Friday 11 March 2011

Dancing with Myself: JOHANNA SINISALO interviews JOHANNA SINISALO

One of the finest short story anthologies to be put out last year was Beat To A Pulp: Round One. I'd recommend it as one of the 'must have' items for your Kindle device.

I've also had a new story released today by the ever-growing Untreedreads. It's a short, existential romance set in Denmark called Into Thin Air.

And today when on the first floor of a building and requiring the lift/elevator to take a trolley down on, I set off down the stairs to go and get it. A colleague pointed out, rather nicely, that all I had to do was press the botton. The things that fox my mind are scary when you think about it.

A Scandinavian theme for today's interview, folks, as I introduce you to Johana Sinisalo, Sin for short.
And who do you think you are?

I’m a Finnish writer.

Q: Oh, another hack from an obscure country with a tongue-twisting language that about a dozen people speak. Ever been translated into any civilized languages?

A: Actually, yes. There are even some titles available in English – my first novel Not Before Sundown, which in the USA was published as Troll – A Love Story, and my latest novel, Birdbrain. There are some translated short stories published here and there in English, too, mostly in anthologies. So far, Not Before Sundown has been translated into 12 languages and at least three more translations are under way. And a novelette of mine, Baby Doll, attracted some nice attention in France and the USA.

Hey, I happen to know that the literary language barrier is almost impossible to cross when you come from some small, exotic country like Finland. In the Anglo book market, fiction and non-fiction translations represent only about 3 % of all titles published. And that 3 % includes ALL other languages but English - biggies like French, Spanish, Chinese, you name it. A Finnish writer shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell.

I agree. I was just lucky enough to win the Finlandia Prize, our national award for novels that is something like the Finnish Booker, and so some foreign publishing
houses got interested in my work. And the language barrier seems to be a bit less sturdy nowadays – some Finnish writers, like Elina Hirvonen and Sofi Oksanen, have been introduced to the English language market with a very good reception.

Did you get any feedback, like that ”nice attention” you mentioned concerning your novelette, whatever that is?

I got some very nice reviews, especially in USA, for Troll. But I was most delighted when Troll – A Love Story got the James Tiptree Jr. Award in the US in 2004. That kind of thing happens to foreign books there, well, almost never. And that particular novelette I mentioned was shortlisted for the Nebula Award in 2009 and was published in the Year’s Best Science Fiction selection. Translated works are rare birds in those circles.

Ahh. I smell a rat. Tiptree, Nebula, those words ring a bell... Another of those skiffy foilhats, aren’t you?

Actually, I do not believe in genre definitions. My goal is to tell a story and make a point with it. The chosen genre is nothing more than a tool. Sometimes it’s most effective to make a point when you choose to build the story with horror genre elements, and sometimes the plain ol’ realism works best. Usually I am a happy genreblender, and I don’t give a damn if the people in bookshops are confused on which shelf the book should be placed. Although my books are not directly aimed to the science fiction and fantasy audience, I sure am glad they embrace them. But you do not have to be a skiffy foilhat to enjoy my books. (BTW, if you are interested in Finnish fantastic or cross-genre works, go and shop for The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, edited by yours truly.)

You mentioned that you want to "make a point” with your stories. What, are you some kind of finger-wagging preacher?

Let’s put it in this way. A good story is the main goal. You have to make the reader care about your characters and keep up the readers’ interest in what happens to them. But, in the end, it would be awfully nice if the reader had this obscure feeling that some thought processes were actually involved.

And what are those themes you want to wag your finger about?

Environmental issues are quite important to me. For example, in Not Before Sundown I developed the idea that trolls are not mythological creatures but real wild animals, and used that to tell a culture/nature clash story. Also equality in all its aspects...

A-ha! I smell another rat! A foilhat AND a damn feminist!


Why should I read anything written by you?

Because I’m so darn good. Boston Globe called my novel "brilliant”. Who am I to question their taste?

Future plans?

Yes, I am currently writing a new novel. Its working title could be translated roughly as "Of Blood of Angels”. And, because our ten questions are now up, I can’t tell you what it is all about. And that suits me well, too, because I do never discuss uncompleted works in public, anyway. Serves you right for being such a bitch. (Nyah nyah.)

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