Monday, April 27, 2009

Guest Post ~ Karen White


They had her at hello. From 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


Now a near fatal riding accident has shattered Piper’s dreams of Olympic glory. After her grandfather’s death, 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.


How I Got Published
(And Other Mysteries of the Universe)

I hate waiting in line. I haven’t always. In fact, I grew up in a big city and was sort of accustomed to having to wait in line for just about everything. And then I grew up. Got married. Had kids. Started writing. Sold a few books. My life is a lot more complicated than it used to be which means I have a lot less time (and patience) for waiting in lines. My husband laughs because I’m the person who will drive three miles out of her way to avoid sitting in a line of traffic. Of course, he’s not the one who’s trying to get kids to two opposite ends of town for various activities, make it home to put dinner in the oven, throw another load of laundry in the dryer AND meet a book deadline. He can laugh all he wants right after I shove this steering wheel down his throat.

But I digress. What does any of this have to do with getting published? If you will bear with me, allow me to explain.

When I was younger (and stupider) I sat down one day at my computer and started to type my first novel. I didn’t know anything about ‘rules’ or genres or even the names of any editors or publishing houses. I just wrote, thinking in my foolishly ignorant way that, ‘if I write it, it will sell.’ Oh, for cryin’ out loud! Sure, that happens in the movies, but this is Real Life and it would take all the planets, the moon, the sun, and all the blades of grass in your lawn to be aligned correctly for that to happen.

Think about it. You write the book. Then you have to send it to an agent and/or an editor. That agent/editor probably gets about 500 of identically double-spaced-1-inch-margin-Times New Roman-fonted manuscripts per week. Since it’s not an agented manuscript (well, duh, you’re thinking—that sounds a bit Catch-22 and you’re right—it is!) it gets shoved in the dreaded Slush Pile where they also throw all the submissions from the local prison and insane asylum. The odds of somebody actually rescuing your baby from that pile are somewhere between Michael Vick becoming a spokesperson for PETA and me winning the Nobel Prize for Physics.

Your manuscript is, essentially, in line, waiting to be noticed. Well, good luck with that.
“So”, you ask, your bright shiny nubile faces turned up to me like daisies in the sun, “How does a wannabe author jump that line?”
“It’s easy, grasshopper,” I reply. You go to conferences and meet with agents and/or editors so that you can put that stamp on your envelope that says REQUESTED MATERIAL that bumps your submission to the top of the pile on the editor’s desk and is the equivalent of PASS GO AND COLLECT $200. But conferences can be expensive, plus you have to wear pantyhose and heels. Which is why I recommend a second way to head to the top of the agent/editor’s desk: CONTESTS!

There are tons of writing contests out there—you just need to know where to look. Every writing group (Christian, sci fi, romance etc.) has their own monthly magazine with lists of regional contests. A lot of then have agents and editors as finalist judges. All you need to do is to make it to the final round to have your manuscript read by an agent or editor. It’s sort of like owning hotels on Park Place and having your brother land on it each time he goes around the Monopoly board.

I know you’re thinking that this sort of thing only happens in the movies. But it really did happen. To me. I submitted my very first manuscript to a contest. The first round judges were authors (which is what I was really after since I figured they’d know better than most if I should keep my day job—assuming I had one) and was really surprised to find out that my manuscript had finaled and that it and two other finalist manuscripts were being read by a top New York agent (who also happened to have once been Nora Roberts’ editor).

Lo and behold, that manuscript won and was sold to the second publishing house my newly acquired agent sent it to. Yes, miracles can and do happen. Sometimes.

I’d like to say that everyone lived happily ever after, but then I’d be lying. My career since the publication of my first book in 2000 has been fraught with ups and downs and more scar tissue than the back of Joan Rivers’ head.

But I’m in a good place now and I can honestly say that I don’t know if I’d be here right now if it hadn’t been for my na├»ve self saying, “Let’s enter a contest.”My tenth novel, a ‘grit lit’ Southern women’s fiction novel set in Savannah and entitled The Lost Hours—comes out this month (April 7th) and I’m contracted to write four more books. That’s pretty exciting stuff considering it’s coming from the same person whoonce sat down one day to write, not even sure she’d be able to write one page, much less an entire novel.

Sure, there are some writers who prefer to get published the old fashioned way of blindly submitting to agents and editors. They might actually enjoy waiting in line (I’m sure people like that must exist—how else to explain Disney World?). But I like to tell them that when I bump into them in the nursing home and they’re just getting back that first rejection from a manuscript they mailed way back in 2009, I can laugh atthem. And then they can laugh at me when my dentures fall out.

No comments: