I grew up in suburban New York and graduated from Columbia University. My first novel, Uptown & Down (Penguin/NAL), was published in 2005. I live in Stockholm, Sweden, with my husband and two teenage children.
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:
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!
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!
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 Indicatorsgrew 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!
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!
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.
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.
A few days ago, I hosted my Book Group for cocktails, conversation and a preview of Lagging Indicators. My Book Group is comprised of women who share one fact in common: We’re all expats—hailing from the United States, Canada, France, England and Australia, to name but a few—who moved to Sweden for a relationship or work.
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.
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!”
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?
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.
My name is Jennifer Dahlberg and I’m a writer living in Stockholm, Sweden, with my Swedish husband and our two children. Moving to Sweden was a big change for this native New Yorker, but I’ve always been curious about other countries and cultures and my years here have filled me with tons of inspiration and, hopefully, perspective. Sweden has also given me the opportunity to pursue my passion: writing. I’ve been an avid reader my whole life and joined the newspaper, yearbook and literary magazine in high school. I then went on to study political science in college with the goal of becoming a journalist. However, my life took an unexpected turn (love!) and I decided to spend it abroad. Luckily, writing is a portable career and I wrote my debut novel, Uptown and Down during my first few years in Stockholm. There’s something to be said for the long, dark winters here; going outside seems like a dismal proposition, so one is compelled to hunker down, focus and get things done. Work hard from November – March and you’ll be rewarded with longer, leisurely daylight hours from April – August.
This time of year is a moment of renewal and it certainly reflects how I feel right now. After years of hard work, I’ve finally finished the manuscript for my second book, Lagging Indicators. Writing requires intense commitment, often at the expense of anything superfluous. In a few months, Lagging Indicators will find its way into the world and I now have the time—and courage—to share my thoughts and ideas with you. While this website will be primarily about my writing and what unleashes my creativity, I also draw inspiration from everything around me: my children, nature, art, music, fashion, design, travel, literature, popular culture, politics, news, food… Anything from a road trip in India to watching a basketball game with my son can get the “wheels in my head turning,” as I like to say! This website will give me a platform to express myself on a broad range of topics and perhaps I can inspire, inform and entertain. I also welcome your feedback. I want us to have a dialogue because writing can be a pretty lonely vocation :). Thank you for joining me on this journey!