Gender Confusion.

So my sweetie Fox is non-binary – they do not identify as “he” or “she,” but rather “they.” So it shouldn’t be surprising that they hang out with other non-binaries, which occasionally causes confusion for this dense cis-dude.

And we were having a conversation about Fox’s sweetie Jim*, and I said something like, “He must have been happy.”

“They,” Fox corrected me.


“They. Like me.”

“Well, of course they like you!” I protested. “They’re dating you, aren’t they?”

Amazingly enough, Fox is still dating me, despite my periodic obliviousness.

* – Names changed to protect the people who didn’t ask to be in this essay.

Why Hereditary Actually IS The Scariest Movie Of 2018.

In Call of Cthulhu, the infamously terrifying roleplaying game, the players are usually giggling nonstop.  It’s not that they’re not scared – they are.  But they are fully aware that this kindly old man is probably a cultist bent on their evisceration and this locked door to the abandoned basement should never be opened – but the characters they are playing do not know that.

So they giggle wildly as they tiptoe towards their inevitable destruction.  It’s whistling past the graveyard, really.  They’re locked in to a grim conclusion, and laugh manically because they know everything they do is doomed, that every paranoia they have is utterly justified, and yet they go through the motions because the true horror of Call of Cthulhu that sane people acting rationally will be ground to bits.

I thought I would never hear that laughter outside of a horror roleplaying game.

But last night, during the showing of Hereditary, the theater was awash in constant, unstoppable giggling as everyone realized that the family in this film was smart, and flawed, and acting on every bit of knowledge they had available to them, and these poor fuckers were still doomed, doomed, doomed.

The problem in describing Hereditary is that “scary” is the only positive word we can associate with a horror movie.  The true description of Hereditary is “dread full,” because there’s not much in Hereditary that’s jumping out at you.  It traffics in dread, that soaking sensation that something bad is going to happen and you don’t quite know what but when it arrives it’s going to be worse than what you thought it would be, and goddamn if it isn’t.

Because Hereditary is actually a slow drama, one that focuses on what happens when a family unravels due to the weight of death.   There are long, aching moments where you wish for zombies, because honestly a good solid monster scare would be preferable to watching everyone quietly blame each other.  And unlike some horror movies, which have long slow shots only so you can scan the background for creepy stuff in the background, Hereditary has long slow shots where it will not let you look away from someone’s pain, where they’re trapped in grief that they will never escape because death is permanent, and so when the creepy stuff comes in it is genuine and earned.

I thought I knew where Hereditary was going, but those plans flew out the window early on, and from then on I was with the audience.  Giggling.  Braced for impact.  And then the impacts came, and kept coming, and kept coming, and maybe the ending went on a bit too long but when I thought about it – and I did think about the ending, I couldn’t stop thinking about it – it all fit together.

Hereditary isn’t perfect.  But it does one thing perfectly – dread.  That sick anticipation of knowing that bad things are about to happen, and maybe they won’t, or maybe they’ll be even worse.

They’ll be worse.

That’s Hereditary.

Needed: Beta Readers For A Story About Madness

If you’ll recall, I’m writing a story for the upcoming “Unlocking the Magic” anthology, tentatively called “Madness Is A Skill.”  And as I always do when I write new fiction, I’m looking for beta readers to give me feedback on this early draft.

In this instance, I’m looking for two styles of readers:

  • People who suffer from chronic mental illness, so I can see whether my story rings true to them;
  • People who suffer from no mental illness, so I can see whether my story makes sense to people who don’t connect personally with the struggles of people with depression and potential psychotic breaks.

What am I not looking for?  Proofreaders and people who are really good at spotting typos.  I’m going to take out 15% of the words and read everything aloud to check the flow of the prose before I’m done – and assuming my editor likes it, we’ll have professional copyeditors and proofreaders sniffing this sucker like a bloodhound.  So I need no copyeditors.

No, what I want are attentive, verbose, and discerning people who can tell me four separate things:

•         The things that confuse you (“Why would $character do that?” or “Why did this magic not work this way?”)
•         The things that throw you out of the story (“$character wouldn’t do THAT!” or “Factually, that’s so wrong!”)
•         The things that give you ass-creep (“I got bored here”)
•         All the things that make you pump the fist (“This moment was truly awesome, and unless I tell you how awesome it is, you might cut this part out in edits”)

So if you think you can do all that for a 4,800-word story in three weeks or less, do me a favor and email me at with the header “FERRETT, I WOULD LIKE TO BETA-READ YOUR MADNESS.”  (People who cannot follow these simple instructions will not be entrusted with my fiction.)

What does beta-reading get you?  In this case, alas, the debatable pleasure of reading a story early, as unlike my novels, there’s no acknowledgements to be had – and the potential to maybe beta-read my future novels, if that’s your jazz.  I will most likely get filled up on people, but if I do, I’ll put you on the list for the next revision, if there is one, which there will probably be.

Stay sane, everyone.  It’s a heckuva month.

She Would Have Been Ten Today.

I wrote this four years ago:

You realize that a child is not a child, but an arc soaring out into time and space, a potential to be fulfilled, and somewhere within her skull is an eyeball-sized mass that may grow to squeeze her brain until it literally forgets how to breathe. Except this child is a child. This child may only ever be a child, and then dissolve into a tangle of theories. What would she have liked? What would she have seen?

You look down at this beautiful wide-eyed girl, grinning like she has all the secrets in the world to tell you, and you can’t hold it all in your head. She’s alive here, and over here she may not be. You swing your flashlight between those two possibilities, trying to capture them both, but the beam is too narrow. Alive. Dead. Alive. Dead.

You hold her so hard, pressing her skin to yours, hoping to press her memory into your flesh forever.

But you can’t.

You know you can’t.


I couldn’t.


It’s her birthday, and I can no longer plot the trajectory of where my goddaughter Rebecca would have been by now. The Christmas after, I was still pretty sure she would have liked the Annie movie, which starred a plucky girl who looked a lot like her – or she would have hated it because I wanted her to like it. She was like that.

But now? She would have been ten.

I only got to know her until her sixth birthday, when she left us.

There’s a thousand things I wanted to know about Rebecca that I never got to see. I don’t know what songs she’d be singing now. I don’t know how she’d be getting along with her brother Josh. I don’t know what plays she’d have been acting in.

And all those extend out into all the other unknowns I hoped to see: who she’d have crushes on. What career she’d choose. What sort of grown-up she’d be. Whether we’d stay in touch as she forged her own life.

I saw all there was to see.  The whole damn show.

I wanted more.


My faith tells me that she’s been wrapped up in the arms of a loving universe, some essential part of her preserved and treasured the way I would have preserved and treasured her. I remember praying, begging God to take my life for hers, then slowly realizing that there was no bargain to be struck.

As an honest man, I must confess that there are days my faith wavers and I wonder if it’s all bullshit. It might be. But it keeps me going a lot of days when I’d collapse otherwise, so if I don’t force it on anyone, well, I’ve always been a big fan of whatever works.

But there’s that residual bitterness. We tried everything we legitimately could think of on Rebecca, every advanced medical treatment we could get our hands on in the time that we could – and everything the world had to offer wasn’t enough.

She would have been ten.

She got to be six.

I get to stand by a grave sometimes and look at this tiny piece of rock, embedded with a thousand other rocks at the Jewish cemetery, and feel the sweep of time passing, of humanity’s importance diminishing, of all the billions gone and forgotten and knowing that Rebecca’s done all she could do as her own entity.

I miss her.

I hope that means something.

But as an honest man, I must confess that some days I wonder if that’s bullshit too.


There was a firefly last night. I saw it once, cradled in the branches of the tree in my front yard. Rebecca’s father was working in my woodshop, as was her favorite uncle, and I was hauling out some trash.

I looked around. I didn’t see it again.

The fireflies came early for Rebecca, swirling in the yard as the doctors hauled her body out to the van. I remember seeing them, feeling they were tiny green angels come to see her off, glowing and sparking before any firefly had a right to be out.

Sometimes when I think of Rebecca fireflies appear, and I wonder if that’s her way of comforting me. And I admit it’s probably bullshit. I endured a great loss.  Little lies about fireflies may be how I survive.

I just wish Rebecca had survived.

When Your Asshole Coworker Hogs All The Credit: A Metaphor.

Your colleague shuffles up to your desk to ask for help. He’s been working eighteen-hour days to try to hit this massive deadline, but it looks like even with all that herculean effort he’s not gonna finish his project in time.

You’ve been friendly before. So he asks a big favor: would you mind taking on some of his everyday tasks so he can focus on getting this special project done?

You’re no fool, of course. You ask your boss if it’s okay, and your boss has a bit of a crush on Colleague so they’re inclined to help, and so everyone in the department shuffles around a bit to take the slack off of Colleague so he can get it done.

And Colleague knocks it out of the park, like you knew he would – the boy’s got talent, you’ll give him that. Their special project exceeds all expectations, wins awards, gets him up on stage at the annual company meeting where he gives a speech.

“I worked hard to make this happen,” he says. “Eighteen-hour days for six months, using all my skills.”

“Did you want to thank anyone?” the President of the company asks.

“No. I did it all myself,” he says.

Needle scratch, freeze frame, full stop as everyone in the department hates this guy. For good reason. I mean, he did work hard, but if your boss hadn’t liked him, he would have blown the deadline. Without everyone in the department quietly pitching in to make things easier for him, he would be just another failure.

Why’s this asshole talking like he’s a self-made man?

Would it kill this jerk to acknowledge the special treatment that helped enable his hard work?

And that’s privilege to me.

People get enraged when I mention the advantages my gender, race, and health gave me in the same breath as my triumphs. You finally published a book after writing seven unpublished novels? Take this moment to bask in your tenacity! You’ve been working out with your personal trainer three times a week for the past nine months? Don’t mention how other people can’t afford a personal trainer, or are too sick to work with one, that’s raining on your parade!

Look. I work hard for everything I get. There’s plenty of people who have all the privileges I do and haven’t published a book; there’s plenty of people who have the cash I do and haven’t hauled their ass to the gym. Like Colleague, I’ve got a lot of talent and I am not ashamed to show it.

Yet sometimes, because of stuff I had no control over, the company cuts me slack that it doesn’t cut other coworkers. I am excruciatingly aware that some of my less-crushable coworkers also worked eighteen-hour days but couldn’t get everyone else to pitch in and so they failed.

Hard work doesn’t pay off equally. It’s a necessary ingredient in most cases, to be sure, but to believe that effort and talent are the sole criteria for success involves consciously forgetting that the company likes some people a lot better than they do other people.

(In fact, the company likes some people so much that they sometimes cut Colleague slack before he even asks for it, to the point where if he’s sufficiently oblivious he may genuinely believe that nobody helped him along the way, he is truly a Self-Made Man.)

Whenever I acknowledge my own privilege, I have moof-milkers saying, “Stop hating yourself. Recognize your talent. Why do you feel the urge to undercut yourself in your moment of triumph?”

I’m not undercutting myself. When I stand up to talk at the office meeting, I discuss my own hard work, skill, and expertise that allowed me to triumph – but I also take a moment to acknowledge that even if I didn’t necessarily ask for help, I got it in spades, and to remind y’all that instead of believing I’m the Special Project Messiah maybe you should ponder how much more excellence we might get if the boss had crushes on everyone instead of just me.

I’m not hating myself.  I’m thanking my co-workers for helping, and acknowledging the reality that though I put in a lot of effort, it wasn’t all me.

Because I’m not an asshole.