Conversation With Rami Ungar

Author Rami Ungar are doing a blog exchange today. He is interviewing me on his blog, and I am interviewing him on mine.  On his blog, I answer the questions you always wanted to know about me, such as how I got into writing and what books I would take with me if I were stranded on a desert island. So be sure to check out my interview: Conversations with Pat Bertram.

Meantime, meet Rami Ungar.

snakeRami, What is your book about?

“Snake” is about a young man (and I mean young) whose girlfriend is kidnapped over the phone. Later events cause him to have a break with his sanity and he becomes a serial killer, determined to hunt down every member of the mafia family that has his girlfriend. It’s a very dark thriller, and it’s very unusual to have the serial killer as a protagonist. I’m hoping that will allow people to enjoy the story more, though. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

What inspired you to write this particular story?

I guess maybe it was the movie “Taken”. Yeah, there are plenty of similarities, but it’s definitely it’s own story. That’s actually what I wanted: I wanted to create a much darker story than “Taken” portrayed, though that was pretty dark in itself. I like to think I’ve succeeded in that respect. We’ll see what the reviewers say.

What was the most difficult part about writing the book?

Probably time and school work. You want to devote all your time to writing, but inevitably things get in the way, and you end up taking several breaks. In the end it took me six months to write this book, though if I’d had more time to work on it, I might have gotten it done in half the time.

Tell us a little about your main characters.

First off, we have the Snake, our very unconventional protagonist. He’s gone through a great change, and it’s why he’s the killer he is now. I purposely did not reveal his real name in the novel, because I wanted to imply that we all could become like the Snake under certain circumstances.

There’s also Allison Langland, my main character’s girlfriend. Unlike other damsels in distress, she’s a bit more proactive. She doesn’t waste away in a cell hopeless or hoping to be rescued. She’s a fighter, and I love that about her. I think that’s also why the Snake loves her, come to think of it.

Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it?

I did plenty of research on New York City, where the story takes place. I also did research on serial killers and psychopathy, the better to understand what sort of character I was constructing. I even had a forensic psychologist and profiler give me his diagnosis on the Snake based on crime reports I created. All in the name of authenticity.

What about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Well, it’s an unusual story, so I think that might get people interested. And if people really take the time to check it out, I’m sure a few of them will end up enjoying the story and identifying with the characters. That’s the hope, anyway.

What are you working on right now?

I’m writing another thriller novel, as well as editing the sequel to my previous novel “Reborn City”. I’m also working on interviews, blog posts, and articles. As usual, I’m busy as a bee.

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I guess I’m aiming for readers who like what I like. That means Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Patterson, with a dash of manga and anime. Don’t know how many people are like that, but I’m trying to find them.

What, in your opinion, are the essential qualities of a good story?

I could probably spend hours philosophizing about that. There are many, many components that are needed to make a good story. But in brief, a good mastery of vocabulary, spelling, and grammar, a good plot and wonderful characters, and hard work will make for a good story.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

Read, write, work hard, and never give up.

Where can people learn more about your book?

Where Snake is available: http://www.amazon.com/Snake-Rami-Ungar/dp/1495434931/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1402622066&sr=8-3&keywords=rami+ungar

Blog: http://ramiungarthewriter.wordpress.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/RamiUngarWriter
Twitter: https://twitter.com/RamiUngarWriter

Questioning the Cops

Strange morning. But then, that’s redundant since my entire life has taken a turn into strangeness.

The cops were here about my brother. They suspected him of turning off a neighbor’s gas as retaliation for her ignoring him after he called her a lewd name. (When my father took a turn for the worse and my sister came to help out, it seems as if my brother had what appears to be a psychotic break from reality. He does things that he completely believes he never did, such as slashing my sister’s tires or calling people awful names.) His turning off their gas created problems with the water heater — which doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they said — and the heater had to sheriffbe replaced. He’s also made forays into other neighbors’ back yards. All that in addition to his “poltergeist” activity around the house, such as banging on windows, incessantly ringing the doorbell, calling through the locks.

The cops wanted to talk to my brother, but I didn’t feel up to dealing with his reprisals, so I said he wasn’t here. The truth is, I knew he wasn’t here — at the first sight of a cop car, he runs and hides, usually some place where he can hear what is going on. They asked if they could come in, and I said no. They seemed surprised at that. There isn’t anything to hide here in the house, but wasn’t a social call, and they hadn’t been invited. So I went outside.

They explained the problem and asked for his last name. I didn’t tell them — it’s not my name to give. Then they asked for my name. I said “Pat.” They wrote that down, then asked for my last name. I didn’t want to give it to them. I explained I was in no way responsible for my brother’s acts, was in no way responsible for him, that he was 64 and a grown man. They said they understood, and asked again for my last name. Again I hesitated, and they said they only needed it for their records to show who they talked to. I told them that in all my dealings with the local cops up to that point, my first name had been satisfactory, and they retaliated by telling me those were not criminal investigations, and this one was. If I didn’t give them my name, I could be arrested for impeding a criminal investigation. So I gave it to them.

Then they asked for my birth date. This really sent alarms through me. My stress level, for reasons I cannot fathom, reached critical levels, and I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes. (Tears seem to be how I process changes and stress.) I said, “So, are you going to be investigating me now?” They said no, and again told me that I could be arrested if I didn’t give them the date. I said it wasn’t fair. Suspects could lie. Cops could lie. But as a bystander I couldn’t. They said that it wasn’t a criminal offense if I lied about checking to see if my brother were in the garage, but that it could be a criminal offense to lie about my birth date.

In all such discussions about my brother with the local cops during the past year, and especially during the past weeks after I began writing my book about a murder at a dance studio, I’d never paid attention to their uniforms, and that would be an important detail for the book. So I studied them. Dark green slacks. Light olive drab shirts. Yellowish-gold “Sheriff’s Department” insignias on their right upper sleeves. Gold deputy stars above their left pockets. Black rectangular nametags above the pocket on the right side. Heavy black equipment belts.

Then I started asking them questions. I figured it was only fair. I told them I was writing a book about a murder that will take place at a local exercise studio and asked what would happen after we called 911. They said officers would show up fairly soon, and the number of officers would depend on how busy they were. They said they’d remove us from the scene, take personal information and fill out a detailed report about our relationship with the deceased, what we’d been doing just previously, if we knew what any of the others witnesses had been doing. Then they’d probably take us to the police station to be questioned by detectives. I asked if we’d each be in a separate car, but they thought we’d probably be taken in pairs with warnings not to talk to each other. I asked if the radio would be on, that in movies, the police radio is always squawking. They said it would be silent so that we wouldn’t be able to get any information. At the police station, we’d probably have to wait for an hour for the detectives to arrive.

I asked for a description of the interrogation room and about the color of the walls. (Cream.) I said one of my detectives would have a lovely first name that I wanted to use for the story, but I noticed they only used the first initial on their nametags and business care. They said it was up to the detective whether she’d give her name or not.

I guess about the only other thing I needed for a sensory description was how the cop car smelled, but I wasn’t about to ask them to let me sit in it to find out. For all I know, they could have used that as an excuse to take me to the station.

One cop told me that as much as he would love to talk about police procedure, he had to get back to business. He said at some point I’d have to have my brother evicted, but as we talked, I learned what I already knew — that in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They would remove him from the premises after the eviction went into effect, and when he came back, they would arrest him, let him go, and when he came back, they’d arrest him, let him go ad infinitum. They told a story about a guy with mental problems who sounded much like my brother. The panhandler had been arrested and let go on a regular basis. This went on for many years without his ever having served jail time. Eventually, the family begged for the cops to arrest him and take him to a penal mental institution.

Luckily, long before we would reach such a point, my father will be dead, and I will be out of here.

But for now, I’m very proud of myself for turning things around and questioning them.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1e

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

“I don’t have any secrets,” Royann said. Royann is our lady in red — not only does she love the color, she is passionate, simulating, impetuous. Her zest for life keeps her on the move and keeps a huge smile on her animated face. But now, beneath her relentless optimism, I sensed a strain, as if she did indeed, have a secret she was keeping even from herself. Or perhaps the strain came from continued dealings with an ex-husband who had divorced her after forty-two years and seven children. He’d hidden their considerable assets so she ended up with only her social security and small pension, and he was trying to take those from her, too. Royann seems radiantly happy now that she’s remarried, and yet there is that telltale strain.

The exotic notes and strong percussion of Arabic music sounded in the studio. Cicy stretched with us then moved to the center of the floor and led us in a series of steps — figure eights with our hips, common motion, hip lifts, rond de jambes. Afterward, we practiced the dance we knew, the one we’d performed on stage.

As we danced, I thought how much I would miss Jan when she was gone, then I paused midstep. What the hell was wrong with me? I wasn’t going to kill Jan for real. It was a story, a game.

Ms. Cicy stopped the music. “You’re not together. When you dance in a group, Pat, the group has to act like one person. Let’s start again.”

To be continued . . .

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1d

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Although I took six classes from Ms. Cicy, I shared only one class with Jan, Arabic dancing. On Tuesday ballet class came first at 10:00am, and Arabic followed immediately after. While some of us were taking ballet, Jan had a different class with a different teacher, and she arrived at Ms. Cicy’s studio right after her other class, already dressed in her belly dance skirt.

Samm usually took ballet, but she missed class occasionally due to other obligations, and the morning I shot Jan’s photo was one of those occasions. A few others whom you have not yet met (I’m trying not to commit the unforgivable authorly sin of introducing too many characters at once, and I am failing miserably) came when their schedules permitted, but I’d never missed a Tuesday class. I don’t know what I hoped for — maybe grace or strength. I was too old to ever become a ballerina and I didn’t have a ballet body or even ballet feet. Ms. Cicy had to keep reminding me to point my toes, and when I stood on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lifted off the ground. Regardless of my shortcomings as a ballerina, I approached the class with all the dedication I could muster. I’d even made myself a black ballet skirt to put myself in the proper frame of mind and body.

After stowing my camera in my dance bag, I unwrapped my ballet skirt from around my waist and donned my orange and turquoise Arabic practice skirt. I stood at the barre and waited for class to begin. Samm found her place at the barre behind me.

“When did all this happen?” she asked.

I turned to face her. “When did what happen?”

“I don’t know how it all started with Jan. Was it your idea?”

Corkey had been silent during the picture taking and the between-class bustle, but now she spoke, sounding surprised at Samm’s question. “You were there. It started a couple of months ago when we all went to see the Trocks.” By “Trocks” she meant Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, a glorious and gloriously funny all male ballet troupe. “When we were at lunch before the show, someone mentioned that Pat was a writer. Jan suggested she write a book about us and even volunteered to be the victim.”

“Oh.” Samm slid one slim leg behind her in a deep lunge and stretched her body forward. “I sat at the other end of the table that day, so I didn’t know.”

“I didn’t know either,” Marilyn said. Marilyn was a quietly cheerful woman who seemed to take everything in stride despite the major losses she had suffered. Or maybe the loss of her husband and best friend had taught her to take things as they came. Either way, she was easy to talk to and easy to be around. “My son and grandson met me that day, and I ate with them.” Her greenish eyes twinkled with pixyish delight. “Maybe we should all tell Pat a secret that will come out during the story.”

Samm continued to stretch, and Corkey drew tendus on the floor with her properly pointed feet. Their so obvious non-response to Marilyn’s suggestion made me wonder what secrets they were hiding. Was it my obligation as a writer to pry out those secrets, or did my obligation as a friend demand that I leave them alone?

To be continued here: Chapter 1e

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1c

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress set at a dance studio where I take classes. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Samm, a lithe woman of unknown years (unknown to me, that is) with wonderfully flawless dark skin, entered the dance studio. She was the type of woman who could randomly pull two or three unmatched items out of her closet and look as if she’d spent hours dressing herself for a Vogue photo shoot. That day she wore her purple practice skirt, which wrapped twice around her hips (mine barely wrapped once, if you must know), a maroon scarf tied into a turban-like affair, and a bluish-purple long-sleeved shirt with the tails tied at her waist. It wasn’t only her age Samm was quiet about, but her earlier years, too. Perhaps she had been a model at one time. Or maybe she had reason to be secretive — a woman with a sordid past.

Samm watched me take the photo of Jan in her death pose below the barre, then asked, “how are you going to get Jan into that exact position when she’s killed?”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” I admitted.

“Maybe she was trying to reach the barre so she could die dancing,” Samm said.

Jan gave a little laugh. “That’s too true to be funny.” Then, more seriously, she added, “Dying while dancing is how I’d like to go out. I just wouldn’t want to die on stage with all those people watching like a friend of mine did.”

Dying to Dance would be a good name for the book,” I said. “Or maybe Sashaying with Death. Or Death en Croix.

“Why does it have to be death.” Cicy said with a moue of distaste. Ms. Cicy is our teacher, a 77-year-old with the body of a woman half her age and the legs of a teenager. When she dances, you can almost see the years melt away, and she is young again.

“Maybe we could call it Ms. Cicy’s something,” I said

Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare.” Cicy giggled, sounding about seventeen. “Maybe you don’t really kill Jan. Maybe I wake up and find that I dreamt the whole thing.”

“Great title,” I said, hoping the teacher wouldn’t notice I didn’t comment on her idea about Jan’s death being a dream. It’s a time honored ending, of course, but I thought if I were going to go through the trouble of killing Jan, it should be for real.

Glee lit Cicy’s beautiful dark eyes. “I could be the murderess. I have experience.”

I felt my jaw drop. Cicy had experience with murder? It seemed impossible that anyone who danced with such expressive moves — moves that spoke of life — could have a history of violence.

“It was a murder weekend,” Cicy explained. “I was the murderess, a princess from a foreign country. I even wore a tiara.”

I blew out a breath of relief, glad I didn’t have to alter my impression of the dance teacher, at least not yet. “But why would you want to murder Jan?”

Cicy exchanged glances with Jan, who had risen and was smoothing her skirt. “Maybe she stole my choreography.”

I understood the need to protect one’s work any way one could, yet in truth, Cicy routinely gave us her choreography. Every step she taught gifted us with her work.

Still, such an irrational theft, as minor as it might seem to the danceless, could be a killing offense, especially if Jan were to give Cicy’s work to a rival instructor. (I’ve lost track of how many dance classes Jan took. Three or four from Ms. Cicy, and at least a couple more from other teachers. In the dance world, such promiscuousness could be motive enough for wanting someone dead.)

I am new to dance, but even I had experienced the deep emotions dredged up by dancing. In just a few short months, dancing had become a need, a pilgrimage, a soul quest.

“Do you know how long it will be before the cops get here,” I asked Jan, thinking how disappointed I would feel if class had to be cancelled.

“A long time. Maybe a couple of hours.”

That seemed excessive to me, but I figured Jan should know since her husband is a retired criminalist.

I looked around the dance studio. The place wasn’t large, perhaps fifteen feet wide by sixty feet long. Mirrors lined one long wall and a barre stretched across the opposite wall. A small nook at the back of the studio had been furnished as a miniscule waiting room, and a corner had been cordoned off with a counter and cabinet for an office. Pictures and posters hung on the walls, but other than that, the studio was empty.

“If we have to stay here for a couple of hours waiting for the cops, we might as well have a class,” I said. “The floor will be mostly bare since Jan’s body won’t take up much room, we’d be dressed for the occasion, and our minds would not yet have processed the truth. I like the idea of a group of aging women dancing in the face of death.”

By this time, the rest of the class had arrived. All eight women stared at me with various shades of disbelief, but I shrugged off their attitude. This was my story, my murder, and I could choreograph it any way I wished.

Jan shook her head with mock sadness. “I am truly hurt that no one will mourn me.”

“Of course, we’ll mourn you,” I told her. “But it will have to wait until after class.”

Jan smiled, but I don’t think she thought my comment funny.

To be continued here: Chapter 1d

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1b

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now. If you’ve missed any of the story to date, you can find it here: Ms. Cicy’s Nightmare

***

Before belly dance class the next week, I asked Jan how she wanted to be killed. Since she’d initiated this lethal game, I thought it only right that she got to choose the means of her demise. So much fairer than the way life works, wouldn’t you say? I mean, few among us get to choose our own end. Life, the greatest murderer of all times, chooses how we expire, whether we will it or not.

Jan laughed at my question and said she didn’t care.

Death is often messy — and smelly — with blood and body wastes polluting the scene, and I did not feel like dealing with such realities. Besides, the murder was to take place at Ms. Cicy’s dance studio, and I didn’t want to be haunted forever after by the scent of a gruesome end for Jan. It would put a damper on the pure joy of dancing, and I couldn’t allow that to happen.

So . . . no blood, body wastes, smells, or any unpleasantness. It would be a nice gentle murder befitting our nice, gentle victim. Poison, perhaps, or a blow on the head. Neither of those means of murder would be particularly gentle on Jan, of course, but then it’s not her sensibilities I’m worried about. After all, she’d be dead and beyond such matters.

I continued to fret over motives. It seemed inconceivable that anyone would want Jan dead, but I kept on with my preparations for her murder. One day I brought my camera to class so I could take a photo of her would-be corpse lying on the studio’s wooden dance floor. When Jan walked into the studio, dressed in her green and beige silk belly dance practice skirt, I asked if she’d play dead for me. I expected to have to take several shots to get the pose I wanted, but she sank to the floor as gracefully as she did everything else, and lay in the ideal pose.

Right then I knew I could kill Jan. She was just too damn perfect.

To be continued here: Chapter 1c

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

MS. CICY’S NIGHTMARE — Chapter 1a

Ms. Cicy's NighmareMs. Cicy’s Nightmare is a fictional work in progress. All the characters have real life counterparts (except perhaps me as the narrator. I’m not sure how real I am). I have everyone’s permission to use their names. Here’s hoping I end up with as many friends at the end of the project as I have now.

***

I didn’t want to kill Jan — it was her idea. I’ve literarily killed hundreds of thousands of people, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to murder one dainty older woman, but the truth is I couldn’t think of a single reason to kill her. She is charming, kind, with a smile for everyone, and the ghost of her youthful beauty is still apparent on her lovely face.

It’s not that I object to killing, you understand. I could easily kill my verbally abusive alcoholic brother, and as a matter of fact, I almost did so today. He broke my bedroom window and screamed obscenities at me while I cleaned up the glass. At one point, I hefted a platter-sized piece of glass and considered Frisbeeing it at his neck, but it seemed like too much trouble. There would not only be the glass to clean up, but all the blood and his dead carcass. So not worth it!

Besides, there’d be no mystery to his death — anyone who heard that relentless verbal assault would understand my need to kill him. The only mystery would be if I could get away with the crime.

Killing someone no one would ever have a reason to kill, like Jan — now, that would be a true mystery. And a challenge.

I blogged about the possibility of murdering Jan, of course. I blog about everything — blogging is my outlet, my support, my discipline. Readers expressed the opinion that killing off one’s friends is a good way of losing those friends, and I had to agree. Alive, Jan is so much sweeter — and sweeter smelling — than she ever would be dead. Besides, I enjoy dancing with Jan, both in the classroom and onstage. (Okay, so our class danced together on stage only once, but it was special for all that.)

The day after I decided not to kill Jan, several of us dancing classmates went to lunch together. When we turned to leave the restaurant after munching on salads and sandwiches, I accidentally swung my dance bag and narrowly missed hitting Corkey, a tanned, elegant blonde a couple of years older and a couple of inches shorter than me.

Corkey deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.”

That cracked me up, and right then I decided I had to follow through with the project. I mean, really — how could I not use such a perfect line?

To be continued here: Chapter 1b

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Doing Things Backward

For all my other books, the story came first, and the cover was a bit of an afterthought, but for my soon-to-be-started writing project — a story of a murder that takes place at a dance studio with all my real life dancing classmates as the characters — I decided I needed the inspiration of seeing the cover. A big thank you to our victim Jan for her so elegant pose (she just sank down to the floor and there she lay in the perfect pose) and to Ms. Cicy for contributing the “Nightmare.”

Ms. Cicy's Nightmare

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The World of Writing as I Know It

Debra Purdy Kong is an established mystery writer with two published series: The Casey Holland mysteries and the Alex Bellamy mysteries. She has her own blog, and she’s also a co-contributor on The Write Type blog, posting marvelous articles about the state of the publishing industry, such as How Social Media Helps, and Hurts, Are Conferences Losing Attendees? and Interesting Info on the State of Publishing.

When Debra asked me to take part in a blog tour that focuses on the writing process, I jumped at the chance if for no other reason than to introduce this fascinating woman. The arrangement is that I answer four questions about writing, then choose three other writers who will do the same. So I choose . . . you and you and you! All you have to do is answer the following questions on your blog and add a link back to me.

#1) What Am I Currently Working on?

Right now, I’m still concentrating on posting a blog a day, and I’m working on a non-writing project. That project should be finished in about three weeks, and then I will begin writing a new novel, something fun and whimsical. It started when my dance class suggested I write a book about them. One woman even volunteered to be the victim, though I can’t imagine why anyone would want to kill her. She is lovely, charming, and utterly delightful. I wasn’t going to write the story since it seemed a good way to lose a lot of friends, but at the lunch the other day, I almost whacked one of my classmates with my dance bag, and she deadpanned, “I’m not the one who volunteered to be the murder victim.” So I decided to write the book. I mean, how could I not use such a perfect line?

#2) How Does My Work Differ From Others of Its Genre?

Light BringerI don’t really write to a genre. Libraries and bookstores used to be set up with a mystery section, a romance section, a science fiction section, and then all the rest of the novels. That’s what mine are — one of “all the rest.” (When I’m forced to name a genre, I say suspense/mystery because my novels fit better in that category than any other.)

The disheartening aspects of not having a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, and vivid word pictures that exist only in my books.

Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet — a planet of doom — is fact.

#3) Why Do I Write What I Do?

I write what I do because those stories captured my attention and kept it during the long months it takes me to write a novel. I know I’d be better off if I tried to write books that would capture the attention of a large readership, but I can only write what I’m enthusiastic about.

#4) How Does My Writing Process Work?

Seems silly, I know, in this electronic age, but I write fiction in pencil on loose-leaf paper. (I have a better mind/writing connection using pencil and paper than I have with a keyboard; a mechanical pencil is easier on my fingers than pen, and paper is easier on my eyes than a computer screen.)

I don’t know the entire story before I writing, but I do know the beginning, the end, and some of the middle. That way I can have it both ways: planning the book and making room for surprises.

I need to know a bit about the hero, but most of the time I get to know the characters the same way a reader would — by the way the characters act. I also need to write the story in the order it happens — it’s more satisfying for my logical mind and easier to keep track of — but if I get to a place where I know something happens without knowing what, I will skip it and go back later when I know what is missing.

So, there you have it. That’s how I write.

What about you? What are you currently working on? How does your work differ from others of its genre? Why do you write what you do? How does your writing process work?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

On Writing: The Importance of Setting

Novel WritingDeborah J Ledford, in “Captivating Settings,” a section from Novel Writing Tips and Techniques From Authors of Second Wind Publishing, stresses the importance of setting, of putting readers at ease and giving them a visual at the beginning of each chapter, especially the first time the location is presented. As the author of the popular Deputy Hawk/Inola Walela thriller series, Deborah J Ledford knows what she is talking about. We do need to be aware of our surroundings.  In real life, if we were to awaken in an empty room — or heaven forbid, hanging in empty space — with no indication of where we are, even the most equanimous would be uncomfortable. The rest of us, of course, would be panicked out of our minds.

Although being unacquainted with where we are in a story wouldn’t panic us, it would prevent us from settling into the novel. We’d be searching the pages warily wondering where we are and even worse, wondering if we want to continue reading.

In the past couple of days I had the dubious honor of reading the first chapters of two new books on the market, and combined, they show the importance of setting a scene and doing it properly.

The first book had absolutely no setting. It was as if the characters were hanging in the air, held to the page only by the thin strings of their words. There was no “there” there, and I had no desire to keep reading. If the writer didn’t care enough about me as a reader to let me know where I was, I certainly didn’t care about the story.

The second book had too much setting, describing the initial scene at great length with lots of awkward constructions using “had”s and “you”s, and meanderings into the past, that I had no interest whatsoever in the story, even though I did know where I was. Instead of describing the setting using vague and anecdotal constructions, she could have used the setting in a more dynamic way, evoking mood, atmosphere, making the setting part of the action. Most importantly, she should have searched for a couple of telling details — the sights, sounds, smells, feel, tastes that evoke the entire feeling of the setting.

In the 1980s, bookracks in grocery stores were full of gothic romances. Perhaps you remember seeing those covers: a brooding mansion in the background, a woman in a diaphanous gown running away from the house, looking back at it in fear. Despite their triteness, those were dynamic covers: the pictorial description of the house, the effect on the character (fear), and how the character reacted (running away.) Written description can be as vibrant as those covers; it just means taking the description a step further and filtering it through the senses of a character.

In this example from my novel More Deaths Than One, we already know that Bob and Kerry are in a hotel in Bangkok, but now we get an impression of the hotel room from Kerry’s reaction.

Bob opened his eyes, then squeezed them shut against the light. From the heaviness of the air and the brightness of the day, he presumed it was mid-morning. He opened his eyes again and this time managed to keep them open.

He turned his head toward Kerry. She lay on her back, hands behind her head, eyes focused on the ceiling. Following her gaze, he realized she was staring at one of the ubiquitous green lizards. Her body vibrated with excitement.

He smiled to himself. Leave it to Kerry to be thrilled with this small reminder they were no longer in Colorado.

“Isn’t this great?” she said in a hushed voice. “We have our own private watch lizard.”

Bob brushed away a fly buzzing around his head. “We could use a few more.”

Later, the description of the hotel becomes an integral part of the Bob’s worry.

The hotel was built around a courtyard accessible from all the rooms. Bob took his breakfast out to the courtyard, but couldn’t enjoy the fountain, the bushes, the flowers. He kept stealing glances at the windows, wondering if anyone was watching him.

When dark clouds rolled across the sky, pushing a stifling humidity before them, he took refuge in his room. It did not have air-conditioning, but the slowly revolving ceiling fan offered a modicum of relief.

He paced the floor, feeling as if he were a stranger in this land. It didn’t matter that he had lived here for sixteen years, he realized; any place would seem alien when he wasn’t with Kerry. She was his home.

He tried not to worry about her all alone on the streets, but as time passed, the worry grew too strong to ignore.

Then the rains fell. There was no light spattering gradually increasing in intensity as in Colorado, but an abrupt opening of the skies as if someone had turned on a spigot.

Because of the emotions evoked, the brief descriptions in no way stop the forward movement of the story.

Other posts you might be interested in:

Describing a Scene in an Interesting Way
Describing a Winter Scene
Describing a Winter Scene — Again
Describing a Winter Scene — Again. And Yet Again.
Describing the Nondescript

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

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