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Something strange happened over the summer: I got a new story idea. As a novelist who had experienced “writer’s block” for many years, the prospect of two narratives spinning in my head was nothing short of miraculous. Rather than jump for joy, I stiffened in hesitation. I had already done considerable research and interviews for Story Idea #1, sketched out characters, and created a plot outline. I had even written three chapters! However, a force beyond my control took over when we moved to our summer cottage by the sea. Other voices and visions began taking hold, urging me forward.

Nevertheless, I proceeded with caution and made a list of why I was drawn to Story Idea #2.  Did I feel overwhelmed by #1? Was it those sticky plot points I hadn’t completely figured out yet? Was I struggling to depict the conflicts? The answer to all three questions was YES, but they weren’t sufficient reasons to discard the original idea. I had covered unfamiliar terrain in Lagging Indicators and believed I could do it again. What I couldn’t ignore was the emotional attachment I had begun to develop with Idea #2, its cast of characters, and themes. I was undoubtedly influenced by personal events (daughter going off to college) and wanted to use that backdrop to explore questions of family and identity.

While inspiration can be magically inexplicable, I recognized that without a clear plan, I would be abandoning an existing, developing story for a simmering, underdeveloped one. As an exercise, I gathered research material for #2; created thumbnail descriptions of the main characters, including names; imagined a setting with a distinctive feature; and crafted a working title. My final criterion was whether I could write the back cover copy. If I can summarize the essence of the story in a catchy way, I feel much more confident about its potential. Once I had accomplished this, Story Idea #2 began to unfold in a tangible form.

However, I haven’t abandoned my first story idea. I’m still conducting informal interviews and taking notes, but I feel a stronger visceral connection to #2 at the moment. What have I learned from this unforeseen turn of events? Although it may sound counterintuitive, spending time and effort on a project may actually lead you to THE project, the one that flows organically from your creative center and brings you closer to your truth. It’s imperative to listen to your inner voice! I’m prone to feeling guilty for not completing a task and had to grant myself “permission” to put that first story on hold. Even though I’m the driver of this writing enterprise, I still had to rationalize changing course, as though I had broken some cardinal rule on writing a novel! While I don’t recommend flitting from one idea to the next without a roadmap, I do think it’s worthwhile to seize those impulses flooding your mind with scenes, characters, and dialogue.

Many writers work on multiple books at the same time and have developed strategies for keeping their stories distinct. I will take them to heart and look forward to developing both of my ideas further—one novel at a time!

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The Swedish Midsummer celebration, with its crazy dances around the maypole, ushered in the easy, breezy season! After a long, darkish winter, I’m so excited about this bright and, hopefully, warm time of year.  My family and I follow a ritual practiced by many Swedes in this sprawling country: we flee the city and escape to a cottage by the water.  Our place is in the Stockholm archipelago, which is a cluster of 30,000 islands, skerries and rocks.  We’re usually there from the beginning of July until mid-August, but this year calls for adjustments since we’ll be sending our daughter off to college in New York and our son has an intensive soccer schedule.  We’d like to make the most of this summer together since it feels like we’re entering a new phase in our household.  The long-held tradition, with the four us ensconced in our home for weeks on end, no longer applies.  Kids grow up and have their own plans and, sadly, we parents have to adapt.  I can’t think of a better place to process the changes in our family dynamic than on an island, surrounded by nature and a view of the Baltic Sea.

Let me start off by saying that I love the contrast of being at the seaside and creating a cozy, color-filled environment; preparing lots of food; and welcoming guests.  However, my ambition level exceeds my capacity to deliver and I’ve often found myself exhausted and grumpy–disappointed that I didn’t take time out to enjoy the outdoors or read a book or play Scrabble or watch a movie.  I’ve made a conscious decision to avoid wallowing in regret this year, pining for a summer that didn’t meet my personal expectations.  So, I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes me feel fulfilled and how I’d like this summer to play out.

It’s been easy for me to get bogged down in domestic chores and claim that I don’t have time to do something active.  With all the Rosé and ice cream that’s consumed, I end up feeling bloated and lazy.  In order to combat that, I’ve vowed to do some kind of movement every day.  A power-walk in the forest, a promenade on the beach, tennis, and kayaking top my list.  I also have a backlog of podcasts I can listen to while I navigate the trails.

Reading for me is relaxation and, if the conditions are right, I can pore over two novels a week.  Here are some recent and upcoming releases that will be clambering for a spot on my bedside table!

My daughter going off to college has made me very sentimental and nostalgic.  I found the old photo album below when I was in New York last month.  Transferring pictures from this tattered scrapbook into a new one is a priority this summer–along with talking to my kids about the people and places from my youth. I’ve been rushing through the present and preparing so much for the future, the past has gotten short-changed.  I want to rectify this situation before it’s too late.  My husband also has a bunch of photos to arrange and I think this could be a great family activity, especially on a rainy day.

This photo album was a precious item in my childhood home. Before digital cameras, every picture was taken with care and valued.  I love the photograph of my parents from the Seventies!

I’d also like to start each morning by writing my thoughts, impressions, and feelings in a journal.  Being in the archipelago really clears my head. I often feel my most creative and coherent.  Unfortunately, my ideas and reflections disappear if I don’t record them.  Keeping a journal will exercise my writing muscles and keep me in the right mindset to tackle my new book, either by going through research material or writing a few more chapters.  However, I’ve learned that even the most prolific, successful authors have been known to take the summer off, so I shouldn’t feel too guilty if I don’t make significant headway ;).

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Reduce my screen time!  I won’t reveal how much I average per day, but I think I’ve reached the point of diminishing returns.  A Digital Detox will open up dormant areas of my being–both mentally and physically.  I want to focus on wellness and self-care and know that a tech timeout is a key to that.  Although Instagram and Snapchat are filled with sumptuous holiday pics and adventures, I’ll have to put on the brakes and not fall too deep down the rabbit hole!  All things in moderation…

Getting together with family and friends in the archipelago is my definition of summertime bliss.  Setting a seasonal, thematic table and grilling is my favorite way to entertain.  This year I want to move away from the ubiquitous Rosé and Aperol Spritz and try different cocktails.  I’ve heard great things about the Hugo and Suze Tonic.  I also want to add new salads and meatless dishes to my repertoire.  Above all, I want to master the art of “effortless entertaining” and spend less time in the kitchen so I can enjoy my guests!

With my love of books, I’ve amassed quite a collection which I’d like to make available to others on the island.  I love the idea of the Little Free Library and have plans to build my own with one of these kits from Etsy.  I hope I can make it stable enough to stand upright!  But if all else fails, I’ll donate books to the village hotel and local grocery store.  I want to spread the read/share/exchange/enjoy concept!

I get very attached to our place and am reluctant to leave for excursions on neighboring islands.  I shouldn’t get so complacent though; the Stockholm archipelago is filled with wonderful small bays, beaches, and restaurants.  You can even go on a seal safari not too far from where we are!  I want to be more “adventurous” and do some day trips when the weather is nice.  I might even take a dip in the Baltic Sea.  But don’t listen to the Swedes: The water is not warm at 15C/60F!

What’s on your summer bucket list?


I have long wanted to attend a writer’s conference, retreat, or festival, but scheduling conflicts and family obligations have always gotten in the way.  Little did I know there was already such an event in my own city!  In 2017, the

Stockholm Writer’s Festival (SWF) was established as a non-profit organization to help writers hone their craft, provide them with the tools necessary to navigate the world of publishing, and foster a sense of community.  Catherine Petterson, SWF’s founder, describes it as a way for writers to find “their path to published.”  The event launched in 2018 and was a huge success, proving there was a need for a forum of this kind to educate, inspire, and network.

I was so excited when Catherine and her colleague, Sandra Carpenter, asked me to participate in SWF19 as a faculty member.  I had caught their attention through a mutual friend’s Facebook post about my Book Club Sneak Peek for Lagging Indicators.  They became curious about my move from traditional to indie publishing and wanted me to discuss why I had made the transition.  Not only had I never been to a writer’s gathering before–and it would be nerve-racking enough communicating with these savvy wordsmiths–I was now going to co-lead a panel about my indie experience with Jessica Lourey.  Luckily, I would have several months to think about what I wanted to say!

The unofficial start of SWF19 kicked off with an informal cocktail mingle for contributors and participants at a hotel near the festival location.  Nibbling on cheese and crackers, we chatted about our expat lives (if applicable) and writing interests.  I met so many nice people, many of whom are part of the Stockholm Writers Group.

I got up bright and early the next day to make it to Finlandshuset, the large and fully-equipped SWF19 venue.  It buzzed with the activity of introductions, registration, and a bubbling creative energy and anticipation.  I was a bit nervous since I was all by myself, but once I entered the packed Sibelius Room, I saw many familiar faces, including an old friend who had signed up for SWF because of my Instagram posts. The crowd was very diverse in terms of age and gender.  Many had completed manuscripts and were curious about next steps.  We were all at SWF for the same purpose and it was easy to connect.

Jane Friedman’s workshops were extremely illuminating.  Friedman is an expert on the publishing industry and on the reality for us writers in a rapidly changing landscape.  She broke down the Big 5 publishing houses; explained what a writer’s expectations from an agent should be; compared advances vs. royalties; advised on crafting query letters, non-fiction proposals, book blurbs, and backcover copy; addressed the topic of manageable book length (80,000-100,000 words); analyzed different forms of self-publishing (a service vs. DIY); and weighed in on artistic patronage in the modern age (Patreon).

Although I had made an informed decision when deciding to pursue the indie publishing route, Friedman’s presentation significantly increased my knowledge about the business and confirmed some of my theories.  For example, having a platform and built-in audience helps a prospect get noticed and bolsters the chances of a book deal.  Publishing houses offer very little support for most authors in marketing and promotions.  Rarely does a self-published work become traditionally published.  Friedman also spent time on the “business” of writing and the benefits of employing a business mindset to the post-publication process (marketing, promotions, events).  In spite of pressure to be well-versed on both the commercial and creative sides, Friedman stressed that the quality of the writing and story still matter!

Being surrounded by so many passionate writers was incredibly inspiring.  I applauded the winners of the First Pages Prizes and listened intently as they read the opening sentences of their work.  It took a lot of guts to share those lines with a room full of people!

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My nervousness grew as the day for my panel discussion approached.  Jessica Lourey is a teacher, prolific writer, and accomplished speaker; I was an amateur in comparison.  I wanted to make the session worthwhile for the participants and didn’t want them to feel disappointed.  My best defense against performance anxiety has always been intense preparation, so I skipped the Saturday night mingle and stayed home to polish and study my notes.

My first session on Sunday was a 3 x 10 minute speed dating exercise where 4-5 participants asked me specific questions about the mechanics of publishing independently.  I was very frank about cost, the importance of putting out the most professional product within one’s budget, and the advantages of utilizing an indie publishing service. I then did a breakout session with Lourey that attracted 30 people.  I started by reading from my index cards, but soon found the confidence to let the words flow naturally.  I described the highs of getting a traditional book deal for Uptown & Down in 2004, and then the lows of trying to find my way back into the publishing world after a ten-year hiatus.  I was very open about my disappointment and sense of powerlessness–until I decided to become an indie author.  My goal was to demystify and democratize the publishing process.  There are so many good stories waiting to see the light of day.  They shouldn’t die for lack of a traditional publishing deal.

What did I learn from my first writer’s festival?

SWF19 reinforced that I’m in the right profession. I loved being surrounded by other enthusiasts and was hungry to absorb as much information as I could.  I did have moments when I wondered: Are people in this room more talented and productive than I am?  Who will get a book deal or be the next big-name author?  Can I write another book?  Depending on the speaker, I alternated from a sense of empowerment (workshop on indie publishing) to discouragement (panel with literary agents).  On the practical side, I discovered the broad reach of platforms such as BookBub, Facebook ads, giveaways, and audio books.  The feedback from my indie publishing sessions was very positive.  I enjoyed pepping writers and giving out tips.  As a result, I experienced a burning motivation to focus on my next project.  I also sold a dozen more copies of Lagging Indicators which wasn’t too bad either!

I was very honored and grateful to be included as a faculty member at SWF19 and took pride in the appropriateness of such an event happening in Sweden, a country with a long literay tradition and the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I want to commend and thank the organizers and volunteers for the amazing job they did.  Most of all, SWF19 exposed me to a thriving writer community and I have no doubt we will continue to boost and support each other!

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