Spending Too Much Time in Shuttered Rooms

After my life mate/soul mate died, it was all I could do to get through the day. I couldn’t imagine a future without him in the world. Didn’t want to imagine it. When my grief started to wane and I could again contemplate the future, I would wonder where I should go to settle down, but my mind always rebelled at the thought. Settle down? Alone? How? He was my home. Without him, there was no home, just a place, and one place seemed the same as another.

Although I am gradually coming to terms with both my loneliness and my aloneness, I still rebel at the thought of finding somewhere to settle when I leave here. (I am currently staying with and looking out for my 97-year-old father.) For a person with hermit tendencies, such as I, settling down alone sounds like stagnation. At the beginning, I would do things, of course, but then as time passed, I would become entrenched in my habits, would get tired of the same sights, the same errands, the same . . . everything. And my world would shrink and continue shrinking until I became the crazy cat lady sans cats.

Most people have not been able to identify with this scenario. They see me now, embracing new ways of living, and say that it will always be so. Perhaps they are right, but still I do fear the stagnation that would come from being too long entrenched in one place alone.

The truth is, whether we are aware of it or not, some form of stagnation happens to all of us. In “It’s a Nomad, Nomad World,” Bruce Chatwin spoke of our heritage as nomads and explained the necessity for keeping on the move, especially by foot. Chatwin wrote:

Some American brain specialists took encephalogram readings of travellers. They found that changes of scenery and awareness of the passage of seasons through the year stimulated the rhythms of the brain, contributing to a sense of well being and an active purpose in life. Monotonous surroundings and tedious regular activities wove patterns which produce fatigue, nervous disorders, apathy, self disgust and violent reactions. Hardly surprising, then, than a generation cushioned from the cold by central heating, from the heat by air conditioning, carted in aseptic transports from one identical house or hotel to the another, should feel the need for journeys of mind and body, for pep pills or tranquillisers, or for the cathartic journeys of sex, music and dance. We spend far too much time in shuttered rooms. . . . 

The best thing is to walk. We should follow the chinese poet Li Po in “the hardships of travel and the many branchings of the way”. For life is a journey trough wilderness. This concept, universal to the point of banality, could not have survived unless it was biologically true. None of our revolutionary heroes is worth a thing until he has been on a good walk. Che Guevara spoke of the “nomadic phase” of the Cuban Revolution. Look what the Long March did for Mao Tse Tung, or Exodus for Moses.

I have no interest in being a revolutionary hero or even a spiritual leader who wanders in the wilderness until fate thrusts me into a new role. But somehow, I instinctively knew the truth — that settling down means mental stagnation. When you live with someone, you don’t stagnate quite as much because there is someone to help disrupt the rhythms of your life. But who disrupts the rhythms of your life when you are alone? (Cats, I suppose, which could be why so many old women alone end up tending  a houseful of cats, but that’s not for me.)

I do not know if I am physically capable of a life on foot — I’ve never been athletic. Even if my capabilities weren’t an issue, the problem of getting enough water seems insurmounatble. The sheer volume of water a person needs is staggering. Some areas in the west, you can go up to hundred miles between towns, and in the wilderness sometimes it’s almost as far between watering holes. Considering that a gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds (just the water, not the container), and considering that a someone on foot needs to drink almost that much a day, and considering that at the most I could walk 10 miles a day (and that is being optimistic),  I’d need to drag along almost 84 pounds of water. (I read about a college student who dragged that much water with him on a cross-country trip. Actually, he didn’t drag it, he pushed it. Used some sort of cart.)

I don’t know what the answer to my conundrum is, but I have a hunch it will take care of itself. I’d probably start out in my ancient vehicle, and if it broke down or fell apart . . . well, then I’d have to finish the trip on foot.

It’s also possible that I end up doing what everyone does in the end — spend my life in shuttered rooms.

As a matter of fact, right at this moment, I am in a shuttered room. It’s not so bad.

***

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.

Perpetuating Gender Roles

A fellow Second Wind Publishing author posted an article that took me aback. Her post, Wives are Awesome, spoke of marriage roles, and how from the moment men took their vows, all the troublesome details of running a household vanish. Their wives make sure they have their favorite shampoo, their clothes are clean, the coffee brewed.

It was a clever article with a great punch line, but it surprised me to learn that women are still mommying their husbands to such an extent. I thought this sort of gender role disappeared a generation ago. It’s women’s prerogative, of course, to arrange their lives however they wish. I can even understand how it happens. In the throes of new love, women do what they can to mothermake their husbands’ lives easier, and over time, this role of nurturer becomes ineradicable.

It’s not just men who perpetuate such a role — women do, too. When a friend disagreed with my stance on women’s issues (apparently, as a thinking woman, I’m supposed to automatically be a feminist), I asked in rebuttal what percentage of household chores he did. He said, “I do everything I’m asked.” The assumption that household chores were his wife’s obligation and that she had to ask for his help made my hackles rise, but then he added, “She doesn’t like the way I do some things so she doesn’t ask.” I had no response to that, of course. It’s hard to share equally in the responsibility of running a household when one of the partners insists on holding the reins. (The moral of the story is, if you want your partner to do a greater percentage of the household chores, don’t complain about the way he or she does them. Let your partner work in his/her own way in his/her own time.)

Getting such glimpses into other people’s lives makes me realize how easy I had it with Jeff, my now deceased life mate/soul mate. We “wifed” each other, doing what was necessary without ever asking the other to do something. And if one of us didn’t like the way the other did a chore, we did it ourselves. (He once mentioned he didn’t like the way I did dishes. I didn’t say anything; I simply left them for him to do.) Whichever of us noticed that the carpet needed vacuuming or that a floor needed scrubbing (or rather the first one who was bothered by it) did the task. Mostly, though, we did things together or split up the responsibility without making a big deal about it.

Although it might not seem like it, roles really are changing. It’s no longer assumed that women who marry will take up where the husband’s mother left off, nurturing him as if he were still a child unable to fend for himself. Sometimes men take on that role for their high-powered wives. Sometimes both share equally in the responsibility and sometimes the couple hires a housekeeper to look after both of them.

When Jeff died, the thought of growing old alone panicked me. I’m okay now, mostly because I don’t think about it. Still, I do wonder what would happen if I met someone new and fell in love, but the thought of ever setting up a household with anyone again is beyond my imagining, especially considering problems of aging, possible health issues, and entrenched behavior, such as his expecting to be “wifed”.

Even if I found someone who would be willing to “wife” me, I wouldn’t be interested. Having someone look after the small details of my life sounds like a burden. It’s amazing to me that so many men willingly shoulder the load.

***

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.

Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story — Review by Sheila Deeth

Rubicon Ranch is a collaborative trilogy that was written online by me and several other authors from Second Wind Publishing. We started out with the murder of a little girl, and though we never knew where we were going (the murderer wasn’t chosen until the very end) or what the other writers were doing, we actually ended up with a book that seemed as if it had been planned from the beginning.

Sheila Deeth, inveterate reviewer (she’s rapidly becoming one of Amazon’s top reviewers) and author in her own right (Divide by Zero, Infinite Sum, and Imaginary Numbers, are all coming soon from Second Wind Publishing) had this to say about Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story:

Rubicon RanchI read occasional chapters of this novel online while it was being written. But now, at last, I’ve been able to read the whole thing in one setting, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Different authors pen chapters from the points of view of different characters. But the end of each tale meshes perfectly with the next, and the story progresses, through twists and turns (and death), to its mysterious, perfectly logical conclusion, while the reader is left to guess, imagine, wonder, and reflect.

The inhabitants of Rubicon Ranch are a mixed bunch, with accidental killers, accused pedophile, angry son, angry widow, and singularly dubious strangers staying at the local B&B. In classic Agatha Christie style, they might all have reasons to kill, and to hide, in a desert development where even the sheriff has his secrets. But which one, or ones, did the deed?

Feisty widow Melanie teams up, reluctantly, with the handsome sheriff. Seeing the world through a camera’s eye, and describing it with a writer’s sense of detail, she’s either the best at hiding her motives, or else she just hasn’t looked in the right place yet. Their tense relationship is fun, filled with promise for future books in a series that’s most un-traditionally written, but classically cool and enticing.

The desert’s pretty cool too—seriously hot, beautifully described, thoroughly genuine, and with snakes in the grass. I really enjoyed this delightfully traditional, thoroughly modern mystery.

Disclosure: I bought this when it was free and can hardly believe it took me so long to get around to reading it. —Sheila Deeth

You too can download a copy of Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story. Just click here: Rubicon Ranch on Smashwords to download in the ebook in the format of your choice. Or you can read it online here: Rubicon Ranch: Riley’s Story.

Or you can sample the first chapter here: Melanie Gray. Melanie Gray is my character, and is the character who connects all the books.

Lilacs For Remembrance

Long before Ophelia begged Laertes, “There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance. Pray you, love, remember,” mourners would throw rosemary into graves as a symbol of remembrance.

Rosemary doesn’t mean much to me. It’s not an herb I like, nor is it a plant that has any association for me, though there is a humongous rosemary bush outside my father’s house that was once a potted rosemary Christmas tree. (Until I saw the bush and heard the story of its origin, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a rosemary Christmas tree.)

LilacsTo me, lilacs are for remembrance. I grew up in a large family with a scraggly yard. Except for occasionally mowing the lawn, no one bothered much with keeping the yard nice, though when I was in second grade, I was allowed to grow a small garden. (“Grow” is a misnomer. I planted sweet Williams, and one or two flowers even came up despite my massive neglect.) Surprisingly, a lilac bush thrived in a corner of that unkempt yard. Though no one ever took care of it, never even watered it, it managed to bring forth gorgeous and gorgeous-smelling blossoms every spring. Truly a miraculous plant.

Many years later, my now deceased life mate and I transplanted an unruly lilac bush that blocked a gate. We ended up with dozens of plants, enough to surround the whole property. Apparently there were plenty of live roots left because eventually the original bush grew to be as large as it was before we’d massacred it. Western Colorado is often visited by late frosts, so we didn’t always have lilac blossoms, but the spring before he died, the entire place was wreathed by luscious blooms, a luxury he once could only dream of.

A year after he died, I was Blindsided by Lilacs. I’d come to a desert community to look after my aged father. The vegetation was completely different from anything I was familiar with, so there were no scent memories. Then one April day, when I was walking down the street, the smell of lilacs wafted toward me from an empty lot. Instantly, I was back in full grief mode, unable to stop crying for days. Today, I felt sad and needed to feel close to him, so when I passed that still empty lot, I went to inhale the blossoms and think of him.

I’d never put flowers by his photo, not wanting it to seem like a shrine, but today I picked a sprig of lilac and brought it back for him.

Sitting here now, I can smell that lovely fragrance, and I remember.

***

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.

A Perfect Day for Hunting

The sun was warm today, but the air was cool and breezy — perfect weather for hunting. Armed and ready to shoot, I went out to the desert with a group of hikers to search for . . . wildflowers.

It wasn’t hard to find what we were looking for. Lupine and coreopsis lined the road.

lupine

Goldfields carpeted vast swaths of land.

goldfield

Patches of poppies and chia sprung up on hillsides.

poppies and chia

And dainty cream cups soaked up the sun alongside poppies.

poppies and cream cups

Most of the time, the desert seems drab, with little color to break the beige monotony, so today was a real treat!

***

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.

We Are Public Property

”You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.” The author of these words, Anne Lamott, was speaking about writing, but her comment also holds true of life. Everything that happens to you, everything someone did to you, everything someone said to you, all belong to you. These things are a part of you and your life story, and you can do with them as you wish. (Ownership doesn’t negate Untitledtresponsibility or consequences, however. If you write or talk about what people said or did to you, they have no obligation to like it. You might even lose them as friends, assuming you were friends in the first place.)

The corollary to the quote is that other people own everything you do or say to them.

We are savvy enough online not to write or post anything we don’t want coming back and slapping us in the face or kicking us lower down on our anatomy, long after we’ve forgotten what we posted, but offline, we are much more casual, saying whatever comes into our minds whenever there is someone around to hear our voice. Most people, don’t really pay attention, so what we say drifts past their ears or in and out of their mind moments after our words are spoken. Except, of course, when we say something we wish we hadn’t. Those words remain hanging in the air long enough for them to register. Many times people have quoted something I said back at me, and it stunned me, usually because I didn’t remember telling them, or at least not the way they understood my words to mean. Not that it’s a problem. I have no secrets. Offline, as well as online, I am what you see.

Still, it is a bit of a revelation to think that we extend way beyond ourselves. If people own what we do to them, then our actions are public property. If people own what we say to them, then our words are also public property. We are not the autonomous creatures we think we are, safe within our own little sphere of noninfluence. Just as we are continually affected (and infected) by others, they are affected (and infected) by us.

It’s a sobering thought, and one that should make us think twice about what we say to people and how we treat 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.

Gossip: Healthy or Destructive?

For more than three decades, I didn’t spend much time in the company of women. I didn’t plan it, it just sort of worked out that way. My life mate/soul mate and I did most things together, including work — trying to build our business. He was also my best friend, the person I most wanted to be with. We had wide-ranging interests, and we talked about life, books, movies, history, philosophy, ideas.

I knew some women, of course, but not well, and I never participated in any group activities. After his death, though, I got afternoon teainvolved with many people. I joined a grief support group, and we had plenty to talk about — our deceased loved ones, our many losses (we lost not just the person, but the life we shared, our hopes, plans, and a feeling of “home”), our pain, our slow rewakening to life, and ourselves.

It wasn’t until recently, when I started taking exercise classes and came in close regular contact with a group of women that I ended up in a situation I wasn’t prepared to deal with. Idle chitchat. Gossip. Talking about each other, especially about those who weren’t present.

At first, I didn’t think anything of it since the remarks weren’t malicious, but when I found myself making comments (nothing bad, just things another person had done or said to me) I began to feel uneasy. I’m no paragon, but I do like to do the right thing. Eventually I came to the conclusion that we’re women. We talk about people. It’s who we are. (Though studies have shown that men gossip just as much as women do.) I have no delusions of being exempt as a topic of gossip — I always figured that in my absence they talked about me, but it didn’t matter. It’s not my business what other people think of me. (Strange. I just realized that once I took the opposite tack, that it is my business.) In fact, after one lunch — yep, we often exercised then went to lunch afterward to replace more than the calories we burned — I had to leave before everyone else, and when I got up to go, I gave them a big smile and said, “Now you can talk about me.”

To be honest, we talk mostly about ourselves (though food is a strong second topic). The comments about others were quite remarkably sparse, perhaps because we spent most of our time togther concentrating on our movements. Talking about our families and absent friends was simply a way of passing inactive moments.

But the truth is, even if I thought there was anything wrong with the remarks, I would not have walked away. I found such talk compelling. Intriguing. Connecting. Privileged.

After coming to an accommodation with gossiping, I didn’t think anything more about it until a few days ago when one of the women called to let off steam about a reprimand she’d gotten that day, which she felt was uncalled for. Since I too was upset about something that happened in that class, we commiserated with each other at great length. I thought it was over and done with until today when she called to ask if I’d repeated a specific, totally innocuous remark she’d made during our commiseration. I hadn’t repeated her remark, but she was so upset, the call ended on a bad note.

As a result, I am rethinking my position. I want to try to stay away from any remarks about others, which sort of leaves a void in the conversation. Most people after or even during exercise have no interest in deep discussions of important ideas or significant events, (not even me, though at other times I’m all for such discussions), but I’m used to being quiet, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The idea of not being privy to insider remarks, however, has left me feeling bereft. Such conversations were so compelling, I can still feel the pull — a sort of magnetism — when I think of the exchanges (though to be honest, I can’t remember many of the actual remarks. They truly were innocuous and not at all malicious.)

I’ve spent the past few hours doing what I always do when faced with a conundrum — research, in this case, researching why gossip is so fascinating. (Not celebrity gossip — I have zero interest in such unimportant folk. Unimportant to me, anyway.)

According to an article in Psychologies Magazine, Gossip builds social bonds because shared dislikes create stronger bonds than shared positives. Two people who don’t know each other will feel closer if they share something mean about a third person than if they say nice things about them. It’s a way of demonstrating their shared values and sense of humour. Add to that the thrill of transgression, since we’re supposed to be nice and positive.

However much we may disapprove of gossip in theory, it’s very common behavior, says social psychologist Laurent Bègue. “About 60 per cent of conversations between adults are about someone who isn’t present, and most of these are passing judgement.”

Anthropologist Robin Dunbar has suggested that gossip is a vital evolutionary factor in the development of our brains; language came about because of the need to spread gossip, and not the other way round.

Participants in a one study were asked “to gossip with a friend about a mutual acquaintance, as the researcher filmed the exchanges. Those who rated their self-esteem highly showed a clear pattern: they spread good gossip when they felt accepted and a more derogatory brand when they felt marginalized. The gossip may involve putting someone else down to feel better by comparison. Or it may simply be a way to connect with someone else and share insecurities. But the end result is often a healthy relief of social and professional anxiety.

Other studies show that gossip is a way of defining group behavior and keeping the group intact, which is a survival skill left from our tribal days. Even today, talking about what others have done is a way of defining group values. If you talk about someone who disrupted a class or who slacked off at work, it’s an object lesson, showing the rest of the group what actions are acceptable. (Do what the teacher says, don’t play around in class, make sure you shoulder your share of the burden.) Talking also helps prevent problems from getting out of hand by letting members of the group vent their frustrations with other members.

So, according to an article in C. Health “We shouldn’t think about gossip as just a time-wasting, tacky habit. It can actually be a valuable social tool to help us understand and get along better with those around us.”

Whether gossip has a healthy role or merely a destructive one, we are infinitely fascinated by other human beings, and gossip tells us not only about the gossipee but also the gossiper.

Still, I think I’d feel better if I stop making comments about what other people said or did to me. At least most of the time. Anne Lamott said of writing, and the same might be true of talking: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should’ve behaved better.”

***

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.

Excerpt from LIGHT BRINGER by Pat Bertram

Description of Light Bringer:

Becka 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:

Philip woke in the dark of early morning, forehead damp with perspiration, heart pounding from unremembered nightmares. When calm settled over him, he listened for the sound of Rena’s even breathing on the other side of the thin wall. Hearing only an indigo silence, he rose and went to check on her. Because he didn’t take the time to put on his braces, he made sure to plant one foot on the floor before swinging the other forward.

Rena’s bed was empty.

He found her on the porch, sitting on the single step, her strange cat beside her.

She turned a smile on him, as bright as the starshine.

He sat next to her. “What are you doing out here?”

“Listening to the music of the spheres.” As one, she and the cat tilted their faces to the sky. “Can you hear it?”

He angled his head. He heard crickets chirping nearby, dogs barking in the distance, and farther away a train clattering on its tracks. As he isolated each sound, he set it aside until there were no more noises. Then, as if from some vast remoteness, he heard a faint silvery tone that seemed to swell, bursting into a thousand jewel-bright notes. Every note sounded clean and sharp, a thing unto itself, but melodized into an aural patchwork quilt of intricate design.

After a timeless interval—minutes or hours, he had no way of knowing—heavy clouds rolled in, turning off the sky.

He shivered in the cooling air. Rena inched closer, put an arm around his waist, and nestled against him.

Warmth and sweet harmony enveloped them as if that aural quilt had settled on their shoulders.

***

Where to buy Light Bringer:

Second Wind Publishing

Amazon

Barnes & Noble Nook

iStore (on iTunes)

Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices)

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

Break Time and Time Travel Conundrums

I recently watched The Final Countdown, a 1980 science fiction film about a modern aircraft carrier that travels through time to a day before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. (Considering that this movie is 34 years old, I doubt the aircraft carrier would still be considered modern, but who am I to argue with IMDb.)

breaktime-3bsmallThe theme of time travel is timely, considering that Break Time, the steampunk anthology I’ve been working on for the past two years with six other authors, is nearing publication. Yay!!

I’ve always enjoyed the conundrum of time travel. In fact, Ray Bradbury’s story “The Sound of Thunder” is one of my all-time favorite short stories. (Hmm. Apparently I’m trying to use the word “time” as many times as possible.) When I first read Bradbury’s story, I hadn’t yet studied chaos theory and the butterfly effect, but it seemed logical that one small change millions of years ago would make a difference to us today. Oddly, in the story, everything was still the same in our world after the misstep, though the language was different and a dictatorial candidate won the election instead of the more egalitarian choice. Despite that seeming contradiction, I enjoyed the story and the ensuing mind calisthenics. The way I figured it, since the changes were so minor, it’s just as possible that the dead butterfly affected the passage of the time machine rather than the passage of time itself, and the travelers ended up in an alternate universe.

In Millenium, another time travel film, the butterfly effect is countered by the theory that insignificant changes can be made that would not affect the whole, such as removing people who were about to die in an airplane crash and taking them to another world. (Who knows, maybe the butterfly in Ray Bradbury’s story was newly dead of natural causes, and all that was affected was an infinitesimally insignificant patch of compost.)

Once a long time ago, I read a story about sightseers from the future who came to watch catastrophes here on earth. (There are several movies with that same theme, but the story I read predated the films by decades.) The tourists could watch the unfolding drama, but could in no way interfere. I used to think that was inhumane, sort of like reporters who simply film the death throes of victims before help arrives without ever pausing to offer assistance. However, when I watched The Final Countdown, my sympathies lay with those who thought it important not to change history by attacking the Japanese before they attacked Pearl Harbor. Who are we to change what was? Sure, all those American deaths would have been prevented, but what other atrocities might have taken their place? Though people consider it a conspiracy theory, the fact is that Roosevelt knew about the attack and let it happen. (A strange aside. People always talk about the Americans having broken “The Purple Codes” but before they were called the purple codes, they were red and various other colors. They were so named because of the color of the folder in which they were stored, not because of any esoteric reason.) Roosevelt’s point was to get the uninvolved Americans into the war. And so, ultimately, many worldwide changes were brought about.

Perhaps the world is unfolding as is should. If so, would I, as a time traveler, have the obligation to leave things as they are? Or would I be part of the unfolding, perhaps the catalyst for the unfolding, and if I did nothing, my inaction would effect other changes? If I ever had to make such a decision, the decision would be made by not deciding. As the old poster from the 1960s proclaimed, “Not to decide is to decide.”

In Break Time, Alexander Giston’s wife and grown son are killed in a steam engine accident. He goes back in time to cajole them into taking another mode of travel. They agree, and this time, the aeroship they are in crashes. The third time, they take their own Stratosphere Steamer, the automobile of our particular steampunk era. And yep. It too crashes. This leads me to wonder if perhaps it’s impossible to change the past. If the past will always self-correct.

If you are a time travel buff, be on the lookout for Break Time. Meantime, check out “Time’s Winged Chariot,” Rod Marsden’s phenomenal article listing time travel movies, books, comics, and television shows.

***

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.

 

What to Charge for Social Networking

Someone just contacted me and asked how much I would charge to promote his books. Funny, that. Because I am so prevalent on the internet (or at least I was; recently, I’ve been curtailing my online activities), people think I know how to market, but I haven’t a clue. If I did, my books wouldn’t still be languishing in unbestsellerdom.

Spending time on the internet — researching, blogging, networking — takes so much time and expertise that there doesn’t seem money enough to charge for all the work and aggravation, and yet, considering my dismal results, any amount I’d charge would be too much.

According to my research, “the biggest factor in how much you can charge is your work experience. If you’re new to the working world, you might want to stick with $15-$40/hour. If you have five years of professional experience under your belt, transition into the $45-$75 range, and if you have more than five years experience, you can usually get away with charging $80-$100 or more.”

Sounds good, doesn’t it? But getting results is something else entirely. For a business, perhaps a local car repair place, any social networking is good. You find Facebook groups in the town and post occasional updates. You start your own Facebook page, and maybe promote it to people in your area. (FB can target such a localized audience.) You start a blog about car repairs, telling people the sort of thing to look for in a repair shop or giving them hints about troubleshooting and how much certain repairs should cost. You can twitter bits of car information, get people to post reviews on car sites, comment on other car sites, sign up for LinkedIn, perhaps, and try to network with people in your area. Whatever you do online helps because it keeps your name in front of people so they think of you when they need someone to work on their car.

As you can see, if you have a booksspecific business with a specific type of person you need to target, it’s a lot easier to social network than if you are trying to sell one book in a stack of millions of books similar to yours. Writers are always told to find their target audience, but the truth is, novels that go viral sell to people who have seldom bought a book before, so it’s impossible to target them. Targeting readers in your genre (especially if you don’t have a clearly defined genre as I do) is even more difficult. Readers already have piles of books they bought and want to read. They are not necessarily looking for another book to add to their backlog, so targeting such an audience, even if you know where to find it, is hard. (Except perhaps for romance readers. They seem to be voracious consumers of novels, especially titillating stories. Too bad I have no interest in romance.)

Even though I have a lot of experience in blogging and social networking, I wouldn’t hire me, that’s for sure. On the other hand, I know authors who hired an expensive publicist, and they ended up not selling enough books to pay the publicist’s bill, so the high-profile publicist didn’t get any better results than I do.

And if I did know how to get results? I still wouldn’t accept his offer. I’d be so busy banking money from my royalties, I wouldn’t have time to do his work.

***

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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