Small Town Encounters

When I was at the post office yesterday, I noticed my mail deliverer working the window. “So this is why my mail is always late,” I quipped. She explained they were shorthanded, so she was basically working two jobs, but that she’d be by later with my mail. We chatted a few minutes, then, as I headed out the door, a woman I didn’t recognize walked in and said,  “Hi, Pat.” I stopped and studied her for a second. Before I could come across as rude, I said hastily, “I’m sorry. I don’t remember your name.”

She smiled. “I only remember your name because of the hat.” She then told me her name, which didn’t ring a bell, but when she mentioned her affiliation with a local church, I finally remembered meeting her. At a pie auction at a local church, she’d stopped me and asked, “Why do they call you Pat in the Hat?”

“Because I always wear a hat,” was my answer. So apparently, not only am I easy to remember because of my hats, so is my name easy to remember.

Although I make is seem as if this is an ideal small town, it isn’t, though some things truly are ideal. A library within walking distance? Priceless!

Other things, not so much. Although I still have no problem with walking to do errands, I’ve developed an inexplicable aversion to walking just to be walking, Well, today I had a few graphic examples that helped explain why I don’t enjoy walking as much as I once did. For one, dogs run loose — not all of them, and not all the time, but enough to be a problem, and I definitely do not like encountering strange and hostile dogs. There is a leash law here, but apparently, the sheriff’s department doesn’t care, and neither do the owners. As one woman told me, “If I were a dog, I would prefer to run loose, even if I end up getting run over.” And, since the dog disappeared shortly after she told me that, I’m sure she, if not her dog, got her preference.

Another issue is the cars. I don’t think people here are used to pedestrians. Too often, if I’m crossing a street or cutting through a parking lot to a store, drivers will simply ignore me or mow me down as if I weren’t even there. I have to be extra vigilant because of those who aren’t at all vigilant.

And then there are all the young men of working age who apparently don’t work. I detoured to avoid encountering a couple of small groups of men and several single wanderers. Good thing I haven’t lost my big city wariness.

I sure do miss having a wilderness area to wander around without all the unpleasant encounters. (Well, there were a coyote or two, and an occasional snake, but I could handle those.) I suppose I could drive somewhere to walk, but really, where’s the sense in that?

Once the garage is finished and I can get my storage items out of my exercise room, I’ll be able to use my elliptical again, but that’s only for a few minutes at a time and doesn’t at all take the place of walking. I have been adding more time to my dance workouts, but even that doesn’t take the place of walking.

I often encounter neighbors walking around the block across the street, and I might have to do that, too. And there is a fairly safe, though rather short street I sometimes walk. Meantime, I try to do a lot of errands!

***

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

Rebar

The construction workers were here today to put the rebars in the garage foundation. I’ve heard of rebars, and I even know what they do, but I didn’t know what the difference between a bar and a rebar is, so I did a bit of research.

You probably already know, but the bar in “rebar” is a bar, as in a rod rather than as in a tavern (though in the case of a tavern, I suppose you could still re-bar, as in bar-hopping and re-bar-hopping). The “re” part in rebar is short for “reinforcing” or “reinforcement.” Aha! So a rebar is simply a reinforcing bar. That part I get. The explanation for why a rebar is necessary is what strains my brain.

The forces of compression and tension always work together within an object. The force of compression squeezes things together, while the force of tension pulls things apart. Concrete has a high compression strength, but it has weak tension. (Apparently, concrete can stand up to compression, as when a building is built on a concrete foundation, but it can’t stand up to forces of tension, which is why the walls of my old garage kept sliding apart and cracking the floor. Even though the foundation was shallow, the garage might have held up if rebars had been used in the construction. Or so I understand.)

Although I have never specifically heard of the forces of compression and tension (or if I had heard, I’ve long forgotten) and don’t really understand how they work, I am familiar with the concept of opposing universal forces. Yin and yang, which is the ultimate example of forces that work together to make a whole. The nuclear force, which keeps nucleons in the atom’s nucleus together at the same time it keeps them apart to prevent an implosion. The push and pull of orbits that keep the solar system and galaxy in order. The give and take of relationships.

It’s not really important to understand the concept of rebars as long as the workers do, and as long as the work passes inspection, which it did. So, next step — concrete!

***

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

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.

***

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/

***

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

Cat Photos

I’ve read that people online love to look at cat photos, so here are my cat photos.

See? Cat?

Well, I thought it was funny!

And anyway, the Cat was mine for only a couple of hours, and I never even got to drive the excavator! The construction workers did a lot in that short a time — dug the foundation for the garage, and moved the lilacs that were going to be in the way.

Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the lilacs will survive, though I’m sure at least some will. With the Cat, they were able to dig down below the root and take up the whole ball of earth.

Things might be at a standstill again. We seem to be in a weird weather pattern — spring every weekend, fall on Monday and Friday, and winter midweek. Although it’s nice to have lovely weather on the weekends, it makes it hard to find a long enough dry time on work days to pour the foundation and allow it to cure. But it’s fun to watch the property change when they do get a chance to work.

***

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

 

Job Shadowing

A guidance counselor at the local grade school contacted a woman I know and asked her to speak to one of the students about being a writer. This woman’s expertise is in journalism, which is one thing the boy is interested in, but the counselor also wanted an author to talk to him, so my acquaintance passed the request along to me. (The subject line of the emails that were copied to me is “job shadowing,” hence the title of this blog.)

I’ve been ignoring the whole situation because I’m truly hesitant about encouraging anyone to be a writer. I’m of the same mind as Dorothy Parker; “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy.”

People who want to write will write despite any encouragement or lack thereof, so I certainly wouldn’t blight the kid’s interest in writing by not talking to him, but apparently he isn’t interested in the craft of writing so much as writing as a job, and I can’t tell him anything about the job aspect. (Except to tell him that to make money as a writer, he needs to find another job, such as plumber or electrician.)

I can tell people how to write better, I can tell them how to develop a story, I can tell them any number of things about the craft of writing, but I have no idea how to make a living at being a writer. Besides, I tend to think any writing advice I have would go over the head of even the smartest kid, since so much of what I know is obviously over the heads of the most well-known and wealthiest writers today because so few of them practice what I would preach. Being a good writer and being a successful author have little correlation to one another. Rather than expertise, it is luck and phenomenal marketing skills that determines a successful writer.

Making the situation worse, nowadays success seems to be about sliding in on the coattails of another writer. It used to be that there was a turnover in bestselling authors as they died or retired, but the trend now is to continue the name ad infinitum. And ad nauseum.

I did give a speech to students not that long ago about the importance of writing, but that’s different from talking one-on-one.

Writers, if you were presented with this dilemma, what would you do?

***

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.

Kicks and Kick-offs

While people were preparing for kick-off yesterday, I was getting a kick of a different kind. The enjoyment kind. The amusement kind. The small town kind.

Yesterday was a gorgeous day, the warmest in months, and since it was also shortly before the super bowl kick-off, the local grocery store was packed. If I’d considered super bowl preparations (and why would I since the super bowl is just another day to me), I would, of course, have waited until everyone was ensconced in front of their televisions to venture forth, but then I would have missed out on the kick of a small-town experience.

I happened to see the mayor in the store, and we stopped to chat a moment. (Think about that. How often have you met your mayor at a grocery store, and he — or she — not only recognized you and knew your name, but stopped to chat with you? Ah, small town living!) He introduced me to his wife, and I blurted out, “She’s your wife?” He said, ”You seem surprised.”

And I was. Not that she was his wife, but at the coincidence of having met her for the first time at the library a couple days previously. She’d looked at the titles of the stack of books I was checking out and said, “I’ve read all those.” That seemed astonishing to me, not that she read, but that her reading tastes were as eclectic as mine — everything from cozy mysteries to deadly thrillers, from women’s fiction to hard-hitting novels.

Then she added, “Except the Michael Crichton one.” It wasn’t really a Michael Crichton book that I was getting, just a sequel to The Andromeda Strain someone else had written. She mentioned that she didn’t read books like that, and I had to admit I didn’t like them either, but I needed another book to balance out my bookbag. (I use a BackTPack, which has side packs instead of a single back pack, which is supposed to be a better arrangement, orthopedically speaking. Being a well-known library book consumer, I am allowed to take more than the allotted five, which is great, because it’s hard to balance five of something.)

Then the woman (the mayor’s wife, if you’ve lost my train of thought) showed me the book she had just returned and said I would like it, so I went ahead and checked it out, too. But now my packs were unbalanced, so I had to repack to put two slim volumes on one side to balance the Crichton book on the other.

To be honest, I would have done better to leave the pseudo-Michael Crichton book at home. It was truly awful. If you subtract out the ridiculous Andromeda strain story, what you have left with is a mysterious man (though to whom he’d be mysterious, I don’t know; his identity was obvious almost from the first page) who meets a dedicated woman. Together they vanquish the villain and *Spoiler Alert* end up as parents to a foundling. Yep. Awful. Trite. Bad writing. Unnecessary embellishment. Meaningless action. Simplistic storyline.

Before I completely derail my original train of thought about the kick I get out of small town living, I better go back and finish the grocery story.

Anyway, there I was in the grocery store, talking to the mayor and his wife, and he mentioned he hadn’t known I was an author until he’d seen a post of mine on Facebook. (He also said he’d asked his wife, a great reader, if she’d ever heard of me, which she hadn’t — no big surprise there — but when he showed her my FB photo, she recognized me as the woman she’d met at the library.)

Since the topic of writing had came up, I told them about the mystery I wrote for the dinner this Sunday and urged them to come. It would be nice if they could put in an appearance (the more the better — for fund raising efforts, if nothing else), but if they are unable to attend, it does not in any way diminish the potent kick of this small-town experience.

What makes it all the more interesting, this small-town experience, is that I’ve lived in small towns most of my adult life, though apparently they were either too big for the experience to manifest itself (10,000) or too small (800). Apparently, this town is just the right size for me.

And that, too, is a kick.

***

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.