Lazarus Barnhill: In December, I posted an article on this blog called “How to Tell if You’re a Writer.” If you can answer yes to three of the questions in that article, it means you’re a writer.
Pat Bertram: I don’t fit into any set definition of a writer. What does that make me? Is there a definition for one who has written and who will probably write again?
Lazarus: A whole bunch of the characteristics on that list must apply to you! Do you mind if I ask you the questions?
Bertram: No. Ask away.
Lazarus: Do you have the ability to tell what a character in a book, play, movie or TV program is going to say long before it’s actually said; or the ability to tell what’s going to happen to each character before the story is half-over; or the desire to rewrite the ending of the story before it’s over?
Bertram: I usually know early in a book what the ending will be, but that has nothing to do with being a writer and everything to do with being a reader. After having read more than 20,000 books, I seldom find a story or a twist that hasn’t been done before. That’s why when I write, I’m more interested in telling a good story than in trying to be original. As for the rest of your question: no, I never have any desire to rewrite the ending of a book. A book is complete in itself. I accept it as is, even if I hate it.
Lazarus: Does it irritate you that professional critics often don’t understand the most basic elements of the books, movies, plays or stories they are critiquing?
Bertram: No. I don’t read critiques. And even if I did, it wouldn’t bother me if they didn’t understand the basic elements. Sometimes it seems as if the author doesn’t understand the basic elements.
Lazarus: When you sit down to write a story or to describe a character, does he or she take on a totally unexpected life or “say” something you never consciously intended?
Bertram: No. My characters never do anything I didn’t intend. They are my creations and are totally dependent on me for their very being. Sometimes the preponderance of information I have about them gives me only one way to make them act, but it’s never more than that.
Lazarus: Have you ever had difficulty “killing off” a character in your story because she or he was so intriguing and full of possibility for you, his or her creator?
Bertram: No. For me, story is sovereign. Everything must serve the story, and if the death of a favorite character will serve the story, then that’s the way it has to be.
Lazarus: Have you ever been unable to sleep because a character or story was creating itself in your mind; or awakened from sleep because a character or story needed your consciousness to develop itself; or stayed awake and focused for hours while you were driving, walking, run or pretending to work as a story wrote itself in your mind?
Bertram: No. When I lose sleep, it’s because of real life concerns, not bookish ones, though I have to admit, I have lost sleep trying to figure out how to promote my books.
Lazarus: Did you ever write or create a story and afterwards discover that it fit a genre you had never written in before; or created a character who was totally unlike anyone you had ever known, and yet was totally believable?
Bertram: I’m not sure that this question fits with what I write. Though they are being sold as mystery/crime, my books are basically genreless in that they encompass many genres — suspense, mystery, romance, thriller, bits of science fiction. And while my characters may not be like anyone I know in real life, they encompass bits of characters I have read in books or seen in movies. Is it possible to write a character totally from scratch? I don’t think so — everything we do and have ever done is part of us, and comes out in the work in some way or another. As for believable characters — that’s for readers to say, not me. (Even as a reader, I don’t really relate to characters. I relate more to stories.)
Lazarus: Do you consider the finished stories you have written to be creations you value somewhere between children and friends; yet do you yearn with each new story to “get it right this time?”
Bertram: I work on each book until I get it right; so no, I have no such yearnings. Each book is what I want it to be. As for my finished books being somewhere between children and friends — not really. More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire have been released, which means that they no longer belong to me, and I no longer feel a connection to them. Like all books, they now exist complete unto themselves.
Lazarus: Do you have mental list or a computer file or a spiral notebook with the ideas for or outlines of stories that you have not written but intend to one day?
Bertram: I do have a file, but it’s mostly ideas a friend suggested, and I don’t intend to write the books. Ideas come slowly to me. It’s a good thing, because I also write slowly. I can’t imagine writing a hundred books like some authors do.
Lazarus: Have you ever had the experienced of a family member, acquaintance or friend being totally amazed at the world you created in a story you wrote and then regarding you differently; and then did you feel as if you had “exposed” yourself?
Bertram: Since no family member has yet read one of my books, no. As for feeling exposed, I don’t know how I’ll feel. Actually, I do know – it won’t matter. As I said, I no longer see the books as having anything to do with me.
Lazarus: You didn’t answer “yes” to at least three of these questions; so according to this survey, you’re not a writer. But I know you are. There is another test. It’s been said that a writer writes; always. Do you?
Bertram: No, not at all. For me, writing is a choice, not something I am compelled to do. Right now, I am more interested in promoting my books, so that must mean I’m a promoter, not a writer.
Lazarus: Yet you now have two books published.
Bertram: There is that.
Lazarus: Next time, I’m going to ask you some tougher questions! You handled these a bit too adroitly.
Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People
Pat Bertram is the author of More Deaths Than One and A Spark of Heavenly Fire
All four books are available from Second Wind Publishing, LLC