Tell us a little bit about you outside of being an author.
I am a native Detroiter. I am a visual artist and freelance as an artist and writer.
Tell us a little bit about your work in progress and/or your upcoming release.
I have several items in the works. I have a short story mystery that I am re-creating as screenplay and a book I wrote when I was fourteen that needs approximately 125 updated illustrations. I am constantly composing poetry and plan to publish a new collection in the near future.
My latest release is my young adult novel, The Magic Pencil. It was published this past August and is an accomplishment of which I am extremely proud.
How many years of professional writing experience (if any) do you have? What have you written?
I have been writing all of my life; beginning with telling stories through pictures. As I have done writing and editing for some time and am paid for such, I would guess I have been a professional writer since the early 80’s. I have written articles for newspapers, copy for advertising, ideas for comedy, and poetry, poetry. poetry!
Do you have an occupation in addition to being a writer? If so, what is it?
As stated earlier, I do freelance art and am attending school to get certified in digital and web design.
Positions I have held in the past include teaching, project administrator and as a legal assistant.
What credentials establish you as an expert in your field or have contributed to your success as an author? (Please include degrees, work experience, personal experience, hobbies, etc.)
I have two bachelor degrees in which my writing ability was a boon although neither degree is for English studies. I have been involved with youth in many capacities: as a teacher, re-creator, mentor and friend. I believe I possess great knowledge regarding how children think. I call myself a “big kid” because I am able to nurture and share my inner-child despite growing older. I have great empathy for children and the challenges they face.
About the Book
What was your motivation for writing this book?
I began writing The Magic Pencil after noticing how important pencils are to children in school. They are considered as special as any other status symbol. This knowledge caused me to reflect upon my own experiences and I stated writing about them in the voice of an eleven-year-old boy. I wrote about ten pages in a small note book and didn’t pick it up for some time. It wasn’t until years later after I was accepted to a writing seminar that I found the note book. It was one of those times when one is guided to something forgotten based on what some may call divine intervention. I lengthened the writing to thirteen typewritten pages in preparation for my seminar. I felt the story had promise but I didn’t realize how much until the instructor, a well-renowned author, told me I would make a million dollars if I would turn those thirteen pages into about 120! I was so excited I managed to get the book to about 166, 8.5 x 11 pages.
Tell us some of the factors that make your book unique.
I feel my novel is unique because it handles a plethora of challenges all youth face, while growing up in our world. Not only are these things presented; suggestions for how to navigate through them are supplied in an entertaining way. The characters are engaging and will cause the reader to want to know more about them and in order to do so s/he may be driven to a dictionary. I like to describe the book as “sneakily didactic” as many new things will be learned without being force fed. Also, Malcolm, the main character, uses black vernacular to tell the story but demonstrates he is fully conversant in standard American English. Another way The Magic Pencil is unique is that ages five and up will be able to enjoy it.
What is the single most important thing that readers of your book will be able to do after reading your book that they could not do before?
I think the most important thing a reader will get from my novel is a new way of looking at the world and ways to meet its challenges.
Is there local or regional relevance for your book?
I imagine the story as taking place in Detroit but I didn’t want to limit it to any one city. Its main setting is in a tough, urban neighborhood.
What emotions does your book evoke from readers?
All of them!
Are there any controversial elements in your book?
Yes, many. Some of the topics dealt with are drug dependency, absent parents, sex education, truancy, blended families and methods of formal education.
In researching your book, did you come across any surprising facts, figures or statistics?
Yes, I did. I had to do a lot of research regarding sports in which the average boy may be interested. However, I didn’t deal much with figures and statistics.
If your book were for sale in a major bookstore, in what section would it be found?
I believe it would be found in the young adult section.
What did you learn while writing this book?
How much I enjoyed getting up everyday to work on something I am passionate about. I enjoy the discipline that is required to write well and daily.
What one thing about writing do you wish other non-writers would understand?
How much of ourselves we writers pour into our work.
What are three things you wish you'd known before you reached where you are now?
- How to have gone about publishing a book at fourteen years old.
- That I was born to be a writer; first and foremost.
- How thrilling it is to see the effort I put into my story come to fruition.
How and why does your book differ from books of a similar topic?
Because it teaches serious lessons in a lighthearted way.
What would you like your readers to take away from your book?
I would hope the readers will experience the enjoyment and wonder I did while writing the novel.
If you could change one thing you did during your road to publication, what would it be and what would you have done different?
I would have had more faith in having someone else edit the book.
What advice would you give an aspiring author?
To just let whatever you care about flow onto the page. You can always clean it up later!
posted November 1, 2009 by Push Nevahda Review
You've Seen Her Book – Now Learn a Little About Karen Dabney and Her Writing Experiences!
Book Readers Heaven has been proud to spotlight Karen E. Dabney this month! Now that you've learned more about her book, I've asked Karen to share about herself and her writing.
Where are you from?
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
When I was first able to talk, I started drawing pictures and then begin to tell stories through them, making them up as I talked, so, naturally, I have always felt I am a writer. I had no other choice, I think! I always had the desire, but I didn’t really appreciate my ability until I learned to be inner-directed regarding it—didn’t need to feel anyone’s approval to know that I am an excellent writer.
Your first book was a children’s book.
Yes, The Magic Pencil! [My mistake! My first book was a children’s book that has yet to be published.]
Do you plan to continue in that area or move into others?
As far as I can remember, my first books were for children. I have one I wrote and illustrated (over and over) when I was 14. I am working on new illustrations for it. It’s taking some time because I don’t want to make them too detailed or too simplistic. It needs approximately 125 illustrations. My first self-published book is called Necessary Roughness. It’s a poetry book for adults. I drew the cover, laid out the type and made photocopies of it. Came out pretty nice. I will do a revision with additional poems I have written. I am trying to turn a short story into a screenplay (or play?). I am envisioning sequels to The Magic Pencil but the next storyline hasn’t revealed itself as yet!
Where do your ideas and subjects come from?
My observations; from all of my senses. For an example, I wrote The Magic Pencil because I wanted to uplift and guide youth and to spotlight African American Vernacular English (aka Ebonics) with demonstrating code-switching and allowing people to view AAVE as a legitimate language. I can go anywhere in the US (and I’m sure most of the world) and find somebody who’ll know what am talkin bout.
Indeed you would.
I think we all use a shorter and/or colloquial language to a great extent and I've enjoyed a number of other books where Ebonics was used as part of the dialogue. To me it lends a reality to the storytelling that I enjoy.
Obviously writing came naturally to you from your childhood storytelling experiences…
Yes, it comes naturally to me…
Or do you have to work on it?
Of course I still work on it! Writing comes from my life, from other people…from everything, so I'm constantly thinking in my head about a story to tell!
Did you go to school for writing?
No. But I always felt that my writing was great! I’ve attended two workshops I had to compete for in 2005 (Voices of Our Nation’s Arts, VONA in 2005 and the Hurston/Wright Foundation in 2009) and before them I worked as a volunteer for my city’s public relations department in order to have some official evidence of my skills when I was in my early twenties. The boss and staff thought highly of my work. I began to do freelance writing then.
How wonderful to have that self-confidence. I know that I can write, but I'm really not a storyteller, and here you are looking for what your next book will be about!
I believe The Magic Pencil will become a successful series!
How many different drafts of a manuscript do you go through before you publish?
I don’t go through many drafts but I do an immense amount of editing because I like to write in the stream-of-conciousness style.
So … what kind of environment do you prefer when you’re writing?
It depends on how I am feeling. But I like to be able to do it whenever I wish and to be comfortable in front of my computer.
What is your favorite part and least favorite part about being a writer?
My fav is when I am “in the zone” and my least fav is when I lose something I wrote that I felt was excellent. Just last night I didn’t properly save the draft of a nice long passage to publish to my blog and had a fit. One time, I did an all day marathon of poetry (about 50 poems) and accidentally deleted all but one. I was so upset I didn’t even think to click the undo button.
That's happened to me many years ago … once you lose something major like that, you do tend to remember to save, save, save! LOL. Does your story/subject change direction after you have begun writing it?
If I allow it to go where it seems to want to go and don’t rein it in to a particular path.
How do you become knowledgeable about the topic you want to write about?
Research it and try to experience what I can about it. Talk it over with knowledgeable folk.
What do you do when you get stuck in writing?
Take a break. Usually a short one.
Who were the people or person that inspired you to write?
There are so many I can’t name just a few. I am still inspired by anyone or anything. The writer being famous has nothing to do with my being inspired, nor does it have to be a written item.
What has been your favorite story/subject that you have written about and why?
The Magic Pencil, so far. I like getting into children’s heads and inspiring them. I like making them laugh too!
What tips do you have for aspiring writers?
To read as much as they can and to write as much as they can.
Have you ever wanted to quit? What did you do when that thought struck you?
Somehow I knew you were going to say that! Where do you see yourself and your writing in 10 years?
Living the way I want to with plenty of space and freedom to write and create visual art. I also imagine being a mentor to other creatives.
I think you are already a mentor to many of us online! What are you working on now?
My blog, my illustrations for my (40 year old) children’s book and promoting my children’s novel.
What projects do you have for the future?
Other than what I’ve mentioned above, not much else is concrete. I believe I will have to keep writing poetry and play with ideas about what to write next. I occasionally scribble some down and save them for future projects.
What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment to date?
As far as writing is concerned, completing and self-publishing my novel The Magic Pencil.
Do you belong to any interest groups?
Presently the National Conference of Artists and the Motown Writers’ Network.
Can we find you anywhere online? Where?
I'm also on Facebook: TheMagicPencil@groups.facebook.com
https://www.facebook.com/CreativelyInnovative: (Dabs and Company page),
Twitter: http://twitter.com/KarenEDabney, and several other social sites; getting to know people …
How do you feel about social site marketing, is it beneficial to your present marketing?
I enjoy it but I need to be more subtle with my promotion techniques and become a bit more social because no one wants to see you pushing something on them all the time! It has been great for Internet exposure!
Now, that's not entirely true, even though you may feel that way right now since your book is out. If you'll recall, I met you on Gather.com years ago and we got to know each other there … in fact, you contacted me to give me an important suggestion regarding my book reviews … And I still think of you more as Nyota! (Folks, you'll have to ask her about that name, which has a beautiful interpretation!)
Karen, thanks so much for talking with us today … I hope you don't mind my request for a followup and maybe a few poems, if you're willing … LOL … I'm looking forward to seeing what magic that pencil gets into next time!
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With… Karen E. Dabney, author of The Magic Pencil
JoeyPinkney.com Exclusive Interview
5 Minutes, 5 Questions With…
Karen E.Dabney, author of The Magic Pencil
(Dabs and Company)
The Magic Pencil is about two extraordinary young people who become fast friends. One of them is Malcolm, the narrator. He recounts the events that took place four years ago to his older brother and a friend. He tells the story as if he is back in time.
Exciting and fantastic events occur, seeming to do with his new friend, Nia, and a scruffy, used pencil. Nia challenges Malc in many ways, and he discovers new abilities and sides to himself. We join him in his quest to find the truth to the power of the pencil.
And, like him, we just may learn a lot about ourselves.
Joey Pinkney: Where did you get the inspiration to write The Magic Pencil?
Karen E.Dabney: I was inspired to write The Magic Pencil while teaching children and noticing how important pencils were to them. I reflected on how they were and are still important to me.
I thought about my adventures in school and began to write the first chapter of the book. I had the title, and knew I wanted the main character to be a boy telling the story. I got busy with other things and didn’t think of the book until years later when I was accepted to a writing seminar and needed a work-in-progress for my class.
I somehow found the chapter and felt it was good enough to use. After the instructor read it, he was so impressed he told me I was going to make a million dollars! That certainly spurred me on!
JP: What sets The Magic Pencil apart from other books in the same genre?
KED: What sets my book apart from other books in the same genre is the main character uses non-standard English while telling the story even though he’s mastered standard English, as well. He explains he can switch up easily depending on the situation. Through the character, I am telling children that there is nothing wrong with the way they prefer to speak.
But I am also giving them reasons to be able to effectively communicate within the dominant culture, and doing so does not mean they are “acting white”. I have yet to find another children’s book explaining the fact that many black people “code-switch” and that it is a skill.
Malcolm also tells the fact that blacks aren’t the only ones who do so. He even gives examples of white people doing it and how they co-opt black language. People all over the world have their own ways of switching but for some reasons blacks are deemed to be dumb if they are not using standard English.
JP: As an author, what are the keys to your success that led to The Magic Pencil getting out to the public?
KED: Well, I have been doing 99% of the work. Of course, I have a website and belong to many social networks. I placed my book in stores, have advertised it through well-known venues electronically and physically, including radio and TV. I have sold and donated books to organizations and do a lot of “vendoring”.
I do author’s visits and carry books, flyers and business cards to disperse wherever I go. My book is available in many organizations and schools in Michigan as well as some libraries around the country.
The Magic Pencil is also available throughout the world because of my affiliations with Amazon and others. I am aware of people who have my book in Australia, Germany, Jamaica, Suriname and Africa. It really helps that the books cover is beautiful and enticing. I have folk frequently tell me they remember having seen it somewhere.
JP: As an author, what is your writing process? How long did it take you to start and finish The Magic Pencil?
KED: I don’t think of my writing as a process. Unless it is something technical, I tend to do a lot of it in my head. Once I begin to put words on paper, it’s usually marathon time! I find my zone and can stay in it as long as I feel I’m producing quality work.
I don’t worry much about where my characters lead me. I can always clean up the journeys later. As I write, I am able to keep my characters in my head. I may make a list of who’s who as I go but it usually stays in my head. There are 66 characters in The Magic Pencil.All have different viewpoints and speak or behave differently in differing circumstances!
As far as how long it took me to write the book – years! I didn’t think anyone else would be able to keep the same “flavor” in how my characters speak, I wanted to do the editing myself. I realize now that was my ego taking over. If I can help others by adapting their “voice”, surely someone can understand what I am trying to do.
JP: What’s next for Karen E. Dabney?
KED: Well,I continue to scribble ideas on pieces of paper and save them. They are usually fodder for poems. I want to re-issue a poetry book I did years ago called Necessary Roughness. I have a children’s book that adults will find amusing also. It’s called Unhappiness Is, and I came up with that one when I was 14! There again, ego.
I am also a visual artist, and I want to do the illustrations for the book. But it seems writing has taken charge of my creativity for some time. I do book reviews (slowly), “first edits” – that’s helping the writer getting the major kinks out of their work as I don’t wish to be the editor with the final say, and am attempting to make The Magic Pencil a play.
I’m also expecting that million dollars any day now!
JP: Anything else you'd like to say?
Yes. I want to help increase literacy on all levels. However, I wrote The Magic Pencil to attract those uninspired readers and show them the joy of reading. TMP is geared toward our youth to help them see themselves in literature and to overcome some of life’s hurdles. I want them to know that someone understands what they are going through. The book is designed with boys in mind, but there is plenty to keep the girls interested, also. I think the story is already a classic!
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The Online Magazine for Those Who Love to Write
Monday, January 23, 2012
The discussion of language and how it’s interpreted has long been a hot button issue. While some languages are celebrated others are denigrated. Entire groups have been labeled as ignorant or non-teachable based on their articulation of Standard English language.
The term, Ebonics, the so-called African American Vernacular English is meant to label and identify the language of blacks.
While working as a substitute teacher for the Detroit Public School system, Author Karen Dabney first noticed the deficiencies and prejudices the system associated with African American students when it came to their verbalization of the English language and in particular the much harsher criticism reserved for young black males.
It was through observance or these discrepancies that Dabney got the idea for her first novel, “The Magic Pencil”.
In The Magic Pencil, Dabney doesn’t look at why or if this vernacular exist but rather, how users switch back and forth between it and standard English with relative ease depending on what the situation necessitates.
“The Magic Pencil provides suggestions and effective strategies for positive results in an educating and entertaining way”, says Dabney. The book delves into the culture of the pencil and how to motivate kids to increase literacy and self esteem and get boys to read.
The Magic Pencil attempts to address the varying colloquialisms that define how different groups and in particular African Americans communicate with one another.
Dabney holds a BFA from the University of Michigan and a BA from the University of Detroit Mercy. She has pulled on her own life experiences to tell this story. Along with her siblings she excelled in English, both the written and spoken versions. However, when they found themselves away from the prying eyes of their formal educators they would exhibit the inflections and mannerisms appropriate for the audience and situation.
Her journey has not been an easy one. Dabney admits that she has run into difficulty getting her book into some public institutions. However she continues to press ahead with the hope that even her harshest critics will someday see the wisdom in her words and recognize what kids are telling her all the time, “You get it”.
The Magic Pencil is currently available in several locations around metro Detroit as well as on Amazon.com. First published in August, 2009 the book continues to sell briskly and it’s also in several Detroit Public Libraries.
Dabney has donated her book to several schools and organizations and recently discovered it in places like Massachusetts, Louisiana, Jamaica, Germany and Africa.
She regularly conducts contest that offer young readers a chance to own and read her book for free. “My reward is the response I get from kids”, says Dabney.
Dabney’s current projects include an updated version of a book she first wrote in the 10th grade. It includes lots of illustrations and promises to be exciting in a way that only Dabney can deliver.
The Magic Pencil is available locally at the Virgil Carr Center, The Museum of African American History, the Shrine Bookstore and several other locations throughout the city of Detroit. Check out Karen Dabney and more information on The Magic Pencil on her website at www.dabs-and-company.com.
PROMOTE LITERACY! KEEP A MIND LIT!
The Magic Pencil is available at stores, through Amazon and other online retailers!