Leena Likitalo is one of the fantastic authors I was lucky enough to get to know at the Clarion Fantasy and Science Fiction Writers' Workshop, which we both attended in the summer of 2014. Though many of our cohort have published a good deal of short fiction since that summer (some of it very well received), and a few have landed small press book deals, Leena is the first of our group to be published with a "Big Five" publisher like Tor. THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON by Leena Likitalo is out today, July 25, 2017, and the sequel, THE SISTERS OF THE CRESCENT EMPRESS will be available in November 2017.
I'm thrilled that more people will finally have the chance to experience the wondrous worlds that flow from Leena Likitalo's fingertips.
Inspired by the 1917 Russian revolution and the last months of the Romanov sisters, The Five Daughters of the Moon by Leena Likitalo is a beautifully crafted historical fantasy with elements of technology fueled by evil magic.
Sarena Ulibarri: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON?
Leena Likitalo: The Five Daughters of the Moon came to me, demanding to be told right at that moment, and perhaps that's why everything happened so very fast.
The story came to me first in November 2014. I had just started in a new job and resolved not to work on any novels for the time being. This story didn't care about that! It was so insistent that I had no other option but to scribble it down as a short story.
The good thing about insistent stories is that they pretty much write themselves. The next summer, when I had some time off from work, I jotted down a synopsis for the duology — by then I'd realized the story was too big and complex for one book. It took me around three months to complete the first draft of the novel, and in November 2015, I had a book in my hands.
I'd been in touch with Claire Eddy—my editor-to-be—before about a different project. While she said no to that one, her kind feedback encouraged me to approach her with my new project in February 2016.
Fast-forward to June of the same year, and there I was with a two-book deal from Tor.com, represented by the wonderful Cameron McClure of Donald Maass Literary Agency.
SU: What advice do you have for young writers who are struggling through the first draft of a fantasy novel?
LL: You can do it. You can. Just keep on writing. Word after word. Sentence after sentence. See, put them after each other like that. There's your first page, chapter, and the rest will follow. It's fine if you don't know how the story is going to end. Eventually you'll get there if you just keep on going.
Keep on writing. Write every day, even if it's just a word, even if that word is wrong, or perhaps it's the right one. One sentence a day is a lot. A whole page? You're on the right track.
Finish what you're writing. Cherish it. Toss it away in shame. Both are fine. As long as you feel something toward what you wrote, you're doing it right. If it's bad, you know you should probably try a different thing next time around. If it's good, then great!
Google. Google your favorite author and how they got where they are now. Read forums on how to become a writer. Learn the trade. Blog post after another, websites, too. Standard manuscript format, synopsis, query, publishing deal anatomy, foreign rights. You want to know all about them. Just in case one day…
So you have a novel in your hands? I'm so happy for you! Is it ready go or do you want to work on it still? It's ready? Then it's time for the next step on your journey.
Query agents. Get rejected. Cry. Get over it. Submit again. Rinse and repeat. This is writer's life.
Put the first novel into a drawer. Start a new one. Rinse and repeat until success follows. It might take only one iteration. Or then nine. But eventually, one day, maybe one day your writerly dreams will come true.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you when writing THE FIVE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON?
LL: I've always loved Russian literature. When I was fourteen, we read Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky in school. I was the only kid in my class that cheered on the assignment. But darn, that language, the impeding melancholy… that's my cup of tea. And if you want to read a novel with the most fabulous cast of characters ever brought to life, try War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
Around the time The Five Daughters of the Moon came to me, I wanted to brush up my Swedish. Maria Turtschaninoff had just won the prestigious Finlandia Junior prize for her novel Maresi, and so I decided to try that one.
Maresi is a quiet and dark story that builds up slowly and stays with you months and months after reading the last page. The women in the story are strong, each in their own unique way. This novel inspired me to seek new dimensions in the stories I had to tell -- I realized that it was possible to write tales where women are in control of their own fates even if the world is set against them.
Now movies, you ask? Gimme historical dramas. I like the aesthetics of Downtown Abbey – the dresses, the country houses, ridiculous dedication to etiquette. Another favorite of mine are the Hercule Poirot movies. The best one is of course Murder on the Orient Express.
SU: What’s your favorite memory from the Clarion Workshop?
LL: Ah, Sarena, you should know that there are too many to name just one!
I think the utmost best thing about Clarion was making connections that last for years and years to come. We're still in touch with my group, and it's been immeasurably valuable to me! No one understands writer's pain and anxiety like another writer… And to see my fellow classmates selling stories and becoming editors – it's a fabulous thing to witness!
SU: How many stories did you write at Clarion, and what became of them?
LL: I had decided that I would write six stories in Clarion, and while I did stay true to my decision, I think I might have been better off with just four or five.
My Week 1 story was not good at all, and I knew it even when writing it. The sole purpose of that story was to remove the writerly blocks lingering in my blood and get going with the actual business of telling tales.
My Week 2 story, Operating Santa's Machine, was a hit amongst my Clarion classmates — but let's just say that there's not much market for naughty Santa stories.
My Week 3 story, Give Your All to the Cause, started as a silly car-ride conversation about buying political favors with organ donations. It took me half a year to finish this story, but once it was done, I was very happy with it. This one found home at Galaxy's Edge magazine and I think it's one of my best scifi stories to date.
My Week 4 story, The Village At the Shadow of a Sleeping Cyclop, crushed me. It spiraled out of control, and I couldn't finish it in the way I wanted. I'm still thinking of fixing it, because I like the imagery and concept. But there's so many stories I really want to tell, that this one might need to wait a few more years still.
After Week 4, I was sure I couldn't piece another story together. And then this epic poem came to me pretty much out of nowhere, and so Ocelia, Ocelia was born. Jeff VanderMeer bought it for weirdfictionreview.com, and there's a Finnish translation available, too, coming out hopefully this year still.
And then there was Week 6 — rather than letting an idea come to me, I decided to go with an idea I'd been toying with for some time already. The end result was crafted rather than organic. Not my finest piece.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
LL: Worldcon 75 will be organized in Helsinki — my very hometown. I'll be participating in a panel there, and hanging out in countless others.
You can find more about me and these events in www.leenalikitalo.com.
Leena Likitalo hails from Finland, the land of endless summer days and long, dark winter nights. She lives with her husband on an island at the outskirts of Helsinki, the capital. But regardless of her remote location, stories find their way to her and demand to be told.
While growing up, Leena struggled to learn foreign languages. At sixteen, her father urged her to start reading in English, and thus she spent the next summer wading through his collection of fantasy and science fiction novels. She has fond memories of her "teachers": J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, Roger Zelazny, and Vernor Vinge.
Leena breaks computer games for a living. When she's not working, she writes obsessively. And when she's not writing, she can be found at the stables riding horses and playing polocrosse.
You can visit her online at www.leenalikitalo.com.
I first met Matthew Burnside a massive Facebook group called MFA Draft when we were both applying to MFA programs. The group was set up so applicants to the many creative writing grad programs could share support and anxiety while they waited for those acceptance calls or rejection notices. Matthew was one of the many memorable personalities in that group. I, certainly, was not, but many of them friended me anyway, and I love seeing where their paths have taken them now that we've all finished our programs. Matthew Burnside's Facebook feed alternates between the most ridiculous, awkward memes and the most inspirational, heartfelt manifestos about writing and art. See the interview below and you'll get a taste of what I mean.
Matthew's first full-length story collection, Postludes, is out today from Kernpunkt Press.
Sarena Ulibarri: The most important question first: is that a corgi on the cover? Is there a corgi in this book?! I must know.
Matthew Burnside: There are at least two dogs in Postludes, but I never specify that either is a corgi. I actually asked the cover artist to just “envision your most precious pet” and a corgi was the result. Pets are inextricably linked to childhood, nostalgia, and most notably our early conceptions of loss I think, so they definitely had important roles to play.
SU: In a nutshell, what was the path from manuscript to publication for Postludes?
MB: Postludes is a jigsaw of mostly formal experiments I did over the years, some preceding my MFA but many of them completed while I was in my program. Finding a home for the collection was difficult because they aren’t traditional pieces, some have more in common with poetry than prose, and a cohesive theme proved elusive for the longest time. In short, it was a monster to market. I feel like much of my work feels like B-sides, not in quality hopefully but in tone and variety. Prose that feels more like poetry at times (or vice versa) can be really alienating to readers, but it’s how I write for better or worse. Plot or narrative doesn’t interest me nearly as much as conveying a feltness or visceral emotion through landscapes of language.
SU: You earned an MFA from the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop—what advice do you have for young (or not so young) writers struggling through the MFA application process?
MB: I know when I first started trying to crack the MFA code (I was rejected by 50+ programs before Iowa finally said Sure, come on in) I was doing it for the wrong reasons: I needed validation. To feel like a writer. I needed people who had already been successful to pat me on the head and go, Yes, little one you have my permission to write your little things. And then, of course, you look around at all the other really talented writers and do your best to follow their example. To publish where they’ve published and how they’ve published. You try to sound like them and maybe look like them and think like them, too. This is the mistake I think, because it means latching on to a path that’s been tread a thousand times already instead of maybe footing it and exploring your own path, which can be scary and lonely but may lead you to yourself---your own unique identity as an artist. At a certain point when I was at Iowa, I remember some of my peer’s words ringing in my ears, regarding this weird new media project I had made: “How in the HELL are you ever going to sell this?” And I remember thinking I HAVE NO IDEA and then promptly thinking, How Exciting is That? Maybe it doesn’t matter if I sell it at all? Maybe it shouldn’t? That doesn’t mean it’s not a worthy investment of time and craft. That doesn’t negate its value as an artful endeavor. That acceptance changed a lot for me. Since then, I’ve just sort of been exploring and writing what’s interesting to me. Some things have been successful, most haven’t, but it’s all one big exploration now. So, I guess my advice to younger writers would be Forget Trying To Make It Into the Cool Writers Club. Forget carving a fail-proof career out of art. Forget perfectly padded CVs whispering the promise of tenure and wide-eyed admiration from little versions of you. Accept Loneliness Now. Invite Failure Now, the more ambitious the riskier the better. Accept being an outlier, an outsider, an under-the-radar obscure no-name Nobody. Because there’s tremendous creative freedom in that, to work on what you want how you want for your own pure-as-ice joy. If you want rabid fans, if you’re desperate for attention, go start a cult. Writing is not a way to get love from others, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about finding a key to unlock rooms you never knew you had inside of you.
SU: Much of your work can be classified under that fuzzy label of “Experimental Writing.” What does “experimental” mean to you, and how has your understanding of it morphed over your writing career?
MB: It used to mean WRITER WHO WILL NEVER MAKE MONEY EVER. It still means that, mostly. But it also means being a Serpentine Disciple of Yes in a narrow valley of mediocrity. It means a willingness to die again and again through your work for the off chance to be reborn as something better. It means restlessness and motion sickness and a stubborn refusal to wear the same hat even if it is the prettiest and most comfortable of hats.
SU: What books, authors, or films most influenced you while writing Postludes?
MB: I’ve already spoken of the influence Akira Kurosawa’s DREAMS had on the book in another interview, but there are others too: Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the dream fog logic of David Lynch, Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia, the dancing of Martha Graham, the science of Stephen Hawking, cartoons, video games, even the comedy of Mr. Bean.
SU: Do you have any readings or signings coming up? Where can readers find you?
MB: None scheduled. I find that my work doesn’t really lend itself to performativity. I mostly prefer to leave it as a thing that exists on the page or screen, but in 2017 that may be something I try to change. I’d welcome the opportunity, especially if it involves working with young writers, as the classroom is where I feel most comfortable.
Until then, I live on the internet at http://matthewkburnside.wixsite.com/2017 and currently teach fiction and creative writing for new media at Wesleyan University.
Matthew Burnside’s work has appeared in Best American Experimental Writing, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Kill Author, PANK, and Pear Noir! among others. He is the author of several chapbooks and numerous digital works. He currently teaches at Wesleyan University and is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Find your copy of Postludes:
Small Press Distribution
My story "Astra, the Falling Star," a surreal sci-fi about two astronauts whose ship is destroyed while in orbit around an alien planet, has been published online by KasmaSF Magazine. KasmaSF publishes a new story each month, and I have the privilege of being their February author. They were nice enough to publish my apocalyptic Cassandra retelling "As Dust Rolls Toward the Mountains" a few years ago, and I'm thrilled they liked "Astra" as well. KasmaSF commissions original artwork by José Baetas for each story, which makes publication there extra special.
Here's the story's opening paragraph, and below that, the wonderful artwork José created after reading it.
I freefall, plummeting through an alien sky. Clouds obscure my vision. Tears and mucus smear across my helmet to obscure it even more. I shut my eyes—such fickle and sensitive sensory organs—and imagine the equations of the forces acting on my body. I try to rearrange their values: my version of praying, I suppose. But the laws of physics will not bend just to save my life.
Speaking of artwork, I've recently joined Pinterest, and created a few boards that represent imagery from some of my forthcoming stories. I hope the images below will pique your interest enough to give the story a read. You can do that by clicking here. It's a short one, only about 3,000 words. And with luck, maybe I'll have a few more boards and a few more stories to share soon.
See the whole Pinterest Board by clicking here: "Astra, the Falling Star"
Usually, I prefer to promote books on my blog that fall into the (broad) category of speculative fiction—it's what I write, it's what my company publishes, and it's what most (though certainly not all) of my writerly friends write. Mary Ann Marlowe's debut novel Some Kind of Magic is going to sit squarely on the "Contemporary Romance" or "Romantic Comedy" shelves, but I'm going to argue it's got a speculative slant to it. There's a bit of a "Love Potion #9" theme going on here, and a "what if?" question about just how powerful synthetic pheromones could be. And no matter whether I can call it speculative or not, I'm still going to pick up a copy, because it sounds freaking adorable.
Here's the description:
In this sparkling debut novel, Mary Ann Marlowe introduces a hapless scientist who's swept off her feet by a rock star—but is it love or just a chemical reaction?...
Super cute, right?
Mary Ann Marlowe is part of the PitchWars 2014 cohort that I have been lucky enough to tag along with as so many of them grow and get published and continue to be absolutely amazing, supportive people.
Some Kind of Magic is out now in paperback and Kindle from Kensington Books. Happy Book Birthday!
Find Your Copy of Some Kind of Magic:
Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble
About the Author
Website | Facebook | Twitter
Some Kind of Magic is Mary Ann Marlowe’s first novel. When not writing, she works by day as a computer programmer/DBA. She spent ten years as a university-level French professor, and her resume includes stints as an au pair in Calais, a hotel intern in Paris, a German tutor, a college radio disc jockey, and a webmaster for several online musician fandoms, plus she has a second-degree black belt. She has lived in twelve states and three countries and loves to travel. She now lives in central Virginia where she is hard at work on her second novel. She loves to hear from readers and can be reached through her website at www.maryannmarlowe.com, Facebook, and Twitter.
Last weekend was MileHiCon, one of my favorite local SFF conventions. I was on a couple of panels this year, but the real highlight of the convention was the release party and reading for ADVENTURES IN ZOOKEEPING, an anthology that includes my story "The Fourth Lemur." This is the second of the charity anthologies (all proceeds go back to MileHiCon) put together by Sam Knight that I was lucky enough to be included in. In fact, last year after releasing SIDEKICKS, Sam Knight asked for suggestions for the next anthology, and I was the one who suggested the title/theme "Adventures in Zookeeping."
On Saturday, we gathered in the ConSuite for a dual release party along with the contributors of another anthology, DOMESTICATED VELOCIRAPTORS, and then we ventured downstairs to one of the panel rooms where we had the chance to read our stories to the room. For many of the authors, this was their first time doing a public reading, but everyone did a fantastic job. I tried to break the tension a little bit by standing up on my chair to read, rather than going up to the front like everyone else.
Ever wonder how much fun it would be to be a zoo keeper if your wards included the strange, the supernatural, the not-of-this-earth? This collection of speculative fiction ranges from were-lemurs to a breeding program for a Lovecraftian horror. Edited by Sam Knight. This anthology evolved from a panel at MileHiCon in Denver, Colorado, titled "So You Want To Be in an Anthology?" The stories contained within were contributed by attendees of that panel. All net proceeds are donated to support MileHiCon.
So those "were-lemurs" mentioned in the book description? Yeah, that's my story. Except, maybe it's not that simple. Maybe there's more to that weird, somewhat human-looking lemur that shows up in the zoo, maybe that bite the zookeeper got isn't doing exactly what she fears it's doing.
Next week I plan to interview some of the other authors from this fun anthology, so please stop by to learn more about their stories, and pick up a copy of ADVENTURES IN ZOOKEEPING when you have the chance. It has some very fun stories in it, and it helps support an excellent science fiction and fantasy convention that has always made me feel at home.
Many thanks to Scott Woodward and Clint Collins of Black Mirror Press for including my story "Breath Across the Mouth of a Bottle" in their debut anthology, SNOWPOCALYPSE: TALES OF THE END OF THE WORLD. It's available now from Amazon in both ebook and paperback.
The full table of contents:
"White" by Eddie Newton
"The Last Winter Buck" by Matthew Shoen
"The Wind Whispers, 'Witiko'" by Jennifer Loring
"Dead England" by DJ Tyrer
"The Snowman" by Llanwyre Laish
"Snoe" by Mark Lynch
"The Snow Woman" by Susan McCauley
"All These Things We Didn’t Believe" by John Palisano
"Thaw" by David Sakmyster
"Locusts in the Snow" by Richard Barber
"Breath Across the Mouth of a Bottle" by Sarena Ulibarri
"Snow and Ashes" by Zoe McAuley
"Let There Be Light" by Walt Socha
"The Snow" by Cheryl Pearson
"St. Michael’s Parish" by Nicole Shelton
"A Chill Subterfuge" by Barry Rosenberg
"Snow Day!" by Clint Mesle
I look forward to seeing how other writers interpreted the theme of this anthology. Here's a brief excerpt of my story, "Breath Across the Mouth of a Bottle," which is part Weird Horror, part Science Fiction.
My dad and my cousin Brooke were fighting about the thermostat just before the power went out. Rather than weather the blizzard alone, I had abandoned my apartment and come to my dad’s house, and had convinced Brooke to do the same.
And look! Black Mirror Press made this awesome creepy book trailer. Check it out:
The anthology STARWARD TALES is now available, featuring my science fiction Cassandra retelling, "As Dust Rolls Toward the Mountains." STARWARD TALES is a collection of short stories, poems, and visual art retelling legends, myths, and fairy tales as science fiction, published by Manawaker Studio.
Below is an excerpt of my story, "As Dust Rolls Toward the Mountains." This story was originally published in Kasma SF Magazine in April 2014, and I'm thrilled that editor CB Droege thought it was a good fit to reprint in STARWARD TALES. It will be a real treat to receive the physical copy of this book (though of course, it's also available in ebook). Apparently there will also be an audiobook version? I'll post about that when more details are available.
Cassie went blind the day before the asteroid struck. There had been no warnings from NASA or the White House, just as Cassie's loss of sight had not been foreshadowed by blurriness or headaches. Once blind, though, Cassie warned our mountain town about the asteroid. No one believed her, of course.
If you pick up a copy of STARWARD TALES, please leave an honest review! Books without reviews tend to sink into Amazon's black holes. Help keep this one sailing through space?