Friday, October 16, 2015

Karen Helene Walker: The Voice of Her Muse

I first met Karen Helene Walker in a typically synchronistic fashion: On her way to a meeting of the New Mexico Book Co-op, Karen stumbled on my then-new book, The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write, in an Albuquerque bookstore. She was intrigued but didn't buy a copy. But when she arrived at her meeting, she found herself sitting next to its author (me!); I was there to announce the book's release. Karen bought a copy on the spot and soon became both a client and a friend. 

As Karen recounts in this guest blog post, I worked with her off and on over the years that followed on the book that would become The Wishing Steps. I am honored to have been part of her journey and gratified to be able to introduce her to you today, on the occasion of the release of The Wishing Steps

I was minding my own business. Really. We’d just arrived in Edinburgh, Scotland for what would be a two-week exploration of both Scotland and Ireland. Our driver took us to a 2,000-year-old burial site, Balnauran of Clava and I was off by myself, fascinated by the ancient history and culture and imagining what these people might have been like when an unfamiliar voice said, “Tell my story.” There was no one around me. My husband and our guide were way off exploring the cairns (piles of stones).

Now, you have to understand, I’m 66 years old and, until that day, I’d never heard voices that weren’t my own inner ones. This was different. I wasn’t sure what I’d heard or even if I actually did hear anything, so I said, “Sorry, I’m on vacation.”

The voice came back while standing on what was called the wishing steps in a dense forest surrounding Blarney Castle in Ireland. “Tell my story.” This time, I felt a surge of energy at the same time. Hard to ignore, but ignore it I did. “I’m on vacation. Leave me alone.”

But when I returned home, I couldn’t forget or ignore any longer what happened. I began a journey to discover whom the voice belonged to and what story it wanted me to tell. I called my writing coach/editor, Mark David Gerson, and the first words out of my mouth were, “I don’t tell stories. I can’t write fiction. I’m a nonfiction writer.”

I’d tried to write fiction when I went back to university in my fifties. I took every creative writing course the school had to offer and even graduated Summa Cum Laude, but when it came to writing fiction, it just didn’t come naturally, despite my high grades. My mind appears to be quite literal – it doesn’t think in metaphors and similes. I have to work hard at coming up with something that isn’t a cliché. So I was pretty convinced I couldn’t do it.

The first thing Mark David said to me was, “Open your mind and heart to the story and allow it to reveal itself. That’s all that matters. You don’t have to map it out or outline. Just allow it to emerge, one word at a time.”

Later on in the six-year journey I remember him saying, “Creativity is as natural as breathing, and as necessary. Just by writing from that deep place changes you and changes the world.” And when I felt overwhelmed and frightened because I had no clue what to do next, he said, “You’re in the passenger seat – the story is driving.”

Little did I know that in that first session with Mark David back in 2009, when I asked, “What am I to do about this voice?” it would be the start of what became a profoundly healing and deeply moving spiritual journey. I believe the voice that came to me in Scotland was a Goddess. I wasn’t clear at first what story I was to tell, but soon I came to understand that I was to imagine what it might have been like when the Goddess came to the first woman in prehistoric times to share Her wisdom. And then to imagine how that wisdom continued to be shared through the Dark Times of the Middle Ages through to modern times. It also became clear that the story was not meant to be historical fiction. That was a relief. Research is not one of my favorite activities, although I did have to research some for this book.

Allowing the voice of wisdom that came to me in Scotland to come through to tell her story didn’t happen easily. I was kicking and screaming the whole six years it took to yank this story out of me. My debut novel The Wishing Steps is the result.

I think the reason I was called, and I do feel that this was a calling to write this book, is to share how important it is to listen to that voice of wisdom when it comes. So often we are so busy we don’t even hear it. Or we hear it but ignore it because it might be too hard or it might hurt someone we care about. It’s not a coincidence that my memoir, Following the Whispers, was also about listening to our intuition. It seems this is a lesson I must learn in this lifetime because it continues to reveal itself in everything I write. I’m so grateful this voice wouldn’t leave me alone. And as difficult as it may be to follow our inner guidance, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Have you ever heard an inner voice such as this one? If so, did you pay attention? Please share some stories about voices of wisdom in your life in the comments.

Karen Helene Walker is a widely published essayist and author of the 2009 memoir, Following the Whispers. When she isn’t writing, you will often find Karen performing in nursing homes and retirement communities as part of the Sugartime or Sophisticated Ladies musical groups, traveling with her husband of 20 years, Gary, or relaxing with a good book at their home in Albuquerque, NM. Be sure to visit Karen's website and blog. (Photo of Karen: KM Photographic)

Get The Wishing Steps Online Today – in Paperback or Ebook 


Karen Walker said...

Thanks so much, Mark David, for hosting me here.

Mark David Gerson said...

Karen: It's a pleasure!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi David and Karen - great to see the two of you together, as Karen has benefited hugely from your input and advice, David. Love the idea of the story ... and finding out more about the Balnuaran of Clava and your 'voice goddess'. I think it's amazing you've been able to utilise your 'voice' to bring her to life via The Wishing Steps - congratulations and cheers Hilary

Karen Walker said...

Thanks, Hilary. It's been quite an adventure

Karen Walker said...

Thanks, Hilary, it was quite an adventure.

Sharon Lippincott said...

I'm always as intrigued with the story of how a story came to be and evolved as I am with the story itself. Thanks for sharing this Karen and telling us more about Mark David's role. I see him as a sort of mid-wife to your tale. Male mid-wives? Why not?

Karen Walker said...

I laughingly told Mark David he's the father of my story, but midwife is probably more accurate, Sharon. And I, too, am intrigued with how the story comes to a writer.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

I love that you listen to the quiet inner voices (and this voice, which was more of an external one). Sometimes I feel as though I'm so busy that I don't always pay attention.

Karen Walker said...

I know, Elizabeth. It's hard to find that quiet time to allow the wisdom to come through.

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Hilary, Sharon and Elizabeth for your comments. Karen is a jewel and her book definitely deserves an audience! As for "father" v. "midwife," perhaps "birthing coach" might be even more appropriate!

Arlee Bird said...

I went back to college in my 50's to finish my degree getting one in business instead of English as I had started back in the early 70's. Now I wish I'd done like you and taken creative writing classes.

Now following your blog, Mark David!

Arlee Bird
A to Z Challenge Co-host
Tossing It Out