An Apology, An Explanation, And An Exit From Blogging (But Not Writing)

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, I idolized New York’s shock jocks – those vaguely-liberal, outrage-inducing dudebros who thought it was brave to make fun of everybody

So when I wrote my first essays in the late 1980s, I emulated Howard Stern and his buddies – writing proto-edgelord columns about personal dysfunction.  Come the 2000s, I ported that mindset to LiveJournal: three to six blog posts a day, tossing off half-chewed opinions on the day’s topics. 

In the course of that, I said some staggeringly thoughtless and sexist things.  I’m not thinking of any specific writings, sadly; just a lot of posts that accidentally stereotyped, demeaned, or just misunderstood women. 

I regret putting those ideas out into a universe that’s sexist and thoughtless enough.  I believe an essay is a statement of intent – either the intent of “Please take this idea seriously,” or the intent of “I am writing carelessly,” or both.  And I often had stupid ideas written carelessly

Not a good look. 

So if you’ve ever stumbled across some turd I crapped out and thought what idiot would think that’s a good idea?, I apologize for the harm.  I was broadcasting concepts from a left-leaning dude who had, at best, a shoddy idea of the struggles of any kind of minority.  There’s no real excuse; best I can tell you is that growing up white, straight, and cismale’s a helluva drug, and I’ve spent my life detoxing. 

Still.  I put that crap out there.  That’s on me. 

I’m sorry. 

That’s nice, Ferrett, but a true apology requires both action and change.  What are you doing about that? 

Well, the answer to that is “I’ve spent up to twenty years writing essays trying to undo the harm I unleashed on the world.”  I’ve written a custom plugin for my blog to indicate that I used to be an asshole, that I may still be an asshole (because let’s be honest, it’s not like the only problematic essays I wrote were fifteen years ago), and when I wrote newer essays I tried to do so in ways that were thoughtful and compassionate in ways my old essays were distinctly not

(Not that I was a total misogynist – I meant well – but yowza, my ideas of equality were rooted in a lot of privilege, which led to grievous missteps.  Those old essays weren’t consistently horrendous – some I’m still proud of, most were harmless – but tossing off four careless posts a day with a blinkered understanding of power dynamics means you’re occasionally gonna barf out some toxic buuuulllllshiiit.) 

Now. I wrote those newer essays because I was trying to elucidate the thought process that led me down my own personal road to Damascus, mainly in the hopes of swaying someone as thoughtless as I was.  My personal logline for my essays was “Making the mistakes so you don’t have to.” 

In fact, I’ve spent so long writing essays in attempts to stop others from duplicating my dumbassery that I’d wager some of you only know me as the More Thoughtful Ferrett who evolved from that jerk – a guy who’s been strident about women’s issues. 

That’s….part of the problem. 

See, when I wrote a viral essay about how I hoped my daughters would be sexually empowered, an essay that racked up a million views and got me invited onto talk shows (I declined), I got numerous emails saying, Wow, you’re a good Dad.  I wish you were my father.

And I was like, uh, I wrote one essay

I don’t think I’m a terrible father, at least not judging from my conversations with my daughters.  But strangers judging me based on my best writing fills me with the same itchy allergies as strangers judging me on my worst writing. 

Yet that happened all the time. I’d write some polyamory essay based on a hard-earned lesson and people would rush to assume that I was a perfect partner, that my opinion was always wise and my actions were always just.  I got asked on playdates by strangers who knew I was “a good guy” because I had skill with the keyboard. 

I’d pen an essay dissecting all the ways I’d been a thoughtless creep on some recent occasion, hoping to prevent others from slipping into my harmful obliviousness – and people would rush to justify behavior I myself had condemned, telling me I meant well, I had good excuses, anyone could have made that mistake.

I kept writing, trying to refute my past idiot self – but each time, I felt trapped between two competing interpretations of me.  I began having breakdowns.  I couldn’t win – if I wrote a good essay, people would fetishize me as some impossibly wise and noble creature.  If I accidentally put a bad opinion out there, people would take that as confirmation that I hadn’t really changed. 

It didn’t feel like there was room for me on the Internet as a human being – just as a saint or a sinner. 

Truth is, I’ve never been as bad as my worst detractors say I am – but I’ve never been as good as my most ardent fans thought.  That’s not me saying I’m a wretched human being; I’ve tried my damndest to evolve into a better person over the years.  But there will always be a gap between my aspirations and my execution. 

I think that’s just being human. 

So to sum up: yes, I feel deep shame about the stupid things I said, and I apologize for that.  And don’t you dare call that “Cancel culture” – I said some offensive things, people formed opinions based on what I was felt was acceptable to broadcast for public consumption, and some people have consumed only to decide nope, not the flavor I want

That’s how it’s worked.  That’s how it’s always worked.  And for all the right huffs about “Cancel Culture,” they’ve always been fine taking down a Colin Kaepernick or an Anthony Fauci. 

Truth is, I could still be here blogging, Tweeting, trying my best to eke out a public presence for myself.  The thing that really bothers me about so-called “Cancel Culture” is that the best way to fight it is to act without shame, pretending like nothing much happened – to pull that Trumpian tactic of speaking with such boldness that your audience says, “Well, if they’re not mortified by their behavior, it can’t have been that bad!”

Yet I do feel shame for the dumbass things I said.  Still – I could forge ahead and keep writing, taking up arms in this modern culture war, finding new people to read these more considered thoughtpieces, building up enough folks with angelic opinions of a newly-branded 2020s Ferrett to offset the negative opinions of dumbass 2000s Ferrett. 

But, I think, if I was that oblivious a decade ago, is it smart for me to be speaking up now?  I wonder.  Because I fear putting more harm out into the world – as my therapist says, “There are people who’ve been to prison who fret about their past actions less than you.”  I don’t like who I was, and that lends an uncomfortable uncertainty to who I am

The problem with being an author is that a half-decent writer can make almost any tripe sound halfway plausible.  And who’s to say I won’t regret today’s blinkered hot take another fifteen years down the road? 

I’m no longer sure I’m qualified to speak with eloquence. 

So from now on, I’ll still write novels – I can’t stop – and those more thoughtful, fictional takes will be published somewhere, eventually.  (I’ve got two full novels in the hopper searching for a home, plus a third out with beta readers now.) 

But blogging?  Social media?  An opinion on the topics of the day? 

I think I’m done. 

But it didn’t feel right to leave without explicitly apologizing for any harm I’ve inflicted to you, either textually or personally. 

(And for the record: I did step away from social media in December 2019, literally a month before this little virus called “Covid” came a-knockin’.  This time?  I’ve gotten comfortable with radio silence.) 

So.  If you want to know when my next book’s published, either subscribe to this blog, or subscribe to my newsletter.  If you want to stay in touch with Ferrett-the-fallible-human, you can email me, or even join my sparsely-populated-but-lovely Discord.  I’d love to hear from you – even if that’s just you, asking for a personal apology.  Maybe we could even be real friends instead of some parasocial relationship. 

But if you want to hear my opinion from now on, you’ll have to ask me.  And in the past few months, I’ve discovered that almost nobody cares to ask.

Honestly?  It’s kinda nice. 

(Comments are disabled because they’re only gonna encourage that angelicization/demonization problem I was discussing.  If you wanna talk about me, I’m doing my best to withdraw from public discourse; talking to me is where I’m at.)

I Need Beta Readers For My Excruciatingly Long Fantasy Novel!

Back in November, I mentioned that I’d written the rough first draft of a massive generational fantasy novel – 311,000 words. In case you don’t do writer-speak, that’s literally bigger than all three books in the entire Flex trilogy stacked atop each other. And since I’ve taken three months to do minor edits, clarifying the worldbuilding, boiling down the prose, now it’s…

285,000 words of potentially-good book. And I need people to read it to help me make it a great book. So I’m looking for ten people to beta-read for me and give me feedback.

(Why seven to ten? Because I’d like four to five people’s feedback, and generally I find that you hit about 60% on getting beta readers to get back to you in time. Probably less with such a gigantic book in play.)

Now, y’all should know that touting yourself by saying “I’m really good at proofreading” pretty much excludes you from a lot of writers’ beta circles, including mine. I’m going to mangle all the prose anyway before I’m done, and assuming I sell it to a publisher when it’s done, we’ll have professional copyeditors and proofreaders sniffing this sucker like a hound dog. Flagging misspelled words and minor grammatical errors is, actually, a hindrance.

No, what I need are the sorts of people who can tell me four separate things cogently:

• The things that confuse you (“Why would $character do that?” or “Why did this technology not work this way?”)
• The things that throw you out of the story (“$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 in three months (or, preferably, way under that), do me a favor and email me at theferrett@gmail.com with the header “FERRETT, I WOULD LIKE TO BETA-READ YOUR EXCESSIVELY LONG NOVEL.” This comes with the dubious reward of being name-checked in the acknowledgements, if this behemoth eventually sells. I may get filled up on people, but if I do, I’ll put you on the list for the next revision.

And if you’re wondering where I’ve been, it’s like I said last time; I’ve got reasons I’ve been absent from social media and blogging, and eventually I’ll share why, with an apology. I owe you folks that much. But if you wanna email me to just say hello, well, fine, feel free to do that too.

(Comments turned off because those would carry the expectation of me responding. I’m near-entirely in lurk mode this days.)

Win A Story Critique By, Uh, Me!

Worldbuilders does some really great sci-fi related charity work, and so I’m happily volunteering my time to help em out. You can help them out by donating!

Basically, every $10 you donate gets you a chance to win a critique from a pretty stellar group of authors, and somehow also I am included. The list (and the opportunity to donate) is here.

Should you get a critique from me, I’ll do up to 10k words, giving you an opportunity to see what a real Clarion-level critique looks like, focusing on structure, voice, and creating tension. I’ll be gentle but firm.

And if you don’t feel like getting a critique from me, well, Worldbuilders could still use your help. So if you have the coins to spare during this holidayish season, donate!

311,796 Words.

I know I’ve been absent from blogging and social media as of late, for good reasons, and I’ll explain that sooner or later (with a necessary apology appended, don’t argue, I know when and what I need to apologize for). But I’m firing up this dusty blog to mark one special occasion:

I have finished the longest novel I’ve ever written in my life.

It’s taken me eighteen months from start to finish to make even this rough draft, and it’s 311,796 words. For the record, Flex was 80k, Sol Majestic was 90k.

To answer your questions: Yes, this is an untenable length for a book. No, it’s not written as a trilogy. No, I have no idea whether I can sell it to a publisher or not. It’s just a sweeping lapbreaker of a book that covers multiple viewpoints over ten years, a big 70s-style generational saga with a fantasy twist.

No, it will not be available to read soon. It’ll take me months of effort just to get it ready and revised for beta readers. All this effort was just to push out the rough shape of it, and fine-tuning it to get the themes and characters and history right is its own separate effort.

And what’s it about? Well, it’s about 312,000 words is what it is. I can’t say more than that, simply because blasting out details of unsold projects tend to be difficult for publishing purposes at times. And this is a strangely personal project; I wrote it on the way out to help my mother with her cancer treatments, reading it to my wife chapter by chapter as we drove cross-country, and she absolutely adores it. If it turns out to have more use than that, then great, but as it was it did what it what it was intended to do.

(…I hope. I’ve still gotta read the last four chapters to her. This dysfunctional pile of pages also has 40,000 word chapters, so you gotta understand that the words “easily published” really do not apply.)

I’ve been quiet, and probably will continue to be quiet; if you miss me, feel free to contact me directly.

But this is a special day, and I am celebrating. If you too would like to celebrate, feel free to join me.

Love to you all.

Update On My Mother

So in addition to my usual SAD, I’ve been staying with my Mom while she’s been getting a biopsy and waiting for news on progress on her multiple myeloma. She’s been in chemo treatments (thankfully light ones, but still poison) for eight months now, and we didn’t know how things had gone.

As it turns out, pretty well. She’s gone from 40% to 5-10%, which means she’s responding well to the treatment and on the way to a potential partial remission. The bad news, such as it is, is that she has to keep going to chemo, but only because the rule here is “Keep blasting her bones with poison until the numbers stop going down.” (Or, in medical parlance, “The numbers plateau.”) So that’s good.

My brain being the asshole that it is, however, I’ve been pushing back all my Seasonal Affective Depression to go “Keep it together for Mom, keep it together for Mom,” and now that she’s (reasonably) okay my brain went “SHE’S OKAY! SLAM HIM!”, and this morning is a mass of detached anxiety tumbling over my doorstep. So it goes.

Anyway. My Mom’s okay. That’s what I need right now. So we’re good.

Paradise By The Dashboard Light: A Memoir.

We were alone in a car in a parking lot, talking and occasionally kissing.

I was still very new to this.

My adolescent years had been a seething hell of isolation, spending three long years without a single friend to call my name, and I had come to terms with the fact that not only would I die a virgin, I’d probably never so much as kiss a girl. And yet thanks to a chain of events that had led me to a group of friends who’d brought me to an Emmaus Catholic gathering had led me to a college girl being interested in me, I was alone in a car with an older girl who occasionally kissed me.

I did not know what to do, really. I was like a housepet, just grateful to be there. I talked, and we sang along with the radio, and occasionally made out and I got to touch parts of a girl that I never thought I’d touch and every bit was this immense gift from heaven.

We hadn’t discussed my virginity, but she had to know it; I radiated virginity, blasting this awkward eagerness like an antenna. And I was, apparently, cluelessly charming for all of that – I knew how to tell a joke, I knew how to listen, I had interesting opinions – but I was not going to press for sex because honestly, it never really occurred to me that it was an option.

I mean, I wanted sex. But I was so terrified of breaking whatever tenuous spell existed in this car, in this odd relationship we had, that I didn’t ask for anything. I just showed up, and did whatever she asked.

And in retrospect, I can see where she was coming from; here I was, this cute and clueless boy with potential, but did she want to take my virginity? Would I imprint on her like a baby duckling, turning this summer fun-time into an agonizing breakup when I tried to follow her to college? I was a bit of a fixer-upper, but how much of a project would I be?

Would I be fun, or a regrettable decision?

And that’s when “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” floated across the radio.

If you’re not familiar with “Paradise By The Dashboard Light,” it is a rock operetta where a boy tries to convince a girl to have sex with him in his car, and the girl tries to deny him. It is a three-part, eight-minute song with a surprisingly downer ending; the boy promises to “love her ’til the end of time,” she agrees to do the deed, they become unhappily married forever.

But it does have a lot of harmonies.

And it is super-fun to sing.

And so we sang it, not really thinking of the sex part (or at least I wasn’t), just losing ourselves in the fun of bouncing around in the car and doing a little backseat karaoke.

And then we got to the end.

The end is a sad part where the boy and the girl sing two different parts, independent of each other, signalling how separated they’ve become. Meatloaf sings “It was long ago and it was far away, and it was so much better that it is today” while Ellen Foley sings “it never felt so good, it never felt so right, we were glowing like the metal on the edge of a knife.”

To Beth’s surprise, I was able to sing my part while she sung her part.

We got to the end. Her eyes widened.

“Everyone else gets confused at the end of that song,” she said. “They step on my part.”

“Not me,” I shrugged, not thinking much of it.

Later on, she told me that was the moment she decided to have sex with me.

And in retrospect, I wish I’d asked why – but I didn’t ask why then, that was my whole raison d’etre, I was the cheerful charlie accepting whatever she chose to give.

But I do think I know. I think that little harmony was the proof she needed that I was independent enough – that I wasn’t just following her lead, I was there for my own purposes.

Was it a great sign, a thunderbolt from the heavens? No. But she wanted to be with me, and it was a little push, that tiny nudge, that indicated that I would be okay if she chose to end this relationship at the end of the summer, which she did, which I was, which we were.

I lost my virginity in the back of that car for reasons I did not, and do not, fully understand. It wasn’t great sex – in fact, in retrospect, it was pretty terrible for me. But it was sex, and in that moment I broke a prophecy I’d made about myself that I would be forever alone, forever unkissed, forever shunned like I had been for the past three years running.

I still wear the shattered chains of that prophecy sometimes in my darker days, but I have not been alone, I have not died a virgin, I have not been a waste.

And I’d say that’s thanks to Beth, which is partly true, but it’s also true in part to Jim Steinman, author of that and so many other brilliant, operatic, magnificent songs – the man who wrote that alternating harmony that I will forever associate with a world slowly opening up for me, one kiss at a time, a college girl stunned as she realized that I could sing independently.

Thanks, Jim.

Thanks for being there for me at the right time.