How Long Does it Take to Edit a Novel?

If you have an editor, the editor pretty much decides how long it takes to edit a novel, but if you’re self-editing, it takes as long as it takes for you to get it right, But more than that, it depends on what you’re editing for. Are you editing it for content, to make sure that every scene, every character, every bit of dialogue is the ablsolute best you can do? Are you editing for story flow? Or are you simply copyediting to remove typos? Each of my books took a year to write, then I set it aside for several months. When I went back to the book, I could read it as if I hadn’t written it and so could find many areas where the story bogged down. Then I re-edited it again in another few months, and then another few months later, and ended up spending as much time editing as writing. This was especially true of my first novel, More Deaths Than One because I had to learn to write as I went along. Each deskediting session was more of a rewrite session — the published novel is completely different from the first draft, and yet it’s exactly what I was aiming for. In the end, it took about four years from first draft to finished manuscript. (In the interim periods, I wrote other books, so More Deaths Than One was the first novel I wrote, also the third, fifth, and seventh.)

I start out editing my books for content and flow, making sure that every scene, every character, every bit of dialog is the best I can do, and that every word, paragraph, chapter flows seamlessy one into the other without taking the reader out of the story, then I edit for individual words. Each of us has pet words and phrases, and the overuse of these constructions echo in readers ears, so I search for such duplication, and rewrite the appropriate passages. I also look for wishy-washy words and qualifiers that take the authority from my writing such as “I guess,” “a little,” “quite.” (In case you’re interested, here is the list of words I seek and destroy: Self-Editing — The List From Hell.) I do one final copy-editing session, then send the book to my editor, and finally my publisher.

The problem with most books on the market is that people rush to publish without giving themselves time to let the book rest before editing it with fresh eyes. Of course, this is a different market from the one I was writing for. Even as early as ten or twelve years ago, there were only a certain number of books on the market, and each had to be as good as possible to compete with the demands of the profession. Things have changed radically since then. With millions of people self-publishing, the key is quantity, not quality. Many authors publish three to four books a year just to keep their names fresh, and in such a disposable book world, editing is the first casualty.

I was appalled the first time I heard that someone had spent a week or so polishing the book they wrote during November’s National Novel Writing Month — how can anything written so fast have any depth? Such writers do find massive followings, though, so perhaps my way of “thinking” my books into reality (I spend way more time thinking about what to write than I do writing) is more out of step with today’s book world than those who simply dash off a book, do a slapdash job of editing, and then foist it on the reading public.

So, in the end, how long it takes to edit a novel depends on what you are looking for — quantity or quality. And before you start arguing that you can have both — the truth is you can’t have both unless you have a good editor on call who will do the editing for you. Writing is like driving. Everyone thinks they are a good driver, but all the bad drivers on the road show that a lot of those “good drivers” are mistaken.

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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+

My Favorite of the Books I Have Written

A friend asked me if I had a favorite of the books I have written. The truth is, each is a favorite in it’s own way.

More Deaths Than OneMore Deaths Than One is my favorite because of all the rewrites. I rewrote it four different times, each time making it better, and so I learned to rewrite and to edit. I also liked the ironies that showed up in the book.

Click here to read the first chapter: More Deaths Than One

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A Spark of Heavenly FireA Spark of Heavenly Fire is my favorite, because halfway through I realized I’d learned how to write, and because it is a solid, classic story of life and love in impossible times.

Click here to read the first chapter of: A Spark of Heavenly Fire

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DAIDaughter Am I is my favorite because of the fun we (my mate and I) had coming up with the great characters, and because it was the fulfillment of a desire to write a “hero’s journey” story.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Daughter Am I

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Light Bringer is my favorite because it’s the culmination of a lifetime of research, combining modern and ancient myths into a plausible whole, and because some of the descriptions were stunningly beautiful.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Light Bringer

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Grief: The Great Yearning is my favorite because writing it helped me get through the worst year of my life, and because unwittingly, it turned out to be the story I always wanted to write, the story of a love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with wisdom and sensitivity.
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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+

Today I Am Officially a Writer

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

First draft of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

I got serious about writing a little over a decade ago. That’s when I started writing novels as well as researching the craft of writing and the publishing industry. I finished writing my novels about seven or seven years ago, then concentrated on rewriting and polishing the manuscripts to make sure they were as good as I could possibly make them. Meantime, I sent out hundreds of query letters in an effort to find an agent or publisher.

You’d think all those years focused on the craft of writing, rewriting, editing, proofing, querying would qualify me to call myself a writer, but it was just something I did, not something I was, so I never gave myself the title.

Even after my first two books were published by Second Wind Publishing in 2009, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer, except in relation to the books. For example, Pat Bertram, author of More Deaths Than One. I now have five books published — four suspense novels and one book about grief — but I still didn’t call myself a writer. It seems sort of silly and, considering all the millions of writers who have a book listed on Amazon, makes me not the least bit special. And anyway, I don’t make a living off writing, which would, I think, be a major qualification to list “writer” as one’s occupation.

Today, I had to go to the bank to fill out some paperwork, and they asked my occupation. Oddly, the only thing that came to mind was “writer.” I laughed to myself and said sotto voce, “What the heck.” Then, louder, I told the clerk, “I am a writer.” (It’s a good thing they didn’t need to ask what my income was. They’d probably have laughed in my face.) Still, “writer” sounded so much more interesting than shrugging off the question about occupation with a brief comment about taking care of my father.

So now it’s official. I am a writer.

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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+

Desensitizing People to Violence

Clint Eastwood posted a status update on his FB profile today. No, I’m not a “friend” or a fan, don’t “like” him or “subscribe” to him, but his comment is making the rounds of FB, and it ended up on in my news feed. Several times. I found the comment interesting because of my research for More Deaths Than One, a book about mind control, and what I learned about how the military desensitized recruits to killing.

Eastwood wrote: With a lot of thought on this in light of all the shootings in the past few weeks I am very concerned that the left is now going to hit hard on pushing the 2nd Amendment over the cliff.

This is the only amendment that the ‘O’ can attack with any chance of repealing. If this, and God help us if he does, will lead to a barrage of attacks on all the amendments and socialism will be a forgone conclusion.

If anything should be shut down it should be the violent video games. Really, and I know everyone likes their electronics but these are the things that are taking kids and young people out of interacting with society and their peers.

I know I will probably take a lot of flack for that last observation but I’ve taken the flack before.

Have a great Sunday and hug your family.

I’ve written about this before, most recently in If Everyone Wants Peace, Why are there Wars? As I said, many of today’s — and yesterday’s — video games were developed by the military because studies had shown that repeated images of violence and death inured people to killing. During World War Two, as many as 85% of soldiers fired over enemies’ heads or did not fire at all. After World War Two, there was a concerted effort by the military to overcome this natural reluctance to kill, and apparently they succeeded because during close combat in Vietnam, only about 5% of soldiers failed to aim to kill. These same desensitizing “games” were later released as toys for children. Is it any wonder that many people — teens and adults — now seem desensitized to violence? They are playing games that were purposely created to foster killing.

I am not a fan of guns, though I have attended a couple of shooting clinics sponsored by a local gun club. As an author, I thought it important to know how it felt to shoot a weapon at a target. The targets we used were the round kind rather than a silhouette of a human. (Not so incidentally, those human-like targets were also created by the military to get soldiers used to firing at people.) I enjoyed learning how to shoot, but handling the pistols, revolvers, shotguns and rifles did not create in me any desire to shoot at another human being. Guns by themselves do not encourage violence or a desire to kill. Certain video games do. Sociopathic tendencies do. Psychotic characteristics do. Military think tanks do.

Author Lee Child says that we don’t write what we know, we write what we fear, and that certainly is true in my case. I fear the machinations of the powerful, deadly, and calculating men and women who control our lives behind the scenes. And I fear politicians and celebrities who use tragedies to further their own ends.

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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+

Genre vs. Traditional Fiction

Yesterday I wrote about traditional stories, the kind of untagged, unlabeled, uncategorized and ungenrefied fiction we grew up on. There used to be certain sections for genres in libraries and bookstores, but most books were shelved alphabetically under “fiction.” I read all types of books without discrimination, but I found the most satisfying books not with the genre stories, but in with the general fiction. And that’s the kind of book I tried to write.

I don’t know why genre became the core of the book business rather than the peripheral it once was, but it’s probably because of marketing — as one editor who rejected Light Bringer told me, “I loved the story, and your writing is excellent, but I don’t know how to sell it. It doesn’t have enough science fiction elements to be science fiction, and it has too much science fiction to be anything else.” (The truth is, Light Bringer was never meant to be science fiction. It a traditional story based on both modern conspiracy theory and the Sumerian cosmology, though I admit, it does have elements that are construed as science fiction. Luckily, I eventually found a publisher who publishes traditional fiction as well as genre.)

I don’t know what came first — readers’ need to buy books that fit into certain categories or book marketers’ need to funnel readers into those categories, but it doesn’t really matter. Either way, this genreization of the book business makes me an outsider, both as a reader and a writer. I have a hard time sorting through the 130,000,000 million books available to find ones I want to read, and I have a hard time fitting my books into the available genres. (When I have to give a category, I say “conspiracy fiction.” That’s not a genre, or at least I don’t think it is, but it gives me a pithy and realistic way of labeling my books.)

The hardest of my books to categorize, besides Light Bringer, is More Deaths Than One. It has many of the elements of a thriller, but the story is not about what happened to the main character (Bob) but who is he and how he reacts to what happened to him. In a thriller, there should be some sort of showdown between the hero and villain, but in More Deaths Than One, that showdown is given to an offscreen character, and Bob hears of it second hand. Some readers think the scene is a cheat. Even I think it’s a cheat, or rather I would think so if More Deaths Than One was a thriller. The hero should always be the one who performs the decisive action in the story, but in this case, the decisive action is not the discovery of the truth, but how Bob and Kerry (the woman he loves) deal with that truth.

I could have had the showdown and then Bob and Kerry’s scene afterward, but then their scene becomes anti-climactic. I could have had the two scenes concurrent — the showdown and their reactions, but there is no way Bob would have opened up to her with a dangerous creature in the room. And most of all, he would never have brought her to the attention of the villain since he would have wanted to protect her at all costs.

You’d think that with the emphasis on the two characters that More Deaths Than One is romantic suspense, but it is far more than that (and far less. Those who have read it for romantic suspense don’t like it because the romance isn’t forefront. Nor is the conflict a romantic one — Bob and Kerry get along from the beginning). More Deaths Than One is traditional fiction — a story that demanded to be written in a certain way, regardless of any genre conventions.

As Mickey Hoffman, author of School of Lies and Deadly Traffic, said, “What are you waiting for? Read this book. Now. More Deaths Than One is much better than any ‘bestseller’ out there. The plot is constantly surprising and intricate, the characters draw you into the tale and the overall writing is top notch.”

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

Character as Fate and Fate as Character

Heraclitus believed that a person’s character is their fate. Character — the sum total of a person’s traits — influences the choices a person makes, and the consequences of those choices ultimately become that person’s destiny. Or not. Much of life is luck, happenstance, and totally out of our control, though we tend to believe we have much more control over our lives than we really do. But that’s not an issue here because this is a writing discussion, and in our story worlds everything is under our control, and what our characters do determine their own fate.

This is most obvious in a tragedy – a character comes to an unhappy end because of a flaw in his or her own character, though in today’s stories, because readers like a more optimistic ending, that fatal flaw is often balanced by a special strength. But character/fate works for other types of stories, such as a thriller where a character becomes obsessed with finding the truth, and that obsession leads to both the character’s fate and the end of the story.

For example, In Daughter Am I, a young woman is determined to find out the truth of who her grandparents were and why someone wanted them dead. That determination overrides her usual placidity and takes her on a journey that eventually leads her home again, changed forever. She really did find her destiny because of her character.

I wonder if the opposite is more true (if truth has degrees), that destiny is character. Does what happens to us, both the actions under our control and those beyond our control, determine who we are? Determine who our characters are? This was a theme I explored in More Deaths Than One. So much happened to my poor hero Bob that was not under his control, yet what was under his control — how he handled his fate — made him the man he became.

Any discussion about fate and writing would also have to include the question: does the writer’s fate affect the character’s fate? None of my books have totally happy endings. There is always a pinprick of unease in the background, but the book I am now contemplating — the story of a woman going through grief — is going to have even less of a happy ending. Perhaps because I know the ending of my own love story? Not my story, obviously, since I’m still here, but the story I shared with another. Except for my work in progress (the one that’s been stalled all these years) the stories I’m thinking about writing now all end up with the characters alone.

When I wrote the first draft of my novel More Deaths Than One (and the second draft and the third) I had the hero Bob meandering around his world trying to unravel his past all by himself, and it was boring. Did I say boring? It was moribund. The story went nowhere because there was no one for Bob to butt heads with.

In the fourth draft of More Deaths Than One, I gave Bob a love interest, a waitress he met at a coffee shop. (Hey, so it’s been done before. The poor guy spent eighteen years in Southeast Asia, and didn’t know anybody stateside. How else was he supposed to meet someone?) That’s when the story took off. He had someone to butt heads with, someone to ooh and aah over his achievements, someone to be horrified at what had been done to him.

From that, I learned the importance of writing scenes with more than one character. And yet here I am, once more falling into the black hole of writing characters alone because I can’t visualize them ending up with anyone.

Which leads me to my final question: could the fate of the character also influence the writer’s fate? If so, maybe I should decide where I want to go from here, and write my destiny. Or  I could just wing it and see where destiny takes me and my characters.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

Sample Sunday

If you’ve been wanting to check out my books, now is your chance to read the first chapter of each novel online.

More Deaths Than OneBob Stark returns to Denver after 18 years in SE Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. At her new funeral, he sees . . . himself. Is his other self a hoaxer, or is something more sinister going on?

Click here to read the first chapter: More Deaths Than One

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A Spark of Heavenly FireIn quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable, bio-engineered disease, investigative reporter Greg Pullman risks everything to discover the truth: Who unleashed the deadly organism? And why?

Click here to read the first chapter of: A Spark of Heavenly Fire

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DAIWhen twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead.

Click here to read the first chapter of: Daughter Am I

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Thirty-seven years after being abandoned on the doorstep of a remote cabin in Colorado, Becka Johnson  returns to try to discover her identity, but she only finds more questions. Who has been looking for her all those years? And why are those same people interested in fellow newcomer Philip Hansen?

Click here to read the first chapter of: Light Bringer

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Pat Bertram is the author of Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I.All Bertram’s books are available both in print and in ebook format. You can get them online at Second Wind Publishing, Amazon, B&N and Smashwords.  At Smashwords, the books are available in all ebook formats including palm reading devices, and you can download the first 20-30% free!

“More Deaths Than One” will leave you breathless

The following is a review of my novel More Deaths Than One, and was written by Dellani Oakes. I didn’t bribe her into saying such nice things. I promise.

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“More Deaths Than One” by Pat Bertram will leave you breathless—first with anticipation, finally with a contented sigh of a job well done. Set in 1988, this well crafted, fast paced novel of love and intrigue spans the globe from Denver, Colorado to Bangkok, Thailand.

Bob Stark is a quiet man. A Vietnam vet, he’s returned to the states after nearly 18 years in Thailand. He came back to his childhood home of Denver because his life in Thailand couldn’t continue. His friend and mentor, Hsiang-li, left on a personal quest to find a golden Buddha in the jungle—the place where he had to bury his wife and child after they were murdered.

Kerry Casillas works nights in the diner Bob frequents. One night, she introduces herself and they get to know one another. Soon after meeting Kerry, strange things start to happen. Bob and Kerry find themselves embroiled in a mystery far beyond their understanding.

“More Deaths Than One” is an interesting tale of one man’s journey to find the truth. The character of Bob Stark is deep and many faceted. He’s quiet, kind and resourceful, showing abilities even he didn’t know he possessed.

Kerry is a fun loving character and the opposite of Bob in many ways. She’s talkative, outgoing and imaginative. She is the perfect partner and counterpart to Bob. She, too, has hidden talents that surprise and please Bob.

The well-paced plot of “More Deaths Than One”, keeps the reader riveted, waiting to discover the many mysteries in Bob’s past. I enjoyed the fact that though I guessed at all of these secrets, I was right about only a few. Bertram truly kept me hopping as I made my way through the book. I like when a novel isn’t so predictable that I know the end before it arrives.

 

Choosing Book Titles

The title of a book is important. It’s the first thing a prospective reader sees . . . or at least it used to be. Now the author’s name generally comes first and apparently is a much better selling tool than the title ever was. A title is still important, however. It often sets the mood for the book, it lays out the theme, and it tantalizes readers into opening the book. Think of Gone With the Wind. With such a title, you expect a wide sweep of a story. The title speaks of loss and perhaps survival in the face of broad changes. Even before you open the book, you are primed to find out what is lost and why it disappeared into the wind. Imagine then, how different your feeling would be if the book had been published under its working title. Pansy. Would the book, the movie, the character have ever had such an impact if that had been the name? Of course not.

Another major work with last minute name changes was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. Originally Catch 18, it was changed because of another book that was coming out at the same time: Leon Uris’s Mila 18. And 1984 was originally 1948. So not the same feeling!

Choosing a title is not an easy task. My novels all had simple working titles: The Red Death, The Chameleon, The Gangster Book, The Alien Book, but except for The Red Death, none of those titles were ever possible for the real title.

For A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I considered using the title The Red Death since my quarantine mirrored the middle ages, though in a hi-tech way, but the name had already been used several times. And anyway, from the very first, I’d planned on using A Spark of Heavenly Fire. That was my inspiration for the book, the Washington Irving quote: “There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” I wanted to tell the story of ordinary women, women who seemed colorless in ordinary times, but who blazed brightly in dark times. When I found no takers for the book, I thought perhaps the title didn’t reflect the story, so I changed it to In the Dark Hour. And I got an agent. She couldn’t sell the book, so when my contract was up, I changed the title back to A Spark of Heavenly Fire. And that’s the title Second Wind Publishing released it under.
I had to try several times before I got the title of More Deaths Than One right. The working title was The Chameleon but that was never a real contender since I didn’t want to give the story away. So first I used the Law of the Jungle, which amused me since the jungle was so much a part of the story. Also, at one point I had my hero say that the villain might be above the law, but he wasn’t above the law of the jungle. Both the line in the book and the title ended up being deleted because they were too trite, so next I went with Nature of the Beast. It was adequate, and I would have stuck with it despite its triteness, but then I came across a couplet from Oscar Wilde’s “Ballad of Reading Gaol”: He who lives more lives than one/More deaths than one must die. Since my hero appeared to have more lives (and deaths) than one, More Deaths Than One struck me as the perfect title.
Daughter Am I, my gangster book, only had one previous title: Sins of the Fathers, though really it should have been Sins of the Grandfathers. Then I found the Rudyard Kipling quote: “Daughter am I in my mother’s house but mistress in my own.” The quote would have more accurately described the theme of the book if it were “daughter am I in my father’s house,” but I was taken with the title Daughter Am I and decided it was close enough.

Which brings me to my most recent novel, Light Bringer. Sad to say, I haven’t a single story to tell about the title. Even though the working title was The Alien Book, I always knew the title was Light Bringer. Light is the theme of the book, and the Light Bringer (planet X) was the reason for the story.

So, as a reader, what are your favorite titles? As an author, how did you come up with the names of your books?

“Reading Pat Bertram Gets Better and Better”

I got a wonderful review from Glenda Bixler today. She’s a retired professional book reviewer who now writes about books for fun, and she loves my novels!!

Glenda wrote: “I laughed with Pat while reading Daughter Am I, was scared by what happened in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, sighed with Pat’s Light Bringer (Click to read my reviews of the other books!)

“But, Wow! I sat in amazed suspense as I read More Deaths Than One . . . 

“The first reason I was amazed was that each of Pat’s books are so uniquely different,  The second was that, for me, this, last book was a mystery/suspense — my preferred reading — and therefore the most enjoyable . . . so far! I do hope she continues writing! Her imagination and creativity is exciting and diverse — readers may not be able to rely on what each book will cover, but we can be sure that it will be top rate!” (Click here to read the rest of the review: “Reading Pat Bertram Gets Better and Better”)

Ahhh . . . balm to a writer’s soul.

Some people hated the way I ended the book, thinking I should have shown Bob discovering all that had been done to him, but to me, the story has always been about Bob and Kerry and how they dealt with each other during the terrible revelations. If they had interviewed the perpetrator themselves, the relationship would have been between them and the interviewee. Any interaction between the two of them would have been delayed, and hence would not have had the same impact. By using an admittedly passive third party device, I could concentrate on Bob and Kerry and how the truth affected their relationship in the moment.

And Glenda got it. She wrote:

“One decision by the author proved to end this story in a unique way, one that responded to the need to provide a satisfying conclusion without going into the gory details that took place. The surprise ending was not totally unexpected, since the writer had shown us over and over that there was something strange going on . . . But I had no clue what it was until the last major revelation was made . . . Leaving out the action of those final days or weeks, leaves the reader with the romantic suspense as the primary plot line One that is memorable and, at the same time, allows us to get past what actually happened . . . which was too horrendous to dwell on. Kudos to Pat Bertram for effectively presenting this strange but plausible tale! If you’ve already read Bertram, you should consider this a must-read! Highly recommended!”

Click here to read the first chapter of: More Deaths Than One

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