The Writer's Life Chats with Author Karen Simpson

The craft of writing, fabric art, and history are Karen Simpson’s true passions and for her are deeply intertwined. She’s a quilter and has taught African American story quilting for over twenty years. As a historic preservationist trained in heritage interpretation and administration, she designs exhibits for museums and historical institutions that deal with issues of cultural diversity and racial reconciliation. The subjects and themes for her fiction are taken from the stories she discovers while doing research.

Karen Simpson received her bachelor's degree in Animal Husbandry, M.A. in Foreign and International Trade and a M.S. in Historic Preservation from Eastern Michigan University. In 2009 Simpson was awarded the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant. Act of Grace is her debut novel


Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life, Karen. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you’ve been writing?

A: Thanks so much for inviting me. It’s a real privilege to be here. I’m a lifelong resident of Michigan. I was born in Detroit, and now live in Ann Arbor, a university town that is a great place for artists of all kinds to live and work.

Since the age of five, I considered myself a writer but I didn’t get serious until about ten years ago when I started working on Act of Grace.

Q: Can you please tell us about your book, Act of Grace, and why you wrote it?

A: Act of Grace is the story of Grace Johnson an African American high school senior who saves the life of a Klansman named Jonathan Gilmore. Everyone in her hometown of Vigilant, Michigan wants to know why. Few people, black or white, understand her act of sacrifice especially since rumor holds that years ago a member of the Gilmore family murdered several African -Americans including Grace’s father. Grace wants to remain silent on the matter but Ancestors spirits emerge in visions and insist she bear witness to her town’s violent racial history so that all involved might transcend it.

My novel is loosely based on an incident that happened several years ago in my hometown during a Klan rally. When what was supposed to be a nonviolent protest became violent, a young black woman saved a white man, (who was wearing a confederate flag T-shirt), from being beaten by throwing her body over him. She got involved because she believed he had the right to his beliefs even if she and others felt he was wrong. For weeks after the event people argued about whether she was a guardian angel or just crazy. My opinion was that she was a compassionate and brave person, worthy of admiration and respect for living up to her values. Five years after this rally I had a very vivid dream about a young woman named Grace and during the dream she yelled out what is more or less the first line of the novel.

Act of Grace came out of my lifelong interest in understanding how some people are able to forgive what seem to be unforgivable acts and deeds and the subjects of altruism and social justice. I’m especially interested in the subject of justice, because while I believe it is my duty as an artist and writer to illuminating injustice, I also believe it is my duty to acknowledge how complicated and sometime messy getting true justice is.

Q: What were some of the biggest challenges you faced writing it?

A: Some of the scenes in this novel were extremely hard to write because of the brutal nature of the events I had to portray.

Q: Have you either spoken to groups of people about your book or appeared on radio or TV? What are your upcoming plans for doing so?

A: I have been doing quite a few book clubs and appearances at local independent bookstores. I’ve also done a pod cast for the Ann Arbor District Library.This summer I was selected to be one of the featured speakers at the Ann Arbor Book Festival. I haven’t done any radio or TV yet but I hope to do so in the future.

Q: Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it’s necessary to have one?

A: I did have an agent; however she retired before she sold my manuscript. I was able to place my novel with Plenary Publishing, but it would have been nice to have an agent to help with the negotiation of my contract

Q: Did you, your agent or publisher prepare a media blitz before the book came out and would you like to tell us about it?

A: Contacts I made with readers, book review bloggers and other authors over the years before I was published have proven extremely valuable in getting the word out about my novel

Q: Do you plan subsequent books?

A: Yes, I’m working on a new, so far untitled, work that one of my writer friends describes as a historical novel with paranormal sprinkles. I also plan to do a sequel to Act of Grace.

Q: Thank you for your interview, Karen. Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

A: Thank you so much for interviewing me. Act of Grace is on sale now in trade paperback and e-book from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. People can find me at or on my blog at

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