Crime à la Camilla Läckberg.
Swedish crime novelist Läckberg at a recent book signing and speech at the Swedish Church in New York.
She is one of the hottest crime writers in Sweden today, having sold three million books in her native country alone and 6 million worldwide.
In fact, Camilla Läckberg is one of many contenders who could pick up where Stieg Larsson left off. During a recent promotion trip to New York, she talked about her background and her writing.
“I’ve always wanted to be an author,” says Camilla Läckberg, who looks more like an actress than a writer in her navy, one-shoulder mini dress and high heels, her long dark hair swept to one side. “I wrote my first book when I was 4 years old, it was appropriately called ‘Tomten.’ I dictated and my father wrote it down. It starts out innocently enough with Tomtefar and Tomtemor, but a few pages later Tomtemor is found dead with blood everywhere.”
With such a start, Läckberg muses, she had only two career choices in life: That of a serial killer or that of a crime writer. However, it didn’t turn out to be that easy. Läckberg studied economy and became an economist, hating every minute of both studies and work.
“It was horrible,” she frowns. “I was the unhappiest economist in all of Sweden. I suffered stomachaches every Sunday evening in anticipation of the week to come.”
Meanwhile, she kept talking about her dream to write, and in 1998 (“or 1999, I can’t really remember”) she was given a creative writing course as a Christmas gift, and that course became the push she needed to write her first book.
“I learned that writing was something I could actually do,” Läckberg explains. “It wasn’t just some hocus-pocus, nor some waiting around for inspiration―if I were to wait for inspiration I wouldn’t have written anything at all. Writing is simply a matter of getting your butt into the chair.”
Her debut novel, “The Ice Princess,” began as a writing assignment in class. Thus the characters Läckberg has spent seven books developing, Erica Falck and Patrik Hedström, were the first ones she created professionally.
“Erica and Patrik have become my best friends,” she says. “I’ve spent more time during these past 10 years with them than with my ‘real’ friends. When I was going through a very public divorce, my readers got terribly upset, e-mailing me to make sure at least Erica and Patrik weren’t going to get a divorce. And I assured them they are not!”
All of Läckberg’s stories take place in Fjällbacka, a locality situated in Bohuslän. It’s a place Läckberg knows well, as this is where she grew up.
“From the very beginning I knew I did NOT want to write about middle-aged policemen like Mankell and many with him. I created Erika and made her a writer so she could have carte blanche to do a lot of the things I needed her to do. Erica falls in love with Patrik who’s a policeman. Erica isn’t me at all, she is tall and blonde and older than I am, but I also realized quickly that everything works so much better if I write what I know about, so I suppose now she is 50 percent me and 50 percent herself, I won’t say which is which. With Erica and Patrik I also wanted to write about a regular couple, no superheroes.”
They behave like you and me, Erica and Patrik, they are no professional crime solvers per se. They deal with the gossip of a typical small town, they have to shovel out their cars from the deep snow, they drink buckets of coffee, and they are constantly trying to lose those perennial last few pounds."
In reading “The Ice Princess” one immediately understands that the allure here is the slow turn of this kind of everyday life, upon which springs the creepiest of crimes, shocking Erica and Patrik as well as the reader. Läckberg’s seven books are available in 33 countries. In 2008, she received France’s Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel, she got the People’s Literature Award in 2006 and the SKTF Prize for Author of the Year in 2005*.
“There was a long line of people coming to my book signing in Madrid,” Läckberg continues. “They can barely pronounce the word ‘Fjällbacka.’ Am I amazed at this success? Yes! But I have also had my dog years. I have sat at empty ICA-Maxi stores signing books for one person. So I appreciate being in New York City doing promotion now.”
Läckberg explains she gets her ideas through visual images. The first one being of a woman seated, naked, in a bathtub, with only her knees and upper body sticking up from, not water, but ice. Ice, ice everywhere, frost in the woman’s hair, frost in her lashes. There was blood, too, of course, blood against the white tiles. Who was this young woman? And why was she sitting dead in a bathtub?
“I see an image and I wonder ‘Who is that person? Why is she there?’ That’s how I begin. I am very interested in crime and I read a lot about old crimes, and I read everything about serial killers and so on.”
Läckberg writes when her children are away at school, and she often writes with the television on as a backdrop.
“I am not very disciplined by nature, but I am goal-oriented. My first goal was to get published, then my goal became to write one book a year, but now that’s getting to be a bit too much. I also want to sell, of course I do, although in Sweden you’re not supposed to say things like that. But I am competitive, and I am both a businesswoman and an artist.”
In New York, Läckberg was interviewed by Pia Lindstrom on her radio show “Pia Lindstrom Presents,” which runs on Sirius XM radio. Lindstrom’s mother, Ingrid Bergman, spent many of her summers on Dannholmen outside Fjällbacka. Läckberg was also interviewed on NPR’s “All Things Considered,” “The Lewis Frumkes Show” and “About Books with Faye Chow.” Says her American editor Jessica Cane, from Pegasus Books:
“Since the American market is so tough to crack from an ‘outsider’s’ perspective, by bringing Camilla to NYC, we really wanted to give her the chance to integrate herself with American readers so they could put a face and a voice to this new book, and also so that we could show readers that while she is Swedish, she is NOT Stieg Larsson, but a unique, powerful and special writer with her own voice and style of work. ‘The Ice Princess’ has only been out for three weeks at this point, but so far we are happy with how the book is selling (first printing was 25,000) and we have already gone back to press.”
Pegasus has signed Camilla's first four books and will publish the American edition of her second book, “The Preacher,” in June 2011.
For more information: www.camillalackberg.com
"The Ice Princess," ISBN-10: 1605980927.
* The People’s Literature Award is awarded by Rix FM and Bokia. Today the prize is referred to as Svenska Litteraturpriset. SKTF (Sveriges Kommunaltjänstemannaförbund) = Swedish Union of Local Government Officers.
We earlier covered the New York Times article on the trendy Swedish crime writers: N.Y. Times on post-Stieg Larsson writers…
Also did research for your next trip to Sweden, on following in the footsteps of Swedish novelists: Swedish Literary Destinations