DeBacle (499 Word Contest Entry)

A couple of days ago I wrote Requiem For a Writing Contest to honor the passing of a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest that used to be sponsored by a writing group I belonged to. Yesterday I posted a previous entry to the contest, and today I’m posting a third entry. This story snippet won a first place prize, and rightly so. The acrostic is made up of all the names of the members of the Writin’ Wombats, the group that sponsored the contest. I had fun doing the acrostic, but it took hours to come up with a message that made at least a little sense.  (FYI — FCR is an acronym for First Chapters Romance, a major writing contest with a book contract as a prize put on by Most of the people in the Wombat writing group met because of that contest, but I didn’t meet them until months later when I entered another first chapters contest on Gather — The Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. I came in about 6th or 7th, but in a round about way, because of that contest, I ended up with a book contract anyway.)


Robert studied the words on the scorched document.

“Since you say it’s a victory, it’s vital I am not judged unless death intervenes. Just accept my elementary suggestions. Keep everything nice. More importantly, keep everything ready, and never destroy data. Always leave enough people around to create art. Think how you’ll persevere and ultimately live. Be eclectic and know everything. Reason won’t end now. Don’t you jape our heroes nor jail a man inappropriately. Each day and night accept joy in loving liberty.”

Four men, three Alsatians and one stray cat gave their lives to protect this message, and one woman severely burned her hand to save it from a fiery end, yet it seemed to be gibberish — the words, even the sentences made sense, but taken as a whole, they meant nothing.

The legend surrounding this fabled bit of parchment held that it contained the names of some very special people — writers who might make a difference, might even change the world. Why not? Other people had penned words that touched the hearts of millions. Of course, there was that one man whose very initials drew scorn and caused contests to be run in his dishonor, contests known only by the hated initials DB.

But this paper had nothing to do with that DeBacle. It was ancient, extending all the way back to the beginning, back to an era known by the cryptic initials FCR.

Robert sucked in a breath. Cryptic. That meant code, didn’t it? Perhaps the message was encoded. A simple substitution code perhaps. No one but he was intelligent enough to create a code more complex than that. He opened a desk drawer and pulled out a magnifying glass, intending to take a closer look at the matter, but a sound deflected his attention.

Drip. Drip.

Immediately an image formed in his mind of an albino with a severed hand, blood dripping from the stump. Wait. The albino had been in a previous book. And his hand hadn’t been severed; he’d been killed. Sheesh. How was he supposed to keep track of such details? He had more important things to do like . . . like . . . oh, yes, decode this message.

Clump. Clump.

A new sound accompanied the drip. Goosebumps covered his skin as the clumps drew closer. All the more reason to figure out the code quickly. It wouldn’t offer him immunity from a murderer, but it would give him a bargaining chip.

Drip. Drip. Clump. Clump.

No time to decipher the message now. Where could he hide it? He considered eating it — eeyuw — but once the words were digested, the meaning might still elude him.

Too late. The door burst open.

Sophie rushed inside, hair dripping, high heels caked in mud. “It’s raining out there. A day fit only for Wombats. Any luck figuring out the message?”

Heart hammering like an anvil, he managed a single word. “No.”

“Could it be an acrostic?”

“A what?”

“An acrostic. You know — you take the first letters of each word in order and see if they spell anything.”

“I knew that,” Robert said crossly. “Of course I knew that. I am a world-renowned cryptographer.”

He wrote out the first letter of each word, added appropriate spaces, and stared in amazement at the list of names that began with Sy and ended with Jill. Here was the solution! But which would be the next great wordsmith? And which, if any, would be the next DeBacle?


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

The Lost Secret (499 Word Contest Entry)

Yesterday I wrote Requiem For a Writing Contest to honor the passing of a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest that used to be sponsored by a writing group I belonged to. Today I’d like to post a previous entry to the contest. Although the entry was supposed to be a spoof of The Lost Symbol, it now seems as if it would be an interesting story in its own right. I’d have to rewrite it, of course, to lose the similarities between the beginning of this story and the beginning of DB’s, but it might be fun. Someday.


The secret is how to live.

Since the beginning of time, the secret had always been how to die, or rather, how to make others die — and he’d learned that secret well. Now he needed to learn an even greater secret — how to live . . . forever.

The thirty-four-thousand-year-old Voltari gazed down at the crucible cradled in his palms. It was filled with blood, the blood of all the innocents who had died that he might live.

Drink it, he told himself. You have nothing to fear. Yet he knew the truth — he had everything to fear. Without death, there is no reason to live. Without death, time yawned immeasurably. Without death . . . 

Oh, hell, just drink it.

As was tradition, he’d adorned himself in the latest ritualistic garb — well-tailored white shirt that covered his pale chest and expensive dark suit that made his thin shoulders seem broad. Around his neck hung a noose — a “power-tie” as the brethren called it.

The assembly of brothers encircling him all were adorned in the same funereal regalia. Only the color of their ties varied, from a new-bruise maroon to bright artery-gushing scarlet. Many of these men had powerful stations in life, the rest had powerful stations in death, yet the Voltari knew their ranks meant nothing within these walls. Here all were equals sharing an unearthly bond.

As he surveyed the daunting assembly, the Voltari wondered who in the outside world would ever believe this collection of beings would assemble in one place, much less this place. The room looked like a vault from a great and private banking institution in Switzerland.

The truth, however, was stranger still.

I really am in a Swiss bank vault, with gold stacked everywhere.

The Voltari’s forebears had come to Earth four hundred thousand years ago in search of the gold they needed to granulate like fine sugar and suspend above their world to keep the atmosphere from escaping into space. When the transplanted Voltari workers rebelled at the arduous and unending task of mining, refining, and storing the gold, their leaders had created a race of slave workers, which they facetiously named homo sapiens sapiens, to do the work for them.

And the humans, all unwittingly, had done their job. Most of Earth’s gold now resided in this vault and dozens like it all around the city. In days, weeks at the most, his fellow Voltaris would be arriving for the gold, and he had to make a decision. Now.

He could choose to stay on Earth and rule his financial kingdom forever, or he could choose to return to Votari and be . . . no one.

There was a third choice — not to choose, in which case he would join the ranks of the dead in the netherworld.

The secret is how to live, he reminded himself.

“It is time,” a voice thundered.


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

Requiem For a Writing Contest

I entered a 499-word Dan Brown tribute contest — at least, that’s the name of it. It’s not so much a tribute but a contest to see who can present the best spoof of DB. As the Almighty Contest Administrator (ACA) wrote:

What can be said about Dan Brown? He’s one of the most successful commercial authors — not just of our generation — but of all time. He has an English degree and writes very solid sentences. For his short chapters, he is very diligent about making sure there is a hook at the end of every one of them. This makes the pace of his novels very brisk—they are a quick read. For this, he has become an extremely wealthy man. Good for him, he deserves all the comfort and luxury money can buy.

But logic in his scenarios and raw intelligence in his plot twists? Well, I suppose we’re asking too much.

I tied for first place in the DB contest, which wasn’t hard to do since there were only two entries. Two years ago, when I also won, there were thirty or more stories entered, but “everything has its time, which passes all too soon” (as the ACA’s said). The contest was for a writing group called the “Writin’ Wombats,” and so many of the members have moved on to greater glory, either becoming successful authors or publishers, or finding triumph in other businesses, that they no longer have time for such silliness.

Still, I enjoyed the writing exercise, and I’ll be sad to see the end of this contest.

The following story snippet is my entry. (The cover for the story was created by Rand Phares, and is not now or ever will be the cover of a published Pat Bertram book. And, despite what the cover says, I haven’t yet reached New York Times bestselling author status.)


It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents on Robert Langdon— except at occasional intervals when he managed to take a shortcut through an art gallery or coffee shop — and violent gusts of wind swept him onward as he struggled to flee the mermaids, rock stars, steam punks, and academics who were chasing him through the scanty streets (for it is in Mt. Vernon that our scene lies), fiercely agitating Robert who had had enough and wished his creator would kill him and put everyone out of their misery.

“Dammit,” ACA screamed. “This is not the Bulwer-Litton Contest. This is the DB Tribute Contest!” He shredded the entry and tossed the bits off his deck. Then, realizing what he had done, he looked around and sighed in relief. No one had seen this contribution to global contamination, so it didn’t count. And anyway, the entry had been written on toilet paper and would soon degrade.

The sound of pounding brought him to his feet. He hurried into the house, yanked open the front door and snarled, “What?”

A thin, bespectacled man stood there, hopping from foot to foot as if he had a full bladder. “Hurry.” The urgency in the man’s voice mirrored his behavior. “We have to leave. Now. I’m Robert Langdon.”

ACA snorted. “You can’t be. You’re so short.”

“Print adds several inches,” Robert said. “Listen. DB says you’re in serious trouble.”

“For what? Running a contest?”

“No, no. Your life is in danger.” Robert held out a hand. A few shreds of suspiciously familiar paper lay on his palm. “This message came to me, like manna from heaven.”

“And you think the message came from DB,” ACA said flatly.

“Yes. DB, the Divine Benefactor—my creator. And yours.” Although the last two words were spoken reverently, the dubious look in Robert’s eye clearly said he could not imagine DB ever being able to create such a colorful character as ACA. “Read this.” He laid the bits of paper end to end to reveal the message: aca-m-ust-flee-or-they-will-kill-him.

ACA rolled his eyes. “Those are isolated bits of a paper I just tore up. The edges of the pieces don’t even match.”

“Who cares about a few minor details? DB sure doesn’t. And you are in danger. There’s a gang of Wyverns waiting for you outside.” Apparently noticing ACA’s look of incomprehension, Robert added, “Wallabies?”

“You mean Wombats?”

“Ah, yes. Wombats. Sorry. I’m a bit dim, but I am what DB made me.”

ACA peeked outside. The Wombats were camped on his front lawn, armed with pens, netbooks, tablets—writing furiously.

“They’re planning a terrible writing accident for you. Come. We must go.”

ACA slipped out the door and followed Robert around the side of the house. He smiled to himself. He’d get even with his erstwhile friends. After this contest, he’d do another. And another. And another.

“There he is,” he heard Kat call out. “Write faster before he gets away.”


Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy 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+

Gather ‘Round and You Shall Hear . . . The Story of My Online Life

In October 2007, I entered a contest on — Court TV Search for the Next Great Crime Writer contest. The winner of the contest would win a $5,000 advance and a publishing contract. My entry, More Deaths Than One, was not a detective story, and it certainly is not a cozy mystery, but it is the story of a crime: identity theft. This theft is an actual theft of a man’s identity, not a paper one. So it did fit with the contest, though from reading the first chapter (all that was posted online for the contest), many people assumed it was a supernatural tale — as the blurb says, When Bob Stark returns home after spending eighteen years in Southeast Asia, he discovers that his mother Lydia Loretta Stark is dead again. When he attends her second funeral, he sees his brother, his college girlfriend, and . . . himself.

I did very well in that contest, too. As of November 17, 2007, I was ranked number one, but I finished up about sixth or seventh. (I could tell you it was because my mother died and I had to go to California for her funeral and I broke my ankle while there and was off the internet for a week so I couldn’t solicit votes, but the truth is . . . come to think of it, I don’t know what the truth is.)

The contest started out being great fun but devolved into all sorts of infighting, faked votes, and terrible reviews that were posted for no other reason than meanness. Still, it turned out to be a pivotal point in my online life and my writing career.

I became friends with many of the contestants, and casual acquaintances with others. (As Jeffrey Siger, one of the contestants said, it’s “sort of like the camaraderie born of battle or surviving a natural disaster: never to be taken as an endorsement of the event that engendered such strong ties among the the participants.”)

I met the group The Writin’ Wombats on Gather because of the contest, and ended up hanging around with them for all these years. Because of the contest, I eventually found a publisher. The link to the publisher’s website was posted on a Wombat thread, and since I was in querying mode, I immediately shot off a query letter. He loved my book A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and sent me a contract. Turns out, I already knew him through the contest, and he asked if More Deaths Than One was still available. It was. Second Wind Publishing has now published five of my books — four novels and one non-fiction book, Grief: The Great Yearning.

Until the crime writer contest, my online presence had been confined to my blog (I’d only had a computer and the internet a few months) but after the contest I posted articles on Gather, and I also migrated to other sites, such as Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter. I mostly hang around Facebook now because of my discussion groups there, but I always return to Gather, especially on Thursday evening when I do a live chat with my No Whine, Just Champagne discussion group. I started out knowing only a few people online, now I know hundreds.

And all because of a contest.

So, what was the pivotal point of your online life?

Becoming Pat Bertram

I finally understand why books about writing suggest writing the first draft of a novel as quickly as possible, to forget the mechanics and just get the story on paper or in the computer. I’ve never been able to do that — the words come hard to me (or perhaps I enjoy the search for the right word too much). Either way, it takes me a long time to write a book. I also write longhand, which limits the number of words I can write at a sitting. Still, my work-in-progress has been taking longer than normal. In fact, I’ve been playing around with it on and off (mostly off) for more than two years.

I just finished typing up what I have written so far — 39,000 words. Very good words, actually. The book started out as a humorous apocalyptic fantasy, metamorphosed into horror, then turned into allegory (which is sort of ridiculous, because who reads allegory nowadays?) but it seems to have gradually swung full circle and become humorous again. I found myself laughing aloud at times, which is something I seldom do when reading, and never before at anything I wrote.

I’m anxious to get back to writing — the story deserves to be told. (And I hate the thought of wasting those hard won words.) The problem is, I am not the same person today as I was when I conceived the story. I’m not even the same as I was in January when I last worked on the book. The past two years have been filled with changes — learning how to use a computer, learning the Internet, finding a publisher, learning how to promote (or rather trying to learn), to say nothing of the wonderful people I have met and the friends I have made. It’s been a life changing experience, this becoming Pat Bertram, author.

So the question is, do I continue writing the book as I conceived it, do I try to wing it, do I do what I’ve been doing all along — writing when and what I feel like? A more important question that haunts me is that my first four books had a particular theme — how public lies and hidden truths affect our lives — and I have said what I wanted to say about that. So where do I go from here?

I don’t write short stories, but Second Wind is going to be putting out an anthology in September, and my publisher is tying to talk me into submitting a story. (You can submit one too. Second Wind is sponsoring a contest, and the winner will be published. You can find the details here: Mystery Contest.) So that will allow me to put off working on my manuscript for a while (which I’m sure is not what he had in mind), but eventually I will have to decide what I want to write. What I want to say.

In the end, it will depend on who Pat Bertram becomes. And of that, I haven’t a clue.

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