I promised several posts ago to explain about the psychic ferrret, so here we go. The story begins in 2003, my first year doing NaNoWriMo. Up until then, despite some promise in school, I’d never really written anything of note. I had no idea how to go about writing a novel: in this first attempt, I would spend three chapters writing out the backstories of the main characters, short stories leading up to the greater whole, to ease me into the thing.
The first Montreal NaNoWriMo group was largely a thing revolving around Taras, whom I knew at the time only vaguely as someone with whom I had friends in common. I forget who it was who talked me into NaNoWriMo, but the situation was ripe: I was just done with my Masters, I was now working full-time, and it seemed as though this would be the time for new habits in my life.
We met at a nearby Second Cup, a whole lot of us, over the month before NaNoWriMo. It was quite a crowd, and we had to push tables together to seat us all; and there were enough of us that one end of the table couldn’t comfortably converse with the other end. At one point, the conversation lulled–as it tends to do from time to time–and I was sure I heard, from the other end of the table, the words “psychic ferret”.
I’d misheard, of course. What they were actually talking about at the other end of the table was a psychic fair. But I’d gone and expressed my curiosity out loud, and the group embraced the psychic ferret as their mascot from that point forward. We got little stuffed ferret toys to signal our presence at write-ins; and most of us agreed to work a psychic ferret in some form or other into our novels that year.
That year, I included in my novel an actual ferret, a pet believed by its owner to be psychic.
I don’t know if many other NaNo participants carried the idea into the next year, but I did. In 2004, the “psychic ferret” was the nickname for a bartender who often seemed to know more than he ought about the goings-on in the city.
In 2005, my “psychic ferret” appeared only as a mention, an off-stage character:
“It’s the symbol for Pisces, darling. I had an astrology chart done once. You know Avery Ferrett, who practically lives in Soho and smokes the most appalling clove cigarettes? He was very technical about it, and doodled astrological symbols everywhere as he explained the chart to me.”
It would not be until the year after that Avery Ferrett would actually appear in the story itself: flighty, flambuoyant, a walking mass of Bohemian clichés with his beret, his scarf, his long coat–o vecchia zimarra!–his clove cigarettes, his black coffee, and his over-attention to all things occult. By the time I got to writing “Murder at the Veterans’ Club”, he would be promoted from off-hand reference to Eric’s Watson.
Still, it would not be until my second draft of “Murder at the Veterans’ Club” that I’d realise exactly why he followed Eric around, despite their clear differences: a massive gay crush, unrequited because Eric is one of those 100% heterosexuals who has trouble understanding why anyone (even women) would want to be with a man.
I confess it amused me to have a detective who sees everything except the one persistent detail that’s right under his nose. I thought it would make for an interesting dynamic. And there’s a calculative part of me that thought, “well, these fanfic writers love putting Holmes and Watson together romantically … what would they do if one of the pair actually were and the other emphatically was not…?”
Time moved on, meanwhile, and the Montreal NaNoWriMo group I came to in 2013 bore little resemblance to the group of 10 years previous. The psychic ferrets are gone. Avery Ferrett remains; and, I believe, Taras still has the painting I made for him at the end of that first NaNoWriMo, of the ferret fortune teller gazing into a snowglobe, proclaiming:
“I see DEATH! DEATH and DESTRUCTION! And TWINKIES! (Wait, that’s just silly.) I see DEATH … and TWINKIES.”