You’ve released several books so far – which of them is your personal favourite and why? And which has sold the most?
I’m sure you’ve heard about parents having to choose their favourite child… I don’t think I can answer that question. Each story is important to me, for different reasons, for the different topics they cover and discuss. The latest one, or the one I’m working on at the moment, is always on my mind, but that doesn’t mean I love it more. It’s just this ‘feeling’ that the characters are lingering in the back of my mind, they aren’t quite emancipated yet. My bestseller to date is Jonathan’s Hope. It is the book that has the biggest focus on ‘romance‘, and most readers in the LGBT space are women reading romance.
How much does your sexuality feed into your work? Your characters are often homosexual, but it never feels forced – was this a conscious decision on your part?
I think it’s the same as how Jackie Collins or Stephen King’s sexuality feeds into their work: we can’t help it. We are who we are. I am a gay man, and there is almost no gay literature out there (thousands of books don’t count, compared to millions and millions of ‘straight‘ books). Besides, much of the history of gay fiction is misery: psychopaths, mental illness or STDs, including HIV. I want to show the world that being gay is no different than being straight, that the way we deal with loss, relationships, climate change or racism is exactly the same anyone else would.
So yes, it was a very conscious decision. I won’t write ‘straight’ characters. Plenty of others are doing that… When King or Collins writes a bestseller with a great gay main character, maybe then I’ll reconsider! And thank you for the compliment. I am gay, it comes natural to me, I don’t have to force it!
Travel is a recurring theme in your writing. How often do you get to travel, and where’s your favourite place in the world?
Yes, I travel a lot, it’s our favorite pastime. We try to get out as often as we can, which may be aided by the dismal climate we have here in Sweden. It’s too cold, too rainy, and too windy. I think we should all travel more, discover new cultures and realise that people all over the world are just like we are: working hard, trying to get by and to make the best of the cards they’re dealt.
My favourite place? Wow, what did I say about the first question? There are so many places to choose from, but let me give you a couple. Uluru, in central Australia. Not only is the landscape absolutely breathtaking, the mountain and its history have some amazing philosophical lessons to teach us, about life and humanity. The other would be the Taj Mahal in Agra, an amazing example of architecture, and – if you believe the story of its inception – the most romantic place you could imagine. Finally, a city: Paris, great food, and some of the most romantic walks you could take.
Willem of the Tafel stands out to me as the biggest ‘warning’ in your work – how do you think our attitudes will change over the next fifty years, particularly when it comes to racism, sexism and homophobia?
I don’t know. I hope it’ll change for the better, but these things seem to be like pendulums, swinging back and forth. 1920s Germany was very liberal and very open to the LGBT community – ten years later, we were slaughtered by the thousands along with the Jews. Things can change quickly, and with every victory seems to come a backlash. Racism is slightly different, it’s a human condition to be “afraid” of what’s different, and because we vilify it, we don’t acknowledge that we are all “racist”, to a degree, and we don’t help people overcome this fear of the unknown, the xenophobia. Instead we ostracize them, making them feel even more side-lined, which will only increase the negative sentiment towards those they do not know. I had an eye-opening trip with a black friend of mine this summer, spending four days with her and realizing just how differently society treats whites and blacks (to just take one example). I doubt that 99% of these people were racists, yet their actions were, deeply ingrained by the culture that raised them. This became particularly painful, when even black security guards would search her much more thoroughly than they searched me. It’ll take a long time to overcome that. I think the same can be said for sexism. The way we see men and women portrayed every day, in the media, in films, in books, and by our relatives. It socializes generation after generation to value male over female, and the worst of it is that women can be the biggest sexists out there. BUT, I’m an eternal optimist, and I hope we’ll make progress. I try to do my part, often writing about these processes in my books or on my blog. This is just a very brief answer to one of the most complex challenges we face, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t take what happens in Willem for us to realize that we can’t afford to view people differently just because they’re not like us, whatever those differences may be…
Tell us about your writing routine – how do you get things done?
Once I get the family out the door in the morning, I catch up on the news before blogging. After nine am I start my “real” day, looking at either doing marketing (90% of my authorship is marketing, editing, and admin, only 10% – sadly – is writing) or whatever else beckons. I need to be in the zone for writing, and once I am, I sit and type away. I can write up to 10k words on a good day. My writing is extremely fluid, very subconscious. I’m always the first one to read my own stories, the first one to cry when something bad happens and the first to laugh at comic relief. My characters tend to take the lead and the stories evolve, often not the way I had planned or imagined. It’s very liberating I must tell you, to be able to write this way.
How do you get the word out about your books?
I mostly use social media – Twitter, Facebook, etc. I do book tours and try to get as many reviews as possible. I’ve tried a great many different tactics, some working better than others. I’ve paid huge amounts of money for PR, or for people promising the moon in terms of sales, only to realize the only one reaching the moon were the people invoicing me. Lesson learned. In the end, the only thing that ‘really’ works is patience and mouth to mouth propaganda, readers telling readers about great books, and reviews, lots of reviews. And, as I learned early on, the best marketing for your book is the next one. Being an author is all about patience and endurance. And, last not least, a bit of luck…
What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
I just finished Sandcastles by Suzie Carr, a romance novel about a marketing executive meeting and being challenged by a psychic. A wonderful book, and it challenged me in more way than one, and it includes some amazing secondary characters. I reviewed it here: http://www.hirschi.se/blog/review-sandcastles-by-suzie-carr/
How did you get into writing? Do you remember the first thing that you wrote?
I’ve always been writing, and I still own some of the first stories I wrote as a child. I also used to keep a diary. As an adult, I published a couple of non-fiction titles, but as a literature major, I lost the appetite to read. Once you read up to 30 (!) books a week for four years, you are so done with reading. It wasn’t until I had a sabbatical before our son was born that I felt that I’d want to write again, and that’s how Family Ties was born…
What have you got planned for the future? What can we expect to see?
Next month I have a new novel out, dealing with disability and family. It’s about a nineteen-year-old wheelchair-bound boy who meets love unexpectedly, and how they deal with the cards life deals them when they’re tasked with raising a child with cerebral palsy. It’s a sweet, feel-good story, with a little drama. I wanted to write something that instils hope in young people with disabilities, something that shows them that there is indeed hope, that their lives can be fulfilling and great, and that they are capable of whatever they want.
How would you categorise your work? Do you think it fits under a genre?
No, I don’t, but my publisher keeps pushing me into the romance genre. Maybe because I always have a strong romantic subplot? Maybe because those are the only gay books that actually sell? I’d like to say that my books are literary fiction, but I also think that socially aware contemporary fiction is a good fit. Even Willem, despite the fact that it plays out in the future, is “contemporary” in a way, because it deals with problems and challenges facing us today…
What advice would you give to an up-and-coming writer?
Write a lot, read a lot. Get honest feedback. Because if you suck, you want to know early on. I’ve read some shit that would make your toes curl. Writing isn’t for everybody… But the more you read, the more you write, the better you’ll be a the craft of writing. Now I know that we are all different, but I think most of us have great stories hidden in our imagination, stories that just want to come out, one way or another.
What effect do you think the internet is having on the world of literature?
It’s made it more difficult to become an author and live on our work because prices have dropped so much and because there’s so much more out there.
It’s made it easier to become an author and to live on our work because it’s so simple to publish it and get it out to people.
It’s a two-edged sword. BUT, it’s also an amazing tool. I was able to write about places I haven’t been to yet, simply by using the imagery, the films and the information available online. Research can be done from the comfort of our laptops. We don’t have to travel places (as much fun as it is), we don’t have to go to libraries and face potentially outdated information. That is a huge bonus.
I wrote a scene in The Fallen Angels of Karnataka where our heroes take a path from an airport to a jetty, to take a boat. I read up on the airport and the airlines flying there, and with Google Earth I was fairly certain that it would be possible to actually walk from the arrivals hall to the jetty. I was thrilled when I walked that stretch a few months after publishing the book, realizing that I had nailed it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6m1cDZyOyQ
What’s the biggest trend in the writing world right now, in your opinion?
I wouldn’t even presume to make any such claims… I just returned from a writing convention and I have a bit of a hunch when it comes to the LGBT world. What I dare say is that we’ll see more and more topics, more and more taboos will be broken (who thought there’d be erotica with dinosaurs and now dresses?), and self-publishing is thriving, while the big publishers retreat to what they consider safe bets. It’s becoming more and more difficult for a debutant to make it the traditional way. You have to prove yourself in self-publishing or indie publishing before the big ones even take notice.
If you could have dinner with any three authors, living or dead, which three authors would you pick?
Hmmm, I’d love to meet William Shakespeare. I admire his work and I’d love to know if he really meant to expand the English language and to gauge his take on how famous and important he’s become to our literary canon. I think I’d also like to meet Christopher Isherwood and Thomas Mann, two of the authors who have influenced my writing a lot. And, sorry, mentioning a fourth author, I’d like to meet Goethe, to find out if he was as big an asshole as I’ve always thought he must’ve been!
Who does the cover design on your books? And what’s the design process like?
I’ve worked with two different artists, Christopher Allen Poe for my first five covers, and with Natasha Snow for the last three. Ideally, I want the artist to read the manuscript – Chris always did – before they toss out ideas to me. I’ve always been skeptical to the whole notion of “headless torsos” that are so popular on gay novels, and Willem was the first book where I had a face on the cover, but I think it is a very fitting way to highlight the story and the cover is an amazing summary of the book, once you’ve read it, and you can see all the little details you recognise from the story.
The next book, which is very sweet and romantic, has a couple kissing on the cover – a first for me, but I think it fits the story. Hopefully it will also get people to look more closely at it.
We tend to forget that we are a very visual species and that when we look at a screen with twenty 250×166 pixel thumbnails, it takes a striking cover for the potential reader to click it and to read the blurb. We definitely buy books by the cover.
With the coming book, Spanish Bay, Natasha sent me a mock-up with a “feel” of the colours, the beach and the fonts. Based on my reaction, she began to elaborate on that concept and we ended up going through several iterations – six I believe – before we nailed it. The last four iterations were to iron out details, really – a tattoo that needed hiding, or a collar that stuck out oddly, or a contrast that we wanted starker.
Every book is going to be different, and I recall that for The Opera House, Chris was pulling what little hair he’s got left on his head because I didn’t even have a title for the book. It was merely Opus #3. So he and I were on Skype as the deadline neared, tossing ideas and finally he said something that made me realise that I had an arc story I hadn’t even noticed, that of the construction of the opera house in the book, mentioned on the first and last page. Once we had the title, it took Chris one evening (while I was asleep – he lives in LA) to pull together a stunning cover, a playbill allegory of sorts. It could be Raphael, it could be Brian, it could be Jonas. But it’s a gorgeous cover for a beautiful story.