In Conversation with Sanna Lehtonen

          My conversation today is with Dr. Sanna Lehtonen,
'Odin's Voice' by Susan Price
postdoctoral researcher at Tilburg School of Humanities.

          I was working on a blog once, and wanted to add the cover of one of my books. Being too idle to hunt through my files for the jpeg I wanted, I thought I would search on Google instead - and Google brought me '"I'm Glad I Was Designed": Un/doing Gender and Class in Susan Price's 'Odin Trilogy'" by Sanna Lehtonen.
          I was fairly gobsmacked to find that anyone had bothered to do so much thinking about one of my books, and thought I'd get in touch and say thanks. I was also quite curious about Sanna's work, and she agreed to talk a bit about it.

Dr Sana Lehtonen

          Sue: What drew you to your field of study? I think my readers are used to writers talking about how they write a book but I think your point of view would add something new.

           Sanna: Well, my passion for books, I suppose. Especially books that change your life, take you into unknown worlds and make you think in new ways. I learned to read when I was five and have been reading ferociously ever since. Even though I’ve read all kinds of stuff, my preference has always been for works that have fantastic or surreal elements. I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’ve always been interested in things that can’t quite be explained and I like to read to be surprised or disturbed. Also in terms of gender, which is my main research interest.
          When I was writing my MA thesis on Rowling’s Harry Potter books ten years ago, I read a lot of research that stated that fantasy is often very conventional and conservative as regards gendered representations.

          Sue: I’ve come across that a lot too!

        Sanna: I thought this to be very strange because my childhood favourites included books such as Astrid Lindgren’s Ronia The Robber’s Daughter and Michael Ende’s Momo that involved young girl heroes that were not, to me, conventional at all. My feeling was that it is namely fantasy that can experiment with gender in ways that are not possible in realist literature.
           I had also heard so many times before that fantasy is not serious literature – Finland has a very strong tradition of realist literature and during the recent years some people have actually been worried about the way in which fantasy is now taking over the world of children’s literature publishing. In my research, I’ve wanted to show that fantasy should be taken seriously. I don’t know whether fantasy itself should be “serious” (I don’t like that word) but it can definitely be meaningful and work in subversive ways.

          Sue: It’s a curious idea, isn’t it, that fantasy isn’t serious? By that definition, Utopia isn’t serious, and any speculative fiction that questions and satirises our present society by contrasting it with a fantasy or invented future society (as Pratchett’s Disc-World novels often do) is merely frivolous with no serious intent at all. It’s a very narrow view.
         But how did you become a researcher?

           Sanna: Ending up as a researcher was partly a coincidence. I always thought that if I ever finish a book, it will be fiction. I never dreamed of becoming a researcher of literature – at some point of my life I did dream of becoming of an archeologist but someone told me then that there are no jobs for archeologists. After this, I actually started my studies at the university as a musicologist and that involved a lot of research training. I liked it but was then realizing that there are not too many jobs for musicologists either and switched my major subject into English language and literature, to be able to find a job as a language teacher, if nothing else. And then ended up working as a piano teacher for a while, before I was lured into writing a doctoral dissertation about gender in children’s fantasy literature.

          Sue: Wow! You’re very talented! – But I’m not really surprised to learn how creative and talented you are, because I think the way you closely examine and interprete a book is creation, rather like an actor's interpretation of a role. You often tell the writer something they didn't know about their own book!

           Sanna: That almost makes me sound like a therapist who digs
deep into the subconscious of books... Although I’m not really such a big fan of psychoanalytical readings. I’d like to think that all readers find things in books that their authors have no idea of. Of course I’m trained to dissect texts, so I tend to close read almost habitually.
           Then again, I did some kind of close reading even before I started my studies because I always went back to my favourite books and found that they were different every time I reread them. I remembered the story but I didn’t remember the details and it often felt like there were things there that surely had not been there the previous time. I always found that very exciting. I suppose I just have to examine things to find out how their magic works and then, to my great delight, realize that I can explain parts of their magic but not everything.
           I very much like the idea of interpretation of a book being another kind of creation. Since I’m a musician, I think I’d go for that analogy rather than acting, though. Interpreting a book might be a bit like playing someone else’s composition. The sheet music and instructions are there to guide me but when I play a piece on my piano, the performance will also be about my interpretation of the music. But there are limits to that interpretation and a lot of formal training is involved, as for literary analysis. It’s still fun!

          Sue: I love that analogy! I’m very happy to think of you re-interpreting my books as if they were sheet music.
          Sanna: You’ve written a lot of books and stories that are either retellings or rewritings – how does the process of retelling or rewriting work for you? Are you very conscious about making certain changes to previous texts in your own version, or do you just have the stories in the back of your mind when you start creating your own works?

          Sue: I think it’s a little of both. My book Crack A Story is a collection of retold folk-tales, and every one has a brave, active heroine. Some of them are retold as I found them – more or less – because many folk-tales have courageous female characters who drive the tale. But some of the stories in the collection I deliberately changed to make them about a heroine rather than a hero. The stories worked just as well!
             I’ve retold a lot of folk-tales over the years, and my attitude to retelling them has changed. My first collection The Carpenter and Other Stories I now see as a little stilted. I thought, then, that I had to be ‘true to my sources’ and although I retold the tale in my own words, I told them in rather formal English. I blended versions of tales together, to keep incidents I liked. I’d add an ending from another source, if I liked it better – but I stayed far closer to the tale as I’d found it.
             Then it slowly dawned on me that the source I was being true to was far removed from the original telling. I had found the story in a collection made by a 19thCentury vicar, or academic folklorist, and the formal style came from them.
             I think I should have realised this sooner, but once it did dawn on me, I started retelling old stories in a far looser, freer way, which I enjoyed much more.

          But thank you, Sanna, for this talk - I really enjoyed it!

           Biographical information: Sanna Lehtonen is a PhD candidate at the University of Jyväskylä, Finland and  at Macquarie University, Australia, working on her dissertation on invisibility, magic changes in age and girlhood in contemporary British children’s fantasy.

          Ninja Driving Note: I failed to earn a 'good'  for my left-hand reverse last week. I am still merely 'average to good.' Though it was said I'd improved, and the column now has a string of 'Gs' for 'good' on everything else.  I don't know if there's a mark above 'good.'
         This week I'm to do a 'pre-test trial run' - which I confidently expect to fail, so no pressure. Altogether now: 'Only a fool breaks the two-second rule.'

Secret Ninja Driving

          Another thing taking up my time these days is taking a
driving course with the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
          Some people I've mentioned this too seem to think I'm studying some kind of secret ninja driving, but it's nothing like that.
          I'm studying the Highway Code again, and the book on Advanced Driving, which was written for drivers of emergency vehicles (so it tells you to concentrate on what's happening around you now, and not to think about 'the incident you're attending'.) I watch these videos by Chris Gilbert, and every Sunday I go out for an 'observed drive' with my mentor, a retired ambulance driver. He gives his time for nothing, and stresses that he is not a driving instructor. I am in complete control of the car at all times, and responsible for it, and he is there only to observe how I drive and offer tips on how I might improve.
          Most of what is taught by the Advanced Drivers (many of whom prefer to call themselves 'Aware Drivers') is also taught to learner drivers by their instructors. It's already known by most drivers, and used by them most of the time, or, at least, some of the time. I own up to the fact that I'm refreshing skills rather than learning anything new - skills that I was taught, but forgot, or never completely mastered, or allowed to become sloppy.
          I mean things like the proper way to hold the gear-stick in order to minimise the chance of going into the wrong gear: the position to take up on the road to allow you the greatest range of vision: the best gear to take at any particular speed or road position, to ease wear and tear on the car and save petrol.
          What I'm learning is to apply this knowledge in a consistent, all-enveloping way - to change gear correctly every single time; to check mirrors immediately on observing every and any hazard, every time; to constantly observe what's developing in the distance, nearby and to the rear of my car.
          It's quite Zen, in as much as it requires you to be 'in the moment' all the time. I can't allow my mind to drift off into plot construction or work on my 'To-Do List.' You can't do things by rote, or out of habit. Each use of the indicator has to be decided as a unique action, and not done automatically: is their any road-user who would benefit from the signal? If not, don't signal.
          Straw on the road? Does that mean horses around the next bend, or a hay-wagon? A woman is pushing an empty push-chair? - Does that mean a toddler on the loose, about to dash out from behind parked cars? In fact, any parked cars have to be carefully observed and thought about as a possible hazard.

        Quick now, what were the last three road-signs you passed? And do they still apply?
          It turns driving into something like three-dimensional, mobile chess. What move is going to be made by that lorry three vehicles ahead? What will the cars near it do as a result?What are you going to do?
         Part of the training is requiring you to give a running commentary as you drive - like Chris Gilbert in those videos. You have to tell your mentor, or examiner, what you're thinking, what you're doing, why you're taking a particular gear. You say, 'Mirror' as you check your mirror, and comment constantly on what drivers around you are doing (or may be planning to do.)
          This may sound simple - I'll admit that I thought it would be a piece of cake until I tried it. It is, in fact, extraordinarily difficult - and I don't think it's just me. You can observe the hazards, know what you're going to do - your hand can already be moving to gear-stick or signal - but somehow, your mouth just cannot frame it into even simple words at the same time.
          But it does concentrate the mind and force you to observe and think about what you're doing. In the four or five weeks since I've been doing the course, I think my driving has improved quite a bit.
          A certain young man possibly escaped at least a trip to hospital because of it. I was proceeding in a westerly direction, driving along a minor urban road with many sharp bends and a 20 speed limit. The young man was walking on the pavement, his back to me, with music plugged into his ears. Without looking, and without any indication whatsoever of his intention, he stepped into the road directly in front of me. I honestly think that the only reason I didn't hit him was because I was practicing my 'Aware Driver' skills, was strictly observing the speed limit and playing driver-chess by considering any and all possibilities. (I had just mentioned him and his head-phones in my driver-commentary.) Because of that, I was able to brake sharply, and do no more harm to the lad than startle him out of his day-dream.
         If this had happened three weeks previously? - I would have hit him. Not because I was a terrible driver then: the IAM assessed me as 'average to good' when I began this course. Not because I habitually drove down that road at high speed - it's not a road that enables high speed.
          I would have hit him because his action in stepping out into the road was so unexpected and careless, and so close to my car, that had I been travelling at a slightly higher speed (which I would have been) and paying just a little less attention (which I would have been) then I would have hit him. And what a horrible, horrible experience that would have been for all concerned.
          So that's me for the next while - talking to myself everywhere I drive, and repeatedly stopping to reverse round left-hand bends in an attempt to achieve the perfect kerb-hugging - but never kerb-mounting - sweep.I'm getting there. I plan to achieve 'good' for my left-hand reverse tomorrow morning.



"...With trembling fingers, I reach up and touch the hard and chiseled contours of his chest while Ryan's large and strong hands roam over my entire body, feeling and squeezing everything. I've never been touched like this before and my insides are starting to freak out.

"I want you, Piper," he murmurs into my neck.

My mouth drops open in surprise and even though my brain seems to be telling me to jump and run out of the room, I’m unable to move, stuck firmly to the same place on the mattress. With my nerves on high alert, I glance at the door repeatedly, sure that someone will come bursting through it at any second but the steady thumping of the music downstairs reminds me that no one can hear what is happening in this room. No one cares that Ryan Burke took me, of all people, into a bedroom. That realization hits me suddenly. Oh. My. God. What am I doing here?"

Piper Willow dies the summer after her high school graduation but she doesn’t make it to Heaven or Hell…instead she finds herself in a spiritual terminal called the Station. She’s given only two choices: Return to Earth as the subconscious for a person in need of some outside assistance, or move on and spend an eternity lost in her own sorrow and pain. 

Does Piper have what it takes to save a life - to be the nagging voice inside someone else’s head - or will she fail and end up lost and tormented in limbo...forever?

Author: Trish Marie Dawson  
Title: Dying To Forget(Book #1 of The Station Series) 
Genre: Young Adult>Fantasy>Paranormal
Publication Date: August 2012
Links to Purchase: Amazon, Barnes & Noble
Reviewer: Megan

My Review: 4 out of 5 stars

This will probably be my shortest review... not because I wasn't a fan of the book, but because it's a book that you can easily give spoilers away if you talk too much about it. So, here is what I can tell you - it was a fast, fun read. The concept was interesting and kept me intrigued enough to finish it in one sitting and even convinced me to buy the second book in this series within minutes of finishing.

 The circumstances around Piper's death, at first, was unsettling to me, but the author did a really good job of explaining the spiritual terminal called "The Station".  In fact, it was pretty creative. I liked the main character. I felt for her. The events or difficulties that led to her death were hard. Having personal experience with losing someone (a best friend), I can relate to Piper's devastation over her loss. And as a girl, I can relate to the other things she goes through. 

At one point, I did find myself thinking "this is way too easy... things are just falling into place for her too much." I continued to feel this way the more Piper interacted with others around her.... however, it is the way the first book ends and the second begins (there is a preview of the first chapter of the second book in book 1) that made me realize the story was just beginning for Piper. What might have appeared to be too easy for Piper, just might prove to be the opposite. I enjoyed the story and the authors take on a difficult topic and I am looking forward to reading the second and even the third book (set to be released in July 2013) in this series. 

** Ps. The author's end note also made an impact on me. Like I said, this was a difficult topic and I truly feel like she put an interesting, thought provoking, twist to it and in her message, she makes it clear what her intentions were or were not. 

Manic Monday #9

Manic Monday is a weekly meme hosted by Turn The Page where we get to decide who the 
next Indie/Self-Published author featured will be.

So before we get to this weeks Manic Monday Feature, I must tell you all that as of now (and not permanently) I am limiting my Manic Monday's to the first Monday of every month. At this point, with my really really hectic work schedule, my own writing, and all the books I am reviewing - the weekly Manic Monday is getting to be too much. I am just not finding the time to read each of the featured books in the week it wins and I want to be fair to those requesting my review.  Once my work schedule settles down a bit and I am closer to finishing Winter Solstice: Book #2 of The Harvest Series I will resume my weekly Manic Monday features.  I will still be reviewing Invisible and this weeks winner as well, before I switch to the monthly feature. Thanks for hanging in there and supporting TTP! 

The chosen Indie/Self-Published Author for
Manic Monday Week #9 is:

Glimpse - Stacey Wallace Benefiel

Congratulations Stacey!!

Review Coming Soon! 

Monday July 1, 2013 Manic Monday Picks

1. Eternal Eden (Book #1 Eden Trilogy)- Nicole Williams
2. Be Always On My Side - Nicola Starks
3. Me Again - Keith Cronin

The Winner will be announced on Monday July 1, 2013 and new Indie Authors will be selected for the August feature. 

* If you've read it, tell us what you thought and tell me which book should be chosen as our Manic Monday Indie/Self-Published Author Feature for Week #10

Also, Tell me if you've found outstanding Indie books (for FREE or PAID) that you think deserve a spotlight in our Manic Monday. 

Black Country Ceilidh

          This is becoming an occasional blog. Sometimes things just
pile up and I can't find time - or energy - to write a blog too.
          This week I went to a Black Country Ceilidh. It was a spur of the moment thing. Somebody had said there was 'a folk club' at The Plough Inn, near Stourbridge. "Want to try it?" Davy asked.
          I was suspicious. "Is it real folk?"
          Davy said, "What do you mean, 'real folk'?"
          "Is it people putting a hand over one ear and singing about walking out one midsummer morning or leaving Liverpool?"
          "I can see how you'd want to avoid that stuff," he said.
          "No, that's the stuff I want. Will there be ballads about murder, and patricide, and infanticide and every other kind of -cide? And revenge. 'Cos that's my bag. I don't want country and western, or teenagers singing their own songs about how nobody loves 'em."
          "I was just told," he said with a sigh. "that there's live folk-music of a Tuesday night. Do you want to give it a try?"
          Cautiously, I agreed.  And, folkies, it was great. There must have been about fifteen musicians there, who had just turned up for the fun of playing and singing music they loved. Some had brought two or three instruments. There was a double-bass, guitars, accordians, melodians, harmonicas, fiddles, bodhrans, mandolins...
         I got talking to Pat - Hi, Pat! - who had brought her accordian along. She was still learning, she told me, but came along to join in and practice. Pat was modest about her ability but, to me, who can't play or sing a note, all playing seems like some kind of magic - and I admired her for having the nerve to get out of the house and join in.
          The leader of the group called on each member in turn, and asked if they wanted to play something. Nobody had to, but if they were willing, they named what they wanted to play, and led it, and the other musicians joined in. It was, in other words, a Black Country Ceilidh. Davy and I intend to tell another friend of ours, another Scot, who we are pretty sure will hurry over to The Plough with his guitar as soon as he can.
          I thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a quick burst of early rock and roll, and another of Richard Thompson, but there was enough walking out on midsummer mornings to keep me happy. Though as I learned most of what I know about story-telling from the Border Ballads, I don't think there were enough battles or murders. Maybe next time. And the jigs, reels and shanties made up for it.
          So if any of you are in the neighbourhood of Stourbridge and Wollaston, I recommend Tuesday night at The Plough.

154 Bridgnorth Rd, Stourbridge, West Midlands DY8 3PD ‎ 01384 393414

Images: Wikipedia commons.


Lets Meet Karen Avivi, Author of SHREDDED!

Karen Avivi spent her childhood in Concord, Massachusetts where she lived within walking distance of Thoreau’s hut, learned to swim in Walden Pond, and attended Alcott Elementary school. She spent her teen years in the Chicago suburbs where she wished her life were more like a John Hughes movie. 

Karen has tried surfing, skydiving, scuba diving, stunt classes, archery, winter camping, orienteering, mountaineering, mountain biking, and she even attempted a bike ramp once, but it didn’t end well. If she's not reading or writing, she’s usually planning a new adventure.

A Message from Megan: 

I had the distinct pleasure of working with Karen while reviewing Shredded, her high adrenaline contemporary YA novel about Josie, a fearless BMX rider/competitor. I had so much fun reading the book and writing the review that I just had to ask Karen to take time out of her busy life to chat with us. This story really struck a cord with me since I was not only a skateboarder, but also a freestyle rollerblader as well. I know first hand the implications for girls in these predominantly "boy" sports. The fearlessness that one has to posses is substantial and must be present in order to prevent injuries. I praise Karen on her diligent research, her willingness to "fall down" - literally, all with the hopes of bringing the most authentic characters to you in Shredded. From the very first page until the last line, Shredded will keep you entertained and wanting to know more about this high adrenaline - fringe sports world of girl BMX riders... and I assure you, you will not be disappointed!

I was fascinated and enthralled reading some of Karen's answers... I can honestly say that Karen is one Indie author I will be adding to me "favorites" list and I look forward to reading more of her upcoming high-adrenanline contemporary young adult novels! Without further ado, let me introduce you to Karen Avivi.  (See my full review of Shredded here)

Turn The Page's Cozy Chat with Karen Avivi, Indie Author of Shredded

1. What inspired you to start writing?
  • I'm not one of those authors who always wanted to be a writer. I wanted to be a flight attendant. Travel, adventure, always on the go... it looked like the best job in the world. Fortunately for airline passengers, my dream of serving drinks and pushing carts at high altitudes was not to be. The eyesight requirements wouldn't even allow me to send in an application. A brief stint with waitressing a few years later showed that jobs involving serving the general public were not a good fit for me. 
  • The first time I seriously thought about writing a novel was after reading One for the Money by Janet Evanvich. I was going through one of those "is this what I really want to be doing with my life?" phases, and that book was such a fun escape, I decided that writing novels was something I wanted to learn how to do. 
2. What inspired you to write Shredded?
  • I had a seventeen-year-old female character in mine, and I wanted her to do an individual fringe sport-not a school team sport. A friend's daughter is into motocross and when I was looking at her sport I stumbled onto girl's BMX and kept clicking and clicking and thinking wow, I didn't know girls did this. Girl's BMX grabbed my interested and made it a lot of fun to research and write the book.
3. How did you come up with the title Shredded?
  • I didn't come up with the title. Roxanne St. Claire did, and I am extremely grateful.

4. Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

  • The only thing I'd like to resonate with readers is that you are the only judge who matters. Not parents, friends or even judges. At the end of the day it's how you feel about yourself that's important. It sounds simple, but it's easy to forget, and most people I know struggle with other people's expectations well past their teen years.

5. Is the premise of the book (girl BMX riders) based on your own experience, someone you know or just a passion you had?
  • I enjoy individual sports like scuba diving, cycling, and kayaking. I like to mix sports and travel, like going on a dive vacation or a multi-day cycling trip or kayak camping down a river. The fewer rules and more opportunities for adventure and fun, the better. For Shredded, I wanted a fringe sport with a no rules attitude that hadn't already been done several times in novels. When I found girls' BMX, I liked the way that girls from around the world are supporting each other since there are so few of them in the sport. 

6. Tell us a little about the cover.

  • A friend of mine is an athlete and a professional graphic designer, so she was the perfect fit to do Shredded. I told her I didn't want a decapitated girl on the cover, and I didn't want it to look like a romance. I asked for a graphic treatment, and she gave me several fantastic concepts. I had a hard time choosing one. I love what she did on the back cover too. 

7. What were the biggest challenges for you when writing Shredded?

  • Approaching teenage boys in the skate park was terrifying, but once they realized I wasn't going to complain about them making noise or being reckless, they were flattered that I was taking an interest in their sport. Making the time to write was really challenging. I couldn't cut sleep, workouts, or earning money so cleaning the house took the biggest hit. 

8. What did you learn from writing Shredded - both from a writing perspective as well as from the research you did on girl BMX riders?
  • I had to face some serious self-inflicted stress issues. I became my own worst boss at times when I was trying to force myself to stick to an unrealistic writing schedule. While it's necessary to spend time at the keyboard, too much will lead to burnout and physical injuries. Writing a novel can't be rushed, and I can't be stressed when I sit down to write. The ideal "flow" state of creativity requires relaxation. That doesn't mean I can wait until I feel relaxed before I write, it means I have to figure out how to relax when I need to write. Not easy. The research I did on girl BMX riders gave me the inspiration and courage to go Indie. Girl riders don't get a lot of encouragement or support but they don't let that stop them or use it as an excuse not to try. I also learned first-hand what it feels like to lose control on a ramp, wipe out in front of a bunch of people, and have your bike land on you. 

9. Are there any new authors that have caught your interest?
  • Thanks to Goodreads and book blogs that feature contemporary YA I'm discovering more and more authors who are new to me. I loved Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, and Raw Blue by Kristy Eager. My "to read" pile is overflowing. I just added Merch Girl by Rebecca Lewis based on Megan's review. 

10. What books influenced your life the most?
  • I was an avid Nancy Drew fan as a kid. I have a couple of the old 1930's editions with black and white illustrated frontispieces. After reading Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer I read a lot of Everest books and I think that put the idea of climbing in my head and inspired me to summit Mount Kilimanjaro. 

11. Can you share a little bit of what you're working on now, or any upcoming projects you might be working on?
  • My current work-in-progress is about a teen who lies to her parents about going to college while she chases opportunities in the world of high-risk adventure sports instead. The research has been a fun look at how much some things have changed. One weekend in '99 I was a reported on the web team covering an adventure race-we posted content using old dial-up modem (this was back in the days of limited cell phones and no Facebook). The competition was fun to follow, but the behind-the-scenes stories fascinated me. Ideas and what-if's from that experience have been running through my head ever since and they fit well into my girl in a fringe sport niche. 

12. Do any have any advice for other writers?
  • Be brutally honest with yourself about your strengths and weakness in your craft and process. Take classes and listen to critiques to improve your craft. Dig down to the root cause of your process problems-why aren't you getting enough writing done? The answer usually involves some kind of fear, but you have to face it to move forward.

13. Is there anything specific that you would like to say to your readers?

  • Thank you! I appreciate everyone who chooses Shredded from their "to read" pile. Your comments, reviews, and emails mean a lot to me. Whenever someone writes something in a review that tells me they really *got* Josie, I know that writing is what I really want to be doing with my life. 

Be sure to get your copy of Shredded today at Barnes & Noble or Amazon

Where you can connect with Karen: 

** Indie authors rely on readers and fans like you and I to help them spread the word about their work. If you enjoyed Shredded, please feel free to share your comments with us here,  as well as write a review on and Amazon. **