Topper Jones

How’d You Get the Crazy Idea for "All That Glisters"?

New York Federal Reserve Bank Gold Custody
Photo credit: New York Federal Reserve Bank

When I tell people I’m a novelist, the first question I get is: What kind of stuff?

“Mysteries,” I say, “with a dash of romance.”

And they usually follow up with, “So, what’re you working on?” 

I tell them a little about All That Glisters, about a secret audit of the U.S. Gold Stockpile, every last bullion bar, something that’s never been done before, ever, and what could possibly go wrong? And my two amateur sleuths, and a brutal manhunt...and before I can finish the pitch, I’m usually interrupted with the next question.

“How did you ever come up with something so crazy?”

So, I share what inspired me.

The year was 1977. I was working for a small publisher in North Carolina, tasked with modernizing their financial systems. Summer was slipping away. My team needed a break. I needed a break. So, I packed up my little family and camping gear into our sky-blue Ford Pinto and headed to Myrtle Beach, SC. The R&R plan? A little “water therapy.” Building sandcastles with my two boys—ages three and one. And catching up on my reading.

Publishers Weekly, the industry trade magazine I subscribed to, had a list of suggested beach reads. Top on that list: Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma.

I stayed up all night, flashlight under the sleeping bag, reading. Couldn’t put the book down. When I finished late the next morning, I thought: If a physician can write a bestseller, why can’t a certified public accountant? We were both professionals. We both had the writing bug. All I needed was a preposterous premise.

So, [spoiler alert] rather than having my protagonist discover human organs being illegally harvested for the black market as in Coma, I could have my main characters discover “something” equally chilling regarding the financial markets—a disturbing “something” that would upend everything—an a-stock-alypse! That’s when I came up with the idea for All That Glisters.

A few years later, while working as a strategy consultant at Bain & Company, I penned the first draft of ATG on my commute into downtown Boston and while on the road—in airports, on the plane, and in subways.

Fortunately, that draft, entitled GoldLust, never found a home. The writing was amateurish and unschooled.

Fast forward forty years. Now with a year of graduate study in creative writing under my belt, additional coursework in writing commercial fiction, and the help of a developmental editor specializing in mysteries, I rewrote the abandoned proverbial “novel in the drawer.” When the second draft was done, I workshopped it with a local writing group. The only thing surviving the original draft was the preposterous premise. Thank you, Robin Cook for the inspiration. And thank you, Heritage Writers Improvement Group for the encouragement and feedback.

After finishing my story behind the story, I usually get two final questions:

What exactly was your preposterous premise?

And is glisters even a word?

The answer to both is no mystery but you’ll have to read the book to find out. 😉

Further Exploration

For another writer’s perspective on what to do with that novel you may have tucked away in a drawer somewhere, see The Novel in the Drawer by Gayle Abrams (Jul 20, 2018). Click the highlighted link nearby or point your browser to:

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