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.


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.

Saying “Yes” to Life, and to Steampunk

I’ve been invited to participate in another collaborative novel, similar to the Rubicon Ranch project, only instead of a thriller, this collaborative effort will be steampunk.

I don’t know anything about steampunk. Know even less about the Victorian era. And know less than less about steam-driven machinery. So, of course, I agreed to do the project.

I crave anything that is different from what I know — different tastes, different experiences, different challenges. Ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, it seems a waste (or a stagnation) to do what he and I always did. He might be moldering in the grave (or rather in a funerary urn) but it’s a disservice to both of us if I molder, too.

John Berryman wrote:

A voice calls, “Write, write!”
I say, “For whom shall I write.”
And the voice replies,
“For the dead whom thou didst love.

This quatrain could just as easily exhort, “Live, live for the dead whom thou didst love.”

Sometimes it feels as if this is still our life — his and mine — only I am here and he is . . . wherever. Perhaps I’m here to live for both of us. Or maybe, now I’m here to live just for me.

When we met, I was at my most spontaneous. Something about his being in the world made it seem as if life were full of possibilities, and I grabbed hold of life with both hands and ran with it. Years later, as he got sicker, as life took its toll on our finances, and the possibilities shrank, our lives became staid and planned to take his infirmities into consideration. He told me once he regretted that the constraints of our life destroyed my spontaneity, and he was sorry to be the cause of it.

It’s not something I like to face, but the last years, and especially the last months of his life were terrible for both of us. And, something I like to face even less is that his death set me free. The best way to honor my mate’s life and his great gift of freedom is to take back the thing he thought he stole from me, so I’ve been practicing spontaneity. Which means, saying yes to challenges. Saying yes to life. Saying yes to steampunk

So why steampunk? Why not? I’m a writer. I can fake it. I’ve also got the internet with all its research capabilities to help me. And it’s something I would never have considered writing. All good reasons.

Wikipedia defines steampunk as “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is widely used — whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time — that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

In “How Do I Write A Steampunk Story?” Dru Pagliassotti says, “Steampunk fiction consists of two elements — the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology or political stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.”

Kat Sheridan, a friend who took a steampunk writing class wrote me, “Remember, steampunk is all about breaking the rules and throwing conventions out the window!”

Should be fun. I’ll let you know how it goes.