Karen White Interview
Posted by Michelle on June 12, 2008
Karen lives in Georgia, in the US, and sets her books in the South. She has written eight books, with the latest being The Memory of Water.
Q. Could you start by telling us a little about your current book, The Memory of Water?
A. My book, The Memory of Water, is a book about two sister, Diana and Marnie Maitland, who have been raised by a mother with bipolar Disorder. This creates a close bond between the sisters until the night their mother takes them out on a sailboat during a storm and the mother drowns. but each sister harbors a secret about that night, secrets that tear the sisters apart. The book opens 10 years after the accident when the estranged sisters are reluctantly reunited when Diana’s ex-husband, Quinn asks Marnie to return to help him with his 9-year-old son, Gil, who was in a sailing accident with his mother but is now refusing to speak. In order to help the traumatized boy, Marnie must reopen old wounds and bring the darkest memories of their past to the surface. And she must confront Diana, before they all go under.
Q. The main theme in the book is living with bipolar, and the effect it has on everyone. What made you decide to explore this, and how did you research it?
A. I got the idea for this story several years ago when I read an article in a woman’s magazine written by two adult sisters who’d been raised by a bipolar mother. When they were as young as 6 and 8, they had to get themselves up, dressed and fed and make their own way to school. It was as if their mother’s illness had made her abdicate her responsibilities and as a mother of two myself, this story haunted me. I wanted to explore the far-reaching consequences on a family marked with mental illness, and the bonds it can either create or destroy.
I took an Abnormal Psychology class when I was in college and I used the textbooks to do some background research on Bipolar Disorder. I also used the Internet to discover the newest ways to treat the disease as well as anything new in the areas of treatment and prevention.
Q. The two sisters in the book have a very close, if complex relationship. Is this based on your own experiences?
A. No, unfortunately. As much as I always wished for a sister, I was raised with three brothers. But I spent a lifetime studying the relationship of friends with sisters and also of my mother (who is the oldest of five girls) and her four. My happiest childhood memories are of listening to my mother chatting with my aunts and her mother around my grandmother’s kitchen table.
Q. Sailing is a prominent feature, are you a sailor yourself?
A. Not at all! The two sisters in the book, Marnie and Diana Maitland, were raised by the ocean and I figured it would be a logical step to make at least one of them an avid sailor. I’m a firm believer in writing what you know—but I also like to add that you should also write about something you have an interest in. Since I had never set foot on a sailboat before writing this book but have always found the subject interesting, I knew that this book would be research-intensive but rewarding, too. I read a lot on the subject and took sailing lessons. I still wouldn’t call myself a proficient sailor, but I learned enough to be able to write about sailing and the passion it inspires in my characters.
Q. Is writing something you’ve always enjoyed doing?
A. I have to laugh because sometimes—especially when I’m crunching towards a deadline—I don’t find anything enjoyable about writing! Even though I was always told by my teachers from an early age that I should write. I hated the actual process of writing. It wasn’t until I was a sophomore in high school and found that my fingers on a keyboard could keep up with my thoughts, that I truly began to enjoy writing.
Q. What else have you written, have you stayed in the same genre, or tried anything different?
A. I have written a time-travel, an historical romance, two contemporary romances and four women’s fiction novels. I think it’s safe to say that I’ve tried different genres! My November 2008 release, The House on Tradd Street is a sort of paranormal mystery set in Charleston, South Carolina—what I’m calling my ‘Sixth Sense Meets Moonlighting’ book. However, despite the genre written on the spine of my books, I think my readers will recognize them all as a ‘Karen White’ book—a Southern-set family drama peopled with characters you care about who will make you laugh and make you cry, with a little bit of romance and a dash of mystery thrown in to spice it all up.
Q. Are your books all set in places that you personally know? If so, do you find this easier to write?
A. Only about half of my books have been set in actual places—and none of them settings I’ve lived in or have been overly familiar with. The Color of Light and The Memory of Water were both set in the South Carolina Lowcountry—and area in which I vacation frequently and am enthralled with. The other books are set around the South because that is the land and people I’m familiar with. I love making up Southern towns and their inhabitants—it gives me a lot more leeway when I don’t have to follow maps and geographical restrictions when using a real location.
Q. You call your writing ‘grit lit’.. can you explain more about what you mean by that?
A. I borrowed the term ‘grit lit’ from Mary Kay Andrews. I thought it was a nice turn on the ‘chick-lit’ phrase and basically means stories of and about the South.
Q. Can you tell us a little about what is next for you, what are you working on at the moment?
A. As I mentioned above, my next book, The House on Tradd Street will be released by New American Library in November, 2008. Following that book, my next release will be The Lost Hours , which is set in Savannah, Georgia on a horse farm and will be published in May 2009. That’s the book that I’m working on now and will (hopefully!) have finished by my deadline on September 1st. And then in November 2009, the sequel to The House on Tradd Street will be released. I have two more books contracted beyond that, but they’re only a twinkle in my eye at the moment. <g>
Q. Do you also enjoy reading for pleasure? Who are some of your favourite authors?
A. I couldn’t imagine being a writer without also being a reader! I read constantly so I’ll throw out the names of some of my favorites but please know that there’s many more where this list came from! Margaret Mitchell, Diana Gabaldon, Khaled Hosseini, Jodi Picoult, Nelson DeMille, Lauren Willig, Eloisa James, Mary Balogh, Susan Crandall, Julia Quinn and many, many, many more!
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