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Harry, I heard you’re a historian and you did a PhD. Were you always interested in history?

Harry Blank: I always liked old things and old stories. I’ve always been interested in fiction, but I’ve also always thought that the real world sometimes has stories that are stranger and more interesting than things people can make up. Combining the two of them has always interested me, so I went to university for the two useless subjects of English and History. But then I decided I didn’t much care for English, so I switched to History, and now I’ve got two Master’s degrees and a PhD.

What was your PhD thesis subject?

Harry Blank: It was on Canadian history, on social and cultural and architectural history. But if I told you any more information, spies on the internet could find out exactly who I am. Not that it would matter because I don’t do anything in my online life that I would mind professors or potential employers seeing. But just to keep people from sending me letter bombs, I’ll not answer that part of the question.

Do you have a favorite historical event? Or a moment from history that particularly upsets you?

Harry Blank: I hate so many of the things that have happened that it’s hard to sort through them. But in terms of a favorite one, the one that always pops into my head, is when the American President Lyndon Johnson met with the Canadian Prime Minister, Lester Pearson, who had been speaking out against the Vietnam War. The American President was supposedly seen grabbing the Canadian Prime Minister by the lapels of his jacket, lifting him up and saying, “You don’t come into my house and piss on my rug,” which I’ve always thought was just a fantastic story. That’s what I mean when I say sometimes things that actually happen are at least as good as things we make up.

Writing is not an easy thing to do. Do you have a specific method or approach that helps you write?

Harry Blank: I wish I did. All of my friends like to talk about how fast I write and how I write so much in such short periods, but what they don’t realize is I have a lot more free time than they think I have. And if I had the ability to write with structure and format, to sit down and plan something out and execute it, I would have twice as much as I have. I write all over the place, everything in the wrong order in a giant mess.

Whatever feels like coming out of my head at any given time is what I write. And then I smash it all up into roughly the correct order and rewrite it from scratch with the old one beside it. So it starts to make sense. And usually, once I’ve done that, I suddenly realize what I was trying to say in the first place. And then I have to rewrite it again to make sure that it is actually saying what I was trying to say. I’m a gigantic mess when it comes to that, which is how I ended up with 600,000 words on the website.

I know a lot of people who can’t stand doing the editing and the rewriting. For me, every word until I’ve finished it for the first time is really painful and difficult. But once I’ve finished it for the first time and I know it can be finished, the editing and the rearranging and the rewriting is so much easier.

I wrote, I think, 120 pages in my dissertation that I ended up not using because the topic turned out to be not perfectly well connected to what I was already writing. I looked at it like, that’s a couple of months already. That actually isn’t going to make it into this. I think the final version is… it’s funny that I can’t remember, considering how many years I spent on it, but it’s either 300 or 400 pages long. Oh, my God.

Do you have any writers that you especially like or any that have inspired you in your writing?

Harry Blank: Oh, yeah. In terms of writing in general, as opposed to SCP writing, I have a couple of favorite writers. One is extraordinarily famous and one is only famous in Canada. The first would be J. R. R. Tolkien, because I always adored The Hobbit and The Lord of the RingsThe Hobbit is the first book I ever read on my own.

No one has heard of the Canadian writer outside of Canada, but he’s named Farley Mowat. He would write pseudo-fictionalized histories. He said he never let the facts get in the way of a good story. And it was partially his stories which got me interested in history.

With the SCP writing, there are just absolutely tons of people, easily too many to name. And many of them I’m friends with right now, and I’m writing things with them. And that’s part of the beauty of it. There’s so many people who are talented on that website. It’s outrageous. You can’t throw a rock without hitting somebody talented.

I read that you have a certain tendency toward OCD. I assume that affects your writing?

Harry Blank: Yeah, this information is on my author page. I’m not ashamed of it or anything. It’s just something I have to put up with every day. I’m constantly thinking and rethinking and questioning the things that I see or hear, or whether sounds in the distance are something I need to act on in case something bad happens to somebody else, or whatever.

But it does have positive effects because sometimes I’ll write something and I’ll look at it and I’ll go, “That’s probably good enough.” But I could do better than probably good enough, so it’ll bug me if I don’t do better than probably good enough. So I write it again and it comes out a lot better. So it’s worthwhile. But it also makes you worry about how you interact with people and worry about what’s going on with other people and if something bad is going to happen to them because of something you said or did. But that can also be good because I have a tendency to get irritated pretty quickly on the internet. And as long as this other voice is in the back of my head, it’ll maybe stop me from snapping at people when I might otherwise snap at people.

But I’ve used it as an element in stories a lot. My very first SCP was about a person who has survivor’s guilt after an accident, and it’s manifesting as a monster that’s following him from reflective surface to reflective surface, and it won’t stop badgering him about all the things that he could be doing to make his life better over and over and over and over and over again. It’s basically OCD following him around. And that was my very first SCP. So it’s become an important part of the stuff that I write, just the question of what it’s like when there’s another voice in your head that won’t stop bothering you about things you really would rather not think about.

But it’s like that for anyone who’s writing something. You write enough stuff, eventually you’ll have to start bleeding in your own experiences because everybody has an experience of the world that’s unique or different. And that’s the thing you can write about with the most ease. And often this is most novel and interesting to people who don’t have those problems.

Everybody’s brain is different and there’s things about everybody’s brain. I think most people have things they would like to change about themselves. And if you don’t have anything about your brain you’d like to change, you’re probably an egomaniac, and that’s the thing you should change about yourself. For some people, it’s just minor things. And for some people, it’s more irritating, like the one that I have that just won’t go away. But you do get used to it and it does teach you things about yourself and what matters to you. Also, there are creative ways to deal with it, like turning it into a story for attention on the internet.

If you’re quickly irritated on the internet, how do you cope with Twitter?

Harry Blank: You don’t actually read what other people say. You just say things and wait for other people to respond and it works out fine. Arguing on the internet, basically, you’re always wrong. Even if you’re right, you’re wrong for arguing on the internet. It’s hard to remind yourself of that.

Finally, do you think you would enjoy playing Escape from Site 19?

Harry Blank: I’m not sure I’d be willing to part with my blood. But other than that, it sounds like it could be entertaining. Sounds like there’s some good party game elements there. I think it’s actually very cool, the idea of having a board game. I’ve seen some of the cards for it, and it does look very neat.

Do you have a task where a player has to hit somebody with the box that the game comes in? It looks super heavy.

Not yet, but we might use that idea! It’s getting difficult coming up with new tasks when there are more than 500 cards. So thanks for the suggestion! And thank you for spending time with us.