Tag Archives: Lacey took a Holiday

Cooking the Books

            Where are your books born, my fellow authors?  Where do they “marinate”—if they do—before you actually start writing?  What process do you use to hone your creative ideas before you put them down on paper?

            For me, most ideas pop into my mind in an instant.  Way (and I mean way back) in 1983 when my three children were very young, I was standing in line at the spelunker ride at Six Flags Over Texas and happened to see a sign adorned with an image of a unicorn; the sign said, “Your wait from this point is twenty minutes.”  By the time we got on the ride, one of my first novels had been “written”: the story of a girl whose dreams of a unicorn are so vivid she comes to believe the creature is real.  It took me four or five months after that to get the story on paper.

            Over time, being the sort of guy who spends sixty hours a week working at my day job, I accumulated a lot of story lines I had not put down on paper.  It came to me a couple years ago I should record these storylines (for fear my “between-the-ears” hard drive might get full).  I was stunned when I compiled all the storylines.  There were fully two dozen (since then I’ve acquired several more).  Two of these ideas became Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People.  Another of them, East Light, has been submitted to the good people of Second Wind Publishing and I have high hopes for it.

            Still another of those ideas is a book I’m working on feverishly because I’m hoping the 2W people will accept it and have it available for sale by April 15, 2010—and it has nothing to do with income tax.  The novel I’m writing is called The Boston, and it’s the story of the first native born American citizen to win the Boston Marathon in a couple decades.  There—I’ve spoiled the surprise: my hero, Ron Jerdin, wins the race.  Because the outcome of the story is clear (you know, just like a romance or a murder mystery), the real tension of the story has to do what obstacles Ron encounters on his journey to the Boston starting line, and the relationships that cause him to develop as a person.  It’s also a wonderful challenge to create enough tension in the final description of the race to draw readers in and compel them to read the finish—of the book and the race.

            One of the most fun aspects of this project for me is where I “cooked” the book—that is, what I was doing when the storyline developed between my ears.  I’m a runner . . . well, sort of (I didn’t say I was fast runner; just a runner).  I’ve run 1000 miles a year nearly every year going back to 1996.  And I’ve competed in several hundred races, including three marathons, over same period.  The Boston came into being over the course of many cool mornings as I plodded for mile after mile down North Carolina roads and running trails.

I seriously doubt I’ll ever qualify to actually run the Boston Marathon (I said to a fellow a couple years ago, “All I have to do to qualify for the Boston is take an hour off my best marathon time.”).  Thus my homage to running, racing and the greatest marathon is a book I hope to have on sale before the next running of the race.  And I have to make the fictional Ron Jerdin win it before an actual American runner does.  –Laz Barnhill

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We Have Not Lost Poetry

A few years ago I bought a book called The Devil Never Sleeps authored by Romanian ex-patriot Andrei Codrescu.  I had listened to Codrescu for years on NPR, and I was interested in reading his essays (which, by the way, did not disappoint).  As I read his observations about Romania and Eastern Europe under Soviet control, I was struck by his adoration of and faith in poetry.  It’s no exaggeration to say, from Codrescu’s viewpoint, poetry was the source of hope to those who suffered decades of communist despotism as well as a subversive force undermining the monolithic govern

He made such a compelling argument for the purpose, power and necessity of poetry, I had to stop and ask myself what ever happened to poetry.  I loved poetry as a young person and even continued to write poetry as an adult.  Of course, half of being a poet is relishing the poetry of others—and I couldn’t remember the last time I read a volume of verse.

[So I’m giving in to temptation here; this is a poem I wrote when I was sixteen after moving back to my hometown following an absence of four years; do you have adolescent poems you’re still willing to share?

“All The Animals”

I left something here,
            a childhood memory, a melody,
            a bit of soul chipped from the tenderest part.
I thought it was refound
            but something different,
            something animal,
            was in it’s place.
So it does no go to come home
            to all the animals,
            the souls of my childhood changed
.]

For a while, I had a sad, empty feeling when I thought that I had “lost” poetry.  Moreover, I had the sinking feeling that as a people, our culture had lost poetry as well.  Where was the Edna St. Vincent Millay, Walt Whitman or Robert Frost of this age? 

Then one day I was driving down the road listening to Bruce Springsteen and the “aha moment” burst upon me: I haven’t lost poetry; as a people we have not lost poetry—we just set it to music.  I hereby predict that coming generations will “read” the songs of our greatest songsmiths and judge them more as writers than musicians.  Annie Lennox, Sheryl Crow, John Prine, Jackson Browne, Michael Stipe, Natalie Merchant, as well as hosts of R&B and hip-hop artists will be required reading for our great-grandchildren fifty years hence.

This great realization made me reflect back over the songs I’ve written over the years (yes, acoustic guitar and harmonica; but nothing to brag about).  Some of mine, I’m afraid, will not rise to the level of literature (“Harmless While I’m Sober” comes to mind).  But some others—recent as well as distant—may actually be worth reading in coming ages.  Herewith, a song of unrhymed verses I wrote in the early 70’s while I was a college student.  It is like poetry, sort of.  —Lazarus Barnhill, author of The Medicine People and Lacey Took a Holiday.

“Early in the Sun”

Early in the sun I see those high red clouds
            like contrails of some angels God is sending somewhere.

I think of you for minutes, hoping that you will remember me
            without these chains I have been wearing.

I will not ask you lightly for the things you will feel pressed
            to give from loving, for they are yours.

Ah, but if you understand our loves are shorter than our lives,
            then love me quickly, before they pass.

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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

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Is There a Home for Lacey

 

            Recently I received the proof copy of my first novel, Lacey Took a Holiday, from the good people at Second Wind Publishing.  This is one of the great things about Second Wind (or 2W as the writers have come to call it): the authors are all much more involved in the creative process, including the editing and creating the covers if we want.  I’ve found some little changes I wanted to make and they’re willing to let me.

Now that the book has been accepted and published, I can go ahead and express a concern I had long before Starr Ambrose—one of the eventual winners of the Gather “First Chapters Romance”—voiced it during our competition.  The problem is that Lacey is an atypical romance.  Since anyone who reads it is going to find out anyway, I might as well confess that Lacey Grady, the main character of the novel, is in her own words “a woman of leisure.”  This does not mean the book is full of sex.  And her “romantic interest” in the story—Andy Warren—actually kidnaps her out of the brothel where he meets her.

Well, let me fill in a few more blanks: Andy is actually a WWI veteran (the story takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains of northwestern North Carolina in the mid 1920’s) whose wife and only son both died during childbirth.  Eventually the reader discovers that nearly everyone Andy has loved throughout his life has died tragically.  He’s really a bitter and jaded fellow.  He kidnaps Lacey on impulse because—well, okay, not only is she a prostitute, but an alcoholic.  Andy recognizes that she is drinking herself to death.  In a perverse sort of rescue attempt, he takes her out of “Curly’s” the bordello where she works and spirits her away to his mountaintop.

The problem with the story is this: who ever heard of a romance where the two main characters were so flawed, so downright “sinful.”  On the other hand, the love that develops between them is so sweet.  Not to give away too much, the romance that emerges becomes the one pure, innocent part of their lives.  Of course, there are some dangerous and difficult complications.  I’m not promising that they live happily ever after.

So can Lacey find a home in the midst of the other romance novels of 2W and on the bookshelves of Amazon and other places?  Is it too realistic to be a romance novel?  Does love redeem even people as abused and used as Lacey and Andy?  I suppose only time will tell.  –Laz Barnhill

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