Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Guest Blogger: Karen Simpson, Author of Act of Grace

Joining us today is Karen Simpson, author of Act of Grace.

Why would Grace Johnson, an African American high school senior, take a bullet to save the life of a Ku Klux Klansman named Jonathan Gilmore?

The question hovers unanswered over Grace’s hometown of Vigilant, Michigan. Few people, black or white, understand her sacrifice, especially since rumor has it years ago a member of Gilmore’s family murdered several African Americans including Grace’s father. Grace doesn’t want to talk about it, but the decision to speak is not hers to make. Ancestor spirits emerge to insist, in ways Grace cannot ignore, that she bear witness to her town’s violent racial history so that all involved might transcend it.

With hindsight made telescopic by the wisdom found in African American mythology and the book The Velveteen Rabbit, Grace recounts a story of eye-for-an-eye vengeance that has blinded entire generations in her hometown. Faced with the horrific crimes that have disfigured her life, Grace wonders if in the end, she can do as the spirits have asked and lead Mr. Gilmore, the town of Vigilant and her own soul on a journey toward reconciliation, redemption and true grace.

"The Grace of Cake" by Karen Simpson

I love to cook and this passion reveals itself in my writing. My novel, Act of Grace, is full of descriptions of food, particularly pastries and cakes. On the page there are descriptions of tarts, pies and a cornucopia of cakes. Each baked good has its own meaning in the story, even if it is only to convey to the reader the idea that there can be sweetness, joy and hope during the darkest times of our lives.

One of my favourite cakes to bake, eat and write about is the pound cake. Now, many folks consider the pound cake to be an ordinary baked good, the kind of cake you bake if you don’t have a lot of time or fancy ingredients. But sometimes simple foods are best; pound cake batter can be the perfect blank canvas upon which an imaginative cook can demonstrate their culinary expertise. A well-made pound cake can be stunning and in my novel, the protagonist Grace describes such a cake:

“My cousin Aesha’s cake was considered a family treasure, and it was encased like the culinary jewel it was, in a tin she had decorated with beads and glitter. The aroma of pure butter perfumed with expensive vanilla and rose water spilled out to herald the arrival of a tall pound cake wearing a lacy sugar glaze veil complemented by an impressive crown of slivered almonds. It seemed almost a sin to cut it.”

Grace's pound cake is beautiful; however, it's not just a simple cake because she will come to realize that it symbolizes the beginning of her spiritual journey.

Below is my favourite pound cake, a recipe given to me by my Mom.

Pound Cake


• 1-1/2 cups butter
• 6 eggs
• 1 8-ounce carton dairy sour cream
• 3 cups all-purpose flour
• 1/4-teaspoon baking soda
• 3 cups sugar
• 1-teaspoon vanilla


Pre-heat oven to 320 degrees

1. Allow butter, eggs, and sour cream to stand at room temperature for at least 30 minutes. Make sure the butter is soft. Meanwhile, grease and flour a 10-inch tube pan. Set aside.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine flour and baking soda; set aside.

3. In a large mixer bowl, beat butter with a stand mixer on medium to high speed for 30 seconds. Gradually( and I do mean gradually) add sugar, beating about 10 minutes or until very light and fluffy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

4. Add vanilla. Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately to egg mixture, beating on low to medium speed after each addition until just combined. Spread batter in the prepared pan.

5. Bake in a 325 degree F oven for 1-1/2 hours or until a wooden toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean. Cool in a pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan, and cool thoroughly on a wire rack. If you like, garnish with ice cream, chocolate, or some fruit.


Karen Simpson, author of Act of Grace, lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She earned a Masters Degree in Historic Preservation at Eastern Michigan University. An avid historian, her speculative fiction is base on African American folklore and history. In 2009 she was awarded the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Older Writers Grant.

You can find her at:


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