A Straight Writer of Gay Romance? Interview With Swedish Author Niklas Leavy

I first met Niklas Leavy just over a year ago. At the time, I was still querying, and he was working on a book – hitting me for information on US agents and how to approach them.

Niklas had some success on the traditional path, but that was in Sweden (and writing in Swedish). This time he was writing in English, and that publication credit wasn’t going to open too many doors in Manhattan.

Fast forward one year, and Niklas has self-published his first book in English. As you will see from the interview below, his situation is quite unique.

I spoke with Niklas over a few days in Google Docs, and I think you will find this very interesting.

***

Hi Niklas. I know you quite well, but why don’t you introduce yourself to the readers and tell them a little about yourself.

I’m a 40 year old writer living in Stockholm, Sweden. I work as a free-lance editor and I also do some teaching, mainly History to underprivileged kids.

In 2009, I published my first novel – the traditional way – with the Swedish publisher Normal Förlag. It’s called På knä i Köpenhamn and follows the adventures of a young, gay man called Robin, trying to find love and success in business in Copenhagen.

I wrote it with my brother, who is a gay activist. Our goal was to try to write a Harlequin-style novel, using almost only gay characters.

We had two objectives: normalizing gay experiences and at the same time stressing how – when it comes to romantic fiction at least – there’s nothing more “queer” than heterosexual love.

You have just released a book, The Sonsov Bitches. What’s it about?

Again, it’s gay fiction. The Sonsov Bitches is about another young, gay man. Simon de Beauvoir works selling snacks on a train between Paris and Angers, in France. When he gets the chance to be the frontman of a band, he feels that it’s his only chance in life. The problems start when someone tries to kill the band members off, one after the other. It’s my attempt at writing gay chick lit, with a thriller twist.

I guess you might call it a Dick Lit Thriller.

Heh. I like that. Your first book was traditionally published, and written in Swedish. But this book, your first in English has been self-published. Talk us through some of the thinking there.

Like most people here in Sweden I was unaware of the massive changes that are taking place in publishing. That’s coming from someone that works in the business, mind you. Then I read your excellent book Let’s Get Digital and started to understand this brave new world of books. It’s nothing short of a revolution. That, teamed up with the feeling of not wanting to send out queries and my novel to tons of people who might not even get back to me made the choice easy.

The whole indie writer scene feels very interesting right now. Even though I self-published The Sonsov Bitches, I’m not in it for the vanity. I’m in it because I want people to read and enjoy my books. Deciding to self-publish put a very big, stupid, happy smile on my face already the day of the launch, when I sold my first copy of the novel on the German Amazon site. The fact that someone in Germany is reading The Sonsov Bitches blows me away. That person made all those years writing it worthwhile, with a click on the buy button on Amazon.de.

That’s really cool. I don’t leave my writing cave much, except to haul home bottles of grog. Is there much of a self-publishing “scene” here in Sweden? I don’t see too many (or any, to be honest) Kindles around, but plenty of iPads and iPhones. Are people reading e-books here? Has the whole digital revolution had any impact on publishers?

Sweden is way behind, both on the publishing and reading sides. It is starting to change, but will probably take at least another couple of years. There are a few self-publishing sites up and running, but their impact is limited so far. Vulkan.se is the most serious attempt. The publishers are trying to limit libraries’ lending of e-books, and they’re pricing and marketing e-books more or less exactly like DTBs, which feels like they’re trying to reverse into the future. All the big players understand that they’ll have to change, but seem fairly clueless.

I see the same pattern all across Europe. European publishers have had extra time to prepare for the digital revolution, but most of them haven’t used it wisely, and instead doubled down on the mistakes their American cousins have made: not releasing e-book versions the same time as hardbacks, pricing them too high to protect print sales, paying authors too little despite the reduced costs in a digital world, and wasting time and money in a pointless battle against piracy.

But I want to ask you about something else. Most Swedish people seem to have a high level of English – and that’s true across all of Scandinavia. I read something recently about Denmark where they said that English language versions of books from the UK and the US often outsell the local translations because of problems with the translation, the delay in the translated version hitting the shelves, and the simple desire to read the writer’s original words. While we haven’t seen a big appetite for English language work in Germany, France, Spain, or Italy, do you think there is opportunity in Scandinavia for self-publishers writing in English?

I would like to be the first in a long line of writers giving it a shot. The Swedish market is too small to be able to make a living from it, unless you really make it big, i.e. DTBs. I face the same problem as everyone else, though: how to reach readers.

Anyone reading The Sonsov Bitches might naturally assume that you are gay. But you’re not (unless you have something to tell me), you’re happily married with two children. Where did the impetus come from to write from this perspective?

I’ve been involved in the fight for gay rights for a very long time, through my brother. For me, one of the biggest mysteries in life is why so many people accept the lack of civil rights for gay people, without stepping out of their comfort zones to show solidarity. My brother was gay-bashed so badly that he developed epilepsy, yet people seem to be more interested in who he marries than how to stop the next person from getting gay-bashed.

I am absolutely convinced that future historians will look at our time (and, yes, that means 2012) in horror when it comes to civil rights for LGBT people. The Sonsov Bitches is my attempt, through entertainment, to try to be a part of change for the better.

Was the book hard to write?

Not really. I believe that human life can be filtered through almost anyone. It did certainly help, however, that my gay brother gave me invaluable feedback when it came to the sex scenes. I soon realized that I was clueless in that department, hence the wife and two kids.

Speaking of your wife, you took her name when you married.

Yes. I also waited to get married until my brother was allowed to get married according to Swedish law. I firmly believe in not following tradition, if tradition is wrong. In my Utopia love is universal, yet private. Until we’re there, we have to fight.

I’ve read The Sonsov Bitches and it was great. It’s set (mostly) in Paris, and I spent a summer there about 10 years ago. Reading all the names of the streets brought back a lot of memories. Have you spent much time there?

I grew up in a small town in Western Sweden and couldn’t wait to bust out of town. When I graduated from high school I moved to Paris. The contrast was almost too big to handle. It was like a second birth. I lived there for almost a year in 1992 and in some ways I never left. A big piece of my heart still sits in a café somewhere in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. I go back as often as I can. To really spread a thick layer of camembert cheese on it, I got engaged and married in Paris as well. My brother, who is a gay priest, married us on a sunny day in May 2006 in Parc des Buttes Chaumont.

Your main character – Simon de Beauvoir – leaps off the page. He’s snarky and bitchy, but a lot of that is hiding the self-doubt that has stalked him for much of his life, and the pain he felt growing up. Is he a purely fictitious creation?

Simon de Beauvoir and I have a lot in common. The only significant difference between us is that he’s gay and I’m straight. One of the strangest things in my life was when I hit my first writer’s block working with the novel, around 2005. Then Simon and The Sonsov Bitches were about to play a show in Bangkok, Thailand. In January 2007, in the middle of my not being able to continue writing, I got the offer to join a band that was going to go on tour in China (I play the guitar and sing back up). On stage, in Beijing, I felt my self-doubt imploding and has felt different about myself ever since. That experience unlocked the writer’s block and of course made its way into the novel.

That’s fascinating. When my creative well is dry, I always try and do something outside of books and writing to unblock myself. That could be something as simple as going for a walk or going to an exhibition, or listening to some music, or just watching a thought-provoking movie (science-fiction always works for some reason). What you did sounds like an extreme version of that process!

Part of the plot, as you mentioned, surrounds Simon joining a band and obviously you have some direct experience there. But do you find your creative pursuits feed into each other in less direct ways? Have you ever thought of recording any of the songs in the book? After all, it’s a small step from being a straight writer releasing gay fiction to being a straight guitar player in a gay boyband!

You’re actually not the first person that suggests that! I feel quite content leaving the songs of The Sonsov Bitches for my readers to compose in their heads. I am equally satisfied that my punk rock band Los Pelados’ biggest hit is a homoerotic song called Johnny’s Girl. It’s about someone that sees the coolest guy in his high school cracking jokes with the local football jocks, only to realize that he wants to be Johnny’s girl.

Do you have any more adventures planned for Simon de Beauvoir and The Sonsov Bitches?

Not right now. I am currently working on a series of shorts, in the Nordic Mystery genre. If my readers want more of Simon I am ready to let him out of his box though.

***

A huge thank you to my friend Niklas for that fascinating interview. If you want to pick up The Sonsov Bitches (and you really should), you can get it on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here (and all the other Amazons too).

It’s a really funny book, and I highly recommend it. I beta read this book, and, honestly, it’s probably quite a bit outside my usual genres. But I’m so glad I did; it’s full of snarky, bitchy, and hilarious characters.

Oh, and the book is on sale – this week only – for the low, low price of 99c. Grab it before it goes back up to $2.99.

Here’s the blurb:

Simon de Beauvoir’s job selling snacks on a high-speed train is dreary. When Simon gets a chance at stardom as the frontman of the gay boyband The Sonsov Bitches, he thinks he has it made. But success always brings envy, this time with deadly consequences. Can Simon save The Sonsov Bitches? Can he still look divine while a crazed killer is targeting him? Will his long-cherished dream of being famous and fabulous be ruined by the lunatic stalking the band?

I’m sure Niklas will be along later if you have any questions yourself. If you want to check out his band, Los Pelados have a MySpace page here. I’m still trying to drag Niklas into the social mediaverse, but in the meantime, you can get in touch with him at cobra [dot] capella [at] gmail [dot] com.

What are you waiting for? Did I mention The Sonsov Bitches was only 99c? Go, scoot!

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

33 Responses to A Straight Writer of Gay Romance? Interview With Swedish Author Niklas Leavy

  1. Jaye says:

    Terrific interview, David. Nice to meet you, Niklas.

    Thanks, too, for stating so eloquently what should be obvious, but apparently it is not. Great fiction is about the human condition. All a writer needs is to be human and to be passionate about their stories. Everything else is extraneous.

    Ta! Off to buy the book.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Nice to meet you, Jaye! I agree with you about being passionate about the story. Sometimes it’s easy to lose track of that passion and get tangled up in the more technical sides of writing. Thank you for your support!

  2. Just bought it! Thanks David for the interview—Hello Niklas! Love your perspective on this very important subject—like Jaye said above, all a writer needs to be is human and passionate about their stories!

  3. Ken E Baker says:

    It is great to see someone writing outside of the mold. Very happy to support this book. All the best on your exploits, Niklas :)

  4. Amanda Charvi says:

    Did you mean to link: “you can get it on Amazon US here and Amazon UK here (and all the other Amazons too)” ? Apologies if you didn’t. Thanks for the interesting interview!

  5. Great interview, and, Niklas, you are a fine human being whose work deserves to be supported. I just bought the book and hope to have the opportunity to buy more from you.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Well, Connie, only a fine human being can write what you wrote. So, right back atcha. Please let me know what you thought of the novel once you’re finished. My deepest thanks for your kind words.

  6. Fascinating interview. I’m a straight person who often writes about gay issues, too. I’m proud that my romantic comedy Food of Love has found an audience with the lesbian community in the UK. I think civil rights should be an issue for all of us, not just those who are discriminated against. I look forward to reading your book, Niklas.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Thank you, Anne! I am glad to see you found an audience for your book in the UK. About civil rights, I’ll let Dr. King speak: “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” Please let me know what you thought of the novel, Anne.

  7. Hayden says:

    This is awesome. I’m so used to seeing straight female writers publish gay romances, and I echo Ken Baker’s sentiments on breaking the mold. I got a copy of Niklas’ book and wish him lots of luck!

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Hello Hayden and thank you! I am glad you appreciate what I’m trying to do. Let me know what you thought of The Sonsov Bitches.

  8. ccmackenzie says:

    Excellent interview, David and Niklas.

    Love to see a new writer break through in a genre.

    I’ve bought it and tweeted.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Hi cc! Well, I love to meet a new reader and know that someone I’ve never met tweeted about me! Thank you very much!

  9. Fascinating interview, David. Thank you!

    Niklas… it was very nice to meet you. This must be my week for Swedish ‘discoveries’. I am listening to Sofia Talvik’s newest album, and I am ‘discovering’ a new (to me) Swedish author.

    I just went out to Amazon and downloaded The Sonsov Bitches. If I don’t like it, can I get my refund in chocolate? (Just kidding!) I am sure I will love it… after all, I am a romantic and a lesbian… how could I not love it? :)

    I wish you all the best Niklas… all happiness and success to you and your family.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Thank you, Veronica! Nice to meet you too. Hope you’ll like the book. If not I’ll try to send you some chocolate. If you like Swedish female artists I suggest you check out Anna Järvinen and Frida Hyvönen (both with Finnish decent actually). All happiness and success to you as well. Let me know what you thought of the novel.

  10. josephine wade says:

    Hey Niklas and Dave,
    Nice interview. I have has a story about two gay teens for awhile, but feel (even more than normal) inadequate writing the physical aspects of the relationship. Not so much the love relationship, but being female somethings don’t translate. I noticed a lot of gay boys reading girl based romances in YA and thought it would be fun and helpful to do a story for the guys so to speak.

    I’ve noticed a small market there if you ever were interested in writing for teens.

    Good luck with your book. I’m going to pick up a copy.

    • josephine wade says:

      I swear English is my first language. If you have trouble with that mess of words I know Dave has amazing powers of translation at his disposal — sorry about that.

  11. Niklas Leavy says:

    Hi Josephine! I swear English is not my first language :-). Thank you for your tip and for picking up a copy of the novel. I hope you enjoy it. Please let me know what you thought of it!

  12. C. R. Reaves says:

    I’ve added this book to my Amazon wishlist so I can buy it later (and yes, I know that it means I’ll be paying extra later! xD). I decided to purchase the book based almost entirely on the description of the main character, who sounded like someone I’d enjoy reading. Looking forward to it. :) I wish you great success!

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Thank you, C.R.! If you like the description I’d say you’ll really like him when he starts talking. Thank you for your kind words. Let me know what you thought of the novel, if you have the time!

  13. Char says:

    Great interview. I’m working on a piece of historical fiction featuring two gay characters and always looking for recommendations for good m/m fic. Looking forward to reading your story, Niklas!

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Thank you, Char! Let me know when you’re done with your novel. It sounds really interesting. I hope you’ll like my book. Please let me know what you thought of it!

  14. Just bought it! Thanks to you, Niklas, for supporting our (and your) gay brothers! When more “straight” people cross these imaginary lines in art, it becomes less and less of an issue.

    • Niklas Leavy says:

      Thank you, Patrice, for those kind words. Your comment made the years writing it worth while. What you’re expressing in your post—that’s exactly what I was aiming for.

  15. I think more women have written gay romances simply because they find it easier to believe that two men might love each other. Oddly enough, both male and female writers have a lot more trouble believing that two WOMEN might love each other. Good novels with lesbian protagonists are very, very few and far between. There is no reason why novels with gay protagonists have to be written by someone who is gay any more than a novel with a male protagonist has to be written by a male. We very much need to break out of those boxes and write about each other as people.

  16. However, David, I removed your headline from my tweet because I frankly find it a bit offensive. It’s like saying “A man who writes about a woman? AMAZING!” You might want to re-think your attitude a bit. Meant only in the friendliest way.

    • The tweet was the headline of the article. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it. I would like to live in a world where it’s not unusual for straight people to have gay characters/romances and vice versa. But the fact is, it is a little unusual. The job of the headline is to draw attention to the piece, to find an angle. I’m sure that headline got more people reading the article, and more people checking out Niklas’ book, so I don’t regret it one bit. Having said that, I do see where your coming from – and to be honest, I thought about whether it was appropriate or not for a little while (and checked with Niklas). In the end, I didn’t think it was a big issue, and felt it unlikely to cause offence or even raised eyebrows. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong, but I think my motives are pure.

  17. Hi David, A mutual friend, Frank Dunne, linked me up to your website, which I am finding most interesting and helpful. I am finalizing a memior of my life and time in South America 1970-90. It still has to be professionally edited and maybe professionally researched, but I am interested in reading more on self-publishing of biographies or memoirs.

    Intrepid Optimist is still a bit of plaything which I personally update every Sunday. I am technical computer illiterate, so I have to rely on good friends to manage that side of things.

    On completion of my book, I intend to make more use of it.

    Kind regards,
    Bryan

  18. Pingback: L.Q. revisited… | The Many Worlds of Char….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s