November 7, 2008

Interview with Karen White

PhotobucketKaren White marries her passion for Charleston, the architecture of the area, and its history and legends in her new novel THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, the story of a real estate agent who, though she specializes in homes in the city’s historic area, detests them. To do so, Karen had to conjure up and face a universal horror—renovation. Unlike her recent book, The Memory Of Water, for which she physically confronted her lifelong fear of deep water for the sake of research, this time out she enjoyed a metaphorical wallow in the joys associated with restoring a one hundred and fifty year old house and garden and let her characters deal with the pain.

White’s protagonists face everything from a leaky roof, old fountains, and cracked cornices to overgrown flowerbeds, paint chipped ceilings, disintegrating plaster and warped floorboards. For herself she saved the best. Her research included luxurious strolls on the streets of Charleston, sampling and choosing restaurants such as Magnolias, Gaulart & Malicelet, Cru CafĂ©, Blossom and Anson for her characters to enjoy. Rumor has it she also did a bit of shopping at RTW on King Street and spent an afternoon on the Battery visiting White Point Gardens. Relishing the architecture and choosing among Victorians, Federals, Colonial Revivals, Queen Anne, Dutch Colonials and others, along with the amazing range of colors and appointments, Karen eventually placed the house at the center of her story at “55 Tradd Street” in the downtown historic district and, inspired by an actual house on that street, imagined it as a Federal style single family home.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a story teller by birth, White has moved around quite a bit in her life. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, she has also lived in Texas, New Jersey, Louisiana, Georgia, Venezuela and England, where she attended the American School in London. She returned to the states for college and graduated from New Orleans’ Tulane University. Hailing from a family with roots firmly set in Mississippi (the Delta and Biloxi), White notes that “searching for home brings me to the south again and again.” She and her family now live near Atlanta.

It was love at first sight when White first visited Charleston and South Carolina’s lowcountry in 1995. She says it was “inevitable” that she would set several novels in the area, as she did with 2005’s The Color of Light, which Booklist praises as “an accomplished novel about loss and renewal.” Three years later, she returned to the there with The Memory Of Water and, now, to Charleston with THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. Her love of the southern coast shows no sign of abating. Her next novel, The Lost Hours (May 09) is set in and around Savannah.

Karen White’s work has appeared on the South East Independent Booksellers best sellers list. Her recent novel The Memory of Water, was the Borders Books and Atlanta & Company’s Book Club Selection for May, topped off at the end of the month with their live, television interview with Karen. The Memory of Water, which is well reviewed in Atlanta Magazine and an array of other print and online book media, and was adopted by numerous independent booksellers as a book club recommendation and as a featured title in their store. It’s been back to press five times since its March 2008 publication, the first time within its first four weeks on sale. It is one of NAL/Accent’s fastest selling titles.

Adding to the excitement of The Memory of Water’s March 2008 debut, was the resounding, continued recognition achieved by White’s 2007 novel Learning to Breathe. This spring Learning to Breathe was honored with a National Readers’ Choice Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Virginia Romance Writers HOLT Medallion. It was also named a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s Award for Best Novel, the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence and the Georgia Author of the Year Award.

White credits years spent listening to adults visiting in her grandmother’s Mississippi kitchen, sharing stories and gossiping while she played under the table, with starting her on the road to telling her own tales. The deal was sealed in the seventh grade when she skipped school and read Gone With The Wind. She knew—just knew—she was destined to grow up to be either Scarlet O’Hara or a writer.

In addition to THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, White’s previous novels include Learning to Breathe, Pieces of the Heart, and The Color of Light

You can visit her website at


PhotobucketFrom your site, I can see you earned a business degree. What did you do for a living before you became a full-time writer? Do you miss it?

A: I’d worked in the business world in a variety of roles—media buyer in an advertising agency, a department store manager in an executive training program, and my last position as an operations manager for a software development company. When I left this last job, they hired six people to take my place proving to me what I’d known all along: I was overworked and underpaid! So, do I miss it? Not at all!

Many of your books have a Southern (United States) setting, but you grew up in London. Do you think this affects the way you interpret the setting?

A: Most definitely. My parents are both from Mississippi so I spent many summers there with my grandmother and cousins. I think living outside of the country helped my observation skills—watching and listening to everything as an outsider who’d been allowed a peak into the inside of southern life and culture.

What is your writing process like?

A: A process? I’m supposed to have a process?? I’m the mother of two teenagers and my husband travels a great deal—I write in the car, in bed, on vacation, in waiting rooms. I’m writing two long novels a year now so I don’t have a lot of pre-planning time (not that I would do much of that, anyway) so I’m basically a seat-of-the-pants writer. I come up with the characters and setting first, then throw them in a situation that will help them grown and learn. Then I just start writing and see where it leads.

Do you have any favorites in your books? Maybe a favorite character, a favorite scene, or a favorite line?

A: I can’t pick a favorite book anymore than I could pick a favorite child—but because my last book is always the freshest in my mind, I’d have to say THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. The two main characters flirt with ‘snarky and sparkling energy’ (according to Publishers Weekly) with each other and I had so much fun with them. The protagonist, Melanie Middleton, is an uptight control-freak (in the beginning, at least) and her nemesis is Jack Trenholm, a laid-back bestselling author of historical true-crime mysteries. She’s obsessed with order and the musical group ABBA and Jack has so much fun teasing her. But as much as I love Melanie and Jack and their sparring, my favorite character is Melanie’s best friend, Sophie, a professor of historical restoration at the local College. When we first meet her, this is what Melanie thinks and says:

I eyed her now. She wore brown suede clogs, a long, gauzelike skirt with embroidered iguanas racing along the hem, and a tie-dyed T-shirt tucked into the elastic waist of the skirt. Her long, curly black hair was pulled into a straggly bun at the back of her head and held in place by what looked like two chopsticks—complete with the name of the Chinese Restaurant they had come from.

“Your outfit alone is a strong case against tenure, you know.”

You’ve received a variety of awards throughout your career. Which was the most exciting?

A: The most exciting was actually the one I didn’t win! This past summer, my 2007 release, LEARNING TO BREATHE, was nominated for the RITA award and was in the same category with one of Nora Roberts’ books. Neither one of us won, but it was such a thrill to see my name up there with Nora’s!

What kind of books do you read? Are there any book releases (beside your own) that you¢re anticipating?

A: I read anything and everything. I love historicals—anything from Philippa Gregory to Eloisa James. And I love general fiction, too--Nelson deMille, Sue Monk Kidd, and Sara Addison Allen. The list could go on and on but we don’t have room here. Last night I was at a book store and bought THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL SOCIETY. I’ve heard so much about this book that I can’t wait to read it. I also listen to books on CD (since I’m in the car more than I’m sitting down at home) and I’m currently listening to THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH by Ken Follett. It’s extraordinary! As for an anticipating a book release, I can’t wait to read THE ACCIDENTAL BESTSELLER by Wendy Wax which comes out next June.

Avoiding quoting the blurb, how would you recommend THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET to a curious reader?

A: I call THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET my ‘Moonlighting meets The Sixth Sense’ book. It’s a fun treasure hunt through Charleston’s history peopled with characters with emotional depth and issues that aren’t all resolved in this book (the sequel, THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET will be out November 2009). This book is romance, mystery and ghost story and to borrow from my PW review again, “a fun and satisfying read.”

"We take books to the virtual level!"


Be sure to return on the 14th for my review of THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET.


  1. Thank you for hosting Karen on her virtual book tour, Liviania!

  2. What a fantastic ride of a post. i loved the interview with Karen! I'll be hosting her on Nov. 10 and 11.

    I really enjoyed this book.

  3. Can't wait to read this one. Good luck, Karen!

  4. I absolutely LOVED this book, and am anxiously awaiting the next 'Melanie Middleton' story!


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