Presenting . . . Me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Playing Famous Author

Despite a few minor downturns, for the most part, my life lately has been truly a gift. I am having an incredible time housesitting — I have the opportunity to try on other people’s lives for a few days, which is an awesome adventure. And last night I got to play “famous author.” Well, maybe not “famous.” Maybe just “author,” but it was a fantastic experience for all that.

A local book club chose my novel Daughter Am I for this past month’s read, and they invited me to the discussion. I was afraid the discussion would be stilted because if they didn’t like the book, who would have the courage to admit it with the author sitting right there? But they all liked it for their own reasons.

One fellow seemed a bit tepid at first. He thought it a fun read that didn’t put him to sleep, which in itself is balm to a writer’s ears, but he got enthusiastic about the book when it dawned on him the story was a take-off on The Wizard of Oz. When he said as much, I couldn’t help emitting a triumphant, “Yes!” Although the book wasn’t specifically a take-off on The Wizard of Oz, it was a retelling of “The Hero’s Journey” as described by Joseph Campbell. (Actually, it was more a retelling of the retelling since I read Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey rather than Joseph Campbell’s tome.) And the mythic structure of “The Hero’s Journey” underlies many familiar tales. Not just The Wizard of Oz, but also such stories as Star Wars and King Arthur.

The other fellow in the group didn’t seem all that impressed with the structure or the fun of the story — he was caught up in the conspiracy aspect and his own search for my “truth.” He wanted to know what truth I was trying to illuminate. He thought it was both “Truth” with a capital “T,” and the specific truth that nothing is as it seems — although good is good and bad is bad, good can also be bad and bad can also be good. Again, I was impressed. Because yes, that is basically the truth of this particular book. Or one of them. If characters are true to themselves, then ideally readers can find whatever truth they need from the story, and all those truths are equally relevant.

The women in the group invariably were reminded of relatives or places they grew up, making the book personal to them.

It was a thrill and a true honor to sit around the table, eating delicious snacks and discussing my book. I never imagined such a gathering, never imagined what a privilege it would be to hear what the book meant to readers, never knew how gratifying it would be when people saw what my intentions were in writing the story. I wanted to write books that were simple to read, but had a subtle complexity that those of a more thoughtful bent could find. And apparently I did.

I’m so used to not seeing myself as an author, or as anything special when I do see myself as such because my online community consists primarily of authors. And when everyone is an author, well . . . no one is special. But last night I did feel special. As if I had done something incredible by writing the book.

I had an interesting insight when the topic strayed to other books they had read with despicable characters — I will never be a world famous author or a household name because none of my POV characters are ever despicable. They are kind folk who are nice to each other. The stories are never about their interpersonal conflicts, but their joint conflict with an outside antagonist.

And that is okay. Those are the types of characters (and people!) I want to spent time with.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fireand 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.