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DSC04448-2When I was a child, escaping into books helped me through some challenging times. Creating worlds of words gave me both the power to comfort myself and a platform on which to construct a universe I controlled. Writing as a profession was a natural progression from that early childhood relationship with the written word. In my career as a writer I have loved the idea of opening young minds to new experiences, to helping them understand that survival is possible even under the most difficult circumstances, and to assist them in the evolution of their own innate compassion. It has been a blessing to do this work that has given me so much and to know it has been meaningful to others, too.

Full interview and additional information at: http://www.childlitassn.org/phoenix-award

road trip with kate to arizona 2016lc 033When I’m researching I am filling myself with the events of the historical period and those events clearly leave a mark on the work…the birth of quintuplets in Canada, for instance, or the eruption of a volcano, or the discovery of dinosaur bones. But events happening in the contemporary world of the writer might have an impact on the events woven into the author’s book, as well. In the case of OUT OF THE DUST, I honestly can’t remember current events entering the landscape of the story. There would, of course, be values, knowledge, and experience of the living writer seeping into the decisions he/she makes in designing the story. But Big Picture contemporary events might be difficult, in many cases, to transpose and weave into an historical setting without jarring the reader. Even if the writer deftly altered contemporary events to fit into the historical setting, I think in many cases there would be less of an organic flow than the writer might desire. Certainly, while I was writing SAFEKEEPING, a novel set in the near future, many events happening in the world at the time of the writing were integrated into the story. Perhaps contemporary fiction is more apt to be colored by what is going on in the greater world of the writer, while historical fiction is less likely to be overtly influenced by the author’s world.

There are so many ways to tell a story. Every time I begin a book I consider how best to convey the tale; how I might expand the reader’s access to the emotional arc of the events. More than once I have chosen free verse as my structural vehicle, each time for a different reason.

In the case of WITNESS I envisioned the book as a trial with the speaking characters offering their testimony. I hoped to help the reader form a more balanced opinion of what transpired by presenting various points of view. No one character has all the answers nor knows the entire story. In my mind it was imperative to relate the events that way to avoid a single, prejudicial narrator.

My hope was to deliver the story in a series of rotating depositions. Poetry seemed the most concise and efficient method to invite the reader in, to allow the reader to identify with each speaker, even the ones they might not have wished to identify with, and to eliminate anything extraneous.DSC05673

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In part the characters in WITNESS grew out of the research. I needed certain characters to carry the different aspects and angles of the story I wanted to tell. Here’s the fun part. When I began to build my characters I took inspiration from a book of symbolism. I opened the book to the section on animals and assigned an animal profile to each character. By the time the book went through its final revisions, the vestiges of that animal phase had mostly vanished, but you can still see traces in certain names and personality traits.

Witness Post Card - Copy

 

 

 

 

The photograph of the man in the lower left corner of the WITNESS cover is meant to represent Johnny Reeves but in fact the photographs come from the Walter Dean Myers photograph collection, and the photo albums of the families of Edith and Herbert Langmuir, Dean Langmuir, and Joan Lacovara, relatives of an employee of Scholastic Inc.

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This is a very important question. The decision to capitalize “God” was deliberate. I am so delighted that you focused on not only the rare capitalization, but the character speaking at the time it occurs. You’ve come this far. I have complete faith that you have your own answer to this question. I’d be quite interested in learning what you think.

hardly

hardly

they sing together, this random gathering of women,

in rounds, in layers, making fertile harmonies.

ghosts loiter in the halls. spirits hover above

drinking the sound like a marvelous wine from a fine-stemmed goblet.

these women hardly know each other,

meeting once a week in the church’s dining room

down the hall from the sanctuary.

they arrive from their separate directions in their flannel shirts, their yoga pants, their long underwear.

the bitter air clings to them, painting their cheeks and

the tips of their noses. they strip off their outer clothes,

leave their boots in a long line on the metal grate, and pad, barefoot,

to form a circle in the wood-paneled room. within minutes

they are making a sound so exquisite the pastor in his office pauses, resting his hands on his cluttered desk.

the singers are oblivious to the effect, they are sailing on their ocean of sound.

toddlers attending the day care center in the church basement stop crying and wide-eyed,

the tears drying on their cheeks, they smile around the soggy plug of their thumbs.

the women open their mouths and their hearts.

the air dances with the dazzling communion of their spirits.

 glasses and bowls in the church kitchen store the vibrations for later

when a handful of congregants will gather to discuss the jangling needs of the world and

unknowingly, draw comfort from the harmony the singers have left behind.

the sopranos, the middles, the altos know nothing of this, or each other.

at the end of their two hours they re-wrap in hats, gloves, coats and scarves;

they pull on their boots warmed by the heat rising from the church’s furnace, and go their separate ways.

but the walls remember, the chairs remember,

and the toddlers downstairs at the day care center

take blissful naps, their little brains electric with  harmony.

karen hesse, february 6, 2015

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I read this poem on November 21st and 22nd at the First Baptist Church in Brattleboro, Vermont as part of the Brattleboro Women’s Chorus’ 20th anniversary concert (I sang in the concert, too.). The poem, inspired by my first experience singing with a small portion of this large and harmonious group, is no longer true in the sense that many of these singers are “hardly” strangers anymore.

Learning to paint snow

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I began painting a little over a year ago. This is one of my early attempts at depicting snow.

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Join a writing group (either on-line or around a real table–or both). Travel, when you can, to writing conferences where you will meet interested (and interesting) fellow writers, editors and agents. Perhaps you will make a connection at a conference that will lead to an invitation to submit your work. Make note of the houses publishing books you admire. Consider how your work might fit with those publishers’ lists. Let editors know why you would like to work specifically with them. And keep writing! If you spend all of your creative energy waiting to hear from editors you will miss the opportunity to perhaps generate something even more exciting and polished than your present project. So get to work on your next manuscript while your first one is out to market. I wish you all the best of luck in your quest.

08feb2013bc 009

 I most certainly did. The type of poetry that uses the shape of the poem to illustrate the idea behind the poem is called shape or concrete poetry. Perhaps you’d like to try writing some, too.

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