How important is your Peace to you?

Sounds like philosophy, but it isn’t.

I was watching House, and there was a girl trying to find her birth parents. Obviously she got sick (It’s House after all), and a question came to me.

“How important is your peace to you?”

One might consider this a writing prompt. That is exactly how I’m presenting it.

Even to myself. I have an idea, but I won’t share it with you just yet.

Not that I’d be afraid you’d go for that one, just that I don’t want to come in the way of your own ideas by planting my take.

My personal interpretation might lean more towards peace of mind, is all.

If this inspires you, I’d really love to see the result. No pressure, though. ūüėČ

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Theft of Culture

In particular in the past couple of years, a conversation has arisen whether the major populace (read, the white man) has the right to use the images and symbols of minority cultures in art or popular culture. I’ve mostly followed the Finnish part of the discussion, due to availability, but the broad outlines are applicable everywhere.

Tradition

The first time I can remember hearing about this issue is way older, though.

Way back in the late eighties and early nineties certain Finnish comedians created a sketch for their TV program about two very drunk Lappish men (link to a Youtube clip in Finnish). It was/is a common caricature that the Sami people use a lot of alcohol and especially since the comedians were wearing the traditional Sami clothes, the implication was clear. I doubt anyone in Lapland drinks any more than anyone else anywhere else in Finland – those who drink a lot are equally marinated everywhere and those who drink smart, drink smart.

Obviously, and for a very good reason, many people took offense. I can’t recall the program being cancelled or getting any repercussions, though, and they are actually airing re-runs of it. I’m assuming the audiences are marginal and no-one has made a fuss because no one is watching anymore. I saw a few minutes of the show one evening and it wasn’t any funnier than the first time around.

The Sami dress has caused a few other incidents. I understand why they are particular: many traditional dresses have a lot of unwritten code about how they should be worn and by whom and when. I know my own dress (traditional dress from western Finland) is supposed to be worn the way I have it only by married women and very differently by unmarried.

Culture

Then came the case of the book Oneiron, a Finlandia prize winner by Laura Lindstedt.

I haven’t personally read it, but it is a conversation between women of different backgrounds. One of the women is an American Jew who has suffered from an eating disorder. There are also parts in the book in Hebrew, which have then been translated for the advantage of the non-speaker.

Particularly the case of this fictional Jewish girl incensed an actual living Jewish girl with a similar past. She wrote about it¬†(in Finnish), asking why Lindstedt couldn’t write a book from the viewpoint of a white Finnish woman? Why does she have to steal from someone else’s culture for profit?

 

But why should Lindstedt, me, you, Salman Rushdie or the president of South Africa only be limited to writing about those exactly alike us?

Isn’t it truly the most enlightening experience to learn new things about ourselves and others in both trying to think like them while writing or reading about them? Especially writing in this aspect is more important, because in order to create something believable, one must be able to put themselves in the character’s shoes. If that does not bring about true friendship between peoples and an end to discrimination, I don’t know what will.

But of course it is easier to keep on bickering, and especially when something is said by the wrong kind of person (in this case, although not male, still a privileged white westerner), it is easier to dismiss it as colonialist patronizing. It is easier to say they’re trying to profit from non-white tradition without having to experience the oppression it used to come with.

Sure, as a white westerner I personally cannot know a thing about being a black person in America in the 60’s (1860’s and 1960’s both apply), or about being casteless in India during the caste system (or even still today in places). I cannot even realistically put myself in my great-grandmother’s shoes, because I have no idea what it’s like to live without electricity or running water. That cannot and should not stop me from trying, though.

Limits?

I process the world through writing and reading. In the opinion of these other people I am stealing their culture if and when I write about it, should anyone else see it. I’m not yet sure if it counts if I’m the only one who sees it. Even if it just to better understand them and said culture. Would they prefer I remain ignorant and insult them through ignorance?

Do writers of all ethnicities, no matter how minor or major, from now on limit themselves to only writing about the kind of experience they might have garnered? That will make for a poor literary future. Do these people themselves always stop themselves from writing about what they are not, just not to steal that culture in return?

It is true the literary world has for long been dominated by man, white man to be more precise. That cannot be changed by limiting subject matters for others, but by going and writing something worthwhile of your own.

One must remember, that to reach true equality one cannot only try to reach it just for their own group but for everyone. And truly the best option would be to forget groups altogether.

Culture is not just tradition and history and what has been, although that is one part. It is a very big and important part, no doubt, but also not the whole thing.

Culture is personal, interpersonal and surpassing the personal. No one person can say what it is or what is accepted, because that changes over time and between people.

Culture is also not a resource that runs out when used. No, it grows and multiplies and evolves every time it is used, no matter how and by whom.

Don’t make boxes where no boxes need be, people.

 


I really do hope we can have some discussion about this in a constructive manner and also that I got what I’m thinking written down here so that my actual point comes across. I’ve been mulling about this for about four months or so, and it’s getting a bit messy…

On Critique

I happened to notice yesterday that my fanfic (as mentioned before) has been added to a community. This particular community seems to be a listing by one user. Apparently, the sole purpose of this list is that the person adding to it thinks that the stories added are rubbish. I quote:

Stories gathered that appear to be Mary Sue, Fallen Into M.E., Poorly written or things along that nature. I wanted to group them because I would never read them. Is your fiction here?
I am a writer irl and I get a lot of help in my writing. People feel their writing is flawless and after churning out just a few hours or work it is epic. So they whine to me it does not belong here instead of using this chance to grow as a writing and fix it. I admit I’m not the best writer. Can you?

From the second sentence of that quote I come to the assumption that they’ve not actually read any of the stories they add.

They say they get a lot of help on their writing from others, but I cannot remember ever receiving a constructive critique from the user that added my story to this group. Probably because she has not read the actual story. They are willing to judge without reading what they judge, and everyone questioning the reason for them being on this list are labeled as whiners.

I wonder why this person won’t take the time to actually read and and give critique to those they add to their little hate-list (little is used liberally, there are over 500 stories in the community). Perhaps judging a tale by a summary is easier than actually taking the time of reading the first couple chapters and finding out if the story is worth reading or not. I don’t particularly like some stories but then I just stop reading and move on. There’s something for everyone, someone else might enjoy a story I don’t care about.

I do not presume to call myself a writer. I do write, and I would cite writing as a hobby. I cannot support myself by writing alone and it is not my profession – though I sure hope it would be. I can admit I am not the best writer (those are some enormous boots to fill), but then, one would have to be very conceited to think they were.

I am also the first to admit that the story is nothing particularly astounding. It is a very basic romance, but that is all I wanted it to be. Sure, there is a lot I should change (and maybe some day I’ll get to it, but the story needs to cool down a bit first) and a lot to expand on, but all in all, it’s better than many other stories out there. First of all, for a non-native speaker I think my text is written in good grammar and vocabulary. I have tried to weed out every typo I could find, and there really isn’t a writer alive who wouldn’t occasionally typo something. The story is sound, sure there are clich√©s, but who can avoid clich√©s when writing a romance?

I do not see my main character as a Mary Sue. She might not be the most in-depth heroine ever, but for the purposes of the story she is perfect. She grows through the tale. She is not perfect, which is one of the key traits of Mary Sue-ness. She most certainly is not me – hey, I would certainly roll in the hay with √Čomer, were he not a fictional character – and I would not want to be her. I must remember to write a post about Mary Sues in the future.

This is an excerpt from their profile. This particular profile hasn’t published any stories so I assumed it’s only for the sole purpose of providing silly “criticism”.

It’s really hard to write and I find it funny so many people get defensive thinking their writing is so amazing and try to defend it with bad writing, unrealistic facts or situations, the same thing written in another light(over and over), over angst, fluffs, Mary Sues, falling into the plot by a magic portal and so on. Instead learn why it is not liked and make it better or you’re really not writing for anybody but you. If that is the case why are you posting it on the internet? If it is just because you like it and you’re not going to learn how to write or make that story better then put it on pen and paper and read to yourself. People here are always going to have an opinion and they will voice it. It is really up to the person if they will work and grow for their writing or if they will whine why people do not like it.

I have read some fantastic girl-falls-into-Middle-Earth -stories in my time. Apparently, just because of one major plot device the whole story is poorly written and should never see the light of day. It seems to me that this particular person needs to lighten up. Fiction shouldn’t be taken so seriously, especially when the site is named FANfiction. One doesn’t need to be a Literary Nobel laureate to write a fanfic. Just a¬†very patient person¬†with a basic grasp of grammar and lots of free time.

(And apparently the skin of an elephant.)

Allow me to explain: Not so very long ago I had a conversation with another writer. She does dabble with romance novels and they are published. Feel free to roll your eyes if you will when I say romance novels. However she is a great writer with her research in two ways. One she would search dictionaries and the net for her perfect words so you are not reading the same words over and over and to find words that stick with you; that are stuck in your mind. Two she throws herself into that real life situation (easily being she writes mostly modern).¬†[…]

I mention this to explain how engrossed you must be in research to make it real to your readers. Nobody expects anybody here to be published. If a writer expects everybody to love their writing when they have not even taken the time to research their topics they will only have an audience that is as much the novice as they are. Keep in mind you are publishing on the internet which is public and if you cannot suffer the slings and arrows tossed at you then you would never be a writer. Choices are to do something and do it well are entirely up to each person but do not expect respect for something you did not put research or effort.

Engrossed in research? You say this when you add stories to your little list without even reading them?

I did my research. I read the entire History of Middle-Earth series (which I bought specifically for research, might I add), studied maps (The Atlas of Middle-Earth <3), re-read the books, underlined paragraphs, took notes… I hope one can see that I didn’t take the easiest route if one takes the time to read a chapter or two. Oh wait.

I wasn’t that upset after I first noticed the community and read the manager’s profile. But today at word the absurdity just started to peeve me. I mean, I’m basically told two years of work is garbage because I cannot write a good summary. I cannot answer to this critique-less criticism because then I’m a whiner who should grow as a person and learn to see I’m not as good as I think I am. (BTW, then I would have to be pretty crappy, I don’t think that highly of myself…)

I cannot deny that I have room for improvement. But I don’t need to be told that by a person who sits on a horse so high they can’t see down. If you want to criticize others you will have to offer some insight as to where you’re yourself at. I would love to read a sample of this person’s own writing, but alas I’m not offered the chance.

Well, I think that’s all I can say about the subject. I know the addition of my story to the community is baseless (by the criterion set by the manager themselves), but I’m not going to try and do anything about it. It isn’t deserving of my attention past this post.

Basically, I wrote all this to rail at a perceived injustice. Anyone is free to judge my story for themselves. I have and I am aware of its faults.

Reading

I’ve seen a lot of discussion lately about how younger generations read less and less. A few weeks ago a large local newspaper had an opinion text written by a 15-year-old girl about how reading is considered “lame” among her peers and people reading books are geeks or nerds.

That made me quite sad. When I was her age, years ago, I read every chance I got. The man who used to drive a bus and worked at the local library once told my aunt he was sure I’d read half the library. I wish, really. For such a small place, that library was (and is) awesome.

Ever since I learned to read when I was six years old I’ve read a lot. My mother would read me a bedtime story every night until I was competent enough a reader to read myself (and of course, she or my father would read to me otherwise as well, but not every day). After I learned to read all by myself, my mother had to remind me to actually start sleeping and not read the whole night.

I had dozens of children’s books and compilations of fairy tales – which my mother has all kept, waiting for me to have children of my own. Perhaps in time I will fill that collection with books of today (although I can tell you from watching my nephews and niece and their books that those are not so great as the books of my own childhood – rose-tinted glasses?).

I used to correct my dad’s reading (he has a very strong accent and says some words funny because of it), but that never took away from the fact I enjoyed those little moments with my parents; me in my nighties and them reading aloud with me until I went to sleep. I have a very strong recollection of my dad reading me a Nancy Drew -book – that must have been when I was already in school – and me telling him over and over that the word was kid-napping, not whatever it was he said.

That time has left me with an unquenchable love for books; I love to read them, to handle them, to share their words of wisdom. And I cannot deny enjoying buying them – perhaps a bit too much at times (468 and counting).

It is no wonder then, that I worry the kids of today won’t get to enjoy the same experiences I so cherish: the sound of your parent reading, the feel of the pages, the build-up of a good story. I hope, though, that the electronic world of today will not too much distance the younger generations from the enjoyment that is the written word.

And just after my worry was starting to peak (despite the words of encouragement of that 15-year-old who loved to read), the paper had another news story about reading. More and more grown-ups had started to visit one local library to get coaching (or tutoring, the article is not in English and I’m translating on the run) on reading. There is one librarian who speaks with the people interested and suggests them books they might like to read. Both sit down and talk about what the other person liked to read and what not. Then the librarian gives suggestions and when they meet again the tutored tells her whether they liked them or not or whether they left them unfinished and gets more suggestions.

A wonderful idea I wished was used more. I love to recommend books I’ve read (and loaning them out, though I try to cut back on that because getting them back can be a hassle – thanks a lot to the person who stole my Dark Tower books). My husband is yet to pick up a single book I’ve recommended, but then, he has trouble concentrating and my taste for smart reading and long literary experience tend to produce some heavy-to-read suggestions. My parents love their Christmas present books though (crime for dad, romance/drama for mom). Last year I bought my mom the Anthony Doerr book that was just then translated to Finnish – mom loved it, dad hated it (but hey, that was why I gave dad a Jo Nesb√ł).

I think part of the worry is publishers lobbying for traditional books. Much of writing and publishing has transferred over to the internet (and books are even shared illegally as torrent files!). I bet it’s quite hard to try and keep the book market afloat with so much free written material of all kinds that can be found online. And quite a percent of it is actually pretty good (or in some cases better than many actual books I’ve read)!

It might not be then, that popularity of reading is on the decline, it might just be the popularity of the traditional media. I of course see that as a bit problematic, because I love the smell and feel of an actual book. It is not the end of the world, though.

Do you like to read? What is your favorite book? Do you feel the popularity of books and/or reading is declining (and why)? Please, do tell.

 

So, what’s this about?

Basically, this is my blog to map my journey as a writer.

Specifically, about a very special journey that has been growing in my head for over two years. A journey of the human race into the stars.

Also, a record of my personal journey as a writer, started more than a decade ago.

So how did we end up in this here blog?

A while ago, a friend of mine started a blog about writing (in Finnish: Kirjoittajantie). That got me thinking: how and why did I start writing, all those years ago? Why is it that I’m 28 and still unpublished – unfinished – now?

Unpublished is a bit of a strong word if you count publishing in the internet – and writing fanfiction. I have been writing something, you see, a fanfic story of one of my favorite universes ever: Lord of the Rings. I have been writing this particular story for about two years now, and while I’m not entirely happy with it, it is the only piece of writing thus far I’ve finished. To-the-end -finished. 31 chapters (the last one as of this writing still a bit unfinished), over two years, over 92k words, plenty of blood sweat and tears. (The Maid Servant¬†*hint, hint*)

So, what is this special journey into space I talked about earlier?

I’ve been envisioning a sci-fi world of my own since I read George R.R. Martin’s Dreamsongs -compilations a few years back. Something as huge and varied – a place where everything is possible. Now obviously, it should be nothing too similar, something all my own, but at least as awesome – right?

Well, thus far, in my mind, it has been strictly in the far far future. Today it occurred to me; woman, you should write a story about how they got there – how human race escaped this blue-green ball that will eventually die.

So, to sum it up: this is the blog that will follow that journey, where ever it may lead me.