You Might Fail. Anything Else Is Magical Thinking.

Every time I say something like of “Some things can stop you from succeeding,” people act like I’m speaking from a victim mentality.

Full truth: Not everyone gets to be a trillionaire, or a famous movie star, or an Olympic athlete. There are things that can stop you – shit, being born in the wrong year can wreck your dreams as an Olympic gymnast, as it’s a highly age-dependent sport and you might peak in an off-year.

And, yeah. If you’ve got the wrong skin tone or the wrong sex or just aren’t handsome enough, the right doors might never get opened for you no matter how much networking you do. There’s a reason “redlining” still has an impact.

To quote the great Captain Picard: “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life.”

And yet whenever I speak that reality – Hey, you can try your hardest and still fail – people swarm out of the woodwork to say “That’s a victim mentality! That’s why you fail!”

Buddy. I wrote seven novels over the course of twenty-five years before I finally cracked the market with my eighth novel, Flex. As a writer, I know more about persistence than you probably ever will. It’s not that I don’t work hard –

It’s that I’m realistic.

And hey, if the only way you can keep your spirits up is to delude yourself into believing that “MY HARD WORK IS DIRECTLY CORRELATED TO SUCCESS SO NOTHING CAN STOP ME” then great, I actually support whatever it takes to get you going in the morning. (My personal delusion is, “I have something unique worth saying,” which, you know, I write pretty weird-ass novels, but there’s probably someone out there who’s said what I have to say and better.)

But you gotta remember: That delusion is what gets you going in the morning.

The hard truth, objectively and easily proven, is that some people break their backs working both smart and hard, and something stopped them. Maybe it’s bad timing. Maybe it’s structural racism or sexism. Maybe it’s a better competitor. Maybe it’s scummy politics.

Acknowledging that is not necessarily victim mentality. It can be, but it can also be a healthy front-facing of the odds marshaled against you. I know plenty of people who discuss problems online and then succeed wildly in their personal life, so clearly it’s not as simple as “If you just work hard, you’ll succeed!”

If you’re gonna say “Acknowledging there are problems with society” is an inevitable sign of victim mentality, then I’m going to take the opposite approach. Because there are also a lot of people who are so committed to the idea of “Nothing can stop me if I work hard and smart” that they don’t see that their arrogance is off-putting, their products poor because they don’t bother to do the research, and that they’re actually failures who’d probably do better to take up a career that’s better suited to their actual skills.

(Got Hulu? Hell, just watch a season of Shark Tank. You’ll see ’em.)

So if every person who points out issues that stop people is being held back by their own insecurities, I will conversely assume that everyone who claims that is a doofus who hasn’t realized they’re not qualified for the job.

Truth is, yeah. You can fail. Often for reasons that had nothing to do with you. And if you gotta tell yourself that bullshit of “The worthy always succeed” to get yourself out the door, then okay, hey, whatever works.

But many of us – who work equally hard, who earn good money, who have accomplished much of what we wanted in life – can look failure in the eye and not have it dissuade us. Because it’s the truth. Not every actor who gets a #1 movie was the absolute best actor. Not every successful novelist was the best writer, unless you go to that circular definition of “the best” == “sells the best,” in which case there’s a ton of 1960s bestsellers who are unheard of and some very influential writers who died broke.

And not every billionaire was the most qualified for the job. Some of them had big jump-starts – in fact, most of them did, rich parents who gave them million-dollar loans or free office space or connections or all of those and more.

If you do not have those things? You could be stopped.

And to my mind, if “I could lose” is enough to send you packing, well, maybe you should pack. But your mind’s different from mine.

Just as my mind is different from yours. Just keep that in mind, is all.

I’m Not Sure Where I Live Any More.

In 2008, I had to have my eight front teeth removed – four on top, four on the bottom.

I wrote lots of essays about that.

I shared photos of my flayed gums as they did bone grafts, I provided continual updates, I even made a full column on (back when I wrote for them) discussing what Magic card would best represent my missing teeth. I pretty much had a countdown to the day, and after the moment my comments feed was flooded with well wishes.

I ate spaghetti tonight.

I ate spaghetti because it is literally the worst food to eat when you’re missing front teeth – you can’t use your incisors to bite off the stray noodles, all the sauce comes mooshing out the gap, it’s disgusting.

I ate spaghetti tonight because I’m losing my front teeth again tomorrow.

The gum implants I spent so much time getting have become infected – which is rare, but when you have gums as crappy as I do, apparently it’s a thing. So I have to have my false front teeth removed, then have surgery to extract the poisoned implants.

I am miserable, and I haven’t really mentioned it.

And it’s like, These moments would make really good blog posts. People would go, “Did you hear about Ferrett’s teeth?” And I could get sympathy and write clever entries and toss off some side blog posts with good social commentary about how horrifically people judge you by your teeth.

That would be solid blog content, man.

Except I’m tired of being a blogger.

There’s been other things happening in my life, too, except that at some point over the last few years I’ve grown sick of being an online personality. I am allergic to adulation, and far too conversant of my own flaws for people to want to follow me because I seem like a nice guy. I got tired of folks who didn’t know me having opinions on my personal life – and I got really tired of trying to sell books because hey, you like me here, wanna try my fiction!??!

Don’t get me wrong: I still have opinions. I occasionally feel those opinions have merit. But there’s been this stock in trade where for years I was on that LiveJournal train of “Stay tuned to see what I’ll do next!” and as such had to extract every ounce of potential drama from my life, and….

It was exhausting.

And that’s healthy. I don’t regret it, even as it leaves me with a lessened platform to sell my books, a reduced Internet footprint. But with that emptiness comes greater peace.

My teeth will be empty soon.

And I sit alone in my living room, eating the last of my spaghetti, pondering how difficult my life is now. Because I had a great story. “Losing your front teeth, again,” could be a saga that would get people to tune into my blog, and I could provide them with all sorts of useful details – get a Waterpik! Don’t use Case Western Dental University to save money! Here’s what the masks mean to people with bad dental work! – that would have people going, “Gosh, how are things going with Ferrett?”

I’ve got other blog-friendly aspects, too – sickness in the family, big road trips ahead, the stress of book promotion – things that would leverage my personal life into an online narrative in a compelling way.

I could live my life online. You give folks a window to your life, and some people tune in. But…

That involves opening myself up for public consumption, and I’m sick of being the product.

And it’s not that I’m wholly offline, either, which would be easier in some ways. I’ve mentioned the teeth online – I just haven’t structured it into some narrative of “Here’s what’s happening, here’s why it’s meaningful to me, here’s where it might lead.” (Or, as we call it in the fiction biz, “Setting up stakes.”)

I’m not sure where I live. I still post, but it’s a helter-skelter snapshot of what I’m up to that doesn’t quite reflect me but is still enough that there’s glimpses of me beneath. I live online still, at least partially, but it’s close enough to who I am that I feel exposed, and far enough from who I am that it feels partially artificial.

I used to live on the Internet. I don’t want that. But I can’t live entirely in my home during the pandemic, so I’m straddling two worlds, where I don’t quite feel like unleashing the narrative of “Here’s where I am with my teeth” but I do, sometimes, want torrents of online sympathy for things I’ve been too incoherent to explain, and then I also am unsure what Internet friendships mean when I am so allergic to being open online.

So here we are. Ready for a wretched day tomorrow, where starting around noon, I’m back to zero on these teeth.

I used to leverage that misery for clicks.

Now I just take the misery.

Ask Me Anything On Reddit’s r/Fantasy!

Attention world: I am doing an AMA on r/fantasy, and I am SORELY lacking in questions.

Your task, should you choose to accept: pepper me with questions, and possibly get your friends to do so. (Don’t ask me questions here; I am exclusively a question-answered at AMA for the next few days.)

The AMA in question: Right heresies.


Do You Have To Have The Whole Argument To Know Where It Ends?

Sometimes I am accused of not having an open mind when I debate with people in my comments. That’s partially true.

Now, where I do have an open mind is that I don’t enter into a discussion unless I’m willing to be proven wrong. That doesn’t mean I’m an open book; if you’re gonna convince me that, say, vaccines cause autism, you’ll have to bring literal tons of credible documentation… and even then you’d run up against my personal wall that I don’t think autism is worse than kids literally dying due to be preventable disease.

But could I be convinced that vaccines cause autism? Theoretically, yes.

Yet here’s the trick:

I have had uncountable arguments with anti-vaxxers. And at this point, most of them are like watching a game of chess that I’ve seen before; here’s the opening moves, here’s the inevitable response, here’s their countermove, and so on to stalemate.

I’m not saying I cannot be convinced. But I do know I cannot be convinced by the arguments they’re mustering. Most of them are citing the same discredited sources, making the same terrible arguments about mercury, and so on.

Not all of them, of course, but I’d say probably 90% of the anti-vaxxers I’ve dealt with are functionally identical when it comes down to the reasons they give for being anti-vaxxers.

And this is not unusual. If I talk about trans people with TERFs? Lordy, they’re all the same arguments, so much so that whole videos have been made that deal with all of the standard objections in a row. If I talk about the problems with guns? The pro-gun people are going to trot out the usual objections about “I’m responsible, why punish me?” and “The second amendment says” and “You know nothing about guns, ha ha” to the point, where, again, there are whole routines devoted to knocking down those arguments one by one simply because they are so fucking predictable.

It’s all a dance. Black Lives Matter? Allemande left to “All lives matter,” shift to “What about black-on-black crime?” and do that twist of implying Marxist involvement.

Nor is that just my liberal ass! I mean, if you’re pro-gun, I’m absolutely certain you could call my shots, so to speak. If you’re devotedly anti-Black Lives Matter, I’m pretty sure there’s no argument I’ll haul out that will make you gasp in horror to go, “Oh… I didn’t think of that.”

And yet I get people saying, “Ferrett, you’re not engaging with these people properly. You should hear them out.”

To which my response is, “How many times do you have to listen to the same argument before you realize you don’t have to take the time to hear all of it?”

Because here’s a commonality among the people calling for me to listen to every argument: They have small audiences. I mean, if you never have an essay or a Tweet go viral, it’s pretty trivial to engage meaningfully with the two or three dissenters who wander into your responses every month.

But if you have thirty enraged people a day – and that’s a low volume for those who have even mid-sized audiences – then it becomes impossible to functionally keep up with all of that.

And, I’d argue, what the low-volume people get is functionally little more than warm fuzzies. Do they convince the other person? Not usually, no. But they’re very polite, a feature they seem to value over actually changing hearts and minds, and when the other person goes “Thanks, but you’re still completely wrong and I am clinging to the traditions I came here with,” they go, “Well, we had a nice discussion, and that’s what matters.”

Not all of ’em, but… enough.

And to my mind, many of those calls of “You should be more open-minded” are actually a secret call for “I think you’re not listening to their arguments because you didn’t hear them out.”

Which is the big question:

Do you have to hear every bit of the argument as presented before:
a) You realize you’ve heard it before, and:
b) You think it’s without merit?

Some people’s answer is “Yes, you should do that dance with everyone who extends their hand to you on the dance floor,” but I’d argue – as I just have – that their dance card isn’t that full. I’m not saying that me engaging with die-hard men’s rights activists will never result in change, but I am saying that the odds of that happening that me devoting twenty hours a week in polite discussion in the hopes of finding the one guy a month are, effectively, a waste of time.

And that time? Gets greater as you get more engagement. I’m small fry. I’ve seen what happens whenever a Tweet escapes and goes viral, and man, engaging every angry response politely becomes fucking impossible.

Those who say “You should engage with everyone deeply and without preconceived notions!” are free to do so on their own time. But I think they’re coming from a weird place of privilege, which is to say, a fair amount of spare time and not a lot of people weighing in.

For the rest of us, I’d argue that arguments are like the proverbial shit sandwich; you don’t have to eat the whole thing to prove what it’s gonna taste like.

Yet there are occasional times – precious times – when an argument doesn’t go the way it’s intended. For example, I’m a liberal who’s for gun control but not against guns. So when I engage with a conservative who’s all like “I KNOW YOU, YOU HATE AND FEAR GUNS” and I’m like, “Actually, I love shooting and I wish I could own a gun but I’m suicidal and can’t risk it,” there’s often that feeling of being overlooked.

So how do I handle it?

I usually leave open one move.

Which is to say, if someone leaves a comment that makes me go, “Right, I know where this is going,” I try to reply with an open-ended comment that both refutes the argument they’re making but also leaves room for them to respond in ways that aren’t the standard dance. Sometimes I’ve misread them, or they have beliefs out of line, and I learn something.

But if they respond to that one move with a tried-and-true response, one that I could have slipped in an envelope before they got back to me and then dramatically revealed my prediction, well, I don’t really need to engage with them all the way.

I’ve tried not to dunk on them too much, but it’s often a necessary shorthand to point out the absurdity through sarcasm… Simply because honest engagement takes time and effort that’s not gonna convince ’em anyway.

And the people who refute this will go, “You, Ferrett, are why America’s so divided! You’re not listening!”

The problem is, America’s not divided because nobody’s listening. America’s divided because we’ve listened thoroughly, and we’re not convinced. You can sing the gospel as much as you’d like, but the fundamental flaw of so many of the centrists is that they legitimately believe that if we just heard what the other side had to say, of course all sides have a point, if we just listened compassionately we’d be swayed to the center.

But a lot of those voices you want me to be swayed by are telling me awful things – that my friends aren’t fully human, that they’re kiddie molesters who can’t be trusted to use a public bathroom, that they deserved to get shot because they scared cops, that regular mass murders are not only an acceptable price for the privilege of owning guns but that there’d be nothing we could do about them anyway.

You can argue that I’m misrepresenting them, of course. But at the very least, they’re okay with accepting some of those ideas as part of the baseline. And do I have to listen to them all the way before I realize that we’re not going to clasp hands and hammer out a compromise?

I argue that I can listen to them part-way. Enough to give them a chance to be different. But if they’re not, it’s not that I haven’t heard what they had to say, it’s that I have heard it too much.

Would You Like To Hear Me Doing A Reading From My Book? Would You Like To Hear Someone Else Do A BETTER Reading?

So last week my new book Automatic Reload dropped, and I did a celebratory event with the Cuyahoga Public Library – during which I did a dramatic reading of the first three chapters.

The video, which features a lot of questions for me, is here. (Skip to 35:55 if you just want the dramatic reading of an automated assault to rescue a kidnapped girl.)

But there’s also an audiobook version of Automatic Reload, and it’s my favorite reading of any of my books ever. They asked me who I wanted to do the audiobook, and I said, “Either Timothy Olyphant or Nathan Fillion. Or, considering both of those guys are out of my budget, whoever can do the best modern cowboy swagger.” And goddamn if Tim Campbell didn’t knock it out of the park, because he gets the rhythm.

Here’s the excerpt. Five minutes of automated action.

So anyway. The full audiobook is available for a single credit on Audible, or even free if you sign up for a trial subscription. I myself will read the book to you personally if you pay me enough. (Hint: You cannot pay me enough.) So not only is the audio a lot cheaper, but it’s well worth your time. Check it out.