We Can Only Write the Novels Only We Can Write

Of all the books I’ve written, the one that saddens me the most is Light Bringer because it never got the notice I thought it deserved. I don’t know what happened — perhaps I never knew how to categorize it, perhaps I am terrible at marketing. Perhaps a lot of things. But there it sits, a magical novel without much of a readership.

I understand the importance of categorizing novels — giving them a genre — because people like to know what they are getting. But what if the novel you wanted to write doesn’t fit within a genre? Are we supposed to not write it?

But truly, we can only write the novels only we can write.

To me, Light Bringer was mythic fiction — a story based on ancient cosmologies and modern conspiracy theories, but mention of ancient spacecraft and aliens made people want to throw it in the science fiction category, while secret government installations and covert international organizations made others think of it as thriller fare. And yet it is neither. Nor, despite the romances in the book, is it a romance. (It surprised me, but my father, who was not much of a fiction reader, understood all that.)

Writing the book, I never once considered genre. Well, come to think of it, that’s not true. In the very beginning, I thought naively of writing a book that fit all genres, but apparently that is an idea many neophyte writers come up with, and is considered the mark of an amateur. So I stopped trying to fit all genres into the book (though I did keep my cowboy character from the western elements and the ghost town and ghost cat from the horror genre.) I just wrote the book. I didn’t even have to do much research — so much of the book was based on my lifetime of studies into lesser known histories (also known erroneously as conspiracy theories), though I did research color and their meanings because color played a major role in the book, as the following excerpt will show:

After following the path for several minutes, they came to a place where the stream narrowed to no more than four feet. Chester bent over and began hauling out one of the boards stashed beneath a Douglas fir. The boards, withered a silvery-gray, were two inches thick, ten inches wide, and about six feet long.

With Rena and Philip helping Chester, it took only a few minutes to place the boards bank-to-bank, forming a makeshift bridge.

“I set these here for Gertie after she slipped and hurt herself wading across the stream,” Chester said.

Rena turned to Philip. “Gertie used to own this place.”

“She was my godmother. When she died, I dismantled the bridge.” Chester looked from the planks to Rena and Philip and then back again as if trying to make a decision. “I don’t know if you’ll like the place. Most people avoid it. They say it makes them shivery. Some even call it the devil’s garden, but me and Gertie called it . . . blessed.”

Rena touched the old man’s arm. “I’m sure we will, too.”

Chester nodded. He stepped onto the plank bridge and proceeded to the other side. Rena followed him, then turned and smiled encouragingly at Philip.

“It’s surprisingly sturdy. You won’t have any problem.”

A clear blue nimbus of trust emanated from Philip. Without hesitation, he clumped across the bridge.

In the full of the sun, the meadow grasses shone emerald. “Hurry, hurry,” they whispered.

I’m coming.

Rena set off at a run.

“There’s a pathway,” she heard Chester call.

She kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers—chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

Standing on the brink, waiting for Philip and Chester, she could not lift her gaze from the flowers. Many of them were familiar, but others, in seemingly impossible tints and shades, were new. She inhaled, filling her nose with the intoxicating scent, and felt herself losing her balance as if she were drunk. She flung out an arm to steady herself, and barely missed hitting Chester.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“More than okay.”

Philip came to stand beside her. Hearing his sharp intake of breath, she knew he felt as stunned as she by the sight, sound, smell of the flowers.

Knowing Chester needed to hear the words, she said softly, “You and Gertie are right. The place is blessed. Thank you for bringing us.”

If you would like to read more of this magical book, you can find it on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Light-Bringer-Pat-Bertram-ebook/dp/B004U39WQ6/. And hey, if you can think how to categorize it, let me know!

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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.

Showing My Particular Vision of the World

All the books about writing I ever read stressed the importance of genre. The books recommended choosing a readily recognizable genre and sticking to it. Apparently, readers like to know what kind of book they are reading and don’t take well to authors who hop from one genre to another (and if readers do accept it, agents and editors sure don’t). The books also suggested developing a series character in that specific genre, one who is so compelling people will be waiting for the next book. And readers who come late to the series go back to read earlier books, so sales take on a life of their own, each book helping to sell the others.

Seems simple enough, but I ignored the advice. Each of my books is a stand-alone novel without a series character, and each straddles a shadowy line between genres. Since I didn’t create a series that helps promote me and my oeuvre, I have to start over each time a new book of mine is published, promoting each book individually, finding a new readership.

I’ve experienced all the setbacks that bedevil authors — too little support, too many rejections, too much time dedicated to writing-related activities, such as editing and promotion, and not enough time dedicated to writing. But the most disheartening of all is the difficulty of generating momentum with non-genre, non-series books.

And yet . . .

We can only write what we are compelled to write. We each have a vision, and we must be true to that vision, true to ourselves, true to our stories.

Diane Arbus, noted American photographer, said, “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.” And so it is true with writers. We see things, either in the world or in the world of our imagination, that nobody would see if we didn’t photograph them with our words.

Each of my books shows a particular vision of the world as I know it. A Spark of Heavenly Fire shows the horror of an all-too-possible pandemic, the even more horrific steps the government is ready to take, and the various ways, both heroic and craven, people might react to such an eventuality. More Deaths Than One shows the unthinkable results of mind control experiments, experiments that have actually been perpetrated without our knowledge. Daughter Am I is a more light-hearted romp, a treasure-hunting tale of finding oneself in a most unlikely way. And Light Bringer, my latest novel, hints at a world where the Sumerian myth of a tenth planet — a planet of doom — is fact.

The disheartening aspects of writing without the scaffolding of a genre are more than offset by the joy of having created four unique visions of the world, dozens of characters who would not have life without me, vivid word pictures that exist only in my books. Like my lake of flowers from Light Bringer:

Becka kept running, needing no footpath to lead her to their destination. She could feel the music tugging at her, guiding her, singing her forward.

At first a faint red trumpeting, the music swelled into a full orchestra: orange church bells, yellow bugles, green violins, blue flutes, indigo cellos, violet woodwinds.

Beneath it all, she could hear the grasses murmuring, “Hurry, hurry.”

And then there it was, spread out before her in a shallow thirty-foot bowl. A lake of flowers— chrysanthemums and tulips, daisies and daffodils, lilies and columbines and fuchsia—all blooming brightly, all singing their song of welcome.

What things would people be deprived of seeing if you didn’t photograph them with your words?

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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.” Connect with Pat on Google+