Meet The Author of Lagging Indicators, A Novel That Never Lags
I had a chance to sit down virtually with Jennifer Anglade Dahlberg after reading her riveting novel, Lagging Indicators. We talked about her educational background, why she moved to Sweden, why she chose to independently publish this book after traditionally publishing her first, and the microaggressions referenced in her book that women in the workplace, particularly Black women, experience.
I hope you enjoy her backstory as much as I enjoyed getting to know her. Lagging Indicators gets 5 stars from me, and rates the best book I read in June. It’s suspenseful, sexy, educational and paints a hopeful picture for Black career women of the future. I particularly devoured the parts where Oliver the wine shop owner charmed his way into her life, the references to fashion that highlight Mia’s dalliance with success, and the intense portrait of the financial world deftly painted by this talented author.
MAT: I see you grew up in NYC but now live in Sweden. What brought you to Sweden? Do you miss NYC?
JAD: I actually grew up in a suburb, Rockland County, about 40 minutes away from NYC. But I was always a city girl at heart, finally studying and working in Manhattan for almost ten years. I moved to Stockholm, Sweden, in 1997 with my Swedish fiancé. We married in 1999 and have two children, a daughter (19) and a son (16). I’ve had the opportunity to travel to many European capitals, but NYC will always feel like home. The tempo and energy, diversity and multicultural atmosphere, arts and intellectual activity, creative and business spirit, grit and grace, and a sense that you can be yourself and find a community has had a profound impact on me, inspiring my own literary endeavors. I try to go back at least three times a year and the city always welcomes me with open arms.
MAT: What did you study in Columbia?
JAD: I studied Political Science. I’ve been a political junkie since I was little and even have memories of the Ford vs. Carter presidential race! On top of that, I’m an eager consumer of political news and analysis. So much has happened in the last thirty years, from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the election of Barack Obama as the first Black President, and I’m grateful I could witness these events, instead of just reading about them in history books. My education has helped me put it all in a historical/theoretical context and taught me how to think critically. Politics and policy affect all aspects of life, so it’s important to be informed and engaged!
MAT: How were you able to connect with an FBI, NYTimes, and CNBC contact for your research?
JAD: For the NYT and CNBC, I gave myself self-taught tutorials on business through intensive reading and watching during the financial crisis. I read DealBook and listened to CNBC Squawk Box for two years straight. Both feature journalist Andrew Ross Sorkin, who also wrote Too Big to Fail, and I want to personally thank him for making a regular person like me understand what was going on! I also interviewed women I knew who worked on Wall Street and inundated my husband, who also works in finance, with questions. My FBI contact was the most formal. He investigated financial crimes and had been profiled extensively in the press. I just emailed him requesting an interview and was ecstatic but super-nervous when he agreed. He could not have been more cordial or patient! His participation really gave my story the confirmation and credibility it needed.
MAT: What inspired you to write this book?
JAD: Many factors inspired this book. For one thing, I had worked as an executive recruiter for 4.5 years right out of college which exposed me to the corporate world and gave me a front-row seat to observe the successes and challenges facing career women. I aspired to be one of those bad-ass women myself but took a detour when I moved to Stockholm, where I decided to follow my true dream and write. My husband’s job then necessitated a move back to the US and we lived in Greenwich, CT, from 2004-2009, which at that time was the hedge-fund capital of the world. Everyone seemed to work in finance! Most of the women I met had put their careers on-hold, like myself, to be stay-at-home parents, but there was a small cluster who had stayed in the professional arena and held senior-level jobs. They opened a window to a world I had left behind, and I was fascinated. So, I began to ask: What if I had pursued my career instead of giving it up and moving to Stockholm with my fiancé? Although I liked being an executive recruiter, I never felt passionate about it. What would it feel like to love your job so much it dictated your every decision? With the exploding financial crisis, I wanted to explore those issues through a female prism.
MAT: Correct me if I’m wrong, but you published your first book traditionally and your second book independently (with assistance from indiebooklauncher.com), right? Can you describe the pros and cons of traditional vs. indie publishing?
JAD: You’re absolutely correct! My first book, Uptown & Down, was published by Penguin/NAL in 2005 and it was a dream come true! After years of writing and rejections, I finally got that validation, that seal of approval from the publishing industry. It opened doors to signings at major bookstores along with some press and reviews. However, I was disappointed by the lack of marketing and promotion they put behind the novel but came to realize that unless you’re a major NYT bestseller, we authors are expected to do this work ourselves. I would have benefitted from more guidance and advice. So much was trial and error on my part. Unfortunately, I had several years when I was raising my children and didn’t write anything, so I disappeared from the publishing radar. When I finally completed Lagging Indicators, my agent was unable to find a home for the book. Many friends, particularly entrepreneurs, had told me traditional publishing was a dying industry and I should just self-publish, as we called it back then. I was still a bit “old school,” convinced only a traditional publisher could rubber stamp my work. After more rejections and a lot of hemming and hawing, I finally took the plunge and contacted Indie Book Launcher in August 2017 because I could not let go of Mia’s story. I wanted to see it in print. It was one of the best decisions I ever made! Going from despair and a creative drought to a mindset where I got to collaborate on designing the cover, writing the back cover copy, choosing the release date, planning marketing and promotions, and, most importantly, maintaining the integrity of the story I wanted to tell was such a liberating and gratifying experience. My self-confidence shot up and becoming an indie author reintroduced me to the book community, especially on social media where I owe much of the recognition I have received. I believe whole-heartedly in independent publishing but advise potential indie authors to do it as professionally as possible. Think of yourself as a start-up and invest in getting the right professionals to execute your vision. This means hiring proven editors and designers. Our work should be indistinguishable from the traditionally-published titles out on the market.
MAT: You dedicate this book to your sister and mention several family members in your acknowledgments. How close are you to family and do they all live nearby?
JAD: I am very close to my family. My sister and I are thirteen months apart and she is like my twin and built-in best friend. My mother passed away from pancreatic cancer sixteen years ago and I include this experience as part of Mia’s back story–our only similarity. My mother was the biggest influence in my life. She was a teacher and juggled her career and family with so much aplomb, she made it look effortless, but of course, it couldn’t have been easy. Her values and life lessons have stayed with me and I continue to pass them on to my own children. I am also close to my father, more so since my mom’s passing, but I’m in Sweden and they’re in New York. Thank goodness for email and social media so we can stay connected!
MAT: You mention lots of great bottles of wine in your book. Do you have a personal affection for the wine tasting experience?
JAD: I was quite late to the wine game, but the history and elegance of the experience have always intrigued me. There was a steep learning curve for me there as well! With Oliver, I wanted to create a character who had turned his passion into a career and for Mia to interact with someone who wasn’t part of the New York financial world. Wine is also very sexy and has the power to both blur and put our desires into better focus. I liked this paradox. Sadly, I did not get to try all the bottles I mention!
MAT: You reference a Barefoot Contessa cookbook (of which I have several)! Do you have a personal affinity to the cookbooks, their author, or the store from which the cookbooks sprung?
JAD: I’m a huge fan of Barefoot Contessa/Ina Garten and own several of her books as well. I love her concept of assembling and effortless entertaining. She was the perfect celebrity chef for Mia to reference because the recipes are so user-friendly, even a cooking novice like herself could figure them out. The Hamptons have long been one of my favorite places to visit and I can’t get enough of seeing Garten’s beautiful shingled house and her amazing entertaining barn. The journey of how she acquired the Barefoot Contessa store and expanded it to create this culinary empire is also very inspiring and in keeping with the female empowerment themes of Lagging Indicators.
MAT: Is it true that following the financial meltdown, over 70% of the layoffs in the financial services industry have been women? (This is a statistic you reference in the book.)
JAD: Thank you for bringing that up! It is a statistic I cited which I must have read in one of my research materials, but of course, I can’t find that source now. My apologies! However, I do believe that since many women in the finance industry often work in operations, administration, and support staff, they were among the first to be let go when the crisis struck. Furthermore, the top executives who precipitated the crisis were male and suffered few repercussions, specifically no jail time, for bringing the economy to its knees. I think that’s an illuminating comparison!
MAT: As a woman, and as a Black person, have you personally felt evidence of the glass ceiling and obstacles alluded to in the book? If so, how did you cope?
JAD: I left the corporate arena in my mid-twenties to pursue writing, so I have not been in a position to personally face these obstacles in a long time. When you’re young, you do feel like all opportunities are available to you, and management at my old firm was supportive and promoted my advancement. However, there were very few female partners and I did notice not playing golf or having the same frames of reference as my White male counterparts could put me at a disadvantage from a networking perspective. In other words, I’d have to try harder and find other ways to connect. The question came down to: How badly did I want it? Was I willing to adopt another persona in order to get ahead? From discussions with my sister and Black girlfriends, I believe there is a double standard as to how Black women are perceived in the workplace and the “angry Black woman” trope is real. Standing up for yourself and pointing out the value you bring to an organization can be perceived as “aggressive,” itself a loaded word laced with implicit bias.
MAT: How, if at all, have marriage and children affected your perspective on the professional woman career experience?
JAD: I think we all make the choices that suit us best professionally, economically, and spiritually. I approach writing as a full-time job but had difficulty doing it when my children were born. I kind of micromanaged my kids’ lives and our household haha and could not balance shifting gears from doing a painting project with them to then sitting down at my computer and escaping into a fictional world. I found parenting young children wonderful but all-consuming. I admire all the writers out there who are able to do both. There were many occasions I worried time was passing me by and I wouldn’t be able to pursue my professional and creative goals. Now that my children are older and more independent, I realize that our career path does not have to be linear. We can take off-ramps, reassess, reinvent ourselves, etc. It’s never too late to pursue our dreams and there are so many platforms and outlets available to us now that were non-existent a generation ago. And with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and working from home, women are proving that a flexible schedule with more work/life balance can still yield impressive results. I’m more optimistic now than I was a few years ago.
MAT: Do you share a love for the fashion brands your main character, Mia enjoyed?
JAD: I love fashion, but the obsession with branding is very Mia! Her position and pocketbook enticed her to spend so much of her discretionary income on clothes, shoes, and handbags. It was her way of presenting herself to the world as “successful” and “worthy.” They were her armor. I also wanted to point out how we can overconsume to boost our egos and fill a void in our lives.
MAT: You mentioned to me that I represent your target audience — a professional woman who can relate to the microagressions and ruthless behavior. Did you have a target audience in mind when you wrote the book? And is there a particular theme in your book you are especially passionate about?
JAD: I appreciated so much that the novel resonated with you given your professional background! When I first began writing Lagging Indicators, it was my way of tackling questions about women, careers, love, money, sexism, and race. I hoped it would appeal to a broad section of women, but the intersectional response has exceeded my expectations. So many women can recognize themselves in Mia’s struggles and have shared their own stories of gender bias in the workplace. However, with Hillary Clinton’s presidential run in 2016, followed by the scope and depth of the #MeToo movement in 2017, the novel took on greater urgency for me. I realized that I, a stay-at-home mother for many years, had subconsciously created a feminist/female empowerment story and I became very passionate about that. Mia is like so many women I know who checked off all the boxes, did what was required, and then some, yet still got screwed over. While her story is universal, I also felt it was significant she was a professional Black woman. I believe strongly in giving voice and representation to Black characters in settings where they have largely been excluded. We do exist in these spaces, albeit in small numbers that I hope will change, but I really wanted to shed a spotlight on that.