Fun with Fiction

Madame ZeeZee's NightmareYesterday and the day before, I did errands and chores so that I would have three danceless and carefree days for a writer’s retreat.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had the mental discipline to work so continuously on a novel. Now that I’m in the swing of things, I make sure I write every day to keep up the discipline.

It’s also been a long time since I’ve had so much fun with fiction, but perhaps that’s because I am integrating my blogging style into my current novel, a story that takes place in the dance studio where I have classes. There are plenty of hard-boiled mysteries out there for lovers of sordid urban backgrounds and those who prefer graphic sex or violence or both, so I feel no need to indulge those tastes. Instead, my poor detective — based on me — is more of a thinker. Let’s hope she finds the truth in the end.

Excerpt from Madame ZeeZee’s Nightmare:

I lay back on the pillow, arms behind my head, and thought about Margot and me and how, through a convoluted series of events, we ended up in the same place.

Because every action impinges on every other action, even down to the most minute particle or wave, the confluence of our lives would have had to begin billions of years ago, when the universe burst into being. Through untold eons the Everything developed increasingly complex life forms, and finally, it created a semblance of a human being. A million years later, our present species sprang forth, and many thousands of years after that, I was born in the United States of America. I — a bookish child with no talent or energy for physical activities — grew up, loved deeply, got married, became widowed, and traveled a thousand miles to Peach Valley to care for a dying old man.

One day, while waiting to meet a woman from my grief group for lunch, I noticed Madame ZeeZee’s studio, took a chance, and went inside. I never had a list of things I wanted to do before I die (does anyone have a list of things they want to do after they die?) because I want the miraculous: a love I never knew. And that’s what happened with dance.

Margot’s individual journey started nine years after mine when she was born in Lithuania with a love of dance. Her life of physical and mental discipline ended in murder and a six thousand mile trip into the unknown. And somehow, those two cosmic journeys—that of the bookish child and the ballerina—bisected at Madame ZeeZee’s studio.

Not a nightmare, but a marvel.

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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.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Coming Home

I am creating another writer’s retreat for myself this weekend, but to tell the truth, right now my whole life feels like a writer’s retreat. I continue to feel conflict free, partly because I have put off worrying about the future and what is to become of me, and partly because I have temporarily found a safe place to land. (Hard to believe, but I’ve been here a whole month already!)  So far, my roommates are working out, with only minor irritations that I choose to let go and not obsess over. Surprisingly often, I have the house to myself, and best of all, even though I still don’t have a remote garage door opener, I do have use of the garage, which pleases both me and my aged vehicle.

I am living day to day (to the extent that it’s possible), making a point of noticing my moments, and being grateful for the good things in my life. With the questions and worries that usually plague me on hiatus, my stream of consciousness has nothing to do but let my work in progress steep, so I don’t often find myself tongue-tied (finger-tied? word-tied?) when I open the computer to work on my book.

I am going to dance classes four days a week and enjoying it as much as I did in the beginning, perhaps because when people irritate me, I can take them out of my head and put them in my story. Although I spend the remaining three days of the week working on my novel, I am sticking with the 250 words a day club, so I manage to write a bit every day. I am usually not one of those writers who live by word counts, but because of the club, I am keeping track of my words. I was thrilled when I realized that in the past two weeks, I have added 10,000 words to my novel. Wow! You might not be impressed, but I am.

I do continue to have a bit of a reality lapse when I go from my fictitious class to my real-life class, but trying to remain in the moment helps. And my teacher in life as well as in the book is always kind to me, which helps make for an even transition.

A real boon for my book has been my online life. For the most part, once I got online, I stopped writing fiction and went to blogging. I blogged everyday for about five years, but without conflict or adventure to fuel my posts, I don’t have much to say, so I have let fiction writing replace blogging. Now whenever I have a question, I Google it rather than spending months trying to find the information in the library, and if Google doesn’t have an answer for me, there is a whole slew of people all around the world to ask. Not only have I gotten medical information from a doctor friend, and help with the structure of a mystery story from a writer’s group, people have even offered me wonderful suggestions for motivation. (Not being a murderous type myself, ingenious motivations for committing such a crime are hard for me to come up with. I’d be more of a slam-bam-goodbye-ma’am sort of killer rather than a revenge-is-a-dish-best-served-cold murderer.)

The most wonderful thing about being back in writer’s mode is that I feel as if I’ve come home. So much of my internal conflict since Jeff died and more recently my dad, is that I have nowhere to call home. And now I do — inside my head, playing with words.

Not a bad place to be.

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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.”)

My Writer’s Retreat

I’ve been wondering if I should do some sort of writer’s retreat to get me back into writing fiction, and as it turns out, all unknowingly, I created my own retreat. Last weekend, beginning Thursday afternoon when my last dance class was over until Monday when the first class of the week began, I did nothing but indulge myself. I started the days with my old workout, the stretching routine and weight training that fell by the wayside when I started taking dance classes. And I worked on my book. Not the whole weekend, of course, because I am not one of those who can sit down and write for the entire day — I need to do a lot of thinking about where to go next — but I did a couple of sessions each day. Even better, I ate only the food I had in the house — good food, no junk. — so I never had to leave my retreat. Best of all, my next room housemate was gone, so I had nothing but quiet (and a bathroom to myself) the entire time. Ah, joy!

A couple of weeks ago, I had experienced a day where I felt blessed, and that feeling has been with me all this time. I have been magnifying the mood by paying attention to the moment because the power of our lives is in the moment. And I’ve been cultivating gratitude, though that particular discipline is not hard to do — tballoon2here is so much in my life to be grateful for in any given moment.

During these blessed weeks, my internal conflict about where to go and what to do has faded because I have made commitments to continue with dance classes at least until the end of the year, to build up my strength, to refrain from worrying. (I worry more than I should about what is to become of me and how I will support myself in my soon-to-be old age.) And so I let the air out of all my conflicts (which is why I haven’t had much to blog about).

I joined an online writing group where the only requirement is to write 250 words a day. It’s a month-long commitment, but every month, I can recommit, which is what I plan to do at least until the end of the year. Even a writer who plods as slowly as I do can manage 250 words in a couple of hours. I usually spend the first hour reading the previous chapter to get in the spirit, to take into consideration past story actions, and to plan the next move. And I still have time to grab 250 words from the vortex of my mind, and sometimes a lot more!

I’ve never been one to write by word counts, so the count in itself is unimportant, but the commitment is. (Oh, who am I kidding. Having written 5,000 words in a week feels great!)

This weekend’s writing retreat will be different than last week’s because I will be performing with my class at a luau on Saturday, but that is still in the realm of creativity.

Dancing, writing, living. Ah, life is good in the moment.

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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.”)

A Different Sort of Adventure

What is the difference between today and last Thursday? I’d really like to know, but I have a hunch it’s a rhetorical question. Last Thursday, I went to Kellogg Beach, and walked for six hours along Pelican Bay without seeing a single creature except for gulls. Today, there were gulls, but also dogs, horses, fisherfolk, old couples, young couples, and a couple of individuals cloud bathing. (At least I’m assuming they were cloud bathing. They were sprawled on towels on the beach, and there wasn’t a single bit of blue or spark of a sun ray in the sky.) I set out on my solitary walk anyway, but people had driven out onto the sand, so were spread out all along the beach.

No one else was walking, so I still managed to find peace and renewal by the bay, but all the activity made me wonder what brought so many people out to play in the clouds. Maybe it was simply a lemming-type day. People woke up, and en masse, decided to head for that particular piece of oceanside land.

Even the worst day at the beach is pretty spectacular, but nothing happened to make it an adventure. Still, I’ve been having an adventure of a different kind. A literary kind. After years of having no inclinination to write, this weekend, I dug out my moribund dance studio mystery and started working on it. Have the first three chapters written. Amazing!

It helps that the friend I’m staying with is not only my first true fan, but a writer herself. (We met online in a writer’s group seven years ago. It took us all this time to finally meet, and it’s as if we’re old friends. Which, of course, we are.) She’s been encouraging, mostly because she wants to read the book, so I’ve been letting her read my work as it progresses. So far, so good.

(I also told her the story of my grieving woman book I began as a NaNoWriMo project five years ago, and her wide eyed-eagerness to read that finished book made me think it’s time to finish that book along with my other started projects.)

I’ve considered trying to find a writer’s colony or a writer’s retreat to help me refocus on what I want from my literary life, and apparently, I got my wish.

I’d planned to go back to the high desert this week, but I’m staying awhile longer. There are still places around here I haven’t yet seen, parts of the beach I haven’t explored, trails I haven’t hiked. And there are words to write.

Adventure, indeed.

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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.”)

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