The Art of Miscommunication

It’s amazing to me that we ever manage to communicate with one another at all.

A couple of days ago, I talked to my artist sister about the purpose of art and writing and what it means in this winner-take-all world. I mentioned that if you’re not one of the people who by chance happen to be discovered and so have a large audience and hence enough money or validation to continue working on your art, it seems that you have to do it for yourself. My sister said, “You think I do art for myself?” The conversation continued without my following through on her remark, but it stuck with me, so the next day I texted her:

If you don’t d531da618f5363c22_mo art for yourself, who/what do you do it for?

She responded: Absolutely. It’s just that we get confused and try to fit art into rigid and societal structures. Art needs to be free. Otherwise it’s not art, not alive.

Me: So you do it for the art?

She: Because it needs to be done and some are called to do it. It’s not my art or yours. Just art. Creative energy manifest. We need art and artists. It’s actually what makes us divine.

Me: Your first response was beautiful, but it didn’t answer my question. What question were you answering?

By then we were both confused, so we talked on the phone. She said she answered my question. I looked at my first text again and again until it finally hit me. What I thought was a direct and simple question had struck her as a statement or a rhetorical question meaning that if we don’t do art for ourselves, there’s no one else to do it for.

Even more than the strange miscommunication, what interested me about the exchange is that I have recently come to the same conclusion. Writing is art, divine, eternal, a way of participation in creation. Selling books is commerce, mundane, a thing of the world.

We need artists, whether painters, sculptors, dancers, or writers even if no one but the artist sees the work. It adds to the total creative energy and happiness of the world, makes us better persons and, as my sister pointed out when we talked on the phone, if you are doing art, you are not out committing crimes or being inhuman to other humans.

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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.

Giving Readers What They Want

Writers are often told not to write what they want, but to write what readers want, but some of us couldn’t do that even if we wanted to. We haven’t a clue what readers want or how to give it to them.

I always thought readers were like me — they liked well-written stand-alone novels that didn’t so much pull them into the story as that they pulled the story into them and somehow made them greater than they were. The books didn’t have to be literary. In fact, I have never been a fan of literary novels, but books did need enough intelligence and depth and character to find a place in my inner self. So those are the novels I wrote — seemingly simple stories that take on a complexity when readers bring themselves to the book.

People do seem to masseslike my books (unless they are romance readers who accidentally stumble into the wrong story), but I’ve never reached “the masses” and I never will for the simple reason that I don’t know what “the masses” want. (Normally I don’t use terms such as “the masses” because who among us ever sees him or herself as one of the masses? But still, when you are talking about 80 to 100 million readers, as some notorious writers have gained, those are massive numbers.)

Going by the books that reach vast numbers of people, what readers want is bondage with some S&M, and lots of raw sex, all pulled together with childish writing. Or they want simplistic stories with a lack of logic, poorly constructed sentences, faceless characters and lots of action with some cultural references thrown in to make them think they are in the know.

Okay, I admit, I’m being a bit simplistic myself and maybe even peevish. Sometimes good books with good writing do appeal to millions upon millions of people, but I don’t know why those books appeal to masses of readers anymore than why gray sex and brown symbols do. (I’m trying to be clever here, and probably failing miserably.)

It would be nice (maybe) to sell millions of books, but I can’t give readers what they want if I haven’t a clue. And I can’t get a clue. It’s like cilantro.

I never could understand why people liked cilantro. To me, it tastes like soap. Cilantro contains chemical compounds called aldehydes, which are also present in soaps and other cleaning agents, and apparently I don’t have the enzyme that breaks down the soap-like compounds of the herb into a tasty seasoning, so I get the full soap taste. Yuck.

And maybe I’m lacking the book “enzyme” that could help me understand what readers want. Heck, I don’t even know what I want anymore!

That said, I do write with readers in mind. Good writing, lack of typos, well-constructed sentences, interesting characters in vivid settings, hooks, conflicts, all keep my stories flowing smoothly and easy to read. I try to remove any hiccup that would pull the reader out of the story, or to pull the story out of the reader. And who knows. Maybe someday massive numbers of readers will discover that after all, I did give them what they want.

It could happen.

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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

How do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

RRBookThree SecretsI haven’t been juggling the promotional aspects with the actual writing. I’ve been concentrating mainly on promotion. I have a one-track mind, and for now I am focused on figuring out how to get my books to really take off. I don’t see why millions of people can’t enjoy my books (though so far, they don’t seem to agree). What writing I do falls under the category of promotion, such as blogging and keeping up with my chapters in Rubicon Ranch, the mystery serialization that several of us Second Wind authors are collaborating to write online. You can find the ongoing story here: Rubicon Ranch.

Here are some responses from other authors about how they juggle promotion and writing. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with P.I. Barrington, Author of Isadora DayStar

Promoting and writing? That’s the REAL trick of publishing today. Writing takes time, but for me at least, promotion is constant and at times overwhelming!

From an interview with Beth Groundwater, Author of “A Real Basket Case”

Promotion is something that is ongoing, and which ramps up around the time of each release (every spring and fall for the next two years, at least). I try to focus on the writing and editing I need to get done each week first, then work on promotion later in the day or later in the week after I’ve finished the writing I need to do to meet my deadlines. I have to be very organized and give myself weekly goals to stay on track..

From an interview with Dale Cozort, Author of “Exchange

I tend to do marketing in blocks of time rather than trying to do it at the same time as writing. I have writing days, editing days and marketing days. That fits my somewhat obsessive personality. I’m not sure if it’s the most effective way to get things done.

From an interview with Christine Lindsay, Author of Shadowed in Silk

The marketing and promotional aspects are awful. I love talking to people and making friends, but it’s not easy to always be talking about myself. The phrase “I must decrease in order for Him (the Lord) to increase”  is running through my head quite a bit these days as I try to do my part in the marketing of my novel. It’s not just me that it affects, so I must do my part. But I hope I never sound pushy, but that I encourage someone in everything I say or write.

What about you? How do you juggle the promotional aspects with the actual writing?

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

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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.

What advice you would give to an aspiring author?

My advice to aspiring authors varies depending on how cynical I am about the book business on a given day.

When I’m philosophical, I tell aspiring writers:

A book begins with a single word. Many novice writers get intimidated by the thought of writing an entire book, but all you ever need to write is one word. I know that’s not much of a goal, but in the end, it is the only goal. That’s how every book all through the ages got written — one word at a time. By stringing single words together, you get sentences, then paragraphs, pages, chapters, an entire book.

When I want to be encouraging, I tell aspiring writers:

Write your book. Rewrite it. Edit it Re edit it. Study the publishing business. Learn everything you can about good prose, story elements, promotion. With so many millions of people out there who have written a book or who want to write a book, the competition is fierce. A writer does not attain maturity as a writer until he or she has written 1,000,000 words. (I’m only halfway there.) So write. Your next book might be the one that captures people’s imaginations and catapults you into fame and fortune. Not writing another book guarantees you will never will reach that goal. It also keeps you from doing what you were meant to do.

When I’m cynical, I tell aspiring writers:

If you aspire to be a writer, write. That’s all it takes.

If you aspire to be a good writer, write — and read. Read how-to books about writing and read good books to absorb good writing.

If you aspire to be a bestselling writer, write, read — and gather luck. Less than 1% of 1% of writers ever attain that status.

Here are some responses from other authors about advice they give to aspiring writers. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Polly Iyer, Author of “Hooked”:

You’ve heard it before. Keep at it. Period.

From an interview with Sandy Nathan, Author of Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

You’ll make more money as a brain surgeon.

From an interview with S. M. Senden, author of “Clara’s Wish”

Write from a place of knowing. Bring your experiences to what you write; be willing to invest a piece of yourself in your writing so it will be real to the reader.

From an interview with Tom Rizzo, Author of “Last Stand At Bitter Creek”

Read—not only for enjoyment. Treat your reading as a study lab, taking note of how the writer lures you into the story, how characters are introduced, and what makes you like or despise them. Reading soaks the brain with ideas and possibilities. And write, of course. Don’t wait for inspiration. Just write.

What about you? What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

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

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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.

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.)

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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.

What writer influenced you the most?

I’ve spent my life reading, so from a young age, “story” seeped into my conscious mind and steeped there until I began writing. In that way, all of the writers whose books I have ever read have influenced me, but if I had to pick a single author, it would be Taylor Caldwell. Caldwell told wonderful stories that showed history in the context of fiction, and I’ve tried to do the same. She also used a hundred words when a single sentence would have sufficed, and I’ve tried to do the opposite. And she overused words. In one novel, she used the word “inexorable” about a hundred times, and a couple of times I used the word in my own writings as an homage to her and a reminder to myself not to repeat unusual words. Such echoes resound in readers minds, as “inexorable” did in mine, and detract from the overall impression of the book.

Here are some responses from other authors about the writers who influenced them the most. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Rami Ungar, Author of “The Quiet Game: Five Tales To Chill Your Bones”

I’d have to say Anne Rice, Stephen King, and James Patterson. I discovered the first two when I was in junior high and high school, and they blew my mind. I knew after reading them, horror was what I wanted to focus on. I discovered James Patterson shortly before graduating high school, and I think he was the one who taught me how to write thrillers. To this day, I think of Alex Cross and James Patterson when I think about how I was able to write my thriller novel “Snake”.

From an interview with Juliet Waldron, Author of “Roan Rose”

At the moment, I’d say Cecelia Holland.

From an interview with Sherrie Hansen, Author of “Love Notes”

Maud Hart Lovelace, author of the Betsy Tacy books, set in fictional Deep Valley, Minnesota, my home state, greatly impacted my life as a young person. (Think Little House on the Prairie but set during the Victorian era.) Maud’s main character, Betsy Ray, longed to be a writer, and set the stage – really formed the expectation in my mind – that I would write a novel one day. The Betsy Tacy books are wonderful (and back in print thanks to Harper Collins). One of the guest rooms at my B&B is named “Heaven to Betsy” in honor of the tomes.

From an interview with Noah Baird, Author of Donations to Clarity

I picked up Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins when I was about 21. It was the book which really spoke to me. I’d always enjoyed reading, but it was the first book I felt like it was written to me. I loved Steinbeck, Twain, etc, but they were from another generation. Woodpecker was the literary equivalent of hearing Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit or Don McLean’s American Pie for the first time. I felt like someone else out there saw the world like I did. Christopher Moore, Tim Dorsey, and Carl Hiaasen are larger influences on me now, but Tom Robbins was the first to knock me down the rabbit hole.

What about you? What writer influenced you the most?

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

Are you writing to reach a particular kind of reader?

I am the reader I was writing for. There were stories I wanted to read and couldn’t find, so I wrote them. The dichotomy of this is that I always wanted to reach a large readership and make a living by writing, so it would have been more practical to write books that a large number of people would like. To be honest, though, I don’t like what the majority of readers like, so it would be impossible for me to write such a book. At least, if I write for myself, I know that one person will like the book. But I’m lucky — I’ve found others who like my books.

Here are some responses from other authors about the particular kind of reader they are trying to reach. The comments are taken from interviews posted at Pat Bertram Introduces . . .

From an interview with Alan Place, Author of “Pat Canella: The Dockland Murders”

I am not writing to any particular readers as my works cross genres. I think if you write to a type of reader you raise the chance of missing your target. Take Pat Canella, is she for the Mike Hammer fans, is she a ghost story or is she ladies who want a strong female lead?. OR is she all to everybody?

From an interview with Chuck Barrett, Author of “The Toymaker”

Absolutely. I like to write what I like to read—thrillers, with a touch of mystery thrown in just to keep the reader off balance…but enthralled. I like when a writer throws me a curve ball, so in like fashion, I throw a few myself.

From an interview with J. Conrad Guest, Author of One Hot January

The reader I wish to reach seeks something a little different—something that combines or mixes genres. A reader who enjoys the turn of a phrase, who believes how a story is told is as important as the story itself. I hope my readers remember the stories I tell long after they’ve closed the cover for the last time.

From an interview with Sandy Nathan, Author of Tecolote: The Little Horse That Could

Yes. I write for readers who are interested in making a difference and growing personally and spiritually. My readers also want a well written, fast paced, and extraordinary read that takes them to places they never imagined.

What about you? Are you writing to reach a particular kind of 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.)