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Cultural Exchange

10 October 2014

A Seattle Author and an Icelandic Author Swap Characters as Part of a Cultural Exchange

From Paul Constant at SLOG

Tomorrow night, as part of the Taste of Iceland arts festival/cultural exchange, local author Karen Finneyfrock and Icelandic author (and founding member of the Sugarcubes) Bragi Ólafsson will read at Elliott Bay Book Company in a free event called the Reyjkavik Writing Jam. The event, which was planned by Ryan Boudinot of the Seattle: City of Literature program, is about as literal a cultural exchange as you can get: Finneyfrock and Ólafsson each created main characters to trade with the other author.

Once the trade occurred—one imagines a literary hostage-swap—they wrote new stories featuring the other author’s characters that they’ll read on Friday, an arrangement that Ólafsson describes over e-mail as “like a marriage between two people who have never met.”


Finneyfrock calls the character exchange “a little unnerving,” but it wasn’t the swap that upset her. Though she’s published two novels and written dozens of poems, she admits that “I don’t do a lot of short stories. I had to sort of talk myself into taking the risk.” Once she decided to experiment with short fiction, she immediately launched into a genre she’s never written in before. “I was reading a lot of Kelly Link over the summer and feeling pretty interested in slipstream, so I decided to allow magical elements into the story,” she says. After writing two realistic novels, she found the experience to be liberating. “I’m actually thrilled about it. I feel on fire for the genre, and I hope to continue writing in it.”


Ólafsson doesn’t have much experience with Seattle literature, although he’s enjoyed Seattle on previous visits “because it’s by the sea, has good coffee, and seems to be friendly.” He’s “excited about reading not only Finneyfrock’s books, but also Ryan Boudinot’s novels. I already have one of his books, with the wonderful title Blueprints of the Afterlife.” Finneyfrock admits to a similar lack of knowledge about Icelandic literature, and adds “I feel bad saying that, because I know Bragi’s music, and the Sugarcubes were important to me.”


Ólafsson begins with the announcement that “I should warn Seattle not to think of me as a very Icelandic writer.” (He notes that he’s written extensively about the perils of this kind of cultural representation: One of his novels, The Ambassador, is about a poet who goes to represent Iceland at a Lithuanian poetry festival, “with rather disastrous results.”) He finds it “difficult, if not futile, to attempt to give an all-encompassing description of my country´s literature,” which “comes in all sizes and designs. One defining characteristic of much Icelandic prose is that “the influence of the old Icelandic sagas, which are arguably the first novels to be written, is still very strong; we also tend to be more in favor of short sentences and compact descriptions of the inner life of characters and their appearance.” That’s where Ólafsson parts ways with his nation’s literature: “Personally, I always use two words when I can get away with just one,” he says.

Read the rest here.

From guest blogger Randall, who would love to try this sometime.

Characters, Creativity

6 Comments to “Cultural Exchange”

  1. Well that looks like fun.

  2. Maybe it’s a trend. They’ve got that co-writing team-up anthology coming out soon, where each story is being written by two popular urban sf/f writers, teaming up two of their popular characters.

    Ah. Urban Allies, edited by Joseph Nassise. Sold to HarperVoyager, and tentatively scheduled for publication in 2016. (Sheesh, from the writers talking about it, I had thought it was coming out soon.) Twenty writers, ten stories. Announced writers include Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, Christopher Golden, Larry Correia, Lilith Saintcrow, Carrie Vaughn, and Jaye Wells.

  3. It’s a silly game.

    And writing short stories isn’t as easy as it sounds. It’s very different from writing a novel.

  4. Ooh, that sounds fun. I might go check out the reading tomorrow.

  5. I’d have thought a marriage between two people who have never met was pretty much doomed to failure. However, this at least reminded me that there’s an Icelandic author called Yrsa Siggurdardottir who wrote the single most frightening novel I have ever read. It’s called I Remember You. It’s a combination of crime fiction with a ghost story. Don’t read it (like I did, and wished I hadn’t) at night, with the lights off and the Kindle Paperwhite on. It was one of those rare experiences where you want to stop reading but just can’t. Still gives me a frisson to think about it.

  6. I read her first and didn’t like it. Probably due to the fact that I don’t like to mix woo woo with crime detection.

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