Tag Archives: genre in literature

Influences: the book I could never read

I was thinking of writing about Karl May, Oscar Wilde, Stendhal, Gerald Durrell, Julie Garwood, Briggs or Moaning, but then realized that they are nice, but not my greatest source of strength, inspiration or style.

In 1996 summer I wanted to read a book.

My grandmother remembered a book she had with lots of short stories that she thought could interest me – romantic stories. Being in my tender age, I agreed and we started going through the shelves. While we were searching she kept telling me how lovely it was and how good stories it had and how well it was written compared with others published at that time. She reads a lot and believed her, getting exited about it more and more, imagining myself holding that book, keeping it like a treasure it was and indulging myself with one story per day so I could enjoy it even more. In my dreams it was old, with yellow pages, lost its covers and smelling of wormwood – just like the old newspaper collection from 1920s my brother kept in his closet.

Then, when we reached to the last shelf, she suddenly gasped, turned and said while looking right at me from the chair she was standing on : “I lend it out to my friend in 60s,” she said, “I think she left it on the bench in bus stop.”

I was appalled. There was no book?

I so wanted to read it that I turned down every other book she tried to offer me instead, until she suddenly said: “Why won’t you just write the story you want to read?”

I took pen and paper and started five minutes later. Page long stories, one per each day and in no time I can replace the book that careless borrower lost. I still thrive to fulfill my youth’s promise – to replace that book that borrower left on that bench in that bus stop. No other book – that one.

I am still angry she lend it out, but also glad. Because this lost collection of short romantic stories has given me more inspiration and stamina than any other book that I have ever read.

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Today’s post is my response to the promt on Influences, this month’s topic for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Throughout the month, you can get to know twenty (or so) other writers from various genres and backgrounds and at various places in their careers.

Next stop on the tour is Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus on April 21st, 2012.

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Writing biographies

There were some interesting articles today that made me think on biographies. One was in local newspaper on how in today’s writing world  in Estonia led by people, who come from criminal background. Basically – if you don’t work out as a criminal, become a writer and you will make good money. Best even – write a biography!

Biography seems to be the hottest of hottest right now – I keep hearing that word everywhere! People, who claim to have no writing skills, write biographies and they are adored for it. There was one writer, who was interviewed, who openly admitted that he wrote poems before, but that sort of didn’t make it, so he wrote biography of his own life instead. Nice turn-up, I say. The sad side of his entire interview was that he is 20, criminal on parole and couldn’t get two words after each to make a complete sentence.

It wasn’t me, who changed the radio station, it was my brother. His only comment was: “I bet life looks pretty full by the time you hit twenty.”

I agree. I’m half a decade older and it irritates me as if I was some 80-year-old. Which I am not. Still, at the age of 20, surely, if you wait just few more years, you’d get an interesting few years to add to your biography.

Biographies to me are still something that should come after your death. When you’ve got the beginning, middle and the end. Also, I see no good reason, why to shun half of your kin and friends by pushing them through your odd worldview.

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Interview with yourself

What got you interested in your book subjects?

“Portrate of the dead girl” started off from researching people as a taboo in society, the so-called stigma and how it reflected in the life of human guinea pigs. It was an innocent idea that soon rolled over into alternative history and “what ifs” that demanded answers. I’m still working on it, but like real life – with every new piece of information, the entire road changes, so I just hope it will get done in time.

“Midas Ears” started as another study of human sexuality. At first I thought it was simply an erotic story that needed a background, but further I get with it, the less it is simple. I keep thinking on what it means to actually write on this topic, the twisted lives that get mixed out of a knowledge retrieved from our friends. How much it actually affects us what they give us for truth.

They both seem to be related with social taboos?

Yes. I am intrigued by the topic since I got my first access to the local university library and never looked back. People often say that it’s the darkness of humanity that appeals to me, but I don’t agree. When I was young, I knew I was easily influenced and I learned early that to me, the greatest trap was the mystery of not knowing what things were. So in order to protect myself, I simply started disillusioning myself. I started reading about topics others wouldn’t explain to me or deemed dangerous. After a while these topics started interest me not only because I wanted to protect myself, but also how others perceived them, how easily they were brushed aside for the sake of humanity without thinking twice.

Where do you get your information from?

Mostly from the libraries. While internet is good for understanding wildly perceived truths, then for more specific and medical information, it is still best to turn to the books. The scientific explanations might sound rigid and confusing at first, but after a while they read as logical as reading old fairy tales. If old fairy tales can be counted as logical.

You also work full-time?

Yes. I work for a company that accommodates university students.

How has this helped with your writing work?

Through my work I come in contact with people from different social structure and beliefs. I have discovered that if before I was able to only create characters, who had similar back story as mine, I am now able to take broader view and create characters on larger scale. Not to mention information and details I receive straight from the source. After I’ve started working with foreigners, I’ve also widened my characters base.

Is that why you decided to write “Midas Ears”?

No. I had the basic idea worked out few years before, so it was before I moved to work with foreigners. The full idea didn’t come to light before I had met certain people, yes.

Do you base your characters on real people?

I avoid it. I have characters, which have got inspiration from real people, but I never use them as one-on-one. I develop them all myself and though I borrow line or two from friends, I find it unethical to base entire form on them. Not only because it can tare people apart, but because they trust me not to end up in my books and I respect them for it. I write fantasies, after all and it’s not easy to walk around being judged by some outsider’s view on your life.

In your local newspaper there is a discussion over ending support for light reading in libraries to support more local writers. What do you think of it?

To be honest, I try not to get involved in public discussion on it. I have tried for years to make local writers to understand that you don’t have to write only large scale philosophical and psychological novels to be recognized as a writer. That it is ok to walk on a meeting with local writers and say that you are writing an action novel or that you write romance as profession and it isn’t diminishing your quality. Such decisions from our diplomatic corpus aren’t making things easier. It’s already hard to push through as it is, but such outbursts only harden society’s trust in literature. Often forgot, the two main reasons for literature to exist is to educate and to entertain, make things easier to cope with. By personality I don’t go running for heavy psychological drama if my own life is close to crashing and I don’t believe others would do. Perhaps indeed we should consider changing the lists of books ordered in library to support local market, but I don’t think they should be homes for heavy material only either. What seems philosophically good and valuable now will be just as invaluable in few decades.

Are there topics you never want to explore?

Never say never, but there are few. I think there is a good reason why some topics are not explored in literature. Yet I take my hat down before the writers who do write on them, because they are seriously hard to pull off. I don’t generally write about un-consented rape. As a writer, I make difference in different situations of rape, but as a person I do not.

How can you bring excuse to something unacceptable as a writer while not as a person?

When I write through a character, the impressions they give are not impressions of me, but my masked puppets. I would never consent into poisoning or cutting other’s fingers off while my character would. Nor would I start smoking though they do. My characters are not me.

What are your next years goals?

To finish the books I’ve started and send them to publishers in time. To find time for my love of writing and to be able do more than just work out new ideas.

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Today’s post is my response to the prompt What books are your nightstand?, this month’s topic for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Throughout the month, you can get to know twenty (or so) other writers from various genres and backgrounds and at various places in their careers. Next stop on the tour is Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus on November 21st, 2011.

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Banned – it’s worthless word

Reading the latest news on fairy tale land, a.k.a list of books that are banned for one reason or the other. I am amazed how fast grownups judge children’s books by one event in their life.

 Here are few reasons why those children’s books were removed:

 …It allegedly undermines religious beliefs
Fairy tails always undermine the religious beliefs! Because they are about moral norms! They adapt through time and culture and this is what makes them so good to teach morals. They are suppose to make you think if you would take the same action as the hero or heroin did. Every book out there that isn’t Bible will undermine Christian beliefs, because it gives you new perspective. Same goes for Quran or Hindu’ holy text or on any other holy text out there. That’s what’s suppose to show you “how bad the rest of the world is and how good it is that you chose to follow your path” or “wow! Amazing what the writer has come up with! How different point of view!”. I just find it offensive how people try to get books banned on bases of religion.

 

…Due to its excessive violence, negative portrayals of female characters, and anti-Semitic references
From this I see that people are not aware of the interesting side of the fairy tales – most of them take place few centuries back. Though I do like the modern stories just as well. That negative portrayals of female characters is one of my favorites here. After reading interesting book called “Moulding the Female Body in Victorian Fairy Tales and Sensation Novels”  (I suggest it if you find it in the library or don’t mind the salty price), I realized that it was the uneasy feeling the tails give you that play the main role, not the offensiveness itself. For example the original Beauty and the Beast story, there is one line that makes me freak every time I read it: “I shall go willingly and will be happy, because I can show through this how much I love you, father.” This meant I really disliked the character until I realized that if in 1740s, when the story came out, it probably sounded sincere and thus had a meaning that nowadays acts like a warning – you don’t want to be her if she acts like that. It’s foolish. Times were like they were when Andersen wrote his stories and he expressed the truth. The way things were – chilling and uninviting. To rise it to our standards today and start yelling something on feminism is so wrong it just IS wrong. Take it as a reality check – if you recognize through these yourself, it’s time to act and rid yourself from the problem or suffer like they did. I took Andersen’s fairy tales up each time I wanted to cry.

 …It teaches children that it is acceptable to kill witches and paints witches as child-eating monsters
Hansel and Gretel. Long story short- ummm…. Nobody is bothered that the witch was a cannibal? But it bothers that it teaches your child that if you are in rough, then do something about it? I do agree with depicting witches wrong, but come on – there has to be a bad force in the story or there is no story!

 …Due to themes of witchcraft, wizardry, cults, Satanism, death, hate and dark content
Harry Potter! I have only one thing to say. It.Is.A.Story.

 …It was “pornographic” and contained “satanic pictures.”
I thought long and hard where in Little Mermaid is this satanic picture it refers to? Pornographic? Only to those, who don’t dare to see themselves in the mirror. But satanic? She turns into angel in the end and she stays truthful to what she loves. Am I missing something here?

…The book was violent because of the actions of the wolf … The teacher questioned the appropriateness of the little girl taking wine to her grandmother and her grandmother later drinking the wine.
With Little Red Riding Hood… Everybody is concerned that the big bad wolf eats the people, but nobody cries out to the wolf: “Don’t talk to that girl! They’ll cut you up, fill you with stones and toss you in the well!” I don’t know which was worse – that he ate them or what they did to him after it.
I’m not even adressing the second part of this allegation as I just don’t see the point. If every book out there would be banned where children carry alcohol for one reason or the other, we would have very tiny book shelves. In Tom Soyer they even got drunk!

At some point it was very popular to give the fairy tales some life based meaning. So it was that Red Riding Hood was suppose to be a story told by women to their daughters, who just hit puberty, to warn them of horrors what will follow if they talk to strangers. 

Oh I know how to ruin fairy tales for grownups so bad they think twice before telling the story again. Yet I adore them each time more after I’ve read another scientist’ research on what they could mean. A whole new world grows out, I can say that much, a whole new perspective.

 Even more I urge you read every one of those books and fairy tales that are “banned” because somebody found them offensive. Learn what they are and why they are written the way they were and find out why they were banned. It’s worthless word.

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The unknown substance

When I started writing stories in 1996, I immediately said I wanted to write romances. I had never taken any books in hand that would explain anything in writing, but I knew that this was what I wanted. How did I know that? Most of my reading list had so far been mysteries and adventures, yet when asked, I knew I wanted to be just that – a romance novelist. Even years to come I replied when asked that I wanted to write in this genre. I soon learned through internet, how it was important to know what you were writing, if you wanted to get published or even upload your work somewhere. Though I didn’t write with one genre in mind, not comprehending what they were, I would always have to define where the story fit the best.

Taking this as my guide, I started preparing myself to be a genre writer, because it seemed natural thing to do. It was then that I got my first writer’s manual (if one could say this way) – Writing Popular Fiction by Dean R. Koontz.   It is slightly out-dated, from 1974, but I still consider it one of the best introductions to what genre writing is and why it is important to follow certain rules in literature. Doesn’t mean you have to go by some list out there, but, for example it explained why people are drawn to it and what they expect when taking up a book from the shelf named Mysteries.

As it is not popular, more and more writers go without boundaries. Here at least. I’ve come across fellow craftsmen, who find it insulting if someone brings up that they would do better if they would add similar ingredients to their pot of plot which would give some familiarities to search them by. It “castrates” their creativity, they say, and write on genre-less books, not realizing that the editors will still try to fit it in some shelf next to genre books. One even compared it with paint-by-number picture.

Indeed, when writing inside genre, you are creating work by certain standards so the reader can get exactly what they wanted from the book. I would be very happy if it was indeed like painting by numbers, but I fear it’s more like Jan van Eyck oil painting, including grinding your own paints.

I think it’s not so much about the genres themselves that bothers most readers, but that they buy the books for emotional reasons and tune themselves already ahead according to the purchase. It gives them certainty in life just like rainbow colors that always come in the same order. Personally I feel slightly insulted as a reader, when I take up a book in library, having in mind a nice evening with a mystery novel with slight love in it and instead receive mambo-jumbo that starts with mystery, goes on as historical and runs empty at some moralizing biography.

In the same pallet I must say I like when people play around between genres. But I don’t like when they are left out altogether as some remnant from the past, which is impossible. I’m one that needs familiarities to get into the story and I don’t think as a writer I should underestimate the power of it and start inventing the wheel. I suggest taking up  Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker or 20 Master Plots: And How to Build Them by Ronald Tobias.  Though they deal with basic plots, I do think you can learn a lot about how and why it can help you as a writer and how it helps you get in better contact with your reader.

I think they are just approaching it wrong – genre is not a prison that would make you paint through tensile, it’s just that unrecognizable milky fluid on your palette you can use to paint better picture. You don’t need to escape the genre writing, you need to understand it. Learn it and it becomes lovely masking fluid in your arsenal or don’t and you blemish the painting. You can do without it and be fine, but with it you can do more work with less time and you have more time for what really matters – the story.

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Today’s post is my response to the prompt What books are your nightstand?, this month’s topic for the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour. Throughout the month, you can get to know twenty (or so) other writers from various genres and backgrounds and at various places in their careers.

Next stop on the tour is Tiberius Clausewitz Drusus Nero Germanicus on September 21st, 2011.

 

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