After spending many hours in transit from Philadelphia to Stockholm (via London) I arrived home to a very happy husband and news that the Maybe… series made it through the second round of voting for the Reader’s Choice awards for Best Cover and Best Series in the Swirl Awards. Maybe Baby is also a finalist for Best Contemporary while Maybe Tonight is in the finals for Best Short Novel.
So what are the Swirl Awards? Every year, the Swirl Awards recognise diversity in romantic fiction. They make no distinction between traditional published and indie writers, and they help promote books that often go overlooked simply because they do not fit mainstream molds.
We writers of interracial and multicultural romantic fiction do not have the easiest time getting our names out there. Having the team behind the Swirl Awards in our corner is a huge honour and benefit for us.
Earlier this week, we caught up with Laney. Now let’s have a sit-down with Benny, the saucy intern who seems to have a thing for Mads. She’s been pretty forthright about her interest in him. Let’s see what she has to say for herself.
Me: So tell it to me straight, Benny. Why did you start making moves on Mads? You knew he was married–
Benny: (laughs) You’ve seen him. You know how gorgeous he is. And I liked what I saw, so I went for it.
Me: It can’t be so shallow as that.
Benny: Look, I don’t know what you expect me to say. I’m not really into relationships. I suppose I’m like a guy in that way… I like to hit it and quit it. I know it sounds vulgar, but I don’t have any hang-ups when it comes to sex. If I want it, I want it. And Mads…well, he’s insanely hot.
Me: But is that a reason to go after a man you know is married?
Benny: You know what I wanted? I just wanted to see if I could do it. Turn his head. Get him interested. See where it went. I knew it was a long shot. And, no, I was not interested in being the next Mrs. Rasmussen or being the mother of his children. I just wanted a taste of him.
Me: You’ve been interning at the collective. How did you end up there?
Benny: I heard about it through the grapevine. Morten and Mads came to my design seminar at Designhøjskole and I really liked how mellow they were. They didn’t act like they were too good to be there, they didn’t blather on like they were saying oh-so-very important words that didn’t really mean anything. They seemed real, you know? And I had total respect for that. I’m a designer too. I wanted to be a part of this–work together with some guys who seemed really cool and whose work was well and truly kick-ass. And then I heard Willem talking about how he’d applied, but I’d missed the application deadline. So I just went there and pretended I’d applied. Mads wasn’t there that day. It was Jonas and Morten who ended up interviewing me. I guess they liked my portfolio.
Me: What are you plans now? Are you going to continue trying to get Mads?
Benny: (shrugging) If he shows an interest, then why should I turn him down?
Me: And has he shown an interest?
Benny: Not yet…but it’s only a matter of time. And his wife isn’t around, so I’m guessing he might be more interested now.
Me: What about your position at the collective? Shouldn’t you be more focused on your career and getting work experience?
Benny: I know I’m good already. I’m the best intern there. And I do a damned good job, so nobody can complain. I go in, I work…I finish my projects on time. Yes, I flirt. I think any woman in my position would do the same.
Me: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
Benny (laughs again): I don’t know…but wherever I am, I’ll be enjoying myself. Maybe I’ll have my own collective. Maybe they’ll take me on full-time. I guess we’ll just to wait and see.
Get your copy of Maybe Forever – available for Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo. Coming soon in trade paperback.
So last week we had a chance to catch up with Mads. This week let’s sit down with Laney. We’ve caught up with her on a rare moment when the kids are napping and her aunt’s house in Juno Beach is quiet. We’re in her aunt’s garden, sitting in the shade of the marbleberry tree and sipping iced tea. What’s going on in Laney’s head…? Let’s find out.
Me: I think the question on everyone’s mind is if this is the end of the road for you and Mads.
Laney: I don’t know. I don’t want it to be…but things between us aren’t the way they were. And I need more from him. I don’t want a part-time husband.
Me: How are the girls taking the separation?
Laney: They don’t really understand it. Freya’s too young–she’s only seven months old, so for her this is more of a Where’s Papa? thing. I can tell she misses him. She’s always looking for him. And for Liv…she’s confused. I can’t really tell my four-year-old daughter that I’ve left her father. That I’ve done it because I need a break from what our life was becoming. All she knows is that her daddy isn’t here… she asks about him every day–when is he coming, does he miss her, will she see him soon? I make sure she has FaceTime chats with him…it’s not the same as seeing him every day but at least they can see each other and talk.
Me: Are you talking to him as well?
Laney: (pausing) Sometimes. It’s not easy. Seeing him, being reminded every time I look at him that maybe this is karma for how we even met and the hurt we caused. And then… I see him and my resolve to be away from him slips. I love him. I guess I love him too much. Maybe that’s my problem.
Me: You’ve had a case of the Baby Blues…do you feel like being away is helping you get back to the old you?
Laney: I really hate that term, “Baby Blues”. It makes it sound so cutesy. I feel better…I’m beginning to feel normal again. My aunt Cecily has been a huge help. I needed support, I needed someone to help me focus and find my footing again and she’s done that. It’s the second time she saved me. The first time was when my mom died… Cecily didn’t have to take me in. She could have left me in foster care. But that’s not the sort of person she is. And even now, she could have said no when I asked if we could come. She tried to talk me out of leaving Denmark with the kids. But she also understood I needed to be away.
Me: You didn’t initially want to try the yoga and meditation she suggested. What made you change your mind?
Laney: I couldn’t really see how it was going to help me… I didn’t understand how it could make me feel any differently. But then I went, and it was all about focusing on you and your baby and forming this connection. When everything is calm, when you can feel all the tension ebbing away and you realize how much you love your child, how you’ve been in this fog because of anxiety and lack of sleep and everything else. And suddenly you see your little one in a different light, one that isn’t dimmed by all the confusion, and it’s such a relief. I’m so glad Cecily talked me into trying it. It helped me find my way again.
Me: Do you have any regrets about leaving the way that you did?
Laney: I should have told him I was going to leave. I knew it even as I was booking the tickets while he slept. I knew this was going to break his heart. But my heart already felt broken. I felt like I’d already lost him.
Me: He says he doesn’t want this to be the end of you. What would it take for the two of you to come back together again?
Laney: I need more than words. I need proof. As much as I love him, I need to see that things will really change. That’s the hard part though…because if he suddenly showed up and said all the right words, I’d melt. I always melt for him. I can’t help it. There’s no one else in this world I want. For me, there’s only Mads.
I wasn’t sure how long I sat on the sofa, waiting…my face stripped of all the makeup, my dress draped across a chair in the bedroom. I would never wear it again. Now it felt jinxed. I’d changed into a pair of shorts and a tank top. My stomach grumbled, reminding me that I’d not had dinner. I should have been hungry…but the roiling sensation in my belly didn’t make me want to eat. It was too hot. My skin felt clammy, sticky. I hadn’t smoked in over a year but now I wished I could have a cigarette. I longed for the illicit pull of the tobacco. I longed to forget.
How could he forget? How could I be so easy to forget? He used to remember everything. Every little detail of my life, memorizing it like it held some hidden meaning. He used to tell me he wanted to know everything about me. He’d remember things I’d forgotten. Now it felt like he’d forgotten all the important bits. Maybe he didn’t want to remember.
The anticipated sequel to MAYBE BABY and MAYBE TONIGHT
Is the honeymoon over…?
Now married with two children, Laney and Mads are finding their life together isn’t as simple as it used to be. While Laney struggles with motherhood, Mads is so focused on chasing success that he loses sight of promises he’s made.
When frustration gets the better of her, Laney takes the kids and goes to the US, hoping to find solace with her aunt Cecily, a former school teacher who now teaches yoga and meditation in Florida.
Will Laney and Mads find a way back to one another…or is it too late?
Launching on May 15 for Kindle, Nook, iBooks and Kobo.
In July it will be twenty years since I left the United States behind and embarked on an adventure in the name of love in Scandinavia. I only knew a handful of people here–the man I was in love with and his family. At the time, it never occurred to me that this was not something I should do–apply for a residency permit, buy a one-way ticket, sell all my personal belongings, board a plane, take off into the great unknown. There were plenty of nay-sayers. Whenever I told people I was moving for love, they’d tell me I was crazy. More often than not, someone would comment on how I was “giving up my life” to be with a white man–as if the color of his skin had somehow clouded my judgment or made me incapable of rational thought. I tried to ignore their negativity, but every now and then their words would annoy the hell out of me. And they annoyed me because they behaved as though my relationship with the man who would later become my husband was not “real” because he was not black or because he was not American. As if these two factors were the only way a black American woman could be happy.
While all of this was spiralling around me, I was trying to write a novel. I was nearing the end of working on my master’s degree in Creative Writing and putting the finishing touches on my master’s thesis–a collection of short stories I’d worked on for three years, tweaking until each story was a gem (in my eyes anyway). Now the novel, well, it was this unformed thing. I had faceless characters with vague back stories. I had a setting that was probably more detailed than the plot itself. And the plot…well, there wasn’t really one. In short, I didn’t know what I was doing or what I was writing about.
It took several years and a lot of false starts to finally realise that my problem was trying to write about relationships without taking any inspiration from my own life experience. I knew what it was like to be a black woman in an interracial relationship, but I wasn’t really writing about it. And what was crazy was that I was looking for books that featured interracial relationships. They were few and far between at that time. When I found them, I devoured them. I studied them, I thought about what I liked and didn’t like about those novels. The main sticking point was that, in most of the novels, the men were pursuing women who were so hung up on race that they couldn’t accept the love they felt for the man in question because his skin color was wrong. And that wasn’t the interracial experience I knew.
The more books I read, the more i wanted to read a story in which the heroine wasn’t resisting the man who loved her simply because he had a melanin deficiency. Now, mind you, I am being a tad bit snarky here. I know that a lot of it was dealing with the legacy of racism that has left an indelible mark on American society. But I was convinced that readers would love to read a novel about an interracial couple that was not only about their racial differences. I didn’t want racism to be a major part of the plot because I wanted the love story or how the couple fell in love and other everyday problems to be in the focus. So I decided to follow the advice of Benjamin Disraeli and I set about writing the book I want to read.
My first attempt was the novel I wrote to learn how to write a novel. It was called Second Skin, and it was set in my hometown of Philadelphia. I loved writing Melanie and John’s love story, but it was a painful process and the story, no matter how many times I’ve tried to revise or rewrite it, never becomes the story I intended. I’ve never published it, but I am considering simply releasing it and letting my readers decide themselves.
The next novel I tried to write never made it to the finish line. It was a near-repeat of all the mistakes I made while trying to write my MFA novel. No outline, no real plan. It was a meandering mess. Only six chapters of that novel remain. And while there are some great scenes in it, the story itself just doesn’t move me and will probably never be resurrected.
Fast-forward to when I finally wrote Snowbound. By then, I’d figured out that I like writing very flawed characters. I liked writing about people who sometimes do stupid things, who smoke, who sometimes drink too much, who sometimes fuck the wrong people and have to deal with the consequences of their actions. I wanted Mia to be a character who is not always reliable. I wanted her to be a woman who has fucked up and who is trying to figure out what she really wants and how she can prevent herself from making those same mistakes again. She walks away from the wrong relationship with the wrong guy and ends up meeting the sort of man she never expected–a conflict zone photographer who happens to be a white South African.
A few people questioned my choosing to write about a white South African man. I didn’t initially plan for Jake to be South African. I wanted to write about a man whose experiences with race would be different from Mia’s. I thought it would be interesting to contrast their experiences. A man who’s grown up with the legacy of apartheid. A woman who’s grown up with America’s own divisive legacy. But I didn’t want this to be the main focus. The focus was on finding love. And finding it when they least wanted or expected it. And I wanted to set this story in snowy Vermont. Snowbound wasn’t perfect, but it was close to the sort of story I wanted to read and write.
By the time I wrote Maybe Baby, I’d decided that it was time to write about Scandinavia. I’d avoided doing so more from criticism from my writers group. We were all Americans who’d come to Sweden for Swedish partners. And, at the time, no one in the group wanted to read a story about a woman who was in love with a Swede. So I stored it away and, when I was no longer in the group, I decided to write about a love triangle with two very different Scandinavian men being the lovers Laney would have to choose between. I wanted to write about about a woman who was rootless, who was searching for the idea of home. Laney came about, in some ways, because of my own experiences as a black American woman living in Scandinavia. Though my relationship with my Swedish husband was very different from Laney’s with her Swedish partner, Niklas, I knew about the quirks that come along with being with a Swedish man–the avoidance of conflict, the stony silence, how the darkness could affect their moods, the sudden personality change the moment they leave Sweden. I knew I could write about the cultural differences, I also knew I could write about how, for Laney, this would make her feel like she was drifting. I remembered feeling that way when I first moved here. I took all of this and put it into the my writing. And I think that the end result of Maybe Baby is exactly the sort of book I wanted to read but could never find in bookstores. Laney is not an easy character to love. She is indecisive, she is sometimes selfish, but deep down she is vulnerable and lost. And she meets Mads and, though what connects them at first is sex, there is this undercurrent between them–they have both found home with each other. And that’s what love is. And interestingly enough I managed to write a novel about an interracial relationship in which race isn’t a major factor, it’s more the journey to love that is important.
So I guess with all of this, I am trying to say that I write about about interracial relationships to show that they are no different from other relationships. Everyone is searching for love. And the person you fall in love with is the person who makes you feel more alive than you’ve ever felt before. Or whenever you are with them, you feel as though there is no other place you’d rather be. And where they come from or the color of their skin becomes irrelevant.