Polka-Dotted Loin Cloths

I have my decade-old manuscript open on my laptop, so the first thing I see when I lift the lid is the last thing I wrote. And this is what greeted me today:

The polka-dotted loin cloths and cave girl outfits did not disappear, but Bob did.

Seeing that sentence amuses me and makes me excited about working on this new/old book. Not excited enough to actually write, you understand, but enough to keep me thinking about writing. Still, any kind of excitement when it comes to my writing is a good thing.

Actually, I have been writing a few words each day — nothing immortal, just brief bits to connect stray scenes. Much of what still needs to be written are the day-to-day activities of the characters, with enough interaction between the secondary characters and the hero so you get to understand them and their group roles and perhaps care when they meet their ignominious end.

After that, there is the whole last part of the book where the characters that remain find a place to settle down before they are whapped with one final horror.

But, until then, a whole lot of daily details need to be written. Thousands of words worth.

You never know — I might actually write a few of those words today.

Well, perhaps later.

***

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.

Day Body, Night Mind

I never considered myself either a day person or a night person, and now I see why. I’m both. Or neither.

It seems as if physical activity suits me more in the morning. Before taking dance classes, when my times of exercise were at my discretion rather than scheduled classes, I always preferred to stretch and do weights first thing, then immediately go out walking in the cool of the day.

And mental activity suits me more at night. Late at night, when my brain comes awake, acuity and creativity are stronger than any other time, which is why, when I wrote, I always wrote at night.

Sounds good? Right?

Well, no. It was fine when I was younger and not so physically active, but now my poor tired body shuts down before my brain awakens.

Oddly, though I have trouble falling asleep at night, I have no trouble at all dozing off when I want to do something intellectual. Last night, I actually fell asleep while I was writing. Doesn’t bode well for my writing career!

Still, I did manage to add a few words to the poor moribund manuscript. Now let’s see if I can stay awake long enough to add a few more words tonight before I collapse.

***

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.

On Writing: Potential Discrepancies

In a scene in my work that’s still not progressing, I have my characters roaming a hostile landscape in nothing but Tarzan and Jane outfits. Until a few days ago, they wore their normal clothes, including shoes.

Keeping that in mind, can you spot the potential discrepancy in the following excerpt?

Faint screams became deafening as Chet approached. Christopher rolled around on the ground, ignoring Francie’s pleas to hold still. The others huddled off to the side. The eyes they turned to Chet had a blankness in their stare.

Chet rushed to Francie’s side. “What’s going on?”

“I don’t know. He tripped and fell an hour ago, or maybe two minutes or two hours. Out here, there seems to be no time.”

“Did he break a bone?”

“No. He looks fine, but he won’t stop screaming.”

Chet knelt on one knee by Christopher, then immediately jumped up, his kneecap burning as if impaled with a thousand splinters. Gritting his teeth, he limped to a hassock-sized rock, perched on the edge of it, pulled his knee to his chest to study it, but could see nothing out of the ordinary.

“. . . wrong?” Francie said, the rest of her words drowned out by Christopher’s screams.

Chet glanced at her and found her looking at him, a crease of concern between her brows.

“I don’t know what’s wrong.” He exaggerated the words so she could read his lips, and touched his knee to show here where he hurt. The touch made him gasp with pain. He turned his knee toward the sun to get a better look, then he saw them—hundreds of tiny blond filaments sprouting from his skin. They came out easily; the hard part was finding them all. What were they? Leftovers from a furred plant that had disintegrated in the heat? Not that it mattered where they came from. Just something else to watch out for.

When he could finally touch his knee without hurting, he hunkered by Christopher’s side and began removing the filaments. Francie’s eyes grew wide with comprehension, then she too set to work.

Christopher’s screams subsided to sobs then whimpers.

I’m sure you didn’t spot the discrepancy. In fact, I didn’t either at first. So, here’s the problem: they aren’t wearing shoes now, right? And had been wearing them until a few days previously? Which meant their soles weren’t yet acclimated to walking barefoot. Then why didn’t all the characters feel the splinters on the bottoms of their feet?

That’s as good a starting place for today’s writing session as any. Now I just need to figure a way around the problem. And hope there aren’t any more potential discrepancies.

***

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.

Marching Along

March begins tomorrow, and suddenly, it feels as if the the months are speeding by too fast. January seemed about three months long, and February about three days. At the rate I’m going, March will feel like three hours, and that is not enough time to do everything I need to do. Like print out more information about campsites and such for my May trip. Like get strong enough for a short backpacking trip. Like convert a bit of fat into muscle. Like work on my poor abandoned book.

In January, when I decided that March would be my novel writing month and marked “book” on my calendar, I felt as if I had forever to get in writing shape, and suddenly, here I am on the cusp of the month, and all I’ve done to prepare is drag out my printed copy of the manuscript.

I truly have no specific intentions other than to spend a bit of time every day focused on the book and maybe move the story along a bit. I have no word count goals, not even any expectation of finishing the book. I should be able to do that, right?

We shall see.

***

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.

Una Tiers Interviews Madame ZeeZee

Interview by Una Tiers, author of LETTUCE READ WILLS, DOROTHY DAISY, NOT SAFE FOR THE BANK(ER), JUDGE vs NUTS, and DIE JUDGE DIE, available at http://amzn.to/1cOxMz6

I want to introduce you to my fellow writer, Pat Bertram. She has authored several books and is a particularly generous person when it comes to helping authors. Today I’m interviewing one of her most recent characters, from her book, Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare.

Welcome, Madame ZeeZee, and thank you for taking time to sit down with us. For those who aren’t familiar with you, you run a successful dance studio where there was a recent murder of one of your students. Since that time, inconsistent stories about you have surfaced. I’m certain you would like to set the record straight.

Inconsistent stories about me? I never heard any. Too busy with my studio, I guess.

We notice that you don’t advertise for new students. How do people find you?

At the beginning, it was word of mouth, but after the murder and all talk on Facebook and Twitter and the local newspaper, I got a lot of new people. Most left after a few classes. People today have no discipline. They think they can come to class and start dancing with the group without even learning the steps.

Madame, rumors are that the dance studio is owned by a reclusive retired movie star who values her privacy. Please give us a hint of who it is.

Retired movie star? No. Retired professional dancer? Yes. You want a hint of who owns the studio? It’s me. And I’m not reclusive. I just like being quiet when I go home after work.

While you’ve always denied being related to Shirley Maclaine, are you sticking to that story?

Of course I’m sticking to that story. It’s the truth. I’ve danced with Shirley, but I’ve danced with a lot of other people, too, like June Allyson and Dick Van Dyke.

You rarely dance with your classes. Do you practice alone or take classes elsewhere?

My dream is to go back to Hollywood and take classes when I retire from my studio, but it’s too long a commute from Peach Valley. I do dance with my classes, especially the more advanced ones. We perform at luaus in the summer and on various other occasions, so if you know anyone who’d like to hire us, let me know.

We understand you’ve been married several times, would you tell us the number or if it is indeed over twelve?

What? You must have me mixed up with another Madame ZeeZee. I’ve only been married twice.

Would you ever relocate for love?

No. I’m happily married. And even if I weren’t, I wouldn’t relocate for love. I’m too independent, I guess. Besides, my house is exactly the way I like it, and I intend to stay there until the end.

How many countries have you lived in as an adult?

As an adult? One. Maybe two depending on how you define “lived in.”

In the book, Pat seemed to blame herself for the deaths of your dancers. Do you blame her, too?

Pat thinks too much. She needs to learn to just let things go. If I blamed her, I’d have to blame myself and all the rest of us who talked about killing Grace, but it wasn’t any of our fault. Well, except for the murderer. She was totally at fault.

If you could choose one author, living or dead, to read about your story, who would it be?

Pat Bertram, of course, but she wouldn’t need to read about my story because she wrote it.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Yes. Never stop dancing.

Thank you, Madame Zee Zee.

And thank you all for visiting with Madame ZeeZee and Una Tiers. Be sure to check out Interview with Fiona Gavelle, a Character in “Judge vs Nuts” by Una Tiers.

***

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.

Presenting . . . Me!

I attended a book club meeting yesterday evening. The women had read Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, and they invited me to give a presentation. “Presentation” sounds grandiose when in fact the only thing I present is me. My book club presentations are no more than sitting around chatting with the members. It’s always pleasant (and rare!) for me to get a chance to talk about myself and my books, and I had a great time.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized how often I mentioned Jeff and grief, and for just a moment I felt bad about that. Not that I was maudlin last night, but it’s hard for me to talk about my life and my blog and especially my books without referring to either of those influences. Two of my books (Grief: The Great Yearning and Unfinished) are specifically about grief, and Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare delves more into how the women in Madame ZeeZee’s dance class feel about the murder than most mysteries do. (It’s hard for me to let even fictional deaths go unhonered. Death is such a life-changing event for all concerned, and too often in fiction death becomes an almost casual — and causal — plot point.

Still, I think I presented myself in a pleasant manner. There were only a couple of times I fumbled for words. (Note to self: next time you are asked to speak about your books, memorize the quote that inspired you to write A Spark of Heavenly Fire!)

The most disheartening moment was meeting a woman who hiked with a local group. (Although I know many of the people in that group and had often been invited to hike with them, I have dance class the day they hike and never managed to get to a single one of their outings). Meeting the woman wasn’t disheartening, of course, since she was quite nice. It’s that she destroyed an ankle on one of the hikes and will never be able to hike again, though she does seem to be able to walk okay. (I think it was this very same group where several years ago a man died on the trail.)

I have to admit, her predicament gave me pause. What if I fall out in the wilderness while on a hike? Being with a group does not prevent such a mishap, nor does it make it easier to extract the injured hiker. But I cannot let fear keep me from my mission. Once fear takes hold, it becomes easier to give in to other fears and harder to do anything that involves the slightest bit of risk, which would be paralyzing since simply living (and even living simply) carries an element of risk.

And anyway, of the three major injuries in my life, two were when I was with others, and one — my arm mishap — happened in the city within fifty feet of hundreds of peoples, not one of whom heard me scream.

In light of this hiker’s situation, the women seemed appalled when they found out about my plans for a solo adventure. Not that I blame them considering my own reaction, but I said “Who is there to go with me?” They all looked away because there is no response to that.

I better stop thinking about this experience. The more I reconsider, the more of a downer it seems for that poor book club. I can only hope my bright smile offset some of the unpleasant truths about my life that I foisted on them.

***

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.

Fabulous Review!

Anyone who has read the comments on this blog will know the name Rami Ungar. An author and blogger in his own right, he has always been a great supporter of mine, so when he offered me the use of his name for Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, I did not hesitate to create a character in his name.

Rami recently read the book and posted reviews all over the internet, which adds an interesting dimension to an already multi-dimensional story. I mean, how many of your characters have ever posted a review of the book they were in?

Rami Ungar wrote:

I wanted to read this book for a number of reasons, including that I know the writer and I’m familiar with her work. I expected a good mystery, and my expectations were not only met, but exceeded.

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare is a true slow-burner mystery, taking its time to build up the characters and the mystery. As you keep reading, you find yourself drawn in, intrigued by these people and how they could be connected to the death in the story.

I also enjoyed the meta-fictional, fourth wall-breaking aspect of the novel. Since the author wrote herself as the protagonist and based parts of the story on her real life, you can get a very insightful look into her life, as well as her views on life itself and on fiction writing. It’s at times funny, at other times sad, but always very poignant.

I can’t really think of anything that works against the story. It’s a good read if you want a mystery that isn’t rushed and full of action, but instead character and story focused. Pick it up, and enjoy a dance of death not usually seen in stories.

Such a wonderful review! And a perfect description of the story within a story. It truly does a writer’s heart good when a reader not only enjoys the story, but gets it.

If you haven’t yet read Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, I hope this review will entice you to take a look. And while you’re at it, check out Rami Ungar’s blog and books.

***

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.

Unfinished

My latest novel, Unfinished, is the story of a woman who discovers that her deceased husband kept secrets from her. But she has secrets — and unfinished business — of her own. A novel for those who love drama, buried secrets, stories that tell the truth about grief, and women who find themselves when they find themselves alone.

Excerpt:

Amanda still couldn’t bear to get rid of the rest of David’s clothes, but she needed to do something to keep from dissolving into tears once more. She’d cried enough to last her a lifetime, yet tears continued to damn up, ready to spill when she let her guard down.

On the shelf above the clothes rack in his closet, Amanda found a stack of shoeboxes. David won’t need his shoes. I can get rid of them.

Inside one of the boxes, Amanda found a small doll with mismatched arms and legs and a sneer painted on the muslin face—her one attempt at making a doll for the annual Christmas Bazaar. She’d thrown it away, embarrassed by her failure, but apparently David had dug it out of the trash and kept it all these years.

Tears stung Amanda’s eyes. Oh, David, how can you be gone? You were such an appreciator—you appreciated everyone and every good they did. The world is smaller without you in it.

Holding her breath, wondering what else David had kept, Amanda sifted through the box. A few pennies. A flyer for a book sale she’d held at his first church. A couple of indeterminate designs she vaguely remembered doodling on a phone pad. A stack of notes in her own handwriting. “I’m at the Woman’s Club dinner tonight, David. There’s stroganoff and a salad in the refrigerator for you and Thalia. Don’t forget to heat the stroganoff.” “Taking Thalia to the doctor. Just a small cut, but she might need a stitch or two. Back soon.”

All her notes were the same. Stark messages with no endearments, no words of love. Amanda wished she’d told David more often how much he meant to her. They’d never been a romantic couple, and David had been uncomfortable with professions of love, but still, she should have told her husband frequently that she loved him. And now she’d never have the chance. Too damn much left unfinished.

***

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.

A Different Kind of Christmas Story

No Santa 🎅, no elves, no shopping malls or presents, 🎁 nothing that resembles a Christmas card holiday, but still,  A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE — especially Kate’s story — embodies the essence of Christmas: generosity of spirit.

Kate isn’t the only point of view character in the book — the story is told by four different characters who show four different ways of dealing with the horror of the red death that descends on Colorado right before Christmas. Kate is the spark of heavenly fire, the woman who blazes with generosity during this dark hour of adversity. Two of the other characters are the opposite — they do everything they can to ensure that they survive. And then there is Greg, a reporter, who is consumed with finding the truth of the red death.

I’ve always liked the following scene, which takes place between Greg and Olaf, his boss:

***

“How’s the research coming, Greg?” Olaf asked, a shade too heartilty.

“I feel as if I’m drowning in paper.”

“So I see,” Olaf said, laying a hand on the stack of Takamura’s articles. “Mind if I look?”

“Help yourself. They belong to the newspaper.”

Olaf settled himself in his customary chair with a handful of the papers. A minute later, he raised his head.

“How do these guys get anything printed? If my reporters turned in work as incomprehensible as this, they’d be out of here so fast they’d think they were flying.” He glanced at the papers and shook his head. “Even the titles are incomprehensible. ‘Imitating Organic Morphology in Micro-fabrication.’ I don’t even know what that means.”

“Me neither,” Greg said, thinking if he had to wade through this sort of stuff to learn about the red death, the earth would fall into the sun long before he read half of it. He put his hands together as if in prayer. “Please tell me it’s not written by John Takamura.”

“It isn’t. Doris Stefano, Melanie Levy, Andrew Forbes, and Lee Nishimura collaborated on this particular gem.”

Good. That meant he had to scan it for Takamura’s name instead of reading the entire thing.

“These two are by Takamura. ‘Self-Dispersement of Genetically Enhanced Corn,’ ‘Deviant Behavior in Recombinant Plant Parasitoids.’” He tossed the sheaf of papers back onto Greg’s desk. “Better you than me.”

“What do these guys do?” Greg asked. “Take a course in obfuscation?”

“Probably. Convoluted writing and obscure terms are a way of intimidating the uninitiated, keeping the profession closed to non-scientists, and adding to the scientific mystique. Just think, if diseases had names like Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice, doctors wouldn’t make anywhere near the amount of money they do now.”

Greg laughed. “That’s an idea. They do it for hurricanes, why not everything else?” He mimed seizing the phone and dialing. “Mr. Olaf? I can’t come in today. I’ve got the Bob.” He hung up his imaginary receiver and looked inquiringly at his boss.

Olaf nodded. “Works for me.”

***

Click here to read the first chapter of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Click here to buy A Spark of Heavenly Fire

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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.

 

Killing Grace

Even though it took me along time to decide to write Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare (killing off one’s friends a good way to lose those friends, and I don’t have any to lose), and even though it took even longer to actually sit down and write the book, the writing itself was easy. I used whatever happened in class for inspiration, and if that failed me, I asked one of the characters what she would like to do, and if that failed, I wrote me writing the book. That was fun! Here is one such excerpt:

***

In every mystery story, it seems, there comes a time when the author wants a way to present insights, needs to show state of mind, or simply gets bored with a straightforward narrative and plays at being creative, so the storyteller recounts a dream.

Since I hate dreams, my own included, I usually skip those parts of a book, so I won’t bore you with the details of my dream. Suffice to say that early Wednesday morning, long before the sun gave any indication of wanting to rise, I dreamed I was Grace grieving the death of Pat. I carried the belief I was Grace into the first moments of waking, and for a second I didn’t know if I were Grace grieving for Pat or Pat grieving for Grace.

In the aftermath of that strange duality, when I came fully awake, I lay there wondering about my connection to Grace, wondering if somehow my talking about her death had brought it about. I no longer thought Grace existed in some sort of quantum state, both alive and dead, and all we had to do was find a way to observe her and she’d magically appear back in the studio, smiling up at us, asking why she reclined on the floor.

I do know that anything is possible, that at our most infinitesimal level, way beneath cellular construction and even atomic configurations, we are created from discrete patterns of nothingness held together by a force of energy that could destroy—or build—the universe. Our senses, and ultimately our brains, translate those waveforms into what we see, hear, taste, feel, know.

That is what we have to contend with in our daily lives—what we know. And I know Grace is dead.

(Grief is not always so conciliatory. I know Jay is dead, but I also know he is at home waiting for me. It’s why I continue to hang around this California desert town though I have no real reason to stay now that my father is gone—I’m reluctant to return to Colorado and confront the foolishness of my belief.)

What do I know other than that Grace is dead? Not much, to be honest, though I do believe someone else was involved with her death. There have been times when one or another of us students slipped on a slick patch of the studio floor, so a fall would not be particularly mysterious, but if Grace had hit her head on the barre hard enough to knock herself out, she would not have been able to arrange herself in the position we found her.

So that left me with three conclusions: someone killed her and arranged the scene; someone killed her and Grace managed to drag herself into position during her final moments; or someone found Grace unconscious, moved her, and left her to die.

But why? How could Grace’s death have made a difference to anyone’s life? I’ve heard it said that there are three main motives for murder—sex, power, and money. I suppose sex could be a motive for the murder of a long-married seventy-five year old woman, but it seemed farfetched to me, especially since she appeared to be devoted to her husband. Whatever money Grace had belonged to both her and Charlie so I didn’t see financial gain as a possibility for a motive, either. And power? What sort of power could Grace have exerted on anyone, or someone exerted on her? I thought of Deb eagerly slipping into Grace’s spot at the front of the class, and I wondered if the desire for that sort of power, so insignificant to the rest of the world, could have made Deb want to do away with a woman she might have considered a competitor.

Knowledge, of course, is power. Perhaps Grace had discovered a secret, but among our assorted classmates, who could have a secret so powerful that only murder would protect it?

I hoped the police would find the truth soon, because the dream made me uneasy. If I couldn’t distinguish between myself and Grace, is it possible others saw the same connection? Could I be next on the murderer’s list?

I got out of bed and dressed for the day, vowing to protect myself. But against whom? Margot, the woman Buffy had picked out as the perfect murderer? Or maybe Buffy herself, a woman who knew too much about the ways and means of murdering?

***

Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare for those who love fun, dance, murder, mystery, older women who live with all the verve and nerve of the young, and me! (The main character is named Pat.)

Click here to read the first chapter of Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

Click here to buy Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare

 


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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.