In Sweden, Simona Ahrnstedt is not only the bestselling author of several historical novels, but with her recent foray into commercial fiction with her debut contemporary work, All In, she is now the country’s only living romance novelist. Actually, its only romance novelist ever. The genre is new to the county, and with sales of All In soaring, Ahrnstedt’s books have now sold more than 90,000 copies. Known for their psychological thrillers and mysteries, Scandinavian authors have become big business in America, but romance as a literary genre is new. Ahrnstedt will be the first Scandinavian author of such commercial fiction to be translated into English and sold in the States.
This summer, Ahrnstedt’s All In, a trailblazing tale set in the world of Swedish high finance, is coming to America. Like the cool tones and setting of the proverbial ice palace, the world of All In is one in which aloof old European nobility mixes with young upstart businesspeople. In games of tug-of-war over generations-old companies, where deals are cutthroat and love is a dirty word, Ahrnstedt follows Natalia De la Grip, the stunning 28-year-old daughter of one of Sweden’s richest and most powerful families. Her father, Gustaf De la Grip, runs Investum, a Fortune 500 company that made her family’s fortune. Natalia wants nothing more than her father’s elusive admiration, but she has her own career that requires all of her attention—she’s a rising star in Sweden’s corporate banking world. David Hammer, a 34-year-old venture capitalist and the bad boy of Swedish finance—an expert at corporate takeovers—has his sights set on Investum as well as Natalia, and their encounters make for a sexy cat-and-mouse tale of corporate intrigue, illicit relationships, and maybe, just maybe, even love. It’s the kind of story American readers long for, with surprising twists and a fresh new setting.
Ahrnstedt’s previous three novels, all historical, make her an expert researcher, not your average romance writer. Although she thought writing a contemporary novel would mean less time in the library, she says, “I soon realized that the world of finance is incredibly complicated, and the world of the financial elite, the upper classes and the Swedish modern nobility, are also enormously intricate.” Ahrnstedt continues, “I did many interviews, maybe 50 all in all, with venture capitalists, corporate financiers, lawyers, economic journalists, and experts in a wide variety of fields.”
That hard work pays off in All In, which feels so authentic that readers will be surprised to learn that Ahrnstedt’s professional training is in psychology rather than business or writing. In addition to her research skills, Ahrnstedt said: “I use my psychology training all the time. It helps me to create believable and complex characters. I am used to analyzing behavior, deconstructing it and dissecting causes for different kinds of behavior.” And indeed her characters feel like real people, something not all writers can pull off. “My female characters aren’t obsessed with weight and appearances,” she says. “They work hard, are smart, and are loved because of that.”
Ahrnstedt’s belief in the power of writing contemporary fiction goes well beyond strong female characters. “Gender equality, equal rights, representation, and diversity are not something to be taken for granted. Strong forces are constantly attacking the progress that has been made,” she says, noting that she sees this happening in Sweden and elsewhere. She believes her books can be a positive force in the fight against hatred and closed-mindedness. “For me, the genre is perfectly suited to battle bigotry and prejudice of all kinds. For example, every one of my heroes are for gender equality. A man respecting a woman as an equal—it has to be the sexiest thing there is.”
Ahrnstedt sees American contemporary romance as “a genre that celebrates diversity and, of course, women’s empowerment.” This idea may be what most intrigued her about launching romance as a genre in Sweden. Moreover, writing both historical and contemporary novels distinguishes Ahrnstedt from other writers of commercial fiction in the U.S. or anywhere.
Though Ahrnstedt has found unprecedented success in Sweden, it’s been a bit lonely as the only writer of her kind in her native country. She’s excited to meet American readers and have the chance to talk about her writing. “In Sweden almost all my interviews have been about explaining the genre,” she says. “In contrast, when I meet with readers and other people from, for example, the U.K., Germany, and the U.S., countries that all have a thriving romance market and enthusiastic readers, I get to talk about my books, my characters, and all the other stuff that you long to discuss as a writer. Entering a market and meeting readers who know the genre, who have read many romance novels, and who know their stuff is very satisfying. Also a bit scary.”
All In hits U.S. stores this July. It’s a hot summer read, but it’s also much more than that—it brings with it Ahrnstedt’s deeper, more empowering vision of contemporary, commercial fiction. “We live in such a global world,” she says. “Romance novels should reflect that.”