Terri Bertha always felt she could write a book.
Three years ago, the Allegheny Township resident, an artist now retired as a systems engineer for a large engineering corporation, attended a workshop where she began penning her stories.
The first was well received by her group, which led to more stories and still more until she realized she indeed had written a book.
That became official in May with the release of “Spooky Twisties 1” — 13 interconnected stories that follow a group of friends as they navigate their way through supernatural events in an idyllic community during the course of a regular day. The blend of horror, humor and “twisted endings” are designed to make this a fun, entertaining reading experience.
MuseItUp, an independent traditional publishing company based in Canada, is marketing the work for middle grade and young adult readers, but reviews indicate it is also winning over adults. She is understandably excited with reviews that mention her name with R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps” series of children’s horror novellas and acclaimed fear master Stephen King.
“Spooky Twisties II,” another collection of 13 tales featuring the friends introduced in the first book, is to be released Nov. 7, and “Spooky Twisties III” already is a work in progress.
Bertha will speak and read excerpts from “Spooky Twisties I” at noon Oct. 21 at Springdale Public Library.
“We thought her book would be perfect for our middle school kids. We at the library love getting a chance to share local authors with our community,” says Heidi Emrick-Cetra, assistant director who handles “Tween Services.”
“I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the kids’ responses as to what they think about the stories. It should be a lot of fun,” Bertha says. “I didn’t set out to write for young people, but found that middle grade was appropriate for my style of writing: not too graphic, light-hearted, funny and not too scary.”
She has a partial adult novel she started years ago and would one day like to finish, and also has written adult short stories and poetry.
She has always enjoyed reading scary stories and confesses that she perhaps watched a few too many psychological thriller TV series with unexpected twists.
“One of my first stories was about a group of kids that go out to play their annual game of ghosts in the graveyard,” she says. She writes in a way that foreshadows future stories and references past tales.
“These story interconnections allow for greater character development, so by the end of the book, the reader feels that they know these kids,” she explains.
Fellow MuseItUp Publishing author Kevin Hopson of Richmond, Va., who designs the video trailers for her books, says he loves her simplicity in storytelling and the imagination that goes along with it.
“Because of this, her writing engages readers of all ages,” he says. “Though it’s aimed at middle grade and young adult readers, people of all ages will likely enjoy it. I certainly did, and that’s why I think she’s found a great niche in the market.”
Mystery Lovers Bookshop, Oakmont, features “Twisted Tales” in its “Pittsburgh Connections” section.
“It’s especially appropriate for the Halloween season, suggests co-owner Natalie Sacco, “a fun, fall read for young teens. We like to support our local authors.”
The fact that she is now a published writer is still sinking in, Bertha says.
“When I received my first box of printed books, I giggled each time I picked a book up in my hands,” she says. “I couldn’t believe my name was actually printed on the cover. It’s one of those few surreal moments experienced in life.”
She started writing about a year before she retired and hopes to inspire others who may also be of retirement age.
“It’s never too late to try something new. Don’t give up,” advises the 63-year-old Ford City-area (Manor Township) native. “You have to go after the things you want to try or do. Life is too short to have regrets that you didn’t follow your dream.”
She hopes to build a national audience using social media, word of mouth and more reviews.
“I believe she’ll be a very successful writer and I will continue to read everything she writes,” says Linda Cecchetti, an adult fan who compares Bertha’s stories to Stephen King’s. “I also learned that she is a very talented artist.”
The best compliment of her painting comes when someone smiles and says “You do nice work” or that it reminds them of a pleasant memory, Bertha says.
As a writer, she adds, she feels she has accomplished what she set out to do if someone smiles, laughs, or relates to a character in her book.
“There are much more serious topics in (youth) books such as suicide, divorce, drugs, etc. and I want to write something that’s more on the fun side that kids want to read,” she says. “In the end, getting kids to read is one of my goals. Give young people something they’ll enjoy reading, and they’ll come back for more.”
She is motivated in both of her expressions, writing and painting, by the fact that both allow creativity to flow, she says.
“Both are two sides to the same coin. Painting helps my writing and writing helps my painting,” she says. “I consider them part of the same creative outlet. Switching between the two keeps both fresh and fun, and doesn’t make either a chore.”
She will exhibit in December in the East Suburban Artists League annual show at Penn State, New Kensington.
Bertha seems to be in a good place in her life.
“I can honestly say I have left my mark on the world with my painting and writing,” she says. “I have no regrets. I was given these artistic talents, and used them to bring enjoyment to others.”
Bertha’s visit is part of a Halloween program at the library including a dress-up story hour (10 a.m.), crafts, snacks and a 3 p.m. presentation by the Oakmont Paranormal Society.
“We are just really excited to offer a fun day here, including something for everyone,” says the library’s Heidi Emrick-Cetra, assistant director.
Rex Rutkoski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.