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.

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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.

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