Diary of a Guidebook Writer: After fact comes fiction, an author’s journey

A view of a bridge in Trondheim.

Photo: Pixabay
The self-published novel will be set in Trondheim, a city with a lot of opportunity for inspiration.

David Nikel
Trondheim, Norway

I want to start by thanking each and every one of you who have emailed me to say how much you’ve enjoyed seeing a little bit “behind the scenes” of the process of putting together a guidebook. It seems the editors are pleased too, as I’ve been asked to continue this travel column, which of course I’m only too happy to do!

But before I move away entirely from the guidebook, I want to wrap up my thoughts now that Moon Norway is launched in both the USA and the UK and let you know about what’s coming next.

A successful launch
I’ll only know exact sales figures four times per year when I get a statement from the publisher, but thankfully Amazon provides a few clues. The public sales rank of Moon Norway sat at around 25,000 to 30,000 for the first couple weeks, which apparently means around 10 copies a day were being sold on just that platform alone. Given that many more guidebooks are picked up from other websites and in physical bookstores, that’s a really encouraging sign.

The Amazon reviewers have also been encouraging. One said the book is “thoughtful and thorough,” while another reviewer called it “the gold standard for guides to Norway.” Moon’s marketing team has also noticed the positive launch and has put more money into the promotional budget as a result.

Next steps
Back down on planet Earth, I’ve since focused on the launch of my podcast, which has also been extremely positive. As I write this, just two episodes are out in the wild, but more than one thousand people have already tuned in. To join them, simply search for “Life in Norway” on iTunes or Stitcher.

As for what’s coming next, I faced a tough decision to pick just one or two things to focus on from my long list of ideas. I’ve settled on something I’ve wanted to do for years: writing a novel.

It’s going to follow the stories of a diverse group of people from the USA (or from all different parts of the world, I haven’t quite decided yet) who move to Norway. Without giving too much away, it’ll be a partly serious and partly humorous look at their relocation experiences, both positive and negative, as they each find out that the Norwegian lifestyle is not quite what they expected.

I’ve chosen Trondheim as the base because that’s where I live. If I’m stuck on a scene, I can simply step outside to find some inspiration. A few characters inspired by people I met throughout the guidebook research process will also make an appearance!

The travel fiction genre
But what exactly is travel fiction? While I adore travel narrative of the Bill Bryson mold, some of the most enjoyable “travel” books I’ve ever read were in fact works of fiction. This style of writing excites me, as I can pour my own experiences plus those of all the guests on my podcast into crafting a story that’s entertaining and just as useful as any how-to book.

The actual genre of travel fiction matters not. It could be romance, crime, horror, or even fantasy. My personal definition of travel fiction is a book in which the setting plays just as important a role as the protagonist. Some of the travel fiction books I’ve loved—and that will inspire my own story—include the following:

The Expats by Chris Pavone: A thriller set around the cobblestoned streets of Luxembourg, where the female American protagonist struggles to shake the secrets of her past while mixing with a cast of international characters with their own mysteries.

The Illegal Gardener by Sara Alexi: Part one of the Greek Village series. Following a messy divorce, British woman Juliet sets herself up in a run-down cottage in a Greek village, where she meets and befriends Aaman, a Pakistani gardener who is working in the country illegally.

Up in the Air by Walter Kirn: Although the George Clooney movie of the same title was loosely based on this book, you almost wouldn’t know it. The novel is packed with sarcasm and a mocking of the modern world as the protagonist lives his life above it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles: A dramatic, satisfying read that spans thirty years. It tells the tale of Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand Moscow hotel.

As I’m choosing to self-publish, the novel will take months rather than years to hit the shelves. Whereas it took almost two years for Moon Norway to come into being, I plan to have this book ready for January, when you’re all looking for great books to read on your sparkling new e-readers!

In my future columns, I’ll revert to traditional travel articles, as I continue my exploration of this remarkable country. Is there somewhere in Norway you’d like to know more about? Get in touch and let me know.

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net blog and is the author of the upcoming MOON Norway guidebook.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 20, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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David Nikel

David Nikel is a freelance writer based in Norway. He runs the popular www.lifeinnorway.net website and podcast and is the author of the Moon Norway guidebook, available now in all good bookstores.