Ladies, please help me welcome Karen White, a southern writer who makes me feel at home in her southern novels. (I'm Georgia bred and Georgia raised.) Karen is a past president of Georgia Romance Writers. Ask her about her tiara.

Karen, when did the writing bug bite you?


After playing hooky one day in the seventh grade to read Gone With the Wind, I knew I wanted to be a writer—or become Scarlett O'Hara.

From her bio:

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 another RITA, the Georgia Author of the Year Award and in 2008 won the National Readers’ Choice Award for Learning to Breathe.

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 tenth novel, The Lost Hours, was released in trade paperback by New American Library, a division of Penguin Publishing Group, in April 2009.

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 teenaged children, and a spoiled Havanese dog (who appears in several of her books), Quincy. When not writing, she spends her time reading, singing, playing piano, chauffeuring children and avoiding cooking.

In mid-December, 2003 I finally received the call from my agent that I’d pretty much given up hope ever getting. She left a message on my answering machine saying that she had a two-book offer on the table from my dream publisher, Penguin Publishing Group.

I stood listening to the message about a dozen times, holding heavy bags of groceries, wanting to believe in her sincerity while the whole time picturing my long-suffering husband standing behind her while she made the phone call with a weapon pointed at her head.

Let’s back up three years to explain how I got to that point. Granted, it wasn’t technically my ‘first sale’—but for me, it was the first sale that counted. Most people who know me know my story—how I entered the first book I ever wrote into a contest and it ended up not only winning, but also garnering the attention of a literary agent who offered to represent me. My first sales were to two small publishers. At the time, I would have worked for free (and I just about did!) for the privilege of being published. My advances were small, my print runs and distribution even smaller. Still I was grateful, and pumped out four award-winning books of which I’m still very proud.

I was at least climbing the ladder of success, although my paltry print-runs and publisher non-support kept me firmly planted on the bottom rung. I felt as if I were going to the prom. Sure, my date was the dorky boy with pimples, but at least I was going!

And then even my foothold on that bottom rung was shaken loose and I crashed to the floor. My publisher dropped me, stripping me of confidence and pride. I couldn't sell a book for 2 ½ years. Even the dorky boy didn't want to take me to the prom anymore. I was humiliated, devastated and heartbroken. It no longer mattered to me that I’d published four really great books (as friends and family kept reminding me). At the time, all I could do was point out Tom Petty's song, Even the Losers (Get Lucky Sometimes).

I was inconsolable. St. Jude, the patron saint of hopeless cases, became my close companion and we'd talk every day. I even thought seriously about making voodoo dolls of certain New York publishing personnel and holding them over hot flames. I gave myself until December 31st of 2003. If I hadn’t sold another book by then, I was hanging up my word processor. I simply couldn’t bang my head against the wall any longer. On the day I received the call from my agent, my husband was on a business trip in New York. Before he’d left, he asked, “Is there anything I can get you while I’m there?” My despondent answer, “A contract.”

I supposed it was only natural, then, that when the call came from my agent later that day, I couldn’t help but picture my husband ‘influencing’ my agent into making an offer. We authors are a pessimistic bunch, after all. It was only after I’d calmed down enough to call her back that I learned the truth: my manuscript had earned the contract on its own merits and the publisher liked it enough to give me a contract for another book that wasn’t yet even a twinkle in my eye.

So, my advice for all of you writers who are waiting for ‘the call’ or have hit a bump? Have faith. Have faith in a higher authority that things are working out the way they should. Have faith in your abilities as a writer. Then go do. Keep writing. You can't sell that next book if it's not written. Read books out of your genre. Take a writing class to hone your skills. Help others. It takes the focus off of yourself for a while and makes you feel better. Hang out with your friends and people who love you. They are a marvelous buffer against the mean people out there.
I know that it's inevitable that I'll hit a rough spot in my career again. But I've found the survival basics I'll need to get through it the next time. Remember: have faith. And voodoo dolls couldn't hurt, either.

For more info check out

http://www.karen-white.com

Karen will give away a copy of The Lost Hours to a lucky commenter. Comment and ask questions! The Comment button is at the top of this entry.

17 comments

  1. Scarlet Pumpernickel // May 13, 2009 at 12:15 AM  

    Mary and Karen great interview! This was just what I needed to read. Never give up, never surrender, onward and upward. Thanks for dropping by the fuzzies to give us a few words of encouragement with your own struggle to establish your career.

    Scarlet

  2. Mary Marvella // May 13, 2009 at 12:39 AM  

    Loved The Color of Light, Karen!

  3. Margay // May 13, 2009 at 8:51 AM  

    Karen, what great advice for new writers! I have found myself at a point where I am beginning to wonder about my abilities as nothing I have written has managed to attract the attention of agents or big publishers. Your advice to have faith in your own abilities couldn't have come at a better time for me. Thanks for being an inspiration.
    Margay

  4. Edie Ramer // May 13, 2009 at 9:47 AM  

    Karen, thank you for sharing your story! I needed this. You inspire me.

  5. Judy // May 13, 2009 at 9:49 AM  

    Karen, it's so great to have you here! I love all your books and have them on my book shelves, which is saying a lot because books have to fight for a space on my shelves! I remember your kind words to me and wish you continued luck with your writing!

  6. Karen White // May 13, 2009 at 9:51 AM  

    Good morning, everyone--glad my words have inspired so many of you.

    The Lost Hours is my 10th published novel (I still have an 11th novel that is under my bed) so I like to think that I've been around the block a few times and have learned at least SOMETHING to pass on.

    Please note: I've just returned from a 3-week book tour and my mind is still spinning so please excuse any innanities and/or typos. :-)

  7. Anonymous // May 13, 2009 at 10:13 AM  

    Hey Karen,

    A very inspiring blog.
    Question: The House on Tradd St. is written in first person. Did you do a synopsis and was it in first person also?

    I'm writing a YA paranormal in first and having problems writing the synopsis which is also in first.

    Connie Gillam

  8. Cyrano // May 13, 2009 at 12:47 PM  

    Karen,
    Thanks so much for visiting with us at the Pink Fuzzy Slipper Writers. I love hearing from published authors. Their trials and tribulations inspire and motivate me and your interview nudged me in the right direction.
    I'm going through a rough patch myself right now, finding it hard to sit down and write. Fear is my greatest enemy. It pokes me in the side, laughs in my face and whispers the words of self doubt into my ear.
    I've been trying my best to overcome it, but it's been difficult lately.
    How I'd love to lift myself up out of its reach.
    I plan on re-reading your interview and repeating one of my favorite quotes a few times to get my head on straight - Do the thing you fear the most, and the death of fear is certain - Mark Twain.
    Maybe then I'll be able to do just that.
    Thanks again for your words of wisdom and encouragement.
    Have a lovely afternoon,
    Tamara

  9. Karen White // May 13, 2009 at 3:23 PM  

    Hi, Connie--

    I'm rather bad at writing a synopsis so take anything I say with a grain of salt (smile) (this is probably the reason why I sold my next four books without even a first paragraph...because even my editor thinks I write a horrible synopsis!).

    ANYWAY--conventional wisdom is that the synopsis is told from the author's POV---meaning you are narrating what the story's about, including the main goals/conflicts of all the characters, and not just the heroine.

    I hope that helps!

  10. Mary Ricksen // May 13, 2009 at 6:35 PM  

    Great interview ladies! Did you drop the groceries?
    Best of luck, love that cover!

  11. Karen White // May 13, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

    Thanks, Mary--Penguin does a great job with my covers (I can't take any credit for them so I can say that). The actual cover isn't as blue (the hand's a little corpse-like don't you think??) but it really is beautiful. Since my first unfortunate first cover (with another publisher), I've decided that I've earned great covers!

  12. Jessica // May 13, 2009 at 8:00 PM  

    Hi Karen and Mary : ) -Really both enjoyed, and personally, got a lot out of, reading your interview. I would like to ask you Karen about some of the wonderful concepts that figure into your books - the one that is top of mind is that of "learning to breathe". Do you hear or know about something like this and then get an idea for a story, characters, and/or a book to go with it based on that or do you more often get ideas for stories, plots and people and then go to your store of knowledge to find where something like that kind of concept would fit well? I know it was the title of the same book, which I loved!!! And also have several friends and relatives who were WWII vets, so it had even more personal relevance. I feel like you write your own titles though have heard sometimes publisher's, agents, or editors will be the one to come up with the final one. Thank you for gifting us with your books and yourself!!! And congrats on the book tour! Jessica

  13. Mona Risk // May 13, 2009 at 8:24 PM  

    Hi Karen, I wished I've prayed St. Jude!!! You are a talented writer that's why he answered on time.

  14. Pamela Varnado // May 14, 2009 at 12:24 AM  

    Karen,
    Not only do I find the words of wisdom you've shared with us today inspiring, I often find inspiration in your actual novels. They touch me on such an emotional level that I am able to set aside anything that is keeping me from reaching my goals. I often pick up one of your books to read before I start my daily writing. I get energized and motivated through the vivid images you imprint on my mind and say hey, I want to do that, also. Thanks for being one of my role models.

  15. Karen White // May 14, 2009 at 2:25 PM  

    Hi, Jessica--

    For the record, I do write my own titles--they always spring organically from the story or vice-versa. In other words, the right title just 'happens'. :-)

    As for the idea for Learning to Breathe---my mother is 1 of 5 sisters who grew up in a small southern town (although that's where the similarity stops). And the letter idea came from me because of my dad. He collects stamps and will sometimes by a bag of envelopes with stamps from stamp dealers on ebay. A lot of times, he'll come across an old letter that has never been opened. That was enough to spur my imagination!

  16. Karen White // May 14, 2009 at 2:26 PM  

    Thanks, Mona & Pamela---I'm glad I've been able to inspire you in some way.

    In return, the warm words I receive from readers is truly one of my biggest inspirations!

  17. Nightingale // May 14, 2009 at 2:30 PM  

    I have to agree with everyone else that this was an inspiring blog that I very much enjoyed.