5 Over 50: 2017

From the November/December 2017 issue of
Poets & Writers Magazine

Karen E. Osborne

Age: Sixty-nine.
Residence: Port Saint Lucie, Florida.
Book: Getting It Right (Akashic Books, June), a novel about half-sisters—one the product of an abusive foster-care situation, the other of dysfunctional privilege—who finally meet during their father’s final days.
Editor: Marva Allen.
Agent: Marie Brown of Marie Brown Associates.

Writing was always my dream. As a girl growing up in the Bronx, I told my friends stories I’d made up but pretended were true. I wrote my first short story when I was twelve. In middle school I’d submit book reports on my own stories with fake author names and receive As. Under my graduation picture in the Evander Childs High School yearbook, next to “Ambition” it said “Writer.” 

Of course, I also read over the years, often consuming a novel a week in spite of a husband, two small children, and going to college full time. I squeezed in moments to read for pleasure, and every novel made me yearn to write my own. 

For forty-two years, like the protagonist Kara in my novel, I suffered the consequences of childhood sexual abuse, before finding a therapist who helped me navigate a healing journey. During the years of gut-wrenching work, I freed secrets and worked through their aftermath. Along the way I met dozens of other survivors. I explored their narratives, motivations, successes, and setbacks. I learned the restorative power of gratitude, redemption, and forgiveness—major themes in my writing. But my goal for Getting It Right was to write a page-turner, not a book about abuse. One early reader described it as a “genre-bending mystery and family saga.” I kept the chapters short and the action fast, and I let Kara and her half-sister, Alex, lead the way. 

My career as a consultant, executive coach, and presenter specializing in philanthropy, opinion research, and organizational management led me all over the world as I taught, spoke, and consulted with nonprofit leaders. Storytelling infused every engagement. In each city, in every new country, I jotted down scraps of thoughts, words, and ideas in small notebooks stashed in my briefcase. Writing on airplanes, in airport lounges, and hotel rooms, I finished the first draft in a year. It took a long time to rewrite.  

Once I was finished—after I had shared the manuscript with trusted readers and revised and polished it—I took the next scary step: I sent the manuscript out in search of an agent. I networked, went to writing conferences, and took classes that included an agent’s review of the first ten pages. I sent it out and then sent it out again, and again.

Everyone says it because it’s true: Rejection is hard. I’m not sure which moments in the long process are the most memorable. The day my agent said she loved the book and wanted to represent me, or the day she told me that she had an offer from a publisher. We ate lunch and discussed the contract. I asked questions, took notes, thanked her, walked out of the restaurant—all quite professional. Once I hit the street, I cried all the way to the parking lot. 

I held my book launch in Australia, at the open-air restaurant at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Sydney Opera House gleaming in the background. It was an intimate affair. My husband joined me, along with two women I’d been writing with online for fifteen years but had never met. We hugged, laughed, and celebrated. In the weeks since, my readings, talks, and signings continue to fill my heart with joy as I keep writing. So far I’ve written two more books, and I’m working on a fourth. 

Another thing everyone says because it’s true: You’re never too old to realize your dreams. 


(Photo credit: Robert Osborne)