Jun 30, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: Random Song Title Jamboree

Here's another one of Chuck's challenges. Take a random song title and write a story to match. I got "Hooked on a Feeling" by Blue Swede. Here's the result.

Hooked on a Feeling

The witch squats in an abandoned recycling unit in the bowels of Ananke station, and no station commander, including me, has ever dared try to evict her, and now I never will.
I have a habit, you see.
She has what I need.
It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.

I enter without knocking, as usual. As I enter, my feet lose contact with the deck. The damn artificial gravity is on the fritz again. I swallow an oath and try to stop spinning before I throw up. I’m afloat in a multicolored sea of revolving bottles; they shine blue and green and red, and inside one a darkness like deep space writhes, while yet another glows like starlight. Brushing them aside I stretch my fingers toward the wall, trying to grasp a handhold, a loose bit of piping, anything. Finally my hand brushes a cluster of rubber tubes that are swaying back and forth like seaweed, and I pull myself up to the ceiling and make my way down toward the control panel.
“Inna? You there?” I call out as I struggle with the panel. There’s no answer. The unit isn’t large, but the air is so thick with her belongings that it’s hard to tell if the woman is among them. My hands shake as I punch in my override code. The safety turns off, the panel opens, and I reach into the wiring. Rerouting the power is tricky, and I get shocked a few times, but then the panel hums and gravity reasserts itself. Yelping, I crash to the floor, and suddenly I’m surrounded with breaking glass, trying to shield my face from the flying shrapnel.
Trying not to breath the heavy purple cloud of despair laced with yellow tendrils of fear, I pick myself up and venture deeper into the recycling unit. Whisper-thin vials of hope crack under my feet, and their turquoise bubbles tickle my nose like finest Old Earth Champagne.
“Inna? Are you okay?” I stop to listen, and hear a soft sigh from under a pile of smashed crates. As I pull the splintered pieces off the witch, I feel the jolt of pink pleasure.
I inhale.
The world makes sense again. Pleasure fills me, flowing from my lungs to the tips of my toes. I shudder and fall to the floor.

I don’t know how long I lay there, but it must have been hours. When I wake, Inna is dead. She looks small and sad and dirty, and her skin is cold to the touch. I shake her, but she doesn’t stir. The ghost of a smile is frozen on her lips, like a wilting flower captured in a hologram.
A false sense of peace still lingers from the pleasure fumes, but now a tendril of unease worms into my mind.
Inna is dead.
All the vials and bottles lie shattered on the floor.
I’m cut off.

It takes the withdrawal symptoms three days to kick in. I beg off work, blaming the flu epidemic sweeping the station. Five other officers have already succumbed, and I wonder whether they visited Inna too. When the chills of self-doubt and a fever of anxiety claim me, I don’t feel so bad about lying. The wracking waves subside and condense into the sticky gloom of despair. I can’t eat or drink for three days; I just lie in bed, my limbs too heavy to lift, the very air a noxious soup that’s hardly worth the effort of drawing breath.
On the fourth day I drag myself out of bed and dial up a cup of coffee and some white chocolate. A small ghost of pleasure lights my senses. It isn’t much, but it gets me as far as the shower. Being clean again, I return to the bed, which has taken the opportunity to change the soiled sheets into crisp, new ones. I sigh, and fall into a cool, refreshing sleep.
I never found another witch like Inna, so I had to discover other ways to cope. Sometimes a good meal or a skilled lover will awaken in me something akin to the witch’s concoction, but it’s not the same. It’s never the same. I can only live my life, day by day, seizing any small pleasures I can. They’ll just have to be enough. They’ll never be enough.   

Jun 29, 2015

SpeckLit Drabbles Timetable and My First Paycheck for Writing!

I just got my first paycheck for writing! It's from SpeckLit, for those drabbles I wrote. The first story I sold was to the Far Orbit: Apogee anthology, but that's coming out in the fall, so this one arrived first.   Feels quite surreal, in a good way.

Anyway, my drabbles are coming out as follows, if you want to check them out: "Nudge" 9.7.15, "Midsummer Snow" 23.7.15, and "The Three Suitors and the Princess" 21.9.15. (So this is the Finnish (European?) way of writing dates, day/month/year, in case you're wondering.)

Oh, yeah, here's the link to SpeckLit.

I'm going to put on my Star-Lord helmet and dance around a little now, too giddy to write.

Sun Tsu's The Art of War and Plotting Imaginary Battles for Your Novel

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is one of those books I've been meaning to read for years, and when my husband picked up this beautiful illustrated edition published by Arcturus, I couldn't resist. It actually surprised me how short this was; I finished it in about an hour. This edition also has an afterword with modern applications of Sun Tzu's teachings, from military to sports to business, which I found quite interesting.

Military strategists from Napoleon Bonaparte to General Patton have studied this book, and Sun Tzu's teachings are still relevant in modern military campaigns (one of the examples in the afterword is the US operation Neptune Spear where they went after Osama bin Laden).

Now, I'm not about to start any real-world wars, but sooner or later I'm going to write about imaginary ones. Maybe there's something to learn here, even if my wars are fought in outer space with plasma weapons or in fantasy landscapes a-dragonback?

In Laying Plans, Sun Tzu says:

3 The art of was, then, is governed by five constant factors, to be taken into account in one's deliberations, when seeking to determine the conditions obtaining in the field.
4 These are:
(1) The Moral Law;
(2) Heaven;
(3) Earth;
(4) The Commander;
(5) Method and Discipline;
The moral law means that the war is justified; kind of hard to lead people to war if the majority of them don't agree about its cause. Heaven means the seasons etc.; earth the distances and the terrain; the commander, his virtues and flaws; and method and discipline have to do with your army. These are all things you need to take into account in your world-building, and are great chances for building conflict, too.

The seven considerations that can be used to forecast victory or defeat are, according to Sun Tzu:

(1) Which of the two sovereigns is imbued with the moral law?
(2) Which of the two generals has most ability?
(3) With whom lie the advantages derived from heaven and earth?
(4) On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?
(5) Which army is stronger?
(6) On which side ware the officers more highly trained?
(7) In which army is there the greater constancy both in reward and punishment?

This makes perfect sense. In writing, you want to create conflict, so it's probably best to balance these accordingly, so that each side has some advantages. A lot of the time in stories the protagonist is fighting agains enormous odds, so the situation is inherently out of balance. If the Dark Lord of Evil has a strong army, then Protag and Co. need to have most of the other stuff going for them, probably? 

18 All warfare is based on deception.

Yes. And deceit and betrayal make for interesting stories.

Some more specific advice:

19 Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
20 Hold out baits for the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.
21 If he is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him.
22 If your opponent is of choleric temper, seek to irritate him. Pretend to be weak, that he may grow arrogant.
23 If he is taking his ease, give him no rest. If his forces are united, separate them.
24 Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected.
25 These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.

Hey, the novel practically writes itself!

So, who wins? Here's a quote from Attacks by Stratagem:

17 Thus we may know that there are five essentials for victory:
(1) He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight.
(2) He will fight who knows how to handle both superior and inferior forces.
(3) He will win whose army is animated by the same spirit throughout its ranks.
(4) He will win who, prepared himself, waits to take the enemy unprepared.
(5) He will win who has the military capacity and is not interfered with by the sovereign.

Yes! Especially number five has lots of possibilities. *Cue evil writer cackle*

Okay, that's all and well for plotting, but what about characters? Aren't they the most important thing to consider? If you have major warfare going on, I'm betting that one of your characters is some kind of military commander. Sun Tzu has some things to say about that, too, in Variation in Tactics:

12 There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:
(1) recklessness, which leads to destruction;
(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
(4) a delicacy of honour which is sensitive to shame;
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

Go on, pick a fault for your commander. You know you want to.

I'll leave you with this last thought from Attack by Stratagem:

1 Sun Tzu said: In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy's country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.
2 Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting.

This probably wouldn't make for a very interesting story, but I do like the thought. 

All block quotes are from The Art of War by Sun Tzu

Jun 26, 2015

Fairy wings

Check these out! I'm a sucker for cute earrings, and these are perfect for prancing around and pretending you're a fairy princess (or for the evil queen wannabes in the audience, pretending that you ripped off a fairy princess' wings and hung them from your earlobes).  I got them from an easy store called Under The Ivy. They're gorgeous, especially when they catch the light. 

Jun 24, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: The Shakespeare Edition Part 1

My husband I have this project, where we're trying to watch all of Shakespeare's plays. We have the 80s BBC box set with all the plays. It was quite a bargain even when we bought it, and now it looks to be only 129 dollars on Amazon, if you like this kind of thing. Some of them have aged better than others, but aside from some hammy acting and questionable wardrobe choices, they're pretty good. 

There are better productions of the more popular plays, Laurence Olivier's Hamlet and Henry V, the production of Hamlet with David Tennant, and the Hollow Crown series are some personal favourites. I also love the National Theater plays that they broadcast at movie theatres. I just wish they'd release them on dvd or blue ray already. 

Digital theatre is also very nice. You can watch great theatre for a very reasonable price on your iPad or computer. (And it has subtitles, woot!) The link goes to Much Ado About Nothing with Tennant. It was fantastic.

I like to watch the plays rather than read them, because that's the way they're meant to be seen, and a good production can really help one get past the whole Elizabethan English language barrier. 

If I'm watching a play at home, I like to try and figure out the parts I don't understand. At first I just used google, but then I found this great website called Shakespeare Navigators. Now I keep it open on my iPad and pause a scene to check the notations. 

One reason I do these posts is to expand my vocabulary in a fun way, and to learn about etymology, too. Especially in science fiction and fantasy you need to make up new words or languages, and I think that knowing about etymology can make that easier and the result more believable. 

So, getting to the point, here are some of the expressions I learned from watching Romeo and Juliet. All of these examples are from the Shakespeare navigators website. 

To carry coals means to put up with insults

ladybird means sweetheart, but also prostitute.

bear a brain: to have a great memory

man of wax: handsome as a wax figure

crow-keeper: scarecrow

lusty: robust, healthy

visor: mask (This is one of those words that feels modern but isn't.)

palmers: pilgrims. Called palmers because they brought back palm fronds from their pilgrimages.

stay the circumstance: wait for the details

chopp'd logic: illogical argument.

beshrew: curse

doleful dumps: sad dejection

pestilent: extremely annoying

These aren't even the best ones, because for those you need the context of the play. This is fun to do, you can miss lots of gaudy jokes if you don't read the notations:

Bonus: do you know how to give someone the finger in the Elizabethan way? Bite your thumb at them. 


Jun 22, 2015

A Year of Writing: A Reckoning

I've been writing actively for about a year now, and I got curious: how much have I actually written? So, I decided to do some calculations.

In Finnish 
32 210 words, or 11 short stories, however you want to count it.

20 critiques for my Finnish critique group.

In English
 43 290 words, or 10 short stories. (I'm only counting the finished ones)
1 20 000 word fanfic.
Assorted drabbles, blog posts, and writing exercises.

61 Critters critiques.

So that's about 100 000 words. 

I don't know if that's good or bad. I do have a full-time job, so that cuts back on my writing time.


Two of my stories have been accepted for publication. Three drabbles were just accepted for publication by SpeckLit.

I entered five Finnish writing competitions, and made it into the final round in two of them, although I didn't make the final cut. One competition is still ongoing, so I don't know about that one yet.

I hope I'm learning to be a better writer. At least I think there's been some improvement. It's kind of hard to be objective about this.

My goals for the next year?

To keep writing and learning about writing.

To challenge myself and try new things.

To complete the first draft of a novel.

To read lots and lots and lots, fiction and non-fiction, poetry, philosophy, non-western writers, and writers from minority groups, and  to read outside my comfort zone.

Jun 19, 2015

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Hmm. These might have something to do with it. Read lots of weird non-fiction!

Jun 17, 2015

Etymology Expeditions: Midsummer Madness

Juhannus, the Finnish celebration of midsummer, is this Friday, so I thought I'd explore some of the customs associated with it.

Juhannus was originally a pagan celebration of midsummer occurring around the summer solstice in June. It's celebrated in Sweden and the Baltic countries also. The name 'Juhannus' comes from the Christian church's appropriation of the holiday, from John the Baptist, Johannes Kastaja in Finnish, Johannes-> Juhannus. By the Church's reckoning it should be June twenty-fourth, six months from Christmas, but nowadays Midsummer's eve falls on the Friday before that. That's when people have their celebrations, even though Midsummer's day, the following Saturday, is actually Juhannus. (We also celebrate Christmas on Christmas eve, not Christmas day. Guess we Finns are just wacky that way...)

Most Finns celebrate this holiday at their seaside or lakeside summer cottages, or beg an invite from a family member or friends. Juhannus is a holiday you can spend with friends, not usually a family-oriented one, like Christmas, for example. Integral parts of the celebration are the sauna, of course, Midsummer bonfires, and dancing. And getting really, really drunk, but that's unfortunately true of most Finnish celebrations.

Juhannus is a celebration of fertility and light, so it has a lot of customs to guarantee a good harvest and luck in marriage associated with it.

For example, people used to bring birch branches and other green stuff into the house. So far, so predictable, right?  But then there's the vihta (etymology from a Russian word for washing rag, or from the same family as Finnish words vihma=drizzle or vihistä=whistle), a bunch of birch branches bound together that you use to whack yourself with in the sauna. Sounds bonkers, doesn't it? It's actually not that bad. It doesn't actually hurt, and it does smell nice, and it's supposed to have beneficial effects on circulation. There are different versions of this using different kinds of branches and flowers, and a special kind of Vihta can be used for a love spell, it's said. (Sorry, couldn't find an exact 'recipe' for this:))

Other beliefs have to do with scaring away evil spirits, like lighting the bonfires, loud, rowdy behaviour, and getting drunk. (Yeah, like we Finns really need an excuse for that!)

For your amusement, here are a few Midsummer spells I translated from the list on the Finnish Wikipedia site:  

For seeing your future spouse:

Look into a well, lake, or spring on the night of Midsummer's eve. Preferably naked.
Place an untied vihta (see above) under your pillow. You'll dream of your hubby/wife-to-be tying it up for you.
If you're feeling industrious, pick seven different flowers from seven different fields and place them under your pillow to dream of your future spouse. (Tip: check for bugs before you put these under your pillow. Seriously. I speak from experience.)
Feeling lazy? Just sleep with the sock on your left foot inside-out.

Don't care about love? Craving wealth and power instead?
Here you go:

To get magical powers, you need to find a flowering fern (or other plant that doesn't usually produce flowers) on Midsummer's night, and pick it up, quick! If you happen to see a will-o'-the-wisp while your out flower-picking, there might be treasure buried under it. (Hope you brought a shovel!)

So, that's all folks, Happy Midsummer!

Häkkinen, Kaisa: Nykysuomen etymologinen sanakirja. Juva: WSOY, 2004.
Suomen sanojen alkuperä, Helsinki: SKS, 2000

Jun 16, 2015

A 'Yes' from SpeckLit!

Remember when I submitted some of my drabbles to SpeckLit? They just let me know that they'd like to publish three of them! Yay!  

If you're not familiar with SpeckLit, go check it out, it's really fun! It's an online webzine that publishes drabble-length short stories, so that's exactly a hundred words each. 

Do you guys like writing drabbles? I enjoy the challenge of condensing a story into a hundred words. It's amazing how much you can do with that if you’re careful about word-choice.

What does a hundred words look like?

Well, like this post.

Exactly one hundred words.

Jun 15, 2015

Archipelacon is coming!

Archipelacon is the Nordic sci-fi and fantasy convention will be held in Mariehamn, Åland this year, June 25-28. I'm quite excited to be going.

Guests of honor are George R.R. Martin, Johanna Sinisalo, and Karin Tidbeck.

 The convention is sold out by now, but you can check out the website here:


The program hasn't been announced yet, but I'm hoping that there'll be something for writers, too. There's also the academic conference program, which is available to all convention members.

Now to concentrate on the convention version of what to wear: cosplay!

Guess who I'm going as?

Jun 14, 2015

Terribleminds Challenge: The Dead Body

Here's this week's Terribleminds challenge. The instructions were to mention a dead body in the first paragraph. This one turned out kind of gross and disturbing, so read at your own risk. I hope it's funny, too. :)

A Matter of Taste

By the time Master Rigor found out the corpse was the Necromancer’s head chef, it was too late.
“You know His Grimness doesn’t care about the details. He’ll be down in an hour for the ritual. Have the body prepared,” the guard said, holding his nose.
“Of course, of course.” Master Rigor bobbed up and down in his eagerness to please.
“Better get to it. If you don’t have that body, your apprentice will be gutting you on that slab tomorrow.”
“But why would He bother to Raise a lowly chef. Surely--”
“Don’t know, don’t care. I’ve done my job and I’m getting out of here. This place stinks.” The guard slammed the door on his way out.
Master Rigor sniffed contemptuously. What an oaf! The Halls of Passing should be treated with respect. He took the three Eternity Jars he had been looking for and made his way back to the Room of Cleansing.

The thought of the Necromancer himself honoring these rooms with his presence! Well, he’d find everything in perfect condition. Master Rigor checked his reflection on a polished brass urn as he passed, hoping he’d have time to wax his mustache. An hour was plenty of time. The body was already prepared. Unfortunately, he had already removed the organs, but it wouldn’t take long to place them back into the body, no time at all.
The body was right where he had left it, but there was something missing.
The organs were gone.
Three Eternity Jars clattered to the floor and broke into thousands of pieces.

“Pustuuuule!” where was that boy? Master Rigor darted around and poked his head into the storage cupboard, then the embalming rooms, but Pustule was nowhere to be found. On his way back he found a plague of rats dragging along a familiar-looking liver. He snatched it out of their mouths and shook off the last rat, a nearly blind blacktail.
“Thaank yooou! This belongs to poor, departed Mr. Wort, I believe.” He glared at the rats with disapproval. “Who gave you permission to take this?”
 “It was the lad, Pustule,” the old rat spoke in a squeaky voice. “He took the heart and ran off. Seemed a shame to let a nice liver go to waste.”
“Which way did he go?”
“Towards the cellars.” The rat licked its paws regretfully.
Master Rigor returned the liver to its place and left, this time locking the room with a skeleton key. 

  He found Pustule in the catacombs, sitting on a pile of bones with his ladylove.
“Oh, Malady, my treasure! Look, what I brought you. Doesn’t old Pustule deserve a kiss?” He handed her the heart.
“Oh, Pustule, it’s lovely!”
 Just as she was about to bite into the heart, Master Rigor tore it out of her claws. “Thaank yooou!” He gave Pustule a clout round the ear. “Useless boy! I should have your head for this!”
“Oh please, don’t. I’m sorry, Master.” Pustule rubbed his ear.
“Now then. Where’s the brain? The Necromancer’s coming, and he can’t revive the man without his brain. Quickly, boy, before we both lose our heads for this!!”
Pustule looked at him with his vacant eyes the color of swamp water. “But Master, you wife took the brain! She said scalloped brains was your favorite!”
“Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!” Master Rigor pulled the boy up by his collar. “Now you get to the Room of Cleansing, and don’t let anybody in. Even the Necromancer himself!”

When Master Rigor arrived home, he smelled the mouthwatering scent of scalloped brains right from the door. He was too late!  He slumped into the bench by the door.
His wife poked her head out of the kitchen. “What in all the Nineteen Realms is the matter, Mortie? You look pale as packed lard!”
“All is lost! I’m done for. Ohhh.” He felt faint and lowered his head down between his stick-thin shins.
After he told her what had happened, she sat next to him, frowning. “It’s true. Once a brain’s been scalloped it’s no good for thinking any more. You must replace it with another one, Mortie. It’s you only chance!”
Master Rigor lifted his head out of his hands. “Of course!” He kissed her and ran for the Greeting halls.

“What do you mean, that’s the only one?” Master Rigor eyed the body of the city rat-catcher with distaste. It seemed unlikely the man had any culinary skills whatsoever. Then he shrugged and got to work. He needed a brain, and this one was available.

Master Rigor tried to wipe sweat from his brow as inconspicuously as possible as the Necromancer entered, followed by ten of his Black Guard. He bent to sniff the body, his black robes pooling on the floor like liquid darkness. Taking no notice of Master Rigor he took a jar of resurrection ointment and spread it over the corpse’s skin, then inserted the whisper-thin revival rods in their places. After the nineteen amulets were in their places, he motioned, and the guards dragged in a crying youth who wore stained chef’s robes. When the Necromancer raised the blade to the youth’s throat, Master Rigor looked away.

Whimpering, Master Rigor threw clothes into his travel case. He had to get out of the city before they came for him. The image of the flashing knife pushed itself into his mind, and he redoubled his efforts.
“Mortie! There’s someone to see you!” his wife called.
“I’m not feeling well. Send them away.”
The stairs creaked as someone climbed up. He saw the uniform of the Black Guard and swallowed.
“No! It’s not my fault!”
“What? The Necromancer sent me to compliment you on a job well done.”
“Whatever possessed the man to make him rat croquettes, I dunno, but he says they was the best he ever had. Guess it’s a matter of taste.”

That was the last thing Master Rigor heard before he fainted.