Your Truest Purpose For Existing

Once upon a time not so long ago, there was a mythical social networking site for creative types called “Gather.” I call the site mythical because it seemed uncanny and serendipitous the way so many kindred spirits migrated to the site, and also because the defunct site has disappeared into the myth of memory. Was it as special as we all seemed to think? It must have been because in its short history, it affected so many of us in a positive way. In fact, many of the people I have visited on my cross-country trip were people I met on Gather nine years ago, including fellow author Lazarus Barnhill.

Lazarus Barnhill is one of those folks who seem larger than life. Charming and charismatic, unbelievably intelligent and intuitive, and so busy he’s harder to catch hold of than a wisp of cloud. (I’m getting ridiculously eloquent here, but he tends to bring out the best — and worst — in people.)

Several years ago, I interviewed Lazarus for my blog (Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny), but he, being the contrary sort of individual he is, turned the tables and interviewed me. The interview was almost embarrassingly intimate, though I don’t know why. Maybe because it was the first time we ever “talked” and he seemed interested in me at a time when my life was closing in on itself. Maybe because I was open and willing to answer his questions. Maybe because he said such insightful things about my books that I felt giddy. He seemed to see more in my works than I expected people to see, perhaps even more than I myself had seen. But that is the beauty of writing one’s truth. It has a way of making itself felt.

So what does this have to do with today’s blog post? Well, I had a chance to take a look at Barnhill’s newest book, Pastor Larsen and the Rat. The story is about Pastor Larsen, who, in the face of the drudgery, church politics and frustration that are the usual professional hazards of the ministry, is faced with a dangerous and intriguing complication — Ange. No one in Larsen’s close knit congregations knew of the existence of this woman, the daughter of a parishioner who appeared just in time for her mother’s funeral. For Larsen, Ange is more than mysterious. She is alluring, wise and astonishingly intuitive. . . . And then there is the issue of the large rat that seems to be taunting the members of his church.

This is a book that only Lazarus Barnhill could have written. A pastor turned author, Barnhill knows more than most people about what goes on behind the serene countenance of a church, but more than that, he has a talent for mixing the irreverent with the reverent, the salacious with the spiritual, the naughty with the nice.

I asked Lazarus if he were afraid people would find his book controversial. He said, “To a degree. Some will find it profane. I hope some find it insightful and hopeful. Those familiar with religious bodies — and with the way spirituality operates in human life — will not be able to deny it’s honesty — not the sex part, but the organized religion part, and the divine intervention part. Ultimately I hoped when I wrote it that non-religious people would read it for the naughty romance and gain some insight into how the holy is able to work in our midst despite all that religions do to prevent it; and that religious people would ‘force themselves’ to live with the titillation in order at last to read something truthful about their gatherings.”

A love of truth in literature seems to be something that Lazarus and I have in common. Although we want people to read our books for enjoyment, being entertaining isn’t our only reason for writing. We need to tell our truth. Lazarus goes beyond that, believing that “whatever force there is out there in creation (call it God, destiny, a Higher Power or whatever you want) actually wants you to write. When you write, you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing.”

Lucky for us, Lazarus Barnhill is fulfilling his destiny.

pastor larsen and the rat

Click here to read an Excerpt From PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT by Lazarus Barnhill

Lazarus Barnhill talks about Pastor Larsen and the Rat here: Interview With Lazarus Barnhill, Author of PASTOR LARSEN AND THE RAT

What are you waiting for? Click here to buy the ebook: Buy Pastor Larsen and the Rat on Kindle for $0.99 kindle.

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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.”)

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Requiem for a Website

In October of 2007, I entered a contest on gather.com — the Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. The winner of the contest would win a $5,000 advance and a publishing contract. My entry, More Deaths Than One, was not a detective story, and it certainly was not a cozy mystery, but it is the story of a crime: identity theft. This theft is an actual theft of a man’s identity, not a paper one.

I did very well in that contest, too. As of November 17, 2007, I was ranked number one, but I finished up about sixth or seventh. (I could tell you it was because my mother died and I had to go to California for her funeral and I broke my ankle while there and was off the internet for a week, but the truth is . . . come to think of it, I don’t know what the truth is.)

The contest started out being great fun but devolved into all sorts of infighting, faked votes, and terrible reviews that RIPwere posted for no other reason than meanness. Still, it turned out to be a pivotal point in my writing career.

I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. I met other writers that I am still connected with today.  Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted as a comment on one of the writer’s articles, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. The publisher loved my book A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and sent me a contract. Turns out, I already knew him through the contest, and he asked if More Deaths Than One was still available. It was. Second Wind Publishing has now published five of my books — four novels and one non-fiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning.

Until the crime writer contest, my online presence had been confined to my blog, but after the contest I posted articles on gather, and I also migrated to other sites, such as Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I mostly hang around Facebook now because of my discussion groups there, but I always return to Gather, especially on Thursday evening when I used to do a live chat with my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. I started out knowing only a few people online, now I know hundreds.

And all because of a contest.

Now, Gather is in its death throes. Because of the spam that clogged the site, Google stopped referencing its content in searches. The site has been sold a couple of times, and neither of the new owners seemed to have any interest in revitalizing this once active online writers community.

Most of my Gather posts have been posted elsewhere, usually here on this blog, but a lot of the discussion topics were too brief for a blog post, so I’ve been mining the site so my content doesn’t get lost. Considering that there were almost two hundred live chats alone in my discussion group, that’s a lot of content! I hope I get time to go through the discussions and look for pithy comments I might have made, but if I don’t, well, no problem. Maybe my comments should pass into oblivion along with the site. And who knows, maybe someday the site will be resuscitated.

Until then, rest in peace, Gather.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Facebook Has Finally Defeated Me

I signed up for Facebook back when authors were joining in vast numbers. None of us knew what we were doing there, we just knew social networking was the next step in trying to promote our books. I was already familiar with Gather.com, another social networking site, and since I had a writing discussion group on Gather, I decided to start one on Facebook. There were already hundreds of such groups, but mostly they sat fallow, so I did one thing no one else was doing — I sent the link for the discussion to the members of the group. There was a great response because, finally, we all had something to do on Facebook while we figured out how to use the site most effectively.

I kept these discussions going through several Facebook upgrades until  they  revamped the group format and got rid of the discussion boards. I still don’t see the rationale behind that, but I adjusted. I added the discussion app to my fanpage and moved the discussions there. We were getting back into the swing of things when . . .  FB revamped the fan page format and got rid of the discussion app. It’s better for all discussions to take place on the wall, they say. It makes for a better experience, they say. A better experience for whom? (Glad I asked that. Since they are making the pages more interactive, and since all businesses — especially big businesses and major corporations — have a page, they are making room for more commercial encroachment on facebook.)

Well, I moved the discussions back to the group walls, and they quickly disappeared into the great maw of self-promotion. I have nothing against authors promoting their books, but please!! Give us something more interesting than yet another plea to buy your book. Still, that isn’t the issue here. Nor are the discussions the issue. If people aren’t interested in discussing the finer points (and the not so fine points) of writing or reading, there’s not much I can do about it except stick to my No Whine, Just Champagne discussions on Gather or post them on the Second Wind Publishing group on Goodreads.

The real issue, the reason Facebook has defeated me, is the updated home page. There is a ticker along the right sidebar that ticks continually with inane messages. John likes Bill’s link. Bill commented on Janet’s status. John and Janet are now friends. Even that isn’t a problem. One quickly gets used to ignoring sidebars on the Internet. The problem is that if you are making a comment on someone’s link or status update when the ticker ticks, your comment ends up in appropriate places, such as when I left a “yay!” on someone’s update about having had a good day and it ended up on another person’s update about needing an operation. Ouch. Still, I can get used to doublechecking to make sure my comments hit the right spot and deleting those that don’t. What I cannot get used to is the new newsfeed — the constant stream of cutesy-poo animal pictures, sickly sentimental and fatuous sayings masquerading as images, and supposedly funny sayings and cartoons that lack an iota of humor.

Even that I can get used to, but Facebook has made it so easy for everyone to share this crap that they do. Over and over and over again. Yikes.

On the other hand, since people seem to like this new newsfeed, it’s possible the problem isn’t Facebook. Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m just getting crotchety.

Duh

I’m not a big fan of slang or lingo, but certain words are so simple and perfect in their way that it’s hard not to embrace them. Like “duh.”

My favorite duh dialogue comes from the movie “Love Actually”:

Karen: So what’s this big news, then?
Daisy: We’ve been given our parts in the nativity play. And I’m the lobster.
Karen: The lobster?
Daisy: Yeah!
Karen: In the nativity play?
Daisy: Yeah, first lobster.
Karen: There was more than one lobster present at the birth of Jesus?
Daisy: Duh.

How perfect is that? A single grunted syllable that takes the place of, “Yes, of course. It’s so obvious that even you should be able to see it.”

I had a duh moment last night. I’d been trying to figure out where to have my virtual book launch party, wondering if it would be better to have it on Facebook, MySpace, Gather, or try to find another venue entirely, when it dawned on me: have it here on this blog. I can set it up in advance, prepare a printable book mark, find images of scrumptious-looking food, and then when the books are finally published, all I’ll have to do is post the party, send invitations, then sit back and enjoy myself.

It’s so obvious, I should have been able to seen it immediately.

In other word, “duh.”

(BTW, you’re all invited.)

Is Writing Worth the Effort?

A friend asked me if trying to become a successful author is worth the investment of time and money. Not only do writers have to hone the craft, they need to attend conferences, workshops, hire editors and publicists, build websites and promote.

I wish I knew the answer to my friend’s question. Now that my books are nearing their release date, I’ve been spending most of my time on the internet researching how to promote. And I still don’t know how to do it. Blogging, of course. Publishing articles. Making connections on Facebook and Gather. But to become successful, writers need to go beyond the obvious. Nor do I have the money necessary to do all that is required, including attending conferences, joining national writing groups, traveling to booksignings. So I have to do it on the cheap.

Is it worth it? I won’t know for a year or two or ten if I’m going to be a successful author, so right now,  I’ll leave you with the daunting facts: one and a half to two million books are written every year. 150,000 are published (about half of those are self-published), and since many carry over from year-to-year, I figure that at least a million are being peddled as we speak. 75% of published books (including some with big advances) sell less than 500 copies. 85% of published book sell less than 1000 copies. 84% of books in a bookstore sell less than 2 copies. A book is considered successful if it sells a total of 5000 copies. Considering the time it takes to write, edit, and promote, that comes to about $1.00 an hour for the author. Woohoo. (And that doesn’t take into consideration the sometimes hefty amounts people shell out for conferences, editing, classes, etc.)

Because time as well as money is at a premium, we feel guilty when we promote and let the writing lie fallow. And we feel guilty when we write and don’t promote. Juggling with fire would be easier, and less complicated, especially when the fireballs being juggled include jobs and family.

On the other hand, what choice do we have? We are writers. We need to write, and we need readers.