Zibby Owens: Jennifer Dahlberg was born in Rockland County, New York, and currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden. She is the author of two novels, Uptown & Down as well as her latest book, Lagging Indicators.

Welcome, Jennifer. Thank you so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Jennifer Dahlberg: Thanks so much for having me. It’s such a pleasure.

Zibby: We had so much fun on the comedy of errors book club that you joined where my sound stopped working and my husband ended up hosting and all the rest, so thanks for rolling —

Jennifer: — I thought he saved the day.

Zibby: He did.

Jennifer: He did. I think he’s hilarious. I actually watched when you did your Kyle and Zibby thing together. I think you guys are a great team.

Zibby: Thank you. I know. I have so much fun doing it with him. He kind of misses doing a show together. I think that’s why he was so happy to hop onto our book club.

Jennifer: I love how supportive and how he’s really invested in what you’re doing. I think that’s fantastic.

Zibby: It’s so nice. It is. It’s really awesome. I love what he’s doing. It’s just this whole creative whirlwind. It’s really fun.

Jennifer: Absolutely. That’s nice, kind of feeding off of each other, which is great.

Zibby: Yes, it’s true, which is awesome. Speaking of creativity, tell me about your really interesting way of gaining research and writing Lagging Indicators. I had the mistaken assumption that you had been in this financial world. Really, you’re just an awesome researcher. Tell listeners more about what Lagging Indicators is about. Then tell the story again from book club about how you put it all together.

Jennifer: Basically, I was inspired by the financial crisis of 2008. Prior to that, I had been surrounded by people that worked in finance. We were living in Greenwich, Connecticut, for my husband’s job. We were there on a five-year ex-pat assignment. I live in Stockholm, Sweden now. I’m from New York, but I live in Stockholm, Sweden. I was just surrounded by all these finance people. I was used to much more diversity in terms of different careers. I just was like, okay, everybody works in finance here. That’s interesting. Everyone’s kind of a guy working in finance. I’m not meeting so many career women. Like myself, I had taken an offramp to raise my kids like a lot of the other women did that were living in Greenwich at the time. Then when the financial crisis occurred, it was horrible from an economic standpoint, of course, but I felt like I was watching drama in real time. You couldn’t make some of this stuff up. All the different personalities and all the earth-shattering things that occurred, I have to say, I found it very intriguing.

I thought, let’s see if I can maybe craft a story around that but from a female’s perspective. I didn’t want to dive into the 2008 crisis. I wanted to do it a year later, someone who had survived the financial crisis and thought that her job was secure but only to discover, not really. There was still barbarians at the gate that were out to get her. I didn’t have any financial background whatsoever, but I did work as an executive recruiter for many years. I’d been exposed to the corporate arena and the different finance types. My husband is a banker. I just did extensive research. I enjoyed it. I think sometimes when you have been a stay-at-home parent, any opportunity to learn something new, you totally dive into it, which is what I did. I composed all these questionnaires. I gave it to female friends that I knew who worked on Wall Street. I just bombarded my husband with questions. I read every article I could find. I think the thing that really helped me the most is I would watch CNBC every day, every day. I felt like I knew them. That’s basically how I taught myself as much as I could. It’s still very difficult because I don’t have this innate ability in the financial world. To hear you say that you felt it sounded authentic actually means a lot to me. Thank you. I’ve had some other women tell me as well that they felt that I kind of captured the essence of that industry from a female perspective.

Zibby: I do think it sounded super authentic. That said, I’ve never actually worked in any firms like that. I’ve only read other books about firms like that.

Jennifer: But you have an MBA.

Zibby: I have an MBA, but I was in marketing and brand management. They would slam the door in my face at a finance firm if they saw my spreadsheet ability.

Jennifer: That’s how I feel. I’m just not wired that way. I’m so not wired that way, which was what was fun to inhabit this other character because it wasn’t me. Then when you don’t have anything about a certain character that’s similar to you, you can just go to the races with them.

Zibby: Totally. It’s like you use all your observational prowess and just turn it into a story. You don’t have to learn how to calculate — now I can’t even think of a single term to even say as a joke.

Jennifer: You don’t censor yourself because you’re like, I’m just going for it, which is what I did.

Zibby: That’s awesome. Having this glimpse, this analytical, observation glimpse into this world so you could create your character who then exited the world and tried to figure out what to do, and I won’t give anything away, but what are your thoughts on women who actually are in this industry? What do you make of it now? What would you tell them?

Jennifer: I do definitely believe that if a woman is interested and passionate about this industry, the financial world, she should absolutely go for it and work to get a seat at the table because that’s really the only way we’re going to make any kind of change. Through some of my research, as women, we are perceived to be less risk aversive than men. A lot of research show that perhaps if more women had been in positions of power during the financial crisis that we would’ve had less exposure. Women have different kind of risk assessment and decision-making processes. I just think that you need the diversity of voices in every aspect. I definitely encourage women to go into that field. I wish I could’ve had like five different careers. I would’ve loved to work on Wall Street for a couple years just to dip your toe in different things and get a sense of what it’s about.

Zibby: Tell me more about your story. You’re from New York.

Jennifer: I’m from New York.

Zibby: Which part of New York? Then what happened? Pretend I’m interviewing you for a job at a finance firm. Take me through your bio here. No, I’m kidding.

Jennifer: I grew up in Rockland County, New York. I’m actually a first-generation American. My parents are Haitian immigrants. They came to the United States in the late sixties. My sister and I were both born in New York. I grew up in Rockland County, but I always wanted to leave. I always wanted to go to New York City. I got into college in the city, had a fantastic experience. Then I started working, as I mentioned, for a search firm. I also met my husband, a Swed. We met through mutual friends. We dated for several years. Then he proposed and asked if I would want to move to Stockholm. Although I enjoyed my job, I wasn’t passionate about it. I always knew I wanted to write. When I was an executive recruiter, my favorite part was writing the candidate profiles. More and more partners would give me their scribbly notes and were like, “Jen, do something with this.” That was actually my favorite part of the job. I felt that writing was something I definitely wanted to explore. I had the opportunity to do that when I moved to Stockholm. My husband, being super Swedish and very strong work ethic, said to me, “You can write, but you have to treat it like a job. You have to do it from nine to five every day.” I was like, okay, I guess I will. I have to do that.

I sat for two years working on my first novel. Uptown & Down is what it eventually became. Then I, the old-fashioned way back then, the late nineties, early two thousands, I queried agents. I went through that book, the Literary Market Place book and everything just trying to do the whole thing. I think probably the last agent I queried agreed to take me on. Then within a year and half she sold the manuscript to Penguin, NAL. They had a division called New American Library. The book came out in 2005. It was a dream come true, want to write and then to be published. I had children, small kids. It was hard to write another book. They had an option for a second story. I didn’t really deliver. Thank god they didn’t take it because I think I would’ve been embarrassed by it now. I found it really hard to write when I had small kids. I admire every writer, so many who come on your show. I don’t even understand how they do it. I listened to J. Courtney Sullivan. I don’t even understood how she wrote her book .

Zibby: Right? I know.

Jennifer: She would write in the middle of the night. I could not do that when I had small kids. I could not do that.

Zibby: When I opened her book, I’m like, oh, this woman is in it. She is living this right now. You could just tell. It wasn’t an observational situation. This is someone who’s holding a baby as she’s typing this at this second.

Jennifer: Exactly. I have that book. I have the book on my Kindle. I can’t wait to read it. When you said that, I thought to myself, my gosh, I was not even in that frame of mind whatsoever. I just wanted to sleep.

Zibby: I know. People are like, I wrote it while my baby napped. I was like, oh, my gosh, I did a thousand other things. I couldn’t nap when my baby napped. I was like, why do I always have so many emails? I always have stuff. There’s always stuff.

Jennifer: I was the same exact way. As a result, my writing suffered. When I was ready to tell another story, I feel like the publishing world had kind of passed me by. I had written this story. I felt really strongly about it. I thought it was timely, but it couldn’t find a home. My agent couldn’t sell it. I kind of gave up. A number of things happened at 2016, everyone was saying it was going to be the year of the woman, and 2017 with the whole Me Too movement. It just convinced me that this story could resonate with an audience and maybe I should consider releasing it myself, which is what I ended up doing.

Zibby: Wow. What was that experience like?

Jennifer: It was fantastic. Imagine being in a total creative drought where your self-esteem is at the bottom because nobody wants to publish your book. I used a self-publishing service. I worked with an advisor. He totally got what I was trying to accomplish. It was suddenly from riding a low to having a collaboration with somebody. I was just so eager to be part of the process. I learned so much. I have absolutely no regrets doing it. I’ve met so many fantastic people, both in real life and online, on your community for example. I started following you soon after my book came out. I kept seeing your name on different people I followed in the bookstagram world. I was like, who is Zibby Owens? Then I started following you. Then I started following “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.” It’s literally been a fantastic experience, just having that connection. On top of that, my living in Stockholm makes it so that I don’t come in contact with anybody in the American publishing world, so it’s been fantastic.

Zibby: I’m so glad you came to my book fair. That was so awesome.

Jennifer: Yes, that was wonderful. It was so great.

Zibby: I long for days where we can get rooms of people and friends and authors and everybody. Hopefully, soon.

Jennifer: I know. You were so generous opening your home to all the writers and readers and book enthusiasts. I don’t know what it’s going to be.

Zibby: Now I look back and I’m like, germs, germs. Germs everywhere.

Jennifer: I know, which I can totally understand. I almost don’t want to hold my kids. I’m like, wait a minute, what have you been doing?

Zibby: That’s a good point.

Jennifer: Here in Sweden, we’ve been much more open than you guys have been in the United States. My kids have, potentially, much more opportunity to come in contact with germs.

Zibby: What is it like being a Rockland County transplant in Stockholm?

Jennifer: It’s been fun, I have to say. It’s been fun. I was definitely one of those people who wanted to try the Europe thing, but I always thought it would be London or Paris. I’m really grateful that my husband introduced me to Stockholm because it’s a beautiful country. It just has the right amount of edginess. It’s far, though. It’s far. The climate gets to you after a while, cold and dark. Now it’s summer and gorgeous.

Zibby: More time to write, I guess.

Jennifer: Exactly, more time to write, extending the day.

Zibby: Are you working on any new books now?

Jennifer: I am, actually. I’m working on a new novel. It’s a mother-daughter story that takes place in the Swedish archipelago. We have place out on one of the islands. The Stockholm archipelago, it’s thirty thousand different islands and and all these different little small communities. We have a place in one of the islands. In the book, it’s a fictional place, but it’s very similar to where we have a house. My daughter went off to college last year. That’s got me thinking a lot about motherhood and that relationship. I just wanted to tap into that. It felt much more genuine in terms of where I was in life. It is a fictional story, though.

Zibby: Fiction in quotes?

Jennifer: I try to keep these as fictional as possible because otherwise I find that I censor myself. Then you’re always worried people will think I’m talking about myself. I have to say, no, it’s not me. It’s a character.

Zibby: People are quick to jump to that conclusion. Who just said to me yesterday — someone just said recently their agent’s advice was to just quickly write a second book as fast as possible so that they would realize that the first book wasn’t autobiographical.

Jennifer: Oh, my gosh, that’s really good advice. That’s probably what my problem was. I didn’t jump on it as quickly as I should have. I think there’s definitely elements of who you are and where you are in life in whatever you write. I had a friend who’s a documentary filmmaker say to me, “I think that writing is us trying to sort through whatever issues that are going on in our head or something that is just on our mind.” I think that to some degree all of my books have been that. With Lagging Indicators, my issue was I’ve been a stay-at-home parent all these years, what does that mean? What’s next for me? Will I be able to do anything else? Whereas this new book is about, my first-born is fleeing the nest, what does that mean?

Zibby: Totally. I think that’s why I love interviewing authors so much. People are really just writing about what they’re feeling. It’s just a ruse to talk to people about what’s going on in their lives. Books are just the intermediary between us to talk about our experiences to people we don’t know, really.

Jennifer: I think so too. That’s what makes it even more special when it resonates and when someone connects to it. Somebody who you least expected can connect to something that you’ve written and you’re like, really, you saw that? Wow. It is very special.

Zibby: I wrote this one silly article on HuffPost a number of years ago called “A Mother’s Right to Sanity.” I sent it around. I was just basically, not complaining, but the management of kids takes so much time that I had no time to even be with my kids and certainly be with my husband and all the rest of it. This mom at my kid’s school sent me email. She had read it online somewhere or whatever. Maybe I sent it to her. I don’t know. Anyway, she was like, “I didn’t think I had anything in common with you.” It was actually a little bit antagonistic now that I think about it, but whatever. She was just like, “I didn’t think I had anything in common with you and your life. Your experience is different from mine. When I read your article, I laughed out loud because I was doing that same thing too with my husband, and all the same stuff.” We never would’ve necessarily realized that. She wouldn’t have known that inside — if you write it down, then people can say, me too, I’ve already done that, or I feel the same way.

Jennifer: Definitely. That’s how I felt a little bit about Lagging Indicators. Here I was writing about a black woman working in finance in New York City. The bulk of my readership has been other Swedish women. I thought to myself, how would they relate? What about this story? First of all, I was just so happy they were interested in reading it, and then how they connected to so many of the themes even though on the surface Mia is so different and her life story is so different. There were still so many parallels and areas where they saw common ground in this character who I thought was completely different from any of these women. That’s what I like about it, the universality of writing and how people can just relate and that empathetic quality. That’s why I think it’s so important.

Zibby: Totally. You’re absolutely right. Do you have any advice to aspiring authors?

Jennifer: Definitely, to read a lot. I know that that’s always one that other writers say, but you gain so much from reading and exploring the different styles out there. I also think to just be really disciplined as well. I think that there are so many distractions nowadays. That’s what I’ve struggled with. Even during lockdown when there was nothing else to do, it was hard to concentrate. I think that just being really disciplined and believing in yourself. For me, I had so many moments of doubt when I felt that other publishers or just the industry as a whole didn’t want what I had to say. It took a lot for me to build my confidence back up again. I really think it’s important to believe in yourself and believe in what you have to say. There are other avenues out there. I’m still a big proponent of traditional publishing, for sure. But if you have something to say, don’t be afraid to explore other avenues.

Zibby: It’s so true. What was the name, by the way, of the service you used to self-publish that came with an advisor?

Jennifer: It’s called IndieBookLauncher. They’re actually based out of Canada. I really connected with one of the guys. He was just fantastic in terms of really guiding me along.

Zibby: Amazing. IndieBookLauncher in Canada. You’re in Sweden. People are everywhere. This is an international novel.

Jennifer: People are everywhere. We’re back to the online community. You just click on something and you don’t know where people are coming from, which is pretty cool.

Zibby: It is pretty cool. Good luck. I know you’re locked away in this shed trying to finish this book. It’s a beautiful shed.

Jennifer: Thank you. It’s a nice wall happening.

Zibby: It’s lovely. Anyway, good luck finishing. I don’t know if you still are being held to the nine-to-five restrictions that your husband sort of set into place, but good luck cranking it out and all the rest.

Jennifer: Thank you so much. I think the day is much longer now. I feel like I’m breastfeeding again. I’m waking up in the middle of the night. I’m on a different rhythm right now.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh. I have PTSD from that whole period of time in my life, I can’t even, when the nights were not my own and I felt like I was the only one in the world. Anyway, thanks so much. Have a great weekend.

Jennifer: Thank you so much, Zibby. Thank you so much for all you do. I look forward to continuing to follow your success. It’s awesome.

Zibby: And yours. Bye.

Jennifer: Thank you. Bye.