The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

Swanson Weaves Compelling Tale of Alternate Lives
An Authorlink interview By Columnist Ellen Birkett Morris

As Cynthia Swanson’s novel The Bookseller begins we are with Kitty Miller, a thirty-eight-year-old single bookseller, when she wakes up in a bed that is not her own and discovers an alternate life in which she is a married mother of three children. As Katharyn Andersson, her choices and challenges are vastly different than those of Kitty.

The Bookseller
by Cynthia Swanson

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As the story progresses we follow Kitty/Katharyn as she struggles to separate her dream life from her real life to discover her destiny. Author Cynthia Swanson shares her thoughts on how to fit writing into a busy schedule, why stories set in the sixties have so much appeal to modern readers and the intersection of writing and design.

The premise for The Bookseller came from Swanson’s own experience. She married at age 37 after years of working as a freelance writer, publishing short fiction and working on novels. After having three kids in four years she found “the creative stuff went out the window.”

One morning she was working out at the gym with her three year old in tow and thought back to her old life and wondered ‘What am I doing in this life?’ The idea for her novel was born.

“I realized the story goes the way it does because of a missed moment.”

Readers are left to try to figure out what drives Kitty/Katharyn to want to escape her existence and which of her realities is the real one. They follow Kitty through the decline of her small book store and see her rich relationships with her parents and best friend Frieda. Alternately, they see Katharyn’s happy marriage and struggle to raise an autistic child in the 1960s when little is known about autism.

“I had the book set in the present day and I realized the story goes the way it does because of a missed moment. Today there is texting and Googling and I needed to set the story in an era where communication moved more slowly,” said Swanson.

She noted that the early 1960s was “the last of an innocent time” and that it offered a strong backdrop for a discussion of the changing roles of women. Swanson’s self-professed hobby is design and she has a particular interest in midcentury modern style. She has “unmodeled” her own home replacing modern furniture and appliances with vintage.

“Writing and design relate to one another in that you spend a lot of time putting yourself in someone else’s place, asking how will they use this and how will they react,” noted Swanson.

She worked to create a compelling, realistic life for the protagonist in each of her alternate lives. Katharyn struggles to help her son Michael navigate a confusing world, while Kitty forms a friendship with a young neighbor Greg and helps him learn to read.

The book’s title comes from Kitty’s work as a bookseller, a profession that Swanson and her editor Claire Wachtel agreed holds inherent interest for readers.

Her greatest challenge when writing the book was finding the time to write while working on freelance projects and raising her children.

“A writer is always solving problems with a story and thinking of things to add . . .”

She read an article by Gretchen Rubin that suggested people commit themselves to exercising fifteen minutes a day with no excuses. Swanson applied this to writing. “This meant I couldn’t rewrite or take time to find the perfect word. After six months I had a first draft,” said Swanson. 

She wrote early in the day and let the story work itself out in her head as she ran errands and went about her day.

“A writer is always solving problems with a story and thinking of things to add even if you aren’t sitting at your desk.”

Her draft included material that never made it into the book including a cross country trip made by Kitty and Frieda. “The trip helped me understand them better, but it was clutter. There is a difference between what the author needs to know and what moves the story forward,” said Swanson. 

“It is important to get out and talk to people about your writing “

She encourages new writers to get involved in a writing community. She has been a member of Denver’s Lighthouse Writers Workshop since 1999.

It is important to get out and talk to people about your writing and to find people who are open, encouraging and reciprocal.”

Swanson is now at work on her next novel, which is also set in the sixties, but features a different locale and different characters.

About the Author

Cynthia Swanson is an author and a designer. Her debut novel The Bookseller was published 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

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning journalist whose interviews and reviews have appeared in Authorlink, Prairie Schooner Online, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and reprinted in the reader’s guides to The Receptionist and Clever Girl. Her fiction has appeared in journals including Antioch Review, South Caroline Review and Notre Dame Review. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink.