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Karen White | Let's Hear it for the Nerds


I admit it. I’m a closet nerd. I love video games and electronic gadgets. I even own an iPad. When I’m at home working, I wear my "Mr. Rogers" cardigan sweater with worn elbows and stretched-out hem. I play Sudoku for fun (I even have 3 Sudoku apps on my iPhone) and I take a nap every afternoon. I say closet nerd because I’m careful to not show any overt nerdly behavior to people outside my close circle of friends and family. Until now.

Now that I’m a "woman of a certain age," I have learned to embrace my nerdiness. To even be thankful for it. Because, I’ve learned, I owe it quite a bit. Let me start at the beginning.

I was probably born a nerd (my father is an accountant, after all) but fit in with the rest of the other elementary school children because, let’s face it, most elementary children don’t think twice about wearing knee socks with shorts or long Pippi Longstocking braids. At least they didn’t when I was in elementary school. Middle school and high school were different. I had a few close friends but let’s just say I was never asked to sit with the popular kids at the lunch table. I was a straight-A student, in honor choir and madrigals, visited old people in nursing homes as an extracurricular activity, and, by some aberration of fate, was a varsity cheerleader (including captain my senior year). I have no explanation for this last thing except that somebody must have felt sorry for me.

The lowlight of my young life was an 8th grade dance where I worked up all of my nerve to ask the guy of my dreams, George Biancardi, to save the last dance for me. When the DJ began spinning the first chords of Stairway to Heaven I started looking for George to claim my dance. I was approached by his best friend, Bill, who waived a large bill in front of me to let me know that George had paid him to dance with me so George wouldn’t have to. I think that when you look up the word humiliation in the dictionary, you’ll see a picture of that scene. I still remember it thirty something years later with astonishing clarity—me with my shiny Bonne Bell lipgloss-slicked lips and Farrah Fawcett wings blinking back tears long enough until I could make it to the sanctuary of the bathroom.

But in some sick and twisted way, I’m grateful for George and Bill and all of the other people out there who made my teenaged years miserable; the mean girls, the friends who weren’t; the hostesses who never invited me to their parties. I owe them all a huge thanks because without the angst they caused, I’d have no stories to tell today. I’d have no motivation to prove that I’m not just the nerdy girl who’d pretend to sleep on the team bus on the way home from basketball games because she was too shy to talk with the cute boys she cheered for game after game.

Now that I’m older and wiser, I’ve learned that being a nerd can be a good thing. Since all of my books have some kind of historical element to them, I have to do quite a bit of research. In my May 2010 book On Folly Beach half of the book is set in 1942 on the coast of South Carolina. I had to read lots of books and articles on the German U-boats stationed off the coast, and tons of information on World War II history. Because I’d been the attentive student in the front row, I loved doing the research. I knew how to do it efficiently to pull the information I needed, and to learn a lot in the process. I think I liked the research as much as the writing!

For my November 2010 book, Falling Home, one of my favorite characters is Dr. Sam Parker. When the heroine, Cassie Madison, sees him again after fifteen years, he is unrecognizable to her. Gone are the glasses and braces and awkwardness, replaced with one really hot guy who is not ashamed to admit that he’s had a crush on the equally nerdy-turned-hottie Cassie since way back when they were in elementary school and Cassie put a cockroach into a classmate’s lunchbox. There’s a lot more to this book—estranged sisters, an old house, a family mystery, a serious enemy—but my original inspiration for this book was to show how two awkward teenagers emerge into adulthood and find each other. I resisted the urge, however, to entitle the book "Revenge of the Nerds" since that title has already been taken.

In the end, I wouldn’t trade any of my past for an easier passage. Caterpillars, after all, have to go through the trauma of emerging from a cocoon if they are to become butterflies. As a footnote to my George/Bill story, I recently heard from both of them via email. They’re both married with kids, and are still best friends. I couldn’t help but bring up that long ago dance and wasn’t all that surprised that neither one really remembered that momentous event. That’s okay, because in the end it doesn’t really matter that it happened; it mattered that I survived it, and learned from it. And believe me, I’m still milking it; there’s just a lot of humiliation in that one episode to last for at least a few more books. ?




13 comments posted.

Re: Karen White | Let's Hear it for the Nerds

Love your Tradd St. books. I'll have to look this one up. Thanks!
(G S Moch 10:37am November 12, 2010)

I really like the premise of
this book because I think, deep
inside, there's still a nerdy
teenager in all of us!
(Margay Roberge 1:49pm November 12, 2010)

Sounds goods. That is what I like to hear; enuf fodder for several books. YAY.
(Helen Livermore 1:51pm November 12, 2010)

It's quite all right to do geeky things like Sudoko which I learned as a judge my first time working the elections. It keeps the mind sharp. You certainly observed a lot of uncivilized behavior at school growing up and to me. That just gives you more of a reason to write about those characters who made life trying and to find creative ways to get over the angst.
(Alyson Widen 1:55pm November 12, 2010)

I can't wait to pick up Folly Beach - my son and daughter-in-law got married that's where my husband and I rented a cottage and their wedding reception was held there.

I remember visiting the Huntley in Charleston (my son went to the Citadel so we spent a lot of time there) which also went down off the coast of South Carolina near Charleston. Did you find out if the two ships were lost in the same area?
(Jeanne Miro 2:29pm November 12, 2010)

I lived near Folly Beach when my husband was stationed at Myrtle Beach AFB. I'll have to read your book.
(Robin McKay 3:10pm November 12, 2010)

I have always been a nerd and proud of it! Not a geek though as I'm not that well-versed in anything to be considered as such.

I learned to be myself instead of trying to be popular when I was in fifth grade and I never looked back. Too bad I was too extroverted to be a true loner.
(S Tieh 4:45pm November 12, 2010)

I loved high school. Probably because we Australians think differently.
(Mary Preston 4:55pm November 12, 2010)

Loved your comment on caterpillars and becoming a butterfly, how true for all!
(Linda Pillow 9:06pm November 12, 2010)

Lots of us are nerds of one sort or another (even if we don't have Mr Roger's sweater). Just think, we are what make the world work (run)!
(Victoria Colyer-Kerr 9:41pm November 12, 2010)

I think that there are more of us that had similar circumstances in school, than were the popular ones. I tended to keep to myself as well, so your blog brought back a flood of memories!! Reading about your books brought back memories regarding my Father's tour of duty in WWII. I'll have to make it a point to read them. They sound like wonderful stories. Don't worry about your closet "quirks" as I'll call them. I love to play mah jongg on the computer when I get the time for relaxation, among other things. Everyone has their little "quirks," and they're nothing to be ashamed or embarassed by. They actually make you who you are and show your intelligence.
(Peggy Roberson 10:21am November 13, 2010)

I think there is a nerdy teenager in all of us!
(Brenda Rupp 10:55pm November 13, 2010)

Okay, I admit it. I'm a nerd too. Yep, I was and still am. Going to school and learning something new has always been paramount for me--even in books. I guess that's why I love historical novels rather than historical romance; I love the actual historic setting with real-life characters, e.g., THE EVERLASTING COVENANT by Robyn Carr, which takes place between 1460 and 1485. Though even the historical characters have dialogue written for them by the authors, its probably based on what the character might have said. I learned a lot of history this way. The dialogue is easily forgotten, but the general history sticks. Ergo, I'm learning history, or at least, firming my knowledge.
(Sigrun Schulz 9:41pm November 15, 2010)

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