Del Mar native receives rave reviews for first novel

Karen Thompson Walker (Photo: Michael Maren)
Karen Thompson Walker (Photo: Michael Maren)

By Kathy Day

The tale of a Del Mar girl who reportedly received a seven-figure advance for her first novel truly qualifies as a hometown success story.

On top of the monetary bump in her career, Torrey Pines High School graduate Karen Thompson Walker is earning rave reviews from national and international critics for “The Age of Miracles,” which depicts what life might be like if the rotation of the earth suddenly slows down.

Although the 32-year-old won’t disclose details about her contract with Random House, she said she was shocked when the deal was sealed because she was “bracing for disappointment.”

Walker, who worked as a reporter for this newspaper before moving to New York City to study fiction writing through Columbia University’s Master of Fine Arts program nine years ago, describes the book as the story of a young girl and her family, set in the face of a global catastrophe. Even with that hanging over their heads, she said in an interview between book signings in New York last week, “I tried to capture the ordinary lives of the characters — especially Julia.”

The tale is told through the voice of Julia, now a woman looking back at her memories as a 12-year-old girl in Southern California, which the author acknowledges “is set in a place a lot like Del Mar.”

On the book’s website,

www.theageofmiraclesbook.com

, Walker answers questions about the work, including why she focused on Julia: “Julia is naturally quiet. She listens more than she speaks. She watches more than she acts. These qualities make her a natural narrator. She reports whatever she remembers noticing – about the slowing, about her parents, about other people and she notices quite a lot.

“I think the fact that Julia is an only child is also part of why she’s so observant. I’m an only child so I know the territory well.”

That only child has a couple of proud parents who still live in the house where she grew up in the Del Mar Heights area.

“They are super excited,” she said of their reaction to her hit novel. “They often know things (about the book) that are online before me.”

Walker, now married, graduated from Torrey Pines in 1998 after attending Del Mar Hills Elementary School and Earl Warren Middle School, which she wrote in an e-mail “was kind of the setting I was picturing when I wrote the book.”

But, she added in last week’s interview, while she drew on intense feelings from her own middle school memories, “all those things in the book are inventive — not from my life.”

While set in a familiar place, the book draws on what she calls a “big premise.”

As the 24-hour clock fails to correct itself and the characters find the sun setting at 9 a.m. and rising at midnight, the story revolves around how their lives are changing.

“It unfolds at a slightly slower pace than other apocalyptic stories,” she said.

She came up with the idea for the story after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami off Indonesia when she read that the quake was so powerful that it altered the rotation of the Earth by a few microseconds.

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