Interview With Pat Bertram

ASHFborderTell us a little about A Spark of Heavenly Fire.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire tells the story of insomniac Kate Cummings who gathers her courage and strength to find new a new life and a new love when all around her people are dying of a bioengineered disease.

What inspired you to write A Spark of Heavenly Fire?

In A Spark of Heavenly Fire, I talk (or rather my characters do) about biological weapons, biowarfare, and bioengineered organisms because I thought the reality was more frightening than fiction. For example, The World Health Organization spent years and a heap of money to eradicate smallpox, yet smallpox in ever more virulent forms is stockpiled in labs all around the world. Spooks the heck out of me! I thought it was an important topic, but mainly I wanted to tell the story of ordinary people who become extraordinary in a time of great upheaval.

There is a tremendous comparison between the two women in A Spark of Heavenly Fire. Was this intentional?

Yes, they are both female archetypes, Kate is the mother/nurturer and Pippi is the woman searching for love, and together they drive the story. I wrote the book to prove a quote by Washington Irving: There is in every true woman’s heart a spark of heavenly fire, which lies dormant in the broad daylight of prosperity, but which kindles up, and beams and blazes in the dark hour of adversity. It’s their strength that carries the day in the face of the plague, the atrocities, and the recovery.

What challenges did you face as you wrote this book?

My biggest challenge was finding the beginning of the story. I liked the story, and I kept telling myself that if people could just get through the first fifty pages they would like the story, too. Then one day it dawned on me that the solution of getting readers beyond the less than sparkling beginning was to get rid of the first fifty pages. So I junked those early chapters, wrote a new beginning, and then the real challenge began — finding a publisher. After two hundred rejections, I finally found a publisher who loves the book.

Have you written any other books besides A Spark of Heavenly Fire?

Yes. More Deaths Than One was published by Second Wind Publishing at the same time as A Spark of Heavenly Fire. It’s the story of Bob Stark who sees his mother’s obituary in the morning paper, which stuns him because he buried her two decades ago before he the country to live in Southeast Asia. So he sets out to discover how she be dead again.

Daughter Am I, which was published a few months later than A Spark of Heavenly Fire, was conceived as a way to combine two of my interests at that time — early gangster history and the mythic journey. (You might not recognize the similarity between Daughter Am I and Star Wars or The Wizard of Oz, but all three are based on the same mythic journey template.)

More recently published are Light Bringer, a novel that pieces together ancient myth and modern conspiracy theories to create a chilling look at the world, and Grief: The Great Yearning, a compilation of blog posts and journal entries I wrote after the death of my long-time life mate/soul mate.

Does writing come easy for you?

No. When I sit down to write, my mind goes blank. Other people can write a book a month. They can let the words flow. I have to dredge each word out of my mind. Yet, when my books are finished, there is an inevitability about them as if they were inspired, not perspired (at least it seems that way to me). But I don’t believe that they are “destined.” It’s all the little choices I make along the way that creates the inevitability. When you start writing, you have the entire world to choose from, but as you make choices — genre, setting, characters, plot, etc, etc, it narrows the story world and keeps narrowing it until it seems inevitable. Yet it all comes from the thousands of choices that we made.

What are you writing now?

I have what I facetiously call a work-in-pause since I’m not actually working on it at present – I’ve been doing other things, such as blogging and trying to promote my books. My poor WIP is a whimsically ironic apocalyptic fantasy, which is totally different from anything else I have ever written.

Did you ever write or create a story and afterwards discover that it fit a genre you had never written in before?

I’m not sure that this question fits with what I write. All my novels are basically genreless in that they encompass many genres — suspense, mystery, romance, thriller, bits of science fiction. My publisher released them as mainstream, which is not exactly a genre, but simply a way of classifying the books for the website.

Have you ever created a character who was totally unlike anyone you had ever known, and yet was totally believable?

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.)

What advice would you give to new writers?

A book begins with a single word. The thought of writing an entire book intimidates many novice writers, but all you ever need to write is one word. I know that’s not much of a goal, but in the end, it’s the only goal. That’s how every book 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.

Also, writing is not always about writing. Some authors can sit down and let the words flow and lo! There is a story! Other authors have to think about what they’re doing. So ask yourself, what story do you want to write? Why? What do your characters want? Why? How are they going to get what they want? Who is going to stop them getting what they want?

Bertram’s novels on Amazon

Bertram’s novels at Second Wind Publishing 

Pat Bertram’s novels are available in all ebook formats at Smashwords. Also, 30% of each novel is available as a free download. Click here to find: Bertram’s novels on Smashwords.

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Interview with Pierre Dominique Roustan

As part of my weeklong book launch party, Pierre Dominique Roustan and I are interviewing each other. (You can find me at http://writingandreading.today.com) Pierre is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel The Cain Letters.

Bertram: How and when did you know you were a writer?

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Pierre: That’s a difficult question to answer, because it was most definitely a process over time. I was always interested in writing but never knew I had a gift (desire) for it. It was when I hit my freshman year in college did I realize that there was something to this whole writing ‘thing’. I had a professor at the community college, one of my first classes there, English 101, I believe, tell me flat out that I “had a gift”. Now it wasn’t what he said that convinced me of that, though. It was what I wrote for him in class. Either he went easy on me, or he saw something in my writing that had been developing for so long ever since I was little. I would most definitely say that that final subtle pivotal point in the journey of discovery was at the age of 18 when I became so enamored with writing essays for my classes. I can safely say, at that point, I became a writer.

Bertram: What are some of your favorite authors to read?

Pierre: I had such a variety of authors I loved as a kid and as an adult, and I can safely say that it contributed to me being a writer: I liked all sorts of books growing up. I was into Isaac Asimov, J.R.R. Tolkien (of course!), even those classics by Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway. Leading to more contemporary ‘today’ authors, I’m a BIG fan of Terry Goodkind. I’ve read Terry Brooks as well. J.K. Rowling, of course! I was just getting into some other favorites of mine like Jordan Dane and Robert Liparulo. On a literary level, I was enthralled with such works by Sandra Cisneros, Tim O’Brien and Joseph Conrad. Those were some of the best in literary fiction I had ever read. Oh, and Toni Morrison! She was a remarkably intense writer.

Bertram: Which do you prefer: e-books or print?

Pierre: That’s quite the relevant question in today’s publishing market, now isn’t it? And you’re asking me that question at a very interesting time. Maybe two years ago, if you had asked me that, I would easily, hands down, say print. There’s nothing better than the smell of paper on a good book and being able to flip those pages really fast and hearing that buzzing sound when you do. Plus the cover art’s always cool.

HOWEVER…I’ve noticed quite easily how difficult it is to read on the computer. The reason I bring that up is that I do have a lot of friends/colleagues who write as well and always love to have me as a beta reader. They send me their work via e-mail and I read it right on my computer while my rump goes to sleep. It’s not fun. Not a day goes by that I don’t wish I had an eReader or a Kindle. It would make reading other people’s work so much easier. That, and the concept of buying any book on one of those electronic devices does have a certain appeal to me. For those authors I have a particular affection for, I’d definitely still always prefer print. But other authors that I would just like to read, just to expand my literary field, owning a Kindle or eReader seems priceless (even though it’ll always feel like I’m shelling out an arm and a leg for such a thing).

Bertram: What’s your favorite food?

Pierre: I love it when people ask me that question! It always feels like I’m on a date. I have the perfect answer. My favorite food is…. YES. Meaning, put in front of me monkey brains, and if it simply looks good, I’ll eat it. Simple as that. I’m a human trash can.

But I can go specific (I’ll limit it to a top ten, no particular order): pizza, shrimp scampi, chicken salad, chilli, soups, breakfast food, ice cream cake, Chinese food, sub sandwiches, Mexican food.

Bertram: If you could choose any wild animal, what would it be?

Pierre: That’s definitely an easy one. I love wild animals, and I’ve always had a thing for wolves. They’re so beautiful. Majestic. And I identify with them so well, in that they always seem shy, even timid when it comes to ‘man’. I’m much the same way to a certain degree; I can be guarded. But you see, the thing is-people, to me, particularly my friends and loved ones, are the other wolves in my pack. And I’m generally a nice wolf. So when I see other wolves from other packs, I don’t usually get defensive or violent or unusual. I’m generally very friendly. I’m an easy person to get to know.

Bertram: If you were going to die in the next three days and you could do the next ten things without worrying about cost, what would you do?

Pierre: I would go bungee jumping (never done it), get a tattoo (don’t have one), visit Europe (never been there), visit all the States except for Nevada, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Florida and Rhode Island (been to all those States already), donate $1 million to one of those Children’s Funds, get married (again. Yes, I was married before. And let’s just say it didn’t ‘pan out’), anonymously donate money to an engaged couple looking to get married, buy a Playstation 3 and all the Final Fantasy’s and play all of them all night until I’ve beaten them all (except for Final Fantasy 7 and 8, already beat those), visit the grave of my grandfather in Nicaragua (his name was Pierre Dominique Roustan, too, so it holds a lot of meaning for me), SLEEP and do NOTHING for one whole day.

Bertram: What advice would you give other aspiring writers out there?

Pierre: It’s simple. Just enjoy your craft for yourself. Let it delight you. In the end, you’re the only audience. That’s how it originally starts. The bonus, the gift, comes around when others get to witness what you’ve created and how much you delight in it. There’s no better high than that, having someone else read your stuff and watch them be fascinated by the fact that you actually wrote something. Forget about the stress of whether or not you’ll land an agent or publishing contract or start that dream career as an author. What truly gives you joy should be that you wrote something that represents the deepest part of you and that you have a friend or family member you can share it with. It keeps you writing. It also keeps you believing in the goal itself. Because don’t get me wrong-goals are good. Having the goal of publication is good. But don’t let it consume you. Your writing comes first. Your desire comes first. Your love for words defines the spirit in you, and don’t ever forget that.

Also see: The Cain Letters
                Blog Exhange with Pierre Dominique Roustan