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As 7 p.m. neared on April 26, the ballroom at Embassy Suites DTC filled with readers, eager to learn about local author Cynthia Swanson, her new book, “The Glass Forest,” her writing life and her very successful first book, “The Bookseller,” which Julia Roberts is transforming into a movie now.
Swanson, who grew up in New York state, talked about her “writer’s journey to date.” She originally thought she was destined to become an architect, a designer — and started college on that track — but she had started writing in a special closet with a window and a desk and typewriter, off her bedroom. She included creative writing classes in her schedule … “We forget how much our words can mean to younger people,” she continued. A writing teacher, who realized she was headed toward architecture as a career, said she hoped Swanson would keep writing.
The student changed majors, changed schools, focused on an English degree and “kept publishing short stories.” She learned a lot while writing two short novels, which remain in a drawer — and wrote another in her 30s which she workshopped with Lighthouse Writers for seven years. Meanwhile, she supported herself working in PR, freelancing design projects.
She married at 37, had three kids in four years (including twins) and went back to design, fixing and flipping — and freelancing. Then, came the “aha!” moment — the idea for “The Bookseller.” She was at Denver’s Schlessman Y with a 3-year-old and thought: “How can this be my life? I felt no regret but doubted I belonged … What if you were a person who doubted you belonged in your real life?” Bingo!
An article by author Gretchen Rubin came into her hands. It suggested taking a 15-minute piece of time daily just for oneself, instead of waiting to do what you want. “I can write 15 minutes a day,” she figured. Her understanding husband helped her make that time for herself.
Swanson writes a first draft straight through, then starts research. That first draft of “The Bookseller” took six months, then she shifted gears into research on 1960s Denver when/where it was set: A bookstore on South Pearl and a dream life in a south Denver neighborhood are both accurately portrayed as to architecture and cultural details/texture. After-hours at Denver Public Library’s Western History Department and more exploring — and more time with Lighthouse Writers, she was “about 90 percent there,” had an agent who pitched to major publishers. Swanson ultimately picked an editor. It was published in 2015, made the New York Times Bestseller List, has been translated into 18 languages and has been a book club favorite. And now a film is in production.
She started on “Glass Forest,” set just outside of New York City, where she grew up, based on an idea that surfaced while she was finishing “The Bookseller.”
Angie Glass is a happy, devout, conservative young woman from Door County, Wisconsin (Swanson’s family spent summers there). Angie marries an older man, Paul, and they have a baby boy. She receives a call from Paul’s teenage niece, Ruby, whom she had met once at her own wedding. Ruby’s father (Paul’s brother Henry) was dead — a suicide — and her mother, Silja, is missing.
The voices of these three women — Angie, Ruby and Silja — carry the narrative forward in a complex, suspenseful manner, as a reader watches for clues.
Swanson spoke of visiting the areas in the story. She also researched the paranoia about Communists that was prevalent in the period — and which affected Henry’s behavior strongly. Swanson’s fictional small city and Henry and Silja’s extraordinary contemporary glass house provide a background for much of the story. And yes, Swanson visited Philip Johnson’s famous glass house in Connecticut and another to get a feel for atmosphere.
She plans to promote her book in New York and is working on another book, also set in the 1960s, this one dealing with Vietnam and racial issues.
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