Author Arc

There are only two days left of my novel writing month. Unlike the National Novel Writing Month in November, which is about writing 50,000 words in a month, I had no goal except to work on my book every day. The first four days of March were dedicated to editing and reading what I already had written — it’s impossible to finish writing a book if you don’t know what it’s about, and I’d let the poor thing lie fallow for so many years, I’d forgotten many of the details.

Two days of the month were wasted from a novel writing point of view as I celebrated Jeff’s death with tears and sorrow (though not, of course, wasted from a purely personal point of view). I did open the manuscript and stare at it for a while both those days, which has to count for something.

It is interesting that I should be working on this particular book around the anniversary because it was the last book where Jeff offered any input — he always helped with making sure the men thought and acted like men. Some people were disappointed with my last two books —  Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and Unfinished — both of which were written long after his death so they lacked the male point of view that kept my first four books from slipping into girlishness. And I have to admit, both Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare and Unfinished are “girlier” than my first four novels, which I doubt Jeff would have liked. But the way I figure, if he didn’t want me to write fiction geared more for women, then he shouldn’t have died.

I have a hunch my male characters in the book I am writing now are losing their edge, but I don’t think it matters. The theme of the story is freedom. How much freedom we are willing to give up for safety, how much safety we are willing to give up for freedom, and in the end, since freedom is an illusion, it’s about embracing responsibility. So, if in this third part, the characters are different from the first two parts, it can be chalked up to character arc rather than author arc.

Usually about this time, as I am sliding down to the end, I have another book in mind, but not this time. One idea I had was to write a murder mystery when/if I ever hiked long sections of the Pacific Crest Trail. I’d probably scare myself half to death writing about death in the wilderness on such a hike, but it certainly would give a book immediacy if I were sort of living it as I wrote it. Another idea is to do a sequel to the book I am now finishing. Two babies were born in completely different circumstances in this newly created world of mine. One of the babies is named Eve. The other Adam. It does call out for a sequel doesn’t it? And yet, this book is more or less a one-note story. Once the gag is played out, I’m not sure what’s left.

Anyway, considering how long I’ve been working on this book, I shouldn’t count my ending before it’s hatched — if I get sidetracked again, it could be years before I get back to it.

I will extend my novel-writing month into April, however, even though I only have half the month to write since I will need at least a week to prepare for my trip. (It’s not just a road trip and a camping trip and a hiking trip, but also a backpacking trip, a city trip with a fancy night on the town, and various and sundry other excitements.) After that week of preparation, I will be leaving. Although I have been calling this my May trip, I will be leaving in April since I have to be back the last week in May to practice for a performance. Let’s hope I don’t lose the dances somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. They were both difficult to learn.)

Does talking about my book constitute working on it? No, I guess not. So, back to work I go, constructing a world and many dangers for my poor characters to suffer through.


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.

What the Screams Are All About

The worst thing about opening a decade-old work in progress (though can it be called a work in progress if no progress has been made on it for years?) is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written. I usually try to end a writing session in the middle of a scene to give me a hint of the next day’s writing session, and I ended that long-ago final writing session with a scream: A shriek like that of a jungle beast in pain woke him. He rolled over onto his back, too tired to wonder who or what could be making such a racket. More shrieks and shouts. This time the screeches sounded decidedly human.

But who screamed? And why? I haven’t a clue.

The best thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, so I come to it as a stranger. I found myself shuddering and chuckling by turns, and in one place I actually laughed aloud. Not bad for a work that has been stagnant for so many years. (I did find a few stray, out-of-place chapters that I vaguely remember writing seven years ago when I was trying to meet a word count for the one National Novel Writing Month I signed up for, but they don’t help much because they take place long after the shrieks.)

The oddest thing about opening a decade-old work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written . . . and haven’t written. A few of the scenes I thought I wrote somehow got stuck in my mind and never made it into the manuscript. I do remember now that I didn’t feel like writing those scenes. Coming up with and writing the plethora of details needed to describe a fellow trying to scrounge for food in an inhospitable environment seemed dreary. Which means that as I continue with this book, my task will be to see that the scenes aren’t dreary, either for me or the reader.

The most disheartening thing about opening a decade-old-work in progress is that I have forgotten much of what I’d written, and I’d forgotten that the story does not fit at all with anything else I have ever written. I have learned in the intervening years that to be successful, a writer, like an artist, must develop a recognizable style. If you pick up a Rosamund Pilcher book, you know you’re not getting horror. If you pick up a Clive Barker book, you know you’re not getting a pastoral romance. And my stories are all over the place. Three of my published novels have a similar thread, a touch of otherworldliness along with a large dash of conspiracy; my fourth published novel is a gold-hunt mystery/adventure; my soon to be published novel Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare can maybe be classified as a self-aware cozy mystery, and my soon-after-that-to be published novel is the story of a woman dealing with grief. There is a gun and a bit of a mystery in the grief story, but mostly the mystery is that of the human heart.

And then there is this decade-old WIP. No mystery. Just . . . I don’t know. Maybe an apocalyptic horror story.

Eventually, I will have to settle into a style (or develop enough readers who are intrigued by a wide-ranging author), but for now, I will enjoy the discovery of what the screams are all about.


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+. Like Pat on Facebook.