Fredrik Backman is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Man Called Ove (soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks), My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, Britt-Marie Was Here, Beartown, Us Against You, as well as two novellas, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and The Deal of a Lifetime. His books are published in more than forty countries. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and two children.
[Biographical information excerpted from the Simon & Schuster website]
You used to drive a forklift. How did that evolve into writing books that are loved around the world?
I don't know. It's still a mystery to everyone who knows me. I always viewed writing as a hobby, not a career choice, and, to be honest, I still do. My dad keeps telling my wife she needs to "treat the money as if Fredrik won the lottery, because this probably won't last!" I think he's got a point. I think I'll eventually go back to having a real job, and I don't really think I'll be any less happy than I am now.
Your first book, A Man Called Ove, had its origins in your blog. How did you get started blogging?
Well, the "origins in the blog" story has turned into somewhat of an urban legend. I think publishers' PR departments love to keep telling it, but it's not really true. There were some elements of the character of Ove that I played around with in my blog and some things I wrote about my dad that the blog readers enjoyed, and that eventually found its way into the novel. I also got the name "Ove" from a very clever blogger called Jonas Cramby, who wrote about how he stood in line at a museum behind an extremely angry man who got into a fight with the staff about the pronunciation of the name of a painter. At the end of the fight the man's wife sighed deeply, took her husband by the arm, and said: "Please, Ove, just let it GO!" And that's where I got the name from. And of course I played around with some jokes and some ideas at the blog, because that's what I do: I steal stuff from people around me and use it in fiction. I suppose most writers do. But…yes…where were we? "How did you get started blogging?" Well... I just started one. It wasn't hard at all. With the risk to sound philosophical I often get the question "how did you become an author?" And I answer that I didn't. I became a writer, by writing, because I like doing it. An author I became by accident.
A crucial part of your writing process is the stewing the ideas; when you've started the physical writing, do you know the complete story?
There's no formula, if that's the question. I really WISH there was a formula, but I just haven't figured that out yet. The thing is: I'm not a very good writer. And I don't say that to be humble, I'm just saying that I'm not very good technically. I'm better at telling stories than constructing language, which I think can be compared to musicians: the best song writers are rarely the best musicians. You can write a great song using three chords, but that doesn't make you Mozart. So sometimes I have the full story, and sometimes I don't. I rewrote My Grandmother maybe 50 times, but I rewrote Britt-Marie maybe five.
Maybe I could put it like this: I have learned to build a "box" for me to play within. Which means I decide the world my character gets to explore, and the limits of it, and I try to write a beginning and an ending to the story first of all. That way I'm free to have new ideas within it, but I have certain boundaries that force me to actually finish the story at some point. Otherwise I would probably just keep on going and every novel would be 60,000 pages long.
Do the incredible imagery and hilarious examples come as you're writing or are they things you tweak and adjust later?
Most come as I'm writing, I think. What you see in the novels, with one joke in one sentence, are just the version of the story where I've taken nine other jokes out of the same sentence and kept the one that actually worked.
You have a fouth book coming out in Sweden later this year, and then what do you see for the future?
The next novel is a bit more serious. It's about a town, not one specific character. And it centers a lot around ice hockey. And the future? I plan to write until people tell me I can't anymore. That's the only idea I have so far.
[A selection from "Fredrick Backman: Staying Grounded," conducted by Jen Forbus, published on Shelf Awareness]