Sunday, June 11, 2017

Origin of the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series

The Gideon Marshall Mystery Series – John Janovy, Jr.

This series started during one of our Friday Coffee sessions in the fall of 2012, when Johnica Morrow, a new parasitology grad in Karl Reinhard’s archeoparasitology lab, announced she was going to do National Novel Writing Month and generate a zombie apocalypse novel to pay for grad school. I had never heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an international, web-based program to encourage writing and provide a forum for writers from all over the world. The kicker was that in order to “win” the annual contest with oneself, you had to generate a 50,000 word novel within the month of November; 30 days, averaging 1667 words, which amounts to about 5 or 6 double-spaced pages, every day for the month. So, I said to myself, if a grad student can do that, so can I. The first four came pretty easily, as described below; as of this date (June, 2017), I’m about 1/3 to 1/2 finished with the first draft of the fifth one, so obviously it’s a little more complicated than were the first four.

The first of these NaNoWriMo novels, Be Careful, Dr. Renner, was easy, mainly because I’d been thinking about how workplace stress can be such a powerful negative influence on one’s life, having witnessed it happening first-hand when the University of Nebraska’s School of Biological Sciences was formed, back in 1973, by the merger of three departments. The internal politics were vicious; I’m completely convinced that one of my colleagues died early because of this stress, and I witnessed purges, tenure denials, and degrading behavior on almost a daily basis. So as a stage for this novel, I made up a small, liberal arts, college, gave it massive amounts of endowment, sent the best students from all over the world to this place, and stuck it in rural Iowa. I also populated it with a bunch of people, some of whom would deserve everything that they ended up getting. To do the fourth one, The Weatherford Trial, I spent two months sitting in on court cases in Lancaster County District Court studying how the legal system works at that level.

The next three of these NaNoWriMo projects built on the first, so that they actually form a temporal series. The one item that ties them all together is the theoretical research of a reclusive faculty member who gets murdered at the start of the second book. This research is reputed to provide certain individuals with enormous power; think nuclear weapons level power, although from a geological perspective. Each of these books was finished in first draft during the 30 days in November, 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015. They all required about another four to six months to flesh out and clean up. My agent declined to handle them as traditional submissions to major publishing houses (evidently they didn’t scream $$$$ loudly enough), but like many large agencies, this one had started an e-book program and handled them that way, using a New York firm to promote the digital editions. I subsequently did the paperback editions myself through amazon’s self-publishing web site. Covers for the first two were designed by a gentleman in London; I did the last two covers myself.

Gideon Marshall himself is modeled loosely after my father, who was a petroleum geologist in Oklahoma. The petroleum industry is involved in all of these books, in a related way. You may think that a small college in Iowa is not a legitimate vehicle for a set of mysteries involving the petroleum industry, but remember that if you have enough money, you can buy an entire college, and intellectual property, unlike big machines, can be hidden away anywhere, ideally in a most unlikely place. You may recognize some of the other characters, but that’s only because their types are so common in academia and in big business. The fifth in this series is taking longer for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it involves serious white-collar crime connected to the murder that happens in The Stitcher File, and the literary challenge is quite a bit greater than it was in the first four books.

Thanks for picking these up. Feel free to recommend them to (or buy them for) your friends!!

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