The Mental State of M. Todd Henderson
by Elaine Ash
As the purge of conservative and libertarian pundits roils You Tube, Twitter, Facebook and anywhere speech is supposedly free, M. Todd Henderson and his political thriller Mental State fight an uphill battle to release in October.
In late 2015, I was hired as a freelance editor by Mr. Henderson, a law professor at the University of Chicago. His book, Mental State, is based on the real-life partially unsolved murder of Florida law professor Dan Markel. In the book, the murder is pinned on the wrong perp.
By 2017, the manuscript was ready, and we pitched agents across New York. Queries received instant responses. Eager emails came back exclaiming at how exciting the story was… until, one by one, each agent reached the part about the corrupt, female Democrat president sitting in the White House. Presto! The agents reversed out and vanished like Manhattan werewolves under a waning moon.
Finally, a conservative-friendly agent came onboard. The story went out to acquiring editors at all the majors and quickly received an offer from Regnery, publishers of Ann Coulter, Dinesh D’Souza, Bill O’Reilly and many others. But Regnery’s parent-company Salem Media Group intervened. The acquiring editors were told to stand down and the offer was rescinded with no explanation.
Into the void galloped Down and Out Books, to scoop up the rights. Ben Shapiro, Kurt Schlichter and Adam Liptak of the New York Times all blurbed the story enthusiastically. But Publishers Weekly declined to review, although other Down and Out titles were accepted. Never mind, Mental State was made available on pre-order through Amazon, and hundreds of eager purchasers responded. Inexplicably, Mental State was pulled from pre-order a few weeks ago. Amazon “lost” 100 customers, and the pre-order algorithm was interrupted. It happened to a few other authors, too, including Lin-Manuel Miranda, although no one has a clear explanation for what caused the snafu.
Meanwhile, roughly around the same time at the beginning of August, Professor Henderson sparked a Twitter tumult when he dared to compare the merits of Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and SCOTUS nominee Brett Kavanaugh. UChicago’s own student newspaper, Patheos, called Henderson a racist. Above the Law blog called him “dumb.” Even Newsweek and the Washington Post weighed in. Last Monday morning, he walked into his office to find forty-five harassing voicemails, including death threats.
It was suggested to the professor that he apologize and take down his Twitter account, which was to be a major source of book promotion. The university brought in a PR team. When Henderson submitted written answers to a planned L. A. Times Review of Books interview conducted by thriller author Anthony Franze, tension skyrocketed. Changes to the long-finished book were requested. [Will the changes include removing the culpability of the female, democrat president? Ellen Asher did not say so, but I bet you. They really care about the narrative, even in fiction – SAH] Whispers circulated that Mental State would “ruin his career forever.”
Is it just me, or do there seem to be a whole lot of untimely coincidences and gale force headwinds stopping Mental State from reaching its audience?
“Exciting and compulsively readable, Mental State marks the entrance of a striking new talent on the thriller scene. Todd Henderson’s confident debut draws the reader into the unfamiliar worlds of academia, the law, and backroom politics, while providing a fresh take on more familiar thriller ground like the world of law enforcement. The Professor’s murder mystery delivers the rough and tumble goods, and it will leave readers wanting more.” —Kurt Schlichter, lawyer and bestselling author
“Mental State is fascinating, detailed, and a pure page-turner. It’s a must-read if you love the country, the Supreme Court, or just a book that will keep you up at night.” —Ben Shapiro, public intellectual, talk-show host, and bestselling author
“Todd Henderson has written a taut, suspenseful and powerfully entertaining legal thriller against the backdrop of a transformative Supreme Court nomination and baroque academic intrigue, which he describes with convincing details and an insider’s knowledge. The novel moves at breakneck pace, as a rogue agent uses forensics, guile and not a little force to make sense of the mysterious murder of his brother.”
—Adam Liptak, New York Times
“Try as I might, I could not put Mental State down. It’s terrific. At times hilarious, always interesting, and in parts truly disturbing. I loved it.” —Michael Seidman, Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center.
Elaine Ash edits the novels of career authors as well as emerging talent. A defender of the right to free expression, she serves writers of all political stripes. Her nonfiction book, Bestseller Metrics: How to Win the Novel Writing Game, is also a patent-pending software in development for the publishing industry. http://www.bestsellermetrics.com.
Amazon knew who pre-ordered because they sent emails canceling the order. Todd received those emails directly from the folks he knows.
I have zero insight in who or how many were pre-ordered. It’s Amazon’s system, not mine.”