A Different Kind of Christmas Story

No Santa 🎅, no elves, no shopping malls or presents, 🎁 nothing that resembles a Christmas card holiday, but still,  A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE — especially Kate’s story — embodies the essence of Christmas: generosity of spirit.

Kate isn’t the only point of view character in the book — the story is told by four different characters who show four different ways of dealing with the horror of the red death that descends on Colorado right before Christmas. Kate is the spark of heavenly fire, the woman who blazes with generosity during this dark hour of adversity. Two of the other characters are the opposite — they do everything they can to ensure that they survive. And then there is Greg, a reporter, who is consumed with finding the truth of the red death.

I’ve always liked the following scene, which takes place between Greg and Olaf, his boss:

***

“How’s the research coming, Greg?” Olaf asked, a shade too heartilty.

“I feel as if I’m drowning in paper.”

“So I see,” Olaf said, laying a hand on the stack of Takamura’s articles. “Mind if I look?”

“Help yourself. They belong to the newspaper.”

Olaf settled himself in his customary chair with a handful of the papers. A minute later, he raised his head.

“How do these guys get anything printed? If my reporters turned in work as incomprehensible as this, they’d be out of here so fast they’d think they were flying.” He glanced at the papers and shook his head. “Even the titles are incomprehensible. ‘Imitating Organic Morphology in Micro-fabrication.’ I don’t even know what that means.”

“Me neither,” Greg said, thinking if he had to wade through this sort of stuff to learn about the red death, the earth would fall into the sun long before he read half of it. He put his hands together as if in prayer. “Please tell me it’s not written by John Takamura.”

“It isn’t. Doris Stefano, Melanie Levy, Andrew Forbes, and Lee Nishimura collaborated on this particular gem.”

Good. That meant he had to scan it for Takamura’s name instead of reading the entire thing.

“These two are by Takamura. ‘Self-Dispersement of Genetically Enhanced Corn,’ ‘Deviant Behavior in Recombinant Plant Parasitoids.’” He tossed the sheaf of papers back onto Greg’s desk. “Better you than me.”

“What do these guys do?” Greg asked. “Take a course in obfuscation?”

“Probably. Convoluted writing and obscure terms are a way of intimidating the uninitiated, keeping the profession closed to non-scientists, and adding to the scientific mystique. Just think, if diseases had names like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, doctors wouldn’t make anywhere near the amount of money they do now.”

Greg laughed. “That’s an idea. They do it for hurricanes, why not everything else?” He mimed seizing the phone and dialing. “Mr. Olaf? I can’t come in today. I’ve got the Bob.” He hung up his imaginary receiver and looked inquiringly at his boss.

Olaf nodded. “Works for me.”

***

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

Click here to buy A Spark of Heavenly Fire

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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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Help Me Plan My Next Big Adventure!

I don’t feel like writing another bah humbuggish post. To be honest, I don’t feel like writing much of anything. Despite a lingering cold, today I went to dance class (classes, actually), and now I want a nap. But this is day thirty-three of my fifty-day blog challenge, so I want — need — to post something.

How about something fun? Something for me to look forward to?

I know! My next big adventure!

In May, I will be going to Seattle for a weekend with my sisters, and I will be driving through Northern California, Oregon, and Washington, camping and hiking along the way. I’m planning to be out adventuring for approximately a month. (Unless I become subsumed into the camping culture, then who knows how long I will be out wilding in the wilds.)

I’ve been looking at the atlas, and it seems as if it could take years to explore even one of those states (which someday I hope to do). A month will give me only the merest glimpse of the area, and I don’t know much about Oregon or Washington at all.

So . . .

If you have any suggestions of places (or people!) to visit or to stay away from, special campgrounds or dispersed camping spots, great hikes and other delights, please let me know so I can add them to my itinterary.

Thank you!

This photo was taken on my only trip to Oregon, a four or five mile hike along the Oregon Coast outside of Brookings. The impossible dream includes doing the whole coast, but . . .  well, impossible dreams by definition are impossible. Unless you want to come and carry my backpack for me?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Author Karma and Paying it Forward

For more than nine years, I have been interviewing authors, publishers, even book characters for my Pat Bertram Introduces . . . blog. I have promoted almost 500 authors and never asked for a single thing in return. I figured (silly me!) that some of the authors would do something for me as a thank you, but only a handful of people ever offered a reciprocal promotion, and in fact, most never even helped promote their own interview, expecting me to do all the work. Periodically, I would stop doing interviews, but whenever I had time, I would continue doing them, because, well, you never know if the right interviewee would come along and help catapult me into, if not big time, then bigger time. Besides, it seemed the right thing to do. And I did have the blog. . . .

For some reason lately, maybe because I’m trying to promote my books and few writers are doing anything to help, not even something simple like sharing a post on Facebook or retweeting a post on Twitter, the whole thing has struck me as terribly wrong.

So I changed my policy. If you want me to interview you, I’m still willing to do it, but I have made it a requirement that you promote my books in return. Doesn’t seem like too much to ask, especially since it can be something simple like tweeting my books (tweeting your own interview is not a promotion for me; it is a promotion for you).

Author karma and paying it forward were big concepts back when my books were first published, but come to think of it, that was mostly talk. Even back then, before the plethora of “indie” authors, no one bothered to return my favor. I suppose it’s understandable — most authors seem to think they are special and so deserve special treatment. After all, generally, they are the only author they know.

But still . . . it’s interesting to me that no author ever asked me why I was interviewing them. They all took my promoting them for granted, as if it was their right.

I sound very bah humbugish, don’t I? So not the spirit of Christmas! But too bad. If you want my help, you help me in return. As simple as that.

https://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ As you can see by clicking on the link, I put the announcement that my interviews were no longer a free service in bold letters. Do you think anyone will pay attention? I don’t.

Wishing you a bah humbug sort of day.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Killing Grace

Even though it took me along time to decide to write Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare (killing off one’s friends a good way to lose those friends, and I don’t have any to lose), and even though it took even longer to actually sit down and write the book, the writing itself was easy. I used whatever happened in class for inspiration, and if that failed me, I asked one of the characters what she would like to do, and if that failed, I wrote me writing the book. That was fun! Here is one such excerpt:

***

In every mystery story, it seems, there comes a time when the author wants a way to present insights, needs to show state of mind, or simply gets bored with a straightforward narrative and plays at being creative, so the storyteller recounts a dream.

Since I hate dreams, my own included, I usually skip those parts of a book, so I won’t bore you with the details of my dream. Suffice to say that early Wednesday morning, long before the sun gave any indication of wanting to rise, I dreamed I was Grace grieving the death of Pat. I carried the belief I was Grace into the first moments of waking, and for a second I didn’t know if I were Grace grieving for Pat or Pat grieving for Grace.

In the aftermath of that strange duality, when I came fully awake, I lay there wondering about my connection to Grace, wondering if somehow my talking about her death had brought it about. I no longer thought Grace existed in some sort of quantum state, both alive and dead, and all we had to do was find a way to observe her and she’d magically appear back in the studio, smiling up at us, asking why she reclined on the floor.

I do know that anything is possible, that at our most infinitesimal level, way beneath cellular construction and even atomic configurations, we are created from discrete patterns of nothingness held together by a force of energy that could destroy—or build—the universe. Our senses, and ultimately our brains, translate those waveforms into what we see, hear, taste, feel, know.

That is what we have to contend with in our daily lives—what we know. And I know Grace is dead.

(Grief is not always so conciliatory. I know Jay is dead, but I also know he is at home waiting for me. It’s why I continue to hang around this California desert town though I have no real reason to stay now that my father is gone—I’m reluctant to return to Colorado and confront the foolishness of my belief.)

What do I know other than that Grace is dead? Not much, to be honest, though I do believe someone else was involved with her death. There have been times when one or another of us students slipped on a slick patch of the studio floor, so a fall would not be particularly mysterious, but if Grace had hit her head on the barre hard enough to knock herself out, she would not have been able to arrange herself in the position we found her.

So that left me with three conclusions: someone killed her and arranged the scene; someone killed her and Grace managed to drag herself into position during her final moments; or someone found Grace unconscious, moved her, and left her to die.

But why? How could Grace’s death have made a difference to anyone’s life? I’ve heard it said that there are three main motives for murder—sex, power, and money. I suppose sex could be a motive for the murder of a long-married seventy-five year old woman, but it seemed farfetched to me, especially since she appeared to be devoted to her husband. Whatever money Grace had belonged to both her and Charlie so I didn’t see financial gain as a possibility for a motive, either. And power? What sort of power could Grace have exerted on anyone, or someone exerted on her? I thought of Deb eagerly slipping into Grace’s spot at the front of the class, and I wondered if the desire for that sort of power, so insignificant to the rest of the world, could have made Deb want to do away with a woman she might have considered a competitor.

Knowledge, of course, is power. Perhaps Grace had discovered a secret, but among our assorted classmates, who could have a secret so powerful that only murder would protect it?

I hoped the police would find the truth soon, because the dream made me uneasy. If I couldn’t distinguish between myself and Grace, is it possible others saw the same connection? Could I be next on the murderer’s list?

I got out of bed and dressed for the day, vowing to protect myself. But against whom? Margot, the woman Buffy had picked out as the perfect murderer? Or maybe Buffy herself, a woman who knew too much about the ways and means of murdering?

***

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare for those who love fun, dance, murder, mystery, older women who live with all the verve and nerve of the young, and me! (The main character is named Pat.)

Click here to read the first chapter of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

Click here to buy Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

 


***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Truth of Me

Once I saw a plaque that said, “What others think of you is none of your business.” At first, I recoiled in disagreement, then I thought of the various ways that what other people think of us is our business, and now, finally, half a decade later, I have come to agree with the sentiment.

During the past few years, different friends have accused me of various heinous character traits. One accused me of being negative, one often told me I was contradictory, and one, more recently, said I was cruel. And somewhere in there, a relative more than once called me an ungrateful bitch.

I’m sure, along the way, others have called me other not-so-nice things, which luckily, I don’t remember. No one (unless of course, she is a negative, contrary, cruel, ungrateful bitch) can bear thinking she is such a ghastly person. I don’t suppose it will come as any surprise that I seldom have anything to do with any of those people any more — it’s too hard to live down to their expectations.

And truly, what they think of me is none of my business. Those adjectives reflect more their own experiences at the time than mine.

On the other hand, I do tend to believe people when they say I am kind, or special, or very interesting. While I am lapping up the accolades, a small voice in the back of my mind whispers, “if you ignore the bad things people say about you, shouldn’t you also ignore the good?”

Ah, but it is easier to live up to the nice things since I do think I am kind. Or at least, I try to be. And I do want to be special and interesting even if those traits are more of a reflection of the speaker’s specialness and interestingness than mine.

So what’s the truth of me? I was going to list what I thought were my not-so-admirable traits along with the good ones, but decided that maybe what I think of me is none of my business, either.

I’ll just be. And leave the thinking to others.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

The Massive Mission of Grief

Now that my own sorrow has considerably lessened, there have been many times when I have felt strange continuing to talk about grief. But despite the long years that have passed since the death of my life mate/soul mate, I am still bound by my grief. What I do, think, hope, even dream or not dream are because he is dead. Interestingly, I am discovering that these latter posts are perhaps as important as the early ones. Friends, relatives, and coworkers of the bereft are a lot more understanding those first months and even that first year of grief, but long before the end of the second year, they get impatient with any signs of continued grief. Most bereft stop talking about what they are feeling long before they are ready (and in way, I did, too. I spewed out my thoughts on this blog and mostly kept my mouth shut in real life).

And yet, grief is a life-long thing. And how can it not be? The pain might diminish, the hole might be filled to an extent with the gold of new relationships and new experiences, but the loved one is still dead. Even for those who believe their mate is in a better place, even for those who believe they will see them again, life is long and lonely without that special person.

If it were only about emotion and loneliness, grief would still be a massive mission, but all the physical, mental, chemical, hormonal upheavals change us and leave us feeling . . . not like us. Like some alien who no longer fits in this earthly environment.

But over the years, we do change and adapt. For this, I am glad to have continued these grief posts — people need to know they are not alone. They need to know that grief isn’t something you get over. They need to know that, unlike what some people believe, grieving long after others think you should stop is not a sign you lack resilience. Although people seldom admit it, there are gradations of grief. The death of a total stranger is not the same as the death of a soul mate. The death of a pet is not the same as the death of a child. (Yes, I understand that one grieves the loss of a beloved pet, but it is not the same, and I will delete any comment that says it is.) It’s easy to get over grief for a person you seldom saw, but grief for a person who shared your every waking moment is something you never get over. Everything that happens reminds you they are gone. Even after the pain has diminished, every moment of their not being with you makes you want to twitch with the feeling that something is not right.

But life — and grief — do go on, just maybe not the way we would prefer.

I am far enough away from those first horrendous years that I can start to see a pattern, and when I get a comment from someone who wails, “when will it be over?” I can give them an estimate. When they ask when life will get back to normal, I can safely say it will never get back to the old normal, but will eventually feel normal, though it will be a lot different from the normalcy of their shared life.

Although there is a pattern to dealing with grief after the death of a long-time spouse (or even a short time partner because you not only grieve what you lost but also what you will never have), all grief is different because all relationships are different.

I can’t, of course, tell people when it is time to find a new love — that is dependent on the person. I do know that those who manage to incorporate their first spouse’s memory into their new marriage are a lot happier than those who marry someone who feels injured by that grief, or who urges you to forget that previous marriage. I know one woman who incorporated her grief for her first husband into her marriage vows. Though she cried as she talked about her first husband, and her voice shook with emotion as she vowed to love the man she was marrying, she radiantly straddled those two worlds. It was beautiful to see.

So, if you know someone who is still grieving the loss of a spouse (or a child), please be kind; the bereft don’t live according to your timetable but according to the timetable of grief. And if you are the one who is still grieving long after others think you should have “moved on,” know that you are doing exactly the right thing, and someday you will get to where you need to be.

***

See also: What Do You Say to Someone Who is Grieving at Christmas? And if by chance you know someone who is grieving, either of my books about grief — Grief: The Great Yearning or the novel Unfinished would make a nice gift.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Dandelion Fluff and Veins of Gold

A friend left this comment on yesterday’s post.  Your blog titled 1000 Days of Grief read: “But now I know freedom was his final gift, though it was as unwanted and as unasked for as the grief. I haven’t learned yet what to do with this freedom. Perhaps if I embrace it as I did my grief, it will also take me where I need to go.” In the grief blogs I have read so far you never apologize for following your grief, actually quite the opposite, you give all of us permission to feel what we feel. I may be wrong but you sound apologetic for your ambiguity now. It strikes me as “OK” you feel two ways, even three, four or more about freedom as you follow it, trusting it will take you where you need to go.

Very astute of her!

A few days ago, I wrote about impossible dreams and how important they might be. I followed up with a post congratulating myself (more or less) on having found a direction to point myself, as if the impossible dream was perhaps not quite so impossible after all. Meantime, in an article about how to get in shape for a backpacking trip, I read that the best way to prepare is to fill your pack with however much weight you were going to carry, add five pounds, then strap a two-and-a-half pound weight to each ankle, and go out and hike five miles.

And so the whole pack of cards came crashing down on me. Not only did I re-realize the impossibility of the impossible dream (with all that weight, I wouldn’t even have been able to stand up, let alone walk a single step) I felt foolish for my on-again/off-again dreaming, as if I were a child pretending to be an adult. And because of my posting all these thoughts, my wishy-washiness was out there for all to see (or at least the “all” who manage to find me in the blogosphere), which seemed . . . well, embarrassing.

It wasn’t until the end of yesterday’s blog (the blog that seemed apologetic) that I connected my ambiguity with grief, because how can any of this have to do with grief? After all, I haven’t had a massive upsurge (or even a mild upsurge) of angst for nine months. It was easy to write unabashedly about grief when I was pouring out my heart along with my sorrow, but it seems less heroic just to . . . waffle. And yet it is all about grief. When you have lost the most important person in your life, no matter what you do, it is always about grief.

And in the world of grief, I am but a child, a child in the eighth year of life.

People talk about grief as if it were merely an emotional aberration and that soon we will be back the way we were. They talk about us going through, moving on, healing, journeying, all different ways of describing the grief process, but the truth is, more than anything else, grief is a matter of being. Of becoming. Of Kintsugi.

Kintsugi is roughly translated as “golden joinery” and is the Japanese art of embracing damage, of mending broken pottery with veins of gold, turning what might have once been a simple ceramic piece into a work of art.

And that is exactly what grief is. When you lose the most important person in your life, a person who seems connected to your very soul, you can never be the same. Oh, sure — you look the same, people still treat you the same (or try to), but you know you’re not the same. What you do, however, is embrace all the shards of your shattered life, and one by one you glue each piece back to the whole with veins of gold, and if a piece is missing, you fill in the void with more gold. As time goes on, you turn your life into something new, a work of art that maybe only you can appreciate because only you know the effort it took to put yourself back together again.

So yes, I am ambiguous. I say one thing one day and another thing on a different day. Sometimes I hold on to dreams, and sometimes I blow dreams away as if they were dandelion fluff. Like a child, I pretend I can do anything, pretend that I can be anything (with no regard for reality). And like a Kintsugi artist, I carefully add one vein of gold at a time.

And so I grow.

And there is no need to ever feel apologetic about that.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Dreams and Dreaming

I’ve been thinking a lot about dreams lately. Not night dreams, so much — I really don’t like dreaming except in the rare case of a dream that seems to mean something but doesn’t really, such as my white dream. But the other kind of dream — cherished aspirations, ambitions, or ideas — that’s what I’ve been thinking about too much lately.

I had a bit of an insight today, though considering my cold, it could be more of a fever dream than a true insight: I wondered if maybe it’s time for me to put away the dreams of the past, impossible or otherwise, and create a new dream, something I’ve never dreamt before. But that assumes a dream is important to have.

Do we need dreams? Dreams seem counter to a life in the now, a life that goes with the flow and accepts what comes.

But we are never just one thing or another. Well, you might be, but I’m not. I often seem to be straddling the line of two opposing ideals.

While the ideal me thinks it’s important to live in the now, just flowing as life unfolds, the pragmatic me thinks and plans.

While the ideal me loves the idea of striving toward an impossible dream, the practical me realizes that impossible means impossible, and there is no reason to waste energy reaching for an unreachable star.

While the ideal me loves the idea of living a completely disciplined life, always eating the right way, exercising and stretching and doing weights almost every day, writing every day, being always kind and thoughtful and caring, and oh, yes, making a living, the realistic me realizes that I can only push so much without getting sick. (That’s what happened this time — I was doing too much and in my weakened state, caught a cold.)

While the ideal me loves the idea of a wildly spontaneous life, whether living in place or setting out on a journey, trusting to the universe and fate that everything will work out, the fearful me thinks I would end up on the streets (and not in a good way). On the other hand, if I did the practical thing and settled down somewhere, the fearful me thinks I would stagnate.

What I end up doing, of course, is always struggling to find a balance, which goes against all my natures. (Not the balance part, that I believe in, but the struggling part.) And thinking too much. I always overthink everything, and blogging every day gives me an opportunity to voice those thoughts.

I still have the strange idea that if I don’t do something spectacular with my life, I will be wasting the freedom Jeff’s death has given me, though part of me realizes that life itself is spectacular. It’s just a matter of paying attention to the spectacle.

For that, do we need dreams? I don’t know. I just know I want . . . something.

Even while writing that last sentence, I find myself thinking, maybe even overthinking, wondering if the wanting is part of my grief cycle. If Jeff were here, would I still be wanting something — wanting to be something — that seems just out of sight? I don’t remember ever having dreams while we were together — apparently, just living our shared life was enough.

Maybe eventually just living, even stagnating, if it comes to that, will be enough, but for now, I still cling to the wondering. And the wandering.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Pointing Myself in a Direction

I reconnected with my once-upon-a-time Yoga teacher the other day. She happened to “like” one of my twitter posts, and I was so pleased to see her name after all these years, that I immediately wrote her a message, and we’ve been “talking.”

I loved her Yoga classes and her philosophy. She was the one who taught me to use my whole sphere. She said we live in a personal sphere, the space taken up by outspread arms and legs. As we age and become more fearful of missteps, we shrink into the center of our spheres, shortening our stride, hunching into ourselves. Ever since, I have striven to open myself not just to my physical sphere, but also beyond what I can encompass.

I was devastated (devastated for myself, not for her) when she left to accept a fabulous job offer. It worked out, in a way, because I went searching for something else to do to give me a respite from looking out for my father, and I found dancing. (This was one of those very rare cases of one door closing and another opening, though I truly hate that platitude. After Jeff died, people frequently said, “When a door closes, a window opens,” but who uses a window in place of a door? And anyway, what good is a window or even a door to a widow who has lost her foundation?)

In one of the recent messages to my erstwhile Yoga instructor, I mentioned my idea of eventually doing some sort of epic hike, and she responded: “Baby steps everyday towards your goal will help you accomplish your dream. We have a Bucket List of walking The Camino de Santiago-we’ve begun working on it-It’s years ahead. Just point yourself in that direction & start!”

So, baby steps.

The first step is to get well. I caught the cold that’s been going around, and I’m stuck inside for the duration. (It’s interesting how the idea of an epic adventure always rears its head when I am housebound. Well, perhaps not interesting. But understandable.)

The second step is to continue working to get my hand/arm/wrist/elbow in as good a shape as possible.

The third step is to . . . well, one and two should be sufficient for now.

I am beginning to see, though, that an epic hike for me would be years in the future, which is one of the things that makes it an impossible dream — by the time I am ready, it’s possible I would be too decrepit or too broke. But it is a direction in which to point myself, and that has been the problem these years after Jeff’s death — I’ve had no direction.

I might be driving up the coast to Seattle in May, which would be a good time for a reconnoitering trip. I am also collecting lists of hikes that are less ambitious than the iconic national trails and that might possibly be good starter long hikes. I just added the Pinhoti Trail to the list. I am sure there are hundreds of trails that would be perfect for a few weeks or even a few days. Or even one night. (If I’m going to do baby steps, a one nighter would be the first trip!)

It’s possible what I like is the impossible dream and that backpacking is more of an ideal than something I ever want to do. (My father had such a dream — for as long as I can remember, he talked about walking the coast of Portugal. I don’t know when he finally gave up on the idea, or when it gave up on him.) And yet I have enjoyed every one of the day hikes I have ever taken, and enjoyed every night I spent camping.

Step three, now that I think of it, should be to get over the idea of chucking it all and just heading out. Considering the dismal state of my finances, it seems silly to pay rent when I am elsewhere, but for now, it would probably be best to have a base. And anyway, there would be the problem of what to do with my car if I were on the trail for months.

So, baby steps all the way.

I do like the idea of doing something every day to prepare, even if it’s only research. (Only research? From what I’ve been able to gather from the research I have already done is that research is one of the most important things a beginner backpacker can do.)

But for now, I’ll point myself in the direction of a nap.

***
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.

Women With Verve and Nerve

I got a great compliment the other day. A friend I’d named “Jackie” for Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare (I gave all my classmates aliases to protect the innocent and not so innocent) texted me with the message: My cousin phoned me and called me Jackie when I answered. She had read the whole book, loved it, and said that you really had me perfect. So — in my world, you are a big success.

Such great words to hear! I wanted to show older women living with verve and nerve, and I tried to make the characters sound as close to their real life personas as possible, and it nice to know I succeeded.

I don’t know if you can tell much about Jackie from the following excerpt (it seems to be about me more than her), but this is a fun snippet (and from what I remember, the conversation in real life happened exactly as written here:

Class had started during my musings, and I’d automatically followed along with what my classmates were doing until I heard Madame ZeeZee’s sharp, “Point your toes!”

I knew she meant me, and I sighed. I don’t know what I’d hoped for by taking ballet—maybe grace or strength. Even if I were young and slim, I could never become a ballerina. I don’t have a ballet body, or even ballet feet. I have a hard time pointing my toes, and when I stand on the balls of my feet, my heels barely lift off the ground. Luckily, dancing was like writing. I could practice over and over, trying to get it right.

We did chaine turns across the floor, and most of us stumbled as we tried to keep our balance, but Jackie spun like a top, doing a dizzying number of turns. Jackie McDerr looked like a Buster Brown doll with strong cheekbones, bright eyes, and salt and pepper hair cut straight just beneath her ears. She’d taken ballet classes for decades, and I comforted myself with the thought that maybe ten or twenty years hence, I too, could spin across the floor instead of making the few wobbly turns I now managed.

At lunch after class, most of us drooped wearily onto our chairs, but Jackie sat straight and cheery as always. “So, Pat. Have you started to write the book?”

I thought of lying, meeting her perky question with a perky response of my own, but all I managed was the feeble truth. “Nope. Not a word. There’s still so much I haven’t figured out. Everyone needs to have a secret that’s unveiled in the book, but I don’t want to reveal anyone’s real secrets, so I’d have to make something up. And I’m afraid of hurting people with my fictions.”

I imagined a conversation that might result from an untruth:

Husband: Character B is you, right?
Character B: Yes. Isn’t this great?
Husband: And it’s based on your life.
Character B: Yes, but it’s fictionalized.
Husband: So who is this guy you’re having an affair with?
Character B: I am not having an affair.
Husband: You said Character B is you.
Character B: It is. A fictionalized me.
Husband: And Character B is having an affair.
Character B: Yes, in the book I am having an affair.
Husband: So who is he? Do you want a divorce? Is that what you’re saying?
Character B: No. I’m saying I’m character B.
Husband: Do you want to leave or do you want me to leave?

“It’s a big enough responsibility shaping one’s character’s life,” I said, “and to have the real person influence the character. Having the character influence the real person’s life is more responsibility and guilt than I can handle.”

“Maybe it doesn’t have to be a secret, even a made-up secret.” Jackie took a bite of her vegetarian burrito and chewed it slowly. “Maybe you in the book can find out things about us that you in the real world don’t know.”

I took a second to unravel that convoluted sentence. “But how could my character find out things that I don’t know in real life? And what sort of things? They’d have to be relevant to the story.”

“Well,” Jackie said. “Something you don’t know is that I’m a pilot. Maybe that would have some relevancy.”

“Cool!” Rhett shot a fist in the air. “You can fly me to the Philippines to kill my husband, and no one will know I went there.”

Jackie looked from me to Rhett and back to me as if she couldn’t decide if Rhett were being facetious. I shrugged, unable to guess how far Rhett would go to get her way. Nor did I know how far her frankly-my-dear attitude carried her. Did she really not give a damn, or was the attitude merely a conceit she’d adopted because of her name? Maybe it worked the other way—the attitude came first, and then the name.

The whole murder project suddenly seemed impossible. I thought I knew these women I danced with, but I didn’t know them at all. I didn’t even know if the names I knew them by were their real names or nicknames. Or aliases.

What secrets were they hiding behind their innocuous names?

***

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare is the perfect gift for for those who love fun, dance, murder, mystery, older women living with all the verve and nerve of the young, and me! (The main character is named Pat. Coincidence? Perhaps not.)

Click here to read the first chapter of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

Click here to buy Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram 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.