My Wish List

Wish lists, such as things you want to accomplish before you turn thirty (or forty or fifty) or things you want to do before you kick the bucket (I finally figured out that’s what a bucket list is!!), seem to be perennial favorites as blog topics, so I though I’d share my list:


Yep that’s it. A total blank. Looking back, there are only two things that were ever on my mental list of things I wanted to do with my life when I grew up: read and write. For most of my life, I indulged my habit of reading rather than doing something that might have been more lucrative, such as striving for a high-powered career. I also tried to write a novel when I was young and it was one of the regrets and sadnesses of my life to discover that I had no talent for fiction, yet eventually, I did become an author. (Proof that you don’t need an innate talent for writing but can learn how to tell a story in a compelling way, which in itself is sort of a talent.)

There are things that I would have added to a life list if I had been aware that I would experience them. I would have wanted to be deeply connected to another human being, to have the privilege of being there at the end of his life, though I had never aspired to doing either of those before they happened. I would have chosen to experience for a brief time such disparate places as a mesa in the high plains of Colorado, the edge of the north woods of Wisconsin, the high desert of California, but again, those are not things I would ever have added to any list since I’m not easily uprooted. I would have also wanted to reconnect with my best friend from high school, and now I’ve done that. (The visit was wonderful, by the way, and wonderfully strange considering all the years that have passed since I last saw her.) Besides, now that I’ve done these things, I would have crossed them off any list anyway, and the list would still be blank.

A couple of times I tried to do the creativity stimulation exercises in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, and I generally stuck with the morning pages (three pages every morning to write whatever came to mind) and the artist’s date (a weekly date with yourself) but always, when I got to the part about making lists, the excercises screamed to a halt. There are various exercises in the book involving lists: What would I try if it weren’t too crazy? What would I do if it weren’t too selfish? What five things would I never personally do that sound like fun? What do I wish for?

I’d like to be able to make a living with my books, of course, but other than that, no wish comes to mind. I’ve never had any desire to go to Paris or London, never had any desire to travel to exotic locales to see ancient ruins, though I wouldn’t mind seeing such places if I could figure out a way of simply being there without having to make the long trip. I did have a desire to see the Olmec heads, and one came visiting at a museum nearby, so I satisfied that desire.

I’m not sure it’s possible for me to become a wisher. I used to want things, of course, but too often I didn’t get what I wanted, so I learned not to want. I know it’s important for a character to want something — it’s what makes them compelling. But is it important for us to want things? Or is it better for us to be more zen in our approach, to accept what comes our way? This is where I am now, stuck somewhere in the middle of those two questions.

Maybe this could be my list?

1. Find something to wish for.
2. Wish for it.


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.” Connect with Pat on Google+

Write the Most Terrible Stuff You Can

A couple of weeks ago I stumbled on a group of writers chatting on Twitter. I’d never really done much with Twitter, never really knew what to do there, but I checked out the chat (discovered one of my Facebook friends there), took a deep breath and responded to a few comments. It felt so good that I made a point of attending the chat again yesterday. (You can find the chat on Twitter at #writechat every sunday afternoon from 3:00 until 6:00 pm ET.)

One guy mentioned that he made a point of writing every day. He said he was afraid if he stopped, he’d have a hard time getting started again. I told him it was a realistic fear since that’s what happened to me. I also said I was recommitting myself to blogging since it wasn’t as big a commitment as writing a novel or even a short story, and that I was hoping eventually I’d get in the habit of writing fiction again. Then another writer (Suzanna) suggested I commit myself to ten minutes a day. Suzanna told us about Natalie Goldberg’s idea of wild mind writing. Pick three words at random, then use those words to write for ten minutes without thinking. Just write terrible, boring things, the most terrible you can. According to Suzanna, it is not about speed, it’s about continuity. Keeping the pen moving.

This really caught my attention. Last year I did NaNoWriMo in the hopes that I’d find the place inside where the wild words live, but I never did.  I did do some respectable writing, so the month wasn’t a waste, but it didn’t accomplish what I wanted. Before that, I followed Julia Cameron’s idea of doing morning pages. Again, I did some respectable writing, but no wildness came of it. But ten minutes a day? I can do that, and I plan to do it for sure. Tomorrow maybe.

Click here to read Suzanna’s article about wild mind writing: Take a rest in your imagination

More Blogs Than One

A year ago when I was waiting for my books to be published, I kept myself occupied with setting up a variety of blogs. I told myself I wanted to test blogging platforms so I could help my fellow authors pick the best one for their needs, but that wasn’t my excuse for setting up a bunch of WordPress blogs since I was already familiar with the site. The truth is, I became enamored with the custom colorizer, and ended up with five blogs, identical except for color.

The blue blog, this one — Bertram’s Blog — chronicles my struggles first to become a published writer and now to become a published selling writer. It was my original blog, and the one I still consider my blogging home.

The red blog, Pat Bertram Introduces, was intended to be an authors’ blog, where I introduced the writers I was coming to know via networking sites. When so many of them ignored my invitation to be a guest, I decided to turn it into a blog for interviewing my characters. (I’d forgotten that until just now. Never did introduce them!) To get the blog going, since at the time it was too soon to introduce my characters, I decided to introduce other writers’ characters. If you’d like me to introduce your character or characters, you can find the instructions on the Character Questionnaire page. At the very least, it’s a good way for you to get to know your own characters.

The purple blog, Book Marketing Floozy, was intended to be a blog to promote my books. I was talking (online, of course — that seems to be where my life is lived nowadays) to a fellow author about promotion, and she cautioned me against signing up for too many social networking sites. She said that I ran the risk of becoming a marketing floozy, just popping in to peddle my books, and then disappearing again. Since I’ve never been one to take advice, I signed up for several sites (though in the end, I did more or less take her advice — I spend most of my time on Facebook, Goodreads, and Gather.) And I started the Book Marketing Floozy blog — I decided that if I was going to be a book marketing floozy, then I should flaunt my flooziness. Again, since it was too early to start promoting my books, I started collecting articles about book marketing and promotion by different authors. The site is now indexed for easy reference, but there is no article about my books, though I did mention them in passing in one of the articles I wrote. Too bad. I did like the idea of being a book marketing floozy.

The yellow/orange blog, Dragon My Feet, was an import from Live Spaces. I set up a blog there using a gorgeous dragon template, and since I mostly talked about how I was procrastinating, I called it . . . You get the idea. So now I have a blog name that, while cute, really makes no sense. And the blog itself makes no sense. It’s become a dumping ground for any article that doesn’t fit with another of my blogs. I have guest articles that are too self-promotiony for Bertram’s Blog. I have a few of my attempts at reviewing books. I have photo essays. Checking out the blog just now, I notice that thirteen of the past fourteen posts are related to books in some way. Perhaps I should turn it into a book blog? But that would be work — finding guests, reading books and writing reviews — and I am inherently averse to work.

The green blog, Wayword Wind, is a poor, loveless thing that sits there getting greener by the moment because of all the moss it’s gathering. I have not posted a single bloggery because I have never quite figured out what to do with it. I planned to post articles about the various themes and research in my novels, but alas, I can’t think of anything to say that isn’t already in the books. I should have talked about the swine flu and how it tied into A Spark of Heavenly Fire, but I didn’t. I could talk about the twelfth planet and the various conspiracy theories I mention in my upcoming book Light Bringer, but I won’t. Been there. Done that. At one time I thought of posting quotes and then giving a commentary, but I really don’t have much to say on any subject except writing. I discovered this recently when I started yet another blog simply because I like the WordPress theme. (Do you see a pattern here?) I call it The Mind of Pat Bertram, but since I seldom post to it, you can see how little is actually on my mind. Then I thought of turning Wayword Wind into a blog for posting my progress with Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way program, but since I haven’t actually been doing the program, it fits more with Dragon My Feet. Because of the way I spelled wayword, it seems the blog should be about writing, but I already have a blog about writing.

So, here’s my conundrum. It’s not as crucial as the one that haunts me about how to promote my books, but it is a niggling one. I have a blank blog!!!!! What do I do with it?

(The title of this article was once used in reference to me by Lisa Brackmann, author of the soon-to-be-released Rock Paper Tiger.)

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Waiting For an April Time

My bloggery of yesterday about where to go from here generated a few emails, with people telling me not to give up writing. No fear of that. Writing is a part of my life, and I still have many books in me, but I am at a crossroads, on a plateau, standing still . . . choose your cliché. (I haven’t yet told you about my love affair with Microsoft OneNote, but I just found another use for it! The WordPress article editor doesn’t add the accent mark on cliche, so I wrote the word on OneNote which does add the accent, and I copied it here. You gotta love such a versatile application!) 

I know I shouldn’t  overthink everything — as Theodore Roethke wrote: “A mind too active is no mind at all.” — but this is one time in my life that I feel like indulging myself in an orgy of thinking.  During the past eight years of learning how to write, writing my four novels, studying the publishing industry, sending out query letters, dealing with hundreds of rejections, finally finding a publisher, preparing the books for publication, and then waiting for their release, (to say nothing of learning how to use a computer, to navigate the internet, and to promote) I had the idea that I needed to write a certain way to be acceptable to a publisher. So I tried to become a writer some mythical publisher would be willing to accept. Well, unlike other authors who’s options are limited by a publisher who wants them to continue writing in the same genre — often with the same characters — I have a publisher who loves my writing and seems to be willing to publish any novel I produce. So that leaves me untethered. If I don’t have to conform to the dictates of the publishing industry, that means I have to conform to my own. Which means I have to know who I am. But the fact is, the last years of writing have changed me, so I no longer know. (Which makes me wonder: do we write a book, or does our book write us? It seems as if changes in our lives affect what we write, and what we write affects our lives and brings about changes.)

Basically, what I’m doing with all this overthinking is opening myself to the changing seasons of my life. Trying to figure out where to take my writing and where my writing (and my resistance to writing) is taking me. 

A couple of weeks ago, during my online discussion with Lazarus Barnhill (author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People), Barnhill mentioned that Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests writing three pages every morning. Basically stream of consciousness stuff. Well, I got the book, and now I’m doing the morning pages, and surprisingly, I love it! I thought it was the puzzle aspect of writing I like. Maybe it’s just the writing. So, even though it’s not creative writing, I am doing three pages a day. And I’ve mostly reclaimed my blog for myself instead of using it to promote other people, so even though that’s not creative writing, either, it also is writing. (I am still doing a bit of promotion, though I’m gearing it more toward discussions than guest appearances. Right now I am having a discussion with Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer. That discussion about the writer’s journey will be posted on this blog in another week.)

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.”

Well, that’s what I’m doing — waiting (not so quietly) for an April time.

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Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny

Lazarus: The other day I was marveling at the uncanny string of events—starting with a writing contest on—that brought me many wonderful new friends, saw the publication of my first two novels and empowered me to express my artistic vision in ways that I never imagined. When I read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, I began to wonder if in fact what I saw as a lucky string of chance events was really a matter of listening to a still, small voice that has always intended better for me than I could have imagined for myself.

In a nutshell, Julia Cameron says that, whether you call it destiny, the hand of God, or just the creative direction of the universe itself, our purpose is to create and we allow ourselves and others to stymie our creativity.

Bertram: Are we really fulfilling our destiny, though, or does it just feel like it? The solar system seems to be designed perfectly, with the planets constantly moving, yet staying out of the way of the other planets. But it wasn’t always so. At one time they were banging and crashing into all sorts of space debris, and over billions of years they annihilated everything in their path to end up the ordered system we know. So, is our writing destiny the same? Something we see only in retrospect, perhaps, with our brains trying to make sense of chaotic events?

Lazarus: Do you think when you write that you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing?

Bertram: I do think the universe itself is a creative power that we tap into, and that we are creative by nature. But . . . if we are all fulfilling our natures as writers, who is fulfilling their natures as our readers? Writers need readers, and now that there are (supposedly) more writers than readers, how can writing really be our destiny? Except personally, perhaps.

Lazarus: Cameron teaches two “sacred acts” in The Artist’s Way. The morning pages (3 pages you write when you first get up in which you allow your inner self to freely express itself) and the artist’s date (essentially, you have to have 2 hours a week in which you go off by yourself and do exactly what you want).

When I first started doing the morning pages, I was correcting my spelling and changing my word choices. All of that was stymieing the child inside me; and if I don’t let that child have a say, he disrupts whatever the grown up Laz wants to do

Bertram: Three pages when you first get up in the morning, just to express yourself? I never could understand how people can dash off the pages like that. It takes me an hour or two to write a single page. I try to be more spontaneous in my blogs, just to let the words and feelings flow, but it still takes me more than an hour to write 300+ words.

Lazarus: Whoa, Pat, sounds as if you’re a “blocked creative”

Bertram: Blocked creative? Maybe I just don’t have any ideas. Or maybe my inner child likes to play with words and sentence structure.

Lazarus: Well, seriously, what would happen if you just started describing how you were feeling at the given moment?

Bertram: Usually when I sit down to write I don’t feel anything but peace. Not a whole lot to say about that. And when I do let the words roll out, I usually end up with a silly character interview or something equally worthless except as a blog post. I really don’t have a lot to overcome. I figure my inner child is my outer child. Pat Bertram was two years old on May 17th. That’s when I started from scratch to create myself as an author rather than just a writer.

Most of my inner demons I let out while writing my first book. I don’t usually acknowledge it as my first book — it was too much me and not enough creativity. To say nothing of terrible writing. Still, it did help me work through the past and allow me to re-emerge as . . . still don’t know, actually. I’m still emerging.

Lazarus: How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your cerebellum?

Bertram: None. I know you don’t believe it, but it’s true. If I had any stories there, I’d be writing them.

Lazarus: How do you know when you’ve heard a worthy idea for a new novel?

Bertram: I don’t know. Mostly I have to put several ideas together. And I don’t have any ideas right now.

Lazarus: Do you often suffer from long “dry spells” in which you don’t have anything to write or you don’t know how to get started?

Bertram: Is it a dry spell if you don’t feel like writing? Or if you’re doing something else instead, such as promoting? Even when I’m writing, I have more non-writing time than writing time. I need to let things percolate.

Lazarus: Yes, I call it “marinating.” How long does it usually take for your stories to percolate. Do they progress in stages?

Bertram: Definitely stages. Even when I know where I am going with a story, I seldom know the details.

Lazarus: But I have the sense that you’re implying you can’t promote and really write creatively. Is that right?

Bertram: I have a one-track mind

Lazarus: But not obsessive?

Bertram: No, not obsessive. I just can’t commit to two projects at once.

Lazarus: Have you ever had the experience of being so hooked, engaged in a story that you turned your back on other pursuits just so you could write?

Bertram: No, not really.

Lazarus: You’ve completed four novels, though you told me Light Bringer is going through a final polish. How long do each of these projects take and usually how much time elapses between them?

Bertram: Light Bringer has been ongoing for eight years. Or thirty-eight if you include the research. It won’t be completely finished until it’s published later this year.

Lazarus: Thirty-eight years of research? So you’re bringing your entire life’s experience to bear on this piece.

Bertram: Yes. Everything I ever learned. And studied. Daughter Am I was the quickest — outlined in one day, written in a year. A couple of months usually elapse between books, mostly so I can type them up. I write long hand.

Lazarus: Pat, does the average reader perceive the deeper messages you conceal in your stories?

Bertram: I don’t know. The books are written so that even if they don’t see anything beyond the basic story, they should still like them. At least that’s the plan.

Lazarus: Had to back up and start over when you said that. So you acknowledge then that your books function at differing levels of depth; that there are meanings to be fathomed that someone reading just for enjoyment might miss?

Bertram: It’s possible that there are meanings people will miss. Heck, I missed some of it! When I proofed A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I saw themes that I didn’t put in there.

Lazarus: You didn’t put there? Is it fair to say that a really well written book will plumb emotional, human themes beyond the writer’s intention? And that’s what’s happened with your books?

Bertram: When a story flows, when everything is motivated, it makes sense that some ideas, emotions and themes show up that aren’t planned. If the characters are true, it has to happen. I am not saying that the characters do things that I don’t plan. Their actions are completely planned. But some underlying truths could emerge.

Lazarus: This is the contradiction in you that is so mysterious: you talk about being methodical, plodding, taking years to write a single piece; and yet at the same time you admit that the story flows from a place deep within you and parts of it emerge unannounced.

Bertram: I have a dual nature: half mystic, half logician.

Lazarus: Did you ever think that you are really “discovering” the story: that some mystical intentionality has dropped the clues of the story in your consciousness, in your experience and intended you to find them and fashion them together?

Bertram: Of course.

Lazarus: Then writing these stories is your destiny?

Bertram: So this is what you were leading up to.

Lazarus: It’s not like you didn’t see it coming.

Bertram: I don’t know if the stories are my destiny, but I do think they wanted to be written.

Lazarus: Yes! Wanted to be written. They wanted to be written by you. And I like the notion of “half way.” They came to you in pieces and only half conceived. They were waiting for you to complete them.

Bertram: But it’s also possible that mystical intentionality is myself.

Lazarus: Okay, that’s a realistic point of view.

Bertram: One thing that’s always puzzled me is that when I sit down to write, my mind goes blank. Other people can write a book a month. They can let the words flow. I have to dredge each word out of my mind. Yet, when my books are finished, there is an inevitability about them as if they were inspired, not perspired (at least it seems that way to me). But I don’t believe that they are “destined.” It’s all the little choices I make along the way that creates the inevitability. When you start writing, you have the entire world to choose from, but as you make choices — genre, setting, characters, plot, etc, etc, it narrows the story world and keeps narrowing it until it seems inevitable. Yet it all comes from the thousands of choices that we made.

Lazarus: I have one other question about the way you create these stories: is it possible it takes so long to write them because it is mentally strenuous for you to overcome your own internal resistance to writing?

Bertram: It’s possible. Yet when I started writing, I had nothing to overcome. I wanted to do it. It was only when I had four unsalable books that the logician in me decided it was silly to keep writing.

Lazarus: So now that you’re published (and selling! Unsalable my eye) can you tell the logician to take the back seat? Though Julia Cameron wouldn’t call it your logician. She would call it your Censor.

Bertram: Right now, the logician really doesn’t have anything to do with it. My problem is I don’t write books I know how to write. I have to learn how to write each book. And the one I’m doing now has me totally flummoxed. It’s truly a ridiculous project. Three distinct parts with distinct themes.

Lazarus: What? I thought you said you didn’t have a story rolling around in your head.

Bertram: It’s not in my head. If it were, I’d be writing to get it out of my head. It’s an incredibly silly/mystical/apocalyptical story. I started it when I thought I couldn’t get published — decided that I would write something totally unpublishable.

Lazarus: “Totally unpublishable.” (translated) “I’m writing this just for myself and the beauty of writing”?

Bertram: For something to do.

Lazarus: Oh, you are so perverse!

Bertram: After I started writing it, I got a computer and had to learn that. Then I got the internet and had to learn that. Then some idealistic publisher (Second Wind Publishing) decided to publish my books, so I had to learn how to promote.

Lazarus: Something else I want to explore. First let me ask if you saw Spielberg’s “Minority Report”?

Bertram: No.

Lazarus: Spielberg is to filmmakers what you are to novelists: intentionally convoluted. He makes these incredibly compelling movies and critics totally don’t even get them.

Bertram: I am not intentionally convoluted!!!

Lazarus: Okay, if you were an intentionally convoluted person and someone called you on it, wouldn’t you say you weren’t?

Bertram: You’re right, an intentionally convoluted person would not say they were convoluted, unless of course it would make them seem doubly convoluted by agreeing that they were.

Lazarus: But we need to tie this back in to your particular talent we’re talking about tonight. In the same way as “Minority Report,” More Deaths Than One is incredibly full of irony. It’s a very gratifying novel, even as it surprises the hell out of you.

Bertram: I’ve been wanting to ask you for months. When we talked that time, I asked if you were disappointed in More Deaths Than One, and you laughed and said no. Why the laugh?

Lazarus: . . . So I’m wrestling. Shall I let you off the hook by letting you ask me a question? Okay, but I won’t stay distracted for long. I laughed because the book was totally unexpected. I knew when I first read the initial chapter during the TruTV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer contest on Gather that it was written lights out. Where you took it in terms of 1) character development; 2) plot twists (I love plot twists); 3) ironic subthemes; and 4) emotional gratification was truly gripping and surprising. I laughed because anyone who knows anything about writing would know how good it is.

Bertram: Tell that to the 200+ people who rejected me.

Lazarus: Steinbeck submitted 40 novels (different novels) before he had one accepted. This says more about the publishing industry than you. Now back to the task at hand: “The devil in Ms. Bertram.”: Your romance vignettes that were published in Love Is On the Wind are the most ironic, humorous and biting pieces I think I’d ever read — but undeniably focused on romance. Beneath them one sensed an incredible bittersweetness. So my question is, why did you write like that? I guess what I mean is, you are a true romantic at heart — but I don’t think you believe in romance.

Bertram: I thought I was just trying to put a twist on a story.

Lazarus: So, what, you think I’m falling for that?

Bertram: Well, you silence me. I have no idea how to respond to that.

Lazarus: Either that or I got a little too close to home.

Bertram: Could be. But I never thought of myself as either romantic or unromantic.

Lazarus: Let me ask it in a more friendly way, . . . thinking . . . How about this: in your heart, there are things you want to say to romance readers, but you don’t really think they’ll hear them. Yes or no.

Bertram: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I don’t like category romance. I think the stories are generally too trivial to be truly romantic.

Lazarus: Ah — there it is. If what you had written had been logical, dispassionate, then the answer would’ve been “no.” The answer is “yes.”

Bertram: Huh?

Lazarus: What you want to say is, “don’t trivialize love; go deeper.” Right?

Bertram: I guess. I read many books that are well written, but they leave me cold because in the end the stories are trivial. Love shouldn’t be trivial, but they make it so.

Lazarus: Okay. In your two published novels, you manage to take the subject of romance and examine it in a plethora of meaningful ways: pure attraction; devotion in the face of great hardship; true love lost and then recognized for its falseness; rescuing disguised as love. Yet despite the quality of the loving relationships you examine in your stories and the romantic element that is clearly present (and there is nothing trivial about them), you haven’t really give us a romantic story yet.

Bertram: The very first book I ever wrote was supposed to be a romantic story of love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with sensitivity and great wisdom. I quit a job when I was young to write that book, discovered I had no talent for writing and no wisdom, so twenty-five years went by before I tried writing that book again. That’s the one that I don’t acknowledge as a book. Someday I’ll get back to it. I know the basic story, but don’t know how to say what I want.

Lazarus: Have you read my novel Lacey Took a Holiday? It’s an intentional convolution of romance. As we would say in classical literature, “romance turned back upon itself.” The characters are both extremely flawed: the girl is a drunken prostitute; the guy is a bitter, widowed war veteran. They begin their relationship when he kidnaps her out of a brothel.

Bertram: I read it. It’s profoundly moving. The theme that I mentioned earlier that I saw in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was the theme of love in all its guises. You use that theme in your books, too. It’s especially apparent in The Medicine People, though the book is being sold as a mystery, like mine.

Lazarus: Yes, love in all its guises: you make Pippi an incredibly sympathetic character when it would have been so easy to turn her into someone we intensely dislike.

Bertram: Pippi was supposed to be the character I hated. It was supposed to be a silly sub-story about the unattractive woman getting what the attractive one didn’t. A childish theme, really.

Lazarus: Pippi embodies the woman searching for love. She ends up discovering that the only love she can trust is self-love. Suppose you wrote a sequel about Pippi. What would happen to her?

Bertram: I don’t know what will happen to Pippi. Haven’t thought about it.

Lazarus: I never realized it until now, but there is a tremendous comparison between the two women in A Spark of Heavenly Fire. It cannot be characterized simply the way you did: beauty loses out to plain. That’s what the unaware reader will get out of it. It’s much deeper than that. The women drive the story. It’s their strength that carries the day in the face of the plague, the atrocities and the recovery.

Bertram: Yes, the women drive the story. I wrote the book to prove a quote by Washington Irving: There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.

Lazarus: I would like to share another thought about your writing — both your ability and what you’ve achieved. Let me preface it by saying that I’m no critic — which is to say that I really do understand literature as opposed to formulae. I feel what authors are saying in addition to recognizing the beauty in the way they say it.

Thus I feel the need to point out what you might not even acknowledge: you have a marvelous ability to write the longest parables in all of literature. A parable unglues the world as it is perceived and rebuilds it in a wiser and more beautiful way. That’s particularly true in A Spark of Heavenly Fire and even more so in the ironic, visceral More Deaths Than One.

Bertram: Again, you’ve silenced me.

Lazarus: You know, some writers will tell you that they treat their stories/books like children. You don’t do that. It’s something more than that with you. It’s metaphysical. A mystic statement.

Bertram: No, they’re not my children. One thing I have to believe: that these books will find a readership. That they have enough substance for people to talk about them. Do you think that’s possible?

Lazarus: I think your books are really mainstream books. The real difference between a mainstream book and a genre book is that a mainstream book intends to have something of merit to say. I think, with your books, there are several important realities: 1) They’d make damn good movies — which is to say they have great popular appeal and people will read them; 2) They could be studied in literature classes, and in that respect people will talk about them and discuss and learn; 3) I think to really, really get the lessons at the heart of your books you have to be a worldly, mature person. So if I say that people will have a lot to talk about in your work, I’m really implying all three of these things.

Bertram: This has been the most unlikely discussion.

Lazarus: Thank you, Pat, for the conversation. I look forward to being a writing colleague of yours. In the years to come, I anticipate reading many new works that evolve from that place where you have no new ideas, works that really do lurk in your inward being.

See also: The Most Unexpected Truth About Writing

The Most Unexpected Truth About Writing

My guest today is Lazarus Barnhill, author of the wonderful and profound Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing. Laz talks about destiny, which is a perfect topic for his guest appearance here on my blog. We met in November 2007 during an online writing contest (TruTV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer Contest on where we finished consecutively  — 10th and 11th — out of over three hundred entries. Now we are colleagues again — this time at Second Wind Publishing. Lazarus says:

“We are not accustomed to thinking that God’s will for us and our own inner dreams can coincide.”  –Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

It was Monday, August, 20, 2007, and I was driving home from down east North Carolina in a driving rainstorm.  After I dropped off my daughter at her home, I turned on the local NPR station.  As it happened, I tuned in precisely in the middle of an interview.  It became clear within a few seconds that I was listening to an author who had just had his first book published.  Because I was trying to catch up on the information in the report, I paid especially close attention and was able to piece together that there had been an online contest, the winner of which received a contract to have his book published by a major house.  As an aside, the interviewer concluded the report by saying that the same literary website was about to host a second contest.  This second one was for romance novels.

At that particular moment, I was sitting at a stoplight.  I remembered how, a few months before, I had finished a novel that-if you closed one eye and squinted just right-could be considered a romance: Lacey Took a Holiday. The light was still red, so I took out my extra fine point felt tip pen and scribbled the site on the back of my hand: “Gather”.

This commenced a twenty-month string of the most unlikely events: the following day was the last day to enter the romance contest and I made it in just under the wire; in the process of reading the romance chapters of almost 300 other authors, I became well acquainted with a number of them and for the first time recognized a “great miscarriage of publishing justice” (there were far, far more worthy romance novels than there were agents and publishers to snatch them up); many of the quality writers began to coalesce into writing groups and I was actually invited to join in with them; a third Gather contest — crime/mystery novels — commenced soon after the conclusion of the romance competition and I had, only days before, finished a crime novel (The Medicine People); once again I encountered and befriended a number of outstanding writers and experienced the reality that only one of them was going to receive a book contract; at the end of that contest, a blended group of romance and crime authors decided to take matter into their hands and start up a publishing company; that company (Second Wind Publishing), ten months after its inception, has twenty books available for purchase in multiple venues with another twenty waiting in queue.

The other day I was marveling at the uncanny string of events that brought me so many wonderful new friends (by the way — thanks, Pat, for the invitation to be here!), saw the publication of my first two novels and empowered me to express my artistic vision in ways that I never imagined.  Ironically, as I participated in the Gather contests, I had assumed I would be one of those writers who might pen a worthy story, but never get picked up by an agent or contracted by a major publishing house.  In retrospect, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel pretty lucky that I didn’t.  In fact, as I read Julia Cameron’s remarks in her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, I began to wonder if in fact what I saw as a lucky string of chance events was really a matter of listening to a still, small voice that has always intended better for me than I could have imagined for myself.  If Julia Cameron is right, that same little voice has something to say to all of us.

My premise is this: whatever force there is out there in creation (call it God, destiny, a Higher Power or whatever you want) actually wants you to write. When you write, you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing. What do you think?

Here is another far out, mystical question: for the sake of argument, let’s say the universe wants you (in fact the whole perverse group of us literary creative people) to write. Is there such a thing as praying for help with your writing? What would you pray? “Get me unstuck, O literary angel”? What about this, “Let my writing muse guide me to express my truest self as a writer, and trust the outcome to be in greater hands than mine”?

What if your literary angel has a purpose and story in mind for your writing that is greater than anything you can currently imagine? Of course that implies that being on the NY Times bestseller list may not be the greatest destiny.

See also: Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny

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