THE MESSENGER WEBISODES Episode 2.1: Wednesday, April 9, 2008

For someone who prefers not to fly to these assignments, I find myself on an airplane disturbingly often of late.  This wouldn’t be necessary if I weren’t being sent so far away each time.  Chicago.  Am I to believe that there was no one else available between Illinois and Maryland who could take this on?  Or have I been so exemplary in my work that I’m the ideal person for the job?  Flattering as that thought is, I’d just as soon have let somebody else take this one.  Once again, I’m called upon to protect a child; well, not a child exactly.  He’s sixteen.  But young enough to make the word accurate.  What bothers me is who I’m protecting him from.

If the details of my assignment are to be believed, Gregory Tallungan is on the verge of being targeted by the United States military in a bizarre black-ops maneuver to control—of all things—his high school science project.  I don’t know exactly what his science project entails, but I suspect it’s something beyond the usual boozing up of white mice or the effects of diet cola on teeth and chrome bumpers.  Knowing our beloved military machine (no offense, guys), I’m going to suspect weapons of some sort.  Though I have to wonder, what self-respecting high school science teacher would let a student experiment with weapons sophisticated enough that the military would want them?

Although the details of the project itself aren’t clear, the antagonists’ intentions are.  At the Cook County Science Fair on Friday, two high-ranking intelligence officers will be there, checking out the students’ projects.  They’ll be all smiles and sunshine, suggesting that a career in the military after high school is an excellent start for today’s new batch of young scientists.  But when they see Gregory’s project, things will take a turn.  They’ll take interest in it, too much interest.  Then they’ll take interest in him, realizing that without him, they have nothing.  Everything would be fine, if he were interested in buying what they’re selling.  But young Gregory has other ideas, and as a result, I’m sitting in an airplane, with a half a can of ginger ale and a small bag of salted pretzels in front of me.

Safely landed at O’Hare Airport, I rent a modest, nondescript car and make my way to a small hotel near Horizon Science and Technical High School on the city’s northwest side.  As I bring my suitcase into my room, I can’t shake the uneasy feeling I’ve had ever since I received this assignment last night.  Beyond the physical pain that always accompanies each new mission, this time there’s a feeling of dread.  My father always taught me to respect the government, respect the military; they’re keeping us and our country safe.  To have to treat them as a threat, as an enemy, feels disturbing.

Then there’s the practical issues of an assignment like this.  How do I, a single man in his thirties, insinuate myself into the life of a high school student?  Schools tend to frown on strangers walking in and chumming up to their students; not surprisingly, the students aren’t too keen on it either.  Hence the need for—and I can’t believe I’m using these words—a disguise.  I open my suitcase and pull out the necessary materials: a bogus photo ID, a file folder, and even a white lab coat.  Until this is over, I am William Hauptmann from the National Science Foundation, here to help young Gregory finish his science project before the fair on Friday.  And yes, for the record, it makes me feel simultaneously very stupid and very transparent.

At 3:15 p.m., I check in at the main office of Horizon High, introducing myself to the secretary as an NSF representative.  I am, of course, met with surprise and confusion.  They’re not expecting me; how could they be?  I barely had time to get my disguise together.  In no way did I have time to contact the school and tell them I was coming.  So I make a joke about bureaucracy in action and hope that my credentials look authentic enough that they’ll let me in.

“They told me Gregory’s project is quite remarkable,” I offer, “but he’s having a few challenges in getting ready for the science fair.  The Foundation believes there’s great promise here, and they want me to help your school continue its tradition of excellence in education.”

The words sound to me like total bullshit, but after years in big business, I’ve accumulated quite a vocabulary when it comes to telling people what they really want to hear.  The secretary excuses herself and goes to ask the school principal what to do.  The principal looks up at me from her desk and then converses with the secretary some more, before rising and approaching me.  “I’m Dr. Carson,” she said.

“William Hauptmann, National Science Foundation,” I reply.  “Sounds like the notification of my arrival didn’t reach you.  I’m sorry about that.”

“So you’re here to help Gregory Tallungan with his project, is that correct?”

“Yes, ma’am.  The NSF is reaching out to the most promising science students in America, supporting their studies.  We won’t do anything that compromises the integrity of the project for the fair; we understand it needs to be the student’s original work.  We’re acting in an advisory capacity.  I was informed that he spends time in a science lab here at the school each afternoon, working on the project.  I’m here to offer assistance during that time.”

Dr. Carson looks at me and then at my credentials, deciding that I am who I say I am, though I most certainly am not.  “Let me take you to the lab where he’s working.”

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES

Episode 1.4: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

At the sound of my voice, the four of them turn and look at me.  The children, obviously conditioned to respect an authority figure, do pause in their progress toward the river.  The woman, less keen on taking one-word orders from strangers on a park bench, moves toward the children, putting herself between them and me.  It’s exactly what I would do, if I were in a position to do such a thing.

“What do you want?” the woman asks me, her voice like a can of mace held up against me.

“The river’s not safe for sledding,” I answer calmly.  “Ice isn’t thick enough.  It’s best if the children don’t take their sleds out this afternoon.”

She looks at me carefully, most likely trying to discern my motivation. “Do you work for the parks department?”

“Yes,” I reply, hoping that lends credence.

It doesn’t.  “You’re not in uniform.”

“It’s a holiday,” I tell her.  Feeble, but it’s the best I’ve got.

“Do you have identification?” she persists.

“No, not on me.  I’m not here in an official capacity.  I’m just sitting by the river.  I saw the kids with their sleds, and I spoke out in the interest of their safety.”

I watch as she thinks over my words, looking at the river, the children, me, back at the river.  She looks intelligent, so it baffles me why she would even hesitate.

One of the boys looks at her and says, “Mom, can we go or not?”

“The temperature’s been below freezing for three weeks, and there’s a solid sheet of ice on the river,” the woman says to me.  “They’ll be fine.  Go ahead.”

“Don’t go!” I warn the kids, perhaps more sternly than I should, but she’s getting on my nerves.

Clearly, the feeling is mutual, as she tells me, “Don’t you speak to my children that way!  I don’t care who you are.  It’s their day off from school, and they want to go sledding.  You step out of the way and let them go, or I’m calling the police.”

“Call them.  Call whoever you want.  Let’s get a consensus going here.  But don’t you let those kids out on that ice until you get one.  Because what I’m telling you is that if they go out there on those sleds, they’ll get maybe ten or twenty feet, and then they’ll go through that ice.”

“Mommy …” The little girl sounds scared now, which is perfectly fine by me.

Bizarrely, the woman persists.  “These are the safest sleds money can buy.”

The privileged rich.  Sometimes they make me sick, even though technically, I’m one of them.

“Are you willing to bet your children’s lives on it?”

She doesn’t answer, but I see doubt creep into her expression, and for the first time, the doubt is about the wisdom of letting these children out on the ice.

She changes tactics on me.  “Who are you?”

“Someone who wants to help.  Someone who means you and your children no harm at all.  Someone who, all things being equal, would rather be at home where it’s warm, reading a book or watching a football game.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Because if I weren’t, somebody could get hurt or killed.”

“Somebody?” she repeats.

I point to the children discreetly.

“So you’re saying you came here on your day off—”

“It’s not a day off.  I don’t work for the parks department.  I said that in the hope that you’d believe me.”

“So you came here because you thought somebody might come out to this particular stretch of the Charles River and fall through the ice.”

I sigh in frustration.  Contradicting her again will only strain the already strained belief she barely has, but I’m in this now, and it’s time to show all my cards.  “No.  I came here—I was sent here—because those children, your children were going to go out on that ice, and they were going to fall through.  Not might.  Were.  Unless I came here and told you this.  Now, if you want to call the police or the parks department or the weather guy from channel 2, go ahead.  I’ll even lend you my phone.  But if you let your children go sledding, I can’t go out there and rescue them.  All I can do is stay here on the bank with you and watch them drown.”

Like the fragile ice itself, I watch as her suspicion begins to melt.  “Who are you?” she asks.

It’s a question I never relish answering.  In a few minutes, she and I will never see each other again, so my name carries no relevance.  “I’m a messenger, and this was my message for today.  Somebody wanted these children to live, so I was told to come here and do everything I could to make that happen.”

“Do I … owe you anything?  Is there something I have to do?”

“That’s between you and whatever you believe in.  If there’s somebody or something you want to thank, you can do that.  Right now, the only thing you need to do is get the kids back in the car; maybe find a nice, safe hill somewhere they can sled down.”

With that, I turn to leave and take a few steps toward the car.  The difficulty I faced in performing this simple task leaves me feeling frustrated.  To my surprise, she calls out to me.  “Wait.”

I turn and face her again.  She says, “You just saved the lives of three children.  Why do you look so unhappy?”

All I can tell her is the truth: “If I knew why I look so unhappy, then I wouldn’t look so unhappy.”

Now my mission is over.  I get to return my rental car, fly home, and wait for the next jolt of pain to disrupt my life.  And three children get to go to school tomorrow.  Happy New Year indeed.

Life Gets in the Way

Sorry for the delay in posting.  I’ve been enacting the role of homeowner over the past week, rather than author.  We’re making some necessary renovations to the house, everything from decluttering to powerwashing to laying new floors in the kitchen and three bathrooms.  I have to say, it’s a hell of a lot of work (and God bless her, Dana’s doing most of it–by choice, lest you think I’m both useless and lazy).  It’s also worth it.  We’ve been in this house for twelve years now, and it was new when we moved in.  Time and entropy have a way of stealing the newness.

But I’m pleased to report that renovation and order have a way of restoring it.  And good thing, too.  The way things were, we were getting tired of the look of it.  We certainly don’t want to move out, so an enthusiastic refurb is a good and happy exercise.

It did cost me the opportunity to go to Fandomfest in Louisville last weekend, where I hoped to get a photo with my identical twin, Saul Rubinek.  If you don’t believe me, Google both our pictures.  It’s kind of scary.  But we had too much to do, and I couldn’t go.  I pouted–a little–and only briefly, but then I got over it.

We’re finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel, finishing up the last projects in the next few days.  By the weekend, our lives should be our own again, and I can continue with regular postings and webisodes.  I’ve got a good webisode series in mind, which I’ll begin as soon as the first series is complete.

So thank you for your patience, those of you who may be reading this.  I actually got a glimmer of hope this morning for the series coming to television.  A very patient and enthusiastic agent has got a certain cable network interested.  Can’t say more yet, and can’t get my hopes up, but every glimmer adds light to the day.  Here’s hoping.

THE MESSENGER WEBISODES

Episode 1.3: Tuesday, January 1, 2008

As I’m driving the streets of Boston, on my way to the Charles River, I pause and realize—for the first time all day—what the date is.  It’s January 1, the start of a new year.  Last night, millions of couples stood together, counting down the seconds until the end of 2007, and at the stroke of midnight, they kissed, ensuring, so the legend says, a year of bliss together.  I was asleep at midnight last night, alone in my room.

Studies show that depression worsens around the holidays, which I’m sure is true.  Only I’m not depressed.  I’ve reached a state of Zen with my circumstances, including the solitude that comes with them.  Would I love to be draped with beautiful women—or, more realistically, reasonably attractive woman?  Sure.  Wouldn’t say no to that.  But the absence thereof doesn’t leave me beating me chest, shouting, “Pauvre, pauvre moi!” (Which I don’t know why I’d do, as I don’t speak French.)  Most of the time, I’m just Tristan-all-by-his-onesies.  And that’s okay, particularly given the nature of what I have to do.

As I drive, I watch people enjoying their day off.  Most look happy, but I also see some couples who look extremely put out at the thought of being together.  I can’t read their thoughts, of course, but if I could, I imagine some of them would be thinking, How did I get stuck with this person?  It’s a shame, really.  Starting with a love that’s strong enough to unite two souls, and watching it dissolve into such bitterness, such animosity sometimes; I barely understand it.  A thin line, indeed.

Daylight is fading as I approach my destination.  Midwinter in Boston can be bleak, and today definitely qualifies.  A thick cloud cover paints the landscape in hues of gray, with snow threatening at every turn.  It is a grim and dismal place and time to die, so I really hope that I can prevent these three children from doing just that.

I get out of the car at the designated place and realize at once that there are no children in sight, let alone children on sleds.  I check my watch; still half an hour to go before the scheduled tragedy.  I confirm the location; this is the place.  I must have arrived before they did.  It’s a bit of a relief, actually, not having to race over and stop this from happening.  I can catch my breath, mentally go over what I’m going to say and do.  It’s crucial in this instance not to come across as a potential threat.

But how do I do that?  Rule one of being anywhere: look like you belong there.  Okay, lovely, but how does one look like one belongs at the edge of a river?  Looking around, I spot park benches close to the bank, and I move over to an unoccupied one that gives me a clear view of the exact spot I saw in my vision.  As I sit down, I still feel conspicuous, like this isn’t my proper place.  I feel like I need an activity, something to motivate and explain my presence here.  Reaching into my coat pocket, I find a small bag and pull it out.  The airline pretzels that accompanied the beverage service.  I hadn’t wanted them at the time, and now they might be just the reason I’m looking for.  I crumble them within the bag, open it, and slowly begin tossing the crumbs to the few nearby birds that lack the good sense to be someplace warmer right now.

A lone man on a park bench, feeding birds on New Year’s Day.  That’s … moderately less creepy than before.  We’ll go with that!

I scatter the crumbs on the ground and wait patiently, watching as sparrows and other small birds get brave enough to snatch them up and fly away.  To my surprise, the activity does have a calming effect on me, blunting the anxiety I’ve felt all day.  Could it be that I’ve had access to this soul-soothing activity all along and I just never knew it?

Several minutes later, on the verge of feeling truly tranquil, I see them arrive—three children and a woman in her early thirties.  They park an Audi in the parking lot, and the woman opens the trunk to take out three wooden sleds with metal rails; clearly designer-made and very cushy, with padded seats, so the young can plunge to their deaths in comfort.

No, no, stop thinking like that!  I’m going to save them.

As they go from the parking lot to the grass of the riverbank, the children are remarkably well-behaved.  They don’t dash forward, racing away from their guardian; they don’t shriek with anticipation.  They quietly and properly walk toward the river, two boys and a girl, just a few steps ahead of the woman who drove them here, each carrying his or her own sled.  The youngest struggles a bit with the bulkiness of the object and eventually puts it on the ground, dragging it by a short tow-rope.

They pause at the river’s edge, and still I sit on my bench dumbly—both in the mute sense and the stupid sense.  I suppose I’m hoping the woman will figure it out for herself, and I can supervise.  Come on, read the scene.  Look around you.  Diminishing daylight, temperature not that far below freezing, nobody on the river.  That, in itself, should be the clue that this is a bad idea.

But no.  She’s protective enough to adjust their coats and make sure their hats and gloves are secure, but after that, she steps back and gives her unspoken permission in sending them on their way.  My hopes of passive observation are dashed.  It’s up to me.  Standing up from my park bench, I look directly at the four of them and call out a single word.  “Wait!”

In addition to my writing, I spend my

In addition to my writing, I spend my days as managing editor for Penguin Random House’s Author Solutions, where I see a lot of manuscripts.  Part of what I examine is the author’s back-cover text.  It’s harder to write than you’d think, so I put together some guidelines, with the help of my colleague, Megan Schindele.  Below are some ideas to help you write back-cover text for your book, including some things to avoid.

Marketing Headline

The Marketing Headline (keynote) or “elevator pitch” should consist of one or two sentences (twenty-five word-count limit) that succinctly tell readers what the book is about and why they should buy it.

 

Imagine you have only ten seconds to tell someone about your book and convince him to buy it. What would you say? Be sure to avoid clichés. Also, it’s often good to compare your book to a well-known author, title, or film to give a reader a point of reference. For example, “A veteran crime reporter delivers a hardboiled whodunit with Die Hard-type action, set in modern Chicago.”

Example:

A novel of suspense, wry humor, and the paranormal, as two relative strangers take a cross-country road trip to save others in peril.

 

 Key Words

Key Words will help people find your title through retail outlets.

When you go to the library and search the card catalog by subject, or when you enter keywords on the Internet, you are using key search words. Key search words for a romance title might be: love, betrayal, romance, love affair, paramour, Paris, and the type of romance (i.e., gothic, regency, contemporary, historical). There is no minimum number of words required, but the more words or phrases you provide that have a direct relation to the subject matter, the more opportunity people will have to find your book.

  

Paperback Back Cover Copy

 The Back Cover Copy is a brief overview of the book that entices the reader to browse and purchase the book. The ideal length is 150 to 200 words.

 

Think of this copy as a movie trailer or commercial—provide highlights, tease your audience, but don’t give away the ending! This should not be a detailed, straightforward description of the book, but rather brief, pointed selling copy that is your promise to the reader: Here’s what my book is about; this is how it’s unique, and this is why you should buy it.

 

In all marketing copy (back cover copy, author bio, and keynote), the following guidelines apply:

 

● Do not refer to the book as “the book.” Use the book title, set in italics, in most cases.

 ● Avoid underlining words and using all caps.

 ● Do not refer to your audience as “the reader” or “readers.” Write the copy in a manner that incites the reader to take action. For example, instead of “Readers will learn how to improve relationships with their pets,” write, “Learn how to improve your relationships with your pets.” Or use a more direct statement, such as the following: “Learn how to improve your relationship with your dog, cat, or even parakeet.” This approach lends a specific range and a casual tone to your book that can draw in the reader.

 ● Break up the back cover copy into paragraphs. One long paragraph is very difficult to read. Bulleted lists help to tell the reader what’s included in the book at a glance. If you include a bulleted list, make sure that you have a lead-in sentence followed by a colon, and that each item in the list has parallel construction.

 

For example:

o Create …

o Learn …

o Motivate …

 

Not

o Create …

o Learning …

o Motivation …

 

● Avoid clichés such as “a must-read” or “This book will change your life.” The back cover copy is not a book review. It is a preview of the exciting world within.  Don’t tell readers how they’ll feel.  Nobody wants to be ordered to laugh and cry.  Let them feel what they feel.

● Keep the verb tense consistent throughout.

● If you need additional examples or ideas, look up books that compare and compete with your title and read the book descriptions on Barnes&Noble.com (bn.com). Better yet, go to your local bookstore and browse the section in which your book would ideally be shelved. Read the professionally created back cover copy of the bestselling titles in that genre; this will give you an idea of what readers will expect to see on your back cover.

 ● If you have advance praise (quotes, endorsements, excerpts from advance reviews) you can include short excerpts with a credit line of the person who gave you the endorsement. Rather than just a name, provide the person’s title or credentials as well; for example, for a book on speed walking you could list a quote from Cathy Smith, President, Northern California Speed Walking Association. It’s best to use endorsements from people or periodicals that relate to your book in some way.  Don’t include praise quotes from friends and family unless they’re experts in the field, and avoid anonymous or first-name-only quotes.

● The last paragraph of the copy should compel the reader to take action; it’s the take-away promise of the book.

 

Example:

Tristan Shays is on a mission he doesn’t understand. For two years, he’s been plagued by terrifying images of strangers in peril and given orders to warn the victims before it’s too late. If he ignores the directive, he’s stricken with unbearable pain until he finds and helps the people from his visions. 

On a September night in Key West, Tristan warns exotic dancer Rebecca Traeger that she must quit her job and return to college in Ohio or risk grave consequences. The last thing Tristan expects is for her to hitch a ride with him. During their journey, he discovers that she may hold the key to his understanding of the mysterious assignments he has been receiving. As the assignments continue, Rebecca finds herself in increasingly dangerous situations, by just being with Tristan.

On the trip to Rebecca’s home, Tristan receives dire warnings for several more people, all of whom have a connection to Rebecca. He is torn between his role as her driver and her protector, and he finds himself becoming more and more enmeshed in her life as his fascination with her grows.

But if she’s the one for him, why is he being warned not to fall in love with her? Should he follow his true feelings or heed the warnings?

 

Author Biography

The Author Biography should be no more than fifty words and should consist of three key elements:

1. A few statements that communicate why you are qualified to write the book. Are you an expert in this field? What unique insights or experience do you have that give your book credibility? For example, “Jane Smith is the founder and president of C-Cat, the leading online magazine for ceramic-cat collectors in the United States.”

2. A statement that moves from the qualifications above to something more personal. For example, “Her collection of ceramic cats now numbers more than 5,000.” This personal information should relate to the book in some way.

3. Where you live and something about your personal life. You don’t need to be specific; your listing can be as general as the state you live in, although the city is also preferred (consumers often lean toward buying books by local authors). For example, “Smith lives with her husband, her three children, and her three real cats in Lincoln, Nebraska.”

 

Example #1:

Joel Pierson is the author of numerous award-winning plays for audio and stage. He spends his days as editorial manager at the world’s largest print-on-demand publishing company. Additionally, he is artistic director of Mind’s Ear Audio Productions, and also writes for the newspaper in his hometown of Bloomington, Indiana.

 

Example #2:

Joe Author, currently a basket-weaving technician, has a bachelor’s degree in basket weaving from Any University. He has previously published two other books, Baskets and You and Weave Your Way to Success. He and his wife, Mary, have four children and live in Lincoln, Nebraska.

 

Hardcover Copy

To conform to book-industry standard, we suggest the following:

Front Flap:

• Back cover copy from paperback edition.

Back Flap:

• Continuation of front cover copy, if necessary.

• Author photo (include credit if necessary); or author photo may instead be placed on the back cover.

• Author bio from back cover of paperback edition.

Back Cover:

• Author photo, if not used on back flap (please specify the preferred size).

• Endorsements (praise for a previous title or advance praise for current title with bylines).

• Fiction: A short passage from the beginning of the book that sets the tone or pulls the reader into the story.

• Nonfiction: A brief excerpt from the manuscript that shows the reader some key components or benefits of the book. Or, if the chapter titles of your book are particularly interesting or explanatory, put the table of contents on the back cover (with chapter and page numbers omitted). If you choose this last option, be sure to introduce the list with a phrase or sentence, such as the following: “Including the most complete, up-to-date information on advertising techniques: … ” then list the chapter titles or an adapted version of them.

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.

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.