By Kathleen Downey
Plum Island Coffee Roasters is buzzing with caffeinated conversation as I slide into a chair and join local author, columnist, “imagination advocate,” and public relations consultant Jennifer Karin at her table. Animated story lines reverberate around us, and I anticipate hearing Karin’s story dance into this lively stream.
Setting the tone of our impending interview, however, is the voice of Karin’s friend and coffee partner (Newburyport Today founder and publisher, Kim Gobbi), who alerts me to Karin’s “unbelievably wicked, funny personality.” As Gobbi rises to leave, her java-to-go in hand, she stresses, “Jennifer is the funniest, smartest woman that I know.”
I already know that Karin is funny in a sly, incising, and yes—wicked—kind of way. Her recent Jen Karin Writes blog post, detailing her attendance at a prestigious Boston writer’s workshop, highlights her mischievously fiendish humor. Karin is observant and self-deprecating in sharing an account that mixes underwear, a 1980s disco diva, Cheerios, a vampire penis, and a sippy cup—with her wry wit.
On the necessity of humor in daily life, Karin says, “You have to laugh.” Conveying this humor through the written word, she says, is fun—but also difficult. “There’s a balance, a sensitivity that must be struck in order to move, but not offend, readers,” Karin explains. She brings this keen awareness to her eloquently crafted prose.
In her second blog, Zen Mother, Karin uses humor to commiserate, empathize, and dispense sage advice to wives and mothers. Through these columns, Karin candidly shares her insight on female aging. “Then comes the day you knock yourself out while brushing your teeth, because the fat under your arm swings up and hits you in the face.” To the mother who is stressed out over hosting large family gatherings during the holidays, Karin assures the woman that she is not alone in her feelings of dread. She advises, “Head straight to a quiet little tea house with a good murder mystery and allow yourself to dream that you too could murder people, given the right set of blunt objects.” And Karin offers this bit of practical parenting: “Put the dog in charge of the kids . . . Ignore kids’ new habit of eating breakfast out of the dog dish.”
Her current mission is to spark the imaginations of young writers. Through her DreamStarter Book project, Karin has written individual “story starters” intended to prompt budding authors to finish writing the stories with “the stories that are within their heads.” Each story starter “is the door to an amazing storytelling journey to be completed by you,” Karin addresses her young literati.
Heronfield Academy, an independent middle school in Hampton Falls, NH, has incorporated the DreamStarter activity books into its curriculum. And Creative Child magazine has given accolades to Karin’s innovative project “for the way it brings families together.”
“Children cherish being heard,” asserts Karin. “They respond when you engage them in an artistic way.” Karin adds that it is a “special moment” when children recognize that their completed stories sprung from their imaginations.
To further encourage young writers and storytellers, Karin has created the DreamStarter Community for Kids. Karin is excited to be presenting her innovative DreamStarter Community to parents at the Emma L. Andrews Library Author Series on Thursday, February 16, at 7:30 pm.
Asserting that her own imagination is cultivated by the inspiration she finds in each day, Karin is firmly rooted in the present. “I don’t look back and worry about past events,” Karin says. The Middlebury, Vermont, native brings this balanced viewpoint to her family life, her professional life, and her writing life.
Karin and her physician-husband live in a sea captain’s home in the Port’s North End with their three sons, ages 19, 12, and 11 (her youngest having provided the germination for Karin’s DreamStarter idea when the children were in preschool). Karin’s oldest son is a sophomore at Washington College.
As the community outreach coordinator for Anna Jaques, Karin uses her public relations skills to promote healthy programs such as fighting childhood obesity and preventing heart disease. She instills her communications talent into the community hospital’s brand marketing.
Her writer’s voice was stoked by a 2003 controversial artistic installation of stone-like sculptures in the pond on Newbury’s upper green. She wrote a letter to the Daily News in defense of the artist, Vivienne Metcalf. “I felt something within me ignite!” recalls Karin. This spark led to a columnist stint with the now-defunct Undertoad.
Karin says that she’s learned to be fearless when embracing her writer’s soul. “You have to put yourself out there,” she states.
In 2006 Karin won the national “That First Line” contest for the best opening line to a literary work. She’s also written two books, Letters to a Girl: A Perennial Celebration of Growing Up Female (presented in the “lost art of letter writing”) and The Bear Who Loves Halloween.
Karin says that she’s “close to a final draft” on her first novel, geared to middle-graders. “It’s about a domestically abused woman who runs away from her violent home situation with her nine-year-old son,” she reveals. Karin interweaves the mother-son story with that of a young slave boy who escapes the South via the Underground Railroad in 1850.
And yes, Karin shares, she presented her forthcoming novel at the Boston writer’s/vampire penis workshop that, in turn, spurred the wicked blog post she wrote of her experience.
In an interview with Newburyport’s celebrated Irish writer Aine Greaney (previously featured in Newburyport Today), Karin shares the happiest moment of her entire writing life. But . . . it’s too wicked to print here. You can, however, read Karin’s response in Greaney’s writerwithadayjob blog. And you’ll understand why Kim Gobbi describes her friend Jennifer Karin as unbelievably wicked, funny, and smart. I agree.
Kathleen Downey is the Features Editor for Newburyport Today. If you are a townie or a citizen who would like to be profiled (or to suggest someone to profile), please email: Kathleen@Newburyport-Today.com.