a fictional life

I was thinking about writing stories, and why I write, and I had this thought that maybe I write stories as a way to make my thoughts and emotions more accessible to others, in a medium that’s less confronting because it’s more detached.

But then I thought about it some more, and I thought, no, it’s not really detached. Story-writing is very personal, and that whole statement seems contradictory for some reason.

Maybe I need to add in the word “seemingly” – it is seemingly more detached. I can tell people that my stories are “pure fiction”, all the while knowing and believing that all fiction is autobiographical to some extent. (I really wish I remembered where I got that quote from. Goodreads tells me it’s from author P.D. James.)

I suppose it makes sense to write about things that are important to you, or that you’re deeply interested in. It certainly would not make sense to write about things that you care very little about, or that you have zero interest in.

The more I write (and the more I read), the more I want to write, and the more I think what a wondrous thing it is that I can write and that I love to write. How lucky am I? Now if only I could make a living out of it, then I’d be set.

so… I’ve been writing…

Over these last few weeks (maybe in this last month or so), I’ve been slowly writing a short story. It is now finished or, at least, I’ve convinced myself that it’s finished, and I’ve emailed it off to a few friends for their opinions on it.

It was an interesting process – from the inspiration and inception, the creation and construction, and the polishing and sharing. For something relatively small (it’s only about 3100 words long), it has been a rather daunting and exhausting project.

What was hardest for me was working through self-criticisms (while writing and while editing/proofreading) but also the sharing part of the process. Somehow, although it’s not based on real events, it feels very personal, and the thought of showing my story to other people (even to good friends) made me nervous. I’m probably more nervous about people reading my story than about people reading my blog, which you’d think was rather personal too (and I guess it kind of is, but maybe slightly less so, since the whole purpose of this blog is sharing, so the intent is clear from the start).

And while I feel compelled to ask others to read it – to seek approval and hence validation – I’m also afraid of the judgement and changing of people’s opinions of me (if there is a concise word for that, please let me know). I read somewhere once (really can’t remember where – might’ve been in a book or even on someone’s blog) that all stories are autobiographical to some extent. That is, even works of fiction reflect or depict the author’s life/mind/soul to some degree. It is not possible to have a complete separation between the author and story.

Having said that, there’s also that theory about monkeys at typewriters and how, given enough time, a monkey would, by pure random coincidence or dumb luck, type out a Shakespearean masterpiece without even realising it.

I have a feeling that this post is becoming very jumbled and incoherent. My simple excuse for that is that my brain, itself, is jumbled from having laboured over this short story, re-reading it over and over again in search of holes and creases and loose threads.

I almost decided not to write this post at all – not because it’s jumbled (a poorly structured post has rarely stopped me from posting before) but because of what it’s about. Initially, I didn’t tell a lot of people that I was writing. Actually, I didn’t tell anyone at all. I was afraid of people’s reactions, but I was also working on the theory that if no one knows, then there’s no pressure; it’s all ok.

But it’s so much a part of me (and I, a part of it), and writing gives me such an incredible feeling (on those good days when I’m not questioning and picking apart every little detail that readers may or may not notice), so I wanted to share that with others. Eventually, I told a few friends. Then I told a few more. Now I just want to tell everyone.

Those last two paragraphs aren’t actually about the short story. I am, in fact, writing a book (or attempting to). Back when I wrote that post about reading vs writing, I was in the midst of a writing frenzy, and was actually alluding to writing fiction, not to writing posts for this blog (although that, too, is wonderfully satisfying).

And, no, I don’t have any illusions about getting published and becoming famous (they’re dreams, sure, but I’ve been keeping my expectations realistic here (possibly too realistic, if that’s a thing)). I’ve been working on this book since January 1 this year: when I got home on NYE, I opened up a Word document and started typing. (And, no, despite it being New Year’s, I wasn’t drunk/hungover/drugged at the time.)

It’s something I’m doing to prove a point to myself, just like someone might train to run a marathon, or prepare themselves to climb Mt Kosciuszko. You won’t necessarily get fame and riches from doing those things (you might end up a lot poorer for all the expense); and your friends and family might applaude you for a while afterwards but soon forget all about it. And yet, something within you tells you that you must do this.

Let’s be honest here: I wrote my short story because I was inspired by “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” (by Richard Flanagan), but also because I was procrastinating from writing my book. And the reason why I was procrastinating was because I was stuck – stuck by my own criticism, doubts and fears. Writing that short story helped free me. Writing this post has helped refocus my mind. I’m not writing for others – well, I kind of am, but fundamentally, I’m writing for myself.

Phew.. I feel better now. Thanks for reading 🙂 And if you’re interested in reading my short story, please let me know. Maybe I could send you a copy (I’m probably not going to post it here… The story’s kind of depressing…)

starlight

I actually finished reading ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ (by John Green) last week-end, but I’ve put off writing about it because I prioritised finishing the last of my NZ posts, and I haven’t had an awful lot of time and/or energy, finishing work late more than once this last week… Also, I’m not entirely sure what I really think of the book.

Let me say, straight up, that I did like the book. It’s written well in the sense that it was easy to read quickly; I just kept reading page after page, and before I knew it, I’d finished the book. I also liked that the characters and the story seemed so real. However, I can also appreciate the author’s note at the start about how it is a work of fiction: “Neither novels or their readers benefit from attempts to divine whether any facts hide inside a story. Such efforts attack the very idea that made-up stories can matter”.

This is quite possibly more resonant with me after having just read ‘The World According to Garp’ prior to reading TFIOS. I’m kind of still wondering if I still have remnants of a book hangover from ‘Garp’ because even though I took a brief pause (can’t remember how many days – just a few at most) before starting a new book, I was still thinking about ‘Garp’ as I read TFIOS and, evidently, I’m still thinking about it now. (Note that I didn’t take a break from reading – I just went back to ‘Great Expectations’ instead of starting anything new.)

As an aside, one of the parallels between ‘Garp’ and TFIOS was that the protagonist in each novel talked about the books that were important to them. For Garp it was ‘The Secret Sharer’ (Joseph Conrad) and ‘The Man who Loved Islands’ (D.H. Lawrence) – both of these are now on my to-read list. For Hazel it was ‘An Imperial Affliction’, which is a fictitious fictional book by fictitious author Peter Van Houten. I will admit, I was a bit disappointed when I realised that it wasn’t a real book.

Regardless, it doesn’t detract from the story, except maybe that there isn’t that feeling of being able to continue the connection with the novel via other novels. But I’m digressing…

Having an interest in health/medicine, I did like the references to drugs and hospitals and whatnot. And although “Phalanxifor” is not a real name for a real drug, the basics about her treatment are all there and realistic, such as the “moon-face” adverse effect from her anti-nausea medication.

I have to warn you now that there’s a spoiler in the next paragraph. I know that most people who do care about what happens in TFIOS have already read the book or watched the movie (or both) but in case you have not done either of these, and you do want to find out what happens for yourself, then consider yourself sufficiently warned. Just don’t even read the rest of this post – go and read TFIOS instead.

I’m sorry, but I can’t sufficiently discuss TFIOS without talking about the ending.

The main thing I liked about how TFIOS ended was that Hazel didn’t die. Once her case was introduced as being terminal, and then she started having complications with fluid in her lungs, it was sort of expected that she would barely survive the whole novel. But it would have sort of sucked for it to end like “An Imperial Affliction”, mid-sentence. It does still leave unanswered questions, though, like how much longer does Hazel live, what her parents do after she’s gone, etc.

On the other hand, I reckon it is ok that Augustus died by the end of the book. If I feel like over-analysing it, I could say that TFIOS essentially finishes when he dies because, in the same sense that AIA finshed when Anna (the protagonist, afflicted with cancer) dies or is just able to continue writing, TFIOS ends after Augustus dies because, for Hazel, that’s worse than dying, herself. Too much?

Well, I’m not much into literary romance and whatever, but the relationship between Hazel and Gus was kind of adorable. And I can understand all the hype (and the memes) now.

There’s also quite a lot of humour in the book, too. It’s good that it’s not all sad and waiting-for-people-to-die. I have to commend John Green for making Hazel so likeable. I’m always especially amazed at how well some male authors write female characters. TFIOS is written in first person, from Hazel’s perspective, and she does some great commentary.

Perhaps what I’m most disappointed about with TFIOS is that it was too short. After reading ‘Garp’ gradually over a few months, it feels like TFIOS ended too soon for me. And there’s little to no chance for a sequel! Except maybe about her parents… Who knows…

a rambling train

I am now more than halfway through the “100 Happy Days” challenge. How the time flies! Thinking about the challenge so far, I don’t think that it has significantly changed me. Maybe at the start I thought more about what to post about and that sort of thing, but now I reckon I can pretty much think up a post and get it posted in a matter of minutes (I probably put more thought into what I’m going to write than what the photo will be of, which is only natural, me being a writer rather than a photographer).

I’m quite glad that I’ve managed to accompany each post with a photo or picture of some sort. I reckon I’ll keep posting photos on Twitter after these 100 days are over, since it at least adds a point of difference on this blog of mine with its picture-less posts… I’m also quite glad that I haven’t had any duplicate entries – I’ve found something new to be happy about every day – or, at least, I don’t think that I’ve repeated anything yet…

Feels like it’s been a bit of a slow, quiet week this last week. I was trying to start a habit/routine of getting my post for the week written and published earlier on in the week, but it just hasn’t happened this time. I did start a draft post, and I could have published that one on Tuesday, but I’ve been too tired to properly proofread and refine it. Might schedule it in for next week instead.

Now I feel reasonably alert, with the knowledge that it is finally the week-end, and all I really want to do is write this post, wherein I can just ramble on about everything and nothing in particular. I simultaneously feel like I have too many things to write about and not enough to write about.

Reading ‘The World According to Garp’ is inspiring me to write. I read something the other day that suggested that a good way to write a good book is to firstly think about the things that you like about the books you read. One of the first things I thought of was inspiration – I like books that inspire me and make me feel like writing. (Whether or not I actually write anything is a different matter.) It probably helps that Garp is a writer, so I end up reading and thinking about writing anyway.

This made me think about MasterChef. Watching MasterChef and other cooking shows makes me want to cook. There’s just the small problem of time… and energy, and obtaining the necessary ingredients, and even deciding what to cook in the first place…!

Speaking of food, I feel like my appetite has been more voracious than usual recently. I’m not sure why. It’s almost like my self-control is slipping. (Yeah, ok, a bit melodramatic there.) I have to consciously tell myself to stop eating. But maybe it’s because I haven’t exercised as much lately, my food intake seems disproportionate, and it’s actually nothing to do with my appetite changing. Who knows…

Going back to writing and fiction and such, I was just thinking about the weird dreams I’ve been having recently. They’re not weird in any particular way – more just completely random and seemingly meaningless. I read somewhere once (a lot of my random knowledge comes from me “reading something somewhere this one time”) that it is not possible to have a dream of someone you’ve never seen in real life, but sometimes I’ll wake up from a dream and really struggle to figure out where I’ve seen those faces before.

And so I wondered if that rule applied to fictional characters or to imagined people. I mean, surely if you develop a fictitious character in enough detail, then they can appear in your dreams. And if that is possible, then why can’t you imagine people within the dream? Does the subconscious not have access to the imagination?

I feel like there’s a lot more that I wanted to ramble on about, but this post is starting to get a bit too long, so I might leave it here. Besides, have to save some material for future posts, right?

story of a story

Just finished reading ‘The Name of the Wind’ by Patrick Rothfuss. It’s quite refreshing in a sense to read a fantasy novel after so long without reading from that genre. There’s just something about reading about made-up places with made-up people doing impossible things.

I’ve always thought it was quite a skill to be able to make up names for fictional places and people and creatures and whatever else comes from people’s imaginations. You have to construct a name that suits what you’re naming and that also sounds suitable to the characters who say/use the name. (Hopefully you get what I’m saying there…)

Also impressive is making up a language for a fictional civilisation, especially if you include long bits of dialogue in/throughout the story. There’s probably some sort of trick to it…

Back to ‘The Name of the Wind’: I really enjoyed reading it. Feels like I say this a lot, but it was quite different to other books I’ve read. This time, it’s different in the sense that it’s sort of a story of a story. That is, the protagonist is telling another character the story of how he became a hero. The hero’s history is pretty much the bulk of the book, but you get little intermissions where you go back to the “present day”, if you will, when the hero is telling the story.

But there are certain events in the “present day” that let you know that the story isn’t just going to end when the past meets the present, so, really, it’s more than just a story about a story.

[Caution: Possible spoiler in following paragraph] However, it did remind me a bit of ‘Harry Potter’, when you consider the very, very basic concept behind the story: evil person(s) kill kid’s parents, kid goes to uni to become educated in “magic” and to find answers, kid makes enemy of pompous/snooty guy but has a few true friends, kid builds up quite a reputation for himself at uni. But other than that, the two stories and the two respective protagonists are very different.

Another thing I liked about ‘The Name of the Wind’ was that Rothfuss seemed to anticipate all of my questions. There aren’t any holes or loose ends in the story (except for the ones he intentionally left for the purpose of creating intrigue).

All in all, I definitely want to read the sequel.