The second author in the Lincoln County Public Library Beyond the Book series finished up her weeklong tour of Lincoln County at the new West Lincoln library on Saturday. Karma Wilson grew up in North Idaho and now lives in Montana. Because she grew up in a rural area, television channels were at a premium, so Wilson spent a lot of time reading.
“We had one black and white television with a very tiny screen,” she said. “We got three channels, and only one of them really good. I watched ‘Little House on the Prairie,’ ‘Gilligan’s Island,’ and Saturday cartoons and that was about it.”
Wilson had a troubled childhood and a child psychologist that she was seeing limited her book diet because that’s all she did – read.
“I read so much that it was interfering with my personal relationships and my schoolwork,” she said. “It was an escape mechanism for me. It was helpful for me in a lot of ways, but it did interfere in some ways.”
She didn’t grow up wanting to be an author like her mother who wrote adult books. She was a high school dropout, but not due to intelligence. When she did take her GED, she was one of the highest tested at the facility, except for math. She wanted to run a daycare, so she took some early childhood education classes at a community college. For a while, she ran a daycare in Oregon, but when she moved back to North Idaho where she was raised, her location was too rural for a daycare.
“I always took my kids to the library and I remembered how happy books made them and me growing up,” she said. “I wanted to contribute to that – but I didn’t want to do what Mom did. I just wanted to try to become a children’s book writer, but at first it was a naïve hope. Most people who want to become writers, don’t make it. I’m very, very lucky.”
Wilson wrote many stories before she wrote her first book that sold, “Bear Snores On,” which was published in 2002.
“The funny thing is that the writing rules in all of the writer guideline books say no rhyming and no talking animals, so I avoided those subjects for the three years that I was trying to write,” she said. “I’d only write rhyme if I was writing small poems. I decided that I was going to break the rules because what my kids and I enjoyed reading tended to be rhyme and talking animals. I was about to give up and just write magazine articles, but did one last push, ‘Bear Snores On’ and sent it to my critique group. Everybody raved about it.”
A friend in this group had just gotten published and thought that her agent would love the book. This same agent had already rejected Wilson once, but as soon as he saw the book, he took her on immediately. It sold to the second publisher who saw it.
Since then, she has had more than 40 books accepted for publication. In addition to visits to area schools, Wilson has offered several well attended writing classes for both children and adults throughout the week.
“My writing workshops are very casual, and I try to discuss things that I think kids especially struggle with,” she said. “I remember there were ideas for me that I just wasn’t taught in school. I don’t think it’s an oversight, I just don’t think it’s the direction they take. I focus on strong things vs. weak words, things that I think kids aren’t exposed to. It’s amazing how kids at even such a young age can understand those concepts and it clicks with them. I hope that it makes a difference in making their writing a little bit stronger.”
As a child, Wilson never imagined that she’d be a successful writer of books like the ones that were her best friends growing up.
“One of the biggest joys to me as a writer is to think about my books helping a child,” she said. “For a while when I was younger, I worked with elderly and disabled people, including autistic people. I really enjoyed that work, but I didn’t realize that writing rhyme and my picture books would be helpful to autistic kids and their families. I have probably gotten 15 or 20 different letters from parents of autistic children saying that my books were their child’s first words. This is something that I never intended or imagined, but it’s just amazing.”
The story walks at Highland Drive Park, Rock Springs Nature Preserve, Vale Recreational Park and West Lincoln Park are each featuring one of the Bear books. A special story walk through downtown Lincolnton will also be posted in partnership with local businesses and the Downtown Development Association of Lincolnton.
The Beyond the Book series is funded by a $50,000 grant from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act as administered by the State Library of North Carolina a division of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.