Steampunk Bible News, LA Trip, S.J. Chambers Book Tour

(from the HGTV feature)

The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature is doing well, now that it’s out in the world. There was a nice piece on the HGTV blog recently, a shout-out in the Wall Street Journal, and a nice article in the Austin Chronicle, with a lot more coming. SJ Chambers, my coauthor, hosted the Austin release party and attended Steampunk City, more about both on the Steampunk Bible website.

This is not to mention the craziness of some of it. For example, Ann and I were called by a TV reality show producer who wanted to know if we dress like Steampunks 24-7, did “freaky” or “weird” things, and, basically, did we have dysfunctional relatives. No, no, and no. There’s also been some movie interest peripheral to steampunk, and tomorrow I’m flying out to Los Angeles for something else entirely while SJ Chambers prepares for the Steampunk World’s Fair.

If you’re my facebook friend you can follow my adventures in LA tomorrow and might even get info on an impromptu get-together tomorrow evening. As for Chambers, the next month of her full-on book tour can be found below. Note that Ann and I will be at the NYC event and that there will be a pub adventure following the event.

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The Underland Un-Conference: Boot Camp with Award Winners Ann & Jeff VanderMeer, Elizabeth Hand, Brian Evenson, and More

Underland Conference
(Don’t mind the startled face–that’s a “before conference” headshot.)

Sign up for the Underland Press Un-Conference, the first of a series of amazing boot camps for writers. Portland, Oregon, November 11-13, 2011. More details here.

Here’s who will be getting you into shape:

Me–drill sergeant Jeff VanderMeer reporting for duty. For 25 years I’ve been barking orders at new recruits. You name it, I’ve done in the publishing world, and I’ve shared my experience in venues as various as MIT, the Library of Congress, and the back-end of a pick up truck in Montana…well, not that last one. Still, let me help you help yourself. Pull-ups optional.

Hugo Award-winner Ann VanderMeer, editor-in-chief of Weird Tales, has read more stories than you’ve drawn breaths. Use her 30 years of experience to your benefit.

Multiple World Fantasy Award-winner Elizabeth Hand is one of our finest writers and she’s a veteran of a thousand publishing wars. She’ll show you what for if you don’t know what for yet.

Brian Evenson’s only one of his generations great writers of the uncanny and strange, as well as being in charge of Brown’s creative writing program. He’d as soon as write something O. Henry Award-winning or an Aliens tie-in novel as spit at you, but he’ll share his hard-earned wisdom.

Idiosyncratic writer and imaginative powerhouse Matthew Hughes has written more than a dozen books, and has been called the heir apparent to Jack Vance.

Scott Allie is an American comics writer and editor, and currently serves as the senior managing editor for Dark Horse Comics. He’s the author of The Devil’s Footprints, so best not mess with him…but do let him give you advice.

And, finally, Victoria Blake, the mastermind of this operation, is the dynamic editor-in-chief and founder of Underland Press, which has published critically acclaimed books by VanderMeer, Evenson, and more.

News Flash: Nick Mamatas Blows Stuff Up and Exposes All B.S. In the Writing World

If you haven’t noticed, Nick Mamatas, whose new, highly recommended book Starve Better: Surviving the Endless Horrors of the Writing Life is now out, has been guest blogging at Booklifenow. In fact, he’s not just been guest blogging, he’s been blowing sh*t up.

The fact is, we all need a reality check every now and again. We also need to push back against received ideas and so-called commonsense advice. So here’s Mamatas with a series of Against posts that should shake you up and make you really think about your writing and your career. You may disagree with some of it, but that’s part of defining yourself as a writer, too. He’ll be posting at least one more this coming week.

Some snippets:

Against Professionalism
“Professionalism is a complex of supposedly mandatory and proscribed behaviors that makes a writer “professional” regardless of their ability to write interesting material. Recently, at a science fiction convention I met a former student of mine, and he was very concerned about…his blog. Which he does not have. He was told, however, that today professional writers must all blog, but that these blogs must not offer up controversial political opinions, or negative reviews of popular books, or “ruffle feathers.” Everything must be “politically correct” he believed—to use that famously meaningless term I try so hard to get my students to stop using.”

Against Craft
“Writing is a balance between art and craft, but there is enough suspicion of art—it suggests snobbery, laziness, and even homosexuality in some of the more idiotically conservative quarters—that the stick must be bent in the other direction. Craft is a matter of artisanship, and artisanship is a matter of mastering a relatively small tool kit in order to solve a number of practical problems. These practical problems also allow for aesthetic flourishes to be added. You can thus have a basket with an interesting weave, for example, but you can’t have the weave by itself, without the basket.”

Against Story
“What do people want? ‘A good story.’ How do we know? People can barely say anything else. When editors describe the sort of material they’re looking to acquire, they want “a good story.” Readers are always on the hunt for “a good story.” Good stories are also useful for shutting down a variety of discussions. Are there not enough women being published, or people of color? Who cares who the author is, so long as he or she writes a good story? Can writers do different things with their stories—create new points of view, structure words on the page differently, work to achieve certain effects not easily accessible with more common presentations? Why bother—a good story is the only important thing.”

S.J. Chambers and The Steampunk Bible at Steampunk City

My coauthor S.J. Chambers was photographed by Mecha Underwood at Waltham’s Steampunk City event this past weekend, and Chambers sent back some of the shots for a Postcards from Waltham feature. Here she is with the awesome Ay-leen the Peacemaker. Check it out!
The Steampunk Bible: An Illustrated Guide to the World of Imaginary Airships, Corsets and Goggles, Mad Scientists, and Strange Literature

Finnish Weird–and Finnish SF/F Links Round-Up

Sari P
(“This is just the way we roll”: Sari Polvinen, historian and member of the Finnish SF/Fantasy community, including the infamous “mafia” group, the Helsinki SF Society.)

Yes, finally it had to end—the Finnish SF/F coverage on this blog and elsewhere generated by our visit to Finland in April (sponsored by a FILI grant and by gawd one of the best SF/F communities we’ve ever been privileged enough to encounter). A warm and heartfelt thank you to all of our hosts.

Aaaaand, we go out on a high note, with my wife Ann’s Weird Tales blog post about “The Watcher and the Weird,” detailing an unexpected and lovely result from one of our workshops, and what I would call The Return of the King–a splendid long interview on SF Signal with Toni Jerrman, editor-in-chief of the Finnish magazine Tähtivaeltaja.

In addition, the Amazon book blog, Omnivoracious, was kind enough to host my two-part feature on Finnish SF/F, featuring a video interview with this year’s Eurocon guest of honor and Finnish New Weird? antho editor Jukka Halme. The second half of that feature went live yesterdayand you can also read part one here. The features cover a wide variety of Finnish SF/F from authors known to English-language readers, and those who are not…yet.

(Logo created by Ninni Aalto, a wonderful artist, for our visit, a great Finnish fandom joke.)

I’ve also done a couple of interviews with Finnish writers or editors for SF Signal and my blog. Here’s a full list of all of the links for your easy perusal. Thanks to SF Signal and Omni, again, for hosting this material. Valloita viekkaudella ja ylivoimalla!

Weird Tales Blog:
The Watcher and the Weird (by Ann)

Amazon features:
Finnish SF/Fantasy: Johanna Sinisalo, Hannu Rajaniemi, and Moomins
Finnish SF/Fantasy: An Established Community, A Surge of Talent

SF Signal Interviews with:
Johanna Sinisalo, author of Birdbrain
Magazine editor Toni Jerrman

Ecstatic Days Interviews with:
Partial Recall Blogger Tero Ykspetäjä
Writer Viivi Hyvönen
Writer Anne Leinonen
Writer Saara Henriksson
Sari Peltoniemi

Ecstatic Days Finnish Features:
Travels in Finland
T-Day: Travels (continued)
Unexpected Development: Tallahassee Tentacles
Back from Finland: More Photos
More on the Tallahassee Tentacles
Ann VanderMeer Reads from Michael Cisco—in Finland!
Ann VanderMeer: A Photo Trip Through Finland (and Amsterdam)

it came from the south to the north
(It came from the south to the north and then left in a box…)

Blast from the Past:
The Alien Baby in Finland, with Hannu, Jukka, Al Reynolds, and more
The Alien Baby in Finland experiencing snow for the first time

ITCAME_v0_e05122011_3 - Copy
(An alternate cover for the series mentioned in yesterday’s post. There may be an installment entitled “Finnish Weird”.)

And, here, finally, is a question and answer from writer, reviewer, and radio icon Hannu Blommila about the Weird in Finland, cut from the Amazon feature, which was running long…

On the Weird side, what typifies Finnish examples of the Weird? Are there any ways it’s the same or different?

Rather difficult question. Realistic mainstream has always dominated Finnish literary scene, and it has usually – at least in the years past – been typified by its rural setting and rather conservative approach to storytelling in some cases. There are – of course – exceptions to this rule, though.

The only typifying factor I can think of would be how many Finnish speculative fiction writers seem to be quite unafraid of stepping outside the comfort zone of traditional storytelling methods – even in the context of the Weird – and try to do something fresh and unusual. Leena Krohn’s amazing Tainaron would be prime example, I think. Another writer that comes to mind would be Kimmo Saneri, who in the late 80’s wrote stories unlike anything written in Finland at the time. Utterly strange and lyrical, but always true to their own, odd internal logic. The only other writer I can compare him to would be the late, great R.A. Lafferty. Other than that, Kimmo Saneri is a true original. Sadly, he doesn’t seem to be writing anymore.

Few years ago there was actually an attempt to unify Finnish speculative writing under single banner. Another fine writer, Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen coined the term “Realist Fantasy” or “Fantastic Realism.” It wasn’t exactly unanimously praised among Finnish genre enthusiasts, but I still think it’s a pretty good description of what certain writers are doing, namely those operating on the fringes of realistic fiction. So, in the end, it would be very hard to pin down any straight and hard typifying examples. Finnish Weird is unfortunately very marginal, but it’s diverse. And it can only grow. [And apparently is already growing–see again the end of Ann’s post.]

(Martti Polvinen-Halme is not a Finnish writer or editor, but is a part of the Finnish SF/F community.)

Amazon Feature on Finnish SF/F–and Cheeky Frawg News

(Art and design by Jeremy Zerfoss; rough covers for a new Cheeky Frawg e-series, and one might wind up being a SF sampler…)

You may have noticed a plethora of Finnish fiction features on this blog and elsewhere as a result of our whirlwind tour/trip in April. There have been other practical results.

For example, Cheeky Frawg is in negotiations with Leena Krohn not just to release her amazing Kafka-esque fantasy Tainaron as an e-book, but also to translate another of her novels into English. Krohn is one of Finland’s most respected writers, and we were lucky enough to meet with her in Helsinki on this trip.

Also, Jukka Halme and Tero Ykspetäjä have agreed to co-edit It Came From the North: A Finnish Fantasy Sampler for Cheeky Frawg. The first volume of this planned series will debut in November. Other (potentially exciting) developments involving cross-cultural exchange and further translations are too nascent to talk about at this time.

With regard to the recent media coverage, the Amazon book blog, Omnivoracious, has been kind enough to host my two-part feature on Finnish SF/F, featuring a video interview with this year’s Eurocon guest of honor and Finnish New Weird? antho editor Jukka Halme. The second half of that feature just went live. I’ve re-posted the video portion from part one below. The features cover a wide variety of Finnish SF/F from authors known to English-language readers, and those who are not…yet.

Finnish SF/Fantasy: Sari Peltoniemi on Cat Taxis, The Elk, and Finnish Themes


A rock star in the 1980s and 1990s, Sari Peltoniemi has spent the last decade establishing herself as a very respected, award-winning children’s/YA author in Finland, and in general just becoming ever more awesome.

Her latest novel’s title translates as “Cat Taxi,” an homage Hayao Miyazaki’s film My Neighbour Totoro. The book tells about 8-year old Juho, who meets seven strange cats and their sad mistress. Päivi Heikkilä-Halttunen, in a Helsinki newspaper, noted that “As in Peltoniemi’s previous novels…there is a pinch of magic in this book.”

Peltoniemi’s fantasy novel Hirvi (The Elk) won Kuvastaja-prize for best Finnish fantasy novel. Peltoniemi is currently seeking an English-language publisher for The Elk. What’s it about?

Here’s the set-up:

What happens to the capricious princess Ursula, when she gets improperly pregnant? She is sent away to the deepest forest, to an old cabin so that people would not see her shame. And the child’s father is sent to the war, to the front line – to die. In her exile Ursula cannot forget her days of splendour in the court, her mean father the King, or her dead lover….The forest is teeming with spirits, and when Ursula gives birth to a little boy the forest names him Elk. Old Willow teaches both mother and son how to use herbs and heal the ill. However, people are afraid of healers like Ursula, and when a plague spreads through the kingdom they blame her. She is taken to the town to be burned as a witch.

What happens afterwards concerns forest spirits, Ursula’s son, and a strange girl named Bat. From a short newspaper review by Suvi Ahola: “Peltoniemi draws her material from folklore and myths. The novel’s milieu, forest, is alive with elves, the dead give advice to the living, shamans heal and visit the Netherworld. The book’s themes are modern, however. The princess becomes socially outcast because of an illegitimate child. Her relationships to her own father and her child are complex….In spite of the fantasy, the story of Elk is down-to-earth rather than fancifully adventurous. Peltoniemi writes lyrically, with restraint and without courting anybody’s favour.”

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Finnish SF/Fantasy: Saara Henriksson’s Cool-Concept Moby Doll

(Photo copyright Klaus Welp.)

Saara Henriksson, born 1981, is a Finnish writer whose debut novel Moby Doll was published in spring of 2011. She has a background as a journalist and has been active in Finnish SF/F-fandom for several years. She lives in the city of Tampere with her husband and daughter. We were fortunate enough to meet her in Tampere in April, and we enjoyed talking to her.

When she showed me the cover of Moby Doll, my Spidey senses started twitching—which is to say as soon as I saw it I wanted to publish it. I immediately “got” the central concept from the cover: a novel that in at least a small way riffs off of Moby Dick but features a female main character, probably contemporary and probably verging on magic realism. And, my further thought: what an easy novel to pitch to a US/UK publisher. Some concepts are so simple and yet so interesting that they immediately capture your curiosity.

Although the novel’s just out, it’s already receiving great reviews. For example, Antti Majander writing in a major Helsinki newspaper: “Saara Henriksson’s writing is earthly and concrete. She isn’t afraid to plunge into the depths of the whale’s consciousness and stomach. Strangely enough, it’s not goofy, but oddly wonderful…Henriksson weaves togetter fascinating knowledge and mythology of the musical giants of the seas.”

The synopsis? I’ll let Henrikkson tell you that, as part of a short interview I conducted with her via email after our return from Finland. (Here’s a short video showing the book’s very nice design.)

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Too Bloody? Wot? Too Bloody? Our Halo “Mona Lisa”? Never!

Above find the awesome part 3 of the motion comic adaptation of the novella “The Mona Lisa” I cowrote with Tessa Kum for the Halo: Evolutions antho. This episode made me tense. The music is quite good, too.

So I want votes. Is it bloody? Is it too bloody? Is it just realistic? Seems to me no more violent than my average day going down to the coffee shop and getting groceries….

Click here and scroll through the sidebar to find parts 1 and 2 if you haven’t seen them yet.

Also, they seem to have left out the famous “ice cream” lines Tessa came up with. So I suggest when you watch it, every time they say “shore leave” scream “ice cream” at the screen and take a shot of your favorite whisky…if you’re of legal drinking age wherever you live…

Finnish Fiction: An Interview with Anne Leinonen


A writer and editor also active in the Finnish SF/Fantasy community, Anne Leinonen has coauthored several books for young people with Eija Lappalainen. Leinonen’s short fiction has won multiple awards. The story “The Othering” won the Atorox Prize, the oldest SF/F prize in Finland, and can be read in English in Usva International 2007 (starting on page 25).

In 2006 Leinonen published a story collection, White Threads: Stories From Other Realities. Vesa Sisättö, the critic of the largest Finnish newspaper, Helsingin Sanomat, described the collection as dealing with the theme of “crossing of the borders of different worlds. Often the main character is escaping or hoping to escape from a narrow minded society or troublesome situation. Limits also contain the borders between one’s own body and the rest of the world or life and death.” Leinonen also has served as the editor-in-chief of the online magazine Usva, which publishes Finnish speculative fiction, and her latest collaboration with Lappalainen, Routasisarukset, has just been published in Finland. Routasisarukset is a Finnish dystopian novel in a vein similar to the works of Ursula K. Le Guin.

My wife and I met Leinonen at the Writer’s House at the University of Jyväskylä in April, and had a chance to talk with her about Finnish SF/Fantasy, her own work, and Finnish fandom. The email interview below followed up on that conversation…

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