Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Those Not With Us Anymore

When I was young, some sad news came time to time about guys my age. People I knew or had known. In the same neighbourhoods and suburbs where we grew up. Sometimes I wondered what it was about that age. Guys. Sudden growth in mortality rate.
Some of those memories come back as I remember my youth. In flashbacks. I don't know if it's about getting to this age certain things from the past start coming up. Maybe it has something do with my work, which is often about trying to remember significant things. Even own personal history. The interest in trying to map my own past. Places. As they were then. Maybe to be partially used as a fictional setting.
Unfortunately, sometimes the memories come through with sorrow.
The last sad news came yesterday. An old acquaintance my age. We went to the confirmation camp together at the age 15. Heart attack.
A young man. Still. There are no judges giving votes who will be dropped next.
When I look back certain lives could've been predicted early. How vulnerable some were. The friend from the sports team, who had moved away. His death notice was in the newspaper when he was 15. No others were involved in this gun-related incident.
Others where in an accident caused later on by a young man, also from that same sports team. Who had decided to drive his car against another car. Head-on collision. He wasn't the only fatality.
Some stories were sad in different ways. Because of just one impulsive decision. To go grab a burger some kilometers away after a successful sports tournament. Later at night after a little partying. The big tree by the road was the last guard. The headstone of that young man is in the same cemetery where my Dad is buried.
There are slowing down lives as we have lived, have become adults, hopefully gotten smarter, found the peace. Some didn't have that understanding or hope. Or the will to understand.
How fast some of them were living their lives. As if it would run away, if you don't try to catch it as much as possible immediately right there. In that moment. With both hands.
And the ones you could tell didn't appreciate life. Many of them haven't been here anymore in years. You could tell it already very early.
As many experiences can tell, we don't know what's around the corner. Which day or the second will be the last one.
I have no clue if I will live to be 100. Will I have the same destiny as this young man had some weeks ago when he moved from here to eternity.
Still, a bit shocked I've stopped. On Monday I'll phone to reserve an appointment for a proper health check up. We're only here once.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Dim Light of Relativity

Exactly 20 years ago I was doing my mandatory military service. Was in the middle of nowhere on a winter camp practicing certain extreme skills. Was exhausted physically after carrying all that stuff on my back and walking long distances. Hungry for not having time to cook that food on the small heater outdoors. Thirsty, because the drinking water had to be boiled from the snow, purified with a purifying pill. Cold, there wasn't much time to dry the clothes on in the hour or two long breaks in the tent not that often. Tired, I slept altogether six hours during that camp week.
Still, when the week ended, we got to go back to the base. Got off on the weekend holidays. I probably slept in my warm bed for most of the weekend. Took it all back. At least I had the possibility.
During my eleven months in the military, I got free train tickets to go to my weekend holidays. So I visited my grandparents quite regularly. Once my Grandpa asked how the food in the military was. By that time I was back in the same base where I had had my basic training, one of the last bases with the old style table passing meals. I was quite sick of that same pork dice sauce. I told my Grandpa it. He said: "Yeah, I know. It used to be bad as well. During the war we had this shred soup. Bit of porridge with a little pieces of ham in it."
I never complained again.
These situations bring different problems people have to the same line to be compared. I know that while I could be complaining about food, during the wars military men were struggling to get anything to the front line. And yes: children in Sudan are suffering from starvation.
As I go back to my "so tough" military memories, they now seem more as golden times. Even the harshest moments can be remembered with some humour. About having "the unicorn grown in the forehead" during that demanding winter camp week. Nothing compared to those boys sent to the front during the wars. Some of them scared to death what they'd be experiencing.
When I was in Under Officer School we were brought to different neighbourhoods from the base to collect money from door to door to disabled war veterans. I had been collecting money already twice during the basic training. Did it twice during the next months after it. It was a tradition for the guys doing their service annually for decades.
We were brought to Kallio district, few kilometers Northeast from Helsinki city center. The district is a known place for working class and artists. Bit bohemian, in some parts rough, but full of life. Some people in their nicer homes didn't even open their doors to us. Some people who obviously had less, gave us from their little. We were living a deep recession. Unemployment rate was going up to nearly 20 per cent.
There was a dim light coming out of the door to the hallway when I had rung the doorbell. An older man opened the door. He seemed a bit slow. Maybe due to his age or something. Then I noticed a huge hole scar in his upper forehead. Probably from the grenade.
I introduced myself and as I told about the money collection for the disabled war veterans, he lost it. As if seeing a young man wearing his gray military holiday suit was bringing back all his memories. Nightmares. All the horrors young men had to go through. He broke down.
I don't know if it was his daughter or a granddaughter, who walked him peacefully away back to the kitchen. Looked at me, so I'd understand. I nodded. We seemed to be agreeing without many words that I should go. She would have her moment together to calm the old man down. In their dim light. In their small kitchen in this working class neighbourhood.
After finishing the tour, I walked back to our gathering place by Karhupuisto, a small park. Some men, who had apparently gone into the side paths of their lives, were having a drink from their bottles in the park. Commenting something to us. We ignored them.
Until they gathered together. Soon a delegation of those probably homeless alcoholics came to talk to us. "We gathered our money together and would like to make a donation. My father fought in the Winter War", the leading man said. He was moved. Got us all slightly in the same state.
At that point I realized that life is not black and white, and things might not be as they're thought in the first place. And everything has sometimes everything to do with relativity.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Processing real life events, and reverse drama

I'm often very interested in stories, which have a connection to real life. I couldn't care less for C-level drama or true movie channels showing the lead Based on a true story. But if certain pieces of fiction in books, movies, TV or even theatre have some kind of believable, not-so-sugary and ambitiously processed connection to real events,  you might have reached me. Even more interesting it is, if the piece is based on someone's original psychological processing of a life situation.
Some months ago, I went to Gaiety Theater in Dublin to see Steel Magnolias (Mischa Barton was in it). I hadn't yet seen the 1988 film starring Julia Roberts, Shirley MacLaine etc. But after browsing theater show lists and Wikipedia, I bumped into the background story of it. Originally written as a play in early 1980s by Robert Harling.
I read that Robert had written the play to process his sorrow after the death of his younger sister Susan Harling Robinson, a diabetic.
As it is summarized in Wikipedia:
As her best friend and closest sibling, Harling found it very difficult to cope with her death. He was advised by many of his friends to write about his feelings as a coping method. It began as a short story and evolved into a full length play as Harling didn't feel that a short story adequately conveyed the complexity of the relationships and the emotions that existed within the characters. Harling felt it important to include the way the characters utilized humor and lighthearted conversations to assist them in coping with the seriousness of the underlying situations.
I had to see how it had come alive. Especially as a drama-comedy. I know people processing sad things might end up using extremely dark, even macabre humour. But somehow I had a feeling that this would be different. Lighthearted, having heart, with a bit of haunting voice towards the end. I knew how it would end even when I didn't.
I was pleased. I would've ended the story in a same way. It brought different kind of after taste. Sense of having had laughs, but also a little sadness. As if I had lost a friend.
Steel Magnolias made me think how much information we have about the play or a movie beforehand makes the watching experience different. We get this presumption when knowing the background story.
When seeing the awarded documentary film Senna, the whole watching is more intense as you know how the story will end. How the main character, Ayrton Senna himself, is nearing his death. How those small decisions made about certain safety measures by the race officials are now seen.
Sometimes this drama is reverse. Made in an innovative way. The conclusion is shown first, then certain developments leading to it only afterwards.
One decision made years ago was made in the popular TV series ER. Doctor Mark Greene (Anthony Edwards) was written out of the series by developing him a brain cancer. Only after his death was announced, the full following episode dealt with Mark's last times before his death. As he did peaceful rollerblading in Hawaii, his condition getting worse, him dying later on in the episode. The whole intensity to that overly peaceful episode came from the knowledge of nearing death.
TV, theater, movies, books. They don't always need to be utterly intense with ever-continuing action sequences.
There are great ways to create interesting, different kind of drama with simple, but bit unusual decisions.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Where were you when...?

I remember exactly when I heard that two planes had hit the Twin Towers. I remember where I was when I heard US president Ronald Reagan had been shot, as well as Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme.
I remember late September night in 1994. I was studying in a small college outside Turku in Southwestern Finland. Hearing heavy helicopters going over the dorm towards the sea middle of the night. The next morning news told by my college room mate. He had heard from the radio that a ferry had sunk at the sea. I didn't believe it then and I still hear about it. Nowadays as a joke.
The ship was named MS Estonia. 852 people went down in one of the worst maritime disasters of the 20th century. That explained the helicopters.
Immortalized the  memory of us students gathering in the college lobby stunned silent watching the morning TV news. Looking at those shocking TV pictures from the sea. And recovered people being brought from the sea to Turku University Hospital just 20+ kilometers away. To that same hospital where my son would one day be born. Personal history in context of a larger historical picture.
September 11th, 2001 was probably one of the strangest days in my life. I was working as an Editor-in-chief in a local newspaper in Southwestern Finland. In that morning my boss collected me from my home. Me, him and our caricaturist drove to Helsinki. Spent nearly an hour strolling around the city center of Helsinki before moving on to Government Palace by the Senate Square, Prime Minister's office. We were there to hand him the caricaturist's newest book. I was there to take pictures, to write an interview of Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. How he felt about political satire in books and on television. He had been depicted in one weekly TV satire as a caricature character.
Some hours later me and the caricaturist stayed in Helsinki as the boss left back. We met a colleague. Spent some time. Suddenly the colleague's mobile phone started beeping messages from news agencies. After the second message about the second plane hitting the tower we had to find a TV somewhere. Ended up in a lobby of a city center hotel where people were gathering together. Apparently security level had been raised also in Helsinki since the police cars were going around.
In the evening I took a bus back to Turku. Spent the time on the phone discussing with different people how the world wouldn't be the same after that day.
I remember that day. Those moments. Getting the messages. The feeling. I cannot imagine how the world changed to those people who were really involved in those events some way or living nearby where they happened.
Few days ago, my son started remembering similar events in his life. The big news. Where he had been when he had heard about Osama Bin Laden being killed among other events. It had apparently been at home, through morning news on TV.
The next generation might have different events staying in their minds. But I have a feeling the echo will be the same, no matter if the news will eventually be splashed on their face through social media or through an iPod. Real life story is a story no matter which way you get it.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

End of the year hurry paid off

Cannot believe we're in 2013 now. The last months of 2012 went in a hurry. Especially October and November getting writing and editing done just about day and night. Keeping in contact with all parts of the team in the book process. Apparently certain rewarding success in (e-)book markets brings the motivation up...
The last months have been pretty amazing ride seeing how interesting e-publishing with all its connections to the changing publishing world, social media and its marketing mechanisms is. My debut novel, crime-themed Meduusa (originally published in 2006) eventually hit the #1 spot in iTunes Finland top100 in mid-October. After that it has made it up there again somewhat seven times. It has also kept the #1 spot in Mysteries and Thrillers chart for most December and January.
I was surprised to see it being selected to iBookstore Best of 2012 collection Top Fiction category in December. This could have something to do with the fact that since its update edit and e-publishing in July, it has become one of the all-time most sold e-books in iTunes Finland.
Why? Not sure, but I have a theory in addition to thanking the decent pricing.
Did the topics about how people are suffering in their life, maybe financially during the recession, pressures in the society, friendships, work and family life, growing crime rates connect to some of those readers? Maybe certain events seen in the news, such as horrendous family tragedies and senseless school shootings, ended up being more current issues now than six years ago. Maybe.
For me possibly hitting the nerve of these years meant rewarding times. A sting of new energy. No wonder some days and weeks have been quite hectic.
After the first success I dug out the original Palava sydän (Burning Heart) file. This crime-themed novel has the same police characters, events taking place in Helsinki region in Finland. It was originally published in print in 2008.
I did the same editing trick and it was published as an e-book in the end of October. By the end of the year Meduusa and Palava sydän had held several times the #1 and #2 spots in iTunes Finland Mysteries and Thrillers chart at the same time.
I have a feeling some old time frustrations in writing have found a solution through e-publishing. I know there has to be self-criticism and hard editing work done not to put just about anything out there. Readers are selective. Surely not dumb.
But it does give hope and energy. Even so much that I went deeper in digging my file archives and lined up some older scripts in addition to editing and writing newer ones.
In the end of October the Finnish version of the short story collection My Hometown Named Love, (published in English in March) Kotipaikkani on rakkaus, saw its light. As did the two story collections in November: children's story collection Karkaileva bussi ja kaiken maailman ihmeelliset vempeleet (Runaway Bus and All Other Marvelous Contraptions) and a cross-generational story collection Haikarasaaren vauvasatama ja muita tarinoita (Heron Island Baby Harbour and other stories).
The last two haven't made it yet to iTunes due to a linking problem. In addition to blocking links to its competitor Amazon, Apple has apparently now also blocked links to Goodreads. It'll be interesting to see how originally Finnish-language children's books draw attention to mainly Disney-based children's e-book markets.
There have been many predictions on what will happen in e-book markets this year. North American e-book sales will most likely pass 25 per cent in all book sales. Europe and Finland are way behind.
But I think putting efforts there now will pay back in the future. There were 1,1 million smartphones sold in Finland in the first nine months of 2012 only (not including the newest iPhone model). In the same nine months time, sales numbers for tablet computers were somewhere between 150 000- 200 000. These numbers in such a short time are high in a country with only 5,4 million people. More people are using these devices and e-readers in addition to reading traditional paper books.
The tradition of buying hardcovers and paper covers is and will be there. But what will be the future of e-reading when new devices come up? And when new generations grow up? Using technology for things my generation wouldn't, can be very natural for young adults in only a few years, not even yet talking about ten or twenty years from now.
This doesn't have to mean the death of a traditional paper book. They can go side by side depending on the needs, origins of the book, which edition is more easily available and whether someone wants to carry ten books on a safari in Africa or take the e-reader along.