By Louise Cochran-Mason
California based writer E. Ardell has recently released her first novel The Fourth Piece. It is the first instalment of her Order’s Last Play series. She has been doing lots of promotion—including radio and TV appearances—as well as working on her next book.
She tells Indyfest more about it.
IM: What is The Fourth Piece about?
EA: I love this question, but I also hate answering it, because I’m prone to rambling! I usually tell people: hold on! Let me pull up the summary and then do a dramatic reading. Since I can’t do the dramatic reading…
Here it is:
Admitting what you are will end everything you know. Embracing who you are will start a war… Life is great when you’re good-looking and popular… so long as no one knows you’re a vulatto. Being half-alien gets you labeled “loser” quicker than being a full vader. So it’s a good thing Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence can easily pass for human—until the night of the party. Nothing kills a good time faster than three brothers sharing a psychic vision of a fourth brother who’s off-world and going to die unless they do something. But when your brother’s emergency happens off-planet, calling 9-1-1 really isn’t an option.
In their attempt to save a brother they barely remember, Devon, Lyle, and Lawrence expose themselves to mortal danger and inherit a destiny that killed the last four guys cursed with it. In 2022, there are humans and aliens, heroes and monsters, choices and prophecies—and four brothers with the power to choose what’s left when the gods decide they’re through playing games.
IM: It’s part of a series (Order’s Last Play); when is the next instalment due out?
EA: Hopefully, it will be out around the same time next year (July 2017). If it could be out sooner, that’d be great. However, I have been a naughty writer, so I’m not even done with Book II (The Third Gambit) yet. I hope to have a complete manuscript by the end of November. I’m a fast writer when I just sit down and do it, so I just need to do it, lol.
IM: Can you tell us more about the brothers?
EA: Sure! I love talking about characters, though I do worry about spoilers, lol. So I will try not to do too much of that.
The main characters in this book are three Earth-born brothers, who are also vulattos (half-alien) though they aren’t entirely sure of this fact until the events of the story happen. There’re Devon and Lyle, who are twins, 17 years old, high school seniors.
Devon is an athlete who comes off as headstrong and self-absorbed with this driving need to be as normal as possible. Being popular and well-liked is manna to him, because it distances him from rumors that he may be a passing vulatto (vulattos who look human, and so pretends to be to fit in). It also distances him from his twin brother Lyle, who couldn’t care less about fitting in. Devon’s hiding a power that scares him, and he thinks he controls it well, but every now and then he slips up, and something breaks.
Lyle is a telempath (a telepath and an empath) with telekinetic and some precognitive abilities as well. He hates people, family excluded, because he can’t help but hear their thoughts and feel their emotions and their duplicity makes him sick. He had a telepathic uncle who taught him a few tricks on how to make mental barriers, but the barriers are amateurish and not nearly to protect someone with Lyle’s strong abilities. He’s afraid he’s going to go as crazy as his uncle has and commit suicide one day. When he was 15, he discovered that kissing, hugging, and other things like these can create a temporary state of psychic bliss for him; the emotions he channels from the other person are like large bandages dripped in Novocain for his mind and so, he craves it. He dates a lot, but after a while, the significant others’ thoughts do get to him (as he only chooses what he considers easy marks, so shallow people), and he moves on. He feels alone with no one to talk to about his problems because Devon, his best friend, shunned him when they started high school, and Lyle’s been withdrawn ever since.
Lawrence, the youngest, is a 16-year- old adrenaline junkie. He loves doing stunts that could get him killed, maimed or grounded. If the MTV show Ridiculousness would still be on in 2022, Lawrie (Lawrence) would be on it. He’s a genius, always placed in gifted classes, yet his antics lead his mother to believe he cheated on the IQ tests. He loves taking electronics apart and computer programming. He can paraphrase just about everything he’s ever read and he remembers most details about things he’s seen. He’s the joker of the group, who makes up his own slang and doesn’t care if the world thinks he’s weird. He embraces it, and people seem to love him for it. Sometimes, Devon watches Lawrie and wishes he could be more like him when it comes to just not caring about other people’s opinions. Lawrie doesn’t like to see people hurt or discriminated against and he’s not the kind of person to just sit back and watch. Which is what gets him into the most trouble.
IM: Is the book told from multiple first person POVs (like Dracula)?
EA: Yes, the book is told from the perspective of each brother. I do not POV-switch during a chapter. I hate when books do that, lol. Instead each brother gets a full chapter and the chapter titles are their names, so you’ll know who’s telling the story when.
IM: What are “The Order and the Chosen Four”?
EA: Now, this is a spoiler, lol. Order is a goddess. The world of The Fourth Piece is vast. The brothers know that there are multiple dimensions (different universes), and that they live in a universe full of many different populated planets and galaxies. A lot of the planets are much older than Earth, so the societies are older, and so on. Back in the Prophetic Cycles (a fancy term that can be likened to us saying BCE), many cultures worshipped what are now known as Old World gods (think Greece and Rome). Interplanetary holy wars broke out. Tentative planetary allegiances were formed and a group of exemplary leaders were drawn to a certain place by a power none of them questioned at the time. They met with the goddess Order (her true goddess name is unknown in this book) who had a mission for them. She offered them tokens of great power if they’d do her the favor of killing her son (known as Pandemic, true god name unknown in this book 😉 ). She claims that he’s the reason behind the wars, because his godly influence is tainting people and making them bloodthirsty. She predicts that the leaders she’s chosen, her Champions (Order’s Champions) will succeed in killing her son and will win the war. She gifts three warrior monarchs with weapons, she gives an all-female oligarchy (three women) presents to increase their magic, and lastly, she gives the Four of Rema (Rema is a younger planet but an up-and- coming political power in the recently-formed Silver Allegiance of Planets and the Four, the planet’s newly appointed young leaders, also brothers) stones that enhance their natural abilities. She also gives them the Burden. Their decisions, whether they be right or wrong, big or small, can turn the tide of the war. The Four fail at their task, the war is left unfinished, and so the prophecy came about, claiming that the Four would be reborn and when they returned, the second endgame to determine the outcome of Order and Pandemic would begin.
The Four have been reborn.
IM: Racism and racial discrimination seems to blight the characters’ lives on Earth. Do they face it on the other planets as well (being half human)?
EA: They haven’t actually been to any other planets at this point, but yes. When they do eventually travel, there are races that look down upon humans. But more so than that, there are races who simply resent the boys for who they are and what they represent: a return to holy wars (which were ancient history). People don’t even really believe in the gods anymore by this point, and now this?
One review (Amazon) mentioned an episode— told from the first person POV— where one of the brothers used their abilities to force a woman to touch them. It states that that character was not punished.
IM: Did the reviewer have it completely wrong?
EA: No, she was right. What he did was wrong and he knows it. He doesn’t seem to get punished in this book, because no one knows about it but him, Devon, and Nisse, none of whom are talking about it… yet.
IM: Was it difficult to write something like that from the point of view of the attacker?
EA: Not at all. Mainly because from his point-of- view, he was not attacking. This is another spoiler, but in this particular chapter, the character is at his breaking point and clearly losing it. The character assaulted did have romantic inclinations towards Lyle and did want intimacy but, moments later, was so disgusted by something else he’d done, she changed her mind and wanted to leave. Lyle changed her mind back, making her forget that he’d scared her. At that point, he believed that he was doing them both a favor. He needed the contact to soothe his mind and strained powers and hopefully stave off future insanity, and Nisse had wanted comfort and contact after a traumatic experience. The telempathic bliss Lyle gets from contact goes both ways, so the other party feels as good as he does. However, when it’s over and Lyle releases his hold on Nisse, he’s horrified over his actions, and Nisse remembers what he’d made her forget and knows what he’s done.
IM: Is Lyle’s behaviour here something that he will regret or does it allude to him being a villain?
EA: No. He’s not a villain. He will always carry the guilt, and he doesn’t know what to do to get rid of it. Nisse hates him. He does turn to more destructive means to cure himself and will travel down a dark road. There are also repercussions for what he’s done to Nisse and how he’s misused his powers.
EA: Are you ready for my scroll? Actually, no, the more writers I meet, the more inferior I feel when it comes to qualifications and experience. I have a bachelor’s in psychology and creative writing, and then found out that I could not get a job with those things alone, but hey, I could teach at the college level with a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. So, I applied and was accepted to a few MFA programs, but chose to attend the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast) because they had a program specifically for writers of popular fiction. The program is low residency, so I was only there for a few weeks in the summer and winter, and did the rest through correspondence with the mentors I was assigned to each semester. All mentors are successfully published authors. Upon graduation from Stonecoast, I realized, I STILL couldn’t get a job with my degrees. To teach at the college level, you have to have something called “experience,” along with an impressive publishing history. I had neither, so I enrolled in an alternative certification program and became a high school English teacher. I taught freshman English for a grand total of one year before I quit and went to library school. I’ve worked for two years in academic libraries and three years in public libraries. My current position is at Monterey Public Library. I am the Teen and Reference Services Librarian, and I love it.
This job allows me time to write, keeps me in touch with the YA audience, and gives me networking opportunities and access to multitudes of the newest YA fiction.
That’s my professional career in a nutshell. As a writer, I’ve always written. I wrote my first illustrated short story in first grade, attempted my first novel in second grade, and never quit. I’ve been a member of various writers critique groups and currently host a weekly group in Monterey, CA, an online group, as well as a Teen Writing Club for Monterey Public Library.
IM: Why did you choose to publish under a pen name?
EA: It’s not only a personal decision, but a business decision. It was a personal decision, because I’ve always dreamed of using E. Ardell as my pen name (ever since I was a kid). I love my middle name and used to put “Eboni Ardell” on everything, my letter jacket, my pens, anything that could be monogrammed. Kids at school actually thought Ardell WAS my last name. I’ve never liked the last name Harris. Kids used to tease me (of course :D) and call me Ebenezer Hair-ball among other things (and yes, it took me a long time to like the name Eboni, too). But ever since then, Harris has had a stigma for me, lol.
It was a business decision, because while I was getting my MFA in Creative Writing, one of my mentors, David Anthony Durham, who is also African American, informed me that ethnicity can hurt your sales if you are not writing to an African American niche market. A lot of authors use pseudonyms and initials so that readers will have a harder time determining their gender. I use my pseudonym because it is not only gender neutral, but ethnically neutral.
IM: What do you think the advantage of using a publisher rather than self-publishing your book?
EA: There are a LOT of things I didn’t have to figure out how to do on my own. Cover art, formatting, interior design, editorial services, promotional images, and PR consultation are handled by the publisher. All of these things can be extremely expensive if you’re doing it on your own. Publishers also handle pricing, posting editions on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Apple, etc., the printing of books, discounts for library and bookseller purchases, and finally, peace of mind. I don’t have to worry about forgetting something small… or vital… because the publisher handled it. The publisher even does PR through social media.
I know people who are successfully self-published, but everything falls on them. They have to be so organized, and, if they want to go all out with production and promotions, well-funded. I’m just too lazy for all of that. :D.
IM: You are doing a lot of promotion for The Fourth Piece (readings, panels, signings, and TV and radio appearances). Do you arrange everything yourself or does the publisher (or anyone) assist you with promotion?
EA: The publisher handles some of the social media promotions, but I arranged for the other things myself. Promotion and marketing of a book is no joke. If the author doesn’t stay on it and help out, I don’t think the book will do well. Some of the best promotion I’ve discovered is through word of mouth, and to establish that, you have to get out there. I’m fortunate to have met many wonderful people through writers groups and networks (both online and physically), and at my workplace, who have reached out to help me make connections and book events.
I thought writing the book and getting it published would be the hardest part of the process. I’m finding PR to be the toughest beast instead. You can write a sensational book, but if no one knows about it, no one will buy it.
IM: Do you still write fan fiction?
EA: Haha, I really shouldn’t, because I should be working on Book II in the series, but yes, I still write fan fiction. I have way too much fun writing it. In fact, I had to put myself through fan-fic- writing detox, because I would work on it more than my book. A few years ago, it was a true problem. I was only writing fan fiction and ignoring my original ideas. I secretly think it’s because I was tired of getting rejected by agents and publishers, and being given negative feedback in critique groups. I’d lost confidence in my writing abilities. In the fan fiction world, I earned some validation. Feedback was immediate, and while not all of it was positive, a lot of it soothed my damaged ego. Since then, I’ve grown thicker skin, but still. I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing fan fiction.
IM: Have you written short fiction other than fan fiction?
EA: No, I sure haven’t. I respect anyone who can write short stories, because I can’t. Everything I write ends up being a novel or part of one. I mainly think this is because I just don’t want to write short stories. Why go through all the trouble of creating characters and a new world just to say goodbye in a few pages? It’s not for me. Heck, I have trouble saying goodbye after 400 pages, so I don’t. Everything of mine will always end with the possibility of continuation.
IM: You have a blog, too. Is it specifically about your writing process, or life in general?
EA: You know, the blog is random, because so am I. Sometimes, I talk about writing and editing and how my book’s doing. I talk about the trials and tribulations of book promotion and the kind of music I turn on when I write. Other times, I talk about movies, TV shows, books I’m reading, or random thoughts and actions. Sometimes, I might even talk about an event that happened that day that was just too weird to not say anything about.