Author Dynasties

I don’t particularly like Sue Grafton’s books, but I do admire her — she left her legacy as is, her series unfinished, and would not allow anyone to step up after her death and keep her characters alive.

Too many authors didn’t make that decision before they died, so their heirs made it afterward. For example, some classics are being brought back to life when authors today write unsanctioned sequels to beloved favorites, such as those who pretend to channel Jane Austen or Daphne Du Maurier. 

One of the few times posthumous writing was warranted was when Robert Jordan died before he could finish his modern classic, the fourteen volume Wheel of Time series. Another writer was hired to work with Jordan’s wife and Jordan’s copious notes to finish the series. Can you imagine going through decades with all those thousands of characters and millions of words only to be left hanging on the wheel without a resolution? So yes, it had to be finished. But once it was, it was done. There will be no more Robert Jordan books.

But some stories and authors’ names that do not need to be kept alive are still going for no other reason than to milk the money machine. 

Some fellow is now writing Michael Crichton’s books. And another fellow is keeping Robert Parker’s Spenser alive. Who needs these books? They are not the author’s words, not the author’s vision — just some pale vision of the vision.

A new thing now is for the literary name is passed to the next generation. Michael Palmer’s son is now writing Michael Palmer books. Lee Child’s son will be taking over is father’s series.

And what the heck is going on with James Patterson? The way he’s spawning co-authors, his name will be one of the last words uttered when the earth falls into the sun.

This is what happens when an author’s name becomes a brand. I never used to pay attention to authors’ names except as a way of finding more books to read, and neither did anyone else, at least not to the extent that holds true today. The title was the main thing; the author’s name almost an afterthought. But branding and modern publishing changed all that. Now it’s the author who’s paramount, and no one cares what drivel is passed along to the reading public under the famous brand. (I got caught with a Michael Palmer book written by his son because the famous name was in huge letters, the title in a smaller type, and the writer’s name all but swallowed up in the graphic on the very bottom. So not nice!)

It used to be as one author’s star waned, another’s would rise, but what’s happened to all those non-rising stars? What will happen to readers when the brands finally are laid to rest? Not that it matters. There are plenty of books for me to read, and when there aren’t any more books that I like, I’ll write more of my own.

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Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

 

Inane Things to Ponder

rMost of my life, especially after Jeff died, I pondered the big questions about life and death, love and grief, but recently, I’ve been pondering more inane things.

I don’t watch television, so my life should be commercial free, but unfortunately, I sometimes play a particular game online. Supposedly, the game is free, though the site does exact the “payment” of watching commercials, and sometimes the commercials “cost” more than the game is worth. The worst, of course, are the drug commercials, which are often longer than it takes to play the game. And oh, are they creepy! They show happy families doing happy things, happy couples doing romantic things, happy individuals doing fun or challenging things — all accompanied by huge grins. Meantime, the crawl on the bottom of the screen lists ghastly, and occasionally life-threatening side effects. I wonder if anyone has done a study showing an increase is dissociative personality disorders since the onset of such commercials. For an extreme example, let’s say the side effect of an allergy medication is bleeding to death from internal meltdowns, and yet the person taking the drug is grinning, grinning, grinning as if being able to die in such a way is a glorious ending.

Then there’s a Home Depot commercial where a little girl can’t reach the top shelf of the refrigerator, so her mom goes out and buys a new refrigerator. Huh? Who puts drinks on the top shelf anyway? Why not put them on a lower shelf? And then, to make matters worse, they get the refrigerator and all the little girls reach in their arms and pull out plastic bottles of water. Um. Not cool. The whole thing smacks of arrogance.

In a commercial for the car Infiniti, the driver does not unsnap the seatbelt, but pulls her legs through the belt. This isn’t as horrific as happiness while being told of possible death, and not as ridiculous as buying a new refrigerator instead of moving the drinks, but still, I can only shake my head and wonder why.

Luckily, I have finished all the levels of the game I was playing, so I shouldn’t be subjected to these commercials anymore, but there are always other things that show up to baffle me.

I recently read yet another article about Ted Bundy (everyone’s favorite sociopath). The author made a big deal about him being clean cut and attractive, and yet what is the alternative? If guys who troll for female bait dressed to match their psychopathic selves — dirty and unkempt — there’s no way they’d ever get to be prolific killers. Anyone who saw them would be leery of them. And anyway, they’re not really that attractive, at least not to my eyes. So is it that their looks are at odds from what we think they should look like, so they seem more physically acceptable than they are?

And speaking of serial killers — why is it that women’s author photos, even those of women who write gritty thrillers, always look as if they have just come from the beauty parlor and are so very happy about it, but men often look like creeps who want to whack off your head to make you read their books. They don’t of course, because whacked heads lose the ability to read. The men who don’t look like serial killers, look like stereotypical bums, and those who don’t look like bums scowl. Would a smile really kill them?

What about you? What sort of inane things do you ponder?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

 

 

Small Town Living

Small town living can be such a hoot.

I spend most of my time in my back room where I read and work on the computer. Because there are a couple of windows that face my neighbor’s house, I can hear the mail truck pull up to her place, but not mine.

Yesterday was exceptionally cold with a few isolated snow flakes and a lot of biting winds. (28mph). So when I heard the mail truck, I hurried to the door to catch the mail deliverer, bundled in a parka, hat, hood, muffler, heading up my neighbor’s sidewalk.

“Did I get any mail?” I called out.

“Just a flyer,” she called back.

Postal regulations put into effect right before I moved here require new residents to plant a mailbox along the street, though no such regulation targets those who lived here before the rule. Hence, my neighbor gets her mail delivered to her door. I have to walk out to the street. It’s not that long a walk, obviously, but it does entail putting on shoes and a coat and fighting the wind for possession of my storm door.

“So it’s not worth it for me to walk out the box?” I asked.

“Definitely not,” she answered.

We talked about the weather for as long as it took her to stuff my neighbor’s mail in the box, then she said, “You be careful. Don’t go for your walk today.”

I had to laugh at that. Yep. Small towns.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

 

Informal Poll

I just came across an interesting comment in a book. Supposedly, if people are in a restaurant with somebody, they look at their food more than the other person. If they are alone, they watch people more than their food.

It seems right, and I remember doing both things, but I’m curious. Is this what you do? Is this what people around you do?

Of course, the question doesn’t take into consideration the prevalence of phones at the table. So, do phones affect the original premise? Or does it still hold true?

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Young Elderly and Elderly Elderly

My post on elderliness the other day might have seemed fatuous, because who of us really cares what age “elderly” is? We don’t need to define our time of life, no matter what it is. At any age, we simply take care of ourselves as best as we can, and as we get older, we make adjustments for ailments, infirmities and joints that don’t work as well as they once did.

And yet, what about others who define “elderly” for us? That will affect us for sure.

For example, one candidate who is trying to win the democratic nomination says that certain medical treatments should be withheld from the “elderly.”

To be honest, people should not be getting quadruple bypass surgeries in their nineties (as my father did) or getting chemo in their late-eighties (as my mother didn’t) but these should be a determination by the patient and the doctor rather than a matter of legislation. (Some insurance companies do make this determination, but it is generally a case by case decision and is not yet mandated by law.)

Many younger folk think this agenda is a good idea. Why should the elderly use up valuable resources if it’s not going to make their lives appreciably better? I, for one, would not opt for such treatments, but then, I only go to the doctor when I scalp myself or break a bone. But it is — and should continue to be — my choice to go or not to go, to accept treatment or to walk away.

A major issue with the candidate’s idea (besides the obvious one of government needing to stay away from such matters) is the term “elderly.” If by elderly, they mean someone who is so frail the treatment would probably kill them, then any reputable doctor would urge the person away from treatment anyway. If by elderly, they mean a person who is strong, healthy, and still heals fast, but has lived many decades, then treatment should definitely be an option. But if by elderly, they mean a person over 65, as is the current political definition of elderly, then such legislation would be nothing short of euthanasia. But it sure would be a political and fiscal coup, eradicating any need for Medicare!

I am not a big believer in government control (not a little believer, either), and usually stay away from politics of any sort, but this particular agenda showed me that “elderly” is not simply a pejorative term or an ageist term, but one of great significance.

And it shows me that I’m right: in the matter of health, there is a big difference between a younger elderly person and an elderly elderly person.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Preparing for the Death of a Spouse

When people ask me how they can prepare for the death of their sick spouse, I can only shrug helplessly because there is no way to prepare emotionally for all the painful and chaotic feelings that grief will throw at you.

I thought I was prepared for Jeff’s death, so after he died, I truly was stunned by the depth and breadth of my feelings. During the last year of his life, and especially the last six months, he’d begun withdrawing from the world and from me. This withdrawal, this lessening of a need to be with others is a natural part of dying, and my response to his withdrawal was just as natural — an increased determination to live. He might have been dying but I wasn’t, and I had to untangle our lives, find a way to survive his dying and his death. I thought I had successfully completed this task, but his death rocked me to the core of my being.

As I discovered, there is a world of difference between presence and absence, and an eternity of difference between dying and dead. Because of this difference, you simply cannot know, cannot prepare for how you will feel.

There is one thing, though, that you can do to prepare, and that is to make sure you are familiar with all the little chores that come with modern-day living.

Even if we don’t have a traditional split in chores, such as the woman doing the cooking and cleaning, the man doing the outside chores, we do tend to gravitate to certain chores and over the years, they become habit. So still, in a time of — perhaps — more equality around the house, the person left behind is also left learning how to do things that are generally simple to learn. When you are grieving, however, when you are caught in the never-ending spiral of pain and stress, helplessness and hopelessness, befuddlement and utter bewilderment, learning such tasks becomes almost impossible.

One woman I know was frantic when it came time to take her car in for an emissions test. Because it was something her husband had always done, she had no idea what to do. Another woman had no idea how to balance her checkbook, had never even been to their bank. One man didn’t know how to make coffee or even how to cook simple meals. In another case, it was the woman who had done minor chores around the house, and the poor husband was ashamed to admit he didn’t even know how to change a lightbulb or tighten a doorknob.

Those of us who knew how to do these things found it almost impossible to garner the energy to do them, so I can only imagine how these people were nearly done-in when confronted with such tasks.

Preparing ahead of time is not as simple as it sounds. Sometimes it is the dying person who wants to teach the person being left behind how to do all these small things, and the soon-to-be survivor resents not just the lessons, but the very idea that their mate is leaving them.

Sometimes, the one dying is resentful. They already feel helpless and the survivor, by taking an interest in “their” chores, seems to be pushing them further into helplessness.

None of this is easy. We humans are odd creatures — so very fragile, and yet at the same time, so very tenacious. It’s hard to die. It’s hard to survive. And yet each of us manages to do what we need to do, prepared or not.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

Shame

In response to a blog I wrote the other day, Validating Grief, a reader left the following comment:

Last night at my grief group, three people apologized for being tearful or crying as they spoke! They seemed ashamed…actually saying “I should be composed”! How can we expect society to validate our grief, our shadow world, when we don’t! I think that is the reason your voice has been so important to me…you validate yourself which gives permission and example for others in the same to position to do so. Then and maybe only then will the “others” come along.

This comment really made me think. Although I have talked around the issue during the past ten years, I have never actually used the word “ashamed,” and yet it’s true. Our current society, which so shamelessly promotes mores that many people find appalling, still manages to find one group to shame: those who are mourning.

I was never ashamed of my grief, though I did at times feel as if I weren’t handling it well because of all the tears. I cried around others at the beginning because I could not talk about Jeff’s death without sobbing; my grief came from somewhere so deep inside that I had no conscious control over my tears. Later I did my grieving in private. Only I (and my blog readers) knew what I was going through. And even then, as I continued writing about grief, I sometimes felt apologetic as if I were trying to garner sympathy rather than simply telling my truth.

In our present culture, tears are a sign of weakness. Through thousands of movies and books, we are taught to be stoic, to hold back our tears, to be cool. Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven was the epitome of western cool, gliding across the film’s landscape without a single show of emotion. Think how different our experience of grief would be if men such as these had wept.

Even more than that, the complex and painful experience of grief for a spouse, life mate, soul mate is not something we see on television shows, in movies, or read about in novels. Fictional folks shed a fictional tear or two, perhaps go on a fictional spree of vengeance, then continue with their fictional lives unchanged.

In real life, this doesn’t happen, and so we are ashamed of our weakness.

For men, this is an especially fraught situation. Where women’s outward shows of grief are often greeted with sympathy, men’s grief is treated with disdain. From a young age, boys are taught that only girls cry, that to be a man, you must be stoic. And so, for men, an additional layer of complication is unnecessarily added to an already complicated situation.

Another reader commented on that same blog post about validating grief:

Agreed that the embarrassment and shame about expressions of grief is important and significant enough for its own essay. I’d add that for us guys, it’s got a different dimension or layer to work through.

Anger is just about the only acceptable form of male grief, and so all those chaotic feelings that so many of us, male and female, feel after the loss of a mate — anxiety, frustration, loneliness, confusion, despair, helplessness, panic, resentment, bitterness, isolation, numbness, emptiness, futility, yearning, envy of those who are still coupled — have no place to go in a man except to be buried in anger and embarrassment and shame.

Current theories about grief that are supposed to replace the outdated five stages of grief model, are just as damaging to the griever, because proponents of these theories say that getting past the loss and returning to our normal selves is a matter of resiliency. Normal selves? There is no more normal! Resiliency? People who are grieving are utterly resilient; how else would we survive?

Because of all this conditioning, if our grief doesn’t fit into any of the established ideas about dealing with loss, we are ashamed. If everyone else can get by without tears, why can’t we? If everyone else can get over their loss, why are we still in such pain?

Despite what people might believe, weeping and wailing are appropriate ways of relieving the incredible stress, pain, and angst of losing a longtime mate for both men and women. Such releases are necessary because otherwise the pain stays inside to cause emotional and physical damage, gets relieved by pharmaceuticals, or leads to inappropriate behavior such as illicit drugs or dangerous anger.

Grief is not just a matter of emotions. It is, in many cases, a physiological response to stress, and especially to the loss of our survival unit. Humans are pack animals, and our very survival depends on our pack, and when we lose the other half of our survival unit, it sets off a cacophony of alarms in our bodies that create havoc with our systems. And yet, somehow, instead of being taught to accept physical changes as a normal part of grief, we are taught to be ashamed of these body processes, as if we were defecating in public. (But oh, wait, I just remembered — in many cities, relieving oneself in public is now accepted without shame and is no longer a punishable offense, but cry in public? Oh, no! That is shameful.)

As time goes on, we are supposed to “get over” our grief, and miraculously, the pain does diminish, but there is no way to get over the loss — every single day, we wake up to a world without our loved one. One year, five years, ten years — what are years to a broken heart? For people who are still married, every day of those ten years, they woke up to their spouses. They take comfort in being married, and yet we are supposed to . . . what? Take comfort in our lonely beds? One year, five years, ten years — doesn’t matter. They are still gone.

We did nothing wrong but try to do the best we could in an untenable situation. So why are we supposed to be ashamed?

The truth is, there is nothing to be ashamed of while grieving. It takes courage and strength to grieve and aren’t those traits the epitome of manliness (and womanliness)?

It’s those “others,” the people who urge us to “get back to normal,” who should be ashamed — of their ignorance, if nothing else.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mystery Script

[For those who couldn’t make it to the murder mystery dinner, or who did but couldn’t hear what people were saying, the following is what I’d written. I wanted the people with scripted parts to be placed around the room to make it seem as if it weren’t a play — which it wasn’t; it was supposed to be an interactive game — but things didn’t work out that way. Still, one way or another, it did work out.]

DOLLY CARSON introduces herself as The Mistress of Ceremonies of the Lost Souls Underground Club, extends a welcome along with a wish that her guests enjoy their evening, introduces Felix Tucker as a card dealer, Win Winslow as a bookie taking book on an upcoming boxing match, then raises a finger to her lips and cautions everyone to “speak easy.”

After everyone has their dinners, DOLLY CARSON introduces POPPY O’HARE as the Lost Souls own songbird.

When Poppy finishes her song, BESS JORDAN approaches her on the stage.

BESS JORDAN My name is Bess Jordan, and I have a petition to get more rights for women. Would you sign it?

POPPY O’HARE: I’m an emancipated woman. I don’t need anyone’s help. (She flounces off)

BESS JORDAN: (Calls after her) The nineteenth amendment giving women the vote is only the first step.

FLORENCE NASH: Poppy’s emancipated all right. She emancipated her way into my husband’s bed. My name is Florence Nash. I’ll sign.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I’m Carmen Trujillo. I’ll sign, too.

During the meal, there is more talk about women’s rights instigated by BESS JORDAN , flirtatiousness from POPPY O’HARE, who is Win Winslow’s girlfriend, and snide remarks about flirtatious poppy from FLORENCE NASH, but most of the conversation is about the money everyone lost at the horse race that morning, when the least favorite (Milk Money) beat the favorite (Dandy Lion) at 50 to 1 odds.

It is widely known that a mysterious person known only as “Mr. Big” runs the rackets in the County, and it had been rumored that Mr. Big had fixed the race so that Sugar Beet (third place contender) would win. No one knows who to be angry with: Mr. Big for selling them out, a second person who sold out all of them, including Mr. Big, or the jockeys who only did what they’d been bribed to do.

When the meal is almost finished, DOLLY stands up and flings out her arms:

DOLLY CARSON: That was the slowest horse race in history.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: My husband is going to kill me when he finds out how much I lost.

JAMES PROWERS: I lost more than anyone.

CARMEN TRUJILLO: What are you talking about, Mr. Prowers? Milk Money won.

JAMES PROWERS: Call me James. James Prowers. Milk Money is my wife’s horse.

FELIX TUCKER: So? What’s hers is yours.

JAMES PROWERS: Milk Money is the worst trotter ever. Couldn’t beat a donkey.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Shut up everyone, I want to hear this!

CARMEN TRUJILLO: Then why did she win?

JAMES PROWERS (points to Frank Faraday): Ask him. Frank Faraday. He’s the nincompoop who rode her.

FRANK FARRADAY: (Stands up) I didn’t mean to, Mr. Prowers. Honest. It’s just that all the other racers were so far behind. Usually I’m the one behind, on account of I’m bigger than all the other jockeys, and I didn’t know what else to do.

JAMES PROWERS: That’s why I hired him. He never wins. I figured with him on that dobbin I couldn’t lose. See, my wife wants to help me train horses, and she kept nagging me and nagging me, so I agreed that if Milk Money won, she could help.

FELIX TUCKER: I heard that Mr. Big fixed the race and that Sugar Beet was supposed to win. That’s why I bet on Sugar Beet. I only bet on sure things.

FRANK FARRADAY: Mr. Big did fix the race, but then that gambler Win Winslow came around and bribed the rest of the jockeys to lose. He tried bribing me, too, but Mrs. Prowers had already bribed me to win, and I am honest. Honest, I am.

WIN WINSLOW (who is at a different table, stands up): Are you talking about me?

FRANK FARRADAY: Yes, Mr. Winslow. Sorry.

WIN WINSLOW: No problem. I don’t care if everyone knows what I did

POPPY O’HARE: You’re not scared, baby? What if Mr. Big finds out?

WIN WINSLOW: Mr. Big has been running things too long. It’s time for new blood in this town, and I intend to be the new top dog.

FELIX TUCKER: So you’re the one who made the killing at the track?

WIN WINSLOW: That was me! I placed my bet under a phony name so that Mr. Big wouldn’t know who won, but now that I have my money and everyone knows I’m Mr. Bigger, it doesn’t matter. Mr. Big wouldn’t dare touch me.

POPPY O’HARE: But what about people who lost their money, like Felix Tucker or Carmen Trujillo? Won’t they come after you?

WIN WINSLOW: They can’t. They know if they did, they’d never be able to gamble in this town again.

JAMES PROWERS: I wouldn’t mind if something happened to you. My wife is at home right now, painting the barn pink.

WIN WINSLOW: (laughs): I hear you. That’s a fate worse than death. Hey, Effie! Bring me some of my Amaretto!

EFFIE tOWNSEND (bartender): Sure, Mr. Winslow. I’ll go get your special bottle (Goes in the back room.)

CARMEN TRUJILLO: I like pink.

JAMES PROWERS: A pink barn. I will be a laughingstock.

EFFIE tOWNSEND: (placing a glass in front of Win Winslow next to one that’s already there): There was only enough in the bottle for one drink, so this is the last of it.

POPPY O’HARE: I don’t know why people have to gamble. Why can’t they just watch the pretty horses run?

WIN WINSLOW: Without gambling, there is no horseracing.

POPPY O’HARE: (snuggling up to Win): But gambling upsets people too much.

WIN WINSLOW: I have business to conduct, Dollface Why don’t you go sing us a song?

POPPY O’HARE: Okay, Snookie. (She picks up a glass and takes a swig.) Ooh, that’s horrible stuff! (Goes to the stage area and begins to sing. After a verse or two, her words falter, she stumbles, and collapses.)

DOLLY CARSON rushes to the fallen singer, but she’s pushed aside by CHARLES PRESTON.

CHARLES PRESTON: Step aside. I’m a doctor. Dr. Charles Preston. (He bends over the body.) This woman is dead. Murdered. I can smell the bitter almonds from cyanide. Call the cops.

(General pandemonium, and cries of “No cops” and “No pigs” “No Coppers” and “I have to get out of here.”

Dolly CARSON: Sit down.

FELIX TUCKER (bellowing): Everyone sit down and shut up!

Dolly CARSON: Thanks, Felix. We don’t need the coppers. We can figure out who killed her and then turn the murderer over to the cops ourselves. (Points to Florence Nash who has been badmouthing Poppy all evening.) You didn’t like the victim, did you?

FLORENCE NASH: She was okay.

Dolly CARSON: That’s not what you were saying earlier.

FLORENCE NASH: Okay, you’re right. I didn’t like her. She was a flirt. And more. She was always going after my husband, and he left me, thinking she meant she wanted to be with him. But she was just playing around, and now I’m all alone. But I didn’t kill her.

Dolly CARSON: Do you know anyone beside you who would want her dead?

FLORENCE NASH: Everyone. All the women anyway. She flirted with our husbands.

BESS JORDAN: She put the woman’s movement back twenty years.

Dolly CARSON: You didn’t like her, did you, Bess?

BESS JORDAN: No. Didn’t hate her enough to kill her, either. We don’t need people like her. The woman’s movement is becoming stronger all the time. We can do anything men can, and better.

WIN WINSLOW: In your dreams!

Dolly CARSON: She was your girlfriend, Win, but you didn’t really like her, did you?

WIN WINSLOW: She was a flirt. And a gold digger. But she was beautiful and fun.

Dolly CARSON: Is that why you killed her? Because the fun was over?

WIN WINSLOW: I didn’t kill anyone. I don’t need to. I got guys for that. Besides, poison is a woman’s weapon.

BESS JORDAN: No, poison is a woman’s privilege, but men poison, too. We are all equal.

Dolly CARSON (Points to people at random and asks them questions): You didn’t like the victim, did you? What was your beef with her? Do you know anyone besides you who would want her dead? Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

Dolly CARSON (turning to Mildred Boggs): Mildred Boggs, you were sitting across the table from Poppy. Did you like her?

MILDRED BOGGS: No, but . . .

Dolly CARSON: What was your beef with her?

MILDRED BOGGS: Same as everyone else. With women like her around, no one’s husband is safe, but . . .

Dolly CARSON Do you have any information relative to this investigation?

MILDRED BOGGS: Yes. That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you. I don’t think Poppy was supposed to be the victim. I think it was Win Winslow. She drank from his glass.

Dolly CARSON: The bottle was in the storeroom. Anyone could have spiked it with cyanide. It could have been Felix Tucker. James Prowers. Carmen Trujillo. Effie Townsend. Or anyone here. So, Win, who wanted you dead?

WIN WINSLOW: No one wants me dead. Everyone likes me. I’m a likeable guy.

Dolly CARSON: Does anyone else have anything to say? (If there’s no response, or when the discussion dies down, Dolly holds up a ballot.) We don’t want to call the cops, and since no one has any pertinent information, and since no one is confessing, let’s take a vote.

While the votes are being tallied, people go get dessert.

After the votes are tallied, Dolly announces the winners of the voting for Most Dastardly Villain, Best Costume, and Best Role Playing, and thanks everyone for being such Keen Detectives.

After the applause dies down, it’s time for the truth to come out. If the right person was chosen to be the villain, the killer takes a bow and explains why he or she did it. If the wrong person is chosen, the real villain tells the truth.

***

So, who do you think is the killer?

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mystery Evening Critique

The Roaring Twenties mystery fundraiser was a success. It had the biggest turnout to a local event that I’d seen, it made money, and people had fun. At least, they had fun to the extent that the evening met their expectations. The people with no expectations and those who were willing to get into the spirit of the game had the most fun. Those who expected to sit and watch a play were not quite as satisfied.

People’s comments to me revealed their expectations, and said more about them than it did about my writing. Some people said I did great, and I could see they meant it. Some people avoided me. Others damned me with faint praise: “It was good for a first attempt.” Or “You’ll do better next year.” Others said it was fun, but that they couldn’t hear most of the play.

A friend warned me about this — how nerve wracking it was for scriptwriters who had to sit back and see their dialogue not working the way it was supposed to. I’d glibly responded to him, “If it doesn’t work, I’ll get to blame the role-players for not doing their job of engaging the audience.”

And so it was.

Few people, even those to whom I had explained the concept, got the point — that it was a game, a role-playing game, with some scripted parts to keep things going. Everyone who came was supposed to play a role, and to that end, each had been given a cheat sheet with a bit about their character. For example: You bet on Sugar Beet since it was supposed to be a sure thing, and now you think Mr. Big sold you out. Or You strongly approve of the suffragette movement, and you think flirts like Poppy give women a bad name.

The people who played the various scripted characters were supposed to sit among those without lines and get them involved. Only a couple of women did this, and did it admirably, but I could see the strain it was for them since so few responded to their attempts. Some of the younger people who volunteered to play a part were great, but others huddled in a corner with their friends instead of getting the non-scripted folks to participate, and they kept sitting when they too-quietly spoke their lines rather than standing up when they were supposed to speak.

After the murder, non-scripted people were supposed to have been interrogated, but that part was dropped, maybe because of the problem with getting attendees into the spirit of the game.

I’d thought that during the event the characters would become less my creation and more theirs as they adlibbed, took things further than what I had suggested, and got other non-scripted guests to participate. None of that happened. And since I wasn’t one of those who were supposed to be chivvying others into participating, there was nothing I could do about it. Nor was there anything I could do about lost lines, swallowed punchlines, clues that no one could hear, participants with jitters and nerves, and people who wanted to do things their own way.

That the evening was a success was due to the efforts of those who did get into the spirit of the thing and who so wonderfully (and in the case of the bartender, so chillingly, and in the case of the jockey, so charmingly) delivered their lines.

From a personal standpoint, I enjoyed the evening. It was interesting to see how far I had come in the eleven months since I’d moved here — how many people I knew or recognized, how many people knew or recognized me.

From an author standpoint, it wasn’t nearly as enjoyable, mostly because of my own expectations. The game never took on a life of its own, as I had hoped. I’d seen it as sort of a flash mob thing, where scripted characters, seemingly from the audience, would jump in with their lines as if on the spur of the moment, which never happened because of the aforesaid huddling. And I woefully overestimated how many attendees would get into the speakeasy attitude and play along. (I should have known what would happen when only a smattering of people with non-scripted lines made any effort to dress the part.)

So what’s the solution? Insist on having greater control of the process? But then, this wasn’t really about me as an author, but about the community. Give explicit instructions to the scripted players, making sure they sit among the “audience,” and write additional lines so they aren’t expected to adlib? When people make a reservation, ask if they are willing to say a few lines, and then give them specific things to say? Wait to see who shows up in costume, and give those people lines? The characters who were the most enthusiastic and who really carried the evening were those who had been coopted almost at the last minute, so is the solution to coopt more people like these, people with big voices and bigger personalities? Or is the answer to give up on the idea of an interactive experience and give people the play they expected?

But then, that raises the question: Is this who we have become? A people who would rather simply sit and watch rather than get involved?

I don’t know the answer, and I don’t need to since my scriptwriting days are done.

Besides, the evening really was a success, and in the end, that’s all that counts.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Mysteries

Editing the murder mystery I’ve been writing for a dinner at the local museum on February 9, seemed as involved as any other editing job. There were a few small inconsistencies to repair, but the main thing I had to do was to add lines so that the characters can introduce themselves. I didn’t want to do a program with the characters and their roles listed, because in a way, everyone who comes to the dinner will have a part — as a visitor to the speakeasy if for no other reason. Those who will be set apart as possible villains, though, will have to have a name, otherwise, how would anyone be able to vote for the dastardliest villain?

Tomorrow will be rehearsal, though mostly it will be a matter of setting up the logistics of the mystery. Although no one but the mistress of ceremonies will have many lines to say, I don’t expect anyone to memorize their parts. (They can if they want to, of course.) For the most part, they just need to know what they are supposed to be doing and how the whole thing fits together.

I’m hoping people will get into the spirit of the thing and not just sit back and watch as the story unfolds, but if people prefer to watch, that’s okay, too.

I feel as if I should be nervous about the murder mystery because after all, the story was my creation, but I’m not. Or at least, not very.

Maybe it’s because so much is going on. Not just meetings and preparing for the dinner and attending the mayor’s strategic planning sessions, but also the house. The excavator should be available for rent sometime next week, so I’ll get to watch a different sort of play unfold — digging the foundation and pouring the cement and whatever else it takes to start building a garage.

I wonder if the dig will uncover some other weird bit of mystery to go along with all the other mysterious artifacts we’ve uncovered, such as the cistern, ancient sewage pipes, water where no water should be, bloody shirts, and a few miscellaneous bones.

Whatever happens, the dig should be interesting!

And so will the murder mystery dinner. If you are in the area, please join us for an evening of food and frolic.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.