Last night I attended a very entertaining Writersbloc event featuring the hot new Scandinavian Crime writer, Jo Nesbø, interviewed by the incomparable James Ellroy. Nesbø has been something like the literary flavor of the month around my house, thanks to my in-laws, who have hooked my wife on Nesbø's crime novels, and my son on his little-known children's books. Actually, I have not read Nesbø's work yet, but his novel Redbreast is officially on my massive "To Read" pile, and the description of his work sounds right up my alley.
Furthermore, this article from CNN last Sunday lists some of Nesbø's influences as Jim Thompson, Knut Hamsun, Henrik Ibsen, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, and Frank Miller. Sounds good to me!
Of course, I'm a huge James Ellroy fan, so this event was something of a surprising treat for me (for some reason, I didn't realize that Ellroy was part of the program). As a public speaker, Ellroy is larger than life; his speech is deliberate, eloquent, unapologetic, and peppered with "colorful" expletives (they don't call him "Demon Dog" for nothing!). He asked Nesbø about 8 (excellent) questions about his background, writing process, the recent spotlight on Scandinavian Crime Fiction, and the genre in general. Both men were impressive in their thoughtfulness and candor.
Nesbø did not approach writing as a serious pursuit until he was 38, after successful careers as a musician, stock broker and economist. But his family life was always rooted in storytelling, and understands that there is something intrinsically human about the act; storytelling is in our blood.
Ellroy proclaimed that the entire genre of crime fiction is complete bullshit, and nothing like any of the typical investigations we read about has EVER happened in real life. Yet, it's an agreement between the writer & reader. We're all in on it; everyone knows it's bullshit--but it's OUR bullshit. And we love it, with all the trappings.
He also disparaged all other types of fiction, saying that crime fiction is "The Real Shit."
Nesbø admitted he was not an expert at any of the many disciplines that he evidently writes so eloquently about, but writes how he believes things could or should be, in those worlds. Afterwards, he turns to experts in those fields tell him if he's way off. Imagination is more important than accuracy.
He said that his writing is a "reaction to reading," humbly stating that he stands on the shoulders of tradition. That is, all he has read, by many masters of this and other genres.
"The punch line is NOT the story."
Regarding research, and extrapolating from it: "You lie better if you know you are lying."
All in all, a very entertaining, lively and enlightening conversation between two master storytellers. I'm looking forward to getting sucked in to Jo Nesbø's stories, and Ellroy's new memoir, The Hilliker Curse. His earlier autobiographical work, My Dark Places is among the very best books I've ever read.