Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Many Occasions to Contemplate Murder

In 1986, the Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme was shot on a Stockholm street. That shocked the Swedish nation, previously spared from such violence against our leaders. It gnawed my mind persistently, so I wrote a book.

The book, Occasionally I Contemplate Murder, was not at all about the assassination of Olof Palme, in spite of its slightly cryptic dedication:

To the poor target
of the one who probably
triggered this book.

Instead, I wrote about the mysteries of life, death, and what kind of meaning might be found in their interaction. The eternal question, refusing a definite answer: What's it all about?

Out of the Gloom

In an effort to write without getting drowned in gloom, something that the subject in combination with the Swedish language would be hard to avoid, I decided to do it in English. I wanted the contrast of the somber content and a light-hearted tone, as if not taking it that seriously. Otherwise, the book might become as heavy to write as it would be to read.

English literature has a tradition of such dead-serious comedians, some of them old favorites of mine – like Mark Twain and Kurt Vonnegut. The darkest subjects can only be explored by comedy.

This was the first time I wrote a book in English, originally. When I lived in the USA for about a year in 1979-80, I translated some of my Swedish work into English, but that's another story. With Occasionally I Contemplate Murder I was delighted to find that my intention was fulfilled. In the English language it was indeed possible for me to keep a light tone in spite of the dark matters at hand. I worked on it during 1986 and got it finished somewhere in the spring of 1987.

So, there I was with a complete book script in English, but what to do with it? I sent it to a US literary agent, which had been mine for a while when I stayed in New York (Sanford J. Greenburger), but they had failed to sell another script of mine, so they were not that keen on the new one – especially since it was more of an essay than a novel.

When they declined, I just let the script lie in a drawer. But soon, a Swedish publisher, Eric Fylkesson, heard about it and asked if he could read it. Eric had a small publishing house releasing odd and intriguing titles. He was – and is – also a brilliant poet, both in text and on stage. He is one of the Swedish writers I admire the most, so I was happy to let him read the script.

To my delight, he urged me to translate it into Swedish, saying that he would gladly publish it if I did. Although I was flattered, I doubted that it would be possible to turn the text into Swedish and keep its essential light-hearted style. Eric wouldn't take no for an answer, but insisted that I give it a try. Well, I did, and it actually worked.

Because I had the English version as a source, I could find the corresponding Swedish language. The translated text didn't fall into an abyss. Much to my surprise.

Here, There, and Back Again

In August of 1987, the Swedish book was published. It never entered any bestseller lists, but it became kind of a cult thing. Lots of people let me know that the book had triggered their thoughts. I was especially pleased to learn that several colleagues appreciated it greatly.

Well, life went on and the book slowly fell asleep like most books do. Almost 20 years after it was published in Sweden, the media world had gone through multiple revolutions. Suddenly it was possible for me to have it published in English. At first, I did so on my website, just for fun. I embraced the idea of reaching the world with my words, without any go-between.

Then, Internet bookstores and Print on Demand publishing made it possible to get the actual book out. In spite of the world wide web miracle, that's still how a book becomes real. You need to hold it and turn the pages. Otherwise, the reading experience is somewhat lacking. Touching is part of reading.

The first edition was published in 2006 with the simple title Murder. For the second edition, I edited the text for the umpth time and also decided on a new title: Occasionally I Contemplate Murder – to make it say something more about the content and the type of book. And I had great fun producing the drastic cover image.

Alas, there have been many targets and triggers since Olof Palme was assassinated. Just these last days, we struggle with the shock of a Norwegian fanatic methodically shooting down more than sixty teenagers. One would like to believe that this must be the last act of such kind.

Life and death, and the way they dance together, are still in dire need of explanations and still constantly escaping them. There are many occasions to contemplate.

Here is more about the book: Occasionally I Contemplate Murder
Here it is on Amazon US and on Amazon UK.

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