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.

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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

***

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 

***

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.

Wordlessly Hibernating

Almost every day, it seems, I get on the computer to write a blog and end up playing an hour or two of various solitaire games before shutting down without ever having written a word to post. Haven’t even written a word to add my work in progress, either. I seem to be in a sort of wordless hibernating mode. I can’t even say I’m waiting for anything, except for maybe something worth waiting for.

During all those long years of grief, I expected something astonishingly wonderful to happen because only something stupendous could balance out the horror and impossible pain of Jeff’s dying. I no longer expect that awesome thing to happen, though I suppose it’s still possible for something miraculously good to happen. I’ve had many great experiences during the past seven years, but the only things that “happened” all on their own were the not-so-wonderful things such as my father’s death, my having to leave another home, and destroying my elbow/wrist/fingers. The good things didn’t just happen; I had to push for them, such as learning to dance, taking a cross-country trip, finishing two of my WIPs. And now I seem to have run out of pushability.

I still do push myself, of course, but I don’t seem to be able to push myself beyond a few simple tasks. I manage to get to my dance classes. I exercise my hands to try to get them to work better. (The hands work for most important things, such as driving and typing and gripping a ballet barre, but the fingers tend to act more like claws than human fingers.) Because of the intense heat, I hadn’t been walking, but now it cools off a bit after the sun sets so I can walk a couple of miles before dark. That’s a long way from the hours I used to be able to ramble, but I’m hoping to build up my strength again. I still have intermittent dreams of an epic hike, but that epic hike has shrunk from something like walking across the country or hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to maybe a week or so of back-packing. (Still an impossible dream at the moment because I can barely carry myself along, let alone a thirty-pound pack. And anyway, thoughts of an epic hike seem to surface when I want to run away from life, and I seem to be doing that just fine in my current hibernating state.)

It feels good to be out walking again, so I’m glad I can push at least that much — somehow I feel most myself when I am walking — and there is always something lovely to see, such as the owl tree I often stop to touch to connect in a hands-on way with the wonders of the world.

Hope you are doing well and surviving this intense summer.

***

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.

Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram

The Sun Singer's Travels

Author Pat Bertram, who previously explored her own encounter with the loss of a loved one in Grief: The Great Yearning (2016), has brought her wisdom into the world of fiction in Unfinished (Stairway Press, June 27, 2017). The story will capture your heart and soul, while shining a spotlight on the fact that most people want those who grieve to get over it quickly because they make us uncomfortable.

Like many spouses, Amanda Ray defined herself as one half of a married team, leaving her without a sense of self when her husband David dies at 59 after a long illness. Her husband was a minister. Amanda’s role as the traditional minister’s wife  (hostess, assistant, secretary, and help meet) didn’t lend itself to separate goals or careers.  While she doesn’t know if she would cope with her loss differently if she’d had her own career to fall back on…

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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.

What the Screams Are All About

The worst thing about opening a decade-old work in progress (though can it be called a work in progress if no progress has been made on it for years?) is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written. I usually try to end a writing session in the middle of a scene to give me a hint of the next day’s writing session, and I ended that long-ago final writing session with a scream: A shriek like that of a jungle beast in pain woke him. He rolled over onto his back, too tired to wonder who or what could be making such a racket. More shrieks and shouts. This time the screeches sounded decidedly human.

But who screamed? And why? I haven’t a clue.

The best thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, so I come to it as a stranger. I found myself shuddering and chuckling by turns, and in one place I actually laughed aloud. Not bad for a work that has been stagnant for so many years. (I did find a few stray, out-of-place chapters that I vaguely remember writing seven years ago when I was trying to meet a word count for the one National Novel Writing Month I signed up for, but they don’t help much because they take place long after the shrieks.)

The oddest thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written . . . and haven’t written. A few of the scenes I thought I wrote somehow got stuck in my mind and never made it into the manuscript. I do remember now that I didn’t feel like writing those scenes. Coming up with and writing the plethora of details needed to describe a fellow trying to scrounge for food in an inhospitable environment seemed dreary. Which means that as I continue with this book, my task will be to see that the scenes aren’t dreary, either for me or the reader.

The most disheartening thing about opening a decade-old-work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, and I’d forgotten that the story does not fit at all with anything else I have ever written. I have learned in the intervening years that to be successful, a writer, like an artist, must develop a recognizable style. If you pick up a Rosamund Pilcher book, you know you’re not getting horror. If you pick up a Clive Barker book, you know you’re not getting a pastoral romance. And my stories are all over the place. Three of my published novels have a similar thread, a touch of otherworldliness along with a large dash of conspiracy; my fourth published novel is a gold-hunt mystery/adventure; my soon to be published novel Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare can maybe be classified as a self-aware cozy mystery, and my soon-after-that-to be published novel is the story of a woman dealing with grief. There is a gun and a bit of a mystery in the grief story, but mostly the mystery is that of the human heart.

And then there is this decade-old WIP. No mystery. Just . . . I don’t know. Maybe an apocalyptic horror story.

Eventually, I will have to settle into a style (or develop enough readers who are intrigued by a wide-ranging author), but for now, I will enjoy the discovery of what the screams are all about.

***

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.

Toddling Along

I am toddling along, trying to get back into my life now that the external fixator is off my arm. I’m taking a couple of dance classes, walking a bit, reading, writing occasionally. Mostly I’ve been trying not to be too introspective, hence the lack of recent blog posts. Besides, pain has a way of focusing attention onto itself and away from the bigger picture.

I’m not in a lot of pain, but there is always some. Either I am trying to work the hand to its new level of normality, or I momentarily have no pain and inadvertently use the hand in a way it has not been accustomed to during the last five months, and so my friend pain arrives once more.

When I returned from my cross-country trip, I had three goals: try to build up my strength, go on an anti- inflammation diet for 30 days, and finish my three works in progress. The strength-building goal was laid low after I destroyed my arm, and now that goal is mostly focused on the arm itself rather than all of me. I do such fun things as squeeze a sponge in a bucket of warm water, grasp a hammer by the end of the handle and flip it gently from side to side to help with elbow and wrist pronation, lay my left hand on flat on the table and try to raise the elbow to bend the wrist. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Twelve days ago I started the anti-inflammation diet — no milk products, no grains, no legumes, no sweeteners of any kind — and so far I’m doing fine, though I do not notice any difference. (Supposedly, I am supposed to feel vibrant and healthy with more energy than I’ve had for years, but that simply is not happening.) When the 30 days are up, I will probably continue with a variation of the diet, though I will add some corn and cheese so I can eat with friends at a favorite Mexican restaurant.

Most importantly, I have finished two of my three or four works in progress. (Three if I include only started works, and four if I include the first book I ever wrote, which needs a complete rewriting. I still love the premise, but I’m not really sure what to do with it.) I opened the file for the third WIP today, which actually is the oldest of the three, started before I ever had the Internet. (I was given the gift of the Internet nine years and 341 days ago. I wasn’t really sure what to do on the Internet, but figured I had a year to decide, and if after that year I still didn’t know, well, I could always get rid of it. But here I am.) I think the last time I worked on this particular book was maybe seven years ago, and I’d forgotten a lot of the fun little bits. It will be nice to finally finish it, but finishing it will bring its own level of sadness because it was the last book Jeff helped me with. My mother’s death, the advent of the Internet and publication of two of my books, and then Jeff’s death, shunted this poor WIP off my radar. And when the book is finished done, it will end my literary link with Jeff.

He was my first reader (or rather listener, since I read to him while he did chores). I did not think I would be able to write without his smile to encourage me, but the books I finished were both started after his death, and in fact, reflected either his death, my grief, or both.

I hope I’ll be able to continue to write after these started books are finished and (keeping my fingers crossed) published. Hope I will still have something to say. But I do not need to concern myself with the future right now. Other things matter more. Working my arm. Finishing my third WIP. Trying to get strong and healthy. That’s enough for any one person to concentrate on.

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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.

Olio

Olio is one of those words dearly loved by crossword puzzle makers but that you never hear in real life. Olio means a miscellaneous collection of things, and that’s what today’s blog is — a collection of loosely connected thoughts.

Every time I write a blog using speech recognition software, I am especially pleased with how easy it is to tag an article. Normally, I would scour a blog searching for keywords, then copy and paste those words into the blog editor. This always added an extra 15 minutes or more to a blog — not that I begrudged the time, but it felt laborious. Now all I have to do is set my cursor at the bottom of the document, re-read what I wrote, and voice any terms I come across that I wish to use for keywords. Then I copy and paste the entire list into the blog editor. I don’t honestly know if using speech recognition software to tag an article saves time, but the process is so much less tedious, I don’t mind tagging as much as I did.

People keep telling me that one day I will understand the good that has come from destroying my arm, but I don’t necessarily think things — especially this injury thing — happen for a reason. They just happen. I do know most of us tend to make the best of bad situations, because really, what else can we do? In my case, since my pulverized wrist keeps me from two-handed typing, I got speech recognition software to make writing easier. And oh, it truly does make writing easier — though is it still writing if one is actually speaking and not writing?

I imagine writing has come to mean any means of disseminating one’s thoughts via words to people not immediately present. Every writer knows there is a vast difference between typing and writing, so there is also a difference between merely talking and writing using speech recognition software.

Still, as helpful as the program is, there is no way I would have ever exchanged a perfect arm for a piece of software, especially since I could have bought it either way, giving me both a perfect arm and speech recognition software. As for other benefits of having broken my arm? There are none that I can see. I can’t think of any lesson I learned. No monetary windfall came my way, and because of all the bills, I’m worse financially than I was before. And, of course I am worse off physically. The best I can hope for is to regain as much mobility I can, learn to live with whatever disability (and pain) is left, and not let fear of injury impede further adventures.

Oddly, with all of the care and worry of the external fixator, and the recent surgery to remove it, I’d forgotten I broke my elbow in so many places that I now have a metal elbow to match the various pins in my arm and the plate in my wrist. I never did any physical therapy for the elbow, just exercised it, and though I don’t yet have full mobility, I’m doing quite well. And my fingers are working to a certain extent. I was finally able to cut my hair (yep, I’m a do-it-yourselfer all the way). And today I discovered I could tie my shoes. Such a big girl now! Can tie my own shoes! When I had the occupational therapist, she tied my shoes for me; I left the laces tied and used the shoes as slip ons.

During the past four and half months, ever since I fell, I’ve been more or less drugged. It didn’t really feel as if I were, but now that I have been drug-free for a week — the recent anesthesia has worn off and I’ve sworn off pain pills — I can see that I’ve been in some sort of altered state. I don’t remember everything that happened during the past few months. It’s as if I walked out of the theater after the dance performance on November 19 and woke up today living in a different room, different neighborhood, and with a disabled arm.

I’m also disoriented as to time. I fell in the autumn and now summer is on the way. I seem to have misplaced a season or two. And I’m disoriented as to days and hours. When I was out walking today, I panicked, thinking I should be at the doctor’s office for my post-op appointment. I called to tell them I would be late and discovered I would not be late but in fact was twenty-three and a half hours early.

I don’t really know what to make of all this, though I suppose there is nothing to make of it. Just continue on as I’ve been doing — one day at a time, taking the bad with the good.

My most recent watercolor. Maybe it’s time I start signing them.

***

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

What a Person Can Get Used To

It’s amazing what a person can get used to. Four months ago, after I broke my arm and elbow and wrist in more than a dozen places, I had surgery to have an external fixator screwed into my arm to keep the hand bones from migrating down to where my wrist was supposed to be. When I woke from the anesthetic with the hardware attached to my arm, I have no idea why I didn’t freak out. I don’t know if they told me what they were going to do; if I was so drugged, what they did to me just didn’t register; or if the whole thing was so preposterous that I just accepted the device for what it was.

At first, it was hard having something that looks like a small sewing machine attached my arm, a  sewing machine that weighed a couple of pounds, but at the beginning I had a bit of help — an occupational therapist that miraculously showed up at my door one day. I think one of the hospital doctors have prescribed a nursing service, which I did not need, and along with the service came this wonderful woman. For a couple hours a week, she helped me open bottles, cut up apples, wash my hair, help with whatever finger exercises I could do, massage scars and aching muscles. During most of that time, I was on heavy duty opioids that did little more than fog my brain, make me sleep, and slightly reduce the acuity of the pain. The loss of this therapist, who I had come to depend on, happened to coincide with my grief anniversary date (exactly one month before the seventh anniversary of his death, which for some reason is more painful than the anniversary itself).

I survived that unexpected and quite profound bout of grief, of course, because, odd though it might seem, I have gotten used to grief popping up whenever it feels like it.. After the grief episode, I entered a period of equanimity that hasn’t been especially good, but it certainly hasn’t been bad. I think it’s more that I’ve gotten used to the fixator, to not being able to drive, to spending most of my time a loan in a single room. The last week or so, I have done away with all pain medications, and surprisingly — or I suppose not surprisingly — I’ve begun to feel like writing again. Having forgotten most of the book I was writing, I had to reread the entire thing — twice — to get it back into my head. I also gave the rough draft to a couple of friends to read, and took their suggestions into consideration along with some of my own suggestions, such as moving a crucial scene closer towards the end.

Now that I have gotten used to this life, I have been given a surgery date to get the fixator removed. (First week in April.) People keep telling me, “I bet you’re going to be glad to have that thing off your arm,” and though I agree to keep from seeming contrary, the truth is, I’m not particularly glad. To be honest, I feel a bit of trepidation. As long as the fixator is on my arm, I am more or less forced into a life of idleness. Reading, writing, walking, painting, doing puzzles. When the fixator comes off, there will be a period of recuperation, drugs, and I’m sure quite a bit of backtracking in the use of fingers, elbow, etc. After that comes a year maybe two of relearning how to use the wrist and hand, and learning how to accommodate whatever deformity and disability I end up with. All necessary steps, but not necessarily pleasant ones.

So for now, these last couple of weeks before the fixator comes off, I intend to enjoy this idleness I have gotten used to.

I hope you are finding periods of creative idleness, too!

***

(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.