More “More Deaths Than One”

I seem to be fascinated by characters who die “more deaths than one.” In my novel of that name (taken from Oscar Wilde’s “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” — he who lives more lives than one / more deaths than one must die), poor Bob Stark returns home after living in Southeast Asia for eighteen years to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again.

The steampunk anthology I am helping put together begins with my story about Florence Giston, Flo for short. (I couldn’t resist that name. Flo Giston. Phlogiston. Seemed appropriate.) The opening paragraphs of that story read:

The first time her husband died, Florence Giston felt such feral grief, she feared she’d never survive. She’d always tried to look on the bright side of things, but she could find no bright side to this situation. Her husband was dead, and she felt as if she had died, too.

“You can’t let it get you down,” said Alexander Giston, her father-in-law. “Just because Robert and Mary died, it doesn’t mean they are gone forever.”

The second time Robert died, Florence’s already broken heart shattered beyond repair. Robert had been her whole life, and to lose him twice seemed unbearably cruel. She vowed never to go through such trauma again, yet when Al announced he intended to try to save his wife and his son again, Flo begged to go with him.

“I need to see Robert once more,” she said. “Need” seemed a paltry word to describe the yearning that clawed at her, but Al must have understood her desperation, because he agreed to let her accompany him on his second trip to their shared past.

Time travel brings with it delicious ironies. In this case, Flo’s view of Robert — and herself — isn’t exactly what she expected.

A young woman stepped outside. “What’s going on?” she asked, her voice soft and tremulous.

Flo stared at herself, at the brown lace stockings, the brown gored skirt, the brown jacket, the brown plumed hat. What was I thinking? She vowed to throw out all the brown clothes she owned, including the brown shirtwaist she now wore.

“This is dad from the future,” Mary said. “He’s come to save us from certain death.” Catching the irony in her mother-in-law’s voice, Flo wondered if she’d underestimated the woman. Mary had always seemed so drab despite the bright colors she chose to wear. Was nothing as she remembered?

“Good of him,” Robert said. There was no irony in his voice, no affection. “We can take the aeroship.”

“Well, no.” Al scuffled his feet. “I already saved you once. I came back and made you take the aeroship, and it crashed. They never found your bodies.”

Flo stifled an urge to laugh, but Robert didn’t even crack a smile. “I’ll drive the Steamer,” he said.

“Couldn’t you just stay home?” Al asked, a note of pleading in his voice.

Mary shook her head. “It’s my father’s funeral. I have to be there.”

“We’ll be fine,” Robert said. “The Stratosphere Steamer is the safest automobile on the road.”

Also the fastest, Flo thought, but she kept her mouth shut. So far, the Gistons hadn’t noticed her, and perhaps it was just as well. Robert had never seemed to be able to handle one of her; two might overtax his feeble imagination.

Appalled at the direction of her thoughts, Flo slipped back into the lab. She’d loved Robert dearly, had mourned him twice, so what prompted her to be so dismissive of him now? Remembering how besotted she’d been, she wondered if love hadn’t been the blessing she’d always presumed it to be, but had instead been a prison, keeping her emotionally shackled to a man for whom she had little respect.

This anthology is scheduled to be published in May. I’m looking forward to seeing it finally in print.

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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.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Researching Gangster Lore for Daughter Am I

I have notebooks full of gangster lore that I collected when I researched Daughter Am I, my young woman/old gangsters coming of age novel. (I keep calling it that, but it’s so much more — a murder mystery, a treasure hunt, a romp through the middle of the United States with a young woman and a busload of irrepressible octogenarian rogues. “Snow White and the Seven Old Farts” as one of the villains called them.) As usual, I am digressing. Someday, perhaps, I will learn that just because I use parenthesis, it doesn’t give me the right to meander off topic. Or maybe it does.

Anyway, the point is, I was able to use only an iota of my notes. So many real-life characters never even got to be reborn in the person of one of my “elders.” (There’s a topic for discussion — what does one call a busload of aged men and women? I despise the term “senior citizens,” I have no fondness for “old folks” — the term, that is — and “golden- agers” is too nauseating. So I settled for “elders” with its nuance of wisdom.)

One such character I never used for my book was Jake “The Barber” Factor, who stole millions from people through stock market swindles and investment fraud. He worked as a bootblack when he was a boy, shining shoes outside of a barbershop. The price of a shine was two cents, but he’d tell unwary customers that he’d give them a “steamboat shine” for one cent. If the customer agreed, he’d polish one shoe until it gleamed, then he’d say, “There’s your steamboat shine, Mister. For a dime, I’ll shine the other shoe.” 

Oscar Wilde once said, ” The Americans are certainly great hero worshippers, and always take heros from the criminal classes.” Well, perhaps not always, but most of us bear a grudging admiration for con men and women, mostly because they seem so much smarter than the rest of us. Or maybe they just have fewer scruples.

Daughter Am I will be released by Second Wind Publishing in the middle of October. 

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