THE MESSENGER WEBISODES Episode 1.2: Tuesday, January 1,

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES

Episode 1.2: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Well, fuck me.  There’s no way I can drive to Boston in less than six hours.

It troubles me that I’m given so little time for this assignment, particularly because driving is my preferred method of transportation.  Turns out, even in good weather, it’s a nine-hour drive, and winter on the Eastern Seaboard does not qualify as good weather.  With so little notice, this feels like an afterthought, or even as if it caught my overseers off guard.  Given my beliefs about who that is, I find myself more than a little surprised.

Fortunately, there is time for me to drive to Baltimore and catch a 2:30 p.m. flight to Boston Logan.  On the drive to the airport, I ponder the details of the assignment.  Three children, none older than ten years old, will go sledding on the frozen Charles River late this afternoon.  Frozen, but not frozen enough.  Unknown to them or to the woman watching them from the riverbank, they’ll encounter a thin spot on the ice, and they will fall through.  In the fading light of day, panic will set in, and they’ll be unable to find the opening they broke through.  Saving them isn’t an option; I have to be there in time to prevent this, or the three of them will face a cold, watery death.

This knowledge sends a chill of its own through me.  This level of gravity should make the situation easy.  What parent, faced with this knowledge, would risk letting the children go out on the river?  But always comes the complicating factor, the question I can seldom answer truthfully: How do you know this?  In fairness, it’s a reasonable question, because the world doesn’t work that way.  You know the stove is hot because you touch it, and it burns your hand.  You generally don’t know the stove is hot six hours before you turn the damn thing on.

So I’m always left with two choices: honesty or deception.  I prefer honesty, but I’ve yet to find the ideal way of telling people that I receive visions about their impending death—without sounding like an escaped mental patient.  Sometimes I have to lie; I’ll make them believe I’m in some official capacity that would give me access to knowledge about an issue of safety.  It works occasionally, lending credence to my impossible tale.  More often than not, I don’t stick around to see if they listen, to see if my warning actually saves a life.   I know I should, but I think it would dispirit me too much if people ignored my efforts and died anyway.

I don’t yet know how today will play out.  It’s always difficult when children are in the equation, especially when a parent is around.  Thanks to our understandably suspicious society, a single man coming up to a parent and saying, “Hey there, you don’t know me, but your child is going to die horribly in thirty-one minutes,” is seldom greeted with, “Thank you, kind stranger!  Here’s tuppence and a shiny apple for your efforts!”  More often, the actions (and often the words themselves) are closer to, “Get away from me and my family, crazy person, before I use this pepper spray/knife/blunt instrument/handgun to alter your physiognomy in some unpleasant way.”

Call it chapter twenty-five of “Why Altruism Sucks.”  As a species, we have become so inundated with deception and selfishness that genuine care and assistance automatically triggers people’s suspicions.  They see no way for someone to benefit from an act of kindness, so the default question becomes Why is he doing this?  Followed closely by What does he want from me?  This is magnified greatly when a child is in danger.

Which brings me to my next valid issue: children are stupid.  No offense to anyone out there who has a child or, worse, is a child, but let’s face it—most of them are pretty dumb.  It’s a wonder they survive to adulthood in the numbers that they do.  Ever see a child run forward while looking backward?  No other creature on Earth does that.  How is that a biological ticket to success and safety?  Still, my employer must have a fondness for the poor creatures, as he’s frequently sending me to get them out of one scrape or another.

The flight from Baltimore to Boston is short, less than an hour and a half, and not expensive, as I’m not concerned about business class or any such foolishness.  Yes, it’s a business trip, but for eighty minutes, I can find comfort in coach.  With no checked luggage and no carry-on, I can bypass one hassle at Boston Logan, but there’s still the fun of obtaining a rental car.  After deplaning and making my way through the terminal to Ground Transportation, I look for the first company displaying a “Cars Available” sign, and they get my business.

I ask for a compact, something small and practical.  As luck would have it, they’re out of that class of car, so for the same amount of money, I’m given a new Mercedes.  Can’t complain about that, certainly.  Our acquaintance will be brief, but in the time it takes to get me to my destination, I’ll have no shortage of comfort.

I don’t know Boston very well, but the river is hard to miss.  The area I’m looking for is in the Beacon Hill neighborhood, in a park right on the river.  In my mind, I know what the three children look like—two boys and a girl, all carrying sleds.  Proper sleds, too, wooden ones with metal rails; not these glorified plastic bin lids they’re passing off as sleds.  Kind of ironic, really.  The extra weight of the proper sleds is likely what will cause these poor souls to crash through the flimsy ice layer.

Unless I have something to say about it, that is.

Welcome to the Summer of the Messenger!

One week into the great Summer of the Messenger, marketing efforts are going well.  Thank heaven I have Dana, who has been putting an inhuman amount of effort into designing and refining the joelpierson.com website.  (Go Daddy’s website builder platform seems to be plagued by the devil himself.)  With the help of marketing and publishing experts Alan Bower and Erica Dorocke, we have some great ideas for the site, and it’s really coming together well.  My sincere thanks to everybody who’s made that happen.

I’m getting more positive feedback from readers about the books, which is always welcome.  When I was creating these novels, I had no illusions about creating works of art that would survive for centuries in the great collected works of written human endeavor.  I wanted to create books that would make people say, “I just read this, and I had a lot of fun.  You should read it.”  Every time I hear words to that effect, I feel successful.  Of course, I will admit that my main goal in life is to have a college English course named for me; a 300-level course identified only by my last name, as in: “Yeah, this semester, I’m taking English 342: Pierson.  We’re studying his later works, right before he went mad.”

What?  It’s my fantasy; I can have a mad period if I want one.  If Honey Boo Boo gets another season and my books don’t get adapted for TV, I’ll be very ready for that madness, thank you very much.

Yes, it’s true, I’m putting myself out there in the world, in the hope of a weekly dramatic series.  I’ve shared my work with a few people who might be able to make that happen.  I’m open to suggestions as to who you’d like to see portray your favorite characters.  Feel free to leave comments at the end of this entry about who might play Tristan or Rebecca, Genevieve or Ephraim.  I’ll be intrigued if anyone comes up with the same names I did in my mind.

Readers will probably notice that I don’t flood the narrative with description—either of people or places.  I prefer to be minimalist, letting people’s imaginations fill in the details.  That probably comes from my radio theatre background, where such details were always supplied by the listener’s own thoughts and ideas.  So if you want Tristan to be tall and blond, he is; if you want him to be shorter, with dark hair and a bit of middle-age spread, more power to you.  I’m much more interested in what’s in his heart than what color his eyes are.

I’m inviting my readers to “storm” Amazon.com in the next two days and see if ordering book six, The Messenger Conflicted, can lift the sales ranking into the top 1,000.  I would dance with joy if it did.  (And I could be persuaded to film that dance and post it to YouTube.)

If you haven’t read books four and five, book six might pose a few questions, but I’d like to think it’s encouragement to read the prequel trilogy.  As I mentioned, the books are fun—sometimes funny, other times dramatic.  You’ll see a lot of my personality in there (and perhaps one or two of my lifelong foes fictionalized for Tristan to battle, ha ha ha!)

If you’re absolutely new to the Messenger Series, welcome.  Thanks for checking me out.  For a limited time, you can download all of book 1, Don’t Kill the Messenger, for free in PDF form on my website, www.joelpierson.com.  Give it a read, and if you like it, the others are available to order right there on the site.

This is the part that’s been hard for me—talking business when it comes to the books.  For me, the joy has been writing them and having people read and enjoy them.  But to sell myself as author?  How do you do that?  The answer, I’m discovering, is by doing it.  By putting the word out there and presenting myself as an entertainment-generating service that people can purchase and enjoy.  I’m reading a wonderful book on that subject, by the way, Michael Hyatt’s Platform—Get Noticed in a Noisy World.  If you have something to sell—even if that something is yourself—buy this book.

But buy mine first.  (Sorry, Michael.  Just doing what you told me!)

FUN FACT: The Messenger novels contain characters from my writings of the past.  Bronwyn Kelsey and Iris Aiello (book three) are characters from my novel and audio series, French Quarter.  Bill Ferguson (an alias given by Tristan in book three) was the lead character in my audio series, Knight for a Day.  And Virgil and his dog Keesho first appeared in short stories I wrote at age four.  They’re all part of the little universe I keep in my brain.

Webisode 1-1

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES
Episode 1.1: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

A gentle snow is falling on my hometown of Ocean City, Maryland. Not the kind of gray blanket that accompanies a Nor’easter, but rather a delicate glaze of flurries, borne aloft just a bit by a breeze off the ocean. I stand looking out my kitchen window at the stretch of beach that is my back yard. I watch the snow provide a downy blanket for the sand, and I feel a sense of peace in my soul.

My name is Tristan Shays, and I work for God. I’m not a priest or a missionary or even a church secretary. And to be perfectly accurate, I can’t even be sure that an immortal being is my employer; but somebody is controlling my life, and if it’s not God, I don’t know who else would want the job. I am, for lack of a better job title, a messenger. Periodically, and without warning, I receive in my mind, visions—detailed, vivid depictions of someone in grave danger. They might be in the next town or halfway across the country. Wherever they are, something very bad is going to happen to them in the next few hours or the next few days. I know where, and I know when.

And my job is to stop that from happening.

Perhaps you’re thinking, Oh, how nice. What a thoughtful man, to do such a thing for a total stranger. Much as I would like to accept that compliment, I should also divulge at this point that if I don’t drop everything and deliver my message of warning, I am all but crippled with a pain that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It always travels from place to place on my body, but it’s always there, demanding that I do everything in my power to keep this person alive and safe. It started about six months ago, and—at least for the time being—it’s what I do.

Fortunately, I have enough money to live on. My father helped invent the light-emitting diode, the LED as they’re commonly known, and after he died, I continue to get a fraction of a cent for each one put into anything worldwide. Last year, 47 billion were manufactured. So I’m doing all right for myself. I try not to let the money change who I am. Wealth can lead to dangerous mutation in the douchebag gene, and I swore to myself I’d never let that happen. So my money just … is. I live in a nice house—not a mansion. I drive a fuel-efficient, comfortable car, because so much of what I do now involves driving. And I give generously to worthy causes, because I can and I want to.

What I lack is someone to share it with. The nature of my calling doesn’t lend itself well to long-term companionship. I’m frequently gone for days at a time, and things sometimes get dangerous. Neither of these circumstances screams, “Let’s go steady!” Occasionally I’m courted by someone who gets inside the sacred circle of doubt and suspicion. Some of these are drawn to the bank balance; they betray that little secret in a hurry. Others are looking for something brief and physical; tempting as that sounds, I find it almost impossible to base a relationship strictly on sex.

So, for better or worse, I spend a great deal of time alone. I have a few friends, but they’re very busy people, so I don’t see them as much as I’d like. As the only child of deceased parents, there’s not much family to speak of. I have a couple of uncles and aunts, and I’m told I have some cousins, though I don’t think I’ve seen them since childhood. Have I? No, I guess not. I say all this not to evoke pity, just to provide an understanding of why things are the way they are. I suppose if I stopped for a prolonged period of navel-gazing, I could find reasons to feel sorry for myself. But you know what? Fuck that shit. (Oh crap, sorry, I should have warned you—I tend to swear a lot. Comes from being alone so often. If you’re offended, I won’t be upset if you switch journals. I believe there are some good ones from the Discovery Channel.)

Where was I? Oh, right—not feeling sorry for myself. I decided that there’s nothing to gain from it. Self-pity? “That and fifty cents’ll buy you a cup of coffee,” my father would say. Of course, he said that about twenty years ago, when fifty cents really would buy you a cup of coffee, in the days before twenty-ounce mocha-choka-latte-yayas. So I power through the pain, and I accept the assignments I’m given. (When I’m feeling particularly noble, I’ll call them missions.) And I get in the car, head out into the world, and sometimes I save lives. All things being equal, it’s not such a bad thing. I don’t know how long I’ll be required to fulfill this; it could be a week, or it could be the rest of my life. Whatever it is, as long as I’m physically able, I’m going to give it my best effort.

I’d better cut this short now, because it occurs to me that my right foot hurts. Really hurts, as if I’d accidentally filled my sock with roofing nails and bits of broken glass. I might find this unusual, except I’m also seeing in my mind that in six hours, three children are going sledding on the Charles River in Boston, and if I’m not there to stop them, they’re going through the ice, never to resurface. So I’d best be on my way. There’s work to do.

The Big Launch

Here I go, diving into the whole blogging thing for the first time. Those who know me might be surprised that it took me this long to ascend into the blogosphere (which I believe stretches from 10,000 to 55,000 feet above the Earth’s surface). Those who know me very well are less surprised, as I can be a bit private, bordering on shy. But the thing is, I’ve written these books—six of them, to be exact—and I think they’re a great deal of fun. I’ve received great feedback from the people who have read them, and I’d like a great many more people to read them.

If you haven’t yet given them a try, here’s a bit of detail. Collectively, they’re called The Messenger Series. Individually, the titles are: Don’t Kill the Messenger; The Messenger Adrift; Messenger in a Battle; Instant Messenger; A Messenger So Dark; and the newest entry, The Messenger Conflicted. They chronicle the story of a man named Tristan Shays, CEO of a company that makes LEDs—light-emitting diodes—which his late father invented. One day, without warning, Tristan starts receiving visions of people in peril—some individuals he knows, others he doesn’t—and enough information to prevent the peril from taking place. There’s a catch: if he doesn’t warn the person in time to prevent the catastrophe, he’s overcome with crippling pain.

So we have the concept of altruism as analgesic. Tristan isn’t a bad person, but he doesn’t see himself as the type who would put his very busy life aside to chase all over the country and warn people that they’re going to die horribly if they go to the fruit stand. (Just for example.) Not without the outside motivator of the pain. Over the course of six books, we see the evolution of his commitment to this calling. It is, after all, a thankless job, and one that offers no tangible benefits. Most of the time, he doesn’t even stick around to see if his warnings are heeded. Such is the life of the messenger.
When I tell people about the premise, they sometimes remind me of a TV series from 1996 called Early Edition; you may remember it. Painfully earnest Kyle Chandler gets each day’s Chicago Sun-Times delivered a day early by a mysterious cat, and he has one day to prevent the tragedies he reads about in the newspaper. Problem solved, the day ends with the return of the cat. Meow, plop; next day’s paper. It all starts over again.

I had seen a few episodes of this show seventeen years ago, but it wasn’t in my thoughts when I was creating The Messenger Series. I wanted to investigate the nature of personal interaction. I wanted readers to ask themselves, “What would I do if someone gave me a warning like this?” Tristan learns that delivering lifesaving warnings isn’t like delivering pizza. No one asks for them; there’s no monetary value you can place on them; and you can’t hold the warning in your hand and smell its cheesy, tomatoey happiness. As such, Tristan trades the physical pain before he delivers the warning for the emotional pain after he delivers it.

Lest you think it’s six volumes of existential dread, I should point out that I unleash my sense of humor on the writing, in an effort to keep things light. I always love to hear someone laugh when they’re reading my book, so I’ve provided lots of opportunities within the books for that to happen. I hope it inspires plenty of laughter along the way.

People ask me, which one should I read first? Well, you have a choice. The first trilogy contains Don’t Kill the Messenger, followed by The Messenger Adrift and Messenger in a Battle. The second trilogy consists of Instant Messenger, A Messenger So Dark, and The Messenger Conflicted. The second trilogy is the prequels to the first, so you can start with Instant Messenger if you want to follow Tristan’s gifts from their inception; or you could begin with Don’t Kill the Messenger to follow the story in the order that it was written. Either path offers something enjoyable.

I’m going to do something radical, right here, right now. I’m going to give away electronic copies of Don’t Kill the Messenger to anyone who wants them. Honest. All you have to do is go to the home page of my website, www.joelpierson.com and download a PDF version of the book that you can read on your computer, your eReader; heck, if you’re a traditionalist, you can even print them out on paper and read them the old-fashioned way. All I ask is this: if you like the book, tell people. Write about it on Facebook, leave a review on Amazon.com, share your thoughts on Goodreads. Or pick up the phone and call your cousin. You are my network, and I’m hoping you’ll spread the word.
If you like book one and want to buy the others, they’re available directly from http://www.joelpierson.com or at amazon.com. I hope you’ll be moved to purchase all six, either in paperback or electronic form.

In the meantime, I’ll strive to update this blog at least once a week, and I’ll also create webisodes here on the site, continuing the adventures of Tristan and pals. Stay tuned for those. The weekly blog will also contain a fun factlet about the books for your diversion … starting right now.

FUN FACTLET: Scott Schirmer, the director of Found and other independent films, created a screenplay for the Messenger Series, which is currently being shopped to production studios. Keep your fingers crossed for a Messenger movie or TV series in the not-too-distant future (la-la-la)!