NYT Bestselling author Karen White, The Queen of Setting as Character

After playing hooky 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, Karen pursued a degree in business and graduated cum laude with a BS in Management from Tulane University. Ten years later, after leaving the business world, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a writer and wrote her first book. In the Shadow of the Moon was published in August, 2000. This book was nominated for the prestigious RITA award in 2001 in two separate categories. Her books have since been nominated for numerous national contests including two more RITAs, the Georgia Author of the Year Award and has twice won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe and On Folly Beach.

Karen currently writes what she refers to as ‘grit lit’—southern women’s fiction—and has recently expanded her horizons into writing a mystery series set in Charleston. Her fourteenth novel, The Beach Trees, released in May, 2011, debuting on the New York Times bestseller list at number 14.

Karen hails from a long line of Southerners but spent most of her growing up years in London, England and is a graduate of the American School in London. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two teenage children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy. When not writing, she spends her time reading, scrapbooking, playing piano, and avoiding cooking. Her latest book, The Strangers on Montagu Street, released November 1st, 2011.

Your last book released at #14 on the New York Times Bestseller list. Tell us about it:

The book, The Beach TreesS, is a Southern Women’s Fiction novel set in pre-Camille and post-Katrina Biloxi, Mississippi and New Orleans, Louisiana. It’s got a decades-long mystery, family secrets, and a bit of romance, but mostly it’s about surviving storms—both the physical ones and the emotional ones, too.

What is your new release about?

My latest book, The Strangers on Montagu Street, (out November 1st) is the much-anticipated third book in my Charleston-based Tradd Street series. This series is what I call my “National Treasure meets The Sixth Sense meets Castle.” With a Southern twist. The protagonist is a 39-year old uptight Realtor, Melanie Middleton, who sees dead people. She teams up with historical true-crime writer Jack Trenholm to solve old mysteries centered on historic houses in Charleston. In STRANGERS, the house involved is a creepy dollhouse—and its not-so-nice inhabitants. Although each book has its own mystery that gets solved by the end of the book, the relationships between the characters—particularly Melanie and Jack—evolve and change throughout the series.

How did you come up with this story? Was there a specific ‘what if’ moment?

I adore Charleston—which is why I’ve set this series there—so I visit often. On a trip down King Street, I happened to see an old dollhouse in a store window and voila! I had the basis for the story.

Did anything strange or funny happen while researching or writing your book?

I originally set this series in New Orleans and started writing the first book in mid-summer 2005. And then Katrina came in August. I knew there was no room for something like Katrina in this story—although I was certain one day I would write a post-Katrina book set in New Orleans. I had to come up with another great Southern city with fabulous architecture, lots of history, and plenty of ghosts.

Do you consider yourself a visual writer? If so, what visuals do you use?

I’m definitely a visual writer—which means I see each scene as I write it like it’s a movie playing in my mind. I spend a lot of time “writing” with my eyes closed—which leads my husband to think I don’t work very hard.

Novelists sometimes dig themselves into a hole over implausible plots, flat characters or a host of other problems. How did you avoid that?

I just push forward. The solution will eventually come to me. That’s the beauty of word processors—it’s so easy to go back and change things!

Where do you write: In a cave, a coffeehouse, or a cozy attic nook?

I’m a stay-at-home mom so I’ve got lots to do at home so I write at home. I have a private study, but I use that primarily for the “business” side of writing—emails, Facebook, fan mail, bills, scheduling, etc. When the weather is nice, I write out on my beautiful screen porch that overlooks about an acre of pasture and beyond that a farm. But most of my writing is up in my sitting room—where I have tons of bookshelves, a fireplace (when it’s cold), big windows, a fridge for my Diet Dr. Pepper, and a coffee bar. Oh, and a chair that’s big enough for me and my dog Quincy who is glued to my side at all times.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I have no typical day. I write every spare moment—which means that when I have a doctor’s appointment, I bring my laptop so I can work while I wait.

You’re a master (I think you deserve the title of Queen) at setting as a character. What or who influenced you to develop this expertise?

Again, I’m a very visual writer—and I think this started with me being a very visual reader. My favorite books were those books where the setting were real to me—I could experience all five senses while reading. I suppose that’s what I try to emulate in my own writing.

Some authors report writing 5-10 thousand words a day. Do scenes flow freely from your veins or do you have to tweeze each word out?

Each day is different! Once I hit the midway point, it goes faster. But some days I’m lucky to write a single page!

What’s the best writing advice you’ve heard?

JUST DO IT! (borrowed from Nike but it works!)

Do you have any parting words of advice?

See answer to above question. No book ever got written just talking about it or by listening to other people as to why you can’t. Writing a book is about butt time in a chair in front of whatever writing instrument you use. Nothing else works, including excuses. 

The Strangers on Montagu Street 

Psychic realtor Melanie Middleton returns-only to be greeted by a house full of lost souls.

Psychic realtor Melanie Middleton is still restoring her Charleston house and doesn’t expect to have a new houseguest, a teen girl named Nola.

But the girl didn’t come alone, and the spirits that accompanied Nola don’t seem willing to leave…