AUTHOR INTERVIEW: THE MEMORY OF WATER'S KAREN WHITE

After playing hooky from school one day in the seventh grade to read Gone With the Wind, Karen White knew she wanted to be a writer—or become Scarlett O'Hara. In spite of these aspirations, she grew up to pursue a degree in business and graduated cum laude with a BS in Management from Tulane University.

"I have always been a voracious reader and was encouraged by my teachers to write ever since elementary school," she says. "Writing a book was always in the back of my mind, but definitely something I'd "do later when I have time.

One day in 1996 when my children were just babies, I decided it was time and started writing my first book. When I had a few chapters written, I sent it in to a writer's contest and by some miracle it won. The finalist judge was a New York literary agent and she offered to represent me. That first book, In the Shadow of the Moon, was sold and then published in 2000. It was a double finalist in Romance Writers of America's prestigious RITA award.

I have since published seven award-winning novels, and three more books are scheduled: The Memory of Water (March 2008), The House on Tradd Street (November 2008) and a third as yet untitled book set in Savannah, Georgia will be out in May 2009.

While growing up, I lived in London, England and am a graduate of the American School in London. I currently live in sunny Georgia with my husband and two children. When not writing, I spend my time reading, singing, scrapbooking, carpooling children and avoiding cooking."

You can visit Karen's website at www.karen-white.com.

About the Book:

On the night their mother drowns trying to ride out a storm in a sailboat, sisters Marnie and Diana Maitland discover there is more than one kind of death. There is the death of innocence, of love, and of hope. Each sister harbors a secret about what really happened that night—secrets that will erode their lives as they grow into adulthood.

After ten years of silence between the sisters, Marnie is called back to the South Carolina Lowcountry by Diana’s ex-husband, Quinn. His son has returned from a sailing trip with his emotionally unstable mother, and he is deeply disturbed and refusing to speak. In order to help the traumatized boy, Marnie must reopen old wounds and bring the darkest memories of their past to the surface. While resisting her growing attraction to Quinn, she must also confront Diana, before they all go under…

Welcome to The Writer's Life, Karen. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how long you've been writing?

Thanks for having me! I started writing my first novel sometime in 1996. I sold it in 1998 and it was published in 2000. Since then, I've written 10 more books, all but one published or contracted to be published. It's been a very busy nine years!

People always ask me if I was an English major in college and I have to tell them that I was actually a business major. Since elementary school, my teachers have told me that I should be a writer, I just never really thought I could actually write a book. It wasn't until I was a stay-at-home mom with two little children that I sat down at my computer one day to see if maybe I could. That turned out to be my first book.

Can you please tell us about your book and why you wrote it?

My book, The Memory of Water, is a book about two sister, Diana and Marnie Maitland, who have been raised by a mother with bipolar Disorder. This creates a close bond between the sisters until the night thier mother takes them out on a sailboat during a storm and the mother drowns. but each sister harbors a secret about that night, secrets that tear the sisters apart. the book opens 10 years after the accident when the estranged sisters are reluctantly reunited when Diana's ex-husband, Quinn asks Marnie to return to help him with his9-year-old son, Gil, who was in a sailing accident with his mother but is now refusing to speak. In order to help the traumatized boy, Marnie must reopen old wounds adn bring the darkest memories of their past to the surface. And she must confront Diana, before they all go under.

I got the idea for this story several years ago when I read an article in a woman's magazine written by two adult sisters who'd been raised by a bipolar mother. When they were as young as 6 and 8, they had to get themselves up, dressed and fed and make their own way to school. It was as if their mother's illness had made her abdicate her responsibilities and as a mother of two myself, this story haunted me. I wanted to explore the far-reaching consequences on a family marked with mental illness, and the bonds it can either create or destroy.

What kind of research was involved in writing THE MEMORY OF WATER?

The book is set in the town of McClellanville, South Carolina so one of the first things I did was to do a lot of reading about the area and then make a trip to go visit the town (not much of a hardship—it’s absolutely beautiful!) to be better able to recreate the world my characters live in. I wanted to know what streets they’d walk down and at what restaurants they would eat.

The biggest thing I did for researching this book is taking sailing lessons. Before writing the book I’d never even been near a sailboat and was deathly afraid of deep water. But I also knew that I could never realistically write about sailing if I’d never experienced it myself. So I took a few sailing lessons and learned a few basics—not enough to call myself a sailor but at least enough to understand the passion a true sailor feels when she tricks the wind into moving her boat.

How much input did you have into the design of your book cover?

My editor always calls me to let me know when she’s going into a cover conference and asks for my input. I know that they pay a lot of attention to the book itself and the setting and they certainly take into account my thoughts. But I always take a back seat to their creative and marketing genius because they usually do a superb job with my covers—and sometimes even utilize one of my suggestions.

Personally, I think the cover for The Memory of Water is one of the most beautiful covers to have ever graced the front of a book!

Has it been a bumpy ride to becoming a published author or has it been pretty well smooth sailing?

It started out quite smoothly. I entered my first book into a writing contest, it won and the finalists were judged by top literary agents in New York. The agent who judged my category offered to represent me and sold my book to the second publisher she sent it to.

My first four books were published by two smaller New York publishers and although I was on that ladder of published bliss, I stayed on the bottom rung. And then I was thrown off the ladder entirely when my second publisher dropped me and didn’t renew my contract.

Devastated (and too stubborn to quit), I kept writing. The book I wrote during the one year hiatus from publishing, was The Color of Light. It did sell and was the first book published by my current publisher, Penguin Publishing Group.

For this particular book, how long did it take from the time you signed the contract to its release?

Since The Memory of Water was the second book in a two book contract, there was a little more time than usual between contract and release. I do know that I spent about 9 months writing it and that I turned it on May 1st, 2007 and it was published on March 4, 2008. The contract for The Memory of Water and the first book, Learning to Breathe, was signed sometime in 1997.

Do you have an agent and, if so, would you mind sharing who he/is is? If not, have you ever had an agent or do you even feel it¢s necessary to have one?

I’ve had the same agent since my first book. I work with Karen Solem, a former editor who was originally with Writers House and is now with her own agency, Spencerhill Associates.

For fiction, I can’t imagine not working with an agent and can say without a doubt that I don’t think I ever would have sold without one. Most (if not all) of the large publishing houses will not even look at non-agented submissions. In addition to that, I simply don’t have the time or know-how to contact editors and negotiate contracts.

Do you plan subsequent books?

My next book, The House on Tradd Street will be out in November 2008 and I’ve got another book (which I’m writing now) out in May 2009 and the sequel to The House on Tradd Street will be out in the fall of 2009. And I just signed another two book contract so that should take me through 2010.

Are you a morning writer or a night writer?

That depends on how close I am to deadline. In the best of worlds, I’m a morning writer. My head is clear and I can get so much written. But, as the mother of two, I find that I have to pack my laptop wherever I go (carpool line, orthodontist’s office, horse barn) and write whenever I find the time. Most of The Memory of Water was written in my Volvo!

If money was no object, what would be the first thing you would invest in to promote your book?

I’d hire Oprah! (You did say money wasn’t an object, right?) I mean, seriously, is there ANY other promotional tool that we know of as writers that is guaranteed as much as nod fro Oprah? I think not.

I have hired a publicist and she’s wonderful at taking care of the promotional things that I simply don’t have time for. The key to promoting your book is to write the best book possible. A fabulous cover doesn’t hurt, either.

How important do you think self-promotion is and in what ways have you been promoting your book offline and online?

As I mentioned above, I have somebody else do most of my promotion for me. There is no “definite” out there (except for Oprah) that will get your book into the hands of millions.

My publicist has focused on print, TV and radio media in the Southeast in addition to direct promotion to independent booksellers in the region. I found this focused effort to be the most productive so far.

Online, I’m participating in the “Pump Up Your Book Promotion” virtual book tour which will hopefully put my book all over the ‘net. I also have a website. I’ve held off with a blog and MySpace because of time issues. Again, I repeat, the best thing I can do for promotion is write the best book that I can. That should always be a writer’s focus.

Any final words of wisdom for those of us who would like to be published?

Don’t give up! The most successful writers always seems to be the ones left standing. It’s like the stock market—lots of ups and downs. Hang on when you’re in the ‘down’ mode—there will be an upturn eventually. Just keep writing.

Thank you for coming, Karen! Would you like to tell my readers where they can find you on the web and how everyone can buy your book?

Thanks for having me. You can find out all about me and my books on my website at www.karen-white.com. My books are available everywhere—at online retailers as well as at a bookstore near you. Target has me on their ‘bestseller’ shelf right now so it would be hard to miss!

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