Karen Nilsen: Romance, Adventures, and Magic

| By Kiesa Kay |

Finding inner power transforms the characters in Karen Nilsen’s books, and she believes that unlocking imagination and intuition will provide the keys to changing this world.

Karen Nilsen

“Women, in particular, face the conundrum of a society that wants us to behave in a certain way, when we really need to feel our visceral power and be true to ourselves,” Karen said. “When we find our own power, we transform ourselves and strengthen everyone around us. Being true to ourselves is not a selfish act. It improves our world.”

Karen’s wild auburn hair ripples down her back, like a Renaissance Rapunzel. She smiles easily and her laughter sounds like the trill of a singing bird.

“People often assume I am the main female character in my books,” Karen said. “My books use male and female perspectives, and all the points of view are some part of me. I often call the books my archetypal memoirs.”

She has written eight books, romantic fantasies including A Witch Awakening that follow the saga of the Landers family. Her books, set in a country much like Tudor England, resonate with ferocious passion and genuine zest for life.

“The central idea shows an outsider with a big secret to keep, striving to maintain a socially normal exterior while staying true to unique abilities,” Karen said. “I believe everyone experiences that tender balance, at some point.”

In the first series, Safire, an artist, must hide her psychic sensitivities in order to survive. Merius loves Safire with an intensity that crackles off the page. Many of Karen’s characters can sense things unseen, and transform into mythical beings.

“Eden represents women who succeed in the existing power structure, but Safire can’t achieve from within that box. She blows that structure to pieces,” Karen said.

Karen’s second series, the Phoenix Realm, features the children of these remarkable people. The characters take charge of the narrative.

“They speak for themselves,” Karen said frankly. “I don’t know what I’m going to write until it’s written, because my characters decide where they want to go and what they want to say. If I try to impose my own will on them, they start pouting and refuse to speak until I get out of their way. I rely on intuition to guide me, and let my characters take me where they want me to go.”

Karen, born to two artists who were deeply in love with each other, grew up in a family that honored imagination. Her earliest memories include watching her mother as she painted, a living example of honoring her inner voice.

“Seeing my mother create helped me develop my own creativity,” Karen said.

She lives in McDowell County, with her four cats: Tweedle, Bat Girl, Motley, and Krueger. Her home resonates with creativity and love in equal measure. It’s everywhere, from the carving of a girl riding a horse through a windstorm, made by her father, to the quilted purse she carries, a gift from her mother.

“They taught me to listen and learn to trust my inner voice,” Karen said. “Since my parents were artists, I grew up surrounded by beautiful things, in beautiful places. I feel nurtured in these mountains. I feel like they are embracing me.”

From early childhood, Karen told stories about her stuffed animals and the animals on the family farm, and her stories helped her find inner peace in difficult times. She began her Landers saga, a series of four novels, at age 14, and has been developing her fantasy family sagas ever since then. She nurtures lifelong friendships, and she also protects time alone to spin her stories.

“Writers need alone time,” Karen said. “We need it not only for ourselves, but for our characters. It isn’t isolation. We seek solitude so we can hear our characters. I like to take long walks, day or night, to commune with nature and meditate, feeling that connectedness with everything.”

Karen edited the literary magazine at McDowell High School, where she learned from excellent teachers. As a history major at Wingate College, Karen felt nurtured by the small classes and strong family feeling there. She works at the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, and also at a therapeutic wilderness camp. Every aspect of life can fuel her writing.

“I often write about people who feel different, people on the outskirts who learn how to come together as a unifying whole, and evolve together,” Karen said.

Karen’s books can be purchased from her website, www.karennilsen.com, or through Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and Kindle. She’s working on the final book of her second series, titled Winter Comes to Eden. Karen maintains a strong web presence to keep in touch with her readers, and she helps other writers get their work into print.

“We all have our ways to help in the world,” Karen said. “My way is through story. With stories, we can reach a deep part of the soul that can’t be touched any other way.”


Kiesa Kay writes plays and poetry from her perch in the Black Mountains. She also leads writing workshops on memoir and the healing art of writing. She can be reached at kiesakay@gmail.com.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker