Why Safire is an artist . . .

Mom's Painting

My mother painted this when I was eight or nine.  If the lady with spiderwebs trailing from her fingertips looks familiar, it’s because I used the charcoal study of this painting to make the cover for Tapestry Lion.   All of my book covers are from paintings or pastels or charcoal sketches that my mother did–it’s one way I have of sharing her memory with other people who might never know of her otherwise.  She was quite a talented lady — and a wonderful mom.  One of Mom’s best friends (who had this painting in safe keeping for the last twenty years) just gave this to me, and I can’t thank her enough–I can’t imagine a more meaningful gift.
I remember Mom telling me the story behind this painting.  When she was a little girl, she used to rollerskate by this old, crumbling mansion, haunted in a way only abandoned houses can be.  She would always skate a little faster when she went by this house, even as she tried to look through the windows, that wonderful shivery fascination I imagine many of us feel when confronted by something that scares us, yet intrigues us at the same time.    
I can’t remember a time when art wasn’t a part of my life.  One of the first ways Mom devised for me to entertain myself was handing me a crayon and telling me to draw.  Or she would hand me one of her many art books.  My favorite of these was Michael Whelan’s Works of Wonder.    If you’ve read fantasy or sci-fi in the last thirty years or so, you’ve probably seen Michael Whelan’s amazing cover art.  His work is incredibly detailed and realistic, yet fantastical at the same time.  I always expected his renderings of Anne McCaffrey’s dragons to fly off the page and into my world.
I never got the chance to tell Mom how much her example influenced Safire’s artistic side.  Or how much her example made me fall in love with fantasy before I could barely talk.  If not for Mom, I don’t think I would be a writer.  Certainly not a writer of fantasy novels.  Mom and Dad always encouraged my creativity, even when it didn’t quite mesh with their view of the world, and for that, I am eternally grateful.  I can’t imagine life without some creative outlet.   
Mom didn’t quite know what to think of early versions of The Witch Awakening.   When she first read some of it, she looked at me and said “Karen, this is rather dark.  And I think Safire needs a pet” which is why I describe my writing as gothic and how Safire’s horse Strawberry came to be.  I think Mom would approve of me using her art on the covers, perhaps even be proud.  I hope so.   
A couple years ago, I dreamt that I could call heaven and talk to Mom on the phone.  I remember asking her if God let her embroider and draw in heaven, and she replied yes.  So now every time I see a beautiful sunset, I think of Mom and Dad and all the other artists up in heaven, having some fun with God’s pastels.       
Read More


  1. elena

    November 10th, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    This is such a pleasure to see! You know I’m a big fan of your mom’s work. I really like the way you transformed it for Tapestry Lion as well. There’s a touch of noir in that otherwise sunshiny subject matter, it adds a really nice twist.

  2. Karen

    November 11th, 2011 at 7:57 am

    Thanks! Mom’s art was usually pretty sunshiny, especially her pottery, one of the reasons I think she was such a successful potter–one fan remarked at a show that Mom’s work always cheered her up. However, although I love her cheerful stuff, my favorite pieces are the ones like this painting–just that hint of a darker edge, which I brought to the forefront when I adapted it for Tapestry Lion. Particularly after a long Minnesota winter, Mom would do some wild, almost surrealistic paintings, her dark side on display. Winters in Minnesota–frozen lake, gray skies, and white ground for months on end–enough to bring out an artist’s gothic tendencies. Lake Superior is spooky enough on a sunny, summer day.

  3. Jmes

    November 11th, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Hi Karen
    You have been a busy girl. I like your mom’s art. and yours, too!

  4. Karen

    November 12th, 2011 at 10:43 am

    Thanks–I like your nifty avatar! I bet Mom would too!

  5. Hop

    January 10th, 2012 at 6:33 pm

    Ms. Nilsen,
    I just wanted you to know how much I enjoyed your books. You have wonderful character and a wonderful imagination. I particularly enjoy the alternating perspectives. Thank you so for sharing your talent and stories. It is always bittersweet coming to the end of your books. I just want to keep reading! I am anxiously awaiting the last book! Please let me know when it’s published! Thank you again for the wonderful entertainment!

  6. Karen

    January 11th, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    Dear BH —

    Thank you for your lovely comment–I’m so glad you’re enjoying the series so far, and I’ll be happy to notify you when the next book is out–

    All the best, Karen

Leave a Reply

A Nest of Thorns now available!

Lycora drifts off to sleep one night in her tower chamber and awakens a century later to snow falling through the crumbling roof over her bed. Stunned and grieving her lost world, she discovers her cousin also shares the curse. They set out together to learn how a hundred years passed while they slept and […]

Read More
View the Blog »

The Dream Garden now available!

I just completed my latest novel about the Landers - entitled The Dream Garden, the story follows the adventures of ...

Gothic Childhoods article

Third Factor has published my article "Gothic Childhoods," in which I explore my difficult relationship with my grandmother and my love ...