Questionable Minds: the women of my cast

The one thing I don’t like about Questionable Minds (now three months from release date!) is that it’s so white and straight.

I wrote the original manuscript in the late 1990s. Back in those days I didn’t think much about diversity and it shows. I have some Chinese supporting characters and that’s about it.

When I decided to self-publish I thought about revising it but truthfully that was more work than I was willing to do: the goal was to get the book out in the world, not work on it for a couple more years. And it would take at least that much: doing a good job with a POC or gay character in the Victorian age would be a serious challenge, at least for me. If it sells enough to justify a sequel, I’ll do better in the next book.

On the plus side, I do have several female characters who play large roles in the book alongside Sir Simon Taggart, Bart.

Ann Taggart is Simon’s daughter. Since Agnes’ death Simon’s been devoted to her, a little too much by Victorian standards of parenting. She’s a cheerful, adventurous child whose mentalist power — object-reading — manifested early. Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department has occasionally called her in for help, which thrills her: much as Simon tells her she’ll grow up to find a good husband, her dream is to work for the MID. It’s one of her few points of conflict with her papa.

The other is that her power flares up randomly. Simon lives on edge that she’ll touch something or walk somewhere that shows her the true state of affairs between her parents.

Janet McIntyre is Ann’s governess and Simon’s lover. She grew up with a widowed father, a minister in the Presbyterian church who didn’t approve of her independent streak. She left home in her late teens, wound up working as a thief and pickpocket and became a really good one after her powers of levitation (as they called TK in my setting) manifested.  One night she picked the wrong pocket: the owner began beating her to death when Simon rushed in to save her. Something began that night, though neither of them’s willing to use the L-word to describe it.

While it doesn’t play a large role in the book, Janet is well educated and makes an excellent governess. She doesn’t tell Simon she’s also teaching Ann things like how to escape from a locked room, should the occasion arise.

Miss Grey is right hand to Inspector Hudnall at the MID and therefore Ann’s idol. One of her ancestors helped found the Bow Street Runners, London’s proto-police force; her dream is to show that a police force can be an asset to society, not a bunch of thugs no better than the criminals they watch over (yes, I’m aware these days that may leave a sour taste in people’s mouths). Grey is not her name: as her well-bred family would be ashamed at her choice of career (or any career) she chose a pseudonym to protect them.

While Miss Grey is clairvoyant, she’s more valuable to the MID as an expert on mentalism. She’s worked to know the many varieties of mentalist power, including the rarer ones; she also reads novels and penny dreadfuls with mentalist stories so that she knows what the public thinks mentalism can do.

Last but not least is Madam Sara, the sinister scientist and criminal I blogged about previously. She and Simon met during an encounter with one of the various cults that sprung up around mentalism in the belief it’s magic more than science. Together, they escaped being sacrificed. Despite her shady ways, she’s a valuable ally; she finds it useful to occasionally have Ann object-read something. Simon trusts Sara to do what she says, but not an inch beyond that.

More Questionable Minds background stuff soon.

#SFWApro. Cover by Sam Collins.

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