Lazarus Barnhill Interviews Pat Bertram

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

8 Comments

Filed under books, Pat Bertram, writing

8 responses to “Lazarus Barnhill Interviews Pat Bertram

  1. HI Pat. I really enjoyed the interview. I find myself relating to many of your answers. Being a mystery/thriller writer, I am axious to read your books.
    Nice job with the interview.
    Sharon

  2. Sherrie Hansen

    Great questions, Lazarus. Intriguing answers, Pat. A friend once said he never wanted to be accused of being “normal”. As a person who marches to a different drummer, I appreciate it when others have their own unique slant on things, too. And it seems you do! Kudos. Your books sound wonderful, and I think you’re doing a great job of promoting them.

    Sherrie Hansen
    Author of “Night and Day”
    Available at http://www.SecondWindPublishing.com

  3. Hi, Sharon and Sherrie. Thank you for stopping by to read the interview. There are so many definitions of writers floating around — for some reason, writers more than any other group, seem to have a need to define themselves — that I’ve decided to make it my mission to dispel the myths. In some way, we are all writers — even if we just to leave comments on blogs or articles. And we all have different methods. So what makes a writer? Who knows. I’m more interested in being a storyteller.

  4. I’m not a “pantser” either, Pat. It was an interesting interview, though it seems to me you answered the same question three times in various forms. LOL. I find it intriguing that the defining and labeling seems imperative in fine art circles, too. Perhaps it’s part of the creative process – it is rather left-brained though, isn’t it? A puzzlement.

    Hopped straight over from Facebook, so that part of the marketing seems to work.

    Dani
    http://twitter.com/blogbooktours

  5. Katherine

    Wow Pat..you rock. I am so impressed by your mindset. Especially the answer you gave: 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.

    That answer in itself tells a great deal about you as an author and person. Kind of like…if you love something set it free. You put so much into your work, that I find it refreshing that you can let them go out in the world and just be what they are.

  6. Nice Interview, Pat.

    I’m a pantzer and while I know the ending and the storyline, my characters do grow and develop as I write and I like the direction they sometimes take–many times, more realistic reactions to something than I originally envisioned.

    Genre line are much more blurred today than they were in the past, in my opinion, or we are becoming more aware of the fudging of the strict lines, perhaps. I looked back at some books I really enjoyed 15 years ago and found that many of them had elements of other genres in them. Perhaps that is what gave them more depth? Certainly more interesting. Funny thing, life doesn’t stay within strict genre lines either, and our stories are taken from life, in some form or another, lol!

    You’re right, the thing is, our characters and premise are taken from bits and pieces of things we’ve observed, or live, so we should make our story the best we can make it. Bring a fresh perspective to an idea. Make the story solid involving.

    I think your A Spark of Heavenly Fire does just that.

    Best of luck with both your books, Pat.

  7. Pat,

    Of all the other writers I talk to, your approach to writing most matches mine. I find myself nodding often when I read your posts.

    I also choose to write–dont feel I HAVE to, and can go a long time without doing so. If I had to guess, I can imagine I’ll write no more than five novels, total, in my lifetime. Since perfecting them to my standards takes a good while, to me, five’s plenty.

    I concentrate most on story when I write, too, believing if it’s an entertaining story the characters will shine through as well. I’m also a plotter, rather than a pantster, and used the plotting approach to complete the two novels I’ve finished. With this third one I’m working on now I went the pantster route, and to be honest, I’ve not enjoyed working on it. At all. It’s chore-like. The scenes in my plotter-approach novels played in my head like a movie, and it was a simple matter of converting what played in my head onto the page. I was able to layer plot elements and chose each word I used for a reason. The pantster approach doesn’t lend itself to that, and I mistakenly believed once I started the novel, the movie would start playing in my head anyway. It never has. So I’ve lived and learned. Wait until the scenes play out in my head before I start chapter one. I can’t force the story.

    In another blog, you talked about your great belief in A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and how you firmly believed it deserved a place on a bookstore shelf. That also resonated with me, as it’s how I feel about one of my novels. So, once again, I congratulate you on getting A Spark of Heavenly Fire (and More Deaths Than One, for that matter) onto bookstore shelves. I haven’t purchased either, yet, but will soon. After all, if our approach to novel writing is the same, it stands to reason I’ll enjoy reading your novels, too.

  8. Pat, dispel away. I liked the way you answered the questions, but didn’t feel compelled to fit some popular notions of what a writer would say. I thought your remark about your two novels no longer being yours was quite profound, recalling Sting’s “If you love them, set them free.” But clearly you do want people to read them and your promotion efforts will serve that end.

    Laz, this was a good set of questions. Way to hang in there and roll ahead even as Pat offered her non-conventional answers.

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