Sara B. Elfgren and Mats Strandberg are the authors of the Engelsfors trilogy, an international sensation. The third and final book, THE KEY, has just been released in English from Overlook Press. This Swedish phenomenon is the story of five teenage girls who discover that they are the Chosen Ones and must work together to defeat the demons trying to get a toe-hold in their small town of Engelsfors. It's no wonder that it's become popular - at the heart of the story is female friendships, and the many narrators represent a diverse range of people.
1. THE CIRCLE, the first book in the series, has won several awards and been made into a movie. What does that feel like?
Amazing and surreal. We wrote books that we wanted to read ourselves, and lucky for us, others wanted to read them too. We truly love these characters, and we’re so happy to see readers embrace them. We were very involved in the making of the movie (Sara cowrote the screenplay with director Levan Akin) and we’re very pleased about how it turned out.
2. How did you find the balance between realistic and paranormal elements?
We tried not to treat them as seperate storylines, but to let them come together. That’s when things become really exciting, in our opinion - when the magical and the everyday clash. It was important not to let the Chosen Ones become too powerful too quickly because then they would be able to solve all their problems with magic. And at a certain point, when there’s too much at stake, it’s not realistic for them to care about homework anymore. It’s hardly a spoiler to say that they reach that point in The Key …
3. I loved how developed the setting of Engelsfors was. Were you inspired by any actual Swedish small towns?
We were somewhat inspired by Mats’s old hometown, Fagersta. It’s also an old industrial town, with high unemployment, surrounded by forest. Mats hated living there when he was a teenager and felt very claustrophobic. If you were a guy and not into sports, you were pretty much done for. But Fagersta is a much nicer place than Engelsfors. There’s no apocalypse there, at least not as far as we know. Fun fact: The members of the famous rock band The Hives are also from Fagersta and they actually wrote a song for the soundtrack of the film. It’s called Blood Red Moon and the lyrics are based on The Circle. One of the weird of wonderful things that have happened to us during the past five years.
4. Rights to the Engelsfors trilogy have sold to 29 countries. What's the strangest thing that's changed in translation?
English is really the only language we know well enough to be able to read ourselves. So we don’t really know any details about, say, the Japanese text or the Russian or Italian. We love it when our translators ask us questions that make us think about the text from new perspectives. For instance, when do certain characters put away their titles? Or when the translators tell us things we haven’t really thought of ourselves, like the fact that Ida only really curses when she is scared or surprised.
5. There's currently a big push for diversity in American YA. The Englesfors trilogy (first book published in 2011) has a variety of diverse characters. Was that something you thought consciously about?
Yes, definitely. SPOILER WARNING THE CIRCLE/FIRE From the very beginning we decided that our ”main romance”, our ”will they or won’t they”, would be between two girls. END OF SPOILER We discuss these things a lot and we’re constantly trying to learn more.
6. If you got elemental magic powers, which element do you think you'd get?
SARA: I would probably get water because the idea of being able to hear people’s thoughts freaks me out. Telepathic communication would be awesome though. But Mats and I more or less have that already. Wood would be very interesting. Or air, because it would be cool to be able to become invisble. And very scary probably, because there’s so much you don’t want to find out about people…
MATS: I would love to be able to fly.
7. What are you working on next?
MATS: My next novel comes out in Sweden in September. It’s a horror novel about a 12 hour trip on a cruise ship crossing the Baltic Sea, and it’s called Färjan (so far, our agents call it Blood Line in English). I am also working on a trilogy of children’s books about monsters, and some other stuff.
SARA: My next book comes out in September in Sweden. It’s called Time for Each Other (Just nu har vi varandra) and it’s a children’s book about time and life, illustrated by amazing artist Maria Fröhlich (”The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury”, Shadow Show, IDW). I have many projects – a graphic novel, a web series, a couple of secret ones – in collaboration with others. But I’m also going to start writing my first solo novel soon. It will be in the same genre as the Engelsfors books.