What Is a Win Amid AI Advances?

I finally won something, or rather, I had the fantastic luck of being selected for the Best Small Fictions anthology 2023. While this is a great honour, it doesn’t come with a lot of economic benefits attached.

Just as this happened, the writers of TV and movie script were on strike. The profit of production companies have increased many-fold, and the writers who were the foundation of this success, have seen very little of that profit trickle down.

At the same time, these writers see the lack of rights to the scripts they’ve produced as a looming threat. AI content mills are able to produce text based on content that is “out there” where copyright isn’t clearly established.

Even niche – and indie-writers discuss the impact of AI on the creative process, some even wondering if there is any point in writing at all. As someone whose income from writing is a small percentage of my total income, maybe I shouldn’t weigh in at all. But here it goes:

Creativity and creative writing /storytelling are fundamental aspects of being human and of staying human. The introduction of AI should teach us three things:

  • Our creative production has value, even monetary value, if AI extracts its content from it for monetary gain. This means copyright law needs to move quickly to reestablish the connection between the originators of that content and the money being made through use of AI “retouching it.”
  • AI extrapolates repetitive structures and replicates what has been said before. This should be a rallying cry for creatives to break moulds, reinvent structure and create text that makes us discover something new, unexpected.
  • We need to value the small presses, the independent, wild content they bring to the world much more. These have been pushing boundaries and giving new forms of storytelling a platform. Best Small Fictions is part of this landscape, and I am proud to be part of this publication and of the AI “resistance.”



Counting baby-steps while you navigate through a storm

2022 was supposed to be our return to normal. I had concluded my move across the Atlantic in the summer of 2021, set up my business, things were opening up so my commute to and from Italy, where my husband works, had become much easier. All these things were supposed to translate into more writing, better writing and the completion of two book projects.

Instead, I’ve felt rushed and blocked and stressed and published far less than I expected.

In truth, there’s also a war less than half a continent away, inflation and economic uncertainty, but all of these affect me less than the pandemic did on a daily basis, so I should be getting back on track.

In the middle of this feeling of overwhelm and defeat, I decided to sit down and look at what really happened in the past 18 months:

At the end of 2021, the anthology Tongues, on Longing and Belonging Through Language (to which I contributed the essay Holding my Tongue), was finally published.
In 2022 it went on to win the following prizes:

Gold Winner of the 2022 IPPY Awards – Anthology category

Silver Winner of the 2021 Foreword INDIES – Anthology category


My Science Fiction story The Final Countdown appeared in The May/2022 issue of Five on the Fifth

How to Tell a Story in Atticus Review (Spring 22)

Irregularities appeared in HELD Magazine’s Issue 3 (the Body issue), published in February 2022.This issue is fully accessible, with a recorded reading of the story following the text.

Clean Slates in the 2021 (published in 2022) issue of Round Table Review

Fragment Analysis 313 in Room Magazine’s City Rhythms issue, June 2021

My haiku bird chatter featured in Poetry Pea 3:22

My haiku long term care: featured in Frogpond 45:3 Autumn 2022

My haiku March Moon featured in Haiku Seed Journal

Winter clouds haiku featured in Haiku Seed Journal

My haiku about bruised apples appeared in Autumn Moon Haiku Journal  5:1 in December 2021.

My poem “Aftermath” appeared in North Dakota Quarterly (vol88.3/4, December 2021)

“Things I did while Amazonia Burned” appeared in Grist Journal 14 (2021) (Grist: A Journal of the Literary Arts)

I also had a short story as finalist in a Norwegian contest, part of the Ordkalotten, a literary festival in the arctic city of Tromsø

My book projects are evolving. But moving continents has shifted my focus a bit, and I am working on four different projects right now. We’ll see which reaches completion first. And I am finally learning to accept that’s how it will have to be.

I have also started teaching haiku and senryu workshops, and while this is no money-maker (at least so far), it has enriched me in so many other ways.




Once in a while, I get a newsletter in my inbox with the title, “Winning Writers.” Signing up for newsletters, hoping to find inspiration or at least solidarity, has been one of my coping mechanisms during the pandemic. But I have to admit that when “Winning writers” came my way, it almost felt like a taunt. Most of the time since March 2020 has felt like a long, bleak fallow season.

I have written less, submitted less and had fewer publications than the previous year. I haven’t finished editing my novel. I didn’t get past the $2000 threshold in writing income. (Good thing I didn’t quit my day job). So I haven’t felt like a “winning writer”  some days I’ve struggled to feel like a writer.

But as the dense cloud of the pandemic is getting thinner, I’m starting to measure my wins with a different meter. Getting up, managing to work, keeping in touch with friends and family and then writing a little bit every day, isn’t losing. Exercising, overcoming rejection, participating in workshops isn’t losing.

I didn’t win a Pushcart or get a book proposal accepted, but I did win a flash fiction prize ( The Frances Thomas Memorial Flash Fiction Award) and I did put together a short fiction manuscript that I’ve started sending out. I didn’t get my poems picked up by The New Yorker, but I did win second prize in a haiku contest (https://haikucrush.com). And amidst a stream of rejections, I also received acceptance letters from a few magazines I’d been dreaming of appearing in for years.

Winning is about not giving up and dealing with change the best you can. Winning is about not losing yourself when rejection and hardship comes. Winning is being there for the zoom meeting, even without makeup and on your 100th bad hair day. Winning is cutting yourself some slack so that you can recharge.

I’m writing this as I’m starting to get settled in Oslo. I’ve just started a new company here (http://finneordene.no/) where I’m adding workshops for blocked writes to the services I’ll be offering. It may seem odd to move during a pandemic, and it certainly wasn’t easy to sell a house and buy an apartment. But the pandemic taught us that family is precious, and having an ocean and layers upon layers of travel restrictions between us and close family, no longer felt sustainable. And managing to make the necessary changes when something feels wrong, feels like a kind of win.


#writing #pandemic #winning #losing


Virtual fatigue

Almost ten weeks into lockdown, I’ve officially reached the point where I’d rather darn socks than participate in another zoom happy hour.

This has been a surprise to me. My love for the Internet was instant and deep. I’ve been working from a home office for close to twenty years. I have virtual friends I met through online forums in the late 90s, that I still count on for support and to exchange opinions with. I was an early adopter and grabbed every opportunity for distance learning and connection.

Now that the world is bubbling with virtual opportunities, I cringe at the idea of connecting to a platform. I do a few meetings online a week, but they don’t give the joy they used to.

Instead I find joy in things I can touch: my sourdough that has leavened my bread through three months; fresh literary magazines that give me paper cuts and smells and real feelings; the soil stuck under my fingernails after working in my minuscule garden.

My magazine subscriptions have never been put to better use than during these times. The same goes for old skills like baking, knitting, darning and planting.

It seems that touch and smell are more crucial to my well-being than I thought.

#pandemicfatigue #pandemic

If Shakespeare and Boccaccio did it, then why can’t I?

Among my writer friends, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought on new anxieties, but also a lot more time than we used have–time we could dedicate to writing.

The first few week, many of my anglophone connections were posting encouraging accounts about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear, one of his finest works, while sitting in hiding away from the city to avoid the plague.
Boccaccio, two centuries earlier, took it even further, he escaped the plague, and managed to write about it as well.
We’re at the and of our third week of self-isolation and, alas, no new King Lear or second Decamerone has started flowing out of my keyboard. A few poems, an essay about something unrelated to the coronavirus, some editing of older pieces.

Instead, I’ve been spending more time than usual baking, experimenting with sourdough, and checking up with friends I haven’t talked to for years. It’s almost as if I’m finding new excuses not to write.
I’m not alone. My Twitter feed tells me many writers feel paralyzed and overwhelmed. Living through a unique historic period may give you more to write about, but there is no guarantee you’re able to actually do it.

Some of us are even at the best of times “meanderers.” We don’t see the connections right away, and the line between two events or emotions is rarely straight for us.

When asked about the process behind the essay, Holding my Tongue, I described it in the following way:
I don’t see connections or an arc for a long time. In the meantime, I gather scraps of memories, bits of dialogue and half-baked ideas in notebooks —and in files with random names. But at times, this meandering way into a narrative structure also gives room for unexpected epiphanies while I write. Metaphorically, my writing process looks like this: I’m hiding under a table with my eyes closed, trying to capture the emotion and intensity of what’s going in the room.

I don’t know if Shakespeare or Boccaccio ever hid under the table with their eyes closed or if they spent a long time frozen up before they could write anything. But I do know, that whatever it is I am feeling, it will come out in writing sooner or later. Maybe between one batch of bread and the next.

Ebbs and flows

The end of a year is a time when most of us take time to measure where we are in our lives. Some pull out their resolutions from the beginning of the year to see how they fared. Some make lists of things they still wish to achieve.

I started out 2019 claiming it should be the year I would dedicate to finishing that darned second draft of my novel. I would allow myself to write some short stories and creative nonfiction pieces, for sure, but my main focus would be on the novel.

When measured against that goal, last year was a failure. I’m still less than half way through my revisions, and I’ve spent too many hours to admit just staring at the screen–or commenting on twitter instead of actually editing and rewriting.

In the last few months of the year, I tried to remedy this by using a system of SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound), which had the opposite effect of what I anticipated. I achieved less and felt worse about myself, and by the time December came around, I could no longer take the monthly humiliation of not having achieved the goals I had set for myself.

But while I’ve been procrastinating the work on my novel (or at least not making headway the way I expected), I have achieved other unexpected things, things I could never have imagined or planned for before this year. My return to poetry has brought a fresh wind of creative energy. My poetry practice is constantly in the back of my head, and I keep gathering words and fragments to put into my poems.

I have also written and reedited quite a few short stories, flash fiction and a few essays. I’ve spent time finding the right markets for my stories, and as a result the tally for 2019 was twenty acceptances. Two of my pieces received Pushcart nods. One essay was shortlisted for a prize.

So as I entered the new year, I swore off the SMART goals, and went for a simple list of pieces I’m working on and tallying up how much time I manage to claim for my writing. Despite lots of translation work in the first week of 2020, I have already counted up 7 hours of writing. I have finished three poems (in addition to lots of mediocre haiku) and drafted an essay.

My novel will have to wait until I have larger chunks of time to work with. But I don’t need to feel like a failure because of that. If I had kept to my goal for 2019, I may have ended up finishing my second draft, but I would not have let poetry writing back in my life.

In 2020 I want to accept the ebbs and flows of my writing life; allow myself to follow new ideas. Going with the flow already makes me feel lighter in my writing. I’m hoping that feeling will last.

To be or not to be (a poet)

I started writing poetry before I entered first grade. I come from a long line of compulsive rhymesmiths and was first in line to carry the torch to the next generation.

I chronicled every birthday, Mother’s Day, Father’s day in occasional verses full of painfully repetitive rhyme words. Once in a while, a poem born of my own imagination would come along too. Poetry was currency in my cash-strapped childhood and I kept writing several poems a week until I reached the age of self-consciousness, and a Saturday job in a bargain basement gave me enough money to buy “real” gifts.

I returned to poetry in my early twenties, during a personal crisis, and wrote what I thought was a collection over a few months–about 60 poems that made me feel gutted after writing them.

I had read a lot of poetry between my childhood attempts and this collection, but I only had a vague notion of what made a good poem good.

I was completely unprepared for the three rejections I received, one after the other. The kind notes the editors added, recommending I keep working and editing these poems, felt like a death sentence. I abandoned any hope of becoming a poet and put down my pen for more than twenty years.

When I returned to writing, more than twenty years later, I knew I could never be a poet. I was writing in a different language at this point, and poetry had to be written in your heart language, your mother tongue, I thought. Even as the fiction and nonfiction I wrote got more lyrical, I held on to this idea: I am not a poet, though I love poetry.

About a year ago, I felt an attraction to the haiku practice. The first attempts were so-so, but gradually my eye for what I could do with the form, with balance and twists, got better. A daily practice allows you to grow and to go back and improve something you wrote last month. Soon, I started venturing into other poetry as well.

At the end of October of this year, I had my 6th poem published, and for the first time it reached out to a much wider audience than my previous publications. It was shared again and again on social media and I received messages about how it made people feel. It was dizzying.

I still don’t consider myself a capital P Poet. To me that’s a title that feels almost sacred. But I practice poetry. By practising and returning to my poems to make them better, I’m learning to be patient with my writing. Maybe in time, I’ll feel I’ve become a poet.

I’ll be reading my poetry in November, as part of a reading series at Glad Day Bookstore in Toronto. It’s part of my practice to become a poet.

Reading as an integral part of writing

For many years, while my daughters were young, and even when in their early teens, we’d dedicate some time almost every day to reading out loud. It was a habit we had developed as part of their bedtime ritual, and that we kept up as a way to bond over something that had nothing to do with homework or chores or fights with their friends. It grounded my daughters in the three languages we spoke at home, and in stories, and I missed it when they started preferring to read on their own.

This summer, my youngest was home from university, and we rediscovered the joy of reading to each other. Though she didn’t finish the reading of War and Peace to us, the hours we sat around and listened and laughed about Tolstoy’s descriptions were some of the best we had all summer.

Over the past few years, I’ve rediscovered how reading my own work helps me relate to the rhythm and pace of my writing, and how feeling the words in my body helps me edit and polish a piece. I have also started going to public literary readings, which sometimes feels like the adult substitute of reading to each other at bedtime. This fall I too am becoming part of the “reading” literary scene in Toronto.

I started out during Toronto International Film Festival, with a reading of my environmental haiku and tanka at a demonstration organized by Extinction Rebellion.

Next, in a little more than a week, an anthology with writing from members of the Lit Mag Love collective will launch. I’m so proud of my community of writers from the Lit Mag Love Course! We’re launching our first anthology, featuring 25 writers with work they published in journals—and the tales of how they published.

You can sign up for your FREE copy and find tickets to our (online) launch readings here: http://bit.ly/LitMagLovePub , and there will be public online readings so people can listen to our pieces, wherever they happen to be.

I’m both excited and terrified about this.

Later in the fall, I’ll be part of the Emerging Writers Reading series at Glad Day Bookshop, but that is something I’ll talk more about in a later blog post.

In order to shape your writing to your experience, sometimes you need to break out of the mould

Most writing courses centre on learning the structures of writing: What is a narrative arc? What does it mean to show instead of tell? What is effective use of metaphor? For years, my writing practice was all about getting those rules to work for and in my writing.

I still use a traditional narrative arc in most of my work, and I generally stay within a single genre. Lately, though, as conventions are breaking down around me (some of it for good, some of it not), I’ve found that experimental, genre-defying writing sometimes manages to capture the sense of this time better.

From my haiku practice, I’ve ventured into the haibun, a classical Japanese style mixing nonfiction prose and poetry (haiku). My short stories are no longer only in the realist tradition; I’ve ventured into magic realism and science fiction and I’ve even worked on circular narrative structures. In my nonfiction work, I’ve started testing out visual and patchwork essays.

Two such experimental pieces are out this month–the short story ‘Fabric’ is up in Gone Lawn–and my “flow chart essay” is in Journal of Compressed Creative Arts

Writing the end the world

The past few months much of my writing has been dedicated to writing that is different ways touches upon climate change, climate emergencies and being at a tipping point. Even when i start out with other themes, at some point my climate worries start seeping in.

Though this may seem monotonous, the writing has taken so many new and unexpected forms, that I don’t feel like I’ve reached the end of this path. I’ve written dozens of haiku, a couple of poems, two essays and a couple of short stories with climate as a main or at least prominent theme.

The work I have that is due to appear in print or online these days doesn’t reflect this yet. My other obsessions, relationships, women’s lives and language, are at the centre of the two short stories and three essays that will be published over the next 6 weeks. For three of the pieces, the road to publication has been long and tortuous. It gives me a sense of closure to know they will finally be out in the world, even when I worry constantly about the future of the same world.

This is one of my climate haiku:

Well past ‘climate scare’
she peddles words and water
to climate mourners