As part of my degree I studied Slavery and Emancipation in the USA. When I heard that Elliott Light had written The Gene Police it prompted so many memories for me I had to invite him on to Linda’s Book Bag, especially when I learned that he had taken 15 years between books two and three in his trilogy. Luckily he agreed to tell me more.
The Gene Police is published today, 15th May 2018, and is available for purchase here.
There’s a brilliant YouTube trailer for The Gene Police here.
The Gene Police
The Gene Police is a work of fiction that wraps a murder mystery in elements of the eugenics movement. To be clear, it is not a treatise on the subject but should enlighten readers about this little known pseudo science and hopefully inspire some of them to delve deeper into its history, its proponents, and its impact on American life.
The author puts it this way:
My interest in race issues can be traced to growing up in the segregated suburbs of Washington, D.C. My mother’s relatives were slave owners. My great great uncle was a famous eugenicist who was instrumental in the passage of the miscegenation and sterilization laws in Virginia. I’m convinced that if we as society are to rid ourselves of the curse of racism and white supremacy, we need to continue to keep the issue in the public conversation. My hope is that The Gene Police will add to the dialogue about racial issues by teaching readers about America’s fascination with eugenics while simultaneously entertaining them’.
The Fifteen-Year Gap
A Guest Post by Elliott Light
The Shep Harrington SmallTown® Mystery Series is currently three books: Lonesome Song (2002), Chain Thinking (2003), and The Gene Police (to be released in January of 2018). It doesn’t require a calculator to notice a considerable gap between episode 2 (Chain Thinking) and episode 3 (The Gene Police). The reason for the gap has to do with being laid off, learning how to write patents, and well, writing a lot of patents. Patents are largely left-brain exercises that suck up lots of time, energy, and creative juices.
While retirement brought an end to patent writing, it didn’t automatically revive the mindset needed to write another book. But once bitten by the writing bug, the urge to write may go into remission but it never really goes away. The itch returned (I know, old people talk in medical terms), but how to scratch it?
I tried to write a really cool thriller involving a forgotten cold war op that put the world on the brink of nuclear war. I toyed with another thriller in which the human herd was to be culled using a virus and a randomly administered vaccine. I played with third person narrators. Then I wrote a mystery set in World War II in which the main character’s father is a famous eugenicist.
So what is eugenics? Marilyn M. Singleton, M.D., J.D., answered the question this way:
Eugenics is a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed. The word is derived from the Greek word eu (good or well) and the suffix –genes (born). Eugenics is sometimes broadly applied to describe any human action whose goal is to improve the gene pool.
In the most general terms, it is the belief that the human population can be improved by affecting who mates with whom. A race, according to eugenics, can be improved by having those with the best genes mate and produce offspring that are equal or superior to their parents. Conversely, a race can be diminished by allowing a person with good genes mate with a person with inferior genes. (Singleton, Marilyn. “Moral Detour.” Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons, V. 19, No. 4 Winter 2014, p.114.)
While I had an interesting subject to play with, I was writing without inspiration. Slowly, the reason because obvious – I missed the characters I’d created in Lonesome Song and Chain Thinking.
Bringing the eugenics story line to a small-town setting didn’t seem too difficult. I had a plot, a protagonist, and a cast of supporting characters. All I needed was a narrative that could be told by my old friends. But the complexities of writing such a story were quickly revealed.
Lonesome Song takes place in 2001 and Chain Thinking in 2002. The main character, Shep Harrington is in his early thirties. At least two characters, Doc Adams and Carrie Toliver are in their eighties. In order to use the supporting cast to tell about events in 1950, The Gene Police had to take place in 2003, otherwise some of the characters would be close to a hundred years old. Similarly, the characters involved in the events of the forties and fifties had to be the right age to allow some of them to be brought into the early 2000s.
Another consideration is that in an episodic series like mine, the characters are the structure that bridges the episodes. Hopefully, readers are drawn to the major characters. I had to be certain that the personality and voice that made a character unique and likeable were carried into The Gene Police even as new information about that character was revealed.
Hindsight teaches that before starting Chain Thinking, I should have created a “file” for each character appearing in Lonesome Song that at least included the character’s age and birth date. Of course, like many writers basking in the joy of a first published book, I wasn’t thinking that far ahead.
In order to write The Gene Police, I had to construct a spreadsheet that not only reflected basic biographical information, but the age of each character at critical points on a timeline. The critical points represented dates when the path of a “new” eugenics character intersected with the path of one or more “permanent” characters. Highlighting these data points on the timeline helped enforced a “plausibility” requirement that kept the plot from seeming contrived.
With the cast assembled and ages known, the last major challenge was keeping the story technologically honest. The changes in communications, attitudes, and social media since 2002 are dramatic. No really smart phones, no lightening internet data speeds, no tablets. Computers and laptops ruled the day.
Bridging the fifteen-year gap was without question a challenging experience. In the end, only you, the reader, can decide how successful I was.
NOTE: Another consequence of the 15 Year Gap was learning how books are currently marketed. The explosion of social media not only offers new ways of getting in touch with potential readers, but obligates writers published by small presses and self-published writers to create and maintain social media accounts. Reviews have always been important but writers ignore blogger sites at their peril. This post is a testament to not only the power of bloggers, but to the critical service they provide. My thanks to Linda Hill at Linda’s Book Bag for making this platform available to me.
(It’s my pleasure Elliott. Good luck with The Gene Police and don’t leave it another 15 years to write the next book!)
About Elliott Light
Elliott Light is a retired patent attorney living in Florida with his wife Sonya and our feline, Tsuki. He spent most of his life in the Washington, D.C. area, growing up in McLean, Virginia where gossip spread without the Internet, party lines were common and secrets were hard to keep.
When Elliott was in his early thirties, he was accused of a crime he didn’t commit. This experience with the so-called justice system ended after a two year ordeal without an indictment and without going to trial, leading Elliott to never fully believe that prosecutors, investigators, or the government are as interested in the truth as they are in getting a conviction, an attitude that he shares with the semi-fictional Shep Harrington.
The Shep Harrington SmallTown® Mystery series began with the publication ofLonesome Song in 2002.