Heavy Heart

My heart is heavy today for my friend in Louisiana. We have been sisters in sorrow for many years, shadow mirrors of grief, since so many of our devastating losses occurred about the same time. My brother, her brother. Her mother, my father. My soul mate, her soul mate. One of the highlights of my recent cross country trip was finally getting to hug her for real after all the virtual hugs and tears we have shared. (This photo of azaleas was taken from her backyard.)

Now she is going through a time of hell that I can’t even imagine. Although her house is still dry, she is trapped because the roads all around are flooded, and if there were a problem, she has nowhere to go. Oddly, I am probably as close to a recent forest fire as she is close to the flooding, but except for smoke inhalation, no one I know was hurt in the fire. And almost everyone she knows has been horrendously affected by the floods.

One of her relatives died from a heart attack while being evacuated. Others have been flooded out. One friend lost everything — the water rushed in so fast, they had no time to grab anything. A niece was rescued by boat from her house, but the flooding has unmoored her modular home, and they are waiting for it to collapse. In certain areas, everyone she knows has suffered damage to their houses, in other areas, they have all lost their houses. One of her friends was stuck on an interstate overpass for nine hours after the road was closed on both ends because of flooding, and she had no way to get off because the exits were flooded, too. (She was finally airlifted out.) Caskets are popping up out of the ground in the cemetery where her loved ones are buried because of flooding, adding a surreal twist to the horror that is southern Louisiana.

Lives lost. Houses lost. Cars lost.

Who knew — hell is not fire. Or not just fire. It is water, too

In a recent post, I talked about the stomach-turning villains of a best-selling author. I have no interest in man-made evildoers created by a disturbed mind (because how can anyone who is well-adjusted come up with and embrace such ghastly characters and deeds). Nope. For me, sweet old Mother Nature, whose virtues people extol, is the worst fiend of all. No villain to pit one’s wits against, no one to capture or kill, simply a mindless force. Implacable. Unyielding. Deadly.

And still more rain predicted? Oh, my.


(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.”)

Even Fearsome Creatures Have Enemies

While walking in the desert today, I saw a dead rattlesnake. I hesitated to take a photo, not wanting to memorialize death, but it was so beautiful lying there, that I went ahead and snapped an image of it. Although it looked vibrant, as if it were sleeping, I could see that it had been run over. This made me think how even such a fearsome creature as that Mojave green rattler had enemies, though its four-wheeled killer was one it could not even imagine.

And so it is with a story’s villain.

For a hero to overcome her nemesis, she has to come at the villain from a different direction, not go at the villain from his position of strength. If the villain is the strongest person in the world, he cannot be vanquished by the second strongest person, but he can be vanquished by intelligence, perhaps even middling intelligence. If the villain is strong and smart, he can be vanquished by a determination to win at all costs. If the villain is smart, strong, and equally determined, he can be vanquished by esoteric knowledge, something the villain cannot even imagine.

My NaNoWriMo project has no villain. My poor character has to deal with her husband’s death, the loss of her home, the loss of her daughter’s respect. Since he had been the focus of her life, his death left her unfocused. Moreover, she finds out he is not who she thought he was, so to find out who she’s been all those years, she has to find out who he was. I’m wondering if her way out of this conundrum is to do or be something she’s never thought of before, something that until now has been unimaginable to her. Like what? I don’t know, but it will give me a direction to follow.

What about your characters? Do you have a hero/villain situation? What special strengths does your villain have? What special strengths does your hero have?

On Writing: Food

Sex and violence are visceral activites, but so is eating. Food is at once primitive and sophisticated, animalistic and human. We need to eat, but to a great extent we get to choose what we eat. And we get to choose for our characters. In fact, the characters of our characters lie in that choice. Are they vegan, omnivore, or something in between? Do they binge out or are they ascetic? When alone, do they take the time to cook a meal for themselves, or do they eat it standing over the sink? For me, a big question is what characters do with leftovers. Whenever characters in books throw away perfectly good food, I lose all sympathy for them and start rooting for the villains. Even in a world of abundance, food is precious. Or should be.

Wasted food gripes the heck out of me; I despise real and fictional food fights. Shows disrespect for life, a total lack of sensitivity, and people who never knew want. Another movie/book scene I absolutely hate is when a guy proposes to a woman by putting a ring in her drink, in a desert, or any other comestible. All I can think of is broken teeth when she bites into it or a punctured gut when she swallows it. Very romantic!

Besides describing character, food can be used as a theme, a plot point, a symbol. Food can be used to define the emotion of a scene or to delay the action and add suspense. Food helps create a setting in historical novels. The way a person eats tells a lot about character. You don’t need to describe food. Everyone knows what hamburger tastes like, or ice cream or jello. The whole ambience of food is much more important. I have one character who chews each mouthful of food exactly twenty-five times. His fiance finds herself counting his jaw movements, and by that you can tell that there relationship is doomed.

Just think of all the conflict attached to a family feast, such as a Thanksgiving dinner. The drama of several women competing to make their own favorite dressing, the trauma of a burnt pumpkin pie, the complication of children running underfoot, the conflicts of . . . You know the story. You’ve been there.
Movies and television shows are filled with great food scenes. The best Golden Girls shows were the ones where they sat at the kitchen table eating everything in sight, and talking about their lives. And who can forget the breakfast scene in My Stepmother Was an Alien, where she cooked up an entire menu. Or the breakfast scene in Uncle Buck when John Candy made pancakes as big as a table and used a snow shovel as a turner. All great food visuals, but also much going on beneath the scene.  

What role does food plays in your novels, in novels you have read, or in movies you have seen?

Fun food related websites:

The Food Time Line

History and Legends of Favorite Foods

History of Food and Food Products

Food History Resources

Food and Drink in Regency England

Medieval Recipes