“When We Were Married” is a four-volume novel about four little words that destroy a marriage, two lives and a family. Those four words have a ripple effect on the lives of thousands through the courthouse, the cops and criminals in Northeast Florida and eventually will impact the lives on people in three continents.
The First Volume, the 220,00 word – 800 page – “The Long Fall” is the story of an obsessed and obsessive prosecutor in a North Florida county who has the major responsibility for putting bad people behind bars and keeping them there. It is the story of an average looking guy that loves a beautiful woman who is WAY out of his league and what happens when their marriage explodes, crashes and burns. It is the story of a beautiful woman who attracts men without effort and finally decides she’s had enough of an absentee husband when there’s a world of men out there that want her. And finds out it’s not as easy as it looks to walk out on 20 years with a man who would walk through fire for you.
It is thus a story of modern marriage and A MODERN marriage, a story of divorce and mid-life crisis and rebirth, the criminal justice system from the inside without political niceties and correctness, a story of cops and prosecutors and defenders and criminals. It’s a story about sex and obsession and neglect and betrayal and emotional and sexual affairs.
WWWM is an adult love story, meaning adult in several senses. One sense is that it features adult language, which is what you think it is. The people in the novel – lawyers, professors, cops, criminals – talk the way people really talk in their private offices, in corridors and in bedrooms., literally. They use the ‘f’ word a lot and the words that people actually use for sex and male and female genitalia. They also think about and work toward and have sex a lot.
In another sense, it’s a story about love after childbirth and boredom and jobs and responsibilities and 20 years of mind numbing routine and child rearing. It’s the ‘rest of the story’ after ‘ they lived happily ever after.’ Call it ‘grown up love’.
It is not a series of four books, but one book broken into four volumes because it will eventually total at between 750,000 and a million words and that’s a load for one novel. The second volume already published is “Second Acts.” The third I’m currently writing is “The Wind Is Rising,” and the final volume will be “Nobody Gets Out Alive.”
How long had the idea of your book been developing before you began to write the story?
About thirty minutes. I heard the four words that are the source of the novel and was on the laptop typing in about that long.
What inspired you to write this particular story?
I heard the four words used in the first chapter of the story and from the moment I heard them, the idea for the novel got into my head and wouldn’t let me go. The entire scenario of the first 25,000 word chapter, which is the story of the end of the marriage of Assistant State Attorney WilliamMaitland and his University of North Florida Associate Business Professor wife Debbie Maitland/Bascomb flashed into my head in rough form and I’d written it in a few days. The rest of the long novel started growing from there.
How much of yourself is hidden in the characters in the book?
Tons. It’s one of those things that it was only a year or a year and a half after I started writing that I sat back and looked at the characters, particularly the main character. While there is a lot about him that is not me, there is an awful lot that is. And I’m not going to tell, but people that know me would instantly know which parts are real. And while all the characters are fictional, not based on people I know, they obviously have to contain elements of real people or in some cases are modeled after real people but taken in different directions.
Tell us a little about your main characters. Who was your favorite? Why?
The main character is Bill Maitland, the prosecutor. He’s my favorite because he’s flawed, but basically a good guy. He tries to always do the right thing, but he can go to bed with another man’s wife. He’s a faithful husband, but he neglects his wife for years and in the end all but forces her into another man’s arms. He neglects himself physically and emotionally for the sake of his duty to a higher calling. He’s stubborn and insecure personally and probably entirely too obsessed with big breasts, but he’s loved one woman and one woman only for more than 20 years. He has anger issues and takes too much personal satisfaction in sending bad people to jail, but he is capable of compassion in unlikely circumstances and he’s able to wield great power fairly. As one reader said, “he’s an asshole, but he grows on you.” And other readers said that Debbie “is a bitch, but she grows on you.”
Why will readers relate to your characters?
Readers relate to the characters because they all have flaws, and the good guys have some major dark spots on their souls, and the bad guys – at least some of them – have unexpected good qualities. Outside of cold blooded murderers and psychopaths, even the seeming bad guys have reasons for what they do and grab reader sympathy. The young stud who steals the hero’s wife finds out that there are dangers to beginning an affair with a married woman –not least the fact that you have to be careful not to fall for the people that fall for you.
How much of a story do you have in mind before you start writing it?
Next to none. I only had the basic idea which grew into the first chapter. After that I wrote the next couple of chapters that seemed to flow from the first and by the time I’d got 40,000 words into it, I had the general story arc for the entire novel. It was originally going to consist of three volumes but as the story grew, I knew it would be four volumes eventually. Because of the way I was writing it, I had the freedom to expand portions and the novel progressed, but the overall story arc remained the same and I know how the last chapter of the fourth volume will go.
Did you do any research for the book? If so, how did you do it? (searching Internet, magazines, other books, etc.)
No academic research per se, although I did use the internet for a lot of small things. God Bless Google. I covered cops and courts on and off for two decades and talked with prosecutors before, during and after trials, rode with and talked to cops off the record about murders and serious felonies, sat with judges in their chambers and talked to them when they let their hair down. I was always somebody that people trusted to keep my mouth shut, and it opened a lot of doors. I know the background as well as any non-lawyer or cop could. In regard to the personal, I’ve worked around courthouses and attorneys and cops and newspapers since I was young and single and horny, and, trust me, it is an environment like every other environment I’ve ever lived and worked in: people are either plotting to have sex, having sex, or remembering having sex. And then trying to figure out how to have it again.
How (or when) do you decide that you are finished writing a story?
When I get to “the end.” But seriously, I tend to write science fiction, fantasy, horror and now mainstream ‘romance’/courthouse legal, all of which have plots with definite beginnings, middles and ends. In most cases I know how the last page will read before I’ve finished the first chapter and every word – at least every chapter – is moving in that direction.
What is your goal for the book, ie: what do you want people to take with them after they finish reading the story?
I want them to remember the characters. Books don’t live for their plots, much as I write plot-driven novels. You remember the people. I might forget WALL-E’s plot and what the little robot is doing, but I will always remember him and his deadly sweet metal girlfriend. Harlan Coben writes great novels with great plots, but I remember the characters from Myron Bolitar whose life story is told in a succession of novels to the doctor hero in “Tell No One” whose name I can’t remember who lost his wife and has never been able to recover. We remember people, not events.
Is there a message in your writing you want readers to grasp?
No. As as some movie honcho said back in the 30s, you want to send a message, use Western Union. Slavery is bad. Democrats are good. The Minimum Wage needs to be $10 an hour. The country started going to Hell when we kicked God out of School. All of that is crap. I don’t have messages. Themes maybe, but they’re so clichéd I almost hesitate to write them out. You don’t choose the people you love. None of us are as good as we should be. Even bad people can do good things and be good in certain situations. All of us are and will be assholes to the people we love. And everyone we love, without exception, is going to disappoint and betray us. If you can’t forgive the people you love, you’re going to wind up alone. All of us are going to get old and sick and die, and most of us are going to do stupid things when that sinks in on us. Only people under 30 think they’re immortal. Stuff like that, and if you read “When We Were Married” starting with Volume One “The Long Fall” you’ll see all of it.
What was the most difficult part about writing the book?
Nothing really. It went down, as I used in the novel, “like an oyster at a beach party.” The first 200,000 words or so wrote itself. I was posting the novel and receiving reader input and criticism which I loved. It slowed down as I got into the last half of what I’ve written so far because I was in an extremely unpleasant time in my life and the time available for writing kept shrinking and shrinking and I went a long time on 3-4 hours of sleep tops, and sometimes an hour or two a night.
Do you think writing this book changed your life? How so?
Yes, it has changed my life. Before I started writing this book I had pretty much given up on the dream of writing fiction. I had published professionally in my late 20s, one novel in the U.S. and England, but then hit a dead end and could only get a few short things published, although I published in small press magazines paying a few bucks around the world. I channeled all my writing energies into non-fiction, business articles, freelance stuff. I was a teacher and figured I might send some already written stories out after I retired. Then “When We Were Married” became a firestorm that consumed my life for a year and a half, brought me readers and fans literally from around the world who kept emailing me about when I was going to finish the story I’d started. I’d heard about epublishing and ebooks back in 2009 and 2010 but I honestly had gotten burned so many times, received so many rejection slips over the years, I was through. Then I attended a meeting with a Barnes and Noble rep who talked about the PUBIT self publishing or Indie Publishing program and decided, what the heck, why not. I had to take what I’d written, put it into novel format since it was written as an online serial, clean it up and correct mistakes since the published version was really a rough draft. I published it and despite the fact that a lot of it was available for free, it started selling. Then I packaged the second book, added 30,000 words of new copy, put a lot of new stuff in throughout the existing chapters, and it was a new book. Now I’m busting my hump trying to merchandise the book. It is selling steadily, but nothing spectacular because I’m a nobody with no publicity for the books. And I’m writing the third novel. And I have a non-related adult novel that I’ve already started about a guy who plans to kill himself on his 60th birthday but goes out for a last drink and winds up in bed with a 22-year-old cocktail waitress. And his life goes off in very different directions. Call it, “coming of age at 60.” And if I live long enough, I’ve got tons of others waiting in the wings.
At what age did you discover writing?
I wrote a little story about four friends and myself in an adventure involving a gold mine and read it in class and everybody in my class loved it, including my pretty fourth-grade teacher. And I was hooked from that point on.
When where you first published? How were you discovered?
The first thing I ever had published was a fantasy novel titled “The Exile of Ellendon.” I sent it in cold without an agent to Doubleday in 1974. Doubleday was my second submission. They bought it and published it and Robert Hale picked it up and published it in England. But Doubleday rejected my second book. And I was never able to do anything with the next four novels I wrote. I was never able to get an agent. I can’t say that I was ever ‘discovered.’ I’m still waiting for that.
Where can people learn more about your books?
My website is http://www.dqsteele.com/index.html
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.