Army analyst lives not-so-secret identity as techno-thriller novelist
By NANCY MONTGOMERY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 7, 2018
VICENZA, Italy — By day, Lt. Col. Joe Shimerdla studies spreadsheets and writes military journal articles. “Setting the Theater — A Definition, Framework, and Rationale for Effective Resourcing at the Theater Army Level” is his most current.
By night, the U.S. Army Africa analyst and former CH-47 Chinook pilot writes what many would find more engrossing.
“They’re watching you,” a disheveled stranger tells the protagonist at the start of his novel “The Eighth Day.”
“Nothing you know is real ... Your name isn’t Shawn Jaffe. You aren’t from Ohio, and you’re not an investment broker.”
Shimerdla, known as Joseph John to readers of his dystopian techno-thrillers, has written two novels and self-published them on Amazon — all while climbing through the Army ranks in two different career fields.
“I’d get off work, go home and basically write until it was bedtime,” he said.
He’d write on weekends, even when he and his wife took a cruise.
“Every day, I’d write two pages at least,” Shimerdla said. “I think one of the keys to success is consistency.”
His science fiction novels, which sell as e-books and paperbacks, have netted him fans and about $6,000 a year, he said.
“I hope they make this a movie with Ryan Reynolds as the star ... Stop what you’re doing and read this book!” wrote one reader last year about “The Eighth Day.”
His second book, “Democracy Inc,” in which the world is run by elite corporate chiefs who clone themselves to live forever, “sinks the hook in early ...,” another reader wrote.
But the author also has critics: “It was a dark and stormy night, and the Chief got up and said it was a dark and stormy night,” one commenter panned.
Shimerdla, 42, has been a science-fiction fan since reading his first novel as a child — Stephen King’s “Cujo” — and said the genre provides him with an imaginative outlet.
“I love creating worlds,” he said. “Dystopias interest me. There are different ways the world could go.”
But he didn’t pursue a career in the arts. The U.S. Military Academy graduate and native Midwesterner’s first career was as a Chinook helicopter pilot. The Chinooks at the time were not technological marvels.
“I flew with a map on my knee,” Shimerdla said. “I used a protractor.”
He volunteered to deploy to Iraq, taking a nonflying assignment in 2008 as protocol officer for Gen. David Petraeus.
“I had to learn seating arrangements, how the flags go...” he said. “I had to learn a lot of things.”
In his downtime in Iraq, he worked on the novel he’d begun four years earlier. It had taken him so long to complete that much of the technology in the story needed to be updated.
“It was obsolete,” he said. “I didn’t have cellphones.” He did a rewrite.
A similar thing happened to his Army career.
By 2013, after several nonflying positions, almost six years had passed since he’d piloted a helicopter. A new Chinook model with an advanced flight control system had been introduced. They would have had to send me back to flight school,” Shimerdla said.
Instead, he became an analyst in U.S. Army Africa’s operations research and systems analytics division. The division’s four employees measure progress in the command’s activities in Africa and suggest future approaches.
“Say you want to build a peacekeeping operations center. We look at — do we need more resources? A shift in our focus?” Shimerdla said. “It’s a really cool mission.”
After 19 years as an Army officer, he said he has no plans to quit his day job.