Justifying Our Sex Scenes

Lazarus Barnhill, a fellow author at Second Wind Publishing, is planning to rerelease his novels to include the sex scenes he removed for the sake of keeping the familial peace. I understand why he wants to include the scenes — he wishes to reclaim his literary perogative and publish the books the way he wrote them, which is as it should be. Besides, with the scenes included, the books will probably go viral.

Though I wouldn’t admit it to him, I like the books the way they are now, with the focus more on the mystery in The Medicine People and the romance in the Lacey Took a Holiday. The truth is, I’ve never been fond of sex scenes. I read for mental titillation — expanding my mind, letting my thoughts wander into the realms of what if — and sex scenes leave little scope for such meanderings.

Despite tMore Deaths Than Onehat, I did write one very graphic sex scene for my first book More Deaths Than One. The scene appalled my father (by then my mother was gone, so I never got to hear her words on the subject. Whew!), but that was an important scene in the book.

The story is about a man who is so ordinary he almost seems invisible. Everyone assumes they know him, seeing him as a reflection of themselves. And yet, he has hidden depths that only one woman, Kerry, managed to see. As Kerry told Bob, trying to explain why he interested her, “I’d like to say it’s because you have hidden depths, but your depths aren’t hidden, they’re obvious.” She chuckled. “Maybe you have hidden shallows.”

The graphic sex scene wasn’t with Kerry, though eventually they did make love. The scene was with Bob and another woman, a woman who taught him about prolonging the pleasure and satisfying a woman. If you didn’t know why Bob had such a talent, it would have been unbelievable when you discovered that such a seemingly weak man would have such discipline. The scene also set up the love scene with Kerry. The scent of frangipani had always reminded him of that first woman, and yet when he and Kerry finally got together, he realized that from now on, whenever he caught a whiff of that scent, it would remind him of Kerry, of the teasing look in her eyes, of the moment he fell in love with her. (But then, don’t we all justify our sex scenes as important to the book?)

Oddly, each of my novels had less sex in that the previous one, and the last one had none. It’s hard to write sex scenes that are consistently new and fresh, and I’d said it all in that first book.

Someone dared me once to write an erotic novel, and I even accepted the dare, at least verbally, but I doubt I will ever write the book. The only reason I can see for writing is to write what only I can write, and it’s hard to bring individuality to sex scenes. (Which is probably why bondage and masochism are so prevalent right now — they are different from what people are used to.) Still, I’m young in author terms. I’ve only written five books. Anything could linger in all those as unwritten books of mine!

As for Lazarus Barnhill’s books, I’m keeping the versions I have for now. When he gets rich and famous, those expurgated copies will be worth a fortune, and I will be set for life!


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.

Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I always wanted to be a reader. That’s really all I ever wanted to do. I did try writing a novel many years ago, but the words never came flowing out of me the way I thought they should — in fact, there were no words at all — so I accepted that I had no natural talent for writing. About ten or eleven years ago I decided phooey with talent, and I started writing again. I thought it would be a good way of taking my mind off my problems. I also read books about writing, publishing, and promoting, so basically I gave myself a crash course in the whole writing spectrum.

Here are some responses from other authors about whether they’d always wanted to be writers. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Siobhán Nolan, Author of “Old Man Harry”

No, I haven’t. I didn’t even consider myself a writer until I saw my book in print. That was only a few weeks ago, but there’s something so powerful about that moment when you hold your published work in your hands for the first time and can truly say to yourself, “Wow, I did it. I’m a writer.”

From an interview with Lazarus Barnhill, Author of “The Medicine People”

When I was a child of four or five, Wednesday nights were “dollar nights” at the Riverside Drive In: a whole car load of people could see the movie for a buck. My parents and sister would sit in the front seat and I’d sit in the back. Periodically during the show, I would say what the character on the screen was about to say. Eventually my parents got really tired of that and forbade it. But something took root in me even back then. As an elementary school child I would constantly start stories that ended up being only a page or two long — and made me feel like a failure. When I was in sixth grade I lay awake one night and created a story that involved every child in my homeroom class. With the blessing of Miss Roach (and, no, I did not make up that name), I laboriously wrote the story down — probably thirty-five or forty pages — and was given permission on the last day of school to read it to the class. With about five pages left (I was just about to be machine gunned by the villains, having recovered the money they stole from the bank), the principal came in and said that we were free to go to the playground or to stay inside. The students immediately bolted — not one even asking how the story ended. I decided then to write the sort of stories that people would not be able to put down . . . and I’m still working on that.

From an interview with J. P. Lane, Author of “The Tangled Web”

I’ve been a writer by profession most of my adult life, but there wasn’t any point when I thought I wanted to be a writer. I just fell into writing quite by chance – just the way The Tangled Web came about – by chance. There was no thought of wanting to write a book. One day, I sat down and started writing and about a year later, there was a novel on my computer. Mind you, I was an advertising and marketing writer and I also had articles published in major Florida publications, so I wasn’t exactly green when I ventured into the world of fiction. Advertising writing requires tremendous discipline, so I was already reasonably equipped to be an author.

What about you? Have you always wanted to be a writer? Or, like me, have you always wanted to be a reader?

(If you’d like me to interview you, please check out my author questionnaire http://patbertram.wordpress.com/author-questionnaire/ and follow the instruction.)


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.

The Best Thing About Writing Fiction

This morning, author Lazarus Barnhill posted an article on the Second Wind Blog about why he writes fiction. He wrote:

”When you write about a controversial issue, you don’t have to make it the center of your story to express it fully.  You just work it in.  For instance, when I wrote The Medicine People, I dealt a lot with the quiet underlying bigotry Native Americans and Western European descendants still harbor for one another but never express out loud.  And while it was essential to the story, it didn’t overwhelm the novel.  Stories have the power to make an issue live in the mind of the reader the way a speech never can.

“And the best thing about being a fiction writer is, you don’t have to brag to get your point across.  The best writer is one whose reader gets absolutely lost in the narrative.”

When I began writing, I had a lot to say about the way we are manipulated to suit the needs of big business and big government, and that theme underlies my first four novels. Though that theme was important to me, I tried to make the story even more important so as not to overwhelm the readers. I used up that theme, so I don’t know what I want to say in my future books, which is perhaps why I haven’t been able to write — I don’t know what I want to say, or rather, why I want to say it. I tried to write a story simply for the story’s sake, but that manuscript is stalled halfway through. I do have a theme for that — freedom vs. security vs. responsibility — but the book is not a thriller, has no mystery, is more of an apocalyptic allegory, which is something I would never read, so I don’t imagine anyone else would want to either. The point being, I write fiction because . . . Apparently I have no reason since I am not writing fiction at the moment. 

So, why do you write fiction? What is the best about being a fiction writer? What do you hope to accomplish with your writing? How do you make sure readers get lost in your fiction?

Let’s talk.

The group No Whine, Just Champagne will meet for a live discussion about writing and the writing life on Thursday, April 22, 2010 at 9:00pm ET. I hope you will stop by — it would be nice to see you. You can find the discussion by clicking here. If you can’t chat live, we can chat on this blog.

Books Make Good Christmas Gifts

Of course books make good Christmas gifts. You know that. Here’s a list of books you may not have heard of by relatively unknown writers — at least they are relatively unknown at the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two or even all of the authors are household names by this time next year.

The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill is a deceptively lighthearted mystery with great characterization and surprising twists and turns.  Why has triple murder suspect and fugitive Ben Whitekiller returned to his hometown to give himself up? Click here to read the first chapter.

Staccato by Deborah J. Ledford is a well-orchestrated thriller about three world-class pianists, two possible killers, one dead woman and a great mental soundtrack for those who know music. Ledford draws you into her world and doesn’t let go until the final crescendo. Click here to read the first chapter.

Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire by Malcolm Campbell: Though Jock Stewart is a throwback to the Hollywood’s film noir reporters, Campbell’s delight in words and wordplay shows through the hardbitten shell, and the novel has a gleeful undertone. Click here to read: an excerpt or the first chapter.

Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis is an epic novel full of romance and adventure, with a strong female protagonist who isn’t always sweetness and light. Suzanne’s world is filled with colorful details and captivating characters. Click here to read a synopsis and an excerpt.

Dead Witness by Joylene Nowell Butler is a novel of international intrigue and danger with a hero who fights criminals and the FBI to take control of her life “with every ounce of fury a mother can possess”.  Click here to read the first chapter.

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill is an unlikely romance between a man who has lost everyone he ever cared about and a womanwho has been betrayed and abused by every man she has ever met.  Click here to read the first chapter.

And be sure to check out the books from Second Wind Publishing Company. You might even see a familiar cover or two.

Aaaarrrgggghhhh!!!!! Now I Have to Write a Review!

StaccatoWhile most of the world is talking about the new Dan Brown bestseller, Second Wind Publishing, LLC has quietly released a thriller of its own — Staccato by Deborah J Ledford. You won’t find all the elements that have become Brown’s hallmarks: cartoonish characters, amateurish prose, tin-ear for dialogue, internal inconsistencies. What you will find is a well-written, well-constructed story that will keep you enthralled.

The product description on Amazon says it better than I could: Performed against the backdrop of the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, Staccato transports readers to a behind-the-scenes glimpse of professional musicians, the psychological twists and turns of its characters, and in the end, retribution that crashes in a crescendo of notes played at the literary pace of a maestro’s staccato. The only drawback to Staccato is that it doesn’t come with a soundtrack — each meticulously chosen piece of music enhances the mood of the scene it accompanies, and unless you are much more informed about music than I am, you will miss some of the brilliance of this composition.

Readers are in for a treat, and me? Aaaarrrggghhhh!!! I have to write another review! Well, I don’t have to, but the book deserves all the attention it can get. So, I will add it to the stack of other books I’ve promised to review, yet haven’t:

Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill
The Medicine People by Lazarus Barnhill
Steel Waters by Ken Coffman
Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman
Mazurka by Aaron Lazar
Heart of Hythea by Suzanne Francis
and now, Staccato by Deborah J Ledford

Although all these books are much more literate, readable, and enjoyable than Dan Brown’s pap, the best I can come up with as a review for each of these deserving novels right now is, “Good book. I liked it and you will, too.”

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Twits and Tweets

I’ve been sitting here for about thirty minutes trying to come up with a topic for my online live chat tomorrow night at No Whine, Just Champagne on gather.com, trying to think of a bloggery for the Second Wind blog tomorrow, trying to think of something to write for my blog tonight. While I’ve been waiting for my brain to kick into gear, I’ve been doing the online equivalent of channel surfing — checking my emails, checking Facebook to see if anything is going on, checking Twitter.

Ah, Twitter. Now that’s something I can talk about. Is Twitter still a good way of connecting with people? It seems as if the only people who are adding me are multi-level-marketers, people posting links to nude pictures, people actively looking to sell me something, or people with more than 10,000 followers. I can’t imagine that any of those people will see or care about my tweets. In fact, it’s probably time for me to go through my followers and block those I’m not interested in. I should also go through the list of those I am following. When I first started with Twitter, I followed everyone who followed me, but I can see that’s no way to use the site. Maybe it’s better to have just a few followers and followings, people who actually care about one another’s twits and tweets?

I’ve read that Twitter has a 60% 30 churn rate, which means that 60% of those who sign up don’t return after 30 days. So there’s a good chance that more than half of those who follow me or who I follow aren’t even on the site. If I had the time, it would be a good idea to clean up my account, but if no one is paying attention, does it matter?

What I’m really looking for is the next fun site. Facebook is fun for me, but that’s because I’ve figured out a few things to do on the site, and I’ve actually been able to connect with people. Same with Gather. Goodreads should be fun, since it’s about books, but I find I have nothing much to say about books any more. In fact, I have four books sitting here on my desk — Steel Waters and Toxic Shock Syndrome by Ken Coffman, and The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday by Lazarus Barnhill — books I promised to review but haven’t (sorry Ken and Laz), books I read and loved, yet the only thing I can think of to say about all four books is, “Great book. Read it.” Not much of a review, though it is the truth. So the books sit here, taunting me. But I digress.

So, what is the next fun site? If you hear of a site that’s easy to use, that get’s your name out there, that helps you make friends and connections, let me know. I need more places to check when I go surfing.

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Waiting For an April Time

My bloggery of yesterday about where to go from here generated a few emails, with people telling me not to give up writing. No fear of that. Writing is a part of my life, and I still have many books in me, but I am at a crossroads, on a plateau, standing still . . . choose your cliché. (I haven’t yet told you about my love affair with Microsoft OneNote, but I just found another use for it! The WordPress article editor doesn’t add the accent mark on cliche, so I wrote the word on OneNote which does add the accent, and I copied it here. You gotta love such a versatile application!) 

I know I shouldn’t  overthink everything — as Theodore Roethke wrote: “A mind too active is no mind at all.” — but this is one time in my life that I feel like indulging myself in an orgy of thinking.  During the past eight years of learning how to write, writing my four novels, studying the publishing industry, sending out query letters, dealing with hundreds of rejections, finally finding a publisher, preparing the books for publication, and then waiting for their release, (to say nothing of learning how to use a computer, to navigate the internet, and to promote) I had the idea that I needed to write a certain way to be acceptable to a publisher. So I tried to become a writer some mythical publisher would be willing to accept. Well, unlike other authors who’s options are limited by a publisher who wants them to continue writing in the same genre — often with the same characters — I have a publisher who loves my writing and seems to be willing to publish any novel I produce. So that leaves me untethered. If I don’t have to conform to the dictates of the publishing industry, that means I have to conform to my own. Which means I have to know who I am. But the fact is, the last years of writing have changed me, so I no longer know. (Which makes me wonder: do we write a book, or does our book write us? It seems as if changes in our lives affect what we write, and what we write affects our lives and brings about changes.)

Basically, what I’m doing with all this overthinking is opening myself to the changing seasons of my life. Trying to figure out where to take my writing and where my writing (and my resistance to writing) is taking me. 

A couple of weeks ago, during my online discussion with Lazarus Barnhill (author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People), Barnhill mentioned that Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way suggests writing three pages every morning. Basically stream of consciousness stuff. Well, I got the book, and now I’m doing the morning pages, and surprisingly, I love it! I thought it was the puzzle aspect of writing I like. Maybe it’s just the writing. So, even though it’s not creative writing, I am doing three pages a day. And I’ve mostly reclaimed my blog for myself instead of using it to promote other people, so even though that’s not creative writing, either, it also is writing. (I am still doing a bit of promotion, though I’m gearing it more toward discussions than guest appearances. Right now I am having a discussion with Malcolm Campbell, author of The Sun Singer. That discussion about the writer’s journey will be posted on this blog in another week.)

In her book The Stillwater Meadow, Gladys Tabor wrote: “People have seasons . . . There is something steadfast about people who withstand the chilling winds of trouble, the storms that assail the heart, and have the endurance and character to wait quietly for an April time.”

Well, that’s what I’m doing — waiting (not so quietly) for an April time.

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A Whiff of a Treat and a Bit of a Cheat

One benefit of being published by a new, small independent press, is that you get to wear many hats. Second Wind Publishing is preparing an anthology of mystery/crime short stories to be released in September, and as a pinch-hitting copy editor, I get first look. I enjoyed Lazarus Barnhill’s novels, The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday, so last night I printed out Barnhill’s story, “A Whiff of Murder” for a treat.

It’s been a very long time since I considered reading a treat. I still read prodigiously — it’s more than a habit with me, it’s akin to breathing — but I don’t necessarily enjoy it. (It’s like breathing polluted air, you need it, but it isn’t something you look forward too.) But I was right  –- “A Whiff of Murder” was a treat. It’s a fun story, with great detecting,  a touch of irony, and good characters (Barnhill brought back Robert Vessey from The Medicine People). All in less than 5,000 words.

Now I have to figure out how to write my own story. I have a beginning, though it’s a bit of a cheat. I wrote it for an online writing challenge —  to hook readers with the first 650 words of a novel. Since I had no intention of ever writing the novel, I just tossed out the most preposterous scenario I could think of. It wouldn’t really make a good novel — the humor would wear thin — but it would make a good short story. So now all I need is a middle and an end. And a touch of mystery. Or a crime. And some suspense. Hmmmm. Should be fun.

You’re welcome to join the fun. Second WindPublishing is sponsoring a short story contest, and the winner will be published in the anthology. You can find the information here: Murder in the Wind.

Let me know how you do. Maybe together we can figure out how to write a short mystery worthy of publication.

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Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny

Lazarus: The other day I was marveling at the uncanny string of events—starting with a writing contest on Gather.com—that brought me many wonderful new friends, saw the publication of my first two novels and empowered me to express my artistic vision in ways that I never imagined. When I read Julia Cameron’s book, The Artist’s Way, I began to wonder if in fact what I saw as a lucky string of chance events was really a matter of listening to a still, small voice that has always intended better for me than I could have imagined for myself.

In a nutshell, Julia Cameron says that, whether you call it destiny, the hand of God, or just the creative direction of the universe itself, our purpose is to create and we allow ourselves and others to stymie our creativity.

Bertram: Are we really fulfilling our destiny, though, or does it just feel like it? The solar system seems to be designed perfectly, with the planets constantly moving, yet staying out of the way of the other planets. But it wasn’t always so. At one time they were banging and crashing into all sorts of space debris, and over billions of years they annihilated everything in their path to end up the ordered system we know. So, is our writing destiny the same? Something we see only in retrospect, perhaps, with our brains trying to make sense of chaotic events?

Lazarus: Do you think when you write that you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing?

Bertram: I do think the universe itself is a creative power that we tap into, and that we are creative by nature. But . . . if we are all fulfilling our natures as writers, who is fulfilling their natures as our readers? Writers need readers, and now that there are (supposedly) more writers than readers, how can writing really be our destiny? Except personally, perhaps.

Lazarus: Cameron teaches two “sacred acts” in The Artist’s Way. The morning pages (3 pages you write when you first get up in which you allow your inner self to freely express itself) and the artist’s date (essentially, you have to have 2 hours a week in which you go off by yourself and do exactly what you want).

When I first started doing the morning pages, I was correcting my spelling and changing my word choices. All of that was stymieing the child inside me; and if I don’t let that child have a say, he disrupts whatever the grown up Laz wants to do

Bertram: Three pages when you first get up in the morning, just to express yourself? I never could understand how people can dash off the pages like that. It takes me an hour or two to write a single page. I try to be more spontaneous in my blogs, just to let the words and feelings flow, but it still takes me more than an hour to write 300+ words.

Lazarus: Whoa, Pat, sounds as if you’re a “blocked creative”

Bertram: Blocked creative? Maybe I just don’t have any ideas. Or maybe my inner child likes to play with words and sentence structure.

Lazarus: Well, seriously, what would happen if you just started describing how you were feeling at the given moment?

Bertram: Usually when I sit down to write I don’t feel anything but peace. Not a whole lot to say about that. And when I do let the words roll out, I usually end up with a silly character interview or something equally worthless except as a blog post. I really don’t have a lot to overcome. I figure my inner child is my outer child. Pat Bertram was two years old on May 17th. That’s when I started from scratch to create myself as an author rather than just a writer.

Most of my inner demons I let out while writing my first book. I don’t usually acknowledge it as my first book — it was too much me and not enough creativity. To say nothing of terrible writing. Still, it did help me work through the past and allow me to re-emerge as . . . still don’t know, actually. I’m still emerging.

Lazarus: How many stories do you currently have swirling around in your cerebellum?

Bertram: None. I know you don’t believe it, but it’s true. If I had any stories there, I’d be writing them.

Lazarus: How do you know when you’ve heard a worthy idea for a new novel?

Bertram: I don’t know. Mostly I have to put several ideas together. And I don’t have any ideas right now.

Lazarus: Do you often suffer from long “dry spells” in which you don’t have anything to write or you don’t know how to get started?

Bertram: Is it a dry spell if you don’t feel like writing? Or if you’re doing something else instead, such as promoting? Even when I’m writing, I have more non-writing time than writing time. I need to let things percolate.

Lazarus: Yes, I call it “marinating.” How long does it usually take for your stories to percolate. Do they progress in stages?

Bertram: Definitely stages. Even when I know where I am going with a story, I seldom know the details.

Lazarus: But I have the sense that you’re implying you can’t promote and really write creatively. Is that right?

Bertram: I have a one-track mind

Lazarus: But not obsessive?

Bertram: No, not obsessive. I just can’t commit to two projects at once.

Lazarus: Have you ever had the experience of being so hooked, engaged in a story that you turned your back on other pursuits just so you could write?

Bertram: No, not really.

Lazarus: You’ve completed four novels, though you told me Light Bringer is going through a final polish. How long do each of these projects take and usually how much time elapses between them?

Bertram: Light Bringer has been ongoing for eight years. Or thirty-eight if you include the research. It won’t be completely finished until it’s published later this year.

Lazarus: Thirty-eight years of research? So you’re bringing your entire life’s experience to bear on this piece.

Bertram: Yes. Everything I ever learned. And studied. Daughter Am I was the quickest — outlined in one day, written in a year. A couple of months usually elapse between books, mostly so I can type them up. I write long hand.

Lazarus: Pat, does the average reader perceive the deeper messages you conceal in your stories?

Bertram: I don’t know. The books are written so that even if they don’t see anything beyond the basic story, they should still like them. At least that’s the plan.

Lazarus: Had to back up and start over when you said that. So you acknowledge then that your books function at differing levels of depth; that there are meanings to be fathomed that someone reading just for enjoyment might miss?

Bertram: It’s possible that there are meanings people will miss. Heck, I missed some of it! When I proofed A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I saw themes that I didn’t put in there.

Lazarus: You didn’t put there? Is it fair to say that a really well written book will plumb emotional, human themes beyond the writer’s intention? And that’s what’s happened with your books?

Bertram: When a story flows, when everything is motivated, it makes sense that some ideas, emotions and themes show up that aren’t planned. If the characters are true, it has to happen. I am not saying that the characters do things that I don’t plan. Their actions are completely planned. But some underlying truths could emerge.

Lazarus: This is the contradiction in you that is so mysterious: you talk about being methodical, plodding, taking years to write a single piece; and yet at the same time you admit that the story flows from a place deep within you and parts of it emerge unannounced.

Bertram: I have a dual nature: half mystic, half logician.

Lazarus: Did you ever think that you are really “discovering” the story: that some mystical intentionality has dropped the clues of the story in your consciousness, in your experience and intended you to find them and fashion them together?

Bertram: Of course.

Lazarus: Then writing these stories is your destiny?

Bertram: So this is what you were leading up to.

Lazarus: It’s not like you didn’t see it coming.

Bertram: I don’t know if the stories are my destiny, but I do think they wanted to be written.

Lazarus: Yes! Wanted to be written. They wanted to be written by you. And I like the notion of “half way.” They came to you in pieces and only half conceived. They were waiting for you to complete them.

Bertram: But it’s also possible that mystical intentionality is myself.

Lazarus: Okay, that’s a realistic point of view.

Bertram: One thing that’s always puzzled me is that when I sit down to write, my mind goes blank. Other people can write a book a month. They can let the words flow. I have to dredge each word out of my mind. Yet, when my books are finished, there is an inevitability about them as if they were inspired, not perspired (at least it seems that way to me). But I don’t believe that they are “destined.” It’s all the little choices I make along the way that creates the inevitability. When you start writing, you have the entire world to choose from, but as you make choices — genre, setting, characters, plot, etc, etc, it narrows the story world and keeps narrowing it until it seems inevitable. Yet it all comes from the thousands of choices that we made.

Lazarus: I have one other question about the way you create these stories: is it possible it takes so long to write them because it is mentally strenuous for you to overcome your own internal resistance to writing?

Bertram: It’s possible. Yet when I started writing, I had nothing to overcome. I wanted to do it. It was only when I had four unsalable books that the logician in me decided it was silly to keep writing.

Lazarus: So now that you’re published (and selling! Unsalable my eye) can you tell the logician to take the back seat? Though Julia Cameron wouldn’t call it your logician. She would call it your Censor.

Bertram: Right now, the logician really doesn’t have anything to do with it. My problem is I don’t write books I know how to write. I have to learn how to write each book. And the one I’m doing now has me totally flummoxed. It’s truly a ridiculous project. Three distinct parts with distinct themes.

Lazarus: What? I thought you said you didn’t have a story rolling around in your head.

Bertram: It’s not in my head. If it were, I’d be writing to get it out of my head. It’s an incredibly silly/mystical/apocalyptical story. I started it when I thought I couldn’t get published — decided that I would write something totally unpublishable.

Lazarus: “Totally unpublishable.” (translated) “I’m writing this just for myself and the beauty of writing”?

Bertram: For something to do.

Lazarus: Oh, you are so perverse!

Bertram: After I started writing it, I got a computer and had to learn that. Then I got the internet and had to learn that. Then some idealistic publisher (Second Wind Publishing) decided to publish my books, so I had to learn how to promote.

Lazarus: Something else I want to explore. First let me ask if you saw Spielberg’s “Minority Report”?

Bertram: No.

Lazarus: Spielberg is to filmmakers what you are to novelists: intentionally convoluted. He makes these incredibly compelling movies and critics totally don’t even get them.

Bertram: I am not intentionally convoluted!!!

Lazarus: Okay, if you were an intentionally convoluted person and someone called you on it, wouldn’t you say you weren’t?

Bertram: You’re right, an intentionally convoluted person would not say they were convoluted, unless of course it would make them seem doubly convoluted by agreeing that they were.

Lazarus: But we need to tie this back in to your particular talent we’re talking about tonight. In the same way as “Minority Report,” More Deaths Than One is incredibly full of irony. It’s a very gratifying novel, even as it surprises the hell out of you.

Bertram: I’ve been wanting to ask you for months. When we talked that time, I asked if you were disappointed in More Deaths Than One, and you laughed and said no. Why the laugh?

Lazarus: . . . So I’m wrestling. Shall I let you off the hook by letting you ask me a question? Okay, but I won’t stay distracted for long. I laughed because the book was totally unexpected. I knew when I first read the initial chapter during the TruTV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer contest on Gather that it was written lights out. Where you took it in terms of 1) character development; 2) plot twists (I love plot twists); 3) ironic subthemes; and 4) emotional gratification was truly gripping and surprising. I laughed because anyone who knows anything about writing would know how good it is.

Bertram: Tell that to the 200+ people who rejected me.

Lazarus: Steinbeck submitted 40 novels (different novels) before he had one accepted. This says more about the publishing industry than you. Now back to the task at hand: “The devil in Ms. Bertram.”: Your romance vignettes that were published in Love Is On the Wind are the most ironic, humorous and biting pieces I think I’d ever read — but undeniably focused on romance. Beneath them one sensed an incredible bittersweetness. So my question is, why did you write like that? I guess what I mean is, you are a true romantic at heart — but I don’t think you believe in romance.

Bertram: I thought I was just trying to put a twist on a story.

Lazarus: So, what, you think I’m falling for that?

Bertram: Well, you silence me. I have no idea how to respond to that.

Lazarus: Either that or I got a little too close to home.

Bertram: Could be. But I never thought of myself as either romantic or unromantic.

Lazarus: Let me ask it in a more friendly way, . . . thinking . . . How about this: in your heart, there are things you want to say to romance readers, but you don’t really think they’ll hear them. Yes or no.

Bertram: I don’t know, but I don’t think so. I don’t like category romance. I think the stories are generally too trivial to be truly romantic.

Lazarus: Ah — there it is. If what you had written had been logical, dispassionate, then the answer would’ve been “no.” The answer is “yes.”

Bertram: Huh?

Lazarus: What you want to say is, “don’t trivialize love; go deeper.” Right?

Bertram: I guess. I read many books that are well written, but they leave me cold because in the end the stories are trivial. Love shouldn’t be trivial, but they make it so.

Lazarus: Okay. In your two published novels, you manage to take the subject of romance and examine it in a plethora of meaningful ways: pure attraction; devotion in the face of great hardship; true love lost and then recognized for its falseness; rescuing disguised as love. Yet despite the quality of the loving relationships you examine in your stories and the romantic element that is clearly present (and there is nothing trivial about them), you haven’t really give us a romantic story yet.

Bertram: The very first book I ever wrote was supposed to be a romantic story of love that transcended time and physical bonds, told with sensitivity and great wisdom. I quit a job when I was young to write that book, discovered I had no talent for writing and no wisdom, so twenty-five years went by before I tried writing that book again. That’s the one that I don’t acknowledge as a book. Someday I’ll get back to it. I know the basic story, but don’t know how to say what I want.

Lazarus: Have you read my novel Lacey Took a Holiday? It’s an intentional convolution of romance. As we would say in classical literature, “romance turned back upon itself.” The characters are both extremely flawed: the girl is a drunken prostitute; the guy is a bitter, widowed war veteran. They begin their relationship when he kidnaps her out of a brothel.

Bertram: I read it. It’s profoundly moving. The theme that I mentioned earlier that I saw in A Spark of Heavenly Fire was the theme of love in all its guises. You use that theme in your books, too. It’s especially apparent in The Medicine People, though the book is being sold as a mystery, like mine.

Lazarus: Yes, love in all its guises: you make Pippi an incredibly sympathetic character when it would have been so easy to turn her into someone we intensely dislike.

Bertram: Pippi was supposed to be the character I hated. It was supposed to be a silly sub-story about the unattractive woman getting what the attractive one didn’t. A childish theme, really.

Lazarus: Pippi embodies the woman searching for love. She ends up discovering that the only love she can trust is self-love. Suppose you wrote a sequel about Pippi. What would happen to her?

Bertram: I don’t know what will happen to Pippi. Haven’t thought about it.

Lazarus: I never realized it until now, but there is a tremendous comparison between the two women in A Spark of Heavenly Fire. It cannot be characterized simply the way you did: beauty loses out to plain. That’s what the unaware reader will get out of it. It’s much deeper than that. The women drive the story. It’s their strength that carries the day in the face of the plague, the atrocities and the recovery.

Bertram: Yes, the women drive the story. I wrote the book to prove a quote by Washington Irving: There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity.

Lazarus: I would like to share another thought about your writing — both your ability and what you’ve achieved. Let me preface it by saying that I’m no critic — which is to say that I really do understand literature as opposed to formulae. I feel what authors are saying in addition to recognizing the beauty in the way they say it.

Thus I feel the need to point out what you might not even acknowledge: you have a marvelous ability to write the longest parables in all of literature. A parable unglues the world as it is perceived and rebuilds it in a wiser and more beautiful way. That’s particularly true in A Spark of Heavenly Fire and even more so in the ironic, visceral More Deaths Than One.

Bertram: Again, you’ve silenced me.

Lazarus: You know, some writers will tell you that they treat their stories/books like children. You don’t do that. It’s something more than that with you. It’s metaphysical. A mystic statement.

Bertram: No, they’re not my children. One thing I have to believe: that these books will find a readership. That they have enough substance for people to talk about them. Do you think that’s possible?

Lazarus: I think your books are really mainstream books. The real difference between a mainstream book and a genre book is that a mainstream book intends to have something of merit to say. I think, with your books, there are several important realities: 1) They’d make damn good movies — which is to say they have great popular appeal and people will read them; 2) They could be studied in literature classes, and in that respect people will talk about them and discuss and learn; 3) I think to really, really get the lessons at the heart of your books you have to be a worldly, mature person. So if I say that people will have a lot to talk about in your work, I’m really implying all three of these things.

Bertram: This has been the most unlikely discussion.

Lazarus: Thank you, Pat, for the conversation. I look forward to being a writing colleague of yours. In the years to come, I anticipate reading many new works that evolve from that place where you have no new ideas, works that really do lurk in your inward being.

See also: The Most Unexpected Truth About Writing

The Most Unexpected Truth About Writing

My guest today is Lazarus Barnhill, author of the wonderful and profound Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing. Laz talks about destiny, which is a perfect topic for his guest appearance here on my blog. We met in November 2007 during an online writing contest (TruTV Search For the Next Great Crime Writer Contest on Gather.com) where we finished consecutively  — 10th and 11th — out of over three hundred entries. Now we are colleagues again — this time at Second Wind Publishing. Lazarus says:

“We are not accustomed to thinking that God’s will for us and our own inner dreams can coincide.”  –Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way

It was Monday, August, 20, 2007, and I was driving home from down east North Carolina in a driving rainstorm.  After I dropped off my daughter at her home, I turned on the local NPR station.  As it happened, I tuned in precisely in the middle of an interview.  It became clear within a few seconds that I was listening to an author who had just had his first book published.  Because I was trying to catch up on the information in the report, I paid especially close attention and was able to piece together that there had been an online contest, the winner of which received a contract to have his book published by a major house.  As an aside, the interviewer concluded the report by saying that the same literary website was about to host a second contest.  This second one was for romance novels.

At that particular moment, I was sitting at a stoplight.  I remembered how, a few months before, I had finished a novel that-if you closed one eye and squinted just right-could be considered a romance: Lacey Took a Holiday. The light was still red, so I took out my extra fine point felt tip pen and scribbled the site on the back of my hand: “Gather”.

This commenced a twenty-month string of the most unlikely events: the following day was the last day to enter the romance contest and I made it in just under the wire; in the process of reading the romance chapters of almost 300 other authors, I became well acquainted with a number of them and for the first time recognized a “great miscarriage of publishing justice” (there were far, far more worthy romance novels than there were agents and publishers to snatch them up); many of the quality writers began to coalesce into writing groups and I was actually invited to join in with them; a third Gather contest — crime/mystery novels — commenced soon after the conclusion of the romance competition and I had, only days before, finished a crime novel (The Medicine People); once again I encountered and befriended a number of outstanding writers and experienced the reality that only one of them was going to receive a book contract; at the end of that contest, a blended group of romance and crime authors decided to take matter into their hands and start up a publishing company; that company (Second Wind Publishing), ten months after its inception, has twenty books available for purchase in multiple venues with another twenty waiting in queue.

The other day I was marveling at the uncanny string of events that brought me so many wonderful new friends (by the way — thanks, Pat, for the invitation to be here!), saw the publication of my first two novels and empowered me to express my artistic vision in ways that I never imagined.  Ironically, as I participated in the Gather contests, I had assumed I would be one of those writers who might pen a worthy story, but never get picked up by an agent or contracted by a major publishing house.  In retrospect, I’ve gotten to the point where I feel pretty lucky that I didn’t.  In fact, as I read Julia Cameron’s remarks in her wonderful book, The Artist’s Way, I began to wonder if in fact what I saw as a lucky string of chance events was really a matter of listening to a still, small voice that has always intended better for me than I could have imagined for myself.  If Julia Cameron is right, that same little voice has something to say to all of us.

My premise is this: whatever force there is out there in creation (call it God, destiny, a Higher Power or whatever you want) actually wants you to write. When you write, you are fulfilling an essential aspect of your truest purpose for existing. What do you think?

Here is another far out, mystical question: for the sake of argument, let’s say the universe wants you (in fact the whole perverse group of us literary creative people) to write. Is there such a thing as praying for help with your writing? What would you pray? “Get me unstuck, O literary angel”? What about this, “Let my writing muse guide me to express my truest self as a writer, and trust the outcome to be in greater hands than mine”?

What if your literary angel has a purpose and story in mind for your writing that is greater than anything you can currently imagine? Of course that implies that being on the NY Times bestseller list may not be the greatest destiny.

See also: Pat Bertram And Lazarus Barnhill Discuss Writing as Destiny

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