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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Feb 19, 2017

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Bullet Journal: year one (almost)

I am more or less always trying to hack my productivity. I have great big plans for my future and all of them involve doing a great many things. Sometimes at once. This often means that I end up forgetting stuff that’s coming up until it’s too late. For a short while, before and after, Viable Paradise I tried out Getting Things Done by Paul Allen. I couldn’t make it work for me beyond a few revelations that I got in terms of how to handle my todo-lists and my projects. It’s definitely worth taking a look at but, for me, it kept devolving into chaos. My last attempt was with Trello fell down in a uniquely digital way. So I went in search of an analog option and in March I came across the Bullet Journal.

I am by no means done hacking my process. Like Tobias Buckell says in his Bullet Journal post, it is essentially a personal UI. And for my part, I’m still searching. The thing that almost stopped me is that I can’t draw to any level that would make me want to keep looking at it in any sort of planner. I like colors, so that part was easy but a lot of the people that you see sharing photos or blog posts about their bujos have decorated their notebooks with cute little doodles and hand-lettered quotes. The absolute fanciest thing that I’m capable of is tracing fonts from the computer and adding colored blocks on a page.

Quite happy with the way this spread turned out. Two things I really need to keep track of this year. #bujo

Henkilön Nina Niskanen (@nina.niskanen) jakama julkaisu

The way I use my bullet journal is as a brain dump. Essentially speaking. I do this in four layers; yearly, monthly, weekly and daily. This is most in evidence in the weird mix of Finnish and English I use to write in it. I essentially use the language that the thing I’m writing is easiest for me to grasp in at the moment I’m writing it.

Yearly

Unsurprisingly, this is the highest level and least used. Here is where I list the big picture stuff, things I know are coming months in advance. So far this year I’ve been updating it as the year goes on but last year I barely did. I’m not entirely sure how to make this more useful or if it’s just a matter of getting into the habit.

bullet journal future log / yearly planner

Monthly

This is the one that has gone through most changes since I started. I started out with a calendar, habit tracker, affirmations, goals and a gratitude log. I’ve tried other things between then and now, finally ending up with this:

bullet journal monthly view

A simple monthly log, the big stuff I need to get done during the month and the very latest, notes for the next month. Latest as in I added it while I was putting together this post. The UI to my brain is clearly a living document.

Weekly

bullet journal weekly page This month is the first that I’ve tried out the weekly log. I got the idea from Natalie Luhrs’ Bullet Journal Update. Next week is only the second I’ll be using it since I spent most of this week sick enough to not give a fuck about planning it. It’s not like any of the days would have said more than “sleep”, “eat” and “walk the dog”. So, while I do like the structure and the ability to see at a glance what I’m going to be doing during the week, this feature is still new enough that I don’t know whether or not it’s staying. But so far I’m liking it. Here, you can also see a key feature of my bullet journal that many bujoers shun: I don’t erase, remove or doodle over mistakes. A lot of people on Youtube talk about tearing off a page or they use pencils to sketch out the stuff they’re doing before committing to ink and I just don’t have the patience for that. I will do the fancy fonts once a month but that’s it. And this is why those people will always, always have prettier bujos than I. But that’s okay. I’m essentially an engineer anyway. My shit is practically ornate.

Daily

bullet journal daily log This is the thing that has me keeping up my bujo almost a year into it. This is also the part that has seen the least amount of development. Inspired by Tobias Buckell’s post, I added the “Today is going to rock because..” and I moved the gratitude log from the monthly pages to the dailies months ago. I’m keeping the gratitude mostly because I’ve seen reports of studies that daily gratitude is all kinds of good fo you, and frankly, it just gives me a little jolt of pleasure at the end of the day to come up with a thing. My key is super simple: I have a box for the task. I cross the box when the task is done. I cross one bar if I get to the end of the day and the task is only half done. If I didn’t even start, I draw an arrow inside the box. So far, this has been completely sufficient for all my needs but maybe it’ll end up changing by next year, especially since I’m planning to start incorporating more of my fiction world into my bujo. It’s not like I’ve managed to figure out my brain, or even most of it.

And so, dear reader, we come to you. What is it you use to plan? Or do you fly by the seat of your pants?

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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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