How Pinterest can help writers

As an INFP writer, I naturally jump into people’s emotions and psychology and am less inclined to be aware of the environment. That goes for real life as well as for my stories; I have to make a conscious effort to become aware of smells, scenes, decor, people’s clothing and how they look.

This reflects in my writing, because I forget to describe the way people look or the scenery for those readers who need that kinds of descriptions. I write first person past or present tense and am therefore looking at the world from inside the characters’ mind and not looking at them, with as a result that I know how they feel, what they think and everything else, but not what they look like.

For example, when I finished In the Real World I paid attention to what message the cover would send to readers and chose to portray a group of high school kids in their school uniforms (with the two point of view characters at the centre. One of them especially needed to come across as a bit of a rebel with a strong personality, so the illustrator and I agreed that red hair seemed the most telling of her spirit. It was only after somebody who read the book pointed out to me that it is her friend who has the red hair and not the main character, that I thought about it.

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I have since done countless observation exercises to help me set the scenes, but I still have much more trouble with descriptions than with emotions. Only now I have modern technology to help me – and if you are anything like me, it might help you too.

Sites like Pinterest (and others like it) are mostly focused on images and not on words. They are therefore great for visual artists, but less for writers. I do have a Pinterest board for each of my books with inspirational images, collected to give a feel of what is important for each story, and, of course, I display my book covers on them, but I always thought that was as far as my connection with visual art would go.

But for my latest stories, when I come to a part that needs a description, I simply type in the general idea into Pinterest and voila: countless ideas that I can mix and match to create a good visual image for the reader. I do the same with Google maps. If I need a location, I can travel virtually everywhere in the world and describe the streets and the houses.

Thank you, internet for having a way with images that can help me shape my words.

 

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Utopia or Dogma?

The fiction and non-fiction of exploring human happiness.

Chapters four and five of my philosophy book deal with the ethics and politics of psychotype theory – the theory that we are all born with a set of information filters for communicating with our environment and which, consequently, influence what we find important, how we learn, how we relate to authority and community, how we interpret abstract words, the emotions we feel, our beliefs, our sense of justice and everything else that is related to our inner person and how it survives the world of ‘others’.

The chapters have been given the names Typotopia and Typocracy, mostly because I wanted to explain what they are about in one word and because everything in the book is related to “type”.

Typotopia looks at the needs of individuals and what accepting that people are born with a different psychology means for the development of their healthy self-identity and their freedom, obligation and expression in the social group. In other words, it looks at the requirements for an ideal place; ideal in the sense that every type of person (that is all 16 psychological types) must feel respected and deserving and to have their needs met, so they can grow up feeling happy.

It is therefore no personal ideal, like those described by writers of utopias, who paint the best possible scenario from their point of view, and simply assume that everybody else must also consider such a life ideal. The criticism that usually befalls such books can be taken as evidence that this is not the case. Don’t get me wrong, I love those books.

Typocracy then takes that picture and explores how a typocratic (as opposed to democratic) society would be able to function. In other words, it takes a look at the social institutions (education, judicial, government, economy) and paints a scenario in which each of those is run with our inborn psychological differences in mind.

Thus, what I try to do, being aware of the different perspectives and needs of the different personality types, is see if it would be possible to create a “type friendly world”, a world that respects all typed of people, even if they are all different.

Like I said above, “justice” for example, is something people feel inside. It is not something objective, but we all feel a different sense of justice. So how would we be able to live together and still respect all those different senses? How, for example, would you deal with crime? Would there be crime? What would we consider crime?

But no matter how enjoyable speculating such ideals is, philosophical theory is still non-fiction.

But at times, philosophers take a more fictional approach; they invent scenarios that allow us to imagine what we would do in a certain situation, which they call a thought experiment. Usually, these ‘experiments’ are short exercises that require the thinker to deliberate over possible outcomes, in which the most logical answer is put forward as a resolution to the philosophical argument. But sometimes we need more than just logical outcomes. Sometimes we need to create a whole new world or large-scale scenario. That is where science fiction comes in with wonderful TV programs like “The Future is Wild” and “Evacuate Earth”.

But there are also scenarios that require that we consider more than just nature. In situations where we are dealing with people’s motivations and how they live together, we need to include their perceptions and their emotions and that is what my science fiction series does.

In essence, it takes the same perspective as my Typotopia and Typocracy chapters, but now we have characters with a history and experiences and prejudices and ideals that are not all the same and with different personalities. Not only do they all live on the same planet, but a large number of them decides to go on a space journey and start a new colony, so that they have to survive the journey (without killing each other) and create a new society that is better than the one they left behind. And they all know exactly how to do that. They are all like the utopia writers I mentioned above; each with their own ideal and equally determined to see it through. The only problem, of course, is that all their ideals are different.

And that is what human conflict is all about. We don’t need bad people to create problems; all you need is clashing personalities and each with the best of intentions.

But there is another aspect to the story. The planet they leave behind, which will appear a little bit dystopian in the eyes of today’s reader, is dogmatic and rigid. The problem is that their rigid social structure is based on type differences. In the course of their history, somebody actually managed to introduce psychological differences and they were adopted in several places. But over time, those running the place lost sight of the importance of being different and diverse, and started using it to pre-select children for certain jobs and social positions. Those who belonged to ‘controversial’ personality types, naturally ended up at the bottom of the social ladder.

They, more than anything, are determined to make sure that will never happen again. And since half the colonists are convicts, that makes their peaceful society a whole lot more difficult.

My question at the start of the book – because all my fiction starts with questions, which the characters then answer over the course of my writing – was whether they would be able to make it better or is every ideal doomed to dogma? Is my philosophy, my goal of creating a type friendly world, possible? Will we be able to create a world in which we prevent the natural tendency of groups to return to dogma?

 

 

 

Walking Along

Lately there are videos going around the social media that show people of different ethnic or gender backgrounds learning to get along through doing something together or just looking at each other. Those are great exercises, and akin to what writers have been doing for millennia: allowing people to see things from a different angle and so create tolerance and prevent dogma.

Of course, some people prefer to stick with what they know; they feel safer in their own environment. Writing stories of good and evil, of romance and of adventure allow a writer to plunge right into the story, because there are plenty of readers ready to swim along; they don’t know the exact story, but they know what they can expect. Many readers prefer that; they do not want to be confronted with different; they read to escape complex social issues and just want to be entertained.

But when a writer wants to introduce a new point of view or get readers to acknowledge that there is more than one way to look at things, they cannot simply jump in and hope the reader follows. Coming back to the example of homosexuals before, who, as little as fifty years ago, were not seen as human; many people were afraid of them, afraid it was a mental illness or contagious, and the topic was not mentioned. By allowing readers to step into the mind of gay characters in books, writers allowed them to begin to understand that homosexuals were people just like them.

In short, fiction books allow readers to see the world through different eyes; to step into the mind of somebody with a different outlook on life and in this manner overcome a fear of differences and help create tolerance.

Thus, when writing a fiction book, I am taking the writer on a journey to a different point of view. I could fly them to the destination, but they won’t appreciate the road. They would be startled or scared off if my conclusion, my idea, is too radical; they will dismiss it.

Instead, I invite the reader to walk with me through the minds of multiple point of view characters, so that different readers may find somebody they understand and somebody they do not, just like in real life. I invite the reader to consider the thoughts and beliefs of many different people by looking through the eyes of these characters; to consider as many as possible sides of the situation. Some of those characters might slowly change their mind about the same things I ask the reader to reconsider. If a character in a book has trouble with a new idea or another person, it might help the reader feel they are not alone and maybe, at the end, they’ll appreciate the outcome.

But walking, step by step, to a different point of view takes time, which is why some of my stories are quite long. My young adult novels, each allow the reader a peek into the perspective of the odd one out; the child who does not fit in and who tends to be berated for that in our society, or, in the case of In the Real World, two perspectives.  My adult novels allow for many different viewpoints.

The most dramatic example is Of a Note in a Cosmic Song. Not only does it have eight point of view characters of diverse cultural, social and religious backgrounds, different ages and genders and different experiences, but through them the reader gets confronted with many more different personalities and opinions. Each of them has a realistic point of view when seen through their eyes, but that is not always realistic in the eyes of others, which is why they get into conflict, so that every reader will be able to find a character with a personality like their own, who they will be able to relate to, but also some characters they cannot understand. In addition, these characters are on a journey together, having left behind their home to start a colony on a new planet; they are looking to restart justice and democracy and a better society… and each believes that their own viewpoint of ‘better’ is the best for everybody.

I ask for tolerance of the reader to, at the end of the story, accept a ‘different’ that may be more shocking than the murder, rape, evil minds, mass shootings, gangs, drugs, deceptions, greed and other horrors to which, sadly, most westerners have become desensitized.

Dear reader, I do hope you’ll be willing to walk with me, and find that, no matter how alien an idea, it may just bring us to a more positive future.

Thank you for reading.

 

Writing for Minorities

A little while back I decided to critically reread all my own fiction books – most of which were written 5 to 15 years ago – to be able to blog about the topics with a fresh perspective. Despite Soup and Bread being only just over two years old, I decided to include it, not so much to re-evaluate the contents, but the way to approach potential readers, because it deals with a very complex topic.

The ability to grasp that complexity is not age or diploma related, but depends on the personality and personal experience of the reader, and for this book that is important, because the protagonist is only eleven.

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Imagine that your child is being bullied at school – and assume you know about it, which is not often the case – and you decide to help them by buying them a children’s book that tells of a child who was bullied, but after an event in which they must stand up for themselves or join in with the action, they suddenly have lots of friends. Almost all books about bullying have that kind of plot.

But what message does such a story give your child, who has no doubt tried to be accepted already. They’ve tried to fit in and join the actions; they’ve probably tried to change their wardrobe or the way they talked or their hobbies. Maybe they’ve even changed schools already and each time they no doubt tried to stand up for themselves. What message does that story tell your child other than that they are not trying hard enough? The same scenario happens in many books (not all) that deal with eating disorders and other mental health problems.

So why buy that book? Why not buy a book that takes the side of the victim; a book that tells them that they have the right to live and be themselves, just like everybody else?

The answer is that the only stories available are those that tell of simple solutions or focus on superficial and observable traits without addressing the real causes, and so for advice books for parents.

My problem, both when writing Soup and Bread and now when trying to market it, is this: The topic is very, very complex, and the message I need to get across to exactly those young people who are struggling with these issues deals with invisible, deeply personal and abstract traits (of which actions and observable things are only the result and not the cause) that are experienced by them but cannot be observed by others. Thus, if the school librarian, the teacher, the parent or the bookshop owner do not experience the same issue, they will not make the book available to these readers; they will stick with superficial stories, based on sales figures, yet the people who can grasp it are in the minority.

So what am I to do? Do I simply change my writing to also pick one superficial trait that subliminally blames the victim, so I can make money?

Should I stop writing for minorities, because most people don’t get it?

Should black writers have stopped writing for black children? Or should other ethnic minorities not be mentioned in fiction? Should women writers have stopped writing for gender equality? Should gay writers have never portrayed homosexuals?

Most readers today will answer “no” to those questions, but will dismiss personality differences as unimportant, for the exact same reason as all other minorities were at one or another time dismissed.

So how do I get through to them?

My solution in the story is to relay these personality differences through the experiences of young people, who are not expected to understand such issues, and which makes it easier to explain them, while emphasizing that understanding them and dealing with them is not something that can be learned, but something that needs to be experienced.

Told in the first person present, which gives the story momentum, the protagonist, Vonnie, is a healthy girl, who is not herself bullied, but only a bystander. With her, the reader meets other children, all with serious problems that are in one way or another related to food or to bullying. Together the children learn to deal with their problems and to stop blaming superficial causes, while relating the abstract emotional complexities through comparisons with more concrete issues. For example, the children play with bubble blowers to explain what interpretation of abstract words or concepts is like and they compare personality traits to the hormones in injections, which cannot be seen from the outside, because the liquid looks like just water. They learn to understand personality needs by comparing them to wearing glasses; a child that does not need glasses cannot see better through the glasses made for someone else.

They also get to do a presentation at school and they use fun fair mirrors to show that the outside (looks) of a person can easily change, but not who they are inside; that the bullies may have pretty faces, but they are ugly inside, and that is what their personality is like.

In short, the book helps make the abstract and very difficult to understand, but nonetheless real and vital aspects of human nature, more palatable and in doing so, hopes to initiate a change of attitude towards those people who are different.

Would I have changed something, if I had written the book today? Only, possibly, the pacing in the first chapter, which was to set the scene and might be going a bit fast for some readers, but the story soon settles in a steady rhythm that mixes the feelings and observations of the protagonist with the actions and words of those she meets.

Although written for 11-15 year olds, the book will touch adults just the same and the characters in the story each represent different personalities, regardless of age and social position.

Available as eBook from meBooks and in paperback from The Copy Press and from my website.

Thank you for reading.

War OR Peace

Readers and writers each have their preferred genre and their own way of experiencing the world and two people with opposing personalities seldom take the same viewpoint. Consequently, readers and writers must be somewhat compatible to get a message across and to appreciate a book. Of course, the beauty of fiction is that by using different characters, the writer can represent more than one point of view.

Like in real life, so subliminal interactions between characters and interpersonal relationships tend to be very complex and multi-layered in my books, and I do not use stereotypes or ‘a bad guy’, but rather a multitude of well-intended people getting into conflict.

Like all my books, In the Real World is likely to anger or frustrate some people, especially those who tend to take their moral values from their environment, and who might not see the relationships presented or the behaviour of certain characters as appropriate. Others might accept the story, even if they do not agree with all the characters.

 

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Originally written in 2005 and first published in 2008 – second edit 2012 – the book is not meant for young readers only, despite the protagonists being 16 years old. It is written for any person above that age; any person who can think about ethical values, about parenting and about war, and it is not in any way simplistic.

Nor is it a ‘nice’ book with heroes and big win; it is not a fantasy story where the only danger comes from some evil overlord. This story is set in “the real world” and the conflicts are between people’s beliefs and the accepted norms that keep them apart. Through the eyes of the two protagonists, the reader is shown many other characters – grandparents, parents, teachers and students – of whom some agree and others disagree with these norms.

War is the main topic, but the story is not set in a time of war; it is set today, in an Australian high school. It begins during a family reunion on Anzac Day – the Australian memorial day – when a group of cousins are having a boy-girl prank ‘war’ that gets totally out of hand. It is the emotions that are evoked during that exchange that are responsible for all the actions that follow and it is those actions and emotions that reflect conflict on an international scale in the real world, and in the history lessons and family stories that relate what happens with the kids to the events of the two world wars.

Apart from that, there are complex and very real interpersonal relationships evolving between characters, some of which touch the line of what is considered decent in our western society. For example, the question of how friendly teachers and students are allowed to be with each other and whether parents should stand behind their kids or behind the school when conflict arises.

The book does not glance over those moral boundaries, but addresses them, with the characters being very aware, and, like the readers, some are more accepting of those than others. But the reader does not have to worry about In the Real World, for all interactions are between personalities and there is no implicit or explicit sex between students or between students and teachers, and no scenes that are not suitable for young adult readers. In short, showing the emotions of war in a time of peace, the issue is human nature and our ability to solve conflicts.

The book is currently on sale. The eBook is available from meBooks (both Epub and Kindle) and printed copies can be bought via The Copy Press or my website.

Thank you for reading.

 

 

The Happiness Inquisition

Before I publish a book, I usually do a Google search for the working title, to make sure mine is as original as possible. In the case of my novella, then titled The War on Parents, I came across an already existing non-fiction work with that exact title. The novella, only 20,000 words, contains a story within the story; a fairy tale one of the characters tells, and which was then called The Land of No Tears. I decided to change both the title of the novella and that of the fairy tale inside it to The Happiness Inquisition and it is according to that title that the cover illustration was designed – an image that has evoked quite different reactions over the years. But to understand the illustration and the title, one must understand the context and message of the book.

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It was 2009 when a New Zealand politician, following the example of big brother USA, decided to win herself some votes by pushing a bill that was to make smacking illegal. Before and after New Zealand, most western countries obediently did the same.

Having lived in the USA and aware of the psychological danger of such a one-sided law, I joined the protest, which included writing The Happiness Inquisition, to relate the emotional consequences of such a law to the readers and voters.

The protest, however, was predominantly led by people and groups with Christian values and within no time, those promoting the bill turned it into a science versus religion debate, while the real issue was ignored. Needless to say, apart from a few politicians, who were already against the bill, my book did not get much attention. Of all the publications and newspapers I did send a copy to, only one reviewer understood the message:

Nōnen Títi has written and published this book in light of the upcoming referendum on the “anti-smacking” law. It’s a relatively short narrative that could be read in under an hour, showing the disastrous effects of one anonymous telephone call.

It is set in a neighbourhood where everybody is afraid of the police and of each other, of being “dobbed in” and of having their children taken from them. While the story is written in third person, we see events through the eyes of several characters and each person’s perception of the incident that started the action.

This story is bleak. There is no happy ending although characters do come to realise that perceptions may have been wrong and conclusions jumped to that were not altogether correct.

If you’re against the “anti-smacking” law, this may be a book that you buy to distribute to those whose sensibilities are not so clear-cut. A terrifying and eye-opening read.
Naida Mulligen (The Southland Times)

The referendum was held, and despite efforts of those promoting the bill, most voters (many being parents) did not fall for the suggestion that the serious cases of abuse that were used as examples – like children being beaten to death and being put in the washing machine – had until then been legal. Nevertheless, the law was pushed despite this voice of the people, and, although it was recently declared a failure, it is still in effect.

As predicted, its consequences were destructive for decent parents, who now have to be afraid of the police, of neighbours, of school teachers and everybody else who’d been forced to report suspicion of parental discipline to the police, while the instigating politician fled the public scene, without taking responsibility for the countless destroyed homes, the massive increase in stress levels in parents and subsequent syndromes and insecurity in children, who today have to grow up without healthy limits – State Sanctioned Emotional Neglect.

Having recently reread the book, I still believe in its message, and I hope it will have a twofold role: to help efforts to reverse this destructive law and to help support those people who feel deserted and in emotional distress because of it to understand that it is not their fault and that they are not alone.

The only thing I might change for a second edition is the mention of the cost of a doctor’s visit, because in New Zealand a consultation for children is free of charge. However, the book was intended for all western countries, since this is not just a New Zealand problem. It is a short story with a very big message, and I hope that maybe a film maker somewhere will one day help bring it to a bigger audience.

The book is available as eBook (ePub and Kindle) from meBooks and as paperback from The Copy Press or via my own website.

Thank you for reading.

Lohland needs an Uplift

 

It was 2004 when I wrote my first book. Although I had been writing stories my entire life, Lohland was the first completed novel. But I didn’t publish it until 2009, after having written and published two other books.

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I recently reread the book and decided it needs a new edit. Apart from some grammatical errors I missed then, it is clearly written by an inexperienced writer. Nevertheless, apart from wanting to write a stronger start, I still like the story in general.

Of course, since 2004, certain things have changed, especially in the way people communicate. The idea of teens with mobile phones was only just emerging, for example, and following directions on Google during a trip was less common. Today’s young readers – only just over a decade later – might wonder why Kaie does not use his mobile more often, but those are changes I cannot make, since the story revolves around celestial and calendar events that are correct for 2006, and so are the factual aspects of the story: the engineering projects that specifically deal with global warming.

Written with a young adult protagonist, Lohland was created less for the sake of the story than for the sake of presenting an alternative view of social life and education. That might not be the best approach to writing a story, but at that point, I had my design ready and that was my motivation.

However, I was also already aware that what one personality type considers a utopia, may be the complete opposite for another type of person. Being only thirteen years old at the start of the story, the protagonist, Kaie, has no say in the decision to move away from his home – the location of which could be most any Australian or New Zealand town – where he and his siblings each have their own bedroom with plenty of space to play loud music, a big garden, a swimming pool and many other luxuries. He resents the idea of exchanging all that for Lohland, not only because its non-traditional lifestyle does not suit his personality, but he questions the sanity of moving to a country that lies below sea level in a time when “global warming is real”.

Lohland is a fictional city state, but set in the real environment of the “low lands” of Western Europe, in an area that has significance, both historically and climatologically. The family’s emigration back to this part of Europe is set against a visit to the highlands of Scotland, as well as against the original discovery of New Zealand during The Golden Age of the Dutch Republic – Zeeland being the Dutch province New Zealand derived its name from – and the way each country remembers the significance of these events differently.

Thus, the somewhat utopian aspect of the story comes with the organization of its fictional city state, its calendar, living communities, celebrations and education system, but the environmental aspects, the engineering projects that are described and the architectural and historical information, is non-fiction.

The book was written to give teens and young adults an alternative to the doom and gloom they have to grow up with today, and the message reflected in the story is that there is more than one way to live a rich and rewarding life, that freedom is not about the space one lives in, but about not being judged or imposed on by others, and that global warming is not the end of the world; that young people can get involved in building a new future.

Until I have the time and money to publish a new edition, I have dropped the price of the eBook. Printed copies are still available via the printer’s website and my own, but they reflect the cost of shipping from New Zealand, which lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and is therefore far away from everything.

Thank you for reading.

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