Love among the stars

So I heard it was a special day today – February 14. I haven’t really caught on to that whole thing, but I do have a brand new excerpt from my upcoming release to share! Yay. 🙂 Planning to set it loose on the world sometime in April.

Meet Timon and Samiel, everyone. 🙂

“Yes, what?”

Samiel jumped. He’d forgotten he was holding a phone. “Oh. Yes, hello, this is Doctor Hammond,” he said, the title almost tripping him up. “I’m calling from the university of –”

“You want me to vouch for Timon? He’s benefic. Oh, and this is D.I. Mannerley if you’re wondering. I’ll be there in twenty minutes. My guys are in the elevator.”

“The police are already here?”

“Yeah, we’ve got a team on every corner today. Saturn retrograde and all, you know?”

But Samiel didn’t know. Saturn retrograde? His forecast hadn’t shown anything of the sort. He’d heard something on the news about a week of overtime for the police, but he’d written it off as disinformation leaked from some hack company.

“Get your hands off me,” Timon barked.

“I’ll call security,” Feona yelled back, and Samiel put the phone to his chest.

“Feona! Feona, he’s benefic.”

“What?” She turned a forbidding scowl his way.

“He’s with the police.”

She scoffed. “The police? He’s a blanky, Samiel.”

“Don’t–” Samiel stopped, uncertain. Should he really tell Feona off in front of all her colleagues just because of one stupid insult? It would set an example, but it really wasn’t fair. She was just shaken up.

But even shaken up, people shouldn’t use words like that.

“Wait a minute.” He put the phone back to his ear. “Are you still there?”

“Huh? Yeah… hey Garett, you can go start the car, I’ll join you in a minute. Yes, what?”

“This Timon… what does he do?”

“Oh, he’s a scopiler. Strictly on a freelance basis, you understand, but we really can’t afford not to use his services. He’s the best.”

“Oh…” Samiel glanced at Timon. A scopiler? That rare breed of people who could intuitively deduce a perpetrator’s chart based on the crime, the forecast for the day, and the chart of the victim. His gaze snagged in the aura of professionalism, of confidence that was so incongruous in an Azod, and for a moment, he seemed to float above the scene. Nothing could touch him: not the pale corpse, not the hubbub, not Timon’s sullen good looks.

And then he was back in his body, and D.I. Mannerley was asking if there was anything else he wanted to know before she went down to the bleedin’ garage.

“Uh… no.” He rubbed his forehead. “Thank you, D.I. Mannerley.”

He hung up, just to be grabbed by a rough hand and pulled away from the doorway. “We’ll take it from here.”

Two policemen barged past him and started ordering people to leave. Inside the office, Timon was squatting by Professor Wright’s lifeless body, lifting a manila folder with a pencil, but he straightened up to accept a pair of gloves.

“You too, scram,” one of the policemen barked at Samiel.

Timon gave him a disgusted look. When he spoke, his soft voice cut through the noise like a knife. “He can stay, Garett.”

The policeman whirled on him. “What?”

“I need details. I can’t read everything on the body. I thought you knew that by now.”

Garett grudgingly let Samiel enter and nudged the door shut with his foot. The turmoil of the corridor was muffled. Grateful but shaken, Samiel watched as Timon folded up his shirt sleeves. It was such an impossible scene: an Azod, busy working, analysing – almost like a normal person.

Of course, the starless weren’t really starless. They’d just had a rough start in life. Many of them were adopted or foundlings. Some had been born in cabs on the way to the hospital, others had been delivered by distracted doctors who didn’t note the time. Some of them knew their sun and moon signs, the slowest moving houses, and sometimes their ascendants. Worst case scenario, they were born on the street by other Azods, and none of the strict routines were in place for them.

But they weren’t actually starless. That was just a term to say they lacked the requisite paperwork. They’d all been born under a particular constellation. The only trouble was that no one knew which one. And so they went through life like ciphers, unpredictable and threatening, unable to get a job since they couldn’t prove they were suited for it.

Well, except for Timon, it seemed. Somehow he’d managed to worm his way into a position of relative power: an impossible riddle. Was Timon so incredibly good at what he did that he’d surmounted the odds?

“You worked for him?” Garett jerked a thumb at Professor Wright.

Worked. Past tense already.

Samiel swallowed. “Yes.”

“Did he have a forecast?”

“Of course.”

“You know where he might have kept it?” Garett picked up the tablet that lay by the professor’s motionless elbow. “In this?”

Samiel stared at the tablet, his mind a blank. it was starting to sink in now. Professor Wright was actually dead. Like dead, dead. Never to return. Not just the head of the research team, but the old man who snorted into his coffee when Feona told her dirty jokes; the huggable human teddy bear who always had five minutes to spare when someone had personal problems; the thundercloud who could disperse a gaggle of reporters with one guttural bellow.

“If it’s password protected, Timon can crack it,” Garett said impatiently.

“Actually, I…” Samiel looked over his shoulder at the safe. “I think he prints them and keeps them in there.”

Walking across the room to open it, Samiel blinked away a sudden film of moisture in his eyes. He couldn’t show weakness now – shouldn’t even possess it, according to his chart. This was just a problem to be solved, nothing else. Treat it like Timon does. Like a puzzle.

“Well, the perpetrator is intelligent, that much is clear,” Timon said, stepping away from the desk. “Probably knows a thing or two about forensic astrology, so they’ve deliberately muddied the waters. Leaving him here instead of moving him to some place that would reveal things about their chart.”

“Like what?” Garett asked, pen and notebook in hand.

Samiel thought he could hear a tiny sigh. “Like burying it, and revealing a strong earth influence?”

Garett scribbled.

“But if they can deliberately go against their chart…?” Samiel frowned. “I mean… isn’t that impossible?”

Timon pulled off his gloves. “Some people can subvert their true charts. Takes someone bright, though. But the science of astrology isn’t one hundred percent exact yet. Shouldn’t you know that, Doctor?”

The subtle stress on his title wasn’t lost on him. One of the articles in his dissertation had treated on that very subject: the free will conundrum. But he’d only passed the needle’s eye a month ago, and he was standing before his murdered boss, for God’s sake. For all his Mercury conjunct Uranus, he couldn’t be expected to be a genius at a time like this.

“They’re never clever enough to hide their motivations, though.” Timon held out his hand towards Samiel. “Phone, please.”

“Oh.” Samiel had forgotten he was holding it. He handed it to Timon, who thumbed an app and started reading.

“Mm, yes… Mars was in the terms of Jupiter last night, so this was motivated by a sense of justice. A vendetta.”

“How can you be so sure?” Garett asked. “If they’re so smart, wouldn’t they choose a time for the crime that would muddy the waters too?”

Timon looked a little tired. “Well, that’s where my intuition comes in. Otherwise anyone could do what I do, you see? There has to be an element of the unknowable, the leap of faith, the insane. Otherwise it’s just another chart.”

“Speaking of charts…” Garett raised his eyebrows at Samiel.

“Oh… yes, of course.”

Samiel unlocked the safe. When the door swung open, Garett pushed him aside and grabbed the whole pile of folders. “We’ll take these.”

“But –”

“This is evidence now.” He gave Timon a wry smile. “Some light reading for wonder boy over there.”

Timon was pacing the room, scanning the ceiling, the walls, the bookcases, the window – noting everything, but taking nothing down. He had a phenomenal memory too? As Samiel watched him, a thought occurred to him: if Timon could read a stranger’s chart in clues left behind at a crime scene, he should be able to deduce his own chart. Or didn’t it work that way? Wasn’t the brain wired to understand itself? Samiel rifled through his memory for any literature on the subject, but couldn’t recall anything.

He glanced at the body by the desk, at the motionless form that had once been Professor Wright, the man who’d dedicated his life to finding the ultimate blood test. If they ever found it, they’d have to call it the Wright test.

But what if scopilers could already do it on intuition alone? What if Professor Wright’s work was all in vain? The body grew blurry, unfocused. What if this Timon guy could just take one look at someone and deduce their stars?

But it probably wasn’t that easy. If it was, scopilers across the country would already have made big money out of it. Samiel’s shoulders fell. What a perfect validation method that would have been – to have a scopiler tell them whether the test results were accurate.

“Alright, well, if you’re done, we’ll have regular forensics come in,” Garett said. He handed Timon the pile of folders.

Timon grimaced at the insane amount of paperwork. “Yay. The old man couldn’t have kept it all in a computer? This will take a month to compile.”

“I’ll help you,” Samiel said, taking himself by surprise.

“Really?” Timon gave him a sly look that made something flip in Samiel’s chest. “Well, thank you, kind sir.” He jerked his head at the door. “Let’s go?”

Six months to Midsummer

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This. This slope, covered now in snow, is the spot where Artedi was born. This very spot is where Christer and Henrik get a second chance in The Seventh Flower.

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An appropriate place for two people who – what are the odds? – both have a thing for the enduring friendship between Linnaeus and Artedi. These two lovers of history.

These two lovers.

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I’m a sucker for time. The wings of history, comparing then and now… And this frozen field where nothing grows – in half a year, it will be covered in grass and wild flowers. In just six months, the sun will only set a few hours over this spot. Now it only shines at midday.

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The rays are so yellow, so tired. The sun climbs just over the horizon and then sets again, too exhausted to stay, and the light never reaches its full potential. Just this yellow-pink, golden glow that leaves as soon as it touches the crystallized trees.

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To think that this is the landscape where Christer drives his car through the bright early morning mist, searching for Henrik! The landscape where they watch the sun rise together – at half past two in the morning.

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It’s frozen. Dead. Silent.

Beautiful.

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And in just six months, it will all be green again.

The Seventh Flower locations pt 2

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Better late than never! I recorded these video clips in May, and I’ve only now got round to editing theSeventhFlower[The]FS_v1m. Ahem.

Oh… by the way, while I’m on the subject, um… it seems it’s being nominated by my publisher Dreamspinner for a LAMBDA AWARD, which… I… uh… haven’t really processed yet. When I got the email I was convinced it was some kind of phishing scam, so I meant to delete it, haha!

But then the day after, when I was a little more, shall we say, present? I took another look and saw that the email address was legit, so I replied and asked if it was real, and it was! 😀 So yeah. Um. Nominated for a Lambda award. For a novella. I mean… It feels slightly surreal, so I guess I’ll just wait for details? I don’t know how these things work!

Anyway, here’s another look at the scenery where The Seventh Flower takes place: this time the stream.

My personal beauty standards

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Don’t judge a book by its cover? Ha! Well, I’m not strong enough not to. Not when I choose what to read, and certainly not when I choose my future husband (been there, done that). Longish hair and a leather jacket had me at hello, but that’s another story for another day. Suffice it to say that I have my own personal beauty standards, like a stain on my moral compass, and it won’t come out for love nor money.

The above picture sums them up pretty nicely – and don’t kid yourself about the turtle neck: it’s not optional!

I drew the picture for a course book in French that I once wrote and never got to use, but I still have the picture. Funnily enough, when I saw it again today I thought of Michael Vaughan of Pax fame. Now, he wouldn’t agree with me because he thinks he’s hideous, but if he was I wouldn’t be writing about him, would I? Especially not passages like this:

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Jamie’s hair swung in time with the music, a few strands sticking to his temples. Green and gold stage lights flitted in and out of his vision. Everything on the stage glowed: brass, steel, cufflinks, white shirts, even gold. Michael was chained to his harpsichord as usual, but when their eyes met, it felt like they were just inches apart. As Jamie lost himself in that lion tawny colour, the world came loose from its moorings and floated around in a shimmery mess.

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Shimmery mess? Yeah, that would be me. And look, I know Michael doesn’t actually exist, in that boring, concrete sort of way we call real. But if I’m to write about a character, they have to exist for me. If another character falls in love with them, I have to fall as well. Otherwise, how could I know how they’d feel when evening sunlight pierces amber eyes?
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“There.” Michael struck a match and Jamie started at the tiny explosion between his fingers. The flame leapt up and quickly ate its way through the dry bark and twigs. Shaken, Jamie watched Michael as he watched the fire grow. The setting sun painted his face and hair in copper shades, and when he looked up, his eyes burned with an elusive lion tawny colour.

Thiiiis is weird

Just Playing

But it’s kinda shallow, I know that. To allow yourself to hold one type of appearance above all others. Still, don’t we all? And I comfort myself with the thought that we all like different things. A friend of mine likes bald men, for example, whereas I fall in love with the hair before I fall in love with the actual person (again, hubby being the prime example).

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And Michael is cute. He is. Jamie is charming, so he can get away with scruffiness and goofy grimaces and stringy, unwashed hair. But Michael has this ethereal quality that “might not beteem the winds of heaven / Visit [his] face too roughly” (Hamlet 1.2.144). If that sounds oddly feminine, I guess it is. I do like my men androgynous. Sensitive. Vulnerable. Pensive.

In a word, musicians. 😀

Not many need apply. Hubby asked me while we were binge-rewatching Game of Thrones which one of all the characters I found to be “the bee’s knees” (sic!), and I still haven’t come up with a reply. Some are interesting, others are charming and fun, and yet others have symmetrical features that I guess would qualify for western hemisphere heartthrobdom. But me? Nah. Most leave me cold. Yes, even Jon Snow.

Rival Poet AReBut when I do find a face I like, I get a whole book out of it. Or, in the case of Pax, a whole series! And so Sam Claflin inspired All You Can Eat, Ricky Wilson (yes, I’m admitting it!) was the template for Henrik in The Seventh Flower, and Ian McNabb (even bigger splash there, I’m really having an overly honest day!) will forever be my very own Kit Marlowe in Rival Poet.

And while we’re on the topic, I know I should be working on (the newly christened, yay!) Chains of Being (I’m keeping schtumm about that one, by the way, because I don’t want a defamation case to cut my career short, and anyway I’m changing absolutely everything about the two guys before hitting ‘publish’ so no one’ll ever know), but I have a messy old WIP about a PhD student that’s slowly morphing to accomodate Robson Green and Ben Mendelsohn! Just imagine the shy and lonely professor with Asperger’s whose world is turned upside down by a sloppy upstart who wears flip-flops to the office! Mmm… 🙂

So, shallow? Yup. But it’s a prerequisite for my authorhood.

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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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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Fly by night

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More documentation than art, but it was really nice to see these guys again. We think they live in the attic of our cabin. Normally we only see them in August when it’s darker, but this time we were treated to a display against a bright July sky. 🙂

Orphan Bats

Lyrics: Vaughan
Music: Vaughan/Gardiner

We are unwanted but loved
We are the scary squatters
We hang hidden in black
We won’t go back where we came from

And we won’t die
Even though you turn us away
We will keep crawling
Out of attics everywhere

And come twilight
You can see us
Winging our way
Hunting our prey
Through the horrid night
You can join us
Seeing with your ears
Knowing no fears

We are the children of chance
We are the brainy critters
We see your world upside down
And we are blind to progress

We may seem silent
And our flight random and queer
But we’ll keep on sending
Our voices everywhere

And come twilight…

There is something in the night
Something seems to move
A band of orphan bats
That don’t need you to approve

Dark and gruesome exteriors
Sprung from fevered dreams
But in the heart of darkness
There’s a light that ever gleams

(From Just Playing)

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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