2017 in Words & Pictures

Chinese idiogram
Image source: https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words.html

This so-called Chinese proverb is actually the brainchild of American adman Fred Barnard, who dreamed it up in 1921. He wanted folks to take him seriously, hence the fake Chinese source.

Madeleine Thien is no huckster though she is a novelist. In Do Not Say We Have Nothing, she says the Chinese ancients believed

that words written on paper were talismans, and could somehow protect us from harm.

As an author, I believe in the power of words. But I like pretty pictures, too. For this first blog post of 2018, I went back and forth whether to give you pictures or words.

Then I remembered my Nabu. She held two sets of funerals for her husband – Buddhist and Christian – to cover all the bases. So I’m going to hedge my bets, too. Here is 2017 in words and pictures.


2017 was a year of firsts. There were a lot of them but publication of my debut novel, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, tops my list.

Picture of a dancing girl
Cropped cover of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. Photo credit: www.arcangel.com

This is a true example of a picture worth a thousand words. It shows Song Anyi before the events of that novel take over her life. Her beauty, fragility and grace.

After the book comes the launch, of course. Will you look at all the people? Standing room only. These images of love and support are engraved in my mind. You can find more pictures of my book launch here.

book launch
Launch of The Dancing Girl and the Turtle. Photo credit: Fenna van Dijk
audience at book launch
The rapt audience. Photo credit: Fenna van Dijk
picture of Karen Kao
The proud author. Photo credit: Fenna van Dijk

in the spotlight

And then there is the marketing. In 2017, I did two book tours through California, a reading in Amsterdam, four book clubs, a book blog tour and almost a dozen interviews. Some were more successful than others. Here are the more hilarious attempts.

This YouTube interview was filmed at Boekhandel van Rossum, featuring a pair of newbies flying in the dark. Don’t we look awful?

rebel dykes
Podcast #105: Rebel Dykes // Nasty Women. Image source: For Books’ Sake

I’ll bet you wouldn’t expect to find an interview with me behind a picture like this one. This was a podcast produced by For Books’ Sake. As much as I would have liked to talk about rebel dykes and nasty women, my segment was on my writing room. Zzzzzz.

picture of radio host with Funk baseball hat
Janeane Bernstein, host of Get the Funk Out. Image source: kuci.org



My surprise media splash of the year was with the lovely Janeane Bernstein on her show Get the Funk Out on radio station KUCI. This interview popped up during my 2nd California book tour, just as the shit was hitting the fan over Harvey Weinstein. Talk about timing.

picture of Karen Kao
Ramona Convent student talk. Photo courtesy of Aniko Tegtmeier

That same book tour brought me back to my high school alma mater and a day of talks with almost 200 students at Ramona Convent Secondary School. They were sweet and shy and earnest. Sister Daleen Larkin had her 9th grade class write out what they had learned from my talk. One girl thought it was cool that I have a Holland husband. I think so, too.

sit back and relax

picture of broken doll heads
Arman, Tamerlan’s Memorial at LWL-Museum fur Kunst und Kultur, Munster. Photo credit: Karen Kao

2017 wasn’t all work. There was travel through Germany, some great movies, dance and theater and music. Some wonderful writers came to Amsterdam: Paul Beatty, Mohsin Hamid, Jeanette Winterson and Nicole Krauss.

piles of books
Books to be read! Photo credit: Karen Kao

In 2017, I published 23 book reviews! That might sound impressive but I’m going to have to up my game to make a dent into the piles of books to be read. I won’t give myself a Goodreads Challenge or take a New Year’s resolution. But I can promise you that books will be in the stars for 2018. Maybe even one of my own!

jam and bread in my garden
Sourdough bread and strawberry vanilla jam. Photo credit: Karen Kao

More things I look forward to in 2018:

  • A trip this month to London and Oxford;
  • A creative writing workshop with the International Writers’ Collective;
  • Jennifer Egan in February;
  • a theater performance of Oedipus this spring;
  • taking back the US House of Representatives in November;
  • more bread baking, jam making and gardening all year round; and
  • last but not least, music and critique and writing.

May your 2018 be filled with words and pictures of joy!