Today, I’m interviewing Elaine Ash; she’s the editor of the book Mental State by University of Chicago Law Professor, Todd Henderson.
Together, they had a very difficult time getting this book published because the subject matter made some people very uncomfortable. No spoilers, though you can read about it in the interview below.
How do you know Todd Henderson and how did you come to be involved in his Mental State book project?
Todd and I met in the comments section of Ace of Spades HQ. He had written a first draft of his political thriller and was looking for a conservative-friendly editor. Not an easy find in his town of Chicago. He emailed me, we chatted, and he hired me. I’ve never met him face-to face, but we still email every day.
Why is Mental State such an important book?
It’s important because powerful people want it squashed and disappeared so badly. Colleagues at the University of Chicago warned him that this novel would ruin his career and spark riots after forty-five death threats appeared recently on his voicemail. Now he’s been de-platformed and his own law school refuses to mention the book even though they enthusiastically promote books by other professors.
Here’s a synopsis and backgrounder: When conservative law professor Alex Johnson is found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his house in Chicago, everyone thinks it is suicide. Everyone except his brother, Royce, an FBI agent.
Mental State was inspired by the real life murder of conservative law professor Dan Markle who was shot to death in his Florida driveway in 2014. The novel imagines that the murder protects a Supreme Court nominee, a favorite of the female Democrat president sitting in the White House. (Professor Henderson worked alongside Brett Kavanaugh at Kirkland & Ellis in Washington, DC 1999-2000 on high-profile matters before the Supreme Court.)
Professor Henderson is now blacklisted. It’s considered dangerous to be seen supporting him if you are a colleague at the university. He’s been pressured to change the story, take things out, and it was strongly suggested that he take down his Twitter account, which he did. A major source of book promotion was to come from that Twitter account. It was a blow, but even tenured professors can be fired if they want you out badly enough. He has three kids to support and needs his job. I’m speaking out because his employers may be able to fire him but they can’t fire or control me.
What are some of the difficulties that Professor Henderson faced in getting this book published?
In 2016, conservative publisher Regnery offered a contract to acquire Mental State. Then Salem Media, the parent company, stepped in and ordered the contract be withdrawn. Down and Out Books stepped into the breach as publisher. Soon after, Publishers Weekly declined to review Mental State even though they review 80% of Down and Out’s other works, and despite the fact that Henderson is previously published by the venerable Cambridge University Press. This was a huge blow because bookstores and libraries turn to Publishers Weekly before ordering books. Meanwhile, Mental State received rave reviews from the cream of conservative pundits: Kurt Schlichter, Ben Shapiro, Glenn Reynolds—even the Supreme Court Reporter of the New York Times.
What are some of the problems you’ve faced getting the book promoted?
My own liberal colleagues in the book world won’t touch it or help promote it. The publisher’s publicity team admits that although they are conservative-friendly, they know very little about conservative media. All their contacts are liberal. When folks say “liberals own the culture” that’s not an empty saying.
There are literally no conservative publicists working for authors under the level of a Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity. But if there are no human town criers, how do people know about books they’d love? If no conservative fiction is available, how are these values kept alive in the culture? It’s an emergency situation. Ask Michael Savage how conservative books are treated at many retailers. In some places they hide his books and keep them off the shelves. We have reached the point of literary apartheid in the United States.
Why do you think there has been so much opposition to this book given that it’s a work of fiction?
I can prove nothing. All I can do is point to the opposition against it. Readers can draw their own conclusions about what the establishment is hysterical over.
Tell us about the backlash Professor Henderson has faced at his university since the book was published.
Well, there is huge pressure in a whisper campaign and “friendly advice” warning him that his career is about to be ruined and how he could bring the university down. Wrecking an institution is a fairly big threat to a conservative. But none of it is real. What’s at stake is a member of their own elite is stepping off the reservation to tell a deplorable story. He’s supposed to have his nose in the air over those dang deplorables, not collude with them. If Henderson gets away with it, others might get ideas. He has to be PUNISHED. He has to be STOPPED.
Coming under this much scrutiny must be exhausting. How is the professor holding up under all this? Is he determined to keep pushing the envelope or is he going to take a break? What’s next for Todd?
He never whines, never complains. I know he’s concerned for the safety of his wife and kids. When the death threats came in on his voicemail he placed a rare call to me. I urged him to speak out and tell someone, everyone, what was happening. Until I shrieked, he was keeping it secret! That’s why I’m doing interviews, because I think there is safety in the sunlight. That, and conservatives have to know that a Berlin Wall stands between them and books they’d probably like to read. Todd and I are doing our best to tear a few bricks out of it. Given the situation, we need to find ways to end-run around the resistance.
What advice do you have for other conservative or libertarian authors that want to get published but don’t know where to turn?
There’s Superversive Press and Castalia House for sci-fi and fantasy. Chrome Oxide was universally hated for decades as a short story writer in California until he met me and we turned his collection of libertarian satire into Twenty-Eight Minutes Into The Future. It’s hilarious and there’s already talk of turning one story into a comic. Down and Out Books has proven they are open to crime and mystery novels. Liberty Island publishes a variety of commercial fiction. I consult for writers who don’t fit the ideological lockstep of New York and even there, some presses make an exception. Kensington published Trigger Warning by William W. Johnstone this year under the Pinnacle imprint. (Thanks for the tip, espionage author, Brian Drake.) Self-publishing is a great option, too, but you have to know how to get yourself in the public eye. I can help with that.
For authors like Professor Henderson who might face similar backlash, what can they do to prepare for it?
If you could lose your job or harm the chief breadwinner of the family with your views, there’s always a pen name—although that handicaps you in terms of developing a following. Vox Day has great advice on how to handle SJW attacks (SJWs Always Lie and SJWs Always Double Down); if you handle them right, the publicity can sell books for you. Never apologize to the mob, never back down. Always stick to the points your book makes and maintain your point of view. God protects those who stay steadfast and stay true. For every person who attacks you, there are two who feel what you say is important and they will support you by buying your book. If you’re got a great book but you’d be slaughtered by it, consider teaming up with a known author and set up a “ghost” deal. Yes, you’ll have to pay them and go into partnership, but you’ll be safe and can make some money. It would be worse to let the story languish. It’s not yours, God gave it to you. Get it out there.
How has serving as the editor for Mental State affected your career for either good or ill?
Until I met Todd, I was surrounded mostly by liberal and progressive writers and I had little idea what non-conformists faced. Todd and I both got to see behind the curtain of Oz at the same time. I believe strongly in the right to free expression, so I’ve gotten to exercise my beliefs. This has attracted some terrific writers to me. It’s the best thing that could have happened, really.
I honestly don’t think of “my career.” I look at each writer to see what they need to succeed. We’re in a war for the future of the country and I’m in the trenches. I’m just a literary grunt lobbing books at an ideological fortress, trying to take back lost territory.