Memoirs of a Camel
By Kathleen Karr
(Two Lions, Hardcover, 9780761451648, 240pp.)
Publication Date: April 2004
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It's a pleasure to be able to invent my own worlds. Watching a character come alive - become real flesh and blood and take the reins of a story in hand - is an exhilarating experience. It's also hard work, especially since historical settings are my special place. How lucky that I feel quite comfortable in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries!
My personal challenge is to try to re-create specific periods, with their unique ambience and language patterns. Short of inventing a time machine, this is my way of reentering the past. It's my way of showing my readers that while events may change, the nature of human beings is fairly constant. Courage and common decency against difficult odds have always existed.
Where do my ideas come from? I've always loved to read and to travel. Over the years, my family and I have visited nearly every state in our country. We've investigated Europe, walked the walls of old Jerusalem, sailed up the Nile, and gone by dugout canoe through the rain forests of Venezuela to Angel Falls. We've traveled by Gypsy caravan in Ireland and trekked with burros in the high country of Yosemite. We've camped on the Oregon trail and, with water up to our chins, explored caves in New Zealand. Along the way, we picked up a taste for archaeology. We've dug at Montana gold-rush towns and pioneer sites in upper Wisconsin and excavated an Anasazi pottery kiln in Utah.
Some of my ideas certainly come from these trips. Others come from getting really involved in activities such as boxing or sculpture. Then there's true research in the Library of Congress and the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I love to root through old letters, deciphering handwriting from another time. I love to find people who actually existed, and build a life around them from the bits and pieces they show of themselves in their letters and journals. Sometimes the inspiration for an entire novel will pop out at me from just a thrown-away phrase. Soon an intricate adventure is bubbling in my brain, bursting to get out and be peopled with real characters.
How does my family put up with all this? My husband, Larry, is my biggest supporter. As for my children, they've been reading and editing my work since they've been able to read and edit. One positive result is that they never feared writing school essays. They grew up in a house full of books and words and learned to feel comfortable with them. My daughter, Suzanne, is embarking on graduate school, while my son, Daniel, is beginning college. They've both grown beyond children's fiction to adult literature, but still faithfully critique my works in progress. What more could a writer want?