We Can Only Write the Novels Only We Can Write

Of all the books I’ve written, the one that saddens me the most is Light Bringer because it never got the notice I thought it deserved. I don’t know what happened — perhaps I never knew how to categorize it, perhaps I am terrible at marketing. Perhaps a lot of things. But there it sits, a magical novel without much of a readership.

I understand the importance of categorizing novels — giving them a genre — because people like to know what they are getting. But what if the novel you wanted to write doesn’t fit within a genre? Are we supposed to not write it?

But truly, we can only write the novels only we can write.

To me, Light Bringer was mythic fiction — a story based on ancient cosmologies and modern conspiracy theories, but mention of ancient spacecraft and aliens made people want to throw it in the science fiction category, while secret government installations and covert international organizations made others think of it as thriller fare. And yet it is neither. Nor, despite the romances in the book, is it a romance. (It surprised me, but my father, who was not much of a fiction reader, understood all that.)

Writing the book, I never once considered genre. Well, come to think of it, that’s not true. In the very beginning, I thought naively of writing a book that fit all genres, but apparently that is an idea many neophyte writers come up with, and is considered the mark of an amateur. So I stopped trying to fit all genres into the book (though I did keep my cowboy character from the western elements and the ghost town and ghost cat from the horror genre.) I just wrote the book. I didn’t even have to do much research — so much of the book was based on my lifetime of studies into lesser known histories (also known erroneously as conspiracy theories), though I did research color and their meanings because color played a major role in the book, as the following excerpt will show:

After following the path for several minutes, they came to a place where the stream narrowed to no more than four feet. Chester bent over and began hauling out one of the boards stashed beneath a Douglas fir. The boards, withered a silvery-gray, were two inches thick, ten inches wide, and about six feet long.

With Rena and Philip helping Chester, it took only a few minutes to place the boards bank-to-bank, forming a makeshift bridge.

“I set these here for Gertie after she slipped and hurt herself wading across the stream,” Chester said.

Rena turned to Philip. “Gertie used to own this place.”

“She was my godmother. When she died, I dismantled the bridge.” Chester looked from the planks to Rena and Philip and then back again as if trying to make a decision. “I don’t know if you’ll like the place. Most people avoid it. They say it makes them shivery. Some even call it the devil’s garden, but me and Gertie called it . . . blessed.”

Rena touched the old man’s arm. “I’m sure we will, too.”

Chester nodded. He stepped onto the plank bridge and proceeded to the other side. Rena followed him, then turned and smiled encouragingly at Philip.

“It’s surprisingly sturdy. You won’t have any problem.”

A clear blue nimbus of trust emanated from Philip. Without hesitation, he clumped across the bridge.

In the full of the sun, the meadow grasses shone emerald. “Hurry, hurry,” they whispered.

I’m coming.

Rena set off at a run.

“There’s a pathway,” she heard Chester call.

She kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers—chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

Standing on the brink, waiting for Philip and Chester, she could not lift her gaze from the flowers. Many of them were familiar, but others, in seemingly impossible tints and shades, were new. She inhaled, filling her nose with the intoxicating scent, and felt herself losing her balance as if she were drunk. She flung out an arm to steady herself, and barely missed hitting Chester.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“More than okay.”

Philip came to stand beside her. Hearing his sharp intake of breath, she knew he felt as stunned as she by the sight, sound, smell of the flowers.

Knowing Chester needed to hear the words, she said softly, “You and Gertie are right. The place is blessed. Thank you for bringing us.”

If you would like to read more of this magical book, you can find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Bringer-Pat-Bertram-ebook/dp/B004U39WQ6/. And hey, if you can think how to categorize it, let me know!

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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.

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The Wheel of Time

Over the past several months, I’ve been reading (and rereading) Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series. The books in the series are not stand alone books — you cannot understand one book without the previous books — which means that in effect the WOT series is single novel of over four million words broken up into fifteen parts. In fact, the series itself is not stand alone — there are all sorts of books, blogs, discussion forums comprising billions of words where readers try to figure out the truth of the story.

Not only is the scope of WOT almost impossible to fathom, but Jordan had a bad habit of putting in bits of deus ex machina that he refused to elucidate in the work itself, companion books, or even interviews. Perhaps he himself did not know what those bits meant or maybe he simply wanted to be mysterious for mysterious’s sake, to create a legacy of people debating worthless points. Which they do. Ad infinitum. Jordan also refused to explain what to him are obvious story points, such as who killed a certain bad-guy-turned-maybe-good-guy, but again, dozens of forums present various theories because that obvious point was obvious only to he who created it. At least in this particular case, the murderer was revealed in an appendix several books after the fact. Jordan also spent thousands upon thousands of words on red herrings and subplots that go nowhere, but sometimes used a single sentence buried in huge blocks of description to bring out a major point. Yikes.

And wow, is there description. Tons of description. Whenever food was mentioned, I found myself skipping a paragraph or two. When clothes were mentioned, I’d skip a couple of pages. And sometimes, when there was zero action or character development, such as in a few very clean bathing scenes, I’d skip the whole dang chapter.

I also tended to skip over some of the women’s parts. Although Jordan mostly develops his three main male characters into individual heroes, he turns his three main women characters into insufferable caricatures, indistinguishable from one another except for a few annoying character tics. At first I thought he had a problem with women, but his secondary and tertiary female characters are often well-defined or at least not brats and prigs who believe, without giving a single shred of thought to the forces the other characters face, that they know the best for everyone.

I am not a fan of fantasy fiction, especially not one man vs. the powers of darkness stories, but when I was house bound for all those months, I needed something to do, and a massive read seemed to fill that need. Though I’d tried to get immersed into other such series, books that start with a war in a bizarre place with an incomprehensible name fought by characters with equally tongue-twisting names for a goal that seemed completely alien hold no interest for me. Luckily, the first Wheel of Time book began in an earthly place with understandable actions by understandable people with simple names.

Even after investing all this time in reading the books, I’m still not sure I like the series — although the theme seems to be about the importance of having choices, most of the characters, both good and evil, go out of their way to force others to their will. Too much torture and punishment for my taste. It seems to me that in a world where everyone is free to choose, it’s just as easy to find someone to willingly do your bidding as to waste the effort forcing someone to do it. (Oddly, the three main males do turn others to their will, but without wanting to or without even trying.)

But despite my ambivalence, I keep rereading. The scope to the story is utterly astounding. In the story, during the so-called age of legends, people wielding the power that turns the wheel of time, broke the world. Mountains grew where no mountains had been, waters flooded lands, green spaces became deserts. And humans started over. Again.

Interestingly, breaking the world is exactly what Robert Jordon did — he mashed our world into bits, mixed it all up — legends and traditions; countries and races, clothes and customs; myths and mysteries, religions and philosophies — and put it all back together into his own creation.

I wonder what it would be like to create such a massive fiction world, a world that reflects our world but not. A world that reflects our values but not. A world that exists only in our minds but not. Or, rather, maybe not. If it exists in our minds, it’s possible Jordan’s world exists for real, sort of dream world we all created together, just as philosophers and physicists say we do with the real world.

Assuming there is a real world.

Maybe we’re all writing the story of our world as we live it, creating with our hive mind the very fact of our existence. If we all stopped believing in it, would it disappear as if we were closing the cover of a novel? Would we disappear if we stopped believing all the things we see and hear except with our own eyes or ears? Would we be different if we simply refused to accept the role that has been forced on us?

Maybe, as I study Jordan’s world, I’ll learn how to help build a better version of our own — how to write it or right it, either one.

Meanwhile, the wheels of time keeps turning . . .

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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.

Fabulous Review of UNFINISHED

Getting a good review is always heartening for an author, but even more gratifying is when the reader/reviewer “gets” the story.

Unfinished was a hard book for me to write because it called up the horrific and inexplicable emotions I experienced during the first few months after the death of my life mate/soul mate, but knowing that others appreciate Unfinished makes the dredging of my grief worthwhile.

I hope this review by Sheila Deeth, author in her own right, will intrigue you enough that you’ll check out Unfinished.

Sheila Deeth‘s review of Unfinished:

Beautifully balanced blend of grief, romance and mystery

Many things are left unfinished when a life is cut short, even if the ending is long and slow, well-predicted, and sensibly prepared-for. Words are left unsaid, secrets left untold. And relationships tremble in the wind of passage. Platitudes offer neither comfort nor wisdom, and grief is a full-time job.

Pat Bertram’s Unfinished invites readers into that grief, while adding layers of mysteries, hints of betrayals, and conversations beautifully recorded of honest recognition. “One of the ironies of grief is that… when people should be looking out for you, you have to… make allowances for their discomfort,” says one character, while others tell Amanda she should pick herself up.

Unfinished is a beautiful combination of intriguing fiction and informative wisdom, leading readers along the path of grief, through byways of longing and guilt. Faith is respectfully recognized and recorded, but never a call for commitment—it’s what others believe, including Amanda’s husband David, but it’s not part of her life.

The story tells of David’s illness, the temptations of drugs to kill physical pain and the internet for mental and emotional hurts, and the aching need for human interaction. It’s a story of betrayals past and future, secret and open, and of a woman slowly coming to terms with life on her own. Mystery perfectly balances grief, the plot moves forward decisively even while Amanda digs into the past, and the dialog is convincing and wisely thought-provoking.

Good fiction with wise lessons, pleasing humor and wounded depths, Unfinished is a book you’ll keep to reread when it’s unfinished.

Click here to buy Unfinished by Pat Bertram: https://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Pat-Bertram/dp/1941071651/ 

The Story of a Cover

Despite my hesitation about writing a murder mystery starring my dance class (killing friends is a good way to lose friends), I wanted a cover for the as yet unwritten book to help ease me into the project. Grace, the woman who’d volunteered to be the victim, agreed to be the cover girl.

On Tuesdays, ballet comes first, then Arabic. One Tuesday, we were just finished practicing our final combination of ballet steps—glissade, arabesque, pas de bourrrée, assemblé—when Grace arrived, already dressed in her green and beige silk belly dance skirt.

I waved at the older woman. “I brought my camera. I need a photo of your corpse. Will you play dead for me?”

Grace laughed. “Sure. Where do you want me? Over there by the barre?”

I glanced at the corner of the studio she indicated, and shrugged. “Sure. Anywhere is fine.”

I’d expected to have to take several shots to get the pose I wanted, but Grace sank to the wooden floor as gracefully as she did everything else, and lay in the ideal pose.

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

And now, finally, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare,my sometimes amusing, always riveting novel about fun and murder at an adult dance class is available on Amazon.

Click here to buy: Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

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Pat Bertram is the author of four other 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.

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

I didn’t want to kill Grace—it was her idea. I’ve literarily massacred hundreds of thousands of people, so it shouldn’t have been difficult to do away with one petite older woman, but the truth is I couldn’t think of a single reason why I—or anyone—would want Grace Worthington dead. Though most of us humans frown on murder, we do grudgingly admit some folks are so villainous they need to be eliminated, but no one would consider Grace a villain. She is charming, kind, with a smile for everyone, and the ghost of her youthful beauty is still apparent on her lovely face.

Besides, killing a friend is a good way to lose that friend, and dance class would not be the same without Grace.

I was still trying to make up my mind about killing Grace when several of us dancing classmates met for lunch. After nibbling on salads and sandwiches, we rose and gathered our belongings. I’d hung my dance bag on the back of my chair, and I yanked the bag with more force than I intended. The bag swung out and narrowly missed hitting Buffy Cooper, a tanned, elegant blonde a couple of years older and a couple of inches shorter than me.

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

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

I turned to Grace. “How do you want me to do the deed?” Since she’d initiated this lethal game, I thought it only right that she got to choose the means of her demise. So much fairer than the way life works, wouldn’t you say? I mean, few among us get to choose our own end. Life, the greatest murderer of all time, chooses how we expire, whether we will it or not.

Grace laughed at my question and said she didn’t care how she died.

But I cared.

Death is often messy — and smelly — with blood and body wastes polluting the scene, and I did not feel like dealing with such realities, especially not at Madame ZeeZee’s Dance Academy.

So begins the story of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, my sometimes amusing, always suspenseful novel about fun and murder at an adult dance class.

Now available on Amazon.

Click here to buy: Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

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Pat Bertram is the author of four other 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.

“Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare” is Now Available!

Killing friends is a good way to lose friends, even if the murder is for play. When Pat’s adult dance classmates discover she is a published author, the women suggest she write a mystery featuring the studio and its aging students. One sweet older lady laughingly volunteers to be the victim, and the others offer suggestions to jazz up the story. Then the murders begin. Tapped by the cops as the star suspect, author Pat sets out to discover the truth curtained behind the benign faces of her fellow dancers. Does one of them have a secret she would kill to protect? Or is the writer’s investigation a danse macabre with Pat herself as the bringer of death?

This sometimes amusing, always riveting novel about fun and murder at an adult dance class is now available on Amazon.

Click here to buy: Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare 

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Pat Bertram is the author of four other 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 UNFINISHED

Amanda put a hand over the hole in her chest and was surprised to discover that under her white cotton blouse, her body remained intact. “I miss you, David,” she murmured. “Dammit, I miss you.”

A sudden fury swept over her. “Why did you leave me?” she screamed. She ran back to his closet, grabbed a handful of clothes, and dumped them on the floor. A muffled thud caught her attention, but it took a moment for the truth to soak into her grief-fuddled mind. Something weighty had been stashed among the clothes. She scrabbled about in the pile of garments and pulled out a threadbare terrycloth robe that seemed inordinately heavy.

For a second, Amanda considered reburying the robe in the heap of clothing. David had always been a private person, but during his last year, he had become furtive, and he would not appreciate her ferreting out his secrets. “Well, David,” she said aloud. “If you didn’t want me rummaging around in your life, you shouldn’t have died.”

Still, a feeling of dread made her hesitate. Summoning the strength of her anger, she thrust a hand into the robe’s pocket. Her heart thudded when she felt the shape of the cold metal object. Gingerly, she pulled the piece out of the pocket and stared at it. It couldn’t be real, could it? But the weight told her the small revolver with the two-inch barrel was genuine.

Click here to buy Unfinishedhttps://www.amazon.com/Unfinished-Pat-Bertram/dp/1941071651/

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

UNFINISHED is Now Finished and Available on Amazon

Amanda Ray thought she’d grow old with her pastor husband David, but death had other plans. During David’s long illness and his withdrawal from her, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met at an online support group for cancer patient caregivers. Amanda thought that when their spouses were gone, she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real, but though David succumbed to the cancer that riddled his body, Sam’s wife, Vivian, survives. Vivian had been in the process of divorcing Sam when she fell ill, and after the diagnosis, Sam agreed to stay with her until the end. Since Sam plans to continue honoring his vow, Amanda feels doubly bereft, as if she is mourning two men.

Rocked by grief she could never have imagined, confused by her love for Sam and his desire for her to move near him, at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to find a new focus for her suddenly unfinished life. As if that weren’t enough to contend with, while clearing out the parsonage for the next residents, Amanda discovers a gun among her devout husband’s belongings. Later, while following his wishes to burn his effects, she finds a photo of an unknown girl that resembles their daughter.

Having dedicated her life to David and his vocation, this evidence that her husband kept secrets from her devastates Amanda. If she doesn’t know who he was, how can she know who she is? Accompanied by grief and endless tears, Amanda sets out to discover answers to the many mysteries of her life: the truth of her husband, the enigmatic powers of love and loss, and the necessity of living in the face of death.

Does this story sound interesting to you? If so, you can now purchase the print version of UNFINISHED (published by Stairway Press) on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1941071651/

Although the feelings of grief Amanda experiences are based on my emotional journey during my first two months of profound grief, the story itself is fiction. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with not only the loss of one’s mate, but the loss of the idea of one’s mate. Well . . . yes, I guess I can imagine how it would feel, because I wrote the novel! I hope you will read UNFINISHED. It’s an important book because too few fiction writers portray the truth of new grief, and that lack leaves the newly bereft feeling isolated and as if they are the only ones dealing with grief’s craziness.

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

A Fresh Chance to Take the World by Storm

While going through the first throes of grief, I was astonished by how little authors knew about the enormity of grief and its impact. In one book, the new widow cried the first night, then woke up the next morning determined to put her grief behind her, and she never shed another tear. In a second book, the only concession to grief was a single sentence, “She went through all five stages of grief.” Yikes. How ignorant (or lazy) is that? Grief is not merely a brief spate of sorrow that is easily suppressed. It is a complicated process that involves — and completely disrupts — every part of you: your mind, body, soul, spirit, ego in an ever expanding spiral of “stages”.

Because of such authors, I decided to tell the truth of grief, and so I started blogging about what I was going through. I also considered writing a novel about a woman dealing the agony of grief, but I thought it would be too hard to portray in a positive light a woman who cried all the time. It is a caveat in the writing community that if your characters cry, your readers don’t, which could be why most books featuring a widow or widower take place three to five years after the loss.

Still, I wrote a novel about a new widow and her first two horrendous months, which will soon be published:

While sorting through her deceased husband’s effects, Amanda is shocked to discover a gun and the photo of an unknown girl who resembles their daughter. After dedicating her life to David and his vocation as a pastor, the evidence that her devout husband kept secrets devastates Amanda.

But Amanda has secrets of her own.

During David’s long illness and withdrawal from life, Amanda found solace in the virtual arms of Sam Priestly, a college professor she met in an online support group for cancer caregivers. Amanda believed she and Sam would find comfort in each other’s arms for real after their spouse’s deaths, but miraculously, Sam’s wife survives the cancer that killed David. Rocked by unimaginable grief for her husband, confused by her love for Sam and his desire to continue their affair, and at odds with her only daughter, Amanda struggles to solve the many mysteries of her unfinished life: the truth of her husband’s secrets, the enigmatic power of love and loss, and the necessity of living despite the nearness of death.

The publisher (Stairway Press) says Unfinished is a fresh start for me to take the world by storm. Even better, my first readers think it’s a powerful story!

“Unfinished” is a novel of loss, love, and personal discovery. Told with realistic intensity, this story about surviving life while in the throes of soul-changing sorrow shows that grief never dies, but those left behind can learn to live again. —J.J. Dare, author of False Positive and False World

While finding your high school best friend has become a talented writer may not be a surprise, I can honestly say it has become a delight. I have now read all of Pat’s work to date and marvel at the honesty of emotion with which she writes. As a reader, I delight in Pat’s ability to develop characters, to portray our complexity as human beings. Pat’s characters in “Unfinished” challenge our beliefs with their ability to hold a dialectic, and just when you feel you know how this is going to lay down, more is revealed! And, as a therapist, I value this as I offer “Unfinished” to my grieving clients. Pat’s experience makes the reader uncomfortable at times giving us permission to embrace our grief “and let it take you where you need to go” eschewing the judgment of others about “not grieving right,” as we work our way forward [coming to see grief as a gift]. As well, it allows those not yet touched by grief to understand and support, not exhort closure, widening the book’s audience. Unfinished is an authentic gift. —Mary Strasser, MC, LPC, LISAC

So, look for Unfinished. Coming soon!!!

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

 

 

A Halloween Fable by Pat Bertram

Once upon a time,
Long ago and far away,
Lived the queen of the witches,
Griselda the Gray.
If you think all witches are tall and thin,
You are wrong about that.
Griselda the Gray was short
And extremely fat.
Like everyone else,
Griselda tried to be good.
Griselda never did anything bad
Like normal witches should.
This upset the other witches
Because they had to copy their queen.
They had to be nice
When they wanted to be mean.
So they all got together
And mixed up a brew.
They gave it to Griselda
When they were all through.
The brew was so rotten
Griselda had a fit.
She screamed and yelled
And hollered and bit;
She howled and cackled
And made such a noise
That the other witches were happy
And began to rejoice.
“Griselda is bad
And we are glad.
Griselda is ghastly
So now we can be nasty.
Oh, what a happy, horrible day!
Hurrah for our queen, Griselda the Gray!”

The moral of this story is that witches should
Never try to be very good.

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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+