The right to profit

I’m not sure what the latest #ElonMusk thing is really about. I read somewhere that Twitter was very opinionated about something he said, again. This time it’s because he called himself a socialist. I understood from the article I read that many think there is a contradiction between having money and being a socialist.

I have a feeling they are thinking about communism. The way I see it pure capitalism isn’t much better than communism. They basically have the same consequences for the majority of the population, and they are not positive. Socialism can coexist with different political and economical systems, such as democracy and capitalism. This has interested me a little because media tend to miss the point in my opinion.

It’s sad when your heroes, or people you respected, die. That happens frequently now that I’m 50 because many of my idols were naturally grown long before me. One of them was  the communist Jon Michelet, who died a couple of months ago. I knew him mostly as a crime author, but at the end of of his life he had a lot of success with a series based on the sailors in the merchant marine during World War II. He completed the series with a sixth book literally on his death bed. The thing that annoyed me was media’s hints and insinuation. They couldn’t write or talk about his success without suggesting that it was wrong of someone who believed in equality to make money.

I’ve seen the same attitude when they write about successful comedians, actors, singers etc. Maybe that’s a side effect of growing up in a country with a strong socialist tradition, but with incentives to make money. Individualism  may be encouraged, but there is still the expectation that you remain in the crowd. You shouldn’t feel unique, and there’s something wrong with you if you want to.

You could definitely say that we are a bit inconsistent, even neurotic. Communist or not, creating is very honest work, and what can be better than educating, entertaining, and creating something people love? What people choose to do with their money is their business, but I know that many capitalists don’t choose to invest them in their own country. Many of them don’t believe in causes either. I know Jon Michelet cared about people, the kind of people society tends to ignore. I know about many authors like that, including one of the richest, J. K. Rowling.

It’s like her hat said, “It’s all here in your head.” It’s just a matter of how we choose to use it.

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The quality of words

Someone shared this poll on Twitter today:

I voted for the 24-50 alternative, which at the moment has 19 percent of the votes. I’ve always had difficulties reading. It used to be both about a very low speed and comprehension. I understand more today, but I’m still a very slow reader. I also find it hard to concentrate, so I usually need complete silence when I read.

I rebooted a few years ago. I didn’t read much at all. I had books I had started years ago, but couldn’t finish. One of them was Gone by Michael Grant, which didn’t appeal to me at all. At least not at the time. The local library has an annual challenge called the bookworm. They challenge kids between 3rd and 7th grade to read 30 books between mid January and mid May. I decided to use this opportunity to challenge myself. I didn’t reach 30, but usually managed 25, which is pretty remarkable considering I almost didn’t read at all before the challenge.

I sort of rebooted and now I read every year without a challenge. Pressure is more positive than you might think. It sounds bad when you have to force yourself to read, but it didn’t feel that way at all. I was grateful for every word. I enjoyed every moment, and the consequences (it develops the brain). I needed that pressure for a while, but I’m more relaxed about it now. I don’t count the books I read, but when I look back I come to around 20 books so far this year. I’m also writing more than I used to, so it’s been a pretty good year for the written words.

But as my teachers always told us students, it’s about the content. Most of us were focused on how many words the teacher expected, but as he tried to explain, it wasn’t just about how many words we used. After all, a poet can probably say more with 50 words than a politician can with thousands.

Unwanted literature

A handful of unwanted books that have served this family well.
A handful of unwanted books that have served this family well.

Simultaneousness or coexistence could be a highly desirable position to find oneself in, or not. In my case it is. My story is going very well. I have worked very intensely, and decided to take a break today as I have really tense muscles in my neck. I’ve made a lot of progress recently, but there are still details that won’t be as clear to the reader as they are to me. I have a lot of work left, but the plot is slowly coming together.

The other thing is money, more precisely the lack of it, which may not be such a bad thing. I’m one of those people that buy books Iike they are candy. I plan to read them when I have time and/or the inclination, which could be a lot later. I had a very disappointing loss four years ago. I accepted a job offer in Nordland county, so the family moved. It took us three days to drive, and as my new employer paid for the moving truck, I got to bring all my belongings. The job didn’t work out and I was forced to resign two years later, in 2014. The moving truck cost $ 5000, and as I had to pay myself this time, I had no choice but to leave almost everything. We focused on our daughter. She got to keep everything as moving that far is traumatic enough.

So I had to start over again, which means I don’t have many books now. I use the library a lot, but they seem to concentrate on bad crime and even worse romance. There are some gems there, though, and sometimes they actually get rid of what I see as excellent books. A couple of years ago I came across three of the four books in the chronicles of the star ship Alexandria. They had Tanz, Mizt, and Azur  (the one I don’t have is Zalt). I suppose this is more about a longing or a romanticising of the past. Science fiction isn’t popular in Norway, and it’s almost non-existing in my own language. It still is. Jon Bing wrote these children’s books between 1975 and 1985, and they were one of my first glimpses into the fantastic world of fiction.

Jon Bing also translated Ursula Le Guin to Norwegian. I found her books The Farthest Shore and Tehanu on the table where the library display unwanted books. I just read On Fortune’s Wheel  by Cynthia Voigt, which has also found a home in my bookshelf. I wrote a while back about romance novels I like. I thought for a long time that romance was the pulp fiction grocery store sold in the 1980’s, and the bad paperbacks they pass as historical fiction today. I discovered that I like romance if the story is compelling. I mentioned Kate Morton and Victoria Hislop last time, and now I can add Cynthia Voigt.

It’s interesting how different people see very different things, though. After reading Cynthia Voigt I looked at some of the reviews at Amazon. Most were very excited and gave the book the maximum amount of stars, but one reader gave only one. Susan said she was depressed 90 percent of the time because life in the book was grim and people were self-interested. I liked the story, and by the way, wouldn’t grim and self-interested be realistic, especially in a medieval world?

I’m scaling down

sponge cake. I bake gluten and milk-free cakes. This one looked like a disaster, but tasted heavenly, which is acceptable to me.
I bake gluten and milk-free cakes. This one looked like a disaster, but tasted heavenly, which is acceptable to me.

I called myself an accidental writer in a post recently. It sort of just happened, but not without one hell of a fight. I don’t write much about nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) on this blog, as that is not what i want to focus on. That’s still a part of my background. Let’s just say that school from beginning to end was rather problematic.

Reading was difficult, writing was difficult, and convincing people that I was actually trying was especially challenging. Considering the difficulties I had with the written language, you wouldn’t think I had a strong longing for it, but I did. I was drawn to books before I read. I guess I wanted to read, to have the ability to focus.

I didn’t read much before I was 14 years old, and there wasn’t anything extensive about my reading the first two years. I still sought books, though. I went to the book store even if I never had money to buy any. I think the first book I bought myself was The Best Science Fiction Stories, which was edited by Michael Stapleton. I think I was 16 then, and I moved to The Lord of the Rings the same year.

I guess there are many ways to get the job done, but when I listen to podcasts and interviews with authors, most of them talk about a childhood with a strong drive. Many wrote stories very early. I believe I have developed the necessary skills, but the big think now is getting peace and quiet around me. I’m not in a situation where that is possible, which makes it hard to get any kind of progress. I’m not stressed about it. The important thing is that I get the book right.

I have discovered that it’s easier to write short stories these days. So my strategy at the moment is to explore some ideas and characters in short texts, and that may appear in my book later. I’m turning 50 tomorrow, so I won’t be a young debutant when that time arrives, but that makes sense. I have reached all the milestones most people expect in life, but later than most. Reading and writing shaped my life when I was finally able to use the language, and it may help me reach other people too. I hope so. It’s not a good feeling thinking I have a good story to tell, but not being able to do so.

I remain hopeful as I start a new decade tomorrow.

A continued life

I’m a sort of a Christian. I say a sort of because I hardly ever read the Bible, don’t pray much, and have absolutely no need to spend time with other believers. I have tried all that, but I’m not a people person. They usually expect something from me I can’t give them. I still think there is a purpose not even the Stephens (such as Fry and Hawking) and the Richards (such as Dawkins and Branson) understand, but it feels too easy to say that what I can’t observe or explain has to be something people invented. It would be nice to have another chance of something better, and to be reunited with my favourite people. I like having hopes and dreams, but I am not at all certain.

I realized in the middle of The Dispossessed that Ursula Le Guin was dead, which is what brought me to this post. I checked out her website for Christmas, and was pleased to see that she was still quite active. She published on her blog in 2017. It’s common among science fiction writers to stay active to the last, and I’d like to think it’s because they never stopped using their minds.

Many science fiction writers get their start in a pulp fiction magaine like Analog or Asimov's Science Fiction. Ursula Le Guin tried too already at the age of 11.
Many science fiction writers get their start in a pulp fiction magaine like Analog or Asimov’s Science Fiction. Ursula Le Guin tried too already at the age of 11.

I was making a list in my head the other day of science fiction I really liked. I realized that some of the best were dead women. Octavia Butler died in 2006, Madeleine L’Engle the following year, Sheri Tepper two years ago, and Ursula Le Guin died in January this year. I like science fiction in general, but the best of it is a lot more than off world action. I like books that explore religion, philosophy, societal norms, gender roles, and human behavior. That’s the strength of literature, it makes you go places, allows you to criticise society, or warn against a dangerous political development.

Jane Austen is seen as very harmless literature. It was just like a romantic comedy from Hollywood today, but it’s more than happy endings. Her portrayal of the upper class, and women’s limited opportunities regardless of class, could also be seen as criticism. The same can be said for the later Frances Hodgson Burnett. I guess it’s natural that we are most affected when we lose our own heroes. It doesn’t bother me when most celebrities die, but I don’t like losing my own. I have picked up some new, and I’m glad the old ones produced capital books that I will re-read many times, but it is sad that many of the old voices go silent.

I just finished re-reading The Dispossessed and I have what Goodreads recently called a book hangover. I get that every time. Shevek and Takver will stay me for a while before I can start another book. I suppose there wouldn’t be the need for dystopia in heaven, but I do hope they have storytellers. Somehow it wouldn’t be heaven without. Heaven should be what I enjoyed in life, just more.

A multifarious reading list

I’m very much an omnivorous reader, which is very useful. It means I can appreciate different genres. I like science fiction, some fantasy, classic literature (which includes some romance and horror), mystery, history, and even some biographies if the person was interesting.

Mystery and historical fiction are not a bad combination. I was reminded of that twice today. I was listening to music from various episodes of Poirot. I’m not sure how to describe the feelings this music produce in me. It was one of my first literary heroes, if not the very first one. I have read Agatha Christie since the mid 80’s and watched the TV series starring David Suchet. It’s an interest my mother had too, so this adaptation is also a nice reminder of the time I spent with her.

I was reminded of Agatha Christie again when I later spotted a tweet about the three part BBC series Ordeal by Innocence. I guess it was the adaptation this person objected to (BBC changed the plot), but I know some have the same objections to the books. This person said that the series was predictable, slow and unresolved. I have a feeling that some people compare these old stories to modern ones. We may want to change Miss Marple, Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Father Brown, or the criminals they have caught, but that wouldn’t be right. The history, the feelings these images from the past produce is an important part of the reason I like them. Foyle’s War is my favourite among the relatively new detectives, but the setting is WW II-Britain.

I like the clothes and the interior design from that period. Not that I want to live through those evil times that also had extreme poverty and no national healthcare, but some things appeal to me. Suits in the 1940’s looked good, but it wasn’t a great time for women’s fashion. I like the dresses from the Victorian era, but that was an appalling time for women. Come to think of it, when we talk about making something great again, I wonder when it was ever great for everyone.

A lot of literature is escapism, and Agatha Christie may be nothing more than entertainment, but quite a lot of it is more. I like literature that makes me think. Ursula Le Guin, Sheri Tepper, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Heinlein, and Octavia Butler aren’t always pleasant, but reading is always good for the little grey cells, mon ami.

My new muse: Flowers

I wrote in The accidental writer about being a sometimes-writer. I usually can’t just decide to be creative, but I think about my story constantly, and sometimes words appear out of nowhere, which is why I have started bringing my notebook everywhere. Sometimes was yesterday.

We’re having marvellous weather these days, which makes me worried about summer. I live in a place where nice weather seems to have consequences. We’ve had more summer in May than we’ve had combined since the summer of 2014. It’s been cold, wet and windy ever since then.

Anyway, I was out shopping yesterday, and as I don’t have a car, I ride the bus. If you read my previous post you know that it can be difficult to work at home, but beautiful days with 29 C offer me an office anywhere. It was very hot, but I found some shade on a lawn 50 m from the bus stop. I was very grateful for the big tree they had planted, and allowed to develop, at the end of the parking lot outside this shopping mall. I was sitting among dandelions, possibly the most beautiful wild flower. They remind me of childhood when I’d blow the seeds and watch them fly like little fairies to other fields.

They also remind me that insects and more delicate flowers need them, and they are very beneficial as food for us too. We are too busy hating them to think about that, though. This was my office yesterday. I had some ideas I wrote down, as well as some dialogue. It means going back to re-do several chapters, but the new version will be better, and in the end I will have come farther in the story.

This happened after I had been pretty upset and decided to go shopping earlier than intended, because I couldn’t concentrate. The weather is going to continue , so I will work with old school technology next week too. There’s something very magical about the world dandelion seeds come from, and that world is perfect for my imagination. I had a series a couple of years ago where I wrote about places I liked to write, when I wasn’t in my garret. I guess this is a new place.

The accidental writer

I wish I was an always-writer, but I’m very much a sometimes-writer. I listen to podcasts, such as So you want to be a writer with Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait. I also enjoyed Your Creative Life with Vanessa Carnevale and Kimberley Foster, but they are not producing more episodes. I have listened to The Joined Up recently.

The hosts and many of their guests talk about how many words they write a day, and I understand from Anna Spargo-Ryan’s tweet today that she’s making some progress too. She has reached 50 000 out of a goal of 80 000 words, which is 10 000 more than she had 10 days ago. That’s not bad at all, but I suspect that’s how it is having the skills, or talent.

My way of working has always been problematic. I always got into difficulties in school because the teacher wanted me to start with a disposition that I had to stick to. I suppose that was to make sure that I didn’t go astray, which was definitely a possibility in my case. I have a tendency to take long detours into irrelevant topics. The problem with me is that I start writing and I never know where I’m going. I’m like a guy I saw on Grand Design with Kevin McCloud once. A man in Wales was building a house in a Japanese style, but he wasn’t exactly accurate with measurements and drawings. Whenever something was wrong, he adjusted something else to fit, and amazingly enough he made it work.

This is partly why my story is taking forever to finish. I had an idea for a start and things went smoothly for a while, but now I am getting into trouble. I’m not sure about how things should develop, and sometimes I discover that something else should have happened first, because it looked like a piece of the story was missing. I’m at one of those “oops! How did I end up here-stages” now. So I have to think long and hard, because as I’m a sometimes-writer nothing comes to me quickly.

I am not good at focusing at all. We live in a small apartment and being alone is a luxury I usually don’t have. If someone just talks to me or asks me a question I find it hard, often impossible to resume work. There are days when I don’t produce anything, and even on a very good day I usually don’t write more than 300 words. The 25 000 words I have at the moment have taken some time. I guess it’s in keeping with my style that I have worked out some things that I want to save for the second book.

This is irritating because I want to finish now, but I guess this is who I am. My story will take the time it will take, and I believe my words will reach the publisher when they are ready to be released. I’m not only a here and there-writer. I frequently feel like an accidental writer as well. I will be if I get published because it will be unexpected. Structure never was my strong side, and in school I frequently knew more about a topic than I could prove. Getting the words from my head to the paper was challenging, and I suspect that I have the right ideas about my book as well. It’s just a matter of getting it out, which is why 2000 words a day would never work for me.

Incidentally, Tetris is on of my favourite computer games, and it’s an arena where I may actually be able to compete against J. K. Rowling. This is one of her tweets from today:

I’m a bigger fan of board games these days, so I’m more inclined to be playing Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle (a cooperative deck-building game) or the Harry Potter version of Munchkin that is reported to be released in October.

Writers and moral responsibility

I recently came across a three year old post from Books & Such Literary Management. “Moral Responsibility and Writers” discuss whether authors have a moral responsibility to express an opinion in social media. Read the post here.

It’s not an easy question because expressing an opinion is a minefield. No matter which one you have, there’s going to be s lot of people disagreeing with you. I like the argument that writers speak through their fictional characters. That is sort of what J.K Rowling did with Harry Potter. Some of the key characters are marginalized, so the books can be seen as a support for powerless groups in society. The books also deal with prejudices (pure bloods) and the need to take a stand against authoritarianism.

The author claims that she was trying to support gay rights as well. That’s how many interpreted her at least when she stated later that she always thought of Dumbledore as gay, and many were disappointed because Dumbledore wasn’t openly gay in the film Fantastic Beasts. I don’t know why they would be because thinking of someone as gay doesn’t mean that they are. I read an article in LA Times a couple of years ago where someone from The Harry Potter Alliance listed seven clues showing that Dumbledore was gay. Let’s just say it was stereotypical and very much a stretch.

Many will remember Rowling for her Twitter feuds with Piers Morgan, Donald Trump and his supporters, and an occasional brutal response. She posted two photos last week that once again received a lot of attention. They show the Mall during Obama’s and Trump’s inauguration:

There was an enormous anti-Trump campaign long before he moved into the White House, and media obsessed about this photo for weeks. It felt like the entire world was looking for new ways to embarrass the President, and when they couldn’t find more they moved to his youngest son, and the First Lady. Opinions about politics is a part of democracy. In fact, it wouldn’t work without it, but I sometimes wonder how much thought we invest in our comments.

I’m not going to make this post about Trump, but if you want a balanced view you could google “Trump is a symptom” and “Obama legacy”. This is slightly more complicated than the average Trump bashing suggests because democracy didn’t erode overnight. There has been a long development, and when there is so much focus on Trump, I wonder how much focus there is on addressing the problems that have developed over many years.

Some years ago the Swedish crime author Henning Mankell became a very active supporter for Palestine in their conflict with Israel. The Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder seems to have withdrawn completely from the public debate after a chronicle he wrote in 2006. It was a comment to the Lebanon War that year, and many understood his text to be antisemitic (both sides were Semitic). He wrote a new chronicle the next day where he apologized for the choice of words.

These are some reminders that authors need to be careful, but at the same time I think it would be unfair to tell novelists that they have no right to express their opinions. After all, we expect it from almost any other celebrity (actors, singers, painters, non-fiction authors, and even Kim Kardashian). So it may be only fair that novelists get to voice an opinion, but it is probably wise to choose carefully and not comment every time.

But of course, after you have had the kind of success J. K. Rowling has had, you can afford to offend people. On the other hand, do we really want authors that only care about themselves? If you happen to be from one of the marginalized groups, and absolutely no one is willing to listen, or speak on your behalf, you are going to be grateful for authors that do. The rest of us should too. It’s the right thing to do, and it could be you next time.

The comment Rowling made about Dumbledore shows that there are consequences. Some will hate it, while the rest will expect more. So you should know that there will be consequences when you do decide to go beyond your books. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.

It makes people talk

Books. I don't have many books, but I am trying to rebuild what I lost. There's a lot to talk about even in this small selection.
I don’t have many books, but I am trying to rebuild what I lost. There’s a lot to talk about even in this small selection.

There was a series of commercials many years ago with that slogan. I think it was for pastilles, but used on books it is actually quite accurate.

That’s not always an advantage. You may have encountered someone that talks all the time. Imagine sitting next to a Gilmore Girls-character on a long bus/train ride. It may be fun to view, but a real life Lorelei, Rory, Emily, Sookie, Lane or Paris could be a wee bit too much. Almost every character is using a lot of words without really communicating.

So if books make you talk, if they encourage conversation, what’s your favourite books? I haven’t thought much about it before. I choose books I think will engage me, but I think there’s a lot to discuss in classics like Shakespeare, Ibsen, Mary Shelley Wollstonecraft, H. G. Wells, George Eliot, George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, just to mention a few.

I read Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood about ten years ago, and just started watching the adaptation on Netflix. They seem to have done a pretty good job, and although the reviews online support my point, they also tend to focus on #metoo. Books make people talk, and when people discuss a book a couple of decades after publication, not quite sure what it was really about, you know the author has done a good job. There are a lot of topics we can reflect on in Alias Grace, including the classic feminist questions, but in my opinion Margaret Atwood is a lot more than these reviews focus on.

There are well written books it’s far too easy to forget, but I find that many science fiction stories make such an impression that they stay with me for ages. Sheri Tepper is one of those authors. Her novel Grass has themes like religion, women’s role in society, the aristocracy, and a very disturbing hunt that makes it impossible not to compare it to fox hunting in Britain, human colonisation of space and how brutally we have treated alien culttures on our own planet. This is also the story of a dutiful Caholic woman, a wife, and a mother who breaks with her past to create a new life on this planet.

Ursula Le Guin can be a challenging read, but it’s worth it. The Dispossessed describes two neighbouring planets, one capitalist and one anarchist. It’s not immediately clear which one is the preferred society, the utopia, but the fact that it’s an ambiguous utopia could indicate that we shouldn’t hope for something flawless. Maybe ambiguous is the best we can hope for. This book has scholars debating too, and one of the things they are not sure about is whether this is a feminist book or not. That’s brilliant, because if there was no doubt at all, I think a lot less people would read and talk about the book. After all, isn’t it worse to be ignored than criticised?

I haven’t read The Dispossessed for a couple of years, so I think a re-read is in order.