I am a life-long book lover and in my early career as a teacher, I saw firsthand the impact that books have on young people. It didn’t occur to me, though, to start writing my own books until many years later, and my early projects as a professional writer didn’t involve books at all.
Instead, the freelance writing career often involved writing newspaper and online ads for businesses, material for clients’ websites, government brochures and seasonal catalogues. The jobs were fun, challenging, exasperating and sometimes mind-boggling in their variety. Best of all, they allowed me to work from home with my two daughters, who were preschoolers at the time.
A few years into my freelance work, a local publishing house approached me to write educational software for online classroom use. The company was seeking experienced writers with Education degrees and was open to me working mostly off-site.
We seemed a good match, so I committed to writing twenty hours of educational software each week. It usually grew into thirty or more hours of creating fractured fairy tales, adventure stories, newsletters, poetry and content in various forms based on school curricula throughout North America and the UK.
I could finish most of the work around my children’s schedules (they were in preschool and kindergarten by then) but deadlines were tight. Between parenting and my daughters’ activities, I frequently worked through the night. My editors used to comment about my projects arriving in their inboxes at 4 a.m. “Karen, wow… I hope you get to nap later in the day,” they would say.
I never told them that as a mom to two young children, with no family in the province, and a husband who was also getting established in a new career, napping didn’t factor into my life—at all.
I loved the creativity and the collaboration with other writers, though, and I was sad when the contract ended. But as I walked out of the downtown publishing office on my last day, something magical happened. I had a “lightbulb” moment. That’s when I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life was to write books for kids and teens.
I’ve been doing exactly that for the past 15 years and I am now the author of eight books for middle grade readers (8 to 12 year-olds) and young adults (12 to 18 year-olds). My novels feature a teen who starts a dog-walking company to meet girls; a high-school student who flees across the country to escape domestic abuse; a junior-high track star who learns humility when he becomes a guide-runner to a vision-impaired athlete; and a grieving teen whose parents send him away to France for the summer after he throws a disastrous house party.
As different as each of my stories are, a commonality is that all are accessible to young people who have complicated relationships with reading. When I write my books, my challenge is to generate enough action, interest and emotion to hook reluctant or striving readers so they don’t want to close the book until they have read the final page.
The stakes are high. Studies show that reading fosters critical thinking skills, helps us appreciate other points of view, and is a lifelong source of pleasure. It also corelates with stronger relationships, better health, higher income and greater community engagement. In short, reading matters—a lot.
For my part, I’m grateful that my work happens at the intersection of my two adored professions: teaching and writing. I write with the heart of an educator and sometimes marvel that my personal journey to writing happened by accident. A happy accident, I think, which brings me joy and meaning. I hope it offers the same to the kids and teens who read my books.