Karen Krossing grew up in Thornhill, Ontario, among books, stories, and storytelling. Her older sister could often be found reading when Karen wanted to play, and her mother has always been an avid teller of family tales. One of her mother’s stories is that, as a young child, Karen would play contentedly with anything, even a set of spoons. The spoons would become Karen’s characters, and she would talk or sing their parts, creating dramatic moments as she played.
At the age of eight, Karen was busy writing short stories and comic books. Her mother says Karen wanted to be a writer then, although Karen doesn’t remember voicing that desire. She first remembers wanting to be a writer during high school, when she wrote emotional poetry and essays about the meaning and purpose of life. It was an intense and serious time of life for Karen, and she would write about this period later, in her novel Take the Stairs.
Karen left Thornhill to study English at the University of Guelph. Her plan was to study the subject she most enjoyed then later take a program that would get her a job. At university, she published some of her high-school poetry in a small magazine called Spilt Milk.
Her first job after graduating was at a typesetting company, where she proofread magazines like Camera Canada and the Holstein Journal. She’d never read an advertisement for cattle sperm before – it was an eye-opener. She also proofread hundreds of addresses and bank account numbers on personal cheques daily – a monotonous task.
With her second job, she began a decade-long career as a book editor. She got a job at an educational publishing company called Houghton Mifflin, working on math and language arts textbooks. Later, she worked at Oxford University Press and then McGraw-Hill Ryerson on social studies, language, business, and law textbooks. During this time, Karen learned how to be a writing coach – to help authors write the best books they can. It was a satisfying, productive period, and Karen enjoyed being involved in the planning of a book and nurturing it along the way to publication.
At the same time, Karen was enrolled in an evening technical and business writing program through York University in Toronto. She emerged from the program with a certificate in technical writing, ready to begin a career as a freelance writer – at the same time as starting a family with her husband, Kevin.
After her two daughters were born, Karen began freelancing as a copywriter and editor as well as writing fiction for children and teens. She told Kevin that she would try to write fiction for five years, and if she was unsuccessful after that time she would stop. Karen now wonders how she could ever stop writing fiction, because it has become a natural part of who she is.
Karen’s first published piece was a short story called “Dragon’s Breath,” which she had entered in the Thistledown Press Short Story contest. Karen was thrilled when the story was accepted for publication in the anthology of winning entries, Opening Tricks, edited by Peter Carver. She then joined a writing workshop lead by Peter Carver, who was also the children’s book editor of Red Deer Press in Alberta. By workshopping stories over the next few years, Karen learned how to critique a work-in-progress and how to polish a story for publication.
Karen thinks that all fiction is a blend of reality and imagination, and any book reflects the writer and the writer’s world. In her first novel for children, The Castle Key, Karen says that the character of Moon relates to her because both Moon and Karen wished for their dreams to become a reality. Moon wished for her lost mother to return and Karen wished to become an author. Like Moon, Karen believes that a little magic helped her along the way.
In all her books, Karen uses writing to understand the world around her. In Take the Stairs, many of the stories are deeply personal, based on her experiences as a teen and those of people she knew. In Pure, Karen explores sticky ethical questions about genetic engineering that today’s teens will have to face in their lifetimes. Pure is about how we create ourselves and how we will treat our genetic underclass. In her latest novel, The Yo-Yo Prophet, Karen tells the story of fifteen-year-old Calvin Layne, who becomes an overnight sensation as a yo-yoing street performer who thinks he can predict the future. For Karen, this novel is about the desire for control over one’s destiny.
Today, Karen lives in Toronto with her husband and two daughters, where she continues to write and conduct writing workshops. She’s led workshops at the 2003 Canadian Children’s Book Camp in Toronto and went on tour with TD Canadian Children’s Book Week 2005. She’s been a writing instructor at Centennial College and she’s taught an after-school writing program for kids and teens through Pegasus Studios.