First Book Friday: Chris Dolley

Welcome to First Book Friday!

Chris Dolley (chrisdolley on LJ) is a fascinating guy.  Just check out the “Who is Chris” section of his site.  It reads like an adventure novel, with identity theft and crimefighting and the Cornwall Revolution of 1974.  And also kittens.

But before you do, stick around and read how he made his first novel sale to Baen Books.  (A novel which is now available as a free download.)


I sold my first book because my agent didn’t like it.

He loved my ‘A Year in Provence with Miss Marple’ book, but when I showed him Resonance [B&N |  Mysterious Galaxy | Amazon] … he wasn’t interested. ‘Could you re-write it as a medical thriller?’ he asked. ‘Or maybe a political thriller?’

This threw me. If you took the SF out of Resonance, there’d be no story. But what do you do if you feel passionate about a book, and your agent hates it?

For me, Resonance was that book. The special one that writes itself. It came to me in 2000 when three ideas that I’d had kicking around in my head for years suddenly coalesced and I realised they weren’t three separate ideas, but three sides of the same story. From there, the book flowed – I outlined it in a matter of hours and the more I fleshed out the book, the more I realised how perfectly the three ideas meshed. For years I’d had a narrator without a story; a mechanism without a plot; and a plot without a purpose. Now I had a book.

But not one my agent wanted to sell.


I parked the book in Baen’s electronic slushpile. I didn’t want to go through the rounds of finding another agent or dashing off letters to publishers. I just wanted somewhere to put the book so I could feel that I hadn’t given up on it, but, at the same time, didn’t involve me in extra work. In the meantime, I’d concentrate on my other books.

Two years passed. I parted ways with my agent after we discovered that the expat memoir boom had just burst and all the UK publishers were cutting back. I experimented with Mystery, writing a quirky detective novel which I entered into Warner’s First Mystery Novel contest. It became a finalist.

Then, just as I was convinced that Mystery was the way to go, I received an email from Jim Baen.

Many authors have exciting tales about the moment they received ‘The Call.’ That email or phone call that contains the magic words – ‘we want your book.’

I didn’t so much receive ‘The Call’ as eavesdrop on a conversation about it.

I woke up one morning to find a forwarded email from Jim Baen in my in-tray. It began with a mention of a previous email he’d sent and could I get in touch. Ten other emails (6 days of back and forth within Baen) were appended to the bottom, chronicling the attempts to find me, the offer of publication, and fears I may have signed elsewhere.

I had to read it several times. I was 95% sure it was legit – getting up every now and then to execute the Snoopy happy dance and hug the cat – but why the trouble finding me? I’d given them my address, email, and telephone number.

It’s worth mentioning here that when I was seventeen I received a hoax letter from Penguin saying that a writing scout had recommended me to them. I believed every word of it. If football clubs could have scouts roaming the playing fields of Britain looking for talent, why couldn’t publishers? And recently I’d had my identity stolen* and life savings appropriated, so I was a tad warier than most when it came to unexpected emails.

Then I noticed another email in my in-tray. It was from a Baen employee telling me that Baen wanted to publish my book, but couldn’t find me. I found messages on my website too. A web-wide search was on for the missing author. Where was he? Is he out there?

I was amazed. And wondering if there was time to email Baen an acceptance before I was officially declared dead.

Being in France, I then had to wait a further eight hours for daylight to reach America before Jim Baen could reply. It was worth the wait.

So, that’s my story. Resonance was the first book to make it out of Baen’s electronic slushpile. It was picked up by SFBC and has enjoyed, if I say so myself, some pretty spectacular reviews. You can even read the book for free here.

*This became part of French Fried, my ‘A Year in Provence with Miss Marple’ memoir – recounting our first eight months in France. And how, after being abandoned by the police forces of four countries, I had to track down the identity thief myself and bring him to justice.