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About Karen Strong
Born and raised in the rural South, Karen Strong spent most of her childhood wandering the woods, meadows, and gardens of her grandmother’s land. A graduate of the University of Georgia, she is an advocate of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) and worked in the Information Technology (IT) industry for several years as a software engineer, system analyst, and technical writer. A reformed night owl, she now spends her early mornings writing fiction. An avid lover of strong coffee, yellow flowers, and night skies, Karen currently lives in Atlanta. Just South of Home is her debut novel.
My Author Journey
Now that my book is out in the world, I wanted to share my journey, especially for writers who are on their own journey to publication.
The inspiration for Just South of Home came directly from my country girlhood. I remember the exact moment when I got the spark for this book. At the time, I was working at my very first software tech job, learning the ropes and coming home with a brain full of logic and code. I loved that first job, but I also daydreamed about the stories that I wanted to write. However, I had never fully delved into learning the craft of writing. As fate would have it, I learned about Callanwolde, an Atlanta mansion transformed into a cultural arts center. A magical place where I found the sunroom transformed into a ballet studio, the living room converted into a painter’s class, and a drafty bedroom turned into a writer workshop.
In my first writer workshop, one of the exercises was putting two characters in opposition to each other. I remembered growing up in the rural South with my cousins. I remembered exploring the woods of my grandmother’s land and discovering landmarks drenched in history. I also remembered the elder stories of haints and curses. It was in this first writing class that I created two Black girls, cousins bonded by blood but different in personality. This writing exercise was the spark that ignited what would later become my debut novel.
My journey toward publication was not a straightforward one. There were many detours after attending that first writing workshop. I still had much to learn. I faltered and failed many times. I enrolled in a graduate writing program but later dropped out. I was told that writing for kids and teens was a waste of my talent. Most of all, I was told that writing stories about Black girls exploring the realms of mystery and adventure weren’t salable. I let self-doubt and impostor syndrome infiltrate my dreams. I put my stories in boxes and pushed them into dark corners of closets. I stopped writing and years passed.
Eventually I found my way back and the writing was waiting for me. More specifically, I found my way back to the two Black girls that I had created in that first writing workshop. Sarah, the brainy and careful girl who followed the rules. Janie, the meddler and grump who protected a hurt heart. These girls had stayed with me through the years and I wrote them into existence. I made them flesh and bone and created a world for them. A place where Black girls are loved and blessed. A place that now resides in the pages of my debut novel.
Through those years of teaching myself how to write, I found something rare and precious. Writing gave me a shield from a world that didn’t hold the best intentions for me. A shelter where I could focus my energy on something that was totally mine. Writing gave me focus. Writing gave me passion. Writing saved me.
I’m not an overnight success. I’ve been writing towards publication since 2006. I would tell any aspiring author to never stop trying. Writing takes sacrifice and patience. It takes discipline, determination and even a little bit of stubbornness because the journey of an author is filled with rejection. And the rejection never stops. But if it’s something you truly want — if you have a burning desire to write and to tell your story, then you can make it happen.
I know this to be true because now my book is out in the world.
Title Just South of Home
Author Karen Strong
Pages 320 Pages
Intended Target Audience Middle Grade
Publication Date May 7th 2019 by Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Find It On Goodreads ● Amazon.com ● Chapters ● The Book Depository
Cousins Sarah and Janie unearth a tragic event in their small Southern town’s history in this witty middle grade debut novel that’s perfect for fans of Stella By Starlight, The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, and As Brave As You.
Twelve-year-old Sarah is finally in charge. At last, she can spend her summer months reading her favorite science books and bossing around her younger brother, Ellis, instead of being worked to the bone by their overly strict grandmother, Mrs. Greene. But when their cousin, Janie arrives for a visit, Sarah’s plans are completely squashed.
Janie has a knack for getting into trouble and asks Sarah to take her to Creek Church: a landmark of their small town that she heard was haunted. It’s also off-limits. Janie’s sticky fingers lead Sarah, Ellis and his best friend, Jasper, to uncover a deep-seated part of the town’s past. With a bit of luck, this foursome will heal the place they call home and the people within it they call family.