Poetry sales!

I’ve been lacking in the blog posting again: November’s swallowed me up a bit with PhD writing and working on the novel. (Which progresses, although far slower than I’d like. General exhaustion is catching up with me, it seems. But I’m plodding along even if I’ve no energy for sprinting!)

I’ve had little extra energy for sending out poetry or short fiction this autumn (because of work + novel). That saddens me, but well, I can’t do it all. Much though I’d want to.

So, it’s extra awesome that a couple of days ago, I got news of a poetry sale despite not having sent stuff out recently. My poem “The Queen, After” will be appearing in Through the Gate. Yay! This will be my second poem published in TtG (a wonderful magazine).

Also, another poetry sale that I feel embarrassed for not having mentioned before (lack of energy has been a real problem): I sold my Helsinki-set poem “Sunharvest Triptych” to the upcoming solarpunk anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland. I’m very happy to be among the contributors for this anthology! It’s a really cool project.

(I feel sad that I’ve also lacked the energy for doing my Sunday recs. I’ve recced the occasional short story or poem on Twitter, but I’d like to get back to writing my mini-reviews too.)

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Novel revision: My process so far

I’ve been meaning to write this post for ages, and I feel a bit frustrated that I didn’t manage to do it earlier. It would’ve been more interesting to get posts from various stages of the revision process. I’ve kept a project diary of sorts in my notebooks, but it’s not the same as a post that draws things together. Better late than never, though!

This autumn has been far busier than I expected. I’ve been up to my eyelashes in PhD and related work, and there’s been travel and such things. Considering how much stuff I’ve had on my plate, I feel pleased and rather astonished that I’ve managed to get my novel this far in the past three months. I wish I could’ve been even more efficient, but alas, work takes precedence and self-care is important too. Still, I’ve managed to be stubborn and obsessed enough, and to love this book enough to work on it even in the midst of exhaustion.

But so. What has my process been with this novel?

Early history

BoBH is a novel whose original version was my first Nanowrimo novel, Dim Vanities, in 2008 (so long ago!). Similar concepts, similar relationships – but Dim Vanities was a completely different work from what BoBH is now. Anyway, BoBH has its roots in that first novel. I worked on Dim Vanities on and off (mostly off), till I decided to give it another go during Camp Nanowrimo in 2015. I changed the setting from our world to a secondary world, inspired by 17th-century Europe. I changed the main characters’ genders. I did a lot of worldbuilding. The project didn’t really take off during Camp, but in October 2015 I decided to give the project one final chance. I took my worldbuilding and ideas from Camp, came up with a plot skeleton based on the original Dim Vanities – and I wrote a completely new novel based on that. BoBH came alive during Nano and I loved writing it so much; it’s also the cleanest Nano draft I’ve ever written (and I’ve written quite a few Nano drafts).

After Nanowrimo 2015

I gave the draft to a friend to read; she gave me hope that it could actually become something, because she loved that 50k first draft so much. During 2016, I’ve basically been thinking about BoBH for much of the time. In January, I brought the first two chapters to my writing group and got feedback from them. I read through the first draft (printed out) at the start of the year, making copious notes. I tried starting intensive revisions during Camp Nanowrimo 2016, making use of Scrivener (of which more in a moment), but I was so swamped by stress and work that I didn’t get very far. Then, in July, I got back to it again. I made a revision plan and got quite a lot done in July; but it was only at the end of the month that I had a breakthrough. I had a brainstorming session with the friend who’d read the first draft. With her help, I got so many aspects of the magic and world sorted out that I felt I could start actual revisions. And thus started my two-month writing frenzy.

Flesh onto the bones

From August to early October, I added a little over 50,000 words to the original (50k) draft. An intensive revision, with so much added because in the Nanowrimo draft, I was interested in getting the basic story down but knew I didn’t have time to get everything in. The novel transformed so much during this time: gained flesh, gained life. I was working on it pretty much all my free time. I slept too little all the time, but I’d become obsessed and had so many of those glorious moments where the writing flows and magic happens. It was all rather amazing. Difficult, exhausting, but wondrous too. I’ve never written that much outside Nanowrimo before.

My tools

Scrivener has been essential for this project. In April I exported my novel draft into Scrivener and divided it into scenes. I hadn’t used Scrivener before so there was a bit of a learning curve, but I could immediately see it was going to be useful. I love this software so much. I don’t think it would work for me for first drafts, but for revisions, Scrivener is amazing. I love being able to divide things into scenes, because it makes it so much easier to look at the overall structure of the novel. Also, the colour-coding helps me feel I’m getting stuff done: taking a scene from “to-do” to “first draft” to “revised” was really fulfilling. Scrivener is just so great for me.

Another tool I use is far more old-fashioned: notebooks dedicated to this project, using a nice-to-write-with black pen. Simple but effective. When I get stuck, it often helps to write about my issues by hand. Handwriting really helps me focus and find solutions. I should perhaps find more efficient ways to organise my notebooks – because now, for instance, I have to go through them all and type up the essential things so that I can find them easier – but in a way I like the organic, all-in-one approach for notebooks.

***

Where am I now, revision-wise? Well. I just read through the second draft that I sent to beta readers around 10 October (I printed it out because it’s easier for me to read through that way). I took a couple of weeks’ break from the novel after sending it to readers – which I think was a good idea, because now I was able to read it with a little more detachment. Next up, I’m going to check all the comments from my awesome beta readers, and to draw up a revision plan based on them and my own revision thoughts.

I’m not doing Nanowrimo this year, which feels really weird. Instead, my goals for November are to finish the third draft revision of BoBH; to research literary agents; and to write my query letter and prepare for submissions. Scary things! I’ve never brought a novel to this stage before, although I’ve written many a novel draft and revised one of them further. It’s exhilarating to have made it this far.

I haven’t managed much in the way of poetry or short stories in the past couple of months. But I think BoBH is a project worth concentrating on.

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Sunday recs: Issue 10 of inkscrawl

Longlong time no recs. I’ve been wandering the fields of exhaustion; the novel project is still ongoing, and I’ve got far too many other things heaped on my plate as well (work, of course, is the main thing). The novel progresses; but I’m annoyed at myself for being slower with it than I expected, annoyed that I haven’t been posting about it. I promise there will be a post at some point, hopefully when I’ve sent it off to beta readers (which I’m hoping to do in around a week). I have a lot to say about what the past two months (! it has not felt like that long!) of revision have been like. But no time now, since I have to be off to bed.

But I’ve got time for a brief rec, because I just read all of the latest issue of inkscrawl and loved it: a long, multifaceted issue with an amazing collection of poems. Bogi Takács has really done wonders with this!

So, I recommend reading all of Issue 10! I especially enjoyed the first section, “shout / gnaw / skitter / thrash / fly”. But all the poems are great and this was a wonderfully well curated issue, becoming more than the sum of its parts.

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“Bird People” out in Remixt

The first volume of the exciting magazine Remixt is now out! The volume consists of nine small issues curated by different editors drawing from the same submissions pool. It was thus possible for a poem to be picked for more than one issue. Interestingly, there isn’t that much overlap! You can read more about this first volume in publisher Julia Rios’s introductory words. (Incidentally, with regard to the statistics in that post: although I don’t indicate it in my bio, I am also queer, so the number of queer poets included in the volume goes up to 2.)

So yeah – I apparently forgot to announce this earlier except on Twitter, but Remixt vol. 1 also features a poem by me!

You can read “Bird People” here, in Issue 4.

This poem has a clear origin: in the spring of last year I went to see a performance art show featuring a performance by one of my oldest friends. It moved me so much I wrote a poem about it. She, in turn, had been inspired for her performance by her small child, who is a delightful person. Layers of inspiration! It only took me one revision to get to the final poem (revising after letting it sit for a while, as is my usual practice with poems).

I hope you enjoy it – and the rest of the issue and volume too!

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New poem “Taboo” in Strange Horizons

My poem “Taboo” is up in this week’s issue of Strange Horizons!

Read it here!

As the northern days lengthen
our time together is thread-thin

It’s about fairytale taboos and transformation, set in a mythological-Finland-ish world. In fact, it’s the same world where my previous Strange Horizons poems are set (“Wolf Daughter” and “Raw Honey”), and where I’ve set a few stories, too. I love Finnish folklore and I love twisting it to my own purposes.

(I promised a post on novel revision but I’m still mired in the actual revision and have had little brain for much else in my free time. But I’ll write that post soon!)

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Alphabet of Embers contributor copy

I’ve been quiet on the blog front, but for a pretty good reason, I think: all through August, I’ve been hard at work revising my novel. I’ll post more on that later, but for now, a bit of squee!

Last week I received my contributor copy of An Alphabet of Embers. My reaction:

for aoe post

It is such a beautiful book! Likhain’s illustrations really pop out in the print version, too.

This is the first contributor copy of an actual book that I’ve ever received. Milestone! I’ve previously received a contributor copy of the Finnish magazine Spin, but a book is, well, a book! It feels special. I felt so happy seeing my name there on the back cover, in the ToC, and aaaah my story in this wonderful book – it’s a glorious thing! This project has been one of the coolest things I’ve been involved with in the SFF scene so far.

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“Creation” out in Flash Fiction Online

I’m happy to announce that my flash piece “Creation” is now out in the August issue of Flash Fiction Online.

You can read it here: Creation

It’s a story of Faerie, with an emphasis on language and Welsh things. I’ve visited the Welsh castle referred to in “Creation” myself, a few times: it’s a majestic place. (A seagull once stole my sandwich in Conwy town, but that hasn’t reduced my enjoyment of the castle.)

This story was born out of a writing exercise. From late 2013 to early 2015 I had a sporadic but persistent project where I wrote something – poems or short story snippets – based on the pictures in the 33 abandoned places in this post. The zero draft of “Creation” was written already in December 2013, inspired by picture #5, “The abandoned Wonderland Amusement Park outside Beijing, China”. I don’t know how I ended up writing about Faerie for that picture, but that’s how it turned out from the very start.

David Gray /Getty Images

David Gray /Getty Images

(Another of those abandoned-place stories has been published, too: The Ruin in Luna Station Quarterly, inspired by picture #8.)

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Refilling the well

I thought I’d do a lot of writing during my summer holiday. But alas, I reckoned without the intensity and busyness of that holiday – and my need for physical, simple things, instead of brainwork. So yeah, it’s been wonderful, but I haven’t been writing much. I started a new short story, have some poem snippets, and have tinkered a little with my novel, but it’s much less than I planned.

I’m trying not to let my perfectionist self get the upper hand. Yes, I could’ve/should’ve written more. But the reason I wasn’t writing was that I was busy out there living. Refilling my creative well with sunshine, the faint summer starlight of the northern hemisphere, pattering rain, reading a lot, folk music, dance, sparkling wine, the laughter of friends and loved ones. I’ve experienced many of the joys of a Finnish summer in the past couple of weeks: Kaustinen Folk Music Festival, an extravaganza of music, and what a rush it is to perform dance there; a wedding, complete with dance shenanigans and a battalion of mosquitos; picnics with friends in the balmy weather; and this week, the heady joy of summer cabin life (and last night, more folk music and sauna).

It was so important for me to get to go to a lakeside cabin this year. I hold it all close: The skin-shivering heat of a wood sauna. Rereading the marvellous novel The Goblin Emperor (by Katherine Addison) on the jetty, basking in the sun. Brisk morning swims in the lake, leisurely daytime swims. The searing pleasure of plunging into the lake from the sauna at night, of floating on the still water and staring up into the breadth of the sky. The wind in the trees. Rowing on the lake towards a far-off island. I was constantly reminded of my Strange Horizons story – in which I’ve tried to capture something of what our old, now lost summer cabin means to me.

Yes. Not much writing, but so much doing. Soon I will get cracking with writing again, get more discipline back. But for now, I’ll still indulge in one more weekend of purely filling the well: Helsinki’s roleplaying convention Ropecon, more friends, and more joy.

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“Water, Birch, and Blood” out in Strange Horizons!

My story “Water, Birch, and Blood” is now out in Strange Horizons! It’s a portal fantasy (of sorts) with a queer female couple, set in a Finnish summer cabin. Birds, birches, quiet magic.

Water, Birch, and Blood

"Full Moon" by O Horvath

“Full Moon” by O Horvath

Featuring beautiful art by O Horvath!

“Water, Birch, and Blood” is also available in podcast form here, read by the lovely Anaea Lay.

***

Story notes: I started this story in summer 2014, trying to finish it for an anthology call which I didn’t submit to in the end (I can’t remember if I self-rejected or ran out of time). I wrote the first draft in a few days and it’s actually surprisingly similar to the final version. Then the story sat abandoned for a year and a half – I had actually forgotten I’d written it, and definitely didn’t remember I’d managed to complete it. But the call for Our Queer Planet nudged my memory, and I was pleased to discover that the story didn’t need a complete overhaul. The main difference is that it used to be in third person; but first person ended up suiting the intimate, introspective tone much better.

I used bits of Finnish bird mythology for inspiration. Corvids are basically seen as kind of evil (or a bad omen at least) in Finnish mythology, so far as I’ve been able to find out. Of course, the corvids in this story aren’t quite that black and white (except for the magpies hehehe :D). Crows were sometimes seen as messengers. Birds in general are very important in Finnish mythology and folklore.

I spent many of my happiest childhood moments in a cabin very similar to the one I’ve set “Water, Birch, and Blood” in. I miss that place a lot, and always feel a strange joy when I can include bits and pieces of it in my fiction.

I am very fond of this story, and I hope you enjoy it! I’m thrilled to be part of Our Queer Planet.

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Sunday recs: Hopeful fiction

The world’s been an awful place lately, so I think it’s a good time to read some hopeful fiction. So here are three such stories:

Songbird by Shveta Thakrar (in Flash Fiction Online): a gorgeous tale about music and identity, about the freedom to be who you are.

Prudence and the Dragon by Zen Cho (in The World SF Blog) this is just so ridic charming! I love Zen Cho’s writing (I highly recommend her short story collection Spirits Abroad!), and this story is no exception. I love the London-ness of this tale too: so very very London in atmosphere. “Prudence and the Dragon” made me laugh out loud several times and is just so warm-hearted. And has a female friendship at its core.

Iron Aria by A. Merc Rustad (in Fireside Fiction): what a wonderful, hopeful secondary-world fantasy story! I love how well Merc handles all the intersections of identity in this. The worldbuilding is fascinating (and so rich for a short story) and the characters really come alive.

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