by Colleen Jurkiewicz

Claire Swinarski is best known these days for her hit podcast “The Catholic Feminist” and her non-fiction book “Girl, Arise: A Catholic Feminist’s Invitation to Live Boldly, Love Your Faith, and Change the World.”

So the recent release of her middle-grade fiction novel “What Happens Next” might seem like a departure for Swinarski, who lives in Brookfield with her husband, Krzysztof, and two young children.

But actually, stepping into the role of fiction author has been Swinarski’s dream for years.

“That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” said Swinarski, a parishioner at St. Dominic Catholic Church in Brookfield. “It’s funny, because the podcast and what I’m known for in the Catholic world kind of came out of nowhere — that was a spur-of-the-moment, spontaneous decision, but writing fiction has been my lifelong dream.”

She describes the publishing of her novel as a hard-won victory that took some time to realize. She initially signed with her literary agent several years ago for a book that didn’t end up selling, but her second attempt, “What Happens Next,” eventually ended up going to auction and will be published by HarperCollins this week.

It’s an overwhelming development, she said, and one for which she is profoundly grateful.

“Some of my favorite authors are published at HarperCollins,” she said. She gives the mainstream publishing house props for taking a chance on a writer who so openly espouses Catholic teaching. “It was really cool for me as a Catholic writer, because if you Google me, a lot of stuff comes up that could be seen as controversial in a secular world, for sure. I really admire that they were willing to take me on.”

“What Happens Next” is the story of Abby McCourt, a young girl from a small town in Wisconsin who is grappling with the fallout from her older sister’s eating disorder when a visiting astronomer enlists her help to find his long-lost telescope. Set during the solar eclipse of 2017, the coming-of-age novel explores the themes of family relationships and the choices that can — but don’t always have to — define them.

“When I started writing the book, I wasn’t writing it with a moral message in mind, but when I look at it now, I think the main thing I would hope that people take away is that we are so much more than a handful of choices that we’ve made,” said Swinarski. “We are so much more than our current life circumstance. Every character in the book is complex and some of them make pretty big mistakes. But all of these people are so much more than that, and it’s never too late to say: ‘I want to make a change in the way that I’m behaving in this situation, in this relationship, in this habit.’”

Which, actually, is quite a Catholic”worldview, she acknowledges. “You’re never summed up by one bad habit, or really, one sin,” she said. “We are made for so much more than that.”

Releasing a novel during a pandemic and widespread shutdowns poses some interesting challenges.

“It’s definitely tricky and not what I expected, but like so many other things in life that don’t happen how we expect, I’m just surrendering it to the Lord,” said Swinarski.

To find out more about Swinarski, including where you can pre-order “What Happens Next,” visit