Monday, November 28, 2016


Today, my friends, we are chatting with Karin Gustafson, who blogs at ManicDDaily.  We last spoke with Karin, whom you have likely come across here or at our sister site, Imaginary Garden With Real Toads, in 2014, so I thought it was time to see what she has been up to in the meantime. Rumor has it she has a new book out, so let's order coffee all around, and settle in.

Sherry: Yay! I am so happy to be chatting with you, after all this time. I have been following your progress with interest. Karin, for our newer members, would you give us a little snapshot of your life in the Catskills, and commuting  into New York for work? You have the best of both worlds. What are the joys?

Karin: Dear Sherry,  First, thanks so much for having me back to the wonderful site that is Poets United.

I do split my time between the mountains in Upstate New York and midtown Manhattan. I am not sure I have the best of both worlds though! I am truly based in the country and my once-a-week trip to the City takes nearly four hours each way! I then typically spend three days and two nights down in Manhattan, where I stay with a good friend.

The joys of the life?  Well, it enables me to live most of the time in a somewhat remote and magical area of the country (which also happens to be where my husband is based) while still keeping my day job!  The bad parts—it can get very discombobulating to drag around so much!

That said, there are, of course, many joys—my train ride along the Hudson River is one of the most beautiful in the world—the banks of the river are full of hills and cliffs and mountains and mist and is just lovely every time of year.

Sherry: I envy you that lovely train ride!

Karin: I tend to be pretty busy with my job in the City so don’t get to go to as much City “stuff” as I’d like, but my dear friend there twists my arm to go to music performances every so often.  Then, usually my husband comes down too, and we go to the opera or Carnegie Hall, where I am always just astonished by the level of musical genius in the world.

The place where I really do get a certain “bestness” is the country. I work some days a week from upstate, and try to spend a great deal of time outdoors even when I am working, talking on the phone from the driveway, etc!  I feel just tremendously lucky to be able to be there while also keeping up a pretty urban type of job.

Sherry: It does sound a magical mix! Especially your cottage in the country. Would you bring us up to date with what’s going on in your life since we last spoke?

Karin: The very bad news has been the death of a close work colleague. This brought not only his loss, but a great deal more work and responsibility. So, it’s been a sad and rather stressful time with regard to my work life.

Sherry: I am so sorry to hear that, Karin.

Karin: The good news is that I did publish a new book called Dogspell, a children’s novel about a girl and her dog that I also illustrated.

Sherry: I have a copy, have read it and enjoyed it very much. Not only are the illustrations adorable and amusing, but the story has a very good message in it for middle school children. It is enjoyable for adults as well, especially those of us who find dogs and kids irresistible! (It is available here, kids, and is a delight!)

Speaking of dogs, I am wondering if you might have added another dog to your life? Or is it still too soon after Pearl? Her passing was so sad, and I still think of her every time I come to your site.

Karin and Pearl

Karin: We’ve thought about getting another dog! Anyone reading Dogspell will know that I heavily relied on direct canine contributions for that book!  Right now, all my travel to the City would make getting a new dog a bit difficult, but it would still be pretty nice.

Sherry: All that puppy-love on your return home! Visitors to your blog enjoy your wonderful sketches as much as your poetry. Would you tell us a bit about your journey through art and writing? I remember you began very young.

Karin: I’ve wanted to be a writer my whole life.  Though, unfortunately, it’s never been my “day job,” it has always been my star.

I became very interested in drawing and painting in high school, but never took my own art work seriously (perhaps because I was close to people who were extremely dedicated visual artists.)  But then, years later, when I had my children, I found myself making little playdoh sculptures for them, especially little playdoh elephants.  This led me to do my first book--a children’s picture book called 1 Mississippi, which features a lot of watercolors of elephants. 

1 Mississippi (available here), led me to start my blog--initially as a way of promoting the book!  That didn’t work out so well--I’m not a great self-promoter--but it did lead me to do a lot more drawing and painting to use with my blog.

I am hoping, if I can ease up in my job life, to spend a lot more time doing illustration as I would love to do more children’s picture books.

Sherry: That would be wonderful. Tell us about Dogspell, won't you?

Seemie and Sally

Karin: I am honestly quite proud of my latest book, Dogspell.  It is a book that I started years ago, when my own children and our beloved dog Pearl were young.  As a result, it’s a book that has been in my life for an embarrassingly long time!

It is the story of a girl and her dog.  Or, maybe I should say it’s the story of a dog and his girl.  But really it is a story about friendship, with the added sweetness of dog friendship. 

I did a large number of illustrations for the book.  On one level I am not completely happy with the illustrations, as I would like to have used “higher tech” means of inserting them into the text—they are a little clunky—but even so, I think they are one of the nicest aspects of the book.

Illustration (for me) is a thorny issue as my best drawings are done in pencil with a rather sketchy quality. This does not always reproduce well on paper. In the case of Dogspell, I finally gave up on the idea of re-doing all the drawings digitally, but I have thought a lot about trying to get better with digital media, as it would certainly make it a lot easier to get to a final product.

Sherry: I think your illustrations are delightful! You have other books, as well. What do you love about writing books for children?

Karin: Ha! I actually have four other published books (five in total) - 1 Mississippi (little children’s counting picture book written and illustrated by me); Going on Somewhere – a book of my poetry illustrated by Diana Barco and Jason Martin; Nose Dive - a young adult novel written by me, but illustrated by Jonathan Segal; Nice – an adult “literary” novel written by me and cover by me; and now Dogspell, a children’s novel written and illustrated by me.)  

I love writing books for children, in part, because I have a bend in my work towards the “cute” which may be more acceptable to a young audience, but mainly because I also just love children and love children’s books! The experience of reading as a child, or being read to, are to me among the most important of a lifetime.

The main problem for me in writing books for children is that it is an incredibly difficult commercial market, particularly for an unknown writer.

What also makes it a bit hard to self-market is that many adults immediately assume that a book written with an eye towards children or young adults wouldn’t be interesting to them.  As a result, a lot of my adult contacts won’t even open a book like Dogspell or Nose Dive!  (Even though I think that adults would actually find my books fun.  I hope anyway!) 

Sherry: I certainly did! I enjoyed every page and smiled all the way through. You captured the tone of a conversation between a child and her dog to perfection, I thought.  In your interview in 2014, you were at work on the novel titled “Nice”. Tell us about that one. 

Karin: Nice has been out for some time!  It has a rather dark subject matter - child sexual abuse as well as the types of societal abuses going on in 1968. I love the book and was happy with the final version.  One annoying issue for me has been that many people reading Nice have assumed that it is autobiographical.  While 1968 was certainly a time I knew (and the book reflects my experience of the era), it isn’t autobiographical. That said, I think it’s my strongest book, and would urge you all--especially those who don’t like children’s books--to read it. 

Sherry: It does sound like a deep read, and certainly topical for these times.  Are there two or three of your poems that you would like to share with us?

Karin: Here are a couple of poems.  I chose the first “June Upstate” because it describes the glory that is the shared experience of a children’s book, and the second, “The Year of Weeping Dangerously” because I know that you, Sherry, personally like it!  Thanks again so much for having me.  

June Upstate (Beginning of Vacation)

I call it spring,
because my children were
still lamblike
and we uncurled on a wool blanket
edged by grass that sprouted as wisps
rather than blades

and their hair downed
my arms, their heads resting so they too
could see the book, which I sometimes held aloft
like our own cloud, but more
like our own sun--what we
revolved around
as we moved the blanket about
an apple tree, in and out
of heat and cold,
brightness and wind,
the way the sky itself moved--
sometimes holding
our breath--for it was an exciting book,
a novel--
sometimes not speaking
in a way that was different
from listening, even me not speaking,
who read aloud---for it had sad parts

after words,
in a stiff unfold (as if our spines
had become the book’s spine),
our skin prickling (as if just then feeling
wool’s scratch),
and blinking at the overclouding blow
of afternoon,
we pulled ourselves back
into this single, unpaged, world, kneeling
as we rose.  


The Year of Weeping Dangerously

It made it hard to see
where she was going,
harder to see
where she’d been.

When she walked, she seemed
to squeegie,
shoe leather sodden,
even rubber soles
losing their grip.

Old friends stayed out of her way,
only animals
never strayed,
liking, she assumed,
the salt.

These things tend to come in waves,
maybe because we’re part sea
and Time part sand (the other part tide).
But caught in that divide,
she cried,
sometimes beside
herself, sometimes,
like a small animal,
beside herself.


Oddly, I think each poem was written during the 30 poems in April period—so they each kind of show how you can come up with material when pushing yourself.

Sherry: Both are wonderful poems. I love the children's heads "downing" your arms. I do especially like "The Year of Weeping Dangerously". I resonate with the tone, and with the weeping. Smiles.  

Tell us what you love about blogging, won't you?

Karin: Well, I love the camaraderie, the sense of sympathetic readers that one has whenever posting.  This has been a great help to me in getting work done, and in particular, in thinking of myself as a writer, i.e. in feeling some kind of claim to that identity.  Of course, I wrote for many years before blogging, but even with six or seven manuscripts stacked up, it’s hard to feel like a writer if you don’t feel anyone else granting you that role.  Blogging—the camaraderie with other writers, the sharing of material, the back-and-forth—has just been terrifically helpful in feeling more publicly myself.

Sherry: That is a wonderful description, "feeling more publicly myself". I love it! Is there anything you’d like to say to Poets United?

Karin: Thank you!  You are always (all of you over here) kind, welcoming, creative, accepting.  It is such a pleasure and comfort too that you exist!

Sherry: Thank you, Karin, for this opportunity to catch up with you. And for all of the wonderful illustrations!

Wasn't this fun, kids? It inspires me to get more of my own books on the go. Do come back and see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. What a delightful article. Karin, it really looks like you have a gift of writing children's books; and I have always enjoyed your drawings! "The Year of Weeping Dangerously" is such a poignant poem!! And, Karin, how cool to have two such very different homes. Would nice to be able to enjoy both settings & also really nice to be able to take in the culture and ambience of NYC. Hope we will see you in the Pantry or Midweek Motif sometime.... And, of course, Sherry, thanks for bringing this article together in such a dynamite way.

  2. I love to read this, and so nice to hear from you. I did love to read Nice, and of course to me with it connection back to Sweden it felt like I was reading about a distant relative... (though as you said a quite dark story). I share your view on blogging, this is exactly how it should be, and often is...

  3. This interview was very enjoyable as I sip a cup of warm tea. I came across Karin and her work in my early days of blogging. The little elephant always makes me smile. Blogging can be rewarding in so many ways. Best of luck on your new book!

    Thanks Sherry for another wonderful blog of the week!

  4. Dear Sherry, thanks for all your work in putting together this interview. I am traveling with my 93 year old mother today and so am slow to respond but I so appreciate your highlighting Dogspell! It is a fun little book so great for me to see it get the attention. All best, Karin Gustafsob

    1. Karin, thanks for taking the time to check in in the midst of travelling. Smiles. Am happy you are pleased, I enjoyed putting it together very much. I so enjoyed reading Dogspell, a great read for dog lovers, and I LOVE all of the illustrations. It was such a pleasure getting caught up with you. Keep those books coming!

  5. Thanks, Sherry and Karin, this was a treat to read. I have long been a huge fan of Karin's poetry; it blows me away every time. I thought 'Nice' was a good read, but poetry is my great love. As a former children's librarian, let me confirm that the first criterion for a children's book is that adults should be able to enjoy it too! (Also, everyone thinks they must be easier to write, but in fact they are even more challenging.) I think I must get me a copy of Dogspell soon! And yes, I love Karin's lively drawings too.

  6. Loved this - what an enchanting interview. I am in awe of people who pursue their creative dreams even when it gets complicated. For the most part, I pushed my writing off until my children were raised and my work career had ended. Consequently, I lost a lot of time - and inspiration - and have a lot of catching up to do in my sixties. Well done - you - Karin. Another fantastic interview, Sherry.

  7. What a wonderful interview! I love Karin's work and I am not sure how you get so much work done--but I am glad you do!

  8. Another wonderful interview sherry. What really touches me is Karin's inexhaustible energy and her love for children. Love the two poems shared here Karin and congrats on your books. My best wishes...

  9. A lovely interview Sherry. Karin, loved the poems, the first one took my breath away with its wordplay. Fantastic to have so many books published!

  10. Such a wonderful interview Sherry and K! Hank has great admiration for those prolific writers with lots of books written. And more so having them self-illustrated. Keep at it Ma'am!


  11. Such a great interview! Several of Karin's books have found their way into a classroom library in Africa, and the students have really enjoyed them.

  12. I am never disappointed when I stop by to read your interviews Sherry. Today, I am awed. What beautiful poems. Both capture the essence of feelings familiar and so deep in our hearts. Karin you are immensely talented. I love (and envy) your books and illustrations. You inspire me to get serious about my own aspirations.

  13. What a wonderful and heartfelt insight - thank you both

  14. Loved the interview and now have an urge to read Dogspell, let's hope I can find it in time for a present for my Grandaughter! I might have to check read it myself first!

  15. Thanks much for the very kind comments and thanks again, Sherry, for all your time! k.


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