Break Time Now Available on Amazon!

Break TimeBreak Time, the steampunk anthology I’ve been collaborating on with six other authors has now been published. You can find the kindle edition here:  Break Time on Kindle And the print edition here: Break Time in print. Soon it will be available on Smashwords and on Barnes and Noble.

To whet your appetite for the story, here is an excerpt from Break Time:

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(Interim) Florence Giston, 1966 by Pat Bertram

Five minutes after the time machine winked out in a rainbow of light and harmonious sounds, it still hadn’t returned. Flo had watched the machine leave and arrive back within minutes during Al’s journeys to their shared past, so she thought she knew what to expect, but she hadn’t experienced this lag time before. Maybe something had gone wrong?

She waited another minute, then slowly turned around in a circle, hoping that the machine had somehow appeared behind her, but the black pyramid remained absent.

She’d felt helpless after the death of her husband, knowing there was nothing she could do to bring him back to her, but even that feeling of powerlessness paled in comparison to this new conundrum. Death, despite its awesome mysteriousness, was still somehow ordinary. Except for those alive today, everyone who had ever been born was now dead.

Could Al be dead? Her father-in-law had said he was going to kill steam, but could someone have killed him before he could accomplish his task? Could the time machine have somehow gone off course, or crashed? If Al was lost somewhere in the break in time, how would she ever find him?

She took a deep breath. No matter how long Al might have been traveling in time—misplaced or not— he’d only been gone a few minutes.

No need to panic.

Just wait. See what happens. Believe he will return.

***

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.

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.

Steampunk Anthology Coming Soon!

Two years ago, a couple of authors approached me about doing a collaborative novel similar to the Rubicon Ranch collaboration I’d been writing with other Second Wind authors. We invited a few other authors to do this new collaboration. Two of the authors suggested we do steampunk.I’d never heard of steampunk. Couldn’t even guess what it was. To be honest, I’m not sure I know even now what it is. Still, we all agreed. Such a collaboration is about stretching ourselves as authors, and how better to stretch than by doing something we’ve never done before.

The two authors who talked us into doing steampunk ended up walking away, leaving us with a story no one knew how to write. The rest of us decided to stick with the project anyway. Why not? We’re writers. We can fake it. We also got the internet with all its research capabilities to help us.

Wikipedia defines steampuSteamnk as “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is widely used — whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time — that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

In “How Do I Write A Steampunk Story?” Dru Pagliassotti says, “Steampunk fiction consists of two elements — the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology or political stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.”

Most of us writers were in a strange non-writing mode, so it was hard finding the time or the words. Although a chapter was supposed to be written each week, with each of us taking a turn, life often got in the way, and those weeks turned into months. Instead, the others decided we should finish the book not as a collaborative novel but as an anthology.

The anthology is almost finished now, and it’s actually quite an interesting collection of stories, all written around a single theme of time travel and “killing steam.” (The time traveler’s wife and son were killed in a steam engine accident, and since he couldn’t bring them back, he decided steam was to blame and so traveled back in time to try to divert the progress of the steam engine.)

I feel good about finally winding up this project. I have no real desire for longterm projects right now. My life is up in the air, and I don’t know from day to day what is going to happen. (Well, that’s true of everyone, of course, but generally people feel at least a bit settled.)

The anthology will be published both as a book and as a blog. I’ll let you know when it’s finally available.

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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.

Steampunk Collaboration

I’m cheating tonight. I spent so much time writing a possible time travel scenario for the steampunk collaboration I’m involved in with seven other authors, that I didn’t have time to write a blog. So I’m posting the scenario. What do you think?

Possible time travel scenario:

A tourist is found dead in a time travel machine, clutching some sort of gizmo in his hand. Knowing that a death could kill business in what is supposed to be a safe traveling mode, the operators of the Time Travel Company decide to investigate.

They have some sort of recordings of where the traveler has been, one from each era he visited, (secret, of course, since if the tourists knew they were being recorded, it would put a damper on business) and the Time Travel Company sets employees to watching these tapes (crystals? discs? a sophisticated version of Babbage’s difference engine or analytical engine?). Since it’s real time, they all watch at the same time, otherwise it could take weeks for them to see what went on during the tourist’s trip. Perhaps news of the death leaked, and if they don’t discover the truth fast, they will be ruined, so time if of the essence. This is how we could get by the problem of doing five sets of eight chapters. After each set of chapters, the TTC operator and a trusted employee could discuss what they saw, see if there were any abnormalities, and when they don’t find anything out of whack, they continue watching the tapes.

Since our guy is by himself, posing as a tourist, chances are his reasons for traveling are personal. Considering that coal is such a polluter, perhaps his wife died of lung cancer, and if they weren’t wealthy, chances are they couldn’t get out of the city to clean air. Maybe he studies alchemy texts, finds a way to produce clean steam by means of cold fusion or atomic energy (supposedly the alchemists knew how to do this without producing radioactive side effects) or some other energy source, and he wants to go back to the past to find someone who will utilize the machine so that by the time his era comes around, there is no pollution. (There’s no point in his finding backers in his own time since his wife is already dead.) Another possibility is that he is looking for a way to blow a hole in time to change things, so that perhaps by the time he gets back to his era, things will have changed. He is killed before he can put his plans in motion. It would be up to you to decide why your character would want to kill him to maintain the status quo.

If he is lower class (or low middle class) his clothes would not be out of place in any period in the steam era. This would save him from traveling with an extensive wardrobe.

He and his agenda would be the unifying factor of all the POV characters. You tell the story from your character’s POV, but he is a major character in your substory. During each set of chapters, he grows more and more frantic, since he can’t find what he wants (someone to give his gizmo to, or perhaps a way to use it to blow a hole in time to change the future. We don’t see the end of his story, the TTC has to figure it out, because once he is dead, his story ends. We would not know in which era his story ended, because in the past, all time happens at the same time.

The benefits of this scenario are that the authors can decide what year/era they want their character to live in, can write their story without much regard to other authors’ stories (except to keep the tourist consistent), and the tourist would provide the unifying factor without having to spend weeks trying to figure out what all the chapters have in common. Another benefit is that the scenarios wouldn’t have to be based on history, but could be more personal as long as they were consistent with the time period you choose.

The drawbacks are that you might not be able to tell the story you want — you’d have to keep the story simple, focused on both your character’s agenda and the tourists, and somehow link them. You’d have to pick a past era, rather than a fanciful future era since a future era would do our traveler no good. And you’d have to pay attention to how the other authors develop the character of the tourist to keep him consistent.

If you don’t like this scenario, we can still do the one we talked about where all of our characters once were members of a think tank, and now someone is killing all the members. The remaining members (our characters) get together to figure out who the perpetrator is and why he wants them dead, and they discover that the assassin is one of them.

Either scenario would work for our purposes.

Saying “Yes” to Life, and to Steampunk

I’ve been invited to participate in another collaborative novel, similar to the Rubicon Ranch project, only instead of a thriller, this collaborative effort will be steampunk.

I don’t know anything about steampunk. Know even less about the Victorian era. And know less than less about steam-driven machinery. So, of course, I agreed to do the project.

I crave anything that is different from what I know — different tastes, different experiences, different challenges. Ever since the death of my life mate/soul mate, it seems a waste (or a stagnation) to do what he and I always did. He might be moldering in the grave (or rather in a funerary urn) but it’s a disservice to both of us if I molder, too.

John Berryman wrote:

A voice calls, “Write, write!”
I say, “For whom shall I write.”
And the voice replies,
“For the dead whom thou didst love.

This quatrain could just as easily exhort, “Live, live for the dead whom thou didst love.”

Sometimes it feels as if this is still our life — his and mine — only I am here and he is . . . wherever. Perhaps I’m here to live for both of us. Or maybe, now I’m here to live just for me.

When we met, I was at my most spontaneous. Something about his being in the world made it seem as if life were full of possibilities, and I grabbed hold of life with both hands and ran with it. Years later, as he got sicker, as life took its toll on our finances, and the possibilities shrank, our lives became staid and planned to take his infirmities into consideration. He told me once he regretted that the constraints of our life destroyed my spontaneity, and he was sorry to be the cause of it.

It’s not something I like to face, but the last years, and especially the last months of his life were terrible for both of us. And, something I like to face even less is that his death set me free. The best way to honor my mate’s life and his great gift of freedom is to take back the thing he thought he stole from me, so I’ve been practicing spontaneity. Which means, saying yes to challenges. Saying yes to life. Saying yes to steampunk

So why steampunk? Why not? I’m a writer. I can fake it. I’ve also got the internet with all its research capabilities to help me. And it’s something I would never have considered writing. All good reasons.

Wikipedia defines steampunk as “a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, alternate history, horror, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Steampunk involves a setting where steam power is widely used — whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West”-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time — that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy.”

In “How Do I Write A Steampunk Story?” Dru Pagliassotti says, “Steampunk fiction consists of two elements — the steam, or gaslamp aesthetic, iconography specific to the genre — and the punk, a critical ideology or political stance that satirizes, challenges, or subverts societal trends.”

Kat Sheridan, a friend who took a steampunk writing class wrote me, “Remember, steampunk is all about breaking the rules and throwing conventions out the window!”

Should be fun. I’ll let you know how it goes.