That’s My Story

In recent months, I’ve learned the backstories of some of my new friends, stories that are both horrifying and heartbreaking. That these people are leading normal lives, or what seem to be normal lives, make their stories all the more shocking. And they make me realize, that despite everything I have gone through, I have lived a rather privileged life. At least so far as I know. (One of the stories I was told rivals my book More Deaths Than One for mind control, manipulation, and abuse, which would make anyone question themselves and what they think they know. But I tend to think I do know what I think I know.)

I never felt as if my life was especially blessed — there was too much trauma and poverty, depression and some sort of instability in almost all the characters of my youth. And yet, I grew up, enjoyed mostly good health (meaning that I wasn’t often tormented by terrible pain, trauma, or illness). I loved and was loved in return. I’m settling into what might be a rather benign old age, and even with my extremely limited income, I doubt I will go hungry. Although I’ve never been strong physically, I’ve been strong enough to do what I needed to do. And I’ve been strong enough mentally to get through what I needed to get through.

Those are my realities right now. My privileges. Not everyone has those same privileges. Some people have different blessings — wealth, beauty, acclaim, athletic ability, robust health, great happiness, a fulfilling career, a living — and loving — spouse, cherished offspring.

And some people seem to have very little going for them, often through no fault of their own. Abuse. Disfiguration. Disability. Unending pain. Troubles that seem to multiply. Acute loneliness.

Nothing I can do will ever make a difference to those lives. I can be kind to people I meet, of course, because who knows what pain and horror they are hiding behind smiles or stoic expressions or even scowls. But that’s about all. Being miserable won’t offset their misery. Bleeding for them won’t erase a single moment of suffering. Making allowances for life’s injustices or trying to shoulder another’s mental or physical burdens only goes so far — we each have to live the life we are given.

There’s no way ever to truly understand another person’s point of view, and people who expect that are being unrealistic. We can always only see life through our own eyes, and that’s not a privilege but a reality.

Actually, now that I think of it, my greatest blessing is to be able to turn, in retrospect, a rather messy and traumatic life into one of privilege and good fortune. A nice bit of legerdemain, that.

But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.


Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator

A Memorial to Dakota

On April 25th I will be walking with a team for March of Dimes. On April 17, 2007, the daughter of a good friend gave birth to a stillborn baby she named Dakota. As a memorial to Dakota, and as a way of making his absence count, his mother has become an indomitable fundraiser for the March of Dimes. She is also venturing into her own non-profit organization, to support and offer resources to those who suffered pregnancy losses.

I’m doing this three-mile walk as a way of giving thanks that I was born, and born healthy. And for the tacos my friend bribed me with. (Though I would have done it even without the bribe.)

If you wish to support the cause, let me know and I’ll email my paypal address to you for your contribution. If you happen to be in Riverside, California on April 25 and wish to join us, you can find out more about the walk here: Team Dakota.

If nothing else, pause to give thanks for all life has given you and spare a thought to what you can do to make a difference. Little Dakota never had a chance to draw even a single breath, and oh, what a difference he has made to so many people’s lives.

Team Dakota


Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels 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.

What Do You Want to Say to Your Readers?

The publishing industry seems determined to keep writers on a tight leash of fast and easy fiction, but I don’t see any reason why a good writer can’t find a way of saying something important in readable stories.

In all these years I’ve been writing, I never really considered what I wanted to say to the reader, or what role I wanted to play in their lives. I knew I wanted to be a good storyteller, but that’s all. Odd to find myself thinking about this now after having written four (unpublished) novels instead of at the beginning.

One theme that has run through my books is, “Beware. Nothing is as it seems. You are being lied to and have always been lied to,” but other than that, I’m not sure I ever considered what I wanted to say to potential readers when I was writing a novel. I wrote for me and I concentrated on telling a good story with the hope that someday someone would like to read the book and be entertained.

I no longer know where I am going with my writing.

The first book I wrote was a fictional autobiography (sort of). I had a lot of matters I needed to work through and thought it would be a good way to do it. It worked, but the book was so bad I don’t consider it one of my finished novels.

The first real novel I wrote because I wanted (needed) to make some money. Silly me! I also wanted to talk about the Vietnam war and the misconceptions that people have about it. I ended up deleting most of those parts in the rewrites.

Then I read Albert Zuckerman’s book “How to Write the Blockbuster Novel” and decided I wanted to write a blockbuster novel and make a ton of money. In many ways, that book is my best work, but the one that has the least interest for agents and editors.

The third book I wrote because I read “The Writer’s Journey” by Christopher Vogler and I wanted to write a mythic journey story. And debunk the Hollywood myths about the mafia. And make a lot of money.

The fourth book was a compendium of conspiracy theories — a different way of looking at the world. (Interestingly enough, it was also the first novel I conceived. It just took me five years to get the whole thing worked out.)

My current book was supposed to be my declaration of independence from the dictates of the publishing industry. It was supposed to be a silly story, but it’s metamorphosing into something deeply metaphysical, and while it’s doing that, it’s changing the way I look at my writing and myself. I’m not sure where I want to go with my writing, but I do know I want to be better than I am. To learn how to make every word count. To create a vivid world. To make it mean something.

I wanted to be a good storyteller. I  never really had any interest in writing the great American novel, but because of the changes my WIP are bringing, I’ve been getting the feeling that I want to get so good at both storytelling and writing that I will not be ignored. In the end, I want to make a difference, even in a small part, in the lives of people who might someday read my books. And yes, I want to say something important.