After spending most of the first 24 hours of marriage in various airports and flights, I can finally spend some time with my new husband. I smile, lay my head on his shoulder and say “So another thing I would have changed about Rogue One would have been—”
On busses, during fancy dinners, or in any number of other places of our Alaskan honeymoon, one conversation kept cropping up: what we would have changed about the newest Star Wars movie Rogue One. It wasn’t that it was a bad film, but I just couldn’t shake the idea that instead of yet another story about down-on-their-luck rebels fighting yet another evil empire, we could have had an exciting new story starring a scientist working from the inside. I’ve always been interested in science; my bachelor’s is in Marine and Freshwater Studies, and I have a Graduate Certificate in Science Communication, so having a scientist as a protagonist — spreadsheets, control groups, poor work/life balance and all — seemed like a natural choice.
By the time we were boarding the flight home, I already had the shape of the story that would become Memoir of a Mad Scientist.
The eventual cover art for Memoir of a Mad Scientist, which I created.
My first attempts at querying — the process of pitching your manuscript to agents and publishers — hadn’t exactly gone well. Time travel can be a hard plot to sell so if I wanted to publish, I would need a new story to pitch. It took me about a year to write the original manuscript that would become Memoir of a Mad Scientist, then another to edit it into something worth reading, but by the end of it, I was ready to face the slush pile again.
Let the Querying begin
Querying agents is a rough process for all involved. Agents face hundreds of applications of varying quality, while the prospective authors have to fight hard to make themselves stand out from the rest of the clamoring mob. Getting rejections is never easy and when it could be for something as impersonal as “this type of book isn’t popular right now” to “your work is crap” it’s hard to tell where the line lies. I had queried agents before and been faced with the ultimate fact that my book just wasn’t going to sell so coming back to that process wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
Even better, I was in between jobs again, caught like many millennials in the never-ending search for paying positions that just weren’t hiring. Job applications and query letters filled my internet history as I trolled message boards while submitting to LinkedIn and Indeed on a regular basis. With constant rejections on two fronts, I wasn’t fairing well mentally no matter the anti-depression medication, and my husband Joel was often my shoulder to cry on.
Joel and I on our Alaskan honeymoon.
Things weren’t all rejection letters and ghosted applications though. A former professor and friend of mine invited me to join his show at Awesome Con in DC playing Dungeons and Dragons for a live audience. Dugongs and Seadragons featured a number of other science people from different backgrounds talking about science through the medium of D&D. Despite having only ever drawn pictures while Joel managed my character sheet, I still took the plunge and — less than a month later — I was officially the newest crew member of the Cephalosquad.
Then in 2020, magic happened. A positive reply. The president of Chandra Press wanted to publish my novel. Since the beginning of this whole, I had been keeping an excel spreadsheet of my query process so I can say without exaggeration that it took me over 90 query letters and applications to finally find someone willing to publish my book!
The Real Work Begins
From that moment signing on with Chandra, it still took me two years to get to publication. Because Chandra was such a small company, I had to wait my turn for the editor and even then she needed a month or two to read and comment on my manuscript. It can be hard to hear criticism at the best of times, but when it is on something that you have poured your heart and soul into — literally hours and hours of your life spent perfecting — sometimes things hit a little close to home. The first comment the editor suggested was to throw the whole manuscript out in favor of staring a totally different, nonscientific protagonist. I could have cried. I did in fact cry, but once the emotions were spent I went back to the computer and got to work. When the editor read my changes to the story structure, we reached an agreement. Memoir of a Mad Scientist was moving onto the editing process.
Not that it was called ‘Memoir of a Mad Scientist’ yet. A lot of things changed over the next year and a half including the title. Characters were adjusted, a whole chapter was added, not to mention dozens of dozens of rewrites. Originally I wanted to call the story “Compromising the Control Group” as it is a hilarious play on words meaning either ‘messing with the reference group in an experiment’ or ‘upsetting the power of the group in charge.’ I was informed, however, that literally no one got that joke and that only science people even knew what a control group was. This is why outside editors are important.
It’s been over five years since my Alaskan honeymoon. I’ve moved twice, started a business, joined a podcast, Covid happened, and now at long last I have officially published a book. I’m still writing and I’m even already working on submitting my next scifi novel to agents.
If you are interested at all in what all this effort went towards or want to support me, Memoir of a Mad Scientist is available on Amazon in digital and paperback and I am on most social media at @ErintheZ.