Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Reviewers' Duel

My third crime-themed novel Jäljet (Tracks) was published in mid-April as an e-book in Finnish.
As hoped, book reviewers have been active. Reviews have been mostly very good. This third Isaksson series novel has been complimented of having ”a strong narrative text, for being descriptive and engaging”.
The things I've been seeking for in my writing have also been found.
One reviewer wrote:
The environment was described precisely and somehow very vividly. I lived in Helsinki in my times and now felt as if I was again walking along its streets. I was impressed also by the pondering of the deepest feelings of a human mind, which by no means was left any way superficial.”
Jäljet has also been thanked for containing humour, ”which lightened up the atmosphere in a nice way."
By reading these reviews I've come more and more to a conclusion that not all the books are for all readers. Easy and clear conclusion as anyone would understand.
While other reviewers conclude book being engaging, especially mentioning that even the descriptive parts don't get the narrative jammed, one reviewer feels it does exactly that.
As we take the pluses and minuses, we realize that certain reviewers clash with each other with their opinions. Of course, they are exactly just opinions. Not the universal truths either way. Could it ever be, when there are as many opinions as there are readers. Readers from different backgrounds, age groups, genders, geographical locations, levels in society, in different stages of lives, with different experiences. Plus tastes that vary over genre levels, even inside them. Also when talking about themes, style and approach.
One reader loves the psychological approach, the inner monologue and the first person pondering of dark feelings inside someone's mind. The other one hates it.
One reader has a problem with mentioning certain events happening in the two independent parts of the series, because the reader hasn't read them. The other ones thank the writer for acknowledging the readers a bit of what had happened to the characters after the events in previous books ended. Something that still wouldn't distract the readers, who haven't read the previous books and would like to.
One reviewer in the past once mentioned that ”due to many subplots, not all of them are followed to the end and tied together”. What if the writer has something in mind? That some of these untied plots end up popping up back later on in the series as in tv-series Lost? Maybe two, three, four books later? For a reason so far only known to the writer. Some readers get the hints and wait for the following books to find out.
Is the reviewer the one, who gives the universal truth? As anyone who writes, writers tend to listen to these reviewers, use the common sense and adapt this feedback to developing themselves. Surely also strongly following their own vision. That's what makes them the writers they hopefully are with their own writing style, tone and voice. The one the readers dedicated to their writing will recognize sometimes from the first paragraph.
If reviews were part of a market research, would you as an entrepreneur change fully your course of work and products based on the 20 per cent's opinions, who obviously aren't interested in your work and therefore not even part of your target group? Or listen to the feedback in a healthy way and follow more that 80 per cent of the reviewers, who like your work and would like you to follow your chosen path. Of course trying to at least maintain your level and even develop your products to become better? You can always write better.
Over the years, I've been couple of times hinted by some publishers to follow some action-based techno thriller writers who are their bestsellers. As if I'd maybe strip down my language and own voice to follow their path. Change to something that I'm not. Writing something that I'd never be good at. Not that I'd even be interested in being.
There's plenty of thinking even inside my own vision, the genres I've touched and will probably be touching in the future. Even after all these years, I'm a bit surprised how literature, which has a crime theme, is often narrowed down to being exactly a crime novel. As it couldn't contain anything else than just surprising twists after twists after twists, often for the sake of it.
I do hope that I can fulfill the expectations of the readers, who are interested in reading my works. I don't need to please everyone, but I do hope I please the ones, who really are interested in my writing.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Good news!

Sometimes work and life take over and even some meaningful news might go past one's eyes.
Once upon a time in the Christmas period happened that my debut mystery, the Finnish version, Meduusa was again selected to Apple Finland iBookstore Best of 2013 catalog. This time in category: Most sold: Fiction. (The English version of the e-book is here.)
Its sales have been stable since October 2012, when Meduusa hit the #1 spot in iTunes Finland top100 chart. In the previous year, Meduusa was selected to Best of 2012 catalog, so success has continued for another year with Apple. Thank you for that!
This was a pleasant surprise. A bigger surprise was that my works, including both Isaksson mysteries Meduusa and Palava sydän (Burning Heart), short story collection Kotipaikkani on rakkaus (My Hometown Named Love) and children's story collections Karkaileva bussi ja kaiken maailman ihmeelliset vempeleet (Runaway Bus and All Other Marvelous Gadgets) and Haikarasaaren vauvasatama ja muita tarinoita (Heron Island Baby Harbour and other stories) were categorized in iBookstore under Bestselling Authors category. At the moment, the category consists of 14 authors, of whom 9 are non-Finns and 5 Finns.
More about these news and author lists here.
While things might seem calm and nothing seems to be happening, at least from my side this has again brought belief that there are readers who read and organizations that recognize this work. While waiting for some decisions, I'm again looking into my files. Finishing up with some previous and ongoing works. Checking into old and new ones. This would be the time.
I'm very much wondering, if these kind of credits really do matter. Publishers? Agents? Other publishing people? Comments welcome from anyone.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Are you working on a new book?"

"Are you working on a new book?"
That's the question authors hear every now and then. It could be soon after the last one was published, or in case of a gap, years after the last one.
How rarely in reality would the answer be: "No." For my knowledge, most authors write at least something over the months, years. Some more than others.
If the author hasn't published anything in years, it might not be the case that he/she hasn't actually been writing anything. It just could be that the book, even several new book scripts, have been rejected by publishers. Or are still in the pile waiting to be judged. Not all of us authors get to jump the queue. Also drastic changes in publishing houses mean delays. Personnel changes. Errors in processing. Slower reading of those hundreds, maybe thousands of scripts piling up from here and there. Even misplaced piles of paper sent in long time ago, which are never found (been there).
It is somehow unfortunate from author's modest point of view. Especially when talking about novels that are planned as being parts of the series. Maybe individual stories, but subplots depicting certain years, bringing characters into account. Showing how people's lives change.
Or maybe they don't. Or maybe the books end up being published in wrong -non-chronological-  order. Or some of them not at all. Suddenly that one part of the series has a character having a baby. In the next one published she hasn't. But it's only a subplot. Meaningless, if it doesn't fit the publishing plan or doesn't go over the quality line.
Could be frustrating for an author to see how things go. Whether these novels will be published five years apart. Or at all. If there is a continuance for readers to have something to wait. How the things continued in subplots. If there are new hints about the cases left slightly open, so they could be continued maybe one, two or five books later. The planned hooks that are there in sketched novel plans that would hopefully some day come true. If there was continuance.
I'd like to ask my colleagues, how many unpublished book scripts they have written. I can tell my toll. In the past, as an unpublished author, I wrote six full-length scripts with no luck to get them published. One of them was rewritten three times for a large publisher. I did get great feedback from most of those scripts, but only one of those letters used the clear language people outside the publishing industry could understand: "Do these changes, and offer it to us again." Unfortunately, while doing this rewriting the editor in charge changed. The new one didn't want to go on with it. Personal tastes, I thought. Disappointment, of course.
I wrote more scripts.  Sent the seventh one into a novel contest and managed to reach top 3 spot. Original Finnish version of Medusa was published in print. It was republished as an e-book last year and finally in English, also as an e-book, this August.
But life is not easy with all this turmoil. After my last novel was published in print, along my jumping into e-book business, I've written new scripts and edited old ones. I could say that there are nearly ten full-length scripts needing work or normal editing process. Additionally there are nearly finished works, half-written writings, writings being done piece by piece. There are sketches for novels written here and there.
As writers know, going back to old scripts can be refreshing, even fun. But also tiresome.
New ideas, even about  fully different kinds of scripts, are already making their way in the head. Along with the new well-planned parts of the series that would tell where the events in already published books lead to.
If someone again pops me the question: "Are you working on a new book?", I nowadays answer: "Yes, which one of them?"
Only thing is that should I be adding to that: "But I'm not sure if you ever get to read them."
Unless e-book saga continues.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ulysses and Suburb Vomit

Excerpt from a colleague's obituary six years back (translated): "He was from XXX. The city must have been dear to him, since he ridiculed it continuously."
Those words came back to my mind after I yesterday did a five-hour walking tour by myself in Dublin. Wandered from place to place having only a map and a camera in my hand.
The route in the map was from Ulysses (written by James Joyce). Showing the places where protagonist Leopold Bloom and other characters wandered during that one day novel takes place.
Time has changed. Bloom's house in Eccles Street was demolished to accommodate Mater Hospital. As was the Cabman's shelter, which apparently had been replaced by AIB trading centre. I couldn't find all the places with the plaques that were supposed to be there. But apparently what still exist from 109 years back are the pubs, though with different names. Ruggy O'Donohoe's pub is now International Bar and Barney Kiernan's pub The Capel.
I saw the shady letters 'Finn's Hotel' still in the wall of the old hotel in Nassau Street where Joyce's future wife Nora Barnacle worked as a chambermaid and whom he met first time romantically on that exact day Ulysses takes place on June 16th, 1904.
I also tried to find the place in the corner of Dawson Street and Molesworth Street where Bloom helped a blind man across the street. While I was standing there, a horse carriage passed by. As if I had suddenly jumped 109 years back in time.
It was a nice eye-opening day for me after having lived in Dublin region for over seven years. Seeing the history and today. After reading some pieces from Wikipedia I'd like to jump in the time machine, just to see what Joyce's and Barnacle's first date on that June 16th, 1904 was like. Did it really have that magic to base a full massive novel on that exact date.
And what the city was like. Were people happy? Happier than now? Did they feel like Dubliners now do? Were they then proud of their hometown, then much smaller than it is now?
And was the city comfortable to go for a walk. Spend time. Live. Did it have enough character to really base a novel on. Trying to depict it as Joyce did so people like me would be wandering around it hundred years later.
I'm not sure what Joyce's relationship with Dublin, Dalkey, Dun Laoghaire and other places nearby was. He lived most of his adult life abroad. Was there a reason to depict Dublin again and again deep inside his mind? As well as with other artists, who depict their hometowns.
I started thinking about books I've read, films I've seen, music I've listened to. All the stories in them that have something to do with processing some place. Maybe romanticizing it. Or barking at it. Processing the events, even traumas that happened there. The past. Nostalgic or the opposite. Events and memories that formed these people.
I've been dealing with the same issues through writing. Gathering ideas and memories from past times, mixing it with fiction. I recently noticed a Finnish novel written by Anu Juvonen, who is few years younger than me. The book is titled Lähiöoksennus, translated Suburb Vomit. Events take place in Kannelmäki suburb in Helsinki. Only seven minutes' train trip away from where I grew up in Vantaa.
I read a newspaper story about her memories about the times she wrote about. There were lots of similarities to my memories from that era in a similar suburb. Supposedly million children growing up in that era have the same touching surface. I could feel the angst. See the pictures in my mind. Need to ridicule those certain madnesses in the middle of concrete building blocks.
I admit: I do have a love/hate relationship with my childhood and younghood suburb. I mention it with certain pride or happiness when Formula One drivers coming from there succeed. I share the new videos when progressive metal band Amorphis does something new and interesting. Still, I mock the suburb, especially its past, whenever I have a chance. I joke about Japanese tourists trying desperately to find Mika Häkkinen Square only to realize this has actually happened.
I'm thinking, will the place ever have any aspect that would mean anything to anyone else who hasn't grown up there? I suppose novels like Ulysses and Lähiöoksennus in their own ways immortalize these places. Especially for those who know the places. And through writing and reading to someone else, who can jump in the shoes of a person, who actually lived and experienced it. The time and place then.
Even to the point when they start understanding why someone ridicules the home place instead of maybe trying to forget or live with it.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Nordic Crime Fiction Wave Could Grab Finland

When I started writing fiction, it wasn't a sure fact that I'd start writing crime novels. I surely had an interest in that genre, but there were more. So far my published works have included two crime novels, literary short stories circulating around the themes of love, death, sorrow and life altogether, and imaginative and somehow gentle stories dealing with serious issues for children.
But I have to admit: I do have a strong interest in researching and writing about crime, diving into existential or slightly philosophical questions of life and death. As one of my true literary influences, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu once said in an interview, after his harsh experiences apparently in his childhood and then as a police investigator in Helsinki Police Arson Unit: "It doesn't really make you a humorist."
I don't know if I'm lucky, but writing about serious and melancholic issues don't wipe away my need to use and create humorous situations. Maybe more in the future.
It still doesn't come as a surprise that after being a passionate researcher of these dark themes, some of the feedback I used to get from my synopsis or writings from writing professionals were: "Why do all these have to include a murder?"
I've heard that same story from other people writing crime novels. The twists of plot always often ending up using a homicide. It's just a matter if the story has more to it. Other subplots including different themes. Subplots about personal matters of the protagonists. Depicting the era. Social commentary. Or pure criticism towards the society and the system of the country. Often shown especially in Nordic crime novels.
For me, in addition to certain Finnish writers, Swedes are the greatest. Wife-husband writer duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö wrote together ten Beck novels in 1965-75. They are all of excellent quality. The fourth one in the series, The Laughing Policeman, being my definite favourite. Especially through the crime investigation plot, which is very intelligent, still realistic. All Beck novels starting from the first, Roseanna, ending up to the last one Terrorists, depict the changes in Swedish welfare society through crime.
As has done later on Henning Mankell. I've read Wallander novels written by Mankell and value them very high in the ranks. I still see Rolf Lassgård as Kurt Wallander, the first one of three actors playing Wallander in TV series, the first two Swedish, the last one English. The two other actors have been Krister Henriksson and Kenneth Branagh.
One of my favourite crime-themed novels, which comes close to The Laughing Policeman in plot intelligence is Hour of the Wolf (originally Carambole) by Håkan Nesser. The intelligence in the police work, the point of view through murderer's eyes are just about bull's eye when trying to find rewarding reading.
Most of these have quite laconic narrative even when sometimes fast-paced. They don't play much with language as Matti Yrjänä Joensuu does. His Harjunpää series is not only about how to solve a crime, but why the crime was committed. As Swedes do, his novels go deeper in the society, flaws of the justice and political system and how certain, not always bad people, ended up committing the crime. They are often victims of injustice in life themselves. Even fragile to the end.
Joensuu has that certain sing in the language which often is lacking from regular crime novels. Something that with its depth breaks the borders to other genres and general literary fiction. In his lifetime, Joensuu (1948-2011) managed to create his own believable world of melancholy, realistic life and people often surrounded by sadness, bitterness, despair, unfairness, lack of love. Wrapping it all up in a unique touching way. While there is a lot of misery and pessimism in his books, Harjunpää novels are the ones I often go back to when wanting to read the packages that have it all. The humane touch.
I haven't found many writings of this kind that wouldn't be categorized in or out of the crime literature genre. Even though crime is committed in certain novels, it doesn't have to mean it should be categorized in crime novels.
I recently saw Purge (Puhdistus) by awarded Finnish writer Sofi Oksanen categorized in crime fiction in certain Irish book shops. I'm not sure is this intentional to bring the sales up. Or was it more difficult to categorize the book here, since the knowledge of the novel winning the prestigious Finlandia Prize and the book's strong connections to the past of nearby Estonia don't mean that much here.
Or was it intentional to label it as Nordic Noir? Nordic crime novels are doing commercially very well also outside the Nordic countries. The works of Sjöwall-Wahlöö couple sold somewhat ten million copies even in their earlier times, mostly in Eastern Europe. Henning Mankell, Håkan Nesser, Norwegian Jo Nesbø and the late Swedish Stieg Larsson have widened the success to the other parts of the world by selling tens of millions of copies.
Especially Sweden has produced more and more internationally successful crime writers such as Liza Marklund, Jan Guillou, Camilla Läckberg, Arne Dahl, Johan Theorin, Åke Edwardson, Anna Jansson, Åsa Larsson, Leif G.W. Persson, Karin Alvtegen, Inger Frimansson, Jens Lapidus, Mari Jungstedt, Norway bringing Anne Holt, Karin Fossum, Kjell Ola Dahl, Denmark Leif Davidsen  and Iceland Arnaldur Indriðason. There would be many great ones coming from Finland as well. Some, such as Leena Lehtolainen, Reijo Mäki and thrillerist Ilkka Remes are doing well in German-speaking world.
Opening the markets also in English-speaking region hasn't yet been done properly by Finns, but interesting writers such as Antti Tuomainen, whose acclaimed and awarded novel The Healer has recently been published in English, have the chance.
And I'm sure there would still be more writers, whose works haven't yet been translated to English, but would be worth reading.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

For Those Not With Us Anymore

When I was young, some sad news came time to time about guys my age. People I knew or had known. In the same neighbourhoods and suburbs where we grew up. Sometimes I wondered what it was about that age. Guys. Sudden growth in mortality rate.
Some of those memories come back as I remember my youth. In flashbacks. I don't know if it's about getting to this age certain things from the past start coming up. Maybe it has something do with my work, which is often about trying to remember significant things. Even own personal history. The interest in trying to map my own past. Places. As they were then. Maybe to be partially used as a fictional setting.
Unfortunately, sometimes the memories come through with sorrow.
The last sad news came yesterday. An old acquaintance my age. We went to the confirmation camp together at the age 15. Heart attack.
A young man. Still. There are no judges giving votes who will be dropped next.
When I look back certain lives could've been predicted early. How vulnerable some were. The friend from the sports team, who had moved away. His death notice was in the newspaper when he was 15. No others were involved in this gun-related incident.
Others where in an accident caused later on by a young man, also from that same sports team. Who had decided to drive his car against another car. Head-on collision. He wasn't the only fatality.
Some stories were sad in different ways. Because of just one impulsive decision. To go grab a burger some kilometers away after a successful sports tournament. Later at night after a little partying. The big tree by the road was the last guard. The headstone of that young man is in the same cemetery where my Dad is buried.
There are slowing down lives as we have lived, have become adults, hopefully gotten smarter, found the peace. Some didn't have that understanding or hope. Or the will to understand.
How fast some of them were living their lives. As if it would run away, if you don't try to catch it as much as possible immediately right there. In that moment. With both hands.
And the ones you could tell didn't appreciate life. Many of them haven't been here anymore in years. You could tell it already very early.
As many experiences can tell, we don't know what's around the corner. Which day or the second will be the last one.
I have no clue if I will live to be 100. Will I have the same destiny as this young man had some weeks ago when he moved from here to eternity.
Still, a bit shocked I've stopped. On Monday I'll phone to reserve an appointment for a proper health check up. We're only here once.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Dim Light of Relativity

Exactly 20 years ago I was doing my mandatory military service. Was in the middle of nowhere on a winter camp practicing certain extreme skills. Was exhausted physically after carrying all that stuff on my back and walking long distances. Hungry for not having time to cook that food on the small heater outdoors. Thirsty, because the drinking water had to be boiled from the snow, purified with a purifying pill. Cold, there wasn't much time to dry the clothes on in the hour or two long breaks in the tent not that often. Tired, I slept altogether six hours during that camp week.
Still, when the week ended, we got to go back to the base. Got off on the weekend holidays. I probably slept in my warm bed for most of the weekend. Took it all back. At least I had the possibility.
During my eleven months in the military, I got free train tickets to go to my weekend holidays. So I visited my grandparents quite regularly. Once my Grandpa asked how the food in the military was. By that time I was back in the same base where I had had my basic training, one of the last bases with the old style table passing meals. I was quite sick of that same pork dice sauce. I told my Grandpa it. He said: "Yeah, I know. It used to be bad as well. During the war we had this shred soup. Bit of porridge with a little pieces of ham in it."
I never complained again.
These situations bring different problems people have to the same line to be compared. I know that while I could be complaining about food, during the wars military men were struggling to get anything to the front line. And yes: children in Sudan are suffering from starvation.
As I go back to my "so tough" military memories, they now seem more as golden times. Even the harshest moments can be remembered with some humour. About having "the unicorn grown in the forehead" during that demanding winter camp week. Nothing compared to those boys sent to the front during the wars. Some of them scared to death what they'd be experiencing.
When I was in Under Officer School we were brought to different neighbourhoods from the base to collect money from door to door to disabled war veterans. I had been collecting money already twice during the basic training. Did it twice during the next months after it. It was a tradition for the guys doing their service annually for decades.
We were brought to Kallio district, few kilometers Northeast from Helsinki city center. The district is a known place for working class and artists. Bit bohemian, in some parts rough, but full of life. Some people in their nicer homes didn't even open their doors to us. Some people who obviously had less, gave us from their little. We were living a deep recession. Unemployment rate was going up to nearly 20 per cent.
There was a dim light coming out of the door to the hallway when I had rung the doorbell. An older man opened the door. He seemed a bit slow. Maybe due to his age or something. Then I noticed a huge hole scar in his upper forehead. Probably from the grenade.
I introduced myself and as I told about the money collection for the disabled war veterans, he lost it. As if seeing a young man wearing his gray military holiday suit was bringing back all his memories. Nightmares. All the horrors young men had to go through. He broke down.
I don't know if it was his daughter or a granddaughter, who walked him peacefully away back to the kitchen. Looked at me, so I'd understand. I nodded. We seemed to be agreeing without many words that I should go. She would have her moment together to calm the old man down. In their dim light. In their small kitchen in this working class neighbourhood.
After finishing the tour, I walked back to our gathering place by Karhupuisto, a small park. Some men, who had apparently gone into the side paths of their lives, were having a drink from their bottles in the park. Commenting something to us. We ignored them.
Until they gathered together. Soon a delegation of those probably homeless alcoholics came to talk to us. "We gathered our money together and would like to make a donation. My father fought in the Winter War", the leading man said. He was moved. Got us all slightly in the same state.
At that point I realized that life is not black and white, and things might not be as they're thought in the first place. And everything has sometimes everything to do with relativity.