Maija Haavisto's writer bio
I started writing fiction at the age of 5. Even then I knew it was what I wanted to do - what I was going do - with my life. I wrote random short stories until I started my first novel manuscript in 1998, when I was 14. Obviously I had no idea what I was doing, but the manuscript was reviewed in the weekly supplement of the largest Finnish newspaper in 2000, which I guess is definitely further than most first manuscripts (especially those written by teenagers) go.
After 2004 I didn't really write much fiction due to illness, including cognitive impairment. Proper medical treatment reversed these problems, however, and in 2007 I resumed writing short fiction. Soon I found myself really into drabbles and 55-word fiction. Very short fiction has always been my thing - I used to very rarely write short stories longer than 1,000 words, usually much shorter than that.
In the summer of 2008 I dug up the novel manuscript #4 I had mostly finished in 2002 and found that it wasn't nearly as bad as I had remembered. I retitled it, re-edited it for several months and was originally planning to submit it to publishers, but I figured it was too quirky and offbeat. In the end turned it into my first self-published title Atlaskehrääjä in late 2008, with the English version The Atlas Moth out the following spring.
In November 2008 I joined NaNoWriMo to write the first draft of my fifth novel. It was originally supposed to be a scifi novel about transhumanism and life extension, but ended up being something very different, still focusing on those themes though. I got some very kind non-form rejections (and one that said "our reader jury liked it, but our marketing department thought they couldn't sell it" which I found quite peculiar).
The following year I did my second NaNoWriMo, armed with a much more extensive knowledge on the dynamics of novel writing, and of course more experience too. In my previous novel I had dabbled with two disabled side characters, but now I wrote a proper cripfic. After several months of intensive edit ing I mailed it to the first batch of publishers (there are no agents in Finland). In May 2010 I emailed it to several small publishers and to my surprise two showed interest already in the next two days(!). A few months later I signed a contract with one of them. The novel, Marian ilmestyskirja was published in October 2011.
In 2010 I found myself finishing several longer short stories - longer by my standards that is, 300-800 words. They were all written for contests, but only yielded me one honorable mention. However, if anything they helped me get into a sort of routine for writing prose besides just novels and microfiction. In late 2010 I heard my scifi cripfic originally written for a contest was accepted into the Breath & Shadow journal and was published in 2011. Before that I had only got a bunch of rejections for my drabbles and my fiction has only been published in zines. In 2012 and 2013 I wrote several longer short stories, one even close to 5,000 words. Two stories were published in Finnish by Ursula.
I also completed NaNoWriMo in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013. The first two turned into published novels, in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The fate of the other two novels still remains undecided, though at the time of this writing they are both being actively considered by different publishers.
In late 2012 I wrote my first children's book. I finally got a contract for it in June 2014 and it will be out in early 2014. I have written the text and there is a separate illustrator.
Being of the "reaching into the stars" mentality I am also looking for someone to purchase translation rights of my novels (and why not my non-fiction too). If you have any leads, please get in touch with me!
I have dozens of ideas for short stories jotted down, just waiting to be written.
Plays and screenplays
In 2012 I wrote my first play Marian ilmestykset based on my debut novel, because of several requests. The play was produced in Keuruu, Finland (directed by Janne Salminen) and premiered in March 2014. A DVD version may be coming.
My second play, written in late 2013, was quite different. Erveyskeskus is an absurd, farcical comedy taking place at a Finnish medical center. It has not yet acquired a director. I am in the process of editing my third play Makuuhaavoja (based on my second novel), but I don't know for certain whether it will be finished. I have ideas for several more plays, from scifi drama to a monologue play.
I started my first screenplay Toxic Dreams, a Hollywood love story partially based on historical events, in 2013 and finished it in 2014. I plan to write more screenplays in the future.
I started writing poetry at the age of 5. When I was 8 my parents made some of it into a booklet which was photocopied at my dad's workplace. Not too many years later I was published in a Finnish poetry anthology, which had several volumes and could only be purchased as a single piece, so they never bought it. My mom was bitter since she had also participated in that contest, but her poetry wasn't chosen for publication.
My second publication came in another Finnish contest anthology in 2006. I was among the finalists of that contest (there were no winners, only 10 or so "finalists"). The quality of that anthology isn't too high though. As a nice bonus my poem was featured on TV. Soon afterwards my poem Lady Gray placed #2 in a writing contest online. It was later published in the book Creative for a Second.
I got interested in haiku quite early, at the age of 10-12 I think, but it took me several years before I really delved into it. I have won one small haiku contest and several of my haiku have been published in Asahi Haikuist in Japan. Recently I was asked if a haiku of mine could be included in a horticultural journal and I of course agreed.
Nowadays I am a very lazy poet. I have a massive file of jotted down ideas, single lines and clusters of a few lines, but I am lucky to finish a few haiku and a couple of normal poems a year at most, though I am currently trying to figure out how to get more productive on this front.
Themes and inspiration
I haven't studied writing besides two creative writing courses I had in high school (and one course in junior high). I had written several novel manuscripts before I started reading books about writing and I wish I had started earlier, because I was clueless about so many things, particularly in novel writing.
I like writing science fiction, but mostly in the form of drabbles. I don't really care about the technical side and definitely not stuff like space travel, but more about the medical/philosophical/political/spiritual aspects. Some of my writing has been described as "Kafkaesque" while others would probably fall under the umbrella of slipstream. I have to admit never reading Kafka, though it is definitely on my todo list, but especially my earlier writing was inspired by the Russian absurdist Daniil Harms.
In the recent years one recurring theme in my writing is disability, which besides general fiction I have also introduced into scifi and horror. I have even coined the term "cripfic". In general I like to and try to write about subjects not so often covered and especially to give a voice for those who often have no voice in this society. Besides the disabled one common example is the elderly. Another example is the lesser-known sexual minorities - transgender, genderqueers, polyamorists and anyone whose gender and sexual orientation isn't binary.
Of course, these noble goals have their downsides too. Writig a cripfic is a constant state of balancing between writing sharp, enjoyable fiction and writing something that makes people think, shows them a new perspective to things, makes them understand something better, or reconsider their prejudices. But writing is never about doing something easy, it is always a challenge.
I started my career as a journalist in 2000, at the age of 16. I queried a new computer magazine and ended up being a regular contributor until it folded in 2006. I had two of my own columns, "Windows and PC tips" and "Expert Answers". Besides that I mostly wrote about software and Internet-related stuff, though I also did a few interviews, hardware reviews, gift guides and other stuff.
In 2006 and 2009 I wrote several articles for decoration magazines. It wasn't something I planned on doing, but it just happened. Starting in 2008 I also found myself writing for a music magazine, mostly reviews but also interviews. The first interview I did for the magazine was Front 242.
Medicine is my davorite topic, but I've also written about food, travel, beauty, photography, social media, videogames, music, books and other subjects. I have been a regular contributor to a Finnish health/fitness magazine and a vegan magazine. In the past few years I have been published in several major Finnish magazines, such as Image (lifestyle), Mondo (travel), Suomen Kuvalehti (Newsweek-like) and Me Naiset (the largest women's magazine in Finland).
Translation and copywriting
Translation was always one path I considered, but like with most of my career choices, I ended up on that road mostly by accident in 2008. I started out by localizing text messenging software and translating related sales material. After that I have translated various things, including software, websites, manuals, product labels, press releases, medical reports, ad copy, baby T-shirt texts, an indie movie, a documentary film, subtitles for medical videos and a Somali textbook and the associated audio CDs (only the English parts, not the Somali).
I have often likened copywriting to poetry: in both the word choices and emotional impact of words are of crucial importance and even minor changes can make a major difference.
Books and other non-fiction
In 2004 I started working on a sociomedical essay collection which I assumed would be finished the next year. Little did I know that it would take quite a bit longer - it was only finished in 2011. Perhaps the project should have been started as a blog instead, so it would have been easier to tackle in short chunks.
In 2006 I embarked on a project which was supposed to be just a short brochure, but furtively turned into a medical textbook. I self-published it in 2007 to much acclaim. Some people purchased as many as five copies! I was encouraged to do an English translation, which I did and self-published it in 2008 after I hadn't lucked out with my book proposals. That version ended up being a whopping 348 pages (the original Finnish one was only about 130).
I started looking for a publisher for the second Finnish version of the medical textbook in 2009. I hadn't even finished my proposal yet when I got an offer on Twitter for that book, and a Twitter book from me as well. Being a big Twitter enthusiast I wrote the book, which was published at the end of 2010. I formed a blog around the book and was also invited to do some training sessions for major Finnish media companies.
The second Finnish version of my medical textbook was published in the spring of 2010, with the foreword by a well-known Finnish sleep researcher. I promised myself I'd never write a non-fiction book again, but didn't take longer than a few months before I was writing the grant application for my next one. I did get the grant and wrote a new medical textbook, about common chronic illnesses that are controversial, poorly known, misdiagnosed and/or misunderstood. That book was published in November 2011.
My third medical textbook about treatment of autoimmune diseases was published in November 2013. I'm working on a food-related book (partially but not strictly a cookbook) which was supposed to be out in 2012, but due to sabotage causing very severe (and likely permanent) damage to my health, another contributor was added and it will likely come out in late 2014.
At the moment I have four blogs: a food blog in English, a Twitter blog in Finnish (pretty much inactive now) and a blog dedicated to my new medical textbook (in Finnish), a blog dedicated to my novel(s), writing, books, disability and other things in Finnish. There is also a very inactive "semi-private" medical blog started in 2007. I did paid blogging as early as 2005, but did not really start blogging on my own until 2009, even though an "online journal" was something I considered already back in the 1990s. Somehow, other things always came in the way.
I write columns for the Finnish disability magazine Tukilinja on the subject of chronic illness, but since it's just a few times a year I wouldn't mind getting other columnist posts, as well.