Author Archives: starbuck88

A Thousand Words Wouldn’t Be Enough

As a writer I want to be able to transform people, places and happenings into words that will weave an invisible, yet potent magic upon the reader. I want to transport the reader into a different time and place, and perhaps altogether different mindset. I want to describe feelings and sensations so accurately that the reader will feel them as a physical touch upon their skin. I want the reader to hear what I hear, see what I see and feel my every desire, dark and innocent alike. To convey human emotions across time and distance is an art, and a difficult one at that. Given how frustratingly it can be when words elude me, perhaps only the very privileged, crazy or naïve feel like embarking on such a mission.

Some feelings, sensations and experiences are almost impossible to translate into the written form. Because how do I describe standing in the middle of a slum in Africa, looking at small shambling shacks that are crumpled together and serve as people’s homes? How do I describe the rank smell that the crippling amounts of garbage laying in the streets give off? When the stench is so all-consuming it burns in my nose like acid. How do I describe seeing children so young they can barely walk, running around naked among goats and chickens, sitting down on their bare bums in the middle of the filthy dirty street?

How do I describe the overwhelming feeling of something close to shame that I should be fortunate to be born in a quiet suburban street in Norway where the lawns are always perfectly mowed and the hedges primly cut, when others are born into such squalor? How do I describe the insistent chant in my head that I can’t stand having to bear witness to it any longer? It physically hurts my eyes. How do I describe that I can’t stand the flies that rest upon my sweaty skin, the sun beating down my back? In such cases I get the despairing feeling that reading about life is a hell of a lot better than actually be forced to live it. At least I can go home and retreat into the pages of a different, less scary world. The people I leave behind don’t have that privilege.

Then there are times when the feeling of peace and ecstatic joy inside of me is so powerful it feels like my chest is about to burst. When I’m standing on a beach by the sea coast in Africa; how do I describe the feeling of the warm sand cuddling my bare feet? The comforting sound of the vast ocean crashing upon the shore? The magnificent view of a billion splendid stars scattered across the night sky? How do I describe these feelings and sensations? How do I translate into words the sound of African drums and singing beating in time with my heart? A large bonfire giving off just enough light to see the same happiness reflected in the eyes of your friends?

It’s those rare and oh so precious moments when I realize that at that exact moment in life I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else, at any other time, in the whole world. Not even if you offered me a million bucks in cash. Those are the times when living life is a million times better then reading about it. No words in existence would be able to give justice to these memories. Not even a thousand words would be enough.

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Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth

When I read Nicole’s piece Inadvertent Nostalgia, the part where she reflects on her previous brutal treatment of her characters struck me because those words resembled something I’d been thinking (obsessing) about for the past few days. I’m a bit unsure of my protagonist’s behavior lately. To be perfectly honest, I don’t really like her much of the time. She’s selfish, insecure, occasionally needy and she’s questioning everything. For crying out loud, I’m trying to write a book here and she keeps whining about what I put her through.

I love to read about heroes and heroines who knows how to handle whatever crap the writer decides to fling their way, and I want my heroine to do the same, but oh no. She’s been busy complaining about the loss of her husband to be of much use to me. So I thought to myself, fine if that’s how you want to play it, bring it on. Two can play that game. I figured if she was going to be this much trouble I might as well milk it. I wanted my story to take a turn for the worse. I wanted my wannabe heroine to explore the darkest parts of herself, but the moment that decision had been made, she just wouldn’t do it.

I’d given her permission, a sort of get out of jail free card if you will, to really go to town with her less than perfect personality. I figured I would go by the old proverb “if you can’t beat them, join them”, and allow my protagonist to throw ethics and moral along with caution to the wind. But the moment I did, what did she do? Instead of corrupting my story, she suddenly developed a backbone. Suddenly, she wasn’t a sniveling, selfish bitch or a neurotic wreck on crack. She started to take responsibility and behave more like the woman I wanted her to be. My gosh, maybe there is something to this reversed psychology stuff after all.

My story started to pick up speed and I was pretty darn pleased with myself, but I should’ve remembered that pride stands before a fall. Re-reading what I’d written in the harsh criticizing light of day, a nagging voice inside of me asked me (in a deceptively silky voice) if maybe I was skirting the uncomfortable truth, which is that when I created my main character, integrity was in short supply. This brings me to my point with all of this, namely the question about telling the truth when you write.

Stephen King says that you should always write the truth no matter how terrible, brutal and plain offensive the truth is. And I agree, but like Nicole, I don’t think it’s necessary to kill all of your characters in gruesome ways in order to prove to yourself that you don’t give a damn about what any prudes out there might think. That would be, in social worker terms, what we like to call “an illusion of work”. (If you’re wondering, yes, I got plenty more annoying terms where that one came from.)

In the case of my willful “heroine” I’ve realized that she’s not such an awful person as I’ve been thinking, she’s simply a very ordinary, human woman with very ordinary, human reactions. Like any ordinary human she screws up, repeatedly, but when push comes to shove, her heart is in the right place. Perhaps I’m channeling all of my own faults into this one and that’s why I’m having such a hard time accepting the stupid things she does.But psychoanalysis aside, my protagonist is (whether Stephen King would approve or not) finally stepping up to the plate, and that is the truth. In a way, maybe that is an offensive truth to make such an unlikeable character likeable.

So people, the lesson amidst all of this rambling is: Tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but don’t write only for what Nicole calls the shock value, simply to raise a few eyebrows. Sometimes the truth isn’t such a terrible, brutal and offensive thing after all.

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A Love Affair To Remember

The other day I had a friend over for dinner (and yes, for those of you who are wondering, I do, on occasion, cook, though I’m certainly no Stepford wife, kinda would have to be married to manage that, but never mind). After dinner, and may I mention, homemade cookies, had been consumed, my friend told me a story I found, as a well known book lover, somewhat grotesque.

It went as follows; a professor at the university my friend attends, had told her that the more popular an author is, the worse his or her books tend to be. Which is a not very subtle way of saying that if you happen to be a bestselling author your books are crap. Wtf?! It is my belief that this professor, whoever he is, has probably spent way too many hours stuck in his dusty little cupboard of an office re-reading an e-mail from an independent publishing house telling him that no, regrettably they won’t be publishing his highly fascinating intellectual sequel on some obscure, deeply philosophical topic seeing that his first book only sold about four copies, sorry about that.

I find it most likely that this professor then spent the remaining hours of his work day fuming over Dan Brown’s unfathomable (to this professor at least) success, and then tearing out the little hair he has left, as the poor (in every meaning if the word) professor contemplated how many gazillion copies Mr. Brown has sold and how his publisher is practically salivating at the prospect of another book involving Professor Robert Langdon. Now that’s a professor who knows how to sell a book!

But let’s get back to the issue at hand here. Not all bestsellers are despaired of or obstinately ignored in higher literary circles. Take Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar for instance. I’m sure those books must have sold roughly a zillion copies each, yet they’ve never had to suffer condescending looks from long, pointy nosed intellectuals. (I’m generalizing here, I’m sure there are intellectuals with very fine looking noses out there too.) When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out I spent the entire day reading it. I started at breakfast and didn’t put it down until I’d finished gobbling it up at around 10.30 pm. I’d stuck by those characters through sickness and health, for better and for worse for the past eight years, and I would see it through to the very end. And I did, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the only one either.

Now, how many can honestly, scout’s honor, say that they’ve spent the entire day reading Crime and Punishment, and, most importantly, enjoying it? Hmmm? Exactly. If anyone out there actually has, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but you need to find yourself another therapist, because the one you’re seeing is obviously not working. I’m not saying that Dostoyevsky and Plath didn’t know what they were doing. As writers I mean, not as human beings. As the latter, I strongly suspect they were both a little (a polite way of saying a lot) lost. But Plath certainly was an able writer. She conveyed that cloying sense of claustrophobia and hopelessness so well that by the end of the book, I too felt like sticking my head in the oven and be done with it.

The point I’m trying to make here, somewhat chaotically, is that books, for me at least, are about love. And love means happiness, joy and if you’re very lucky, ecstatic thrills. Great books are for me the ones filled with amazing epic adventures and wonderfully passionate whirlwind romances, the kind of books where I can hardly catch my breath. Besides, apart from the most resent bestsellers such as Twilight and the likes, there are many popular books which in time have become renowned classics. Take Gone with the Wind (I gorged myself sick on that one), or Jane Eyre (ah, Mr. Rochester…) and Wuthering Heights (hello, Heathcliff!). Not to mention Pride and Prejudice, I absolutely love the BBC version. That scene where Mr. Darcy comes up from the water, all dripping wet, white shirt clinging to his well-shaped muscular chest… Ehm, right, well back to the point.

As I was saying, those books, though immensely popular, have become classics to be brought down from one generation to another. I don’t think popularity for a book means an automatic death sentence for its quality. The notion that if something becomes widely popular you can’t like it anymore, unless you’re a complete idiot, is rubbish in my opinion. Even if that were to be the case, I think I’ll agree with Monty Python; Oh how sweet to be an idiot…

I’ve loved vampire books since before I could read and just because every pimply faced, gangly female teenager on the planet is currently supporting either Team Edward or Team Jacob these days, doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly gone off vampire books. It might not have become more sociably acceptable to like vampire books (on the contrary I find), but it’s a whole lot easier to get your hands on. Sure you can argue that there might be writers out there who know how to exploit this frenzy, but screw it. If they know what they’re doing, count me in.

It’s not just vampire books, a lot of my other absolute favorite books are bestsellers, like those of Stephen King. I love his books and yet there are those who claim that he could publish his grocery list and it’d still make the New York Times Bestseller list. So what? I still get completely lost in his stories (maybe even a little too lost sometimes). For me it becomes about feeling what the characters feel, seeing what they see and hearing what they hear. It’s about sharing their laughter and sorrow, and if this sounds disturbingly passionate and slightly schizophrenic, then so be it.

To me books are my great passion. Books are my one true love that has always and will always be a part of me. I know that when I’m old and wrinkly, resembling a prune someone left behind in the back of a cupboard, stuck in some forgotten nursing home and all chances of having wonderfully passionate whirlwind romances of my own are long gone, I can still pick up one of my favorite books and find love between those well-thumbed pages.

I won’t argue that some books regarding important and vital matters of either a political, ethical or philosophical nature, even if they only reach a limited audience, can’t make a difference, because they can. But even those bestsellers that aren’t perceived as intellectual can still be smart and clever, warm and witty, fun and charming. Those smart, clever, warm, witty, fun and charming bestsellers do often broach important matters in their own humble way, and it works. If it didn’t they wouldn’t become bestsellers in the first place. Those books speak a language that people can relate to and they touch people’s lives. And no university professor is ever going to convince me of otherwise.

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The End Is Just The Beginning

The end is just the beginning

he said,

Wanting it so desperately

to be true

But the beginning is also

the beginning of the end

She said,

not wanting to be subdued

Oh well, they said

not wanting to lie

They shrugged, and faced the truth:

“Life’s a bitch and then you die”

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To Write or Not to Write…

I read misci’s comment on how she was exasperated by the fact that she feels that when she sits down to write, all that comes out is, in her opinion, rubbish. Which I’m sure it’s not, but it led me to think that maybe I should try and put into words one of the great horrors known to all writers, namely The Writers Block. Cue dramatic music: Tam tam tam tam…. Apart from running out of coffee, tea, chocolate, cigarettes or alcohol or whatever keeps you going when writing, I doubt there is anything more horrendous to a writer than the feared writers block. Besides perhaps never getting published and be forced to turn into the crazy cat lady or the sad bloke who still lives with his parents, but that’s beside the point.

I looked up books dealing with this problem on Amazon and I got 3 533 results on the subject, all books meant to aid the struggling writer over troubled and uninspired waters. Doesn’t she have anything better to so you ask? Sure I do, but I was feeling lazy, and I’m awfully good at procrastinating when there’s something I want to avoid dealing with. Like writing when I can feel my words have gone into hiding, and couldn’t care less about my desperate attempts at coaxing them out.

“Come here, kitty kitty…” No wait, that was for the cat, but it sounds pretty much the same when I try to cajole the words to come out and help me write another chapter.“Whaaat?” The words yell back, while eyeing me surly. “Why don’t you guys come here and we can find out what happens next in my novel”, I say, smiling brightly. “Don’t feel like it”, the words mumble grumpily.”Oh, come on, it’ll be fun!” Smile even brighter now, bordering on psychotic axe murderer bright. “Yeah right! You’ll use us and abuse us until we can hardly see straight! Twisting and bending us all out of shape so you can create the right sentences. Thanks, but no thanks!”

The smile comes off and so does the gloves. “Get your butts in gear and get the hell over here!” I yell while tearing at my hair. By this time, I’ll be quite desperate, I can tell you. “NO!” The words yell back. Well, screw this, I think. The only way to deal with truculent words is very much the same as dealing with truculent teenagers (I should know, I’ve been one).

You simply got to have the balls and mental stamina it takes to stand your ground and badger them until they realize that the quickest way to get rid of you is by doing what you want. Simple, yes. Easy, no. But no matter. Writing isn’t for the faint hearted anyway. So when the words are particularly stubborn and hard to come by, I sit down in front of my computer and force them out of hiding.

They might be reluctant at first, grumbling and mumbling. “Fine, don’t scream our heads off, sheesh, what’s she going on about now?, must be that time of the month, women…” The first paragraphs, or pages really, might hardly be worth called writing at all, but after a while the words resistance will waver and they will flow a little faster and come a little easier. And bibbidi-bobbidi-boo; a new chapter is born! Well, maybe not as easy as that, but you get my point.

“See, that wasn’t so bad, now was it?” I smile tiredly, wiping sweat off my brow. “Nooo, that was fun!” The words gush. “We’re sorry, Kristin, we’ll never treat you like that again, we promise!” Mmmhmmm, I’ve heard that one before… But it’s fine. It’s all part of the writers game, and if you stick to your guns and grind your teeth when your words have gone on another strike, you’ll find that with time, the feared writers blocks will be a little fewer and further in between.

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Re: Writer or Author?

Let me first start by saying that I was greatly annoyed by misci’s fathers comment (no offense, sweetie), about how he hasn’t written anything, but that he can call himself a writer too. Wrong! What a writer does is write. As simple as that. So unless the father in question has written or is trying to write something other than grocery lists, he cannot call himself a writer. And you can tell him I said so. Second, I do agree with you regarding that author sounds more professional and makes it clear that that is what you do for a living; however I think many published authors refer to themselves as a writer. Perhaps author sounds grander and more intellectual than writer, but I wouldn’t mind calling myself a writer even if I ever become a successfully published author one day. Besides, there are many published authors out there who are not very successful even if they are in fact authors by profession. So I think the point I’m trying to make is that there is nothing wrong with being called or calling oneself a writer, even if you are some sad case locked up in a basement, as long as what you do is write.

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Licence To Write

How I started writing… That sentence takes me back to primary school, which is convenient, seeing as that was when I first started to write and what this stream of consciousness is about. It reminds me of the assignments we were given as reasonably small children. Those assignments all had titles such as “What I did last summer”, hopefully bearing no resemblance to the movie “I know what you did last summer”, though some parents did undoubtedly feel a bit outed by their children who innocently dished out about their strange family quirks.

Back then writing was as easy and stress free as breathing. It didn’t matter how crappy or nonsensical your writing was, you were bound to get a golden start next to your name nonetheless. My first story was about a girl who was about to get married to a boy she didn’t really want. It all ended with my heroine running away to seek fame and fortune elsewhere. I quite like this story. I like to think it shows that there was a strong backbone and a little feminist growing inside the skinny girl I was in those days. I even illustrated my story with pictures, proudly showing it off to anyone willing or unwilling. These writing sessions were my favorite. I suppose our teacher hoped there might be some budding geniuses among us, and if there was, it is yet unknown.

My writing career then continued with a homemade newspaper my best friend and I stitched together by the kitchen table. We sold it to our parents who I’m sure must have been thrilled to read about the mysterious adventures of our neighbor’s cat. But for some reason our thriving newspaper business tapered off and so did my writing and I would be into my teens before I picked it up again.

I’ve always had strangely vivid dreams and when I was fourteen I decided to channel my half-psychotic dreams and turn them into a story. Funnily enough that was the beginning of the novel I’m currently working on. Like many teenagers I wasn’t at my most confident and self-assured back then and I was most definitely not ready to share my fantasy world with anyone else.  So when a friend found my story lying carelessly in my room and started reading it, I was quick to intervene. Embarrassment and some distant cousin related to shame were what I felt, as if I had been caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to. Like you need a special license or permit to do something artistic and slightly out of the ordinary.  Looking back it seems strange to feel this way, but it was clear I was not ready to come out of the closet as a writer.

It’s both cramped and crowded in the closet (it’s disturbingly many people hiding in there), yet it wasn’t until last fall that I sneaked a peek out and decided to give writing another go. At first I felt a bit stiff and unsure of myself, I needed to flex my muscles and see if I still had it in me, and luckily, it turned out I did. Before long I was running along at full speed and it felt pretty damn good.

Though I love writing, it does have a dark side. It can be both nerve-racking and stressful. Sometimes the idea of sitting down in front of the computer and start writing seems nothing less than intimidating. The right words keep eluding me, jumping back and forth, gleefully yelling “Catch me if you can!”  In moments like this it’s good to know that I’m not the only writer who feels like this. Like Dorothy Parker once said: “I hate writing. I love having written.”

I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I hate writing in itself, it would make all the hours chasing those right words seem pretty wasted, but I get Parker’s point. When I’ve finally managed to write something that doesn’t threaten to send me hurling into suicidal depression, to create something out of nothing, that feeling is incomparable.                                            I can no more stop writing than I can stop being a sucker for every movie and book ever made about vampires (and yes, that includes Twilight…), it’s not a choice; it’s the way I was made.  So when annoying elderly family members complain that I’m never going to make something of myself as writer, and why don’t I do something useful with my life, I’ll tell them to take it with the Man Upstairs.

If I haven’t written anything in a while, I’ll get cranky and moody and I need to be locked up in a room with a computer and not let out until the fangs have at least partially retreated. So I like to justify my writing by saying that it makes me a better person and lot less likely to commit homicide. Though why I should feel a need to justify myself I have no idea.

Writing is special, writing is personal and writing can, when it’s done right, open up people’s minds in ways they would never have thought possible. And so I’m done feeling guilty for wanting to spend my time reading and writing. I’ve spent enough time in the closet and I’m not going back in. I might be tempted if I ever come across Narnia in one, but until then I’ll stick to the Narnias in my head and concentrate on getting them down on paper.

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