Writing Fiction for the First Time in Over a Decade, pt. 3

More random thoughts on the subject.

Cultural Appropriation

I was reading this book on my native Finland called The Finnish Miracle – 100 Years of Success.

It’s written by André Noël Chaker, a Canadian-born man, who had been living in Finland for a quarter of a century at the time the book came out in 2017, which was probably the reason for the book, as that was the centennial of Finnish independence. The thing is that despite living here for 25 years and being married to a Finnish woman, the book is very surface level.

Now, I’m not sure whether that’s on purpose or not, but here’s an example: He talks about saunas. He mentions the fact that Finland has around 3 million saunas for a population of about 5.5 million, and he talks about the mixed bathing and acceptance of nudity especially regarding saunas. Sure, he also mentions that in the past Finns used to be born in saunas. This is all true, but also misses so much of the complexity of this subject, which is very central to the Finnish culture.

I mean, like many people, I do have a sauna in my apartment. I use it once or twice a week and just sit or lie down there, soaking in my own sweat in silent contemplation, but this is just one way to use a sauna. As a student, we always tried to hold our parties in places that had a big enough sauna to accommodate a bunch of us in some cases to sing badly otherwise just to discuss weird subjects, a friend of mine had his job interview in a sauna (which is a bit problematic) and so forth. In a country where only a third of the population believes in god (the monotheistic one), sauna is a remnant of the pre-Christian pagan ways. We might not think of it as a religious practice, but in many ways you could argue that it has similar functions.

Why am I bringing this up? Because it made me feel unsure about my own writing. While I keep my references to cultures in my fantasy world deliberately vague, they still exist, and if someone with 25 years of exposure can’t see anything below the surface, how can I with very limited knowledge of the cultures I appropriate things from. But again, I am keeping everything deliberately vague, so I hope I can get away with it.

Weird Coincidence

I stumbled upon this book called Naisia joita ajattelen öisin (The Women I Think About at Night). It was in the paperback section of my local bookstore (yes, it is sad that this is singular, but what can you do) and my first thought was that how did this softcore porn end up here, but a cursory look in to the contents revealed that it talks about a couple of women I was aware of and had found interesting in the past (Mary Knightley and Nelly Bly), so I decided to buy it. It’s an interesting combination of travel book, autobiography and various biographies of these women. I found it so good that I decided to by the earlier book by the same author, Asioita jotka saavat sydämen lyömään nopeammin (Things that Make One’s Heart Beat Faster, although this one is not available in English as far as I know). Its quite similar to the other book, except that the only Woman Thought About at Night is Sei Shonagon. The book contains a lot of interesting information on the beginnings of Japanese literature.

It took me around 150 pages before I realized that I might actually have heard of this woman before. I remembered that Peter Greenaway had made a film in the mid-90s with the same name as the book by Sei, The Pillow Book, and later on in the book the author states that she found this movie the best version of the book at least in spirit (although the movie does not actually have much to do with the book).

Anyhow, the reason why I brought this up is that Sei included a lot of lists in her book as I have in my novella. I don’t know if I was somehow inspired to do this by the movie, which I hadn’t seen in years. Still, in the I’ve included a list beginning of each chapter which stars a certain character written by that character. Some are just for fun, some are just there to explain her way of thinking, and some are there to show her dread, which she tries her best to keep hidden from others.

Another thing I found funny was that the author also stated in the book that someone she knew had told her that only women make lists. I’m not a woman, but the character is (sort of), so am I just basing this on a stereotype I was not consciously aware of?

I also didn’t name most characters. They only have titles or trades and are identified as such. Only the two main characters have real names. A third character seems to have had one, but has been redacted in the text. It turns out that the early Japanese writers did the same thing. Weird.

Balancing the Main Characters

Since I have two main characters, I have been trying to come up with a similar gimmick for the other one. First, I thought that I should put a poem in the beginning of each of her chapters, but I can’t really write poems. I also thought that since she has been very isolated for most of her life, these should be reminiscent of outsider art, but I can’t really do that either, and if I don’t explain this, would anyone get what I’m going for with them.

I think I do need something, though. Currently I’m wobbling between dreams and myths. I’ll probably go with the latter. Maybe she was foretold by a prophet.

Naming

I have no idea what to call my little project. This is something I have always struggled with, but naming a fantasy novella seems even harder. The names of these books usually seem just too dramatic for my liking. A couple of examples from Amazon(.co.uk): The Eye of the World, A Court of Thorns and Roses, Empire in Black and Gold… Yeah, not for me, but I fear I will end up with a name like these in the end.

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