Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Guest Blogger: Book Publishing Secrets of Southern Women's Fiction Author Karen White

Hmmm, publishing secrets. Makes me think that after I tell you, I'm supposed to kill you.

OK. The story of how I was published.

About twelve years ago, when I was a stay at home mom with two small children, I sat down and started writing my first book. I wrote a sentence at a time until those sentences became paragraphs and those paragraphs became chapters. I didn't stop to think about the market or anything else except writing a book that I would want to read. I guess in the back of my mind I figured I'd want to sell it at some point, but it never occured to me to think about the logistics.

It seems simple and naive, and it probably was. But I'll tell you that those years (yes, I said years--it took me about 3 years to write and edit that first book) were some of the most fun writing days of my career. There's something to be said about being contracted for your writing, but writing without a contract (and its inherent deadline) can be a freeing and wonderful experience.

I joined a national writers organization, Romance Writers of America and their local chapter, Georgia Romance Writers, knowing that my book wasn't really a romance but not really knowing what to call it. It didn't matter, because RWA was, and still is, a welcoming environment for all writers, as well as a wonderful source of knowledge and comaraderie. RWA puts out a terrific monthly magazine for all members filled with valuable articles and information---as well as writing contests sponsored by RWA chapters all over the country. I started entering a lot of these contests--always looking for those that had published authors as judges since, I figured, they'd be the ones most qualified to tell me whether I should give up my day job or not.

I entered one where not only were the finalist judges published authors, but the finalists for each category were going to be sent to a top literary agent in New York. I didn't have any such lofty hopes as finaling--I just wanted the written critique by two published authors. In the end, I wound up not only finaling in my category, but winning it, too. That top New York literary agent liked the manuscript so much that she offered to represent me. She sold that book and every book since then and is still my agent.

So that's my story. I will, however, add the caveat that despite a quick start and being in a place now that I love, my career path hasn't been so fast and easy. I've hit road blocks (including being dumped by my 2nd publisher) but in the end I find that I've learned something at each bend in the road--and that to be a career writer you have to KEEP WRITING, regardless of how steep that mountain in front of you looks!

Karen White marries her passion for Charleston, the architecture of the area, and its history and legends in her new novel THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, the story of a real estate agent who, though she specializes in homes in the city’s historic area, detests them. To do so, Karen had to conjure up and face a universal horror—renovation. Unlike her recent book, The Memory Of Water, for which she physically confronted her lifelong fear of deep water for the sake of research, this time out she enjoyed a metaphorical wallow in the joys associated with restoring a one hundred and fifty year old house and garden and let her characters deal with the pain.

White’s protagonists face everything from a leaky roof, old fountains, and cracked cornices to overgrown flowerbeds, paint chipped ceilings, disintegrating plaster and warped floorboards. For herself she saved the best. Her research included luxurious strolls on the streets of Charleston, sampling and choosing restaurants such as Magnolias, Gaulart & Malicelet, Cru CafĂ©, Blossom and Anson for her characters to enjoy. Rumor has it she also did a bit of shopping at RTW on King Street and spent an afternoon on the Battery visiting White Point Gardens. Relishing the architecture and choosing among Victorians, Federals, Colonial Revivals, Queen Anne, Dutch Colonials and others, along with the amazing range of colors and appointments, Karen eventually placed the house at the center of her story at “55 Tradd Street” in the downtown historic district and, inspired by an actual house on that street, imagined it as a Federal style single family home.

Italian and French by ancestry, a southerner and a story teller by birth, White has moved around quite a bit in her life. 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), White notes that “searching for home brings me to the south again and again.” She and her family now live near Atlanta.

It was love at first sight when White first visited Charleston and South Carolina’s lowcountry in 1995. She says it was “inevitable” that she would set several novels in the area, as she did with 2005’s The Color of Light, which Booklist praises as “an accomplished novel about loss and renewal.” Three years later, she returned to the there with The Memory Of Water and, now, to Charleston with THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. Her love of the southern coast shows no sign of abating. Her next novel, The Lost Hours (May 09) is set in and around Savannah.

Karen White’s work has appeared on the South East Independent Booksellers best sellers list. Her recent novel The Memory of Water, was the Borders Books and Atlanta & Company’s Book Club Selection for May, topped off at the end of the month with their live, television interview with Karen. The Memory of Water, which is well reviewed in Atlanta Magazine and an array of other print and online book media, and was adopted by numerous independent booksellers as a book club recommendation and as a featured title in their store. It’s been back to press five times since its March 2008 publication, the first time within its first four weeks on sale. It is one of NAL/Accent’s fastest selling titles.

Adding to the excitement of The Memory of Water’s March 2008 debut, was the resounding, continued recognition achieved by White’s 2007 novel Learning to Breathe. This spring Learning to Breathe was honored with a National Readers’ Choice Award, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, and the Virginia Romance Writers HOLT Medallion. It was also named a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s Award for Best Novel, the Colorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence and the Georgia Author of the Year Award.

White credits years spent listening to adults visiting in her grandmother’s Mississippi kitchen, sharing stories and gossiping while she played under the table, with starting 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.

In addition to THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, White’s previous novels include Learning to Breathe, Pieces of the Heart, and The Color of Light.

You can visit her website at www.karen-white.com.

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