'Grit-Lit' Author Comes to The Country Bookshop
Duct tape, Benadryl and a husband with the patience of Job.
These are the three essential ingredients that, 10 years ago, helped turn "Karen White: Stay-At-Home-Mom" into "Karen White: Best-Selling Author."
"We all know how important patient husbands are," says Beth Carpenter, the book-club coordinator for The Country Bookshop in Southern Pines. "And for anyone with allergies who lives in the South, Benadryl is a godsend. But I'm not sure what purpose duct tape served! I guess we'll have to ask Karen when she comes to the bookshop tomorrow (Monday, Nov. 22) at 4 p.m. for a Meet the Author event. Her fabulous novel, 'On Folly Beach,' set in the present day and World War II, was one of the shop's most popular summer reads. Many of our 70 registered book clubs chose it as their selection this fall. Of course, I love Karen's 'Tradd Street' series, which is set in Charleston. I know everyone is going to want to meet her as much as I do, so they best get here early to get a good seat. I know we're going to have standing room only!"
Tulsa-born Karen White, "retired" from her job as an operations manager for a software development company, was a young mother of two toddlers living in Georgia in 1996 when she had a "vivid dream." It was a scene from the novel "Outlander," by one of her favorite authors, Diana Gabaldon.
"Her novels represent what I love in all my favorite books," White says. "Characters who are flawed yet ultimately likeable, who make mistakes but learn from them; a story and setting that sweep me away to another time and place; writing that is lyrical and beautiful but doesn't make me stop to notice it."
White felt her dream "could mean only one thing," so she went to her computer and began to write her first book, "not because I could," she says, "but because Diana's books spoiled me from picking up a new book to read."
With her 4- and 2-year-old children in tow, White headed off to the Roswell (Georgia) Historical Society to research her "Civil War time-travel" novel. For 18 months she wrote sporadically, with "one child banging on my keyboard and another one spinning my chair." In the spring of 1998, she sent her manuscript to the Washington Romance Writer's Marlene Contest and won. The judge was a literary agent and offered to represent her. That novel, "In the Shadow of the Moon," was published in 2000.
"The woman on the cover (nearly naked and tearing off the shirt of the hero) looked like my identical twin," White recalls. "My brothers thought that was outrageously funny."
The book was a double finalist in the Romance Writers of America's RITA award.
Over the next three years, White wrote three more award-winning novels, "Whispers of Goodbye" (2001), "Falling Home" (2002) and the sequel, "After the Rain" (2003).
"I was at least climbing the ladder of success," she says, "although my paltry print-runs and publisher non-support kept me firmly planted on the bottom rung. And then even my foothold on that bottom rung was shaken loose and I crashed to the floor. My publisher dropped me, stripping me of confidence and pride. I couldn't sell a book for 2 ? years. I was humiliated, devastated and heartbroken. It no longer mattered to me that I'd published four really great books. I was inconsolable."
She decided that if she hadn't sold another book by the end of 2003, she would hang up her word processor.
"I simply couldn't bang my head against the wall any longer," she says. In mid-December, her agent called with a two-book offer from her dream publisher, Penguin Publishing Group. Since then she has written nine more award-winning and NYT best-selling novels, all set in the South, including "The Color of Light" (2005), "Learning to Breathe" (2007), "The Memory of Water" (2008), "The Lost Hours" (2009), set on a Savannah horse farm, and "The House on Tradd Street" (2008) and its sequel, "The Girl on Legare Street" (2009), both set in Charleston.
White writes what she calls "grit-lit," a term she borrowed from Mary Kay Andrews. It basically means stories of and about the South.
"All my novels touch upon some part of Dixie's collective past," she says. "But writing Southern women's fiction is so much more than history or even the accent. It's primarily a sense of place, stocked with those inherently wacky yet familiarly beloved Southern characters - most of whom I've met or find myself related to in real life. It's the heat and the humidity, too, and the strong sense of family and belonging, good homestyle cooking, and warm hospitality.
"I think I've developed a writer's 'voice,'" White adds. "I think that's why readers can pick up one of my 'grit-lit' books like 'Falling Home' and one of my 'grit-lit/paranormal/mystery' books like 'The House on Tradd Street,' which are completely different, and still recognize them as 'Karen White' books. I've written 13 novels in five different genres. I'd like to think that instead of identifying them by genre name, readers will just call them 'good reads.'"
White says she's never at a loss for story ideas and has several novels in the works.
"Mostly I owe that to my two teenagers, who force me to disappear into the 'happy place' in my head quite often, which is where I find my inspirations," she says.
But for her loyal readers, she can't write fast enough.
"The Beach Trees," a "grit-lit" set in pre-Camille New Orleans and post-Katrina Biloxi, will be released next May. "After the Rain," the 2003 sequel to "Falling Home," her 2002 novel which was extensively re-written and re-released this month, will also be republished in the near future.
"The Turret on Montagu Street," the third installment in the Tradd Street series (which she describes as "'Moonlighting' meets 'The Sixth Sense' meets 'National Treasure'"), will be published in May 2011. She's working on the final installment, which is scheduled for 2013.
"Unfortunately, books three and four in the series are coming out two years apart because I simply couldn't fathom keeping up with writing two books a year and having a life," she says. "When I mentioned this at a book club, the readers were up in arms that they would have to wait so long between installments. I told them if I could get the two teenagers, husband, guinea pig and dog to move in with them for a year, I might be able to write a bit faster. Oddly enough, I didn't have any takers."
Karen White was born in Oklahoma. She, her mother and her three brothers traveled with her father, who worked for Exxon, from Texas to New Jersey, Louisiana, Georgia, Venezuela, and finally to England, where they lived for seven years. She went to high school at the American School in London, graduating in 1982. She returned to the U.S. to get a bachelor's degree in management with a concentration in marketing from Tulane University.
White lives in Atlanta with her husband and two children, and her 4-year-old Havanese, Quincy (aka Velcro Dog and inspiration for "General Lee," the protagonist's dog in the Tradd Street series), who sits with her in a commodious chair while she writes.
For information about the Meet the Author event, call The Country Bookshop at (910) 692-3211.
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