- Did you check out last month’s look back at my year-long project on Korean pop and hip hop?
- Here’s a screenshot of Hamilton’s tweet about diversity
- My piece: “Too White Bread for This Shit: Race and Racism in Laurell K Hamilton’s Urban Fantasy Series“
Hello, Darlings, and welcome to what will hopefully be a slightly shorter episode of Stitch Talks Ish.
So episode five is all about Laurell K. Hamilton, which I’m sure nobody actually wants, but everybody’s getting. Because despite the fact that I keep saying I’m done with her, her books are really bad, I’m not done with her, even though her books are really bad. That.
We are here because when I see her work, by the time I see it, it’s like, wow, she’s still like that, you know? And it’s not like I have anything else to do. And there are only so many Kpop, K-hip hop related pieces I’m going to be able to make without you guys just straight up showing up here and fighting me. So I have returned for the roast. I cannot promise that I will do anything else. But I have returned to roast Laurell K. Hamilton, which if you’re new to my site, to my social media, I’ve been doing this for a really long time— for me, like, five years minimum.
When I started my website, I started using her stuff as a regular feature. So I was doing The Great Big Anita Blake Reread, where I would reread her books and talk about like the good, the bad, and the just plain ugh, and I’d stopped because we started getting into the book that were just uncomfortable. And I don’t know if I’ll ever return to them—depends on how bored I get.
But part of the problem with the Anitaverse has been that they just don’t end. You- She writes a lot of words and says nothing. (And I know that some of you guys reading my site are like, “okay, you do that too.” Yes, but I’m cute. Okay, I’m cute. That’s how I get away with it.) Anyway, in part because I’m bored and in part because she is very much on social media, let’s getta roasting.
So, April 28, Laurell K. Hamilton actually responded to a tweet from a fan that was praising her diversity in her books. One of the things that the Twitter user in question said was that her, that they liked her books because they showed how there’s no black and white in the world. And she so she turns around, she thinks this person and says, It’s funny, I was writing about diversity before it was cool.
So, first of all, writing about diversity is not cool. As in, if you go into it without approach, you’re not going to write very well. This is that “can racebending be done wrong” thing. Yes, clearly, if you’re only doing this to get points to win, no shit, it’s gonna be bad. And in the case of the Anita Blake series, it’s really bad.
So the first Anita Blake book came out in 1993, which means that it is almost as old as I am. It is older than most members of BTS, just saying (since I need to bring them up [laughs]) and it is bad at diversity. So Anita is of course the first character of color that you were introduced to in guilty pleasures. From the start and his heritage as Mexican American woman, she’s biracial Mexican American, really doesn’t matter. Her heritage isn’t brought up; her culture is not really addressed.
The first Mexican character that you see whose Mexicanness is addressed is the wererat king, Raphael. And we have to just think about that. Like, she introduced a Mexican character, who is a giant rat. Right. And the first time he seen he is in his in partially shifted form so he looks like a giant rat. And that’s, that’s not great. Like, one of the things though, that she did was, like, so, she keeps focusing on Rafael’s, like, strong Mexican features, and how he doesn’t have an accent, and, and this is in the first book too. So from the start her, her grasp of diversity was really bad.
You have the vampire, Luthor, who was a former cop who once he was turned started working in a bar in the red, red light, red district, that all the vampire related entertainment is in, in St. Louis. That’s, that’s really it.
Like, I saw, um, over the past week, I know I saw people talking about/roasting some author who wrote like a “how to do diverse literature,” that was- had tips, like “just do a find and replace and replace the characters last names to make them diverse.” And that is not how you write, first of all, but that’s also not how you create a good story. That’s not how you do diversity, and it’s how, how the Anita Blake series fails. You have all of these characters. So when you have characters of color and the Anitaverse, right, half of them are- feel like you know, that she did find and replace on their last names, right? They are people of color, in name only.
Then you have the characters who are really wildly described, usually racistly described. So in August 2018, my petty ass posted Too White Bread for This Shit and it was a 7000 word essay on the Anita Blake series and the Mary Gentry series and how Hamilton’s racism, like her actual racism. I literally show the end her examples of her real world racistness, (and just two examples because I didn’t want to go through her Twitter, or deal with any of that,) and how that ties back into the racism in her books, all of her books. So I put that out the day that Serpenitne I think, came out, ’cause I don’t think we got an Anita Blake book last year. I hope not… really hope not.
So I talked about how, in 2010, Hamilton did an essay. So she has an essay collection for the ardeur which is her… well, her sex pollen, kind of. And so the collection is all about, like sexuality and stuff in the Anita Blake series. And she writes the introduction to each essay. And so there’s one essay about race specifically that does talk about blackness. And she gives this convoluted explanation for why there are few, if any black, vampires in her works. And think about the fact that that St. Louis is a place where the black population is like 25 to 30%, I believe. And yet, there aren’t really any black characters, much less blank black vampires.
So here’s her quote, introducing Mikhail Lyubansky’s essay “‘Are the Fangs Real?’: Vampires as Racial Metaphor in the Anita Blake Series.” Hamilton writes that:
“I’ve debated on whether to share the real reason that there are not more African American or dark-skinned vampires in my books. I can’t decide if it’s politically correct to say it here. The truth is that all vampires are paler as a vampire than they were as live people, thus someone of African American descent would be paler. But how pale? I was pretty sure that if I had characters that were African American, but paled them all out that I’d be accused of trying to literally white-wash them. Was I overthinking it? Maybe, but at the beginning of the series, I was very aware that I was white bread as far as I knew, and didn’t have any experiences here to draw on. I was in my early 20s, and I just couldn’t figure out a way to ask the question of someone without sounding stupid, or racist, or both.”
I will personally let you decide what she sounds like to you. I’m going with racist.
But here’s the thing. Vampires aren’t real. Therefore, vampire biology is what you make of it. It is entirely a choice that Hamilton makes to go, “Oh, the vampires in this world lighten when they’re turned, so black vampire would be a light skinned vampire.” So basically, a dark skinned vampire would look ashy. But these are choices she’s made. I write vampires as well, and my vampires do not get light. Y’know, because like I haven’t been outside in… since March 13. I am not noticeably lighter. You know? So if being indoors all this time isn’t like white-washing me, I’m going to be real, it’s probably, you know, not seeing the sun for a couple hundred years, it’s probably not going to white-wash a black vampire.
And it’s really weird because so that was 2010. By 2020, she has a bunch of dark skinned nonblack of vampires of color, like across her series, many of them are indigenous, or they’re Indian. From India, just saying in case you somehow didn’t get that. So she’s capable of creating and showing vampires of color with melanin, just not if they’re black. And that’s just weird that, like she admitted any of this. If you have the essay collection, you could also read that full introduction to see her bring up sickle cell because she is racist and was just going for it. Just leaned into that huh.
But it’s like, from the beginning, the Anitaverse has been not diverse. You have, there’s a whole book where Anita is kind of like… she’s dealing with Dominga. She’s a Mexican animator who lives in St. Louis, who’s evil. And the- Hamilton immediately sets it up where pale skin, dark of hair Anita is like this fair little princess to this woman who’s noticeably brown, all of her minions are brown. It’s just, it is very obvious that she sets up binaries and dichotomies and very firmly believes that people of color who can pass as white are better on some level, that she has not figured out that she shouldn’t be putting them on, than people of color who do not pass.
And that’s like book five. Like, she’s written a series that is almost as old as I am and at this point, she still sucks at diversity all. Like, here’s two things about Bernardo Spotted-Horse, the series’s only prominent native character: He was first introduced in Obsidian Butterfly, and he’s still pretty much written as a sex object. So let’s talk about that. By introducing him:
“He was tanned, lovely, even Brown, though some of that was natural color, because he was American Indian.” Then, she says, “was it racist to say that his features were more white than Indian, or was it just true?”
That’s the only native character in the series. Like, how do you do that? How do you congratulate yourself for writing diversity when your idea of diversity is Bernardo Spotted-Horse, who, again, is described as being brown because “some of it was his natural color,” who’s said to have features that were “more white than Indian,” who’s, honestly, the most notable thing about him is that he has a giant penis. You know, and like I said in my article, like, when I read the, when I read Obsidian Butterfly first I was like a tween, maybe, maybe 15 or 16 at the most, and I was like, “wow, this is like titillating, this is really hot,” in the same way that, like, some of Anne Rice’s stuff (before I realize she really can’t write erotica) was hot. Lik,e I was like, “Oh, yeah, this is great.” And then I figured out how to write and I was like, “Yikes!”
But does Hamilton not go back and read her own work? I mean, as recently as whenever Serpentine was published, you had Hamilton reduce him to a sex object. The first time Anita sees him, as far as I can remember, the first time that Anita sees him after however long it’s been since their previous meeting, in between Obsidian Butterfly and now, Bernardo is surrounded by women, who are primarily white, who are half dressed, clinging to him, because he’s been basically working his way through their friend’s wife’s bridal party. He is a walking sex toy for these women. A lot of the secondary plot, or tertiary plot, of the of the book involves the fallout from him not satisfying one of these women, and how one of the women that he’s been with gets like kidnapped or killed or something, and it’s all about like his guilt for not being like a more attentive boy toy. And like, y’all, that’s not diversity. That’s not diversity.
I posted, on Patreon, the first chapter of a story I was working on, which was kind of directly in response to how Hamilton writes, how she writes, Bernardo, right, and just the idea of the Anita Blake series. And I kind of scrapped it because I didn’t want to have a native character be my big bad. I didn’t want a Native American character to be my Jean-Claude, because that’s how it ended up. And, like, knowing that I can write circles around Laurell K. Hamilton, and am clearly better versed in what meaningful representation diversity is, and I still went, “I will put a pin in that and I will figure out a better way to get native representation in this in this book.” And she, like 20 years later, still can’t figure out that she shouldn’t write male characters of color or sex objects. Like how are you patting yourself on the back, on Twitter of all places, for how diverse your books are, when your books aren’t diverse? Like you can’t just put a bunch of brown paper dolls in your book and say diversity, especially when, her portrayal of these characters of color is flat out racist— often.
So here’s how she has Anita described Moonus/Moon, I think he’s one of her guards in Skin Trade:
“The last man was also ethnic, but I wasn’t entirely sure what flavor. His short hair was curly enough to be African American, but the skin tone and facial features were not quite that.”
The first sentence is bad because “ethnic.” This book came out, I think 2016… let’s say between 2012 and 2016. Right? At that point, why is she using the word ethnic to describe a person of color? But then there’s that whole, like, she clearly sees people of color as food objects like, “I wasn’t entirely sure what flavor.” No, unless you’re writing a cannibal, and she is not, (thank God,) you don’t write people like that.
But then there’s Anita. Anita spends so much time like staring at other people and trying to figure out what they are. She’s like, “What are you? You could be black. Or you could be Pacific Islander?” Like, like, she just stands there. Like, Like, I always imagined when she has these moments where she’s introduced to a new character of color in the series, but she just stands there staring at them, making them uncomfortable, as she tries to figure out, like, where they’re from, where their people are from. Like [sighs.]
But how about- okay, cuz that’s bad, right? Wait for this scene, this excerpt from Kiss the Dead. So they found like an injured vampire, and Anita’s first thought:
“The man blinked large, dark eyes at me, his face grimacing in pain. His short hair was naturally black to match the slight up tilt of his eyes. I wasn’t a good judge of Asian ethnicity. If I had to guess I’d have said Japanese or Chinese, but he could have been Korean. I guess it didn’t matter. He was slender, and about my size, so he looked delicate for a man.”
Laurall, Laurell is a racist and she’s made Anita a racist, and it’s kind of funny, but it’s also not funny at all. So this snippet reads like baby’s first like East Asian media fanfiction. Like, this is probably how I wrote Pet Shop of Horrors fanfiction when I was like 12. Like, this is how I may have written Count D, except, like, I would never have a character try to guess what another character’s ethnicity is. Because even at 12 I wasn’t like that. But like hair in the eyes, and the eyes— probably. [Laughs] It’s like, like, “I wasn’t a good judge of Asian ethnicity,” and then she proceeds to guess.
Also, nobody asked her to guess. No one went, “hey, Anita, that vampire that we just- that we’re saving, what is he?” No one asked because normal, non racist, people don’t ask. They don’t ask these questions.
Like she could have, if she wanted to show the character’s, the vampire’s ethnicity, could have had him ask for help, you know, in his language, and have one of the vampires or shifters around her that speak whatever language it was, like Meng Die [pronounced: Dee,] Meng Die [pronounced: Dye.] (I don’t even know ’cause my audio books are full of mispronunciations, by the way. Isn’t that weird when you’re listening to an audiobook and they don’t pronounce words, right? There are a bunch of mispronounce words across the Anita Blake series. Weird.) But there are multiple Chinese and Chinese American characters in the Anitaverse because the tiger shifters are biracial. Most are biracial, or just not biracial, Chinese characters. So- and they were all raised to prioritize their heritage, and so they all, all, because of how how Laurell writes, probably do speak Chinese. So, could have had the vampire, say something in Chinese. Like, like, just say, “he said something in a language I couldn’t recognize.” And then one of the Chinese shifters is like- responds back. There’s, there’s a Japanese, a biracial Japanese American, shifter. I think he’s a wolf— could have done it with him. I don’t think they have any Korean characters.
I’m assuming that, like, at some point, Laurel will get into Kpop and then we’ll all suffer. I don’t know. We’ll see.
But like, there are ways to, especially if you’re writing in our world, to show ethnicity without being racist, and she has yet to figure that out. But, again, she is on Twitter patting herself on the back for writing diversity before it was cool. And this is why I get so annoyed when people praise her for her diversity. There are lots of people like when you go, “Oh, I would like to read queer urban fantasy with strong characters of color” will recommend the Anitaverse, even though this book is rape culture on steroids, even though her queer characters are stereotypes and predators. It would be like y’all recommending Sherrilyn Kenyon’s anything as good queer representation, when if you remember Sherrilyn Kenyon’s, her entire body of work is, really homophobic. Oh my god, it’s it’s bad. It’s really bad, y’all.
There are writers who will pat themselves on the back and be like, “Oh, man, I’m so great. I did this. I did that.” But then you read their work and it’s garbage. And it’s harmful garbage too, which is the other problem. Like if it was just badly written, that’d be one thing, but Anita is openly antagonistic to characters of color. The way characters of color are written and treated across both series is really bad. And it’s just don’t recommend her as diverse work. If you’re like, “oh, man, this is a guilty pleasure because it’s entertaining, because it’s so bad, because I lay there and I mentally rewrite everything until it’s satisfying and Bernardo was treated well…” (like I do sometimes,) go for it. But this is not good, diverse fiction. It is not even bad, diverse fiction because it is not diverse, y’all. It is not diverse fiction. It is a mess. Understand that. It is a mess. It is not well done, and Hamilton is not an author I feel comfortable recommending. I read her work because I am masochistic but her stuff’s not good, like at all.
At this point, because I keep harping on Bernardo because he could have been my favorite character, Bernardo is part of a trio of bounty hunters/grandfathered-in federal marshals, (and we’re going to talk about that in a second because that’s just weird.) So there’s Edward, who is living a “normal human life” as Ted Forester. And then you have Olof who is a cannibalistic, serial killing, rapist, right, who becomes aware lion at one point. Right, so you have Edward, who is also a serial killer. Let’s be very real here. Edward’s a serial killer, Olof- a serial killer. Bernardo: not a serial killer. In fact, primarily, he did work as a bodyguard before he kind of started working with Edward full time-ish.
Now which character do you think is dehumanised across the series? Which character has no shot at anything resembling a happy ending? Which character… do we not know anything about, like 20 years after their first appearance? I’m thinking it’s Bernardo. Like, how do you fuck that up that badly? Like, you finish Serpentine with pretty much the same amount of knowledge that you started Obsidian Butterfly with when it comes to Bernardo. Which is why sometimes I mentally rewrite everything and give Bernardo a good life and a hot wife, who’s really nice— but also possibly eats people, because I get to do that. But whatever I come up with is still gonna be better than Hamilton’s. Just saying. ‘Cause she’s bad at this.
So let’s talk about cop competency porn, and some other pet peeves. So if you’ve read the Anita Blake series, one thing that’s really clear, is that Hamilton really likes cops. You can also see it from her blogs. She does a lot of talking about like her cop friends, her cop buddies. And ,like, as someone who’s related to cops, lots of cops, they’re not that cool. Calm down. Like, chill.
But it’s weird, so, Anita is currently kind of a cop. She is a federal marshal. She at some point, within the past, like, 15 books, was grandfathered into the U.S. Federal Marshal program— because she’s a vampire executioner. So, she goes from consulting occasionally with the regional investigative preternatural department to getting cases assigned to her, somewhat. She never does any paperwork all she does shoot people or fuck them, and that’s how she solves her cases. There’s nothing that explains how she was able to be a deputy marshal.
So I actually have the qualifications up here for becoming a deputy U.S. marshal. So let’s see how many Anita hits and how many she doesn’t. And this will be in the context of our world And hers:
So- Must be a US citizen: Yep. She is a Mexican American born and raised in St. Louis.
Must be between the ages of 21 and 36: I believe she was made- this grandfathering in happened before she was 30.
Must have a bachelor’s degree, one year of specialized experience, or combination of education and experience equivalent to the GL 07 level: I didn’t look up to see what the GL 07 level is, but Anita does have a bachelor’s degree in biology, and, if this is where the grandfathering in comes in, she has been a vampire executioner, licensed in, like, five states, for over a decade. So maybe.
Must have a valid driver’s license in good standing: She does.
Must complete a structured interview and other assessments: She’s not done that.
Must successfully complete a background investigation: She could not do that. She couldn’t. There’s no way because she is connected to the master of the city of St. Louis, as well as other vampires across the world, which means that her loyalties are suspect. And she is connected to people who are actually criminals. Like, the master vampire of St. Louis- not St. Louis, Las Vegas, is a mob boss, basically— criminal.
Must meet medical qualifications: Anita Blake is not human. And so far in the series shapeshifters, vampires, whatever, actually can’t work in law enforcement. So, because of the inconsistencies with her medical exams, Anita would not meet medical qualifications to be a deputy U.S. marshal, just from that alone. That’s before you get into the fact that Anita has no control over her shape shifting. She cannot shape shift, but she is controlled by the beasts that live within her and, she has like 36 at this point, so she is constantly fighting them. Then you have the ardeur. So, Anita literally has an Incubus- ish within her that can force her to feed on people. If she’s not fed well, via sex, she can die.
Must be in excellent physical condition: Technically, yes, she would pass that because of the weird everything inside of her, but because she is, again, not really human she wouldn’t even get that far.
And lastly, must undergo a rigorous, 21 and a half week, basic training program at the United States Marshal Training- Service Training Academy in Georgia: That- we have never gotten even a side story about Anita going through training. ‘Tain’t happenin’.
The other thing is that you can’t just grandfather in someone. You can’t be like, “well, you’ve been working with the FBI for 20 years, so I guess you’re an FBI agent now”— not how that works.
What’s weird is that, while they Anita Blake series has all this cop competency porn, like, she’s constantly like, “as a cop, well I’m a cop, a cop.,I’m a cop…” Anita, Anita’s relationships with cops are really antagonistic. Like, she doesn’t actually seem to have good relationships with cops she can’t control. So she’s unwilling to say outright, like, “#allcopsarebad,” but she’s like, “I am the only good cop, but also so are the cops that I control in some aspect,” and it’s just like, wild. Wild. And she just constantly again refers to herself as a cop.
I wonder if this is how, part of this is how, Hamilton gets away with Anita traveling everywhere with guns. I mean, the United States is basically open carry, at your own risk, but, like, Anita carries around so many weapons. Like, she’s like, “I have a knife, the length of my back taped to my back” and it’s, like, nobody… nobody says anything about the fact that she has a knife, the size of her spine, strapped to her spine. Why?
Also [I] really wasn’t satisfied with- like, so, most of the Anita Blake books are set in St. Louis, which I know nothing about— so that’s fine. But sometimes Anita goes on field trips. Most of the places she’s been I haven’t been, but she was down here in Florida, the Keys but still Florida, and like it was bad. Y’all, it was bad. I think that Hamilton is very much an example of right what you know, because when she tries to step out of her own borders, her boundaries, she writes straight nonsense, y’all. Oh, my gosh, nonsense, and it is unending, like, you don’t have to do this, Hamilton— stop. Stop.
Other pet peeves include the fact that Nathaniel is getting more and more… attention. Nathaniel is basically the Xander of the Anitaverse. And if you know anything about Xander, you should know that that’s really bad— for a lot of reasons, if you know anything about Xander from Buffy, and how gross and terrible Xandra is, because he’s terrible and gross. I just I’m so tired of him, I’m so tired of Nathaniel.
I- Also, for book series that people keep saying is super queer, you also have a ton of characters who— it’s not even micro labels they’re using. It’s, like Micah is like, “I am only attracted to Nathaniel. And that’s it.” And that’s fine. But then that is not… I don’t even have an explanation for this, but it’s just how Hamilton handles sexuality, how she has the characters handle their sexuality— and they all handle it the same way. They all basically start out going, “Oh, I’m straight. I don’t want to be with anybody of my gender, or a gender that I’m not attracted to,” and then they’re like, “Oh, I’m hetero flexible,” and then they’re like, “well, I’m queer, but only in this specific way, so that I can use the label queer, but then I am pretty much not actually queer.”
And like, sorry, to gatekeep, this is just, I’ve been reading this series since I was a baby, and so the way that Anita and everybody’s been evolving, their sexuality is not great. And if they were real people I actually would be like, “Yeah, no, just explore your sexuality. You’re only attracted to Nathaniel, Micah? Go for it.” But in the context of this book, and how sexuality is used, and how it’s written about— no, no. It’s, it’s not good. It’s not good at all.
So we’re supposedly getting the next Anita Blake book, Sucker Punch, which is going to be set up in Michigan. I don’t know if it’s up near Mackinaw. I have a friend, her grandparents live up there. But it’s up north, I think, where there’s this place where nobody can have cars. (I’m not entirely sure about that one.)
But we are almost 30 years into the Anita Blake series, right? And over 30 years into urban fantasy, because technically, I, well I would count Anne Rice as the godmother of the genre, not Hamilton. Because I don’t actually think Hamilton gets her own beats right, to say that she’s doing urban fantasy beats. And the thing is that I am happy to see that the genre is moving past, has long since moved past, a lot of the people held up as classics in the genre. So you have the Hamiltons, the Butchers, even the Harrisons, But they’re not really the priority. Like yes, I’m excited that Kim Harrison does have a new book coming out, like a sequel to the Hollows. You know, maybe she’ll be better at that bisexuality thing with Ivy and Rachel. Maybe.
But there are other writers who are doing really cool stuff. And maybe they’re also still problematic, because we are people and people are problematic, but they are doing some interesting shit, like Stephanie Ahn. I mention Stephanie pretty much all the time I can because Stephanie’s work is really good. It’s really innovative, queer urban fantasy surrounding a Korean American character. Right, like you have diversity on the page, And you have it meaningfully, you have it interesting. Harrietta is not cookie cutter, trying to be perfect. She’s a hot mess. And I love her. Rachel Aaron just came out with a new series, the end of a new series, which is pretty good. I haven’t finished it yet but I will before the end of the month. Her Heartstrikers series is really good, even though she did through an act of world building pretty much kill off all the black people in Detroit before her theory started, which is- frustrating.
But even when authors, these new authors fail, they’re failing and innovative way, by the way. Like, I’ve- I read a lot of new urban fantasy and I’m, like, I’m always entertained. And I’m always like, “Oh, this is really good.” I see what what the point is. I see where they’re going. What, 27 books into the Anita Blake series, and… I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why. I don’t know why it should matter. I don’t know who’s actually buying her books. You know? I don’t see a point to the Anita Blake series in 2020. And maybe it would help if Hamilton got an editor, or she looked at her story bible, or something. But as we’re going, I don’t see the point— at all.
Oh, now I’m not gonna make a promise, because I don’t like doing that, but we’ll see how doing either a reread or some kind of interactive reengagement with the Anita Blake series goes— if that’s something I could do. The next installment of the Hollows reread for Dead Witch Walking will be up on Patreon by the end of May, possibly the end of June at the latest, and I’m really excited for that. For the next episode of Stitch talks Ish, honestly can’t tell you what we’ll talk about, possibly the end of Mass Effect Andromeda, possibly building your own narrative through video games, maybe just video games because Animal Crossing is really cute. Who knows?
But thank you for listening, all like 12 of you. It’s been great. Hope you’re staying safe. Hope you’re able to be with people you love during the stressful times. And I hope that I’m able to entertain you through my podcast. Thank you for listening.