Karen was one of my favorite teachers at Chatham University. She taught me the ins and outs of the picture book. She also opened my eyes and bookshelf to stories where people of color were main characters.
Karen is a warm, gentle soul. The moment you meet her, you get a genuine smile. She loves people and does good everyday. Her word is honorable. Karen makes the world a better place, and children's books a more well-rounded genre.
Below are the questions I asked her:
1. I counted 15 children's books on your website and 6 poetry, and other works. How many years have you been writing to accumulate such a great catalog?
I have always wanted to write. I began writing as a child but gave up when I had not reached the goal of being the youngest published writer at the age of 12.
I began writing seriously when I was in the Peace Corps in Malawi, 1980-83. Although I was teaching and had two children, I had a lot of down time with no distractions. Writing became my cultural lifeline.
2. What's the strangest thing a young fan has ever sent you in the mail?
My fan mail is pretty standard. It often comes in great clumps in large envelopes sent by the teacher after I have visited a school. I do sometimes get a letter asking for one of my drawings and I have to explain that I am not the illustrator. I wish I were though.
3. How old were you when you lived abroad? How many countries have you lived in to date?
I was about 30 when I first went to Malawi to live. I always wanted to travel and the first time I got on an airplane I was in high school. I have traveled around most of Europe, parts of Africa and the Caribbean. But it was always my intention to live in another culture, to feel at home there and learn about a new place.
I lived in Malawi for almost four years, in Haiti for 3 years. Currently I live on the Navajo reservation and in some ways that is like living in another country too.
4. You live on a Navajo reservation now, how is that influencing your writing?
It takes time for me to feel comfortable in another culture before I can write from it. There is so much here that is new and exciting for me and it all captures my imagination from the geology of land formations to the traditions of Navajo weaving. Oddly, though the book I am currently working on, inspired by my life in the southwest, has grown out of my earlier interest in refugees which lead to two of my published books. I am researching and writing a picture book about a young Mexican immigrant whose parents are undocumented.
5. What time do you get up and what do you eat for breakfast?
I usually get up around 7AM and have a cup of tea. Breakfast has always been my favorite meal of the day. But I try to limit it to a cup of low fat yogurt or home made granola…or both.
6. You've taught writing to many students, who are you most proud of and why?
That’s a difficult question. I have had so many students who have done wonderful things. Many have gone on to publish or teach or both. I find it most gratifying when a student takes a course I teach and I can tell that they have fallen in love with writing for children when originally the course was a requirement and they had never considered that option.
7. Many of your characters are ethnic, yet you are white, does this ever surprise people? Any adversity over this?
Before I had a website where people can see who I am, I could tell when I arrived at a school to speak that some people were floored that I was not a person of color.
I used to worry about writing outside of my cultural and racial background but I have never had any criticism, only honest debate once in a while.
8. Describe your writing career in 5 words.
I am so very lucky!
9. What do you think about self-promotion for writers? To blog or not to blog – that is the question.
Hmmm. This is a question I am battling with recently. “They” say that blogging is a must for writers. But writing a blog that is worth reading takes time…valuable writing time. And I am not sure how many people actually read my blog. On top of that, if editors(these are the people you really want to find your blog) are spending too much time perusing blogs, they are not editing.
Do not get me started. The publishing world has changed dramatically and is still changing very fast. It is not the same world I came into with my typewriter and pen and paper and editors anxious to groom good writers. As for blogging? Like most things in life you need to find the balance. In this case between blogging and not blogging.
10. You are very active: hiking, snowshoeing, teaching, traveling. How does staying active help your writing?
Well, since I blew out my knee jogging, years ago, I try to walk everyday. I have a fear of immobility. After the knew incident I was on crutches for 8 weeks and then had to build up the muscle tone I had lost. It was very scary for an active person to suddenly not be able to go up and down stairs. But I find I need to walk 6-8 miles a day to make up for the 45 minute run I used to do (don’t ask how I came up with that equation).
This takes commitment and it takes a lot of time away from my writing. The hiking, snow shoeing, and biking, cross country skiing are ways to get in my exercise without having to just walk. I love being outdoors, though and I often think a lot about my writing while I am slogging along. Unfortunately what sounds great in my head often does not translate so easily to the written page.
Traveling and teaching offer connections that enrich the writing life which can be lonely but again there is the drain on writing time.
11. How many other languages have your books been translated to?
Korean, Chinese, Dutch. Finally one of my books about Haiti, Painted Dreams will be printed in Creole.
12. Where is the furthest school you have visited? Why did you go?
I visited the American School in Nairobi Kenya for a week. They were interested in my books about Africa and they knew I would be willing to travel that distance. I jumped at the chance and stayed on another five weeks to do research. The book Beatrice’s Dream came out of that experience.
13. Four Feet, Two Sandals is one of my 8-year-old son's favorite books. He has never wanted for shoes. He has never really seen poverty. Why do you think children respond to this story so strongly?
I believe children in our society are aware of what they have that others do not. All children want to have friends and I think that readers respond to the unique friendship full of caring and sharing in Four Feet, Two Sandals.
It is a difficult book about two girls who have had much loss in their lives, living in very harsh conditions. I think even if a child has all he needs and wants, he can identify with having to say goodbye to a friend he will most likely never see again.
When I first read that book to a class of third graders, a boy in the front row had a tear running down his cheek. It thought, “Oh my gosh, what have I done?” But I realized that we should be raising compassionate children and this child identified with the girls in this book on some level and he clearly felt sympathy and compassion. It is OK to feel bad about things that are very sad and wrong in this world.
14. How can my blog readers help you to become an even bigger success?
Read my books, recommend them, let me know your thoughts, read my website and blog. Read, Read, Read.
15. Ever wanted to give up on this career called author? What kept you going?
Never wanted to give it up. Only wish I was more disciplined and spent more time at it. A writer NEEDS to write. When I am not writing on a regular basis I feel out of sorts and anxious. Sometimes other creative projects, like my weaving can fill that need too.
16. What is the feeling you feel when you start a new book?
17. Will you be speaking at a bookstore or school soon? How can I help promote you?
My website is: www.karenlynnwilliams.com
My blog is: http://karenlynnwilliams.blogspot.com
Lubuto Means Light was recently canceled when a new publisher took over the company…grrrr.
I will be speaking in New Willmington, PA at Schools and Westminster College in February.
Presenting at the Tucson Book Fair in March and speaking at schools there.
In 2012 I will be presenting at the National Council of Teachers of English in Las Vegas.