Age of Miracles cover
The Age of Miracles
by Karen Thompson Walker

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An exclusive Authorlink interview
with debut author Karen Thompson Walker


By Ellen Birkett Morris
September 2012

“When I sat down to write the story the voice came as someone looking back…"

In her debut novel, The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker offers Julia, an eleven-year-old protagonist, who worries about the guy she has a crush on, a friendship that is fading, her parents not getting along and what appears to be the end of the world.

As the earth’s rotation begins to slow, a phenomenon heralded as the slowing, Julia and her family navigate a world in which light and time cycles are changed, crops die and electrical outages happen at random. An adult Julia narrates so we know she survives in a world that has been radically changed.

“After the earthquake and tsunami in 2004 I read that it had slowed the earth’s rotation by a few seconds. When I sat down to write the story the voice came as someone looking back,” said Walker, who wrote a short story based on a similar situation as a student in Columbia University’s MFA program.

“When I came back to the idea later I imagined it as a novel. Once I started to try to turn it into a novel I was convinced it could be. Up to that point I’d never written a story that was more than 20 pages long,” said Walker.

She spent the next four years, while working as a book editor at Simon & Schuster, writing The Age of Miracles in the mornings before work, sometimes while riding on the subway. The greatest challenge for Walker was finding time to write while working full time.

“I also hit a wall around forty pages and again at 100 page . . .”

“I also hit a wall around forty pages and again at 100 pages where I had a hard time figuring out what would come next. I just kept looking back at the story and racking my brain,” said Walker.

The Age of Miracles strikes a satisfying balance between Julia’s concerns as a middle school student, including a budding romance, and her attempts to make sense of a new and puzzling world.

“I wanted to tell the story as realistically as possible and the rate at which the disaster unfolds allows ordinary life to go on,” said Walker.

She let the story guide her research and had an astrophysicist read the final draft to check for errors.

While Walker always wrote, she decided she wanted to pursue it in earnest after taking a workshop led by the writer Aimee Bender while she was a sophomore at UCLA.

“Aimee was an amazing teacher who introduced me to the possibilities of fiction,” said Walker. She worked on issues of pacing, sentence clarity and overall effectiveness.

Walker also got exposed to the workshop format which gave her the valuable feedback of readers and put her in touch with the idea of writing for an “imagined reader.”

She also worked with writer Mona Simpson.

“That is where I learned how important a work ethic is and how many hours, drafts and revisions it takes to get something good,” said Walker.

She went on to pursue an MFA at Columbia, studying with teachers including Nathan Englander.

“He taught me a lot about how stories function. He knew how to deconstruct a story and show me elements that I hadn’t thought of before,” noted Walker.

After graduating and with a position as an editor, Walker began crafting the novel.

“The most important thing is focusing on the writing and the work, even if it takes years.”

“The most important thing is focusing on the writing and the work, even if it takes years.”

Walker sent 40 pages, all she’d written to that point, to agent Eric Simonoff at William Morris Agency.

“Based on those pages, he was interested in working with me. He waited several years for me to write the rest of the book, and I would periodically send him new sections as I finished them,” said Walker.

Walker worked with Random House editor Kate Medina to sharpen the manuscript. She had to figure out how to get across Julia’s feelings in various situations in creative ways like change in dialogue or physical action.

The end result is a book that offers a touching look into the challenges of the young protagonist.

Walker has started her next novel, which will be “another story about an extreme situation.”

Karen Thompson Walker was born and raised in San Diego, California, where The Age of Miracles is set. She studied English and creative writing at UCLA, where she wrote for the UCLA Daily Bruin. After college, she worked as a newspaper reporter in the San Diego area before moving to New York City to attend the Columbia University MFA program.

About the Author

Karen Thompson Walker is the recipient of the 2011 Sirenland Fellowship as well as a Bomb Magazine fiction prize. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband.

About Regular Contributor
Ellen Birkett Morris
Ellen Birkett Morris is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in national print and online publications including The New York Times. She also writes for a number of literary, regional, trade, and business publications, and she has contributed to six published nonfiction books in the trade press. Ellen is a regular contributor to Authorlink, assigned to interview various New York Times bestselling authors and first-time novelists.