About Karen Simpson
Karen Simpson is passionate about the craft of writing fiction, the art of quilting, and the discipline of historical research. She received her bachelor’s degree in Animal Husbandry, M.A. in Foreign and International Trade and a M.S. in Historic Preservation. A historic preservationist trained in heritage interpretation and administration, the subjects and themes of her fiction are often taken from the stories she discovers while doing research for museum exhibits. In 2009 Simpson was awarded the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant. She is lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Act of Grace is her first novel.
Q: Thank you for this interview, Karen. Can you tell us what your latest book, Act of Grace is all about?
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.
Act of Grace came out of my lifelong interest in 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: Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?
A: The novel’s protagonist is a feisty high school senior named Grace who, when introduced, is primarily worried about her weight, hair, and plans for college. After the death of her great-grandmother, Grace suddenly becomes enmeshed in a complex unraveling of her family’s history.
Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?
A: I tend to draw most of my characters from my imagination. Although family and friends still like to think I’m writing about them.
Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?
A: I start out with what I think is the plot, but then the characters start talking back about what their wants and needs are, so I end up changing everything.
Q: Your book is set in a small town in Michigan. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?
A: Grace’s hometown of Vigilant is based on a real town in Michigan because I wanted to explore the issue of racial violence in the North.
Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?
A: I did draw from the history of Michigan, for example I include some details about the Underground Railroad that helped thousands of slaves escape north to Michigan and nearby Canada.
Q: Open the book to page 69. What is happening?
A: Grace is at the funeral of her Great Grandmother Nana Grace. Nana Grace is a woman the younger Grace will soon find out is as powerful in death as she was in life.
Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?
A: As Nikki hit the highway; I told myself it was too pretty a day to be paranoid. The flowing landscape was a vibrant quilt of colors. Lacey patches of Christmas red, butter yellow and pumpkin orange trees were appliquéd in abundance on the hem of a cloudless blue sky. I let my head flop on the leather crown of the back seat and began to relax as warm tongues of wind licked away my worries. I wasn’t even concerned that blind squirrels with lobotomies could drive better than Nikki. I let Shanta mess with the problem. Every now and then I would hear girlfriend yelling, “damn it, Nikki, slow down.”
Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Karen. We wish you much success!
A: Thank you. This was fun.