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?
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.