Monday, 27 May 2013

Into Darkness

I finally saw Star Trek Into Darkness yesterday. It wasn’t by my own choice that I didn’t see it earlier. The local movie distributor has decided that we don’t need to see it in this country until in the first week of June. An insufferable wait for a movie that the rest of the world has seen ages ago already. So when I noticed the local cinema having a preview of it, I immediately seized the opportunity.

I loved it, which isn’t always given with sequels. It wasn’t what I expected; the trailer led me believe there would be an explosion extravaganza. What I got was an ensemble move unlike the first, where most of the main cast had meaningful roles that contributed to the whole. The previous movie was more of a two-man show between Kirk and Spock. The plot wasn’t terribly complicated, but it carried through the two plus hours and didn’t cause me roll my eyes in disbelief at any point. What more can I ask, really?

I predicted going in that I would like Benedict Cumberbatch the best and I was right. Others were good enough in their roles, but he was brilliant. A quintessential charismatic villain you can’t help rooting for.  This was made easier by the fact that his wasn’t the only bad guy in the movie. I guessed the other one immediately – a consequence of Hollywood typecasting – and since the other bad guy wasn’t as charismatic as Cumberbatch, I knew how things would end almost from the beginning. I didn’t let that bother me but just enjoyed the show.

I saw the 3D version. As always, I can’t say it gave the movie anything that I couldn’t have done without. The movie had many close-ups between two people and in 3D it constantly seemed like one of them was sitting on my lap, which was really annoying. The compulsory ‘wow’ effects didn’t really work either. So you won’t miss anything if you see it in 2D. Though chances are you’ve seen it already.

All in all, a great experience. I may see it again even, once the movie opens here officially. In the meanwhile, here's the trailer.

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Grabbling with the grammar

I’ve come across a few grammar-related posts the past couple of days. There was, for example, this test on the BBC news website. According to it, I’m a grammar guru with 8/10 points. I would’ve got nine, but one question was truly bizarre. I won’t tell you which one it is so as not to spoil it for you.

Getting a good score in a playful grammar test may not seem like much to you. However, English isn’t my native language; it’s Finnish, a language with a very different grammar, syntax and lexicon from English. For example, in Finnish, you can have the words in any order you like in a sentence and only seldom does it make you like a Yoda sound. Everything I know about English I’ve had to learn the hard way. Therefore, my writing is a constant struggle for good language and correct grammar.

Because of this, I’m a quibbler when it comes to correct grammar in any language. After four books and a number of blog posts, writing correct English has become easier. It feels like that, at any rate, though my editor had to make just as many corrections to my latest book as he made to the first one. Partly the sense of ease comes from having actually learned the rules. Mostly though, it’s because I’ve learned to avoid complicated sentence structures. But while this makes for more understandable – and more likely correct – language, it doesn’t make for very exciting language. Unlike native speakers, I don’t feel comfortable with deliberately breaking the rules either. Every grammar error I make is just that, an error.

Of course, it’s not only the grammar I’ve had to learn. I need words too. Dictionaries help where my memory fails. Unless I can’t remember the word I want in Finnish either; that has happened often. A good thesaurus is a great help too. Often, authors are advised not to use thesauruses – though I cannot understand why. For a foreigner grabbling with the different meanings of words, a thesaurus is indispensable. And still, I have to compromise, as with the grammar.

Because I’m not able to write the way I would want to, with similar complexity and richness I would write in my native tongue, I’ve learned to express myself more simply and effectively. Some argue that simplicity is good when it comes to language and that could be true; it’s definitely my editor’s adage. However, according to another test I took, it also makes my writing like that of Stephanie Meyer. I’m not entirely sure I’m happy with that. Another try states that I write like Anne Rice.

Despite the difficulties – or because of them – I actually felt pretty smug about my ability to write books in a foreign language. Then I came across a brief interview with Emmi Itäranta, a Finnish author who wrote the same book in Finnish and English – at the same time. What had begun as a writing exercise turned into two books, for both of which she has found a publisher. She tells in the interview that it wasn’t easy, but writing the same chapter first in one language and then in the other forced her to think about the plot and language in more depth than she would have done otherwise. In the end, she believes the book is better because of the way she wrote it. The two languages are truly different so being able to juggle between them without losing one’s mind is very impressive.

I haven’t even tried what she's done. In fact, I've neglected my native tongue and I’m starting to feel the consequences. I’ve noticed that my grasp of Finnish grammar is loosening, because I don’t write enough in Finnish. And that’s not good. I think in my native tongue so the language has to remain as complex as ever, even if I’m not able to express the same in English. Otherwise even my English will suffer. I’m not going to follow Emmi’s example and write my books in two languages; it’s enough to get them written once. But I will have to start writing more in Finnish too. If I could just find time for it.

Monday, 6 May 2013

All authors are not created equal

Self-publishing as a profession is so new that we haven’t got established words for calling authors who publish their books themselves. There are several options though. Which one do you prefer?

The tweet above prompted – deliberately, I’m sure – yet another debate on how to call self-published authors. I’ve followed and participated in a couple of them and they’re mostly the same. This time, too, some opinions were for being called an artisan author and some were against it, calling for other options, and some were so bizarre I couldn’t quite follow the reasoning so stopped reading.

I personally dislike the name artisan author. I understand that it’s supposed to convey the idea that we do everything ourselves, by hand, if necessary. I do, but that’s not true for all. Most of us buy the editing services at least; many buy the cover design and maybe even the formatting for their books. What remains, then, is the writing itself, the ‘author’ part of artisan author, and marketing. And I defy you to find a marketing person who’d allow themselves to be called an artisan. So why should we?

I oppose the name artisan for another reason also and that may be cultural. I understand an artisan to be a skilled craftsman that (often) employs otherwise forgotten techniques to produce artefacts that, regardless of their beauty, aren’t quite art but products to sell for a living instead. There is, then, a two-tiered system of artists above and artisans below.

Making a living is important for everyone, but if that were a factor when giving names, all authors would be called artisans. It’s the idea of a two-tier system that bugs me in this. It brings home so clearly that artisan authors are lower tier authors. Moreover, it gives me a notion that some books aren’t art because of the way they’ve been published. That it would be factually true – that my books aren’t very good – is beside the point; it's not the publishing system that makes them so. Besides, there are those among us who are actually very skilled and deserve the chance to be recognised as such.

When I published my first book, I found the name self-published author slightly annoying too, but I’ve grown more accustomed to that one over the course of the year. It’s a factually true definition: I publish my books myself. Nevertheless, I like the name independent author, or indie, more. The word independent has such a lofty ring to it. I’m not dependent of anyone or anything; I’m independent. But some participants in the Twitter debate yesterday objected to that one too. According to them, it would disdain independent publishers. The argument that there have always been indie artists outside the system didn’t seem to carry any weight. I like it though.

I’m also developing fondness for a new word authorpreneur. I’m not sure where it came from, but I find it clever. It seems to have both sides of the occupation covered, writing and marketing, without being negative. As a neologism, it also lacks the burden the old words have when being used in new contexts. Of course, those that cherish the purity of language and don’t want new words – especially such bastardised word – to be created may find authorpreneur annoying too.

What is wrong with all these definitions, however, is that they are given to a group of people by people who don’t belong to that group. It’s a basic tactic with which majorities always treat those in minority: trying to make sense of the other by giving it a name; deminishing the threat the other poses by defining and marginalising it. Human race has done the same for millennia. It doesn’t really matter if the name is accurate or not, it’ll always convey a sense of being labelled for those thus named; being looked down to by those who do the naming. 

We, the authors outside the system, are the other. We are the different and the not-quite-acceptable. In this case, acceptable into the community of authors. It isn’t a unique way to treat minorities in the literary world either. Everyone knows we have authors and women authors. Nothing has happened to that labelling either, so indie authors can’t really expect to be free of labels any time soon. 

It’s a nice dream that we would all be called authors one day. Until then, the best option would be that we don’t let others define us but do it ourselves. So what would you like to be called?