I am so thrilled to share a Q&A that I conducted with Emelie Schepp, an international phenomenon and bestselling author whose US debut, MARKED FOR LIFE, releases from MIRA in just a couple weeks. Emelie is a Swedish author of crime fiction, with a truly fascinating story behind her self-made success, which you'll learn about in this Q&A! Many thanks to Emelie and her publisher for facilitating this fascinating Q&A, and allowing me to learn more about her US debut. For my thoughts on MARKED FOR LIFE, check out my full review here.
MARKED FOR LIFE plot summary, from the CBTB review:
MARKED FOR LIFE introduces American readers to Schepp's leading lady, the inimitable prosecutor Jana Berzelius. When the Swedish head of migration is found shot to death in his home, suspicion falls on his grieving wife. No one expects to find child-sized handprints at the crime scene—especially because the victim and his wife never had children. Shortly after, on a nearby desolate shore, the body of a preteen is discovered... And with him, the gun that killed the government official. Jana Berzelius finds herself drawn ever further into a case with deep ties to her own past, and readers follow Jana into a maze of corruption and lies.
CBTB Q&A with Emelie Schepp
Crime by the Book: American readers are totally new to your work. I’m confident fans of Camilla Läckberg and Sara Blaedel will absolutely love your US debut! Can you tell us a little bit about your background? What would you like American readers to know about you and your career?
Emelie Schepp: I have always loved writing. As a child, I wrote a lot and created my own stories. In 1998, when I was in high school, I participated in a contest hosted by a big theater. It was a drama prize competition, and all the participants had to write a play about meetings. I won first prize and had the honor of seeing my play performed on two different stages in Sweden.
After ten years of working as a project manager in the advertising industry, I came to a point where I tired of the profession. I wanted to write again. I had written a number of articles, but
that type of writing constricts you to a certain word count. I dreamed of the freedom to write as many letters as I wanted. The question was, what kind of writer did I want to be?
One day, I saw an advertisement for a course on how to write screenplays. The course was lead by Steve Kaplan, the comedy writing guru. I attended the course and was so inspired that I wrote two scripts and sent them to various production companies. However, shortly thereafter, I read an article written by a famous director in Sweden that discussed the difficulty in landing financial support. I thought, "If he did not receive support, how can I?"
I decided to pursue the ”frugal” route and write a book. I read books that I had liked as a teenager and books from best-selling authors. I studied the characters, dialogues, environments, etc. After two months of intensive reading, I felt comfortable in beginning the journey of writing a book.
Since I worked full-time, I made time for writing at night. I started in May 2012 and finished the first draft in September of the same year. I sent the manuscript away to the biggest publishing houses in Sweden and waited for them to get back to me.
In Sweden, it takes at least three months to receive an answer from publishers. But it only took two weeks before I received an envelope. I wasn't home, but my husband called me and shouted that I had received an envelope from one of Sweden's biggest publishing houses. I wasn't as excited because I knew that if it only took two weeks, the letter said "Thanks, but no thanks." Which it did.
No other publishers answered me during the requisite waiting period. So I decided to call and asked if they had reviewed my script. When they said no, I hung up the phone, a bit depressed. What would I do if every publisher said no? Should I give up?
No. I knew there must be some way to get my book published. So I started searching for alternative publishing methods. Sure enough, I found the world of indie publishing. When I called the publishing houses three months later and learned they still had yet to read my script, I decided to take action. I told them to throw away my script, because I would publish my book on my own. I would make my own success!
Today, I am Sweden’s most successful self-published author. My books have sold 500,000 copies in twenty-nine countries around the world. Now, I am really looking forward to meeting my readers in the US and hope that they will enjoy Marked for Life and Jana Berzelius’s story.
CBTB: What first inspired you to start writing crime novels?
ES: I sought inspiration from movies and books, in particular crime novels. So for me, it felt natural to write a series of novels in this genre.
CBTB: Jana Berzelius is a fantastic main character. She is a woman with incredible willpower—while reading MARKED FOR LIFE, we discover that not only has she risen through the ranks to become a successful prosecutor, but she has also overcome a horrific past to do so. How long did it take you to come up with the idea for this character? Did the idea come to you all at once, or did it develop over time?
ES: I decided very early on to write about a dark woman. But I did not know how dark she needed to be until I read an article about children soldiers. To complicate her journey, I decided to make her a prosecutor. So, on one hand, she is working hard to maintain law and order within society. On the other hand, she doesn't hesitate to break laws in order to hide her dark past.
CBTB: I have to say, I loved the fact that there isn’t a central romance in this story. Jana’s development is totally independent of any relationship—instead, it’s all about her trying to overcome the baggage of her past. Can you share a little bit about why you chose this focus for your story?
ES: Jana is the central figure. In Marked for Life, she is not interested in understanding other people. She is only focused on understanding herself. But people do change, and one of the questions I want the reader to ask is if Jana can change as well.
I have many other characters in the book and I tried to make them as authentic as possible with their unique baggage and memories. I also wanted to highlight a subject that we rarely speak about - envy. Particularly, the envy women feel toward each other. At worst, it can undermine our self-esteem and destroy relationships with others. The subject is loaded, but I still wanted to write about it. In my book, Mia Bolander is jealous of everything that Jana Berzelius has achieved (money and success). However, Jana does not care about Mia at all, which infuriates Mia even more. The two women are extremes, and I know that many readers appreciate the dynamic between them.
CBTB: MARKED FOR LIFE has a truly dark plot, dealing with the kidnapping and murder of immigrants, and violence towards children. Where did the idea for this plot come from?
ES: As I said before, I decided very early on to write about a dark woman. In 2012, the movie Kony 2012 was shown on Swedish television, and it stirred up a huge debate surrounding child soldiers. As I read the article, the story about Jana clicked. I asked myself, "What would happen if there were child soldiers in Sweden?" What if I make a story about child assassins? I started to imagine someone kidnapping children and training them to become killers.
Then another question came to my mind. Where could I find the children? I know it sounds very strange, but I had to find children that no one would miss. Kidnapping a child in a playground often leads to quite a storm in the media and I did not want that. I wanted the kidnapping to take place in secret, without anyone knowing.
One evening, as I watched the news on TV, I saw a truck with a container that had overturned on a highway. When the police arrived at the scene, they found several refugees in the container. They had not been registered at the border; they were illegal. No one knew they had come across the border. This inspired me to go down to the port of Norrköping and look around. When I saw the thousands of containers, I realized anything could be hiding in them, including children. That is how the story about Jana Berzelius begins.
My books are based on true stories from around the world. But I also like to twist the story with Jana Berzelius’s power.
CBTB: I love crime novels like MARKED FOR LIFE that don’t shy away from dealing with the details of an investigation—I love to read about forensics teams working on a crime scene, and uncovering crucial pieces of evidence. What kind of research went into portraying the investigation central to MARKED FOR LIFE?
ES: I am very fortunate to have good friends that works as investigators. They have helped me portray the process of an investigation, e.g. what could happen, what might happen and what would probably happen.
CBTB: When you’re working on a novel, how do you plan it out? Do you use an outline?
ES: Yes, I always use an outline. It allows me to write better and faster. It’s especially useful when I'm in the process of discussing the story with my husband and my editor. It helps us think through the topic.
CBTB: Who are some of your favorite crime authors?
ES: I read a lot and some of my favorite crime authors are Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson and Lars Kepler.
CBTB: What are you reading right now?
ES: I just finished Roger Hobbs second book, Vanishing Games. I loved his first book, Ghostman. I've been waiting for this sequel, and was thrilled when I saw it in the bookstore. It is a fast-paced action story—it’s great.