Struggling With the Vicissitudes of Life

I’m still struggling with the vicissitudes of my life. The major stress continues to be my homeless brother. He is camping out in the garage, which isn’t a problem. Nor is it a problem for me to buy a few groceries for him, do his laundry, sympathize with his plight, and even, on occasion, get him a beer. I’m glad to do what I can for him, even if only out of a perhaps misplaced sense of guilt that I have it easier than he does.

If he would leave me alone, I’d have no objection to his being here, but his anger seems to be centered on me. He speedblames me for his estrangement from our father, he blames me for . . . well, just about everything. I suppose, from his point of view, I am to blame. When he gets in one of his “states” (whether bi-polar, the manic part of manic-depression, narcissistic rage, or whatever his as yet undiagnosed problem is), he is truly appalling, demanding attention by banging on my windows, sometimes up to forty times a night, calling me an evil bitch, screaming invectives at me, explaining ad infinitum that I, as a woman, have no integrity. (And these are the most pleasant things he says when he is in his manic mode.) Afterward, he doesn’t remember how ghastly he behaved. He only remembers my reaction. And there is no right way to react. If I yell at him in frustration, trying to get him to shut up, he perceives me as the instigator of our conflict, never remembering he was the one who banged on the window for my attention. If I have no reaction, that too is an affront to him. If I ignore him, he goes into rage overdrive.

I can’t track his moods. He likes to read the newspaper. Sometimes he gets mad at me if I don’t remember to give it to him. Other times he gets angry when I do give it to him because I am “invading his space.” (This is the same man who, when he stayed in the house for a couple of months, came into my room every single night to harangue me.) He hates that I buy food for him (hates the food I buy even though I buy things on a list he once gave me), and yet, most nights, he knocks on my window to see if I have something for him to eat. If I’m nice to him, he gets upset with my “sugary sweetness,” seeing it as phony. If I stop doing things for him, he gets angry with my selfishness.

In addition to his mental issues, he has a lot of physical problems. He goes for days without being able to keep food down, but he won’t let me take him to the emergency room. Oddly, when he is at his sickest, he is at his calmest. Either his anger at me cools because he needs my help, or else he is too weak to sustain a rage-full state.

Added stress comes from the situation between my father and brother. My father doesn’t want to deal with my brother, though he likes the idea of helping him. So it’s up to me to be my father’s surrogate. Not a pleasant situation, by any means.

The hardest part for me was when my brother’s anger would bounce through me and back to him, because I was afraid I’d fatally hurt him. (I even kept a journal for a while in case I did hurt him and needed a defense.) I don’t have that problem any more. I make sure I never get close to him when he is in a rage.

But still, it is an awkward situation. When he goes through calm times, I feel like an ogre, keeping him from the comforts of the house, but always his cycle comes around to rage again, and I am grateful that he is locked out.

I wish he were strong and healthy. I wish . . . oh, I wish so many things, but my wishes tend to have little strength. Writing about the situation gives me no peace, no answers, but it does help to vent my frustration and my sadness, which is a big help to me if no one else.


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.

On Writing: Characters and Grief

For characters to be realistic, they need to experience the same emotional arcs that we experience in our lives. A grieving person, for example, undergoes several stages, including denial, guilt, anger, depression, and finally acceptance. Chip, the hero of my current work loses everything and everyone he loves in a single day of earthly upheaval, but so much was thrown at him so fast, he barely had time to comprehend it all, let alone go through protracted stages of grief.

Still, he did experience a period of denial; how could he not? What happened to him and the world was unbelievable. He also felt guilt, wondering why he survived when so many others didn’t, but again, he had little time to indulge in the feeling — he had to learn to live in a plastic world. (Plastic, in this case, meaning capable of being molded and re-formed.) He dealt with it all until the final insult — the loss of the candy that was his one indulgence — and then he gave in to a fit of anger.

These first three stages, as I mentioned, were brief. Now that he is in a place of safety, away from the upheavals of his world, he could revisit those stages, but I don’t think it’s necessary. No point in taxing a reader’s patience with repetition of effects. So that leaves me with the two final stages of grief.

At the end, Chip will come to accept what happened to him. He will also come to accept his new role in life, but until then he will need to go through a period of depression. Should this depression be as short as the other stages? Should it continue for a while to make his predicament seem more normal? I don’t think it’s necessary. A character in a constant state of depression is not a vibrant character by definition and, anyway, this story is supposed to be lighthearted, a whimsically ironic apocalyptic fantasy.

I’m thinking on the fly here, letting you see how I develop a character. That’s not strictly true. I’m doing it because I need to figure out my hero’s next stage of development, and I need to post some sort of bloggery. I end up getting so many people to guest, that I forget the main purpose of this blog: me. Well, me, my novels, and my characters.

But for now, I do know where I stand with Chip. He will be going through a period of depression, but also he will be dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Or will he? I’ll figure that one out tomorrow.

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Is Writing Worth the Effort?

A friend asked me if trying to become a successful author is worth the investment of time and money. Not only do writers have to hone the craft, they need to attend conferences, workshops, hire editors and publicists, build websites and promote.

I wish I knew the answer to my friend’s question. Now that my books are nearing their release date, I’ve been spending most of my time on the internet researching how to promote. And I still don’t know how to do it. Blogging, of course. Publishing articles. Making connections on Facebook and Gather. But to become successful, writers need to go beyond the obvious. Nor do I have the money necessary to do all that is required, including attending conferences, joining national writing groups, traveling to booksignings. So I have to do it on the cheap.

Is it worth it? I won’t know for a year or two or ten if I’m going to be a successful author, so right now,  I’ll leave you with the daunting facts: one and a half to two million books are written every year. 150,000 are published (about half of those are self-published), and since many carry over from year-to-year, I figure that at least a million are being peddled as we speak. 75% of published books (including some with big advances) sell less than 500 copies. 85% of published book sell less than 1000 copies. 84% of books in a bookstore sell less than 2 copies. A book is considered successful if it sells a total of 5000 copies. Considering the time it takes to write, edit, and promote, that comes to about $1.00 an hour for the author. Woohoo. (And that doesn’t take into consideration the sometimes hefty amounts people shell out for conferences, editing, classes, etc.)

Because time as well as money is at a premium, we feel guilty when we promote and let the writing lie fallow. And we feel guilty when we write and don’t promote. Juggling with fire would be easier, and less complicated, especially when the fireballs being juggled include jobs and family.

On the other hand, what choice do we have? We are writers. We need to write, and we need readers.