Sunday, December 27, 2009

Was 2009 a Good Year?

At the end of every December, I reflect on my writing progress to determine what went well and what I could do better next year. Truth is there are plenty of things I would have done more often and probably better if I wasn’t a working mom. But I did the best I could with whatever time and energy I had, and I’m very grateful for the things that went well.

This year, I took part in twice as many writing events as I have in the past: panel discussions, workshops, and readings. All were great fun.

My first mystery Taxed to Death also made it into the world of Kindle which has resulted in more sales and readers.

I wrote and published nearly 190 blogs, reviews, articles, and essays this year. I’ve edited two and a half novels, started writing another, and all of my short pieces have either been published or accepted for publication. Which means I have to get to work on creating more pieces.

Best of all, I’ve made new friends through various social networking avenues. So many people have shared advice and offered support, and I tried to reciprocate. In the end, writing and promoting is as much about helping one another as it is about finding your niche or your voice. And that’s really what made this a good year.

To read excerpts of Fatal Encryption and Taxed to Death, visit

Fatal Encryption is available through at and Taxed to Death can be found at

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Promote My Novel: How to identify who your target market is (Lesson 2) is an online service that helps writers

Peace and Creativity and Goodwill Toward Men

This week has been one of those rare moments in 2009 when I’ve felt truly at peace. The reason: my kids are happy (daughter’s final exams were successful, and my son’s high school is officially on break), the Christmas tree’s up, the cards mailed, and shopping almost done. But also, I’m on an eleven day break from the day job – the first time I’ve had any time off in December since 2001. Although I’m busily finishing Christmas preparations, catching up on housework, and compiling a short list of other projects to accomplish before returning to work, life still feels relaxed.

It always happens when I stop living by the clock and put more writing time into my day. It doesn’t have to be a lot. For me, two hours of creativity, plus some social networking each day is all I need for happiness. This is also one of those very rare times where every short story, article, and essay I’ve submitted over the past few years has either been published or accepted for publication. Which means I really need to complete more short pieces in the new year.

I wish the same peace for all of you out there. Have a lovely holiday, however you choose to celebrate your precious time away from the clock.

To read excerpts of Fatal Encryption and Taxed to Death, visit

Fatal Encryption is available through at and Taxed to Death can be found at

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Overheard At A Booksigning

Very true exchanges between me and bookstore customers over the last two years.

Of my books on the signing table.

“Are these complimentary?”


Of the title, Janeology.

"Geez, is this ANOTHER book about Jane Austen?"

(After I stopped laughing, I said, no, it wasn't remotely concerned with Ms. Austen.)

Of my pitch - After his wife Jane commits an unthinkable murder, her grieving husband struggles to find a possible explanation for her actions – were they due her lack of nurturing as a child? Did she inherit a tendency toward violence from her ancestors, some with dark, criminal lives?

“Oh, we all have black sheep in our family. My brother’s wife just left him and he’s now realizing it had something to do with her mother. Now THAT'S a story you should write."

(His story made me feel akin to bartenders. If I have enough signings, I WILL have enough material for another book.)

Of me just standing there all alone, stacking and re-stacking my books for about 30 minutes.

"Hey, do you know where the bathroom is?"

(If I had a nickel for everytime I was asked this question....)

Of my description of the book to a kind old man.

“Sounds good. Let me go ask my wife.”

(Sweet! Here she comes and she has a bunch of mystery books in her basket!)

Of my offer to sign a book for a woman.

“Oh, are you the author?”

(Doh, I failed to introduce myself!)

Of my introduction to the next person who approached my table, “Hi, I’m the author Karen Harrington.”

“Hello the AUTHOR Karen Harrington.”

(Okay, now I really feel silly. Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy silly.)

Of the mints on my signing table.

“What are these for?”

(Well, you see. The books are complimentary. But that mint will set you back about $17 bucks.)

Of the woman who ran over to my table with her hubby and told me her name was Jane.

Hubby: “If I read this, will I understand my wife better?”

Me: Ha Ha! Maybe. Here’s a bookmark.” (She leaves. Returns 10 mintues later.)

“OMG! My husband’s name is Tom!” (See, the couple in my book are Jane and Tom.)

(So, you'd probably guess that they bought a copy, but no. Sigh.)

Of my accidental penning “Very best pictures” (Doh! Should have written WISHES)
Me: “Oh, I’m so sorry. We were talking about pictures, and, well, ha ha…well, if I become famous, one day this will be very valuable.”

(You know how you felt in high-school when you tried to come up with something cool to say and all that came out was "Hey, your shoe is untied." Yeah. That's about right.)

Of the guy who walked into the store and made a bee-line to my signing table.

"I'm in sales, too. Make your pitch in 30 seconds. Go!"

(Are you serious? Gulp! Happy to say he bought the book.)


I'm usually hanging out here if you want to stop by and say hello!

Everything in Service to the Story

I’ve been retyping some of the outtakes from A Spark of Heavenly Fire. These are the scenes I deleted from the book (and apparently also deleted from my computer, hence the retyping). Since the story takes place in December, and this is December (as if you didn’t know) I thought I would celebrate by posting those scenes on my blog.

I expected to be embarrassed by my puerile writing, but some of the deleted work was surprisingly good. The scenes were nicely set up, fairly well written, and advanced the plot, but unfortunately they did not serve the overall story.

One of the hardest lessons I had to learn while writing is that everything in a novel is in service to the story. Nothing stands alone -- not the writing, not the characters, not the plot, not the individual scenes. Perhaps what I’m talking about is balance and flow. If a good scene stops the flow, it’s not a good scene. If a minor character is so weighty that he overbalances the hero, his scenes need to be restricted. A couple of the scenes worked quite well to show the onset of martial law in quarantined Denver, but they were from the standpoint of Jeremy King, the hero of the secondary story. Kate was supposed to be the driving force of the book, and she barely showed up in the first fifty pages. So poor Jeremy had to go.

If you’d like to see my outtakes, you can find them here:
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #1
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #2
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #3
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #4
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #5
A Spark of Heavenly Fire Outtake #6

Pat Bertram is also the author of More Deaths Than One and Daughter Am I.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do You Keep A Journal?

When I was 23, I started keeping a journal in an attempt to purge the bad feelings in a tumultuous relationship. That exercise helped me put things in perspective. I ended the relationship and kept on writing.

More than 30 years later, I still keep a journal, although rather than hand-write in a coiled notebook, I now type each entry onto the computer. My handwriting’s gotten messier over the years and I type faster than I write anyway. For me, journaling is an essential part of the creative process. As a mom and wife, it’s also a treasured record of things that happened as the kids grew. If my memory starts to fail some day, at least I'll be able to read about special events, emotions, disappointments, achievements, routines, and such. But here’s what I also know: journals are a valuable source for fiction.

I’ve been working on a short story that takes place in a youth detention centre. I began the piece by drawing on my volunteer experiences back in 1977. But it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t remember the type of details that would make the scenes more authentic. So, I dug out my old journals and began reading about life inside those walls. Fortunately, I wrote a lot of entries back then, partly because I needed the information for term papers, but also because I was interested in what was happening inside. At that time, I had no idea how useful the information would be to me all these years later, but I can’t think of a better reason for a writer to start keeping a journal. If you haven’t yet, it’s never too late.

To read excerpts of Fatal Encryption and Taxed to Death, visit

Fatal Encryption is available through at and Taxed to Death can be found at

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Two Writers Who Make a Difference

One of the nicest things about being an independently published author is that I’ve had a chance to meet other authors who share the same struggles I do. Many of them are supportive, generous people who give their time helping other authors in a variety of ways.

One of these writers is Edward Patterson, author of thirteen books, and one of the most energetic promoters I’ve ever met. But Ed is doing much more than that. One day, while on one of amazon’s discussion groups, he started corresponding with a soldier stationed in Iraq and discovered that some of the soldiers have Kindle readers. One thing led to another and before Ed knew it he’d launched Operation Ebook Drop, a program created to donate ebooks to soldiers overseas. The program is only 12 weeks old and 290 authors have already joined. Needless to say, the Operation Ebook Drop is growing dramatically, and those on the front lines are quickly gaining access to a wide variety of ebooks, thanks to Ed.

To learn more about Operation Ebook Drop you can visit and you can also listen to Ed talk about this on on Monday, December the 7th, 2009 @ 7PM CST:

Which brings me to my second writer who’s making a difference. Author and radio host Bobby Ozuna has been a big promoter of writers for some time and his new half-hour program, The Indie Author Shows on offers all kinds of interesting discussions, usually featuring a guest author each week. To learn more about Bobby, visit

And don’t forget to catch the show Monday night!

To read excerpts of Fatal Encryption and Taxed to Death, visit

Fatal Encryption is available on Kindle at and Taxed to Death’s Kindle version can be found at

Friday, December 04, 2009

Pre-Anniversary of A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Is there such a thing as an anniversary before something happens? A pre-anniversary? The first chapter of A Spark of Heavenly Fire begins on Friday, December 2, which means the year in which the story takes place will be 2011. I didn't specifically choose that year, but certain events needed to happen on weekends, others on weekdays, and the year ended up being 2011 by default. I never mentioned the year in the book, so it's mostly a trivial issue. Today is the two-year pre-anniversary of the onset of the story, however, and to celebrate, all month long I will be posting outtakes of the book on my blog.

Sounds easy, right? Wrong. Somewhere along the line I deleted the computer version of the first draft (or perhaps there wasn't a computer version. I wrote it before I had a computer). I dug out my handwritten copy and am retyping some of the deleted parts. And there are a lot of them! The original draft was over 118,000 words, the final version less than 95,000. At least 4,000 of those words were justs and onlys and thats and beginning tos, which I worked hard to eradicate, so I don't intend to bring them back, not even for curiosity's sake.

Still, there many scenes that I deleted in order to get to the action quicker. Like many new authors, I frontloaded the book with information that slowed the story. I kept thinking that if only people could get past the first fifty pages, they would like the book -- it's a solid story with solid characters in a disasterous situation that could actually happen. A real breakthrough in my writing occurred when I realized that no one would wade through fifty pages to get to the good part, so I needed to eliminate those pages.

Included in the eliminated pages was a substory about a real estate agent and a retired defensive back who had once been part of the legendary Bronco defense team The Orange Crush. The realtor was so sex-starved that she would do anything, even turn a blind eye when he started molesting her daughter, in order to keep him in her life and her bed. I was going to post the deleted scene here, but it's way more graphic than I realized. Whooo! It's one thing putting a scene like that in a book, and another to post it where anyone can take a peak. I've saved it, though, and perhaps one day I will find a use for it.

I also deleted many less than stellar scenes, but included a brief mention of the action in flashbacks or dialogue. It got the point across without the sludgery of the original version.

I never quite knew what to do with the handwritten draft, but I'm glad I kept it. And who knows -- someday I might be so famous (or even better -- infamous) and the thing will be worth a lot of money.

Read the outtakes of A Spark of Heavenly Fire on: Bertram's Blog
Read the first chapter of the published version here:
A Spark of Heavenly Fire
Free download: get the first 30% of A Spark of Heavenly Fire free at Smashwords
Read blurb (or buy!) at Second Wind Publishing: A Spark of Heavenly Fire

Pat Bertram is also the author of More Deaths Than One and Daughter Am I.