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Do Shorter Books Today Equal Less Quality?

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When I was in high school I went from reading stories about horses or kids’ adventures to reading romance novels and psychological thrillers. As I picked up a new book to read I quickly realized that most novels were thick as a brick. And I didn’t really like having to go through a whole page of description of what a room looked like or how a woman’s hair shone in the sun. I found it dreary and boring and wanted the story to speed up. Sure, if a writer is very good one can certainly enjoy longer prose, such as Michael Ondaatje who wrote The English Patient. If a writer is that skilled, it will be like reading poetry. But let’s face it, authors like him are scarce.

No surprise that Ernest Hemingway became one of my favorite authors, right?  I really enjoyed how he managed to tell so much with so few words, and how he let the reader fill in the gaps and let them use their own imagination. This has shaped my own writing of course. I write what I like to read myself, which is character driven stories that does not have a lot of descriptive prose. And I am not alone. Modern writers are using less descriptive prose in their novels, especially in e-books it seems. Perhaps it is a sign of the times. We live in a fast-paced society where we want to consume as much as we can every day, thus perhaps we prefer shorter reads. I know I do.

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The inevitable question of course is: are we missing out on quality due to this? I believe the answer is both yes and no. A great author will know where to place the necessary descriptions in their novel, which will enhance the reader’s knowledge and experience of the characters and the settings without turning the novel into In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust. If the writer is not very skilled the quality of their writing may be of poor quality whether it is long or short. In the world of self publishing a writer may be stressed to publish an e-book, wanting to get it out into the world fast, but he or she can also return to it and make changes to it afterwards, which makes the book a living thing that can grow and prosper. The world of books and our reading habits seem to have changed. What do you think of the situation?

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Characters – My Imaginary Friends

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It is nothing but a luxury to be able to call yourself a writer; it lets you get away with a lot of weird things. For instance it allows me sit at home alone for days without talking to anyone, googling forensic technology and what happens to a body that has been left in water for two days. My friends have gotten used to the fact that I disappear at times into a hibernate state, hardly answering texts, not wanting to make plans to hang out because I’m “in the zone” doing research or writing. Thankfully my friends still think I’m fun enough to hang out with when I finally have time for them and want to keep me around!

Googling weird stuff bordering on the morbid without feeling too guilty is another perk of being a writer. Perhaps I want to do some extensive research on bruising on the skin and what it looks like before and after death. Or maybe I want to learn all there is about working as a hair dresser because that is what a character does in one of my books. Learning new things is one of the best parts of being a writer, I can get lost for hours trying to find out more about my new favorite subject. Did you know that you don’t necessarily bleed a lot if you are shot in the stomach area? I guess it looks better on film using a lot of blood, but it’s not always the same in reality. Do I delete my web history? Yes, regularly.

Writing also lets me get away with making people up and hanging out with them for months at a time. They become my imaginary friends, and I play with them like puppets on strings, which sounds kind of sad and freaky, but that’s what we writers do. When the book is finished I say goodbye to them, but they are never lost, I can always go back to them by re-reading the story and thus visit them like old friends. I am currently working on a series of books in the Detective Patrone Series, and having the main characters come back and develop and have me discover new things about them in each book is a completely new concept to me, and I am very excited about it. I’m lucky to blame my quirks on being a writer. What’s your excuse?

 

Is There a Feud between E-books and Regular Books?

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Ever since the e-book boom there have been a lot of discussions on the pros and cons of e-books and regular books. These discussions have often taken one in defense against the other, thus creating a sort of war between the e-book and the regular book. Clever writer and actor Stephen Fry said “Books are no more threatened by Kindle than stairs by elevators”, which I thinks is a brilliant reflection on this matter. There is a time and a place for each format, and there is no reason why the two should not co-exist.

 

When the e-book format was launched a lot of people were afraid that it would be the end of the regular book and that book stores would close and publishing houses would go bankrupt, meaning many people would lose their jobs and we would no longer be able to buy regular books anymore. The same hysteria was created with the launch of the paperback book way back in the day. This cheaper and smaller version of the hard cover book sent chills all over the book industry. Now authors would be paid less, and “serious authors” would not agree to have their masterpiece printed in this cheap-looking format, was the consensus of this change at first. What we see now is that readers will buy both formats, and the cheaper paperbacks have caused readers to buy more books than they could have afforded if there was just a hard cover version out there. The same is now happening with e-books. But publishing houses have already recognized this new and popular format and usually offer an e-book version of their published books as well now.

 

Yes, the competition among all self published authors has created a price drop on e-books. On a market where millions of books are being published on sites such as Amazon, many authors feel the need to sell their work for pennies. But if you look at the medium price of an e-book, which varies between $ 2.99 to $7.99 depending on its length, this is basically the same as what the author would get from sales of the paperback version via a publisher. And even though a few book stores may have closed, new online book stores have popped up selling all three formats, and more (audio books). And we buy them. Some prefer a regular book, to be able to smell the pages and hold it in their hands and put it on their bookshelf. Some prefer the easily accessed e-book, for reading on the commuter train to and from work, on the holiday or whenever. If you have a favorite book series you probably want them in hard cover, to show off and to cherish for the rest of your life. If you are an avid reader, like me, you might buy all three formats.

 

So, not only do e-books and regular books co-exist, but they may also actually benefit off each other. One example of this is that new authors have been discovered through the e-book and self published market, such as Andy Weir who wrote The Martian. Moreover, the self publishing phenomenon has created new genres. There is no snobbishness in the e-book world, all genres are welcome. The erotica novel which has been banned from regular publishing is here to stay, with many subgenres such as romance erotica, thriller erotica, etc. The Sci-fi genre is blossoming, something that publishers and critics have noticed. In Sweden Sci-fi novels for teens are now being reviewed as “serious” literature. This is a big step. Huge. So, no matter what book format you prefer, keep reading! The book market is growing!

What’s in a Title?

Choosing-a-Book-TitleChoosing a title for your book is easier said than done. The most common way to pick a title is to use a catchy phrase or a theme word that says something of what your book is about, to make it easier for the reader to know when they are browsing for a new book.

A title can be a blunt selling description of what the story is about. But it can also be more like a hidden gem, something that the reader will understand as they are reading the book, or maybe not until the end of it. A mysterious title can be alluring, but make sure that the book description tells the reader a lot of what the themes and the story is about. Look at other books in your genre and compare. How can you stand out and still fit in?

When you search for an appropriate title you should also keep in mind what genre your book is in. A tip is to adjust the tone of the title to your genre. Is it a romantic comedy? Make it funny and sweet. Is it a psychological thriller? Make it exciting and thrilling. Try it out on your friends and family, make them your beta readers to get a general sense on the matter. Don’t forget to have fun with it! This is your chance to play around with words, it’s what you love, right?

One difficult question is if you want to choose a title that is similar to a famous book or not. I was writing a drama where the main character was celebrating her being single and how awkward it can be when all your friends and acquaintances are in a relationship, and how they sometimes stay in bad relationships no matter what and try to remodel their houses and create other projects in desperation to keep their relationship going. My title for this was Different Shades of White, referring to making a big deal about picking a wall color among the many shades, when in the end it is still just white. This was of course just before the release of Fifty Shades of Grey. I ended up changing my title after that, since I did not want to make my readers think it was an erotic novel.

The title and the book cover is the first thing a potential reader will see, so picking a great title is important. If a title is too non-descriptive or too silly it might put the reader off. In the end it is your choice, so make it a good one that will suit your book. And if it does not work you can always change it!

New Romantic Comedy/Drama!

A War of Wits is a romantic comedy/drama set on the beautiful  French Riviera and the busy city of New York in 1938. Michelle comes from an artistic and free spirited family and is full of disdain when she meets the snobby playboy Jake from NYC. The two begin a verbal duel to which they both will have to surrender to when an unexpected tragedy strikes. Could this be real love? If all is fair in love and war, will being a smartass be a weapon that will help you win or lose?

Check it out on Amazon here! Also available in paperback!

Why are we so obsessed with stories?

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Have you ever thought about how obsessed the human mind is with stories? Yes, I say obsessed, because when you think about it we surround ourselves with stories everywhere. We read stories in books and newspapers, we watch stories on film and television, we listen to them in music, we tell each other stories about our day when we have coffee or dinner with friends and family, and even when we sleep we dream up stories in our heads.

We need stories. Storytelling is basically how our languages were created. Scientists say the narrative is a central part of the human mind and how we function as human beings. We are highly social creatures and interact with others, which spawns a narrative. We are creative and inventive, we are able to fantasize and dream and build things. Stories help us deal with possible events in real life, help us compartmentalize all that could happen to us. But if we were not so social we would probably only create factual stories, built around true events. Then there would be no fiction. Imagine that!

Alright, so it’s easy to understand how fictional stories were made up by homo sapiens around the camp fire, telling stories about other tribes possibly attacking them or travelling to a place where water is scarce, and how this could benefit the tribe in the future by imagining different scenarios. But what about the pleasure we get from stories? Well, not only does it give us a simulation of game plan in our real life, which gives us a sense of control, an evolved structure of behavioral systems, but it also triggers our emotions. We learn to understand our own and other’s emotions. This sharing of made up stories thus helps us deal with the complexity of our creative mind, we can live out different plots and we feel satisfied and in control, and our emotions make us happy. In other words, don’t feel bad for spending so much money on new books every month, it’s good for you!

I Kill People for a Living

Do you ever get tired of people asking about your job? No matter what your job is and whether you like it or not, questions about your work can be really annoying. It’s usually the first thing a stranger asks you when you first meet them. “What do you do?” is always a safe card in small talk after the polite introduction and name swapping procedure is done with, as if your work equals who you are as a person. Whether you are at a party or on a first date, the issue of your profession can take up more time than it should.

Like I said, whether you like your job or not, these questions – because there are always more questions that follow – can be very annoying. I love being a translator and a writer, but I don’t always love telling people about it, dreading the inevitable “Oh, really?” that is bound to come. The follow up questions are usually “So you must be good at learning languages? How well do you speak German then?” and “Are you any good at it (writing)?”. Why would you ask someone if they are good at what they do? People seem to think that it is a justifiable question when you have a creative job. If I was an accountant, they wouldn’t ask me “Are you any good at it?”, would they? Accountants get follow up questions too, I’m sure, the issue is you don’t really want to have deep conversations about your job on your day off or justify why you chose that profession to strangers.

If you are a writer and you’re really unlucky you might even get a “What’s your book called? I might read it. But it better be good!” with a sarcastic laugh. Thanks, jerk. I hope you don’t like it, that it is a complete waste of you time. Just as you are wasting my time, right now. I have actually started refusing to talk about my job sometimes, especially if I’m on a first date. There are more interesting things to talk about which will tell you more about the person; their taste in music, where they stand politically, if they like animals, etc. Once I was so annoyed by a stranger I told them I kill people for a living. “In my books, sure, but I’m kind of a psychopath. You should see my browser history,” I wheezed. Remember, you don’t have to talk about things you don’t want to with people. Especially if they are strangers, and/or jerks.

Boosting Your Creativity

Here are some helpful tips that I use to boost my creativity for writing:

  1. Indulge in your story! Nothing gets me more excited than coming up with a new story and putting all the pieces together, creating characters and scenarios etc. All that juicy stuff will send my creativity through the roof and keep me up half the night writing.
  2. Do other creative stuff other than just writing, or write other types of texts for variation. Sometimes I write short poems or help musician friends with lyrics and I enjoy writing in different formats immensely. For instance my novel requires a different style and tone than my short story crime series on Detective Patrone. I also paint, draw and sketch a lot too. Going to museums is another favorite thing to do. Looking at art really inspires me.
  3. Exercise! Sitting in front of the computer for hours can be really draining and exhausting, so I make sure I exercise on a regular basis, to get the blood running and that whole body-mind flow going.
  4. Go outdoors. This could be part of the exercise of course, but being outdoors and breathing fresh air and getting some sunlight is important on its own. Just being in nature can be very spiritual and healing.
  5. Take a lot of breaks. Again, sitting in front of the computer can be tiresome. Taking several short mini breaks is probably a good idea. I usually lose track of time and realize a few hours later that I forgot to have dinner, due to number 1 above haha. But the writing process also consists of thinking about your story a lot, and sometimes you need to press pause for a longer period of time and not think about your story or your characters at all. Let your mind rest.
  6. Get friends and family to beta-read your story to get new ideas or suggestions that might open up your mind to a new flow of creativity.
  7. Listen to music! For some people this may fall under number 2, but for me music is such a huge source of inspiration that it needs a category of its own. Discover new genres, bring out some oldies goldies, find a song that fits the mood in a scene. Music never fails to inspire me.
  8. Do fun and silly stuff that makes you laugh. A good laugh is the remedy for anything, so make sure you surround yourself with people who will make you laugh and are not afraid to get loose and do silly things with you, or get a pet. My cat is very silly.

 

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Daisy tries to look like a vampire

Writing and Music

I love music and it is always an inspiration to me when I write, sometimes more and sometimes less. It could be that the music itself puts me in the right mood or fits a character somehow, or that the lyrics are about the same subject I’m witing about, or both.

For my Detective Patrone series I have been listening a lot to Bruce Springsteen. There is something very straightforward about his music, what you see is what you get, and my leading man Detective Joe Patrone is very much like that. Furthermore Springsteen tells you a story, it’s working class, it’s tough times and life is pretty hard on the streets of whatever town he is writing about. It sets the mood just right for me, and it also helps me to get inside a male’s head. Springsteen’s lyrics are not always as tough as the music, with lots of guitars. They can be romantic and vulnerable, but from a man’s perspective and that is very appealing to me.

Billie Holiday

As I was writing the romantic comedy/drama A War of Wits, which takes place in the late 1930s, I was hugely inspired by Billie Holiday and some of her songs in particular. Billie Holiday became successful in the 1930-40s and that whole jazz vibe and her amazing vibrato along with some very poetic lyrics just kept my mindset in the 1930s permanently during the writing process.

Some songs inspired entire scenes, like the song “Autumn in New York” which describes different parts of the city with such poetic words in the lyrics, it fit perfectly for when Michelle sees the City for the first time. Every time I read the scene the song keeps playing in my head. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm” is another song that I played over and over again for the cold and snowy scenes in NYC before all the trouble start for the couple. “Twenty-Four-Hours-A-Day”, “Lover Man” and “These Foolish Things” were also on repeat and are both romantic and upbeat and really fitting for a romantic comedy.

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There was another song which served as a big inspiration and a big help that came from a completely different genre. Even though A War of Wits is essentially a romantic comedy it also has some dramatic features, including a death scene. When I was writing the death scene and the scenes after it, I listened a lot to “Four Seasons in One Day” by Crowded House. The song is written about the city of Melbourne, known for its fickle weather changes but I think it so perfectly describes the emotional rollercoaster you’re on when you have a sudden death in the family. The lyrics are much darker and poetic than just being about the weather. The lines “Blood dries up, like rain, like rain” is also representative for the strange thoughts you have when something so drastically happens to you; when someone close to you dies. My stepdad died very suddenly by simply disappearing from a boat when I was 19 years old. That is why I wanted to write about this sort of thing happening to one of my characters, in an attempt to put to words how strange it feels not to have this person around anymore, from one day to another, and how you feel angry and sad and guilty and in denial and all sorts of emotions and weird thoughts like “what is happening to his body in the water right now”. And no one wants to talk to you about it and no one understands. If just one person recognizes this and feels like they are not alone in this, my purpose as a writer has been fulfilled. The lyrics really helped me go through all the emotions, once again, and the music of the song has always been so comforting, I have Crowded House to thank for that. That song gave me comfort when nothing else could. As a music lover I would say that there is great music in every genre, just as there are great books in every genre. A War of Wits will be available to pre-order shortly on Amazon.

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