Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?
Seven questions with Frank J. Fleming, one of the most consistently hilarious writers online, now contributing fiction to Liberty Island.
April 17, 2014 - 9:00 am
Editor’s Note: This is the fifteenth in a series of interviews and story excerpts spotlighting some of the most innovative fiction writers at the recently-launched new media publishing platform Liberty Island. The first eleven can be read in this collection here and the twelfth, thirteenth, and fourteenth here, here, and here. Find out more about Liberty Island’s new writing contest here, running through the end of April. Please check out this interview Sarah Hoyt conducted with CEO Adam Bellow here to learn more: “It also has a unique mission: to serve as the platform and gathering-place for the new right-of-center counterculture.”
Frank J. Fleming is an author (Obama: The Greatest President in the History of Everything), political humor columnist (New York Post and PJ Media), and blogger (IMAO.us). Frank is a Carnegie Mellon University graduate and also works as an electrical and software engineer when he’s not writing. He lives in Idaho with his wife and two kids. Frank is the country’s leading advocate for nuking the moon.
1. Who are some of your favorite writers, books, movies, and intellectual influences?
The single greatest influence on my writing was probably the first ten seasons of The Simpsons, which taught me how to recognize and use wit. I think the show 24 helped me learn how to pace things; I have a short attention span, and I need things to happen constantly. For SF influence, I like Joss Whedon, as I lean more toward keeping things loose and fun than toward hard science fiction (and although I, like many others, am critical of his habit of killing off comic relief, I’ve found that it really is a great way to give a jolt to the reader). I wish I could claim more influence from writers so I don’t sound like a dullard. Lately I’ve enjoyed Brandon Sanderson (he keeps things fun and adventurous while also deathly serious) and George R.R. Martin (who is good at drawing you in and creating tension, even if he can be a little too description-heavy for me). I also read the Bible and hope to one day be able to come up with a relevant Bible quote for every situation as easily as I can a Simpsons quote.
2. How do you describe yourself ideologically?
I’m a conservative who leans libertarian. In fact, depending on my mood, sometimes I fantasize about going without government at all. What’s that? Anarchist? But I associate that word with hippies who don’t like people having private property, so I guess I’m not that.
I write quite a bit of political humor, and I’ve found that bad political humor is making fun of everyone other than yourself, while good political humor is also attacking your own foibles. Which is to say I’ve written a lot of bad political humor, but every once in a while I think I write the good.
3. Which thinkers/commentators have influenced you?
I started listening to Rush Limbaugh when I was in junior high and was fascinated by seeing another side of issues than I had considered. I got political at a young age, though I am now of the opinion that it is hard to be a “true” conservative until you have a job and a family; it’s all theoretical until then. Lately my favorite commentators have been Jonah Goldberg of National Review and Allahpundit of Hot Air.
4. Where are you from/currently reside?
Idaho. For the most part, we get left alone here.
5. What are your writing goals?
For decades now, during any idle moment in my day, story ideas swirl about in my head and continue developing and evolving and consuming me. I’ve found that the only way to get rid of them is to write them down. So I’d say my writing goal is to exorcise demons.
I also plan to keep writing political humor, as I don’t think there will ever be a dearth of things to make fun of there.
6. Where can people find/follow you online?
I have a blog — IMAO.us — that I’ve kept active for more than a decade. I’m also very active on Twitter (to the point that I have to keep correcting my long-form writing, as I often Twitterize sentences, leaving out too many words), and can be found at @IMAO_ (don’t forget the underscore). I also have a Facebook page.
7. What’s your craziest hobby/pastime/interest?
I’m a very boring person with occasional bouts of adventurousness. For instance, I met my wife when I had a contest to find a t-shirt babe to help sell t-shirts on my blog, and for our first date, we hiked the Grand Canyon. That makes us sound like rather intense people, but most of the time we enjoy nothing more than a relaxing evening with a show worth binge-watching (I remember when we first discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer and watched the entire first season in one day — of course, that was before we had kids). I’m also an avid gamer — well, as avid as I can be while having a full-time job, writing every day, and being a husband and a father. So a few minutes here and there.
An Excerpt from Frank J. Fleming’s “Who Murdered the Dinosaurs?“:
Braeburn had worked many odd cases as a crime scene investigator. The clown that was set on fire and thrown off a building (eventually ruled self-defense). The time it was determined that the real killer was society. And the case of the health-conscious cannibal who only ate vegans.
But this case had the potential to be something he’d never worked before–something no one had ever worked before.
He stood before a place of death. Old death. The university’s Department of Paleontology. Its exterior was cracked and the whole building was draped in shadows. Everything about it was ominous and foreboding, except for the poster of a cartoon stegosaurus welcoming visitors.
Devereux stood beside him, looking blonde and confused (that was sort of her thing). “If we’re here to investigate a killing, it’s probably from a really, really long time ago.”
“There is no statute of limitations on murder,” Braeburn said firmly.
“So…any idea why your dino friend wants a CSI?”
“No, but I owe him a favor.” Technically, Braeburn was off duty, so he wore his casual clothes–the exact same suit as his work clothes. He ran a hand through his short-cropped hair, which he cut every two weeks to keep from looking like a hippie. “You didn’t have to come.”
“I’m curious what this is about. It would be kind of neat to solve a dino-murder…though I’m going to guess a tyrannosaurus did it. Motive: hungry.” She giggled but then turned serious. “But if he has, like, an actual human body here, we should probably call that in.”
“Of course. I always do things by the book,” Braeburn said. “Except where the book says you have some discretion on following the book. Then sometimes I don’t do things by the book. But I usually do.”
Devereux furrowed her brow. “What book are you talking about?”
Braeburn didn’t respond and headed into the building.
“Does the book say anything about being courteous to your partner?” Devereux griped as she followed him in.
The building was as still and quiet as the bones of the creatures inside. They walked down a hallway until they found the office of Dr. Graham Smith. Braeburn knocked.
A bearded, nervous-looking man answered the door. The bags under his eyes indicated he had missed a few nights’ sleep. “Good, it’s you.”
He let the two investigators in and quickly closed the door. The cramped office was filled with boxes of files, and the desk was covered with photos and scribbled-on notepaper.
“This is my partner, Devereux,” Braeburn said, pointing at his partner, who was playing with a small, petrified skull, trying to get the jaw to move.
“That’s not a puppet,” Graham told her.
Devereux put the skull down. “Anything can be a puppet if you attach a stick to it.”
Graham just nodded and turned to Braeburn. “I didn’t know you were bringing anyone else,” Graham said, walking over to his desk. Braeburn followed. Graham leaned over and whispered, “She’s kind of attractive.”
Braeburn glanced at Devereux, who was making faces at the skull as if trying to provoke a reaction. She was dressed in a neat pantsuit and wearing just enough makeup and showing just enough cleavage to keep anyone from taking her too seriously. Braeburn shrugged. “Yeah, I guess so. What do you want us to look at?”
Graham gathered some files, set them on his desk and pulled out some photos, which he laid before Braeburn and Devereux. “We found a dig site about the same age as the meteor that is theorized to have killed the non-avian dinosaurs.”
Braeburn looked over the photos of bones embedded in rock. Typical paleontology stuff. “They look long dead.”
“Well…yeah,” Graham said. “Anyway, this find was remarkable, actually. We’re talking hundreds of dinosaur fossils–those most directly killed by the meteor that made their kind extinct such as triceratops and tyrannosaurus rex. These should be the ones that starved to death because of the meteor.”
“Sounds like quite a find. Perhaps one that someone…” Braeburn paused dramatically, “…would commit murder over.”
Graham looked taken aback. “Huh? No, not really. That’s not where this is going. Everyone in paleontology is friends. We don’t murder each other.”
“CSIs are supposed to be friends, too,” Devereux said. “But then one of them secretly replaces the bullet from a murder scene I’m investigating with a bullet from my gun. I’m running to my car to drive to the lake to dump the evidence when I see them all laughing at me.”
Graham raised an eyebrow. “Huh?”
“The point is,” Braeburn said, “friends murder each other all the time.”
“I didn’t murder them,” Devereux added. “I thought about it–but I didn’t do it. Still, it’s pretty easy to see how ‘friends’ could kill each other.” Her eyes narrowed. “Really easy.”
Graham stared at her for a few moments. “So, once again, no one in paleontology is dead. That’s not why I asked you here.” He chuckled nervously. “In fact, the simple murder of a colleague would be much less disturbing.” He set down another picture, this one of colorful rock strata.
“As I said, the evidence we found was consistent with these dinosaurs dying at the same time as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. In fact, the rocks encasing the bones contain dust from the meteor throughout. Too much dust. I ran the scenario over and over trying to figure out how you’d end up with this kind of pattern and could come to one conclusion: it could only happen if the bones of already dead dinosaurs were buried in the dust of the meteor impact.”
Braeburn stroked his chin. He could tell the twist was coming. The twist was always his favorite part of each case. “So these dinosaurs didn’t die out due to the meteor; they died beforehand.”
“Exactly. We always assumed the non-avian dinosaurs died out in the extinction event, but because of the margin of error in radiometric dating, all we really knew was that they died out around the same time as the meteor. This evidence is telling us that their dying-off is unrelated to the mass extinction. This could blow away our current understanding of the extinction of dinosaurs.”
“And what was our current understanding?” Devereux asked. “They went off the gold standard?”
Graham stared at her. “No. A meteor.”
“So you’re sure these dinosaurs aren’t just an isolated few who died from other natural causes?” Braeburn asked.
“It’s hard to be sure,” Graham said, “but there are a lot of bodies in the dig…and there were other oddities as well. For instance, we have fossils of triceratops and tyrannosaurus rexes that look like they died at the same time–yet there are no marks on the bones to indicate they died fighting each other. It’s like something else came along and quickly killed them.”
“That’s quite a finding,” Braeburn said. “What do your colleagues think?”
“Well, this would be an extraordinary claim, so I wanted to make sure I had some extraordinary evidence before I made it. Which leads me to this.” Graham opened a desk drawer. His hands were shaking as he pulled out a piece of petrified amber. In the center of the amber–known among paleontologists as “yellow gold”–was a dark object.
Braeburn took a closer look. It was hard to see the details, but it looked almost like a bullet. “This is from the dig?”
“Yes. And it doesn’t look natural, does it.”
Devereux squinted at the amber. “You think someone shot the dinosaurs?”
“Here’s what I think.” Graham shifted in his chair. “I think maybe the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct from natural causes. Maybe they were…murdered.”
image courtesy shutterstock / DM7