Wednesday, May 09, 2012

REV UP WEDNESDAY - A weekly booster shot for inspiration... Catching up with KAREN WHITE

Hello world,

Today I'm honored to have an amazing, talented author as my guest: NYT bestselling author, Karen White. Karen is a member of the Georgia Romance Writers Association - and one of its biggest stars. I'll never forget when I sat next to her during an event held as part of a conference. A little starstruck, I looked at her shyly, whereupon she proceeded to chat so happily that I couldn't help but feel at ease in her company. We laughed together and had a great time with the other guests that joined our table at that dinner. Karen is beautiful - inside and out - down to earth, classy, refined, and a true Southern belle with a kind heart and ready smile. 

I'm so pleased that she found a little time in her busy schedule to share some things with us. Here's how Karen made her way as an author...

How long have you been writing? 

I started writing my first novel in 2006.

When did you decide that you wanted to write for a living (that "aha" moment)? 

It was never a conscious decision.  I just started writing a book, and one thing led to another.

What did your family say when you told them you wanted to be a writer?

I never told them!  I just sat down and started writing. 

What is your preferred genre both for reading and writing?

Women's fiction---but I also love to read just about EVERYTHING.

Did you start by writing full time or did you have a day job? 

I was a stay-at-home mom when I first started writing.

Did you take any writing courses or did you just sit and write a book?

Throughout high school and college, I was always required to take writing classes---but only a few in creative writing.

Did/do you have a crit group or mentor to guide you?
I share chapters with two other author friends.  I feel too much input from outside sources really weakens the story and the writing.

How long did it take you to make your first sale? What was your first thought when you did?

I sold the first book I wrote (which took me 3 years to write).  I was more surprised by anything when it sold, sure it was just an accident.

Did you sell the first story or novel you wrote?


How many drafts did you write of your first novel before you felt you got it right? What about now - do you still write several drafts of a story?

I don't write drafts.  I clean up as I go, sometimes going back to massage a few things or change something, and always do a final read-through, but I never have drafts---just one ongoing project.

Do you read industry or writing related blogs? If so, can you share some useful links?

I write two long novels a year---no time for reading blogs!

Did you get an agent first or did you submit directly to publishers?
I entered a contest where finalist judges were agents---I won the contest and that's how I acquired my agent.

What, in your opinion, do agents/publishers look for in a new author in the current market? Is it all to do with talent or with trends? 

Talent.  Anybody can write to a trend, but it's the one-in-a-million "voice" and writing style that will capture and editor and/or agent's attention.

What do you think of the changes going on in the book industry (e.g., e-books vs. print books, and big publishers getting involved in digital publishing)? Where do you see the industry going?

I really have no idea.  I have no control over the industry so I'm focusing on writing the best books that I can---that's the only thing I can control.

Do you think writers should consider self-publishing?

It's a personal choice, but never something I would consider.  I'm a writer---not a book cover designer, salesperson, marketing specialist, copy editor etc.  I like being able to focus on the writing and having my publisher take care of the rest of it.

How do you feel about so many bookstores closing across the US? Do you think this trend is similar in other countries?

I think the loss of the bookstore is tragic (have no idea what's going on in other countries).  It's going to hurt newer, unknown authors the most because they won't have a champion to help their books stand out in the crowd.

Are your books available in print or in digital format?

Both--as well as in audio format.

What advice do you think aspiring authors should heed today?

Write the best book you can.

What are you working on now?

I'm about to start a few chapter of my fourth book in THE TRADD STREET SERIES, and then put it away to start my next "Grit Lit" (southern women's fiction) book that will be out in the summer of 2013.

What is/are your favourite book(s)? Do you read only books from the genre you write in? Do you read when you are plotting or writing a story?

Yes I read--but never in my genre.  Right now I'm reading UNBROKEN which is a memoir of a WWII hero written by Lauren Hillenbrand, the author of SEABISCUIT.

What book inspired you to write romance (or whatever genre you write in)?

OUTLANDER by Diana Gabaldon. 

What hero/heroine/character was the most fun or challenging to write for you?

Jack and Melanie in the Tradd Street series---most fun I've had between the pages EVER.

How do you juggle work, writing, chores and family/personal life? Do you have a secret to time management that you want to share with readers?

Organize, organize, organize.  I set aside specific times during the day for specific tasks --- like email and Facebook.  So that I'm not swallowing up good writing time, I only answer email or post to Facebook once or twice a day.  Otherwise I'd drown in the time suck!

Do you have a ritual that you follow when it comes to writing?

No.  If I'm not doing something else, I sit down to write.  Anywhere.

Where do you see yourself, careerwise, in 5 years time?

I wish I had a crystal ball!  I don't know where the industry's heading, but I'd like to see myself still writing and still growing my readership.  And still trying to write the best books I can.

What's your website URL?

Are you on Facebook?

How do you connect with readers?

Fan mail and my Facebook fan page.  I also do an extensive book tour each year where I get to meet lots of my readers in person---my favorite part of the job!

About Karen:

After playing hooky one day in the seventh grade to read Gone With the Wind, Karen White knew she wanted to be a writer—or become Scarlett O'Hara.  In spite of these aspirations, Karen pursued a degree in business and graduated cum laude with a BS in Management from Tulane University.  Ten years later, after leaving the business world, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a writer and wrote her first book.  In the Shadow of the Moon was published in August, 2000.  This book was nominated for the prestigious RITA award in 2001 in two separate categories.  Her books have since been nominated for numerous national contests including two more RITAs, the Georgia Author of the Year Award and has twice won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe and On Folly Beach.
                Karen currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—southern women’s fiction—and has recently expanded her horizons into writing a bestselling mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina.  Her fourteenth novel, The Beach Trees, was released in trade paperback by New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, in May, 2011 and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number fourteen.        Her fifteenth novel, The Strangers on Montagu Street (the third book in her mystery series) was released in November of 2011 and also debuted at the same spot on the New York Times bestseller list.
                Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London and has a BS degree from Tulane University.  She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two teenage children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy.  When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking.  Her next book, Sea Change, will be published in June, 2012 and she is currently contracted with Penguin for five more novels.

Excerpt from SEA CHANGE:


Antioch, Georgia
April, 2011
            I stood outside my parents’ house feeling the heat from the black asphalt through my leather flats.  My mother’s impatiens bloomed in the clay planters that flanked the front door of the ranch-style house I’d called home for most of my thirty-four years.  Even the heat wouldn’t dare defy my mother by making her flowers wilt; Gloria Whalen ruled her garden as she’d ruled her five children and disobeying her was as much of a rarity as a January snow in Georgia.
A bead of sweat trickled between my shoulder blades as the heat beat down on me and my new husband as if it were the middle of July instead of just spring.  I tried to explain to Matthew that summers were like that in west Georgia, so sudden that spring was like a cool evening sandwiched between winter and high summer.  Matthew was from the coast, so I figured he already knew a thing or two about heat and humidity.
            Matthew held my hand as I faced my father and four brothers, my siblings ranging in age from fifty-five down to forty-five, assembled as either a farewell party or as a show of force to the stranger I’d chosen to marry.  Even now, standing in a suburban setting, they could still be identified as the funeral directors they were.  Whalen and Sons had been in my father’s family for three generations, and the serious, solicitous expressions on all five faces was more genetic now than learned.
Their assorted wives and my various nieces and nephews remained inside by unspoken assent, perhaps gathered in sympathy around my mother’s bedroom door, a door she’d refused to open since I’d arrived that morning.  I’d called the day before, the day of my wedding, to give her time to adjust.  Even Phil Autry, my fiancĂ© of four years, seemed to have taken the news better than she had.
            I let go of Matthew’s hand and hugged my father.  He held on tightly for a moment, then released me to hold me at arm’s distance.  I was used to this.  Despite being the youngest and the only girl, and being reassured that I’d been what my parents had hoped and prayed for, they’d always seemed too wary of their good fortune to hold me tightly.  It was as if by holding me close the vagaries of fortune that had given me to them would notice and take me away.
            “Can I try and talk with Mama?”  I didn’t really want to.  I hated to leave with things unspoken between us, but I didn’t want her to think that I was desperate for her approval.  I’d outgrown that need along with Clearasil and braces. 
            My father shook his head.  “Give her time, Ava.  She’ll come around.  It’s just been a shock.  To all of us.”  He paused and settled me with a stern look.  “You know how Gloria doesn’t like surprises.  She’ll come around.”
            I hoped my expression conveyed my doubt about the sincerity of his words.  My mother had been vaguely upset when I told her I was married.  Although she didn’t admit it, I knew she’d always planned a large wedding in her garden with all the frills for her only daughter.  It wasn’t until I told her I was moving to St. Simons that she’d had her meltdown.  She had four daughters-in-law who lived within spitting distance, all more than eager and willing to cater to my mother and treat her like the matriarch she was accustomed to being.  I’d grown up looking out my bedroom window, able to see three of my brothers’ houses, all the same except for different colored doors, with neat grass, and identical black sedans in the driveways.  It had always made me wonder which house on this street would be mine one day.  The thought gave me nightmares---even more nightmares than I’d had after my oldest brother, Stephen, had taken me to the embalming room.  It wasn’t the cold reality of death that had scared me; only the thought of not living the life I had.
              I went down the row of my brothers—standing in birth order from youngest to oldest as was their habit—David, Joshua, Mark and Stephen—and hugging each.  Matthew followed shaking each hand before turning to my father.
            “I’ll take good care of her, sir.”
            “You’d better.  She’s very precious to us.”  My father cleared his throat, uncomfortable with any expectations of expressed affection.
            My eyes stung as I looked down the row again at my brothers, each face mirroring the same sympathy. I’d never felt as separate from them as I did then, the lone dandelion in a garden of sunflowers.  I was suddenly unsure of my reasons for leaving, if what I felt for Matthew was only a temporary balm for the constant restlessness that had dogged me since I was old enough to reason with the world around me.
            I turned back to my father.  “Tell Mama that I love her and that I’ll call when I’m settled.”  I began to babble, something I’d always done when my emotions threatened to spill over.    “My roommate is packing up all of my stuff and sending it, and I told her to keep the furniture and we’re having somebody bring my car. And Matthew’s positive I won’t have a problem finding a job with my background and credentials.  So there’s no need to worry, okay?”  I wasn’t sure why I was rambling about things we’d already discussed.  Maybe a part of me wanted him to break down and tell me why I had to be kept at arm’s distance.  Or maybe I was killing time waiting for my mother to run out of the house and hug me and explain to me why, after all the years of feeding me and clothing me and teaching me right from wrong, she could let me go without saying goodbye.
            Matthew touched my arm.   “It’s a long drive.  If we want to get there before dark, we should go now.”
            As we turned toward the car, I heard my name shouted.  I turned to find my mother’s mother, my Mimi, walking as quickly as she could considering her ninety-one years and her insistence on still wearing heels—albeit low ones—and holding something in her hands.  I’d said goodbye to her earlier as she’d stood guard at her daughter’s closed bedroom door and wondered with some lingering hope if she’d brought a reconciliatory message from my mother.
            “Ava!” she called again, confirming that she had my attention.  She stopped in front of us, her blond hair—courtesy of Clairol—streaming around her face.  We waited as she caught her breath and I eyed the treasure in her hands.
            “You don’t want to forget this,” she said, stretching out her arms.  Sitting in her opened palms was a square wooden music box, the old-fashioned kind that when you opened the lid you could look inside to see the working mechanisms underneath a clear glass cover.  The lid was dented and stained with watermarks, but even though I hadn’t seen the box in a number of years, I was sure the mechanism inside still worked.  It had been refurbished by my brother, Stephen, when I’d found it nearly twenty-seven years before. 
            After a brief hesitation, I reached out to her, allowing her to gently place the music box in my hands.  Of all the things I was leaving behind me, I wondered why this would be the one thing she wanted to make sure I wouldn’t.
            “Just to remind you,” she said, patting my fingers as I closed them over the top of the box.
            “Of what?” 
            She had the odd gleam in her eye that always reminded me that she was half Cherokee, raised in the mountains of Tennessee without much of a formal education but was still the smartest person I knew.  “That some endings are really beginnings.  If you don’t remember anything I’ve ever tried to teach you, remember that.”
            She enveloped me in a tight hug as I smelled the reassuring scent of talcum powder and Aqua Net.  “I will.”   
Mimi glanced up at Matthew and I thought for a moment her expression was one of accusation.  But when I looked back at her face, it was gone. 
            We said our goodbyes and with one last glance toward the house, I climbed into the passenger seat of the silver sedan and allowed Matthew to shut the door.  I didn’t look back at my grandmother, or my father and brothers, standing like despondent scarecrows who’d failed to protect their crops, identical in their tall, narrow builds, their hair the same shade of dark brown that matched perfectly with the somberness their black pants. 
I didn’t look back because once, long ago, Mimi had told me it was bad luck, that if you looked back it meant you’d never return.  It’s not that this place held so much meaning for me; I’d always known I’d leave, even though until now I’d never figured out where I’d go.  I suppose it’s one of the reasons why I’d never set a wedding date with Phil, having always felt beneath the surface of my life the constant current of restlessness.  A sense that there was something more waiting for me somewhere else.  The moment I’d met Matthew, I felt that I’d finally found what I’d been looking for.
            I sat back with my fingers still cupped around the small music box until Matthew took my hand and held it in his while he drove us to the other side of the state, to the island nestled against the great Atlantic where my new husband and his family had lived since the American Revolution.
            Matthew’s thumb rubbed the slightly raised birthmark near the base of my thumb on my left hand that looked more like a scar.  My mother told me I’d had it since birth, but I’d always preferred to think of it as a scar from some daring feat I’d sustained in childhood with no memory of how I’d obtained it.  There were times when I wished that all of life’s scars were like that, medals of survival for a pain no longer remembered.
His thumb found the new gold band that encircled the fourth finger of my left hand and stopped.  “You’re not wearing your engagement ring.”  It wasn’t an accusation, but more of a statement of fact.
            I stared down at my hand.  I hadn’t meant to leave the beautiful diamond solitaire ring in my jewelry box.  I had worn the ring for three days—as that was all the time we had between the time we decided to get married and the actual ceremony.  I loved the ring, the antique setting and blue white round stone.  But when Matthew had placed the gold wedding band on my finger, it had felt somehow wrong to wear it with another ring.  I couldn’t explain it, couldn’t think of a way to tell Matthew that wearing two rings gave me the feeling of walking into my house but finding all the furniture rearranged.
            “Sorry,” I said.  “I keep forgetting it.  I know I’ll get used to wearing them both, though.  Promise.”
            He nodded, focusing on passing a sixteen wheeler.  I sat back and looked out the window, imagining our car on the map headed east toward the ocean.  I’d never been to the coast.  My family, mostly grown by the time I joined them, had been too busy for family vacations to the beach.  Despite friends returning with summer tans and shell collections, I’d been secretly glad.  There was something unnerving about the ocean, with its endless horizon lapping at the earth’s edge.  Matthew spoke of taking me sailing, and of kayaking through the endless marshes of his island, but I could only nod noncommittally.  I was in love and eager not to disappoint, and hopeful, too, that he would help me to love the water as much as he did.  
Late afternoon sun slanted into the car as we reached Savannah, the warmth lulling me into a quiet doze.  I half-awoke to a familiar scent, realizing in my groggy state that Matthew must have opened the windows as the breeze I felt on my face was warm and carried with it the scent of something I found familiarly intoxicating yet alarming at the same time.
Still only partially awake, I tried to turn my head toward the smell, and to push my feet against the floor of the car to prop myself up.  But I was paralyzed, being held down by an invisible force as I tried to extract myself from the dark space between sleep and wakefulness.  I heard the radio and Matthew’s soft humming, but I heard something else, too, a sound like water rushing over sand.  The old nightmare hovered just out of reach, dodging the periphery of my consciousness, threatening to descend and pull me to a place I didn’t want to go.
The music box fell from my lap and slipped to the floor, my hands too numb to catch it.  I struggled to open my eyes, to see what I was smelling, what I sensed creeping up on me, but I couldn’t.  The lid of the music box opened and the familiar song began to play, its tinkling noise unexpectedly jarring against the rush of the wind.  I focused on it, on the feel of the box pressed against my paralyzed foot and listened to a small whine of sound that grew gradually louder, forcing my eyes open in time to realize the sound was a person screaming.  And that the person screaming was me.  

~ Natalie ~ 
No Rules. No Formulas. Just Love, Mystery... and a world of surprises in between!