My book is “so weird”

I’ve made a book. It’s a bit of an odd one – a collection of Valentine’s Day Cards that I’ve created – closer to poetry than story. Each page only holds a handful of sentences at most. You can read more about it here.

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Yes, I made a book and called it “Read Me.”

It’s available through a print-on-demand service online, but I had a few copies of it printed. Some of these copies are available for sale at my favorite coffee shop, where I usually go to write. They’ve sold pretty well, considering I don’t promote them, and the only advertising is a little sign that says they cost 15 euro. I’m happy with how they’re doing.

What’s fascinating, and weird, is to be there when someone takes a look at the book. I often sit there and write and I see people come and go. Now and then someone picks up the book, has a look at it, and put it back – or they leaf through a few of the pages and then they put it back.

They have no idea it’s my book that I’ve made, or that I’m sitting there looking at them and wondering what they’re thinking. Probably just as well. I still haven’t been there when someone’s decided to buy the book.

Today, it happened again. I sat there writing, drinking my coffee and wondering how the characters in my story really felt about what was going on.

Next to me, at another table, sat a group of girls. Young ones – upper teens at most is my guess, no more than 21-22. One of them spotted the book and brought it over to the table and started looking through it.

At this stage, I’m having a real hard time concentrating on my writing.

I’m trying my best not to look like my ears are reaching for every word they say. I don’t think they notice.

One of them, the one who picked it up, keeps saying how weird it is. They read the occasional page, and seem to find them cute/funny, but the girl who holds the book keeps repeating how weird she thinks it is. So weird.

It’s weird for me too. For a moment I’m considering whether or not to tell them it’s my book and explain to them where it comes from, but I decide against it. That too would be weird.

Fortunately, I have an appointment, and have to leave, but the memory sticks with me.

I think most of all I’m amused.

The girl very clearly didn’t “get” the book, and I think there are probably two reasons for that.

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Do you know the reference?

First, she just flipped back and forth through it, picking out the odd page here and there. Doing it like that, you have to get lucky for the book to make sense. Some of the cards do not make much sense on their own, and a few of them (Potato Angel Buffalo) don’t make any sense whatsoever. Taken like that, the book can probably seem a bit weird.

Secondly, she was young. I’m not sure I’m entirely comfortable with this explanation, but I think it really may be a factor. Chances are that if you’re young, you don’t quite have the frames of reference to relate to all of the cards, even if you get them in context.

If you’re young, you’re fed an image of what love and life are supposed to be like that may not accurately match what life has in store for you. You’ve got more expectations than experience.

This is probably a bit rich. After all, as a middle-aged man, what do I really know of what teenage girls know about love? My theory is built on preconceived notions about how the world works, and it could very well be wrong. It’s not like I’m an expert on love myself.

I think that’s a key point.

If my world is built on preconceived notions of how the world works, it must be safe to assume that it’s the same for most other people too. Then again, that too may be just a preconceived notion…

Either way, I’m not disheartened that someone thinks my book is “so weird” although it was a weird experience hearing them say it.

It’s fascinating though. The book makes perfect sense to me. I know people who love it. I love it. People read different things into the words, and different cards speak out to them. That too is fascinating.

Finally, a slightly modified version of the book is due out in early November. I’m reviewing the changes and letting them mature in my mind a little before I finalize it. It’s on its way though.

My book is “so weird”

I’m not assertive enough for this.

Toini is being difficult.

Or, rather, to be more correct: I’m having difficulties writing her.

For the most part my characters I’ve written about, and from whose perspective I’ve told my stories, have been people I have something in common with. They’ve been acting in ways I can relate to and which I understand.

So far, that’s been the case for Toini as well, but in this latest scene I’ve been working on that’s changed a little. I’ve had to write Toini in a situation where her role as a military commander and leader has had to shine through.

She needs to be decisive, confident, and in charge. Assertive. It’s really difficult for me. I can do all those things, but only as long as I’m on my own, or when I know no one will object to my decision.

In this case, there’s a whole lot of objections. The person Toini needs to keep in line is not cooperating and does not agree with her decisions. If it were me, I’d probably try to argue and compromise, but for Toini that’s not an option. At least not in the way I do it.

Toini has a plan and she means to stick with it. She can’t be making concessions just to fit someone else. Her mission is a holy, god-given quest, and whether her chronicler wants some time off or not is completely irrelevant.

He’s still right there in front of her though, and she still has to deal with him.

Seeing how difficult a time I have to write this I’m really glad I’m not in any kind of leadership position in real life.

I’m not assertive enough for this.

Meeting up with Toini

I’ve been spending time hanging out with an old friend lately. Her name’s Toini, and she’s a paladin.

It’s probably more correct to say she’s an imaginary friend.

Toini is the main character of the story I’m working on – or that I was working on earlier this year and that I’m now kicking back to life. It’s been over three months since I last wrote on this story. Three months until just the other day that is.

I finished a new scene yesterday, and I put it up here on the blog today. You can find the full story so far here.

What’s more: when uploading the scene I’d just written, I realised I’d never uploaded the previous one. It gave me a good reason to re-read that bit and reconnect with the story a bit more.

There are flaws in it, certainly. It’s far from perfect and it probably won’t ever be. The story itself isn’t strong enough that I want to spend more time on it once I’ve written the last scene. I’ll finish it, put it up here on the blog, and then move on to other projects.

I’m not going to ditch Toini though. The story I’m writing may not be all that, but I love the character. She’s complex in a way that no character I’ve created before is. None of them even comes close.

Roy and Alene have the potential to reach similar levels of complexity, but I’ve not written enough about them yet to do more than scratch the surface. With Toini, I’ve gotten to know her well enough that I’ve caught glimpses of what she’s hiding.

It’s almost a little scary. Can I make her justice?

Time will tell. At least I’m back to writing again. Other stories are waiting for their attention. I hope to have Emma’s Story ready for publishing (self-published e-book) by the end of the year, and then I’ll start on the second draft of Enar’s Vacation. That one’s going to need a lot of work.

And no, I’ve not forgotten that I’m going to write a story about Elsie, but I think I may be able to do that on the side. We’ll see…

Meeting up with Toini

Silent for so long

I feel like I haven’t written here in ages. When I check, I see it’s been over a month.

Too long.

Things have been slow lately. My story has stalled and I barely write on it at the moment. I’m nearing the end, and the way it’s going I’m just not feeling it anymore. I also don’t have the peace of mind to sit down and dig into it properly. There are other things going on that needs my attention.

I’m doing a lot of writing for my Burning Man camp. Every year, I send out a series of mail to the entire group to get them in the mood for what’s to come and to explain to the newbies (virgins) what they need to know to survive the event.

Last year, and the year before that, I just copied the mails from the previous year. It gets the job done, but it’s no fun for the old-timers to read, and it makes me feel like I’m cheating.

This time around I’m re-writing all of the mails from scratch. It’s going pretty well. I’ve cheated once because I had visitors and re-ran one of last year’s mail, but for the other ones I’ve reworked the texts completely. It feels good.

Unfortunately, it takes my attention away from my story writing.

So not only am I losing faith in my story, I’m also distracted by other things. Perhaps that’s good? Perhaps it means that once I’m done with the mails and with Burning Man I can go back to focusing on my own imaginary world? I hope so.

That’s not everything though.

I also have another project going. It’s a secret. I’m really excited about it, but it’s still a secret. It’s taken a lot of creative energy, and it’s surely contributed to not getting any writing done on my story.

Other than that, I’ve gotten a bit more serious about my health and fitness, and I’m working out a bit more, and trying to eat more reasonable. I’m not doing a diet, but I’m cutting down on snacks and junk food. It’s working out pretty well for me.

That’s about it for now.

Silent for so long

Confidence in Words

Once more I’ve been asking questions on Facebook. Unscientific research based on anecdotal experiences, hearsay, and empirical evidence. Totally unscientific, but quite entertaining.

This time the question was:

What are the pointy parts of a fork called? Teeth?

The correct answer appears to be tine, but a few people also claimed they were called prongs. To me, a prong is a small space between things, and it feels like the prongs would be the spaces between the pointy bits – the tines.

Prong is a word I’ve heard before. I’m cool with it. Me and prong, we’re pals.

Tine is a word I can’t remember ever having encountered in the past. I might have, but I don’t know when that would have been. It felt strange and unfamiliar. Weird.

I could have used it in my sentence in my story, but I didn’t. Unfamiliar words like that are strange and I didn’t know if I’d get it right. Sure, I now knew what it meant, but I didn’t know how to use it.

Is it a common word? Will my readers be familiar with it? Is it formal? Is it informal? Does it carry any kind of hidden connotations I’m not aware of?

Also, this is probably a good time to mention that English isn’t my first language.

As a non-native English speaker I don’t have the same intuitive feel for the language as native speakers have. I can’t just discover a new word and fit it into my story right away. I don’t have the confidence.

When I write, I try to only use words that come naturally to me. I try to avoid words that aren’t part of my everyday vocabulary. I feel like doing that will make the text easier to read. If I’m confident in my writing, it will shine through to the reader.

If I use words I’m not comfortable with, it will shine through. It will affect the mode and the rhythm of the prose and it will negatively effect the reader’s enjoyment of the reading.

I really want to avoid that. So I don’t use words I’m not friends with.


EDIT: Turns out I was wrong about the meaning of prong.

I was thinking of a Swedish word that’s pronounced the same way: prång. It roughly translates into “small, narrow space” and would be the correct word for the space between the prongs in Swedish.

 

Confidence in Words

Story Outlines As Fractals

Fractals fascinate me. No matter how much you zoom in, there’s always more things to see and discover. It never ends.

I recently had the thought that the same goes for writing stories. In my personal case, it applies to the outline I make for the story. No matter how detailed I make it there’s always more to discover.

No exceptions.

It’s happened that I’ve tried to write stories without an outline. It usually doesn’t end very well for either me or the story. I get hung up on some detail, start exploring it, and then get bogged down into whatever train of thought the detail lead me on to. Once I realise what I’ve done, it’s usually too late to salvage the story, and if I still want to tell the story I started on I might just as well start over again.

It’s fun, but it’s not very effective.

Instead I draw up an outline and I make lists of what is supposed to happen in each scene. I set up checkpoints that I want my story to pass. Then I start over on that and add more checkpoints between the original ones, and then I do it again and add even more detail.

In this way, I maintain control of the story. I write shorter pieces where I know what’s going to happen and where it will end.

It’s all very controlled, but even then there’s room for exploration and discovery. The space left for exploration is smaller though, and because of this, smaller things are explored. I don’t come up with things that would change the entire plot. But I find little details that may or may not be important further down the line.

If nothing else, they add a little depth and a little life to the characters or the world.

This is why outlining a story is a little bit like zooming in on a fractal. No matter how much you zoom in, there’s always room to explore the spaces in between.

 

Story Outlines As Fractals

What Colour is a Coffee Mug?

I made a little experiment the other day. I’ll tell you in a moment, but first some background:

In the scene I’m currently writing one of the characters (Paivi) shows up carrying a tray with two mugs and a pot of coffee. When I first mentioned the mugs in the text it didn’t flow well the include their colour, so I skipped it.

Then, a few paragraphs later, there’s an opportunity to mention the colour and give the mugs a bit more of a presence in the story (I’m big on coffee), and I decided they were white, because that’s how I thought of them. It didn’t sit right with me though. What if someone assumed the mugs were a different colour?

The mugs, and the colour of the mugs, aren’t important to the story, but they’re important to the reader’s immersion. If someone imagined orange mugs (like at the coffee shop I go to after work when I’m not broke) it’d annoy them if I later pointed out the mugs were white.

That was my dilemma, and that’s why I decided to make an experiment. It’s anecdotal and unscientific, but I still consider it a success. As I often do, I took to Facebook for help, and I posted the following question:

What’s the default colour of a coffee mug? Not the liquid in it, the mug itself.

The question received the following answers:

  • Whiteish
  • Off-white
  • Porcelain
  • Mug or cup?
    If cup; white with small flowers on it – if mug; brown-beige ombre.
  • Diska den med salt, så ser du själv! [Swedish for: wash it with salt, and you’ll see yourself!]
  • White? Is that a trick question?
  • White
  • Depends on the type of person it is, rustic types would have unglazed clay which can be white/grey/red/brown, if they’re rich, the hardest/expensive colours would be white or blue/purple, thin and fragile would show extreme craftsmanship and expense.
    Modern society they’d be hardened glass things that look like jam jars, or whatever came free with the day after easter egg bargains.
  • There is no mug.
  • Orange
  • As black as my soul
  • default color = Who gives a damn – as long as the coffee is black, steamy and STRONG!!!
  • Sounds like I am the only one that likes milk in their coffee

And that’s it.

Summary:

  • Four answers say a mug is some kind of white.
  • Five answers specify some other colour (although one of them may have referred to the coffee inside the cup).
  • Four comments did not answer the exact question, but still contributed some insights.

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This is my mug collection on my desk at work.

The main thing to take away is that even within this small sample size not everyone automatically assumes that coffee mugs are white.

That should be kind of obvious really. After all, not all cups are white.

In the end I just wrote that the cups were large and skipped mentioning the colour completely. After all, the colour isn’t actually important.

What Colour is a Coffee Mug?

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Worlds

Before I get on with this post, I’d like to recommend the following song to g with it:

Extraordinary Way, by Conjure One. It’s a love song, but it may not necessarily be about a person. It could be a place, or a land – or, well, a special person.

Anyway…

The other day I bumped into a discussion about what kind of perspectives people wanted to see more of in fantasy stories. One of the suggestions that came up, among a host of others, was the idea of writing a story from the perspective of someone completely ordinary and regular.

As you probably know, most characters that have a bit of a role to play in a fantasy story are at least a little bit out of the ordinary. They’re special in some way.

It may be they’re really good at fighting, or they have a talent for magic, or some other exceptional skill. It may also be that they’re destined for greatness in some way. Perhaps they’re mentioned in a prophecy, or they’re a prince of fame and fortune, or perhaps the last of their kind.

They’re special.

The idea I came across went against all that and suggested it’d be interesting to read a fantasy story about a completely regular person, as a bit of a break from all the big great epicness of all the other fantasy stories.

Seeing that suggested made me really happy.

My first novel, Enar’s Vacation, matches that idea almost exactly. It’s a story about a regular guy who goes on vacation. He sees some cool things, and there’s the odd bit of excitement, but overall, he’s just a regular guy on vacation.

He hangs out with the locals, eats good food, does a bit of sightseeing, and gets drunk. There’s also a woman that he falls for – of course.

There’s no fighting. There’s daring escape and no brave last stand.

There’s a little bit of magic, but no more than a regular inhabitant in the world will be familiar with anyway. There’s some strange creatures and weird people, but again: it’s nothing out of the ordinary for an inhabitant.

But, it’s still a fantasy story.

I’ve toyed with this concept for quite a while. My novella Emma’s Story, is based on a similar idea. It’s about a regular countryside girl in a small village in the hills. All she wants is to get married, settle down, and start a family. She’s nothing special.

However, through the course of the story she does experience things that are a bit out of the ordinary even for the people of the world. That’s not the focus of the story though (just the culmination).

So far, my first two longer stories have been about regular people. One of them does mundane and unremarkable things. The other one has a bit of and adventure, but she’s still overall a regular person. She just ends up in a crappy situation and has to do what it takes to deal with it.

How did it end up like this?

When I started out writing I imagined myself writing a grand epic story about magnificent heroes traveling the world, fighting evil, and finding treasure. Technically, I’d still like to do something like that, but it no longer has the same appeal.

Why write about regular people?

I think that one of the things that fascinates me about writing about regular people in a fantasy setting is how it can enhance the sense of wonder in the reader. It allows for more escapism.

When showing the world through the eyes of a regular person you can highlight the differences between the real world and your fantasy world in a whole different way. When the protagonist is a regular person, doing mundane things, the extraordinary aspects of the world stand out much more clearly.

Let’s take the sootkin and use them as an example.

They don’t really play an important role in any of my stories, but they’re mentioned in a few places. Basically, they’re little air spirits that live in underground tunnels. They’re normally quite docile, as there isn’t much wind in underground tunnels, but they get excited when there’s a draft or a wind.

They absolutely love subway trains.

The sootkin play in the air around the trains like dolphins around the prow of a ship. Wherever there’s a subway system, there are little black spirits that race the trains through the tunnels.

If you’re anything like me – which you may or may not be – something like this gets your imagination going. You may wonder what else there may be of a similar kind? Or you may wonder what it’d be like to standing waiting for a train and whenever it shows up it’s always accompanied by a bunch of spirits playing in the air stream.

It’s nothing special for city folk. They’re used to it and they have other things to worry about. You however, you’ve never seen a spirit race a train through a tunnel (okay, maybe in a movie).

So what does this have to do with everyday people? Perhaps not so much, but it’s still a good example. Riding a subway train is a mundane and commonplace thing. A lot of people will have at least an idea of what it’s like to stand on the platform and wait for the train to come in.

I take this idea that “everyone” is familiar with, and then I add something out of the ordinary to it. It gets the mind churning.

Let’s say that instead of trains the tunnels under the city are trafficked by giant slugs. People can catch a ride with the slugs in order to get to wherever they’re going. In practice, the slugs fill the same function as the subway trains.

The difference is that adding sootkin to the slugs doesn’t really do anything. The slugs are weird enough as it is and the sootkin would be just another weird detail. Keeping the trains as trains, which readers are familiar with, means that adding the sootkin has a much bigger impact on the reader’s imagination.

The same thing will go for everyday people doing regular things. Add something that will seem extraordinary to the reader, but portray it as something mundane in the world, and you’ll set your reader’s mind racing.

…at least that’s the theory.

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Worlds

When the Screen Yellows

I’ve been home from work with the flu quite a bit the last two weeks. One might think this would be a good opportunity to get a bit of writing done. I know I thought so. Turns out I was wrong.

What with being home from work and all I don’t want to go out anywhere. I’m meant to be home and rest and not slacking about in some cozy cafe with a lemsip and tea. So I stay in.

Several times I’ve sat down to write, only to just sit there for a bit, stare at the screen and then stand up and go do something else instead. It just doesn’t work.

These times have all been during the day though, when it’s still bright outside.

Once the sun sets and it gets dark outside it’s much easier. Then I can just kick back on the sofa with my laptop and type until my fingers bleed – or so it feels.

That is also when the screen starts turning yellow. I’ve got this neat little program on the computer that changes the colour temperature of the screen depending on the time of day. During the day, when it’s bright outside and the sun is up, the screen is nice and bright, like it is by default.

But, when evening comes and the light fades, the screen changes colour. It dims a little and begins to turn yellow. It’s a warm pleasant colour, that doesn’t sting my eyes in the dark.

For the most part it makes the screen a little trickier to read, especially web pages with text in small letters, like facebook. That’s not really a problem.

When writing, I use an easy to read font (Avenir Book) and I’ve got the page zoomed in a bit above the default. It’s plenty enough to see what I’m writing, and it still doesn’t burn my eyes. The screen colour is almost the same as that of a burning candle, and I really enjoy that.

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Writing at home in the evening is so much easier than writing at home during the day. for the most part, if I want to write during the day I have to go out somewhere. I have to go sit in a cafe or a pub, or somewhere outside. Anywhere that’s out of the apartment.

I may have to practice on writing at home even in the day, but so far it’s proving tricky.

However, when the screen yellows and I’m on my own on the sofa, that’s when the magic happens.

When the Screen Yellows

Soundtrack For A Holy Warrior

A while back, just over a year ago actually, I posted about making a soundtrack for my character Alene – here. It’s been a while since I posted anything at all now, and I figured it was time to post a soundtrack for Toini.

Toini is a paladin, which is a type of holy warrior, and these are the songs I associate most with her at the moment.

1. Fluke – Atom Bomb

This is very much the essence of Toini in her role as a paladin, the way she appears on the surface: strong, unstoppable, and full of power and will. She keeps on going, and she does whatever it takes to reach her goals.

It’s possible she may come off as more than a little bit fanatical, going way beyond the borders of sanity, but that’s who she is. Her god chose her as his hand in the world for a reason.

2. Varien – Valkyrie III (feat. Laura Brehm)

This song gets to represent the other side of Toini – the one her crew sees when she’s not on duty. She’s still a fighter and a crusader, but it’s not always an easy burden to carry, and her duties take their toll on her.

Hers is not an easy life, and it can sometimes be difficult to keep on going.

3. First Aid Kit – America

Like with all people, there’s more to Toini than meets the eye, even for those who know her well, and I picked this song to show that. It’s about travelling, seeing the world, and looking for something that isn’t really there, and which perhaps can’t be found at all.

It’s about the riddles of life and how the answers are sometimes far away and sometimes nearly within grasp, but never quite there.

4. VNV Nation – Primary

With this song I want to show the internal version of Toini in her paladin role. It’s how she feels when she’s carrying out the will of her god. There’s an exhilaration to it that doesn’t come through to the outside.

She’s charging ahead at full speed without hesitation, and without the ability to stop or change direction even if she wanted to – which she doesn’t.

5. Lustral – I Wonder Where You Are

Another slow, melancholic piece. This is a part of Toini that no one ever sees, and that even she herself shies away from. It’s about the memories of her past and about the people she left behind there. They’re no longer a part of her life, and they can never be, but sometimes she still remembers them.

Five songs. Some of these picks were easy, and some were less obvious. I feel like they’re a good representation of the character though. There’s a bit of variety, but there’s an overarching theme that ties them together, even if it may be hard to spot at a glance.

Soundtrack For A Holy Warrior