My guest post for Eva Jordan’s blog

This morning I’m over on the lovely Eva Jordan’s blog talking about my writing journey.

https://evajordanwriter.com/2016/08/01/author-guest-post-by-kendra-olson/ 

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Vilhelm Moberg, foremost chronicler of the Swedish emigration to America

Vilhelm_Moberg_1967 wikimedia commons photo

Arkiv 1967 – Vilhelm Moberg, porträtt, 1967. Foto: Okänd Fotograf Code: 190 COPYRIGHT SCANPIX SWEDEN (from Wikimedia Commons)

Happy Saturday! For today’s post I thought I would feature a Swedish author and journalist whose novels and memoirs both inspired my novel and assisted with the research required to write it.

That novelist is Vilhelm Moberg, one of the leading writers in twentieth century Sweden and well known throughout the Swedish-American community. Those outside of Sweden who know of his work have likely heard of his Emigrants saga, which follows a family of Småland farmers as they emigrate from Sweden to Minnesota in the mid-1800s. The series follows the family through their long, perilous journey until their settlement in a small Minnesota town. Moberg himself had lost several family members to American emigration, that ‘great divider of families’ as he calls it in his novels.

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In his autobiographical novel, When I Was a Child, Moberg talks about how America existed in every Swedish household, through the photographs relatives would send back—they were always dressed in much nicer clothes than anyone had in Sweden—and which became their most valued possessions, to be shown off when company came. He writes: ‘In the letters from America relatives asked “how was it in poor, old Sweden?” Children thought that America was rich and Sweden poor’ (Chapter 1). Moberg himself counted more relatives in America than in Sweden.

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It was during his research for the series that Moberg himself moved to America—spending time in both Minnesota and California.  However, he never fully settled there and moved back to Sweden seven years later. While he appreciated aspects of America, especially getting to meet his countrymen and seeing how their lives had played out on foreign soil, many elements of the culture failed to agree with him (particularly the conservativism and religiosity of some of the settlers in Minnesota)[1]. Perhaps this was partly due to the fact that his formative experiences contributed greatly to his writing. His biggest success as a writer was in his empathetic portrayal of the underclasses of Swedish society– ordinarily ignored by literature. His stories were written from the perspective of poor crofters, ordinary soldiers, factory workers and farmhands. In Sweden, at the time Moberg was writing, this was a ground-breaking achievement. As, perhaps, it still is today when the stories of the middle-class, white, male, straight and able-bodied are still more likely to be read than those written by or about minorities, women, the disabled and the poor.

It was this idea of immortalising the lives of common folk which led to my writing The Forest King’s Daughter as I felt that there were plenty of historical fiction stories out there about royalty and famous personages but few about the poor, and even fewer about poor women, especially poor women who dared to disagree with the establishment at a time when women’s place was in the home. If it weren’t for all the research Moberg put into his work, my novel may never have been written, as I drew on his sources and the details he provided both in his fiction and in his history series. So, thank you Vilhelm Moberg! 🙂

Which writers have influenced your work? Are there any writers you’ve read for research whose work you’ve later come to appreciate in a greater context? I’d love to hear, so please leave a comment in the box below.

[1] Introduction to The Emigrant Novels, Roger McKnight, Gustavus Adolphus College, Borealis Books/ Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995 edition

Books by Vilhelm Moberg published in English (from Wikipedia):

The Emigrants (1949), ISBN 0-87351-319-3.

Unto a Good Land (1952), ISBN 0-87351-320-7.

The Settlers (1956), ISBN 0-87351-321-5.

The Last Letter Home (1959), ISBN 0-87351-322-3.

Memory of Youth

Ride This Night

A Time on Earth, ISBN 1-56849-314-2.

When I Was a Child, ISBN 0-8488-0302-7.

Nonfiction

A History of the Swedish People, Vol. 1: From Prehistory to the Renaissance, ISBN 0-8166-4656-2.

A History of the Swedish People, Vol. 2: From Renaissance to Revolution, ISBN 0-8166-4657-0. Both volumes translated by Paul Britten Austin.

The Unknown Swedes: A Book About Swedes and America, Past and Present, ISBN 0-8093-1486-X.

Sources drawn on for this post:

Introduction to The Emigrant Novels, Roger McKnight, Gustavus Adolphus College, Borealis Books/ Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1995 edition

When I Was a Child, by Vilhelm Moberg

http://www.kulturparkensmaland.se/1.0.1.0/752/2/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vilhelm_Moberg#Works_in_English_translation

http://www.vilhelmmoberg.com/english.html

 

 

Happy publication anniversary to, well, me! A reflection on my journey to publication.

Just over one year ago, my novel, The Forest King’s Daughter, was published by Pilrig Press. The publication of the novel was a tremendous achievement for me. Prior to sending the manuscript to them, I’d done the rounds of numerous literary agents and was just starting to think about making changes to the story when a friend recommended I try small publisher, Pilrig Press. After sending through my initial query letter, synopsis and opening chapters, I quickly received a response: the publisher enjoyed what he read and wanted to see the full manuscript. To say that I was elated would be an understatement. I quickly read through the manuscript again (just in case I had somehow introduced a typo when opening the document for the umpteenth time), attached it and pressed ‘send’. This happened in summer 2014, and prior to this I’d spent almost four months sending the manuscript out and receiving rejections (at the time it had never occurred to me to self-publish).

I then waited several weeks before sending a gentle follow up email. I held my breath, expecting yet another rejection. But, soon after, I received a reply to say the publisher was interested in obtaining the novel and would be sending me a contract. I read their email several times over, unable to believe what I was reading—had my novel really just been accepted for publication? It had. I broke into a series of loud cheers, shouts and hurrahs, thereby amusing my neighbours and baffling my cats. I’d done it! My novel would be published! Woo hoo, three cheers for me (and even more cheers for Pilrig Press for agreeing to take it on). This was in November 2014.

Of course, once the novel was accepted, there was still work to do. For one, I needed to set up my author platform—something I’d been putting off doing as the prospect intimidated me. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy reading online, but the vastness of the internet and my near-phobia of technology didn’t help matters. I decided to start with a blog, as that made the most sense to me—I knew people who had blogs and enjoyed them, and a blog would surely be the best place to showcase my work as it would be my space alone. So, after doing a bit of research (which included invaluable reference to the lovely Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard’s ever-helpful blogs, which were recommended by Marianne Wheelaghan), I decided on a free WordPress site. After several days of trial and error and much online research, I managed to have the site up and running–possibly an even bigger achievement than my novel 😉 .

Next on the list was Twitter—ugh. My only knowledge of Twitter was through the much-publicised News International scandal. To me, it seemed like something gossipy journalists and celebrities used, nothing a writer should ever have to go near. But, after much discussion and advice from writing friends, especially Ruth Hunt, I gave it a go. How else would I let anyone know about my amazing blog posts? 😉

And, you know what? It wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was kind of fun. I got to ‘meet’ and chat with other writers, and I found out about all sorts of amazing literary goings-on as well as discovering new authors, and books, and book blogs. I tweeted my blog posts–and got retweeted! And I retweeted and shared others’ content in return. Of course, this all took a bit of time, and I quickly discovered just how much time–but that didn’t stop it from being a useful tool (not so much for selling books as for networking with other writers, for more on this, read: http://www.smallbluedog.com/why-emerging-authors-need-twitter.html ).

And then the big day came—publication. Of course, having a small publisher means there are no publication day parties (thrown by the publisher anyway). Still, the hubby and I had a drink or two to celebrate, and, perhaps, a chocolate brownie (or two). On the day of the launch, I did an author interview with Ruth Hunt on her blog, The Single Feather,  to help promote the novel.

So, what have I learned from my publication process?  Well, for one, that it takes time to find the right publisher and then to prepare a manuscript for publication. This is something that can’t–and certainly shouldn’t–be rushed. Also, I’ve learned to try to be more understanding of the potential benefits of technology, which includes the innovative ability to meet people from all over the world without ever leaving the comfort of my own living room. But, most importantly, if I could do it over again, I would have gotten started building my platform much sooner. I think if I had, it may have helped me to better promote my novel in the run up to publication. Having a book published is only the beginning. You still have to market it, and the better understanding you have of this and the less shy you are about telling others about the wonderful book you’ve written, the easier it will be (who’d have thought that things like Amazon categories, metadata or how many friends you have on Facebook could influence how many copies of a book are sold?).

I remember attending a literary event last year in which one of the panellists likened publishing to entering a giant funnel. Once you’ve published your novel, you come through the end of one, small(ish) funnel only to enter a second, much larger one, through which very few authors ever emerge. My advice to unpublished novelists: persevere but be realistic in your expectations. Celebrate every small victory, because you’ve worked hard for it, but then move on and write the next novel, not only because research shows that novelists with more than one book sell better (http://annerallen.com/2015/03/how-do-i-sell-my-book-6-tips-for-new.html ) but primarily because writing is what writers do (or what they should be doing anyway). Also, be eternally grateful for your friends and those who’ve supported you along the way, be it by helping with research, reading and commenting on your drafts, retweeting your blog posts, or even giving you the space and time you need to write. I know I am. Because, without them, novels can’t be written, let alone published and promoted through social media.

Are you a published novelist? If so, what was your experience of being published? And, if you’re not yet published, what do you expect from it?

Happy Holidays, and thank you!

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! With Christmas just around the corner, this will be my final post of the year. I’d like to take the opportunity to thank all of my readers for reading/following me. It’s been great getting to know you, and sharing writerly/readerly news and views.

2015 was quite an eventful year for me. In March my first novel, The Forest King’s Daughter , was published by Pilrig Press.  In July, I began writing book reviews for Lothian Life Magazine . In October, I helped to short-list a joint writing competition run by Lothian Life and writingclasses.co.uk (for those who may have missed it, the winners were announced last Thursday and the winning stories are now published: http://www.lothianlife.co.uk/2015/12/writing-home-short-story-winners/). Then, just a few weeks ago, I received my MLitt degree in Creative Writing from The University of Glasgow.

Whew, that feels like a lot! Of course, none of it would have been possible without the help of so many good writing friends, professors and classmates (you know who you are 😉 ). So, thank you!

One of the most difficult things for me this year was figuring out ways in which to promote my novel, which ultimately meant conquering my fear and distrust of social media. I couldn’t have done this without the help and  support of friends and fellow bloggers (such as Ruth Hunt, Molly Greene and Belinda Pollard, among others) who readily gave me advice on taking the plunge and starting a Twitter and Facebook account. And, ultimately, it has paid off in more ways than one. Besides being a useful promotional tool, I’ve made new friends and connections via social media as well as discovering some great new books and authors whom I would never have known existed otherwise. It also helped put me in touch with some amazing bloggers who helped promote my novel, such as Alison Drew who ran a #BookBoost for my novel in October, Adrian Doyle of Englanti Editing who featured my novel and an excerpt on their website at the start of November, and others who gave of their time to interview me and offer me a guest post on their blogs. Thank you all!

And a special thank you for those who have read my novel, and reviewed it. (For those who may have read the novel but not reviewed it, could I give you a nudge and request that you consider doing so? A review need only be a few words about why you liked a book, or didn’t. Reviews are essential for authors).

I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season, and a great start to 2016!

A Christmas Chickadee

Fairies and folklore in The Forest King’s Daughter

canstockphoto0193559 fairy ring

Novel excerpt:

After breakfast Ingrid went for a walk in the nearby forest. When she arrived at her ash tree she saw that a circle of frozen mushrooms had formed nearby — a fairy circle. Mushrooms like these were inedible — poisonous — and if you ate them you went straight to the enchanted world of the fairy folk, where you joined in their ghostly dances until you dropped dead. According to the old tale, once you landed in the fairy realm, time passed at a different speed. While you happily danced, thinking that only a few minutes had passed and you could soon be back at your loom, in actuality many decades had passed. All of your family and friends had died and no one ever knew where you had gotten to.  Eventually, being human, your body would run out too and you would drop to the ground with a thud and the fairy folk would carry you away to their secret lair deep underground to be presented as a sacrifice to their gods.

Ingrid never set foot within a fairy circle, even though she was no longer sure that she believed the old wives tale. Being near to one was comforting, despite the creepy legend. It was as though you were on the brink of two worlds, the practical everyday one and the one where almost anything could happen.

photograph of original Mimi Jobe painted plate

photograph of original Mimi Jobe painted plate

It was the idea of being on the brink of two worlds which really interested me in this legend. When I was a child, I loved fairy tales and fairies. My sister and I collected books about fairies and could spend many hours studying their intricate and detailed illustrations. What made fairies so special to me was their ability to take you into the realm of imagination, to a place where the normal rules didn’t apply.

Of course, this legend isn’t unique to Sweden. It’s common all over Europe and goes all the way back to Shakespeare’s time. In The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1, Prospero intones:

‘Ye elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes and groves,
And ye that on the sands with printless foot
Do chase the ebbing Neptune and do fly him
When he comes back; you demi-puppets that
By moonshine do the green sour ringlets make,
Whereof the ewe not bites, and you whose pastime
Is to make midnight mushrooms, that rejoice
To hear the solemn curfew; by whose aid,
Weak masters though ye be, I have bedimm’d
The noontide sun, call’d forth the mutinous winds…’

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According to the legends, the ring was created by the fairies circular dance which burned the mushrooms into the ground. If you happened to enter it you would become enchanted.

Another type of fairy creature in Sweden is the tomte, which is a bit like a gnome. Nowadays they often feature on Christmas cards, a sort of Scandinavian Santa Claus, but they started out as house sprites.

At one point in Ingrid’s story, her mother is recalling an incident from her youth. She says, ‘I began to scream. Just as the sound escaped my mouth a dark figure emerged from the shadows. I’d never seen the person before. Part of me wondered if he wasn’t a tomte come for revenge as I never offered them anything.’

In traditional folklore, every house had a tomte, which helped look after the home and farm. They could be mischievous however, and so had to be placated with kindness and the occasional bit of food. This was especially so on Christmas Eve when the woman of the house had to leave them a bowl of porridge with butter on it in order to continue receiving his help, or rather, not invoke his rage.

The well known Swedish writer, Selma Lagerlöf, a Värmland native, wrote her famous children’s adventure story, The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, about a troublesome young boy who abused the animals on his family farm. One day when his parents were in church and had left Nils behind to study his Bible verses, Nils caught a tomte in his net. The tomte managed to escape by turning Nils into a tomte. Nils was now able to communicate with the animals on their farm, who were angry with him for making their lives so miserable. To atone and return to his human state he must help teach their domestic goose how to fly like the wild geese.

canstockphoto8267748 Nils stamp

Of course, the most obvious legend in the book is that of The Forest King’s Daughter herself. This is a myth I made up based on the Swedish elk—also known as a moose in North America—being called the king of the forest by Swedish hunters. These kings of the forest are well known in Värmland, and though their numbers are increasing, they continue to elude hunters.   

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TFKD cover

You can purchase The Forest King’s Daughter from Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Forest-Kings-Daughter-Kendra-Olson-ebook/dp/B00UBTSNBI/  and Amazon US: http://www.amazon.com/Forest-Kings-Daughter-Kendra-Olson-ebook/dp/B00UBTSNBI/