Who Is Pepper?

Who is Pepper Harding? Of course, that's me. Why am I such a mystery? Well, I don't want to give too much away too soon. But I will say that The Heart of Henry Quantum may, or may not, be my first novel. OK, that wasn't too revealing, although it is absolutely true that The Heart of Henry Quantum will be published in October 2016 by Gallery Books. I think I'm excited about this, although nervous might be a better adjective. As Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay once said, "A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him."

So, here I go – pants down.

Over the next few months, I'll be blogging and sharing my thoughts, secrets and clues to who I am with you. In the meantime, I have permission from my publisher to give you a sneak peek into the opening of my novel and into my hero's mind, by sharing the first few paragraphs of "The Heart of Henry Quantum." For now, I, Pepper, shall remain cloaked in mystery. But Henry – as the expression goes – well, he's an open book.


Chapter One

My friend Henry Quantum, whom everyone called Bones because he was so tall and thin, and because Dr. McCoy was his favorite character from Star Trek, had a single task that day, and that was to buy a Christmas present for his wife. Having put this off for several weeks (or months, actually), and having noted with alarm when checking his iPhone for updates from the Huffington Post that the twenty-third of December had arrived without the purchase of anything at all, not even a stocking stuffer, he knew he had no choice but to go shopping.

It was a workday, so there were a few other things on the agenda, but in terms of mission only one: make Margaret happy. He had already settled on a bottle of Chanel No. 5—and decided where to get it, too: at Macy’s; and he also figured that the best time to get it would be first thing in the morning so that he wouldn’t have to worry about it the rest of the day. All this he decided in a panic upon waking, but, having made his decisions, a kind of peace descended upon him and he entered the shower with a happy heart. Done, done, done, and done! he told himself.

However, when he reached for the soap his hand froze midgrab because the water bouncing off his shoulders made him think about the miraculous impermeability of his own skin, and this made him think of the wonder of nature, which, when he thought about it, included the entire cosmos, and thus the Hubble telescope came into his mind and the pictures of the galaxies he had seen at the NASA booth at the Sausalito Art Festival back in September, particularly the Sombrero Galaxy, which actually did look like a sombrero, and this led him to recall something that had been drilled into his head since junior high school, namely that light travels at 186,000 miles per second, and when you look at a distant object, like, say, the Sombrero Galaxy, what you are actually seeing is how the object appeared millions of years ago (in the case of the Sombrero Galaxy, thirty million years) and not how it is now; in fact, who could say what it looks like now? For all anyone knew, it could already be colliding with our own galaxy, because a lot can happen in thirty million years, and when he thought about that, he just couldn’t quite reach the soap dish, just as he could never get to the Sombrero Galaxy even if he had the power to transport himself there instantaneously, because the galaxy that he envisioned no longer existed. In fact, everything outside of himself was happening in the past—that soap dish, for instance—it was already over, done, finished, kaput, history. He had been a sometime practitioner of Zen and was always going on about living in the present—the breath of the present, they called it—but now he had to admit he could never achieve that goal no matter how hard he tried. No one could achieve it, not even the Buddha himself. He stepped over the lip of the tub and the velour of the bath mat felt the same as it always did, soft and welcoming, only now he realized it was an illusion. It used to be soft and welcoming, a nanosecond ago. But now? Who knew?

He threw on his robe and marched into the kitchen. Margaret looked up from her oatmeal and said, “What now?"*

*Excerpt ©Galaxy Books 2016