Sep 24, 2016

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Fairy-tale girls and the women who love them

Snow White princess with the famous red apple.

Snow White princess with the famous red apple.

I adore fairy-tales. I especially love it when people take a fairy-tale and twist them to suit their own narrative kinks. I love the Snow Whites recently risen from their graves, their skins the white of Oleander flowers and their lips a bloody red. I love the darkness and the hope inherent in every one of them; in the end, they all live happily ever after. I am addicted to the villains. The horrible mothers and adulthood that comes a-calling.

As a storyteller myself, I love the potential inherent in all fairy-tales. They are stories we have been telling each other for centuries and still haven’t finished telling. Even something like The Little Mermaid, which is much younger than her compatriots Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella can find new facets again and again. Her dissolving into the foam of the sea seems like such a neat ending, doesn’t it? She’s spent her entire life in the water, you’d think she’d be a good swimmer, right? What if she went off and spent the remaining 300 or so years she has among the humans? What if she got over having a broken heart like the rest of us have done since the dawn of time and went off to have adventures? Would she still be the same girl that chose not to kill the new life she’d gained in order to return to the old? Would she choose differently after a couple of centuries of loving and losing?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who wonders these things. Given the amount of fairy-tale based fiction I see coming every year, I am certain, I’m not. And from the amount of money Disney makes from remaking every fairy-tale they can get their hands on into pretty, safe, pre-packaged things every year, I’m pretty sure it’ll take the end of the world for me to be left alone with this particular proclivity.

Magic Book with super powers - 3D ArtworkThe thing that I love most about fairy-tales though, is the women. Often, the literal reading of a fairy-tale has the women becoming victims or sweet and submissive maidens to be rescued. But these are the stories adults used to tell each other around fires or women used to tell each other while they worked. With a subtext of sex and a young woman’s burgeoning womanhood, anyone can probably imagine the tone Little Red Riding Hood’s “Why Grandmother, what big… arms you have!” took on when a group of washerwomen was cackling over the story to keep their minds occupied during the boring manual labor they shared. We see Snow White as the girl who desperately ran into the woods, not the woman who walked out of them having remade them in her image. You have to wonder, how much work went into making Snow White the safe and submissive heroine instead of someone who came back from the dead on three separate occasions.

Meanwhile, I think I have a story or two to write.

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Sep 17, 2016

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Story and subtext

I’ve been trying very hard to improve myself as a storyteller and part of it is theme or subtext or what have you. I’m fairly rubbish at subtext. I will eventually see it when I think about the story enough but as a rule, it takes at least a second viewing and a lot of thinking about it before I see it. So needless to say, I’m very bad at putting it into my own stories.

Spielberg's Subtext – Mike Hill from Trojan Horse was a Unicorn on Vimeo.

In Viable Paradise, Uncle Jim (aka James D. Macdonald), talked to us about the quadriga, meaning the four levels of any good story. One of those levels is the numinous level. Numinous, meaning “arousing spiritual or religious emotion; mysterious or awe-inspiring”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with a story that just straight up tells the story but sometimes the failure mode of clever is… well not good. And while I do want to be able to write the numinous into my stories, I also do want to avoid the other end.

The best part about this learning process though; the fact that I’m taking it as an excuse to watch movies.

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Sep 4, 2016

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MidAmericon II

I’m still recovering from the jet lag and the introvert hangover but I’m also still sort of riding high on my con experience so I figure I’ll write up a confused sort of post-mortem and move on to getting ready for my October trip.

I may have said it before and I’ll definitely say it again but MidAmericon II aka MAC2 was the first con where I felt like I was an actual writer instead of just a wanna-be. I think there were two huge deciding factors; one was going to Viable Paradise and, by extension, my friendship with master networker K.M. Szpara and the second was the winning of the Helsinki bid for Worldcon aka Worldcon 75. A third factor was definitely having finally published something, even if it was in Finnish and thus unreadable for the majority of the con goers.

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Me, during a delayed layover at Newark.

At first, this was a con defined by absences and lateness. It seemed that everyone had their own horror story about getting there. Soon enough, though, everyone was focused on the business of having fun. International literary cons are often weird places. My first example of this came back in World Fantasy Convention in Brighton; everywhere you look, there seems to be another brilliant writer just around the corner. I’m starting to be at the point in my fledgling career that I know quite a few brilliant writers and they know me, at least enough to say hello, but I still get star struck. This year, my biggest fangirl moment came in the form of getting to meet Kate Baker, the voice and brain behind the Clarkesworld Podcast. After listening to the ever-elegant Mary Robinette Kowal recount her moment of fangirl squee at getting to meet a real life astronaut, I realized that it never really goes away. And I’m not sure I’d like it to.

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The view on my first panel, moderated by Steven H. Silver. Other panelists were Kristine Smith, Chris Phillips and Jared Shurin

As I mentioned ahead of time, I was on several panels which all turned out fairly swimmingly. No one came to yell at me, I was live-tweeted during one and after another people came to talk to me as if I knew what I was saying. It was all overwhelmingly cool and made me feel ever so professional. It’s funny just how little it takes for that to happen. All the panels were great, but two of them stand out as shining beacons; Extreme But Workable Societies and We Deserve Better: Lesbian and Bi Women for Change. They were both absolute favorites in different ways. The discussion on the first was interesting, and the second was entertaining if a bit filled with black humor. Both were very successful in their ways. I also got so many ideas for next year in terms of things to propose for next year’s Worldcon. Which I am already planning furiously, both as a Social Media minion as well as a writer planning to participate.

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VP XIX together again, in somewhat diminished numbers.

Hanging out with writers at cons is fucking amazing. I mean, my experience is that hanging out with writers in general, is great so it’s no huge leap to expect that they would be great to spend time with at cons. Last year, at Sasquan, I spent almost all my time with conrunners. The year before that, at LonCon 3, almost solely as a fan among fans. But this year I spent it among my people. I adore my conrunner friends but sometimes I have trouble understanding them fully. Although, it’s not like spending nights arguing the subtext and structural choices of Dune is everybody’s cup of tea. But the thing is, it is definitely my cup of tea. And coffee. Hot chocolate too.

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Together with a George R.R. Martin cosplayer.

Worldcons in general are strange places. There are very few places where you see a George R.R. Martin cosplayer walk down a hall and then a few minutes later, the very gentleman himself walking down another hall. Mary Robinette Kowal and David D. Levine getting up to costumed hijinks. Howard Tayler off in a table, drawing Schlock Mercernary. A bar filled to the brim with writers and fans having a good time, meeting both old and new friends.

This time, I even got my Cinderella evening. My dear friend Crystal Huff was invited to the Hugos, including the pre-ceremony and the after party. Frankly, it was everything I hoped it would be. There were all these glamorous people who were there to celebrate literature. After the pre-ceremony, I all but ran back to get the ever-fabulous Kelly Szpara at which point we went to a concert. The performers were Ryan Cabrera, Dream, O-Town and 98 Degrees. I got a GIANT cup of Angry Orchard to share with Kelly who was utterly adorable with excitement and we had a good time. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s not my scene but it was still a good time. And later still, we both went to the so-called Hugo Losers Party, although not the one held by George R.R. Martin. The evening was every bit as magical as the fairy tale reference would suggest and it is definitely a memory I’ll treasure for a long time to come.

Space princess portrait

A sextet of space princesses!

Now it’s just a matter of getting to Worldcon 75. Finally, an international con without jet lag!

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Aug 13, 2016

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Writing while multilingual: Marraskesi

Marraskesi: Tarinoita iholta ja ihon alta Edited by Maija Haavisto and Juha Jyrkäs

Yesterday, I got the final proof of my first ever publication. I started looking at it and promptly burst into tears. Which I was not expecting at all. But the sight of my name and the name of my story was just too beautiful to do anything but. Despite all the work I’ve put into the story over this past spring, it hardly seemed real until I saw that table of contents and my name in it.

This story was a prime example of writing while multilingual. I do more or less all of my writing in English. This is mainly because I do almost all of my reading in English. That, in turn, is very much a factor of me liking to read science fiction and fantasy. For a long while there, the translations were often poor in quality and rarely made of authors that I wanted to read. I got into the habit of reading in English and then I found audiobooks. I was hooked from the first one, which I’m pretty sure was Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker. Again, audiobooks in Finnish are not really a thing. When you add to these the fact that I’m a programmer by day, which means that all my professional literature is in English. It means that I need to go out of my way to read in Finnish and when there are so many books to read, it just does not happen.

When I write, I write in English. So it was with Jo huomenna kaipaan sua (originally Tomorrow I’ll Miss You). I wrote it in English and then translated it into Finnish myself. Thanks to editors Maija Haavisto and Juha Jyrkäs it didn’t actually end there. We went through six editorial passes for structure, story and most of all, making my Finglish actually readable Finnish. Even my mother helped with that last part. Then, finally two more rounds of copy edits. A lot of work went into this story is what I’m saying.

And yet… it was all worth it and more besides. It resulted in a better story overall and the story that is about to go into print is my heart on the page. It’s something that will remain, something that will be read, and hopefully loved. And around seven years ago when I realized that my writing would have to come in English, I never would have guessed that my first publication would come in Finnish. I’m indescribably happy that it is.

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Aug 6, 2016

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My schedule at Worldcon

I still feel very weird doing these posts but I know that some of you who read this blog will be joining the frolicking at Worldcon. So come see me! You can find me at:

Extreme, but Workable Societies

Thursday 12:00 – 13:00, 2208 (Kansas City Convention Center)

From the anarchist society in Ursula K. Le Guin’s classic The Dispossessed to the multiple outlandish cultures of Kameron Hurley’s Worldbreaker Saga, some SF societies are constructed to challenge constructed norms. What are the advantages and disadvantages of showcasing radical alternatives in this way — as opposed to starting with something familiar and then dismantling it? Is “plausibility” actually a meaningful or useful goal for such stories? Is there a limit to how much writers can change in one story?

The Steampunk Explosion

Friday 14:00 – 15:00, 3501H (Kansas City Convention Center)

Steampunk is one of the most popular and fast growing sub genres in fandom.  From costuming to films to comics.  Is there more that spurred its the rapid growth than “it looks cool”?  Can Steampunk maintain its primacy in fandom?

We Deserve Better: Lesbians and Bi Women for Change

Friday 15:00 – 16:00, 2209 (Kansas City Convention Center)

TV SPOILERS! TW: Character Deaths.
In March 2016 The 100 killed one member of an interracial female couple. Fans launched a Twitter campaign (http://wedeservedbetter.com/) that became mainstream news. They objected to the “Bury Your Gays” trope, referring to the disproportionately high number of lesbians and bisexual women killed on TV (143+). Two weeks later, one of The Walking Dead‘s only lesbian couple was killed. We discuss this disturbing pattern and ask how audiences can help prevent it.

Reboot! Changing Up Comic Characters

Friday 18:00 – 19:00, 2204 (Kansas City Convention Center)

Spider Gwen, Amadeus Cho, Thor, Captain America. We’ve seen a lot of rebooted characters in the the last couple of years with dramatically altered social and cultural backgrounds. The panel discuss how these ‘new’ old characters have changed the Marvel Universe, for better and worse.

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Jul 9, 2016

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Chasing the Dream

Today, I have fulfilled a long time dream of mine; I am now living in downtown Helsinki, close to the in-city amusement park, Linnanmäki. There was a time when I would have thought today beyond even my wildest dreams, which makes the view I’m looking at over my laptop screen all the more precious. But since the actual move only happened yesterday, I’m still shifting boxes. Which means that I haven’t really had time to process this thing that keeps making me happy enough to cheer periodically. Instead, I’m just going to ask you, dear reader; what have you done today, or are planning to do today (depending on your time zone) to make your dreams come true?

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Jul 2, 2016

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Clutter of life

Today, I am at Finncon in Tampere talking about fairy tales (except I’m not; I’m at home with bronchitis, kicking myself for having missed this). Back home my partner is getting ready to move house. We’ve been working hard at reducing the amount of stuff we have in order to have as little to move as possible. In the process we’ve been assessing the things that we want to keep in our lives. And also thinking about the people we are today versus the people we have been over our lives.

I am, unfortunately, a person who likes my things. I’ve been fairly poor at one point in my life and that has left me with some mild issues about getting rid of stuff. Mild in the sense that I, my partner, or our dog are none of us at danger of being killed under a pile of stuff. I’ve been fairly well off for just over ten years now and yet, even now, every time something breaks, my first instinct is that I should be able to fix it. Hole in my jeans? I can fix that. Zipper broke on a sweater cheaper than the new zipper would be? I can just sew a new one in there when I magically manage to get rid of the need to sleep 8 hours a day. Clothes that haven’t fit me since I was a teenager? I might be able to fit into them again some day, despite the fact that I was still growing, underweight and several cup sizes smaller in the chest area. I have a whole huge vacuum bag filled with clothes that no longer fit me, that I’ve barely even looked at since the last time we moved, seven years ago. Last weekend, we singled out some 700 movies to get rid of before we move because it’s either unlikely that we’ll ever watch them again or won’t be sorry if we can’t stream them.

This is what's staying behind for us to move. #hoardertendencies

Kuva, jonka Nina Niskanen (@nina.niskanen) julkaisi

So saying I have a problem with getting rid of stuff that isn’t explicitly broken beyond repair would be stating it mildly. I’m well aware that there’s nothing rational about it. But the thing is, I’m not cut out to be a minimalist, no matter how much I try. I can’t help it. I need a bit of clutter around the place to make the place feel lived in and like home. As life goes on, I’m becoming more and more okay with this fact of myself. The trick is in figuring out what part of the clutter is necessary and wanted and which part of it is being kept just as a remnant of me being afraid of never being able to afford a thing again. The trick is in keeping down the amount of clutter in the house to a level so that it won’t turn into full on hoarder mode and consume our entire existence. Which, to be honest, I’m not that great at.

What about you? Do you share my hoarder tendencies or are you one of those lucky minimalists?

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Jun 25, 2016

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Finncon schedule

A week from now, Finncon is happening in Tampere, Finland. I am on the programming on Saturday 2.7!

My solo thing 11:00- 12:00 in hall D10a:

Beyond Once Upon a Time

From princesses to evil fairies to a whole host of the well-known fairy tale characters, we’ve seen them all on the big screen and the smaller one. Sometimes without entirely realizing that’s what we’re seeing. As we watch, the stories are changing to suit the audience and the culture, in ways that the Brothers Grimm could hardly foresee. Nina Niskanen will take you on a tour of fairy tales adapted to TV and movies over the years, focusing on the last 30 years in an effort to discover changing trends. Trigger Warning: the talk will discuss sexual assault.

I’m also moderating a panel with Guests of Honor Anne Leinonen and Catherynne M. Valente 16:00-17:00 in hall D10a:

Sex, drugs and Puss ‘n Boots
Beneath the sweet, Disney exterior of fairy tales often lies a roiling underbelly of lust, abuse and unfulfilled desire. Modern reincarnations often put the subtext of the originals out for anyone to see. In a panel moderated by Nina Niskanen, Anne Leinonen and Catherynne Valente discuss the topic of sex in the context of fairy tales. CW: may contain discussion of sexual abuse.
Do come see me if you’re nearby! Attendance is free!

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