Every summer, my husband and I take the boys to what we consider a slice of
heaven on earth ...Charleston, SC. Walking down the streets in the historic
district is like taking a step back in time. Imagine what it must have been
like during the Civil War. Within the walls of each well-preserved, Charleston
home lie heroic stories grounded in history that have defined the charm of the
Old South. But as any Charleston native can tell you, some of those tales have
yet to be told.
It has been said that Charleston, often referred to as The Holy City due to the
number of churches found there, has its fair share of ghosts in residence. Karen White, this month’s
Jen’s Jewels, has
conjured up her own set of spirits in her latest release entitled THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET.
Beautifully written, it’s the story of a woman who inherits one of the finest
examples of Charleston architecture complete with its own coterie of ghosts.
As part of this interview, Karen has donated five copies of THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET
for you, my readers, to win! (Thank you, Karen!) So, don’t forget
to look for the trivia question at the end. Go ahead and light a candle, lock
all the doors and windows, and get to know the truly gifted storyteller, Karen White.
Jen: As children, we believe that the sky is the limit as we search for
our calling in life which we hope will ultimately bring us true happiness.
Without a doubt, you have found yours. So that my readers may have a better
understanding of the journey that led to where you are today, please give us a
brief overview of your educational and professional background.
Karen: It’s probably not what you’d think! I grew up
with three brothers—meaning I spent a lot of time avoiding them by holing up in
my room and reading. I was a voracious reader from the first moment I read my
first book. I went to college and graduated cum laude with a BS in business
management (go figure!). I worked in the business world (I was an operations
manager for a software development company as well as a media buyer in an ad
agency) before starting my family and staying home with my babies. Because I’d
been encouraged all my life by teachers and friends to ‘write a book’, I
decided then was the time. So I did. I started my fist book in 1996 and it was
published in 2000.
Jen: It’s interesting to hear an accomplished writer’s take on the
publishing business as a whole. As a debut novelist, authors envision glamorous
book tours and six figure contracts, which can happen! From your perspective,
what has surprised you most about the publishing business? If you could go back
and change one thing about your career, what would it be and why?
Karen: I’ve had lots of ups and downs so far and when I look back to see
if there’s anything I would change, I’d have to say no. Everything has been a
learning experience (even the painful things—including being dropped by a
publisher) and it’s all led up to where I am now. I’m in a really good place
now and I honestly can’t say that I would be here if I hadn’t climbed (usually
kicking and screaming) over those hurdles.
As far as what’s surprised me the most about this business—it’s how
unpredictable it can be, and how cyclical. I don’t know a single writer who
hasn’t been at the top and the bottom of their game all within the same career!
It’s definitely not a business for the thin-skinned or weak-hearted.
Jen: Your novels have received many awards such as the National Readers’
Choice Award and the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence not to mention being a
finalist for the Romance Writers of America Award for Best Novel. In terms of
your craft, how have you grown as a writer?
Karen: I’m much more confident now than I was as a first-time novelist.
I trust my instincts more. Not that I buy into my own press , but I feel all
those awards must mean something, right? I have found that as my career has
progressed, I’ve learned how to write faster—and better, I believe. I’m much
more concise and efficient in my words which make for a stronger novel.
Jen: From conception to completion, approximately how long does it take
for you to write a novel? Do you outline the story? Plot first or characters?
What is the most challenging part of the story to write? Which part of the
process is the most rewarding?
Karen: The time it takes me to write a novel depends on what contracts I
have due. Seriously! I’d love to take a leisurely year to write a novel, but
have written my last two (and best selling of my novels) in six months.
Ideally, I’d like to have a minimum of nine months to go from plotting to the
I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer which means I have a pretty fleshed-out main
character and a germ of a story and I just sit down and start writing.
Sometimes I have to provide a synopsis to my editor but she understands that it
will bear no resemblance to the final product. I recently signed a two-book
contract completely on spec—meaning that neither of the contracted books is yet
a twinkle in my eye!
For me, the worst part of the book is the dreaded middle (Is it too slow? Is
there enough information already to move toward the end? Will I be able to
finish?). The very best part of any book is typing THE END!
Jen: As my readers know, Charleston, SC is one of my favorite places to
visit. I was so thrilled to see that you once again chose this city as the
locale in your latest release, THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET. Not only did I fall in love with the
story, but I felt as if I were right there with your characters as they
strolled along the historic streets. First of all, why Charleston?
Karen: Because it was easier to research than my next favorite city,
Seriously, though, I love great architecture and southern cities. This book was
originally planned for New Orleans (I lived there for 4 years while attending
Tulane so I knew the city well) but then a little storm called Katrina happened
and I had to change plans. As with most things in this writing business, it was
serendipitous. I can’t imagine a more wonderful setting than Charleston for
this book (and its sequel, THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET). Coupled
with my love for the lowcountry, it’s hard to believe that I ever planned on
using another city for these books.
Oh, and also because it’s supposedly one of the most haunted cities in America.
Jen: And secondly, how did you arrive at the premise?
Karen: I honestly don’t remember. I do a lot of day-dreaming (probably
because I live with two teenagers and daydreaming keeps me sane). But with all
my books, I try to find a story that I’d want to read and about something I’m
interested in learning about and/or am passionate about. The city of Charleston
is in both of these categories, as is the possibility of ghosts. Melding the
two of these elements gave me the germ for my story about a Realtor in
Charleston who sees dead people. Once I had that premise—the rest just followed.
Jen: One could make a case that truly the main character of this book is
the actual house on Tradd Street. Does it really exist? And if so, what can you
tell us about it that was not revealed in the story? And if not, why then did
you choose that particular street for your story?
Karen: The house on the book’s cover actually does exist—at number 125
Tradd Street. This house was for sale and listed on an historic real estate
site online (that I frequently visit while daydreaming ). Since it’s a
typical Charleston single house I used it for the exterior descriptions of my
fictional Tradd Street House. When my editor was going into cover conference
she asked me for cover ideas, I simply emailed her the real estate listing and
voilà! We had our cover. The art department did make a few changes (i.e. the
color of the door and added the gate and swing-since they’re both a major part
of the story) but it’s basically the same house on the outside. I’ve never been
inside the actual house and I don’t know the history behind it at all. So, all
of the interiors and background of the house in my book are completely elements
of my own imagination.
Jen: Visiting a city is one thing. Capturing its essence is another. I
have to commend you on your portrayal of Charleston. You absolutely nailed it.
Approximately how much research went in to the writing of this novel? What was
the most fascinating bit of information you discovered along the way?
Karen: The old adage for writers is to ‘write what you know’. I’d like
to add to that ‘write what you love.’ And I love the city of Charleston.
Believe me, it was no trouble to visit the city to ‘research’! I’ve been
visiting (and falling in love with) Charleston for over ten years now. I always
take a different walking tour, visit historic homes and cemeteries, and stay in
bed & breakfasts to get a genuine feel for the city and its character.
Charleston does have a reputation for being a bit focused on family—and how
you’re not really considered a native unless your ancestors were living in the
city by the time of the American Revolution. My favorite story concerns a well-
respected and well-known statesman who was not allowed internment next to his
wife on one side of the church’s cemetery because she was ‘old-Charleston’ and
he wasn’t—and even marrying into an old family didn’t guarantee you could be
buried with them!
Jen: A question I just have to ask… were there really missing diamonds
from the Confederate Treasury? And if not, was this part of your story inspired
by a similar event in history?
Karen: At the time I was writing the story, I was not aware of anything
in the Confederate treasury other than the lost Confederate gold. I later
discovered that a lot of jewelry—donated by stalwart Confederate wives and
widows—was also rumored to have been included in the treasure. It’s all
nebulous enough to be believable—and certainly had the makings for a great
Jen: I have to admit…I am not a big fan of paranormal books. There’s
something about the supernatural that makes me a little leery about buying into
that kind of storyline, but not so with THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET.
Your ability to incorporate the ghosts into the novel was quite impressive.
Bravo! How did you do it?
Karen: As I attempt to do with all of my novels, I try to create a story
and characters that are both believable and real. In TRADD STREET, just about
everybody is a ‘doubter’—so I had to make the events realistic enough for the
characters to believe the unbelievable. I placed myself in their shoes so that
I saw everything from their perspective and wrote the story accordingly.
Jen: Melanie Middleton, the protagonist, is such a quirky yet lovable
character with many “issues.” The same is true of her potential love interest,
Jack Trenholm. What is their biggest obstacle to overcome in relation to
accepting the cards they have been dealt? What makes them so good together?
Karen: I absolutely love Jack and Melanie! And I’m so thrilled to be
writing at least one more book with them carrying on. They’re the typical Type
A (Melanie) and Type B (Jack) personalities. Melanie’s a control freak obsessed
with order and predictability (stemming from her mother’s abandonment when
Melanie was a small child) and Jack is laid-back and charming, refusing to
allow his heart to get involved (due to his being left at the altar on his
wedding day by the love of his life). They’re both so vulnerable and doing a
great job of hiding it from everybody—but not from each other. They’re perfect
together and I’m wondering how many books it will take before they’re allowed
to figure that out for themselves!
Jen: If you don’t mind, please share with us a little more about the
sequel. I can’t wait to read what happens next!
Karen: THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET will be out in November 2009. I’m in
the middle of writing it now and I love it as much as TRADD STREET. The only
thing I will tell you about it is that Melanie’s mother comes back, asking for
Melanie’s help. We’ll find out why she left when Melanie was only six, and
there will be a little romance between Melanie’s divorced parents—which annoys
Melanie no end, of course, since it doesn’t fit into her neat and orderly world.
Jen: Please tell us about your website. Do you participate in author
phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one? Do you
have e-mail notification of upcoming releases? Do you blog? And scheduled books
signings and/or scheduled appearances?
Karen: Wow—that’s a lot of questions! Firstly, my website is http://www.karen-
white.com/. You can sign up there to be on my mailing list to receive a
postcard to announce my new releases and also to receive my rare but occasional
Also on my website you’ll find an ever-growing list of appearances as well as a
list of my ‘virtual book tour.’ I’m being sent around the Internet blogging and
the blog sites will be posted on my appearances page by the first of November.
I’ve never done a phone chat before but I’m open for anything! You can reach me
at firstname.lastname@example.org for
Jen: Thanks so much for being a part of Jen’s Jewels. On a personal
note, it was such a pleasure being able to finally meet you in Dallas last year
at RWA. You truly epitomize the meaning of a Southern belle. Hopefully one day,
our paths will cross again. I wish much success in your writing career!
Karen: Thanks for having me—you ask great questions!
I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Karen. Please stop by your favorite
bookstore or local library today and pick up a copy of THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET.
It would also make a perfect teacher’s gift for the holidays!
If you’re feeling kind of lucky, why not win your very own copy instead? Be one
of five winner to answer the following question correctly and you could win!
title of the sequel to THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET.
In December, I will be bringing to you my interview with New York Times
Bestselling Author Cherry Adair. You won’t want to miss it!
When a twist of fate landed Jennifer at the "Reading with Ripa" roundtable
discussion with Kelly Ripa and Meg Cabot, she knew that her career as a French
teacher would essentially be over. Instead, she figured out a clever way to
combine her love for reading and writing and "voilà" She became a book reviewer
and columnist with www.freshfiction.com. On the sidelines, her parents secretly
hoped that her French degree from Vanderbilt would one day come in handy and
Jennifer is happy to report that the phrases ‘Je ne sais pas' and ‘C'est
incroyable!' have been quite useful when reviewing certain selections! As is
typical in her whirlwind life, one thing led to another and soon she found
herself facilitating a popular moms' book club and writing a column she cleverly
named Jen's Jewels. (Jewelry is one of her many addictions, as is the color pink
and Lilly Pulitzer, which when you think about it, would probably make for a
good story! Hint! Hint! ) To keep herself away from her favorite retailer, Ann
Taylor, she serves on the Board of Trustees of the Harford County Public Library
in Maryland. As a national trainer for The Arthritis Foundation's Aquatic and
Land Exercise Classes, she is an advocate for those like herself who suffer from
arthritis, the nation's #1 cause of disability. When asked how she manages to do
all of these things and actually get some sleep at night, she simply replied,
"It's just Par for the Course." Hmm! Now where have we heard that before?
3 comments posted.
I have been trying to enter your swps. at Fresh Fiction. I read the excerpt but could find no place to enter the answer to the question. Where do I enter the answer to the question?
(Gladys Paradowski 7:59pm November 23, 2008)
I just finished The House on Tradd Street. Love jack and melanie. Can't wait for the new book in 2009.
(Mary Branham 7:13pm December 7, 2008)