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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Around the South with Karen White

WIN a signed copy of Pieces of the Heart
or The Color of Light!
Instructions at end of interview.


Karen White's books have been called, "Warmly Southern and deeply moving," by Deborah Smith, author of Charming Grace. Her two most recent novels, The Color of Light and Pieces of the Heart, have won her more fans and brought her national recognition. Karen lives in metro Atlanta and has been a friend of Chapter 11* for a long time. I recently caught up with Karen and asked her questions about her books and being a Southern author.



Chapter 11: Did you know you always wanted to be a writer?

Karen White: Not really. I've always been a voracious reader, and I was always told by my teachers that I could write. But the physical act of writing (not the creating side, but the part about putting the words on paper) was excruciating for me. It's weird, because it's not really hand-to-eye coordination because I've played the piano quite well all of my life. It's just that I have a really hard time physically writing and to this day my horrid handwriting is a testament to this fact. It wasn't until I learned to type when I was a sophomore in high school that I finally found a way to write the words as quickly as my mind could come up with them. That was really a turning point for me; when I discovered the joy of writing. I was a business major in school and then worked in the business world until I had my first child. It wasn't till after that when I discovered that now I could physically write that I actually had time to write, too. And thus my first book was born.

Ch11: What’s your earliest memory of a book?

KW: When I was in third grade, my family moved to Venezuela (my father was with Exxon). There was a small, English-language library at our club (right next to the pool) and I discovered it by accident one afternoon. The librarian introduced me to Nancy Drew--and I think I read through the entire library's collection of them within a week. I was addicted! The first one I read was The Bungalow Mystery, and I don't think I came up for air once I'd started on the first page until I closed the book! It was very frustrating to have to wait for our next trip to the States for me to buy another book since the library didn't have every copy, but that was the beginning of my book addiction that hasn't (thankfully!) abated to this day.

Ch11: What authors do you find really inspiring?

KW: That would be a very long list! At the top would be Pat Conroy, Margaret Mitchell, Diana Gabaldon. I would also have to add Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) and Jodi Picoult (My Sister's Keeper). Both of these hugely talented authors get added to my 'hall of fame'--these books stayed with me long after I'd closed the last page---a sign of a truly remarkable book and a gifted writer. I'm in awe.

Ch11: Your books all have southern settings that are important to the plot (The Color of Light in the South Carolina low country and Pieces of the Heart in the North Carolina mountains). How do you choose your settings?

KW: I write what I know (isn't that the advice all writers are given?). My parents were both born and raised in Mississippi, and my father's family has lived in the South for over two hundred years. Despite having lived all over the world because of my father's job, I have always considered myself a Southerner. Even while living in Europe, I would look forward to my visits to my grandmother's house in Mississippi--to see my aunts, uncles, cousins and other relatives. These visits were always a high point in my life growing up. I guess it was only natural that I would write about Southern settings and people since this is what I feel I know best.

Ch11: What defines “Southern?”

KW: Well, it's not Northern or Western. Seriously--read Tom Wolfe, Harper Lee, Pat Conroy and William Faulkner for a better definition of "Southern." I've always tried to write about what I see---and that would be interesting southern characters drawn from real life. I mean, my grandmother's neighbor (a man) was called Honeydew (not his given name). He lived with this moniker his entire adult life because his wife always started her sentences with "Honey, do...." and it stuck. I'm not making this up and he will eventually find his way into one of my books. Southern people have a collective history different from any other region in this country (just like their accents!)---and their idiosyncrasies and beloved peculiarities are testament to this fact. I've lived all over the place and I feel I can make the observation that people down South do tend to be more polite, a tad more eccentric, and a little bit proud of their family heritage (travel to Charleston if you don't believe this). And they don't mind being written about!

Ch11: If you didn’t make money writing, what non-artistic career would you choose for yourself?

KW: Who says I make money from writing? I worked as an operations manager for a software development firm before I left the workforce to stay home with my firstborn. It was one of those multitasking jobs where I had to have a finger in every aspect of the business which I found very stimulating if not completely fulfilling. I suppose I could do that again--but I couldn't imagine not writing! But if I had to start all over, I would do something with historical restoration of old buildings. I'm obsessed with it and all of my books have an old house or building, so I might as well do it!

Ch11: What’s your next book about?

KW: My next book (Learning to Breathe--March 7, 2007) is set in rural Louisiana and focuses on the youngest of five grown sisters, Brenna O'Brien. Brenna lives on the surface of her life, never delving too deeply into it for fear of being disappointed. She collects unopened war letters, liking the way they feel, as if she is holding in her hand possibilities of what might be. When she discovers an entire mailbag filled with old letters from a WWII soldier who still lives in her town, she uncovers an ill-fated love story and unravels a secret from her own past. This sets in motion a chain of events that forces her to examine the assumptions that underpin her life.

Enter to WIN one signed copy of Pieces of the Heart or The Color of Light.


E-mail contest@chapter11books.com with your NAME and MAILING ADDRESS to be entered to win!!! Contest runs through October 10th. The winners will be announced a few days later.

Buy a signed copy of The Color of Light










Buy a signed copy of Pieces of the Heart




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