Rebelling Against Life

Early in the twenty-first century, I set out to fulfill a lifelong dream to be a writer. I wrote a book that was so terrible, I packed it away and never looked at it again. I kept writing, though, and I studied the craft of writing along with the art of getting published. I wrote a book I was proud of, and set out to find a publisher. When I racked up too many rejections, I took a break and went back to writing. Wrote an even better novel, and when it was finished, I sent out query letters and proposals to agents and publishers. Still no takers. So I wrote another novel and then another.

By the end of six years, I had four solid novels (including my magnum opus) and more than 200 rejections. So I went back to writing. But this time I decided to forget trying to write something readers would want to read, agchainents would want to agent, or publishers would want to publish. I decided to write something silly and unpublishable as a rebellion against the system.

I wrote half of this new novel, and then things changed. My mother became ill and died. My life mate/soul mate kept getting weaker and weaker. I got a computer and the internet, and learned blogging and emailing and various new ways of querying agents and publishers, racking up even more rejections.

During all this time, my silly story just languished. There was too much real life going on (if either death or the internet can be called real life), and I had no time for foolishness. I finally found a publisher who loved my books, which started a completely new focus for me — editing, promotion, Facebook, networking. And then my life mate/soul mate was diagnosed with inoperable kidney cancer, and “real life” took on a whole other meaning.

My silly story continued to languish. What use is whimsy when my world had collapsed? Why rebel against the system when life itself seemed to be rebelling against me? I could barely smile for more than four years during his illness, his death, and my grief let alone be able to see the humor in the world coming to a fictitious end.

I still don’t see the humor in life, but I am beginning to sense the stirrings of rebellion. I don’t much like this brave new world of publishing where anyone who strings a few unedited words together can publish their scribblings and call him or herself an author. I don’t like spending so much time on the internet hoping to attract readers (though I do like getting to know people). I don’t much like the real world, either. I don’t like sickness and death. I don’t like loneliness and heartache. I don’t like . . . well, there’s no need to make a list of the things I don’t like. The point is, I am feeling that same rebellion I felt when I started writing my silly story.

Oddly, until this very moment, I thought the emotion driving the story was whimsy, when in fact it was rebellion. I’m not in the mood for humor or wit or looking at the absurdities of life because the realities are still too strong. But I can do rebellion.

And I will.


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.

On Writing: Rules of Magic

There are two rules for writing about magic:

1. It always has a price
2. It must have limits.

I don’t know who wrote that, but it seems a good pair of rules when it comes to literary magic. As writers, we can do whatever we imagine, yet whatever we imagine must serve the story we are telling. Which means the magic must have a price and it must have limits. (If there are no limits, then there is no conflict and hence, no story. If there was no kryptonite, Superman would be just a ho-hum guy in a cape.)

Literary magic comes in vast array of guises — love, intelligence, beauty, skills, exotic worlds, wonder, wisdom. All have limits, all have a price and consequences. In the non-literary world, sometimes the ripples of such magic are small and unfelt by most people. Such as the magic of a smile. If you smile at someone, they might smile back, and that small exchange might make them feel good enough to smile at someone else. Other small matters might have dire consequences, such as an extra drink before getting on the highway. All lives impinge on others.

I read a story once, an anecdote, really. A guy found a spider swimming in his toilet. He decided to rescue the spider, took it out of the water, and set it on the floor. The next day, he found the spider in his toilet again, and again he took it out. A little later, he found the spider dead. Why, the storyteller asked, did the spider die? The answer: because one life impinged on another.

Whether that statement has validity in real life, it certainly fits with fiction. Everything in a novel should be connected to everything else, which means that small actions could have large consequences. Perhaps that is why fiction is so compelling — it enables us to notice such ramifications. We can’t see far enough in real life to be aware of such connections and their impact, but I’m sure they are there. And isn’t that what magic is? The manipulation of the real and ordinary?

None of my books are about magic as such, but all have an element of magic, even if it is just the magic of a quest, of love, of being different, of finding one’s self. The most magical of my books is Light Bringer, but the magic of the main characters’ harmonic resonance causes problems only because it shows that they are not exactly human. It has limits, since this particular magic doesn’t bring them much happiness — at least not yet. The price they pay could be the fate of the entire world.

What is the magic of your book? What is its price? What are its limits?