Isaac Asimov meets Charles Dickens with a dash of Jonathan Swift…
In a world that is a science experiment gone horrifyingly wrong, scientist Audrey Novak awakes from a centuries-long sleep to discover that her work has been used to create an appalling world. Aided by commoners, bots, and another refugee from 20th century America, Audrey takes on the power elites on Earth and on the Moon in a novel that is equal parts adventure, science gone haywire, and rollicking humor. ?
A sampling of acclaim for John L. Sheppard
“Sheppard’s characters pretend not to be funny, to not be emotional, to not need each other, when of course, they are and they do. There’s a clarity to the chaos, the restraint, the vulnerability Sheppard creates, something so human and essential you can’t help but turn the page.”
“…an easy affection for his characters and a sense of natural, unforced humor.”
“…You have a good time seeing someone have a bad time. It’s fun…”
“…raw feeling and taut smart prose.”
“The author grips you from the beginning, I couldn’t have put it down if I wanted.”
What I Owe
In a few days, All Saints Day will roll around again, as it does every year. This year, it would have been my sister Nancy’s 50th birthday.
On May 27, 1992, Nancy was shot dead in a Pizza Hut in Brandon, Florida along with a co-worker. That day was my mother’s 54th birthday. I’d moved in temporarily with my mother in between stints at grad school. I remember a lot about that day—and the weeks, months and years that followed.
I remember answering the door and the uniformed male cop accompanied by a plainclothes female cop who asked to speak to my mother. I remember my mother’s scream. I remember calling my brother Tom up, he was at work, and having to tell him that Nancy was dead.
I remember Nancy’s husband. I remember him being acquitted by a jury of his Florida peers, and seeing a breakdown of how his attorneys managed to do it on “Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.” I remember Nancy’s three kids, who I hope have somehow managed to grow up to be like her.
All of this I’ve written about, over and over and over, hoping each time that I write it, this will be the last time and somehow I might achieve this closure guff I hear people talk about. Closure. That would be some kind of all right.
But there is no closure when you write about death, about the absence of someone who was…
I don’t even know where to begin to describe who and what Nancy was, and continues to be, to me. We grew up together as a matched set of two people. She was my best friend. I didn’t make friends as a kid because I didn’t need friends. I already had one, and one was plenty. All that either one of us had to do to communicate with the other was arch an eyebrow, or cluck a tongue. She is the measuring stick that I use to judge other people. She was…
I hear a joke and I think, she would think that’s funny and I want to tell it to her. I ache to tell it to her here in the now. I write because of her. Everything I’ve ever written is for her entertainment, even though the intended audience is no longer present. Before her murder, I never could have imagined life
without her, and I still can’t, and yet here I am living that life with her absence lingering nearby, always.
It’s not just her absence, it is also my failure to protect her. A big brother is supposed to protect his little sister. What could I have done differently? Shouldn’t I have known that something was wrong?
So what do I owe her, she who is absent but always nearby? How do you honor the dead, if you are the one who has to go on living? I tried to answer that with Small Town Punk, by painting a portrait of her as a living, breathing, completely alive and complete human being. Snarky, funny, flawed. Even people who hated the book loved the character based on Nancy: Sissy. I always have a copy of Small Town Punk nearby because she is inside it. I press that book into people’s hands not out of egotism, but because I want them to meet her, my sister… my best friend. I want everyone to meet her. In that way, she can live on in their minds when I am dead and gone.
I wrote Small Town Punk in 2002, finishing shortly before the tenth
anniversary of her death.
Since then, my mother Rita died a horrible, painful, prolonged death from cancer.
I entered into a doomed marriage.
Near the end of that marriage, I had become overly sensitive to sounds, especially the canned laughter that comes out of TV shows. It unnerved me. In the tiny condo where we lived with my wife’s sister and her cats and our dogs, the TV never went off. I felt caged, trapped. I wrapped pillows around my head. I took ungodly amounts of Tylenol for my cluster headaches, which were almost a daily occurrence.
I need silence. I need alone time. I need to be sequestered within myself.
Those few who actually know me know that I am someone who keeps the tender emotions—joy, sadness, love—hidden. I find it unseemly to display them, even though they are in there, waiting for their moment.
Another thing: I could be on fire, the flesh melting off my body, and I would tell people if they asked, “I’m fine.” It’s my automated response to any inquiry about my well-being.
That said, I’m fine—really. I feel pretty good about myself and about the future.
I took my mother to lunch at the Palmer House downtown once many years ago. This was before Small Town Punk came pouring out of me, before I got married, and, obviously, before Mom’s fatal fight with cancer. Mom, while getting sloshed on Manhattans, said, “Look around you. Look at all these people. Who knows what they’ve been through? Who knows what they’re going through right now?” She always made me imagine other people’s pain, even if that pain was only in her imagination.
So, to get back to my question, what do I owe Nancy—my sister, my best friend? My life. If she is not here to live then, damn it, I’ve got to do it for the both of us.
So I’m done with all this death stuff. I no longer mine my misery for stories. That vein is tapped out. I’ve left it behind.
We’ve all wondered, I think, about what we would do differently if we had a chance to go back in time. It’s obvious what I’d do.
So last year, I wrote a book (After the Jump) with that as the main premise. The character I created for that book, Dr. Audrey Novak, ended up charming me unexpectedly, so I wrote a new one, Explosive Decompression, which is full of adventure, romance, thrills, laughs, and good triumphing over evil. I
feel compelled to write more books with her as the main character. She’s full of life. I think Nancy would like her a lot.
John L. Sheppard wrote the novels After the Jump, No Brass, No Ammo and Small Town Punk.
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