Recently, I published the third book to my Cult Trilogy. So now that I have a trilogy under my belt, I’d like to share a few thoughts about the format. A little later in this post, I’ll share the first chapter of The Track To Redemption.
A Trilogy Has a Way of Writing Itself
I’m not saying that writing a trilogy doesn’t take some hard work. It does. I discovered once I’d written the first book, A Train Called Forgiveness, the rest of the story just began to fall into place. It still took several years to write, but I felt confident that the story would find its way. That doesn’t mean I had every detail figured out in advance. It was a journey.
A trilogy gives the writer a chance to develop characters and then take them in a variety of directions. I like what Adrian McKinty says about the trilogy form. If you’ve read my first two books, you know I established characters in the first book, took them down dark roads in the second, and you’ll be in for a surprise in the third book.
The More You Write, the Better You Get
My editor told me that my third book is the best of the three. That gives people a reason to read the whole trilogy, right? I’d like to think the first two books are good books in their own right, too. It only makes sense that writing improves with time.
In the third book, I took a different approach. The first two books have Andy Burden, the protagonist, telling the story in first-person narrative. The Track To Redemption offers another viewpoint. Both Andy Burden, and antagonist, Peter Smith, tell the story. It allows the reader to get into the minds of both characters. Enough about writing the story. Let me give you a little taste…
Introducing the Third Book of The Cult Trilogy
“I don’t care how you do it. Just keep him scared. But don’t chase him off. I want him alive when I get out of the joint. This Burden is mine!”
“Yes, Peter. But how?”
“Read his books. Learn his weaknesses. Keep him scared, but don’t touch him. He’s mine.”
“You can count on me, Peter.”
“Your time’s up, Smith.”
“The boss man says my time’s up. I’ll call next week, same time.”
Oh, it’s you. Now that I’ve got your attention, I’d like to talk to you. I’d like you to hear my side of the story. Why is it that the hero always gets to tell the story? How do you know whether they’re telling the truth? Heroes have awfully big egos to support and I wouldn’t put it past them to embellish things a bit. You blindly accept what Andy Burden says? Guess what? Everybody has an agenda, even Andy.
People, down deep, are self-centered. Every one of us wants what’s going to benefit ourselves the most. Agendas aren’t always bad. Some agendas are created to benefit others. Take my own, I’ve always wanted to help others. But Andy Burden is only in this for his own glory. Hitler had an agenda, too. He killed thousands of people. I’m not so bad. Andy’s given me a bad rap.
If you haven’t guessed by now, I’m Peter Smith, the alleged cult leader that you’ve heard so much about from Andy Burden. No doubt you’ve read his other books if you’re reading this one. If you haven’t, I’d recommend them if you like good fiction. But if you’re looking for truth? Well, that’s a different story, altogether.
My real name is Peter Rinaldi, also known as Julian Cross for a time. I’ve had a few other aliases over the years. Being a leader can have its downfalls. One lie and your reputation is shot. You have to change your name, start over. For this story, we’ll just stick with Smith for the sake of simplicity.
Life has been uneventful since last summer for the Burdens. I’m back in Port Angeles teaching at Peninsula College. Annabelle started the fifth grade. She’s still practicing karate. She’ll be a black belt soon. Charlie limps. Poor dog. Ever since Jimmy Rinaldi stomped on his hip, he’s never been quite the same. He’s healing, but he’ll never run like he used to. I wish somebody would stomp on Jimmy Rinaldi’s hip.
After the train wreck that derailed his conspiracy, I spent weeks worrying that Peter Smith might rat me out to the cops. He didn’t. I was glad. I didn’t want to deal with all the attention and complications that would have come with being involved in an FBI investigation.
The actual investigation was short-lived. I read about it on the Baltimore Sun’s webpage. There was no trial. Peter pleaded guilty to falsifying death records and insurance fraud. His lawyer struck a plea bargain: Five years in a minimum-security prison. The lawyer argued that, because Peter was paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair, he wasn’t going anywhere. He played the sympathy card. It worked.
“This poor man is already 70 years old and has been paralyzed after being hit by a train. Have a little pity, Your Honor, and give Mr. Smith half a chance at having a few years of freedom before he dies. It’s the only decent thing to do.”
The judge, not knowing the details of Peter Smith’s history, bought the argument and went easy on Peter.
Of course, I’m in prison. What else could I do? The FBI had all the records they needed to prove me guilty. That’s right. It’s true. I faked my death back in 2000. I was tired of being haunted by my past life in Washington state. I moved to Arkansas to escape my previous reputation. But a rape conviction has a funny way of following a guy around. With all you’ve heard, you’d probably never believe me if I told you I’ve never raped a soul. That’s true, too. I hope you’ll give me a chance to prove it to you.
Anyway, I wanted a fresh start. I paid off a doctor and a funeral home back in Sunnyvale, Arkansas. I spent a good chunk of money to be dead! The doctor claimed I died of heart failure in the hospital room and signed the death certificate. Joshua Larson had rushed me in that morning and then acted as a witness to my death. The funeral home sent an empty casket to Rolando, New York. My brother Jimmy wrote a fake obituary and put it in the Rolando Reporter. My wife Amy cashed in on my life insurance policy for half a million dollars. The money came in handy. You’d be amazed at how easy the whole thing was to pull off. And I’d still be doing well if it wasn’t for that little shit, Andy Burden.
Last night I thought I heard something outside my window. At first, I figured it was just the wind. But then I listened more closely. It was faint, a whisper. I’m trying to convince myself that it’s just my mind playing tricks on me. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve heard voices in my head. I’ve struggled with paranoia since I was in my mid-20s. It goes back to my childhood. I was indeed the victim of a cult. I was repeatedly told bad things were going to happen to me and my eternal soul if I ever betrayed the leader, Peter Smith. In the end, I did betray him, and those threatening voices have stuck with me for years. If you’ve been following my story you already know about all that. If you haven’t, I wrote a book about it: A Train Called Forgiveness. Sales have shot through the roof in the past year. My second book, At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy, was just released last spring. It’s off to a good start, and I’m retiring from teaching in June.
The voices have me a little worried. With age, I’ve learned to ignore them to an extent, but sometimes they sound so real. I thought they’d gone away. I haven’t heard them much for the past ten years. But last night I woke suddenly. Something had startled me. I looked at the clock. It was 12:34. That’s when I heard the voice:
“Peter Smith is coming, Andy. You can’t escape. He’s coming for you.”
The voice was ever-so-faint. But that’s how it always starts. Then it usually gets worse. It magnifies.
Andy Burden! That son-of-a-bitch just left me to die. I’d been hit by a train for God’s sakes. He didn’t help me. He didn’t even call 911. He just left me there at the side of the tracks, helpless, bleeding to death. When I get out of this joint, I’m going to teach him a lesson. I’m going to fuck him up.
He should be the one behind bars. Can you believe it? Fleeing an accident scene like that? I know, I know. From everything you’ve heard about me, you probably hate my guts. Meanwhile, you have placed Andy Burden on some kind of pedestal. But how much of what you’ve heard is true? And of what is true, how much has been exaggerated? You don’t have a clue about my life. You don’t know what I’ve been through, the things I’ve suffered. You’ve judged me based on one man’s story. Do you know what it’s like to spend years in prison? And for what? False accusations? Lies? Betrayals?
Sometimes I feel like I deserve to hear those voices. Sometimes I feel like I deserve the torment. I walked away from a man whose car had just been slammed by a train. His body was thrown from the car, and he was crumpled up and helpless on the ground. What kind of man am I? I left the scene without calling for help. Peter was right. I’m a coward. But I’m more than a coward. Part of me felt good, watching him suffer. Something dark and evil inside of me gloated over the sight of his pain and misery. What kind of man does that? I know it was his fault. He was the one chasing me at high speeds, but I was the one who left him for dead. And then I had the guts to write and publish a book about it? But I felt like I had to. The story needed to be told.
Still, I write these stories and I paint myself the hero. But in the end, perhaps I’m just as bad as Peter Smith. I had no respect for his life. I left him to die. And then I had the gall to judge him? I even have the gall to judge other Christians as if I’m better than them. I once wrote a song with J.T. Turner, a friend from Nashville: Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged. What a hypocrite! Yeah, maybe I deserve to suffer. Maybe it’s God’s punishment. It’s no wonder God has plagued me with these demons. It’s my own damn fault. My foolish actions have brought them on.
* * *
I hope you’ve enjoyed the first chapter of The Track To Redemption. You can learn more about my entire Cult Trilogy on my Books & Music page. You can pick up the entire trilogy in either paperback or kindle format at Amazon. The first two books are also available as an audio book and the third book will be available in the audio format in the near future.
I’ll be posting two more free chapters from my third book, The Track To Redemption, as a free gift, throughout the remainder of this year. Next year, I’ll be making a format change at danerickson.net. I encourage you to keep checking back to see what’s new.