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.

Dear Monogamous People Dating Polyamorous People: Don’t Go Camping.

So I hate camping – for me, the outside is largely a space I endure to get to new air-conditioned places. I hate sleeping in things that aren’t beds, I hate the bugs, I dislike weather.

But let’s say I like my partner. And my partner loves camping. Can’t function without regular doses of sunshine and campfires. And the only way to really spend time with my partner is to go camping with him and his friends.

So I tell him, “I’ll go camping with you, but you’ve gotta do all the camping work for me because otherwise I won’t bother.”

And because he loves me and is just happy I’m along for the ride, he agrees to take on the additional work.

So he chooses everything in my camping backpack and packs it neatly for me. When it comes time to set up the tents, I don’t bother to learn how it works: that’s his job, and maybe his friends too. I’ll grudgingly eat what food they make at the campfire – it’s not as nice as going out to a restaurant – but if there’s a way I’m supposed to get rid of the trash, that’s not my job.

I don’t like camping, and I came along. I’ve made my sacrifice by just arriving.

Everyone else should just accommodate me.

Yet here’s the weird thing: as long as I hold the repellent idea of camping at arm’s length, it’s highly unlikely that I will ever have any positive camping experiences.

I won’t learn what kinds of sleeping bags maximize my comfort, because I’m too busy complaining that these aren’t beds. I won’t find a favorite camping food that my boyfriend didn’t think to mention, because this isn’t something I’m investing time in and so why should I put in the effort to research anything? I won’t get the satisfaction of knowing I learned to survive in the wilderness, because I’m so upset by having to be out here that I’m forcing my boyfriend – and everyone who goes camping with him – to simulate a non-camping experience.

I mean, I’m probably never going to adore camping. But I’ll have a much better experience if I say, “Okay, I don’t like this, but what aspects of this camping trip can I make work for me?” And maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find some camping tricks that make the experience tolerable, and even on a good day I might find it kinda nice, even if honestly I’d rather stay at home binge-playing the new God of War.


If you’re a monogamous person who’s dating a polyamorous person because that’s the only way you can get intimacy with this amazing person you found, I sympathize. Polyamory’s hard enough on those of us who chose it organically, and I can’t imagine how painful it must be for you to date someone who’s got other lovers aside from you.

But don’t go camping.

As someone who’s seen a lot of polyamorous dynamics, one of the most consistently dysfunctional is, unfortunately, “the monogamous partner who feels resentful that they had to choose this lifestyle, and feels they’ve made enough of an effort by simply tolerating this weirdo situation, so they’re gonna make him do the rest of the work.”

That usually manifests in terms of things like “Please ensure your other lovers aren’t anywhere I can see them, even if they live in town and are friends with our friends,” leading to frantic campaigns where they’re asking Frankie please, don’t come to this party or Lois will get upset. Or concepts like “All my jealousy is your fault because this wouldn’t be happening if you just gave up this open relationship, so whenever I’m sad for any reason you have to drop everything and rush back home.” Or reactions like “You do what you want on the side, but I’m just going to pretend this is monogamy and walk around all the ugly bits until I’m literally forced to acknowledge that you have anyone else in your life.”

That’s camping behavior.

And look. I’m not saying that you have to go out of your way to be besties with all of your partner’s other partners, or to date seventeen people you’re not interested in just to balance the scales. Monogamy is a perfectly valid relationship choice, even if that choice gets complex when you’re dating a poly person.

But what I am saying is that too many mono-poly relationships crumble because the monogamous partner never bothers to explore the potential advantages of polyamory. They spend so much time trying to change their partner’s and their partner’s partners behavior that they never wind up developing their own coping mechanisms for jealousy.

And it falls apart.

What I’m saying is, I know camping sucks. (I really do loathe the outdoors.) But if you’re gonna be polyamorous, seek whatever advantages you can. It’s definitely weird being friends with your partner’s other lover, but if you make that connection they can give you insights into your relationship – or just occasionally be more generous in handling the inevitable scheduling snafus. Learning how to tolerate your partner’s other sweeties at parties can help assure you that they’re not some perfect seductor, poised to snatch your lover away from you. And treating your jealousy as something that you have to learn to handle instead of demanding everyone else do the heavy lifting will help you learn self-sufficiency on the days your partner may be too distracted or upset to properly soothe you.

It’s not what you might have chosen. But you love this person. And honestly, as long as you’re demanding they do all the camping work for you, they’re gonna spend a lot of stressful time setting up the campground to your satisfaction and will spend less time with you, actually enjoying the outdoors in your presence.

It’s not ideal. But learn to set up the tent anyway.

You’re here. Might as well make the best of it.

Han Solo Is Not A Lead Character: Why SOLO Bombed At The Box Office

So Solo “bombed” at the box office this weekend, which is to say it brought it more money than all the people reading this article will ever earn if they all put their paychecks together.  Still, for a Star Wars movie, “half of what Rogue One brought in” is not good news for Disney, so everyone’s scrambling to explain why Solo disappointed. 

Here’s my theory: It’s not that Alden Ehrenreich does a bad job as Han Solo (he does well), or that the troubled production brought bad vibes to the box office (though that didn’t help), or that the movie’s terrible (the first half of the film is flat-out wretched, but once Donald Glover steps in as Lando everything smooths out delightfully).  

It’s that Han Solo is not a lead character, and should never have been given a movie to star in.  

Now, if you’re not paying attention, you might think that Han is a lead character – after all, isn’t he one of the three iconic characters from the original Holy Trilogy?  And yes, Han is certainly prominent.  The movie couldn’t function without him.  

But the role Han Solo plays is not lead.  Leia and Luke are the leads.  

Han is there to push Leia and Luke’s characterization, forcing them to make decisions that in turn make them grow.  Which makes him a supporting character.  

This theory is brought to you by a YouTube video called “Pirates of the Caribbean: Accidentally Genius,” which is an hour-long dissection of why Pirates is so good – and, by proxy, why all the sequels fail.  And one of the main takeaways from that close analysis is that the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow ’s main function is to push Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann into questioning their approaches to life. 

Will Turner is a quiet, talented craftsman, but he doesn’t know when to break society’s rules to get ahead.  Captain Jack is the guy who shows Will the benefits of cheating.  

Elizabeth Swann is a  woman who’s been brought up to believe that she’ll be a trophy wife, though she longs to be something else.  Captain Jack’s incompetence and lack of ambition helps push her into stretching her muscles until she becomes an active participant in her life.  

And Captain Jack Sparrow is… clever.  He remains clever.  But in terms of character arc, Jack Sparrow learns jack squat in the course of the movie.  He’s fundamentally static – which is good, because we don’t want him to change!  What we love about him is that he’s a wastrel, a backstabber, he’s reliably unreliable.

Giving him a character arc is going to be unsatisfying, because any change we make to him will inevitably move him in a direction we don’t like.  If Jack learns to be more responsible?  Then he’s not Captain Jack Sparrow.  If he learns to be more backstabby?  Then he’s an outright villain.  

You don’t want to give Captain Jack Sparrow a main storyline, because right now, where he is, is literally the most fun place he can be.  He’s perfect as-is, because he’s fun to watch – but put him on the main stage, where the emotional backbone of the movie rests upon us being invested in having Captain Jack evolve into someone new, and we discover there’s a reason why Will Turner isn’t as show-stealing as Captain Jack but is much more fundamental.  

(As, in fact, we did discover how disappointing it was, squeezing poor Jack into the role of “hero.”  Even if the first Pirates is so damn good that people keep shuffling back to the theaters in the wan hope that the next sequel will be even 20% as good as the original.)  

No.  Captain Jack Sparrow is there to pressure other people into evolving.  That’s a beautiful, noble role.  Every bad decision he makes is in order to force someone else to grow in order to make up for Jack’s flaws, and as such Captain Jack Sparrow is the ultimate plot device.  Throw him into every pirate movie, he’s gloriously useful!

You just don’t make him the center of the damn film.  

Now.  That’s also Han Solo’s role.  

Han’s there to contrast against Luke’s farmboy optimism, and to force Luke to grow.  It’s Han’s refusal to get involved that forces Luke to learn how to convince smugglers, and it’s Han’s refusal to go on the final mission to the Death Star that makes Luke seem more (suicidally) heroic.  

Likewise, Han’s there in movie #2 to take duty-bound Leia and force her to choose between what she needs to do (smooch Han) and what she wants (lead the Rebellion), leading to a kick-ass scene at the end Empire.  (“I know.”)

Which is not to say that Han doesn’t get some character development – he does, because those first two films are beautifully plotted.  He has a very narrow change from “cynical” to “not cynical” in A New Hope, and then goes from “I stick my neck out for no one” to “self-sacrifice” in ESB.  And then…. doesn’t have much to do in Return of the Jedi aside from be snarky, because that’s as far as Han can go.  

Like Jack Sparrow, there’s only so much you can change Han before he becomes… well, not Han Solo.  Much like Will Turner, Luke can go all the way from “dream-struck farm boy” to “badass black-clad destroyer of Hutts” to “cynical island-bound suicide,” and (with varying levels of success) those are all part of his evolution.  Part of what we love about Luke is that we get to watch him grow.

Likewise, to a lesser extent, Leia.  She’s all duty in the first one, reluctantly romantic in the second, and by the third there’s the vague promise she might be the next Jedi.  Leia didn’t get as much of a chance to grow, but motion was built into her arc.  

Han, however?  We don’t want to watch him grow.  We learned everything we needed to know about him before he walked out of that cantina, and we loved him as-is.  And if you think you can spitball something that’s more appealing than Harrison Ford in his most iconic state, well, shucks, you give it a shot.  But I bet you any change you made to Han frickin’ Solo would be way less satisfying than Han Shot First Solo.  

So where’s a prequel get to go?   

I mean, you’ve got limited range.  Because it’s a prequel, we know Han has to end up cynical and self-involved.  Having that be seen as a fall from grace – i.e., “Han was in a wonderfully happy place and wound up embittered” – would be a hell of a downer film for Star Wars’ light froth.  

So where do you go?  

The moment the film was announced, I said, “Okay, Han’s gonna go from a doofy kid to an experienced smuggler, because that’s really the only story they can tell.” And without too many spoilers – yeah, that’s what happened.  

I think the reason Solo wasn’t met with a lot of enthusiasm was because audiences are smarter than you think.  And people intuitively realized there were one of two outcomes here: either we get a Han Solo that’s not the Han Solo we love, or we get the Han Solo we love in a by-the-rails movie with no character-based surprises along the way.  

Now, we do get a few character-based surprises in Solo – but significantly, none of them have to do with Han, who is theoretically the guy who should be surprising us.  The lead role in Solo falls consistently flat despite Alden’s heroic efforts because what you have in Solo is a static character who’s meant to surprise other people into adapting to his shortcomings, and you’ve given us an entire movie where we instead watch Han dork it up. 

(Because I don’t know where people got the idea that Han was mega-competent – if you watch any movie with Han Solo in it, it’s literally his job to screw up whenever they need to raise the stakes.)  

As such, the pitch of the movie was underwhelming, feeling more like a marketing team than from someone who understood Star Wars.  As other, wiser, folks have noted, a Leia movie would have drawn cheers – not just because Han’s another straight white dude, but because Leia had room to maneuver.  

As it was, what we got in Solo was a film that spends a lot of time asking “What don’t we know about Han Solo?” – questions like “Where’d he get his gun?” and “Where did those golden dice come from?” – and not a lot of time asking questions like “What do we like about Han Solo?”  A smarter prequel would have put Han in the backseat again, the way he was in Force Awakens and the original trilogy, to pressure someone new into becoming something – as I think Ron Howard tried to do with the screenplay he was given, but by then it was too late. 

Now.  To reiterate.  Solo is not a bad movie.  I enjoyed it a lot.  But it is a slight movie, which is a bad thing when you’re an entry in the most famous space opera of all time.  It’s space opera, with huge sweeping sagas and great character turns and magnificent sacrifices, and in Solo what we have is a guy who goes from “less competent” to “more competent.”  

And I’d argue that the reason Solo doesn’t seem like a Star Wars film to many people is because of that choice of lead.  They chose a guy who wasn’t meant to be center stage.  They didn’t know that some characters are popular because they don’t have to do the heavy work of evolving into new people – folks like Han and Jack Sparrow steal the show because supporting characters are the Peter Pans of the stage, they never have to grow up, and as such they can be funny and flawed and beautiful and memorable and wonderful. 

I love Han Solo.  He’ll always be my co-pilot.  

But they shoulda given the film to someone else.