A Year and Change: The Trading Post Retrospective Part 1

One thing you may know about me and my bibliography as a TG Fic writer is that I have spent the last 12 years contributing to the blog fic The Trading Post, which centers on the effects of a “cursed” inn in Maine that turns its inhabitants into the previous guests of that room (who, oopsie, tend to be of the opposite sex.) I was not, however, one of the original writers – I hopped on board two years into the run when several of the original characters had run their course and the blog was almost ready to fade out. As a reader, I regarded it as one of the best ideas I had ever seen, and later was lucky to be part of it.

As I have already discussed, I was a big supporter of Jay Seaver’s previous blog project, Transplanted Life, which followed one character through their life-altering bodyswap. Trading Post outdid it by widening its focus to an ensemble, each of whom would give their own personal updates. The seeming randomness the Trading Post provided, as well as the chance for an ever-refreshing cast, really appealed to my imagination, and even today, when I am winding down my involvement with the story (for the time being) I feel like there were tons of possibilities we never quite got around to examining. Starting today, I want to go back to the beginning and examine what made this blog so great, and provide an overview of the epic-in-the-making.

Part One: August 2006

In the first post, datedĺ August 22, we first meet Arthur Milligan, a San Francisco native and freelance writer on assignment from Maxim Magazine to cover the beerfest in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I never really read Maxim, so I’m not sure whether this is the sort of thing they’d bother with, but tying it to a real-world publication establish the same “This is actually happening” aura that TL cultivated.

Milligan is very much like TL’s Marti Hart as a very practical, somewhat fussy analytical type with a good heart. In his first post, he gives us the lowdown on where we are: an overly rustic former “Trading Post” from the 1800s that has been operating as a Bed & Breakfast for nearly its entire history. The amenities come with very peculiar conditions – he had to pick up his room keys from the motel a few doors down, and was not permitted to book the two-bedroom suite on his own, as the trust that owns the place is very particular about ensuring that every bed is occupied. (Confusing, but perhaps not a red flag unless you happen to find yourself in a TF story.) For his bunkmate, Arthur has invited an online acquaintance, Dallas-based graphic designer Jake, whom Arthur suspects has a sort of workaholic streak.

A blog fic is much like a found footage film, in that there has to be a reason for the footage, or blog, to exist. Arthur says he will be making passwords and usernames for the blog available to all of the other guests so that they can keep their own running journals of the events, and he can farm multiple perspectives on the event and synthesize them into an article later. (From what we see, there would seem to be very little usable material here but it soon becomes moot.)

In his second post, after discussing his writing habits, Art earnestly notes that it’s true what the Beach Boys sang, and none of the local girls can quite measure up to the California Girls he knows back home. All the same, he’s dismayed that when the other guests start arriving, they are all male – he was hoping to get some feminine perspective on the blog. Har dee har har.

Contestant #2 is actually Jeff Miller, who is “tired.” He has arrived in Maine from Detroit via Greyhound. He’s a little terse, saying only he does not like to be called “Kid” despite being just on the brink of starting college. He doesn’t provide an answer to the question why he is staying at the Inn instead of closer to the party, but alludes to his “Pop” not having much money, and only says about his reason for being in Maine that he is worried about his sis and bros forgiving him for “taking off.”

He also provides our first description of Arthur: “scruffy-looking” which is just specifically vague enough that you can fill it in for yourself. In his second post he describes the setting a bit lyrically, then uses a homophobic term to refer to himself when he notices (“Am I sounding *** or what?”) which… doesn’t sit well with me no matter what you’re writing or when, to be honest, but there’s a level of frankness and realness to letting your teenage characters talk that way.

Jeff also refers to something that happened before he left with somebody called Amy, the kind of reference these narrator-characters are prone to – they’re not really writing “for us” so they’ll allude to some event or moment in their life “they” immediately know the significance of without elaborating, because we’re not supposed to know and they honestly might not want to tell us. As frustrating as this can be for a reader, I do admire the vibe it creates, adding to the fullness of the world and making it feel lived-in. I admittedly tended to write the whole thing a bit more like fiction, where my characters wanted to fill you in on anything and weren’t quite so naturalistic (the blog was over 2 years old by then, so the cat was out of the bag anyway.)

When we meet Jake, he’s immediately talking in terms of how much control work has over him, finishing last night’s project at 3 AM, getting 3 hours of sleep, and waking up before his alarm. He overviews some of his mishaps on his way in: traffic, TSA, lost luggage. But he’s feeling better in the comparatively cool and breezy Maine environment after a brutal summer in Texas. He also notes getting lost and being too much of a “guy” to ask for directions.

Jake adds another odd observation to the setting – the previous guests have left their luggage.

Other characters we meet are Dex Langan, an FBI agent tasked with investigating whether beerfest vendors are selling to minors (wow, going after the big fish here), Mark Lange, who was in the NFL for a minute back 1995 and appears to have recently broken up with someone named Shar, overgrown fratboy Vinny DeSantis, and a 38-year-old lawyer from Grand Rapids, Drew Dawson. Some of them chime in on what brought them to this particular venue: a last minute opportunity, a lack of options, whatever. This is useful to maintain “realism” of the blog since the description of the Inn would seem to indicate it is a strange place to find a dozen or so unattached men:

The guys variously describe their experiences at the Beerfest, mostly loading up and waking up sick, which figures since most of them are in their 30’s (except Jeff) and maybe should be outgrowing this behaviour by now. Jake describes meeting a Bier Fraulein at the Germany pavilion, and hitting it off, helping her out by finding her bag of tickets which she would have had to pay for if lost. He takes the opportunity – since they have been talking for days – to ask her out, despite an age gap of 10 or 12 years. At hearing that, her mood changes, and she objects strenuously, as she is exhausted and exasperated by the constant attention and groping she has to put up with and Jake has proved it really just “never stops.”

As the second weeks begins – Week of August 28 – Art answers a phone that has been ringing in one of the bags that was left in his room’s closet (impressive battery life! Clearly pre-iPhone days.) The woman on the other end asks if Liz has shown up with and he says no – it’s only guys here. The voice sounds a mix of disappointment and confusion but no further info is given.

On August 30, Jake notes another few strange things about the Inn. The walls of the Common Area are lined with old photos, seemingly of guests from bygone eras, “different groups of people all standing in a line, staring straight ahead, with sad expressions on their faces.” In the same post he describes it being difficult to order food to the Inn, being told by one pizza place “Nobody goes up there, man.”

Later that night, around 2 AM, Mark checks in to write about another strange happening – a woman arrived at the Inn, a Peruvian woman looking for her sister, “Gem.” When the group decides she should crash in Mark’s room – as it has the only as-yet-unfilled bed, she notices that the clothes in the closet belong to this Gem. Suitably concerned about a woman disappearing without her clothes, they agree to go to the police in the morning.

But at this late hour, he says, he can’t seem to relax. It feels like he’s got an itch all over his body. Like some kind of rash. Like his skin is moving around.

Indeed.

Jeff checks in next with an untitled post that goes up at 4 AM. He writes about cashing out of the poker game early, going to sleep, and waking up feeling strange. He began to type about his day, when a light-headedness came upon him. Then he zoned out for one second and noticed the change in his fingertips – small with a well rounded nail. “They were my fingers but they weren’t.”

He mentions stopping by Mark’s room but seeing “not a guy” in the bed. But then when he looked in the mirror – “That wasn’t a guy staring back.”

In the very last post of the month, Arthur summarizes it for us. He describes being awakened by mysterious screaming – he’s not sure who, but in all the chaos and nobody’s voice being their own, does it really matter? He describes being startled awake, bolting upright to vault out of bed, and immediately tripping on too-long pajama pants, failing to gauge how long his arms were to stop his fall, and falling flat on his chest – also unusually painful.

When he got to the mirror, he saw a strange face – a woman with short black hair and almond skin. Forcing his way into the adjoining room – Jake’s – he sees a topless redheaded beauty sitting up in bed. His first instinct is that it’s a woman Jake has bedded, but then he remembers his own predicament and realizes. It’s him. He’s her.

They take a minute to sort it out as Art advises Jake to watch his first step off the bed, and before they can go any further, another woman is at the door, saying Drew is trying to get everybody to gather in the common room, once they have a moment to breathe and dress to their satisfaction. (This doesn’t help either of them much – Jake in his new body was clearly too small for his old shirts, except where his breasts push out through the fabric. Art, by comparison, has a slender frame, way too small for his own shirt, pants and underwear, but there is still discernible curvature of breasts and nipples beneath.)

Writing, he says though, helps him feel in control and less concerned about his body.

We leave off on that note for the “month,” although the story continues the next day.

The bulk of these posts are dedicated to setting the scene and slowly introducing the concept of the Trading Post before the “trigger” is pulled on the transformation. We learn about the diverse group of guys (and finally, one woman) who are the first victims of the Trading Post Inn’s curse on this blog. But we are left with an inexplicable happening to disorient them. Not sure if it was designed to be broken up over the month-end like that, but it’s weirdly effective, like a pilot episode of a show.

I like the posts describing the transformation transformation, which is handled very lightly, almost like a ghost story, as Jeff describes the strange happenings concerning his body, but he isn’t much of a writer so he doesn’t go into great detail. It helps the “real people writing about themselves” motif that it is so fractured. I know that whenever my turn to write these things came up, I really relished it and let characters go nuts, same with exploring the immediate aftermath of a change. By that point the newness was long gone so there was not so much need to protect it and treat it like a total novelty, even if you had characters for whom that would be the case. But the truth is, I lack the kind of self-editing and restraint on display in these immediate pre-and-post transformation entries, where only a few scant details are shared. I like being teased as a reader, but as a writer I usually feel compelled to just go overboard and let it all out, knowing I won’t get another opportunity for a while.

One thought on “A Year and Change: The Trading Post Retrospective Part 1

  1. Am not looking forward to the stream of “this was a kind of interesting idea but people got busy and it was never followed up” if this becomes a series.

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