Automatic Writing and Chance Encounters

Tulagi Hotel cover[edit] Please see the trailer on Youtube.

It is now 2 weeks until the official launch of my novel, Tulagi Hotel, and I wanted to use this space, gracefully donated by YZW, to take you through some pivotal points of the journey.

[editor’s note: Heikki is so generous to others & humble in respect to himself he omitted that he will be signing books on Thursday April 15th from 7-9pm at Goldsboro Books, 7 Cecil Court – just off Charring Cross Road by Leicester Square tube. PLEASE COME – Dan]

It is also almost 14 years to the day since I embarked on the voyage that produced the book. In April 1996, I was working as a translation project manager, and mostly I worked with large software products. The one I happened to be working on consisted of 1,105,000 words, and I read all of them three times. I was somewhat bored with that.

So on that day in April, I seem to remember it was the 22nd, I had a fresh mug of coffee and a gargantuan file to proofread on the screen. For some reason I thought, let me get a blank file. I hit <ctrl+n>. Then I thought, ooh that’s nice, I have a blank file. After that I have no recollection what happened for 45 minutes.

When I shook off this odd stupor, the first chapter of what was to be Tulagi Hotel was staring at me from the screen. I do not remember writing it, but since it was my office and my machine which I alone used, I must have written it. And the version that is in the book that Diiarts is releasing on April 14 is the original one, bar one name change and a few minor edits. That, to me, is the scary part.

Since it said CHAPTER 1 at the top of the page, I thought there must be a CHAPTER 2 somewhere. It took some searching to find, but I felt the situation of Ch 1 was loaded with possibilities. I read the first bit over and over and then figured out a possible trajectory that the events could take. Needless to say, at this point I told no one of my strange automatic writing session. Or that I was writing a book – at the time I wasn’t thinking of it as one.

I had this project on the back burner due to everything else that was happening in my life, and yet I always went back to it, mostly out of curiosity. I wanted to see who was Jack McGuire, and why would some lady called Kay Wheeler come to this godforsaken hotel in the exact center of nowhere. I returned at infrequent intervals, from a couple of weeks to six-seven months. And I kept reading on the Pacific War all the time.

Then, onwards to the chance encounters. Once I wanted to know what was the size of staterooms on Enterprise class aircraft carriers. I posted a query at soc.history.war.word-war-ii (Usenet news, remember them?) and in the morning, I had a brief email: “I flew off those carriers. What would you like to know?” It was Wells Norris, an ex-Navy pilot in his eighties, but keen on the Internet. We went into an email discussion that produced almost a hundred messages, from tiny technical details to the feelings of fighter pilots.

Once I wanted to know what was the air start sequence of a Pratt & Whitney R-2800 engine, common on fighters of the period. Wells came back to me and said, “I remember there’s 18 steps in it, but can’t remember what they were. I’ll ask John down the street – he was a P&W technical representative in the Pacific all through the war. He’ll know.” In the end this bit didn’t make it  into the book, but serves to illustrate the depth of Wells’ support to me and my book. He took me under his wings and wanted to help this exchange student to produce the semester thesis.

At some point in 2002 the messages ceased, and I guessed he had joined the Squadron in the Sky. During our email conversation, I promised Wells I’d dedicate the book to him, and I was happy to be able to send copies of the POD version of the book to his daughters, both of which I found on the Web. They had no idea of their father’s project with me, and when I scanned all the messages into a PDF and sent it to them, they said they found a whole new world of their father’s. Talk about a chance encounter – getting a file like that out of the blue from a Finnish author working on the Pacific War.

One strange event centered around a model boat. In the book, an old man comes to Jack’s hotel to send his fallen son’s toy boat to him in the depths of the Ironbottom Sound, in the hope of getting past his death. In 2000, I was walking to dinner with a bunch of colleagues in Munich, Germany. One of them said he knew a shortcut to the restaurant, but we got lost properly (this was pre-GPS). As we walked and walked, we passed an antiquarian shop – and in the window there was the exact boat I had written about, down to the color of the upholstery of the seats, and the tiny Italian flag at the stern, but without the fancy engine I dreamed up for the book. I had to be dragged away from the shop. In two weeks’ time, the boat was delivered to Helsinki, purchased by my colleagues, and I have it on my bookshelf today.

The next such encounter was meeting Tim Wright. He was my colleague when I worked at a global consultancy. In 2001, the Firm insisted on sending me out around the globe for weeks on end, and the book was progressing rapidly. I wrote maybe three quarters of it in this period. (Especially the aerial combat scenes were easy to write when sitting in a 747 at 35,000 feet). In a Yellow Cab, en route to the airport, I told Tim about the book I was writing, and he made a mental note of it. We went our separate ways in 2002 but stayed in touch nevertheless.

It was Tim who alerted me to Authonomy in August 2008. He had read the PDF I sent him, and urged me to go on to post it. I fully expected to see it peak at 600 and then fade back to obscurity close to its own number, 1726, but it kept hiking. I bet much of it was due to my incessant shameless plugging, using Monty Python quotes and other generally silly behavior. Still, it caught the eye of Jason Horger, SJ Hecksher-Marquis and Dan Holloway, who supported it ardently and bumped every plug I ever wrote. More people came along, too many to mention, but many of whom are with us today as YZW.

I went out to find an agent or a publisher. All eighteen Finnish publishers were quick in making it clear they would not touch Tulagi Hotel with a barge pole, except one who sat on the full MS it for nine months and then told me about the barge pole. Some fifty agents worldwide, and two in Finland, also taught me there are far more than one way to say ‘no’.

And then SJ et alii formed Diiarts. I have no clear memory whether I pleaded with them to publish Tulagi, or whether they asked me to come along, but now that my knees have healed I hope I can say in truth it was a mutual decision. The adventure that was Authonomy brings the number of chance encounters to hundreds; I had 350+ comments on the book, and if fifty said it stinks, three hundred said they could live with the smell.

And this is where I stand now: a soon-to-be published author with a novel and a wonderfully supportive spiritual home for my attempts at writing short stories. I can’t begin to say how thankful I am for the fourteen years of walking alone first and then with an ever-increasing party of friends, most of which I will probably never meet in person, but who are my friends nevertheless.

Thank you.

~ by yearzerowriters on March 27, 2010.

17 Responses to “Automatic Writing and Chance Encounters”

  1. Brilliant post, Heikki – isn’t that an unusual way to start a novel? 😉 And then to be drawn into the ongoing adventure, that only the growth of the internet could have made possible, of ‘meeting’ Wells Norris and his family. Fascinating story.

  2. Thanks Tricia, I have to say that the initial chapter, 4.5 pages, led me on to a path I never thought I would take. This path has really been an interesting one and it seems it gets more interesting by the day.

  3. Heikki, are we allowed to give out the details of your book signing?

  4. Of course, Dan! I simply forgot.

  5. H can you say anything more about the book’s ‘pre-genesis’? Chapter 1 emerged fully-formed from the unconscious, but looking back on it now, can you say where the Pacific War theme arose from?


  6. Ah. I have always been into military history, and having an uncle who flew fighters in WW2 in the Finnish Air Force was another thing. As for the Pacific war – I bought Eric Hammel’s Aces Against Japan in 1994 and was hooked by the carrier warfare; I thought it cool they could fly out 200 miles, fight, fly 200 miles back, and find the carrier which had moved 60 miles in the meantime.

  7. Whenever I read an account of the role of meaningful coincidence and chance encounter I’m led back to Jung and his ideas on synchronicity, outlined in his foreword to the Wilhelm translation of the Yi Jing (I Ching). It’s like the outer and inner worlds come together in a strange, meaningful way. Fascinating to hear about the creation of Tulagi Hotel in this context.

  8. Heikki – I am very flattered that you think I had even a minor part in your successful publication. The credit is entirely yours – Tulagi Hotel is a great read. Well done and good luck.

  9. @Larry – so many pieces have fallen together that I absolutely agree with you.

    @Tim – you do have to admit to doing your parts, of which Autho was one, and telling me you liked the PDF version was another.

  10. I can’t wait to meet you. Heikks

  11. I love it when writing a novel turns into a journey in itself. When I was writing Black Laces, I decided to have Noel move to Dublin. A few months later, I ended up actually moving to Dublin.

  12. @Daisy, this is reciprocal.

    @Marcella – the journey I took was one of so many detours I almost lost track of where I was; I have no definite answer on how the final structure came about, but the broken chronology was a given from the start, as was the ending.

    Somehow I feel the main characters kept the story going in my head. I remember waking up a couple of times in the middle of the night and telling myself what would happen next. It was all weird and all wonderful at the same time. I also believe this happened because I did not put pressure to myself to finish by 2/2003 or something like that. I let it all work itself out.

  13. Oh, Heikki, you brought tears to my eyes. I so wish you full steam ahead in every possible way with this.
    All my best wishes, sincere support and love.

  14. Thank you Anne. Comments like that mean the world to me.

    @ Everybody – is now live. Please spread the word.

  15. Sorry I’m so late getting to this, what with being out of town & then having my computer break down.

    Don’t you love it when the muse takes you over? And the wild synchronicities that seem to pop up when you are working on something that just sounds right.

    I’ve got to hand it to you Heikki. You’ve got pre-publication promotions down to an art. I look forward to reading Tulagi Hotal.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: