May 29, 2015

For Ages 13 Years and Up

I love Mass Effect. Probably too much, according to my friends, who are too polite to tell me to shut up when I go on and on about it. But come on, what's not to love? Great storyline, fantastic, likeable characters, one of the greatest sci-fi universes ever created! The whole game is like a masterclass in world-building, and you could learn a thing or too about character arcs as well from playing it. Okay, so the ending of ME3 sucked, but that doesn't negate the rest of the awesomeness in any way. It's like saying that The Matrix is a bad movie because the two cringe-worthy sequels ruined it. That's not how it works for me, anyway. 

So, I'm enjoying another playthrough and I kind of got carried away.

Without further ado... a couple of new acquisitions:     

The Thane action figure is from Big Fish, and not nearly as detailed as the Garrus one, but pretty cool nonetheless.

Okay. And here's Garrus. Oh Garrus, the best imaginary space boyfriend a girl could have. You followed me to hell and back, and all we got was that lousy ending. Yup, still bitter. 

What? You don't believe Garrus is the coolest? Remember this?

"I’m Garrus Vakarian. Codename: Archangel. All-around turian bad boy and dispenser of justice in an unjust galaxy. Also, I kill Reapers on the side. "
'Nuff said.

There's just one thing I'm still wondering about. What's with all the calibrations?

Okay, I'll try really hard not to swallow his sniper rifle, tempting as that is. 

May 27, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: A Mixed Bag of Fun French Words and Phrases

 I'm currently studying French, so here are some of my favourite weird words and phrases.

Un vide-poche, noun, masculine. From vide=empty and poche= pocket. Meaning a little plate or bowl that you empty the stuff from your pockets into when you get home. 

Une salle des pas perdus, noun, feminine. Waiting room. Literal translation: hall of lost steps. Are the steps lost because you pace around, or if you get lost, do your steps always lead you here?

La barbe à papa means cotton candy. Literally: father’s beard. And the cartoon is named after this, too. Are you familiar with Barbapapa?

Coûter les yeux de la tête. Means to cost and arm and a leg, but literally: costs the eyes from your head. Eww!

Un Coup de foudre means love at first sight, but literally it’s a lightning strike. Definitely better in French.

Arriver comme un cheveu sur la soupe. Literally: arrive like a hair in soup. Means entering a situation  at the most awkward moment possible. Yup. Been there.

This is my favorite thing about learning a new language. I love the “I didn’t know there was a word for that” moments, and the best expressions tell you about the people as well.
Do you have a favorite French phrase to add?

May 25, 2015

Comfort Books

Comfort food is great, but do you have comfort books? I tend to re-read some books over and over again. I don’t know why; I guess there’s something in them that resonates with me. Different books  suit different moods. Here are some of my favorites, most of which go really well with chocolate:

Feeling down and need something to cheer you up?
Try Rowling's Harry Potter, Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain, or The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien.

Feeling gloomy and want to savor it? (I.e. “Sad is happy for deep people” - Doctor Who)
The Sandman comics, The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas, Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice.

Bored? These books are unputdownable:
The Song of Ice and Fire books by George R. R. Martin, The First Law trilogy by Joe Abercombie, The Witcher books by Andrzej Sapkowski, or Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula LeGuin, Dune by Frank Herbert, Troll by Johanna Sinisalo, or The Lover by Marguerite Duras.

Starved for romance?
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, or on the lighter side The Southern Vampire Mysteries by Charlaine Harris or Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder.

What are your favorites?

May 24, 2015

A Productive Weekend

You know those days when you seem to accomplish more than you normally do in a week? I had one yesterday. Actually it started late Friday night.

I did this week's Terribleminds challenge (a fun one, inspiration from a random photo), and I finally jotted down the two drabbles that have been rattling around my brain for a while now.    

I submitted one story, and got the final edits for my short story that'll be appearing in a Finnish anthology called Supernova this fall. Hopefully I'll get those done today, and maybe a few chapters of the sci-fi adventure story I'm working on.   

Oh yeah, I did have some fun, too. My friend organised an Eurovision song contest toga party! It was, indeed, legendary! Finland didn't get into the finals this year, but there was plenty of Eurovision wackiness to enjoy. I liked Sweden's entry, which ended up winning. And did I mention that the friend in question is a food blogger? (you can check out her blog here, she'll probably be posting some pictures and recipes. It's in Finnish, though.) Jealous yet?


May 22, 2015

What Does Your Fridge Door Say About You?

Here's mine. The drawings are by my nephew. For those unused to abstract kiddie art, that's Darth Vader on the top one. The other one is a portrait of me. I have antennae because I'm an alien, apparently :) The Fridge poetry is Lovecraft-themed, you can see it better on the close-up below. (It was called "Lovecraftian Letters," but I'm not sure if it's available any more. )

Want to share yours? Post a link in the comments.

May 20, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Demonic Dragonflies

Dragonfly, noun. Sounds simple enough, dragon+fly. The thing that fascinates me is how different this word is in different languages.

The English synonyms for this are quite interesting. You have 'devil's darning needle', 'horse stinger', 'eye poker', 'snake doctor', and 'eye snatcher', among others. Now it's getting interesting.

Why 'devil's darning needle'? Apparently there's a superstition that if a child told lies or an adult cursed, the dragonfly would stich up his or her eyes, lips, and ears. o_O

In Finnish, we have Sudenkorento that comes from susi= wolf + korento=fly. Korento has an archaic meaning of "pole," too, maybe referring to the shape of a dragonfly's body.

I guess we found them creepy too, because other words for sudenkorento include 'pirunpuntari' (the devil's scales, apparently they'd weigh you when they fly over your head, and something horrible would happen if you didn't measure up), and there's a story that if you fall asleep outside, the dragonfly will stich up your eyes. Another Finnish legend says that a dragonfly will steal a hair off your head and hide it in a tree stump, and when the stump rots, you die. Fun stuff.

In French, dragonfly is called une libellule, from the Latin word for level, or scales. Maybe because it hangs it the air, perfectly level?

Swedish has 'trollslända' meaning witch's spindle, and 'blindsticka' that refers to sticking out eyes. So the Swedish probably aren't fans of the dragonfly, either.  

German has 'Teufelsnadel' (Devil's needle) and 'wasserhexe' (water-witch).

At least in Japanese, the dragonfly 'tombo' is appreciated: I remember seeing a Samurai helmet with the image of a dragonfly on it.

The scientific name is 'odonata', from the Greek word for teeth, referring to their mandibles.

So there we have it. Anything to add? Tell me in the comments.


Karjalainen, Sami: "Suomen sudenkorennot" (Tammi, 2002)

May 18, 2015

Are Writing Workshops Worth it?

How do you grow as a writer?

You need feedback. Preferably from someone who isn't related to you or a friend; someone, who'll be (brutally) honest about your writing. But where can you find people to read your stuff?

You can pay someone, of course, but there are lots of writing workshops out there that work on the principle of 'you read mine and I'll read yours.' How useful this is depends entirely on your critique partners and how good you are at taking criticism. I know it hurts: reading a critique can feel like someone slipped an ice-cube down your shirt, and after wriggling and contorting to get it out, you experience a moment of relief until you see that they've got a whole bucketful of them, and that was just the first one. Sometimes it's more like he or she threw a bucket of ice-water on you. But you get over the shock in a moment. Then you shiver, dry off, and send a nice thank-you note, because you asked for this, remember? 

And you know what? It's totally worth it. Every one of my pieces that has gone through this process benefitted from it immensely. 

I have personal experience with three workshops.

The first one is Critters. This is my favorite. It's a free online workshop with a huge pool of potential critique partners from all over the world. It works on the principle that you need to do a certain amount of critiques to submit your work. This is great, because it motivates people to do the critiques. I've received about five to ten critiques for my stories, and that's more than enough to spot major issues. I've also been amazed at the quality of the critiques: it's mainly really, really high. The site is password protected, so this doesn't count as publishing your work. I do about two critiques per week, and this has helped me perhaps even more than the the critiques of my own stuff; you learn a lot from doing the critiques and reading other people's thoughts on the same piece. (All critiques are posted on the site the following week.) 

I'm also part of Finnish e-mail critique group of five people. This works well most of the time, but sometimes the critiques are late or somebody hasn't gotten around to writing anything for their turn, which is kind of a bummer.

I also took a few classes through Writer's Digest University, and found them quite helpful, especially the grammar course. Both of the sci-fi themed courses were good, but you might want to check that there's at least four or five participants to get the most out of the peer critiques. The upside of these courses: you have published authors as instructors;  they know what they're talking about. The downside: the courses aren't cheap, a couple of hundred bucks a pop.

Another thing I tried was a writing course at our local community college. It was mostly literary writers, so most of them weren't that familiar with genre stuff, although everyone was very nice and not at all disparaging. The course consisted mostly of writing assignments and critiques, and we didn't really go into learning how to write that much. The vibe was very much 'rules? There are no rules to writing' and 'feel the mighty Muse-Force, young Padawan writer.' The exercises were one page per session and the final assignment was a story of five pages. I don't know about you, but most of my stuff is at least twice that. The course cost a bit, about sixty euros, but that was for six months, so no biggie. 

One of my stories is up at Critters this week, and it's also my turn to send a story to my Finnish critique group, so I might be in for a rough week. But here I am; I've got my towel and the house is stocked with chocolate, so go on, I can take it, ice-chips and all.  

What do you think? To workshop or not to workshop?


May 16, 2015

Terminator Genisys Movie

I love the Terminator movies, well, the first and second, to be exact. I've seen all the others, but found them disappointing. But every time a new one comes around, I'll go see it. No matter how many crappy movies they throw at me, I'm there. This also goes for the Alien movies (I'm actually excited about the new one. Neill Blomkamp? A new continuity skipping Alien 3 and 4? Taking the franchise back to its roots? C'mon, that has to be good!)

But getting back to Terminator: Genisys, it actually looks . . . fun! There's some cheeky nods to Terminator and Terminator 2: Judgement Day in the trailer, and the tone feels lighter than the last couple of movies. (This is relative, of course, the movie is about killer machines wiping out humanity, after all.) 

So, fingers crossed!

Here's the trailer:

May 15, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: The Car Chase

Here's another one of Chuck's challenges. This one was a blast to write :)  Want to join the fun? Go here. This is what I came up with. 

 Car Trouble

I picked the hot-rod red Ferrari aircar, of course. I knew I had to get out. The party had evolved a frantic, cold edge, the kind that promised trouble, and I had had enough of that, with the Gargoan following me around all night. Should have let it down easy, I guess. Pushing it into the low-grav pool had probably been a mistake; but the look on its craggy, oyster-shell face had been fucking hilarious. The Ferrari beeped. Access denied, said a smooth female voice. Car like that, I’d have picked a male A.I., maybe something with an English accent. Rich people had no taste. Footsteps. The hiss of the hangar door opening. I glanced behind me and saw two security goons burst into the yard, shouting. Behind them was the Gargoan, dripping viscous fluid. It looked all kinds of pissed.
Uh oh.
I redoubled my efforts, sending some more hackworms into the aircar’s systems from the implants in my fingertips.
Access denied.
Access denied.
The guards were almost on me, shouting something in angry ValSpeak. They weren’t shooting, probably afraid to hit the priceless cars.  But I had one last trick up my sleeveless dress: The Hungry Little Caterpillar, I called it, and it hadn’t failed me yet. In it went, crunching its way into the car’s main processor.
Access Granted. Welcome, Miss Xaverian. The aircar door swung up and I dove in, the door obediently falling shut behind me. I slid into the driver’s seat.  Real Terran leather. Nice! Someone banged on the door. I’d better get a move on.
What is your destination, Miss Xaverian?
“Anywhere but here!”
Analyzing. I am not familiar with Anywherebuthere. Please specify.
The banging continued. A louder bang, this one denting the door. Damn Gargoan. A bead of sweat trickled in my eye. There goes my mascara. “Oh hell. Go to manual.”
Manual override accepted.  The butterfly-shaped controller popped out.
Detecting elevated heart rate of pilot. Do you require medical assistance?
I gritted my teeth. “No. Thank you.” The rubbery controller morphed to accommodate my hands. I bopped the activation button and the aircar rumbled to life.
Hull integrity compromised. Engage anti-theft measures?
“Yes!” I hoped the anti-theft measures didn’t include ejecting me out of the cockpit. There was a loud humming noise and I saw a guard fly through the air and slam into the Cadillac Shuttlecraft to my left. Some kind of forcefield or electroshock charge? Didn’t really matter; I pulled the aircar up and shoved the controller forward, sending the Jag roaring out of the hangar and into New Scheherazade’s hot night.
My heartbeat slowed to its normal crawl as I slipped into a convenient trafficstream of spacescooters and shuttlecraft. Where to next? Could I risk returning to my hotel room? It would be safer not to. Nothing much there that I couldn’t toss; just a bunch of clothes and my make-up bag. Most of what really counted was embedded under my skin, anyway. To pass the time, I starred building my next identity. Hmm… A former beauty queen, or a suffering artist? Too bad I’d have to ditch the car; the jag was a dream to fly, like it could anticipate my every thought.  But it was much too conspicuous.
That’s when the three black Harpy-brand securitycars dropped down behind me. Damn.  They weren’t going to give up without a fight.  I swooped down through airlanes, claxons blearing behind me, hoping to lose them, but the Harpies followed with ease.  As soon as we cleared the civilian cruisers, they opened fire.
I swerved to avoid the plasma cannons. Damn it.  They were willing to destroy the Jag.  Or were they? None of the shots had actually hit. Below me loomed the hanging bazaars. I sped up and drove among the narrow streets and shops, knocking over antigrav boxes of perfumes and bursting through hangnets of fruit that splattered on my viewscreen. I giggled. Maybe driving under the influence of a dozen thrillpills was a bad idea.  The alley narrowed in front of me and I wrenched the controller to the right and just succeeded in slipping into a downward-sloping tunnel of carpet-shops. One of the Harpies crashed into the wall behind me and hung there like a flattened cockroach. How do you like that, you fucking credit monkey?
Proximity alert.
Proximity alert.
The other two Harpies were closing in. I looped through a maintenance portal into the guts of the city. Even with the thrillpills, I realized it was a damn idiot move, but they’d be crazy to follow me in there, right?
Pilot has left approved airspace.
Warning. Area restricted.
 Penalty fees may apply. Warning.   
“Shut up. I’m trying to concentrate.”
The underside of the city was a hive of maintenance droids and data hubs. Thick electricity cables hung from the ceiling like snakes. I looped through the mess, my aircar tangling in the cables and ripping them out as I went, swerving madly this way and that. The Harpies behind be had a worse time of it, because their stylized wings. One of them stopped, hopelessly entangled in the coils and cables, and a cloud of hissing droids descended on them, trying to repair the damage. I couldn’t see the other one anymore.
A portal opened to my left and I zoomed out, back into the city. My hands trembled from clutching the controller. I needed to find a place to land. Now.
A suitable platform presented itself. It was deserted, one of those scenic stops looking over Scheherazade’s Tears. Floodlights played over the falls, highlighting their iridescent shimmer.
The aircar rocked. A hit? Then another. This time the plasma melted the forward stabilizers and the Jag screamed, going into a death spiral.
Warning. Collision imminent.
Warning. Impact alert.
Warning. Hull damage.
Desperate, I pulled up. The platform rushed toward me, much too fast. Then the crash Then nothing.
My head pounded and there was something wet running down my face. A metallic smell. Blood.
You have reached your destination.
We hope you’ve had a p-p-pleasant trip.
Warning. This vehicle requires maintenance.
Emergency protocol. Contacting authorities.
The foggy, bright blobs focused into streetlights. I stumbled up. Shit. I was still alive. I kicked my way out of the Jag, the bent door almost refusing to give. Unsteadily, I pulled myself out, leaning on the smoking wreck for balance.
Then I saw the Harpy, parked on the far side of the ledge.
Then the two security guards, guns pointed at me.
Then the Gargoan. He pulled out a stungun.
“Stop right there, human,” he said.
“What the hell do you want from me? Look, I didn’t steal anything.” Well, except the Jag. But that hardly counted, right? I held my empty hands up. ”Leave me the fuck alone!”
The Gargoan smiled, looking like an animated boulder. “You don’t understand, Miss Xaverian. The thing you stole is you.” He lifted the stungun.
Oh frickity-frack.
Then I heard the whoop of sirens and flashing lights descended, blinding me.
I’ve never been so glad to see the police arrive before.
I looked at the Jag.
That was one smart car.           

I am Groot

                                  Tiny Groot is cute
                        Cutie Groot Groot
                        Cute is Groot
                        Groot cute Groot

May 13, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Lovecraft Edition

I’m in a Lovecraftian mood today, so I picked some of his favorite words to explore. Okay, let’s go for it.

Eldritch, adjective. Merriam-Webster defines it as ‘weird’ or ‘eerie.’ It dates from the 1500s. Origins from Middle English elfriche elf=fairy and riche=kingdom, so … fairyland? Okay, that’s kind of disappointing. Not spooky at all.

Here’s another one.

Gibbous, adjective. This one has three definitions.
1. Marked by swelling.
2. Having a hump.
3. Of the moon or a planet. (This is the one we’re looking for, I think.) Seen with more than half but not all of the disc illuminated. Hmm. Okay.

Origins from Middle English/ late Latin gibbosus, meaning humpbacked, from Latin gibbus, hump. 

Maybe it looks like the moon has a hump or something? Weird.

Final one.

Antediluvian, adjective.
     1. Of or relating to the period before the flood in the Bible
     2. Made a long time ago
     3. Extremely primitive

Origins from Latin ante (before)+ diluvium (flood)

This one is kind of cool. I had no idea that was the origin of the word. You learn something new every day!

I hope you enjoyed this. More to come next Wednesday or wodnesdaeg from Old English Woden Odin and daeg day. And yes, I realise I'm a weirdo.

All word definitions courtesy of

May 12, 2015

Unknown Soldiers

There's been a new translation of the Finnish classic The Unknown Soldier by Väino Linna. It hasn't been very well received:

The translator, Liesl Yamaguchi, made some strange choices with the translation, having the soldiers speak American slang, for example. Yes, Linna has the soldiers speak in different Finnish dialects, which is an important part of the book and his character building, but this just feels wrong.

You have to understand, this novel reflects the experience of a generation. Almost every Finnish kid reads this at school. It's become something of a male bonding thing, this book. We Finns are pretty stoic; like Vulcans, but grumpier. You want to see a Finnish man get emotional? This book will do it. Maybe you have to be Finnish to get this book? I don't know.

Maybe some things just don't translate.

May 11, 2015

Reading Outside my Comfort Zone: Stephen King

So… I’m going to start reading It by Stephen King. I’m a bit apprehensive. You see, I had a bad reaction to a story of his growing up. I was about ten or eleven, I think. My friend had a birthday party, and she got a book of King’s short stories, one of which she then proceeded to read to us. I don’t remember the name of the story, but it had some kind of monster in a kid’s closet. Something with claws. I don’t want to use the words “scarred for life,” but I still can’t sleep with the closet door open if I’m home alone. I’ve steered clear of King’s work after that. I’ve read his writing book, but that’s it.

Then I started to write, and It is used as an example in one of my writing books, and I do want to learn from the master, so I decided to go for it.

There it is, on my Kindle. Taunting me.

Okay, here goes. How bad can it be?

Edit 14.5. I'm 6% in now and kind of confused. This book reads like a bunch of short stories that have Pennywise the Clown/It in common. I don't know who the protagonist is yet. Rich appeared in the last chapter, maybe it's him? 

Edit 19.5. I'm at a little over 30 % now, and at 25% I started looking for the first plot point, but nothing so far. It should lock the protagonists in, story-wise. At 25% the kids are building a dam, at 30 % they're at the movies. There have been a fem more attacks by It. At least the story feels like it's coming together now instead of being random snippets of life, and I know that the protagonists are the group of kids and the same kids as adults. So far, not liking the structure of this. Confusing. On the plus side, I'm not too scared yet, actually, kind of bored.

I do like King's transitions, though. There's usually an adult remembering something and it sort of slides into the kid's perspective.

Edit 24.5. I'm at 46% now. It finally feels like the story is gathering steam. At least I can remember the names of the main characters now, and I even care a little bit about what's going to happen to them. 

Edit 27.5. At about 60% now. The adult Losers have new encounters with It. I'd like the plot to kick in soon, please! Not liking the 'interludes.' I get that this has themes of childhood and nice description, but I don't really 'feel' this book. I don't like reading more and more scenes of graphic violence. This is probably the last King book I'm going to try. This just isn't my kind of thing. 

Edit 1.6. 70%. Still not much happening. The kids sat in their clubhouse inhaling smoke until they had visions. WTF?

Edit 7.6. 75% The kids go after It with the silver slugs and drive It back in the sewers. Is this the midpoint?

Edit 10.6. Finally finished! Yeah, this wasn't my cup of tea. The climax was as overly long as the rest of the book, because everyone had to face their version of It. Kind of repetitive.  And the weird sex scene between the kids? I'm not even going to go there.

I'm going to try to fill this out as I go (à la K. M. Weiland's Story Structure Database):

Story structure:  

Inciting event: Georgie is killed by the clown?
First plot point: At 30% I haven't found it yet?? Maybe it's different for the kids and adults? Are the kids locked in after they have their encounters with It? At 46% The adults have a meeting where they decide to go after It?
First pinch point: The adult Losers encounter It?
Midpoint: The kids go after It with the silver slugs and drive It off? 75%
Second pinch point: The encounters with Henry? Henry kills his dad?
Third plot point: Henry and the gang drive the kids in the sewers/ the adults decide to go in the sewers to confront it (somewhere around 85%)
Climax: Adult/kid losers confront it around 90%)
Climactic moment:The death of it for the adults/ the kids defeat it
Resolution:The losers go their separate ways.

I'm not sure that normal story structure applies to this. There is a structure, of a sort: the two plot lines of the child/adult losers mirror each other, maybe even too closely for my taste. I found the scenes  repetitive, and kind of boring. Then the interludes. Jeez. This book is already massive, and at least for me it was a struggle to keep myself interested. (I very rarely leave a book unfinished after I've started.) Then come the interludes. I'm sorry, but why should I care about these? I've already struggled through too many similar It attacks. If this was a really fast-paced page-turner, maybe then the interludes would be nice, but as the book already moves at a leisurely pace, these make it come to a full stop.  

Hey, at least I read something different, even if this didn't exactly blow my mind. And I got over my fear of Stephen King books. If they're mostly like this one, I probably won't be reading any more, though. (And yes, I have read one of his fantasy books, something about a prince being trapped in a tower with a doll-sized sewing machine, but I wasn't crazy about that one, either.)