Monday, September 17, 2012



In the Summer of 2000 I left my job as a public policy writer/researcher at Harvard to write a novel, which was published this September and is called The Madman Theory. After 12 years, the writing I was doing at Harvard had become almost rote. Having never written fiction, I thought I might be able to write a novel -- if it was one I could research. I wanted to learn something new about how to write, to stretch myself, and this was the way to begin.

I'd been reading about how President Kennedy had almost lost the 1960 presidential election and wondered what the world would have been like had 20,000 voters in three states woken up on the other side of the bed that November day. I was particularly interested in what would have happened in 1962, when the world was on the very brink of nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis, which occurred when the Soviet Union built a secret nuclear missile base 90 miles from Florida.

I found an inexpensive house to rent by Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts and began teaching myself how to write fiction. I wanted The Madman Theory to be as realistic as possible. If I was going to tell a story of what might have actually happened, had Kennedy lost the '60 election, my characters would have to include the people who likely would have been staffing the government. With this sort of alternate history fiction, writers typically invent a character who observes the action of historical figures. But of course there really would have been no such fictional character in this alternate world so I decided to dispense with this device. Instead, I wrote The Madman Theory from the point of view of the historical characters themselves. Kennedy's Republican opponent was an almost equally young Richard Nixon, so I wrote The Madman Theory from his point of view -- and that of his wife, Pat. I wanted to tell the story of their marriage in parallel with the political events at the heart of the novel and tried to weave the two together.

It's hard for me to write sloppy stuff. I need to get everything correct as I go. This is a slow process. Not having written fiction before, I wrote a lot of carefully constructed chapters that were OK on their own, but didn't work for the book. When my time was up in the house by the bay, I hadn't come close to finishing. I had to go back to work. The job I took, as a Washington journalist, left me with very little energy to work on the book. When the publication I was reporting for closed down, I switched to freelance writing and editing. I learned to take whatever paid the most to maximize my free time and was able to resume work on The Madman Theory. The looming 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis this October gave me a deadline -- just what I needed to finish The Madman Theory.

The result, available online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble in paperback and as an e-book, is a political thriller about how the man who almost won the 1960 election might have responded to the threat of nuclear missiles just off America's doorstep. The title is taken from Nixon's very real idea that he could force a nuclear-armed foe to back down in a crisis. All he had to do was convince them he was a madman -- that he really was crazy enough to start a nuclear war. In The Madman Theory we find out where Nixon's crazy notion would have taken the world when it was already on the brink of Armageddon.

-- Harvey Simon


Harvey Simon is a freelance writer living in Washington, DC. His articles have appeared in The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, the History News Network and elsewhere.

Before moving to Washington he was a national security analyst at Harvard University, where he also wrote about other public policy issues.

The Madman Theory (Sept. 18, 2012, Rosemoor Press) is Simon’s debut novel. Its release coincides with the 50th anniversary of the most dangerous event in U.S. history – the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Simon received his undergraduate degree from Cornell University and has an M.A. in philosophy from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

TWITTER: @TheMadmanTheory

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