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.

Advertisements

“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.

Blast from the past: Writing advice from Sara aged 13

I was randomly browsing a couple of my old diaries last night, and came across a rather interesting entry from when I was 13. In it I angst profusely about how my stories are shit: my plots are shit because I don’t plan them in advance, my sentences sound terrible, I’ll never write anything decent! But at the very end of the entry I give some surprisingly sage advice to myself: just keep writing something even if it’s shit. Yes good, 13-year-old self!

Anyway, the entry includes some more writing advice from 13-year-old Sara, so I thought I’d share it with you for the lulz! It was originally written in Finnish – I used to write my diary more in Finnish; these days it’s almost entirely in English, interestingly – so this is a translation. But I’ve kept the original capitalisation and excessive punctuation for your reading pleasure. ;)

***

SARA’S WRITING ADVICE, AGED 13:

If you don’t have a proper plot, you don’t have anything. And a proper plot won’t happen unless you have a proper main character and bad guy. The main character MUST NOT be blah and boring – but somehow special. And they DON’T NEED TO BE perfect or anything, but they have to have FLAWS AND BAD HABITS AND PREJUDICES!!!!! [drawing of three angry-looking skulls]

And the bad guy – they’re REALLY IMPORTANT. They have to be really merciless, but not stupid and PATHETIC! They have to feel REAL and sensible too!!

And the plot has to make at least some sort of sense and must be COMPLEX and above all INTERESTING!!!!! And especially the beginning needs to be good, otherwise the reader’s interest will stop right there…

AND THE TEXT HAS TO FEEL ALIVE!!!!! You have to carry the reader with you and the text has to sound GOOD…

So there’s the basic guidelines à la Sara.

***

13-year-old me definitely loved her exclamation marks times five, huh? :D This is very much navel-gazing, but I think it’s fascinating that even when I was that young, I was analysing my own writing (even if from an angsty “IT’LL NEVER BE GOOD WAAAAH” perspective). And from the perspective of potential reader response, too! I also note in the same entry that inspiration needs to be fed for it to keep going, which is actually surprising, considering that when I was younger I basically believed in the magical sort of “strikes you like lightning” inspiration and not so much the “bum in chair, fingers on keyboard” practical approach.

My diaries also include some rather adorably effusive descriptions of how awesome writing is. This is from the entry quoted above:

“At its best writing is like a drug… a LOVELY drug you get addicted to… when you’re writing a SUPER GOOD story, you’re dancing on the clouds and go to amazing places and drink from the chalice of the gods…”

A purple-prose way of putting it, sure, but I still agree. At its best, writing is magic.

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.

Poetry sale: Two poems in Chantarelle’s Notebook

My poems ‘Ninety-Eight’ and ‘City of Stones’ will be appearing in Issue #33 of Chantarelle’s Notebook – yay!

‘Ninety-Eight’ is a companion piece of sorts to ‘Microhistory’. It’s about family history too, specifically my late grandfather (on my dad’s side).

‘City of Stones’ is one of several poems inspired by my walks in my local graveyard (which also happens to be one of Helsinki’s most historically notable graveyards). I’m more hippy than gothy, but nonetheless I find graveyards to be intriguing and inspiring places. I love wandering around looking at the oldest gravestones, struck by the personal histories still shining through in names, dates and epitaphs.

Poetry publication: Two poems in Snakeskin

Two of my poems are now online in the December issue of Snakeskin:

‘Microhistory’ and ‘Rain-washed’.

Both of these were written last summer. ‘Rain-washed’ happened after a glorious thunderstorm. I always have to rush out to get drenched at least once a summer – there’s something wonderful about getting completely wet when the air is warm, and it doesn’t happen in Finland all that often.

I’m particularly pleased that ‘Microhistory’ has found an online home. I wrote it in August after a family gathering in Southern Ostrobothnia, where my dad’s side comes from. My grandpa would have been 100 years old this year, so we celebrated his birthday with reminiscences, laughter and excellent food. All of it got me thinking about family and my place in it, and ‘Microhistory’ was one of the results (another poem came out of that celebration, and I’m hoping to find a home for it as well).

Interfictions #2 is out! Including my most personal piece so far…

This wasn’t intended to be a two-post day, but I just checked the Interfictions webpage and noticed that Issue #2 is up!

Thus, I am extremely proud and happy to say that you can now read my piece ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ here.

You can also listen to me read it – God, it was terrifying to do a reading of this poem, but I managed it, and hopefully did not entirely mangle the piece.

Why was it terrifying? Well, even submitting the whole piece in the first place was terrifying. As I mentioned in this post, it’s the most personal piece I’ve submitted and had accepted so far. To have it online now is both exhilarating and nerve-wracking.

What the hell, I’ll just quote myself:

‘Orthography: A Personal History’ is a mixture of things. It consists of poetic prose and verse “lectures”. It deals with palaeography, orthography, multilingualism, language history, and (surprise!) my personal history.

It’s the most personal piece I’ve submitted so far, delving into my childhood history through writing and my relationship with my two languages, Finnish and English. Fictionalised, of course, but still: me, my deepest self. It’s scary and exhilarating to think that other people will read such a thing.

The fictional cover is so much thinner in this piece than in most of my others. Did I mention this is terrifying? But that’s part of what writing is about: having the guts to put your soul out there for others to see.

So, dear readers. Go forth and read a piece of my soul.

(And read the rest of the issue too! It looks amazing. I am in love with this magazine.)

Poetry sale: Interfictions

I’m extremely happy to announce that my piece ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ will be published in Interfictions.

It’s really exciting to be part of a new, intriguing publication like Interfictions. And I’m so pleased my piece found a home! I call it a poetry sale, although really – true to the spirit of Interfictions – ‘Orthography: A Personal History’ is a mixture of things. It consists of poetic prose and verse “lectures”. It deals with palaeography, orthography, multilingualism, language history, and (surprise!) my personal history.

It’s the most personal piece I’ve submitted so far, delving into my childhood history through writing and my relationship with my two languages, Finnish and English. Fictionalised, of course, but still: me, my deepest self. It’s scary and exhilarating to think that other people will read such a thing.

Poetry in Polu Texni: Beauty Remembers

Excellent news for this June Monday: my poem ‘Beauty Remembers’ is now online at Polu Texni.

Read it here!

*

Since the poem was inspired by the tale of Beauty and the Beast, I think this is the time to wax lyrical about how much that fairy tale has inspired and continues to inspire me.

I was first exposed to the fairy tale through the Disney movie. I was five years old when it came out, and it was the first film I ever went to see at a cinema. I remember me and my friend had to sit perched high on the seats to be able to see the screen. We were mesmerised.

It was a magical – and, I think, formative – experience. The Disney version of Beauty and the Beast has stayed with me all these years. I’m not ashamed to admit that I still love it. As a geeky brown-haired bookworm, I identified with Belle from the start. It was fabulous to have an animated character who also liked to read and who dreamt of adventures in the great wide somewhere. I still get shivers in the scene where Belle explores the forbidden west wing of the castle – the music, the animation, ah, such magic!

Later, I found the original fairy tale and loved it too. I was also drawn to other tales of animal transformation and love – The Black Bull of Norroway is a fantastic example, with its powerful female hero climbing the glass mountain to get to her love. And I’m a total sucker for retellings or adaptations of Beauty and the Beast or similar tales. Even if I think the adaptations/retellings are horrible, I’ll enjoy some part of them because hey, it’s Beauty and the Beast!

Naturally, the theme crops up in my own writing, too. Most notably, recently, in the novel I started during Nano 2008 and finished the first draft of last autumn. (The novel that I should edit properly sometime…) Anyway, it’s inspired by Beauty and the Beast, and is set in a strange city and a realm within that city.

While I was revising that novel last August, I was so caught up in the beauty/beast theme that this poem popped out, too. I’m really happy that ‘Beauty Remembers’ is available online now for all to read.

Drabble for my grandfather

Long time no blog. Busy, &c &c. ad nauseam.

Last night at my writers’ group I led an exercise on description. We each brought an interesting object and then spent five minutes writing short descriptions of each. It brought out some really good stuff, I think – a nice exercise.

And one of the objects resulted in me being engulfed by memory and sadness, and the following drabble resulted (the version below is edited from the original rough write). I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandfather lately, the first loved one I lost to death. Nearly nine years ago, and I miss him. I always will.

So here’s a short piece. For you, ukki.

*

From the Woodwork

I’ve been thinking a lot about him lately. Grandad, with his steady hands and carpenter’s heart. These were his, I think as I run my fingers along the battered red handles of the pliers. His hands gripped them just like I’m doing now. They feel solid. Grandad was solid too, to the last.

I blink back tears, concentrate on the object in my hands. The pliers are flecked with paint from his past projects. The jaws, well-worn from countless hours of use, are rusty now. The shape and weight of the pliers give me strange comfort. I open and close them a few times. It feels like a heartbeat.

Like Grandad’s heart, that beat too irregularly, and then stopped beating.

*