Excerpt From “Daughter Am I” by Pat Bertram

DAIDaughter Am I: When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians — former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.

Excerpt:

Mary blinked in the sudden brightness, then blinked again when she saw Iron Sam. He seemed to be the personification of the inorganic being, as Happy called it. His skin looked ashen. Charcoal bags hung below slate eyes. His hair, still thick, still with the deep widow’s peak, had faded to pewter. The only hint of color in his face was the gold tooth visible between slightly parted gunmetal-gray lips.

He glanced up as they entered, but no other part of his body moved. Nor did he speak.

“Hi, Sam,” Lila Lorraine said.

The slate eyes shifted toward her.

“It’s me. Lila Lorraine.”

Iron Sam nodded, the merest inclination of his head.

Happy stepped forward. “Remember me? Happy?”

Again the tiny nod.

Mary wondered if he were paralyzed, but if so, wouldn’t he be in a wheelchair instead of an ordinary wooden chair?

Any compassion she might have felt withered when his eyes met hers. Feeling like a bug impaled on a pin, she gazed at him, unable to look away, unable to move a single muscle. After what seemed like a long time, but must have been only seconds, he turned his attention to Kid Rags, leaving her feeling limp and very thirsty, as if her vital fluids had been sucked right out of her.

With nonchalance Mary could only marvel at, Kid Rags pulled out his flask and offered it to Iron Sam. When Iron Sam nodded toward the plastic cup sitting on the bedside table, Kid Rags poured two fingers of bourbon and handed the cup to him. He sniffed it, inhaling deeply with closed eyes, then took a mouthful and held it a moment before swallowing it. His lips twitched — a smile perhaps? — then he took another sip.

The alcohol fumes mingling with the hospital odors and the stench of decay emanating from Iron Sam’s pores turned Mary’s stomach. She swallowed hard, then swallowed again, knowing she shouldn’t show weakness in front of Iron Sam, and somehow she managed to get her queasiness under control.

He flicked a look in her direction, as if sensing her struggle, then concentrated on his drink once more.

“My name is Mary Stuart,” she said when she could no longer stand the heavy silence. She introduced Kid Rags, Crunchy, and Teach, then explained about her grandparents’ deaths.

“What can you tell me about my grandparents? You might have known them as Jimmy Boots and Gina Dale.”

***

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.

Pat Bertram, Gangsters, and ‘Daughter Am I’

Day Two of my Virtual Book Tour, and I am still going strong. This is like saying: I’ve just run the second block of a marathon and am still going strong. Most of the tour is still ahead of me, but I’m looking forward to seeing what happens, to meeting new people, and visiting new blogs.

Today I am at Malcolm’s Round Table for a discussion of gangsters and Daughter Am I. I’d hoped to include more of Malcolm’s book, Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire, in the discussion, but he was kind enough to focus the talk around me and my gangsters. And do I have gangsters! My hero, Mary Stuart finds her grandfather’s little black address book in a secret room of the farmhouse she inherited from him, and she goes on a whirlwind tour of Colorado, Arizona, and on into the midwest searching out the people who knew him. Though in their eighties, none of them are what you would call upstanding citizens, though they are all loveable in their own way. Even Iron Sam, aka Butcher Boy, seemed less lethal than I intended him to be. Of course, he is dying, so he is more concerned with his own death than others’.

See, I’m doing it, too — focusing on my book. So, let’s focus on Malcolm’s novel for a moment. If you are a fan of humorous mysteries with outrageous (though incredibly realistic) characters, you will love Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire by Malcolm R. Campbell. I’m on my second read through. The first time was for the story. This time it’s for Malcolm’s wordsmithery.

So, please join me at Malcolm’s Round Table for a discussion about: Pat Bertram, Gangsters, and Daughter Am I.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

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Researching Gangster Lore for Daughter Am I

I have notebooks full of gangster lore that I collected when I researched Daughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age novel. (I keep calling it that, but it’s so much more — a murder mystery, a treasure hunt, a romp through the middle of the United States with a young woman and a busload of irrepressible octogenarian rogues. “Snow White and the Seven Old Farts” as one of the villains called them.) As usual, I am digressing. Someday, perhaps, I will learn that just because I use parenthesis, it doesn’t give me the right to meander off topic. Or maybe it does.

Anyway, the point is, I was able to use only an iota of my notes. So many real-life characters never even got to be reborn in the person of one of my “elders.” (There’s a topic for discussion — what does one call a busload of aged men and women? I despise the term “senior citizens,” I have no fondness for “old folks” — the term, that is — and “golden- agers” is too nauseating. So I settled for “elders” with its nuance of wisdom.)

One such character I never used for my book was Jake “The Barber” Factor, who stole millions from people through stock market swindles and investment fraud. He worked as a bootblack when he was a boy, shining shoes outside of a barbershop. The price of a shine was two cents, but he’d tell unwary customers that he’d give them a “steamboat shine” for one cent. If the customer agreed, he’d polish one shoe until it gleamed, then he’d say, “There’s your steamboat shine, Mister. For a dime, I’ll shine the other shoe.” 

Oscar Wilde once said, ” The Americans are certainly great hero worshippers, and always take heros from the criminal classes.” Well, perhaps not always, but most of us bear a grudging admiration for con men and women, mostly because they seem so much smarter than the rest of us. Or maybe they just have fewer scruples.

Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing in the middle of October. 

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Research: When Good Books Go Bad

Many good books go bad when the authors refuse to let go of any of their hard-won research and so dump it all in the novel, making the story drag. I have a tendency to put in a lot of information — though I don’t use all my research, not even most of it. In A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I talk (or rather my characters do) about biological weapons, biowarfare, bioengineered organisms because I thought the reality was more frightening than my fiction. For example, The World Health Organization spent years and a heap of money to eradicate smallpox, yet smallpox in ever more virulent forms is stockpiled in labs all around the world. Spooks the heck out of me!

But I digress. Daughter Am I, which will be released in October, was conceived as a way to combine two of my interests at that time — early gangster history and the mythic journey. (You might not recognize the similarity between Daughter Am I and Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz, but all three are based on the same mythic journey template.) In 2007, I entered the book into the first ABNA (Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award) contest, and my prize for being a semi-finalist was a review from Publishers Weekly. After giving a summary of the plot, the reviewer ended with:

While the author certainly researched the history of the Mafia, too many of the numerous historical asides — and subplots — are tacked on under the guise of story time, making the story drag with detail abut Wyatt Earp, the JFK assassination and bootleggers. But underneath the relentless bouts of story time is a delightful treasure-hunting tale of finding one’s self in a most unlikely way.

Too many historical asides? Eek! That was the whole point of the book! I tightened up the story, got rid of the asides that didn’t go directly to character or plot, but still felt a bit uncomfortable with the situation. When I mentioned my concern about the “info dumps” to fellow author Malcolm Campbell, he responded:

Your book is wonderful. Looking into one’s past is powerful stuff, but getting tangled up with a lot of lovable scam artists is a really fresh approach. Your wonderful characterizations—that’s another thing for discussion. It’s a challenge having lots of characters while keeping them from all sounding like oneself.

The “info dumps” as you call them add a lot of depth to the book and are informative and entertaining in their own right. They support the character telling the story. But also, they provided periods of “calm” in what is a frenetic quest that zooms from one unexpected thing to another without pause. We’ve seen “these gangsters” in dozens of movies, and for me, the archetypes are those of the 1940s films my generation grew up on—and that’s appropriate since these guys are elders. They’re a much different breed of cat than we see on modern, street-wise TV shows like, say, DARK BLUE which takes us undercover right into the worst of today’s gangs and thugs.

Whew!

(The first chapters of my books are included in the mystery sampler available as a free download from Second Wind Publishing. Click here: Free Downloads.)

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