Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen is the author of The Rabbit Back Literature Society and two other books that have not yet been published internationally. He writes fantasy and science fiction stories and loves vampires. When not writing, he is a Finnish and literature teacher, and the father of three sons. You can find him online at rabbitbackliterature.com.
Shauna Kosoris: On your website, it says you are “Finland’s best kept literary secret.” Do you think this is changing now that your first novel, The Rabbit Back Literature Society, has been published internationally?
Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen: If it is changing, I can’t see it, not yet anyway. I have had my own, smallish and quite devoted audience in Finland for a decade now, and I think it’s slowly growing. I’m pretty sure I won’t make any real breakthrough in my homeland, ever – the Finnish book market just isn’t a good place for writers of non-realistic prose. But I can live with it because it seems that my books are quite nicely noticed abroad, for example, in the UK it was among other things chosen by the Waterstones Book Club. Nothing like that has ever happened to my books in Finland. But I can’t complain, really: it’s like that for most of the Finnish writers. And in the end, I’m doing quite fine. In Finland, no more than maybe a handful of new books are marketed properly during every season – the population of Finland is 5 million and people don’t read or buy books that much anymore. Because of the polarized nature of the Finnish book market, some books sell huge numbers of copies; most books sell barely at all.
SK: Will your other novels be published internationally, too?
PIJ: Hopefully. Yes, I think so, at least my agent is negotiating about selling the international rights of the other two novels of mine, and I place my trust in her.
SK: Hopefully we’ll be seeing them here in Canada soon! You teach Finnish language and literature. Did any of your experiences teaching inspire The Rabbit Back Literature Society?
PIJ: I have this theory that all teachers are narcissists to some extent. Some of us even more than others. It can be a problem if you don’t know it yourself. People who work with people, especially with kids, must know their dark side in order to control it, otherwise it controls us. Laura White doesn’t know, and that’s what makes her psychologically dangerous to her pupils.
SK: Thinking of Laura White, she’s been compared to the Snow Queen. Was this intentional on your part?
PIJ: I’m not sure if I had the Snow Queen in my mind – that fairy tale is familiar to me, though, so it’s quite possible that there is some kind of connection between Laura and the Snow Queen. More than the Snow Queen, I thought of vampires. And teachers. There is a (hopefully) small part in every teacher’s soul, dark and hungry, that carries a vampiric desire to see teacher’s own reflection in his or her pupils. So, more than anything else, Laura White is a combination of Dracula and John Keating (Dead Poets Society): a very charismatic teacher who, in the end, may take more than give…
Laura White’s original Finnish name is Laura Lumikko. Lumikko is this small snow-white predator, actually a weasel, although we have two separate words, “lumikko” and “näätä”, and “lumikko” doesn’t refer to treacherousness at all, unlike the word “näätä”. “Lumikko”, however, is a predator, and so is Laura White. Also, Laura’s Finnish last name Lumikko sounds a lot like Lumikki, and Lumikki is the Finnish name of Snow White – in a way, the pupils of Laura White are her own dwarfs, meant to reflect her deepest essence back to her, because deep down she isn’t sure who – or what – she truly is.
SK: What is it about vampires that you love so much?
PIJ: Deep down we all are vampires to each other. Some of us have souls, some don’t. Vampire is a great metaphor. Besides that, I believed in vampires when I was 5 years old and lived next to the old cemetery of Jyväskylä. Some guy next door, a couple of years older than me, told me about them and since then, I had horrific vampire nightmares for years. Every single night. Then, I think I was 10 or something, I learned how to fight them: I turned myself into a wolf and ripped their throats. My next step was to become a vampire myself and join them. That’s how I solved this nasty vampire problem of mine.
SK: I’m glad you’ve found solutions over the years. What are you working on next?
PIJ: A novel. The working title is ‘The Days of the Mutant Cat’. It has something to do with motherhood and being a son of somebody – my mother passed away last October, and I think I need to write this novel now.
SK: I’m sorry to hear that; good luck with the writing. To finish off, let’s talk a bit about what you read. What book or author inspired you to write?
PIJ: It’s impossible to mention only one book. As a kid, I read a lot of fairy tales and comic books. More than anything else, I loved Donald Duck stories written by Carl Barks and some really strange Donald Duck pocket books. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis was something else: the scene where Lucy finds Narnia in the wardrobe had a huge impact on my imagination. Then there were the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. – I loved the strange humor of them! Ray Bradbury was also important to me. I bought The Illustrated Man for my 10-year-old son recently because I wanted to share the reading experience with him. I also bought him the Earthsea trilogy of Ursula Le Guin; it blew my mind when I was his age.
SK: I hope he enjoys them! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?
PIJ: No. I think every book has been written so many times that in a way there are many slightly different versions of all works ever written available; no book is irreplaceable. Some of them are just more famous than others. But I think that people should dare to read different kinds of books than they are used to; leave their comfort zone once in a while and let the diversity of literature blow their mind.
SK: That’s very true. Finally, what are you currently reading?
PIJ: The biography of Joss Whedon, by Amy Pascale. I loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I still love it, and this book is both interesting and useful for us writers, I think. Besides it, I have so many unfinished books waiting, I’m a terrible reader nowadays. Being a teacher and trying to write my own book, the fourth novel of mine, just doesn’t allow me to have a long-term relationship with most of the books I begin to read. It’s too easy to leave them after 50 pages when I see something more interesting…