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The Slow Trains Ten
writers on the creative life

featuring Susanna Laaksonen

Susanna Laaksonen is a Finnish writer. She was born in 1970, and lives in Helsinki. She grew up in a village of 3000 people and about as many goats. She studied English philology, philosophy, and comparative literature at the University of Turku in Finland, and got a B.Sci from Miami University in the U.S. in Mass Communications, with a focus in TV, film, and radio production. She interned in New York City at HBO Downtown Productions, where she met famous people like Lassie, and returned, broke, to Finland. In the land of free education she got an M.A. in screenwriting at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki.

Susanna has worked, among other things, as gas station attendant, cabin stewardess on a passenger ferry, film production assistant, continuity person and production coordinator, and storyliner and script editor on a daily TV drama show. She has written or co-written two plays, radio drama, a short film, and a short story, The Angel in the Municipal Pool, which was published in Slow Trains. Most recently, she wrote a 12-part TV show, Pelkovaara, which takes place in the army, is pacifist and critical of NATO, and generally pretty weird -- something of a cross between the works of Mel Brooks and Rainer Werner Fassbinder. Susanna also edits her own e-zine, Tuuhea,, does a bit of activism and exercise, and plans to keep writing in both Finnish and English.

1. When did you start writing?

Before I could actually write. I would fill page after page with squiggles. Sometimes I'd read them aloud in pretend Swedish to my grandfather's chickens or other captive audiences. And I made up stories -- one of them my mother wrote down and sent to a children's writing contest when I was four, and I won. I had -- and still have -- a fetishistic relationship with writing and the alphabet. As a small child, I had an ABC book where the letters looked like they had been made out of play-dough. Very tactile. I couldn't get enough of them. My dad does some graphic design, and as a teenager I'd spend hours immersed in his font books. I love letters. I love writing. They are the keys to the door to a secret world. I don't understand what the big deal is about virtual reality. We have had books for a long time.

2. What is your writing routine like?

If a deadline is close, or I am on the final stretch of a project, the hours can get crazy. But basically I like to get up around eight or nine, have breakfast slowly and check out the news on the Web, check my email, doodle around, and get a lot of breadcrumbs and coffee into my computer keyboard until the early afternoon. I think I work best between 1 p.m - 6 p.m..

3. Who are some of your favorite writers, and which writers have had the strongest influence on you?

One of my favorite kinds of writing is goofy intellectual comedy about serious subjects, and I think Douglas Adams and Tom Stoppard are two great examples of this. It's hard to get taken seriously when you do that, because a lot of people don't get that something is intelligent unless it's difficult and it clearly says "intelligent" on the package. From American writers, I love Jayne Anne Phillips, Jeffrey Eugenides, Michael Chabon, and Michael Gruber, who has been interviewed in The Ten, among others. I like the Russians, Tolstoy particularly. I like the Coen brothers' and Sofia Coppola's screenwriting, and David Hare's plays and his wonderful adaptation of The Hours for the screen. There are a number of great Finnish playwrights, and from my own country's contemporary novelists, my favorites are Veronica Pimenoff and Riikka Ala-Harja, who also works in the theatre. And I nearly worship the Finnish feminist philosopher and essayist Heidi Liehu.

4. Besides writing, what are you most passionate about in your life?

I am passionate about my friends and family, people in general, about human rights and freedom of speech issues, and about disco balls.

5. What kind of music do you enjoy, and do you find that music has an influence on your writing?

I enjoy lots of kinds of music. Hip hop, reggae, dub, punk rock, various cultures' "world" music, dance music, rock music, etc.. Classical, jazz and heavy metal are the only genres I am not happily dilettanting away in, yet. There is a great Finnish reggae scene, with gifted, interesting artists who have something to say, who are taking an existing art form and using and expanding it intelligently. This guy Jukka Poika and a circle of people around him are mostly responsible for it. They had a great deal of influence on my TV show. One of their songs, "Hypnoosiin", has an interesting rhythmical pattern where the beat kind of restarts in the chorus, and it's almost wrong but it's not. Someone said the dramatic structure of Pelkovaara is stolen from that, like my rhythm section keeps taking these little walks.

6. Where are your favorite places to travel?

Well, I like Paris, Barcelona and New York, but I'd like to see lots more cities and places before I settle on favorites. I've never been to Mexico and the rest of Central or South America, or any Asian countries, for example. I think one of my favorite places in the world, though, will always be the Finnish west coast and the Baltic archipelago.

7. Where do your best ideas come from, or, what creates your most inspired state?

It's hard to say. I guess from things that are really bothering me, making me feel something. Stuff that I am trying to figure out how to deal with on a personal or political or intellectual level. Then I hear or see something that clicks and gives me an angle to go at whatever the thing is. Other than that, I often try to coax memories and stories out of my body by singing or dancing around, and wasteful as it is, by taking a shower. Sometimes it works, sometimes it just looks pretty silly.

8. Do you have any interesting vices that you'd care to share, and have they helped or hindered your writing?

I do have vices, but I'm not sure I want to share them. They both help and hinder my writing. I think one of the worst vices is fear, and that certainly hinders writing. Intellectual, emotional and ethical laziness is another, and I really hate it when I am guilty of that...which is generally on Wednesdays.

9. Yeats said that the only things worth writing about are sex and death -- what would your list include?

Love. Faith. Being able to maintain some level of sanity and basic goodness in the middle of the ugliness, greed, fear and hatred that characterize the human condition.

10. What's next for your writing?

I am working on a screenplay about the Finnish Continuation War, where my aim is to write a war movie without battles. I'm cooperating with a video artist friend for an installation piece for an exhibit in January, 2005. I'm also making notes for a mini series with a bit of a thriller angle, and I dream about writing a satirical movie called "The Critics", which would probably end my career.

©2004 by Susanna Laaksonen

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