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.