Novelist, Author of The Harvard Skull Fiasco and other stories, and founder of

January 1, 0001 ~6 minutes

Where have I been? Editing, damn it. Editing and editing, and – sometimes – avoiding editing, but always, at the end of the day, editing.

See, back in the middle of Covid – I started to write this long, interesting, somewhat funny science fiction story. I think I’ve mentioned, people expect me to write something Wodehousian or Douglas Adams-ish, but … I don’t have this ability to be overly strategic with my own creativity.

Like, the /Harvard Skull Fiasco/ is a heist novel, set inside a famous library, which I happened to have once worked. But the world is not, currently, lining up to read heist novels, or even perhaps comedies. (The book specifically suggests that its own narrative really /should/ concern itself with an attractive forensic investigator beleagered by time traveling zombies). It’s a funny book, but unless someone wants to make a perfectly accurate movie about what it’s like behind the scenes at Harvard, it’s not going to make me any money.

And that’s okay. Incidentally, what is it to be successful? A sSccessful life, I think, means you’re doing what you want to do.

Consider that a website like Wrongcards, which I also created, is – well, I think this at least – /the/ best ecards website on the internet. Of course, only a few people are going to use it; it’s full of ecards that are wrong for every occasion!

Is it successful? Well, if success equates to /does it make me snicker/, then absolutely. I’m never going to make a cent from it. But capitalism has never concerned itself with merit. Hallmark Ecards are kitsch and shallow and almost profoundly insincere; that is their business model. And people think I’m cynical. Did you know they have not a single ecard which advocates for arson? /How are they still in business?/

Now, the thing about Hallmark is that – if you feel their cards expresses your inner self, then, that’s nice, I guess. But Wrongcards? If /those/ cards express you? Well … we’re different. You know. I know it.

Anyway, let me circle back. During Covid, I started to write what I think is a really cool, interesting science fiction adventure story. I don’t quite know why. It’s honestly not what I expected to do.

In my life – and especially when I was a teenager – I’d read a bunch of adventure stories, but few of them made much impact in me. I’d loved the genre, but it was a case of forever feeling disappointed in the books themselves. I think that’s an important step for a writer. Without being a dissident, what are we doing? We’d be writing fan fiction.

I love The Lord of the Rings, but those books don’t inspire me to write in a simlar vein. Which, to be fair, a reflection of how good I feel about Tolkein.

If anything inspires me, it’s that which leaves me unsatisfied Someone, somewhere once wrote of a particular (otherwise enjoyable) science fiction novel that it was like ‘sending an engineer to do an anthopologists’ job. I think that’s a fair remark to make about a lot of science fiction in general.

There’s an excellent nonfiction book about jokes, by Robert Darnton, called ‘The Great Cat Massacre’. It investigates a series of historic moments – one being a massacre of cats – and unearths precisely why certain events that are puzzling to us, were once considered deeply funny. By disecting jokes, Darton reveals the past as a strange and surprisngly unfamiliar place.

What commonly happens in science fiction, of course, is that we place contemporary people into a more unfamiliar or exotic universe. BGenerally speaking, the characters are rarely all that different from us. And that is often an essential and necessary aspect to the experience.

When the movie /Titanic/ came out, a friend of mine who happens to be a historian, disliked it. “Theses are 90s teenagers,” was his main complaint.

But I rightfully pointed out that they had to be, or audiences would have found it too strange. I happened to know this, because I’d seen parts of the first Titanic movie, filmed in.

But, as /The Great Cat Massacre/ reminds us, we exist in a brief microcosm of culture and values. Every assumption i

One or two of my favorite authors have never shown any sign of knowing how humans behave in real life.

In fact, I’d say this is norm. I rewatched the movie /Alien/ earlier this year, and what’s absolutely remarkable and genre-defying about it is that Ripley behaves convincingly like an intelligent human being. She is rattled. Deeply afraid /and/ also brave.

One of the worst movie tropes is watching people exaccerbate bad situations with stupid behavior. “Wait? You’re saying there’s a monster on the lower level? Let me get a flash light and go down and investigate for no good reason whatsoever!”

I can’t usuallHave you ever yelled at a television: ‘What are you doing? Don’t go down there into the darkness where people are being eaten?! Why are you being stupid?!’

But, you know – there’s a lot of truly terrible urban fantasy novels which I find deeply inspirational.

because it’s so excellent and complete. But bad fantasy novels? Oh, they inspire the hell out of me. I have this whole set of satirical fantasy novels I’m itching to write, very much in the same vein of Terry Pratchett, though with a completely different sense of humor.

I remember when I was twelve reading /The Hunt for Red October/ and constantly pausing to rewrite paragraphs in my mind. I never liked the way Tom Clancy expressed himself. But (to twelve-year-old me) he could conceive of diverting stories. There was something to be learned there. I’ve never actually been a snob, when it comes to books because all sorts of writers could teach me all sorts of technical skills. Mind you, Dostoyevsky … that’s a Master.

(I actua

(I’m going to make mention of thise most influential writer.

The continuity

They stirred something in me, without influencing me. Like, Frank Herbert’s Dune was wonderfully evocative. I never cared too much about some mad aristocrat’s reluctant (or is it determined?) climb to power. Or its religious themes. I liked the background noise – the fremen, The mentats, and the guild.

There is, in American culture, I think, a sort of pervasive fascination with aristocracy. Look at Disney. Look at how many princesses are part of their canon. In fact, I would like people to look sideways at the way Disney represents aristocrats, because I think in real life, and with few exceptions, they’re annoying and tedious people.

I’ve read it a few times – I may be wrong, but I don’t seem to recall any jokes.

So, I think what inspires creativity is a feeling that something is missing in the world. An artist would rea

But its religious themes, and its – well, lack of any humor whatsoever– left me cold. But I read it perhaps several times, because it /was/ evocative, and it stirred my imagination.

It started in the middle of Covid. I was trapped in a tiny house in Cambridge, with two small children, and the streets were littered with populated with people who though

The Harvard Skull Fiasco

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