Frank Schätzing The Live-Show Author
Like no other German author, Frank Schätzing combines specialist knowledge and action, the entertaining and the serious. He is the pop-star of German literature.
Frank Schätzing is never short of a snappy answer. In the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin series Sagen Sie jetzt nichts (Say nothing) he was confronted in 2014 with the question of whether, five years later, he would dare to pose again for an underwear advertisement. Frank Schätzing, who was after all born in 1957, looked mischievously at the camera and, because he could only reply in mime or with a gesture, reached for the belt of his trousers ready to open it, as in 2009, when he did that ad for the underwear company, causing quite a stir at the time. But that’s typical of Frank Schätzing. When it comes to self-marketing, he already at a place where the rest of his clique would fear to tread.
No book under 1,000 pagesFrank Schätzing is a communication scientist and initially worked for a long time in the advertising industry. But he says he has always written, even as a little boy. He was in his mid-thirties, however, when he began to write seriously. His first novels sold well, albeit mainly on his home ground, Cologne, thanks to their couleur locale. That changed in 2004, when his first longer novel appeared: The Swarm, a thriller about the sea with a touch of environmentalism. Since then, Schätzing has written nothing under 1,000 pages. “I come from the advertising world where you always have to be brief. It’s probably a reaction to that,” he jokes, immediately becoming serious again and adding that he feels driven by an almost archaeological curiosity to research his themes ever more precisely. What is more, his heavy-weight works are very successful with his readers, as Schätzing cleverly combines extensive scientific factual knowledge with a lot of excitement and rapid action.
Sales of his books indicate that this concept is proving to be just right. What is more, when he started out as a science-thriller-author, a somewhat macabre chance event helped him on his way. When a horrific tsunami raged over Indonesia in late 2004, most people were confronted with a totally new natural phenomenon. Not Schätzing, however, for that is precisely what he described in The Swarm, a tsunami. Schätzing’s readers were also informed, so well in fact that for one couple who happened to be where this terrific event took place, the book helped to save their lives. “The man told me that he had the book with him on the beach and so was immediately able to interpret the strange signs in the sea,” Schätzing said later. Suddenly the author was much in demand as a discussion partner and the media began questioning him as an expert on matters extending far beyond what is in the novel. This has been the case right up to his latest book Breaking News, which was published in 2014 and is about the conflict in Israel and the Middle East. Right away it was no. 1 among the German bestsellers.
The reading as stage showSchätzing is often compared with the American bestseller-writers Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, John Grisham or Dan Brown. But on one point he is way ahead of them all: they have never taken their books onto the stage, whereas Schätzing has. He started pepping up the genre of the author-reading with Limit, published in 2009. And given that the book takes us into outer space, it presented a fit occasion for a large multi-media reading-show, with huge projections of the sky, a lot of music he composed himself, and comedy interludes alternating with brief lectures, plus short scientific films every now and then. As for the book, he only read three passages out of it. Schätzing succeeded in attracting up to 2,000 people to his “reading” thanks to this kind of multimedia setting. But it was not something that gained him supporters only in the literary world. There was even talk of degradation and spectacle culture, of the dissolution of the book as medium. The fact that the show motivated many of the visitors to buy the book is often not mentioned. Meantime Schätzing is credited with having revived the lecture as an art form.
A well-considered performance with “Breaking News”Schätzing has long since learned how to handle criticism. He makes nothing of repeated accusations that his figures are undifferentiated, that the psychological structure of his heroes is banal. He responds with statements like: “If the banal is bad, then Hemingway would be a penny-dreadful author.” He parries in the face of the eternal German scepticism about mixing the entertaining and the serious by pointing to Anglo-Saxon culture, which makes no such distinction. In all his interviews, Schätzing is approachable, friendly, forthcoming, eloquent and never arrogant. He has also shown that he is an altogether thoughtful performer. When he went on tour with his Middle East novel Breaking News in 2014, no films were shown, just images, an Israeli woman sang and Schätzing played sound recordings he had made himself in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis regions. The main emphasis was on the spoken word, enveloped in a special sound. “Too much staging would not have suited the topic. My aim was to make people feel they were in Israel. It’s like a live radio play.”
Frank Schätzing once wanted to become a pop star. And he still regards music as his greatest passion, and the guitar as his favourite instrument. Meantime he has become something of a literary pop star, which is something Germans still have to get used to.