Cover Reveal: Anna and the Lost Zorn

Cover Reveal: Anna and the Lost Zorn

Or the day I screamed at my phone…

Have I mentioned how essential covers are to me? If you haven’t heard me say so, read every cover reveal post I’ve ever written. So yeah, covers are everything. Covers are like a calling card for a book. The artwork (and I’ll be honest to say that I’m no expert), the fonts, and the colors give away what sort of book you can expect. Fantasy covers have a certain feel, purple and gold colors, and fonts with loads of ornamental elements, often embossed. Romance books on the other hand lure you with pastel colors had half-naked figures on the cover, usually a couple, but not always. Crime, on the other hand, uses many blacks and yellows (screaming ATTENTION in your face) and sans-serif fonts. But what do I know? I’m sure you’ll have your own telltale signs for covers. But every author knows how important they are.

When my publisher sent me a first draft yesterday, based on a photo I had taken just the day before, I literally yelled into my phone. To no avail. They weren’t listening and were too busy to pick up my phone. I ran around the house like a headless chicken. I LOVED IT! It really turned out well. A quick check with some confidants on which of the two suggested versions we all preferred (we all agreed) and the cover was finalized.

It’s been a long road…

For a novel that didn’t have a title a week ago, the cover was far away. But let’s just say that deadlines are helpful, in publishing as well as anywhere else. With all the events coming up, and the advertising needed to put the book before readers, a good title and a cover were necessary. The cover not only tells you what genre a book belongs to, but it should also appeal to readers. Not all authors are lucky enough (or known) to get away with Waiting for Godot. Hrmph!

I spent all of the Holidays thinking of a title for the book. Finally, in a long call with the publisher, we agreed on Anna and the Lost Zorn. You’d laugh at some of the ideas I was considering. I early on considered featuring Anna, the main character, in the title. It’s been a theme in my writing, with several titles featuring the main character in the title: Jonathan ( in Hope, Promise & Legacy, Willem, Michel, or Matt. But what else? A crime novel dubbed Anna wouldn’t work. Besides, I was afraid that the ghost of Tolstoy might be upset with me. The problem was the “what else”.

Zorn was a natural choice

A lost drawing by Swedish superstar Anders Zorn plays a certain role in the book. You’ll see which. We also considered using an AI drawing of the said sketch as a cover image but luckily decided against that, not just because the AI refused to draw a nude (which never stopped the real Anders Zorn) but because the quality just wasn’t good enough. More importantly, the images we did receive were sending the wrong signal about the content of the book. More poetry, more literary, less crime. I’m not sad. Just two days ago, on Monday afternoon, the weather was just right to go out and take some pictures in one of the book locations here on the island. I’m not there very often because it’s on the other side of the island. But I had an errand in the area and decided to take advantage. Here’s the photo that made it to the cover. This is the very first time that one of my own pictures is used on a book cover. (Stretches his back with pride!)

Not sure why the publisher chose THIS shot, but the spot is where the story begins with the killer looking out over the sea reflecting on the day. But this spot plays a role further on in the story. It’s called Salskärs Udde and is the westernmost point of the island of Styrsö where much of the novel takes place. The views from here out over the open ocean toward the west are spectacular.

Finally, the cover reveal:

The sans-serif font, all caps, and the ruggedness, the darkness, really do scream mystery and crime. It’s a beautiful cover. It wraps around the back and you get to see the entire headland. It is really spectacular:

blank

I’ve always had a thing for covers and yeah, this is another favorite of mine. I hope you like it, too. As always, comments are welcome if kept civil. All comments are filtered and reviewed before publication. To learn more about the coming book, click here. Anna and the Lost Zorn will be released on April 6, 2023.

Finally, I started an Instagram account to highlight the scenery of where the book plays out, the island where I live. Would you like to follow it?

Opus XXVII has a title…

Opus XXVII has a title…

A book’s title is its calling card, a two-second elevator pitch

A lot of work has been done on my coming novel in the first couple of weeks so the new year. I pretty much finalized the manuscript and finally sent it off to the publisher. I also had a long conversation with them about the book. A book without a cover is almost like a product in a plain box. You might be able to tell what it is, but still, is it for you? Would you like it? Do you desire it? Want it? A book without a title is not much to publish. Then again, a book with a bad title isn’t much better. I recently read an interesting post on the subject, I won’t have to do so. Read it instead. It’s really good. So after a lot of back and forth, we did come up with a title that encapsulates the essence of the story without giving away anything in terms of the plot. This is a crime novel after all and we don’t want people to know whodunnit until the very end.

Our ancient cemetery, a fitting image given the book's about crime...

Our ancient cemetery is a fitting image given the book is about crime…

Next steps

The road from manuscript to book is long. Not necessarily in terms of time, as small publishers can work a lot more nimbly than the big publishers who are driven more by stock prices and quarterly results than the creative outcome from their authors. Publishing a book is a complex endeavor encompassing the following (not an exclusive list): editing, proofing, typesetting, formatting, cover creation, marketing & PR plans, metadata uploading to the countless sites that will be selling the book (from Amazon, Apple to Smashwords and then some.) Some of these are works of love, others are tedious chores, yes metadata, I’m looking at you. But without all of that stuff in place, a book will never be sold. We also had to decide on a date of publication and we ended up finding a great compromise that will allow me some extra special marketing.

Marketing of a book

So… I don’t have a cover yet, although it’s on the publisher’s to-do list. Without a cover, it’s going to be difficult to start marketing efforts. Sure, I can plan events but anything that’s visual requires a cover, as it is the book’s face and calling card. As you may know, I’m a bit peculiar about my covers, and I’m really curious as to what the publisher comes up with. We’ve discussed an option or two, but I haven’t seen anything yet.

The next aspect of a book’s marketing is about events, launch events. I have a few planned already. I’ll be in New Orleans before the book’s official release for The Tennessee Williams Festival’s LGBTQ SAS Fest. We’ll have copies of the book on-site for sale prior to the official release date. That’s a really cool thing. Also, I will be reading from the book at the festival. On the actual release date, I’ll probably organize something here at the house again. Since the book plays out on the island where we live, I assume there will be some interest to attend. I for one can’t wait. But we’ll see. I may also do an event in the city at our house of literature and hopefully do something with our local English bookstore.

What's plausible to happen on the streets here?

What’s plausible to happen on the streets here?

After the official release, I’ll travel to New York for the upcoming Rainbow Book Fair. I’ve been to that event every year since 2016, and I look forward to the afternoon. It’s the world’s largest LGBTQ bookfair and always attracts huge crowds. I missed it these past years as it was canceled due to the pandemic.

Events aren’t everything

But I won’t just do live and physical events. There are blogs (including this, my own), podcasts, and social media. Every time we put out a book, you have to tell people you have another one out there. Amazon will alert you if you follow an author, but otherwise, any new book is going to drown in the thousands published every day. People often ask me why I write in English, being a Swede living in Sweden. That makes marketing here really difficult. Libraries won’t be interested, nor will schools or book clubs. I wish I had an answer except that English is the language where. feel most comfortable writing fiction. I couldn’t do it in German and I’m not sure I could in Swedish. I just haven’t felt it, but alas, what do I know? I’m certainly not saying “never”.

The page for the book is ready but won’t be published until I have a cover. Watch this space, the news section, and feel free to follow/friend me on Facebook. I guess that’s where most of the news will be published. There might be a trailer on YouTube, but my presence on social media is fairly limited these days.

Now that you’ve read this far, here’s what you really want to know, right? The new book’s title is “Anna and the Lost Zorn“. It will be available as an eBook and paperback on April 6, 2023, coming from Beaten Track Publishing.

Writer, keep to your last! Why a publisher’s great tip is troubling me

Writer, keep to your last! Why a publisher’s great tip is troubling me

A publisher’s best tip for (aspiring) writers

As a Sweden’s Writers’ Union member, I get their membership magazine a few times every year. It’s always well-written and often informative. I don’t always agree with their politics, but that’s not the point here. In the most recent issue, 4/2022, they discuss some experts’ best tips for PR. In our day, when many of us are published by small publishers who do not have the muscle of the big five (or we’re not the prize horses in the stable), we often have to do most if not all of our marketing/PR ourselves—a great and interesting article. Yet when I read what one publisher wrote, I got upset. I mentioned her in my previous post where she says that her best tip for success is for writers to stick to one genre. Then she also makes some weird comments about clothing and behaving appropriately. Did the statement affect me so strongly because she could’ve meant me? Might I have been more successful if I’d stuck to one genre? Yet what genre would that be?

“Stay in your lane, dress and behave adequately!”

Christmas decoration. It's that time of year after all. Photo: Hans M Hirschi

Christmas decoration. It’s that time of year after all. Photo: Hans M Hirschi

Look, in principle, I don’t disagree that a writer is likely to be more successful if they write one genre only. You build a readership from a pool of readers who love a particular sort of book, and you get to expand upon it, enjoy recommendations from readers who are likely connected to other readers in that same genre, etc. I can see how that can work. And there is a reason that when an author, even super famous ones such as J.K. Rowling (with whom I vehemently disagree on her stands on trans rights) writes in a different genre, chooses a pseudonym. Given her fame and that her pen name leaked (probably because the books didn’t sell enough) it was surprising that sales were as bad as they were. Having said that, I wish I’d have Robert Galbraith sales… Alas, the industry wasn’t impressed. Hers is the case of failing to bridge genres. She learned her lesson and expanded her universe instead with her Fantastic Beasts. Meh!

I went down a different road altogether. My first three books are vastly different. There’s the romantic coming-out story, the troubled family drama, and the one about a father who loses his son. I followed that up with a sort of dark life journey, followed by what some might call a dys-/utopian sci-fi novel, and then on to a story about life with a disability. I write for younger audiences, more mature ones, and even children. Some of my books are easier to peg, like The Golden One into fantasy, or my new one, Opus XXVII, which is a crime novel. Or is it?

What am I writing?

That is a pretty silly question for an author to ask themself. Yet here I am, unafraid as always to make a fool of myself. Yet I’ve honestly struggled with this question for years. I think it has to do with the constrictions I feel with regard to most established genre definitions. I’m a Gemini at heart. I need to spread my wings and try different things, I crave the change, the excitement of trying something new, something different. Not exactly what a publisher relishes. Ask mine! Let me start with the most recent book I’ve been working on. Opus XXVII is a crime novel by my own admission. It is a crime novel because I wanted to write one, and it is a crime novel because it contains a crime that needs to be resolved, a crime that the reader can think about “whodunnit” until the final pages of the novel. It’s also written in a way that is consistent with the rules of the genre in that the solution to the crime isn’t obvious until the end. However…

Queer Social Realism on the streets of Styrsö?

Queer Social Realism on the streets of Styrsö? Yass, bitch!

Opus XVII is so much more than a crime novel. It is an LGBTQ novel. Does that qualify as a genre though? Straight ain’t a genre, so why should LGBTQ be? It is for Amazon, does that qualify as an answer? I also feel, and that is about as much of a spoiler as you’ll ever see from me, that it’s not primarily about a crime. Yes, a crime is committed, but in the story, it acts more as a catalyst for other more interesting aspects of the plot. In hindsight, I’ll admit that I find writing crime quite tedious. I doubt I’ll do it again. It’s just not where my interest lies. Would you be surprised if I called it social realism?

Social realism, say what?

I hear you. You won’t find that on Amazon’s extensive list of genres, I just double-checked. If I were to stick to the above argument, social realism should be disqualified as a genre. Alas, my blog, my rules. 😝 Seriously though, with the exception of my vampire children’s book, each and every one of my stories fits into this description, even my foray into erotica, as fleetingly as it may penetrate (pun intended) the less carnal aspects of life. How do I define social realism? I actually. never have, so let’s see what Wikipedia contributes:

“Social realism is the term used for work produced by painters, printmakers, photographers, writers and filmmakers that aims to draw attention to the real socio-political conditions of the working class as a means to critique the power structures behind these conditions.”

Some of my books don’t necessarily restrict themselves to the working class. However, this is where the letter soup comes in handy! So without further ado, here’s MY definition of my writing genre:

“Hirschi aims to draw attention to the real socio-political conditions of queer people around the world as a means to critique the power structures behind heteronormativity, gender stereotypes, and patriarchy.” In short, call it Queer Social Realism.

Allow me a chuckle, as this sounds a bit grandstanding. But alas, strictly speaking, that is what I do, and I think my books fit just fine within that particular genre. The question is: who cares if the world doesn’t accept it as such, and–pardon my French–if no one gives a flying fuck and buys my books? Anyway, I feel much better about the aforementioned publisher’s suggestion, even if it meant creating my own niche genre. Now to shuffle off to find my readers… 🚶

Comments? Suggestions? Agree? Disagree? Let’s have it…

Until then: happy holidays and a great new year!

Hans

Writer, keep to your last! Why a publisher’s great tip is troubling me

Happy Holidays! A letter to my readers

Let’s try something new, shall we? A letter to my readers

For twenty-three years I’ve been writing a year-end letter to my closest friends and family. Feedback has decreased over the years as fewer people use e-mail to communicate. It’s all on social media these days. Being of a certain age, though not old, I have the privilege to decide what I want to do, so I invite you on a journey to look back on the year we’ve had as well as a short outlook on what might await us beyond the chasm of midnight on December 31, 2022.

From a pandemic to war: will it ever end?

As a European, I am fully aware that I am writing this from a position of enormous privilege. Even more so as a Swede, with a government (and a constitution!) that allowed us more freedom to hunker down and get through the Covid-pandemic than many other countries. If you ever doubted it, there IS a vast difference between a democracy (Sweden) and a dictatorship (China.) I’ve been appalled not only by the way Xi has handled the pandemic until recently but almost more by how they suddenly let things run their course. Again, it shows how much dictators do not care about their people. They don’t need their votes after all. My sympathies to every Chinese who is losing loved ones as natural immunity races to a sudden equilibrium, hardly slowed down by subpar vaccines and low vaccination rates amongst the most vulnerable.

Just as we thought the pandemic was over, Putin attacked Ukraine and has been on a daily mission to obliterate a people he claims are Russian. Again, dictators don’t care about their people. He’ll never need the votes of the Ukrainian people to be elected into office. So what if he slaughters them by the thousands? I for one just pray that they keep one cell empty at the international war tribunal in The Hague. Slava Ukraini! May we keep supporting the valiant efforts of this peaceful people.

Culture Wars: what next?

For years now, conservatives have moved their focus away from their disastrous political “trickle-down” economics (how did the poor ever think ‘trickle’ wasn’t an insult and vote for a politician advocating this?) This trickle-down scam has led to CEOs multiplying their advantage in salaries compared to the rest of the workforce. From earning 31 times as much as a worker in 1978 to a whopping 351 times in 2020. You can rest assured that figure is now even higher. It’s indecent, but yet, trickle down, right? Not sure if they finally realized this was no longer a winning strategy or if it was a way to shore up support elsewhere, but for years now we’ve been stuck in these culture wars. Whether it’s a backlash against Gay rights or Women’s rights, rising antisemitism or anti-ziganism, the countless laws to go after the trans community, or the rampant islamophobia, there is something for everyone, right? How did we end up in this mess? And how do we get out?

Gothenburg, my home town, during the Holidays.

Gothenburg, my home town, during the Holidays.

I for one have always believed in conversations, in talking to people one to one, but even that has become increasingly difficult. Just the other day I had a conversation with someone who was horrific in their comments against Meghan Markle, leaving me speechless. Only to read the press articles about a certain overrated car tester who said more or less the same things. Mind you, I am no fan of Meghan. I’m indifferent to her, as I don’t know her. As a Republican, I’d love to see her stripped of her titles, that’s about the extent of my involvement.

On Facebook (the only social medium I engage in personally), and in real life, it is getting increasingly difficult to have a normal conversation. People make up their minds sans having the appropriate information or knowledge, and I find that the more I learn, the more uncertain I am. However, I have this nagging feeling that we are all being played and that these culture wars are but the latest ploy by the “haves” to trick the “have-nots” into sending more money up the ladder. It’s likely to get much worse before it gets better. I hope the nukes get to stay in their silos while we figure this out.

On a different note: my latest “work in progress”

I don’t blog much anymore. That is sad. I used to blog up to three times a week. Then again, nobody reads blogs these days. It’s all podcasts, Vlogs, and reels. And while I don’t mind a live Facebook feed now and then, I’m neither interesting nor pretty enough for regular stuff. Who needs to see my gravity-plagued face? I’d never sell a book again. LOL However, I have been working on a novel for some time, and while every decent publisher tells you to focus on ONE genre, heck I just read an article where Swedish publisher Ewa Åkerling, Ordberoende Förlag, says, and I quote: “stay in your lane, dress and behave adequately” (Författaren 4/2022, p.20, not available online) I guess I’m just lucky to have an amazing publisher who allows this Gemini to test their wings. Call my genre LGBTQ, rather than feelgood or whatever, but my latest story is a crime novel. We don’t have a title yet, nor a cover, but this chosen Swede has finally given in to peer/reader pressure and written his first crime story. Here’s what I can tell you in a temporary blurb:

Opus XXVII–My coming novel

The disappearance of 72-year-old Lennart shakes his family’s foundation, leaving behind his husband of fifty years and their daughter, Anna. A futile search and rescue operation slowly turns into an investigation into Lennart’s death, while his family is trying to grapple with the why, and worse, the risk of living next door to a potential murderer.

Anna is a successful PR executive living in Stockholm. Her life is turned upside down when her father mysteriously disappears in the middle of a major campaign at work. Rushing back to her native island of Styrsö, she needs to juggle her relationship with her estranged dad, an increasingly stressful situation at work, as well as the sudden complications of her personal life.

Opus XVII is a story of perseverance, and how even the most shattering events in our personal lives can evolve into the foundation of something stronger. It’s a tale of love and second chances amidst a family tragedy set on a small, idyllic island off the coast of West Sweden.

The new book is expected to be released sometime in early April 2023 by award-winning Beaten Track Publishing, the world’s most amazing publisher. 💙💚💛🧡❤️💜 I haven’t made any plans yet to market the new book. I do know that I’ll be in New Orleans for the LGBT-event “Saints & Sinners” at the Tennessee Williams Festival in March and New York in April for the Rainbow Book Fair. Maybe we’ll see you there? I’ll also do a book release event (or more) in Sweden, so keep your eyes on my Facebook page or this website. I might also do a newsletter. Let me know if you’d like to be added to the mailing list.

2022 is almost over…

I for one won’t miss 2022. It was not a bad year for me or my family, but with all the war and the crazy politics going on all around us, I hope that 2023 will be better, more peaceful, and prosperous. For these final days of 2022, I wish you all the very best, happy holidays, and a great 2023!

As always, I remain your faithful friend,

Hans

Opus XXVII has a title…

An evolving writing process. Making a better writer?

What’s your writing process like? Are you a pantser or a plotter?

Learning means doing things differently

I’m currently working on opus xxvii. The new book is something I haven’t done before (very say about each and every one of my books.) Inspired by a book set in my local surroundings is something I haven’t done before. Also, writing a crime novel is something I never expected to do. Nor wanted to. Really! As a writer living in Sweden, there’s this expectation that I write crime and join the ranks of all those who have come before me. Alas, the genre just never appealed to me because I don’t like to read/watch crime myself. I don’t like the gore, the death, and the hunt for the killer. Alas, here I am. The book is well underway, and while it has no title yet and the manuscript isn’t anywhere from being done, the publisher has it scheduled for a spring release.

With every new genre I’ve tackled I had to learn new things, and that is one of the most rewarding things about my craft. Not only do I learn more about the human condition, but I also get to become a better writer in the process. So far, my editors seem to agree with that assessment. The big question is if the evolving writing process leads to better books.

My writing process changes

A writer friend of mine, Wayne Goodman, who hosted me on his podcast Queer Words, always asks his guests if they are pantsers or plotters. I always considered myself a pantser, i.e. I’m writing at the seams of my pants, stream-of-consciousness, character-driven. However, for a crime novel, that does NOT work. You wonder why? In my humble, short, and ongoing experience with the genre, while you can easily “kill” someone in a stream of consciousness (I’ve done THAT before), solving a crime is an entirely different story. You need a motive, you need to have someone somehow solve the crime and preferably toward the end to keep the mystery alive for the reader. Unless of course, you don’t care about the mystery. Then there’s the question of police procedures, and a ton of questions about pathologic issues about dead bodies, decomposing, and whatnot. It’s just a very complex topic.

An ongoing process

blank

This book was written in just a few sessions of just sitting down and watching the text appear on the screen.

Writing a crime novel isn’t the first time that a changing writing process has manifested itself. As a learning, evolving writer, hopefully having produced a better book each time I put down my pen, I have seen my pantsing slowly evolve into a more measured approach. I still enjoy writing best when I turn off my cognitive processes and just get to type away, reading what my fingers produce with the help of my computer’s keyboard, and reading the evolving story as it appears on the screen. While my first books, like Jonathan’s Hope or Family Ties, were written in less than two weeks each, recent books have taken a lot longer. It’s not as much “fun” anymore, as they all involve a lot of research to get things right, sometimes not just being able o rely on my previously acquired knowledge. I guess that is where writing becomes a job (not just the editing aspect.) I’ve always enjoyed certain aspects of research, especially when I get to immerse myself in something new, e.g. my trip to Korea while writing Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm, or Last Winter’s Snow, which allowed me to learn about our own First Nations here in Sweden.

The new book pushes the envelope

In Last Winter’s Snow, I had to change a chapter completely after learning more about Sami culture. After that, I was able to return to my normal writing. Mind you, before you get the impression that my stream-of-consciousness writing didn’t involve research, I have always researched things I didn’t know. I just get stuck, do the research, and continued. However, in this new book, I had to do a lot of research before even being able to get started. The first chapter shows the murderer after having gotten rid of the corpse, under a root roll. Well, turns out that wouldn’t work and I had to completely rewrite that. Also, given the surroundings here, the island, and the ocean, I had to find a way to hide the body, a motive, and how it all gets resolved in the end. After several months I finally feel that I have the contours in place. I have written bits and pieces here and there and throughout the book, but I’m far from done. Also, huge chunks are missing.

Next steps to finish the story

To write about a place you know really well has advantages, but carries risks.

To write about a place you know really well has advantages, but carries risks.

I have had to edit considerably what I had written earlier, to make sure it fits the narrative. I have, to be honest, never been a fan of deleting. It pains me to delete words, and I know colleagues who simply save any unused written text in a slash document to be able to get back to that later. I don’t do that. If I can’t use text, it’s deleted. Only once have I regretted that, deleting a really beautiful love-making scene in a book geared toward young adults. It had to go, but I wish I’d saved that.

To get the story right, I’ve had to rewrite a lot, and while I have the basic plot ready, what is left is to flesh it out and give my characters some flesh. I still feel they’re characters, not people I know. Normally, my characters become people I know, flesh and blood, and I know them intimately. I cry when they suffer, and I laugh when they goof. I’m not there yet, and there are quite a few characters in this story: there’s the murderer who I quite like so far, there’s Anna, the main character who still feels like a Pinocchio to me, more a doll than a living being. Her father Tore feels like a stranger, even though he’s central to the story, then there’s the victim, the dead person. It is important to me to do them justice. Finally, there’s this character that appears in the second chapter and who (as part of my subconscious writing) didn’t go away. He is also really important for the story, as a catalyst of sorts. So far, he’s the one who surprised me the most, and I want to do him justice.

Yet more research to be done…

What's plausible to happen on the streets here?

What’s plausible to happen on these streets?

You think I’d be done with research, but I’m not. I also have to speak to the pathologists at the police department, there’s more cultural research needed, and I wonder if I need to research into the motive (no spoilers!) Then there are the tiny questions that always need answering, sometimes it’s just a word or two in a subordinate clause that could take hours to research. I kid you not. Sometimes it’s the tiny details that need the most time to search for. Because as authors, we do not have the luxury to make mistakes. Unless TV. I just watched this fantasy story where literally dozens of slashed and slaughtered bodies were left behind by witches all over the place. While I wonder what regular humans would think finding all those corpses, the TV producers didn’t deem it necessary to answer. Authors don’t have that luxury. If we screw up, we’re called out on it, and given how hard it is to get any reviews, we certainly cannot afford those reviews to be bad…

In the end, I’ll get there! I feel confident that I’ll be able to deliver the manuscript to my publisher in time for the scheduled publication date in the spring of 2023. I hope you look forward to reading a crime novel, the way only I could write one. I’m certainly looking forward to other fun aspects of book production: layout, cover, and finding a good title, not to mention interacting with readers about it.

Hans

How to write about the HIV pandemic in literature

How to write about the HIV pandemic in literature

The HIV pandemic is a character in my new book

During a panel discussion at the recent Saints & Sinners Literary Conference in New Orleans, we discussed how to write about a pandemic, both the current COVID-pandemic, but also the HIV pandemic. The latter still claims hundreds of thousands of casualties every year. Given that it originally mostly affected gay men, it is a pandemic I have to relate to, whether I want to or not. Being gay and HIV are inseparably linked to each other. When a novel plays out in the 1980s, even more so. We lost almost an entire generation during those early years until the first effective medications reached the market.

Michel, the hero of my new book, first appeared in my 2014 novel The Fallen Angels of Karnataka. His death from complications from AIDS was an easy choice to rid me of a character who’d appeared in the story at the wrong time.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris

The topic was unavoidable, but how to treat it?

I recently wrote, “you know how he died, learn how he lived.” How do you write about the life of someone you know is going to die (or has been dead already?) AIDS or HIV would play a major role in the new story, that was obvious. I had done a ton of research into the epidemic for The Fallen Angels of Karnataka because Haakon was infected by Michel. Since he is a survivor, I had to make sure to make that plausible: combining his genes (of which we know little in the 80ies), early access to ACT, etc.

We never really find out how Michel was infected, and I was curious to learn how Michel’s youth was. How would HIV show up and rear its ugly head? I don’t want to give away the plot. You have to wait another three weeks before the book is released. But some things were obvious even before I picked up the proverbial pen. I had no intention to write a novel about AIDS, to spend page up and page down on symptoms, nor did I intend to ignore it. The only thing I knew for sure was where, when, and how Michel would eventually pass away.

The emotional impact of the pandemic

For me, emotions are everything. A book is all the more valuable, a story more impactful, if strong emotions are evoked on the pages. That was my focus in Michel. How does it feel to have HIV? What is it like to live with someone with HIV? To lose someone with HIV? To be friends with someone with HIV? Those are the central questions of the story. I hope to have evoked enough emotions to drive home the point of the horror of the pandemic, not just on those who caught the virus, but also on those who knew the affected.

The HIV pandemic and the LGBTQ community

To be a member of the LGBTQ community in 2022 isn’t the same as it was back in the 1980ies. It’s more than the extra letters in the acronym. Increased visibility and changed attitudes toward our way of life may have led to a better integration into mainstream society. LGBTQ people are pictured differently in mass media. Death is no longer the automatic conclusion to being queer.

I often wonder how much of that is due to the HIV pandemic? Health experts telling politicians that monogamous relationships and the acceptance of marriage equality were important tools in combatting the spread of HIV? Not to spread conspiracy theories, but it’s funny how it all took flight in the mid-to-late 1980s. At least here in the West. We still have a long way to go in the rest of the world, where oddly, the HIV pandemic is unbroken and killing thousands every day.

Michel is about more than just HIV

The new book is about so much more than just HIV and AIDS. It’s a coming-of-age and a love story. A tale about growing up in France in the 1980s. Last not least, the book also deals with how you move on from loss, how you reconcile finding happiness again with the loss of your first great love. I’m sure that many of us struggle with that question, be it in ourselves or others around us.

Michel–Fallen Angel of Paris will be released from Beaten Track Publishing on April 30, 2022, and will be available as a paperback, ebook, and audiobook, narrated by Michael Bakkensen.