Monday, May 28, 2012

Life is stranger than fiction

One of my favourite films, Magnolia, (directed by one of the those directors whose films I always want to see as soon as they are released, Paul Thomas Anderson) starts with three stories full of coincidences. Each ending with a haunting narrator voice saying: "And I would like to think this was all only a matter of chance."
Sometimes I feel the same way. It could be said that some of life's strange events could be used as a material for creative work. Sometimes life is stranger than fiction.
In the turn of August, 1991, me and a friend of mine were on InterRail around Europe for three weeks. At one point we took a night train and bought tickets to the sleeping cart. There must have been four other people we didn't know in the same cabin. In the morning, when the train was getting closer to the final station in Holland, one of the people pointed outdoors, showing buildings near the tracks. There were five high blocks of flats, all different colours. "There are lots of students living in them", the man said.
Almost two years passed. I graduated and started my mandatory military service. Towards the end of my service I saw a notice in the newspaper about this new international business studies program. Half would be in Finland, half in Holland. I applied and was accepted.
Already the first semester was in Holland. After arriving in Holland, we were taken to our accommodation from school. And guess what? My room was in one of those colourful buildings. The same ones the man in the train had pointed over two years before.
My dad died in August 1995 of cancer, after a battle that had lasted two years and nine months, somewhat thousand nights. In the weeks he was getting close to death, a slow song named Tuhat yötä hit the Finnish charts. The song title translated to English would mean Thousand Nights. Telling a story about someone being awake for someone for thousand nights. That's how I felt then. The song hit the number 1 spot two weeks after dad's death.
When me and my sister were going through dad's younghood belongings our grandmother had given us after he had passed, we found some short stories dad had written as a young man, around age 20. Some had been published in a regional newspaper in the region he grew up. One of the stories mentioned a character dying on the last Sunday of August. Dad died on the last Sunday of August.
World is small. Only seven billion people in it. Around 5,4 billion in the early 1990's when my sister traveled to Australia to meet some relatives and travel around. She traveled to Ayers Rock in Central Australia. One evening she spent time with fellow travelers, started talking to this German girl. After hearing my sister was from Helsinki, the girl mentioned she had a pen pal there. Told what her name was. My sister said, one of her best friends had the same name. The girl picked up her address book and showed the girl's address. The pen pal and the best friend were the same person.

And I would like to think this was all only a matter of chance.
Or was it?
This cannot be "one of those things..."
Or maybe it was.
Strange things happen all the time.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Reader- who are you?

I'm pretty sure most of us writers think at some point, if anyone really reads their writings. I'm wondering if the stories I write touch anyone anywhere. Even for a moment. Or for a longer time. And who are these people? Where are they? What do they do in their lives? What kind of daily routines do they follow? And if someone happens to like my writing, what is the basis for that? The writing itself? The reading habits? Something in their own life that raises the feeling of assimilation?
I have no clue. But would love to know.
Until lately, getting feedback was even more difficult. At least in my present home country Ireland.
My first two books were published in Finnish, and in my home village there are only a few Finns. In the whole Ireland probably somewhat 1300. Nothing compared to many other foreign nationalities in this country.
My potential audience was pretty much elsewhere. In the distance, if internet is not taken into account. Also restricted as there are only approximately five million native Finnish speakers. Small market, though Finland is one of the most hard-reading countries in the world.
In English, it's handy to connect with the surrounding literary world. Whether it's just around you or around the globe. The whole e-book system has brought possibilities. After joining some book sites and following results from some ad campaigns, it's possible to sit by the computer and see who and where happens to connect with your book.
I feel honored to see a doctor from Thailand suddenly liking the Facebook page created for my short story collection. It's great to follow people clicking the ads on Goodreads and add the book itself to their to-read shelves.
It's extremely interesting to do a small sociological research whether the person is from the Philippines, from Brooklyn, Colorado, Upstate New York, Oregon or from somewhere else. It's enlightening to see what other characteristics the person has. Whether the potential reader is a female or a male, and what kind of background and virtual book shelf the person has. And to see, if they will eventually read the book and even write a review about it.
Apart from my friends and reviewers, I hardly ever get any feedback. Especially from the people I don't know personally. Someone I might meet randomly in another occasion might ask, if I'm working on the next book. If they happen to know what I do for living.
Still it would be interesting to get back some more thoughts. I'm not sure if the people who have actually read the book don't want to interrupt. Or the book was just one of those in the line. Not worth talking about. Or if giving feedback is at all part of their priorities or habits.
Or whether they think it could be embarrassing to give feedback to a man who has written about the theme of love. If so, it would be interesting to know how much embarrassment or fear there is to give feedback to people who write about serial killers, junkies, sexual themes or about flesh-eating soft tissue robots that let politically incorrect phrases out of their mouths.
Feedback would be most welcome. At least you would feel something would materialize. That your work didn't just go out as a puff in the space when it once left your computer.