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!

***
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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Authority

All my life, or at least all my life that I can remember, I wanted to be an author. When I was much younger, I wrote allegories and parables, stories that mimicked children’s books but with messages for adults. I also wrote snippets of poetry, such as this one:

In a strange sort of way
It’s comforting to know
That no matter what we do to this earth
It well accept and accept
Until it comes to the end of its resources
And then, as though we were no more
Than an unwanted cloak
It will shrug us off
And begin again

Not that there is any particular significance to this poem, it’s just the only one I found on my computer.

When I was in my mid-twenties, I decided to become serious about writing. I quit a job, sat down at the kitchen table, put a pen to paper and waited for the story to come. I knew what I wanted to write — a novel about a love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with sensitivity and great wisdom — but no words came. I had always assumed that writing a book was sort of like automatic writing, and for many authors it is. When that approach to writing failed, I tried to pull the words out of my head one by one, in an attempt at telling the story. Unfortunately, I discovered I had no talent for writing and no wisdom, either, so I gave up writing.

Many years later, I decided the heck with it — talent or no, wisdom or no, I wanted to write. And so I did. That first book is so spectacularly bad that it is packed away where even I can’t see it. But I am not one to do things haphazardly, so I kept on writing, kept studying books on how to write (most of which made no sense to me). And gradually I learned.

I thought writing would help solve my financial woes (I can hear you writers out there laughing at such naiveté), and even though I did find a publisher (after 200 rejections), I never did find the pot of gold at the end of the publishing rainbow.

Besides financial gain, I’m not sure what I wanted by being an author. Acclaim? I don’t know if I ever did want much acclaim (being of a rather self-effacing nature), but I wanted something. Maybe the knowledge that huge numbers of people loved my books. Maybe respect. Maybe to make a difference. I don’t know. Still don’t, actually. (I guess I figured that if I made a living by writing, whatever else I wanted would come along with it.

And then Jeff died. When I discovered that few writers (including writers who write about grief) understood the devastating nature of losing a life mate/soul mate, I decided to blog about my grief, how it felt, how it changed my world, how I learned to live again.

As it turned out, for a small group of people — those who had also lost their mates — I made a difference. Even today, years after they were written, those grief posts are still making a difference, helping the bereft understand what they are going through, offering the words to describe what they themselves can’t describe, showing them that no matter what other people tell them, their long period of grief is not only understandable and normal, but is a necessity. Would you really want the person you loved more than anything in the world to disappear without tears and sorrow? No, off course not. Our pain is a way of honoring them. And, despite what people say, grief is not emotional, or at least not just emotional. It’s physical, spiritual, intellectual, hormonal, chemical — it affects every single part of ourselves and our life.

It awes me at times to think that my words matter to people. It awes me at times to reread those old posts when someone leaves a comment and realize how . . . inspired . . . they were. Maybe there is a bit of that automatic writing going on after all. How else would I be able to be a conduit for such wisdom and understanding and even author-ity?.

And so, after all, it turns out I really am an author — a person with the ability to influence others and to make their lives easier.

***
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.

Blogging for Peace and Other Matters

It’s only the second day since my resolve to blog every day until the end of the year, and I’m already finding excuses why I should bail on idea. Too tired. No ideas. Nothing to say.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I’ve been planning on doing a follow-up to the Blog4Peace project I participated in on November 4th, but the drift of life had me in its grip. I suppose now is as good a time as ever to offer my retrospective, even though that day is long past.

I’ve been a peace blogger since 2012, though I’m not sure why I decided to participate in the first place. I don’t believe in “world peace” as a cause. People always talk about the human race as if we are warmongers, and yes, some people are, most notably those who make money and take power from wars, but think about it. How many wars have you personally started? For the most part, we (you and me, anyway) are peace lovers. We shy away from violence. Most of us don’t even start personal conflicts, though sometimes we do unwillingly get involved in contretemps we don’t quite know how to end.

Nor do I believe that nature itself is peaceful.

Just think about it — there you are, having a nice pleasant walk through the woods, having a picnic in a meadow, or perhaps standing on top of a mountain. All is peaceful. Or is it? If your ears were hypersensitive, as is the hero from my decade-old work-in-progress:

All seemed silent, still.

His ears became attuned to the quiet, and he heard insects cricking and chirring and buzzing.

Then other sounds registered, sounds so faint several seconds passed before he comprehended what he was hearing: the relentless hunger of nature. The larger prairie creatures and the most minute devoured each other in a cacophony of crunching, tearing, ripping, gnashing, grinding.

At the realization he was sharing space with things that must be fed, he took a step backward and bumped into a tree, a gnarled oak that hadn’t been there a moment ago. Leaning against the ancient tree, he heard the roots reaching out, creeping, grasping, wanting, needing. He jerked away from the tree and fell to hands and knees. Blades of grass moaned under his weight, and the screams of wildflowers being murdered by more aggressive vegetation almost deafened him.

He opened his mouth to add his own shrieks to the clamor, but closed it again and cupped his ears when he became aware of a long sonorous undulation deep beneath the ground. The heartbeat of the earth.

Yeah. Peace.

If we expand peace to a microscopic or even a cosmic plane, we see a stasis created by opposite but equal forces in conflict.

And yet . . . and yet . . .

On November 4, hundreds, maybe thousands of people were peacefully blogging about peace, creating peaceful images, sharing peaceful words, contemplating peace, visiting each other’s peace blogs. A lovely day. A peaceful day.

We may not have stopped wars or violence. We may or may not have attained peace within ourselves, may or may not have been at peace with our world.

But we mattered.

***
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.

Fifty Day Blog Challenge

Ever since I finished my two latest books a year ago (Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and Unfinshed, I haven’t done much writing. Not much blogging, either (though technically, blogging is writing, so I shouldn’t separate the two.). There’s always been an excuse. A shattered arm/wrist/elbow. A fuzzy mind from opioids. (I used to think I had an addictive personality, but I guess not — I was glad when I finally was able to handle the pain and stop taking pain pills.) And then there was the very hot summer. (The air conditioning in this room I am renting is minimal, and I was too hot to think. But then, I didn’t feel like thinking anyway since I seem to be in a drifting mode.)

Well, enough of the excuses, and more than enough of the parenthetical comments!

When I mentioned my non-writing to a friend, she said, “Well, write something.” Since I always try to do what people request (unless, of course, I am in a rebellious mood), here I am.

In 2011, I participated in a hundred day blog challenge: to post something every day on each of the last 100 days of the year. The time is long past to be able to duplicate that challenge, but coincidentally, I just discovered there are 50 blogging days until the end of 2017, and since I love even numbers, coincidences, and serendipity, I decided to try an abbreviated challenge.

And challenge it will be. I have little to say, no real inclination to say what I do have to say, and making a commitment goes against the drift, but what the heck. I never let a lack of wisdom stop me from blogging before.

All this is by way of warning for those of you who follow this blog. Today and the coming forty-nine days are more for me, just for the discipline of it. I don’t expect you to read or comment on my meanderings, (especially not this blog post), but if you desire to do so anyway, I will be glad of the company.

And maybe I will even be glad of a chance to stop the drift. Just drifting has been good for me, but it doesn’t really accomplish much, and before I leave my current place (the road — and an epic adventure — is calling to me), I would like to finish the book I started a decade ago, clear out some of the stuff in my storage unit that I haven’t been able to get rid of yet, become strong enough physically to go hiking again, and oh, so many things!

So, this is a start.

Perhaps.

***
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 Nondecriptness of Nondescript

I got into a foolish discussion in an online writers’ group about the word “nondescript.” Frankly, it’s one of those adjectives that writers are so fond of that I have no use for because it doesn’t describe anything, doesn’t give us a feeling for who or what the thing being described is. In the discussion, a woman chastised me for getting the definition of nondescript wrong, even though I did not define the word. (Nondescript means lacking distinctive characteristics; ordinary, which is how I used the term.) To an author, to an observant human being, nothing is nondescript. There is always a distinguishing characteristic that makes a thing or person distinct from its fellow.

She gave the example of a gray wall. But the truth is, even a gray wall is not nondescript. A blank gray wall is gray, which in itself is a distinctive characteristic because how many gray walls do you see in a day? Not all grays are the same, anyway. It could be a bright silvery gray or a matte finish that seems to absorb all light. And that gray could be paint or paper, which further defines the characteristic of the wall. And if it has no finish but is unpainted gray cinder block, then that too is a distinctive characteristic. And where that gray wall is located further defines the characteristic because a gray wall in a hospital gives a completely different feel from a gray wall in bedroom.

Is anything anywhere in the world so ordinary that it lacks a distinguishing feature? An ordinary-looking fellow is not a clone of other ordinary-looking fellows. (And if you saw the movie Multiplicity, you will realize that even clones develop distinctive characteristics.) There is always something that sets a so-called ordinary person apart even if a cursory glance doesn’t show you what that something is. It could be a gait, a tie askew, eyes too close together, anything at all. Even twins each have their own distinguishing characteristics, at least to the people who know them well.

That’s what we writers do: look for those things that other people’s eyes glide over. It’s also why long descriptions are unnecessary. You look for the distinguishing characteristic — the defining characteristic — that makes the ordinary extraordinary, and that single characteristic tells us all we need to know about whatever it is that is being described. Maybe there is a fingerprint on that otherwise pristine gray wall or a crack at the base, which would tell us something about the person who owns that wall. Maybe there is a stain on the carpet or a strong smell of spice in a supposedly featureless motel room. As someone who has spent a lot of time in motel rooms, I can vouch for the fact that every one of them is different. Every one of them has a defining characteristic.

To call something ordinary or nondescript or featureless is to be unobservant. Sometimes it is hard to tell one rose on a bush from another, but no rose is ordinary. No sunset is ordinary. No ocean wave is ordinary. No full moon is ordinary. No person is ordinary.

Why would anyone ever call anything nondescript? To do so is to ignore the remarkable fact of our very existence.

There is an ongoing movement among authors to shoulder the responsibility of presenting the issues of today, to be inclusive of all marginalized folks, but that is being simplistic. The responsibility of authors is to show us jaded folk things we might not otherwise be aware of, things that might otherwise escape our attention, things that show us the truth — that nothing is ordinary. Nothing lacks distinctive characteristics. Nothing is nondescript.

Apparently, nondescript is a recurring issue with me because I found other blog posts I wrote about the same topic: Describing the Nondescript and Adding “Script” to “Nondescript”.

So today, indulge me in this one thing and help me celebrate the uniqueness — the non-nondescriptness — of us all.

***
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 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 

***

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.

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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.

Review: ‘Unfinished’ by Pat Bertram