Eric Vincent has been a Philadelphia jazz-punk musician, stage composer, detective, and producer/audio engineer. When he added author to that list eight years ago, he saw a way to combine all those elements into a fictional whole for what became three novels (Urban Warfare, The Satellite Agent, and The Cleopatra Affair), known as the "Pyramider Trilogy."
He released the trilogy all at once on Valentine's Day, feverishly went the all-digital publishing route to control its delivery, and created a companion sound track, in which he played the role of his trilogy's hero, Tristan Boumann, "chief," as he puts it, "of the Pyramider spy-mob."
Boumann "is what I would have become if I hadn't quit the detective biz," Vincent says. "Boumann is a musician, athletic, has consuming fascinations with audio and information theory, practices Ving Tsun Kung Fu, can cook, and is a bit mad."
During the 1980s, Vincent worked for a local firm contracted by the Philadelphia Law Department to find people who didn't want to be found. His work involved "skip-tracing," the tracking of folks on the lam. It was "real spycraft," Vincent says, "stuff City Hall didn't want to get caught doing, with our outside firm as their level of plausible deniability."
The work sounded like family tales Vincent heard of his aunt, who served in the OSS, the World War II precursor of the CIA. He jumped at the independent detective gig. That's how his idea of a freelance spy-mob gelled: "It was a sexy twist on the old CIA spook trope and gave me leeway for concocting unorthodox plots."
Having written songs and composed scores for the local Koresh Dance troupe, Vincent assumed he could write novels ("or be forgiven for trying"). These days, after all, art forms bleed into one another. With knowledge of musical and spy technology, plus zealous naiveté, he wrote like a spaceman flying through a cosmic wormhole.
Vincent's multimedia novels are more like mini-movies than paperbound books. Each has its share of local attractions: now-closed clubs such as Revival, museums such as the relocated Barnes Foundation, car chases through Rittenhouse Square. Each has foreign intrigue: assassinations in Nepal, chaos inside Berlin-Tegel Airport involving rogue gunmen and flash mobs. Each has frenetic action, manic Mamet-like dialogue, and musical cues. When they travel through Philly's immediate past, they offer readers a last glimpse at this city before gentrification.
Urban Warfare features Philly blood rivalries between military intelligence officials and celebrity Mafia princes. In The Satellite Agent, Boumann's musician buddies are caught up in a chase to unravel political vendettas. In The Cleopatra Affair, Boumann's spy-mob searches for the ancient ruler's tomb.
Some publishers balked at releasing the trilogy all at once because they would compete for shelf space - a true brick-and-mortar concept. "Traditional publishing houses," Vincent says, "wanted to mangle Pyramider into something to please everybody."
He decided to take the entrepreneurial approach, producing novels as he sees fit. "The 'Pyramider Trilogy' is inclined toward the vanguard of media evolution, not behind it," he says. The New York Times 2014 review of the Kindle Voyage deemed the device easier to read than paper, which Vincent calls "my tipping point."
Reflecting the Philly punk scene and its DIY ethic, Vincent designed his book covers, published bits and pieces of chapters on his website ahead of time, and produced the sound track (Every Love Story is a Spy Story, which purports to be "by Tristan Boumann," as is the CD cover), sprinkled with references to details in the novels. It's "transmedia storytelling," says Vincent, "where Tristan's music reveals a side of him you won't see in the novels, in a medium beyond text."
Vincent's Pyramider.net is his exhibition space and transit hub, linking to e-book sales on Amazon, "Tristan's album" on iTunes, the Pyramider YouTube channel, a Goodreads author page, and a presence on Wattpad.com, where additional short stories featuring Pyramider characters are already posted.
Vincent's next Pyramider novel will drop in time for the pope's visit in September ("Boumann's crew will watch for trouble on home turf"). He's developing radio-drama audiobooks for the existing novels, recruiting local singer-songwriters to voice various characters, and approaching illustrators to push Pyramider into the motion-comix realm.
Vincent speaks not only for himself, but also for a whole generation of transmedia storytellers: "Everything's connected, like I said."