Breathing the Air of the Blog-o-verse Again

Okay, I suck.

Well, I don’t really suck.  I’m actually quirky and kind of charming.  But I suck as a faithful blogger.  I can say this with some certainty, seeing that it’s been almost a year to the day since my last post.  I see that I’d started a set of webisodes here but not seen them through to a conclusion.  Sorry about that.  Spoiler alert: Tristan foils the bad guys.  A bit of an abrupt ending, but closure nonetheless.

I could sit here and make excuses about why I haven’t blogged in twelve months.  Life got kinda lifey, which ate up a lot of my time.  But that’s an excuse.  The truth of the matter, which I’m embarrassed to admit, is that I thought my blog would be a wonder drug.  I thought that sharing my thoughts in a public forum would open up a vast world of new fans and followers, who would express their boundless admiration for my writing by—I don’t know—sending me their underwear or something.  [Please do not send me your underwear.  Really, I wouldn’t know what to do with it.]

It’s funny.  People always say “Writing is hard!”  For me, writing my novels is the easy part.  I start with characters I love, put them in terrible jeopardy, and then find ways of getting them out of it.  Easy, I daresay, peasy.  It’s the writing about the writing that I find so challenging.  Facebook; Twitter; the blog-o-verse.  Alien worlds that somehow get people interested in things.  Would it help to post my titles on Facebook with such dicey clickbait headlines as: “Six Novels that Will Make You Rethink EVERYTHING! (Number three will up-end your worldview!)”?  People like lists, right?

But I don’t want to trick people into liking my novels.  I think they’re fun reads, and the people who have read them and communicated with me agree.  If this blog can help convince folks to give one a try, then that’s a good thing.  I want to be like Pretzel Boy.  You’ve seen him—he stands outside the pretzel shop in the mall, handing out little samples of pretzels, to convince passersby to buy a whole one.  I have a free sample on my website, www.joelpierson.com, a whole pretzel, in fact.  Anyone can download a PDF of the whole of book one.

And there’s more good news: I’m writing again!  I’ve begun outlining a new novel, spun off from the original trilogy, with characters new and old.  (I won’t say too much, in deference to those who haven’t read the first trilogy yet.)  But I can say this: I’m trying my hand at young adult fiction this time.  As this is my first foray into YA, I’m looking for an advisory committee of fans of the genre. Those in Bloomington will meet with me once a month; those too far away to attend will share their thoughts by e-mail. We’ll go over each new chapter together as it’s written, and I’ll solicit your honest feedback on the progress of the novel. Committee members will get an autographed copy of the finished book and my sincere thanks in the acknowledgments section, plus digital copies of the books of the Messenger Series you haven’t yet read. If you’re interested, please let me know via my website or by e-mail at meapdir2@gmail.com.

If you’re reading this, thank you for your patience.  I will make a new year’s resolution to write here more often. Happy 2015, everyone!

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Fave Five

Authors want you to believe that we don’t have favorite characters from our books.  We’re supposed to love all our children equally and not play favorites.  But the simple truth is, some characters are more fun to write for.  With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of my five favorite characters from the Messenger Series.  They’re in ascending order below.  If you’ve not finished the series and a character name sounds unfamiliar, jump over that paragraph to avoid potential spoilers.

5. Stelios.  Ah, Stelios, the Greek fisherman with that certain something extra.  I’ve always pictured him looking like The Most Interesting Man in the World from the beer commercials, older and rugged, with a suave handsomeness to him.  For me, he’s a favorite because he’s dependable in a pinch.  Sure, it could be argued that his activities included betrayal of Tristan—but that was before he knew whose side everyone was on.  (Not easy in this particular skirmish.)  He flirts openly with Rebecca, offers vaguely prophetic warnings to Tristan, knows his place with Wolfson, and defies the most dangerous people Consolidated Offshore can throw at him.  My kind of guy.

4. Anatoly.  I was fascinated by the concept of a weaponized human being, and I’d read stories about the children of Chernobyl growing up with unusual abilities.  In a time of psychic warfare, Anatoly is a nuclear weapon.  The mere threat of him should scare off an opponent; the actual use of him is an unspeakable atrocity, as Tristan and company learn personally.  We learn a great deal about him in book three, though he doesn’t speak a word, and what we learn makes his fate tragic.  This wasn’t his choice; he didn’t want to be a soldier, much less a weapon.  When he returns in book six, the pathos that is his life deepens, as we see the instruments of his downfall.  We realize that he has been a plaything for Consolidated and for Karolena all along.  A part of us wants him to make the right decision, give the information that will set him free and give him some hope of living a normal life.

3. Cassie.  By all rights, Cassie should be included in the roster of the series’ villains.  After all, trying to blow up your school is not exactly high on the list of activities that earn you the love and respect of your peers.  I had to walk a delicate line with Cassie.  I didn’t want her to be mentally ill; nor could I make her perfectly stable and ordinary.  She had to exist in that gray area of “desperate person with very little left to lose.”  Her actions are similar to far too many teens who make national news by bringing atrocities to their school.  Yet, at the same time, we’re told that she didn’t want to hurt anybody; she needed to create a diversion and attack the place of her torment, rather than the people.  While that doesn’t excuse her actions, it buys her a little indulgence and partial forgiveness.  On the road to Florida, the ordinary teenager comes out—just wanting to get there and get things over with.  But in moments of crisis, Cassie is extraordinary—bringing down Kalfu, getting the records she needs to help her father, and her big moment of bravery at the docks in Pensacola.  I took some heat for the decision I had her make in that scene, but in hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Cassie Haiduk, the outlaw, found her redemption.

2. Tristan.  “What?!” I hear you say.  “Tristan isn’t number one on the list?  But he’s your protagonist!”  Yes, he is, and I love him dearly.  That’s why he’s first runner-up.  The unwilling hero is a standard of fiction, and Tristan Shays is very much in that category.  I needed a motivation for this very rich, very successful, gently self-centered man to uproot his whole life and wander the world to help others. Physical pain did the trick.  I don’t know if you’ve ever felt unbearable physical pain; I hope you haven’t. I have, and I know one thing: when you’re in the throes of it, you will do anything to make it stop.  If you discovered that you could relieve the pain by warning people and potentially saving their lives, what would you give up to fulfill that?  Tristan often keeps his feelings to himself regarding the actual assignments, so we’re never quite sure if he appreciates the gift he’s been given or resents it.  Like a number of other literary heroes, he’s at his best with a companion, so the pairing with Genevieve and later Rebecca makes sense.  Here’s a man who’s used to having a team of advisors to help guide his actions.  A voice of reason external to himself is crucial to his success.  After six books, I feel like I’ve told his story.  A TV series deal could make me rethink that.

1. Ephraim.  Who else could take the number-one spot?  For me, Ephraim is like Christmas in human form.  I will admit freely that when I introduced him in book four, I wasn’t entirely sure what his evolution would be.  I saw him as a kind of quiet super-villain, with the power of having a perfect memory—even of events that haven’t happened to him yet.  Then something magical happened: every time he spoke, I couldn’t wait to write more.  I felt like I could do anything with Ephraim.  If I wanted him to fly and shoot laser beams out of his nostrils, I could.  (Good sense prevailed, of course, but it’s fun to have endless possibilities.)  When Ephraim’s first chapter came up in book four, I didn’t know if there would be a book five and six, but as he kept returning, I knew there was more of the story to tell, and I knew he would be central to the plot.  What I began to discover is that Ephraim is not a bad man, but a good man who agrees to do bad things.  His belief in SODARCOM and its mission makes it easier for him to commit acts that others might consider reprehensible.  To him, it’s in the job description.  It doesn’t hurt that he’s what I would call “morally ambiguous.”  A bit like Bruce Campbell’s observation in Army of Darkness: “Good, bad; I’m the guy with the gun.”  Good or bad, Ephraim’s definitely the guy with the gun, and he’s my number one.

Does your fave five list differ from mine?  Leave a comment and tell me who you liked and why.

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES–Episode 2.3: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

“What would the military want with my project?” Gregory asks.  Brilliant as he is, he possesses the same sort of tunnel vision that so many scientists do—they understand every aspect of the mechanics of their project, but they don’t see the sinister repercussions if it falls into the wrong hands.

“Imagine your device working perfectly.  You can manipulate it so it will send an object to any point in time that you specify.  You could send a weapon back to the twelfth century.  You could send a letter with very specific information about future events back to a time before those events happened, with the intention of preventing them.”

“And that’s bad?” he asks.

“It could be, if the wrong people did it.”

“So it’s bad to have knowledge of an event and work to prevent it from happening.”  I smell where this is going.  “Isn’t that what you’re doing right now?”

“We’re avoiding the more important issue, Gregory.  I’m not the wrong people.  I want to help keep you and your family safe.  Everything I know tells me that the military will threaten and even endanger you and your family if you don’t give ITTCh to them after Friday’s science fair.”

“Then I’ll give it to them,” he says simply.

“What?”

“It seems to be the easiest answer. If X leads to Y, and X-prime leads to Z, then X-prime is the logical path to take.”

“In an algebraic equation, yes, but there’s more at stake here.  When a powerful group shows this much interest in anything, you have to examine their motivation.  I’m concerned about what they might do with it.”

“Then I won’t enter the science fair,” he says, still sounding unruffled.

“Gregory, that’s not why I’m here.  If I were sent to stop you from completing your project, I would know.”

“So what am I supposed to do?”  Finally, the voice of the frightened boy appears.  In a way, it’s reassuring to me; it suggests that he does see the implications of this and that he may yet listen to reason.

I gesture toward a chair nearby him.  He sits, and I sit close.  “We’ll figure that part out.  Anytime I’m sent on an assignment like this, it’s because I’m able to make a difference and prevent the bad thing from happening.  I don’t always know ahead of time how I can do that, but I always know it’s possible.  If you’re willing to trust me and keep me with you during the science fair, I swear to you that I’ll do everything possible to keep you and your family safe.”

He thinks about it for a moment, scans my face, looking for tells—anything that will convince him that I’m sincere or dangerous.  “You don’t think I should drop out of the science fair?”

“No, I really don’t.  I have every reason to believe that what you’ve created could change the world in positive ways.  I don’t want you to miss out on that.”

“I’m scared.”

“That’s okay.  It helps you pay attention to important things.”  He nods in response.  “Tell me about the science fair.  What are we looking at on Friday?”

“Well, it’s held at a convention center downtown.  The winning projects from about seventy area schools compete for the countywide prize and a chance to go to the state science fair, and then regional and national.”

That’s not encouraging news.  As strong as his project is, he could likely win competitions all the way up to national; protecting him could turn into a full-time job for me.  Still, one thing at a time.

“Is there a central presentation of some kind in an auditorium, where each participant presents their project to an audience and the judges?” I ask.

“No.  Everyone sets their project up at a table, and the judges come around to hear the presentations and watch the demos of each project.”

I like this answer; it motivates the seeds of a plan.  “Hmm.  Gregory, how reliable is ITTCh?”

“How reliable?” he repeats.

“Can you get it to work every time you want it to?”

“Once I get the synchronizer calibrated, it should work fine each time.”

“Can you make it fail on command?” I ask.

The question throws him for a minute.  This is clearly someone not used to failing.  “I suppose if I deliberately misalign the harmonic resonances, it would fail.  But why would I want to do that?”

“Well, you want it to perform perfectly for the judges.  No reason to spoil your chances of winning this thing.  But when our friends from the military come around, I doubt they’re going to want to go out of their way to take something that’s defective.  Wouldn’t you agree?”

“Yeah, I guess they wouldn’t, would they?”

“Okay, good.  Now, let’s get this thing working perfectly, so it will work imperfectly when we need it to.”

He looks at me strangely, reminding me that I’m nowhere near qualified to work on this device.  “I may not be a physicist,” I remind him, but I know my way around a tool box.  I also follow orders pretty well.  So you focus on the software, and I’ll quite literally tighten the nuts and bolts.  We have two days to defy the laws of nature.  That’s really not much time.”

Why Not Me?

Why me?  People ask the question all the time when they’re bemoaning their lot in life.  Why did this have to happen to me?  They ask the question and seldom get an answer.  Of late, I’ve been asking a related but opposite question, without answer: Why NOT me?

Working for a large publishing company for ten years, I’ve earned the respect of the colleague whose job it is to recommend some of our more promising books up to the traditional publishers that now own our company.  This man—I’ll call him “Alan” because his name is Alan—will send me manuscripts a few times a week.  “Take a look at these,” the e-mail will instruct.  “Is there anything there?”  That’s his code phrase for “Do they have potential?  That certain mystical something that sets them apart from the rest?”

Every time, I give him my honest opinion.  I give every book a chance to impress me.  This is not to suggest that, as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, I can “look into the seeds of time and say which ones will grow and which will not.”  I’m good, but I’m not that good.  What I do have is an eye for what’s written well, for what grabs my interest from the very first page and doesn’t let go.  On rare occasions, I see something that doesn’t speak to me at all but still has the commercial appeal to succeed.

Good or bad, positive or negative, I share them with Alan, and he shares them with the Bigs.  From time to time, I find out the results.  Someone’s been picked up for a three-book deal; someone else will be distributed in twenty countries; someone has found representation, and a contract is in the works.  Every time I hear the news, I’m happy for them.  It’s their dream—the dream of every writer who dares to take the extra step to become an author.  It’s my dream.

Inside me, every time I hear their good news, the words resurface: Why not me?  I’ve written a series of six entertaining novels with a small, loyal fan base.  Why can’t it be me getting the good news about a contract or a TV series?  I answered my own question just now. It’s that word—small.  No matter what the subject, every book that was offered up found a following while it was self-published.  This has been the bane of my existence—how to get the word out about my books.  I blog, I tweet—verbs I thought I’d never engage in—I have a website and an online bookstore.  I offer up my books for free to online reviewers.  And yet, week after week, month after month, I feel like the last puppy in the pound.

FREE TO GOOD HOME.  MOSTLY HOUSEBROKEN.

Lest you think this is all about self-pity, there’s a lesson in there somewhere.  It’s about putting as much energy into your self-promotion as you did into the writing of your book.  Ironically, it’s what I tell authors almost every day.  If only I were better at it myself!  I don’t even have the excuse of not having the time now.  It’s been more than six months since I’ve written one of my books.  The time I once used for writing I could easily use for marketing.

So why don’t I?  Do I believe in my books?  Definitely.  Do I believe in my abilities?  Certainly.  Am I afraid of success?  I don’t think so; I could certainly adapt to a life of fame and fortune.  (If anyone’s doing a study on the effects of these, let me know; I’ll gladly be your test subject.)  Maybe it just boils down to a simple, frustrating reality: I’ve never been able to brag about myself.  Sure, I can do so in a joking manner, but there’s always a hint of self-deprecation lurking underneath.  But to stand up on a platform and say, “This is who I am, and this is what I did, and boy, is it great!”?  I freeze up like a runny nose in winter.  (I also have problems with my analogies sometimes.)

So there it is.  Why not me?  Question presented, question answered.  Because the lawn won’t mow itself, Junior!  It has to start with me.  Can I man up enough to overpower my long-standing fear of rejection, set up a platform to present my work, and find ways to tell the world that I’m here and I’m good?  Or do I resign myself to a life of having fifty really cool people know that my books are a lot of fun, and they wish I’d write some more?  The choice is so easy, it barely deserves asking.  And yet, the answer has the potential to change my life.

Penny in the air …

Joel Pierson is the author of the Messenger Series of paranormal suspense novels.  Discover him and get a free download of his first book of the series at www.joelpierson.com

Life Gets in the Way

I had this noble idea when I started blogging that I would post a general blog entry and a new Webisode every week.  I really thought I could do it, and at first I did.  It was fun; it was easy.  It kept people up to date on what was new.  But like a gym membership, my attendance started to slip.  (And those of you who know me from the YMCA know that you don’t always see me there once a week either.)

I meant well; honestly, I did.  But life, as it has a way of doing, got in the way.  Too much to do, too little time, too little money.  Excuses, I know; I’m the first to admit it.  I will keep writing, posts and Webisodes, but probably not once a week.  If you’re reading this, thank you.  I’ll keep you posted on any Messenger news, and I’ll continue the story of Tristan and the young physicist.  Thanks for your patience.  Your call is very important to us.  Please stay on the line, and the next available novelist will be with you shortly.

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES Episode 2.2: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

I follow the school principal through the sparsely populated hallways of Horizon High School.  Most of the students have already left for the day, as have some of the teachers.  There’s a bit of awkwardness in my arrival, which leads to a welcome silence as I am shown the way.  On the first floor, in a corner of the building, she takes me to a room marked PHYSICS LABORATORY and opens the door.  I don’t know quite what to expect inside; the details of the assignment didn’t include that level of specificity.  What I see is quite surprising.  Inside is a single person, young, rather small, focused on a clear box that sits upon a table.  The box isn’t very large, just a couple of feet on a side; surrounding it is a wealth of electronic equipment—computers and meters and dials; the stuff of a modern-day mad scientist’s lab.

The principal speaks to the room’s lone occupant.  “Gregory, you have a visitor.  This is William Hauptmann from the National Science Foundation.  He’s here to work with you over the next two days, to be sure your project is ready for the science fair on Friday.”

The student gives me a cursory glance and then returns to his work.  Dr. Carson says, “Well, I’ll get out of your way and let you get started.”  With that, she exits the room, leaving me feeling woefully underprepared for what’s to come, in the extremely likely event that this science genius needs any degree of help from me whatsoever.

I need to break the ice.  “Hello, Greg,” I offer, hating it immediately.

“Gregory,” he says.

“I’m sorry?”

“Gregory.  I don’t go by Greg.”

“I’m sorry.  I …”

“Can you hand me a Lazlo meter?” he asks.

I look around the piles of instrument for anything that could possibly match that name; nothing obvious leaps out at me.  “Where did you leave that last?” I ask.

“You’re not really from the National Science Foundation, are you?”

“Why do you say that?”

“Because there’s no such thing as a Lazlo meter, and someone from the National Science Foundation would know that.”

“I was told you were smart.  I should’ve known.”

“So, who are you, and why are you here?” he asks, still working on his project with part of his attention.

“My name is Tristan, and I’m here to protect you.”

This pulls him away from the device to face me.  “Protect me from what?”

“On Friday, at the science fair, people from the military are going to find out about your project, and they’re going to want to use it for their own purposes.  If you resist them—and from what I know, you probably should—you and your family might be in some danger.  So I’ve come here to help keep that from happening if I can.”

“Are you from the future?” he asks, as casually as if the question ended with “Iowa” instead of “the future.”

“No.  I just get glimpses of it sometimes, and I’m called on to keep bad things from happening.”  I have his full attention now.  “Somebody has decided that you are worth protecting.”

“That’s good, I guess.  Although, right now I wish you were from the NSF.  I’m having a problem with my project, and another scientist would be helpful.”

“Well, maybe I can help.  Lazlo meter mistake aside, I’m pretty smart, and sometimes an extra pair of eyes is just the thing.  What seems to be the problem?”

“I’m having difficulties calibrating the interstitial synchronizer,” he answers, and in this moment, I relive every instance in my life when I was sure I’d know the answer but absolutely didn’t have a clue.

“Uh … huh. Those can be … tricky.”

“It’s okay if you don’t know what that is. Only about six people in the world do.”

“Suddenly I don’t feel so stupid then.  I suppose if I’m going to do my job, I should know what your science project is.”

He steps over to the clear box on the work surface and says, “It’s this. This is ITTCh.”

“And what exactly is … ITTCh?”

“It stands for Interstitial Time Travel Chamber.”

A look of astonishment comes to my face. “Time travel … as in … travel? Through time? You can do that?”

“Not if I can’t calibrate the synchronizer. There have been a lot of theories over the years about the possibility of time travel, using general relativity, special relativity, wormholes, black holes, faster-than-light travel. One area that’s always been overlooked, until now, involves the interstitial time matrix. There are holes between seconds, each a tiny fraction of a second long, that have a specific harmonic frequency that can be measured, located, predicted, and identified. I wanted to create a device to link these holes, these interstices, and find a way to transport a specific photon to a precise time, based on that link. That’s what ITTCh does. It makes that link.”

I’m barely able to follow along.  He patiently explains the process that he and his physics teacher came up with for isolating subatomic light particles and manipulating them within something he calls the time matrix.  This teenage boy’s mind is operating at a level that I could only dream of achieving.  It’s a good thing I’m not here to help him with the science, because I’d be useless.

“So when you asked me if I was from the future, the question wasn’t just out of left field.  You thought that a future incarnation of yourself had succeeded to the point where you could send someone back.”

“That was my hope, anyway.”

“How likely is that?”

“I don’t know yet,” he answers. “At the moment, I’ve got it to work with photons, but not with anything solid.  The second round of tests would be on an object.  A pencil, an apple, a piece of paper.”

Those last words trigger a realization in me.  “A piece of paper.  Could it have writing on it?”

“I … I guess so; I haven’t thought about it, but yes, I suppose it could.”

“So you’re saying that if this project succeeds, you’d be able to send a written note—a warning—back through time.”

“Yeah, I guess I would.”

“Gregory, now I know why the military wants to get its hands on this project.”

Of Royalties and Statistics

I got a little present from the universe this weekend; my royalty checks arrived for last quarter.  I’m not about to retire on the earnings, certainly, but I was pleasantly surprised that the amount on the checks merited a trip to the bank to deposit them.  While it’s good to have the week’s groceries paid for by the characters in my books, there’s a satisfaction that transcends the financial.  What it tells me is that people are reading what I’ve written.  The expectation is so obvious as to be above mentioning, and yet…

Being an author in the early twenty-first century is a strange undertaking.  Thanks to the advent of self-publishing, literally anyone can be an author.  For many reasons, I can’t find fault with this; it gives me a career, and it gives me the opportunity to be the novelist I’ve always dreamed of being.  What it also gives me is competition; lots and lots and lots of competition.  The old saying goes, “Everybody’s got a book in them.”  Self-publishing takes that book out of them and puts it on the market.  Today’s book buyer (a diminishing audience, thanks to the plethora of alternative entertainment available) is looking for a quality read.  With so many titles being published per month, how can anyone possibly know what’s worth reading?

In 2007, the Washington Post reported that one in four adults read no books in the past year.  None.  Zero. Here are some other disturbing statistics:

One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
58% of the US adult population never reads another book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another book.
80% of US families did not buy or read a book last year.
70% of US adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
57% of new books are not read to completion.
Most readers do not get past page 18 in a book they have purchased.

Source: (http://buzzmachine.com/2006/07/21/the-book-on-books/)

It’s enough to make you want to clutch at your head and shout, “Holy crap, what am I doing this for?”  But then you get a royalty check in the mail, and you see that some people out there—despite the disheartening statistics—have thought of you enough to purchase your work.  I’m smart enough to know that some of these come from friends and family, but others don’t.  Strangers read a synopsis of what I wrote or saw an image of the cover or anxiously awaited the final installment in the series, and they purchased my book.

Part of my concerted effort to do more marketing involved sending queries to 100 literary bloggers, asking them to review the first book in my series.  Thus far, none of the reviews has been published yet.  Some said they don’t have time; others said they’d get to it later.  I did get a reader review courtesy of Penguin’s Book Country (www.bookcountry.com), a wonderful site for authors.  It’s not that I’m looking for validation (I think) or self-esteem bolstering (I guess).  I just want people to know these books are there, and in my humble opinion, they’re a fun read.

So I get the word out, and I maintain my blog.  I submit to bloggers, and I make copies available for free sometimes.  Some people like the books; others not so much.  But every time someone tells me they’ve read one, I think back to those grim statistics, and I content myself to know that at least somebody’s reading.