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 SIBA (Southeastern Booksellers Association) Fiction Book of the Year, 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 bestselling mystery series set in Charleston, South Carolina. Her 2011 releases, The Beach Trees and The Strangers on Montagu Street were released in trade paperback by New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, and debuted on the New York Times bestseller list at number fifteen and fourteen respectively.
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 and has a BS degree from Tulane University. She currently lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and two 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 fifteenth novel, Sea Change, was published in June, 2012 and she is currently contracted with Penguin for four more novels. For more info, visit her website!
Let the conversation begin!
How long does it take you to write a book?
Since I’m writing two books a year now, deadlines determine how long it takes me to write a book. My first book took me 4 years. The Strangers on Montagu Street took me 6 months!
Was it easier to write before or after you were published?
I don’t think it ever gets easier, but there is a building sense of self-confidence one gets after having been published successfully multiple times.
Are your characters fictional?
My main characters are always fictional and exist only in my head. But I also stick friends and family members in my books for fun.
What advice would you give young writers?
Read, read, read, read! Reading is the best way to prepare yourself to be a writer. Read everything–just make sure it’s engaging–to spark your own imagination. And then sit down in a chair and start writing. Nobody ever sold a novel that wasn’t written.
What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
Just do it! Seriously, there are a million reasons out there why I don’t have time to write. I generally tend to ignore all of them.
Daily word count?
I try to write 5 pages a day (Times New Roman 12-point). I guess that’s about 1,250 words? But that’s rare–and really depends on where I am in the story (easier to write more towards the end of the book) and how close my deadline is!
Are you an outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?
Definitely seat-of-the-pants. I approach writing a book the same way I approach reading a book: I don’t want to know how it ends or what’s the point?
When are you the most productive?
Definitely the morning–before my brain is cluttered with demands for my time or my endless to-do list.
What do you do to recharge your creative batteries?
That’s an easy one. Read!
Do you let anyone read your work-in-progress? Or do you keep it a secret?
I have two critique partners who are terrific–both are authors and we critique each other’s work. Their opinions are invaluable to me. Couldn’t imagine sending anything to my editor without them looking at it first.
Do you begin with character or plot?
I always begin with my protagonist and her internal conflict, and then the setting. The plot evolves from those elements.