Award eligibility & 2018 in review

I had one piece out in 2018. My short story “Birch Daughter”, appeared in Fireside Magazine in November (and was included in the October issue of Fireside Quarterly): it’s eligible for your consideration.

Read “Birch Daughter” here!

My father told me that the spell was too strong to break, that I should never trust the forest-folk. But the thought of my mother trapped within a gnarled birch tree in the far north was too much for me to bear. I had to go, even just to see her.

This story is inspired by Finnish folklore; it features forests, bears, and queer women. It’s the only thing I had published this year, and I’m very proud of it.

* * *

This is also a good time to reflect a bit on 2018 in terms of my writing. I used to do rather detailed year-in-review posts, outlining writing goals for the next year, &c. I think, this time, I’ll keep the writing goals within my bullet journal and just reflect more generally on this year.

My main goal for 2018 was to finish novel revisions and to start querying agents. Well: I did that, although due to mental health issues, I was not able to get properly into querying. A lot of my other goals, I did not really succeed at — but the problem was, my goals were too ambitious and I also didn’t realise, at the end of 2017, how rough 2018 was going to be.

But all in all, the main thing is: I kept writing. I took a bit of a break in the summer, when I was healing my poor brain, but I returned to writing again when it felt good. (Writing longhand in a nice notebook, outside in the warmth of the summer sun. I wrote a whole story longhand for the first time in years.) And after that, writing has felt good. After my healing beak, I’ve written a couple of short stories and a Nanowrimo novel draft, and am finding joy in writing. Really, that’s what matters.

In 2019, I hope above all to be more gentle to myself in terms of writing goals and ambitions. I’m working on a PhD; I have anxiety issues; I need to look after myself and stay clear of too much perfectionism and achieverism.

I’ll end with by quoting myself from last year’s year-in-review post:

No matter what, I will keep writing words of hope and kindness in the face of hardship.

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Award eligibility and year in review

I didn’t have much published this year, but here are my award-eligible works from 2017, one short story and four poems:

Short story:
07/2017 “Don’t Look a Wish Horse in the Mouth” in Cosmos Pen, the English special issue of Finnish SFF magazine Kosmoskynä. Short story, 2065 words.
— This is a bit hard to get hold of since it’s in a Finnish print magazine, but I’m happy to provide anyone who asks with a digital copy of my story.

Poetry:
01/2017 “The Queen, After” in Through the Gate.

08/2017 “Sunharvest Triptych” in the anthology Sunvault: Stories of Solarpunk & Eco-Speculation, edited by Phoebe Wagner and Brontë Wieland.

10/2017 “Artemis–” in Issue 1 of Blossomry.

10/2017 “When They Belittle Your Nature” in Issue 1 of Blossomry.

The poems are all eligible for the short poem category of the Rhysling Award.

***

YEAR IN REVIEW

My writing goals for 2017 were:

  • Finish revising novel; get everything in shape for submission and start submitting it to literary agents.
  • Get back to the poetry collection thing; revise the collection, try to get the ms in shape and submitted.
  • Write more short stories.
  • Get back into the poetry habit.
  • Submit more poetry and stories.
  • Look over previous Nanowrimo novels, make plans for the potentials (rework as novel / condense into novella or novelette).
  • Have fun with writing. Play with it too.
  • Don’t compare yourself to other writers in the bad way. We all have different paths.

Well. Ambitious goals, considering I’m also working on a PhD, and this year was difficult in many other ways too. I obviously didn’t succeed with all of my writing goals, thus.

However: the novel is almost entirely revised to be the best I can make it. I’ve worked on it a lot this year: most of my writing hours were spent on it, which is partly why I’ve not succeeded so well at the other goals. Writing a novel is a long slog, and takes a lot of energy and time. But the time I’ve spent on the novel has paid off: the novel is at the polishing stage, and – importantly – I still love it. I’m looking forward to finishing it in early 2018.

I did not have the energy/time to start submitting the novel to agents, or even to properly start doing my agent research. But that is something that I don’t want to rush: the novel has to be good first.

Re the poetry collection mentioned in my goals: I did basically nothing to it because the novel gobbled up my time/energy. I will eventually try to do stuff to it, though.

I didn’t write many short stories – again, because of the novel. BUT I did complete one new short story, wrote part of another (should get back to it!), and am almost done with a third.

I did not get back into the poetry habit, sadly. I wrote 13 poems, most of which are just short things and not too many of them good. I’d like to get more poetry written: should do some poetry exercises in the new year.

I didn’t submit that much stuff in 2017. 17 poetry subs (14 rejections, 2 acceptances, 1 pending), and 12 story subs (11 rejections, 1 joyous acceptance to Fireside). I have no stories out on sub right now: should try to fix that soon. And also write more stories!

I did not have time to do anything about my previous Nanowrimo novels – but I wrote a new one instead in November. It’s not very good, but it’s proof that I can still plonk out 50,000 words in a month.

As for my final goals for 2017: I haven’t played around as much with writing as I’d have wanted, mostly – again – because I’ve been busy with the novel. But I have managed to compare myself less with other writers. I’ve been so damn busy with work and other life things that it’s a wonder I managed to get through 2017.

Every creative word written is a win, especially when you’re working on a PhD. Really, I’ve done a lot this year even though the brainweasels tell me it’s not enough. My novel is almost submittable – I’ve done some other creative writing on the side – and even though I haven’t submitted much stuff, I submitted something. I kept going, kept writing.

***

My writing goals for 2018, then:

  • Finish novel revisions; send it out to agents. Revise again as needed.
  • Do something about the poetry collection.
  • Look over previous Nanowrimo novels, make plans for the potentials (rework as novel / condense into novella or novelette).
  • Write for yourself – write amazingly self-indulgent things that make your heart sing.
  • Make time for writing. Don’t shuffle writing to the bottom of the priority list.
  • But also: be gentle to yourself and accept that your pace will be slower because of all your other commitments.

Happy New Year, dear readers. I hope it’s a better year, a happier year, a more hopeful year. No matter what, I will keep writing words of hope and kindness in the face of hardship.

“Birch Daughter” sold to Fireside

This news is a couple of weeks old, but it’s wonderful news despite that: my story “Birch Daughter” has sold to the amazing magazine Fireside. I’ve loved the stories in Fireside for a long time and am super excited that my story will appear there in 2018!

I should write my award eligibility post soon (it will probably be after Christmas at this point): I’ve been procrastinating doing it because of busyness and brain weasels. Things have been super hectic and stressful after getting home from my two-month visit to the UK, alas. But it’s all finally quieting down a bit: I’m on holiday, and hope to have the energy to write a lot. In any case, getting the Fireside news has buoyed me up in this dark season. And we’re already past Midwinter Day. I can do this. We can do this.

Post-con feels

I should’ve written this post a week ago but I was waiting for the exhaustion to ebb a little. Well, it hasn’t ebbed, just increased (my summer of Too Many Things has continued), so I guess I’m doing this now. Here we go: a Worldcon retrospective, written by a drop-down-tired Sara. (Partially compiled from my Facebook entries re the con.)

Worldcon! Worldcon was amazing. It was everything I’d hoped for and I can’t even fathom how that’s possible.

It would have been less awesome without the wondrous Uppsala conference, though. I made friends in Uppsala who it was great to hang out at Worldcon with. <3 I also met many more awesome people at Worldcon, some of them people I've known on Twitter for a while, some of them new peeps. I'm a bit stunned I got to hang out with so many amazing writerpeople. It was also lovely to catch up with old friends and people I know from corners of the internet other than Twitter!

I listened to a lot of great panels – some of them were too 101 level for me, but many of them useful and fun, too. I made SO MANY NOTES. My current bullet journal, begun at the start of August, is half full of them.

Also, as a particularly noteworthy programme item: the SFF poetry open mic on Wednesday, organised by my awesome friend Brandon O'Brien, was a wonderful thing. So many people sharing speculative poetry, some of them for the first time! Wondrous.

***

I'm happy with how my own programme items went.

1) The polyamory in fiction panel on Thursday was great: a big audience, and it was cool to give lots of recs and discuss the pitfalls and how-tos of writing poly relationships in SFF. This was my first panel ever and so I'm especially glad it went well!

2) Also on Thursday, the speculative poetry panel – it was absolutely amazing. I did all right as moderator – wasn't too badly nervous, even, once it was happening – and my panelists were just brilliant. Mari Ness, Arkady Martine, Julia Rios – such great conversation! It was basically a giant squeefest on why speculative poetry is wonderful, what's going on in the field, and how marginalised creators are among the driving forces in it. I'm so happy I proposed this panel for Worldcon. Much joy and so much inspiration to write and submit more speculative poetry! All-female, all-queer panel btw.

3) At Sunday's drabble panel (Why Do Finns Love Their Drabbles), there weren't that many people in the audience, but it was lots of fun nonetheless. It was pretty amazing to be on a panel with Johanna Sinisalo! And great fun to discuss drabbles and microfiction, and the problems with translating such short stuff. (I wrote a drabble for the panel and translated it into Finnish – will post both versions soon!)

***

The queues were not fun (queuecon/jonocon :D), and there were some glitches in communication and such, but overall I was really happy with how the con went from a visitor's and programme participant's POV. It was especially cool to get to watch the Hugo Award ceremony live!

The downsides: the post-con exhaustion. I've had a hard time getting back into normal life again. I mean: The first two weeks of August were such an overflow of SFF community and thinking about stories, about the beauty of words. I felt so bereft last week; still do, to an extent. But also rejuvenated, excited, so ready to continue the final revisions for my novel.

Most importantly, perhaps: I feel like I belong in the SFF community. Truly belong, both in the international and the Finnish communities. It feels really amazing.

My Worldcon schedule!

I can’t believe Worldcon75 is starting tomorrow! So much excitement!

I am already primed and ready for Worldcon, mostly because I spent the past few days in Uppsala at Reception Histories of the Future: A conference on Byzantinisms, speculative fiction, and the literary heritage of medieval empire. I will probably write another post on the Uppsala conference, but suffice it to say that it was transformative for me. I met so many amazing authors and writers, and for the first time felt truly a part of the SFF writers’ community.

***

But so – WORLDCON! I’m participating in three panels, one of which I’m moderating:

Thu 10 Aug, 17-18: Polyamorous Relationships in Fiction (room 101d)

Thu 10 Aug, 21-22: Reimagining Worlds with Speculative Poetry (room 216)

Sun 13 Aug, 12-13: Why do Finns Love their Drabbles (room 103)

I’m moderating the poetry panel, which I suggested to Worldcon. SO EXCITED. The panelists are Julia Rios, Arkady Martine, and Mari Ness – I’m sure we’re going to have an amazing discussion. Here’s the panel description:

Speculative poetry contains multitudes: explorations of gender, queer readings of fairytales, far-off worlds where our social structures are subverted. How can poets coming from marginalised positions change the landscape of speculative poetry? Can speculative poetry reimagine our world and provide glimpses of a more inclusive one?

***

You will find copies of Cosmos Pen (the magazine my story “Don’t Look a Wish Horse in the Mouth” is in) for sale at The Finnish Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association’s table (Suomen tieteis- ja fantasiakirjoittajat). Do pick up the magazine – it’s got lots of great stuff in addition to my wish-horse story!

I will be at the table on Friday from 17-18.

***

Worldcon will also feature another project I’ve been working on this spring! A Finnish Weird anthology – Finnish SFF stories translated into English – called The Giants at the End of the World, edited by Worldcon75 GoH Johanna Sinisalo and Toni Jerrman. The anthology will apparently be given out to all Worldcon members!

I translated two stories for this anthology, by Tiina Raevaara and Jenny Kangasvuo. Translating SFF was a really great experience for me – challenging but rewarding. I’ve done a lot of translation work over the past 10 years or so, but translating fiction gave me new insights into the process because you have to pay so much attention to e.g. tone as well as just content. The anthology contains stories by lots of major Finnish SFF writers including Hannu Rajaniemi, Emmi Itäranta, and Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen.

***

I will be in social mode during the con, so feel free to come and say hi anytime!

Camp Nanowrimo in April

I’ve been too exhausted to post much, again. But luckily, not too exhausted to write. The novel has progressed!

I decided to do Camp Nanowrimo in April to get revision done more efficiently. I set myself a 30-hour goal – thirty hours of revision during the month. Not much, but I figured it was better to set myself a realistic goal. And, lo and behold, it was an achievable goal – I did a bit more than 30h of revision in April. I got a lot done in those hours, too: my third draft of BoBH is now very close to done.

It’s far too long – around 125,000 words. I added a lot in revisions, oops… (The original Nanowrimo draft – too short for a novel, a mere skeleton of a book – was around 50k. That’s pretty much where I was a year ago, word count wise.) Anyway, I need to cut around 25k before I can start sending it out. So, draft 4 will involve lots of cutting; I hope to reach that stage soon.

Scrivener has continued to be amazing for revision. Such a good tool for me. I don’t use nearly all of the cool things the software could do, but it’s working for me. Revision has been less overwhelming because I can organise stuff into smaller, manageable chunks.

The biggest thing with regard to revision working out has actually been scheduling. Since I started the third draft, I’d mostly been working on revisions in the evening, since evening writing usually works for me. But for revising a novel – turns out, not so much. Apparently I can write zero/first drafts just fine in the evenings / at night, but revision requires a fresh brain not encumbered by decision-making fatigue.

So, since mid-April, I’ve been getting up a little bit earlier (just a bit, luckily, certainly nowhere near the crack of dawn – I have flexible schedules because of my PhD job) and writing for around an hour each morning. I am really not a morning person, but this approach has been working for me at this stage of BoBH. Once I’ve got past the inital argh of it being morning, my brain is in a more intuitive, alert stage, ideal for coming up with solutions to knotty revision problems. Far better than trying to puzzle out those solutions in the evening after a day’s worth of creative academic work.

Also, working on the novel a bit before biking to my office for PhD work has actually been great for my PhD as well: my brain is more active after creative writing, so this arrangement has benefited both types of work. I’m immensely grateful that I can arrange my work schedules like this!

Sunvault ToC & Flash Fiction Online antho

Two nice things to start off the week:

1) The Sunvault anthology ToC is out! I’m incredibly honoured to be among such fabulous writers. I’m really looking forward to this antho.

2) My story “Creation” is included in Flash Fiction Online 2016 Anthology Volume II: Fantasy. Yay! (You can get it here on Amazon.)

I wish I had more energy/time for writing and submitting new stories and poems, but alas, it’s challenging with my PhD and all. Also, I’m still concentrating my creative energy on novel revisions. I’m getting to the point where the bigger things have been fixed and it’ll soon be time for just adding smaller details / checking for consistency. And then for actually reading through the whole thing for voice and language. Not that much to go before it’ll be a finished third draft.

My work on it feels so inadequate, so slow – but I’m trying to be gentle to myself. I’m gaining more energy as the sunlight increases (spring equinox today! hurrah!), but I’m still recuperating from anxiety and exhaustion so I’m making every effort not to beat myself up over not “doing enough”. I’m working on the novel, even if it’s far slower than I’d like. That’s the main thing. Slow and steady, slow and steady.

On gentle stories

The wonderful Rose Lemberg posted a Twitter thread last night on gentle, quiet SFF stories. Read the whole thread! Rose mentioned my writing (among others’) as an example of such stories, which makes me feel very fuzzy inside. Oh – let me tell you, reading these tweets after having just woken up (a long workday ahead, a bare five hours of sleep behind me), I couldn’t help but cry happytears:

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People can love my work because of the quiet gentleness, the kindness. In the haze of anxiety I’ve recently been wandering through, I really needed to hear this reaffirmation. Of course, I myself love reading this kind of fiction (among other kinds of stories! We need all kinds!). So why should it be so strange that someone else might like those features in my writing? Still, I sometimes/often feel a niggling doubt: maybe I should write more adventuresome stories? With more fighting in them? More CONFLICT? (Note: I have also written adventuresome stuff with some fighting. I’ve written grim(ish) stuff. It’s just not my main modus operandi.)

Yes, I worry that my stories aren’t exciting enough or don’t grab the reader enough, that they should be somehow different.

But really, the notion that all stories should follow similar (Western) patterns of conflict, for instance, is just monotonous. There is a place for gentleness, too. One of my main interests in writing fiction is writing evocative text, paying attention to language. I love describing beauty, in its myriad forms. I love letting my prose sing with poetry. I often like to do this by giving language and beauty front stage. So perhaps that results in a non-exciting plot? Well, but if I’ve captured what elfsong sounds like echoing through an ancient forest – is that not an achievement too? If I’ve captured two long-estranged friends’ moment of reconnection, is that not an achievement? Surely SFF is ideal for moments of wonder and gentle beauty like that?

In the future I will try to stop myself if I feel like dissing my fiction’s gentleness or “slowness”. I’m currently working on final revisions for a quiet, f/f Beauty and the Beast novel. Quiet magic, discovery, a realm within a city. I will keep working on this novel and then I will send it out, because it’s a story worth telling. A gentle story of love and hope. Not without conflict, but it’s about as far from grimdark as you can get.

Gentle fiction is my shield against darkness. When I get terror and dystopia and violence enough just by checking Twitter or a news site (Finnish political news is pretty awful, although not nearly as horrifying as the news from the US), I want to remind myself of the beauty and kindness that lives in people. Warm hugs. Selfless acts. Language shivering with meaning. Friendship, love, eucatastrophe, joy.

Especially in times like these, gentle fiction is important. There’s a quiet power in it. Kind, gentle fiction reminds us that people can be good. Reminds us that the world can be wondrous and that there is hope. Always hope.

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.)

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.