“Every time you start with a blank page, and nothing is a given. Knowing more just makes you less confident. A certain lack of confidence is good in writing, because you want to go places where you’re not on safe ground.”
Listen in to part 2 of my conversation with Linn Ullmann about her new novel, The Cold Song, from Other Press! (Part 1 is over here.) We talk about her writing habits and practices, her favorite Scandinavian authors, how she tweaked the book for its translation into English, and how August Strindberg got revenge on people. We also talk about the lengths she and her husband go to in order to get undisturbed writing time, when she realized she wasn’t going to become a ballerina, and how to convey the Norwegian concept of skavank to some zhlub from New Jersey.
“You have to do bad writing before it gets to good writing.”
Bonus: I let Linn interview me, and boy does THAT go off the rails! Give it a listen!
About our Guest
Linn Ullmann is a literary critic and the author of five novels: Before You Sleep (1998), Stella Descending (2001), Grace (2002), A Blessed Child (2005), and The Cold Song (2011). Grace won The Reader’s Prize in Norway and was named one of the top ten novels that year by the Weekendavisen newspaper in Denmark. In 2007, Grace was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in the UK. A Blessed Child was shortlisted for the Brage Prize in Norway. In 2007, Ms. Ullmann was awarded the Amalie Skram Award for her literary work, and she received Gullpennen (the Golden Pen) for her journalism in Norway’s leading morning newspaper Aftenposten. In 2008, A Blessed Child was named Best Translated novel in the British newspaper The Independent, and in 2009 the novel was longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award in the UK. Linn Ullmann’s novels are published throughout Europe and the U.S. and are translated into 30 languages. The Cold Song was recently published in the U.S. by Other Press. Ms. Ullmann lives in Oslo with her husband Niels Fredrik Dahl, a novelist, playwright and poet. She has two children, Hanna and Halfdan, and two stepchildren, Dagny and Kasper. She also has a dog named Charlie.
Credits: This episode’s music is Double Feature by Camera Obscura. The conversation was recorded in the business center of an undisclosed hotel on a pair of Blue enCORE 200 microphones, feeding into a Zoom H4n recorder. The intro and outro were recorded on Blue Yeti USB Microphone. Processing was done in Audacity and Garage Band. Photo of Ms. Ullmann by Morgan Norman.
Last night, I had dinner with pals in Brooklyn and walked in the door at 1:15 a.m. (at least 40 minutes of my lateness was due to a two-car collision in the Lincoln Tunnel and two separate construction zones near the Meadowlands that turned magically turned three lanes of Rt. 3 into one). This morning, I drive down to suburban Philadelphia to deliver a flatscreen TV to the winner of a raffle at my annual conference. Because my publisher doesn’t want it to get damaged in shipping.
So while you read these links, I’ll be cruising along the highway, checking out the foliage, trying to stay awake, and wondering how this ever became part of my job description.
Oh, just click “more”!
I don’t know whether the Sulzberger family exerts any influence on the NYTimes‘ editors. All I know is that today’s business section seems pretty heavily loaded on the Bernard Madoff case. Bernie’s a legendary money manager who appears to have been bilking hedge funds and the super-wealthy out of their money in a huge (he says $50 billion) Ponzi scheme.
Now, I know it’s a big story (although no one knows how deep the losses really are yet), but I get the feeling that if it weren’t about the pain of wealthy people and socialites, we might not see four articles totaling more than 4,500 words in one edition: 1, 2, 3, and 4.
The best part about today’s Lifestyles of the No-Longer-So-Rich coverage in the Times is that the paper chose this very day to debut a new bi-weekly web column about . . . money strategies for the wealthy!
Of course, these strategies aren’t just for the wealthy! Writes columnist Paul Sullivan, “While his [Robert Seaberg, head of wealth management at — no lie — a branch of Citigroup, the bank that lobbied for a $300 billion backstop from the U.S. government and plans to fire 52,000 people next year, most of whom I assume are not super-wealthy] findings are geared toward the highest end of the investing community, people at every wealth level should take note.”
While losing 40 percent of $100 million gives those investors more wiggle room than that same decline on $100,000, it still requires them to re-evaluate their view of risk, if not a change to their lifestyles.
Good to know!
For my part, I’m just happy that Amy & I started watching Arrested Development this month. I expect to find out that Madoff had a cross-eyed Judy Greer for his secretary:
Or that his sons are really amateur magicians or anxiety-prone dilettantes. But Life doesn’t always imitate canceled TV, I guess.
(Update! The NYPost has a couple of pieces on the story, too. I was convinced that one of their quotes was by an alias for Andre 3000, but it turns out that Montieth Illingworth is a real person! Oh, and it turns out that Madoff’s key strategy was betting on the spread between bids and asks, which — to my untrained ear — sounds a bunch like the “vacuuming up nickels” strategy of LTCM that went awry when it scaled up. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the case of a long-time friend of my mother who got into trouble similar to this, although in his case, I don’t think it wasn’t a Ponzi scheme as much as a case of “I just lost some of X’s money on some bad investments, so if I just move some of Y’s money into X’s account, no one will be any the wiser once my next batch of investments pay off.” And the missing money added up to around $2.5 million, which is bad, but not as bad as (allegedly) $50 billion.)
What I’m reading: Wrong for All the Right Reasons, by Glenn Dakin. My pal Tom gave me this collection of Dakin’s comics a few years ago, and I kept getting put off by the clunkiness of the first few installments. I tried it one more time, and made it past their sci-fi/superhero trappings to reach some lovely and poetic strips about an aimless life and the wonders of the visible world.
What I’m watching: Miss Guided. I have a crush on Judy Greer. There, I’ve said it. Oh, and Amazing Grace, starring the guy who played both Mister Fantastic and Mister Miracle. (For the record, it was structured poorly, starting in 1797 and using extensive flashbacks to 1782 to show Wilberforce’s early battles to get slavery abolished in the British territories. Near as I can tell, the only reason to assemble the story that way was so they could introduce the hot wife-to-be early on in the movie. The story would’ve been far more effective if it had been told linearly, with a “15 years later” title coming up after Wilberforce’s initial failure in Parliament. Oh, and Albert Finney should’ve had more screen time. On the plus side, the guy who plays William Pitt is named Benedict Cumberbatch.)
What I’m happy about: Getting to see my friends for brunch on Sunday.
What I’m sad about: Dog toys made with such shoddy workmanship that Rufus tears them to pieces within minutes. Last night, we had to stop him from chewing on the plastic squeak-insert in his toy bunny, which he’d received 4 hours earlier. And don’t ask what happened to his toy crawfish.
What I’m pondering: Whether to cobble together a new design for this blog.