Karen White is one of those novelists whom I had heard so much good stuff about that I had amassed quite a collection of her books before having the time to read one (The House on Tradd Street, The Lost Hours, The Color of Light)! I cut my teeth on her novels with the quarrelsome crime fighting duo of Melanie Middleton and Jack Trenholm, and I can’t wait to see if they ever work out their issues and enjoy one another. Karen was gracious enough to stop by and answer a few questions about Melanie and Jack, her own writing process, and her latest novel, The Girl on Legare Street.Hi Karen. Will you tell me a little about yourself and how you started writing?
After working in the business world for several years, I decided to become a stay-at-home mom when my daughter was born. It was during her nap times (and 21 months later, her brother’s) that I began to dabble with writing. I’d always been encouraged to write by teachers and friends, but never thought I’d have the patience to create an entire novel. My first attempts were just to see if I could, and I never anticipated publishing my first novel—much less 12! My children are now 16 and 17 (thanks for your condolences). We live outside Atlanta with my husband, a guinea pig, and a spoiled Havanese dog who stars in the Tradd Street series as General Lee.How did your characters present themselves to you? Do you make an outline or do they come to you some other way?
I do very little “pre-writing” for my novels, and never an outline! I like to write a book in the same way I like to read them—without knowing exactly what’s going to happen next. When I start, I do know the main characters, but that’s pretty much it. My favorite character in the Tradd Street series, Sophie, just sort of walked on to the page from out of nowhere. I love it when that happens! I like to think that all the secondary characters evolve organically, depending on what the protagonists need.Melanie and Jack are two very dynamic characters with distinct personalities. Which character did you think of first, and what made them stand out for you so much that you would write about them multiple times? Had it been your plan to write a series?
When I first started thinking about The House on Tradd Street, I knew that I wanted to create a series so when I started thinking about the two lead characters I knew that I had to like them or at least be interested in them enough to be able to write about them multiple times. They had to have emotional baggage (of course—that’s one of my trademarks), and a few flaws to overcome. I mean, if characters are perfect, they don’t have a lot of growing room and I wanted my characters to change and evolve over a course of several books. Melanie was easy since (according to friends who think they know) she’s the one character I’ve created who’s the most like me. J I don’t know if I completely agree with that, but I definitely see some resemblance—especially in her need to have order and control around her. And Jack came out of Melanie’s desperate need to loosen up and have a little fun. He exasperates her, but I think the opposites attract thing really works for them.Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?
As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Sophie Wallen, Melanie’s best friend, just sort of emerged and I immediately fell in love with her character. She’s exactly what Melanie needs. She’s the ideal best friend—honest and uncritical, what you see is what you get. It doesn’t hurt that she’s an expert in historical restoration and a great resource for Melanie. She’s also a perfect foil for Melanie’s hyper-control and a real steadying influence. I loved creating the anti-Melanie—and had a great deal of fun dressing Sophie. JDid you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?
I definitely research while I write as research usually turns up serendipitous facts that I can use in the story. It didn’t hurt that I’m a frequent visitor to Charleston so I already knew quite a bit about the city and its history—and don’t mind visiting it often for more “research.” I also have a lifelong interest in the paranormal so I didn’t have to go much further than my own bookshelves to research the paranormal aspects in the Tradd Street series.What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include?
I’m fascinated with the Marquis de Lafayette (don’t ask me why, I just am). He was a huge figure during the Revolutionary War and spent time in Charleston. I wanted desperately to include him—living or dead—in the book but in the end couldn’t find a place. I haven’t given up hope, though, for future books in the series!What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers? Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?
For some reason, I see Sophie reading historical romance novels—maybe because I think she’s a romantic at heart and loves historical architecture. Melanie is strictly non-fiction, probably self-help books that she never has time to apply to her own life. For Sophie, I would definitely recommend What Not to Wear, a companion book to the popular television series to help her with her wardrobe choices. For Melanie, I’d suggest she borrow one of Sophie’s historical romances to help her with her relationship with Jack.In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. I’m kind of obsessed with it- probably because there is so much that I am involved in and like to do, that I’m always looking for ways to make all of it work time wise. What does a typical day look like for you?
In my world of writing/kids/house/pets/life, “typical” doesn’t exist. I get up at 6:15 every morning (yes, even weekends) and bring my laptop wherever I go. If we visit a museum on the weekend, my husband will drive while I write on my laptop in the passenger seat. Tonight my son has his guitar lesson so I’ll bring my laptop so I can wait in the car and write for that half hour. I’m in the middle of copy edits for my next book that are due on Friday so I worked on that for a couple of hours this morning after I took my son to school, then took a half hour to put more Christmas decorations away. Then I did my workout, ate lunch, answered some fan mail and other emails, and now I’m working on this. It’s almost 3:00 and I figure I’ll get my shower in around 4:00. On Friday, I have a book club visit at 10:00 in the morning so I’ll have to have my copy edits finished by Thursday night since they’re due Friday morning. It’s not unusual for me to still be at work at 11:00! I have revisions for my November 2010 book due February 15 and the proposal for the next Tradd Street book due May 1st. No, there’s no rest for the weary… So that’s my “typical day” in a nutshell. I find time to get it done. Period. Excuses will never fill a blank page.Do you like to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?
I love to read! Unfortunately, I don’t have as much time to do it anymore so my selection is pretty much determined by two things: what my book club picks and what’s available on audio so I can listen to a book while I’m driving in the car. I love books with great characters, a great story, and a satisfying ending. Two books I’ve listened to recently that were wonderful was The Help and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.What’s next for you?
My next book, ON FOLLY BEACH comes out in May, 2010. It’s a great story with two parallel storylines in 2009 and 1942. The storylines merge in present day with a really cool mystery. I loved researching for this book!Anything else your readers and potential readers might like to know?
There will be two more books in the Tradd Street series (out in 2011 and 2013, respectively) and two more books (not in the series) out in 2010. For excerpts, interviews, contest etc., please visit my website at www.karen-white.com.Fascinating! I love that Sophie needs a copy of What Not To Wear! Thanks Karen! I love the The Help too, but haven’t read Guernsey yet.