Saturday, December 31, 2011

Ten Resolutions to Make My Life and My Writing Better

Ten New Years Resolutions To Make My Life and Writing Better

OK, I have already crossed out 5 so you are lucky. Here you go…

1. 1. 1. Eat less. This is a problem because I write at a table that is three feet from the kitchen. Eating is one thing that it is possible to do while writing. Witness the crumbs on my laptop.

2. 2. 2. Exercise more. This is a problem because my exercise time, roughly 2 hours, takes away from my writing time. It is difficult to write while working-out although I am able to compose amazing stories while walking that never seem to translate to the written page. I can NOT giving more time to exercise. Cross this one out.

3. 3. Spend less time on Facebook. I joined this virtual society to stay in touch with my youngest when he went to India. One Friend. Now I have …wait let me check…. 164 friends. I agree that is not many friends by FB standards but I do not even know some of them.

On the other hand if you are a writer you are supposed to have a lot of friends so that they will pass your blog around and make more friends for you while making you rich and famous…see Number 4. So maybe this resolution should be, make more friends…still considering.

4. 4. Blog less…or more. Not sure because if I am blogging I am writing (see Number 5) . But is this REAL writing??? I mean “they” tell us to blog so that potential readers and editors will find us. But if I am blogging I am not working on that book I am supposed to be writing. If editors are reading all those blogs, they sure aren’t editing. Watch for more on this rant and more on #3 in the new year.

5. 5. Write MORE. Real writing…must determine if blogging is “real”.

I am going to keep this simple: Write More. Eat Less. Same old, same old.

Happy New Year.

Maybe it be more disciplined than mine…or not.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Solstice Sunset

Solstice Sunset

I walk into apricot sky,

my dog charges

a windmill

clunks and clatters

on the wind burst

with crystal


I should have named her

Don Quixote,

(Qui for short),

that dog, jousting

her demons

on the mesa.

I turn,

she follows.


into steal darkness

and home.

Candel holders made with scrap from the mesa...collected over the last year. Light for a new year ...Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Stuff that Inspires

I collect stuff. I admit it. This is materialistic behavior. Christmas time can be the worst. I make sure I get what I want...for me. When I's one for for for for me. Etc. Etc.

But I like to think the things I have are thoughtful, filled with ideas. The stuff I like has a story behind it, makes connections.

Like these seed pots from the Navajo, Hopi and Pueblo traditions.

These pots range from tiny to 12 or 18 inches in diameter. Today they are intricately hand-decorated and sold to collectors and tourists. Traditionally these vessels with small openings were used to save seeds after harvest time so that rodents and other animals could not get at them. In the spring the pots were smashed open and the seeds planted.

Reminds me of traditional piggy banks...smashed open when full( maybe to buy Christmas gifts). Which brings me to real pigs in Haiti. There, people told me they bought pigs and used their earnings to feed them so they would not spend the money in other less prudent ways. When the pig was grown they sold it and had the cash.... saved up in a real pig.

See? Seed pots on the Navajo Rez, to piggy banks, to Haitian pigs. A writer is always making connections.

Mostly, I love the metaphorical image of saving from the harvest and smashing into rebirth. Saving up the hope for a new planting season. I could work with that.

But first I have to finish shopping, wrapping, baking. Collecting. Procrastinating? Tis the season ...May yours be filled with things that inspire.
(some of these seed pots are even decorated on the bottom!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

Writers Always Steal

It's true, we writers listen in on conversations, read what others have written, and when it suits we make it ours. My children used to introduce me to friends, " This is my mom, the writer. Be careful what you say. It can and will be used in a book."

It works like this sometimes...I have an idea for a picture book I want to write. The story is about a Navajo girl who wants to learn to weave but she is given the task of herding the sheep instead...Not sure where I can go with this story. The idea came from reading a non-fiction book on Navajo weaving.

Then presto I am hiking in the canyon with a Navajo friend who tells me a story about their sheep. Her nephew was herding them and how a bear got one of the sheep and they found the remains in the woods. Of course I am a little dense sometimes, until it hits me. Like a gift this friend has given me the answer to how to write my picture book. I think maybe not a bear but a coyote will work.

Yes, always stealing snippets of conversation, ideas from books, magazines, news programs. I am not suggesting plagiarizing or copying. I am suggesting that we writers take in what we see and hear around us and make it ours...a new take on a theme that is already out there. Or a new theme for an old idea.

And talking about stealing, another friend, writer, Leslie Davis Guccione shot me a picture of the Christmas tree HER friend made out of driftwood they collected on the beach. I miss the beach. I live in the desert. I want a tree like that.

Wait a minute...there are tons of wind blown and water- sogged bits of wood on the mesa behind my house. I dragged it home, daily, often under cover of dark so no one would see this crazy woman with twigs sticking out of her backpack, dragging more behind...late evening walks with my res dog, Reena.

I saved that wood for a year, piled in the laundry room. And built my own Mesa wood Christmas tree. Same idea, new theme... a gift from the friend of a friend who doesn't even know I stole her idea. I think she got the idea from something she saw in a gift shop. See? Stealing.

Happy holidays. With thanks for friends... who share tidbits, ideas and stories that I steal turn into something new and exciting.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Have snow shoes....Will Write

An early Christmas present had me headed to Colorado this weekend to trek Lizard Head Trail.

While slogging through six feet of snow, at high altitudes, under crystal blue skies I got to thinking.... Snow shoeing is a lot like writing.

Like beating your head against the feels so good when you stop.

But like writing, when you are trekking uphill and find your pace and rhythm you can be lost in another world and never want to stop.

On the steep bits I tell myself to take ten steps and then I can take a break. I will still get to the top.

Just write 200 words today, everyday. One day I will get to the end of that book.

Lizard Head. A good title helps and you should know your destination. Where do you want your characters to end up?

I will never break trail.

But we writers always follow in the footsteps of the greats, one way or another.

You shouldn't go it alone. Trusted friends (husband, faithful canine or writer's group)who listen, encourage and tell you what they really think make the trail shorter, the writing stronger.

Leaving your comfort zone in the mountains or on the page makes you and your writing stronger. A short poem or a's always worth the work in the end.

Downhill? It might be easier than the rewrites but at least you are on your way...cruising.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

To Write a Picture Book

My latest picture book, Facing Fear(working title) is about Enrico. His family calls him Kiki. He is a ten year old Mexican American, born in the US, to undocumented immigrants. This project has me interviewing FBI agents, news reporters, teachers and young Mexicans, and passing through secondary border checkpoints.

I traveled to ElPaso, TX last weekend where I talked to kids at the fence. They were in Juarez and I was in Texas. La migra (border patrol agents) in armored vehicles watched patiently from four directions.So much more goes into the writing of a book than ever gets on the page. This is as true for a picture book as it is for any other work.

How can I tell this story in 800 words? Why won't Kiki's father let him travel to the tournament with his soccer team? Why is his sister so angry with him? Why do they have to hide at Tia's house overnight?

How will I capture the struggle the fear, the hope, the love in 32 pages?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Peace Corps 50th Anniversary

Yes! That is me on the cover of the Southern Connecticut State University Alumni Magazine. I might look a tad different now since the photo was taken a few years ago ;-). This is great article on Southern Alums who have served in the PC published this year in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps. Steve and I served for nearly 4 years and now our son Christopher(born in the PC in Malawi) and his wife, Laurie are PC Volunteers in Mozambique. To see the article go to

Monday, November 14, 2011

Beatrice reviewed in Kirkus!

A Story Of Kibera Slum
Author: Williams, Karen Lynn
Photographer: Stone, Wendy
Publisher:Frances Lincoln
Pages: 32
Price ( Hardcover ): $17.95
Publication Date: December 1, 2011
ISBN ( Hardcover ): 978-1-84780-019-0
Category: Picture Books
Classification: Nonfiction

Life for a girl in the slums of Nairobi.

Beatrice, 13, tells readers about her life in Kibera, a shantytown of discarded metal, wood and other refuse. The youngest of five children, she lives with her eldest brother, Francis, and his wife. Her father perished in in a car accident, and her mother died of tuberculosis when she was 9 years old. Every weekday morning, rain or shine, she walks half an hour to school, a building built of tin. Her favorite subjects are English and Kiswahili, the official language of Kenya. Beatrice is the school timekeeper during lunch. They eat githeri, a special Kenyan dish made from beans and maize. She stays after school for extra lessons but must be home before six o'clock, when it gets dark. Often, her dog Soldier is waiting for her. Beatrice's nightly chores include making dinner and ironing. If there's enough paraffin in the small lamp, she'll also study. On weekends, she works in her brother's shop, washes clothes and helps with the marketing. All of this is told in Beatrice's matter-of-fact first-person voice. The book ends with a two-page description of the Kibera slum and a sad picture of it. Stone's beautiful color photographs—40 in all—work in tandem with Williams' simple, direct prose to capture the poverty of Kibera as well as Beatrice's resilience and many unique aspects of her life, likely unfamiliar to most American children.

Informative and affecting. (Picture book. 5-10)

Friday, November 4, 2011

The writing? life

Seems like I am not getting enough writing done at the moment. Teaching, travel, family, Navajo language class, house and garden all take my time. But I take every opportunity I can to explore life and land on the reservation. I need to trust that soaking in life in the canyon will turn into material for a story or book or essay or article. Am I fooling myself? Procrastinating when I say this is my writing time? This is how I have always worked...writing as a natural part of my life eventually falls into place. I look at every adventure in the canyon with a writer's eye. I am making friends and reveling in the opportunity to explore my passions, nature and culture. Here is where I have been, trying to figure out what it means and how to express the stories of this place. A collage of part of my summer. Rodeo, Canyon ruins, weaving in the canyon, Navajo rug auction.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Beatrice go to the Netherlands and more

Just got my copy of Beatrice's Dream in Dutch. Can't wait to read it ;-).

I love sending my books out into the world.

And my children...Chris and Laurie are in Mozambique with the PC. Peter lives with his wife Chimei and son Ethan in Taiwan. Jon is about to go for a Semester in New Zealand. Rachel is in Pittsburgh. Four kids, fours continents.

At least I can keep a copy of my books with me at home.

And Beatrice? Here is what Corbis Photo agency has to say:

Wendy Stones photo essay on life in an African slum is a heavyweight anchor of reality for American teenyboppers, often spoiled by iPods and designer jeans.

Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi and the second largest in all of Africa. Census reports estimate the population to be somewhere between 170,000 and two million people.

In Kenyaon the surface between an impoverished and illiterate majorityemerges the dream of Beatrice, a 13 year-old orphan determined to carve her way out through higher education.

Corbis Contributor Wendy Stone and author, Karen Lynn Williams, provide us with a compelling set of pictures and words to balance a young girls account of living uncertain in Beatrices Dream: A Story of Kibera Slum. The powerful essay describes a young girls, walk to school, the dust that blows between her teeth [and] her fear of being alone…”

The photography offers a wonderful contrast between hope and despair that Wendy captures well. Her images, so deeply rooted and honest, make obvious that Stone has lived in Nairobi for quite some time. In 30 years, familiarity appears to have bred anything but contempt. Bare witness to her self-realization, that despite being worlds apart we are all in this together.

Experience it for yourself.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


On October 1 I had the honor of speaking at the AZ SCBWI conference in Scottsdale AZ. I shared my experiences writing the picture book from travels and life's journeys.

I also got to listen to editors, agents and authors confirm that there will always be room for good books for children in this new digital age and beyond.

It was inspiring to listen to young editors who are passionate about what they do, articulate, intelligent and serious about creating good books for young people. Voice, plot, character...the craft does not change. Now to get back to work and put the inspired muse to work!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Great School, Great Idea!

Sangoel is still making friends and readers everywhere:

Dear Ms. Williams,

I'm writing to let you know that Oakridge Elementary School selected My Name is Sangoel to kick off its new school wide reading project--Mosaic. We are an international neighborhood school located in Arlington, VA and our 660 students come from more than 30 countries. The themes identified in your book were a perfect fit for the mission of the project, which uses literature to teach targeted reading strategies while exposing students to different cultures. Today, more than 700 students, teachers and staff read your book and everyone was mesmerized. Many of students have come to Arlington from different countries and have encountered obstacles similar to Sangoel's. As such, the students easily connected with the book and its themes, which resonated through our school. To learn more about Oakridge's Mosaic project, please see our website at

Thank you, and we're looking forward to your next publication.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Prickly Pear Jam from the Canyon

I had been waiting all summer for those Yellow cactus flowers to turn to purple red fruits. Elsie Cly had promised to take me into the canyon to pick prickly pears.
The day we went happened to be one of the wettest days in the canyon this summer. I drove our little black jeep with mud spewing over the roof and Elsie hanging on to the passenger bar in front of her yelling, "Don't stop. Just don't stop." I don't know which was worse the deep sand or the mud and water. "Karen," Elsie said, "go left here". I veered left. "No the other left. follow the tracks out of the water."

There were at least ten different tire treads leading out of the mud and quicksand. "No! the other left!" And then, "Karen this is the place where anyone can get stuck. Not just you. Don't stop. " And Eslie's famous advice "Be careful here."
We finally made it to the first patch of prickly pears. The recipe I found on line said I needed fifty. Elsie used the tongs I brought to twist the prickly fruit from the thorned cactus paddles and I used my garden gloves.

We picked a bucket full and got back into the jeep.
Each patch of prickly pears we passed looked bigger and riper than the last so we had to stop again and again, filling basket and bucket. My eyes much bigger than my ability to prepare the pears.

When we determined that I had more than enough red fruits, well over 50...It was time to clean off the prickles. The internet said to hold each one over the flame of the stove burner and turn it gently. Elsie had a better, Navajo method. We stopped and picked bundles of Rabbit brush.

Then we laid out a layer of brush on the

ground, dumped the pears on top and swept them round and round with bunches of the green brush with tiny yellow flowers. Sure enough the fruits were shiny and prickerless by the time we finished.
Back through the mud nearly stuck twice but we made it with Elsie exclaiming "We are the wild women!"
The real work began at home where pealing and getting the seeds out of one pear the size of my thumb left me with the usable fruit about the size of the tip of my pinky finger. But with some perseverance and experimentation (no pectin at the local grocery), I now have eight jars of prickly pear jam

and tons of pears left for some salsa? juice? relish? Yummm.