailers stress for the viewers that failure at an MLM is NOT the fault of the person. It's easy to tell that's an emotional raw spot. One of the interviewed retailers is still with LLR. She's found a system that works for her, apparently. She says she wants to stay with LLR forever, or at least until/if they go out of business.

Thus ends LuLaRich, not with a bang but with a whimper that the LLR company is still alive, still recruiting. The MLM expert laments that MLMs never really go out of business, they just morph and change their names and practices. Troubling. If we had UBI, it would be much harder to exploit vulnerable people into MLM schemes. Most of these women lost money because they needed to make money and didn't know this wasn't safe. They believed the lie that hard work would equal success. It didn't. It couldn't.

I won't denigrate these women as fools. They were ambitious, hard-working people who wanted to turn their blood, sweat, and tears into a better life for their families. They deserved to be protected from fraudsters and predators. And while I have you here: artists deserve better protections from having THEIR blood, sweat, and tears stolen by companies selling apparel.