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On this edition of "Between the Lines", we sit down to talk to author Charley Pearson about his writing career, life, and new release, Scourge.
Jenn: I was reading your bio this morning while setting up the blog post for Scourge. It sounds like you have a fascinating background in all kinds of science-y goodness. Could you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Charley: Well, I started in biology, moved on to chemistry, then joined the Navy (after protesting the Vietnam War) and spent a career with them as a nuclear engineer. They had to give me extra training for that. Mostly oversaw chemical and radiological environmental remediation after the end of the Cold War, releasing sites for unrestricted future use.
Jenn: That's an unexpected life choice, going from protester to the Navy.
Charley: I may be unique, for all I know. Gotta defend our right to protest. LOL. I was in the first OCS class post-Vietnam that was 100% volunteers, no draftees.
Meanwhile, raised two daughters and spent hundreds of hours backstage at their ballet studio, on sets and stuff.
Jenn: Biocheminuclear engineer by day, ballet stage-dad by night? And I hardly think you're alone in the “defend our right to protest” thing. I've met a few folks in my years as Army wife and Army civilian that would join you in that sentiment.
Charley: Good. Oh - you've heard of soccer moms? The other guys and I called ourselves "ballet dads." (heh, heh). Wrote a humorous mini-memoir that got published last January by Kallista Gaia Press
Jenn: Ah, yes! You mentioned your humor collection before we began. Before we get into the yummy stuff about Scourge, could you tell us a bit about your humor?
Charley: Well, that ballet thing was separate. The humor collection's title piece, "The Marianated Nottingham," finally tells the truth about Robin Hood, by revealing the Sheriff of Nottingham's side of the story. (Poor guy's trying to found a national park to protect deer, for goodness sake.) Full-length screenplay. Then there are 24 short things - skits, stories, and ballads (solid meter, strict rhyme, and no redeeming social value). Off the wall and sometimes Pythonesque.
Jenn: Aww... Are you gonna make me add more to my TBR pile? Everyone in the Thrice Read family is a huge Monty Python fan.
Charley: Yay! It is available from Amazon; the e-book is only $2.99.
Jenn: I'll add a link down below for those interested.
Having read the blurb for Scourge though, this seems to be a huge leap from humorous screenplays, poetry, and skits to intense medical thriller. How did that come about?
Charley: Scourge - yes, quite different. I had this idea for the technology back in college, but it was premature. Now that computers are so much better, I dug it out and couldn't resist finally writing it. The tale includes a recurring theme for me -- pragmatism vs. morality (aren't there at least some situations where ends justify means? Maybe?), plus the idea of someone who decides, dang it, they're going to do what seems right no matter what it costs them.
Jenn: The Messiah archetype?
Charley: Perhaps. But coming from a flawed character who's been concealing a dark secret about her Roma clan her whole life.
Jenn: It's those flaws that really make those characters pop off the page and become real. Now, in reading the blurb... is there a single protagonist? Or do you have co-protagonists (hero and heroine)?
Charley: Ah, there's a love story subplot about these two geeks who have no clue how to read each other. The woman is the main lead, but the guy cons her into trying something she wouldn't have on her own. The resolution depends on both.
Jenn: Nerd-love! While saving the world, no less. Very cool.
Charley: So terrorist virus, multiple villains, and FBI who thinks the protagonists are at fault, and health agencies who could never solve the problem on their own.
Jenn: Sounds rather twisted and complex, and a little too close to plausible.
Charley: I have a Kirkus quote, “Imaginative and full of action...continually shifting the quirky plot into places that are both surprising and fantastical.” - Kirkus Reviews
Jenn: So, on the seriousness scale, where would you say Scourge falls, between light-hearted and ultra-serious/dark?
Charley: Hmm, tough one. The science may be achievable someday, which I find seriously worrisome from an oversight standpoint. But the story has a lot of light moments and comic relief. I particularly like the parrot, as will your Monty Python fans.
Jenn: I'm trying not to laugh hard enough to alarm Brian. I can imagine how a Python-esque parrot might fit into the story.
Charley: He's named Mr. Praline. You know, for the John Cleese character, in the.. well, you know which sketch.
(Clip from Monty Python's Flying Circus, Season 1 episode 8, aired 12-7-1969)
Jenn: Oh, my!
Charley: Sometimes I have a difficult time avoiding humor, even when writing serious stuff. Sigh.
Jenn: I personally like a little humor in the suspense I read, because I get heavily invested in the really good ones, and that makes for some disruption in the real world. And I know several readers that are the same way.
Charley: Yeah, the pacing is essential in any tale.
Jenn: I noticed that your protagonist/heroine comes from a Roma family. When I read that, I think of gypsies. Am I assuming incorrectly? Or could you clarify that, for our readers?
Charley: Ah, yes, Roma = Gypsies = Romani, though the latter is also an Italian name. Some people have used the term Gypsies in a disparaging manner, so it has been dubbed incorrectly occasionally. I tried to clarify the issue in the novel. The clan often refers to themselves as Gypsies, but outsiders vary.
The female lead is in the clan. The guy isn't. That's one of the key problems between their ever getting together.
Jenn: Okay. Major intercultural hurdles can make for some delicious tension.
Charley: Hey, my mother (mixed English/Irish/Belgian/who knows ancestry) faced prejudice from my father's parents (3rd generation pure Swede). It's amazing how stupid prejudices are.
Jenn: It is. And yet they persist, sadly. Hopefully, as the literature world starts to come around to diverse books, that will begin to change.
Charley: Yup, diverse should help a lot. The MC in my historical is Japanese-American, and I was really lucky to find a guy born in Tokyo in 1938 to give me a beta-read and advice.
Jenn: Very awesome! That particular generation, while I grew up surrounded by them, they are rapidly disappearing. You're very fortunate to have that kind of reference.
Charley: True. My dad was the meteorologist on Tinian during the war. Got me interested in that theater and era.
Jenn: And probably gave you a little boost in the direction of a science-based career?
Charley: Undoubtedly. No way he would let me major in music no matter how good a drummer I was. No money in it. Gotta have a productive career. Depression mentality that generation grew up in.
Jenn: Exactly. Although... I think a few drummers have made quite the living, but, erm… I don't quite think that working in a rock band would have fit the description of "gainfully employed" by his standards?
Charley: LOL - you got it! Hey, I had a great career, so can't knock his advice!
As we reach the end of our time, is there anything else that readers should know about Scourge, or you as an author?
Charley: Well, I've got a couple of short stories out in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s fantasy anthologies, if anyone reads those. And I've got a YA-historical that's nearing completion. So don't count on any consistency from me.
Jenn: LoL! Keep us in mind when that YA is finished! I bet Sam will be all over that.
I'd like to thank you, on behalf of Thrice Read Books and our readers, for taking the time to answer some questions for us.
Links for your published work and your social media are down below, so readers can find you.
Charley: And a humongous thank you back at you! Most fun, and truly helpful for getting the word out to potential readers. Here's hoping they like it!
Jenn: May your launch be successful, and your book sales through the roof!
Charley's Social Media:
Check out Charley Pearson's
THE MARIANATED NOTTINGHAM AND OTHER ABUSES OF THE LANGUAGE