Oct 31, 2016

Happy Halloween!

As Halloween falls on a Monday this year, we had our party on Saturday. 

I made blackberry-cranberry punch with red grapefruit slices. (Blood orange would have been even better, but I couldn't find one.) I like to make the punch non-alcoholic and let people spike their own glass if they want to. Kraken rum was great in this. The other bottle's Monkey 47, Schwarzwald gin from Germany. 

For the cake this year I decided to trick out a chandelier cake topper I bought from Tiger a few years ago. I think most people don't actually like to eat fondant, so this way I had my fun decorating the cake but the topper came right off when it was time to eat. Above are a few in-progress shots. And yes, I used my sonic screwdriver spork to do the suction cups. It was just the right size. For the cake I used this recipe from the Foodess. It's the best chocolate cake recipe I've found yet. The frosting's a mix of chocolate-flavoured cream cheese, a bit of margarine, powdered sugar, cold coffee,  and cocoa powder. 

Here's the finished product. 

And lit up.

I had to try the monster cookies that have been on everyone's Pinterest this year. My vision was to make them black and white and lemony, but guess what? Even Wilton's paste dyes don't have enough pigment to dye cookie dough black. I ended up throwing out the first batch, which turned out a dismal grey. For the second try I adapted my favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe (just added enough cocoa powder to make it dark and then mixed in the black dye). You could probably use any chocolate cookie recipe, but you want something that comes out a bit lumpy for that monster look. The eyes go on after baking,when the cookies are still soft. 

Autumn-coloured crackers and pecans.

Cheese! You can go for the weirder-looking ones on Halloween. 

I was going for that Victorian botanical illustration look with this pie, but it would probably work better with a smoother filling. I don't like pie crust that much and it always seems to come out undercooked, so this one has veggies and brown rice in it, no crust. 

Vegetable chips and fruit, colour-coordinated :)

For activities, we played a Halloween version of Scattergories my friends had made, a hilarious drawing game called A Fake Artist Goes to New York, and watched the The Thing from Another World, the '50s version. 

So that's my Halloween this year. Hope you have a good one!

P.S. For more Halloween goodness, here's what I what I was up to last year

Oct 28, 2016

Halloween Movies: The Nostalgia Edition

At a loss about what to watch this Halloween? Here are a few nostalgic favourites to get you in the mood. These are more fun and scary than blood and guts, just so you know. 

I've never seen  Hocus Pocus or Bedknobs and Broomsticks, so I decided to correct that oversight.  Hocus Pocus is witchy fun for the whole family, and not in that sickly sweet way. Loved it. Bedknobs, on the other hand... Well, it has an equal amount of fun and cringeworthy moments. The  way it reduces different minorities into stereotypes (Portobello Road, I'm looking at you) and the awful, recycled animation from Robin Hood were among the low points, and I didn't love Eglantine's character arc from independent witch to mother. The Nazi thing feels very stapled on, especially as the movie is set during wartime but doesn't really get into the real issues that much, it's all just background noise. I did like the dancing shoes, the armour coming to life in the end, and the opening of the movie, though.  

Want something a bit more grown up? Check out The Witches of Eastwick or Death Becomes Her. These movies, too, are of their time, and the gender roles in Death kind of bug me, but it's hard to be objective about movies you first saw in your teens.  

And who could forget The Addams Family? *snap, snap* Still so good. The Craft is the ultimate teen witch movie, in my opinion. 

And last but not least, Practical Magic. This does fall in the rom com category, and whether you'll enjoy this probably depends on how you feel about Sandra Bullock films.  

Watching these movies again it surprised me how many of them were about women chasing after or fighting over men. As a kid/teen, those weren't the things that stuck. I remember the twisting-the-neck around and hole-through-the stomach special effects from Death Becomes Her, the cherry stone scene from Eastwick, and the midnight margaritas from Practical Magic. It didn't occur to me to question how they portrayed women, but these were the gender roles we were offered in the 1980s and 1990s. Today these movies would be very different, I think. The world has changed a lot, hasn't it? 

What about you? Any childhood favourites that didn't age too well?

Oct 26, 2016

How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women 2

This week we talked about character desires, especially the big 'D' Desires. Your character needs to want something desperately, or else you have no story. 

Amy Hassinger talked about using character desire to create structure in a novel. Your character wants something, and obstacles get in the way. That's the way you get conflict. One example that she used was To Kill a Mockingbird, to illustrate how Scout's small 'd' desire (to make Boo Radley come out) is actually related to the big 'D' desire (to understand her community, to get them to 'come out,' so she can understand herself and her place in that community). I think that's an important lesson. The small 'd' desires build the plot, the big 'D' Desires the character's journey, and they need to be connected. I think this is the same thing K. M. Weiland is saying when she says that it's helpful to think of the plot as a metaphor for the character's inner journey. The character doesn't always even know what she wants. I think this ties into the concepts of the thing the character wants and the thing the character needs, two big 'D' desires colliding. That's how you get internal conflict. 

We also discussed point of view. It's a fairly major choice, story-wise. I prefer first or third person and try for deep point of view. Second person feels like a gamble for me, a good way to ruin a perfectly good story, and omniscient POV is tricky, because it can lead to head-hopping. The way they explained different types of POV felt overly complicated to me, so I'm not going to reference in here. If you know how to do first and third, you're pretty much good to go. 

Sometimes the POV character isn't the protagonist. One of the books used as an example was Wuthering Heights, a novel I really disliked, and the weird POV choice was a part of that. Both POV characters are fairly boring compared to the main characters, and the story feels very confusing because of the structure, in my opinion. The lecturer said that one advantage of having Nelly narrate the story is having two different timelines and another that she can speculate about the main characters, and I can see that. I just don't think it worked particularly well. Why make things more complicated than they have to be? Why wouldn't you want to get in the head of the most interesting characters? One of the reasons to use a narrator might be distance, or maintaining a sense of mystery. The Sherlock Holmes stories would be quite different seen from the POV of Holmes. 

On Mockingbird, I think it's worth noting that there are two Scouts in there, the older and the younger one. The older one can provide context that the younger one can't. That's a pretty good way to tell a story from the POV of a child without having to stick to only what the child can understand. 

This week's assignment was to write a story with a female protagonist who experiences a big 'D' Desire and have her act on it. A fun exercise, even though I got a bit overambitious and ran out of word count. 

Oct 24, 2016

Coffee and Cake: Café Art

It's coffee time again. This time we tried Café Art, right in the centre of Turku, on the bank of the river Aura. It's in a beautiful historical building, and if you happen to get a table by the window, it's a perfect place to people-watch. The café also shows work by local artists, and you can browse paintings while enjoying your coffee. Right now they're showing Mari Pyykkönen's work, beautiful paintings with sea creatures both real and fantastical. (Show ends at the end of October.)

Café Art is definitely a place to try the coffee instead of tea; they've won the Barista of the Year award seven times so far. The café looks small from the outside, but they've got plenty of seating in the back. I really liked the feel of the place, like it would be a nice spot for writing. I actually saw a few people with laptops, and one of my friends said she sometimes comes there to write.

You can also buy coffee beans from a local roastery, Turun kahvipaahtimo, there. 

I'm no expert, but I thought the coffee was good. I even bought a bag of dark roast for Hubby. The barista did that thing where they make a leaf pattern on the coffee with the foam. It was really pretty until I fumbled with the cup and spilled coffee all over the counter. (Yup, I'm very graceful. Also elegant and understated. Not.) The carrot cake was nice, too, and my friends liked the mousse cake they ordered.

A lovely café, where writerly types will feel right at home.  

Here's the address: 
Läntinen rantakatu 5
20100 Turku

Opening times:
Mon-Fri 10-19
Sat 10-17
Sun 11-17

Oct 21, 2016

The Alice Scarf

If you haven't noticed yet, I love Alice in Wonderland. I've been eyeing the Storiarts webshop for a while now, and as the days are getting colder, I decided to splurge on a new scarf. They have all kinds of cool stuff, everything from Austen to Poe. The Raven scarf is also beautiful, but somehow  I prefer the book-like look of this one. And did I mention they have writing gloves. Writing gloves, people! Why hasn't anyone invented those before?

Oct 19, 2016

How Writers Write Fiction: Storied Women 1

How Writers Write Fiction is here again, and this time the focus is on women. The instructor for us speculative folk is Cat Rambo this year, yay! If you want to join in the fun, there's still time; the course started last week.

This first week we discussed character building. Margot Livesey shared an interesting rule she uses: a writer should always give the character something that she shares with her and something she doesn't. Also, a likeable character should always have a flaw, and an unlikeable one should have some virtue or strength. We also talked about building characters from inside out vs. outside in. Livesey said she usually builds the characters who stand in for her (the doppelgängers) from the inside out, but the other characters from the outside in. How similar she is to the character affects her choice.

Another good tip, this one from Cate Dicharry, was that you have to be not only specific in your character descriptions, but also particular. What do you mention? What is important?

Ukamaka Olisakwe told us about her process. She always finds a real life person and takes her attributes, looks, and gestures to embody a character. Olisakwe isn't using that person in the story, but rather borrowing her to act out the story. She calls it a "soul transfer." Before everyone reading this decides to never speak to their writer friends again, don't worry; the technique isn't about putting you in the story, exactly, it's just borrowing your nervous smile or the way you tug your hair when you're angry to bring life to a character.

Another thing we talked about was likeability. Does a character have to be likeable? There is a difference to how male and female characters are perceived: women are expected to be likeable, for some reason, while a similarly flawed male character is applauded as "dark" and "complex." The bottom line was that writers shouldn't be afraid of writing unlikeable women. Hear, hear!

The issues of cultural appropriation and writing characters different from you also surfaced. Good timing, because I've been thinking about those a lot. (see last week's post on Writing the Other.) Nobody can really give you a straight answer on this, but most seem to agree that when you write a character different from you, you have a responsibility to think about these issues and to do your research.

Our assignment for the week was to write a scene or story from the perspective of a female child. I also made mine an alien:)

Oct 18, 2016

Whitmanthology is Live!

Remember that Whitman anthology project I was talking about?

Here it is, available for free at Lulu.com.

Here's more info from the site:

"Whitmanthology” brings a collection of writings with authors from all over the world inspired by “Whitman’s Civil War: Writing and Imaging Loss, Death, and Disaster”- MOOC course held by the University of Iowa in 2016. With a “Forward” by Professor Christopher Merrill, the Anthology aims to bring peace and hope in a world filled with war and pain.

There are two of my pieces in it, as well as work from many other authors from all around the world. Feel free to check it out.

And a big thank you to Monica Mastrantonio for making it happen!

Oct 17, 2016

Art, Alice, and Assorted Weirdness

I was in Helsinki this weekend for the Alice in Wonderland ballet and had some time to kill, so I ended up at Kiasma, the Helsinki museum of contemporary art. Kiasma is a great place to seek writing inspiration, because there's alway something weird going on. 

Untitled by Juul Kraijer

On to the weirdness. Look closer at the curls on the lady's head. Yup, that's right. They're ears. 

Emerging Thoughts by Anna Estarriola

Yes, and this thing was beyond creepy. It's a giant knitted cap with a hole in it. Inside, you see all these wigs, like the backs of people's heads, and when you lean in, they start to whisper. *shudder*

They also had an exhibit by Mona Hatoum that had hanging barbed wire and empty cages they use at fur farms, and a person-sized cheese grater. Really unnerving. Didn't really like that one, but I got a feeling I wasn't supposed to. Not that kind of exhibition. 

The Finnish National Museum's on the way to the Opera house, so I stopped in to check out the exhibition of Renaissance art they have running until January 15th 2017. Quite small, but beautiful pieces. I like portraits, because it's fun to imagine what the person they're depicting was like. (And you can use them for character building, if you're a writerly type.) 

The Gentleman in Pink by Giovan Battista Moroni

Isotta Brembati by Giovan Battista Moroni

Count Martinengo by Moretto.

Then it was time for the ballet. The sets and costumes were beautifully done as always, but the show felt a bit meh. The beginning was quite slow, and there were long intervals without music. That miming thing the dancers do looks ridiculous without sound. You could hear the thumps of their footsteps on the set. Awkward.  I did like the tea party scene and the Red Queen and the playing cards, and the bit where Alice went to wonderland was well done. You can watch it through Opera Live on Saturday the 29th of October, if so inclined. 

I did enjoy these themed macaroons, though. 

After the show I headed for the Linnanmäki amusement park, which is just a fifteen minute walk away. They're doing a carnival of lights before closing for winter. I rode the ferris wheel and ate cotton candy that had a glow stick inside. It was like eating a storm cloud. The park is still open until Saturday the 22nd, when the festival ends with a firework display. 

Those red lights reminded me of Spirited Away. Magical. 

Pretty lights.

I love these old, creepy statue things. Very Tim Burton.

More pretty lights.

Light-up hula-hoops!

Looking for that creepy carnival feel? Look no further.


The view from the ferris wheel was beautiful. You can see for miles. Definitely go if you're not afraid of heights. 

Oct 14, 2016

DIY: Nightmare before Christmas Kitchen Jars

This is an old DIY, but it's so Halloween-y that I thought I'd share it anyway. These are actually prototypes for two bigger ones that I made for a friend's birthday present. It's just two ceramic pots I got at a flea market covered in modelling clay. I tried the plastic kind, but it was really hard to use, so I just used the normal stuff and let these air dry. Then I painted them with a rock texture paint from the local craft store. The paint had little grains in it, which makes the surface even feel rock-like. The details I did with a toothpick while the clay was still soft. The paint is water based, so you can't wash these, but wiping with a wet cloth is okay. 

This is a super easy project, maybe a few hours in total, not counting the time it takes for the clay and paint to dry. Plenty of time to finish before Halloween, if inspiration strikes you.

Oct 12, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: Words for Otherness

The word other is from Old English oþer "the second" from PIE  an-tero, the other of two, still seen in the Swedish andra, but in English this meaning was removed to avoid ambiguity, replaced by the word "second." The meaning of "different" is from the 1300s. There are lots of words for otherness, with different connotations, but most of them boil down to the fear of the foreign.

Alien comes from the Latin alienus, belonging to another race, which goes back to alius, "another."

Strange is from Latin extraneus, "foreign, external, from without." It made its way into English through the Old French estrange.

Weird is a fun one. It comes from Old English wyrd "fate, chance, fortune" and the etymology goes back to the Norns (see Old Norse urðr). The PIE root *wert-, to turn, to wind, is the source.

Odd originally meant "constituting of an unit in excess of an even number." The literal meaning is from Old Norse odds,  "point of land, angle." The sense of "strange, peculiar" is from the 1580s, as in "odd man out, unpaired one of three." Odd job also comes from his, as in "not regular." Oddball is also of the same origin, from an a adjective first used by aviators in the 1940s.  (I couldn't find out more about what the aviators used it for, if anyone knows, tell me in the comments.)

Foreign goes back to the Latin foraneus, "on the outside, exterior,"  from foris, "out of doors."

Queer as in "strange, peculiar, eccentric," is from Scottish, perhaps related to German quer "oblique, perverse, odd," from Old High German twerh "oblique," from PIE root *terkw- "to turn, twist, wind" The sense of "homosexual" is from 1922.

Let's end with a positive one: extraordinary. It's from Latin extraordinarius, "out of the common order." We can thank the French for the word's colloquial use as a superlative.



Oct 10, 2016

Writing Book: Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward

I found this book via Chuck Wendig's blog, this post to be exact. Elsa S. Henry wrote a guest post about writing blind characters and then about a masterclass she was doing in collaboration with the Writing the Other website. I wanted to participate in the course, so I checked out the site. The timing didn't work out, but I did find a lot of interesting material on the site about writing characters different from you. Writing the Other is a book Shawl and Ward wrote to use as material for the courses. It's available on Amazon as an e-book and paperback.

The book got started when a writer at the Clarion 1992 workshop voiced an opinion that you shouldn't even try to write characters outside your own ethnic background, because you'd probably get it wrong and offend people. Better stick to your own experiences.

I do get this, because as a white straight woman I have these fears too. I don't actually know any POC,  how could I understand their experience well enough to write from their point of view? And even if I did all the research I could and talked to people (Scary, because I'm still a shy, socially awkward person who doesn't make friends easily), would I be stepping on toes writing about issues that don't affect me directly? And from a place of white privilege, no less?  Would it be better to leave these issues to the people who have actually experienced them and celebrate books by POC writing about their own experience? And it's not just about ethnicity. The same thing applies to writing characters whose sexual orientation or religion differs from your own and writing about disabled characters when you yourself are able-bodied. Shouldn't you just write what you know? That's like the first thing they teach you in every writing book.

I grew up in a predominately white neighbourhood. In Finland there weren't any people of colour in my class or even in the whole school that I remember. For the two years we lived in California there were, but I was just eight at the time, so I don't remember that much about my time there. I was in the ESL (English as a second language) class most of that time, because I didn't speak any English when we moved to the States. As a shy person I didn't make many friends and I didn't keep in touch with anybody after we moved back to Finland. I do know some people online through my writing workshop, but that's pretty much it.

On the other hand, isn't writing characters different from you the whole point of writing in the first place? Understanding someone else's experience? In speculative fiction you can cheat a bit by writing about aliens or fantastical creatures, but I do think it's kind of limited to just write about straight white people all the time.  Shawl and Ward also take this view and encourage writers to step out of their comfort zone.

The book discusses ROAARS (Race/Orientation/Ability/Age/Religion/Sex) traits and how they affect characterisation. There's also a chapter on writer hang-ups about writing outside their experience, talking about fear of the other and the liberal dread of the racist label, which can lead to ignoring any differences you notice between different groups out of political correctness and fear.                                      

Shawl and Ward begin with discussing the "unmarked state" that readers assume unless otherwise informed: male, white, heterosexual, able-bodied, young. Then they move to the concept of privilege. If you match most of the attributes stated above, you won't experience the abuse that people who differ in some aspect do. They also use the term parallax to illustrate how the viewpoint shifts when your character is different from the unmarked state and talk about the dangers of categorical thinking (i.e. mistaking traits of an individual for traits of a group), and unintended and intended associations and resonances. There's also the concept of congruence, how similarities between the writer and character and reader and character help to understand the character and how the use of non-ROAARS characteristics can generate reader sympathy.

There's also a chapter about things you shouldn't do, like avoiding stereotypes, making the POC/LBGTQ/disabled character a sidekick without any goals of his/her own, portraying them as victims all the time, and using a disrespectful dialect, for example. Best of all, there are exercises, specific references, and reading lists to help you along.

The Writing the Other website is full of useful stuff, too. You can sign up for the masterclasses (Definitely will do one of those at some point. I just have to figure out the time difference etc.), peruse the material available for free on the site, watch videos, and there's also info on how you can get in touch with sensitivity readers, really useful for connecting with people for scaredy cats like me. They emphasise that a sensitivity reader should get paid, which is reasonable, of course.
writeinthemargins.org has a database of sensitive readers, for example.

A very useful book that every writer should read.

Oct 7, 2016

Kinda Kooky

I went a little overboard in the Kooky Gems final sale this year, but look how cute! 

Here's the website for any kooky gals and guys out there. (They ship worldwide, btw.)

Oct 5, 2016

Etymology Expeditions: The Genres

Today I thought we'd take a look at some genre names. A warning: reading this might ruin the word "romance" for you, just so you know.

Classics are from the 1610s, meaning "highest level of quality," from Latin classicus, "relating to the highest class of Romans" and, hence, superior. Wow. That's so snooty. Bookwise, the word originally referred to the works of the ancient Roman and Greek writers, so that's your competition if you want to write a classic. No pressure.

Fantasy comes from Greek phantasia "power of imagination," from phatazesthai "imagine to yourself," from phantos, "visible," from phainesthai "appear, imagine, have visions." The sense of "whimsical vision" is from pre-1400s, and the fiction genre from 1949.

Science fiction as a term was coined in 1929, though there is isolated use from the 1850s. The word science comes from Latin scientia "knowledge," from scire "to know," probably originally "to separate one thing from another." It's related to scindere "to cut, divide." Fiction, on the other hand, comes from Latin fictionem "a fashioning or feigning," from fingere "to fashion, shape," originally meaning "to knead, form out of clay."

Mystery is from Greek mysterion "a secret rite or doctrine," from mystes "one who has been initiated, from myein "to shut, close" your eyes or mouth, probably?

Horror comes from Latin horror "dread, veneration, religious awe," literally, a shaking, trembling, from PIE root ghers- "to bristle."

Humour is is a funny one: the word comes from Latin umor "body fluid." Bear with me, it makes sense (kind of). In ancient and medieval times, the humours of the body (blood, phlegm, choler, black bile) were thought to affect moods (and an imbalance to cause diseases). From there, we get to the "mood, temporary state of mind." The funny sense is from the 1680s.

Romance is from the 1300s, "from Old French romanz "a story of the adventures of a knight or hero." It was originally an adverb "in the vernacular language," from Latin romanice scribere "to write in a Romance language." The romance thing is of course from Romanus "Roman."Okay, when I think romance, I don't picture a bunch of ancient Romans in battle gear or togas and stuff. Head spinning. Seriously.

And here's bonus one, my favourite weird fantasy genre: slipstream. Love the word, love the stories. Slip comes from Middle Low German  slippen "to glide, slide," from PIE *sleib- "slimy, sticky, slippery." Stream  is more ordinary, from Old English stream, "a course of water," origins in the PIE root *sreu "to flow." The word is as slippery as the genre. Try to define it, I dare you.



Oct 3, 2016

Book Fair 2016

It's book fair time again! Rummaging through the used book sellers' stalls is a draw in itself, but this year the mystery writer Donna Leon, best known for her Inspector Brunetti books that take place in Venice, was one of the guests. I was lucky enough to catch her interview on Saturday. 

That's her on the left. Sorry for the bad pic, but the hall was packed. I like the Brunetti books because they have a marvellous sense of place and they're not overly violent, like those CSI-on-paper type books. The interviewer called the books "soft-boiled," which is quite fitting.  Leon actually talked about that a bit. She believes that it isn't good for people to read violent scenes and she doesn't like reading them, or writing them, for that matter. Apparently even Aristotle said it's better to have violence happen off-screen. She talked about her process a bit, too. Leon is a pantser, so she just writes the first chapter, which tells her what the second chapter will be, and so on, but when she teaches workshops, she tells young writers to outline, because it's good advice. The interviewer also asked her about where she gets her ideas, and Leon said she gets a lot of them from a local newspaper. She cited an example of why she loves the paper: there had been an article about a woman who had murdered her husband, carved out his heart, and eaten it, and because the staff is meticulous about details, there was a little aside explaining the name of the local dish she cooked it in, and then the recipe(!) Did I mention I like Leon's sense of humour? 

Oh, and want to know what book she'd take on a deserted island with her? She asked wether she was allowed to take the complete works of someone, and the interviewer agreed. Then she said she probably should say Shakespeare, but actually she'd choose Dickens, because she loves his work and there's quite a lot of it. Inspector Brunetti's wife drops a lot of Henry James references in the books, and so the interviewer asked, why not Henry James? To this Leon responded: "I have never considered Henry James a beach read."


I also stopped by the Turku Science Fiction Society's stand, which featured Ten and the TARDIS. Also, stormtroopers spotted shopping for used books. Glad the Empire is promoting literacy.

In the "cool but ridiculously expensive" category, this original Finnish translation of The Hobbit, titled "Dragon Mountain."  It has the original gorgeous illustrations by Tove Jansson, and the hilarious translation of Bilbo Baggins as Kalpa Kassinen, for example, but at a hundred and fifty euros, I just couldn't.  

Luckily these fabulous chocolates at the food fair took my mind off of it.

Here's my haul:

Taivaalta pudonnut eläintarha (The Zoo that Fell from the Sky) by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen, Älä Riko Pintaa (Don't Break the Surface) by Katri Alatalo, Tulevaisuuden varjo (Shadow of the Future) by Edith Södergran, and The Key to the Key of Solomon by Lon Milo DuQuette.

And liquorice, of course. (The pile on the right is Hubby's catch. He's into the Russians.)