I came across Mary in the comments on a post on the Fiction Groupie blog asking if people would buy self published books. Some people said they would never look at them. Mary began her comment with – As a self-pubbed author who has never been traditionally published, I guess I’m one of those some of you would never buy. Then she went on to say that her book No Good Deed was doing quite well. I checked out the book and bought it (only $3.99 on Smashwords for the ebook – I can take a risk for that). From the reviews I read, I thought it might be a candidate for an M-Award. It was and I awarded her one last week because I found the book highly moving and memorable.
Here’s the blurb.
Due to an unfortunate set of circumstances,Chicago photographer Mark Taylor finds himself in the incredulous position of being arrested as a homegrown terrorist and incarcerated as an enemy combatant. There’s no rights, no trial–no way out.
After reading it, I wanted to ask Mary some questions and I decided to share them with you.
So, Mary, how did you get the idea for the story?
It wasn’t like I was hit with the story all at once. It started slowly, first with horror at what happened on 9/11. Later, my interest in stories where the protagonist knows the future somehow latched on to what would someone have done if they knew exactly what was going to happen, but didn’t have a lot of time to warn anyone? A few years after that, I read about American enemy combatants. When someone on a writing site issued a writing challenge to have your character wake up in a padded room and wonder how they got there, I wrote the first scene where Mark is in prison cell when Jessie comes to see him. It was a short story,
Why did you write it?
Readers of the short story kept saying how grim it was, that they liked it, but hated how I ended it with Mark locked away and forgotten. So, I wrote more to the story, but I pretty much skipped the whole prison thing, and wrote how Mark got on with his life. Readers wanted more details on Mark’s imprisonment. Eventually, I scrapped the whole story and started over from the beginning with more planning.
Did you do any research for the book?
I did as much as I could, keeping in mind that there were only three American enemy combatants held on American soil, like Mark was. The prisoners at Gitmo had it a little different in that there were more of them, and they weren’t as isolated.
I scoured the internet for every scrap of information I could find. Here’s just a few links that I used to create the atmosphere in the prison:
In addtion, I found transcripts of interrogations from Guantanamo and read them over several times. I actually had more information than I could work into the plot and so I chose to not include somethings that defense attorneys claimed happened to Padilla, such as that he was injected with drugs.
Are those kinds of tortures actually used in America?
Whether they are used or not was something I was never able to confirm, but according to the link of the meeting minutes above, they were definitely talked about as if it was something done by our government agencies–although it isn’t clear exactly where they were done. I was never able to confirm if they were used on the three American enemy combatants held on American soil. It’s supposed to be different for them, but claims by Padilla’s attorney and another combatant, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, say the methods were used on them. Since I also read in memos that the detainees were to be treated, as far as rules, the same as the prisoners at Guantanamo, it made sense to me that they might have been interrogated the same way.
Aspects of this story would be sensitive to the US Government, do you think that this has anything to do with why agents rejected it?As much as I’d love to say that was the reason, in reality, no agent ever read more than the first few chapters, so they would have never read to the parts you are talking about. Maybe my manuscript wasn’t ready when I was querying, or maybe they just didn’t like my story. I’ll never know as they don’t tell authors why they rejected. Some rejections are almost instantaneous. Seriously, I had one less than five minutes after I’d sent the query.
Was this a factor in your decision to self publish?
Definitely. I had been following J.A. Konrath’s blog, The Newbies Guide to Self-Publishing, and that made me think I could do it. That, combined with all the rejections, I felt like I had no choice if I ever wanted to get readers for my story. Plus, I started worrying that even if I did get an agent, that it would take years to get the book published at the pace the publishing world moves.
What effect did you want this book to have on its readers?
As odd as it may sound, when I started my research, I was doing it just to get the details down, I did not think that the treatment was unfair. After all, these were people who were terrorists, and as far as I was concerned, they deserved it. My character is innocent though, so I wanted readers to wonder how they would handle being treated that way, knowing there was no way they could defend themselves. As I wrote the book, I started thinking that the treatment was bizarre and almost a foreign concept in this country. Especially the part where the defendant never gets a trial. If they have a trial and are found guilty, by all means, they deserve punishment, but there has to be a fair trial first. However, I still believed that the people trying to protect our country are doing it to the best of their ability and aren’t the bad guys, so I didn’t want to paint the CIA characters as evil.
I wanted readers to think about it too. To not just blame the government for the treatment, nor think the accused terrorist was getting what he deserved and so what about the judicial process. It’s complicated and there is no easy answer. First and foremost, the story is a work of fiction, that is loosely based on some actual cases. The main character had to be sympathetic, and I didn’t want any doubt as to his innocence, which is one reason I came up with the psychic dreams/camera scenario. The reader would know that he was innocent, but the other characters wouldn’t know.
Thankyou Mary. I hope my readers find your answers as interesting as I did. I think it took a lot of guts to write this story and it brings to mind the tips for writers that tell us that we should take risks. When we take risks something powerful can come out. I hope that the book gets the wide readership it deserves.
What do you think? Would you write anything that might get up your Government’s nose? Have you read No Good Dead? What did you think?