Monday, June 17, 2013


A Whisper to a Scream and Until My Soul Gets It Right were both mentioned yesterday over at The Book Dilettante blog as novels "with topics, characters, and plots that would make a good discussion" for book clubs.

Nothing could make me happier.

I like books with some meat to them, no matter what the genre. A couple of weeks ago, I read The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud, the wonderful author who so famously took Publishers Weekly to task in April after an interviewer made the ridiculous statement of "I wouldn’t want to be friends with Nora, would you? Her outlook is almost unbearably grim." Heaven forbid a woman be displeased with her situation, right?

Messud's response was one for the ages.

"For heaven’s sake, what kind of question is that? Would you want to be friends with Humbert Humbert? Would you want to be friends with Mickey Sabbath? Saleem Sinai? Hamlet? Krapp? Oedipus? Oscar Wao? Antigone? Raskolnikov? Any of the characters in The Corrections? Any of the characters in Infinite Jest? Any of the characters in anything Pynchon has ever written? Or Martin Amis? Or Orhan Pamuk? Or Alice Munro, for that matter? If you’re reading to find friends, you’re in deep trouble. We read to find life, in all its possibilities. The relevant question isn’t “is this a potential friend for me?” but “is this character alive?” Nora’s outlook isn’t 'unbearably grim' at all. Nora is telling her story in the immediate wake of an enormous betrayal by a friend she has loved dearly. She is deeply upset and angry. But most of the novel is describing a time in which she felt hope, beauty, elation, joy, wonder, anticipation—these are things these friends gave to her, and this is why they mattered so much. Her rage corresponds to the immensity of what she has lost. It doesn’t matter, in a way, whether all those emotions were the result of real interactions or of fantasy, she experienced them fully. And in losing them, has lost happiness."

Almost a month later, and I still think about Messud's Nora every once in awhile. Her situation. Her life. Her ultimate betrayal.

The Woman Upstairs begins with one of the best rants I have read in a long time — perhaps that I have ever read — that sums up women of my age. If you have not read it, please click here and download the sample. It hooked me after the first sentence, it is that good. So great, in fact that I bought the hardcover because I knew I would want to read it periodically throughout the rest of my life.

Have you read anything lately that will stick with you forever?

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


The first time I sang a solo in front of an audience was at the John Mills School Talent Show. I was seven. The song was “Roller Coaster,” by my then-favorites, the Partridge Family. I know now that they didn’t really sing their own songs, except for David Cassidy and Shirley Jones, but try telling that to a fan-crazed kid.

Little did I know that song title would become such an important metaphor for my life. So much so that when a few good things happen coincidentally around the same time, although I might be celebrating, I’m still looking over my shoulder, waiting for the inevitable guillotine blade to drop.

Last week, after the successful second-edition releases of the Bibliophiles stories, I was on a roll. My younger son’s lacrosse injury had healed, and he was finally off crutches. My oldest came home from college. The bliss of summer had finally swept into the Berner household.

Then I lost my freelance contract, the gig I had laughingly referred to as “the work that funds my fiction addiction.” My safety net was gone.

The company’s intellectual property was stolen, and court costs would have run too high for this tiny, independent firm. They opted to close up shop. Another American small business finished.

After the shock had worn off, my first instinct was to brainstorm other possible income streams — bring in some editing clients, pitch a few articles to some magazines — but freelancing is a difficult thing, and there are definitely no guarantees. How would I ever find something that would be as flexible and understanding about my other projects and pay as well too?

Fear crept in, with its butterflies-in-the-stomach, punched-in-the-solar-plexus anxiety. How would I have enough time to solicit articles, take on new clients, write the next Bibliophiles book, research another idea I have been playing around with, finish my short story and flash fiction submissions, and pay for the marketing and advertising necessary to keep the Bibliophiles afloat? Fear was now a tidal wave swelling, ready to douse.

Saturday, my family and I attended the commencement ceremony at my son’s school, Knox College. A very good friend of his was graduating, and Ed Helms was going to deliver the commencement address. Ed Helms! Andy Bernard from The Office! You remember how much I love that show, right? (I wrote about it twice this year, here and here.) This was huge for me. Once I found out he was going to be the speaker, I spent many hours trying to figure out how to crash graduation, but then I had a meeting on a nonrelated issue with one of the people in the Parent Relations department, and she scored some tickets for my family. Woot!

Although Helms was speaking to the graduating class, his words were ones I needed to hear as well. “But simply asking ourselves what we want is easy. Another far more powerful question that can be much harder to explore, but has the potential to bring you breathtaking clarity, is simply: What do I fear?” My ears perked up as he related the tale of quitting his film editing job to become a stand-up comedian without his own safety net.

Truth be told, I had been trying to find more time to write fiction, but was too scared to do it without a lucrative freelance account backing me up.

“Don't be afraid of fear,” Helms said. “Because it sharpens you, it challenges you, it makes you stronger; and when you run away from fear, you also run away from the opportunity to be your best possible self.”

He continued. “Because you can't shake it off. When you fail at the thing you love, it isn't on the outside of you like dirt or spilled mayonnaise — it's inside of you. It's in your molecules.” I knew all too well what he meant.

Okay, Ed Helms. Today, I embrace my fear and begin my first week as a full-time fiction writer. I still have butterflies in my stomach, but my solar plexus is feeling much better. I know there will be days when it with grow from fear with a small “f” to full-blown FEAR, but I will take a deep breath and get on with it.

Because I can’t shake off writing. Like Ed Helms said, it’s in my molecules.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Happy Release Week!

As you may know, for the last several months I have been busy creating the second editions of both of the Bibliophile novels and the holiday digital short story. Well, I am happy to announce that they are completed.

Each second edition includes brand new covers and gorgeous custom interior designs by Streetlight Graphics, as well as bonus material such as thought-provoking book club discussion questions written by Geraldine Young.

To kick off Release WeekUntil My Soul Gets It Right is today's Book of the Day on the fabulous Ereader News Today and is on sale for $2.99. Please click on the ENT link and hit LIKE on the ENT page. More LIKES = more visibility. Thanks.

Called a “wicked fun” novel of “self-discovery, redemption, and forgiveness,” the book follows farm girl Catherine Elbert as she bounces from U.S. coast to coast in search of her true self. A 2013 Readers’ Choice Nominee for Contemporary Fiction at the widely popular BigAl’s Books & Pals review blog, it is a story about growing up, making peace with one’s past, and finding a little love along the way.

4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon. Also available in paperback.

“I read it entirely in one day, I just couldn't put it down! Catherine Elbert inspires you to go out and do the things you want to do.”
— Goodreads reviewer

"...a series about a book club with each book centered around a different member of the club — genius!"
 — Kritter's Ramblings book review blog

“Berner has a talent with prose that flows smoothly and puts the reader right where they belong, inside the character's head. Until My Soul Gets It Right is another winner.”
— BigAl’s Books and Pals