Riina Paasonen: All that we lost / Kaikki minkä menetimme

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Last year I read Tommi Kinnunen’s Where Four Roads Meet. It was popular in Finland like it’s spin-off Lopotti, and quite predictably they were both full of agony and non-communicating, hapless characters… Well, well.

Now I got Riina Paasonen’s All that we lost in my hands and after first few pages it was a total dêja vu. I’m glad I got past those first few pages, because it turned out to be an excellent satire of the very Finnish genre that Kinnunen’s books characterize so formidably.

Riina Paasonen All that we lost Kaikki minkä menetimme

Author: Riina Paasonen
Publisher: Minerva 2017, Finland
Category: Fiction
Original language: Finnish
Rating: 4/5

HelMet Reading Challenge 2017: number 26. A family story.

This genre is of course “the deepest hollows of agony and hopelessness with the bonus of a grandmother of your nightmares”.

I’ve probably had just bad luck with coming across so many Finnish novels of this category, but enough is enough. Paasonen most likely didn’t mean her novel to be a satire of this genre concocted by me, but it certainly fits the description. Her novel is, however, described as a tragicomic story by the publisher.

Paasonen has put together a family with all the possible modern era problems I’ve read in recent novels: crumbling marriage with a wife, who doesn’t appreciate her husband and a husband who is soft on the verge of flegmatic, children with psychological disturbances and/or identity crises concerning sexual orientation, a grandmother whose life’s purpose is to destroy all happiness on earth, lack of communication and lack of simple caring. As a literary glue there’s no lack of sweat, blood or urine from the pages of this novel…

Paasonen has created a story that has twists and turns and keeps the reader interested through all the 261 pages – just the right length. Many Finnish bloggers have liked the dialogue in this book. It’s true that it flows well, but it’s also very much in the Kaurismäki style – less is more. At some points the constant staccato rhythm of the dialogue got on my nerves.

The story itself goes hilariously overboard with all the dark elements it presents and what’s more, it gives quite an unorthodox catharsis to all those readers that would like to see evil grannies have their pay, once and for all.

Susan

 

“Raccoons live in pairs. Johannes learns this when he hits a raccoon while driving at the darkness of the night. Soon Johannes realizes he is taking care of the spouse of the dead raccoon.

The old wooden house in Tampere in the middle of an overgrown garden is the home for lonely Johannes, equally lonely as the raccoon. His wife Orvokki is re-living her lost youth with 30 something Kai and the connection with the grown-up children is fading. Sensitive Arvi locks up in the house and Aura feels the only way to get some attention would be a bank robbery.

Johannes directs all his attention to the raccoon. Relationship with the wild animal becomes increasingly important for him. Until something irreversible happens.

All that we lost is a tragicomic story of secrets, longing for love and unsatisfied needs – but also of hope. The novel describes how people cross borders in unexpected ways if necessary.”

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Casting for Your Novel – Teenagers

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Rosalind Wiseman: Queen bees & Wannabees

Helping Your Daughter Survive Cliques, Gossip, Boyfriends & Other Realities of Adolescence
2002

Not quite a teenager anymore? Me neither, so I wanted to get a bit of fresh perspective for my writing regarding that age group. I happened to stumble upon Wiseman’s book about the real life of teens and it was a fascinating read. The book is directed to concerned parents to help them help their daughters through adolescence, but it works fine as a fiction writer’s guide to the subject.

Queen bees and wannabees: casting for you novel

 

Not only is Wiseman spot on in so many of her characterizations, her book is excellent inspiration for writers! However, it is also quite chilling to remember she’s talking about real people and real lives. Wiseman paints a picture of the US high schools as battle grounds of several different clans, no mercy asked, no given. Is it really that hard to be young and a girl?

I have to admit, that some of the things she describes seem a bit far out. I guess my Finnish teen universe was not quite as elaborately class or status oriented as the US counterpart. But I can completely relate to one thing: girls can be utterly cruel and devious to each other. Sometimes sweet and supportive too. Just like any of us. But the latter happens seldom, Wiseman warns. There’s even a word for the twisted form of friendships girls can create: frenemies.

Is your teen character real and relatable?

For a YA fiction writer Wiseman’s book is excellent reading. It takes you back to your teenage feelings and gives a plethora of authentic opinions and views by the youth she quotes. One thing that all too often irritates me in YA fiction is the unrealistic teen characters. Either they appear to be light years more mature than their peers in the real world or – this applies especially to male characters – they’re straight out of daydreams.

I don’t believe this is a coincidence, though. Wiser-than-their-years characters most probably appeal to many readers. However, if you as a writer want to create somewhat realistic characters or characters that resonate with young readers, perhaps it would be a good idea to get familiar with the actual think sets and logic your audience shares?

And where’s the book about preteens’ behaviour patterns?

Another pet peeve of mine are child characters that are completely wrong for their age. And I know it is really difficult to get them right. Most often children in literature appear too childish, too innocent and far too clueless. It is as if writers would like to present children through an ideal instead of a real, living thing.

A wonderful child character is Flavia de Luce, a shrewd detective girl aged 12 by Alan Bradley. With my experience of two daughters it’s very easy to relate to this girl’s witty cynicism and discerning observations of the life around her. Another beautifully built character in her preteens is Mia, from Kerstin Gier’s Book of Dream’s trilogy.

Who’s going to write a guide on the real preteens? Wiseman touches a bit this age group, as she includes 12 year olds in some of her examples. But what about 7 to 11 year olds? The problem is, that in that age group the level of maturity varies enormously between individuals. Where some 9 year olds play with dolls, others listen to the latest pop music and spend their time in WhatsApp. And even the same individual may do one thing today and the other on the next day. So, how do you present a character of this age group – especially if she’s just a side character with not that much presence in the novel?

Need a cast of stereotypes?

Here’s a big bunch of them. Wiseman’s categories of reputations are something straight out of an high school comedy. They are not as apparent in literature, but some elements of them are visible in many characters in YA fiction. Even if these would be simplistic used as such in a story, the reputations can give ideas for the group dynamics in a novel cast or elements of a character’s behaviour.

In-Your-Face Angry Girl: She’s not afraid to dress differently and be ”bitchy”. She is dramatic, interested in zines, has no patience for popularity and people in the popular cliques. She seems cynical, but is in reality easily hurt and feels like the world is against her.

Quiet, Morose Girl/Loner: She’s an observer and poet, expressing herself in journals. She’s withdrawn, depressed, sullen and prone to wearing all black.

Big Girl/Tomboy: She’s often physically bigger than other students. She’s reluctant to join groups, is quiet and feels out of place. She’s rumoured of being gay.

Jock: She excels in sports and looks masculine. She’s often see as asexual. Come’s across as tough and unemotional.

Social Climber: She’s the chameleon. She changes herself constantly to fit in with girls she emulates. She’s afraid to express her own thoughts. She is easily manipulated by more powerful girls.

Teacher’s Pet: The reputation that won’t go away. Girl’s don’t trust her and for the most part teatchers don’t like her either. The Pet often makes things much worse for herself by becoming the rules enforcer when the teacher isn’t there.

Perfect Girl: Everyone wants to be her. Meanwhile she feels like a fraud and thinks that at any moment someone will call her bluff.

Boyfriend Stealer: Some girls think this girl is cool as long as boys aren’t around. She acts ditzy around boys even if she’s smart. Other girls don’t trust her.

Tease: A girl is called a tease for the most arbitrary of reasons: for wearing stylish clothes, even ones that aren’t tight, for not making out with boys and being pretty.

Lesbian/Butch/Dike: Often closely associated with the Big Girl/Tomboy regardless of actual sexual orientation. A masculine appearance can earn this reputation, but some girls adopt a ”butch” look, because it’s comfortable for them or they want to desexualise themselves.

Square: She could be a genuinely happy kid, but she also might be covering.

Actual Happy Person: There actually genuinely happy girls, although Wiseman reminds us that she rarely sees them.

The Über-Rep: The Slut: This is obviously the worst reputation and it has actually two origins: acting like a slut or being a slut.

Seems a bit grim, doesn’t it? But as they say, the truth is stranger than fiction…

Susan

Wiseman has written a book about boys (or guys) too: Ringleaders and Sidekicks.

My daughter used to be so wonderful. Now I can barely stand her and she won’t tell me anything. How can I find out what’s going on?

There’s a clique in my daughter’s calss that’s making her life miserable. She doesn’t seem to want to go to school anymore. Her own supposed friends are turning on her and she’s too afraid to do anything. What can I do?

Your daughter’s friendships are the key to surviving adolescence – as well as the biggest threat to her happiness and well-being. In her groundbreaking book Rosalind Wiseman cracks the ”girl code”. Wiseman has spent a decade listening to girls talk about the powerful impact that girl cliques have on what they wear, how they respond to boys and how they feel about themselves. Here, quoting dozens of teenage girls, she reveals her findings and teaches parents how to understand the secret world of cliques with its various roles: Queen Bees, Wannabees, Messengers, Bankers and Targets. She also explains how to infiltrate ”Girl World” to analyse teasing and gossip; boys and sex; alcohol and drugs and more so you can help your daughter to take control of her situation.

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Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver trilogy

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Maggie Stiefvater: Shiver, Linger, Forever

There are werewolves, and then there are Sam and Grace. And Cole.

Have you ever read a trilogy and realized it was just a long prology? This happened to me, no fault of Maggie Stiefvater, but the fact I read Sinner before Shiver.

Maggie Stiefvater Shiver in Read, Write and Publish

Shiver was my second Stiefvater book. After Sinner, it felt a bit plain at first. This is a slower, more delicate story. But it grows through the book and in the end I was glad I could hop on to the next one in series, Linger, right away. It would have been too painful to wait for a year (or more).

Shiver tells the story of Grace, a girl whose parents are emotionally neglecting her and who has a life changing experience of a meet up with wolves. Now in her teens, Grace stumbles on her hopes and fears as Sam appears in the scene. They become inseparable, for want and necessity alike. This puts a little bit strain on the credibility of the setup Stiefvater has created, so much so, that apparently she recognized the need to address the issue in the story itself. As Sam is trying to remain human, he is also forced to remain in Grace’s house, unknown to her parents, basically dependent on Grace.

In the next book of the series, Linger, the problem is shoveled up into the faces of the readers and a confrontation with Grace’s parents is inevitable. The reactions of the parents and Grace’s relationship with them take a more and more prominent stage. At the same time Grace is under a new threat, this time directed against her.

Linger has plenty of the same beauty that Shiver, but the frustrating situation with Grace’s parents felt a bit too frustrating to read too. In this book Isabel has a bigger role and Cole St. Clare makes his entry and these two characters pretty much steal the show.

Forever is the culmination of the story of Sam and Grace. Their love is peaceful and natural – like an old couple, except they’re teenagers and fighting for their lives as wolfs. How does Stiefvater manage to combine these two opposite elements? But even more than a closure for Sam and Grace, this book is the real beginning for Isabel and Cole.

Forever brings the story of the werewolves to an inevitable climax that has been in the air since the first book, with a solution that gives each main character a decisive role – well suited to their personalities.

I’ve pretty much stayed clear of other werewolf stories (yes, there’s some werewolves in Harry Potter and Mortal Instruments series) so I can’t make many comparisons, but I think Stiefvater’s creations are quite elegant. When wolves, the characters are real wolves and it adds another level to the story. Can we ever really relate to another species? Our senses, perception of the world and desires are so different. Yet, we share some fundamental similarities: a need to survive and a want for pleasure. The question is where do these two things take us?

Stiefvater’s trilogy took me back to reread the Sinner – a spin off telling the tale of Isabel and Cole in California.

Susan

 

The pack circled around me, tongues and teeth and growls.

When a local boy is killed by wolves, Grace’s small town becomes a place of fear and suspicion. But Grace can’t help being fascinated by the pack, and by one yellow-eyed wolf in particular. There’s something about him – something almost human.

Then she meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away…

A chilling love story that will have you hooked from the very first page.

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The Secret to an Efficient First Edit

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Editing ad infinitum - How Do You Survive?

Congratulations! You’ve just completed your novel, thesis or other long and demanding writing effort. Now it is the time to make sure the finished work will shine. Every advice in the blogosphere tells you that this is the most important part of the process of writing. And they are quite right. You should invest your time into editing properly.

However, in the quest for perfection, it might happen that you’ll never reach the level that suffices your inner critique. Reading your text again and again, you start to wonder whether you should reorder you chapters, rewrite the entire text to a different point of view, kill a character here and there…

It is easy to prolong editing into infinity. And we all know what the result of that is, don’t we? Yes, another manuscript in the drawer (or in that bulging folder on your PC titled “My Novel”).

So how do you survive the first edit?

Four Secrets of an Efficient First Edit

Make yourself a plan. You did one for writing the manuscript, didn’t you? Without a clear roadmap it’s so easy to end up rambling in the woods.

First edit is the beginning. You can and will return to the text after it, so now you can be fast and furious.

The best would be to arrange a beta reader to read the manuscript right after the first edit. Then you would get an outsider opinion when you’ve fixed the worst errors, but before you’ve spent days and days on polishing something that might end up in the bin anyway.

So, let’s plan for the first edit:

  1. Decide your goals. You can’t tackle everything, so pick the most important editing goals. At this point we are talking about substantive or developmental editing. What needs fundamental editing? The flow? The plot? The POV?
  2. Determine the time needed. How much time do you need to reach the goals you set for yourself? Be realistic and cut off goals if necessary. Then allocate each editing point the time you think it deserves.
  3. Carry out the job. Edit, edit and edit – but no more than you gave yourself time.
  4. Never look back. This was the first edit. Now you’ve tackled the most pressing issues of your manuscript. It’s time for the second opinion – get your beta reader ready and send the manuscript in for comments.

Susan

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