Authors in the Wild: Fredrik Backman
Fredrik Backman is unable to give a short answer.
He knows this, and I appreciate that! When his publicist said he had time for one last quick questions, and specified “one quick question, Fredrik,” he replied that no matter how quick the question, he could easily come up with a very long answer! This self-awareness made for a very entertaining author event at Powell’s on Sunday, June 11, 2017. The event began with Backman engaging in discussion with Emily Chenoweth, author of Hello Goodbye. What I heard of that part I enjoyed, but both Backman and Chenoweth started off soft-spoken and failed to hold the microphones very close while speaking. Sitting in the third row from the back, we missed most of what was said during this. However they caught on to the fact that not everyone could hear, and for the Q&A session they gave people in the audience the microphone to ask, which was super helpful!
The Powell’s event was to celebrate Backman’s newest book, Beartown, which he described as being about a small town, hockey, and good people doing terrible things. A terrible sex crime takes place and the town doesn’t know how to react (full disclosure: I haven’t had a chance to read it yet, so my synopsis is based off of what they talked about at the event). Backman said he wanted to keep everything about it in the gray, to have no black and white, and to explore his own hypocrisy–he still roots for sports players that are incredible athletes, even when he knows they have done terrible things.
After reading A Man Called Ove, Backman’s 2012 international bestseller, I was very excited to attend. My mom is a huge fan of Backman, and has read all of his work, and tried to get me to read Ove years before Imaginary Book Club did, but with my ever-growing TBR pile I neglected to do so. Knowing how much she loves the book, I was able to get her a copy of A Man Called Ove and have Backman sign it. When I told him it was for my mom, and that she is a huge fan, he actually drew a little doodle for her! He was very sweet about it, and seems to really appreciate his fans rather than taking them for granted.
In Sweden, Backman began learning English at a young age, so he is fluent. An audience member asked about his part in the translation process, and he said that he leaves it to the experts. He also noted that he feels it is easier to translate from a language that has fewer adjectives to a language that has many adjectives than vice versa. English has a lot more adjectives than Swedish does, and maybe that’s why he is able to convey emotions so well through his writings!
When someone asked why he chose to write a book about Britt-Marie, he said he liked how complicated she was, and that he had his wife read a draft of Britt-Marie Was Here and said “oh, you wrote about yourself!”
Apparently Backman and Britt-Marie are both stubborn, unable to let things go, and passive aggressive.
Backman even stated that he is incredibly difficult to work with…according to everyone he has ever worked with. Hey, write what you know, right? But Backman came across as a very emphatic guy who doesn’t assume he can write about the experiences of others. He spoke of talking with the people in his life who have had those experiences, and having those conversations inform his writing. As someone who has gotten frustrated more than once at male authors assuming they can understand the female mind, I appreciated that! All of Backman’s answers were very deliberate and grounded in his feelings for the art of writing, and, though long-winded, provided a window into how he brings his characters to life.
In our discussion of A Man Called Ove at Imaginary Book Club, we discussed how surprised many readers are when they got to the end of the book and realized how emotionally invested they were in the curmudgeonly Ove! Backman can write emotions so well you begin to view his characters as your own neighbors, their troubles as your own hurdles. I loved how he would start to answer a question, get distracted in his answer, and often fail to truly address the questions at all, while still conveying to all of us present that the art of writing is hard, and scary, and personal, and wonderful all in one go.
Sometimes you go to an author event and end up very disappointed – the author came across as condescending, they hated the parts of the book you loved, they were an hour late and didn’t apologize – but sometimes you go to an author event and come away liking the author even more, and looking forward to reading more of their work.
After listening to and meeting Fredrik Backman (while wearing my Imaginary Book Club shirt, nonetheless!), I can’t wait to read all the rest of his books, and I will continue to recommend his works to my friends.