Anders Monsen

Lost worlds and ports of call

Collected Poul Anderson stories

Recently I picked up six volumes of the collected stories of Paul Anderson, published by NESFA press between 2009 and 2014. Since the last book appeared over two years ago, I’m not sure if there are future volumes planned.

Each book is hefty, full of classic short stories, novellas, occasional poetry, cover art by Bob Eccleton, John Picacio and introductions by noted writers in the SF field. Reading through all the stories could take a year or more, as each book is so dense and rich. I’ll have more to say as I read the books. For now I’ll just enjoy the covers.

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Swedish crime classics

From 1965 to 1975 appeared ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively titled The Story of a Crime. The protagonist, police detective Martin Beck, links all the novels, though he by no means acts alone.

It took me a couple of years to find and read all ten books. I think I read them more or less in order, although I read them as I bought them. I intend to re-read them in proper sequence.

These ten novels are hailed by many writers and critics are essential to anyone interested in Scandinavian crime fiction. Some aspects are timeless, some horribly dated. They’re not the best books I’ve read, but I can see how they influenced other writers.

Boxed set to catch up

I’ve wanted to read Nick Hornby for quite some time. Now I have a nice matching set from which I can pick and choose. It’s not a complete set, and I face the tough task of finding books in the US that match this format. To start with I picked Fever Pitch.

Catching up on classics

I chanced across a copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and placed it on top of my rather large To Read stack.

Murakami collection

More or less complete now.

Library additions

Along with the four Henning Mankell books pictured here, all with a curiously similar cover design, I’ve bought four other Mankell novels, six Per Wahloo (and Maj Sjowall) novels, two Asa Larrson novels, five by Jo Nesbø, a couple of P.D. James books (one fiction, one non-fiction), a Patricia Highsmith classic, and a detective book by the 2014 Nobel Literature Prize winner: the French writer, Patrick Modiano.

Scandinavian crime landscapes

Scandinavian crime landscapes

I haven’t read all the books yet. Nesbø has a cinematic and kinetic style, steeped in Hollywood. His anti-hero is dark, bitter, unlikeable. Mankell is more sedate, his main character morose but not as bitter and self-destructive as Nesbø’s Harry Hole. I’m still reading Asa Larrson, and don’t yet have a feel for her main characters yet. I know the Highsmith novel will annoy me, because the main character is a conman, a crook, a swindler. I haven’t read James in well over a decade, but I used to like her books. Wahloo and Sjowall come highly recommended, and I look forward to reading their books.

Revisiting crime fiction

Growing up in the 1980s I read fiction across all genres. A teenager at the time, I read my own books, but also read as many books as possible from my parents’ shelves. This included thrillers like Alistair MacLean, Hammond Innes, Wilbur Smith, crime writers like Ed McBain and Agatha Christie, along with a host of names long since forgotten.

The past two decades I’ve generally not read much crime fiction, with the exception of the Norwegian writer Gunnar Staalesen. He lives and writes about Bergen, a place I lived a few years, and where I have roots. The names of other crime/mystery writers slide past my consciousness, but I tended to either read science fiction or American novels from the early twentieth century.

A couple of years ago I read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy, like so many others. This year I picked up a couple of Ian Rankin books, and once again I feel the strong pull of crime fiction. Oddly enough, I’m reading quite a few Scandinavian and European books, from Rankin to Andrea Camilleri, to Jo Nesbø to Asa Larsson, along with other Swedish writers like Henning Mankel and Per Wahlöö.

I have yet to dive into American crime fiction, but I have list of names, most of them authors I’ve never read, which I think is an exciting prospect.

There used to be a book store in San Antonio called “Remember the Alibi.” I find it tragic that this store is gone, but even more so now that I’m re-discovering this genre.

On writing a novel

Earlier this year I resumed writing fiction. I’ve wanted to be a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote a few short stories, received a few favorable comments from friends. I took one story to a writers’ group a few years ago, and watched them flay it to shreds, not so much for the story itself but smaller errors. Or least, that’s how it seemed to me. I don’t think I returned after the third meeting. It was a long drive, I told myself, and maybe they were right. Still, I wrote a couple more stories, and even 35,000 words of a fantasy novel, but maybe the writing group experience disillusioned me. I quit writing fiction for many years.

Ideas still came to me, and I wrote a few of them down. Often these ideas appeared as titles, either made up, or snippets stitched together from something I’d heard.

Last year my father sent me a very nice pen for my birthday, and said he hoped it would help write a book. A short while later a friend who I hadn’t heard from in years wrote me, and remembered I had mentioned I was writing fiction. Was I still writing? The universe appeared to supply me with strong hints. I am older now, and have fewer pretentious, but I still felt the need to create fiction.

On January 24, 2014 I sat down and wrote a few words. Each night I returned, and after three weeks I finished a short story. I started another one, writing a few words every day. I showed the stories to no one. I went through this purely as an exercise, a way to scrape off layers of rust. In two months I finished six stories and a novella, four of the pieces set in a sort of shared alternate universe, the other three in different genres. Then I started a novel.

I always thought I would write only science fiction and fantasy. The modern writers that I admired (i.e. not dead) tended to write in these genres. Perhaps I tried to emulate certain favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Tim Powers, to name a few. I let the ideas and stories dictate the genre, and so I wrote one sf story this year, and one horror story. The rest I am not sure where they fall. The novel that I started on March 21 was a mystery novel, a complete surprise to me. I read mysteries years ago, but currently only read two mystery writers: Gunnar Staalesen in Norwegian, and Ian Rankin in English.

I worked from a vague outline and a specific setting, and found that characters presented themselves and the story evolved. On May 30, just over two months and ten days after I started the novel, I sat in an airport lounge and wrote 1,200 pages, including the words, “The End.” I typed the last two words just as they announced that my plane was boarding. I had written the first draft of a short novel, just over 61,000 pages long.

Writing is a matter of applying your rear to a chair and typing one word after another. I wrote my fiction in various location and various times: late at night, in the car at my daughter’s soccer practice, on a wobbly camping chair in front of a tent on a boy scout campout, in an airplane squeezed between two people whose elbows invaded my small seat, in hotel rooms when traveling. I’ve written every day for 135 days now.

I know the next steps include painful revisions, even more painful outside critiques, then if the stories stand up to scrutiny, query letters to find them a home. I’m not sure how to approach that next stage. I’m letting my novel percolate in the back of my mind, or maybe just receded from my immediate memory, and I am currently working on another short story. It’s almost scary that this week I came up with two more novel ideas for the same character as in my mystery novel, to go along with a third idea that I actually came up with while halfway through the novel, and then in half an hour six short story ideas – but then, ideas are easy, putting them to paper takes time and effort. I almost feel that this short novel was a warm-up, a prelude to the real thing. Maybe that’s just an excuse to ignore the edits and revisions, as writing for the sake of writing seems so much easier.

We shall see.

Tour de Gruene

Saturday, November 2nd I cycled in the 30th annual Tour de Gruene. This was my first time riding Tour de Gruene, though I had heard of it for many years. 2013 essentially was the first year I did any major bike rides, having focused on running until some injuries forced me onto the bike.

Tour de Gruene begins from the tiny town of Gruene in Central Texas, rides into the edges of the Hill Country, and returns along the scenic River Road along the Guadalupe River. A week prior to the event torrential rains raised the river level ten feet and washed out part of the road, but county crews quickly repaired the damage. Aside from some water still trickling on the road from higher ground, there was no visible sign of damage. Over 2,000 cyclists participated, and the event was split into four distances, ranging from 35 to 65 miles. I chose the 65 mile route, which was advertised as “hilly” and “challenging.” They did not lie. Continue reading

Alongside Night

Today I received in the mail a copy of Alongside Night: The Graphic Novel. Based on a screenplay of J. Neil Schulman’s 1979 debut novel, and updated for the present age, this new version Alongside Night also has finished production as a movie. The trailer is available on IMDB.com, and stars some big names such as Kevin Sorbo, Tim Russ, and Garrett Wang (the latter two from Star Trek: Voyager). The graphic novel appear adapted from the screenplay rather than the original novel, which makes it shorter and changes some of the settings but no major plot elements.

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