Author and film critic Daniel Kimmel knows you probably haven’t heard of him.
“I’m not a household name — I have no relation to Jimmy,” Kimmel said at the beginning of his speech. A baby boomer in a bow-tie, Kimmel graduated in 1977 with a degree in psychology, later going on to law school, and finally ending up as a writer and film critic in the Boston area.
Regardless of how well-known this sci-fi writer is, about twenty people were interested enough to come hear Kimmel speak about his relations to UR, his career timeline as it morphed from corporate lawyer to esteemed science fiction writer and critic, and his insight on the writing process as a published author.
Before the talk officially started, however, Kimmel reminisced to a few audience members about his visits to UR as an alum, and the opportunities and challenges they provided.
“I just was at my 40th reunion,” Kimmel said. “Because I did the campus humor column, they asked me to speak at the dinner, and to say funny things […] An interesting challenge for me when I was here for the 40th two years ago: it was right in the middle of [the Florian Jaeger incident].”
Kimmel knew he had to comment, but didn’t want to sour the mood of the whole dinner. “So I said, ‘look, ****we all know what’s going on here — it’s not my place to say anything. I’ll simply note that the university hired somebody, they investigated the University twice, they cleared the University of everything,” he said.
“I don’t know how good a job the person did, but Trump wants to hire him to replace Mueller.”
At this point, Kimmel jumped into his actual material for the night, lightheartedly encouraging audience members to pay close attention. A professor for 25 years, he noted his experience speaking on a college campus, commenting that “for those of you in the audience who may miss some of my talk, you better get notes from somebody, because it’s all going to be on the final.”
Constantly cracking jokes, Kimmel recounted one experience in particular that turned him off practicing law for a living.
“I was working for a pet store franchise operation called Doctor Pet Centers, and my job was negotiating shopping mall leases for our sites.” Kimmel started. “Now I don’t know if any of you have ever encountered a commercial lease, but it’s about the size of a small phone book. And I’m gonna pause here for a moment to let the millennials in the audience google ‘phone book.’”
Regardless of what space the lease was for, certain language, known as “boiler plate,” would show up again and again. And again and again, Kimmel would request they take it out.
The part in question? “The tenant promises to keep the premises free and clear of all insects, rodents, and vermin.”
When the shopping mall’s attorney inevitably asked why, Kimmel would retort “because you are describing our inventory.” Instead of laughter, Kimmel said he’d most often receive “robo-lawyer” serious responses. This pushed him out of the legal world, and into something more creative.
Kimmel briefly mentioned getting a start with the magazine Artemis, which is “devoted to science fiction and science fact,” where he published short stories and articles. A decade after his joining the magazine, however, it got discontinued.
“Ten years later, Artemis is gone, so is my marriage, and I’m now looking for a new project to occupy myself,” Kimmel said. This, he said, led to his most successful book, “Jar Jar Binks Must Die.”
“That book, by the way, is gonna follow me to the end of my life.” Kimmel said “I know it’s gonna be the lead in my obituary.”
Kimmel weaved in writing advice throughout his talk.
He started by describing the two schools of thought in fiction writing. Those who outline everything ahead of time, who have the plot and characters all fleshed out, whose “focus now is crafting their prose,” and then there are, and “this is not a joke, they are known as pantsers — because they write by the seat of their pants. That’s me.”
Kimmel writes as if he himself is the first one reading his novel. “I’m as interested in finding out what happens next as I hope subsequent readers will be, only I have the power to do something about it.” he said.
He recounted a particularly interesting scene from his latest novels, “Time on my Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel,” where the protagonist and his love interest get unexpectedly separated. Telling the tale to the audience, he described his reaction to reaching the end of the chapter.
“‘Wow that’s pretty cool, I didn’t see that coming, I wonder how he’s gonna get out of this one!’” Kimmel said. “And then it hit me, I was the one who had to figure it out.”
Kimmel also talked about the writing process during his newest novel, “Father of the Bride of Frankenstein.” Kimmel writes Frankenstein’s monster as Frank a grad student in a bioethics program, who is also from a very Jewish family.
Kimmel’s protagonist, the father of the bride, is at a total loss when it comes to Jewish traditions, which Kimmel (who is Jewish) had fun writing, making fun of his own religion’s traditions.
A problem posed by this was making his character know less about Jewishness than Kimmel did. The father in the novel is clueless about Jewish traditions, which is not a reflection of Kimmel’s actual knowledge, he stressed.
“I had to tell my Rabbi this, so she didn’t think that I was an idiot,” Kimmel said.
When talking about the pains of choosing details, Kimmel spoke to his difficulties picking the perfect wedding song. He quoted a fellow writer and friend, “writers are like magpies, wherever we go, we pick up things, you never know where you’re going to be able to use it.”
(The song he chose was En Vogue’s “I Want a Monster to be my Friend,” originally written for Sesame Street.)
In the ways of more formal advice, Kimmel’s jumped to yet another subject, emphasizing the importance of revising.
“Review and revise your text over and over and over, and not say ‘awww okay, this part is boring, but there’s some good stuff ahead!’ No no, if something is not working, it’s not only in your power to fix it, it’s your job!”