2016 in review

What a year. It’s been a shitshow for the world, and my own country too: Finland’s current government is awful and seems to oppose pretty much all the things I hold important. The past autumn ended up being difficult for me on a personal level, too. Haven’t been that anxious and close to burnout for an age. I’m glad I weathered it, though, and a week’s holiday has given me back some energy and hope. Still, on the whole 2016 has been pretty horrible.

Yet: on the writing front, things have been good for me. Very good, in fact. Thinking about 2016 gives me a weird dissonance: on one hand, terrible things have happened worldwide and bad things have happened to people I care about. On the other, in 2016 my first pro publications came out – making me eligible for the Campbell Award – and I revised a novel.

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Here were my writing goals for 2016 (from this post):

  • Submit more stuff, both prose and poetry! Try to submit something at least once a month.
  • Get more stories + poems published (in pro markets if possible).
  • Revise the ms and submit poetry collection for publication.
  • Start gathering poems together for a speculative poetry collection.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day, even if it’s just a short poem or writing exercise.
  • Revise The Beast of Briarwood Hall and (possibly! maybe! yikes!) submit the ms to agents.
  • Have fun with writing and remember the joy of it even amidst PhD stress.

How did I do with them, then?

  • Welp. I did not manage to submit something at least once a month, alas. PhD and busytimes sap energy. Only 17 poetry subs (most including more than one poem), and 5 acceptances. 26 short story subs, and 2 acceptances. So – I didn’t manage to submit as much as I wanted to, but I kept submitting, if sporadically, throughout the year.
  • I got more stuff published – and as mentioned, in pro markets too. A wonderful thing. All my short story publications were in pro magazines. (See below for my 2016 pubs.)
  • I basically did nothing for my almost-finished poetry collection. Siiiiigh. Searching for potential publishers was too overwhelming amid my busyness.
  • I did not gather poems together for a spec poetry collection – see above, apparently this was not the year for poetry collections.
  • I don’t know if I increased my overall writing output. I have not been writing every day. However: I’ve been writing through thick and thin. Not consistently, but I’ve kept writing despite the demands of my PhD dayjob and everything else clamouring for attention.
  • The thing I’m proudest of this year: I revised The Beast of Briarwood Hall. I did not get to the point of submitting the ms, since it still needs final revisions. But I took the novel from a skeletal first draft to an actual novel, draft 2. I got immensely helpful comments from beta readers. I’m currently working on draft 3.
  • Writing has been an escape for me this year, reminding me of its importance in the dark times.

***
My 2016 publications are all included in my award eligibility post, but let’s recap them here for the sake of completionism:

POEMS (5)
02/2016 “Village Woman” in the Winter 2016 issue of Goblin Fruit.
03/2016 “Witch’s Lens” in Polu Texni.
06/2016 “After Selling Your Soul to the Trickster God” in Issue 59 of Abyss & Apex.
09/2016 “Taboo” in Strange Horizons. (Podcast version here.)
09/2016 “Bird People” in Volume 1, Issue 4 of Remixt.

FICTION (2 short stories, 1 flash)
07/2016 “The City Beneath the Sea” in the anthology An Alphabet of Embers, edited by Rose Lemberg. Short story.
07/2016 “Water, Birch, and Blood” in Strange Horizons, the special issue Our Queer Planet. Short story. (Podcast version here.)
08/2016 “Creation” in the August 2016 issue of Flash Fiction Online. Flash fiction.

I’m really proud of everything that I’ve had published this year. Poems and stories written with all my heart in them.

***

My writing goals for 2017:

  • 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.

Those might be somewhat manageable goals. (I have a hard time proposing manageable goals for myself.) I hope that 2017 will be less awful than 2016, world-wise; although it’s possible we’re actually headed for darker times. But then again – those are precisely the times when we need art most. So I will do my utmost to keep arting in 2017, to write stories and poems with hope at their heart.

Happy new year, Dear Reader. May 2017 treat you with compassion and mercy.

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Award eligibility post (works published in 2014)

Firstly: this feels so weird. Award eligibility is for real writers, right? Not me? No, shut up, evil!brain. (This post by Amal El-Mohtar is very relevant…)

Anyway, I have done my research and to the best of my knowledge, it appears that the following works are eligible for awards (for 2014):

Poetry (eligible for the Rhysling award short poem category)

Short stories (<7,500 words)

2014 in review

On 1 January I made a post about my writing in 2013 and my hopes for 2014. I like looking back on the past year at its end, so here we go again.

My writing goals for 2014 were (slightly abridged):

  1. Get a story published!
  2. Get more poems published.
  3. Work on a poetry collection.
  4. Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  5. Rework Dim Vanities and decide what to do with it (whether to continue editing it smaller-scale, or do a total reboot, or just stick it in the trunk).
  6. Improve my plotting skills.
  7. Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

So, how did I do?

1) I exceeded my goal of getting one story published – I now have three stories out and two forthcoming. I am really proud and happy about this.

2) I got more poems published – nine of them. And to some highly awesome magazines, too. Yay!

3) I haven’t got the poetry collection into a submittable shape yet, but it exists! and it’s looking pretty good. Finishing it up and submitting to potential publishers is one of my goals for (early) 2015.

4) I haven’t managed to write fiction or poetry every day (except during Nanowrimo), but I have increased my writing output, I think. But this is something to work on – writing something creative every day even if it’s just an exercise.

5) Haven’t had the energy to start reworking Dim Vanities or do anything too much with it. However, a couple of weeks ago I got a flash of feeling that made me decide something: DV needs a radical rewrite. It might still not be publishable even after that rewrite, but I’ve got to give this novel one more chance. I still love so many aspects of it – I just need to rewrite the plot and give the characters higher stakes and more emotion. This is, therefore, a project for 2015. (Camp Nanowrimo, perhaps?)

6) I haven’t worked systematically on improving my plotting skills. I’ve been writing more stories, which I think helps, but plotting is definitely still something that I need to work on.

7) I have been trying to finish more things that I start! And I’ve managed to edit at least some first drafts of stories into a submittable point (and sold a couple of them, too – “Chrysopoeia” and “The Ruin”).

***

As for more concrete evidence of my writing in 2014, here’s a list of my publications this year:

POETRY (9 poems)
02/14 “Ninety-Eight” and “City of Stones” in Issue #33 of Chantarelle’s Notebook.
02/14 “Helsinki Love Song” in Wild Violet Magazine.
05/14 “The Alchemist’s Lover” in the “Alchemies” issue of CSHS.
06/14 “Looking-Glass Lover” in Issue #28 of Niteblade, “Looking-Glass Lover” (after my poem).
06/14 “Shrug Charm” in the Spring 2014 issue of Goblin Fruit.
11/14 “Kuura (extract from a Finnish-English dictionary)” in Issue 11 of Stone Telling.
11/14 “Sorrow-stone” in the “Summer Is Dead” issue of Goblin Fruit.
12/14 “Raw Honey” in Strange Horizons. Listen to me reading the poem in the SH December Poetry Podcast.

PROSE (3 stories)
07/14 “Wind Chimes” in 365 tomorrows. Flash fiction.
10/14 “Chrysopoeia” in Issue 9 (Fall 2014) of Quantum Fairy Tales. Short story.
12/14 “Munankuorikehto” (‘Egg-Shell Cradle’) in issue 3/2014 of Spin, the quarterly magazine of the Turku Science Fiction Society (TSFS). The magazine can be ordered from the TSFS webpage. Flash fiction. (in Finnish)

Oh, and rejections? There were many. It’s especially heartening to see some poem or story published that has previously been rejected (many times, even). I don’t really post about my rejections, but of course they happen. A lot. Way more than acceptances. I’ve learned how to deal with them pretty well – I usually don’t take them too personally any more, although getting a rejection is always a disappointment of course.

In addition to this published stuff, I also wrote oodles of poem drafts (I really can’t be bothered to count, there’s so many), several writing exercises with potential for more, one Nanowrimo novel (crapola zero draft, but with definite potential), and some short stories. Oh, and I edited two 10k+ novelettes. NOT BAD.

***

Now, what about the coming year? Here are some writing goals for 2015 (many of them, as you can see, carrying over from last year):

  • Get more stories published.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Revise the ms and submit poetry collection for publication.
  • Start gathering poems together for a speculative poetry collection.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day, even if it’s just a short poem or writing exercise.
  • Continue to write more in Finnish. It’s been so great to tap into that part of my writing brain this year, so I want to continue experimenting in my other native language too.
  • Rewrite Dim Vanities entirely. Do this with the help of a proper outline.
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.
  • Submit more stuff, both prose and poetry! Try to submit something at least once a month.

In general, I’m really pleased with how much I’ve written this year and how I’ve improved as a writer. So far it’s been easy for my PhD work to coexist with my writing life – I really hope that state of affairs will continue! And I think it will, if I just make good use of my time.

***

In conclusion: Dear readers, I wish all of you joy and fun writing times in this coming year!

Strange Horizons Fund Drive 2014

Long time no blog! I’ve had an amazing although exhausting time of it lately, what with a trip to the UK to look at medieval manuscripts, plus two conference things. I was totally exhausted when I came home today, but then I ended up submitting several stories and poems anyway… Relaxation, so hard sometimes.

Anyway! To the point of this post! Which is to say that the Strange Horizons fund drive for 2014 is ongoing. SH is an amazing non-profit speculative magazine – and as can be seen from my rec posts, I often like the stuff they publish. Some of my SH faves from 2014 include:

It’s been a pleasure to have a poem published in SH (and another forthcoming), too, in the company of so many great writers. SH has been great to work with, and of course it’s pretty nice to be paid pro rates. :)

Please consider donating to help keep SH alive and publishing awesome, diverse stories and poems (reviews and columns too)!

Women Destroy Science Fiction! (in which I also blather about other books)

Lightspeed Magazine’s special issue Women Destroy Science Fiction! is now available as an ebook! Huzzah! I just got myself a copy and am super excited about reading it. Wow! Such awesome, much destruct, so women.

So much to read! In addition to this special issue of Lightspeed, I’ve got the following books on my bedside book-table (yes, I have a separate one for books; before you imagine some towering edifice, it’s just a glorified stool):

  • Hild by Nicola Griffiths. I’m in the first third of this book – such beautiful writing!
  • William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, A New Hope by Ian Doescher. Have been slowly reading this since Christmas. Awesome concept, quite funny, and usually well Shakespearified, but the misuse of the second person singular pronoun “thou” irks me (omg you cannot use “thou” to address more than one personnn).
  • Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer. I usually don’t like writing guides and such, but Wonderbook has some pretty good stuff. I’ve been slow with getting through it because I want to concentrate on it properly when reading. It’s pretty awesome to read a creative writing guide that concentrates on speculative fiction instead of turning its nose up at it!
  • The Honey Month by Amal El-Mohtar; Here, We Cross edited by Rose Lemberg; and Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older. I only just got this lovely trio of books, and haven’t begun reading them yet because I’m so excited about them that I want to give them my full attention. I suspect they will all make me cry with awesomeness.

And then there’s the growing number of unread books in my shelves. I’m trying to avoid the library right now because otherwise I just end up reserving loads of good books from there instead of reading my own. I ♥ the public library for the Helsinki metropolitan area – there’s a lot of good SFF books. But that means that whenever I come across a book I’m interested in online, I can reserve it from the library, and of course I have to read the library books first, and… neverending cycle. For now, I’ll just write down any interesting new titles and loan them from the library later on. I’ve got around 30 unread books waiting mournfully in my bookshelves: time to tackle them first. A task for this summer, perhaps!

In conclusion: booksss. We loves them, precious.

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!

My writing in 2013 – and my hopes for 2014

In a moment I’m going to get down to some actual writing – there has to be proper writing on the first day of a new year! But first, a round-up of 2013 and some writing goals/wishes for 2014.

I thought I’d do a list of the writing I’ve done this year. It’s difficult to quantify this stuff, really, because a lot of things are in some stage of unfinishedness, but here’s an estimate:

Written:

  • 69 poem drafts (not all of them edited or reworked, and some never will be; many have been submitted, and a few of them have got published too!)
  • 5 flash fiction pieces (4 finished, 1 still in draft phase)
  • 3 stories of <5,000 words (should send a couple of them out; one still needs editing)
  • two novelettes (still need final edits before can be sent out)
  • one failed attempt at reworking my novel Dim Vanities
  • several writing exercises with potential to become more

Published:

Rejected:

  • 32 poems
  • 1 flash fiction piece
  • 1 short story
  • –> As you can see, I didn’t submit too many stories in 2013!

*

So, that’s the numbers. Now for some more words:

What pleased me writing-wise:

  • The writers’ group I’m in – Helsinki Writers’ Group, for people in this area who write in English – has been really great. It’s been amazing to actually share my stuff live with other writers, and to get to talk about writing with people who get it. It’s brilliant to have a group where constructive criticism actually works. I’ve been able to radically improve so many of my pieces from feedback I’ve got from the group. And of course it’s heartening to have people laugh out loud at the funny bits. :) We’ve got a really good, supportive atmosphere, I think. Looking forward to our first meeting of the year this Friday.
  • I wrote a surprising amount considering I was quite stressed out for much of the year and had too much on my plate. Extreme yay!
  • I got some poems published that are very special to me. The fact that ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ is out there makes me especially happy.

What I was disappointed in:

  • As I have mentioned previously, I was disappointed in failing to get a proper edit started for Dim Vanities despite the reasons for my failure being completely understandable.

*

Now for the 2014 part of this post: the forward-looking, hopeful part. :D

What are my writing goals for 2014?
My major non-writing goal this year is to apply for a PhD position in my field of English historical linguistics and manuscript studies. However, my freer schedules this spring will hopefully result in more creative writing time too, despite my intended focus on academia. And even if (when!) busyness ensues, writing will always be high on the priority list. Hence, goals – which I may or may not achieve, but it’s better to have some nonetheless, methinks!

Some goals writing-wise (aim high!):

  • Get a story published! I’d like to get more than just my poetry out there, since, you know, I am not exclusively a poet. Achieving this goal – in addition to luck and writing well – means getting more stories (especially shorter ones) edited, finished and actually submitted.
  • Get more poems published.
  • Work on a poetry collection. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a while now, and I’ve already got a lot of ideas and some preliminary work done.
  • Increase writing output – get back into the groove of writing, preferably every day.
  • Rework Dim Vanities and decide what to do with it (whether to continue editing it smaller-scale, or do a total reboot, or just stick it in the trunk).
  • Improve my plotting skills.
  • Finish more stuff and edit previous work to a submittable point.

I could probably think of tons more goals if I really got to it – there’s always room for improvement and there are plenty of things in my writing that I want to work on. But these are the major goals. I will also work on not stressing out if I don’t manage to fulfil them. With Ye Olde Perfeccionisme, that’s going to be the greatest challenge of all!

Nanowrimo: The Rebellion

So, it’s nearing the end of October, and we all know what that means: Nanowrimo is right around the corner!

This will be my sixth year of doing Nano – even though this year, I’m not going to do it the traditional way. But November would feel empty without a big writing project! Thus, I’ve figured out a way to do a Nano-ish thing in November despite my stupidly busy schedules.

My Nanowrimo history
So, I’ve done Nanowrimo every November since 2008. I loved it from the start – as I’ve mentioned before on this blog, Nano totally revolutionalised the way I write. I used to be a bit of an edit-as-you-go writer, but Nano 2008 taught me that the way I write best is if I just pound out a shitty zero draft first, and save the editing for later.

Little did I know that I’d still be editing that 2008 novel now in 2013…

This is what I’ve done each Nano (so far, I’ve succeeded at the 50K challenge every year):
2008: Urban fantasy inspired by Beauty and the Beast.
2009: Steampunk-meets-Ancient-Rome fantasy about trains and a woman finding herself.
2010: Urban fantasy set in Helsinki – written in Finnish! I wanted to prove to myself that I can do 50,000 words in a month even in Finnish, a language that relies on suffixes and complex conjugation rather than handy short words like prepositions. It was tough to meet the word count, but I did it.
2011: Continuation of 2008 Nano – all-new text, plot continued from 2008 because I really didn’t get very far plot-wise in 2008 despite having 50K words.
2012: Started out as a fantasy travel story starring a woman from a secondary-world religious community going out to find her true path; I ended up abandoning this story halfway through because it was too difficult emotionally, and made up the rest of the 50K with a lighter-hearted novella about a fiddler and a giant-killer’s daughter.

Why am I rebelling?
NOTE: If you’ve never done Nanowrimo before, I absolutely recommend doing it the way it’s meant to be done – plan beforehand if you like, but don’t start writing till Nov 1st. It’s so much fun to get excited for your story, and then start writing in a frenzy!

Strictly speaking, I was a Nano rebel already in 2011, because I was continuing a previously started story. But that didn’t truly feel like rebellion, because all the scenes I was writing were new, and I did the full 50K words.

But now I’m going the actual rebellion route. Reasons: the aforementioned busyness. I’m all too good at trying to do too much stuff at once (I haven’t fallen over in exhaustion yet…!), so this year, with all my duties and planning the future etc., I don’t think I have the energy to plan and write a whole new 50K-long story.

However: what I do want is to get a proper second draft out of my 2008/2011 Nano novel. I blogged about rewriting this novel last year in August-October, when I was unemployed. That was great – I managed to get a messy zero draft into a readable first draft.

Now, my challenge will be to start off a second draft of this thing. I’m using the impetus and excitement of Nanowrimo as leverage to make myself start editing. I like the group support of Nanowrimo, and I need to have a creative project in November! So, editing it is.

My plan
This is pretty much me thinking out loud, but here are some things I’d like to get into shape during November (we’ll see how it goes):

  • Plot – I want to iron out any inconsistencies and make sure the whole thing makes sense
  • Characterisation – do my characters behave consistently? Do I have enough character development?
  • Narration – are my two narrators distinctive enough?
  • Scenes – do the individual scenes work? Are they dynamic enough? Where to add a scene, where to cut or combine?
  • Language – does the prose flow well? Does the dialogue sound natural?

I’ve never got this far in the novel-revising process before, so this is scary and exciting. I expect I’ll post more Nanowrimo-related stuff as November approaches and during the month itself, so keep an eye out for my ramblings.

First publication of the year!

I woke up with aches and pains: it seems my neck and back did not appreciate yesterday’s shenanigans. But checking my email brought some lovely news:

My poem Kinds of Truth is now online in the February issue (#193) of Snakeskin.

It’s quite a recent poem, written in mid-December in the wee hours of the night.

Plans for this weekend:
– I should clean, get through the Mount Doom of dishes, and other housework… (sigh)
– Even though the weather isn’t that great, I want to go for a walk or few, for the sake of my jammed neck as well as for inspiration.
– I’m working on a long-ish poem (mentioned in my previous post); I need to continue with that.
– I want to get some prose written.
– I will also knuckle down to some academic writing. *happyface*
– I think a few episodes of Farscape might make their way into my plans, too.

Have a great weekend, dear readers!