Swedish crime writer Karin Alvtegen is nominated for the prestigious American Edgar Allan Poe Award for her novel “Missing” (“Saknad” in Swedish). The Edgars, as they are more often called, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America.
The Edgars, as they are more often called, are presented every year by the Mystery Writers of America, and honor the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction, television, film and theater published or produced in the past year. The only Swedish writers to have ever won an Edgar are Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö in 1971 for “The Laughing Policeman.” We called to congratulate Alvtegen and to ask her what got her started in writing crime novels in the first place.
Congratulations on the nomination — how does it feel?
“It feels great! I’m really excited. I’ve bought a beautiful gown for the banquet, which will be held in New York on April 30.”
How many books have you written?
“I’ve written 5 books, I’m currently working on my 6th, and I've been translated into 27 languages.”
Why did you start writing?
“There are many authors in my family. Astrid Lindgren was my old aunt, for instance, so I grew up with people who were all good at telling stories. And I was pretty good at writing in school, too, I just never thought I had enough talent to get published. Then my brother died suddenly in an accident in 1993, and I got very depressed; I had to take time off from work to treat my depression, and it was during that time, when I was in therapy that a story suddenly came to me. I didn’t really know then that I was writing a book. It felt as if I got access to a new room within myself, when I discovered writing.”
What does a normal working day look like?
“Well, it takes about a year for me to think up a story, and then it takes another year for me to write it. My first book, 'Guilt,' I wrote in two months, but since then I keep raising the bar for myself. When I’m in my writing phase, I begin my day with a long walk with the dog, then I start writing at around 11:30 or noon and write for seven hours. I write and edit at the same time, and I never have any deadlines. Sometimes minor characters grow to become bigger, that’s when my subconscious takes over the creative process. Nothing can compete with the feeling that I’ve done something great when I write. Not even good reviews.”
Why do you think Swedish thrillers are so successful internationally?
“Sjöwall/Wahlöö began that trend, and I think their books took away the label that it somehow wasn’t ‘fine’ to write thrillers. After Sjöwall/Wahlöö, established writers felt that it was all right to write thrillers. I also believe Swedish thrillers aren’t just thrillers, they are rich novels that happen to have a riddle in them. They deal with things human and personal that we all can relate to.”
Who do you read?
“Well, while I write I cannot read novels, I just read biographies or technical books. I don’t really read thrillers, although of course I’ve read Sjöwall/Wahlöö and Agatha Christie. But I suppose the book that I read when I first started writing, which was Peter Høeg’s 'Smilla’s Sense of Snow' determined the genre of my books.”
What’s important for you when you write?
“Psychology. I’ve read a lot of psychology, because I’m interested in the darker sides of others and myself. The more I know about myself, the less condescending I am of others. My depression taught me a lot.”
Where do you get your inspiration?
“That all depends. For instance, the character Sibylla in my book ‘Missing’ came one morning as I was waiting at a subway station. This barefoot homeless woman came up to me, begging for money. Most people turned away from her, as we do when homeless people come to us, but there was such dignity about this woman. I started to think about her and wondered how she ended up like that — so lonely that nobody was there for her. She became Sibylla, who is also my favorite character in all the books I’ve written. My Edgar nomination is therefore also for this homeless woman, wherever she is today.”
For more info on the author, see www.karinalvtegen.com; on the Edgar award, see www.mysterywriters.org