The Book Box Literary Prize was established with a purpose to shine a spotlight on the titles we liked the most in the previous season. The intention behind the award was to fill a box with books that inspired and entertained us the most without worrying too much about genres or themes – create something like a mixtape with all our favourite titles of the year.
So, The Rabbit Back Literature Society is one of the books chosen in the Book Box 2014, as well as Emmi Itäranta’s renowned novel Memory of Water. Finnish literature rules!
Dreams are the most important source of my inspiration as a writer, but nature and especially forests offer me something crucial, too. There is something magical in forests, they are enchanted places (and some of them even more than others) and thus a great way to nurture your creativity.
My second novel – The Cinematic Life. A novel – is about many things and among them is the ability to find your way out of the dullness of your everyday life and reach the magical – or cinematic – layers of human existence. In this novel I introduce some special places of my hometown, real spots of Jyväskylä city that are somehow cinematic and thus offer you a chance to find your inner cinematic self and do something maybe completely out of you everyday character.
One of these places is a forest near the Tourujoki river bank. I really enjoy it in there – the place is practically in the middle of the city but nonetheless silent and peaceful:
When The Rabbit Back Literature Society was almost ready to be sent to the publisher, I happened to find a review of a book that sounded so familiar to me that I got really worried. I guess every writer knows that feeling, and it’s not a very good one. I thought that my first novel had already been written and published by an American author called Jonathan Carroll. I bought the book but read only the back cover text.
It was something like this:
Schoolteacher Thomas Abbey, unsure son of a film star, doesn’t know who he is or what he wants–in life, in love, or in his relationship with the strange and intense Saxony Gardner. What he knows is that in his whole life nothing has touched him so deeply as the novels of Marshall France, a reclusive author of fabulous children’s tales who died at forty-four.
Now Thomas and Saxony have come to France’s hometown, the dreamy Midwestern town of Galen, Missouri, to write France’s biography. Warned in advance that France’s family may oppose them, they’re surprised to find France’s daughter warmly welcoming instead. But slowly they begin to see that something fantastic and horrible is happening. The magic of Marshall France has extended far beyond the printed page…leaving them with a terrifying task to undertake.
My book also took place in a small and strange town. And there also was a children’s author in my book! I was absolutely horrified. I forced myself to finish my book and after I had got rid of it for good (in other words, it had been sent to the printing house and it was too late to change anything in it), I finally made myself to read The Land of Laughs.
After a while I was relieved. Jonathan Carroll’s novel sounded similar to mine, but they turned out to be quite different from each other. Now I know that every single idea of a story has been used myriads of times before, and there’s no need to worry if someone else’s book appears to be scarily similar to the one you are writing. That just can’t be avoided. In the end, every writer has his or her own way to tell a story, even if we all have to use the same, very limited range of different story formulas.
Later I read more Jonathan Carroll’s works, liked them very much and found him to be one of those kindred spirits every writer finds every now and then when reading other people’s books. Although, as I have said before, I avoid reading literature, or at least those books that might be too near to my own style, when I have my own story under construction. It’s too disturbing to bump into topics, plots and characters too similar to the ones you are dealing with in your unfinished book.
And about Jonathan Carroll: I highly recommend his books. He is a true master of combining fantasy and everyday life.
My fourth novel is under construction. It is still in its infancy but I find comfort in the fact that Donna Tartt doesn’t publish new works so often either. I have published a book in 2000 (my first collection of short stories, Missä junat kääntyvät – in English: Where the Trains Turn), in 2006 (my first novel Lumikko ja yhdeksän muuta, you may know it as The Rabbit Back Literature Society), in 2008 (short story collection Taivaalta pudonnut eläintarha, in English: A Zoo from Heavens, the stories in my first collection rewritten and edited), in 2010 (my second novel Harjukaupungin salakäytävät, in English: The Cinematic life. A novel) and in 2013 (third novel Sielut kulkevat sateessa, in English: Souls Walk in the Rain). All this time I have kept on working as a teacher of Finnish and literature, because that’s what I need to do in order to support my family – writers rarely make money enough for leaving their dayjobs in Finland.
Of course I would like to dedicate myself to writing books, if only that were possible. So far it isn’t but that’s all right. It helps that I found an excellent literary agent a couple of years ago and she is selling my books abroad. Maybe I’m not going to publish a new book in Finland this Autumn, but thanks to her, my first novel has recently been published or is going to be published soon in several other countries (UK, USA, Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Lithuania, Czech) and that’s very exciting – and comforting for a writer who has chronic difficulties to find time for writing something new.
In October, I’ll participate in the Frankfurt Book Fair and supposedly meet many of those people working in the different publishing houses who I have been communicating with only via e-mail so far. I find even smaller book fairs to be quite unnerving – you know, wandering lonely and lost in a noisy crowd, that’s my definition of hell, but if Orpheus visited the underworld and made it back, I guess I can do it, too. After all, it is an honour to get invited in there.
One of my old stories, Where the Trains Turn, is going to be published in Tor.com in the near future. I saw the cover for it, made by Greg Ruth, and it was magnificent! And the US edition of TRBLS will be published in Januray 2015, which delights me greatly – after all, USA is a land of opportunity, and you never know what may happen… (Naturally I’m dreaming about great success and possibility to quit my dayjob for good and concentrate on writing, but of course I know the odds; however, it may be a long shot but as I said, you never know…)
The youngest of my three sons, the six year old, loves horror stories. Naturally we don’t let him watch any kind of horror movies or play horror games – he only plays Little Big Planet with great enthusiasm, and it’s fine – I think that game is really good for him because it allows him to build his own levels. He is a creator in his own little world, and as a writer who builds his own worlds with words, I like it. However, zombies are nowadays not only a part of the horror genre but also a part of children’s culture and thus part of their collective mind, like witches, trolls and fairies have been for centuries. There’s nothing wrong in that – kids need something to be scared of, so beating that scary figure helps them to overcome their fears.
Not so surprisingly, my six year old wishes to hear horror stories for his bedtime stories. So, last night I told him a stupid story about a boy and his pet cow who died and turned into a zombie cow. In the end the boy shot the zombie cow with his big brother’s vaporizer gun. (I admit: the story should and could have been much better, considering that I am a writer…) And today he brought home a drawing he had made in preschool.
It looks like this:
As a kid I had terrible nightmares about vampires and living dead, really dark and scary dreams, but my son’s dreams are not scary, according to him. He doesn’t have nightmares, he actually thinks zombies and ghosts are fun. So, if he is lucky enough, he won’t be a writer when he grows up. To be a writer, you have to be more or less messed up, and so far, despite the zombies, that boy seems to be quite sane
I was told some time ago that my first translated novel has been selected for Waterstones autumn 2014 book club (and I was also told that I must not talk about it), but now there is an article in The Guardian about translated literature that reveals it. So, there’s another thing for me to be happy about.
Finland is a land of great and diverse literature, and during last years Finnish writers have found a lot of new readers from abroad. It is great because books don’t sell that well in here. Our population is not more that 5,5 million and people have started to read – and buy – books less than they used to. Beside that, practically half of the Finnish people are published writers and we haven’t time enought to read each other’s books… So, conquering the world is the only option for us writers now because we really need new readers for our literature.
In case you are interested, here’s the TQR-interview of me, made by Steven Hansen few months ago.
It has been a hot July in Finland and August seems to be even hotter, which is great because quite soon it’ll get dark and cold – as they say in Game of Thrones, winter is coming, and if I may say, our Finnish winters are much worse than winters in GoT, even our zombies are nastier (because in Finland, even zombies have to pay high taxes). But so far it’s warm and sunny in here, the dark wings of winter haven’t darkened our sun and minds yet. I have three sweet days of my vacation left before the schools start (and I have to confront pupils who of course have such a great hunger to learn about literature and Finnish language) and I’m gonna spend that time with my young sons – for example today we took a long walk aroung the Jyväsjärvi lake and crossed two bridges, enjoying the rapidly dwindling summer and those melting ice creams I bought after we crossed the second bridge (which was much further from our starting point than we thought).