The insanity of writing

A book editor I’m following on Twitter had a question for her followers yesterday, one I’ve reflected on myself from time to time.

I’m not sure I ever figured out why I write. There is the Maya Angelou quote I have as my tagline. It’s painful having a story inside me without being able to tell anyone. It’s hard to explain to outsiders why I keep doing what may look like insanity to them. Writing a book, getting it published, and achieving success is hard, as Keidi Keating pointed out, so why do we put ourselves through it? 

Personally, I find “I’ll show them” to be a great motivator. I used to get sad when people labelled me, or assumed things about me, but I have replaced that with a motivation to prove them wrong. It’s not just about them, but more about what I want to do. I don’t want limitations to stop me. I keep most of my personal life outside the garret, as that isn’t the reason people read my blog, but it’s no secret that life with nonverbal learning disability (NLD/NVLD) hasn’t been all fun. This disability isn’t fully understood yet, and there is some disagreement about causes, but Byron Rourke’s hypothesis from the late 1980’s (built on Myklebust’s one from the 1960’s) is accepted. He referred to it as white matter (brain tissue that transports messages), right hemisphere deficit. It isn’t quite that simple, but my point is that I’m motivated to succeed where people assume I can’t.

I’d be lying if I said that writing was about art and nothing else, that I had no interest in making money. There is an element of both, because I do dream about being able to make a living from writing. It may look like borderline mental illness to outsiders. After all, we continue doing something that hurts us. Some find writing to be easy, but it isn’t to me. I have long periods when it’s a lot of fun, but it also requires discipline, and sometimes the struggles for a solution to a particular problem can be torture. Considering some of the ridiculous diagnoses the American Psychiatric Assocoation has added to DSM, perhaps writing should be there as well?

I’m just joking of course. This is my preferred method of communication, and it seems to be necessary for thinking. I find many ideas to be elusive, but when I start writing, I’m able to identify and harvest them in a way I couldn’t before. Still, when I think about it, it doesn’t make sense that so many of us put ourselves through this.

I read a list once of successful novels that almost didn’t get published, and one of my favourite children’s novels was on it, A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. She tried no less than 26 publishers before Ariel Books accepted it in 1962. I think many assumed children wouldn’t be able to understand the concept of evil. I believe J. K. Rowling also had some difficulties in convincing the publishers, and one of the objections to Harry Potter was the length of the manuscript. I think the last book in the series was close to 200 000 words, so young readers clearly didn’t feel intimidated by the thick book. On the contrary, whether readers are young or old, they don’t want their favourite books to end.

One of my local book shops had this rather strange gimmick. I’m not sure I’d buy a book with so little to go on, but authors are in a way in that situation, because how do we get publishers’ attention? How do we get a date with an editor?

I’m glad someone was willing to take a chance on Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and A Wrinkle in Time. It makes me wonder how many good stories we never hear about, because someone didn’t think the target audience would accept them. I didn’t find it easy writing the first book in my series, and I never really thought about what would happen once it was completed. The real struggle is being told it’s not good enough, or worse, being rejected without any hint of what went wrong.

We don’t have agents in Norway, or rather, they have a different function. Oslo Literary Agency is the biggest one, but it’s owned by one of the old, traditional publishers. It’s meant for translated authors trying to reach an international audience. Norwegian publishers accept unsolicited manuscripts, which means they read a lot of them. I’m not sure which system is more likely to get the right people to read your mansucript. Personally, I like the idea of talking to the publisher directly. The manuscript I’m going to show them isn’t the final version, so I like the idea of a certain cooperation between author and publisher, but perhaps that’s a naive attitude.

Maybe the statement I ended my comment with on Twitter is the best reason for writing: Life is more when I write.

Breaking the habit

The Moon and Venus (behind the tree). Some find the silence from space to be disturbingly loud.
The Moon and Venus (behind the tree). Some find the silence from space to be disturbingly loud.

I’ve seen quite a few blog posts warning aspiring authors against basing a character on a real person, and especially themselves. I think some say it can be restrictive, but perhaps it’s rather the opposite? I frequently find it more restrictive to follow rules.

I wouldn’t create a character so close to reality it would be obvious to everyone who I based it on. There are a couple of famous examples from my own country. Karl Ove Knausgaard wrote the enormously successful six volume series My Struggle, but there was a high price to pay, not just for him. He talks about it in this interview in The Guardian. Another Norwegian author, Vigdis Hjort, published the novel Will and Testament four years ago. The main character was sexually abused by her father, and although the author insisted it was fiction, her sister wrote what media labeled a revenge novel. The Guardian wrote a review of Will and Testament too. I wonder how much of this would be all over the media if the families had simply left it alone, but perhaps that is beside the point.

I wouldn’t stretch it as far as these two did, but how could we possibly make interesting characters if they didn’t look like real people? Using traits we have observed clearly must be allowed, but I’d be careful about making it too obvious. The same goes for companies. The Brief History of the Dead is a dystopic novel where everybody dies, and as I recall the Coca Cola Company’s mention was less than honourable, but perhaps they are used to that.

Another rule is the adverb. I believe it was Stephen King who said that the road to hell was paved with adverbs, or something like that, but I find it too restrictive to focus on what I can’t do. It’s like the H & M billboards that popped up everywhere in the early 1990’s. They became a much debated topic, and some claimed it was a traffic hazzard when giant photos of Cindy Crawford and Anna Nicole Smith in H & M underwear tried to get our attention away from the road. It was probably an exaggerated fear, as we didn’t seem to have more accidents than before.

It wasn’t completely unfounded, because I have noticed how dangerous it can be to take your eyes off the road for even a second, but writing isn’t quite the same as driving. Sometimes breaking the rules or expectations can be a good thing. I must have taken the warning a little too seriously, because it was driving me crazy trying to write without adverbs. I tend to be a wordy writer. I’m decadent and overindulgent in my pursuit of words, but maybe I really am lazy? That’s the accusation against writers with a tendency to use adverbs.

I’m working on my first book, and although I’m pleased with the result, this is also my education. This book has taken a long time, because I’m also using it to learn how to write a novel. So perhaps I can learn to use adverbs sensibly? It remains to be seen. Imagine someone on the autism spectrum. These people may have some challenges most outsiders don’t consider, such as different kinds of sensory intolerance or sensitivity. I’ve never used the phrase “the sun shone loudly”, but I suspect it would be an accurate description if light is what you are sensitive to. I get the feeling many have found social distancing to be a challenge, and if you’re not used to being alone, I can see how silence screams loudly. Some have a smiliar feeling concerning space. The idea of being alone troubles many. I suppose I’ll try to keep it simple, and resist the temptation to be overly clever or fancy.

I think Stephen King may have been referring to dialogue attributes. He shouted is enough, and adding loudly wouldn’t be necessary at all. I have to remind myself of the word simple, but I like the idea of light or silence being too loud, and sometimes it is tempting to add the ly-suffix. It’s almost an automatic reflex. I’m writing a story that takes place in two time peiods, and the past doesn’t have contractions, but I find some every time I go over my story. It’s like my brain doesn’t want to edit what sounds perfectly normal. It’s so annoying having to obey all the time, and I probably won’t every time.

I travel between worlds

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live. J. K. Rowling in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

I sometimes miss the magic of childhood. I still appreciate a good story, and I still have moments when it feels like I’m in that other universe, but it’s never like it was. The grown up world, frequently shaded by an excess of seriousness and gloom, is stronger than the fantasy.

The best I can hope for is an illusion, a false perception for a short period. It’s a sort of controlled or disciplined muse. I can allow it for a brief moment, but never give myself completely over to the dream. I suppose that’s the only way to live, not completely in the world of fantasy and not completely outside it. It was something I found hard to accept growing up. I eventually realised it didn’t matter what I thought. Time moved forward no matter what I wanted, so I had to succeed, or not.

The Lion, the witch and the wardrobe book cover. I know Aslan is supposed to be God, but I sometimes wish I had the relationship with him Lucy had.
I know Aslan is supposed to be God, but I sometimes wish I had the relationship with him Lucy had.

I have been pretty successful, but it hasn’t stopped me from wishing there was a Narnia, a Shire/Rivendell/Harlindon, or a wizarding world (Harry Potter). I also recall fond childhood memories of times spent in the Hundred Acre Forest, Wonderland (Alice), the England described in The Wind in the Willows, Swallows and Amazons, and later when it almost felt like I was living in St. Mary’s Mead, Whitehaven Mansions (Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot), Meryton (Pride & Prejudice), or rural Oxfordshire (Lark Rise to Candleford).

Some of these are pure fiction, while others are the author’s description of a real place. They don’t exist any more, if they ever existed in the form we read in these stories. I’ve heard that J. R. R. Tolkien based the Shire on the places he lived in Worcestershire and Oxfordshire, and some have argued that what he really wanted to save was his England. I don’t know how much of that is true and how much is speculation, but I find it very sad. It’s a sentiment I can totally relate to, because I’m not at all comfortable with change.

That’s one of the sad things about the Covid-19 outbreak, because there are some saying this is the end of the world as we know it. What they mean by that is that things will change. It may not be extreme changes, but there will probably be things we have to stop doing or do in a different way. No matter what happens, there is a chance there’ll be a long-lasting sense of loss. That leads to grief, and how you deal with it is important.

I have always been a fighter and that won’t change. I live mostly in the real world, but I sometimes take excursions to another world. These voyages make me feel better, but as strange as it may sound, I even find joy in grief. After grief at least. Some stories leave me feeling sehnsucht, a German word C. S. Lewis used a lot. It’s a longing for something we may not be able to define, and it could be a painful feeling. This is a quote from his book Mere Christianity:

If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

I’ve always found it hard to fit in, and I may be one of those individuals who is sort of misplaced. I sometimes feel I was meant for a different time period, a parallel universe, or some other kind of different life. Being aware of this sometimes pains me, but it also helps me. I find joy in the world I live in, and when I don’t, my mission is seeking that joy. I still have a strong distaste for change, but once I’m done feeling miserable, I appreciate the things I couldn’t see before. I don’t have a Mary Poppins to magically make things right again, and I can’t spend my life by the river together with Mole, Rat, and the other delightful characters. I’ll never have tea with Miss Marple or see the England some of my favourite authors have painted with their words.

What I have is a family, and books, and a creativity I’m slowly developing into books myself. I’m living much like a chess game, where the strategy is to slowly improve my position. It’s hard for the best players in the world to win against each other, and it’s not uncommon to see ties after the computer gave one of them up to 80 percent chance of winning. It’s hard to take advantage of that strength, because what the computer sees as a path to victory, might require 30 accurate moves. It’s hard to see that far ahead, so the solution is to attempt being in a better position after you’ve made your move. That sometimes is enough, and sometines not.

It works for me. I don’t feel great every day. In fact, there are days when I feel lousy, but I’m still better off than I was in the past. That’s comforting, even if we all live in a story where there is a battle between good and evil. Things can change quickly, but I am the narrator of my own story. I can’t control everything, but I find that there’s a lot I can influence.

A lesson from my character

We did not become. We did not change. But change must come. Risk must come. Sheri Tepper

I think I was around 14 when I started reading classic science fiction stories by authors like H. G. Wells, John Wyndham, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Philip Dick. I discovered Sherlock Holmes around the same time, and I accidentally ran into Tolkien at the library a couple of years later. I don’t think any of these authors were widely read in Norway at the time, but they more or less changed my life. I struggled with both reading and writing in school, and as a consequence my confidence was non-existing. It was pretty obvious I wasn’t going anywhere, but I think the turning point was when I found the motivation to read, and it started with science fiction, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, and a growing list of fantasy.

I had periods when I lost momentum, and I went through a major one in my late 20’s and early 30’s, but then Harry Potter was published, followed by Percy Jackson and Magnus Chase. Things didn’t work out in my career as a teacher, and I lost sight of my dream during those difficult years. I sometimes wondered if the education I’d fought so hard to get was in vain, but when I came out on the other side of fear and darkness, I started thinking I may have been meant for something else. Incidentally, I wasn’t alone during those years, because J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Rick Riordan helped me a lot. I could see that my struggles had prepared me for the stories I’m writing these days. I did the work myself of course, but I’m not sure I’d pull myself together without the books that captivated me, and that started in 8th grade. I’m sure my parents and teachers tried to motivate me, but they didn’t succeed. I think it was Stephen King who referred to books as portable magic, and they have had that function in my life. They developed and protected/insulated me. They spoke to me across long distances in time and space, and they changed the outcome, which I think would have been pretty bleak.

I came across a question on a blog recently: What scares you?

It reminded me of a post I wrote myself once. My post was about Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut who went blind on his first space walk. He held a TED lecture when he came back from the International Space Station, and he started with the following question:

What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?

His blindness was temporary, caused by the product they used to prevent the visor from fogging up, but he didn’t know that at the time. His own answer to the question was pretty obvious, but because NASA prepare the astronauts for anything that could go wrong, he didn’t panic.

He compared it to going through spider webs. Spiders are usually harmless in a cold climate. It’s one of the advantages of living somewhere cold, but many are still afraid of spiders. The perceived danger is a lot higher than the actual danger, and the solution he suggested was to walk through spider webs. After doing that a few times, you realise it’s not likely to harm you. In other words, expose yourself to the situation you fear. It doesn’t feel great, but that’s the recomended treatment for anxiety.

Unfortunately, it’s not enough to conquer your enemy once. Fear and anxiety have a way of sneaking up on you. It’s easy sitting at my desk writing. Sending the manuscript to a publisher and waiting for the verdict from a totally ruthless reader is a lot worse. It would be a huge disappointment being rejected, but I’m trying not to think about the consequences of success. I’d have to give people the impression I do nothing but walk through spider webs all day, and there’s a lot of them.

Seeds sprouting Life starts.
Life starts.

When I get published it’ll be time for me to learn from my character. Heroes are usually the most unlikely person for the job. In fact, they are frequently weak, terrified, and remarkably unsuited for the mission. So why would they be the preferred candidate? Perhaps a weak or humble background is required for the learning experience, or perhaps the hero has to figure out what scares him/her, and then do it? No matter what the reason is, I find inspiration in fictional characters who became something they were not, or who showed people they were more than the world could see.

I can handle all the spider webs I’ve encountered so far. I have some of the scariest ones left, but I intend to expose myself to that danger as well. That’s an opponent I have a chance against, because I have already faced a stronger one. I used to fear failure, which is why it took me so long time to start writing. That was a big spider in my life, but it’s been defeated. Like I said, the enemy could come back, and some in my family also know the spider called bitterness.

I ‘m not immune to that, but I hope I have walked through enough spider webs to be spared. I want to be like a seed that is planted by the rivers of water (reference to Psalm 1:3). I have a history of killing plants, possibly my own spirit as well, but I’m trying to grow some seeds on my veranda this spring. It’s a reminder of the beautiful symbolism in nature, and in Christianity. I bury the seeds, and in a  sense they must give up life before they can produce life. That’s bascially what happens in nature every autumn, but what may look like absence of life, is just a period of rest to prepare for new growth. I have a feeling my spring is coming.

Golden moments

I love the symbolism of sunrise. It's an awakeing, a rebirth. In my case, it creates new characters, and perhaps makes me see my home in a new light.
I love the symbolism of sunrise. It’s an awakeing, a rebirth. In my case, it creates new characters, and perhaps makes me see my home in a new light.

“There’s always a sunrise and always a sunset and it’s up to you to choose to be there for it,” said my mother. “Put yourself in the way of beauty.  Cheryl Strayed from Wild: Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail

Mornings have always been golden moments to me. For some reason I wake up relatively early, and when I have to get up early, I still wake up before my phone alarms. I suppose 6-7 hours of sleep is enough, but it would be nice to sleep in occassionally. The upside is that I get some work done. I love my family, but living with two chatty girls isn’t always conducive to writing. The mornings are especially golden during the Covid-19 drama, because with my daughter home every day (school is closed), it’s hard to get the work peace I need. I guess power writing could be a thing.

I write the same way I read, which means 3-4 projects at the same time. I’m working on what will be a series of four books. The first manuscript is almost done, but I also work on number two and three whenever I have some ideas. I’m not one of those who can sit down and write 2 000 + words a day. It always puzzles me when I hear authors on podcasts like So you want to be a writer? (Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo) or The Worried writer (Sarah Painter) talk about how much they do every day. I decided I couldn’t let that stress me, because the words come to me eventually.

I have spent a lot of time in the Viking age lately, but I have revisited one of my future projects this week, which means World War II. People who have read this blog for a while may have detected a certain ambivalence when I think about my hometown. I loved her for a long time, but our relationship has been rather dysfunctional for a number of years. I have discovered my old friend in a new way now. I’m working on some ideas for a story that takes place during the 1940’s, and I’m thinking about the places my mother would have gone to. A neighbourhood usually has street names from the same group, and my mother grew up in a part of town where all the streets are named after kings. She was eight years old when her family moved to King Sverre’s Street (this king died in 1202) in 1948. This is also the street where I think King Fairhair (died 930) was buried.

I love and hate this neighbourhood. The school is in Queen Gyda’s Street, and she was one of King Harald Fairhair’s wives. According to the legend she refused to marry a man who wasn’t the king of the entire country, and he accepted the challenge. He also decided not to cut his hair until he had accomplished the mission,which is where the nickname came from, and when he had, she agreed to marry him. The oldest part of the school was built in 1897, and I went to the same school as my mother. We both had pretty mixed emotions about our years there, but the neighbourhood itself is beautiful.

They built some very nice houses in that area roughly between 1830 and 1930, and this is where I imagine my protagonist living. I’m having a lot of fun writing this, and I’m thinking now that I don’t actually hate my hometown. There are many possible lives or routes, and I sometimes wish I could have continued one of the many I had to leave. I could see myself living in this neighbourhood. The last life could have happened when my wife and I were viewing apartments in the area around this school, for several years before we left town. In the end we decided to try somewhere else, which turned out to be a good call.

There are some painful memories assciated with the Hauge neighbourhood, but I still think of the area that has been important to my family as home.

The painful books

One of the advantages of stories is also one of the disadvantages. We can’t live without feelings, and if we try, we’ll end up being miserable. I want books and films that make me feel, and although it can be painful to be reminded of things I want to to forget, it’s also useful sometimes.

I’m not big on love stories, but I like good stories. I haven’t read many books that were pure romance, and I think On Fortune’s Wheel by Cynthia Voigt has been the closest, although it qualifies as fantasy and YA .I want readers to feel an emotional connexion to my characters, and that’s one of the things I’m focusing on at the moment. The story is more or less complete, but there are some details missing, and these few added words may prove to be the most important ones.

It’s very individual what affects people of course, and when a well-known Norwegian author/painter committed suicide on December 25th last year, many expressed a strong public mourning. I don’t think I’m particularly cold, but I didn’t like this person, and I couldn’t feel sad. It bothered me more when the musician Prince, authors like Octavia Butler, Ursula Le Guin, or other stars like actors from the Star Trek-series died, because they have meant something to me.

Yearning is essential to me, and something I hope to capture in my stories. The theologian G. K. Chesterton supposedly said that “any man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God.” That is perhaps not the first place most people would look, at the same time as it may be. It’s about longing for something.

I think C. S. Lewis expressed something similar when he wrote about sehnsucht. This German word translates to longing, and in psychology it’s used for what is unfinished or imperfect in our lives. Lewis said that if there was a desire in him that no experience in this world could satisfy, the most probable explanation had to be that he was made for another world. What can be more painful than longing for something we can’t find? So why do men go to prostitutes? The answer may be more complicated than primitive biological urges it’s hard to stop. It could very well be something deeper people are looking for.

Many have a longing for something they can’t define. We may miss the past, or long for some future change, or for a place we’d rather be. Personally, I’ve spent a lot of time pretending I was living in my favourite books. It’s my holodeck (from Star Trek). I moved away from my hometown Haugesund a couple of years ago, but it’s been hard to get that place out of me. There are some good memories, but there’s too many negative ones, so it doesn’t make any sense to have these visits of sentimental yearning, but I do. 

Bruce Springsteen described something similar in his song My Father’s House. According to the site Songfacts he drove past his childhood home, late at night, several times a week for a long period. He didn’t have great memories from his years there, so he couldn’t figure out why he did it. He went to a psychologist who suggested that maybe he was trying to go back and fix something that went wrong. That’s the problem with linear time; we can’t.

I guess all we can do is to make the future better, and learn how to deal with our emotions. The photos show some of my nostalgic moments/places. One of them is where I grew up, the house is a renovation project I was forced to sell when I moved across country for a job, two are associated with my daughter, the overgrown football field was my playground as a child, and the town by the sea is the home I wanted (to love, but I find that impossible). To paraphrase John Lennon, I was planning something else, and then life happened. There’s a lot of ambivalent feelings concerning the past, but literature is helping me deal with life.

Sometimes reading a book can be painful because of my own experiences, but I still want to read and relive. I think it’s because change is necessary, but not pleasant. No wonder we all long for something better.

The night shift editor

I like to write down ideas in my notebook, which allows me to wrote anywhere, in any situation.
I like to write down ideas in my notebook, which allows me to write anywhere, in any situation.

My brain never ceases to amaze me. I spent the majority of yesterday in frustration. I discovered a flaw in my manuscript, and the remedy was to create a new character and at least one more chapter. I also have to work this character into the other chapters.

The problem was seeing this person that hadn’t been a part of my story. The story I’m working on has been developing inside my head for a number of years. I thought about this adventure for many years without writing anything down, and now there’s suddenly a new character which is quite important to the story. I testet several ideas during the day, and continued into late eveinng. I was searching my mind for other authors that could offer some inspiration. I always strive for originality, but as J. K. Rowling writes on her homepage (under answers) “you can’t be a good writer without being a devoted reader.”

That doesn’t mean you copy them. It has to be an original story, but the reason many see similarities between different stories and universes is probably because many of them have been inspired by mythology, which is a fascinating field. Many cultures on different continents have quite similar supernatural creatures, so we really aren’t that different. We never have been. When I was looking for inspiration yesterday, I was thinking of Ursula Le Guin, C. J. Cherryh, and Sheri Tepper. I was thinking of an outsider, one that had to leave the environment that was familiar to him. I had some idea about what I wanted, but didn’t get anywhere, and went to bed without resolving the issue. I have some esperience with this, and frequently find that obsessing isn’t helping at all.

Doing something else can be quite effective, and I’ve had a lot of good ideas while riding a bike or going for a walk. Sleeping has also produced results, and it did this time too. I usually wake up early, but I woke a little earlier than usual today. That may have happened because I was cold after sleeping with the window open, and it was cold enough to snow during the night. The solution came to me as soon as I woke up, so of course I got out of bed and booted up my computer. It’s happened too many times that I had a good idea, but lost it because I didn’t write it down.

Now I have something to work on. I can see this character clearly, and what he means to the story. I assume he was in my head the whole time, but he needed some time to develop. Nothing comes quickly to me. The insanity of seeing people that only exists in my imagination takes time. Ursula Le Guin said once that authors and readers are bonkers. She said we believe in people that aren’t there, and hear their voices. Ursula Le Guin has produced a lot of wonderful insanity.

That’s what we all want, more of the beautiful, creative insanity.

A question I want to explore

What we’re after is the appreciation of where our Earth fits in in the grand context of our universe, and we’d love to be able to find other earths. Geoff Marcy, UC Berkeley

My previous post, Life is a work in progress, touched briefly on the questions we don’t know the answers to. One of the questions is whether or not there is  a God, and agnosticism seems more workable than atheism from my point of view. It allows for you to ask honest questions, even when you know there may not be an answer, but saying that we under no circumstances, no matter what evidence might surface in the future, will change our fixed position, is problematic. One thing is for sure, you can’t hide behind science if that’s your view.

The quote is taken from a documentary on History Channel. Yes, I know, that’s not a great place to start if you like science, but they have actually been quite successful in making astronomy accessible to the public. I do wish there had been a lot less bigfoot and UFO-hunters on the network, though. I’m writing fantasy now, but I think there is at least one science fiction book in me. I’ve been fascinated by astronomy and science fiction since my pre-teens, and this interest was heavily influenced by H. G. Wells, John Wyndham, Robert Heinlein, Carl Sagan, Gene Roddenberry, George Lucas, and many others.

There are many questions I want to explore, like why are we alone? The question has troubled many scientists, and there are some disturbing possibilities. One theory says that we are not alone, but there is a filter that kills life. The reason we haven’t found life elsewhere could be because none of the other civilizations made it past the filter. The reason we are still here could be because we made it past the filter, or because we haven’t faced that barrier yet. In other words, there could be problems ahead. Many find the altenative just as troubling, that we really are alone.

It puzzles me how people would find that troubling. I could live with solitude, but I also think distance could be a good idea. Think about what happened on Earth when the Europeans discovered the other continents. I’m sure the indigenous population anywhere outside Europe could have lived well with a scenario where they weren’t discovered that early. The first question we tend to ask ourselves on the brink of first contact is how we can kill these people, and take their land. In terms of fiction we like to portray aliens as intelligent beings that only come here to harvest, but distance could just as well be beneficial to them as it is to us.

We are many centuries away from Starfleet technology, and in the mean time I think we’re pretty unique, whether we are alone or not, and that’s something we can appreciate. When I’m on the topic of science, I’m reminded of a young South-African girl named Tyffany. She wrote two letters to Albert Einstein in 1946, and she said she regretted the fact that she was a girl, because she didn’t like the kind of things society expected of a girl.

In his response Einstein said:

I don’t mind that you are a girl, but the main thing is that you yourself don’t mind. There is no reason for it.

I found this quote in a post on Medium that described this correspondence. Read it here. Albert Einstein is interesting for many reasons, and apart from this glimpse into his personality, I also liked the fact that he could admit when he was wrong. He did that on several occassion when he didn’t trust his own theory, which was pretty radical.

The Gap

A notebook on my lap in the park. I love summer when I can write anywhere.
A notebook on my lap in the park. I love summer when I can write anywhere.

I used to work as a teacher and heard many of the assumptions people had about teachers. It was even clear to me that people who knew me, expected me to be available ten minutes after the kids went home, but my job involved a lot more than teaching. I sometimes wondered if they had appreciated teachers a little more if they had tried their lives, something like a reality show my daughter watched quite a few years ago. Two people in each episode tried the other person’s life for a week (job/school, friends, activities, family). That could have been dramatic in this case.

But this post isn’t about my previous life. It’s about what I do now. The gap between what I do and what people think I do is probably as wide as ever. What do writers do and what do readers think they do? What about those that don’t want to read? They wouldn’t be the first people with strong opinions about something they didn’t know anything about.

I wish my garret was a quiet little room in the attic, with a skylight window where I could look at the stars at night. That would have been amazing, but I live in an apartment building with a lot of sounds coming from the other apatments, as well as my own. Whether it’s music or food, I know excactly what my neighbours like. Then there’s my chatty family.

This is not a household without distractions, but for some reason they work better for me than any other environment. I would go bananas trying to write in public, such as in a café. I suspect that my garret never looks like people think it should look like. I find writing enjoyable, and my life would have been a lot more anaemic without it. Still, there’s a whole lot of monotony involved. I’m editing at the moment, and it’s going well, but this part of the job isn’t always fun.

But writing is fun. I can give some pretty good reasons for why I write, but there’s also a lot about writing I can’t describe. I can’t always explain why I write, except that I’m miserable when I don’t express myself. Writers need patience, and even the most successful novelists had to accept a few rejections and editing before their first book was published. That means learning from mistakes, and of course being stubborn. In other words, it doesn’t look pretty a lot of the time.

Many have probably a picture in their head of how successes like J. K. Rowling, Rick Riordan, Neil Gaiman, and Veronica Roth look like when they work. We may think that it looked a lot different for some of the writers in the past, like Judy Blume, Ursula Le Guin, C. S. Lewis, Cynthia Voigt, and Madeleine L’Engle, but it probbaly didn’t. It may not have been a pretty picture at all. It was in the end, but getting there can be a rough ride. I’m sure they all had moments of major doubt, but they still found it was worth it.

Personally, I’ve found a lot of motivation in doubt. Not so much in my own perhaps, but the fact that others don’t see me as a writer, makes me want to prove them wrong. It’s also a good feeling to succeed after having doubted myself.

A project for the future

I used to live on the little island where the shipyard is today. The bridge was the site of a tragic WW II-murder.
I used to live on the little island where the shipyard is today. The bridge was the site of a tragic WW II-murder.

I don’t like not knowing. When I have to be somewhere I haven’t been before I either go there the day before, or go early on the day of the appointment, to make sure that I know where I’m going. It also reduces the stress, because I tend to obsess about things I don’t know.

I’m like that when I write too. I’m currently editing my manuscript, and things are going great, but there’s that voice in my head that just needs to know where this is going. I’m planning for three books, and obviously I don’t intend to send all of them to the publisher at the same time. I don’t want to wait that long, but I still want to have some idea about what’s going to happen. I haven’t written the other books yet, but I have made some notes that I will develop further later. When I read articles published on different news outlets I see things I may want to include.

World War II doesn’t fit into what I’m working on now, but I have a fascination with the 1940’s and 50’s. In fact, I’ve always had a fantasy of buying a house and turn it into a 1940’s home, but my family wouldn’t exactly find that appealing. Most things are more comfortable today, but I like the old design better than a lot of modern stuff.

There was a lot of evil in the world, and the times were hard financially, so it’s definitely not a time I wish I could have lived in, but the fashion from that time attracts me. I grew up with a lot of good British TV-drama. I discovered Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple-books in my early teens, which also made for excellent TV. I later watched re-runs of a series I had been too young for the first time, A Family at War, and Upstais, Downstairs (I believe the time period was the first three decades of the 20th century). The WW II-theme followed me with later shows like A Town Like Alice, We’ll Meet Again, The Cazelets, and Foyle’s War. I also remember some excellent American shows like Homefront, I’ll Fly Away, and The Winds of War.

I talked to an old man once who said it took 50 years to learn what had really happened during the war. He had a point. It takes a long time, but we’ll never know everything. There was a Norwegian film a few years ago called The King’s Choice (the original title says no instead of choice). It’s a well done film about three days in April 1940 when the royal family and the government had to flee through half the country. The Bitish navy ship HMS Glasgow took them from Molde up to Tromsø, and HMS Devonshire took them to London when it was clear that Norway had been lost to the Nazis.

First of all, it wasn’t the king’s decision, but the government’s. It was also known when they made the film that the prince wrote a letter to the Prince of Wales in 1940, suggesting that both countries made a deal with Hitler. So the defiance the royal family became known for later may not have been that strong from the beginning. It’s also been revealed in recent years that neutral Sweden helped both sides. They may have given the allies intelligence, but they also used their railways to transport German soldiers and weapon to Norway.

There is a term used by historians that translates to something like remembrance culture. There is a public one and there are many families with their own version of what happened during the war. I’d love to write a novel set in WW II. The public remembrance culture says that Norway took a stand against the Nazis, but the truth is that the opposotion to eugenics and even to Hitler wasn’t particularly strong until it was forced on them.The real heroes were the individuals that fought Hitler before anyone asked them to.

There are a lot of things from my local and national WW II-history I’d love to dive into. There are many good stories there. I’m not sure how much I’m allowed to do, but I’d love to have a character meet some of my heroes, such as C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien, or even a fictional character like Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle.

But I have another project to complete first.

The photo: I used to live on Risøy, a 0,23 km² island where the shipyard is today. The Nazis used it for Soviet POWs during WW II, and one of many sad anecdotes from the war concerns a young man that was on his way home from a night shift at the herring factory. He had to walk in complete darkness because of the blackout, and I guess the German soldier on guard duty panicked and killed him.