Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

. . . and an eldritch New Year!

Happy holidays to everybody, see you next year!

Dec 21, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I saw Rogue One last weekend and pretty much loved it. This is the Star Wars movie I've been waiting for, what I hoped The Force Awakens had been, something that both feels like Star Wars and still feels original. To me, TFA felt like a reboot than a new story, more like Star Wars: The  Greatest Hits. Rogue One fixed all that. There are cameos and plenty of fan-pleasing moments, but it still feels like its own story. I liked the characters and  the cast manages to be quite diverse without it feeling like some characters are shoehorned in only for diversity's sake. I'm trying to keep this spoiler-free, so excuse the vagueness. 

The film has a gritty feel to it, which I liked, and the costumes and sets integrate seamlessly into the aesthetic of the original trilogy, which is great, especially considering the ending. We also get some amazing visuals and plenty of character moments to balance the action. And regarding the ending,  that's some gutsy writing right there. (You'll know what I mean when you've seen the movie.)

For me, this was the best Star Wars film since the original trilogy. Hope to see more of this kind of thing in the future. 

Dec 19, 2016

Coffee and Cake: The MBakery café at Aboa Vetus

MBakery has opened a new café at the Aboa Vetus museum. I've tried their café at Kauppahalli, and I really enjoyed both the sweets and the savouries. They're also known for their artisanal breads,which are amazing. The Aboa Vetus café has served an amazing brunch on the weekends, and MBakery is continuing the tradition. I'll have to try that, too, when I get the chance.

The Kauppahalli café tends to get a bit crowded and the museum café is open an extra hour, until 7 p.m., so we picked that one.

Here's what I had:

Cinnamon hot chocolate and a chocolate meringue, total sugar overload. I have to admit, I couldn't finish the whole thing.

This café might also be a nice place to do some writing, if the early closing time isn't a problem. And you can check out the museum before or after your visit, of course. Here's what's on this month:

And I also checked out the Kirjastosilta (Library Bridge) Christmas makeover. It plays Christmas carols and you can see the light display in the photo.  Very Minas Morgul. The night was very foggy, which heightened the creepy effect. 

Dec 16, 2016

Penguins and Pinecones

Have a Christmas party and want to bring something other than cookies? Here are a few cute things you can try. The penguins are olives stuffed with cream cheese and a slice of carrot on the bottom with a tiny slice cut out for the beak. 

These are cream cheese with almonds layered on top so they look like pine cones. You're supposed to decorate these with fresh rosemary, but I couldn't find any. 

I messed around with the recipes a bit, but you can find instructions here:

Dec 14, 2016

Finnish Speculative Fiction

So, I won a hundred euros in the Portti writing competition and decided to blow the whole thing on Finnish speculative fiction. What could be more fitting? I've been eyeing many of these novels for a while now, so I knew just what I wanted. I bought these from  and Kirjapuoti has great deals to be had (and shipping is included!) and Aavetaajuus also sells used books, so they're worth checking out, because more is more when it comes to books, am I right?

Wanna see what I got? (I'll list the prices so you can see I stuck to my budget.)

I've been enjoying Katri Alatalo's short story collection Älä riko pintaa (in Finnish we don't capitalise all the words in a title, so that's why these might look weird to any non-Finnish readers...) so much that I wanted to check out the  fantasy series she wrote that's based in the same world. All of these are from There's no English transition (yet?), sorry.

Karnin labyrintti 15 e

Laulu kadonneesta saaresta 12 e

Kevääntuoja 12 e

The rest are from Aavetaajuus.

I've been meaning to read Emmi Itäranta's award-winning novels for a long time now, so I got the first and second one both. Pretty sure they're worth it. And hey, there are English translationS of both books! Here's the blurb from for Memory of Water:

"Global warming has changed the world’s geography and its politics. Wars are waged over water, and China rules Europe, including the Scandinavian Union, which is occupied by the power state of New Qian. In this far north place, seventeen-year-old Noria Kaitio is learning to become a tea master like her father, a position that holds great responsibility and great secrets. Tea masters alone know the location of hidden water sources, including the natural spring that Noria’s father tends, which once provided water for her whole village.
But secrets do not stay hidden forever, and after her father’s death the army starts watching their town—and Noria. And as water becomes even scarcer, Noria must choose between safety and striking out, between knowledge and kinship."

Teemestarin kirja (Memory of Water) 5 e (used)

Kudottujen kujien kaupunki  (The Weaver) 11 e

Then I got J. S. Meresmaa's newest book. I've read the first Mifonki book and quite liked it, but because the whole series would have pretty much eaten up my budget, I went for this stand-alone.  No English translation, bah.

Naakkamestari 20 e

My last choice was the young-adult werewolf story from Elina Pitkäkangas.  No translation of this one, either. This has one of the most beautiful covers I've ever seen.

Kuura 20 e.

The last few euros went to shipping, but seven books is a pretty good, I think.

What about you guys? Who are your favourite Finnish spec fic authors? Have you tried the English translations? What did you think?

Dec 12, 2016

The Flying Dutchman and In Infinity

I've made quite a few trips to Helsinki in the last few weeks, and I finally had the opportunity to check out the Yayoi Kusama exhibit "In Infinity" at the Helsinki Art Museum. Kusama is famous for her installations, and there were quite a few to be seen here. She has also collaborated with major fashion houses with some truly memorable results. There's the lady herself surrounded by candy-cane tentacles above. (I think it was a wax doll?)

Kusama has suffered from mental heath problems, and her art draws from hallucinations, fears, and obsessions. Infinity, like the title of the exhibition, is a major theme, as well as repetition and the desire to become one with the world. 

Here you can see some of the pumpkin sculptures Kusama is famous for. She also had a thing for phalluses made from different material. The boat in the background is covered with them. 

This was my favourite installation. You walk into a dark room with mirrors on the walls and water on the floor and the coloured orbs seem to go on forever. They also shifted colour once in a while.

The exhibition is running until January 22nd, if you want to see it.  

We also saw the National Opera's new production of Wagner's Der Fliegende Hollander. The singing was fine, but the  production was just weird. The idea was that the storm is only in the head of the artist, and there wasn't even a glimpse of the ship in the show. The translation of the libretto had had a lot of the nautical terms and things referring to the sea removed, and the end result didn't make any sense. I felt sorry for anyone who saw the opera for the first time, they were probably totally lost. And I'm sorry, but most of the bits that need to be on a ship just didn't work as metaphors. And the ending, oh, boy. I won't spoil it, but they changed the ending so that the whole of the opera was undermined by the decision. There were some beautiful visuals, though. It was like seeing two different stories that just didn't have anything to do with each other. Square peg, round hole, people! I wish they'd stop doing these modern versions of operas. Mostly, they ruin the experience and come across as trying too hard. 

Dec 11, 2016

Good News Comes in Threes?

More good news: my story "Kun nokkoset kukkivat" (When Nettles Bloom) was accepted to the Finnish anthology of Gothic stories! Yay!

Dec 10, 2016

Portti News!

The results of the Portti writing competition are out, and my story "Kylmempi kuin jää" (literally "Colder than ice," trust me, it's much catchier in Finnish) rated an honourable mention, yay!

The story is the one I originally wrote for the Lumen ja jään antologia, but it didn't fit the criteria for the anthology by the time I was done. It got workshopped twice, once at the writing workshop in Tampere and once through my Finnish online writing group. The feedback I got was invaluable, and the story is quite different from the first draft. Just goes to show, workshops and beta-readers are key. I'm pretty sure the first draft wouldn't have made the grade.

Dec 9, 2016

Loot Crate: Magic

The Magic crate is finally here! 

We got this Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them T-shirt, which is fun because I just saw the movie and quite liked it, except for the deus ex machina ending. Still the best Potterverse film, in my opinion. The Potter movies never really captured the magic of the books for me, but this one really worked, and I loved that it wasn't just more of the same but something new. 

Doctor Strange fig!


         This was definitely my favourite item this month: A Game of Thrones Melisandre journal. Look forward to writing some dark tales in this soon.

We also got a comic book.

And the loot pin, of course, an Elder Scrolls inspired one. It unlocked some extra stuff in the game, I think. 

If you like Loot Crate but don't want to commit without knowing what you're getting, they sell past crates and individual items at the Loot Vault. There are some bargains to be had if you're still looking for Christmas prezzies for geeky friends. 

Dec 7, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: The Weapons Edition

Finally finished playing Witcher III  yesterday. A great game, even though there were a few too many side quests for my taste. Loved the ending, but then, I got the good one:) While playing, I came across some really weird names for weapons. Let's check out a few etymologies!

Halberd (you know, the axe thing mounted on a long handle) comes from Middle High German halmbarte "long axe with handle", from halm, handle + barte "hatchet." The alternative etymology is kind of hilarious: the word might come from helm, helmet, so an axe for bashing in helmets. Speaking of hilarious, halberd in Finnish is "hilpari." Cracks me up every time.

Rapier, as you might have guessed, is of French origin. The origin is uncertain, but it's thought to come from raspiere "poker, scraper."

Pike is an easy one, it's from Middle French piquer "to puncture, pierce."

Flail comes from the West German borrowing of the Latin flagellum "winnowing tool, flail," in Latin "whip."

Arrow is interesting, because it ultimately goes back to Latin arcus, arch, which originally referred to the sun's motion in the sky. The PIE root *arku- means "bowed, curved."So the word "arrow" refers to both the bow and arrow, in a way. The word bow is from Proto-Germanic bugon, "bow."


Dec 6, 2016

Happy Independence Day!

Time to watch the Unknown Soldier and the President's Independence Day reception on TV again. It's  hours of people shaking hands. Yes, we are crazy. 

Dec 5, 2016

Book Recommendation: Deadly Skills and Improvised Weapons

Writing a badass character while being, well, not-so-badass yourself? The 100 Deadly Skills books by Clint Emerson, a retired Navy SEAL, might help. The books are very entertaining read just for fun, but they're also fantastic for researching those secret agents/assassins/bounty hunters many of us  genre types love to write. And it's not just the skills themselves that might come in useful, but the whole mindset of the "Violent Nomad," as Emerson puts it, can help you get into your protag's head and create a more realistic character. 

100 Deadly Skills: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Eluding Pursuers, Evading Capture, and Surviving Any Dangrerous Situation is just than, a well-rounded look into what it means to be a Violent Nomad. The book is split into sections: Mission Prep, Infiltration, Infrastructure Development, Surveillance, Access, Collection, Operational Actions, Sanitisation, and Exflirtation and Escape. Need to know how to trick fingerprint scanning software, turn a newspaper into a weapon,  or to make an improvised infrared light? Emerson's got your back. 

Do you love Jackie Chan movies? Me too. That's why A Guide to Improvised Weaponry by Master Sergeant Terry Schappert, U.S. Army Special Forces, and Adam Slutsky caught my eye. No more boring action scenes, guys! Why not have your protag pick up a plunger or salad tongs instead of a gun? The scene practically writes itself.

In 100 Deadly Skills: Survival Edition: The SEAL Operative's Guide to Surviving in the Wild and Being Prepared for Any Disaster Emerson not only gives tips on how to survive a natural disaster or survive in the wild but also talks about defending your home, securing public spaces, and signaling for help. Here you'll learn how to escape a flooded vehicle and to survive a shark attack.  

A word of warning: reading these might leave you feeling a bit jittery for a while and seeing danger everywhere. Hopefully you won't have to actually use most of these skills in real life, but hey, some of this stuff might come in handy sometime.

Now go write that action scene with the plunger. I know you want to!

Dec 2, 2016

Coffee and Cake: Pink Vanilla Desserts

Our coffee shop expeditions continued this week with Pink Vanilla Desserts,  a café run by a couple of American expats who make the best cupcakes in Turku. In addition to visiting the cafés in Turku and Uusikaupunki, you can also order American-style cakes for birthdays and other special occasions, and they're on Foodora, so you can get a box of cupcakes right to your door if you live in delivery range. The shop is located at Maariankatu 2 on Puutori, so about a five minute walk from city centre.

Look at all the cupcakes! And brownies! And cinnamon buns!  There's even a vegan option!

The sweets are the main event, but the café also serves bagels, toasted sandwiches, and an American breakfast with pancakes. 

This café is perfect for those times when I feel a bit nostalgic for California (especially in November, when Finland is at its worst) and crave for something to take the edge off. Like my little sister said, these cupcakes taste like America. I'm pretty sure the kiddies would love this place, and the café is child-friendly.  Can't wait to take my niece and nephew!

But hey, Finland in November is not all bad. These Christmas trees had appeared on Teatterisilta last week. The lights make it feel like a fairytale forest. 

Nov 30, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Moon Goddesses

So, I was disappointed with the lack of strong female characters in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, so let's take a look at some moon goddesses this week. I like the Greek ones the best, because those ladies are badass. 

Artemis, name of unknown origin, is the Greek goddess of the hunt, childbirth, wild animals, virginity, and the moon, of course. The Roman equivalent is Diana. Her name comes from the PIE-root *dyeu, "to shine." Artemis is often depicted with the bow and arrow in hand, and the cypress and the deer were sacred to her. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and twin sister to Apollo. She could out-hunt any man and joined the fight in the Trojan war. That's pretty badass, I think. 

Selene, the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia, was the personification of the moon. She drove her moon chariot across the sky.  Her name is probably connected from the Greek selas, "light, brightness, bright flame, flash of the eye."

Phoebe was one of the original Titans, daughter of Uranus and Gaia. Her name is from the Greek phoibos, "bright, pure."As well as being associated with the moon, she was probably the goddess of prophesy and oracular intellect.

Hecate, associated with witchcraft, poisonous plants, the crossroads, entrance-ways, ghosts and necromancy, gets her name from the Greek hekatos, "far-shooting." She was seen as an aspect of Artemis, so that probably explains the name.  She is often depicted as a triplicate goddess holding a torch, key, serpent, and dagger. Sometimes she has three heads, a horse, dog, and serpent. And she fought the Titans. In the tale of Jason and the Argonauts, Medea was a priestess of Hecate, but you can't hold that against the goddess. Oh, and did you know one name for aconite is hecateis?

There are many others. For a longer list, check out the Wikipedia article here


Nov 28, 2016

Science Fiction Classics: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein

The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress cover
Image from

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is a 1966 novel by Robert A. Heinlein. It's one of his most famous works and got a Nebula nomination in 1966 and won the Hugo award in 1967. The book tells the story of the Lunar colonies breaking away from Earth. It's written in first person, narrated by the main character, Manuel "Man/Mannie"Garcia O'Kelly-Davies, a computer technician who becomes a key person in the revolt.

The idea is that Luna was first a penal colony where Earth shipped their criminals and rejects who worked and lived under the supervision of a warden who stood in for the Earth Authority. At the start of the book most "loonies" have either completed their sentence or are the descendants of prisoners. They grow grain, which they have to ship to Earth and sell to the Authority at a pittance. One reason the revolt starts because the loonies can't support their families on what the Authority pays them.

Another key figure in the book is Professor Bernardo de la Paz, through whom Heinlein explores the concept of "rational anarchy," a belief that the state and government are useless, and that responsible individuals make the law. On Luna, wrongdoers get spaced and people take care of themselves and their families. They pay for what they use and operate on a peculiar kind of morality grown from the harsh conditions on the Moon. The main principle is TANSTAAFL, "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch."

In the book, the gender ratio is skewed with there being many more men than women, which has led to a system of "line marriages," a kind of polyamory. Women have power to choose their mates and sexual violence is almost unheard of; anyone who tries it gets spaced. Supposedly women are equal in society, too, but the main female character, Wyoh Knott, was a letdown for me. For someone who has lived on Luna almost her whole life she sure needs a lot of things explained to her. I believe the phrase "oh, honey, that's not how it works" was used on one occasion. Of course she's beautiful, a fact that gets hammered in any time anyone meets her. And guess what she does for a living? She's a surrogate mother. Also, for a badass revolutionary she's kind of a wimp, like she's afraid to stay in a hotel room without a man to keep her company. After she marries Mannie, she pretty much dedicates herself to wifely duties.

My favourite character was actually the computer, Mike/Michelle. I liked the humour and that it didn't feel stereotypical but a character in its own right. And a sentient computer that isn't homicidal? That's a change.

One thing that bothered me while reading was the Lunar dialect Mannie uses, especially the way he drops the word "the." It's explained that this is because a lot of the people on Luna are Russian, but to me it felt like someone doing an impression of a Russian, not organic and original like the Nadsat slang in A Clockwork Orange, for example. It took me almost half the book to get used to it. While I liked many elements of the book, to me it felt quite slow until about halfway through.While a lot of the world-building is interesting and realistic, the idea that growing grain hydroponically on the Moon would be cheaper than on Earth is quite a stretch.

My final verdict? This novel is definitely worth reading, but once is probably enough for me.

Science Fiction Classics read 45/193.

Nov 25, 2016

A Day of Writing

Tuesday, November 15th: I am a woman on a mission: write a hard science fiction story for the Finnish Lumen ja jään antologia, deadline November 30th, only 15 days. I'm usually not this late at getting started, but I didn't think I'd submit anything after my first attempt mutated into something completely different. But I have an idea I want to try out and a day off from work, so let's begin. *cracks knuckles*

7:30 Got up, breakfast, two eps of How I Met Your Mother

8:30 Finished synopsis for Cosmos Pen articles, sent it.

8:51 Blank document.
Words: 0
Cups of tea: 1
Music: Mass Effect trilogy soundtracks
HIMYM episodes: 2

9:22 Have a title, character names, and a short outline.
Words: 91
Cups of tea: 1,5
Music: Mass Effect trilogy soundtracks
HIMYM episodes: 2

9:25 Time for a break, one episode of HIMYM

10:02 Back at the computer
Words: 91
Cups of tea: 2
Music: Mass Effect trilogy soundtracks
HIMYM episodes: 3

11:41 Lunch break
Words: 537
Cups of tea: 3
Music: Mass Effect trilogy soundtracks
HIMYM episodes: 3

3:09 p.m. Back at the computer. Ended up reading some Sandman Slim (10 %, 'cause it's an e-book), checking my email, doing stupid stuff on the internet. Then took a "short" nap. Two hours.Yeah. Seemed like a good idea at the time . . .
Words: 537
Cups of tea: 3
Music: Loaded by The Velvet Underground
HIMYM episodes: 5

5:14 p.m. Dinner time
Words: 988
Cups of tea: 4
Music: The Velvet Underground by The Velvet Underground
HIMYM episodes: 5

7:30 p.m. Back at the computer
Words: 988
Cups of tea: 5
Music: Labyrinth soundtrack
HIMYM episodes: 7

10:16 p.m. Done!
Words: 2,161 and 14 pages (The word count is not directly comparable to English works, because the languages are so different. In English this would probably be about 3 - 4 k words.)
Cups of tea: 5
Music: None
HIMYM episodes: 7

Ha, did it!
Oh, crap. Haven't done my French homework yet. Or worked out. Where did the time go?
Maybe I should have watched a little less TV. . .

Nov 23, 2016

Storied Women and Book Recommendations

HWWF:SW ended last week. Great course, I already miss the community. It was a lot of fun, but now it's time to get back to my regular writing schedule. As you saw from Monday's post, I'm mostly doing editing, because it would be fun to submit a few more pieces this year.

The only deadline for December (for now) is for the Cosmos Pen short story, which is nearly done, anyway. I've got a week of vacation time coming up before Christmas, and though it will mostly be taken up by activities of the present-wrapping, gingerbread-baking, and glögg-drinking variety, I'm hoping to get some writing done, maybe finish one of the stories I wrote for Storied Women. It's only  got the opening so far, but I've got it all plotted out in my head.

And now onto the book recommendations.

I had the flu a few weeks ago, and the only good thing about being sick is that you get to stay in bed and read all day without feeling guilty. I was too tired for anything too cerebral, so I picked books from my "fun book" pile.

November is definitely the best time to read Jenna Kostet's Marrasyöt. The name doesn't translate directly. "November Nights" is the literal translation, but in Finnish it also calls to mind the twelve night after Kekri (Finnish version of Halloween), when the gates between the worlds of the dead and the living are open. The novel is a detective story with speculative elements, set in the Finnish archipelago. I enjoyed it a lot, read the whole thing in one sitting. It would have been even better to read it at the summerhouse in front of a roaring fire. I think I'll give it to my mom next so she can do that if they decide to go up for a wintery weekend.

I also started Katri Alatalo's new short story collection Älä riko pintaa, set in the same word as her fantasy trilogy Mustien ruusujen maa. (The Land of the Black Roses), and am enjoying it a lot. She's doing a series of posts on her website about how the stories in the collection came into being, which is fascinating to read.

Another one I tried was Sandman Slim by Richard Kadrey, and I absolutely loved it. Loved the main character who's literally been to hell and back, loved the character voice and dark humour, loved the gritty feel to it. This one's a thrill ride, if you want a vacation from reality.

What about you guys? Read any good books lately?

Nov 21, 2016

Editing, Editing . . .

So, what's new on the writing front? Well, I've been quite busy. I submitted short stories in Finnish to the Gothic anthology and the Genreblender competition, the deadlines of which were both at the end of October. I revised a  fantasy story for Critters and will hopefully get it done soon so I can send it out. I also have another short and a few flash fiction pieces that need a polish and can go out on submissions soon. There's also a novella length work that needs major revisions, but I think that one will have to wait until I finish the other projects.

The How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women MOOC is finishing this week, and I'll have a bit more writing time. I wrote about 1-2k words per week for the writing exercises, and now I'm left with a handful of story seeds that might grow into something interesting with a bit more work.

I'm also helping with the English issue of Cosmos Pen, the magazine published by our local spec fic writers' association,  for Worldcon 2017. I  pitched a few ideas for articles and submitted a bunch of drabbles. I'm planning to submit a short story also, but that one needs a bit more work before it's ready. I also offered to do  some translating if needed.

The deadline for the science fiction anthology Lumen ja jään tarinoita is at the end of November, and I decided to give it another go. My first attempt ended up in the Portti competition, because even I could see that it wasn't really what the anthologist was looking for. Hard science fiction is a challenge for me, but if you stay in your comfort zone, how will you grow? So yeah, I'm not giving up yet. The only problem is that I won't get a chance to get any critiques on the piece because of the deadline. The annual Apex flash fiction competition, 250 words on Valentine's day weirdness, is also closing on November 30th, so hopefully I'll come up with something for that one, too.

And there were the good news from the Nova writing competition, in which I won second place. Very glad to have made the grade.

Nov 18, 2016

Writer Crush: The Poetry of Edith Södergran

Edith Södergran (1892-1923) was a Finnish poet who wrote her poems in Swedish. She died of tuberculosis at the age of thirty-one and never gained much recognition in her lifetime, but is now seen as one of Finland's finest poets. Born in Russia, where she attended a German school for girls, Södergran's influences included French symbolism, German expressionism, and Russian futurism. She used free verse and strong imagery, which was not well received by the Finnish tastemakers of the time, causing her to be ridiculed and misunderstood. Her works include  Dikter (Poems, 1916),  Rosenaltaret (The Rose Altar, 1919), and Landet som icke är (The land that is not, 1925).

I only discovered Södergran a few years ago and fell in love immediately. There is a melancholy feel to many of her poems, and they also feel darkly romantic. I've only read them in Finnish, but I'm looking for a bilingual edition with the original Swedish text. There is an English translation  by Stina Katchadourian Love and Solitude. Selected Poems 1916-1923, and you can also read some of her poems on the Poetry Foundation website and at

Here's one:

On Foot I Had to Cross the Solar System 

On foot 
I had to cross the solar system 
before I found the first thread of my red dress. 
I sense myself already. 
Somewhere in space hangs my heart,  
shaking in the void, from it stream sparks 
into other intemperate hearts. 
         --Edith Södergran,

I have many favourites that weren't included in the translations (and I didn't like a few of the translations available), so here's my attempt at translating a few of her poems. I'm no poet and I'm translating these from the Finnish translation, so at best this is the whisper of an echo of the original, but maybe these will give you an idea of how powerful Södergran's work is.

In the Autumn
It is autumn, and the golden fowl
all fly home over blue waters;
I sit on the shore and gaze at autumn's jewels;
and farewells whisper in the trees.
A great farewell, a parting ahead,
but our reunion is certain.
That is why my slumber is light, when I doze, hand under head.
Feel a mother's breath on my lids
and a mother's lips on my heart:
sleep and dream, my child, for the sun is gone.
Dangerous Dreams 
Venture not too close to your dreams:
they are smoke and may fade away --
they are dangerous and may endure. 
Have you looked your dreams in the eye:
They are diseased and understand nothing --
they hold only their own thoughts.
Venture not too close to your dreams:
they are a lie, they should leave --
they are madness, they long to stay.
          --Edith Södergran/ Restless Dreams


Nov 16, 2016

How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women 5

This week's lesson focused on narrative experimentation. Author Suzanne Scanlon began by talking about using fragmentation  as a technique in fiction and how to make it work. When you're working with fragments, the narrative is harder to follow. Scanlon emphasised using some kind of limit like time to keep the narrative focused. She also said that characterisation and voice is especially important in this kind of narrative to hold reader interest. The advantage of the technique is that you can add layers of past and present and give depth to the character, but the challenge is maintaining the narrative flow and tension.  One of the examples she used was Marguerite Duras' The Lover, a book I loved. I didn't even realise that she was using fragments when I read it, I just enjoyed the flow of the words and the beautiful description, but it's a good example of how to do this well. Scanlan said that she loved how this technique lets the reader and writer work together to fill in the gaps, and that's something I enjoy as well. There's power in the white spaces, in what isn't told, I think. She also discussed using point of view, flashbacks, and sentence structure in fragmented narratives using Toni Morrisson's The Bluest Eye as an example, and also the power of an unreliable narrator, like in "Ma, a Memoir" by Lynn Freed. 

South African novelist Priya Dala talked about how her prose has been affected by Indian and African storytelling traditions and the importance of character-driven storytelling. She also brought up the concept of writing as communication, and how to best get your message across. Subtlety is important; no one likes to be preached to or talked down to. She has used the stream of consciousness structure in her work, and said that character is particularly important in that kind of storytelling, because it's the only thing the reader can hold on to. She also went into her process a bit. Dala used to be a psychologist, so she spends a lot of her time observing people and takes notes of how they act in certain situations, gestures, expressions, etc. When she starts to build the character she almost tries to become the character. She called this 'method writing,' like method acting. Another thing she said was important to her was that the character was at some kind of impasse in her life, a crucible point, because this leads to dilemmas and character choices, so plot, in other words. She also talked about avoiding stereotypical characters. 

Finally, Margot Livesey talked about flat characters and why they might actually be useful. The take home point was that a good flat character has the potential to rise to the occasion if the plot demands it, to become round. Another useful piece of advise she gave was that when you get stuck in your story and can't add a new character, you can almost always add a new aspect of your old character, go deeper into your characters. In the class discussions we talked about flat characters and character importance. The main characters tend to be fully rounded, but why would the bit players even need to be fully realised? Wouldn't that split the focus and lead to digressions?  

This week's writing assignment was a bit tricky: to take an old story and rewrite it using fragmentation. I dug up an old failed science fiction story and took it in a different direction using sentence fragments and the stream of consciousness technique. It turned out pretty good, or better than the original, at least. It was fun to resurrect a dead story like that. I only used about 25 % of the original work, and the story is very different now. I should probably do this more often...

Nov 14, 2016

The Rain in Spain

Just got back from a trip to Benalmádena, Spain. Finland gets so dark and dreary this time of year that it's nice to visit the sunlit lands once in a while. 

The ocean at dawn. Beautiful.

We had my niece and nephew along, so we did a lot of kid-friendly activities, like the Sealife aquarium. Here are some photogenic jellyfish. 

Cacti at the Parque de la Paloma. Some people had carved their names on the leaves. 

And a few of the paloma. A multitude of roosters, chickens, peacocks, and bunnies not pictured. 

We also checked out the local Barbie museum. It was actually pretty cool. Star Trek Barbies! As a bonus, the museum was located in the back of an awesome science fiction collectibles shop. I got a Jack Skellington doll with interchangeable heads and some H. R. Giger prints. Score!

Then we rode the cable cars up to Mount Calamorro and caught their birds of prey show. I've never seen hawking, so this was really interesting. The owl on the right is Olga, and my nephew got to pet her. Apparently it's considered lucky in Spain. Gotta buy him a lottery ticket, just in case. 

The view wasn't bad, either. The cable car made me a bit nervous at first, but it was fun after I got used to it. 

We also visited the Benalmádena Butterfly Park, a huge building where hundreds of butterflies flew free. Mostly they were beautiful, but that huge mothy one below kind of creeped me out.  

Here are a few more shots of the beach. Goodbye, sun, I'll miss you. 

Oh, and there actually was a bit of rain, but only on the first day.