Book Nerd Interview
Johan Harstad is a 31-year-old Norwegian author, graphic designer, playwright, drummer, and international sensation. He is the winner of the 2008 Brage Award (Brageprisen), previously won by Per Petterson, and his books have been published in over 11 countries. In 2009, he was named the first ever in-house playwright at the National Theatre in Oslo. His first novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You In All The Confusion, originally published in Norway by Gyldendal in 2005, was made into a TV series in 2009 starring The Wire’s Chad Coleman. Harstad lives in Oslo and is working on his next novel.
What’s one thing that readers would be surprised to find out about you?
That I don’t drink coffee, even though I have a coffee-drinking face. Or so I’m told, anyway.
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
Language. I still remember the first comic book I picked up when I was learning to read and suddenly could understand the words. It was overwhelming. The whole world was cracked wide open to me and I just couldn’t get enough. It’s been like that ever since.
What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Write what you want to write, not what they tell you to write. And ‘Fail again. Fail better’, which of course is from Beckett.
What are some of the common challenges that new and experienced authors face and what advice do you have for over-coming them?
Should one consider the readers when writing a book in order to sell more copies, and should one consider one’s international publishers when writing, to have a better chance at getting your next book translated as well. The answer to both questions, in my opinion, is as simple as it is crucial: No.
For those who are unfamiliar with your novel; 172 Hours on the Moon, how would you introduce it?
It’s a story about how meeting yourself in the door can have catastrophic consequences.
What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating Mia?
That I wrote her as I would have liked to be if I was a 16 year old girl. And that I, at some level, wished I’d been a 16 year old girl. Which again mean that I apparently don’t have enough trouble in life as it is.
Why do you feel you had to tell this story?
I wanted to see if I could write something that would scare young people, as I used to enjoy novels like this one myself. And I wanted to pay respect to all these films and novels that freaked me out so wonderfully many years ago. I cherish every feedback I get from people who have trouble sleeping or looking in the mirror after reading my book.
Do you have a favorite quote that you keep visible in your work environment to help inspire you?
I would like to be able to answer yes to this, so I could quote something very profound. But, unfortunately there’s no quotes visible in my room. On the other hand, I have a large number of books behind me (backing me up) and an original, vintage (1983), mint condition AT-AT by Hasbro from The Empire Strikes Back in front of me. It’s a toy I dreamed of getting when I was growing up, but could never afford. Now it sits on my shelf reminding me how my life was changed forever by fiction (and Star Wars) in my childhood.
If you could introduce Midori to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
Hm, a difficult one. I’m a big fan of Midori, so I’m careful about sending her off with complete strangers. More than anything I think I’d like to introduce her to the protagonists in my next novel, which unfortunately I cannot reveal anythingabout, except saying that it is set in a place Midori would have found perfect, with people she would have loved to spend time with. But we cannot always get what we want, can we? So she has to go the moon instead.
What part of Antoine did you enjoy writing the most?
The scenes in Paris. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years and I’m always a bit envious of the teenage Parisians who have this great city to grow up in. Even being miserable looks cool when you have Paris to be miserable in.
What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I never go into details, I’m afraid, but I am working on a new novel (not a sci-fi horror novel, though) that I hope to finish next year. After that I have a few projects lined up to choose from. A novel, a collection of stories, that kind of stuff. I’m also thinking about writing two plays about Napoelon, one without doing any research at all (I know absolutely nada about Napoleon) and one with so much research done that the whole thing falls apart because the characters spendhours and hours discussing very precise, well-documented, but also horribly boring details about the Napoleon wars, especially the withdrawal from Russia. Could be fun, though, the first play will definitely be the more interesting one.
What’s the best advice you can give writers to help them develop their own unique voice and style?
Read. Write. Read more. Write more. Repeat as needed. Take your time, search for and at the same time have patience while waiting to find your voice and your material. Veryfew, if any, writers develop their own voice in a few months. It can, and usually takes years. So be patient. And for god’s sake do something else, if you don’t have to write. Because writing is great when the going is good, but you’re also in for an infinite number of identity crisis and sleepless nights of numbing doubt. Besides, the money’s usually not that good.
Where is the best place in the world you’ve been?
I have quite a few favorites. Paris, I think, will have to be number one, quickly followed by New York. And Hong Kong. And Milan. And Toronto. And Australia is really, really great, especially Perth, Melbourne and Sydney.
What book are you reading now?
Allen Ginsberg’s Journals – Early Fifties Early Sixties. Weird, lovely and reminding me of my teenage years when I was trying to be a poet.
What do you think is the most useless class in high school?
P.E. I hated it while I was in school, even though I was in good shape and a fairly good sprint race. I thought it was stupid that your grades depended on how fast you could run or how far you could throw a rubber ball or how far you could swim without drowning. But considering that 34% of the US population over 20 years are overweight and the numbers are rising in Europe too, at an alarming rate, I’m starting to see the point.
When asked, what’s the one question you always answer with a lie?
I could tell you, but I would probably be lying.
What's the worst summer job you've ever had?
I liked all my summer jobs, even though I worked on a garbage truck one summer and spent five summers working as a gravedigger. There may be something wrong with me …
When was the last time you cried?
Like, sobbed? If so it’s been quite a while, too long, perhaps five or six years. But I’m very easily moved, if not to tears then to tear. One at a time.
Where can readers stalk you?
To some of my readers’ frustration I’m not on Facebook or Twitter or any other social network for that matter. It just takes up too much time. So my wife has to give me the occasional update on what’s going on in the online community, which is more often than not depressingly uninteresting. I do have a blog of sorts at http://lacktrprpgnda.blogspot.com/ but it’s mostly in Norwegian and without the possibility to leave comments (as the dictator of my little site I rule in favor of one-way communication…). In other words, all stalking should be done by foot in Oslo.
It's been decades since anyone set foot on the moon. Now three ordinary teenagers, the winners of NASA's unprecedented, worldwide lottery, are about to become the first young people in space—and change their lives forever.
Mia, from Norway, hopes this will be her punk band's ticket to fame and fortune.
Midori believes it's her way out of her restrained life in Japan.
Antoine, from France, just wants to get as far away from his ex-girlfriend as possible.
It's the opportunity of a lifetime, but little do the teenagers know that something sinister is waiting for them on the desolate surface of the moon. And in the black vacuum of space... no one is coming to save them.
In this chilling adventure set in the most brutal landscape known to man, highly acclaimed Norwegian novelist Johan Harstad creates a vivid and frightening world of possibilities we can only hope never come true.
Johan Harstad’s YA science fiction, 172 Hours on the Moon, is a very enthralling book with a premise that is interesting and unique. Characters are brilliantly introduced and readers get a look at each of their viewpoints. The anticipation of the teens’ take off towards their journey on the moon is written exceptionally well. Johan does a great job of building up to the flight and their time on the moon. The preparation of the government endorsed trip is mainly seen through the perspectives of Mia, Midori, and Antoine. Readers will get a sense of first-hand experience from the teens’ viewpoints and feel the uncertainties of unfamiliar territories. Johan’s writing style made it possible for readers to feel like they are passengers to this space journey.
As the story develops, it will feel like it is going in a typical sci-fi direction until a surprising and strange twist eliminates that notion. The book totally shifts its gears towards horror. Now on the uncharted grounds of the moon, mysterious elements loom in the back and make themselves known to the visitors. Johan has probably written one of the most shocking and unpredictable endings. Readers will be in for a treat from this sci-fi/horror’s cleverly thrilling plot.
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