Sunday recs: Two SF stories

I’ve been reading some pretty awesome SF stories lately. Here are two favourites from Strange Horizons:

The Serial Killer’s Astronaut Daughter by Damien Angelica Walters. This near-future (I assume!) story set in a space station orbiting Earth treads the borderline of speculative and mainstream pretty neatly. Also, Aliens references FTW. :)

The Long Road to the Deep North by Lavie Tidhar. Simply put: this story blew me away with its awesomeness. It has poems in a linguistically viable asteroid pidgin! I love it when people deal with language in stories (and I often do so myself – can’t help it, I did linguistics at uni and language has always been deeply fascinating to me). The atmosphere is lush, full of the kind of science-fictional future details that I love: strange quirky things that build the story-world into such a delightful creature that I wish there was more of it. And yet this is a brilliant story exactly the way it is. I almost cried at the end because of the sheer beauty of words and images. Please read this. It’s an unconventional story in some ways, but so gorgeous.

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Sunday recs: Kate Elliott and Ursula Le Guin

To my intense delight, Kate Elliott posted a Valentine’s Day gift for her readers on her blog on Friday: a coda to her wonderful Spiritwalker trilogy (Cold Magic, Cold Fire, Cold Steel). Since it’s a coda, this novelette obviously contains massive spoilers. So, it will only make sense if you’ve read the trilogy. (If you haven’t, why, go and get yourself those books! I’ve plugged them here before, but really, I haven’t had such a squee reaction to a series in ages, and they totally deserve all the love they can get.) Anyway, the novelette was lovely, it resolved some things I’d really wanted to know about. And I do love getting more glimpses of the world Elliott’s created even though the trilogy has ended. :)

And for all of you who have not read the Spiritwalker trilogy, go and read Ursula K. Le Guin’s piece Elementals over at Lightspeed Magazine. This is a wonderful secret history type piece – it’s not really a story, in the traditional sense, but it’s wonderful. It made me think about what a glorious, secret planet we live on despite the mundanity of daily life.

I’m high on writing and folk music and dance tonight, so just these two recs for now. I think it’s time for me to go and find something to eat, and then perhaps write some more.

‘Helsinki Love Song’ online in Wild Violet

My poem ‘Helsinki Love Song’ is one of the featured works in Wild Violet’s Valentine’s Day week series.

‘Helsinki Love Song’

I don’t like Valentine’s Day much due to the focus on a very restricted type of love – Finland is better in that respect, because here it’s known as ystävänpäivä, ‘Friend Day’, and is marketed with less of an emphasis on the heteronormative syrupy give-her-roses type romance. Much more inclusive of all kinds of love. :)

‘Helsinki Love Song’ is described by the Wild Violet folks as “celebrat[ing] the emotion produced by a place”. Accurate. This city has its ups and downs, but I love it. At the moment I wrote the poem (in August 2012) I was feeling a particularly delirious love for Helsinki and the weird, wonderful things that can take place here.

Have a good Friend Day, and I hope you enjoy the poem! I love the picture chosen to go with it, too – very evocative of the late-summer beauty that inspired the poem.

Poetry publication: Two poems in Chantarelle’s Notebook

Issue #33 of Chantarelle’s Notebook is now up! It’s full of good stuff (I especially liked the poems by Azar Blanca and Mark Mitchell). The issue includes two of my poems, ‘Ninety-Eight’ and ‘City of Stones’.

I wrote a little bit about the two poems in this post where I announced the publication. I’m especially happy that ‘Ninety-Eight’ is out now: my late granpa (on my dad’s side; pappa, we called him) meant a lot to me, and I feel I’ve managed to catch some essence of him in my words.

Writing for small children

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I had my first experience in writing a story for a small child this January. A dear friend’s child had his third birthday, and I decided to make him a picture book as a present, as evidenced by the pic on the left.

Little did I know what I was in for!

I mean, I hadn’t imagined that writing for children would be easy. Far from it. But I hadn’t really needed to think about it before. I’ve always wanted to write children’s stuff too, but more in a writing exercise sense than out of a want to become profiled as a children’s writer or anything. I think most of the stories I want to tell will be for a more grown-up audience (although of course, no need to exclude kids from the audience as such – when I was small, I read a lot of stuff that was “too difficult” and so on).

Anyway, I had the idea in mind for quite a while. Since the kid currently adores dinosaurs and spaceships, I thought I’d write a story that gave him both. Because why not? However, as always, the idea was the easy bit. It took me ages to actually get writing, because I was so unsure of how to write for a 3-year-old.

When I finally got to it, I was surprised at how easily it came out. I’d thought out a simple enough story, with repetition and a happy ending. It was difficult to keep my language simple enough, though. Here are some things I had to pay extra attention to:

  • I had to keep on substituting easier words for the ones that first came to mind.
  • My sentences tend to be on the longer side more often than not. So, I had to snip quite a few clauses into separate sentences.
  • Repetition is okay! At least I hope so, since I did quite a bit of it. A very different style from my usual – I try not to repeat constructions or the same word a lot, but in a story for someone who’s still in the early stages of language use, repetition might be helpful.

The hardest part was that although I’ve read picture books to this kid and seen what he’s got in his library, I wasn’t really sure of what level of difficulty a 3-year-old is on. Oh well, if it’s too difficult, he’ll grow into it, at least! Saffy Catches a Ride is basically about a little Stegosaurus (the eponymous Saffy) who gets lost and asks some other dinosaurs for help. None of them know where her parents are, but then she meets a Martian and is taken home in a spaceship. Fairly simple, as I said. :)

The total word count was around 600, which ended up being 13 pages of pictures + text in the final product.

In the end the writing was far from the most time-consuming part of the book. When I’d written the text into the little pages I’d cut out, I realised with horror that I don’t actually know how to draw dinosaurs. Or spaceships.

Oops. I mean, I used to draw a lot, so it’s not like I’m terrible at art as such. However, I usually draw people, so dinosaurs and space tech was a bit of a challenge. I spent ages making simplified designs that wouldn’t be too hard to replicate for 13 pages; then pencilled the pictures in, inked them, and coloured them in with coloured pencils (keep it simple – watercolour would’ve been great, but nope, didn’t want to risk ruining the whole thing with an accidental splash).

All in all, it was about an hour of work on the text vs. five or so hours on the pictures and putting the book together. It was a fun art project despite my initial frustration!

And the expression on the kid’s face when I gave him his present and told him it involves dinosaurs and spaceships – that gleeful grin and excited cheek-clutching was the best payment this auntie could ask for!