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Archive for April 10th, 2009

karen-white1From her first moments in Charleston and Savannah, and on the South Carolina and Georgia coasts, novelist Karen While was in love. Was it the history, the architecture, the sound of the sea, the light, the traditions, the people, the lore? Check all of the above. Add Karen’s storytelling talent, her endless curiosity about relationships and emotions, and her sensitivity to the rhythms of the south, and it seems inevitable that this mix of passions would find its way into her work.

Known for award winning novels such as Learning to Breathe, the recently announced Southern Independent Bookseller Association’s 2009 Book of the Year Award nomination for The House on Tradd Street, and for the highly praised The Memory of Water, Karen has already shared the coastal Lowcountry and Charleston with readers. Spanning eighty years, Karen’s new book, THE LOST HOURS, now takes them to Savannah and its environs. There a shared scrapbook and a necklace of charms unleash buried memories, opening the door to the secret lives of three women, their experiences, and the friendships that remain entwined even beyond the grave, and whose grandchildren are determined to solve the mysteries of their past.

Karen, so often inspired in her writing by architecture and history, has set much of THE LOST HOURS at Asphodel Meadows, a home and property inspired by the English Regency styled house at Hermitage Plantation along the Savannah River, and at her protagonist’s “Savannah gray brick” home in Monterey Square, one of the twenty-one squares that still exist in the city.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a storyteller by birth, Karen has lived in many different places. 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), Karen notes that “searching for home brings me to the south again and again.”

Always, Karen credits her maternal grandmother Grace Bianca, to whom she’s dedicated THE LOST HOURS, with inspiring and teaching her through the stories she shared for so many years. Karen also notes the amount of time she spent listening as adults visited in her grandmother’s Mississippi kitchen, telling stories and gossiping while she played under the table. She says it started 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.

Karen’s work has appeared on the South East Independent Booksellers best sellers list. Her novel The Memory of Water, was WXIA-TV’s Atlanta & Company Book Club Selection. Her work has been reviewed in Southern Living, Atlanta Magazine and by Fresh Fiction, among many others, and has been adopted by numerous independent booksellers for book club recommendations and as featured titles in their stores. This past year her 2007 novel Learning to Breathe received several honors, notably the National Readers’ Choice Award.

In addition to THE LOST HOURS, Karen White’s books include The House on Tradd Street, The Memory of Water, Learning to Breathe, Pieces of the Heart and The Color of Light. She lives in the Atlanta metro area with her family where she is putting the finishing touches on her next novel The Girl on Legare Street.

You can visit Karen White’s website at www.karen-white.com.

ABOUT THE BOOK:

Now a near fatal riding accident has shattered Piper’s dreams of Olympic glory. After her grandfather’s the-lost-hoursdeath, she inherits the house and all its secrets, including a key to a room that doesn’t exist—or does it? And after her grandmother is sent away to a nursing home, she remembers the box buried in the backyard. In it are torn pages from a scrapbook, a charm necklace—and a newspaper article from 1929 about the body of an infant found floating in the Savannah River. The necklace’s charms tell the story of three friends during the 1920s— each charm added during the three months each friend had the necklace and recorded her life in the scrapbook. Piper always dismissed her grandmother as not having had a story to tell. And now, too late, Piper finds she might have been wrong.

GUEST POST:

When people ask me what I write, I tell them I write ‘southern women’s fiction.’ The next question is invariably, “What makes it southern?” Well, the characters of course, but it’s the sense of place that I strive to immerse my readers that lends the southern ‘feel’ to my novels. ‘Southern’ is what I know and love best after all, and one of the joys of writing is sharing my love for the part of this country I call home.

I’m currently visiting Charleston, South Carolina for the weekend. If you’ve ever visited this incredibly beautiful city or the surrounding Lowcountry, you’ll understand why a writer would want to try to recreate the smells of the marsh, the sights of the tall church steeples of the ‘holy city’, or to illuminate the dying way of life of the shrimpers on the barrier islands. To me, a setting is more than the physical attributes of a place; it’s the emotional pull a particular place evokes in the writer and, ultimately, the reader.

I’ve chosen the Lowcountry for several books: Pawleys Island (The Color of Light), McClellanville (The Memory of Water), and Charleston (The House on Tradd Street and The Girl on Legare Street). My newest novel, The Lost Hours, is set in the quintessential Lowcountry southern city of Savannah, Georgia. Like Charleston, it’s a place steeped in history, beauty and drama, and is the perfect setting for a story about a woman bruised by life who returns to her grandparents’ home to recover, and instead opens a Pandora’s box into her family’s darkest secrets.

Although I’d visited Savannah several times in the past, before starting the book, I spent a week in Savannah to do research. When I use a real location, I like to visit to get a feel for the area; to see what grocery store people use, to listen to the dialects, to stand on a main street to see what my characters would see and smell as they walked home on the same street. For my Charleston novels, besides being a frequent visitor to the city, I have a subscription to Charleston magazine. This is a wonderful way to get a feel for a city, to determine what educational and cultural offering a city has, and see who appears in the society pages.

Using an actual location, regardless of how fun it can be to ‘research’, also means being really, really, careful to get it right. There’s nothing worse than receiving a letter from a reader who lives where you’ve set your novel to let you know that you got something wrong. This is why several of my books have been set in fictional locations—small southern towns that bear a strong resemblance to the small towns in Mississippi where my parents grew up and where I used to spend a lot of summers (Learning to Breathe, Pieces of the Heart).

Although the towns are fictional, they contain the elements I search for in using a setting—an emotional attachment that connects me to the place, enabling me to connect with my reader with a shared feeling of whatever home means to them.

Of all the elements of a novel—characters, plot, theme, setting—setting is the most underrated. But imagine if Gone With the Wind was set in Poughkeepsie, or Casablanca in Forks, Washington. Setting can be another character; the axis around which the other characters orbit.

My next book will be set in Folly Beach, South Carolina. I’ve already rented a house for a week this summer so I can ‘research.’ Hey, it’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

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