Skullduggery

I’ve been reading a series of spy/crime/adventure thrillers. Many of the novels revolve around a race for finding treasure, and all of them incorporate plot devices such as torture, murder, and theft on a grand scale.

While reading this latest book that involves discovery and theft of Incan artifacts going back to Francis Drake days, it suddenly dawned on me that I can’t relate to these folks at all. It might make me seem incredibly naïve, but I simply don’t understand them and their need — their greed — to take things for themselves that belong to others. To steal from a museum so that only they can see the priceless artifact. To kill people if necessary, in order to possess something no one can ever know they own.

I realize there are such people in the so-called real world. In fact, most of the great fortunes were founded by those who became known as “robber barons,” emphasis on “robber.” Even today, no one can make a huge fortune without some sort of skullduggery that skirts legality. Lesser fortunes also often come from some sort of crime before the owners of the fortune go legitimate. It must take an incredibly narcissistic person, as well a sociopathic personality to see nothing, to feel nothing but one’s own desires.

I truly cannot relate to such self-absorption and criminal tendencies, though without ever condoning the crimes, I can sort of understand those who steal on a very small scale.

Supposedly there have been several break-ins and some theft a few blocks from here. The discussion of these break-ins revolves around the myriad pot shops in town (some people say the shops contribute to crime, others say they don’t, though I have a hunch what side of the issue a person is on depends on whether or not the person partakes of the product.) Other people blame the nearby coalition for the homeless where people from all over the state (and even other parts of the country) come to get off whatever substance they are on and find a way back to the homed population. This facility has a distinct effect on the town because people who can’t or don’t want to stick with the program wander away and instead of going back where they come from, they hang around here and add to the problems of this already beleaguered town. Not only do they contribute to the crime rate, but they are also a drag on the city’s limited resources.

These people are desperate for food or a fix, and they are looking for something to sell to sate their elemental needs. Although I’ve never been in that situation, I can understand. Sort of.

I don’t understand, can’t understand, using force to take what one wants, on any sort of scale, especially when it comes to being held up at gunpoint, as happened to me once.

People always say that our differences are what make life interesting, but I don’t agree when those differences revolve around criminal behavior. I think life would be plenty interesting without greed and murder and theft and even unkindness, though I suppose, for most readers, thrillers would be a lot less interesting without skullduggery.

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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

Big Excitement for the Day

I’m reading a book about a consortium that is about to release a virus that kills with acute respiratory distress. The victims gush blood and die. I was thinking about this book in relation to what is going on today, but it sounds a lot like my own novel, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, which was published the year before this one.

In my book, the disease is full-blown, and Colorado — where the disease originated — is quarantined to keep the pandemic in check. In the book I’m reading, there have only been a few test cases, and the consortium has yet to unleash the virus on the world. They’ve been working for the past ten years on a cure, and after releasing the virus into the general population, they are planning on holding the cure hostage until their demands are met. Or maybe they’ll just spring into action with a cure, which would then afford them millions in sales and stock. Either way, it’s a planned pandemic for money.

A couple things about the book interest me more than the possibility of that scenario being played out in the world today. One, the book is a Robert Ludlum book, which is why I started reading it. Not that I like his books. The truth is, I’ve never been able to get past the first chapter or two of any of his books, but I figured this was a good time to struggle through one of his books since I have nothing better to read. Only it’s not a Robert Ludlum book. Oh, it has his name on the cover, but it was written eight or nine years after his death. A true ghost writer!

The other thing that interests me is the hero took a transport from Andrews Air Force Base that landed in the Southern California Logistical Airport near Victorville before taking a helicopter to Ft. Irwin.

So many books, movies, television shows take place in Southern California or touch on the area in some way, and now, having lived there for so many years, I know what these places are. I remember watching a CSI show many years ago, and somehow the Las Vegas crew ended up in Victorville. I’d never heard of the town, hadn’t a clue where it was, and then, in a strange twist of fate, there I was. Well, not Victorville itself, but the Victor Valley area.

And several times I happened to drive the Air Expressway that took me past the turn-off to the Southern California Logistical Airport.

Not that it matters — I have read thousands upon thousands of novels where I couldn’t correctly place the story (and didn’t care) but still, it’s fun to know where places are. And for some reason, Victorville shows up a lot in stories — perhaps because of the nearness to the desert wilderness where bodies can disappear forever. But then, how to explain Bear Lake? That’s another place that often shows up in books. In fact, it was mentioned in the book I just finished, whatever that was. (Obviously, the story was utterly unmemorable. See why I was willing to take a chance on a Ludlum book?)

So, that’s the big excitement for the day — coming across “Southern California Logistical Airport” in a terrible book by a writer who is published under the name of a dead author I never liked.

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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

Maybe Rereading “Dune”

I’m rereading Dune. At least, I think I’m rereading it. I’m beginning to wonder if I ever read it at all until now.

I remember thinking I liking the book when I was young, and several times over the intervening years I’d end up with a copy and try to reread it, but I could never get into the story again. Admittedly, when I was young, I had a lot more patience for books that were mostly descriptions of day-to-day living, whether on this planet or another (the first 150 pages of Dune seem more like setting the scene than the beginning of a book) and I lost that patience in later years. It’s also harder to keep whole books in my head now, so that adds to my impatience with dragginess.

It’s possible the book gets better (I’m not even halfway through), and it’s possible it has a great ending that would make me feel good about the book. And it’s possible that something in the latter half will strike a chord of memory, but so far, there isn’t so much as a ding. Even if I can’t remember books I read decades ago, if they impressed me in some way, I have some sort of lingering impression of them. Most books, of course, leave no impression — there is simply no “there” there. I’m not sure where Dune would fit in the book spectrum because it is different enough that I should remember something or hear a faint echo of recognition in the back of my mind. But nope. Nothing. I can’t even figure out why I would have read it. I have never liked authors who have to create incomprehensible names for people, things, and places. The strange spellings seem to take up space in my brain that would normally be used for following the story.

Even more confusing, I see the cover in my mind’s eye — a reddish cover with a fellow trudging across a wide expanse of dunes. I spent some time looking at Dune covers today, and there is not a single one of them that looks familiar. (Except for the one I bought at a library book sale a while back and redonated unread.)

It makes me wonder what book I did read. It’s possible I read some other book and misremembered it as Dune. It’s possible I misremembered the cover. (If there even was a cover image. It could have been a rebound book from the library.) And I could have found the book completely unmemorable.

Too bad there’s no way to rewind a memory to see the truth of it.

What I am seeing is a lot of similarity to The Wheel of Time series, at least in small things — the witches, the truthsayers, the uncanny powers, the manipulation of people and events. Of course, these are all fairly common archetypes and scenarios for the hero/savior story, but people often compare The Wheel of Time world to The Lord of the Rings, and I don’t see it at all. (But then, that’s another iconic series I haven’t been able to slog through, so I could have missed any similarity.)

One thing that amused me — in a book that uses so many strange-sounding names and words, at one point, Frank Herbert describes someone as having olive skin. Couldn’t he have come up with a more interesting word? I have always hated “olive” applied to skin because it takes me out of the story and makes me wonder what color the character is. I still remember the first time I came across that descriptive word. I couldn’t figure out if the character had green skin or black. It took years before I realized the word referred to the color of the inside of a black olive.

So, I can remember being puzzled by olive skin, but I can’t remember anything about a book I thought I read and thought I liked.

The life of a reader does get bizarre at times.

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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

The Wheel of Time

Since I finished reading all my emergency books, I’m reduced to reading the books in my Nook, books I’ve already read. Although I don’t generally like rereading books, Robert Jordan’s massive Wheel of Time series seems to be the perfect place to go to hide from The Bob.

The books in the series are not stand alone books — you cannot understand one book without the previous books — which means that in effect the WOT series is single novel of over four million words broken up into fifteen parts. In fact, the series itself is not stand alone — there are all sorts of books, blogs, discussion forums comprising billions of words where readers try to figure out the truth of the story.

Not only is the scope of WOT almost impossible to fathom, but Jordan had a bad habit of putting in bits of deus ex machina that he refused to elucidate in the work itself, companion books, or even interviews. Perhaps he himself did not know what those bits meant or maybe he simply wanted to be mysterious for mysterious’s sake, to create a legacy of people debating worthless points. Which they do. Ad infinitum. Jordan also refused to explain what to him were obvious story points, such as who killed a certain bad-guy-turned-maybe-good-guy, but again, dozens of forums present various theories because that obvious point was obvious only to he who created it. At least in this particular case, the murderer was revealed in an appendix several books after the fact. Jordan also spent thousands upon thousands of words on red herrings and subplots that go nowhere, but sometimes used a single sentence buried in huge blocks of description to bring out a major point. Yikes.

And wow, is there description. Tons of description. Whenever food is mentioned, I find myself skipping a paragraph or two. When clothes are mentioned, I skip a couple of pages. And sometimes, when there is zero action or character development, such as in a few very clean bathing scenes, I skip the whole dang chapter.

I also tend to skip over some of the women’s parts. Although Jordan mostly develops his three main male characters into individual heroes, each with his own mythic journey, he turns his three main women characters into insufferable caricatures, indistinguishable from one another except for a few annoying character tics. At first I thought he had a problem with women, but his secondary and tertiary female characters are often well-defined or at least not brats and prigs who believe, without giving a single shred of thought to the forces the other characters face, that they know the best for everyone.

Even after investing so much time in reading and rereading the books, I’m still not sure I like the series — although the theme seems to be about the importance of having choices, most of the characters, both good and evil, go out of their way to force others to their will. Too much torture and punishment for my taste. It seems to me that in a world where everyone is free to choose (or at least what the pattern created by the wheel of time allows them to choose), it’s just as easy to find someone to willingly do your bidding as to waste the effort forcing someone to do it. (Oddly, the three main males do turn others to their will, but without wanting to or without even trying.)

But despite my ambivalence, I keep rereading. The scope of the story is utterly astounding. In the story, during the so-called age of legends, people wielding the power that turns the wheel of time, broke the world. Mountains grew where no mountains had been, waters flooded lands, green spaces became deserts. And humans started over. Again.

Interestingly, breaking the world is exactly what Robert Jordon did when he wrote his series — he smashed our world into bits, mixed it all up — legends and traditions; countries and races, clothes and customs; myths and mysteries, religions and philosophies — and put it all back together into his own creation.

I wonder what it would be like to create such a massive fiction world, a world that reflects our world but not. A world that reflects our values but not. A world that exists only in our minds but not. Or, rather, maybe not. If it exists in our minds, it’s possible Jordan’s world exists for real, sort of dream world we all created together, just as philosophers and physicists say we do with the real world.

Assuming there is a real world.

Maybe we’re all writing the story of our world as we live it, creating with our hive mind the very fact of our existence. If we all stopped believing in it, would it disappear as if we were closing the cover of a novel? Would we disappear if we stopped believing all the things we see and hear except with our own eyes or ears? Would we be different if we simply refused to accept the role that has been forced on us?

Maybe, as I study Jordan’s world, I’ll learn how to help build a better version of our own — how to write it or right it, either one.

Meanwhile, the wheels of time keeps turning . . .

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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.

Free E-Book!

For the next month, A Spark of Heavenly Fire will be available as a free download from Smashwords in all ebook formats. You can find the book here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842. Be sure to use the coupon code WN85X when purchasing.

I figure that by the time the world gets back to normal — or as normal as it will ever get — people will be sick of the very word “quarantine,” and won’t want to have anything to do with novel diseases or diseases in a novel, which is why I giving it away now. I hope I’m wrong about people not wanting to read about devastating diseases after this is all through because A Spark of Heavenly Fire is more than a story about a pandemic — it’s the story of survival in the face of brutality, government cover-up, and public hysteria. It is also a story of love: lost, found and fulfilled.

Washington Irving wrote: “There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity; but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.” As I read these words several years ago, I could see her, a drab woman, defeated by life, dragging herself through her days in the normal world, but in an abnormal world of strife and danger, she would come alive and inspire others. And so Kate Cummings, the hero of my novel A Spark of Heavenly Fire was born. But born into what world?

I didn’t want to write a book about war, which is a common setting for such a character-driven story, so I created the red death, an unstoppable, bio-engineered disease that ravages the world, but mostly Colorado where the disease originated. Martial law is declared, rationing is put into effect, and the entire state is quarantined. During this time when so many are dying, Kate comes alive and gradually pulls others into her sphere of kindness and generosity. First enters Dee Allenby, another woman defeated by normal life, then enter the homeless — the group hardest hit by the militated restrictions. Finally, enters Greg Pullman, a movie-star-handsome reporter who is determined to find out who created the red death and why they did it.

Kate and her friends build a new world, a new normal, to help one another survive, but other characters, such as Jeremy King, a world-class actor who gets caught in the quarantine, and Pippi O’Brien, a local weather girl, think of only of their own survival, and they are determined to leave the state even if it kills them.

The world of the red death brings out the worst in some characters while bringing out the best in others. Most of all, the prism of death and survival reflects what each values most. Kate values love. Dee values purpose. Greg values truth. Jeremy values freedom. Pippi, who values nothing, learns to value herself.

It sounds like us, today — the crisis crystalizing our lives and showing us what we value most.

Click here to get your free ebook: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1842. Be sure to use the coupon code WN85X when purchasing.

Below is the video trailer for A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

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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.

The Bob

In the following scene from A Spark of Heavenly Fire, my novel about a novel disease, investigative reporter Greg and his editor Olaf are talking about an article on the pandemic Greg is hoping to write.

—-

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

“I feel as if I’m drowning in paper.”

“So I see,” Olaf said, laying a hand on the stack of 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.

Olaf 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.”

—–

And it works for me. From now on, I’m going to call this current novel virus “The Bob.” No insult meant to any Bob living or dead, but I need a different name to call this disease because I am already sick of seeing its name wherever I go on the internet and hearing it out in public. And anyway, I named the disease many years ago back when I didn’t know any Bobs.

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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.

Virus!

With all the talk about corona virus and how it’s probably a man-made (or woman-made, for all I know) organism that escaped from a lab, it would be remiss of me not to mention my own organism, the red death. The red death only resides within the pages of A Spark of Heavenly Fire, so it cannot harm you (though it might scare you), but it’s deadly for all that. In fact, it’s so deadly and spread so fast from it’s origins in Colorado, that the entire state is quarantined.

You don’t think that’s possible? The technology already exists, and where people manage to break out of the quarantined area, you better believe that people from the surrounding states would not hesitate to shoot an escapee.

Inside the quarantined state, hundreds of thousands of people are dying in Colorado this unstoppable red death, and though many people have given up hope, insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover who unleashed the deadly organism and why they did it, until the cost — Kate’s life — becomes more than he can pay. This is a story of survival in the face of brutality, government cover-up, and public hysteria. It is also a story of love: lost, found and fulfilled.

So, if you wish to take a break from talk of the rather tepid coronavirus (the “normal” flu is much deadlier) and experience what a true epidemic would be like, you can read an excerpt of A Spark of Heavenly Fire here: https://bertramsblog.com/free-samples/a-spark-of-heavenly-fire/ and you can buy it from Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1630663662/

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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

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.

Playing at Being an Author

Yesterday was a true delight. I went to the museum where the upcoming murder mystery dinner will take place and met with Art Guild members as well as those who had volunteered to act in my skit. It was a thrill to meet the various characters, especially when I realized how perfect the casting was — as if I had written the parts specifically for those people.

The mistress of ceremonies of our fictional speakeasy explained how the room would be laid out, the seating she had planned for several of the key players, and what would happen after the murder. (We couldn’t let the poor victim lie there unmoving for the rest of the evening!)

After the logistics session, I explained the basic scenario for the story, and then we began to read through the script, with each person saying their lines. And oh, wow! What a rush! Hearing the words I had written coming out of the mouths of other people made me feel like such a Svengali (a Svengali who was kind and had no sinister purposes, that is), as if I were controlling, for the moment, all those lives.

Everyone seemed pleased with their parts, and as we read through the few pages of scripted dialogue, they really got into it. I could feel the smile on my face when I realized this mystery could really work. (I wasn’t too worried since I knew adrenaline and excitement would carry everyone through the evening, but I had no experience with this sort of mystery game, had no idea how to go about creating one, and wasn’t sure how the finished game would play out.)

During the actual event, the words (and characters) will become less my creation and more theirs as they adlib, take things further than what I had suggested, and get other non-scripted guests to participate.

I am looking forward to the experience of seeing my characters in full costume take on a life of their own. Writing is generally a solitary activity, even something like this mystery. I did have some input from other Art Guild members, but mainly it was me, my computer, and whatever I could pull from my mind and from my copious research into the 1920s, horseracing scandals, the woman’s movement after the nineteenth amendment had passed, and especially — most especially — how to create a murder mystery dinner.

During all the research and thinking and grabbing at words, we writers don’t necessarily feel like authors. We are so tuned to what we are doing, we feel the work rather than feel ourselves doing the work. After the writing is finished, and (if we are lucky) people read our creation, we don’t necessarily feel like authors because we don’t see people reading what we wrote, and if we do, we can’t see what is going on in their head while they are reading, nor do we hear what they are experiencing because reading is generally a silent activity.

So to hear one’s words? To see the effect of one’s writing on others? To have a chance to actually play at being an author? Utterly priceless.

***

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.

Whose Story Is It?

I woke this morning with the perfect plot for my next book, though I’m not sure I can write it because it’s not my story. In the writing, it will become my story, of course, taking the characters in directions they wouldn’t go in real life, but the people involved in this would-be plot are the starting point, and one person already told me he didn’t want me to put him in book. Or maybe he said he didn’t want to be the villain. Or the victim. One of those. Then he sort of backtracked and said it didn’t matter, so I don’t know where I stand.

Even without his permission, I could still write the book and see what happens. If none of the characters are recognizable in the end, then it wouldn’t matter whose story I started out with in the beginning.

Figuring out who the story is about is one of the first steps to putting a book together. And in this new book, as in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, the story would be mine and the main character me. Or not. Let’s just say a character named “Pat” with a penchant for hats, who might or might not be me, would be the narrator.

This fictional Pat would buy a house in a town where many people had lived their entire lives (some returning as older adults to the very house where they’d grown up). During renovations of the house and property, many small mysteries would arise. The house itself would be a character, the way it wraps itself around Pat and makes her feel at home, and conversely, the way a visitor was made to feel unwelcome by a ghost only the visitor could see. And the fellow who didn’t want to be in the book would be there in spirit if not in a fully-developed character because he’s the one who, in fixing the place, finds many of the puzzles.

It’s possible there would be enough with just the house and possible ghost to write a cozy mystery, leaving the harder-hitting story I thought of this morning for a later book, but I don’t have all the pieces to the ghost story yet.

And then there’s the additional matter of not having the push to write — getting the house and garage fixed, daily blogging, and attempting to get back into an exercise routine — takes up most of my available “push.” For now, I’ll let both stories stew in my brain pan and see if they coalesce into one cohesive whole or if they remain two different stories with many of the same characters.

The only books I’ve written since Jeff died were all grief infused, even the fiction. Some people thought the grief in Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare misplaced because it overshadowed some of the lightheartedness, but that’s what the narrator “Pat” was feeling at the time. Besides, I do find it ludicrous that so many mysteries and thrillers are steeped in countless deaths, and no one gives even a passing thought to the emotional toll.

It would be worth writing another book just to see where that “Pat” is now, and if her new-found peace shows up in the story.

***

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.