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Guest Post by the Fabutastic Gordon Bonnet

So, tonight I was chatting with my wife over a lovely dinner of t-bone steaks and red wine, and I mentioned to her in an affectedly offhand way that I’d been asked to guest post on a blog.

“What about?” she asked.

“Well, the idea was to look at how a complete skeptic can write fiction about the paranormal,” I responded.

She looked at me with one eyebrow raised.  “And what are you going to say?” she asked.  “How does a skeptic write paranormal fiction?”

“Well,” I said, and I slipped into the supercilious tone that I sometimes use when answering questions in my biology classes, and which undoubtedly annoys the absolute hell out of my students, “I think that the main reason is that I am aware that my books are sorted into the ‘Fiction’ section on Amazon.”

“Are they?” she said, in a “You wanna watch that attitude, bub?” sort of way.   Then she frowned thoughtfully.  “But, you know, that doesn’t really explain anything.  Because let’s face it.  For a guy who doesn’t believe in all that stuff, you give every evidence of being obsessed by it.”

“I’m not obsessed,” I said, bristling a little.

“Oh?” she said sweetly.  “Would you mind telling me what poster you have on your classroom wall?”

I mumbled something inaudible into my wine glass.

“I am referring, of course,” she said, “to the one with the large picture of the UFO, that is captioned, ‘I Want To Believe.’”

Slam-dunk.  Buzzer sounds.  End of game.

 Dammit.  I hate it when she’s right.  Which, unfortunately, seems to be most of the time.

The problem, of course, is that if my glib one-liner won’t do as an answer, I’m thrown back to the original question: why would a guy who is a 26-year veteran science teacher, who teaches (amongst other things) a Critical Thinking class, who writes daily on a blog that has as its prime purpose poking fun at weird, counterfactual beliefs, write a short story about a guy whose life is in danger because he just had wild sex with a vampiric ghost he met while exploring an abandoned house?

Oh, and that’s just the last thing I wrote.  Here’s a brief sampling of other topics from my fiction:

  • A woman who, like most of us, sees things out of the corner of her eyes.  However, unlike most of us, the things she sees are real.  And dangerous.  (“Periphery”)
  • A college student who finds that reality changes every time his back is turned.  (“House of Mirrors”)
  • A guy who gets possessed by the ghost of his great-great-grandmother.  (“The Conduit”)
  • Two high school students who discover that they can read each other’s minds.  (“Shadowboxing”)
  • Ten people trapped in an apartment building during a hurricane.  With the monsters.  (“Convection”)
  • A skeptical biologist who finds out that local children are being replaced by duplicates.  Oh, yeah, and then he runs into Slender Man.  (“Signal to Noise”)

So, anyway, you get the idea.  My wife’s use of the word “obsession” is actually pretty apt.  But the question is, why?  When the subject of the “I Want To Believe” poster came up, my wife asked me, “Do you really want to believe?”  And I said, “Hell yeah.”  Do you have any idea how cool it’d be if that stuff existed?  Bigfoot?  UFOs?  Psychic stuff?  Ghosts?  Man, it’d be awesome.  Of course, being (not to put too fine a point on it) a great big weenie, the first time I saw Bigfoot I’d probably piss my pants and then have a stroke.  But still.

 

 There’s the inevitable problem, of course, of the huge revision in my worldview that would have to take place if even one of those things turned out to be real.  For one thing, I can’t even begin to estimate the number of retractions I’d have to write in Skeptophilia.  (“I hereby apologize to all of the psychics and mediums I’ve insulted over the past four years…”)  But still, and in all seriousness:  isn’t that what being a skeptic means?  If you are honestly a skeptic – and not just a professional scoffer – you revise your opinion based upon the facts and evidence at hand, regardless of how uncomfortable that revision might be for your pride.  On some level, honest skeptics are always waiting for evidence, because they are never quite sure they have the complete picture.

Of course, in the meantime, the real reason I write all this stuff is: it’s fun.  How would I react if suddenly confronted with Slender Man?  How would I handle it if every time I turned around, everything had changed – and the only one who realized it was me?  It’s a rush creating a new world, a world whose rules are different from the ones science has uncovered.  It’s a blast to try to come up with a self-consistent scheme by which the universe could work… and then send some characters in to play inside it.

Or scream in terror.  Or get chased by monsters.  Or get eaten.  You know how it goes.  Not all universes result in a happy ending.  Which, now that I think of it, would also make a great caption for a poster.

(editor’s note: Gordon Bonnet is a writer, musician, teacher, and scuba diver, and currently lives in upstate New York. Also: he’s awesome. That’s not opinion, that’s scientifically proven. On the Electro-Badassery Scale, he registers at 35.7K volts of Awesome, which is why his hair sometimes does that thing at the top, and why when his socks land on the laundry pile they make that snap-sizzle noise. Author of Skeptophilia, as well as 15 delightful works of fiction, he blogs at, shockingly enough, Skeptophilia, where you can find his charming wit and big science-licious brains at work…)

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2 Responses to Guest Post by the Fabutastic Gordon Bonnet

  1. Tyler Tork says:

    I think the difference between a fantasy writer and a true believer, is that a fantasy writer knows it’s a game. It’s much like the difference between someone who plays D&D (or even LARPing), versus someone who takes his sword down into the subway looking for actual monsters to slay. Harmless entertainment, versus insanity. And of course, if the latter were common, people who enjoy the former would feel a duty to make it clear that they are not one of those nutjobs.

    I’m also the combination of fantasist and skeptic (I might not have quite the level of obsession that Gordon has). I think it’s not unusual for fantasy writers to look at reality with a hard eye. That might be partly because for fiction to be believable, it has to make sense, apparently unlike real life. As a writer, you get your one or two fantastic premises, but then you have to be consistent and deal with the consequences. Unless you’re going for farce, you can’t pretend every wacko theory is true or just skate over things that make no sense (well, you can get away with that a little, with some fast talking, but readers will notice gaping logic holes).

    So a writer has to actually think these things through. If there are sasquatches, they have to find food somewhere. If the UFO people are visiting, they have to want something sensible — it’s not plausible that the human anus would be all that fascinating. Really, once you’ve seen one…

    And conspiracy theorists (in real life) might go on about how the conspiracy goes around silencing anybody who knows The Truth. And yet, somehow, the MIB never show up to take them away (however much of a relief this would be to the rest of us), and they don’t act as if they’re afraid this will happen. If the conspiracy were real, it wouldn’t be safe to prattle on about it. In fiction, the MIB would have to show, or we’d better have a reason why not.

  2. Love this post, guys! And I love your obsessed mind, Gordon. Well done.

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