McKayla Murphy: What brought you to Gustavus? How did you find us, or how did we find you?
Arne Dahl: It was more like you found me. Well you have had this Artist in Residence program running for 25 years, and I guess I was cut out for the job in a way because of my double existence as a crime fiction writer and a scholar, so I guess I am used to having lectures and stuff.
MM: In your journey as an author, how did you get involved in writing crime, as well as writing the other things you do now?
AD: I actually started as a kid writing crime fiction, having read far too early in my life, really bad crime fiction. So instead of reading youth books, I always read crime fiction, that’s really how I learned to read. So I wrote a couple of stories when I was very young, 12 or 13, so it is really my background, crime fiction is nothing that sort of appeared late in my life, even if it did in another way because even when I was sure I was going to be a writer, I was twenty by then, I didn’t care about crime fiction at all–it was supposed to be the “real” literature, the good literature, the classic literature. So I became a writer at the same time as I became a scholar and a critic and all of that, but then I started to feel that my own writing disappeared behind all of the other things I was doing like literary criticism and scholarship. Just being a doctor in literature, my own writing was suffocating behind all of this, and I needed to get back to the roots, and that’s why I sort of changed my name. My real name is Jan Arnold, and so I became Arne Dahl and started writing crime fiction, so it was a way to return to the pleasure of writing.
MM: Have you continued to do other writing at the same time as your crime fiction?
AD: Yes, I have been publishing books in my own name at the same time, but at a much slower pace.
MM: Is it well known that you publish under your pen name in addition to your real name?
AD: Yes, although it was a secret for five years when I started writing I decided that I was going to keep it secret for as long as possible, so for five years I was secret before I was exposed.
MM: Could you tell me about the two crime fictions series that you have published so far?
AD: In Sweden there are two series and in the U.S. it is just two books from the first series, that will soon be three. The first one is ten books about Sweden changing a lot, from being a slightly isolated northern country—I am sure you are familiar with Sweden to a certain extent in this college—to turning more international which happened in the late 90s I’d say and that is when I started writing, and I wanted to just write one book per year for ten years, trying somehow to portray the changes through a decade in Swedish society. Crime is a good way of reflecting what the society looks like, really, it gives you the exact borderlines of the society. So that was the first years, and then I wrote a second series of four books that has recently been finished. The fourth one is just coming out in Sweden, in the English speaking countries, the third one is coming out.
MM: Do you seem to have a large American audience?
AD: It seems like I have an acceptable American audience, when I look at, for example, the reviews, you know the “stars” on Amazon.com, you can sort of get a feeling. I am not a super best seller, but it seems that I have started to be known, anyway.
MM: Is it in the future to get all of the books translated into English?
AD: Yes, definitely. When it is English I can sort of be, to a certain extent, part of the translation process because I don’t have all of the nuances of the language, but I have enough to realize if it is a good or a bad translation, and I have good cooperation with my translators. I think it has been very good; both of the books in English are well translated and well-edited.
MM: What are your initial thoughts on Gustavus? How does it compare to what you pictured it to be?
AD: Well, first I must say that I really like it, and I think all of the people are very, very nice, that’s not just because I have to say it, but because it is true. I have already done quite a few visits to classes and have discussed creative writing and crime fiction, and it has been good. Compared to what I expected, I expected it to be an interpretation of Sweden, and I think that yes, it is a good interpretation of Sweden. There is a feeling that the good parts of Sweden have been taken care of in the college, and that you are really learning Swedish, which I think is really amazing for this small language in the north of Europe. So, I feel very optimistic when I see what is going on here.
MM: Do you think a lot of people in Sweden know of Gustavus?
AD: I had heard of it [Gustavus] before, but I didn’t know anything about it really, and I wasn’t completely familiar with the system here of colleges and lower degrees and higher degrees and so on, I had to read a little bit to find out how it worked. In Sweden, there is no different universities and private colleges, everything is government run. If we look at the societies, I just noticed, of I course I knew this before, but America is very, very different in different places, not more connection between Minnesota and Texas than Sweden and Italy for example. But perhaps, especially up here we are very much alike, and perhaps especially in this college.
MM: Could you elaborate a little bit on your lecture for Thursday, “Why Crime Fiction?”
AD: Yes, I thought I would pick a subject that wasn’t just about Sweden and Swedish crime fiction because it is more a general question, why someone like me who was sort of established as an academic and so on, would start to write crime fiction, and sort of in a way, lower yourself a little bit, writing a not fully accepted genre. I think it is more accepted in the U.S. actually, than it is in Europe because the differences between the high culture and the low culture isn’t perhaps as big as it is in Europe. I will talk about why crime fiction is an important genre, not just pure entertainment but maybe a little bit more. It is a Swedish tradition also that crime fiction should be a little bit more than just entertainment and passing of time. To come to the lecture, I think you could come from different perspectives and perhaps get something out of it, and if you are interested in crime fiction in general, or if you are interested in Swedish tradition and the Swedish society, then perhaps I will have a few things to say about that as well. So generally everyone should come.
MM: Is there anything you would like to add?
AD: Just that there are still some books to be bought on the bookshelf downstairs.