Clickbait your book! ;)

Had some fun today imagining my books as clickbait articles. I urge my fellow authors to try it – at the very least, it’s an exercise that can narrow down the plot of a WIP or help you come up with those pesky blurbs.

This man met his celebrity crush at a party – but what happens next will melt your heart

10 things only bulimics will understand

Only one in 50 literature buffs can identify these 23 Shakespeare references. Can you?

Can we guess your favourite trope?

23 ways to say ‘I love you’ – the sixteenth one will make you cry

This is why you should never have a pretend relationship

5 behind-the-scenes problems musicians don’t want you to know about

He was a doormat for twenty-nine years – but you won’t believe what happens when they accuse him of this

Readers are freaking out over this gritty “romance”

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How to experience life (abridged)

This blog post and the links in it contain advertisements for my books

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As an INTP, I’m wired to question received wisdom, and there’s one thing in particular that’s been preying on my mind lately – something that’s specific to one of my functions. It’s about Introverted Sensing (Si).

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You often hear that you should ‘experience the moment’ instead of photographing it and experiencing it later, through your photo. That you cheat yourself of, say, a holiday if you live it through your camera.

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But there’s another truth as well, one that I’ve been made aware of during this past year when I’ve truly lived life through my camera: that I live more intensely when I take photos. That I see the world differently – actually, that I see the world full stop. Things I would ignore if I didn’t take photos of them. Things I would miss if I didn’t search a scene for a subject. Wonderful places I would leave early because I would be bored with them if I didn’t try to create something of my own out of the atmosphere in them.

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I’m a restless person, and I’m not much for sitting in the sun and just feeling the warmth on my face, or just looking at pretty views without doing anything. But with a camera in my hand, I’ve got a project. I document and transform, I convey an impression. I engage with my surroundings, I melt into them rather than distance myself.

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I think this is because of Si. A Se user (Extroverted Sensing) can experience the world more directly. They can take in what’s around them without trouble. But at least for me, Si needs time to digest. I don’t realise that a ball is whizzing towards me until a split second too late. Likewise, I can’t fully be in the moment when something wonderful happens. There’s always a kind of delay, so that the memory of it is almost more palpable than the experience itself.

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The camera changes that. It gives me the key to Nirvana, and I think it’s because I’m engaging Extraverted Intuition (Ne) as well as Si. Ne helps me ‘get at’ reality by exploring it and trying to create something new out of the familiar. It brings me out of my thinking shell and lets my hand pass through the veil and touch the Now. By making something, I exist in the moment.

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I always need to create in order to live. If I can’t see the creative use of a thing, I’m not interested. I loved Shakespeare for years without caring about the particulars of his life, but then I suddenly decided to write a book about him, and then there was no end to the ‘facts’ I devoured in order to be able to pull it off. So now I know that his neighbours Hamnet and Judith Butler lost a string of children, that Shakespeare’s parents had a legal dispute over a piece of property with his aunt and her husband, and that his childhood ‘friend’ Dick Field signed a petition to stop him and his company from converting a building in Blackfriars into a theatre.

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Talk about trivia. And the only reason I learned those things and not, say, the capital of Albania, is that I had an immediate use for it. The day I write a novel set in Albania, I will learn the name of the tiniest village if the story needs it.

And, um… well, true to my explorative auxiliary function, I’ve now strayed from my original statement about Si to the nebulosity of Ne, and I’m struggling to tie this text together with a catchy summary. But maybe I should just let it stand like this: unfinished, left hanging, with possibilities sticking out of it like stray hairs. It’s not wrong or sloppy or pointless. It’s just another way of being.

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Linnaeus’ fave

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Yes. Linnaeus, the Prince of Botany – the guy who first thought of categorizing the world of plants according to sexuality, and naming each specimen in Latin based on its “family” – played favourites. He even named his beloved twinflower after himself – Linnaea borealis.

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The twinflower. It’s a fitting symbol for Christer and Henrik in The Seventh Flower. Despite their differences, they really are soulmates. I didn’t realize this as I was writing it, but the twinflower makes the connection to Linnaeus and Artedi and their shared passion for taxonomy even more poignant.

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Linnaeus and Artedi, 18th century tragic bromance brothers, linked to Christer and Henrik’s modern day Midsummer flower picking – all through this one tiny plant: the twinflower. Pink and romantic, small but proud.

Linnaeus’ favourites: was Artedi among them?

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The dreamer in a world of rationals

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Christer isn’t a loner. He may look like one where he skulks at the fringes of every party and doesn’t talk to people unless he absolutely has to. But really, he’s not a loner. He would love to be with people. It’s just that in his experience, people don’t want to be with him.

If school and work and life in general has taught him anything, it’s that he doesn’t fit in. Not necessarily because of his bisexuality, but because he has the wrong hobbies, the wrong body, the wrong outlook on life. Even in his own family, he’s the odd one out. Where his parents and siblings are rational and down-to-earth, he’s an out-of-touch dreamer who can’t seem to settle down. Yes, he’s been married, and yes he has a job of sorts, but compared to his brother the academic and his sister the seamstress, he’s sort of… blurry. Unfocused. And worst of all: doomed to be disappointed.

Because that’s the fate of romantics in this world of overachievers: they can’t keep up, and the world can’t keep up with them. They wish for magic, for perfection, and the more mundane parts of life just don’t measure up.

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Maybe that’s why he’s so shaken when he meets Henrik. It’s not just the weird power balance of him secretly knowing who Henrik is, it’s also the scary thought that this man who Christer has been putting on a pedestal for a year won’t measure up either. It’s actually impossible: the golden persona Christer has projected on Henrik is too divorced from reality to result in anything but disenchantment.

So of course he stays away, right?

Wrong. When has Christer ever done the right thing? Even though he knows that he’ll only bore Henrik to tears with his lackluster conversation, he can’t stop talking to him, telling him stories about the history of his own family and the derelict village where they’re celebrating Midsummer’s Eve. It’s as if a door has been opened and there’s no stopping the wind from blowing right through the musty old house.

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It’s frightening. It’s dangerous. Even if Henrik could ever see anything of worth in Christer, there are just too many obstacles in the way of an actual relationship. And make no mistake, a relationship is what Christer is after. He’s not the one night stand type and he won’t settle for less than perfection.

So yeah, it’s doomed, because A) Henrik is a serial dater, B) he lives five hundred miles away, and C) Christer is pretty sure that he’s only ever dated women. Not that this necessarily means he’s not bisexual too, but why would Christer have such luck? He’s used to his boring life where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens.

But then again this is Midsummer’s Eve, and miracles can happen – if Christer only lets down his guard enough to believe in them.

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Should art be censored?

Oh my, am I really opening this can of worms? Evidently I am. Maybe I have a death wish. But I feel like both sides need to be heard, in the same text – and I like the sound of my own voice, so here goes. 😉

First things first: do I consider myself responsible for what I write in a novel? Yes. I wrote it, no one else did, so who is responsible if not me? Sounds like a no-brainer, but I want that to be really clear from the start. I believe that reality is created by what we say and do, so I can’t hide behind a shield that says “it’s fiction”. It may be fiction, but that doesn’t make it any less powerful. If fiction wasn’t powerful, we wouldn’t care about it.

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On the other hand, I also believe that opinions and tastes are the result of social conditioning and societal discourses: people rehash what they’ve been taught. We are what we eat, and if we were raised to be hateful bigots, it can be hard to break free from that. When we voice opinions that hurt people, maybe we weren’t even aware that we did: we’re just retelling a story we’ve learned, and we didn’t stop to question it.

So should we question art? Shouldn’t art be allowed to explore the dangerous and the obscene? Can there really be any art at all if we’re not prepared to offend?

I once read a weird but genius short story by Joakim Pirinen called Familjen Bra (The Good Family), in which nothing happened, because everyone was happy and respectful all the time. In the end, the atmosphere in the story got really eerie, because no one disagreed with anyone else, and everything was “Really good!” The moral was that every story needs conflict. In fact we love conflict in fictional form. We love exploring the limits of our bodies and psyches from the safety of our sofa, be it through disaster movies or soap operas. The question is, how much exploration is enough? Should we draw a line where the pushing of imaginary boundaries just becomes too gross?

In the eighties, there was a lot of controversy around heavy metal music and video violence, issues that continue to elicit strong feelings to this day. Things like The Chainsaw Massacre whipped up a wave of moral panic, and heavy metal was held responsible for shootings and suicides. In my own country, a powerful TV personality staged a veritable character assassination of a 23-year-old editor of a music magazine in front of a hostile studio audience, because he wrote about bands like W.A.S.P. In hindsight, it looks ridiculous – even cruel. Who was he to police what people enjoyed? The heavy metal fans I’ve known are some of the kindest and most polite people ever.

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But maybe he had a point. Art does influence us, after all. Who hasn’t felt inspired to do or say something after watching a movie or reading a book? Who hasn’t felt strengthened in a resolve by having their feelings mirrored in a work of art?

Of course, most people don’t directly copy what they hear in a song or see in a movie. Someone who’s mentally stable doesn’t listen to Marilyn Manson and then go out randomly shooting people. But maybe, just maybe they feel justified in their actions by having them mirrored in art? Maybe it can even make the law more lenient towards perpetrators, and more prone to blaming the victim?

I saw a documentary once where soldiers in Afghanistan were shown pepping themselves for the coming slaughter by listening to Burn motherfucker, burn. Charming, huh? But the war in Afghanistan wasn’t the band’s fault. We can’t blame artists for writing songs that people use to bolster their courage in a horrible situation that was created by politicians and global companies. And said politicians can’t decry violent art one second, only to invade foreign countries and massacre people the next. In the end, art depicting death isn’t as real as the concrete act of killing.

Bottom line is, if artists glorify violence, the reason can be found in the world around us. It’s everywhere. Should we lie and pretend that these atrocities don’t exist? Should artists be held accountable when warlords aren’t? After all, artists only mirror reality, they don’t necessarily create it.

Or do they? I believe things like racism and other forms of hate are naturalized through language and stories. By speaking, we create the world. Violence begins with words, with calling people “rats” and “cockroaches”. Art can contribute to a conversation that dehumanizes a group of people, making it easier to hurt them. Lene Riefenstahl created an image of the Nazi Übermensch. Wagner’s music was used to strengthen German nationalism. Similarly, if rock videos show women being tied up and whipped, or books romanticize domestic abuse, that contributes to the conversation about violence towards women.

So, should art be censored? My gut instinct says no, and yet there are things in film, literature and music that I really wish didn’t exist. What, then, is the answer? Self-censorship? Should we willingly muzzle ourselves instead of staying true to a creative vision that might hurt people?

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These are some of the questions Michael and Jamie are forced to ask in the fourth book about the rock band Pax, Cutting Edge. And perhaps the answer is to always, always reflect on what we do instead of being defensive about it. For example, I’ve used the crazy girlfriend trope in one of my books. I had no good reason, either – I just didn’t think. I hope I gave her enough motivation to be credible, but still: I contributed to the cliché of women who ruin things for the guys in a band. In a way I regret that. But it’s done, and can’t be undone unless I rewrite the entire book, so maybe I can compensate for it by making sure my next female character is less of a stereotype. I can even bring poor Sapphire back in a future book and try to clear her name.

I guess my point is to keep questioning ourselves. Artists mirror what they see, but through their creations, they also influence the world. At the very least, let us be aware of how.

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Fourteen years and counting

This post and some of the links in it contain advertisements for my books.

The fourth of July means a lot to some people, and I’m one of them. Because July 4, 2003 was when I met my nemesis – no, sorry, love of my life!

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Now I’m a complete romantic fool. Maybe that’s why I write romance books. But my idea of romance isn’t always that… uh, romantic.

You see, I’m an INTP, which is a personality type according to the Myers-Briggs typology system (if you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI, this is an awesome site for information on it). Anyway, INTPs tend to be unsentimental about things, or at least that’s the stereotype. Think Sheldon in Big Bang Theory (or so I’m told, I don’t watch it). INTPs love ideas and finding out how things work and logic and systems. Flowers and champagne? Not so much.

Yet here we are.

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Chin-chin!

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So what gives? How can this purple prose Angst Queen who photographs backlit flowers profess to be an INTP? Well, because the stereotype is a, how shall I put it? Stereotype. Yes, INTPs love systems and ideas, but that doesn’t mean they’re all mathematical geniuses. Ask my primary school teacher what my math book looked like. We had a meeting about it.

Because this particular INTP (pictured above with romantic interest, flowers, and champagne) is interested in human systems. Language. Psychology. Sociology. Physiology. The hard sciences are meh, but anything that helps me figure out what the hell makes people tick? Count me in.

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(Last Communion)

You can see this again and again – in a romantic context – in my books. In All You Can Eat, I explore not only the psychology behind eating disorders, but also the way we sometimes try to scare off people before we let them in: the old princess-guarded-by-a-dragon-of-her-own-making mechanism.

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In Not Safe For Work, the hurdle to overcome is other people’s expectations and not being allowed to make your own decisions because the script has already been written by other people. A mindfuck I really enjoyed torturing my poor boys with – especially because of the added breathless stress of having that script spreading like wildfire across social media!

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In Rival Poet, I go full INTP and have my protagonists find each other through their writing. Sometimes you can hardly separate their creative collaboration from their lovemaking – because that’s what makes it romantic from my point of view: working towards a common goal, admiring and enjoying each other’s talent and intelligence.

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The same goes for the Pax series, where play-writing is replaced with musicianship. During the long and arduous periods where Jamie and Michael are unable to talk to each other about their feelings, their music talks for them.

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So I guess this all sums up my view of romance. I’m a sucker for one-to-one-ness, for the concept of soulmates and the one person who understands and appreciates you. But I don’t have my characters yell “I love you, honey” at every possible moment, and I don’t think any of them has bought the other flowers or chocolate. The closest I ever get to a Hollywood moment is this type of confession from Rival Poet:

MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

When Kit spoke, his voice was the mere wisp of a sound. “You’re going to hate this,” he prefaced. “Or laugh at me. But…” He stopped to breathe, to gather his courage. “I’m in love with you, Will.”

Will froze. Stared into those hypnotising eyes, that unique golden colour. In love? His whole upbringing rebelled against the words. They didn’t make sense. Loving someone was one thing, but being in love… that was just possible when one of the two was a woman.

Only… when Kit said it, it did make sense. In the secrecy of this room, in the greyness of predawn, with just the two of them present to hear it, it made perfect sense.

Will breathed in. “If it’s something you can be,” he replied slowly, “Then… I am too.”

Well. I guess that is kind of mushy. But if you’re not allowed to be mushy about the kiss at the end of the rainbow, then what other opportunities are there really?

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Chucking the ballast

What are you carrying around that prevents you from picking up new things?

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If there’s one tip I should take to heart – not only as related to writing, but other stuff as well – it’s that sometimes in order to move forward you need to chuck things out. Even though you’ve put in a lot of work on them. I mean, I’ll keep snippets of deleted scenes for years, trying again and again to include them in new stories – and it never works, because the tone is off, or I’m not thinking through how the old scenes fit into the new timeline.

I know this, and yet I keep making the same mistake. I’m so loath to throw away things I’ve toiled over for hours and hours, but sometimes… you just have to. Put it down to a learning experience and move on.

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I don’t know why I don’t do this more often. I mean, I love writing, and yet it’s like I avoid writing by reusing old stuff. As if I can’t trust myself to come up with new words.

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Or is it just laziness? I don’t know. But today I came across an amazing writing tip on Tumblr that really spoke to my fetish for logical hierarchies, and I decided to try it out. START FROM SCRATCH for once, instead of trying to squeeze a stagnated WIP into a new structure and ending up with an even bigger mess than before.

So. I brought a pen and notebook into the garden and got to work the old-fashioned way. And after ten minutes or so I had to run inside and continue on my laptop, because my longhand couldn’t keep up with all the brand new ideas that kept popping into my head!

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At the end of the day I had an entire new novel mapped out, and it turns out that I can actually use minor scenes from one of those pesky WIPs in this new story. But the thing is that this time I started with the structure, with a departure and an arrival point that guided everything else, so when I use old material I know exactly where to put it for it to make sense in the dramaturgy instead of just cramming it in any old where.

Now, I won’t lie and say that structure is everything. It’s a tool that takes you some of the way, but not all the way. Sometimes you need to break the rules you’ve set up to move forward. The plot is a map that guides you, but sometimes you need to ignore the map for a while and trust the terrain. The whole process is like a pendulum that swings between structure and anarchy. Use the tool until you get stuck, then chuck the tool and improvise until you get stuck, etc.

That’s how you build a story.

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The glamorous life of a musician

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“I wish I was a musician. It’s such a glamorous, romantic life…”

Or is it? Let’s have a look at a day in the life.

6.30 am: Drive to the guy who owns the band van

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7.15 am: Load stuff and leave for the venue

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8.30 – 10-00 am: set up the equipment and test the sound

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10.00 – 11.00 am: Wait

11.00 – 11.45: Play (note that the actual gig starts four and a half hours after we left home)

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11.45 – 1.00 pm: Wait, possibly buy a hamburger

1.00 – 1.45 pm: Play again

1.45 – 2.15: Wait

2.45 – 3.00 pm: Play one last time

3.00 – 5.30 pm: Load all the stuff in the van again and drive home.

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And that’s a daytime gig – imagine if all this happened at night. Because of course musicians always work when other people are free, just like cooks and cinema operators.

And all this doesn’t even take into account the hours and hours of rehearsing, or the money you spend on petrol, strings, pedals, speakers, lights, and other equipment. It’s like Michael says in the fourth book about Pax, Cutting Edge:

Sometimes he wanted to explain to people how much work went into a gig, that it wasn’t something you just pulled out of your sleeve, but that was the one thing he could never do. The whole point was that it had to look easy. If it didn’t, no one would be seduced by it. After all, who wanted their entertainment to look like hard work?

Small and unassuming

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I turn to see Henrik smiling at something on the ground. I walk over and peer down at the carpet of tiny white petals. “Ah, the arctic starflower.”

“Chickweed wintergreen,” he playfully corrects me.

“I prefer the arctic starflower. It sounds so….” I gesture vaguely. “Mysterious,” I settle for, but it sounds so ridiculous that I blush. It makes Henrik laugh, but it’s not a mean laugh. It sounds knowing. As if, once again, we share something.

“Yeah, it’s supposed to be seen in twilight, isn’t it?” he says.

I squirm. “Perhaps. It’s just… it’s such a small and unassuming flower. You can walk right past it and not even notice.”

Henrik raises an eyebrow that looks disconcertingly flirty. “Is that a metaphor?”

I give him a look. “You think I’m small and unassuming?”

His gaze flickers down to my belt and then back up. “Well, you do kind of apologize for existing.”

(The Seventh Flower by Ingela Bohm)

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Christer isSeventhFlower[The]FS_v1 too old to believe in fairy tales. He’s not the kind of guy to pick the proverbial seven flowers on Midsummer’s Eve so he can dream of who he will marry, and he certainly isn’t the type to fall for someone he’s just met. Especially not a womanizing blogger named Henrik.

Besides, Christer’s previous marriage didn’t end with a happily ever after. Therefore, he has no interest in gifting his heart to someone who lives five hundred miles away and probably isn’t even gay. His family is right: it’s time he grew up and stopped dreaming.

But Midsummer’s Eve in Sweden is a magical night, and Henrik won’t stop flirting. As the midnight sun shines down on the misty woods, maybe there’s room for one last dream.

Available at Dreamspinner and Amazon

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Pax demos

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Did you ever wonder if those snippets of songs under the chapter headings in the Pax series were just cosmetics, or if they really existed? Wonder no more. Here are a few Pax demos, inexplicably sung by a lass who’s neither a guitarist nor in all honesty much of a singer. Also, the originals were on a cassette tape, you know, those things that you used to turn over after listening to one side? So the quality is, well, demo-like. But hey, at least the songs exist, right?

Orphan Bats (1975)

 

Upstart Crow (1976)

 

Return of the Prince (1979)

 

Endless Summer (1986)

 

Live In Love (2014)