An Open Letter to Dead Writers

Dear Money-Hoarding Corpses,

Like most people, I used to admire you. Your books broke new ground and opened up whole new avenues of fictional expression. As a naïve young reader, I more than once picked up one of your florid efforts and eagerly laughed at jokes about stovepipe hats and irregular whiskers. Even the condemnation of public whippings had some merit. However, as I grew up and started trying to write my own books, I realised the uncomfortable truth about writing: you can’t beat a corpse.

That’s not strictly true. As I discovered while taking out my fury on the body of Nathaniel Hawthorne following yet another rejected novel, you certainly can beat a corpse. But I wouldn’t recommend trying it. I got soil all over my clothes and at one point a piece of shinbone got stuck in my eye – all because of some Puritan slut-shaming. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against the dead in general. Some of my best friends are the recently deceased and they’ve achieved great things. My grandmother still manages to keep her children in the Catholic Church despite being buried six feet under and ten miles away. What galls me, though, is the total lack of effort on your part, necrotic authors. When was the last time you actually did anything?

An example: Mark “Oh Look, A Funny Steamboat!” Twain. No one can deny the man was the first national smartass and set the benchmark for tearing morons to shreds in print. But what has Twain done for you lately? Is his humour topical? Timely? Has he deployed his talents to eviscerate today’s crazy ammo-sexual tea-swilling jackoffs? Hardly. We haven’t heard a word from the father of American satire about anything since the Cleveland administration. Just think of the tricks he missed with hanging chads and WMDs. And his excuse? The same old thing – he’s “no longer with us”. The truth is, Twain is no longer with it.

I can hear friends of the deceased now, bemoaning my harsh words, crying out that dead writers can’t be expected to keep on top of things. Oh really, Herman Melville? You write a book about whales and stay on bookshelves for 150 years, then conveniently die so no one can call you out on glamorising the murder of innocent cetaceans? Seems highly convenient to me, whale killer! Meanwhile, we moderns trying to highlight the problems with finding a Starbucks in the rain or cooking noodles without a kettle get sidelined. Overcoming Millennial ennui is the real white whale, Herman.

Finally, I would like to appeal to you cadaverous attention monsters. If you want to go on dominating literature just because you write in old-timey language and can get away with saying really offensive things because “that’s how things were”, you have to do one of two things. First option: you start giving us new authors some credit once in a while. We always hear modern authors praising Dickens’s style or Dickinson’s poetry, but when was the last time Shakespeare claimed a play was inspired by Fight Club? Alternatively, you can stop lazing around in well-appointed graveyards maintained at taxpayers’ expense and start earning your keep instead of living off reputational welfare.

Yours falling from the shoulders of giants,

An As Yet Unpublished Writer