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Karen White is a New York Times bestselling author of southern women’s fiction, and a bestselling mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina.
Here are some fast facts about her:
- She received her B.S. in Management from Tulane University.
- Ten years later, she finally pursued her dream of being a writer.
- Her first book, In The Shadow of the Moon, was published in 2000.
- She was nominated for the RITA Award in 2001 in two separate categories.
- Her work has been a finalist for the SIBA (SouthEastern Booksellers Alliance) Fiction book of the year, and she’s won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe and On Folly Beach.
- Karen is that she started out writing in the world of Romance writing and it quickly evolved.
AMIE FLANAGAN: You have an amazing talent writing stories that resonate with the reader. Three books that come to mind are The Lost Hours, Falling Home, and The Time Between. How do you choose which story will be the most powerful to write?
Karen White: I only work on one book idea at a time. The idea hits me and I start writing until I’m done. My deadlines are so tight that I really don’t have time to second guess myself as to whether a story idea is the “right” one. I figure if I was excited about it at one point, then it has to work!
AF: How do you choose which point of view is the best story to tell a story from?
Karen White: It’s simply the way the characters speak to me when I’m creating the story idea.
AF: You make each character incredibly relatable to the reader. Every story you seem to write I feel like I can relate to each character, even the antagonists. How do you make a character relatable?
Karen White: I try to make them as realistic as possible. This means giving the protagonist flaws and failures, as well as giving the antagonists some positive character trait. With few exceptions, most people are never wholly good or wholly evil.
AF: You once told me at a book signing it’s important to write what a character would notice. How do you create such a deep and almost intimate relationship with a character so you can note what your characters would notice?
Karen White: The way I write is very similar to “character acting.” I simply immerse myself into characters’ shoes and write the world as they see it.
AF: Your settings are very visceral. I love most of your stories are about the southern cities. I realize you let your character describe a scene, but how do you add the extra oomph to help the reader feel the scene? Do you ever stop and add an extra concrete detail that the character wouldn’t necessarily notice to help the reader along?
Karen White: I never consciously go back to add details. I simply use the setting as a part of the character. If the character is seeing the marsh for the first time, I go back to my first visit to the lowcountry. I’m sure there’s a lot I missed, but I try and recall the first _impression_ . Setting isn’t about description; it’s all about how it makes the character feel.
AF: You do a fantastic job in having a setting reflect the character. For example: In The Return to Tradd Street, we see a woman, Melanie, who went through a ton of horrible situations. She seems lost. We also see her find the remains of a baby. The baby seemed to echo how Melanie seemed to feel. How do you choose such symbolism or does it just seem to happen?
Karen White: I wish I could say all of it is planned and deliberate! It just comes to me during the writing process. I get immersed in the atmosphere of the book and characters and let that dictate what goes on the page.
AF: You always handle love scenes delicately. How do you balance the romantic structure and know where to draw a line?
Karen White: I cut my reading teeth on Victoria Holt gothic romances back when I was in middle school. She was the queen of “closing the bedroom door” so to speak, leaving her readers waiting in the hallway while private moments were kept private on the other side of the bedroom door. Sometimes it’s what’s not revealed that’s the most revealing.
AF: Your books all seem to play around with structure. Do you use an outline or are you a go with the flow type writer? Or do you know what the ending is (or hope to be) once you sit down and start a story?
Karen White: I’m definitely not a planner or outliner. I usually start with the protagonist, her internal and external conflicts, and the setting and go from there. I have a foggy idea of where the story needs to end, but no clear path as to how to get there. It makes a book harder to write, but it’s the only way that works for me.
AF: One of the reasons I love your books is that you seem to find creative ways around clichés. Can you give us tips on how to put a fresh take on clichés
Karen White: When I first write a scene I just write the first thing that comes to me which is usually something obvious and overused but it gets the point down so I can move on with the scene. In my second and third passes through the chapter, I write the _next_ thing that comes to me, and sometimes even the next—and that gets me to a more creative place.
AF: Do you have any writing tips you would like to give to aspiring authors?
Karen White: Just do it. No book was ever written by talking about planning to write it.