Mymcbooks's Blog

Keepsake that Educates!

Interview with Karen Henry Clark


I am fairly sure I was born asking my parents for books. 

My father learned to build bookcases to hold them, and my mother learned to cook and read aloud at the same time. I went to sleep every night telling stories to my dolls. When I realized my loops did not look like the words in books, I dictated my first story to my father. Getting a book published became my ambition.

But school got in the way, which is sometimes the case with education, and I concentrated on a safe career path. I became a teacher, jotting down story ideas during faculty meetings or concerts or at traffic lights.

Finally I set to work at writing picture books. After years of rejection, I complained to a successful author who wisely said, “If you stop submitting your stories, you will not be published. I promise. Maybe you should do something else—like become a waitress.” 

Decades later, I made up a bedtime story for our adopted Chinese daughter about her imaginary adventure on the Pearl River. She loved it, so I wrote it down for her. Sweet Moon Baby became my first published book. 

In terms of black and white details, I have lived in the South, Southwest and across theMidwest.  My M.A. in English is from theUniversityofTulsa. Currently I live inSt. Paul,Minnesotawith my husband and daughter. 

I have not become a waitress. Yet.

 Interview with Karen Henry Clark author of Sweet Moon An Adoption Tale.

I want to thank you for being my guest here on Mymcbooks Blog

What is the last book you read?

I just finished Anchee Min’s PEARL OFCHINA, a fictionalized historical novel about Pearl Buck.

What were your earliest memories of writing?

Before I even entered school, I was trying to write by using circles, lines, and dots that I thought looked like the words on the grocery lists my mother wrote.  Unfortunately no one could read my words.  I knew something was wrong with my writing, so I dictated a story to my father about a runaway popcorn ball, which everyone could read.

Were you encouraged to write or was it something that came naturally? 

My parents devoted their lives to encouraging me.  They read to me whenever I asked them to, and I can still remember a train trip acrossIndianawhen my mother lost her voice reading an issue of JACKANDJILLmagazine over and over to me for hours.  Making up stories was a constant theme in my life, perhaps in part because I was an only child who had to figure out how to entertain herself.  So I told stories to my dolls and stuffed animals.  Because my mother was a housewife with chores to do, she often whiled away the time when she was ironing or cooking or dusting by improvising scenes with me.  We created countless stories on the spot.

Are you working on a new book?

I’m always working on several at a time.  Some take years and some happen quickly.

What inspired you to write Sweet Moon Baby?

When we adopted our daughter fromChina, there were several picture books on the market, but nice as they were, they didn’t tell the story the way I wanted her to think about it.  Because the first year of her life will always be a mystery, I wanted to address that part.  I wanted to inspire her imagination and show her that she found her way to us as much by faith and generosity as by paperwork.  

How did you come up with each character?

While the origins of the baby and both sets of parents are obvious, the other characters are pulled straight from our daughter’s life once we adopted her.  Her first word in English was “moon,” and she said it with such joy as she pointed into the sky that I believed they’d been devoted companions forever.  Then I began to imagine how her favorite toys and books might relate to her early days, too.

Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?

I suffered constantly at first until I found my own rhythm.

What is the most difficult part of writing?

For me, everything.  It is an amazing sleight-of-hand that begins with an invisible idea inside my head.  Then it turns itself inside out and appears on a page, making readers smile, giggle, cry, think.   There’s something magic about that trick.  The thing that matters is the fact that I do it because I love it.  I love, while agonizing over, the entire adventure of writing. Otherwise, I would have given up when I was four and didn’t understand the alphabet.  Instead, I found someone who did.  A writer has to find a way out of the hat, so to speak. 

What do you do when you’re not writing or promoting your books? 

I walk along the Mississippi River for an hour each day when the weather cooperates.  Because I’m not employed outside the home, I have daily household chores.  Several months ago, we adopted two shelter dogs who are still excited about having a yard for the first time, so I let them out and let them in.  And let them out and let them in.  And let….

How do you react to a bad review?

So far the reviews have been lovely, but there have been some slight jabs here and there.  I take a deep breath and remind myself there are two important sides to every coin.  (This is the mature response.  My husband and daughter might describe it differently.)     

What do you hope that readers will take away from your book?

I hope they see the story is about more than adoption.  It is a saga about the impact of faith, of believing in something you cannot see yet, but love whispers that it really is there.  Important signs and experiences happen constantly in our lives.  We have to notice and believe in them and find the courage to respond correctly.  

Who are some of your favorite authors you would love to dine with?

This question makes me nervous as all get out.  A wallflower by nature, the thought of eating with a stranger scares me.  Food sticks in my throat whenever I have to do this, so I usually order soup.  That said, I once had lunch with novelist Pat Conroy in a BBQ joint in Tulsa, where there was no soup on the menu.  I munched on several easy-to-swallow fries.  The experience truly changed my life because his words made me begin writing seriously.

What discipline do you impose on yourself regarding schedules, goals, etc.?

Writing is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor.  Sitting glued to a chair every morning at 8 amis not in my nature.  To have someone tell me that’s the only way to do it is as limiting as teachers who pronounce to a class that HAMLET has only three themes, so the student who tries to write about anything else is deemed wrong.  To me, writing is more than literally putting words on paper.  Watching the pattern of an eagle flying above the river is writing.  Jotting lines of dialogue on the back of a concert program is writing.  Stopping in the middle of making a salad to realize I need to add a scene involving lettuce to a story is writing.  According to my definition, I’m never not writing.  The pay-off comes when I see the way to piece these random things together.  They start a story.  They end a story.  They move a stuck story along.  I learned this from that lunch with Pat.  Every writer’s way that produces a story is the right way.   

What advice would you give parents on selecting the right books for their children to read?

Notice what they love and find a book about that.  Let them love it for what it is.  Don’t test their vocabulary.  Don’t ask long-winded questions about characterization.  Don’t quiz them on plot.  Leave them alone to love the book in their own way.  I once worked in a bookstore and heard a mother complain because her daughter wasn’t a reader.  She had asked the advice of a neighbor who was an English professor.  He said the girl needed to read a classic American novel in order to appreciate the value of reading.  So the mother wanted THE GREAT GATSBY for the twelve-year-old girl.  No matter how tactfully the manager tried to persuade her against this choice, she insisted.  I feel certain that novel was not the answer.  As my mother used to say, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  You have to find the best water for each child.  Some like creek water.  Some prefer a pond.   

What advice would you give to new writers?

Do not give up on yourself.  Give yourself time.  I’ve learned incredible lessons from rejection letters.  I always thought of “no” as failure until I spoke with a salesman who said he believed each “no” took him one step closer to “yes.”  Hold onto that. 

Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

I simply cannot say enough about the brilliant artwork by Patrice Barton in SWEET MOON BABY.  Sometimes people ask if the illustrations turned out the way I had imagined.  “No, they’re better,” I answer.  When it comes to picture books, her vision as an artist is far better than my word-bound understanding of a story.  It’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to make it visible.  I call us a literary blind date that worked.  The Knopf editors who connected us were clever matchmakers indeed.

August 28, 2011 - Posted by | Meet the Author | , , , , , , ,


  1. Yay for the illustrations-glad to hear someone else adores them🙂

    Comment by krystallarson | August 28, 2011 | Reply

  2. Great and personal interview. This book sounds beautiful! I think its great for sharing the obstacles that were faced and overcome.

    Comment by Larissa | August 28, 2011 | Reply

  3. Hi Karen,
    First I’d like to say Thank you for sharing your personal story of how you ended up writing Sweet Moon Baby. I love the cover and the Title.
    It’s been nice meeting you here.
    Carol L
    Lucky4750 (at) aol (dot) com

    Comment by Carol L. | August 28, 2011 | Reply

  4. I am glad you did not give up writing. It is very neat that you’re a teacher as well as a writer. Do your students get to benefit from your stories just as your daughter did?

    Comment by Cassandra | August 29, 2011 | Reply

  5. Thank You for this wonderful interview and a chance to get to know you. I love the cover of Sweet Moon Baby , I have 4 kids , so they are always excited to read a new book. Thank You .
    Crystal Trent Dotson

    Comment by Crystal Trent Dotson | August 29, 2011 | Reply

  6. What a wonderful interview! It feels as though the author really opened up and allowed us to get to know her! I remember being frustrated before learning to write when nobody could make any sense out of my scribbles, I had to giggle a little as I read about your lines, squares, and circles! So glad that you did not give up!

    marciclark88 at gmail dot com

    Comment by Marci Clark | August 29, 2011 | Reply

  7. I love the story and how it opens the door to talk about what may have been for our children. And, she’s right, Patrice Barton did an AMAZING job with the illustrations. I’m tempted to tear the pages out and hang them on my wall!🙂

    Comment by Kelly Raudenbush | August 30, 2011 | Reply

  8. Great interview! I love the fact that you are such an inspiration! Thanks for your wonderful stories!

    Comment by lisa | September 8, 2011 | Reply

  9. I really enjoyed reading this interview, especially the part when you said: “Let them love it [books} for what it is. ” I agree! There is a time and place to teach them all about the different parts of a book or a story, but that won’t make a child love a book or experience the joy of reading. This book would be perfect for my daughter who was also adopted from China.

    nancyecdavis AT bellsouth DOT net

    Comment by Nancye Davis | September 10, 2011 | Reply

  10. I also get nervous eating with strangers so I can relate to the author’s inclination to stick with soup.

    Comment by Lily Kwan | September 14, 2011 | Reply

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