Behind the Scenes of “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte”

Last week, The Norwegian American published my short story “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte.” If you haven’t read it yet, head on over to their website and take a look before reading on about how it came to be.

Unlike my previous stories, “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” didn’t need to match a particular theme. That said, their submission guidelines do say they consider stories of any genre as long as they relate to Norway, or crime/mystery stories (even without Norwegian elements). I decided to hedge my bets with a mystery set in Norway.

For me, the biggest challenge of this was fitting a mystery into 1000 words. When I think of mysteries, I think of crime scenes, clues, witnesses, red herrings, and elaborate explanations revealed at the end. Which would not work as flash fiction. So I had to be very intentional about the story’s structure.

The final result essentially splices together key snippets of the “mystery”—surveying the evidence, collecting clues, piecing them together, etc. Because of this, the story is able to span a much longer timeframe than any of my previous stories. (Up until this one, my stories’ timelines have typically been a few minutes from beginning to end. “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” spans a few hours.) Even re-reading it now, I’m pleased with how it turned out and kind of surprised at how it works as flash fiction even though it takes so long, timewise.

In terms of plot, I knew I wanted to include a troll even before finalizing the mystery itself. I’m a fantasy writer at heart, and Norwegian folklore is full of recognizable creatures and characters. Originally, I thought I might have the main character come into contact with the trolls (loosely foreshadowed by Berit’s remark about playing with their kids). Unfortunately, as the remaining word count grew slim, I realized I wouldn’t be able to do that scene justice. I’m not sure how many people will read the actual ending as an ambiguous one, but in my head, that troll is totally real.

The hard part was getting to it. While brainstorming ideas for evidence that could incite a mystery, I thought trolls might take issue with people mistreating land. Hence the destroyed backhoe. This ended up working both ways, as it also provided a reason for the absence of trash around the construction site. Just goes to show that when you don’t know how to move forward, sometimes you just need to look backward.

The names throughout the story are courtesy of a pre-reader with far more exposure to Norwegian culture than I have. Nilsson is a common Norwegian surname, and Berit is a common girl’s name. “Morfar,” if you caught it while reading, is the word for a maternal grandfather. On Google Maps, the region around Åmot looked like it had a good amount of forest and mountains, but I learned in the course of writing this that Norway is known considerably more for the latter than the former. The original title was “Trowhoyde” (a variation on the word “troll” and the Norwegian word for “hill,” but my editor suggested “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte” and I liked the sound of it. (As mentioned last week, “kjempehytte” loosely translates to cabin fight).

And that’s a little insight into how I wrote “Mr. Nilssen’s Kjempehytte!” I hope you enjoyed both the story and this little glimpse behind the scenes. Have any questions about it that I didn’t address here? Feel free to ask in the comments. Takk!

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