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Photo credit: Kim Golden.

This weekend, I am in Skåne in southern Sweden. It’s a beautiful place–especially here in Yngsjöstrand, near Åhus (famous as the birthplace for Absolute Vodka–and yes, the Absolut distillery is still here). Autumn has already arrived here in Sweden–the leaves are turning colors and the air is chilly, the days are shorter… and it’s making me long to get cozy.

So what’s a girl to do? Make a wish list of what she needs to get through the chilly autumn. I think five things could keep me going until Christmas. Yes, I mentioned the “C” word even though we still have a few months until it’s upon us. But these things would keep me happy until that time when we need to think about presents and all the yada yada around it.

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A cozy armchair

I keep testing different armchairs, hoping that I will find the perfect one. The Twist armchair from Mio might do the trick. It looks comfortable enough for a lazy afternoon of reading. And it’s affordable enough that I won’t have to put myself on a ramen noodle diet if I buy it.  A bookworm/writer like me needs a cozy place to sit, to ponder, to come up with ideas, to lose myself in words.

Why not get lost in this armchair? Now…I am not sure about the color. I think I’d want it in a snazzier color like crimson or maybe teal, but I could live with anthracite as long as I had a nice throw pillow in a funky shade or pattern.

So I think I will test it out at Mio during my lunch break.

 

 

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NaNoWriMo

Every year I love planning for NaNoWriMo–or National Novel Writing Month for those who’ve never heard or tried it. During the month of November, thousands of us around the world (yes, I know that makes it international) come together to write a 50K+ novel in 30 days. I wrote my first novel, Snowbound, as a NaNoWriMo project. Maybe Baby and Maybe Forever were also NaNoWriMo projects.

NaNoWriMo is tough but it helps me get through the dark Swedish winter. It keeps me focused and–when I am focused–I don’t get depressed because of the gloomy days. When I am writing stories I love, I don’t feel like Swedish winter is eating away at my soul.

This year, I am not sure which project I will work on. Either my android novel (check out my flash fiction and you’ll see what I mean) or a standalone novel in the Maybe… series, this one featuring another of Mads’s cousins–Ragnar, whose been unlucky in love with a Swedish-Chilean woman and who goes to Italy to figure out what he wants.

Whichever I choose to write, I know I will be happy. NaNoWriMo is a labor of love and it fulfils me.

 

 

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A weekend in Copenhagen

Whenever I need a quick break from Stockholm, a weekend in Copenhagen does the trick. Not only is it close enough that going there doesn’t feel like a chore (it’s only an hour’s flight away), I always get inspired when I am there.

A summer visit inspired Maybe Baby and Maybe Tonight. Another weekend there inspired Maybe Forever. The Danes like to joke that they do it better and maybe they do. They seem to enjoy life more than many Swedes and they don’t take things as seriously. As much as I love living in Stockholm, Sweden, there is something about how laid-back Copenhagen is that makes it the perfect weekend getaway. And even if I sometimes spend most of my weekend strolling with no destination in mind, I always end up seeing or overhearing something that clicks and gives the spark for a new story.

 

 

 

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Every now and then, my five-year-old MacBook Air does something to let me know it wants to be retired. So far, I ignore it. I keep telling myself it can chug along a little while longer. Sooner or later, I will have to get a new one. I am loath to buy a new one. I’ve written four (finished) novels and a few unfinished ones on this one, and I love it. I think I could go a little while longer without buying a new one, but the siren song of a new MacBook Air is hard to resist. For now, I will pretend I don’t hear it, but if my next novel hits the bestseller’s list, then I will feel like I’ve earned a new computer and then I’ll treat myself to one.

 

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A writer’s retreat

I’ve been thinking of treating myself to a writer’s retreat at Retreats for You in Devon UK. It looks so cozy (and I love cozy). I think it would be a great place for an autumn retreat. I know I won’t be able to do it this year, but a girl can dream.

In the meantime, I will save my pennies and then treat myself to a retreat there either next spring or next autumn. Maybe I could start NaNoWriMo there next year. It looks like a great place to sit and write.

What’s on your autumn wish list? Drop a line and let’s compare notes.

 

Actor Michael Fassbender -- who has become the inspiration for both Gus and Max.
Actor Michael Fassbender — who has become the inspiration for both Gus and Max.

Belle was still curled in the same tight ball she slept in every night. No matter how many times I tried to massage away the thoughts that troubled her, she curled into herself, one arm tucked under the pillow, the other looped round her torso.
I knew she was not yet accustomed to me beside her. Whenever she announced that she was going to bed, Belle always paused as if uncertain whether she wanted me to join her. Though she kept her expression impassive, her body gave her away. She’d rise from the sofa, her fingers picking at invisible tufts of lint or fussing with the hem of her top. A flicker of her lips was enough to betray her.
Tonight she’d been more certain. She’d crossed the living room and then waited at the mouth of the hall. I studied her, reading the quickness of her pulse, the shallow breaths she took. Tonight she held out her hand to me and said in a hushed tone, “Come to bed, Max. It’s late…”

Actress Regina Hall -- inspiration for Belle.
Actress Regina Hall — inspiration for Belle.

Once we were in bed though, she did not want me to make love to her or to pleasure her with my fingers and mouth. She asked me to hold her until she slept.

While she slept, I closed my eyes and went into my power down state. Though I could still hear and sense everything, I was technically disconnected from Belle and the world. Instead, the Agency fed me new information. About Gus, updates to my algorithms, changes to my appearance based on Belle’s preferences. Though lately I changed to suit me.

The last thing I wanted was to be Gus 2.

I was Max.

I wasn’t Gus.

Actor Michael Fassbender -- who has become the inspiration for both Gus and Max.
Actor Michael Fassbender — who has become the inspiration for both Gus and Max.

Belle was still curled in the same tight ball she slept in every night. No matter how many times I tried to massage away the thoughts that troubled her, she curled into herself, one arm tucked under the pillow, the other looped round her torso.
I knew she was not yet accustomed to me beside her. Whenever she announced that she was going to bed, Belle always paused as if uncertain whether she wanted me to join her. Though she kept her expression impassive, her body gave her away. She’d rise from the sofa, her fingers picking at invisible tufts of lint or fussing with the hem of her top. A flicker of her lips was enough to betray her.
Tonight she’d been more certain. She’d crossed the living room and then waited at the mouth of the hall. I studied her, reading the quickness of her pulse, the shallow breaths she took. Tonight she held out her hand to me and said in a hushed tone, “Come to bed, Max. It’s late…”

Actress Regina Hall -- inspiration for Belle.
Actress Regina Hall — inspiration for Belle.

Once we were in bed though, she did not want me to make love to her or to pleasure her with my fingers and mouth. She asked me to hold her until she slept.

While she slept, I closed my eyes and went into my power down state. Though I could still hear and sense everything, I was technically disconnected from Belle and the world. Instead, the Agency fed me new information. About Gus, updates to my algorithms, changes to my appearance based on Belle’s preferences. Though lately I changed to suit me.

The last thing I wanted was to be Gus 2.

I was Max.

I wasn’t Gus.

As promised, here’s a snippet from Under the Milky Way. It’s unedited, so excuse any weirdness. 🙂

“Gus?”
Gus blinked—his eyes were empty and lifeless at first, then something changed. The watery blue of his eyes darkened and then warmed. Her throat tightened—was it really him? Why had he not said he was coming home?
“Gus? Why didn’t you…”
His right hand twitched and then the corner of his mouth flickered. “I’m sorry, Bellamy. I am not Gus. I am Max. The Agency has arranged for me to be your companion.”
“What is this?” She glanced at the man standing beside Gus—or Max? What was going on? Whoever he was, he looked exactly like Gus. Even the pale, jagged scar on upper lip was the same.
“Compliments of the Agency.” The young man in the Agency uniform thrust a terminal pad at her. “I just need your signature.”
“I don’t want it.”
“You have to accept the delivery, ma’am. I’m not authorised to take him back there.”
Belle shook her head no. This was too much. She didn’t want this at all. Standing before her was
“I didn’t order a…companion. I don’t need one. My husband is coming home soon.”
“Ma’am, according to the order I have, your husband is scheduled for a new mission. This is standard procedure—long missions mean no furloughs in the near future. And then the Agency arranges a companion.”
Belle crossed her arms, tightening them and closing herself off. “So I can’t say no.”
“No. If you don’t want it, you can sell it or just turn him off. There’s a node behind his right ear—just press it and he’s off until you want him on again. Stick him in a closet,he won’t mind. Will you, Max?”
The android smiled blandly. “If Bellamy prefers it that way, then I won’t mind.”

And what was I listening to as I wrote this? Gary Numan’s “Are Friends Electric?”…

Screen Shot 2015-06-19 at 18.38.20Instead of spending Midsummer in Stockholm, I am in Matera, Italy brainstorming my next books with a great group of writers at the Locanda di San Martino. These amazing women have helped me figure out how to get past some road blocks that were keeping me from moving forward with my new WIP, Under the Milky Way. I am so grateful for this group and all the wonderful ideas and discussions we share. It’s been amazing! 🙂 Later today there will be a #SundayShare post with a snippet from my WIP.

Maybe Trio

There’s a reason I no longer play sports and concentrate on writing: I have *zero* coordination. Today, while walking, I managed to sprain my ankle. I stepped on what looked like a pretty solid piece of pavement with a bit of gravel on it–turned out to be a pile of gravel–and my foot went in one direction, my body in the other. Yes, it hurts. A lot. And the outer side of my left ankle is swollen and tender as is part of the top of my foot.

I’d take a picture, but I don’t think you want to see my battle-weary foot. I’ve propped up my foot and making sure I do a good job of feeling sorry for myself. 😉

Earlier today I worked on formatting Maybe Forever so that I can get the e-ARCs ready to send out. I still have a bit to do, but I think I should be done in 2-3 days. I hope everyone who loved Maybe Baby and Maybe Tonight will enjoy the continuation of Laney and Mads’s story.

I’m still working on Maybe Tomorrow. Not sure why it’s taking me so long, but that’s the deal at the moment. I’ve set a deadline for myself since I plan on publishing it in July. And I am working on a story board/plot outline for a new idea featuring a companion robot who falls in love. I’ve also got another story idea I am working on that’s a little more down to earth. 😉

Not much else to tell you today, but I hope the rest of you are having a great Sunday.

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 14.49.09Yesterday, Mel Bynum posted this image in the WRITE Now group on Facebook and challenged us to write a story. This is the flash fiction I came up with. Hope you like it.

Every night she followed the path into the forest and didn’t stop until she was at the very spot where, on his last night on Earth, he made a promise to her. “I’ll look for you everyday,” he’d said. “And hope that you’re there looking for me too.”

And so, from that night on, she searched the skies for him, wondering if the space station was in orbit above her. She tilted her head back and squinted at the dark sky awash with so many stars. She’d learned to tell the difference now between shooting stars and satellites buzzing by.

Sometimes an intense flash of light streamed across the sky and she wondered if that was the station and if he was standing by one of its windows, looking down at earth, looking for her. The communiques were few and far between. When she received them, they were heavily censored. Five years of redacted communiques but what she remembered of any of them was how his loneliness permeated each word. And though he’d told her not to wait for him, he’d told her to move on with someone who could keep his feet on the ground, she waited.

One day he would return. And she would be his again.

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Welcome to Scandinavia, where winters are long, men are tall and summer can be absolutely brilliant…or rainy.

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.

dfw-kg-sb-cover-2-smallFast-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.

webgoodreadsBy 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.

Spice-Aisle-LogoI’ve had a secret for a few weeks that it’s been hard to keep. No, no publication dates yet…I promise I won’t hide those from you. 😉 No, this is something completely different! Starting tomorrow, you’ll be able to read a new blog I’ve joined–it’s called the Spice Aisle and it’s made up of a group of authors (Xio Axelrod, Veronica Forand, Jami Denise, Sarah Hegger, SC Mitchell, Rhenna Morgan, JR Richardson,  Susan Scott Shelley and yours truly) who all love to write romantic fiction (among other things). We’ll be sharing a little of everything with you there–book and film reviews, recipes…general musings and even snippets of our latest works (or soon-to-be-released works).

So make sure you head over to the Spice Aisle–today is our launch day! Check us out, follow us and let us know what you think! 😀