What’s your writing process like? Are you a pantser or a plotter?
Learning means doing things differently
I’m currently working on opus xxvii. The new book is something I haven’t done before (very say about each and every one of my books.) Inspired by a book set in my local surroundings is something I haven’t done before. Also, writing a crime novel is something I never expected to do. Nor wanted to. Really! As a writer living in Sweden, there’s this expectation that I write crime and join the ranks of all those who have come before me. Alas, the genre just never appealed to me because I don’t like to read/watch crime myself. I don’t like the gore, the death, and the hunt for the killer. Alas, here I am. The book is well underway, and while it has no title yet and the manuscript isn’t anywhere from being done, the publisher has it scheduled for a spring release.
With every new genre I’ve tackled I had to learn new things, and that is one of the most rewarding things about my craft. Not only do I learn more about the human condition, but I also get to become a better writer in the process. So far, my editors seem to agree with that assessment. The big question is if the evolving writing process leads to better books.
My writing process changes
A writer friend of mine, Wayne Goodman, who hosted me on his podcast Queer Words, always asks his guests if they are pantsers or plotters. I always considered myself a pantser, i.e. I’m writing at the seams of my pants, stream-of-consciousness, character-driven. However, for a crime novel, that does NOT work. You wonder why? In my humble, short, and ongoing experience with the genre, while you can easily “kill” someone in a stream of consciousness (I’ve done THAT before), solving a crime is an entirely different story. You need a motive, you need to have someone somehow solve the crime and preferably toward the end to keep the mystery alive for the reader. Unless of course, you don’t care about the mystery. Then there’s the question of police procedures, and a ton of questions about pathologic issues about dead bodies, decomposing, and whatnot. It’s just a very complex topic.
An ongoing process
This book was written in just a few sessions of just sitting down and watching the text appear on the screen.
Writing a crime novel isn’t the first time that a changing writing process has manifested itself. As a learning, evolving writer, hopefully having produced a better book each time I put down my pen, I have seen my pantsing slowly evolve into a more measured approach. I still enjoy writing best when I turn off my cognitive processes and just get to type away, reading what my fingers produce with the help of my computer’s keyboard, and reading the evolving story as it appears on the screen. While my first books, like Jonathan’s Hope or Family Ties, were written in less than two weeks each, recent books have taken a lot longer. It’s not as much “fun” anymore, as they all involve a lot of research to get things right, sometimes not just being able o rely on my previously acquired knowledge. I guess that is where writing becomes a job (not just the editing aspect.) I’ve always enjoyed certain aspects of research, especially when I get to immerse myself in something new, e.g. my trip to Korea while writing Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm, or Last Winter’s Snow, which allowed me to learn about our own First Nations here in Sweden.
The new book pushes the envelope
In Last Winter’s Snow, I had to change a chapter completely after learning more about Sami culture. After that, I was able to return to my normal writing. Mind you, before you get the impression that my stream-of-consciousness writing didn’t involve research, I have always researched things I didn’t know. I just get stuck, do the research, and continued. However, in this new book, I had to do a lot of research before even being able to get started. The first chapter shows the murderer after having gotten rid of the corpse, under a root roll. Well, turns out that wouldn’t work and I had to completely rewrite that. Also, given the surroundings here, the island, and the ocean, I had to find a way to hide the body, a motive, and how it all gets resolved in the end. After several months I finally feel that I have the contours in place. I have written bits and pieces here and there and throughout the book, but I’m far from done. Also, huge chunks are missing.
Next steps to finish the story
To write about a place you know really well has advantages, but carries risks.
I have had to edit considerably what I had written earlier, to make sure it fits the narrative. I have, to be honest, never been a fan of deleting. It pains me to delete words, and I know colleagues who simply save any unused written text in a slash document to be able to get back to that later. I don’t do that. If I can’t use text, it’s deleted. Only once have I regretted that, deleting a really beautiful love-making scene in a book geared toward young adults. It had to go, but I wish I’d saved that.
To get the story right, I’ve had to rewrite a lot, and while I have the basic plot ready, what is left is to flesh it out and give my characters some flesh. I still feel they’re characters, not people I know. Normally, my characters become people I know, flesh and blood, and I know them intimately. I cry when they suffer, and I laugh when they goof. I’m not there yet, and there are quite a few characters in this story: there’s the murderer who I quite like so far, there’s Anna, the main character who still feels like a Pinocchio to me, more a doll than a living being. Her father Tore feels like a stranger, even though he’s central to the story, then there’s the victim, the dead person. It is important to me to do them justice. Finally, there’s this character that appears in the second chapter and who (as part of my subconscious writing) didn’t go away. He is also really important for the story, as a catalyst of sorts. So far, he’s the one who surprised me the most, and I want to do him justice.
Yet more research to be done…
What’s plausible to happen on these streets?
You think I’d be done with research, but I’m not. I also have to speak to the pathologists at the police department, there’s more cultural research needed, and I wonder if I need to research into the motive (no spoilers!) Then there are the tiny questions that always need answering, sometimes it’s just a word or two in a subordinate clause that could take hours to research. I kid you not. Sometimes it’s the tiny details that need the most time to search for. Because as authors, we do not have the luxury to make mistakes. Unless TV. I just watched this fantasy story where literally dozens of slashed and slaughtered bodies were left behind by witches all over the place. While I wonder what regular humans would think finding all those corpses, the TV producers didn’t deem it necessary to answer. Authors don’t have that luxury. If we screw up, we’re called out on it, and given how hard it is to get any reviews, we certainly cannot afford those reviews to be bad…
In the end, I’ll get there! I feel confident that I’ll be able to deliver the manuscript to my publisher in time for the scheduled publication date in the spring of 2023. I hope you look forward to reading a crime novel, the way only I could write one. I’m certainly looking forward to other fun aspects of book production: layout, cover, and finding a good title, not to mention interacting with readers about it.
Michel, My Favorite Fallen Angel is Yours to Enjoy!
Why Fallen Angel? The idea was first born in 2014 when we were discussing concepts for the novel about Haakon. Fallen Angels of Karnataka was born out of the idea to name the foundation that Mahender was already running, a foundation rescuing children from slavery in Bangalore (Bangaluru.) I’ve always considered children to be angels, and fallen angels would thus be children who died or who are sold into slavery. Sadly this is a reality for countless children in India, and without claiming to be a prophet, one of India’s most famous campaigners against child labor and slavery, Kailesh Satyarthi, was awarded the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize along with Malala Yousafzai. I might add that was AFTER my novel had been published that year. In a way, part of Mahender embodies Kailesh. Michel is also a fallen angel, and if you read the book, you will understand why.
The grieving angel from Wuppertal is also adorning one of our living room walls.
The cover for Michel
The hunt for Michel’s cover began last fall before I was finished with the manuscript. Based on the angel on the cover of Haakon’s novel, which is a grieving cherub from a graveyard in Brussels, I wanted an angel on the cover of Michel as well. My publisher and I decided early on to base the cover on the design for The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. We just needed an angel that reflected who Michel was. Several ideas were tossed around but I didn’t like any of them. I began a search and low and behold, “my” angel appeared on top of the search results. I don’t recall the exact search phrase, but I can still find the angel easily.
However, after researching for the photographer to try and secure the rights to the photographs, we learned that he was a conspiracy theorist and a big fan of people I personally dislike. Instead, I did further research into where the angel comes from and secured help from a local photographer to take pictures of the angel in the cemetery in Wuppertal, Germany. One of the photos was chosen for the cover, another ended up on the wall of our living room because we love the expression of the statue so much.
Based on the image, my publisher created the covers for all three versions of the book, and I love all three of them! The cover has been finalized for almost six months, which is an oddity for my work.
Michel is all yours now!
As a writer, we live very closely with our characters, for months on end. I’ve lived with Michel for over eight years, and ever since I wept after writing the following line, I’ve felt I need to redeem myself in his eyes:
“Michel’s head was starting to feel heavy on Haakon’s shoulder.
“Michel, do you mind?”
There was no response. Michel was no more.”
In The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, I had to move on. This was, after all, only page sixty-four of a book of almost 300 pages. But Michel never let go. Of all the characters who pass away in my books, he was undoubtedly my favorite one. I don’t say that lightly. It took me six years to come back and write his story. It took another two to finish it
Parting is such sweet sorrow
It’s never easy to publish a story, and I’m not just referring to imposter syndrome or failing sales. My characters come to me from the depths of my subconscious, and even though I can see parallels to people in the real world every now and then (Claude, a character in the novel, is partially based on someone I once knew in Brittany), Michel is the construct of countless experiences, people, emotions and I have no clue where he came from. Both he and Haakon are complete enigmas in terms of origins. But I feel very protective toward them, and releasing Michel’s story to a broad public is a scary prospect. What if people don’t like him? However, to be an author means letting go, putting on my big boy pants, and getting on with it. Shakespeare’s wise words do ring true!
Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris is available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook starting today from bookstores, Amazon, and other online resellers. The audio version is narrated by my friend and amazing actor Michael Bakkensen.
The HIV pandemic is a character in my new book
During a panel discussion at the recent Saints & Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans, we discussed how to write about a pandemic, both the current COVID-pandemic, but also the HIV pandemic. The latter still claims hundreds of thousands of casualties every year. Given that it originally mostly affected gay men, it is a pandemic I have to relate to, whether I want to or not. Being gay and HIV are inseparably linked to each other. When a novel plays out in the 1980s, even more so. We lost almost an entire generation during those early years until the first effective medications reached the market.
Michel, the hero of my new book, first appeared in my 2014 novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. His death from complications from AIDS was an easy choice to rid me of a character who’d appeared in the story at the wrong time.
Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris
The topic was unavoidable, but how to treat it?
I recently wrote, “you know how he died, learn how he lived.” How do you write about the life of someone you know is going to die (or has been dead already?) AIDS or HIV would play a major role in the new story, that was obvious. I had done a ton of research into the epidemic for The Fallen Angels of Karnataka because Haakon was infected by Michel. Since he is a survivor, I had to make sure to make that plausible: combining his genes (of which we know little in the 80ies), early access to ACT, etc.
We never really find out how Michel was infected, and I was curious to learn how Michel’s youth was. How would HIV show up and rear its ugly head? I don’t want to give away the plot. You have to wait another three weeks before the book is released. But some things were obvious even before I picked up the proverbial pen. I had no intention to write a novel about AIDS, to spend page up and page down on symptoms, nor did I intend to ignore it. The only thing I knew for sure was where, when, and how Michel would eventually pass away.
The emotional impact of the pandemic
For me, emotions are everything. A book is all the more valuable, a story more impactful, if strong emotions are evoked on the pages. That was my focus in Michel. How does it feel to have HIV? What is it like to live with someone with HIV? To lose someone with HIV? To be friends with someone with HIV? Those are the central questions of the story. I hope to have evoked enough emotions to drive home the point of the horror of the pandemic, not just on those who caught the virus, but also on those who knew the affected.
The HIV pandemic and the LGBTQ community
To be a member of the LGBTQ community in 2022 isn’t the same as it was back in the 1980ies. It’s more than the extra letters in the acronym. Increased visibility and changed attitudes toward our way of life may have led to a better integration into mainstream society. LGBTQ people are pictured differently in mass media. Death is no longer the automatic conclusion to being queer.
I often wonder how much of that is due to the HIV pandemic? Health experts telling politicians that monogamous relationships and the acceptance of marriage equality were important tools in combatting the spread of HIV? Not to spread conspiracy theories, but it’s funny how it all took flight in the mid-to-late 1980s. At least here in the West. We still have a long way to go in the rest of the world, where oddly, the HIV pandemic is unbroken and killing thousands every day.
Michel is about more than just HIV
The new book is about so much more than just HIV and AIDS. It’s a coming-of-age and a love story. A tale about growing up in France in the 1980s. Last not least, the book also deals with how you move on from loss, how you reconcile finding happiness again with the loss of your first great love. I’m sure that many of us struggle with that question, be it in ourselves or others around us.
Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris will be released from Beaten Track Publishing on April 30, 2022, and will be available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook, narrated by Michael Bakkensen.
Michel’s ghost has haunted me for eight years
Eight years ago, I had been inspired to write a travel epos. I still remember reading a friend’s book that included beautiful descriptions of traveling, and I began to wonder what it would be like if I tried the same. I have, after all, traveled extensively in my life. I figured that I had plenty of imagery and emotions to draw upon. That’s how Haakon’s story begins, his longing for travel, focusing on the smells and scents we encounter while elsewhere. But something happened on Haakon’s first trip abroad that wasn’t planned. He fell in love, with the perfect guy, and my pantser brain began to panic. I pressed on, and given the era, Michel’s fate was quickly sealed by my subconscious: he’d have to go, and AIDS would the tool to rid myself of this interference so early in the book. I just couldn’t imagine a book where a couple traveled the world together. No, Haakon would have to do so on his own, especially given the first chapter. Different partner, no Michel.
The cover of Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris
Michel’s death scene impacted me deeply
Laugh at me, but I have never written anything like Michel’s death scene again. Maybe it was his way to make sure I didn’t forget about him. Even eight years later, I am unable to read that scene about November 29, 1986, the “glorious day”, without my voice breaking. I can’t. It took me five years before I was able to read it in public for the first time, and yeah, I couldn’t get through it without tears. And somewhere in the depths of my subconscious, Michel’s ghost took up residence and began to plot his revenge. After finalizing the manuscript for Matt, I wasn’t sure what would be next for me, but I had this weird dream about Michel. I saw glimpses of his youth, and I decided to go with it. However, the pandemic and my work kept me from focusing on my writing. Progress was slow and I was ready to just give up more than once. The pantser in me was suddenly jogging down ideas of chapters, things I’d need to write about, plotting, and planning for how the book would have to be structured. For someone who’s used to trusting his subconscious, and who was never really disappointed by that trust, plotting was distressing.
Alas, suddenly last summer, inspiration struck and the bulk of the story wrote itself in days. In fact, I was almost frantic, having to steal a moment or two to write even with the family around me. It was almost feverish. I have never experienced anything like it before.
The hybrid writing process led to a long and arduous editing process
At the end of the day, I had a manuscript that required a lot of editing. Some chapters didn’t work with others, the timeline was off, and I have never added so much to a first draft as I have in this story. Changes were necessary in a great many places, and I also had to make sure to place the story within a plausible arc because there were things that I couldn’t address within the context of the “diary” main story. How could I address questions that Michel obviously wouldn’t have the answers to? The arc story allowed me to explore that, and to provide answers, and closure. I had to make sure that I didn’t abandon Michel one more time. I had to make sure that his death would be explained, and that he was laid to rest as he deserves. Obviously, the diary wouldn’t have been able to do that. Therefore, Haakon appears in the story again. And all the answers were right there, in the original book.
One sentence in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka kicked off Michel’s story
In order to prepare for the narration of Michel, I asked my friend Michael Bakkensen to narrate The Fallen Angels of Karnataka, and as we were editing the audio files the other day, it struck me that I had specifically mentioned Michel’s diary in the original novel. Sure, I always knew that Haakon had it, but I had forgotten that I had actually put it into the story back then.
Michel’s book is stand-alone. You needn’t read TFAK (as we like to call it) to understand the new book. There is plenty of context provided. But I have a hunch that some may want to go back and either re-read or maybe even get to know Haakon better. His story is very different, of course, going in a completely different direction. Making sure the new book didn’t contradict what little is said in the old was an interesting challenge. Conversations from the two points of view had to be kept in sync, and that wasn’t always easy, but in the end, I think it turned out just fine.
When imagination meets reality
I had no idea what I would be writing about, or what Michel would tell me. Sure, I had known that he and his parents weren’t exactly close and that his upbringing was framed by his parents’ homophobia. I also knew that at some point he’d have to be infected by HIV. I also knew he had friends back in Rennes where he’d grown up, but the couple of chapters where we meet Michel in TFAK are cursory with regards to details about his life. I don’t always know where the information that finds itself onto the pages of my stories comes from, this amalgamation of my own experiences with things I’ve read, or heard of. To write about the eighties and gay life without passing HIV was impossible back in 2014 and it still is, of course. But I didn’t want to write yet another HIV book. There are plenty of those out there. I was more interested in getting underneath the skin. What was society like, why was a disease such as HIV able to spread the way it did, why didn’t we react differently to it? Answers to this are also found in the arc, as Michel obviously never got to live to see it for himself. Queer life has changed so much since then, at least here in western Europe. And when I look back at my own youth (I’m just a couple of years younger than Michel and Haakon), and I remember how society judged us, and treated us back then, I look at the role that religion played, and just how much things have changed since then. And I look around and I see how a tsunami of backlash is shaping all around us, from religious extremists to “populist” politicians who will scapegoat anybody to use as a stepping stone toward more power. We see it in Brasil, Russia, Hungary, or Poland to just name a couple of places. The list is much longer though.
I recall writing about the pedophile ring in London in TFAK, and how reality trumped my own imagination back in 2014 when such a ring was busted. I had a similar revelation after writing the scenes of Michel’s abuse at the hands of the clergy. Just days later news broke of hundreds of thousands of victims at the hands of Catholic priests across France. Unimaginable evil and suffering. Makes you wonder… Is there hope for humanity?
How do you pull off an unconventional Happy Ending when the hero dies?
With so much negativity all around us, I find it even more important to provide hope. Hope that there is a better tomorrow, for all of us. I don’t think I could cope with life otherwise. I must have faith in the good of humanity, that ultimately, good trumps evil. In Michel, I hope to have found a way to lay Michel to rest, and I hope he has forgiven me for his untimely demise in TFAK. You, dear reader, will be able to find out just how I pulled off that ending on April 30. You’ll be able to read or listen to the story then, and I hope you’ll enjoy it.
Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris is published by Beaten Track Publishing and will be released as paperback and ebook. The audiobook is narrated by Michael Bakkensen.
From dying character on page sixty-four to full novel in seven years
Every author has their own way of tackling their stories. I for one have always been driven by the voices of my characters, as they talk to me in my head. No, I’m not crazy. At least I don’t think so. The story of Haakon and his fallen angels has many real-world roots, inspired by a novel by Larry Benjamin, What Binds Us, a pedophile I once knew, my experiences from India, and my love of travel, all contributed to this dark tale. I did not foresee Michel though. When he appeared early on in the story, during Haakon’s first trip abroad to London, on page twenty-three of the printed novel, I didn’t know the impact the character would have on me, until he, Michel, passes away from complications with HIV on a park bench near the Eiffel Tower. That’s on page sixty-four.
There were reasons for that to happen most of which I honestly don’t remember. But Michel’s death is still, to this day, one of my very favorite scenes to read in public, and I still, seven years later, cannot get through it without my voice cracking. Michel had entered my life and he was not about to leave.
Six years later, Michel asked me to tell his story
Early on in 2020, days before the pandemic hit, I had just completed a major IT project as a consultant and my “billable hours” were dropping to nil when, as happens sometimes, I heard a voice. It was Michel, and he was ready to tell me his story. Then the pandemic hit and my inspiration took a nosedive. It wasn’t until this fall that I was able to really work on the novel again in earnest. And Michel’s life, as short as it was, had plenty of interesting things to tell. Writing about a ‘dead’ character is difficult, and I’m reminded of writing Disease. How do you write a hopeful ending about a subject that inevitably leads to death? There is was Alzheimer’s, here it’s AIDS (and the fact that the character actually passed away in the fall of.1986.) I am very pleased with the outcome. I hope you will, too.
There is, of course, a tentative connection to Haakon and The Fallen Angels of Karnataka but you can read this story completely as a stand-alone, although you’ll miss the death scene, which is not included in Michel, as it’s based on his diaries and yeah, I’m sure you understand. Wouldn’t work. Although it might be a great commercial hook: read the first diary written by a dead person.
I’m editing, getting ready to market: the day job of authoring
A snippet of a possible paperback cover for Michel.
The manuscript of Michel is currently in flux. The story is 99% written, I’d say, and I’ve already begun the editing process, i.e. the author editing. My publisher will edit the book later on with their fresh set of eyes, then set it, proof it, etc. We just discussed this morning, that it is my target to get the manuscript over to them by Christmas, and we tentatively talk about an April release. Before that, I’ll be in New Orleans for Sinners & Saints and hopefully, be able to let Michel meet his audience. We’ve also begun the process of creating a cover, which as I’m sure you know has always been crucial to me. That work included hiring a photographer to source licensed pictures of an angel I had found online. This angel and the expression on his face and his body language had spoken to me and I just knew I needed him on the cover. We’ll reveal the full cover later on, but here’s a sample of what it might look like. As I said, a work in progress. Things might yet change.
Authors are people stuck in a lonely cabin behind with only their cats and a typewriter
Many people think of authors as people in front of a typewriter, writing books all day long. Yes, that is part of what we do, but so is this, blogging, marketing, PR. To be an author is also to be an entrepreneur, owning a small/tiny business, being self-employed in this gig economy. Part of that aspect of our jobs is to secure funding, of course, from events, but also to market not only ourselves but our works, A lot of my colleagues believe this to be the publisher’s job, and yes, they do have their role to play, particularly as it means to get the product into stores, aka book stores and libraries, but they don’t really care about my author gigs in schools and libraries, at events. Because they don’t earn any money from those events. That’s just for the author. We have different roles, and as an author, marketing myself alongside my work is an important part of my job description as an author. Lest we forget.
Next steps: several more rounds of editing, filing on the finer details
Before I feel confident enough to release Michel to my publisher, there are still countless rounds of reading, editing, changing, and filing on the finer details of the story that remain. Because of its complicated conception with several chapters late in the book written early on, I need to make sure the timeline holds, and that different aspects of the story don’t clash. Who needs plot holes, right? That’s going to keep me busy for the coming weeks. It’s my goal to have the manuscript finalized by December 20th and send it to my publisher. We leave for our vacation the next day, and I don’t usually work on vacation unless it’s time-sensitive. After that commences the most difficult time for me, until I hear from the editor at Beaten Track, telling me what they think about the book.
Suffering from an extreme case of imposter syndrome, I always assume the worst, fully expecting them to turn me down before they never do (so far…) and I get the manuscript back and we work on it together until it is done and proofed. Meanwhile, I’ll contract the audio narrator, and work on a PR plan for the book, for what it’s worth. That usually includes blog appearances, Podcasts, and conventions. We’ll see what 2022 offers in that regard.
Are you interested in what’s going on? Stay tuned here. I’ll try to update this site regularly with any progress.
To the brain, pain is pain, regardless
I’ve been spending the past few weeks in France, exploring cities like Paris, Brest, Rennes, and St. Malo. I’ve traveled through time and space to do so, all from the comfort of my writing chair here in my house in Sweden. No flights were needed, no train rides, although I’ve experienced the passage of time from regular trains to France’s modern TGV high-speed trains. I’ve had to re-experience the death of people close to me, and it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, with a lot of painful moments, but what is fictional pain, and is it different from “real” pain?
I’ve been to this place many times, mostly in my imagination, but also in real life. It blurs the lines between fictional pain and the real one.
A long-held dream
To write the story of Michel has been a long-held dream, ever since he had to be “killed off”/written out of the novel about his boyfriend Haakon in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. Michel and Haakon fall in love, but their love gets in the way of the novel’s grand scheme of travel. Besides, with a great love story, it would’ve been a very different book, and not the one to be written then. Michel passed away, on a bench in Paris, on November 29, 1986, and Haakon embarked on his journey around the world for many years.
But Michel never really let go of me. And even though I’m not in the business of telling you which of my books is my favorite (that age-old question every interviewer asks), I can easily attest to the fact that Michel always was one of my favorite characters, and that hasn’t changed as he’s finally been allowed to tell me his story.
The sadness of letting go, again
When you start to write a book about someone you’ve already killed, you realize two things: a) writing an ending worthy of Her Majesty‘s approval will be hard, and b) it’s going to tear open old wounds again. I knew it would be a painful task at times. It’s also challenging to write a story where the actual death is part of another book, published years earlier. I had no interest in including that very scene again and had to find ways to deal with it. I hope you’ll enjoy how I’ve dealt with that sad day.
It’s been an emotional journey for me, to get to know Michel better. While it was plausible enough to have him die from the complications of his HIV infection, it was 1986 after all, but it’s a different thing to learn just how he did get infected in the first place, especially given his young age. Michel’s youth turned out to be very different than I had imagined, despite the guidance–limited as it was–from the original novel. To flesh out Michel’s parents, his friends, and to learn more about his life in the city where he grew up.
The pain of a character is my pain
I shed a lot of tears when I write, and I laugh at times. Michel is a dark story, given the ending, and the topic, but it’s also a story full of love, full of hope, and to see that Michel’s chosen family stood by him through thick and thin, that they provided a support net throughout was a pleasant surprise. I sometimes wonder just why the loss I feel is so strong, so palpable. These are, after all, just fictional characters, it’s fictional pain. They’re not real, they have not lived, they’ve never interacted with me physically. And that is true of course.
True is also that the memories of our actual life are shared in the same place as the memories of everything else, movies we’ve watched, books we’ve read, or books we’ve written. Chemically there is little difference, and if you’ve ever studied the concept called “false memories” you’ll understand just how real even fake can be. Indistinguishable for our brains. Fictional pain it may be, but it hurts just the same.
I for one spend a lot of time with my fictional characters, and to complicate matters further, those characters do spring from real life to a degree. Not that I could tell you the exact composition of each character’s personality, life experiences, etc., but I know that each and every one of my characters also includes a pinch of my secret sauce, to make sure they are life-like. It is that combination of real life, real people, real places, real emotions, real experiences with a pinch of the secret sauce that makes for realistic characters, and the pain I feel when they suffer, and the immense feeling of loss I sense when they die.
A word of caution
Knowing how our brain works, how easily we are absorbed into a story when reading a sequence of black letters on paper, and just how realistic that feels, I worry about the announcement from the Zuckerverse yesterday. While others have written books and made movies on the subject before (in other words, I’m far from the first to realize this risk), it scares me to think that we one day soon will be able to actually disappear into a virtual reality world.
Our eyes are so important to our brains in terms of how we experience our surrounding that it frightens me to think how easily people will be absorbed by virtual reality apps, and how easily they will be manipulated. At least I always know that my characters, as painful as their loss may be, are a figment of my imagination, but what’s to say that things you “see”, things you “experience” are not? Especially if you’re not adequately prepared? A scary prospect.
I’m heading back to Rennes. Michel’s mother wants to talk to him, and I have no idea what she has to say…
Have a great weekend,