Please welcome Charley Pearson to the Clog Blog as he makes this stop on his SCOURGE Blog Tour! Charley, can you tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I spent a career with the U.S. Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program—we oversee the design, construction, maintenance, and crew training for the power plants in our submarines and aircraft carriers. My main task proved to be managing chemical and radiological environmental remediation at closing facilities after the end of the Cold War, releasing them for unrestricted future use with state and EPA agreement (and much public interaction in the case of closing shipyards). My background in chemistry and biology proved quite useful both there and in the writing of SCOURGE.
How do you make time to write?
I have to stop going for hikes in the mountains, reading books, and otherwise procrastinating. Okay, granted, I started writing before I retired, so that was more of a challenge. Basically, I scribbled notes to myself whenever I thought of something, or as soon as possible after I got out of a business meeting or stopped driving kids to ballet class or whatever. Then I’d gradually turn the notes into stories in the evenings. I found out when I retired that I was way behind on watching movies. LOL
Do you ever get writer’s Block?
Not exactly. I get stuck on plot development, wondering how I’m going to get out of a hole I wrote myself into. I’ve found I have to stop trying to write “from the seat of my pants” and make some notes to myself. Not exactly outlining, but rough-plotting so characters are acting logically based on what they know.
How did you deal with Rejection Letters if you received any?
Got tons and tons of those, since I started out writing science fiction and fantasy short stories and submitting them to magazines. Then moved on to novels before I’d actually studied the craft of writing fiction, so I was making all the beginner mistakes you can imagine. Submitting that early material? Yeah, I could have wallpapered the White House and made a good run on Congress with all those paper rejection slips. Nowadays all you get are electrons, and they don’t stick to walls very well. Fortunately, I’ve developed a thick skin and can move on when it happens.
Can you tell us your story of getting, “The call”?
I’d about decided to self-publish SCOURGE when several people at the 2016 Killer Nashville writers conference told me Misty Williams of Fiery Seas Publishing was looking for a medical thriller. So I figured, why not try? I pitched it to her (and her husband), and she invited submission. Sent it in that August, and saw from their website that responses may be up to eight weeks, and don’t follow up for at least twelve. At thirteen weeks I sent the follow-up and she said it was still under consideration. This was a somewhat optimistic sign since a “no” often comes quickly. A “yes” can take a very long time, after multiple reads by several people.
Then in the summer of 2017, I’m on a 7125–mile drive from NC to Seattle, with stops back and forth to a bunch of parks and monuments. And there I was in Glacier National Park, minding my own business, wondering how they could call it “glacier” when it was about 90 degrees outside, and suddenly this email shows up from Fiery Seas with a contract offer. Whoa! Out of the blue, you might say. But I did manage not to fall off the side of a mountain.
What genre are your books?
SCOURGE is a medical thriller. My prior self-published thingy is a humor collection of short stories, skits, a full-length screenplay, and off-the-wall ballads with no redeeming social value. (No self-respecting agent or editor wants anthologies from unknowns, nor do they want poetry, nor screenplays, so this had to be self-pubbed all the way.) My current work-in-progress (WIP) is a YA-historical. So I guess I’m all over the map, depending on what seems to be forcing its way out at the moment. Oh, I also have a couple of short stories out in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s anthologies; they’re fantasies.
What draws you to this genre?
Humor? Can’t resist it; old Monty Python fan.
SCOURGE? This medical technology is something I first dreamed up back in college, long before computers would have a chance to make it feasible, but I always thought it would make a good story. And when I figured out a way to combine it with a tale of moral ambiguity, a theme of some character who decides to do what she thinks is right no matter the consequences, I couldn’t resist.
The historical? That’s a result of my father serving on Tinian in WWII, where B-29 raids on Japan were launched. His PTSD got me digging into the era.
But I also love fantasy, so you never can tell.
Do you have any advice for Aspiring Writers?
I put a whole bunch of advice on my website. My local writers’ group tries to help each other, and I’ve been asked for suggestions so much I decided to pull material together and put it out where it might help anyone. You can find it at:
Where can readers find you on the World Wide Web?
Oh, right, I sort of already pointed you there. Try http://charleypearson.com/ perhaps and link on from there, like to Facebook or Twitter if you use those.
Do you have an excerpt you’d like to share with us?
Sure! How about this one, from Chapter 18:
In the middle of a fluorescent-filled, eighty-foot square CDC laboratory, Valerie focused a microscope. She raised her head, popped off her stool, put on glasses, and dashed over to pull one printout from a mass spectrometer and another from a gas chromatograph. She opened a small glass door on the latter and flicked the needle on the graph paper. It flopped down.
She tapped a pencil against her teeth, let out a breath, and shook her head. Her cell phone alarmed. She checked the wall clock, swore, and chased out the door.
Valerie emerged from the building into swirling fog, went to the nearest parking lot, and stationed herself at a spot marked for M. Ngono. She rocked from foot to foot, shivering, twisting a diamond engagement ring on her finger while she waited for her supervisor. About the twelfth time she checked her watch, Ngono pulled into the space she was standing in. She backed into a bush. He barely stopped before she jumped out and opened his door.
“The data are plain weird,” said Valerie. “Maybe it’s me.” She handed him a folder on their way to the building.
“I got everything you emailed up to thirty minutes ago,” said Ngono, “and two voice mails. That’s it so far?”
“How many victims have you checked?”
“Over a thousand. Everyone we’ve got samples on,” she said. “Blood, marrow, liver. I stole a few technicians to help me.”
Ngono shuffled through the folder. Photo after color photo of contorted victims showed a consistent pattern of twisted limbs, uncontrollable fingers, and blood showering from eardrums.
“Some nosebleeds,” said Valerie, “but not many. I’d have expected more, with all the spuming from ears.”
“That could help ID patients. Nothing wrong with idiosyncratic features.”
“But useless for finding the cause of the problem.”
They pushed past a couple of other people, entered the building, and stormed down the hall.
“Maybe you can see something in the spectra,” said Valerie. “I can’t.”
“Oh, killer reverse transcriptase, making DNA out of the viral RNA and immune to everything we’ve tried. Except stuff that kills the whole cell.”
Ngono waited a second. “And?”
“A pea-soup of nasty proteins, destroying mitochondria and starving every cell.”
“But what’s the source?”
“That’s just it,” said Valerie. “There is none. All the normal bugs are there. E. coli, a dozen flu varieties, reaction to bad food.”
“Over a thousand patients and nothing ties them together?”
“Except not a one has anything unusual.”
They crashed through a door labeled Pathogenesis.
Thanks for inviting me to the interview. Hope your readers enjoy SCOURGE!