Imagine a story about Melody Baker, an unemployed woman living in New York City. She has a PhD, huge student debt, and no professional job prospects.
(Picture Debra Ann Woll playing her in the movie version. She’d be perfect in the role.)
Out of desperation she applies for a research assistant position upstate—and finds herself smack dab in the middle of a political campaign run by cynical operators, eccentric aristocrats, and absurdly horrible partisans and hangers-on, all scheming to elect an unwilling but convenient old-money recluse who has these quaint ideas about integrity, compassion, and justice.
(Hugh Laurie would top my casting choices.)
That’s the high-concept pitch of The Candidate’s Maid, a darkly satirical novel I wrote in 2012–2014. I put my heart into Melody’s personal journey of becoming herself—from insecure post-student dreamer attached to a career that no longer exists, burdened with shame over her failure and denial of her sexuality, into a woman who sees clearly herself and the world around her, and claims her own destiny and her own identity.
After several drafts, I hired a professional editor. The manuscript at that point was admittedly something of a disorganized mess, so I wasn’t all that surprised by all the changes suggested. But the editor also took umbrage at the often absurd events, protesting that they were unbelievable: Lobbyists calling for arming school teachers, even students? A senator caught in a fatal sex scandal nobody even blinks at? Someone getting illegally evicted from a New York City apartment? A political party running amok toward its radical fringe? Someone caught in the middle of a nationwide scandal landing a seven-figure book deal? “None of this could happen,” said the editor.
That was 2014. And here we are today. (Semi-pro writer’s tip: Satire and humor are hard enough. Everyone has different taste about what’s funny. Be sure your editor at least gets the joke.)
At any rate, there was no doubt I needed to rework the draft. The editor had pointed out something I already knew: Melody’s arc still wasn’t clicking. And that’s what I focused on. And when I got the story to where it seemed to work, a wild idea occurred to me: Why not publish the book in serial form? After all, the political season was heating up. The timing seemed perfect.
So I reworked the story into five distinct novelette-length parts and started releasing them, one by one.
First was A Spy in Stilettos.
Then came The Colonel’s Secret Service.
And then the 2016 election happened.
Everything ground to a halt. I was stunned and disheartened. The last thing I could do was laugh at the absurd toxicity of our politics. I moved on, picking up again the science fiction novel I’d been working on previously. I wrote some short stories. And I tried not to think about the two novelette-length books whose satire has been outdone by our sad reality.
Yet I did write these books—and the novel of which they are a part—and I hate just leaving them there, unacknowledged like disowned children. I do love Melody. She’s me in a lot of ways. But to continue? I’d need to reset the entire scenario.
So I ask you, what would you do?