Fall Favorites: 2018 Edition

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Changing leaves, the brisk air, apple-picking, cozy sweaters… Autumn has officially begun and it always feels like a demarcation point, not unlike the first day of school.  I want to buy a fresh set of pens, notebooks and get back to work!  Aside from Lagging Indicators-related projects and an outline for my next novel, there are so many new releases and happenings that I’m excited about.  Fall offerings tend to be more sober and cerebral, encouraging introspection and providing deep sources of inspiration.  Creating an inviting home and work environment is also essential to finding energy as the days become shorter and darkness envelops us.  Here are some of the things I’m looking forward to this season!

Since I’ll be spending more time inside, sitting at my desk and working on my computer, burning scented candles will make the space feel less claustrophobic and bring the outdoors in.  Woodsy aromas like these–with a dash of pumpkin–make me feel like I’ve taken a walk in the forest.

 

 

Source:  Byredo; Aerin; DiptyqueNest Fragrances

Some trendwatchers have declared that pumpkin spice has reached its peak, but not for me!  I love nothing more than treating myself to anything infused with it. The Swedish pepparkaka is technically a gingerbread cake, but it has a zesty, peppery taste that reminds me of pumpkin spice (and I only bake it in the fall and winter) so I’ve included it in the mix.

 

 

Source: Williams Sonoma; Starbucks; Kungsörnen

Although I live in Sweden, I consider it my civic duty to vote from abroad.  I’m looking forward to filling out my absentee ballot and voting in the US Midterm Elections on November 6th.  Don’t forget to register to vote.  You can register from outside the United States too.

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Source: Cleo Wade for Gucci

Now, on the culture!  The arts, entertainment and literary events premiering this Fall are exceptional.  In an ideal world, I would go/read/see everything, but these are my highlights.

BOOKS

If I could only read one book this autumn, it would be Michelle Obama’s Becoming.  She was such an inspiration and role model as First Lady and continues to sprinkle fairy dust on us with her words of wisdom.  I have a feeling that since she and former President Obama are no longer in government, she can be more forthcoming.  I can’t wait to read more about her journey from the South Side of Chicago to the White House! image (15)Source

The Fall reading list is filled with so many other thought-provoking books from favorite as well as debut authors.

 

 

Source: Amazon

MOVIES

Settling into a movie theatre with a box of popcorn is one of my favorite Fall activities.  These are a few upcoming movies that have caught my eye:  Creed II, headlined by Michael B. Jordan—also reunites Sylvester Stallone with Dolph Lundgren—will be a fun watch with my kids; Widows, starring Viola Davis, to see with my husband; Bohemian Rhapsody because I grew up listening to Queen and Freddie Mercury’s life story fascinates me; and The Hate U Give based on Angie Thomas’s best-selling novel will be important viewing for the whole family.

 

 

ART

Five years ago, the Hilma af Klint exhibit broke attendance records at Moderna Museet in Stockholm.  This groundbreaking Swedish female artist began creating bold abstract paintings in 1906—years before her male contemporaries—but she didn’t get the recognition she deserved. I hope her show at the Guggenheim Museum will be just as popular and introduce her work to a whole new audience.

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MUSIC

The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the soundtrack when it came out in 1998.  I’m thrilled she’s doing a 20th Anniversary Tour and that she’s coming to Stockholm on December 10th.  I’ll be checking this one out with my daughter!

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In between all this stimulation :), I’ll squeeze in relaxing weekends by the fire with my family in the Swedish archipelago.  What are you looking most forward to this Fall?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and recommendations!

Two Months Since Release: What I’ve learned so far…

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July 2nd loomed large in my mind for months as I counted the days until Lagging Indicators would be released.  When that fateful date arrived, I was nervous but at peace:  I had done my best.  After years of research, writing, and rejections from traditional publishers, my decision to self-publish was the closure I’d been seeking.  I’d been posting teasers on Instagram and this blog for several weeks, generating some curiosity among my friends.  Many had pre-ordered the book and showed me a level of support and encouragement that still warms my heart.  Once the print and e-book became available on book-buying sites, the waiting game began.

Of course, I was eager to see what readers would think, but hadn’t expected all the valuable intelligence and insight I would gain in the process!  I’d shifted gears from a dreamy creative journey to a wild ride through the contemporary book world, picking up a crash course on promotions, marketing, social media, and influential literary websites along the way.  A whole new universe had opened up; one that I had shied away from because of my own struggles as a writer.  Rather than be daunted, it only reaffirmed that I want to do this. Here’s what I’ve learned in these last two months:

  • The reading public is alive and well.  With hectic schedules, we have so little discretionary time and how we choose to spend it is precious.  I was worried that in this Age of Netflix and the surrealness of current events (facts being stranger than fiction), people would be less likely to pick up a book for entertainment.  I couldn’t have been more wrong!  The literary community is thriving.  One only has to look at social media to find book lovers who gleefully post their current reads, reviews, and #TBR lists (a hashtag acronym for “to-be-read” that I just learned).  In spite of all the screens and images to distract, people are still craving the written word.  This has been the most gratifying realization.
  • A community of family, friends, and well-wishers goes a long way.  Even small words of pep made a huge difference in settling my publishing nerves.  As a result, I’ve learned to pay it forward by not only supporting other writers but also artists, designers, entrepreneurs, Ph.D. candidates… I try to lift up anyone working hard and pursuing a dream!
  • Writing may be my passion but self-promotion is my job.  I have to get Lagging Indicators and myself out there.  While I’m a writer first and foremost, I’m also an entrepreneur building a brand, especially as a self-published, indie author.  No one will know about my book unless I make it visible.
  • Engaging with social media is important.  I’m a big fan of Instagram (you can follow me at https://www.instagram.com/jennifer.anglade.dahlberg), but it can be tricky.  You don’t want to appear braggy, pushy or inauthentic, so it’s important to find that balance between marketing and authenticity.  Be yourself!  On Instagram, I can feature all the different things that I enjoy and from which I draw inspiration.  Followers are potential readers too.  Interact with them and ask questions in some posts to create a dialogue. I follow other established writers to see how they present themselves and even New York Times best-selling authors pursue a strategy of connecting with their audience via Instagram.  If Tayari JonesElizabeth Gilbert, and Emily Giffin, can do it, then so can I!
  • Don’t be afraid to hustle.  This can be intimidating if you’re not naturally wired that way.  I’m more of a soft-sell type, but it’s a very competitive landscape and I have to work hard to find a niche.  What makes Lagging Indicators unique?  Why should a reader buy it or a bookseller stock it in their store?  I have my selling points and, luckily, my pitch only gets better with time as the feedback comes in.  While it’s important to understand my demographic, I also don’t want to limit myself.  I’m continuously brainstorming for new, interesting activities and events that I can tie-in with the book.  Giveaways are a great tool to create buzz.  Reposting pictures of real people reading my book has also been alot of fun.  I love getting pictures of the #bookinthewild (another new Instagram expression/hashtag for me).  Ask friends to leave reviews on book-buying sites.  Book clubs and panels are also excellent ways to increase one’s author profile.  For example, my own Book Group event in May has led to inclusion at the Stockholm Writers Festival next spring.  I’ve also sent books to media personalities, influencers and thought leaders whom I admire.  I don’t know if they’ll even open their copy of Lagging Indicators, but I had nothing to lose by reaching out to them!
  • Keep abreast of the industry.  I’ve been educating myself on the contemporary female fiction/women’s fiction genre as well as comparable authors.  It’s crucial to remain up-to-date about other writers, trends, best-seller lists, deals, events, marketing strategies, etc.  It’s a lot to manage at times, but an hour or two each day can yield useful actionable information.  Plus, I love doing this, so I never consider it tedious work!
  • Talk about your work with pride.  Don’t be shy!  This can seem awkward in certain situations but usually leads to really interesting discussions.
  • Carry the book with you at all times. You never know if someone will ask to see it or want to buy a copy from you.  I love taking pictures of the book in different cities, countries, and settings.  Having it with me like an extra limb has become a welcome habit.
  • My skin is thicker than I thought.  I assumed I would fall to pieces over a lukewarm review, but I took it in stride.  It was more like “Hmmmm…” rather than “Ugh!” I see (constructive) criticism as learning opportunities and try not to take it personally.  I won’t become discouraged and will keep writing for my own development.  And no matter how hard I try, I can’t please everyone…
  • I’ve already started to think about my next book.  Given the thirteen years between Uptown and Down and Lagging Indicators, this is big news for me indeed!  But the past year of putting a laser-like focus on my writing, immersing myself in the self-publishing process, and following the book world has given me so much joy and purpose.  Yes, it’s a slog sometimes, but this is where I want to be.  I want to keep this momentum going so that I don’t fall into a slump.
  • Finally, I’ve drawn so much energy and motivation from the feedback I’ve received.  I’m floored by some of the in-depth analysis that pointed things out I hadn’t fully contemplated, opening my eyes to additional themes and issues.  Many readers could relate to Mia’s struggles and were rooting for her.  Others told me that she stayed in their minds long after they’d finished the book.  Some have even suggested Lagging Indicators should be a miniseries and that I should write a sequel.  Stay tuned…

 

 

 

Haiti in my heart…

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Last month, my seventeen-year-old daughter, Yasmine, and I took a trip to Haiti.  I was born in New York, but my parents are from Haiti and I was eager to visit the country again and to introduce Yasmine to her Haitian roots.

I spent a couple of summers in Haiti as a teenager.  First in 1985 when dictator François “Baby Doc” Duvalier was still in power and the country functioned in a kind of sinister calm.  I was aware of the repression but was carried aloft by seeing extended family, making new friends and nursing an adolescent crush–generally hanging out in a state of blissful ignorance as teenagers do.  I came back in 1988 after Baby Doc had been ousted from power and fled for exile in France.  Many of the same people and places that had left such an imprint on me were now battered and bruised; homes looted, persons violated, innocence and livelihoods robbed.  Poverty and despair shadowed every corner of the island, but there remained hope that a new leader could lead Haiti out of the rubble.

In 1990, former Roman Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected president in Haiti’s first free election.  A year later, he was overthrown in a military coup.  My last trip occurred in 1996, a few years after US troops oversaw the return of Aristide and the establishment of a UN peacekeeping presence.  Foreign aid had become a daily fixture and this reality would only increase after the devastating earthquake in 2010 that killed anywhere from 200,000-300,000 people.  For years, I’d expressed an interest in returning to Haiti but was discouraged: too poor, too depressing, too unstable…  This time, however, Yasmine’s curiosity and youthful stubbornness overcame any apprehension or resistance.  We set off for the island with my father in tow.

Upon landing, I was greeted by a familiar scent–burning wood swirling through the moist, hot air–and it felt like no time had passed at all.  The airport was less chaotic than I’d expected and I took in the medley of people who had flown over with us.  I saw Haitians, many in their Sunday best, returning home.  Clusters of mostly white missionaries in identical tee-shirts also wore expressions of purpose as they prepared to build wells or construct houses.  Yasmine, my father and I comprised another group: the diaspora, Haitians who had left or been born elsewhere and were now scattered in Brooklyn, Miami, Boston, Atlanta, Paris and, in my case, Stockholm.

Our journey began with a wonderful dinner at my cousin’s home in the mountains.  Most of my father’s side of the family had gathered there and I was overjoyed to see their faces and feel the outpouring of positive energy and love.  This is a connection I miss living so far away in Sweden, both from my immediate family in New York and my sprawling clan in Haiti.  Yasmine had never met most of her cousins, but her immediate bond with them only proved that she felt just as Haitian as she did Swedish.

Haiti is a complex, messy, stunning, contradictory, magical place.  Columbus named it Hispaniola after he landed in 1492 and the subsequent cruel introduction of slavery by the Spanish and French permeated every aspect of the island for centuries.  It was the first black republic, fighting for and gaining independence from the French in 1804–still the only successful slave revolt in human history.  That triumph lingers, but  Haiti today is also the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

The country’s past and current challenges have been well-documented elsewhere, but for me, Haiti is like coming home to a favorite auntie with an abundance of soul, flavor, fire, and passion.  She always welcomes me back with open arms and reserves judgment, forgiving the long stretches of time between visits.  Everything is heightened in intensity too–the pleasure and the pain; the pride, dignity, and resolve amid the hardship.  Yasmine and I absorbed all we could and the snapshots below are our impressions, from where we stood, during our week-long séjour en Ayiti…

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We stayed at the Karibe Hotel in Petion-Ville, which provided us with a convenient location between Port-au-Prince, the capital, and the mountains of Kenscoff.  Karibe was very nice with attentive staff, beautiful grounds and a delicious rooftop restaurant.  I enjoyed sitting in the garden and watching the diverse guests.

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The bougainvilleas spilling from the walls and entryways were a welcome pop of color on hazy days or when we sat in rush-hour traffic.

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Haitians carrying their wares or selling goods in the open-air markets were a ubiquitous sight.

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The tap-taps, meaning “quick-quick,” are brightly painted pick-up trucks that have been fitted with a roof and seats and function as a means of public transport.  The graphics usually have a religious significance.

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One day we had lunch at the charming Gingerbread Resturant and I indulged in my favorite Haitian dish: griot (fried pork shoulder); pikliz (spicy pepper and onion salsa); bananes pesées (fried plantains); and an icy glass of Couronne–a deliciously sweet and refreshing fruit soda.

The vibrant art of Haiti is world-famous. Talent abounds, both in the “naive art” that can be purchased from street vendors and in those by trained artists found in the galleries.  Yasmine fell in love with this painting below.  I think the confidence and irreverent style of the girl resonated with her!

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Revolutionary heroes such as Toussaint L’Ouverture are proudly depicted in the art.  These pieces were exhibited at Galerie Monnin.

We took a fantastic day trip to Furcy.  It was a beautiful region, mountainous and green.  The ride had us driving through winding roads and entering small villages with shops and food stations.  Merchants sold goods while kids played soccer, using rocks or bottles as a ball.  World Cup fever had overtaken Haiti and it was fun to see where their allegiance lay!

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We also spent the weekend at the beach and I marveled at the turquoise water, which I could stare at for hours.  The Caribbean Sea was so warm and I didn’t hesitate for a moment taking a swim.

More postcards from everyday scenes around Port-au-Prince.

And, yes, I foisted copies of Lagging Indicators onto my Haitian relatives!

The meatballs à la ABBA on the menu at Totto Resturant, where we went for brunch on our last full day, was a reminder that we would be heading back to our lives in Sweden.  However, as Haiti is prone to do, she laid claim to our hearts and we promised ourselves that the time in between would not be as great.

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Days after we left, unrest broke out due to a rise in fuel prices.  That increase has been suspended and I hope there can be far-reaching reforms to bring services and a suitable standard of living for the Haitian people.  We came as “tourists” and relished every experience, but know that daily life in Haiti is difficult.  I still encourage people to visit this intriguing country.  Tourism and investment are the future.  Haitians are warm, multifaceted, determined, resilient, entrepreneurial people who deserve a chance for their country to thrive!

Mia Lewis has officially arrived!

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Wall Street executive Mia Lewis is an independent woman at the top of her game, until one false move ushers her spectacular downfall, leaving her disgraced and broke. When an encounter with a handsome single dad ignites feelings Mia had intentionally buried, she considers a new life—until the past comes calling in an unexpected way…

If you’re interested in reading about a strong woman thrown into difficult circumstances, I’m so excited to announce that Lagging Indicators will be released today! It’s available from all major booksellers, including:

AMAZON.COM
EPUB EDITION (all stores—this is a multi-store link)

 

I’m so grateful for the support and encouragement I’ve received from family, friends, readers and Indie Book Launcher throughout this whole process.  It’s been a long journey, but one I firmly believe was worth the labor pains!

My first novel, Uptown and Down, was based heavily on my personal background and the female protagonist felt very close to home.  This time, in Lagging Indicators, I wanted to create a woman who was so different from me or anything I had experienced professionally or personally.  We share one aspect in common (if you’ve been reading my posts, you’ll know what it is ♥), but that was more for the purposes of explaining what motivated her drive and ambition.  It was so much fun finding Mia’s voice and viewing the world through her lens.  I hope you’ll enjoy reading her story as much as I did writing it!

 

 

 

Becoming an Indie Author

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Whenever I tell friends that I self-published my second novel, I’m greeted by an enthusiastically positive reaction—not in praise of Lagging Indicators (although I do hope they will read and like the book)—but because I was brave enough to follow my instincts and take control of my destiny.  The old-fashioned writer in me finally learned that in 2018, getting out of our comfort zones; shedding rigid, old mindsets; and disrupting our own linear narratives are the new symbols of progress.  Rather than waiting for a traditional publisher to approve the creative content and commercial viability of my book, I believed in the merits of the story and wanted to share it with an audience.  It was a tremendous leap of faith, but one that I don’t regret for a second.

But please understand: this indie attitude didn’t come naturally to me.  I’m typically a risk-averse person and analyze a situation from every angle before making a decision.  I was very fortunate to get a deal with Penguin/NAL for Uptown and Down (2005) and in the span of years it took me to conceive of and write Lagging Indicators, the publishing industry and whatever small place I had in it had changed dramatically.  The number of publishing houses had shrunk due to consolidation and it was becoming harder to break through—even if an author had been previously published.  Frankly, I didn’t even know what types of stories editors wanted; I only knew the types of stories I wanted to tell and hoped they would resonate with someone.  I did receive some kudos for the manuscript, but not enough for a book contract.  Writing—and this unrealized quest for a traditional book deal—left me deflated.  I questioned whatever “talent” or “skills” I supposedly had and looked with a twinge of envy at writers publishing books with the big houses backed by strong marketing campaigns.  Not a good feeling.

Resigned, I decided to put Lagging Indicators aside and began sketching the outlines for another story since writers ultimately write not for publication, but because we feel compelled to.  There are stories inside of us waiting to be told, even if they just end up being piles of typed-up pages in a drawer.  Then it dawned on me that my story about Mia Lewis didn’t have to stay in a drawer.  I could share her with the rest of the world through self-publishing.  People had been urging me to do this for years, but I’d been skeptical and held back.  After extensive research on the Internet, I came across Indie Book Launcher, an independent publishing service that helped me with everything from the cover to formatting the manuscript to uploading on various platforms and guidance with promotions.  They were so professional and just got it.  My publishing adviser knew intuitively what I was trying to convey and consistently took the time and effort to understand my characters, themes, and me as a writer.  The support I’ve received has been invaluable.

Once I made the decision to become my own publisher, not only did my mood soar, my creative energy, passion for books and writing soared as well.  The euphoria and empowerment I’ve experienced in the last ten months have given me profound insight, both as a writer and as a person.  By making my work available to an audience, I’ve benefited greatly from feedback about the prose and plot; commentary that will help me as I continue to hone my craft.  I’ve also learned about so many resources available to indie authors—things that were unimaginable when I was first published in 2005.

I’ve also stopped feeling like an imposter.  Although I’d been published once before, in my mind, it was so long ago that it almost didn’t count anymore.  But I now have two books under my belt.  I managed to create two distinct plots, fashioned dozens of characters and churned out over 200,000 words.  I feel a sense of accomplishment rather than doubt or failure.  We writers are constantly looking for validation.  Ours is a lonely business and there are gatekeepers, juries, and reviewers who wield an incredible amount of influence.  It’s difficult to detach oneself from that long-established world.  I consider myself an author who embraces publishing in all of its constellations and formats, but at this stage of my life, becoming an indie author was the right decision for me.  I’m not only an author but also an entrepreneur and I’m so excited about my new product!  By taking ownership of Lagging Indicators, I’ve realized that the courage and determination I created in the character of Mia Lewis also lived inside of me.

Whatever your artistic pursuit or business idea, there are alternate paths to achieving your goals.  Technology and our interconnected world are changing the rules of the game; we shouldn’t be afraid to explore new options.  I’m so proud to sign off by saying that Lagging Indicators will be released on July 2nd but is available now for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I ♥ NYC

 

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Both of my novels take place in New York and the city is more than a backdrop; it becomes a character in itself.  My love affair with NYC began as a kid, although I don’t remember exactly when.  Maybe it was when my father took us to Macy’s on Black Friday or when I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with my mom.  The details are not as important as the feeling I got, marveling at all the people—a cornucopia of colors, ages and styles—so different from the mainstream community in my hometown.  Both Nora Deschamps in Uptown and Down and Mia Lewis in Lagging Indicators grew up in places that, though nice for kids, wouldn’t cut it for the adults they wanted to become.  This sentiment echoes my own and I guess that’s why I infused my characters with that same sense of longing.

Anything is possible in New York.  The city is filled with the energy and resources to suit every desire and ambition.  Recently, some have criticized the current state of affairs in New York, lamenting the loss of edginess and creativity in favor of wealth and gentrification.  I’ve also been guilty of those thoughts and can wax lyrical about the New York of my youth, a place where I would linger at vintage bookstores on the Upper West Side or sit at a Greenwich Village café with a pen and a notebook, struggling to look like a serious writer!  I’m old enough to remember when slaughterhouses permeated the Meatpacking District, not hip restaurants, shops or hotels.  Nevertheless, those electrical currents of possibility, that tingling sensation in my stomach when I see Manhattan through an airplane window or drive in from my hometown in upstate New York, still remain.  I cannot wait to get my feet on the pavement; to hear that distinct New York accent (mine comes out as well); hail a cab and have it screech to a halt; then go to my old stomping grounds and feel like a local.

Yes, New York is a tough place.  It can chew you up and spit you out.  There are decadence and excess, dark elements that can consume you if you don’t keep things in perspective.  Tension and conflict are built in the city’s DNA, making it the perfect canvas for characters to succeed, fail, grow, regress, fall in love, get rejected, lose their way, find themselves, descend into a downward spiral, rise up…  A writer can juxtapose glamour and grittiness; intellectualism with frivolity; culture with commerce; openness with oppression. The city’s diversity allows us to create characters that are unique—quirky, provocative individuals symbolic of a world in flux.  Hard rules don’t apply and New York is still the place for those who want to reinvent themselves and defy convention.

I will never get over my love affair with NYC and here are some postcards from my visit to prove it!

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My sister treated me to a performance of Romeo and Juliet and I was transported to another world by the artistry and athleticism. Storytelling in movement and music!  I love the cultural atmosphere of the Upper West Side and Lincoln Center.

Isabella Boylston and David Hallberg conveyed the love and angst of Romeo and Juliet with so much depth and emotion.

My last NYC address was on the Upper East Side and I still stay in that part of town whenever I visit.  This time I booked The Lowell on East 63rd Street.  Very cozy hotel with a beautiful library/club room, Majorelle restaurant, Jacques bar and lounge.

I always try to get together with old friends and these two have been in my life since I was fourteen years old.  I think we were the loudest ones in the restaurant!

I woke up after a good night’s sleep—much-needed for my jet-lagged bones—and went out for an early morning walk in Central Park.  What I love about NYC is that no matter how early or quiet you think it is, the streets are always bustling with cars, dogs, runners, delivery people…

I bought coffee at my favorite cafe, Sant Ambroeus, but stopped at a trusty diner for a Western omelet after my walk.  Quick, easy and delicious!

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Back in Sweden, I really crave black and white cookies. They are quintessentially New York for me and I couldn’t resist buying three at William Greenberg. They are the best!

Then I was off to the International Center of Photography with my college roommate to view the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit.  I’m most familiar with his Parisian series of photographs so it was very interesting to see the work he had done in India, Pakistan and the US (Pittsburgh).  They were multilayered and more than the pretty pictures I usually associate with his oeuvre.

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We also stopped by Salon 94 to see the latest Laurie Simmons show. Colorful depictions of identity and engaging commentary on prescribed roles.
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I love how I was able to spend time Uptown and Downtown. The contrasts are important to me and provide different kinds of energy and inspiration. This restaurant, The Butcher’s Daughter, in Nolita was super cute and delicious. Perfect outdoor dining on a warm and sunny day!

With my dear college friend—a photographer, writer and cultural critic.  We reminisced about our student years and discussed where we are in our lives today.  I love how our conversations touched on everything from high to low!

I still have a host of things I want to see while I’m here and hopefully I’ll get a chance to do them.  The Heavenly Bodies exhibition at the Met and the new André Leon Talley documentary are top of my list.  In the meantime, here are some more snapshots from my favorite city—creativity and stimulation captured from just walking down the street.

What’s your favorite city?

ALMA x Jacqueline Woodson

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It was a sunny and mild Tuesday evening in central Stockholm, the perfect night for an afterwork drink or dinner outside, but a few hundred of us sat in a darkened auditorium on the third floor of Kulturhuset, eagerly awaiting acclaimed American writer, Jacqueline Woodson.  Woodson would soon begin a conversation with literature professor Elina Druker as the 2018 Laureate of the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award (ALMA), the world’s largest prize for children’s and young adult literature.

Ironically, I first heard of Woodson through her second novel of adult fiction, Another Brooklyn (2016), a story about female friendship set in the 1970s.  I spent a lot of time as a kid in pre-gentrified Brooklyn; it was an era that I remembered well and was keen to see represented in literature.  However, it’s Woodson’s work as a children’s author, portraying young characters (usually between ten to sixteen years old) and worlds not typically depicted in that genre, that has won her accolades and a beloved following.

Working with themes such as racism, segregation, socio-economic inequality and sexual identity, Woodson challenges us to reconsider what comprises “children’s literature;” to confront our own prejudices and comfort level; and to give young people their due as legitimate voices.  The force in Woodson’s body of work centers on its ability to transcend age groups.  During the author talk, she reflected that readers of all generations—and walks of life—confess that they can relate to the experiences and observations recounted in her stories.

Woodson described how she always wanted to write and was a voracious reader as a kid.  The library was her second home; a detail that was very similar to my own childhood.  She also spoke about the importance of diverse narratives and the concept of “mirrors and windows.”  Books are the most powerful when we can see ourselves in the characters and gain insight into worlds other than our own.  By grabbing readers at a young age, children’s books are wonderful tools to share our similarities and differences.

As a tip for writers, Woodson recommended being as specific as possible when crafting scenes.  We shouldn’t shy away from delving deeper into setting, detail, voice and emotion.  Through this specificity, scenes become more honest, authentic and, hence, more universal.  Druker asked Woodson to read out loud a few passages from her memoir, New York Times bestseller Brown Girl Dreaming (2014).  Written in a lyrical, verse-style, it’s a journey through Woodson’s childhood alongside the people and places that have shaped her identity.  Tight and concise, the requested passages encapsulated so much depth and feeling, transporting us in the audience to the landscape of Woodson’s history.

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The newly-released, Swedish translation of “Brown Girl Dreaming.”

It would have been enough for Woodson to be a brilliant, immensely gifted, prolific novelist who has been honored with the National Book Award; Coretta Scott King Award; the NAACP Image Award; and now, the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award, but she was also humble, conveying warmth, humor and empathy.  Did I forget to mention that she did a reading at the Obama White House?  I think everyone in the room would have liked to exchange thoughts with Woodson about a host of topics—both related and unrelated to her books.  I’m so proud my adopted country has recognized the beauty and breadth of Woodson’s writing.  I got the sense we all understood the urgency for inclusiveness in these divided times.

Woodson graciously signed books after the ALMA interview.  When I got home, I saw that she had written in mine: “Jennifer, my fellow brown girl dreaming!”

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What is ambition?

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It’s one of those loaded words that we intuitively understand yet still struggle with.  The Cambridge Dictionary defines ambition as a strong wish to achieve something and a desire to be successful, rich and powerful.  Implicit in this paradox is the suggestion that ambition fosters greed and hubris.  It carries a double-standard with it, too; one steeped in gender biases.  Men are complimented for their ambition:  He’s driven; he’ll be a good provider; or possibly start the next successful tech company.  Whereas in women, it’s treated with suspicion:  She’s selfish; too tough; unlikable.

Mia Lewis, the protagonist in my new book Lagging Indicators, is ambitious—unapologetically, competitively, aggressively so.  I first met women like Mia when I was young and new to the corporate world.  They were more seasoned professionals whose moxie and intensity made me uneasy at first, due to my own misconceptions about powerful, successful women.  I mistook their no-nonsense style for being cold, forceful and cocky.  But were they so different from the male excutives at the professional services firm I worked for?  Or did I hold them to a different, higher standard because they were women?  Did I expect them to be softer, more subtle?  A tall order considering this was Manhattan and they, like their male counterparts, had to manage demanding clients and were being judged every day.

After analyzing my unconscious biases, I stopped feeling intimidated and embraced what these women could teach me.  Their work-ethic was a given, but they spoke up; made connections; seized opportunities; and even self-promoted.  Since I was more of the quietly ambitious kind, I could only look on in admiration and think:  You go, girl.

Novelist Jessica Knoll recently wrote an essay in the New York Times that stirred some debate because she announced in the title that she wants to be rich and isn’t sorry about it.  I interpret “being rich” as a metaphor for control, security and power.  Knoll’s not sorry for being ambitious, for figuring out how the game is played (and won) by men and applying the same mindset and methods to get there.  Many were shocked by her bluntness; I was excited she tapped into an issue I explore with Mia.

Women today have made many strides, but recent events have also demonstrated how precarious this progress is.  The fight against objectification, harassment and scapegoating isn’t over; nor is the struggle to prove that we deserve a seat at the table.  Nurturing female ambition means offering women and girls the education and resources that allow them to reach their full potential, giving them the freedom and voice to choose who they want to be.

Maybe ambition isn’t such a dirty word after all.  What do you think?

A tribute to my mother…

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Shortly before Mother’s Day in 2004, I flew from Stockholm to New York, not to wish my mother a Happy Mother’s Day in person, but to say my final goodbyes as she lay dying of pancreatic cancer.  The cancer had spread quickly to her liver and lymph nodes; the doctors told us she wouldn’t make it past May.  I had given birth a month earlier to my second child, a son, and my mother wanted to see and hold him while she was still sitting up and clear-headed.  Her situation was so grave, I didn’t know if she would outlive my 8 ½ hour flight from Stockholm.

Although I was now a mother of two, I became a child again in the face of my own mother’s cancer.  Words like “terminal” and “do not resuscitate” made no sense since my worst childhood nightmare had been realized.  I was very attached to my mom and couldn’t imagine life without her.  As a kid, I checked up on her while she slept to make sure she was still breathing.  Moving to Stockholm hadn’t altered the closeness of our relationship.  We spoke on the phone almost every day and I came to visit for several weeks in the summer.  My mother was the heart, soul and rock of our family.  She was the most unselfish person I knew and always available for me and my older sister, despite commuting forty minutes from home every day to work as a French teacher and then coming back to tutor other kids in the afternoon.  She sewed most of our clothes, made home-cooked meals every night, and drove us to our activities.  Above all, she was always fully present and never seemed distracted.  We had wonderful conversations around the kitchen table about her childhood in Haiti and what it was like when she and my father moved to New York in the late ‘60s.

I have my mother to thank for my love of reading, art, classical music, and all things beautiful.  We often woke up on Sunday mornings to the drumbeat of Ravel’s Bolero on the record player.  My mother had a set of leather-bound books that she purchased via an installment plan and I loved to turn the gold-edged, tissue-thin pages, struggling to understand Shakespearean English.  Her favorite perfume was First by Van Cleef & Arpels; I kept her last, half-used bottle and am overwhelmed by memories of her whenever I smell it.  After my sister and I became salary-earning adults, it felt completely natural for us to treat our amazing mom with a trip to Paris for her 50th Birthday.  An ardent Francophile, she could finally visit the Louvre, Versailles and charm Parisians with her impeccable French.  The trip was a success, though in true Mom form, she was never really clear about her exact age and had already turned fifty a couple of years earlier!  But we didn’t know this at the time.  My sister and I would discover our mother’s true year of birth much later, when we prepared her death certificate.

My mother taught me how to live a life of purpose filled with love, compassion, service and kindness.  And during those grief-filled days in May, my mother was also teaching me how to die.  I don’t know if she had already gone through Kübler-Ross’s five stages of grief.  Aside from denial and bargaining, I have a difficult time imagining my mother angry and depressed because that’s not how she approached life.  She was of a generation that just got on with it, without any drama or fanfare.  However, she exuded a peaceful acceptance by the time I reached her bedside.  A spiritual person, she could put her life in perspective and considered me and my sister her greatest sources of joy and accomplishment.  She rarely complained about the excruciating pain piercing her abdomen and never once asked, “Why me?”

My mother left us on May 24th that year.  It was devastating, a loss from which I haven’t fully recovered, but I’m comforted by all the lives she touched.  At her funeral, the church was teeming with family, friends, colleagues and students who wanted to say thank you and pay their last respects.

I miss my mother every day and am so grateful she had been mine for thirty-two years.  My biggest regret is that my own children didn’t have the chance to know and love her the way I did.