More “More Deaths Than One”

I seem to be fascinated by characters who die “more deaths than one.” In my novel of that name (taken from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” — he who lives more lives than one / more deaths than one must die), poor Bob Stark returns home after living in Southeast Asia for eighteen years to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again.

The steampunk anthology I am helping put together begins with my story about Florence Giston, Flo for short. (I couldn’t resist that name. Flo Giston. Phlogiston. Seemed appropriate.) The opening paragraphs of that story read:

The first time her husband died, Florence Giston felt such feral grief, she feared she’d never survive. She’d always tried to look on the bright side of things, but she could find no bright side to this situation. Her husband was dead, and she felt as if she had died, too.

“You can’t let it get you down,” said Alexander Giston, her father-in-law. “Just because Robert and Mary died, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”

The second time Robert died, Florence’s already broken heart shattered beyond repair. Robert had been her whole life, and to lose him twice seemed unbearably cruel. She vowed never to go through such trauma again, yet when Al announced he intended to try to save his wife and his son again, Flo begged to go with him.

“I need to see Robert once more,” she said. “Need” seemed a paltry word to describe the yearning that clawed at her, but Al must have understood her desperation, because he agreed to let her accompany him on his second trip to their shared past.

Time travel brings with it delicious ironies. In this case, Flo’s view of Robert — and herself — isn’t exactly what she expected.

A young woman stepped outside. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice soft and tremulous.

Flo stared at herself, at the brown lace stockings, the brown gored skirt, the brown jacket, the brown plumed hat. What was I thinking? She vowed to throw out all the brown clothes she owned, including the brown shirtwaist she now wore.

“This is dad from the future,” Mary said. “He’s come to save us from certain death.” Catching the irony in her mother-in-law’s voice, Flo wondered if she’d underestimated the woman. Mary had always seemed so drab despite the bright colors she chose to wear. Was nothing as she remembered?

“Good of him,” Robert said. There was no irony in his voice, no affection. “We can take the aeroship.”

“Well, no.” Al scuffled his feet. “I already saved you once. I came back and made you take the aeroship, and it crashed. They never found your bodies.”

Flo stifled an urge to laugh, but Robert didn’t even crack a smile. “I’ll drive the Steamer,” he said.

“Couldn’t you just stay home?” Al asked, a note of pleading in his voice.

Mary shook her head. “It’s my father’s funeral. I have to be there.”

“We’ll be fine,” Robert said. “The Stratosphere Steamer is the safest automobile on the road.”

Also the fastest, Flo thought, but she kept her mouth shut. So far, the Gistons hadn’t noticed her, and perhaps it was just as well. Robert had never seemed to be able to handle one of her; two might overtax his feeble imagination.

Appalled at the direction of her thoughts, Flo slipped back into the lab. She’d loved Robert dearly, had mourned him twice, so what prompted her to be so dismissive of him now? Remembering how besotted she’d been, she wondered if love hadn’t been the blessing she’d always presumed it to be, but had instead been a prison, keeping her emotionally shackled to a man for whom she had little respect.

This anthology is scheduled to be published in May. I’m looking forward to seeing it finally in print.



Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

“Was It Bizarre Reading a Sex Scene Written By Your Sister?”

Exactly two years, 351 days, and 12 hours ago, my sister asked if I was ever going to let her read my manuscripts. I told her no, that I wanted her to have the joy of reading the books when they were published. (There is a vast difference between a manuscript and a book.) Back then, off course, it was still wishful thinking; no one had the slightest interest in publishing my books. Well, hell froze over or something equally cataclysmic, and now she owns two of my published books — books, not manuscripts. Here is a transcript of our spate of emails.

SISTER: The weekend was unexpectedly glorious, so I spent most of it outdoors, lots of yard work, digging in the dirt, reworking some landscaping, plus a wonderfully relaxing picnic at a bayside park. Ahhh. I didn’t spend nearly as much time reading More Deaths Than One as I thought I would, but . . . when I left Bob and Kerry on Sunday night, they were on a plane heading to Thailand, and I’m certainly looking forward to hearing all about what they find. I had a fabulous time traipsing around Denver with them — all those familiar sights and sounds. What a kick. What a gift. Thank you.

I’m curious about so many things, and I’m not sure if it’s tacky or tactless to voice these to the author, but . . . Did you ever see tin-hat folks on Colfax Ave?

ME: No, it’s not tacky to ask. Yes, I did see a foil-helmet guy on Colfax once.

SISTER: Bob’s childhood home was on 22nd, not 23rd?

ME: I don’t remember why 22nd Avenue instead of 23rd (where we grew up).

SISTER: Is it OK if I believe I found myself in your book as a two-liner behind-the-scenes character? Because, gosh, a BMW sure would be a nice upgrade for me.

ME: (After checking the manuscript to see what she was talking about) How funny, the BMW character does sound like you. What was I thinking??!!! Maybe . . . thinking of you? To be honest, I don’t have any idea. It’s like the book isn’t a part of me anymore. I don’t know where even a fraction of it came from. I do remember piecing it all together, though, and I remember all the rewrites. It was the first book I wrote, the third, the fifth, so it wasn’t inspired. It was perspired, but still, I don’t remember.

SISTER: Wow — that “Ballad of Reading Gaol” definitely merits closer study, whew. Best critique I read of that Wilde work is: “. . . startling contrasts between light and shade, drawn together with a keen eye and a sense of the beauty in sadness itself.” Lots there. I’m curious how you found the link between your novel and your title . . .?

ME: Originally the book was entitled The Law of the Jungle. Then I decided that title was trite, so I re-titled it The Nature of the Beast. Then I came across that stanza from Oscar Wilde’s Ballad of Reading Gaol, and had to have More Deaths Than One. Too perfect.

SISTER: Do you realize this novel would make an awesome movie??

ME: Yes, I do know the book would make an awesome movie. There are some scenes that would be powerful visuals.

SISTER: And I have to say — the first time “hidden shallows” appeared on the page, I heard your voice loud and clear. What a quintessential uniquely clever Pat phrase!

This has been great fun so far. Looking forward to more, that’s for sure.

ME: I take it that you’re not disappointed in me/my writing, or feeling guilty for telling your friends about the book.

SISTER: That would be a resounding enthusiastic “damn straight, Sista!”

ME: Just out of curiosity — was it bizarre reading a sex scene written by your sister?

SISTER: Um, YES. But I was proud at the same time — that was hot, quite frankly, and I learned something new. ;D

ME: Maybe I should interview you for my blog!!! Could be interesting. Though I have purposely left my private life off of it.

SISTER: How about this: you could write out a list of questions for your little sister, I’ll pen my answers — and if you like how it sounds, you can post it on your blog . . . if you think “not”, you don’t.

ME: List of questions? That was my question! A one-question interview.

SISTER: Well then, I’m done for the day! You have my permission to post the “interview” as it actually happened. 🙂

ME: I took liberties and posted our whole exchange. It was too good to pass up. So, welcome to my blog!


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels UnfinishedMadame ZeeZee’s Nightmare, Light BringerMore Deaths Than OneA Spark of Heavenly Fireand Daughter Am IBertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.