Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How I Began Writing My First Novel

Picture of Keshia Thomas with Karen Simpson. Photo taken by Karen Simpson
Keshia Thomas (L)  shown with Karen Simpson (R) at the University of Michigan in March, 2013. 
About 12 years ago, I read about a heroic incident that happened in1996 in which a young woman, Keshia Thomas  lived up to her values of  hope and love during a Klan rally in our  hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan.  

With nothing but a picture and a few paragraphs I started on my writing journey.  I used my imagination to contemplate how much courage it would take to shield someone who is full of hate. My novel, Act of Grace developed into a paranormal,  speculative fiction taking on race relations in America. 

Although my novel departed from the original story, I still often wondered about what happened to Keshia. March of this year I was able to help bring Keshia to the University of Michigan to speak about her experience via the Understanding Race Project.  I was over the moon to finally meet her and grateful for the experience.  

I was elated this week to see Keshia and the wonderful photographer who took those historic photos, Thomas and Mark Brunner spark positive thoughts about race relations across the globe.

Please take time to read about Keshia and her wonderful act of bravery.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Quilter's Dream

 2009-12-31 23.00.00-1242009-12-31 23.00.00-130Favorite One of Karen and DancerDancer and Karen 2Dancer and Karen Beauty-12009-12-31 23.00.00-123
Dancer's Hair Blowing

Karen Simpson Horse Quilt., a set on Flickr.

I think one of the earliest religious disappointments as a young girls developed from my unanswered prayer for a horse. In the 1960’s I was an African American girl praying for a dream that from all the evidence only white people could make come true. There were no brown children like me riding horses on the television or on the movie screen. There were no heroes of African descent riding fast horses to victory in any of the books I read. Yet I believed, as only a child can believe, that if I prayed, wished on stars and blew on the fluffy heads of dandelions that one day God would reward my faith.

Sometimes God says yes. Sometimes God says no. Sometime God just hands you a slightly wild idea and tells you to run with it. My love of horses would lead me to a degree in Animal Science, however, what I wanted, but didn’t have for a long time was an artistic touchstone that connected my passion for horses to my African American heritage.

Several years ago, as I was flipping through a now defunct fiber arts magazine I came upon an advertisement for an African textiles exhibit, which featured pictures of Hausa horsemen in quilted armor.  For me the photos were an epiphany, a flash of the spirit, and an ancestral voice told me that I had to make myself quilted armor and that it didn’t matter that I didn’t know a thing about quilting.

I can say now that it was a call to an important artistic journey; however, my first quilt teacher considered my goal of a quilt for horses to be down right strange. I went ahead anyway. What I learned in her classes was not only the basics of quilting but also the courage to ignore criticism and follow my artistic passions. My first quilt project ended up being a quilted coat for a horse and me.

I have now been a quilter for about 20 years and taught quilting for over 15.  Until last week the quilted armor I’d created had never been on a horse. I met up with an old  friend who had a pony named Dancer. On a beautiful sun drenched day Dancer wore my coat, the amazing thing is that it fit like I’d made it for him.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Go On Girl!! Book Club Awards

2009-12-31 23.00.00-602009-12-31 23.00.00-452009-12-31 23.00.00-542009-12-31 23.00.00-252009-12-31 23.00.00-62009-12-31 23.00.00-56
2009-12-31 23.00.00-442009-12-31 23.00.00-182009-12-31 23.00.00-192009-12-31 23.00.00-802009-12-31 23.00.00-282009-12-31 23.00.00-39

It was wonderful to be honored for my novel Act of Grace by the Go On Girl! Book Club. My Award was a lovely quilt piece and I was so touched by the ceremony and the gift of being able to talk with so many of my readers.

Monday, December 24, 2012

My Favorite Culinary Christmas Tradition

The Simpson Family Christmas Eve Paella

Not a real Paella in the strict sense of the traditional recipe. Once upon a time it was a traditional recipe but over the 40 years since I’ve first prepared it I’ve adjusted the recipe to fit the tastes of my family and the friends who have attended my family’s Christmas Eve celebration.

This is not a recipe of exact proportion this a more of how you feel, how many folks are coming over kind of recipe. Experiment with adding seafood and other vegetable your family may like. This is also a great dish to usher in the new year.

1/4 cup of butter
2 large green bell pepper sliced 
Two or three bunches of green onions sliced
6 large skinless, boneless chicken breast boiled, then sliced small 
4 cups of chicken broth
2lbs or more of polish or smoke sausage sliced
1 lb or more of ham sliced into strips
 3 cups (16 oz) rice
32 oz uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined ( more if you like more sea food)
2 large green bell pepper, diced.

Heat the butter in a pan and saute green pepper and onions until tender remove and set aside.
Cook sausage until done pour off excess oil and set aside in large mixing bowl.
Cook ham until done and mix with sausage.
Sautee shimp until done (do not overcook) retain the juice.
Boil rice in chicken broth until done pour off excess broth.
In a large pan add rice, shrimp, sausage, ham bell peppers, onions and mix together well. Season to taste with salt at this point.

May the joy of the season be with you all year.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Happy Birthday James Baldwin

Happy Birthday James Baldwin

 When I was young I use to beg my mother to let me stay up late on a school night so that I could watch him on television. He was the first black writer I had ever seen and he was writing about the things I cared deeply about. I was mesmerized by him and soaked in everything he said.  When dad brought  home a copy of the Fire Next Time for a class he was taking  I snuck that book out of his pile and took it to my room. I know now my dad must of know I had it, he saw me sneaking around and reading it, he never asked for that copy  back he just went out and bought a new copy himself:)

In my novel Act of Grace, Mr. Baldwin's book The Fire Next Time show up when  Grace's  english teacher is trying to reach her restless class:

Up front, Mrs. Watanabe began trying her best to get us to explore the finer points of James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. After twenty minutes, she realized she was looking at a whole neighborhood of folks whose lights were on, but who were not home. So with a tiny smile that signaled her surrender, she closed her notebook. Then, for the sake of conversation, she asked what she already knew, “so what is everybody planning to do after graduation?”

~Act of Grace. 

 Thank you dad for never asking for your book back.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What I Like to Bring to Book Clubs and Book Signings.

When I attend book clubs or other literary events I like to bring something as a token of appreciation for those who have taken their time to buy and read my book. Usually I show up with a pound cake but other times I bring these wonderful very spicy gingerbread cookies based on a Martha Steward recipe.   

 They are rabbit shaped because the theme of  The Velveteen Rabbit, how to we must accept ourselves as worthy of being loved and how we become real though loving relationships, runs through out my novel Act of Grace. Grace's basket name or nickname is Rabbit for a variety of reasons that are revealed though out the novel.  Below is the recipe incase you are to far away for me to make a visit. Have fun making and eating them.

Spicy Gingerbread Cookies

6 cups sifted all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup unsalted butter

1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed

4 teaspoons ground ginger

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1-1/2 teaspoons ground cloves

1-1/2 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

1-1/2 teaspoons salt

2 large eggs slightly beaten

1 cup unsulfured molasses

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda and baking powder set aside.

In an eclectic mixer fitted with a paddle attachment beat together butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in spices and salt then eggs and molasses.

Add flour mixture; combine on low speed. Divide in thirds; wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Roll dough  ¼ inch  between two pieces of waxed paper. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters. Transfer shapes to ungreased cookie sheets. If desired, decorate with raisins, dragĂ©es, and/or red hot candies. Refrigerate about 15 minutes. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until crisp but not dark. Allow to cool on the cookie sheet for 1 minute, then remove to wire racks to cool completely. If desired, decorate with Icing.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

All the Beautiful Horses

Next novel is about horses and the women of all colors who love them. The plot is still revealing itself to me but I'm a good bit into writing it. I have more research to do.
This is one my favorite pictures. Took it at the Kentucky Horse Park one summer day about 2 years ago. I Remember thinking the horse and the woman were so majestic and graceful. I ride but not this well. Maybe I'll take up some more horseback lessons this coming fall.