Tag Archives: Cynthia Swanson

Wednesdays with Writers: Cynthia Swanson talks about Mid-century Modern Homes being ‘pure eye candy,’ how homes are confining but also a refuge, working with a developmental editor, her love for reading & more in THE GLASS FOREST

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By Leslie Lindsay 

An enthralling, atmospheric domestic thriller in a somber tone amidst the backdrop of the 1940s-1960s. 

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I loved Cynthia Swanson’s debut, THE BOOKSELLER (see my 2015 interview here) and absolutely had to get my hands on her next book and I am so, so glad I did. THE GLASS FOREST (Simon Schuster/Touchstone, Feb 6 2018) is a stunning read and such a character study as much as it is a quiet thriller.

The Glass family is tied together by a tenuous web of lies. Oh, but at first, like any family, they seem completely ‘normal.’ There’s an underlying sense of doom, of something that’s not quite right that I found irresistible. 

Told from the POV of three women: Angie the young mother/wife, Silja the older mother/wife and missing person, and Ruby, her teenage daughter, THE GLASS FOREST is beautifully written with echoes of Anita Shreve’s THE STARS ARE FIRE and a bit of Celeste Ng’s work.

Angie and Paul Glass are living an idyllic life in Door County, Wisconsin when they get a call that his brother has been found dead and his wife is missing. They rush, with 6 month old PJ in tow, to Stonekill, NY where the other Glass family lives in a gorgeous, sprawling ranch home with floor-to-ceiling windows nestled in the woods to help 17 year old Ruby through the investigation and bereavement. Nothing is right and everything is dark and twisted. DUt4ra8XUAA0euz

The backstory is important and will transport you to the early 1940s in an instant. Swanson’s gift lies in gorgeous details, a languid and almost somber storytelling style that had me mesmerized.

In the end, you’ll find that this story is quite unsettling, smart, and disturbing. Please join me in welcoming Cynthia back to the blog couch.

Leslie Lindsay: Cynthia, I feel as though with every story, every novel, there’s a ‘jumping off’ point, what was it for you in THE GLASS FOREST?

Cynthia Swanson: This idea for The Glass Forest stewed inside my head for a long time. As with most of my story ideas, it arose from a question: what would it be like to occupy the home of someone who had abruptly gone missing? How could you resist looking for clues around every corner? The story grew from that seed, with the particulars coming to me over a number of years.

I started writing The Glass Forest about a year before The Bookseller was released. It took me 2 ½ years to write The Glass Forest – but I was revising and promoting The Bookseller throughout that time.

L.L.: I’m intrigued with your glass house concept. There’s one near me in Chicagoland: The Farnsworth House. It’s small and really only intended for one person as a retreat from city life, but the Stone Ridge Road house you describe in THE GLASS FOREST is so, so cool. Can you tell us more about your vision?Main-Image_960x528

Cynthia Swanson: I’ve always been drawn to great design. I was an architecture major for the first two years of college, before going back to writing (my first love) and getting an English degree instead. I’ve long been enthralled with glass-walled MCM* homes. I belong to a few MCM enthusiast groups on Facebook, and it’s pure eye candy to scroll through the listings and photos posted in those groups. Looking at those pictures provided inspiration for Silja and Henry’s house. [*MCM = mid-century modern]

In my memory, there were glass houses in Westchester County, NY (where I grew up and where fictional Stonekill is), although I didn’t know anyone who’d lived in one. (I grew up in a 1920s Tudor, and most of my friends lived in ranches, split-levels, or old-town Victorians like the Glasses’ first house in Stonekill.) Because I didn’t know anyone with a glass house in that area, I spent a day driving around Westchester, scouting out homes. I found several that looked something like I pictured Silja’s. And the winding roads through the woods were just as I remembered them.

L.L.: And so the title is related, of course because the family’s name is Glass, the house is so very transparent, and well…there are secrets upon secrets. There’s also the dichotomy of old versus new for the Stonekill Glasses: they once lived in a fixer-upper Victorian in the middle of town before building the glass house. What is it about homes that make us so vulnerable?

Cynthia Swanson: For many of us, “home” represents both refuge and confinement. Our homes are about the physical space, of course, but they’re also about our relationships with other people – those we live with as well as those who aren’t there. A house is not just representative of its inhabitants – it also represents the absence created when someone is missing from the home. Absence manifests in many ways – it could be someone who has never lived there but we wish did, (perhaps a relationship we wish we had), or someone who has moved away (such as a grown child) – or, of course, a death in the family. This is unnerving to think about, and it makes us realize why even within a “safe” physical space, we sometimes feel exposed.

L.L.: The glass house was Silja’s dream home. What might your dream home be like?

Cynthia Swanson: Probably a combination of Silja’s house and my own! We live in a 1958 tri-level that we’ve spent a lot of years “unmodeling” – taking out the 1980s/90s “updates” and replacing them with vintage and retro elements. My house is larger than Silja’s (because in this day and age we all need 3 1/2 bathrooms, right?), but it’s not as stylized as hers. Although my house has more square footage, it feels more homey than I’d envision Silja’s house would – but that could be because we all get along relatively well around here. While we have a large picture window in the living room, we don’t have walls of glass. I would love it if we did!

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L.L.: THE GLASS FOREST is your second book. And it’s amazing. But sometimes authors struggle with that second book. Did you ever feel ‘stuck’ with this one? And if so, how did you get ‘unstuck?’

Cynthia Swanson: The Glass Forest stretched me as a writer on so many levels. It’s much more plot-heavy than The Bookseller, so I had to learn a lot about pacing and structure. As a thriller, it had to wrap up logically. Making sure all those loose ends tied up was important to me.

As for the narrative itself, there was a point where both my agent and I had read the manuscript over and over – and we knew it needed something, but we weren’t sure what. On my agent’s advice, I hired a developmental editor, Pat Mulcahy, who made the excellent suggestion to change Angie’s point of view from third person to first, and Ruby’s from first to third. (Silja’s chapters were always in third person.) Pat’s reasoning was that as readers, we are discovering secrets right alongside Angie, while Ruby is more mysterious – so it makes sense to allow readers direct access to Angie’s thoughts, while Ruby remains a bit removed. It was amazing what a difference that made. I hadn’t seen it, and neither had my agent; we’d needed fresh professional eyes on it, and Pat worked her magic.

L.L.: We creative types need inspiration in all forms. I get inspired when I read, walk into a craft store, look at gorgeous home décor. What inspires you and your writing?

Cynthia Swanson: Reading! I love to read – in the genres I write in (I consider my work a combination of literary thriller, historical fiction, and women’s fiction) as well as in others. I enjoy magical realism, literary fiction, essay collections, and memoir. I’m inspired by the genius of my fellow authors. There are so many amazing books and writers out there. If I could change one characteristic of myself, I’d become a faster reader – because the way things stand, the chances of ever getting through my TBR list are slim-to-none.

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L.L.: Are you working on anything new?

Cynthia Swanson: Yes, my third book is in-progress. Like The Bookseller and The Glass Forest, this one is also a near-history novel. It’s about a complex family during the early years of international adoption. I just returned from a fabulous research trip for the book, and I’m excited to dive back into revisions soon.

L.L.: Cynthia, it’s been a pleasure as always. What question should I have asked, but may have forgotten?

Cynthia Swanson: How about: where can readers connect with Cynthia Swanson in the coming months?

My event schedule is here. I’ll be adding more events soon, so be sure to check back.

I also love chatting with book clubs. More info can be found here.

The pleasure is all mine, Leslie. Thank you!

For more information, to connect with Cynthia via social media, or to purchase a copy of THE GLASS FOREST, please see:

Order Your Copy:

Cynthia SwansonABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cynthia Swanson is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Bookseller, which is soon to be a motion picture starring Julia Roberts. An Indie Next selection and the winner of the 2016 WILLA Award for Historical Fiction, The Bookseller is being translated into more than a dozen languages. It was nominated for the Goodreads Choice Award and the MPIBA Reading the West Award. Cynthia’s second novel, The Glass Forest, is due from Touchstone / Simon & Schuster in February 2018. She lives with her family in Denver, Colorado.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these social media sites:

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[Cover and author image courtesy of  C. Swanson and used with permission. All images retrived on 1.31.18. Image of contemporary exterior tri-level retrieved from, image of glass sphres in forest from, Farnsworth House retrieved from]

Write On, Wednesday: Cynthia Swanson on Identity, Grief, Motherhood, and so much more from THE BOOKSELLER

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By Leslie Lindsay 

It’s at once delightful, yet haunting; a unique examination of love, loss, and identity. When I came across THE BOOKSELLER by Cynthia Swanson, I was immediately drawn. It might have something to do with that cover—a book Cynthia Swanson The Bookseller Jacketwith a book—well, it’s like a Russian doll of books. Of course, there’s the piece about the blurring of dreams with reality coupled with a historical touch thrusting us back to the early 1960s of Denver, Colorado. Are you smitten yet? I’m pleased to have Cynthia with us today.

L.L.: I’m always so interested in learning about the moment an author ‘knows’ she (or he) has a story. What was your inspiration for THE BOOKSELLER?

Cynthia Swanson: I was at the gym at 10 AM on a Tuesday, with one kid in the gym’s childcare area and two at school. All of the sudden, just for a moment, I wondered what I was doing in my own life. I wondered what happened to the life I’d had not long before – single, living alone with my cat and dog, writing whenever I felt like it, living completely on my own terms. As anyone with a family can tell you, that goes right out the window when kids enter the picture. It got me thinking about a character who was caught between two lives – one who begins to doubt her own reasoning skills in knowing which life is which.

L.L.: I just love how this story is so universal in the sense of that ‘what if,’ question we all ask ourselves, especially mothers. Coupled with that inevitable mommy guilt, grief…well, it was very moving.  Are those the themes you set out to explore?

Cynthia Swanson: Definitely. The book is by no means autobiographical, but I think those themes are shared by many women. We want it all – careers and families – and that’s not easy for anybody, but particularly for women, because we have such high expectations of ourselves. I think it’s interesting that women still struggle with this in 2015, the same as a character might have back in 1963. I think it’s getting better – our ideas of “work” are more creative than they were back then, in terms of job sharing, working from home, and so on – but it’s still a challenge.

L.L.: I had read somewhere that you worked on THE BOOKSELLER in15-minute increments. I’m nodding and smiling because I get it. Those staccato bursts of creativity can be so rejuvenating and fuel the creative process all day. What tips might you give a busy at-home parent who feels overwhelmed with the possibility of writing a novel?

Cynthia Swanson: You just have to get started and keep going. I know that sounds clichéd, but it’s really true. It’s like exercise: any exercise is better than no exercise. Some days all you can manage is a walk around the block. Other days, you get an hour to yourself to go running or biking. Both days are valuable in terms of your physical and mental health. In the same way, shorter creative periods are just as important for your creative health as longer sessions. My other piece of advice would be, when writing a first draft, resist editing as you go. Just get the basic story down, knowing it has issues and big gaping holes. The sense of accomplishment that comes with a finished first draft is what drives me to keep going with subsequent drafts.

L.L.: How about that time period in THE BOOKSELLER? I just loved the combination of the colors (gold and turquoise), the way my imagination filled in shag carpeting, dark paneling, and clean lines of furniture ala Frank Lloyd Wright (though he was a little earlier). How did you decide to set the novel in the early 1960s?
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Cynthia Swanson: When I first started writing THE BOOKSELLER, it was set in the present day. But I quickly realized that it needed a historical setting. Events needed to unfold slowly, in a way that could only happen before our technology-driven society came into being. The 1960s – particularly the early 1960s, before JFK was assassinated – made the perfect setting. That time period had just the right combination of optimism, growth, change – and a sense of nostalgia – to make the story engaging and believable.

L.L.: Full-disclosure—like you, I dreamed of being an architect. But I also liked to write. And complex math made me want to run for the hills. In your opinion, how does fiction and design dovetail? Or, does it?

Cynthia Swanson: I come from a wannabe design background; it’s a hobby and a passion, but not a vocation. I was an architecture major for the first couple years of college, but I kept taking creative writing classes as electives. Finally, an English professor sat me down and told me that while she didn’t know anything about my work as a designer, I was a great writer and no matter what my future held, I should always keep writing. That was so validating for a 20-year-old. I think the two disciplines require some of the same skills. For both, you need to see through another’s eyes. For authors that means understanding a character’s viewpoint, and for designers and architects that means envisioning how clients will use a space.

L.L.: Switching gears a bit—have you read any of the books listed in the bookseller, the ones Kitty sells in her bookshop? What might be your favorite(s)? [I found a lovely listing of those books here

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Cynthia Swanson: Yes, I’ve read most of them. Certainly all the kid ones! Of the adult books mentioned, my favorites are Ship of Fools by Katherine Anne Porter and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. Like Kitty does, I find Miss Brodie entertaining and engrossing. And like Kitty, I tried to read the Cold War thrillers, but found they weren’t my cup of tea. Maybe someday – but there are a lot of books on my To-Read list, so who knows.

L.L.: What are you working on next?

Cynthia Swanson: I’m deep into writing a second novel. It’s set in the same time period – early 1960s – but it features very different characters and locale. I started working on a first draft after I submitted the final edits of THE BOOKSELLER to Harper. Working on something else at that time kept me from fixating on how my debut might do once it was out in the world. These days, about half my workday is spent on BOOKSELLER promotion and half on the new novel.

L.L.: Is there anything obsessing you now?

Cynthia Swanson: Honestly, it’s that work/life balance. We have two kids who just started middle school and one in third grade, so we’re having to find new rhythms with two schools instead of one. As far as THE BOOKSELLER, I need to keep up the momentum on promoting it, so I think about that a lot. I frequently meet with local book groups who read THE BOOKSELLER, and I have several Denver-area events coming up this fall. (See this more for details.) And the new novel is constantly on my mind.

L.L.: Anything I should have asked, but didn’t?

Cynthia Swanson: I don’t know about “should have” but one thing I’d like to mention is how much I appreciate it when readers recommend THE BOOKSELLER. These days, many of us decide what to read based on Goodreads, Library Thing, Amazon reviews, book bloggers, and social media in general. If you love a book – not just my book, but any book – please take a moment to rate it and/or write a review on your favorite sites, tell your friends, recommend it to your book club. Authors depend on their current books’ popularity in order to keep their careers going and write more books! I’m so grateful for everyone who supports my work, as well as other authors.

L.L.: Thanks so much for being with us today, Cynthia! Such a delight.

Cynthia Swanson: Leslie…thank YOU! 

Cynthia SwansonAuthor Bio: Cynthia Swanson is an author and a designer. Her debut novel The Bookseller was published to critical acclaim in March 2015. She has published short fiction in numerous journals and has been a Pushcart Prize nominee. The hardcover version of The Bookseller is in its second printing in the US, and the novel is being translated into 11 languages. Cynthia lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband and children. You can reach her at www.integritymodern.com.

Social Media:

Twitter: @cynswanauthor

Facebook

Website

[Cover and author images provided by the author and used with permission. Turquoise and gold decor retrieved from pfgrenada.com on 8.29.15 and has no connection to the THE BOOKSELLER or C. Swanson, but is used as illustrative purposes]