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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Johanna Sinisalo Talks About ‘Bear’s Bride’

[Interviewer’s Note: This is a series of interviews featuring the contributors of The Beastly Bride: Tales of the Animal People edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling.]

Johanna Sinisalo was born in 1958 in Sodankylä, Finnish Lapland, and now lives in the town of Tampere. She has studied theater and drama and worked in advertising for 15 years before becoming a full-time writer. She started her writing career with sf/f short stories, and has this far been awarded with the national Atorox Award for the best domestic sf/f short story seven times. She has also written a generous amount of reviews, articles, comic scripts and screenplays, and edited two anthologies, including The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy.

Sinisalo’s debut novel Not Before Sundown a.k.a. Troll – a Love Story got the most prestigious literary award in Finland, the Finlandia Prize in the year 2000, and tied the James Tiptree Jr. Award in 2004.

She has published three other novels and a short story collection. Her works have been widely translated. Sinisalo is currently working on an international sf comedy movie script, Iron Sky, and a novel for children. (Photo by Jari Koivisto)

Charles Tan: Hi! Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. How did you become part of this anthology? Or what made you decide that “Bear’s Bride” was the best fit for this book, as opposed to another short story of yours (or writing an entirely new one)?

Johanna Sinisalo: Actually, a good friend of mine, Johanna Vainikainen-Uusitalo, met Ellen Datlow when Ellen was attending Finncon (the national sf/f con in Finland), and Ellen mentioned that she was going to compile this kind of an anthology. She asked my friend, if she had any Finnish writers in mind who could contribute. Johanna remembered that I had this short story that could fit. I think the story was exactly what Ellen was looking for, so I didn’t really have to make any choices or even consider writing a new story.

CT: What is it about the Finnish epic Kalevala that interests you?

JS: It is quite original compared to many other European epics, because it has such a strong emphasis on our ties with nature. There are a lot of woodland and water deities, magical animals, and the bear is in Finnish mythology almost a semi-god. Kalevala’s heroes and heroines also all seem to have a very humane side – they are not invincible or faultless, quite the opposite. In that aspect they’re quite modern. I have actually written even a whole novel called “Sankarit” (“The Heroes”) in which I converted the main characters and plots of Kalevala to be set in the 1990’s. The sages, magical smiths, adventurers, witches and so on were in my novel rock stars, athletes, computer wizards etc. It was a very fun thing to write.

CT: What made you decide to include the Finnish folklore song in your story?

JS: I think it works best for Finnish readers, because it is such a well-known song, and the reader might be even a little bit shocked to see it in a context like this, as the song is originally describing romantic emotions between a man and a woman. I admit it doesn’t work similarly for foreign readers, but it is uncanny how beautifully the song manages to express emotions between a human and an animal – without changing a single word! Our strong ties with nature are reflected in this song very profoundly.

CT: Was there any collaboration between you and by Liisa Rantalaiho in the translation? What does that process feel like?

JS: There certainly were some nice, constructive discussions, especially with the poetry. It was also good fun to ponder some solutions together. I think she did a remarkable job considering the fact she is not a professional translator.

CT: What’s the appeal of the Beastly Bride concept for you?

JS: I like it very, very much. I have always been fascinated with the thought that there are much deeper bonds between human race and the animal kingdom that we nowadays realize – or want to recognize.

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