Midsummer on Öland

Tall stones marking a Viking burial at Gettlinge, an old stump windmill in the background.

Öland, (pronounced err-lahnd) is an island off the southeastern coast of Sweden, a magical place that time, and for eleven months of the year, most of the world forgets. Iron Age and Viking people settled (or at least died a lot) there, and the island served as the Royal game preserve for centuries of kings. Nowadays it’s a folksy artist summer hideout, with huge parties at midsummer that go on for days.

I first was on Öland—which translates to island-land, Swedes being rather literal like that–in 1991, and I fell in love with everything: the sea, the stones, the history, and the people. Everyone is beautiful in Sweden, from the craggy faced great grandmothers with laughing eyes, to brash boys that stare openly while not saying a word, and gorgeous women with the innate ability make really funky sweaters look fashionable. If you don’t believe me, have another shot of aquavit and tell me there isn’t something charismatic about that guy over there, the tall one who has been watching you all night and doesn’t look away when you meet his eyes.

The sunlight is amazing in Sweden in June. All the clichés of the “land of the midnight sun” are true; it’s as if the sun is too excited to set, and doesn’t want to miss the festivities. I lost track of the hour when I was there, and the day, it was simply summer. A Midsummer Flight’s Dream is an homage to the island, and the airports that take us there and get us home.

Getting her right

wtoI just read a book that I want everyone in the world to read: WRITING THE OTHER by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.
From Amazon:

During the 1992 Clarion West Writers Workshop attended by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward, one of the students expressed the opinion that it is a mistake to write about people of ethnic backgrounds different from your own because you might get it wrong—horribly, offensively wrong—and so it is better not even to try. This opinion, commonplace among published as well as aspiring writers, struck Nisi as taking the easy way out and spurred her to write an essay addressing the problem of how to write about characters marked by racial and ethnic differences. In the course of writing the essay, however, she realized that similar problems arise when writers try to create characters whose gender, sexual preference, and age differ significantly from their own. Nisi and Cynthia collaborated to develop a workshop that addresses these problems with the aim of both increasing writers’ skill and sensitivity in portraying difference in their fiction as well as allaying their anxieties about “getting it wrong.” Writing the Other: A Practical Approach is the manual that grew out of their workshop. It discusses basic aspects of characterization and offers elementary techniques, practical exercises, and examples for helping writers create richer and more accurate characters with “differences.”

These two ladies, with a whole lot of gentleness and humor, have written a book that doesn’t just give fantastic guidelines for writing characters outside the dominant paradigm, it shows us new ways to see, how to take another blinder off.
Race, Orientation, Religion, Age, Ability and Sex are all discussed. (I wish it had a more eye-grabby cover; it looks like a dry academic discourse, when it’s actually easy to read, fun and exciting.)

The love interest in my latest WiP is the daughter of a general in a dystopian setting, where a common enemy has made for more racial unity, but feminism has been set back. This girl is gorgeous, self confident, and she kicks ass; my MC doesn’t have a chance. She’s also Black.

Y’know that internet list that came out about white people getting described like food? Ugh.
I want to create a real person who can stand on her own, no matter who reads my book, not a piece of cardboard, cut out with a white person’s scissors. So I went looking online for some help. I found a lot of articles about whether I should in the first place: the Root has a great one, a few that made me feel spanked before I even set words down, and some blog posts where I learned more from the comments than the articles.
But Shawl and Ward’s book was the only one I could find that guides a writer beyond “the unmarked state” and gives examples of how to write a marginalized character, and even has exercises that open the brain into seeing and writing a bigger picture. There are two essays at the end that are fantastic, too, both by Nisi Shawl- Beautiful Strangers: Transracial Writing for the Sincere, and Appropriate Cultural Appropriation.

And with what I’ve learned from Shawl and Ward’s book, and what has been clarified into usable and concrete advice, hopefully I’m a step closer to writing a more inclusive world.


Högalidskyrkan, Stockholm. Twin spires capped with verdigris copper, the gold topped Stadshuset in the distant fog.

When I visit my dad in Stockholm, I invariably get lost, but if can get to to the top of a hill, I can reorient myself when I find Högalid on the skyline.
The towers can tell you where you are. If I’m in Liljeholm, I look northeast, and the clock tower is behind the church, the vented one in front. If the clock tower completely blocks the view of the other, and the business end of the church goes the other way, I’ve gotten off the T-bana at the wrong stop, and I’m in Kungsholm. Again.
Oh, well. There’s a neat fabric store in Marieberg if I go straight south. See, I meant to do that.
I know where I am.

I grew up looking at towers–playing on the roof in Brooklyn Heights, in the park with the good swings at the end of Pierrepont Street, walking with Dad on the Promenade.
But my father left New York for Sweden twenty years ago, and I haven’t been back, and now I am afraid to visit, because I think I would get lost.

View of the Manhattan skyline and the World Trade Towers from the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, 1989.