The Story Behind The Story: Questionable Minds

As today is the launch date of my first published novel, Questionable Minds (available as an ebook or paperback), my usual Monday political post will go up tomorrow. For now, it’s the story of how I came to write it.IIRC, the original idea for what became Questionable Minds was born sometime in the early 1980s. I’d seen Sean Connery in The Great Train Robbery my junior or senior year at Oberlin and much enjoyed his role as the roguish thief organizing the first robbery from a moving train. In his trial, after a judge demands to know what could have led him to violate every principle of law and decency, Connery simply shrugs and says “I wanted the money.”

My initial idea was to take the Connery character (based on a real character in the Michael Crichton nonfiction account of the theft) and have him work for the government — go where the police can’t go, do things the police can’t, that sort of stuff. The initial adventure, prompted by some nonfiction I’d read, would have involved the Hindu Thuggee cult setting up shot in London. In hindsight I’m very glad I never sat down and wrote it as I can’t think of any way it wouldn’t have been racist as shit.

Instead the idea lay fallow in the back of my brain. When it finally resurfaced it had two key differences. First, my poacher-turned-gamekeeper protagonist had become Sir Simon Taggart, baronet, old-money and impeccable pillar of the establishment. Second, the concept that Simon lived in an England where psychic powers — mentalism — worked. My original concept had been intrusion fantasy — supernatural elements intruding into the mundane Victorian world — but my revised idea meant the world was no longer mundane.

What led to the change? I’m not sure, but most likely reading some of my reference books about the Victorian age jump-started my original idea.  The book’s villain became Jack the Ripper, then I threw in Jekyll and Hyde, Helena Blavatsky, and multiple other elements. Plus lots of borrowing from Arthur Conan Doyle, being the Holmes fan that I am.

At the time I finished the original draft — late 1990s, I believe — steampunk was still a new concept. I hoped building my book around psi powers rather than tech would make it stand out. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen hadn’t come out so me incorporating assorted fictional characters into the book would, I thought, be a plus too. Of course, as some of them were Sherlock Holmes characters (though not Holmes or Watson himself) and they were still under copyright, perhaps it’s good I didn’t sell it, though I imagine the publisher would have red-flagged that.

In any case it didn’t sell. I was particularly frustrated by one publisher who asked for like three chapters at a time, asked for more whenever I prodded them, then finally said no. That stretched the process out waaaay beyond what was reasonable.

Ditto a company who held the book for a long time, then told me, when I checked back, that they’d reserved it for the publisher’s personal review — expect an answer in four months. When six months passed I checked … and checked again … and again … and finally said that having had no answer, I chose to withdraw it from consideration. Late can happen for legit reasons; not responding when prodded is, in my experience, a huge red flag. The publisher’s curious response was that she was sorry we couldn’t reach an agreement — meaning what? They’d sent me an offer and I hadn’t heard back? Or that she and her people couldn’t reach an agreement whether to buy? I’m guessing the latter.

Finally, success! I submitted to an e-book publisher, got accepted and they told me they’d be back in touch by the following summer to discuss edits and possible changes. Summer passed, no contact. I checked back, they were going out of business. They apologized for not notifying me sooner but did return all rights.

I tried a couple more publishers after that without success, but I still believed the book was good (after all, at least one publisher liked it!). So finally, rather than chase after small publishers who probably didn’t have that much to offer me (not a slap at small publishers, honestly. But when the submission package calls for me to submit a marketing plan — well, if I could draw up marketing plans, I can’t see what I’d need them for) I opted to self-publish. I rewrote the book, rewrote again, edited the book and sent the manuscript through Draft2Digital for the ebooks (they’ll be available on Amazon eventually) and Amazon’s Kindle publishing for the paperback. Plus using One World Ink for promotional services. Plus, of course, my friend Samantha Collins who designed the awesome cover.

And now it’s done. Let’s see what happens …

#SFWApro. Copyright on cover is mine, rights remain with me.


Filed under Sherlock Holmes, Story behind the story, Writing

2 responses to “The Story Behind The Story: Questionable Minds

  1. Pingback: The high note of the week | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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