Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER

Description of Light Bringer by Pat Bertram :

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? What do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area? And how does Jane fit into the puzzle?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

Realizing Mac was waiting for her reaction, Jane said in a noncommittal voice, “You saw a UFO.”

Mac winced. “UFO? No. An FO. There was nothing unidentified about it. I knew exactly what I saw.”

“An extraterrestrial space ship,” she said flatly.

“Of course not, and aliens didn’t abduct me, either. It happened right after I closed on this property. Unable to sleep, I drove out here and was leaning against my rental car looking at the stars when the crescent flew directly overhead. I could see it as plainly as I’m seeing you right now.

“The craft was about fifteen feet in diameter, made of a composite ceramic. A remarkably conductive amalgam of the most refined copper and the purest silver coated its underside, turning it into an electrical circuit offering no resistance to the wave of electromagnetic energy it floated on. It was absolutely silent, sweeping in ions from its flight path, like a whale feeding on plankton. The ionized air around it glowed, giving it an unearthly look, but it was very much terrestrial in origin.”

Jane lifted her hands and let them drop. “How could you learn all that from one brief sighting?”

“I was part of a team working on a craft exactly like it, only we hadn’t been able to get ours off the ground, at least not then.”

She regarded him warily.

“I’m not insane,” he said, answering her unvoiced question. “I’m an aerospace engineer, retired from the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.”

It took a minute or two for the significance of his story to register. “I see. You think Stellar Optics was a cover for a space telescope project, which was a cover for the real project—the development of a flying saucer.”

He didn’t respond, but he didn’t contradict her, either.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

LBBecka Johnson had been abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Chalcedony, Colorado when she was a baby. Now, thirty-seven years later, she has returned to Chalcedony to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? Why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen? Who is Philip, and why does her body sing in harmony with his? And what do either of them have to do with a shadow corporation that once operated a secret underground installation in the area?

Excerpt from Light Bringer:

As Special Assistant to the Director of Logistics and Deployment, Teodora, also known as The Fixer, had the best and brightest operatives the department had to offer. Intelligence agencies all over the world recommended their top young agents, hoping to cement their relationship to the powerful organization. The Deputy Director of the FBI himself had written recommendations for Keith Derrick and Hugh Wittier, mentioning their athletic accomplishments, superior scholastic standings at their respective Ivy League Universities, and exceptional performances at the FBI academy.

Teodora studied the two handsome young men visible on the split screen of her computer. They might have impressive pedigrees and extensive training, but they were unskilled liars. She didn’t even need the voice stress analyzer built into her computer to tell her they were deviating from the truth; changes in the size of their pupils and arrested movements of their hands betrayed them. Unfortunately, she could not tell which specific incident they were lying about; their involuntary reactions had begun as soon as Keith opened his mouth to give the report.

They would not be concerned with her knowing they had presented themselves as NSA agents; all her operatives used whatever tools were necessary to get the job done. They would not be concerned with her knowing about the stolen car; they had reported it immediately. They would not be concerned with her knowing the subject had apparently been expecting them or that he had assumed they were interested in the books he read. That left the man—the tall bearded man wearing dark sunglasses and a green tracksuit—who had come out of the bedroom aiming a pistol.

If this gunman did exist, who was he? The subject had no close friends. They only knew about Emery Hill because the operatives found a note wedged in the rear of a desk drawer when they had gone back and combed the apartment.

If the gunman did not exist, how had the subject escaped? And why? Hugh and Keith had been sent simply to ask him what he knew about his mother’s cousin and her ward.

Teodora made a mental note to have her computer technicians look deeper into the subject’s background, then gave the operatives her undivided attention.

Hugh stared out at her from the computer screen. “Why are we looking for these women?”

“They have information.”

“We still have not found out what Hansen knows about them,” Keith said, “and the only item we found in his apartment that might be germane is the photograph album we sent you.”

“Is your fax machine set up?”

Keith nodded.

She faxed them one of the photographs her technicians had altered to show what the females might look like today. Keith reached for the fax, scrutinized it, then handed it to his partner.

A faint line appeared between Hugh’s brows. “I saw the younger woman walk by the coffee shop in Chalcedony.”

Keith snatched the picture and gave it a second look. “I didn’t see her.”

Hugh lifted one shoulder in a barely perceptible shrug.

Teodora made certain that her expression remained blank, but she could not keep her heart from beating faster.

“Find her,” she said.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

Epub (Apple iPad/iBooks, Nook, Sony Reader, Kobo)

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

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.

Cliché, Classic, Cheat, or Convention?

I’ve been collecting mystery genre clichés to use in a whimsical mystery story. Some of the suggestions people have given me are true clichés — clues, characters, or plot devises that have been so overused they hold no surprise anymore. For example, “the butler did it.” The butler was such a ubiquitous character in older mysteries, and such an unobtrusive character, that the choice of the butler for villain was innovative the first time or two, but it quickly became clichéd. After the butler as villain became prevalent, there came a series of mysteries where the butler was the first suspect, but he was so obvious because evebutlerryone knew the butler usually did it, that he was quickly dismissed as a suspect, but the wily detective eventually discovered that it was, in truth, the butler. Then there were the mysteries where the butler became the detective. Now, of course, any use of a butler is clichéd, but it doesn’t matter because no one has a butler anyway. I suppose it would work if a character was named Butler. Hmmm. Might be a possibility for my mystery. Could be a fun gag if nothing else.

A convention is the way something is done. For example, in a mystery there must be a mystery, otherwise it wouldn’t be a mystery. There must be someone trying to unravel the mystery, and there must be clues, false trails, and various other common conventions that make up a mystery novel. And especially there must be a satisfying ending to tie up all the story threads. Just because these elements are in all mysteries, it doesn’t make them clichés. A cliché is something that has become so overused that it no longer holds any meaning or surprise, and the whole point of the mystery genre is meaningful and surprising revelations.

The mystery itself, or a specific type of ending could be clichéd, though. For example, the ending where a detective gathers all the suspects together has become a cliché, mostly because everyone today has at least a modicum of an idea of how the police really work, and the cops simply do not gather all the suspects together to unravel their case in public. Even amateur sleuths, such as the clichéd old lady who noses around because she thinks the police are bumbling idiots, don’t do such clichéd gatherings because they should be smart enough to know that’s how people get killed. And anyway, even if she does do a group unveiling, what difference does it make? Any unveiling of the killer or any confession wouldn’t hold up in court. (We did such a gathering for the end of Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story, a collaborative novel I wrote with several other authors, but what made it tolerable was my character’s derision of the whole idea.)

The only ending worse than the clichéd gathering is when the villain has the hero cornered, but spends so much time bragging about how he (or she) did it that the hero gets the upper hand. (Or vice versa — the hero has the villain cornered, but spends so much time congratulation himself that the villain gets away.)

Some clichés aren’t really clichés, but are more of a classic story element. For example, a locked room. Locked room mysteries are a subgenre of murder mysteries, and in fact, I will be using a locked room in my story. Locked rooms add a separate element to the mystery, because not only do you have to figure out who killed the victim and why, you also have to figure out how the heck they got into the locked room. And, of course, the locked room has to be an integral part of the story, otherwise it becomes a cheat with no other reason for being than to add cheap suspense. In my case, I can’t do anything but the locked room mystery. The mystery will revolve around a dance studio, and the only time the studio is unlocked is when people are there. It’s hard to commit a murder unseen in a crowd, though it has been done.

Occasionally clichés are cheats. Someone gets a letter from the victim or killer at the beginning of the story, the person puts the note in a pocket or desk drawer unread, but finds it at the end in time to keep the killer from killing again. It’s a cheat because if the fool had read the letter at the beginning, there would be no story.

In a mystery, the main characters have to act to the best of their ability at all times. A woman who is told not to go some place where danger lurks, and she goes simply because she was told not to, is someone who is not acting to the best of her ability. Stupidity is not a plot ploy. It is a cheat.

So, there you have it, a brief primer on the differences between clichés, classics, cheats, and conventions.

**

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.

Let’s Play the Cliché Game!

My exercise 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 exercise 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?

I’d like to do the book campy with exaggerated uses and sly mentions of mystery clichés. For instance, I could get a call from one of the women who says she has information, but won’t give it to me over the phone. I immediately rush over there, of course, since such a call is a precursor to being murdered in cheap mysteries, but when I get there I find . . . I don’t know. Something innocuous. That the cell phone battery went dead. (Or better yet, I call the cops, and they think I’m hysterical.) Then there’s the “Don’t Go There” ploy, advice that a character ignores. When she does Go There, she almost gets herself killed. (Someone suggested this should be a buxom blonde, and of course, I know the perfect person for the role — a lady in red who is a buxom blonde or rather a buxom sometimes-blonde, and she definitely would Go There.) Of course I would also mention the old fictional women from small towns who stumble on so many murders, there couldn’t possibly be anyone left alive in the vicinity. Perhaps even use the alcoholic, donut-eating cop, misogynous cop.

I’m going to start out writing the book the way the idea unfolded in real life, beginning with the suggestion of my writing the book, our planning the murder, etc. leading up to the day we go to class and find her dead for real. The victim is such a good sport, she let me take a photo of her being dead to use for the book cover. (She sank to the ground gracefully, and fell into the perfect pose. Hmm. Maybe she is an eminently suitable victim after all. In the mystery world, she would be too good to be true.)

For now, I’m collecting clichés to use in the book. What do you think are the top clichés in mystery/suspense/thriller fiction? Who are the stock characters? What clichés and other mystery genre conventions do you absolutely hate?

But be careful! You might just end up in the book.

***

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.

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