Mar 26, 2017

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Helsinki

I am, at heart, a city girl. Don’t get me wrong, I know my way around a cow and can hoe a field as much as the next girl but cities are where I really come alive. And for me, there is no city like Helsinki. Yes, there are more glamorous cities, and some may argue that Helsinki is too provincial to be a city at all. But my love affair with Helsinki started when I was just a little girl growing up in Espoo, dreaming about life in the “big city”. Growing up in Espoo is kind of like living somewhere down the Hudson line in New York State; you’re close enough that you know full well that everything really cool happens in the city.

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For me, Helsinki will always be a city of possibilities. It is ever-changing while also preserving the things that make it unique. Just like a good city ought. The downtown area is still littered with cobblestones that have tram tracks fitted in between them. Blocks with buildings dating back to the era of Swedish rule right next to Soviet era monstrosities or nestled next to ultramodern buildings from the 21st century. All of them flanked on all sides by the sea or nature of other description. Which is one of the things that I love about Helsinki. No matter where you go within its borders you are never far from a park. Whether that be the need and tended warns of Esplanad Park, the near natural state swampyness of Lammassaari, or something in between, in the form of the many allotment gardens around the city, or even one of the city’s beautiful cemeteries.

While the people who designed the grid of Helsinki should have used several lessons in logistics and formal logic, the grid they laid out means that you can never escape the wind. There are some places where it’s worse, the bridge connecting the two sides of Pasila and the shore come to mind, the closeness of the sea and the straight lines that wherever you go it will be windy. In the winter this poses a great excuse to pop in to a café for hot chocolate or coffee – something that Finns as a nation seem to do more than anyone. In the summer the wind is a constant companion, a guarantee that you will never boil as you may in other cities.

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Beyond the surface there is a solemn kind of quirkiness to Helsinki that other cities lack, in my opinion at least. Whether that be in the form of Linnanmäki, an amusement park in the heart of the city, or the concrete roadblocks shaped like turtles, hippos, or best of all, jaunty pigs painted in a riot of colors. The Finnish word for concrete roadblocks being betonipossu, or concrete pig. This is a serious city that tries very hard not to take itself too seriously.

There are a lot of people do not like Helsinki, many of them for good reasons. But for me it is home, much more so than any other place has ever been, or is likely to ever be. Large to be interesting, and yet small enough to ever feel too crowded. It is, in a word, perfect. Or as close to it as anything real has a right to be.

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Mar 19, 2017

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On good news and the privilege of getting them

First: I got into Clarion UCSD from the waitlist this week. If you’ll indulge me for just a moment while I do a Kermit flail around the apartment.

*ahem* Now, with that caveat in mind, let me just say that absolutely no one NEEDS to go to these workshops to be a real writer. In this past week I’ve heard about some noxiously toxic shit being flung at my friends who for one reason or another cannot go to these things. Now, granted, I have not yet gone to Clarion and there are any number of reasons why, having gotten in, I might not be able to go. But I have gone to Viable Paradise which is, from everything I’ve heard, a shorter version of the same (with jellyfishies!).

The thing about workshops is at they are ultimately a speeded up version of building your writing toolbox. On top of that, and I would argue much more importantly, you will inadvertently create a network of writer friends. These are both things that you can absolutely do from the comfort of your own home. It will most likely take longer than it does in the concentrated burst that is a workshop, but sometimes it can’t be helped.

Not going to a workshop is never about a lack of commitment to the craft. I am immensely privileged in having a situation that allows me to do these things. I live in Finland and have a steady job, which means I don’t really pay for my healthcare and have five weeks of paid vacation every year. I have an aptitude and manage to find joy in a profession that pays well enough that I have the disposable income to travel and pay thousands of Euro for a workshop, with a partner similarly situated. Granted, going to Clarion will eat up a huge chunk of our savings and neither of us will likely take a traveling vacation for a couple of years after, but me going to Clarion will not bankrupt us. Which is more than can be said for a lot of folks who deserve to go just as much or more than I do.

There’s this tendency to pretend that Western societies are meritocracies where your level of fame and fortune is solely dependent on your willingness to work hard for your goals. To some extent that may be true. I’ve been poor. One of John Scalzi’s most popular blog posts of all time is about is about the experience of poverty. Cat Valente and Seanan McGuire both have been very open about their own histories with poverty. But these stories are the exception rather than the rule. After I went through the Finnish system, politicians have made changes to it that make it harder for the people coming behind me to do the same thing. Not because of me, you understand, but because of the economy.

And this is the sadness of privilege. Imagine the talent the world may be losing because the talent is inside people who, for mostly structural reasons, are not able to flourish, despite every effort or sacrifice made. For my part, I’m going to give my all, aware of the fact that so many others can’t do the things, and keep donating to things that help those talented people reach.

If you want to help:

If you know other similar targets for donations, please feel free to share in the comments.

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Mar 4, 2017

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Why didn’t you keep it up?

I had two versions of roughly the same conversation about my writing career this past week that left me confused for a good while after. They both went more or less like this:

Me: I did a thing
Them: Great! Why did you stop?
Me: Bwuh?

Both times I found myself wondering if we were even speaking the same language or whether I’d fallen asleep at some point in the middle of the conversation and missed parts of it. Eventually, after an embarrassing amount of thinking about it, I realized that it was a matter of the public and the private as well as expectations.

The public and the private

I’ve been writing most days since September 2009. For at least the first year I don’t think I told anyone but my spouse and my sister. Then, slowly, I started taking classes online and at the local adult education center. About the same time, I started talking about it on social media and sending my stuff out to magazines. My rejection slips say this was in late 2011. Since then I have amassed at least 56 short story rejections and half again as many novel rejections. I’ve written two novels and some 20 or so short stories. And I’ve had one publication. And here’s the thing: most of this is not visible to people who aren’t writer friends. Yes, I mention writing once in a while on social media and I blog about writing quite a lot. But unless you’re a regular reader here on the blog or you’re one of my writing friends, you probably won’t see the amount of work I am and have been putting into the thing that can eventually be called a writing career. It is, frankly, enough that quitting after one publication doesn’t feel in any way rational. Not to me at least. It’s not anything that I’ve even really considered.

Expectations

The second thing that I think is behind the confusion is the expectation of an author career. I have one publication, therefore I must have the option of going full-time and still having a day-job must mean that I’ve given up on the dream. Don’t mind that noise, it’s just a horde of writers a lot further along their career laughing their asses off at the thought of being able to quit their day jobs. Freelancing is not a hugely stable form of making money under the best of circumstances. And writing, especially, comes with a learning curve. So what you end up doing, is spending a lot of time on the front end learning to do the job. There are ways of getting paid while you do so but even those are insecure and the money you get paid may not actually cover your expenses. And even once you get started, the money you make one year may be a lot more than you make the next. And waiting months for the check to arrive is hardly unheard of. So the daily life of the rank-and-file authorship is nowhere near the world of Richard Castle or Catherine Tramell or any of the other fictional authors presented on TV or movies. Anyone who’s spent any time trying to get their work seen by readers knows that never the twain shall meet, or as close to never as makes no difference. But the Stephen Kings and J.K Rowlings of the world seem to justify the expectation to people with no connection to the publishing industry.

Well are you keeping it up?

Hell to the yeah! I’ve been at this for a while and I’m only now starting to see the return on my investments of time and money. I have more ideas than I really know what to do with and I honestly don’t know what I would do with myself if I stopped writing. To borrow the words of Kameron Hurley, this is  a long con. And I’ve only just gotten started.

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Jan 21, 2017

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Nothing to say

Friends are marching today and the world feels unsafe. I got halfway through a blogpost before I realized that I had nothing to say today that is fit for public consumption. So I’m going to go back to writing fiction, fretting about everyone I love, and leave you with the fabulousness that is Janelle Monáe and Erykah Badu

Stay safe out there.

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Jan 14, 2017

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2016 writing income and Hugos

I’ve been away a long time and shame on me for that. Suffice it to say that I’ve been more or less exhausted for a huge part of the end of 2016, for a lot of reasons, one of which was SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder).

In many ways, 2016 was a rough year. For my writing career, 2016 was the year things first started to move. I made my first actual sale, I got asked to join an anthology in its proposal stages, I got a revise and resubmit for a novel that I’d all but given up on, with a couple friends I started a podcast and while it’s still tiny, it’s growing and the people who listen to it actually like it. And this is the first year I actually got paid for my services as a writer/person of language. Not, you know, a lot, but payment is payment, which means that this is my first ever author earnings report.

With a nod to both Jim C. Hines and Kameron Hurley, I decided that I want to do this partly because it gives me a reminder that while this is a passion project, I’m also hoping to turn it into a job. Looking at the numbers, that’s going to come somewhere in the far, far future. But mostly I decided to do this because there’s this persistent idea that writers are a super rich class of people who don’t need day jobs and selling one short story will make you rich beyond your wildest dreams. It doesn’t help that a lot of people don’t want to talk about money. And honestly, I don’t give a fuck, mostly because money in this context is ultimately just data and without data, it’s hard to make informed decisions.

2016 income

Self-published fiction: 1,32€
Consulting: $50

At the beginning of 2016 I published a thing under a pseudonym that I intended to turn into a series of things that I failed to follow up on. To this day, I have sold one copy, which was thrilling. On top of that, I got paid for doing some translation work for a book called A Witch’s Kitchen. I did not yet get paid for the short story I sold, because of reasons. That’s going to show up in next year’s income report as the princely sum of 60€ if I recall correctly. Still, it is income from something that I love deeply and that makes me happy.

2016 expenses

As you can probably guess, my writing expenses for 2016 were considerably more than my income. I went to two conventions in the US plus a workshop/retreat, none of which was exactly free. This domain and the web hotel it’s on are likewise not covered. Classes, craft books, research reading and just fiction in my field also cost money. I’m in the privileged position of having a day job and a supportive spouse in a similar situation, both of which provide me with disposable income that means I can do all these things and not worry about whether or not I’ll be able to eat in the next three months. At some point, I’m going to need to start thinking about whether or not my writing income actually covers stuff like going to conventions and such but that day is long in the distance.

Miscellany

That short story I sold? It makes me eligible for a Hugo in the short fiction category. Funnily enough, since the print run was only 500 copies, it does not make me eligible for the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, nor to my knowledge, any other awards. The story is in Finnish and put out by a micro press so I’m not expecting to actually get nominated but as a voter, I appreciate writers and creators putting up awards eligibility posts and believe them to be a good thing on the whole. The story is “Jo huomenna kaipaan sua” and it is available in the anthology Marraskesi from Osuuskumma.

If you are eligible to vote on any literary awards, please do so. A literary award can be the difference between a career and obscurity for a writer. But more than that, everyone likes to get acknowledged when they do a good job. And just to be clear, I want you, dear reader to vote according to your tastes, even if they don’t include me.

In any case, here’s to a great 2017! What’s next?

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Oct 29, 2016

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In which I regale you with pictures…

because I am incapable of language. Traveling has been amazing and what’s even greater is that tomorrow I start heading for home and I will finally get to sleep in my own bed.

First, I went to Viable Paradise Reunion where I met with many people who I mostly knew from the internet.

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Dinner with reunion folks at Martha’s Vineyard

Julie and I drove for hours and hours through four different states and were both exhausted by the time we got to New York. I found my Jay and collapsed.

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The Jay

After which I spent most of the week simply sick and sleeping. But I was surrounded by Hamilton thematics so that was fine. I finally made it to Manhattan on Monday a week after getting to New Jersey, two days before I left. At which point I found a yarn store and got myself Fluevogged.

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The Fluevogs

After which I came to Columbus for the World Fantasy Convention. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people here, some old and some new acquaintances and on the whole it has been amazing. I even got recognized by my voice for my work on Mad Writers Union which more or less made my day. But I’m also very happy to be going home tomorrow.

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Me and my copy of The Starlit Wood, which I got signed by so many people <3

Tonight I get to have dinner with friends, go to a party with more friends and all in all hopefully have a good time. And did I mention that I’m going home tomorrow?

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Oct 22, 2016

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In which Nina forgets it is Saturday

I’ve been very good lately about actually putting my butt down to write a blog post to be published every Saturday. Today I am still traveling but that doesn’t seem like a good enough reason to stop. Except that I forgot that today’s Saturday. I’m neck deep in writing work, trying to translate back the changes I made during the editing of my recently published short story (I’m not sure I’ll ever actually tire of saying that), writing/editing a new short story for a Viable Paradise alumni thing with the prompt “Snail Rodeo”, trying to figure out what my novel needs to say next etc.

So instead of agonizing about trying to come up with a cool post, I’m just going to make a list of things that are making me happy today.

Cute dreamer boy playing with a cardboard airplane. Childhood. Fantasy, imagination. Retro style.

  • My knitting. I’m making an Aibrean sweater out of Madelinetosh Pashmina yarn in the color Flashdance. The pattern is easy to just knit while doing anything, the yarn is soft and pliable and lovely, not to mention that the color warms every cold cockle of my heart and it’s starting to look like I’ll have the sweater done and ready to wear by the time I get back to Finland.
  • Eat. Sleep. Knit. Yarnathon. Eat. Sleep. Knit. is one of my favorite yarnstores, if not the favorite and it’s largely because of the Yarnathon they’ve been running at least as long as I’ve been a customer there. Basically, the idea is that every contestant buys a marathon’s worth of yards in yarn and you get various prizes (extra skeins, store credit, that kind of stuff) at specific intervals so you get nice things even if you don’t actually finish the marathon. I especially love it this year because everything is space-themed. The levels are the planets of the solar system, the teams have mascots inside flying saucers (GO RABBITEERS!), several dyers have special space-themed colorways etc. I would probably buy a lot of yarn at ESK even if they didn’t have the Yarnathon, mostly because they carry wide selections of all my favorite dyers (Madelinetosh, Nerd Girl Yarns and Dream in Color for the curious) but the Yarntahon is just a bit of silly added on top that makes me happy.Magic Book with super powers - 3D Artwork
  • Tom of Finland coffee. What can I say? I like my coffee bold. Also, it’s a taste of Finland in my extended American escape.
  • Hanging out in the same room with my friend Jay, introverting/working. There’s a fair number of people who will not believe that I’m an introvert, mostly because they’ve more or less only seen me in circumstances where I’ve been making an extra effort to not appear introverted. But the fact is, I am introverted. So while I’m happy to hang out in groups of people, being loud and even bombastic, it also really makes me happy to just be in a room with someone I love, all of us silently doing our own things on whichever medium we’re working in. Today is the latter kind of day and it makes me happy.
  • The bath I’m going to have later. For all that I keep complaining that Americans do not understand how showers work, I actually sometimes like taking baths. Especially when it’s a proper bath instead of a half-bath where you can barely get your waist underwater without some serious acrobatics. And, dear reader, Jay has a proper bath. I am armed with a Lush Bath Bomb (Frozen, I think) which I’ve always wanted to try but never got the opportunity before now. I’m very much looking forward to it. Now I just need to choose the audiobook that is going to accompany me.

What’s making you happy today?

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Oct 15, 2016

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5 Ways I Deal With Home Sickness

Cute dreamer boy playing with a cardboard airplane. Childhood. Fantasy, imagination. Retro style. I’m traveling for pretty much all of the month. Last weekend the entire company I work for took a trip down to Visby, Sweden. Then Tuesday I left for Martha’s Vineyard and the Viable Paradise reunion. Today I’m at Jersey City and I’m heading to Columbus, Ohio at the end of the month. My partner and my dog are at home and I already miss them both terribly. While I have grand ambitions to travel the world, I am still basically a homebody at heart so anything I can do alleviate the inevitable homesickness is always a good thing. So here’s five things I do:

  1. Snuggle octopus
    Yes, I sleep with a stuffed cuddly octopus. It makes me happy. It’s something I always keep with to make sure I can sleep. I tried it during this past Worldcon with Moominpappa but he just wasn’t as good.
  2. Photos from home
    Lately, whenever I’m traveling, my husband has started sending me pictures of himself, and especially the dog. At first glance, this sounds like something that would make me even more homesick but for some strange reason, it really helps. Things are going fine even though I’m not there to do them or remind them to be done or anything like that.
  3. Finnish music
    I don’t listen to a lot of Finnish music. There’s no actual reason for this, it’s just not something I do often. But in Viable Paradise I started listening to bands singing in Finnish simply out of the need to hear Finnish words.
  4. Comfort food
    Yeah, it’s not healthy but sometimes, when you’re traveling, you just have to take some time out to spoil yourself and make the time away from home be a little bit nicer. Whether this takes the form of watching Mad Max: Fury Road, Alien or T2 for the thousandth time, listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on continuous repeat or just plain old chocolate is anybody’s guess.
  5. Phone home
    Sometimes, it’s the simple solutions. And simply speaking, sometimes you have to make like ET. Although, given that my partner and I are both Finns, these calls tend to get boring very quickly after we’ve covered recent events.

What are your strategies for dealing with homesickness?

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