Thanks to the kind folks at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA, I had the opportunity last Thursday to meet Scandinavian sensation, Jo Nesbø. What an amazing opportunity. So, today I'm going to share a little of that experience with you.
In the United States, Jo now has three novels out featuring his detective Harry Hole: THE REDBREAST, which I reviewed here last year, NEMESIS, and most recently THE DEVIL'S STAR. These however, are numbers three, four and five in the total series. Jo's Harry Hole bibliography actually includes nine novels total.
When Jo was introduced he said he had been writing for twelve years and that book signings are "sometimes an exercise in humiliation." I thought maybe he was having a little trouble with his English and meant to say humility, but no, he actually meant humiliation. As he went on he told us some stories about his travels. When he was in the Philippines, he was buying books in a bookstore and saw his own book, THE REDBREAST, behind the counter. He informed the cashier that he was the author and she wanted to go get her manager. Jo didn't want to hold up the line, but the cashier insisted. The manager came back and asked Jo if he could prove he was Jo Nesbø. Unfortunately he had left his ID back at the hotel, so no, he couldn't prove his identity. The manager apologized and said she couldn't give him the author discount on the books he was buying. Jo said quickly that he wasn't looking for a discount, but would she like him to sign his book? She said, "if you come back tomorrow with ID, you can sign one copy."
Jo's road to publishing was an exciting one. When he was 17 he was pretty certain that he would have a career as a professional soccer player. But when he tore ligaments in both of his knees, he was forced to come up with Plan B for his career path. Plan B turned out to be studying economics and business administration. According to Jo, when you don't know what you want to do with your life in Norway, that's what you study. In college Jo found an opportunity to join a band, playing guitar - when he knew all of two chords. After college, he moved back to Oslo and formed a different band with his brother and three professional musicians. Jo claims that the band didn't sound very good because he could still only play three chords. But they started playing at a small club where one of the musicians worked. They were hired every week because they "were so cheap." Jo told us they were so awful that they would change the name of the band every week, so the patrons would think someone else was coming in to perform. But after a year and a half of this, the band improved and some people starting asking for them to perform. But since they continually changed their name, people didn't have a way to ask for them specifically so they asked for "those guys." And that's what the band's name became - Those Guys.
Those Guys were fortunate enough to be heard by a record producer who happened by the club one night and offered them a record deal. They sold 5,000 copies, which Jo thought was incredible. The record company, not so much. But with album number 2, Those Guys found themselves a hit single and overnight success. They were suddenly being invited to play all over Norway. At the same time, Jo was working as a stock broker because he had promised his mother he wouldn't quit his day job - no matter what. So, he'd work his day job, fly out to the gigs at night, then fly back to return to work the next day. After the band's third year, when he played 180 dates, he needed a break.
Jo went to his boss at the brokerage firm and took a 6-month leave of absence; he informed the band that he would need to have an indefinite leave from touring. Then he took off to Australia with a laptop and an idea for a crime novel. Thus Harry Hole was born. While Jo was fairly certain that his first novel wouldn't be published, he was certain that writing was now something he HAD to do. His hope was that he would send the first novel off and at least get interest from a publisher who might see potential in his writing. So, he sent the manuscript off and forgot about it.
But he didn't forget about his love, his need, of writing. On the day he returned to the brokerage firm, he went into his office, turned on the computer, and before his screen finished loading with the stock indexes he walked into his boss's office and resigned. Then he went off in search of some freelance work with newspapers. He was working on this freelance work when the call came in from the publishing house; they were interested in his manuscript and wanted to meet with Jo.
However, they didn't know they were meeting with Jo because he originally submitted his manuscript under a pen name. If he was published, he wanted to be published on the merit of his work, not his star status as a musician. His fear was if they knew he was a celebrity, they would publish anything he wrote, even if it was crap. But when he walked into the meeting with five older men and they asked him why he submitted the manuscript under a pen name, he said, "because I'm Jo Nesbø." And they looked at each other and then said, "who's Jo Nesbø?" No one knew who Jo was and only one of the men had ever even heard the name of the band.
Jo read a section of his book in both English and Norwegian. Then a guest asked him if he was able to do that in all 40 languages his books had been translated in. Sadly, no he cannot. But, I am going to try to share that reading with you here. This is my first attempt at sharing an audio file; hopefully it will work correctly for you all:Nesbo Sound Clip
Another member of the audience asked about the women in Harry's life and how they don't fair too well. Did Jo have any thoughts about that. Jo said when he looks back he notices that they tend to die and he tries not to analyze it.
Jo was asked if Henning Mankell influenced him because they have similarities in their writing styles. Jo actually didn't read his first Mankell novel until after he started writing, but attributes their similarities more to possibly sharing the same influences: the Scandinavian crime writers of the seventies, very likely.
Jo's mother was a librarian and his father a book lover. One of the first books that Jo's father read to him was LORD OF THE FLIES. Jo picked it out for two reasons: he could read enough to tell that the book was about kids on a deserted island and the cover had a pig head's on stake. Visual effect is important to the young writers of today, he believes, so television and movies have influenced him tremendously.
Jo is presently working on the third book in his children's series. The first was just released this year in the United States: DR. PROCTOR'S FART POWDER. I am so getting that for my nephew!
Jo wrapped up the event with a signing of course. I found it a little more difficult to connect with Jo because he was as shy if not moreso than me. I can follow, but I can't lead when it comes to starting conversations. I did however ask him about the first two books of the Harry Hole series and if they would be translated. It sounds like there's a good chance they will be translated at least in the U.K. And I managed to get this picture. The kind woman I sat with at the event took this for me, and I thank her kindly!
Jo is intelligent, talented and very funny. It was truly a treat to have this great opportunity. And again, thanks to Mystery Lovers. They do a fabulous job of booking wonderful crime fiction writers. Happy Reading, all!