Today I am so pleased to welcome Fraser Sherman to Joyfully Jay. Fraser has come to talk to us about his latest release, Questionable Minds. Please join me in giving him a big welcome!


I wrote Questionable Minds pantser-style because I can’t make my mind work any other way. First comes an idea, or a character, or a setting. Then comes a first draft with almost no idea where I’m going.

My short story “Leave the World to Darkness” began when I read a book on shadows. The author pointed out that electric light makes shadows much more stable than older, more flickering light sources; a voice in my head said, “Someone wants stronger shadows” and off I went.

With “Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates” it was the desire to write about small-town, local-government reporter and give some sense of what the job is like (it was my day job for a decade). Only in this case, of course, the story she’s working involves the supernatural.

“Where Angels Fear to Lunch” began with an opening scene in which an angel walks into a PI’s office and asks for help. At the time I had no idea what came next or even who the gumshoe was.

“Affairs of Honor” popped into my head after reading a book about dueling among America’s founding fathers. I thought “what about magical duels?” and wrote a story to fit.

My first drafts are invariably godawful messes, but they get my initial idea down on paper. I hammer them into shape over a few more drafts until I have a solid grasp of the story. If I run into problems, I think of alternatives (“What if she loses her powers three chapters earlier?”) or go with Raymond Chandler’s advice: when you’re stumped, have someone come through the door with a gun (or a scimitar. Or a golem. Or the One Ring. Whatever). Sometimes, like Sherlock Holmes in “The Man With the Twisted Lip” I just sit and think, though without consuming the ounce of shag tobacco he smoked overnight while solving the case.

Doing it this way is slower and less efficient than I’d like, but my brain balks if I do anything else. It’s only after I have a reasonably workable story that I can outline effectively. Well, somewhat effectively; if I’m writing anything longer than a short story, it’s a safe bet I’ll go off outline pretty quick. I’ve found pulp writer Lester Dent’s four-part structure is effective for outlining but that’s purely personal preference. Any structure that gets the job done is a good structure.

In the case of Questionable Minds, I started with a mix of elements. A Victorian England where mentalism — psychic abilities — works. Jack the Ripper, butchering prostitutes with a small trace of psychic ability. Sir Simon, my obsessed protagonist, with mental shields no-one could touch. Jack manifesting growing levels of mentalist power. Characters from Victorian fiction among the supporting cast, though not to the extent of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

All those elements stuck around to the end. The cast stayed largely the same. The world-building, though, underwent some sharp changes. In the early drafts, the proof of Jack’s growing power was that he violated the various rules I’d developed for how mentalism works. Trouble was, I hate stories where everyone freaks out because the villain just broke the made-up magic-system rules. I reworked and simplified the rules because readers can appreciate a homicidal, ultra-powerful psionic is a threat regardless of how mentalism functions.

I also rewrote several scenes after Sherlock Holmes came out of copyright. I had several characters from Arthur Conan Doyle who’d had their serial numbers filed off (that must have hurt) but now I could use the originals.

Up until the last, final draft, I had multiple scenes from Jack’s POV. I’m not fond of villain POV scenes — the inside of their heads is rarely as interesting as the author thinks — but I thought I needed them to provide some exposition. Adding a couple of conversations elsewhere in the book conveyed everything it was essential readers know, leaving me free to cut the scenes.

The final challenge was the showdown between Simon and Jack. I thought I’d figured out how Simon could beat a man who’s become invincible; when I looked at the scene months later, I realized I was wrong. But with a lot more tinkering, it worked.

At least, I hope so. As with any book, whether I pulled off Questionable Minds and made it all hold together now lies with readers. Fingers crossed the verdict is thumbs up.


questionable minds coverIn Victorian England, 1888, there are those who say Sir Simon Taggart is under the punishment of God.

In an England swirling with mentalist powers — levitation, mesmerism, mind-to-mind telegraphy — the baronet is unique, possessed of mental shields that render him immune to any mental assault. Even his friends think it’s a curse, cutting him off from the next step in human mental and spiritual evolution. To Simon, it’s a blessing.

Four years ago, the Guv’nor, mystery overlord of the London underworld, arranged the murder of Simon’s wife Agnes. Obsessed with finding who hired the Guv’nor, Simon works alongside Inspector Hudnall and Miss Grey in Scotland Yard’s Mentalist Investigation Department. Immunity to mental telegraphy, clairvoyance and mesmerism are an asset in his work — but they may not be enough to crack the latest case.

A mysterious killer has begun butchering Whitechapel streetwalkers. With every killing, the man newspapers call “the Ripper” grows in mental power and in the brutality of his attacks. Is murder all that’s on his mind or does he have an endgame? And what plans do the Guv’nor and his army of agents have for Simon and the Whitechapel killer?

Questionable Minds is set in a Victorian England struggling to preserve the social hierarchy while mentalism threatens to overturn it. The cast of characters includes Dr. Henry Jekyll (and yes, his friend Edward Hyde too), Jack the Ripper, and multiple other figures from history and fiction.

Warnings: Graphic violence. Victorian sexism and imperialism

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fraser sherman bio photoBy the time Fraser Sherman graduated college he’d lost interest in his degree field. He tried writing and discovered he liked it. Since then he’s spent ten years as a journalist, sold two dozen short stories and five film reference books. His most recent book was the self-published Undead Sexist Cliches, about the stupidity of misogynist beliefs.

Although born in England, Fraser spent most of his life in Northwest Florida. He’d be there still if he hadn’t met his dream woman and moved to Durham NC to be with her. They’ve been married 11 years and are the proud parents of two small dogs and two half-domesticated cats.