Q&A with Karen Storm

We are thrilled to feature Karen Storm’s The Bonsai as part of our weekly feature series. As part of our weekly features, we are interested in learning more about our authors, and hope that their experiences will help to empower other writers. Please enjoy this brief Q&A with Karen!

What is your favorite childhood book?

I loved adventure stories, and as I’ve walked around the last couple of days thinking about this, I always land on Treasure Island. As a girl growing up in the 50’s, it was clear that boys had the better life with more privileges and opportunities for adventure in their lives. Thus, I read books about boys. It wasn’t hard to imagine myself finding a map and seeking treasure.

What is the first book that made you cry?

The first book that made me cry was probably The Yearling. Again, the protagonist is a boy living a lonely life as an only child in the wilds of Florida. He has all sorts of adventures in the out of doors, including getting his own fawn to raise. To have to put survival before his love for the fawn was unfathomable to me at the time I read the book, in my early teens. Yet it’s a universal dilemma for people who struggle with poverty.

This brings me to another favorite, which was Strawberry Girl. In this case, the protagonist is a girl—hurrah! And again, it’s a story about a young person living in poor conditions with great bravery.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I realized that words had power the minute I learned to read. I need to back up a little to explain this. My father immigrated from Norway with his family. Our first house was behind a mansion and I remember a wood burning stove. Because he couldn’t support the family, for a while, I lived in an orphanage called Taylor Home in Racine, Wisconsin, from where I started school. In the late 40’s, reading was taught using something called the “look say” method, meaning that the child basically memorized words. I didn’t have much exposure to books until I went to school, but when I read my first Dick and Jane book, I was a goner! I could read almost instantly, and I resolved to read every book in the school library. Reading took me out of my life and into a world where brave protagonists lived adventuresome lives that turned out well. Now that’s power!

What does literary success look like to you?

Literary success. . . hmm. . . having something to say that helps people make sense of their lives, all the while engaging and entertaining them with a lively and thoughtful narrative. To provide such literary experiences for others would feel like success to me.

Anything else you would like to share?

From the time I was a small child I wanted to be a writer. My two sisters and I wrote numerous plays which we presented to the neighborhood kids, and I wrote stories and poems from a young age. But then life happened, things like needing money, wanting a family, and later needing to support that family. Soon I was in my 30’s and still not a writer. . . then in my 40’s and not yet a writer, although I kept journals and drafts of stories. . . then graduate school believing I would write academic articles. . . which I did, but they never felt like I was expressing a fundamental part of me. Finally, entering the MFA program at the U of Minnesota and writing. Wow. It has been a long journey. I want to say to others, don’t wait. Don’t put it off, if you feel called to write. Find a way, even if you can only write the first hour of a busy day or before you go to bed, on the bus or subway, whatever. Just do it.