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.

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.

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.

Just when you thought it was safe …

Part of my efforts with the Messenger novels has been the pursuit of a weekly dramatic television series.  I think the books would lend themselves to it.  Expand each chapter into a week’s episode, and bang—you’ve got almost six seasons right there, ready to go.  And believe me, if somebody offered me a TV contract, you bet I’d keep writing.

Television is my vice.  With respect and gentle apologies to my parents, it kind of helped raise me.  Sure, I’ve read plenty of books, but I loved losing myself in a sitcom or a drama or a game show.  This was the 1970s and ’80s, before reality TV immersed the world in fecal matter.  It was the age of Happy Days and Hill Street Blues, and a lot of good stuff in between, and it came into our home on about ten channels, in nineteen inches of glorious color—or, if you were well off—a full twenty-five inches.

Thus began my lifelong love affair with the boob tube, which predated the love of other boobs by many years.  Not even college could keep me away.  On Friday nights, my socially awkward friends and I would eschew the beer parties to find an unoccupied TV lounge in one of the dorms and watch Doctor Who.  Yes, I know.  And I regret nothing.

Years passed, and I had two opportunities to write for television, one better than the other.  The good one came during my days at the Agency for Instructional Technology, during which time I was paid to script a ten-part educational series called The Voyageur Experience in Global Geography.  Local high school students were flown to countries all over the world to learn about their cultures, and I wrote the interview questions and the narration for the shows.  It was a great time.

The not-so-great experience happened years before that.  I wrote an episode for a weekly series called Northern Exposure.  You may remember it.  My efforts were like fan fiction, only more serious.  I was all of nineteen at the time.  I got an agent, and the script was actually put before the producers of the show.  They liked it, they were interested, and my agent told me things were looking good.  Then they found out that I wasn’t a member of the Writer’s Guild of America, and I wasn’t going to be.  Suddenly, everything was different.  They dismantled my episode and used elements of it in three different upcoming episodes, changing the dialogue but keeping the basic ideas.  I wasn’t allowed to be paid for it; I wasn’t allowed to get an on-screen credit, but wasn’t it fun seeing my ideas on TV?  Thanks, kid.  See ya around.

And so I learned a valuable lesson: Hollywood, that beautiful lady with the siren song of fame, can also be a bitch goddess who spits you out whole.  But hey, I’ve been in relationships.  I can be brave.  I picked myself up, and I’m trying again.  I firmly believe that there’s room in Hollywood for quality scripted entertainment.

Then I learned about Sharknado.  Do not adjust your computer; you read that word correctly. Sharknado.  As in a tornado full of sharks. FML.  This masterpiece will air on the “Syfy” Channel, the worst-spelled channel on the dial.  I won’t tell you when, lest you accuse me of helping you to watch it.  But suffice it to say it will be soon, and it will be terrible.  And thousands of people will watch it.  Let’s recap: a tornado … filled with sharks.  And when the sharks fall out of the tornado, they don’t do something reasonable like scream or die horribly or think, Holy shit, what am I doing in a tornado?  No, they start eating people.  On land.  Tara Reid is our only hope of salvation.  Clearly, we are doomed.

I can’t really blame the Syfylys Channel for making these movies.  They cost about $72 to create, and for some reason that defies reason, people watch them.  And I can’t hate a network that gave a home to the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.  But my soul does cry out just a little bit each time my hopes of TV series-dom for the Messenger get raised and then dashed on the rocks, while movies like Sharknado (and if it does well, the inevitable sequels Octopusicane and Tropical Squidstorm) eat up valuable airtime.

I will be brave.  I will be patient.  I will look forward to the day when I get the magical call that says, “They said yes!”  And I will do a little dance at my desk (space permitting).  Because on that day, I’ll know that justice is served and I get my shot at the big time.  Until then, I’ll keep trying, and I’ll keep spinning—like a shark in a goddamn tornado.

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.