What Would You Like Included in a Book About Grief?

It seems as if I am being pulled back into the world of grief, not because I am having upsurges of grief, but because other people are discovering my grief posts and my grief book. Also, I have been talking to friends as they go through their grief upsurges, and at the same time, I am getting emails from newly bereft people who have read Grief: The Great Yearning, a sort of memoir about my first year of grief. (I wonder if I am the only author who cries every time I get a letter from a reader. I am glad they contact me, but oh, so much sorrow!)

As if this weren’t enough of a pull, people have begun suggesting that I write another book of grief, sort of a sequel to Grief: The Great Yearning, but from the perspective of eight years later. (At one time, I’d considered doing a sequel focusing on the second, third, and maybe fourth year called Grief: The Great Learning, but I didn’t have enough to say to fill even a small book.)

This isn’t something I can start today — I need to finish that decade-old manuscript first, then I have my trip to Seattle, and finally a dance performance. But by the beginning of June, I will have cleared out all my obligations, and would have time — both calendar time and mental time — to start a new project.

If I do undertake such a project, what aspects of grief would you like to see included in the book?

Is there a particular one (or many) of my grief blog posts you’d like to see expanded for the book? (For those of you who have already offered suggestions, I will be going through the comments and emails to find those suggestions if you don’t want to repeat yourself here.)

Are there any aspects of my life, such as my penchant for adventures, that should be included? Because a need for adventure is part of the grief process, not just for me, but for many folks. It’s as if once our lives are turned upside down, only undertaking something challenging helps get us back on a new track.

By its very nature (or rather, the very nature of the author), the book won’t be a practical guide for getting through grief, won’t offer platitudes or comfort except of the roughest kind (such as telling people what they already know — that grief is impossibly hard). There are certainly enough grief self-help books on the market, and anyway, I don’t have anything to offer along those lines. I think what I do have to offer is a safe place for people to explore their own grief, maybe even offer something for them to compare themselves to. (All grief is different, but for those who have suffered the same sort of profound loss, such as the death of soul mate, grief does tend to follow the same patterns.)

I hope I’m ready for such a project. At least it will be non-fiction, so I won’t have to relive grief through my characters like I did for Unfinished. That just about did me in!

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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 Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing

A new mystery writer posted an interesting question in a writing group I run. She wanted to know how to make her story unique.

It’s a good question because almost every situation imaginable has already been written. Almost every character is now a cliché because authors have taken the clichéd character, turned it on its head, and created a shadow cliché of the original.

But still, there is originality even in the most banal situation. A situation becomes unique and original if you fully develop the characters and the situation. You give the good guys bad characteristics and the good guys good characteristics. You show why your characters are the way they are, giving them good reasons rather than just throwing them into the mix fully formed. You tie them to the story, making their characteristics an integral part of the plot. When you find that your story is going too much in one direction (straight to the resolution of the plot, for example), you turn the situation and throw more trauma at your characters. What does this trauma do the clichéd drunk cop? Make him or her give up drinking? What does the new trauma do to a clichéd rookie cop? Make him or her stronger, weaker, more determined, go seek counsel from someone who has been a tormentor? And you work against their characteristics and strengths. If the rookie is smart, throw her into a situation where her intelligence is no help. If the drunkenness of the cop is a liability, throw him into a situation where the drunkenness becomes an asset.

You can also find uniqueness in what the characters see. (That’s what made Sherlock Holmes so popular — he saw things differently from other people.)

And you can look at things through a different kind of glass. For example, I lost someone very dear to me a few years ago, and now I cannot write a character that isn’t affected by that grief. For another example, people who hike the Pacific Crest Trail are always afterward affected by what happened to them on the trail.

So, this brings me to the Pacific Crest Trail Theory of Writing. Every year, thousands of people attempt to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from the beginning to the end. The trail is always the same. It is what it is. In a way, the people are always the same, too, divided primarily into a couple of groups — the kids (mostly boys) just out of college and older recently retired couples. (Though people from all over the world of all ages hike the trail, these are the two biggest groups.) Despite this similarity, each of those hikers hikes a different trail and a different hike because each one of those hikers has a different motive and motivation, each sees something different, each reacts differently to what they experience.

And so it is with writing — it is the characters, their motives and motivations, how they experience what they experience, that makes a story unique.

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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.

Free Review Copy of Unfinished

Stairway Press has just informed me they have review copies of UNFINISHED to give away! If you would like to review this novel about the secrets a grieving widow uncovers when she goes through her deceased husband’s effects, please leave a comment on this blog. Reviews are to be posted on Amazon and at least one other place, such as your blog if you have one, Goodreads, Twitter, or Facebook. Stairway Press would also like permission to post the review on their website.

The review doesn’t have to be brilliant, just a few words to tell your honest opinion of the book and how it made you feel.

If you’ve already read the book, and have not left a review, please leave a review on Amazon. As Stairway Press said to me in a recent email, “Your book is good. It should please readers and fan word-of-mouth flames. But, it’s just sitting there looking at us as if it expects us to do something.”

So, let’s do something! Even if you don’t want to review the book, please share this post so that it can reach as many people as possible. Thank you.

Click on the cover below to read the first chapter and see if Unfinished is something you’d like to read and review.

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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.

Uncreating and Recreating my Life

It’s been exceptionally windy lately, and will continue to be windy through tomorrow. I still did my faux backpacking treks the past couple of days, though I must admit, I procrastinated this morning. It wasn’t just the wind I couldn’t face, but the struggle to get the backpack up onto my back. I can do it easily sitting on the bed, but I have it on good authority there are no such beds out in the wilderness. In the desert, there are often boulders the right size, but I’ve hiked many places where there wasn’t even a place to sit down except the ground, and sometimes not even that if the trail follows the side of a mountain or swings through a deep forest.

Yesterday, I had such a hard time getting the pack on, I was afraid I would wrench my back, but it’s something I have to learn — getting the darn pack on with nothing or no one to help. Then, it came to me: do the left side first. (The instructions for putting on a backpack were to haul it up on the bent right leg, put your right arm through the strap, then with the left hand gripping the haul strap, sling the thing onto your back, but my left hand isn’t strong enough and even if it were, the wonky arm no longer bends the way it’s supposed to.) I switched sides, and by golly, it worked. Despite the twenty-eight pound dead weight, the pack went on easily.

Then, of course, I had no excuse not to go out walking.

As I was sauntering along with all that weight on my back (plus two pounds of water in my belly pack), it occurred to me that I no longer feel the pull to do an epic backpacking trip. It’s not that I am giving up on the idea, it’s that I’ve already been pulled. It’s no longer an impossible dream, though the dream has to be tailored to my fitness level. It is and will probably always remain impossible for me to do the whole 2,700 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from beginning to end in one season. An average of twenty-miles a day for six months? Eek. Not even many young fit folk manage to do that. But I will be doing some of it, even if only a few miles — it’s just a matter of when and where.

I like the idea of doing the last hundred miles of the northern section and the first hundred miles of the southern section, and then filling in the center. Sort of like the way I colored when I was a kid — first the outline, then the middle. But we’ll see.

My May trip is getting closer, and I still have a lot to do to prepare, most notably searching through my storage unit and the closet in my room for all my camping and backpacking gear so I can decide what to take. (And make sure I don’t leave something important behind!)

Meantime, I am spending most of my mental time on my book, trying to figure out the last section. There needs to be more upheavals before they settle down, but I’ve already uncreated the world and recreated it, so I’m not sure what I can do that doesn’t set up echoes of what’s already been done. I’ll think of something though — in fact, I might take inspiration from one of my silly little water colors, and pull the stars down to earth and the flowers up into the sky. One can do that if one is a writer, especially if one is a writer who is playing god.

I’m still not sure whether to create a Garden of Eden or some sort of cave person environment. (I’ve been trying to find out what a Garden of Eden would look like, but to no avail.) Not that it really matters, but they have to settle somewhere. I don’t want to have to research a whole set of survival skills for them, so it has to be easy for them and for me, this primordial and primitive place where they will raise the baby they are going to have. (And yes, the poor kid will be named Adam. What else could his name be, this first boy child born into the recreated world?)

With any luck and a bit of determination, I might be able to finish the book before I head out, to free my mind for all the new adventures coming my way. So, while I uncreate and recreate the world in my book, I am also uncreating and recreating my own life as I finish the novel, prepare for my trip, and continue my backpacking conditioning.

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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.

He Loves Her. He Loves Her Not Yet.

I was making progress with my decade-old manuscript until I got to where I just want to end it. I’ve made the points I want to make, and I’m afraid the rest of the story will seem anti-climactic, and yet I need to get my two characters where they need to be — assuming, of course, I can figure where that is. The ending is also dependent on their having a baby, and they just now had sex. So there has to be something happening between now and then.

This book isn’t a romance, though there is romance of a sort in the story. The two start out not liking each other, come to an uneasy alliance and perhaps even respect, and then they make love. I’m not sure I’ve built a strong enough connection between the two of them so that it will seem to the reader that these two are actually in love,  though it doesn’t matter for the story’s sake. I mean, they are the last people left on earth — they are stuck with each other either way.

Still, it would be nice if they did love each other.

In the sex scene, as I originally wrote it years ago, after they’ve had sex, the man tells the woman he loves her. And she admits the same. Nice, right? But if the connection isn’t there, then it seems glib. So I took out those few lines. Then the scene seemed less romantic, so I added them back in. Then it seemed too romantic since up until that time, they had little actual contact, so I took the lines out again.

At the moment, those few lines are back in the manuscript.

Ideally, the words of love need to be saved until a time when the characters actually feel more connected (or when the reader feels that they are connected) but those parts have to be written.

I hoped to have the book finished before I took off on my trip, but I’m running out of time, I’m thinking of skipping to the end, giving them their baby, and being done with it.

But no. I’ve waited this long to finish the book, so I might as well do it right.

As soon as I figure out if he loves her or loves her not yet.

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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.

Wishing You the Joy of This Day

A new month starts today, maybe even a resurrection of sorts. Despite the predominately religious meanings of this time of year, there is a more personal spiritual meaning — that no matter how down (or up!) we are, we can find a renewal, a liberation, a breaking open of the constraints that bind us so we can burst forth into a new day, a new way of being.

Or something like that.

After yesterday’s feeling that much of what I’ve been doing is just plain silly, today I am taking a break from all of those things. Well, most of them. Obviously, I am blogging, but I did not go sauntering with my pack (though I did chat with a fellow on FB about various sections of the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington), did not go to dance class (that counts even though there was no dance class today), have not added any words to my book (though I did delete some, which doesn’t seem anywhere near as silly as adding words).

So did doing not much of anything feel silly? Nope. It felt good just to be. To enjoy the moment. I do enjoy the moments when I am doing something, of course, but when I am not doing “nothing,” the enjoyment is sort of a tagalong feeling to whatever it is I am doing — enjoying the desert while sauntering, enjoying the energy of dancing — rather than enjoyment as a separate entity.

I so often feel a push for more — to carry more weight in the pack, to walk more miles, to write more and better, to get stronger, healthier, wiser — that it’s good once in a while to burst out of the winding cloths I’ve wrapped myself in, and step out into the joy of being

I’m overdoing the metaphor a bit, but so what?

It’s a new day. And today I can do whatever I want. Be whatever I want. Well, in my own mind at least. There is still the matter of a body that doesn’t always cooperate, but that is a matter for another time.

Wishing you the joy of this day.

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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.

Being Silly

As I was sauntering along today, carrying twenty-eight pounds on my back, the whole thing — the weight, the pretend backpacking treks, the dream of a hugely long hike — suddenly seemed utterly silly.

I suppose if I could see any changes — more muscle tone, a sleeker body, greater energy, anything — it wouldn’t seem so ridiculous, but I don’t see any difference in me at all. I am carrying more weight in the pack than I did at the beginning, but I don’t think it’s because I’m stronger; it’s more that I carried less than I could when I started this project. Back then, I couldn’t carry much because I couldn’t sling the pack onto my back. Once I figured out that it was easy to put the pack on while sitting on the bed, I was able to increase the weight.

But that brings up another silly issue — in the backcountry, there are no beds, so I researched how to put on a pack out in the wild (hoist it up onto a bent leg using the haul strap, hold the haul strap with the left hand, put the right arm through the right shoulder strap, hump it onto your back and then put the left arm through the strap), but that’s difficult to do even without a weak and wonky left arm. I thought of using a rope to haul the thing up my back, but sheesh — talk about silly!

I guess none of this is any more foolish than the rest of my life, such as spending years writing books only a few folks read. Or taking ballet classes when one is leaden footed. Or learning to dance when one can’t distinguish one note or instrument from another. (In class the other day, I was told to do a certain move when the steel guitars started. Total blank. Hadn’t a clue.) Or driving a forty-six-year-old car. Or . . .

Come to think of it, is anything in my life not silly?

But then what do I know — perhaps silliness is the point of my life. Of any life. Maybe God created us and the world and even the universe in a fit of silliness and then went on to more important things.

Since I have nothing more important to do at the moment, I’m stuck with my silliness. At least I’m consistent, but then, consistency is foolish, too.

As if all this weren’t silly enough, I spent the past half hour trying to find the perfect positioning for the image of the bed in this blog post.

Yikes.

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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 Arc

There are only two days left of my novel writing month. Unlike the National Novel Writing Month in November, which is about writing 50,000 words in a month, I had no goal except to work on my book every day. The first four days of March were dedicated to editing and reading what I already had written — it’s impossible to finish writing a book if you don’t know what it’s about, and I’d let the poor thing lie fallow for so many years, I’d forgotten many of the details.

Two days of the month were wasted from a novel writing point of view as I celebrated Jeff’s death with tears and sorrow (though not, of course, wasted from a purely personal point of view). I did open the manuscript and stare at it for a while both those days, which has to count for something.

It is interesting that I should be working on this particular book around the anniversary because it was the last book where Jeff offered any input — he always helped with making sure the men thought and acted like men. Some people were disappointed with my last two books —  Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and Unfinished — both of which were written long after his death so they lacked the male point of view that kept my first four books from slipping into girlishness. And I have to admit, both Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and Unfinished are “girlier” than my first four novels, which I doubt Jeff would have liked. But the way I figure, if he didn’t want me to write fiction geared more for women, then he shouldn’t have died.

I have a hunch my male characters in the book I am writing now are losing their edge, but I don’t think it matters. The theme of the story is freedom. How much freedom we are willing to give up for safety, how much safety we are willing to give up for freedom, and in the end, since freedom is an illusion, it’s about embracing responsibility. So, if in this third part, the characters are different from the first two parts, it can be chalked up to character arc rather than author arc.

Usually about this time, as I am sliding down to the end, I have another book in mind, but not this time. One idea I had was to write a murder mystery when/if I ever hiked long sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d probably scare myself half to death writing about death in the wilderness on such a hike, but it certainly would give a book immediacy if I were sort of living it as I wrote it. Another idea is to do a sequel to the book I am now finishing. Two babies were born in completely different circumstances in this newly created world of mine. One of the babies is named Eve. The other Adam. It does call out for a sequel doesn’t it? And yet, this book is more or less a one-note story. Once the gag is played out, I’m not sure what’s left.

Anyway, considering how long I’ve been working on this book, I shouldn’t count my ending before it’s hatched — if I get sidetracked again, it could be years before I get back to it.

I will extend my novel-writing month into April, however, even though I only have half the month to write since I will need at least a week to prepare for my trip. (It’s not just a road trip and a camping trip and a hiking trip, but also a backpacking trip, a city trip with a fancy night on the town, and various and sundry other excitements.) After that week of preparation, I will be leaving. Although I have been calling this my May trip, I will be leaving in April since I have to be back the last week in May to practice for a performance. Let’s hope I don’t lose the dances somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. They were both difficult to learn.)

Does talking about my book constitute working on it? No, I guess not. So, back to work I go, constructing a world and many dangers for my poor characters to suffer through.

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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.

Audio Books

People often ask me if my books are available as audio books. (Okay, one person asked.) It used to be that some Kindles would read a print version of a book to you, but apparently that option has disappeared, so the only other option is an audio book.

To make an audio book, you have to find a narrator, preferably a professional narrator so that the book isn’t full of ums and ers and throat clearing. Ideally, the narrator must make each voice distinctive. All that runs into money.

To give you an idea of how much money, I am including here an excerpt from a company that distributes ebooks:

To assist with your budgeting, here are some rough guidelines on cost: Each hour of recorded content comprises roughly 9,000 words, which means a 26,000-word novella might run about three hours and a 100,000-word book would run about 11 hours. Narrators typically charge between $150 and $400 per finished hour.

Going by this formula, a mediocre narrator for Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare would cost me about $2,300. Maybe someday I’ll make enough off my books that the cost will be worth it.

Meantime, I have a cheaper option. If you want an audio version of any of my books, call me, and I’ll read aloud to you.

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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.

Prevailing

A friend who follows astrology told me that March 20 (yesterday) begins a time of great change for me, and although no astrological prediction pertaining to my life has ever come true, this one almost did.

After yesterday’s dance class contretemps (hey! I spelled contretemps right without needing spellchecker to correct it for me, though I did need spellchecker to check the spelling of spellcheck), I’d had enough. I simply did not want to play in that sandbox anymore (and sometimes, it does feel as if we are in preschool rather than postschool), so I called my dance teacher and told her I was taking time off.

A long silence, then, “How much time are you taking off?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “Ten days. Ten years. I just can’t do it any more.”

She said I was too good a dancer, and she refused to accept my resignation. I’m sure part of her consideration was the performance we will be doing at the beginning of June, but also as a good friend and a lifelong dancer, she has some inkling of what dancing means to me, though it’s hard to explain.

It’s not for exercise — I get plenty of exercise on my own, and would do even more if I weren’t going to class. It’s not for camaraderie, because I’m reverting back to my hermitic ways, and being around people exhausts me. It’s not for fun or enjoyment, though the stress-free classes give me both. It’s more of a thing of energy, of nourishment for my spirit, and too often lately a black miasma hangs over the class that others sometime respond to, but apparently only I can feel.

Still she does know of a lot of the byplay between me and the other characters, and she told me not to let anyone take dance away from me.

I agreed to stay. For a while. So the big change — not taking dance classes anymore — did not happen. But I also firmed  my decision to step up my training saunters with the backpack to allow for a different sort of change.

In the middle of all this, I realized something — no matter what happens, I will prevail.

Did you notice above where I called my classmates “characters’? I meant characters in a book, which they all are — characters in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare. It seems to me that a lot of what happened in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare is happening in a sort of parallel reality in class, with the Deb character playing out her solitary (and totally inexplicable) feud against Pat and pulling those who don’t know the truth in to her mind-set of “Oh, poor me. Look what Pat’s doing to me.”

It’s entirely possible I am the villain — writers don’t always recognize the truth of their characters. But I do know one thing — no matter what happened (happens) to any of the other characters in the story, at the end, Pat did prevail.

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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.