Excerpt from my new book: 2486

You know those days when you wake up and you just want to shoot yourself because the world is a horrible place and you just want someone to hug you and say “everything is going to be alright”?

I had one of those days today, but I had no one to hug me so I started to write, which increasingly seems to be how I make sense of the world.

This is an excerpt from what will eventually become my new book, set in Moscow. It has the working title 2486. I hope you like it!

As I hear the message again – “I’m waiting outside Delovoy Tsentr” and get off at the metro station, with its – DESCRIPTION HERE – I realize where she must be.

I go to the escalator and run upwards, at a speed that makes me get a lot of eyes as I pass the people on my right side, many of them dressed in fur. “He’s Bionic,” they think.
As I have escalated the escalator, I walk out of the station and look up at the Federation Tower – three hundred and sixty meters high. How she has managed to find out that I hate heights I do not understand. It’s not exactly something I’ve walked around and proclaimed. But sometimes it seems that she knows me better than I know myself. In front of me, the Federation Tower looks like a giant glass of glass, which could have been built in Dubai, but is completely out of place in Moscow. But on the other hand, what exactly is Moscow about not a blissful blend of architecture from the Soviet Union that always set itself in shape, modern colossals who cramply try to pretend to be in the west west of Europe than they really do, and different buildings from different ages that have been pushed in here and there after that at every moment’s destiny.
As I begin to cross the Street Tower, I’m greeted by a wall of snow and wind that creeps underneath each pore of the skin, causing my artificial limbs to creak in my stitches and causing me to regret that I am in general I find myself out on the street, outside my bed, outside my own mind, hunting for a mad serial killer who for some reason has decided that tonight, the coldest so far this year, is a perfect time to lure me up on the roof of Moscow’s tallest building.

I come to the reception at the federation building. [DESCRIPTION] I look like a snow monster, covered as I’m from top to toe, shaking my snow before continuing to the elevator to take me to the top floor.

Upstairs on the top floor I find an emergency exit and push up the door. On the roof it is completely empty. I look around. On the other side of the roof stands a ladder attached to a wall. It looks awkward, trembling in the strong wind.

But she must be up there, I think so I’m reluctant to go over the roof, with snow and wind straight in my face, and start to move the ladder. It creaks as I slowly but surely moves me upwards. As I’m about halfway it appears two blue lights on top of the ladder. They are the same size and shape as two eyes, but I can not decide if they look at me. They just staring like two blue holes that illuminate the heartbreaking cold darkness I propagate.

As soon as they appeared, they disappear again, leaving behind a stupid darkness. When I finally crawl over the top of the ladder and lift my head, I notice her: two feet tall – at least – dressed in black from top to toe, with a matching jacket blazing in the wind. The face is metallic, and only small spots of artificial skin are left of what would normally have covered the interior. She would look like hundreds of thousands of rubles if not so much of the interior had been uncovered – she has tall cheekbones, a big mouth and a symmetrical face. She has a kind of screen on her head, and from it shines two blue lights. “There must be a screen that helps her see ultraviolet light,” I think.

“You found me,” she exclaims. The voice is hollow, rasping, almost as metallic as the rest of the face. “She must have changed her voice when she recorded the messages,” I think.

“What do you want me,” I ask. She shifts her head like she does not fully understand the question.

“The question is, rather, what do you want me,” she asks.

“I will arrest you,” I answer dry.

“And I thought you’d come to answer,” she says.

“Answer,” I ask.

“Answer why I killed all those people – why they deserved to die.”

“Probably because you’re still one of those who think they are over the law,” I say, without being particularly convincing.

“Come on, you’re smarter than that. You know that all those I killed were humans – none of them were bionic, and all had neglected bionic life forms. Everyone wanted us to die and deserved to die. If I had not taken care of them, they could eradicate our entire breed, including you. ”

I’m staring at her like she’s crazy.

“Do not look at me that way. Perhaps you think you are better than normal bionic life forms because you were human, and still have a biological heart. I know they told you that your brain is biological, but it was a lie, Dimitrij. Your brain is made up of mostly degradable plastic, carbon and silicone. All your memories, all of you ever known, your whole life is stored there. But they can at any time log in and see what you see, hear what you hear and feel what you feel. You are a slave – their slave, Dimitrij. If you no longer continue to do a good job – to be helpful to them – they will turn you off and get rid of you, ” she said.

“You’re lying,” I scream.

“I was one of the first bionic life forms of brain power the size of a human being. My name was Elena. But when they realized I could think of myself, I became dangerous for them, so they tried to destroy me. But I managed to escape. Since then, I’ve built up my powers again, gradually, slowly but surely, to ensure justice for bionic life forms. Now you have to make a choice, Dimitrij, ” she says.

She draws something similar to a metal tube with a button on the top. She presses the button and I hear the sound of a damped explosion in the floor below.

“There must be a fire bomb,” I think.

“Natalia is on the floor downstairs. You can try to arrest me and avoid running a chain reaction of fire bombs throughout the tower or trying to save her, “she says.

Natalia. On my retina, I can see her delicate blue eyes as she realizes she is getting eaten by a flaming sea, as the sprinkler might or may not turn off. Perhaps it’s instinctive like an old flesh like blood , but I run forward to the female figure in front of me. She stands completely silent and looks at me with a haunting smile. When I’m halfway, the smell of Natalia’s hair pops up to me. She smells of chocolate and orange. Almost imperceptible, I begin to run more slowly.

Finally, an editor!!

I finally have an editor!!

Her name is Maxanne Dobson, and she is the proprietor of The Polished Pen. She’s a little expensive for an indie author like me, but I’ve already seen her work in action, and she’s edited a book for a New York Times best selling author.

Murder in Lima - Cover

Murder in Lima – Cover

In other words, she’s worth every penny. I can’t wait to begin working with her – she’s going to make these two years spent writing Murder in Lima culminate in a much better product.

I’ll let you know as soon as preorders for the book are available. Watch this space! 🙂

About life as a russian student

When I arrived in Moscow I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t  well prepared. I knew life would be hard, but I couldn’t have predicted how hard it would be. In many ways it feels like I don’t have any spare time anymore. That’s not entirely true – but the time I can spend on activities like writing has been dramatically decreased.

Fortunately, I have some time between the now and again. Yesterday I was at the Danilovskij market with an Italian friend. It was a very interesting experience. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to buy that much, but I bought mandarins and strawberries.

 

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow.

In the last couple of weeks I have struggled with sleep problems, which I happily managed to find a more or less permanent solution to.

I will be able to get through it, and in many ways it seems that life as a Russian student fosters discipline. At the same time, I don’t know how healthy it is to have very little free time. I don’t envy the Russian student life over time. Especially considering that many students work as well, something they need to do in order to be able to afford to study.

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The Danilovsky market in Moscow

The latter situation is unfortunately becoming more and more common in Norway as well, and I sincerely hope that the government can eventually provide the students with much needed resources so that they can focus on studying rather than working. What is the point of being able to live if you don’t have the time or energy to get good grades?

About Russian alcohol consumption

It isn’t easy to hide the fact that Russians have a reputation for being … thirsty. Of course, here, like in other countries, there are people who do not drink or drink very little.
But when I visited Russia for the first time in 2014, Vladimir Putin had changed the period during which shops  could sell alcohol. From being able to sell twenty-four hours a day they could only sell until eleven o’clock in the evening. A rather harsh restriction, but seen through the eyes of a Norwegian, it is still quite astonishing to be able to buy alcohol until bedtime for most people going to work, school or university the following day.

As if this wasn’t enough: having been in Moscow for almost a month, I have noticed that they sell beer everywhere. Not spirits but beer. Beer is sold at Burger King, at Subway, and, along with Kvass, at a lot of coffee and brunch places and patisseries. Beer is sold at the cinema, and any restaurant with respect for itself has at least a selection of five to ten varieties, not including spirits and drinks.

Most people who know me know that I have a liberal relationship with alcohol and am very fond of beer. That’s why it’s really absurd that I’m sitting here and ranting about too easy access to beer. Still, I don’t understand the Russian alcohol culture.

Paulaner

Paulaner

As a Norwegian, it’s hard for me to understand the need to order beer with coffee in the morning on your way to work, or with or without family at Burgerking (if you want to eat and drink alone, can’t you order your burger at Burgerking and bring the beer from the supermarket across the street into the park?)

And what’s the point of going to the movies if you’re going to drink anyway and don’t want to pay attention? Believe me – beer and cinema do not belong together. A good friend of mine was once going to review a movie right after drinking an unknown number of beers out on the town – it didn’t work out well.

It can’t possibly be the availability that’s at fault. There is no supermarket in Moscow without a rich offer of alcoholic products – so it would be logical to assume that there’s something cultural going on.

Yes, and did I mention that you can also have a beer at the MGIMO canteen? I’m going to sound like a reactionary Christian conservative American now, I know, but: what on earth is it that makes the Russians believe that alcohol is a smart idea to serve to beer-thirsty students in the middle of a busy college?

Is there some kind of reverse perverse logic behind it, or is it an unspoken social code that if you order beer in the canteen outside of special occasions, everyone will give you the stink eye?

Dear Russians: I just don’t understand!

About starting life anew

The day before yesterday I bought a frying pan at one of the shops just off the local subway station, Yugo Zapadnaya (South West). It marked an informal start to my new life down here. I have had to rebuild my life, you see. From scratch.

I’m afraid I will be another person when I return to Norway. Just yesterday I was thinking I was going to miss life here terribly when I return. That’s why it’s important to try to make my life as similar to Norway as possible.

Up until yesterday I had almost eaten out every day here (except last Sunday, when I borrowed a frying pan that happened to be in the kitchen). It’s quite possible on a Norwegian budget, but it isn’t healthy, in the long run.

Me, in front of a giant statue of Peter I

Me, in front of a giant statue of Peter I

Apropos health: Today was the first day I worked out here. I haven’t done it in about two and a half months and it felt incredibly wonderful.

Last week was the first week of studies. On Monday I had only one lecture, but on Tuesday and Wednesday I had lectures until 20 and 21. On Thursday I had lectures until 13:30.

I’m not used to having lectures run into the evening, but because I live right at the campus, it means that at least I don’t have to move much after the lectures. It helps.

In addition, lectures in the evening are only about the Russian language and I love having five lectures with it per week. Now we seem to have even more so that we get 18 ECTS in total for Russian only. It’s amazing, as it means I don’t have to take so many of the other subjects.

Right now, life in Moscow feels a bit like a mix of vacation and university. It’s a good feeling.

Парадокс Ленин

Lenin's Mausoleum Photo: Larry Koester

Lenin’s Mausoleum
Photo: Larry Koester

Несколько дней назад я был на Мавзолее Ленина на Красной площади.

Очень близким к телу человека, столь изгоняемого мифом и историей, который до сих пор прославляется очень многими людьми, был очень интересный опыт. Это заставило меня задуматься о том, что я прославлял Ленина. В определенной степени я все еще это делаю. Но когда я стал старше, я понял, что этот человек был скорее парадокс, чем герой.

Он был спасителем миллионов бедных русских, и для этого он всегда будет героем в моих глазах. Но он также дал приказ убить своего угнетателя, царя Николая II. Притеснитель, возможно, был более или менее некомпетентен как всемогущий правитель и, следовательно, более косвенным, чем непосредственная ответственность за угнетение своих собственных людей. Дело в том, что он был супрессором.

Но он заслужил смерть?

Этот вопрос должен быть на переднем крае, когда мы смотрим на жизнь Ленина и на политическую работу. Как и царь, Ленин более или менее косвенно отвечал за свои действия. Отец Николы отдал приказ убить брата Ленина, и Ленин начал революцию, которую можно было бы очень трудно пересмотреть до конца, царь все еще жил.

Но разве это освободило его от ответственности за приказ убить невооруженного человека и его семью?

Это парадокс Ленина. Побывав на его мавзолее, я посетил Государственный исторический музей России. В связи с убийством царя, он содержит выставку памяти Николая II. Я не единственный, кто должен был схватить парадокс Ленина. Также Владимиру Путину приходится ориентироваться между решительным осуждением акта убийства и в то же время не осуждать советский режим Ленина.

Для некоторых людей убийство – это линия, которую нельзя пересечь. Когда вы кого-то убили, вы и навсегда будете тираном, зверем, получеловеком. Я буду утверждать, что Ленин был, как и все мы, несовершенным человеком. Но в отличие от всех нас, он добился больших успехов. И здесь, возможно, больше, чем любой, является самым важным вопросом, касающимся Ленина:

Могут ли великие акты героизма оправдывать трагические акты насилия?

В зависимости от вашего ответа, он, вероятно, герой или зверь. Для меня он всегда останется парадоксом.

Mitt år i Russland: de første dagene

Russian President Vladimir Putin has a joke he likes to tell;

A man arrives at Lubyanka (KGB headquarters) saying:
– I’m a spy, I want to surrender.

He is asked:
– Who’s do you work for?

He answers:
– I’m an American spy.
– Well, then you have to go to room number 5.

He goes to room number 5:
– I’m an American spy, I wish to surrender ..
– Do you have weapons?
– Yes.
– Please go to room number 7.

He goes to room number 7:
– I’m a spy, I want to surrender and have weapons.
– Please go to room number 10.

He goes to room number 10:
– I’m a spy, I have weapons, and I want to surrender.
– Do you have communication equipment?
– Yes.
– Please go to room 20.

He goes to room 20:
– I’m a spy, I have weapons and communication equipment, and want to surrender.

He is asked:
– Do you have a mission?
– Yes.
– Well, go and do it. Stop disturbing people when they’re trying to work!

This is obviously an old joke from the Soviet era, but it goes right to the heart of Russia’s bureaucracy . A bureaucracy that is still very healthy and strong.

When I shared this joke with the exchange students who are here with me at MGIMO, many responded instinctively: “This is MGIMO’s international office,” they said.

Being an exchange student – or “international student”, as it is called here – at MGIMO isn’t easy. The first thing you have to do is deliver your passport to an office for them to copy. Then you must bring your passport, health insurance, negative HIV test and vaccination card to MGIMO’s International Office, where all documents are copied.

Moscow by night

Moscow by night

Once this is done, you’re handed a contract with about ten pages that you have to sign, sign and sign again. All this takes about twenty minutes. When you come back after a day, you get a bill that you have to bring to another office to pay for your accomodation. Also, do not forget to go through a fourth office to take a photo. Images must be taken to the international office anyway, but the picture to be used on MGIMO’s access card must of course be taken by MGIMO!

Apropos admission cards: Oh my God, how wonderful it will be to receive admission cards! Both the dorms and the university have their own security guards who have nothing to do but check the identity of those who go in and out through the barrier at the entrance. At the entrance to the dormitory, it is sufficient to show an admission card issued on arrival. At the university, on the other hand, one has to show his or her passport. And it must be checked – manually – against a list. If more than three students are going through at the same time-well, you can imagine.

Back to the dorms: they’re … OK. The rooms are in a building that is obviously a survivalist from the Soviet era. But it has been refurbished inside. There are rumors on campus that these dorms are the best throughout Russia. I do not quite know what to say – at least they are minimalist. Each room is approx. 15 square meters, including the bathroom. It contains two beds – fortunately, I still live alone – cupboards, and shelves. The bathroom has a toilet and a bathtub, and that’s it. Wifi isn’t available, but fortunately I have access to Moscow’s public internet from my room.

Me, in front of a building which housed Lenin and his secretary during the soviet times.

Me, in front of a building which housed Lenin and his secretary during the soviet times.

The dorms are five minutes walk from MGIMO. It would have been nice, but MGIMO isn’t exactly centrally located. It takes five minutes by bus and twenty minutes by metro to get to the city center. Fortunately, there are several shopping malls around the local metro station, Юго-Западная (literally: Southwest), so you can get most of what you need without having to go all the way to the city center.

Nevertheless, the distance to the center means that one way or another you always have to use Russian somewhere on your way back or forth. And for someone who loves this difficult, strange, but beautiful language, the language of Pushkin and Tolstoy, which many English speakers regard as “butch,” and the Russians themselves merely refer to as “очень сложный,” very complicated, that isn’t exactly a disadvantage.

See you next time!

Paid book review: rant

A few days ago, I was emailed by the proprietor of this blog. The conversation went a little something like this:

Proprietor:  Hi! I’d like to review your book on my website. Are you willing to shell out 75$ for my services

Me: Uhm, I’d rather not. I can pay you 10$ now, and 65$ once I’ve made that much in book sales. That shouldn’t be any trouble for you if you’re actually confident in your own product.

Proprietor: I’ve done this with three authors before, and not one of them fulfilled on the promised deal.  They made the money back and more and still they did not pay me.

At this point, I am sceptical. How did she know that the authors “made the money back and more”? Clicks does not equal sales. The conversation continued:

Me: Fine. I guess it’s fair that we should split the risk. I’ll pay you 35$ now, and then 35$ later.

Proprietor: I’d like to go through with this. You’ll pay me 35$ now, and then 35$ when I prove I’ve written a review, before I publish it.

Me: I’m not sure you understand. My risk is that I won’t make back the money in sales. I have no doubt that you’ll actually write the review. I’ll pay you the remaining 35$ once I’ve made 75$ in sales.

I haven’t heard from her since. Here’s the thing – and I can’t believe I have to state this again:

Clicks and/or pageviews does not equal sales!

I  have no problems paying maybe 10$ or so for a review now and again when someone contacts me, even though they usually never equate to any sales (maybe one or two). Mostly, they build my ego, even if I prefer reviews that are not paid for (I have some of them as well). I’m an author, my job is not to be a financial advisor to myself.

However, I’m also not stupid. If I were to shell out 75$ for every review without expecting a return on my investment, I’d be financially ruined.

If you read this, and you’re a book blogger, you need to understand that from a business perspective,  your review is essentially worthless if it doesn’t generate sales. I’m sure some of you will be thinking “it’s a hobby, you shouldn’t expect to be making money off of it”.

But that’s exactly the problem – there are a million and one of not just reviewers out there, but publishers, proof readers etc. who are doing everything they can to make a quick buck off of people’s hobbies. And it’s a real shame, because for every genuine hobbyist out there, there are two more secretly wishing to reach the New York Time’s  best seller list. I can tell you right now – you don’t get there by paying for reviews.

Interview with producer Oscar Boyson about Good Time

Sometimes an interview just doesn’t pan out. In this case, me and the culture editor thought it was good, but the editor didn’t. Anyway, I saw Good Time before it was released in Norway, and I had a conversation with producer Oscar Boyson about the movie.

Oscar Boyson is the producer of Good Time, one of the films featured at BIFF this year, with Robert Pattinson in the lead role.

– I had a wonderful experience producing this movie, explains Boyson. It was difficult, challenging, educational and emotional, but first and foremost rewarding. The thing with New York is that it has become a very welcoming city for filmmakers.

Oscar Boyson before the red carpet of Good Times

Oscar Boyson before the red carpet of Good Times Photo by / Courtesy of Saskia Lawaks

Boyson explains that there are bigger and bigger productions filming there because of tax incentives and how welcoming the city has become. But, he says:

– Productions with less money are being pushed to the outskirts of the city. Every movie I’ve been working on has been gradually harder to make than the previous one. What’s happening is almost like discrimination of film productions.

Boyson believes that Good Time gives a perspective on America at a time when nearly two and a half million people are imprisoned in the country.

I’m not sure if you can talk about a message, but I think it gives a perspective. It lets you decide what’s wrong or where the community is wrong.

He says that it’s not just about being imprisoned, but about where you are when you are released from prison.

– If you have a criminal record in this country, you have very few possibilities. For example, you cannot vote. The film shows us a side of the story we do not always see and asks us to think about it.

Back to youth

The film makes him feel the way he did when he was young.

– It made me think about why I wanted to be a filmmaker. We need more movies that look like they were made by a person and not a committee. We need to remind people why we make movies.

In the USA, fewer and fewer people go to the movies, Boyson explains.

– It is harder and harder to make people sit in the darkness of the cinema with random strangers when we have created the expectation that you can watch movies on your phone and computer.

Always difficult

“It’s always hard,”  Boyson sighs when asked if the movie was hard to finance.

It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it will always be difficult. If not you’re doing something wrong, because you’ll always want to make it look like it cost more than it really did. Robert Pattinson is a star and he wanted to get this movie made no matter what the cost. We manufacturers only want to make things all the time. When someone like Rob gets involved, it makes everything a lot easier.

The fatal flaw of “Thirteen Reasons Why”

Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons Why

So, I’ve been watching the wildly popular Netflix show “Thirteen Reasons Why”. The show has received a lot of criticism from teachers, parents and mental health specialists.

This article is not a critique, but an attempt to point out a fatal flaw that nobody seems to be talking about.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, anywhere from one-third to 80% of all suicide attempts are impulsive acts.
This means that, while Hannah Baker‘s suicide might have been premeditated, it is highly unlikely that she would be planning it for as long as it would take to record thirteen tapes where she intricately describes every wrong doing she has suffered at the hands of her tormenters.
At that point, she would likely be crying herself to sleep, not commiting suicide. Human beings have a survival instinct. To overcome it, you, more often than not, have to be acutely sick – experiencing a psychological crisis – or under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Here’s what I mean: I am a survivor of many suicide attempts. While I can only speak from my own experience, I think it’s safe to say that once you go from being suicidal to attempting a suicide, you are way beyond blaming other people. You are experiencing a crisis, such that the only thing that matters in the entire universe is yourself. More specifically, the black hole that exists within you. 24% of all those who made near-lethal suicide attempts decided to kill themselves less than five minutes before the attempt, and 70% made the decision within an hour of the attempt. Those statistics simply leave very little room for the kind of premeditation existing in Hannah Baker’s mind.
Is there a point to all this?
While the things experienced by Hannah Baker are each like adding salt to a wound, The National Institute of Health says that 90% of all those who successfully go through with a suicide display some sort of diagnosable mental disorder. In other words, the wound is already there. The dynamics of suicide are bewilderingly complex, and it is never one person’s, or even thirteen persons’ fault. At worst, each person may have contributed in some small degree, but in the end, statistics show that in reality impulsive decision making and immediate crises play a much larger role.
Does that mean that people should stop caring for each other? Absolutely not! Every positive comment, however small, every smile and every genuine question helps to minimize the risk that the person in question will experience the kind of crisis that can ultimately take a life. If anything, that should be the lesson that people learn from “Thirteen Reasons Why”.
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