After publishing 13 mysteries/thrillers, my brand is, for better or worse, as a mystery or thriller writer. I think if I wanted to get a different kind of writing published, it would have to be under a pseudonym.
My first few novels, the ones that didn't sell, were literary novels. Then I published a mystery, and another and another and another.
The seed for Satellite
Then about ten years ago, I read a magazine article about a man who had lived a profligate life, taking risks, never thinking about the future or about consequences. He had even committed crimes. His dad had died from Huntingtons Disease, and he was sure that he would inherit it. (If you have a parent with HD, you have a 50-50 chance of getting it. It's always fatal. Woodie Guthrie died from it. The symptoms usually show up after the age of 30, so until genetic testing, people used to pass it on unknowing.)
The idea fascinated me. What if you were told you were going to live when you had never expected to and had made zero preparations, had in fact screwed up your future because you thought you didn't have one? (Something similar happened to people with AIDS when better drugs came along.)
I wanted to learn more about HD, so I joined a board for people coping with the disease. Not knowing how or when to introduce myself, I just lurked. Looking back, I'm still not sure if it was right for me to do this. The suffering that families go through coping with HD is immeasurable. There's a severe juvenile form of HD, and so some people would post about caring for their dying spouse in one room and their dying child in the other. One woman asked other people to watch after her cats and never posted again. She committed suicide rather than face the decades-long ravages of HD.
I did eventually tell folks that I was working on a novel about HD. Some embraced the idea, others saw me as a traitor. A few people from the board read through the book and give me feedback.
But the book didn't sell. It had a spiritual aspect to it that my agent, an atheist, never really embraced. A few editors considered it, then passed. Meanwhile I was working on a new book, a mystery, and my agent thought that would better further my career. And it did.
Still, I wish Satellite had come out. Once I'm free of a current contract that doesn't allow me to publish competing works, I might self-publish.
Chapter 1 of Satellite
“Driving with my father through a wooded road leading from East Hampton to Amagansett, we suddenly came upon two women, mother and daughter, both tall, thin, almost cadaverous, both bowing, twisting, grimacing. I stared in wonderment, almost in fear. What could it mean?”
- George Huntington
- Final words most frequently recovered from the black boxes of planes that have crashed
“Have you thought about how you would feel when you hear the test results, Mr. Satellite?” The genetic counselor steepled her pale hands together on the wood-grained vinyl of her state-issued desk, her expression professionally thoughtful.
Jack Satterwhite didn’t bother to correct the mispronunciation. He’d spent 37 years listening to people call him the wrong name.
For 23 of those years, he’d been thinking about his death, knowing too well exactly how it would come for him. Years where it wasn’t a question mark, it wasn’t idly hoping you would be 90 and die in your sleep after having made love to the woman you’d been married to for 65 years. For 23 years, Jack hadn’t had to worry about car accidents or cancer or communicable diseases, about heart attacks or strokes or drunk drivers. Even when he was the one who was driving drunk.
He’d already seen death coming for him and he knew it by name. And when it got close enough that he could feel its fetid breath on the back of his neck, he would cheat death. Jack would not die slowly like his father had, twisting against restraints in a hospital bed. Angry and incoherent and incontinent because his brain had turned to soup.
“Okay, then.” A smile broke through the genetic counselor’s professional resolve. For a moment Jack saw her, really saw her, not just the blackheads that sprinkled her nose or the smudged glasses that she now pushed back up with one thumb. Behind the glasses, her eyes were the bright blue of forget-me-nots. The same color as the flowers his mother had planted in the backyard a few weeks before she left. They had died when Jack forgot to water them.
“I’m very pleased to tell you your results. More often than not, in my job I deliver bad news. But not in your case, Mr. Satellite. You did not inherit the gene that causes Huntington’s Disease.”
Her words came from far away. They seemed to buzz and crackle. Jack’s gaze went slack. He couldn’t see her anymore, couldn’t see the room.
Over the noise in his head, he barely made out the rest of her words.
“You are at absolutely no risk for Huntington’s. You won’t get it.”
Jack made himself smile at her, matching her grin tooth for tooth. Inside though, things were different.
Was what Jack found himself thinking.