Q&A With Karin Melberg Schwier
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Q&A With Karin Melberg Schwier
My latest Q&A is with author and illustrator Karin Melberg Schwier. A few of Karin’s many books include Small Reckonings, Flourish, Breaking Bread, Nourishing Connections: People with and without Disabilities Together At Mealtime, Sexuality: Your Sons & Daughters with Intellectual Dissabilities & Idea Man. Small Reckonings is her debut novel, her first major work of fiction. Her debut novel has also been re-released by Shadowpaw Press.
Q: So Karin, when did you feel that being an author was your calling and that it was what you wanted to do?
A: My mother tells me I would write myself stories and illustrates them before I could actually write, so that’s got to be about 62 years ago or so! My Dad is almost 96 and he was always a big big reader. We had literally hundreds, probably thousands of books in our home over the years, stacks, full bookshelves, in boxes. I was always surrounded by books and I remember when I was about five or six, I was given a book by my grandmother about a pig in China who dug truffles. Truffles? I’d never heard that word before and I had this epiphany about the secrets that books would reveal if you just read them! In grade one, my teacher (whom I adored) asked us all to write stories and she’d make a book. I got to illustrate the cover and my story was about a duck that couldn’t fly. He collected chicken feathers and held them in his hands and flew. Something clicked when the teacher handed out those Gestetner-made copies. It was a real book! I still have it. Throughout school, I really enjoyed all my English classes. In junior high I was a ‘press correspondent’ for the local newspaper so I always got a thrill when my column came out. When I was still in high school, I started working for the weekly newspaper—mainly because I had been working at the grocery store as a part-time clerk and could absolutely not balance my till. The manager spoke to the local newspaper publisher and said “We’ve got to get this girl another job.” So my journalism career was born. Aside from a time when I worked on a dairy farm in New Zealand, all my jobs have been writing-based. So I guess I’ve just never thought of doing anything else. I’m 64 and I still love it.
Q: Would you like to tell the readers of the blog and I a little bit about your books and why you chose to write about these topics?
A: If we’re talking about my fiction first, that’s the debut novel. I’ve always been fascinated by historical prairie fiction, and non-fiction about homesteading. I had done a lot of interviews as a teenager when I worked for a weekly newspaper in northern Alberta in Canada. The paper assigned me to do stories about various pioneers of the Peace River Country and the profiles appeared in the paper. They were really popular with readers, so the paper put them together in a book called Yesterday’s Children. Would you believe that was 45 years ago and I still get a request for a copy now and then! It was a great way to understand pioneer life, and I didn’t realize how useful that experience would be when I started researching and writing my novel. I dug deep in that well to create the characters and setting. As for my non-fiction books, there were particular issues about disability and people’s experiences that I had an interest in, mostly because of our son Jim who has a disability, and I had questions about how we could create a better life for him. Those questions grew into books and I was lucky enough to attract publishers before or after I finished each project.
Q: What are you currently writing about at this moment?
A: Inheriting Violet is a sequel that picks up where Small Reckonings left off. The first novel is based on true incidents told to me by a wonderful retired farmer. In the spring of 2021, he came to visit me and I asked him to tell me that original story again so I could record it. He was about ten minutes in and dropped a bombshell bit of detail that he hadn’t told me the first time. I shrieked and he said ‘oh sure, that’s what we all thought happened.” Well, had he told me that the first time around, the novel would never have turned out the way it did. My first editor and publisher pulled my original manuscript apart and said we’d keep the second part, about 50 pages, for the second novel. I didn’t believe her at the time that I had another novel in me, but she was right! For everyone who has asked what happened to the characters in Small Reckonings, the sequel sorts it all out! My other current jobs include being the editor of Saskatoon HOME magazine, a quarterly, and I also write articles for each issue. It’s a home decor, renovation and historical features magazine. I also write for a provincial quarterly magazine, Prairies North, which features articles about interesting locations and experiences throughout Saskatchewan.
Q: How do you juggle being an author and an illustrator? Do you illustrate both your books as well as other authors?
A: Sadly, my illustrating only happens occasionally these past few years. For nearly three decades, I worked in communications so writing has been a primary part of my employment with illustrating jobs thrown in now and then. As a freelance writer now, I regularly collect various writing jobs whether they are grant applications, award submissions, articles for various publications. I’m sort of ‘on call’ for a local realtor to write blog posts, and for a company who produces corporate training materials. I’m the editor of a quarterly magazine called Saskatoon HOME, and I contribute several articles to each issue. It features articles on decor, renovation, building, and local history. I’ve illustrated a couple of my own children’s books and did some for other authors. I contribute articles to a provincial magazine called Prairies North. Most recently, my illustrations have served to create little storybooks for my grandchildren who are always hugely impressed that I can draw. It’s a superpower I use to captivate the younger ones when we’re looking after them. Juggling the fiction writing, non-fiction work and illustrating is a matter of being organized, and trying to avoid procrastination at all costs. Sometimes that works, and every now and then, it doesn’t!