Dear Readers: A Letter from Pierce Brown

From the Desk of Pierce Brown

Dear Readers,

It’s strange being a debut author, mostly because of all the questions I’m now asked that I’ve never really asked myself. Who inspired this character? What was your inspiration? Why is your story set on Mars?

I’ve told of mountain climbs in college, bullies in middle school, nights spent staring at the sky, even Greek plays. But I suppose what all of it really comes down to, as it so often does, is childhood. One moment in childhood, to be precise.

Once upon a time, I was terrified of the dark. My father firmly disagreed with the mollycoddling nature of nightlights. So when I lay down to sleep, I prepared myself for siege. Bulwarks of blankets, parapets of stuffed animals. No door could remain cracked. No window shade left parted. When darkness came, I was always prepared. But had I known what was coming on my sixth January, I might not have bothered with the defenses.

In January, four days from my seventh birthday, I found myself lost in the woods of North Carolina. It wasn’t the first time, last time, or only time I would become lost. In fact, come to think of it, there were quite a lot of times. Still are. But back then I was a troublesome kid—one blessed with a large appetite for exploration but a comparatively tiny internal compass.

I’d spent the day building a triangular fort on a wooded peninsula that bulged out over a fast-moving stream. I was so intent on attaching the tarpaulin I’d brought to the top of the fort, that I didn’t realize by the rumbling in my belly or the setting of the sun that the day was fading fast.

Of course I had brought plenty of supplies for the day. Inside the faded green backpack my father had helped me pick out at the army surplus store I had a half-filled canteen of Tang, a stack of dog-eared X-Men comics, rope, nails, a hammer, a small hand saw, extra gloves and four sticks of Slim Jim’s, which were quickly dwindling to three and a quarter. But no flashlight.

My stomach contorted as I realized it was entirely possible I’d be alone in the woods. At night. I packed up my gear and jogged from the fort. But I didn’t know those woods. My family and I had just moved for the second time of an eventual eight.

After wandering for half an hour, I recognized the scratches I’d made in the bark of a fallen tree and remembered the direction from which I’d initially come upon it. I trudged through a dry stream bed, pace quickening as the shadows lengthened and the owls started their night sounds. The winter trees hunched skinny and gaunt like old men. Arms swaying, leafless fingers hissing in the wind. There was no bramble or shrubbery, just knee-high drifts of snow that had shifted enough with fresh powder to hide my tracks.

After twenty minutes or so, I knew I’d gone the wrong way. I doubled back, looking for landmarks. By now the sun had dipped, and the sky had cooled from blue marble to charcoal. My breath came shallow. I jumped at every shift of the branches. Every flutter of wings. Thinking only of a warm house, bean soup and grilled cheese, I ran.

Soon, the wood was dark. Black. Things rustled. Things sang. And singing things fluttered branch to branch, opal eyes staring down at me. I stumbled here and there, not knowing what to do. I’d spent my life afraid of the dark, and here it’d come, steeped in all its strangeness, all its emptiness that I filled with possibilities. Possibilities of ghastly ghouls, three-winged vampire worms, evil centaurs, psychotic clowns, wolfmen and, even worse, manwolves.

I still remember the jackhammering in my chest. The feeling that I could see nothing but all could see me. I’d like to say I grew comfortable in the dark, or at least less afraid of it. Not the case. It scared the piss out of me. It could have been an hour, maybe more till I saw a small light bobbing in the distance and heard my father calling out my name.

He cut through the darkness so well—one of those tall, rangy types with hands calloused from summers of tiling roofs in Iowa. When he found me, he didn’t scold. He didn’t gripe. He just flashed a smile and said sometimes we need to get lost, like it’d been my plan all along.

We reached home. I ate my bean soup and my grilled cheese. I listened to the Adventures in Odyssey audiobook with my parents. I went to bed. But when the darkness came, I didn’t build my nightly fortress. I turned on a lamp, found printer paper, crayons, and began to draw the monsters that had filled the dark corners of the woods.

I kept drawing here and there, but I was never a good artist. In time, I abandoned the crayons for journals, finding words might express things my hands never could. Years later, I abandoned journals for novels. It took me seven before I wrote one that found its way to being published at the end of this month, courtesy of the lovely folks at Del Rey. The novel is called Red Rising, and though it is science fiction and set on Mars seven hundred years distant, I doubt it ever would have come to being if I hadn’t made a habit of getting lost in the dark.

Happy Reading,

Pierce Brown Photo: © Joan AllenPierce Brown

Twitter: @Pierce_Brown

  • Havoth

    This is how to sell me a book. This open letter to potential readers (buyers) made complete sense to me. There were at least 3 phrases I wanted to steal/borrow/surprise someone with. And now I feel like I know the writer, a bit. Thank you for that. With all the offerings on Kindle, Audible.com, and in bookstores in general, as I have less and less time for pleasure reading at all, it gets difficult to decide what book(s) are worthy of my time. I’m a patient person and if I like liked book 1 of the infinite series, I will happily wait for you to write them all and purchase them altogether so I can just read the whole damn story without waiting for the next installment. Because of that I almost hate George RR Martin as much as I love him – who makes that impossible. But I always buy the first book first. Or read it somewhere, some how. But this little insight into a new author has been the best way for me to choose from the overwhelming plethora of offerings from old and new authors out there – because I’m much more likely to buy it, if I know you. I like monetarily supporting people I like. I like supporting independents and rabble-rousers who make me think deeply about anything. And Pierce, you made me think. And so, now I will buy. Thanks SUVUDU, I’m glad I found you.

  • Robert S

    Great story and brings back memories of when I used to play and sometimes get all turned-around in the woods as a child. For a minute there, I thought you were going to have to make camp for the night in your fort. Good thing dad came to the rescue!

  • Havoth – I’m pleased you felt a connection with this and with me. I was lucky enough to have a childhood filled with books and forests. I owe a big debt to my parents for letting me run wild.

    Robert – Your instincts are spot on. But that, my friend, is a story for another occasion.


  • Jennifer

    Ahh, “Adventures in Odyssey” (and “Patch the Pirate”) cassette tapes filled my childhood as well. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing a glimpse into who you are, where you come from, and why you do what you do!

  • Courtney M.

    Excellent way to get new readers interested. Pierce- Your book has been hyped (incessantly) to me by your cousin (Andy). I’m a big Sci-fi fan and this letter proves you’ve got the writing to bring science fiction to life. Can’t wait to buy the book! Thanks!

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