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Writing the alien

Tags: Graham Joyce Imagicon2 Me Science fiction Åsa Schwarz

Should you fight the fantastic, like many books portray: hero kills ghost. Or should you accept it, live with it, see it as an extra spise to life? Like my grandmother did.

Graham Joyce

If you go to a con in Sweden, you also have to live with about 7 others, foreign nationalities being present, including Swedes who do speak Danish, Swedes who don't speak Danish, and Swedes who think they speak Danish. You feel very alien. But, joking aside.

If you write in the fantastic genres, you also have to choose how you will write about the alien/foreign, whether it's the country Transylvania, the person Dracula or the language spoken in foreign places by foreign people. This was one of the great topics, you had plenty of time to discuss at Imagicon 2.

The panel "From a foreign perspective" looked at the foreign place. Putting yourself in other's shoes. And immediately realized: it will never succeed 100%. But you have to try. You can and must use research. You also have to use your imagination, so you can write about stuff you don't know. You have to write more than you actually use, in an effort to make the described world plausible -- whether you're writing about real people or not. You also have to remember, that even though you're writing about something alien, you yourself is "local". Maybe you're writing to learn more about the foreign. Maybe you're an explorer, who doesn't know the language yet. Or maybe you interpret for the reader. It's important to describe the foreign as it is -- instead of describing your prejudices. It's also important to describe what the alien looks like. And remember, your own past is also foreign to a certain degree, even to yourself. And do your job! It's distracting when e.g. the names is a strange mix of welsh and indian.

"Goblins in the backyard" on the other hand was about the foreign, that's loose in known surroundings. How do you get away with saying, that the neighbour is a vampire? And a lot of the answer is: the readers want the neighbour to be a vampire! It gives some new, interesting possibilities. And if you look at a place deeply enough, you will find the existing history of the place, with a little magic down in one corner. If you want to write an X story in Y, the X characteristics of Y will jump out at you. This is especially strong, if the place is where you grew up -- because your childhood has an element of magic. Another element that's very effective is to mix the realistic and the fantastic -- claiming that a known politician knows a vampire, or recycling names from a real source, like the Bible. Until now I've used vampires as an example, but would this work if the neighbour was a robot or alien? Yes, it would. The finished story would highlight a different part of me, because goblins and vampires are super dark, while robots are super rational, and I would end up writing a story demonstrating the difference between me and the neighbour. Above I talked about the importance of research -- but how do I research a goblin? Easy, try googling him! Or do what writers do: have a little chat with him.

The panel "Kräver fantasy ett eget språkbruk?" (Does fantasy require its own language?) was about the language we let the characters in our fantastic stories use. And some times it takes so little. A character using about 8 foreign (Scottish) words, thereby becoming foreign (Scottish). Hagrid has lines, that if you read them aloud turn into regular English! And for those more interested in that kind of thing, From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K le Guin is recommended.

It wasn't just writing the alien, that was debated on the panels. With so many writers in the house, there was talk about everything.

Guest of honor no. 2, Graham Joyce in his interview talked about why and how he writes. His route to being a writer has been the dream-come-true: quitting in frustration, moving to Greece, writing, writing, writing, and actually selling the novel! (There were also 10 years before that of writing.) He writes fantastic literature, because this requires more of the plot -- you have to have "the narrative", and can't settle for good style. (In his opinion many mainstream writers have a lot of style but aren't worth reading.) Recently he wrote Memoirs of a Master Forger, the autobiography of a non-existing person. Everybody else can get away with writing memoirs not true, autobiographies they didn't write themselves, and novel-by-celeb really written by another person, then why not invent a person and write the memoirs of that person. On top of that this "writer" has a blog, and "his" book outsold Joyce! (Much rejoicing on the blog, when that fact was discovered!)

(Graham Joyce, Johan Anglemark.)

Another visiting writer, Åsa Schwarz talked about "Att berätta en bok på Facebook" (Telling a book on Facebook). You hire an actress to play the lead of your new book (Nova Bakarel), and create a suitable profile on Facebook. Then you make sure that person has 1000 friends, and you begin retelling what happens in the book. You have to tell the story quite differently: you repeat and summarize for those who weren't there in the beginning or just missed a day. And the readers have to accept, that suddenly it says "Now he's pointing a gun at me" -- would she really be updating her status at the same time? But other than that you lean back and await the reaction when the friends discover, they'be lived a book and not reality. And that reaction was big, because this was the first time something like this happened in Sweden, and maybe because Facebook is interactive -- the friends has actually spoken to Nova!

Finally I want to mention, that yet another panel talked about what the writer owes his audience, and for stange reasons we arrived at: a good weapon against pirates would be, that those who pay also get a little extra: extra content, access to the writer etc.

Created: 26 January, 2010 - Last changed: 26 January, 2010 - Comments (0)