Sunday, June 8, 2008

Karen White and The Memory of Water

Synopsis: On the night their mother drowns trying to ride out a storm in a sailboat, sisters Marnie and Diana Maitland discover there is more than one kind of death. There is the death of innocence, of love, and of hope. Each sister harbors a secret about what really happened that night—secrets that will erode their lives as they grow into adulthood.

After ten years of silence between the sisters, Marnie is called back to the South Carolina Lowcountry by Diana’s ex-husband, Quinn. His son has returned from a sailing trip with his emotionally unstable mother, and he is deeply disturbed and refusing to speak. In order to help the traumatized boy, Marnie must reopen old wounds and bring the darkest memories of their past to the surface. While resisting her growing attraction to Quinn, she must also confront Diana, before they all go under.

When I went out to Karen's website I noticed that all her books are set in the south and that many of them are by the water. As someone who visits the Outer Banks of North Carolina every year, this aspect of her work fascinated me and I had to ask why she chose these settings and what type of research she performed. I also asked her to share with us her favorite spot on the east coast.

I call what I write ‘grit lit’—Southern Women’s Fiction. I write about the South and people my stories with characters who are uniquely Southern. The reason why I choose to write Southern fiction probably has a lot to do with the old adage of ‘write what you know.’ Both of my parents are from Mississippi (my father from the Gulf Coast and my mother from the Delta). My fondest memories of my childhood are from my visits to my grandmother’s house in Indianola, Mississippi. It was the only time I was ever allowed to go barefoot! I’d stay up late at night with my cousins as we listened to my grandmother, my mother and her four sisters talk about people they knew, and things they had lived through, and all the scandals and ill-fated romantic entanglements of people they knew or had once known. All of those stories stayed with me. Even now when I write, I hear the accents of my aunts and grandmother, telling stories around her kitchen table.

My attachment to the Atlantic coast started as a simple question of proximity. I’ve never lived west of the Mississippi and actually spent my middle and high school years in London, England. But after I was married and had children, we settled in Atlanta, Georgia, about a 5 to 6 hour drive to the Georgia and South Carolina coasts.

Our first trip to the Lowcountry was to Hilton Head, South Carolina. I remember seeing the marsh for the first time and having the oddest thought that I had somehow come home. I think from that moment on, I’ve been planning the house I will one day have overlooking the marsh. There is something ethereal and eternal about the Lowcountry; it can’t be named, only sensed through sight and smell. Although writing a book is never easy, when I’m setting a book in the Lowcountry, creating the setting comes very naturally to me.

One of the most enjoyable things about being a writer is visiting the setting of a book to get a real idea of what the book’s characters experience on a day-to-day basis. I don’t plan to set my books in ideal vacation spots, it just sort of works out that way! I do try to visit every location. Even my fictional locations are based on real spots, and I can’t imagine a better way of describing a setting than to actually be there.

For The Memory of Water, I did more than just visit McClellanville, South Carolina where the story is set. Since the main characters are avid sailors, I realized early on in the writing of the book that I needed to know more about sailboats and sailing—a tough thing since I’d never been within 50 feet of a sailboat before starting the book!

In addition to reading a lot on the subject, I ended up taking sailing lessons. I can honestly say that I could never be a sailor, but at least I learned more about what makes sailing such a passion for sailors, and for my characters.

Picking a favorite spot is a bit like asking me to pick a favorite child! It’s hard to pick just one but I’d say right now it would be Pawleys Island. Known to locals as ‘shabby chic’, this strip of land between the Atlantic and the marsh and dotted with million dollar shacks is packed with as much history as ambience. It also has its own ghost (the ‘Grey Man’) which is why I selected this location for my 2005 novel, The Color of Light.

But every year we try someplace new, so wait and see where I decide to set my next book to determine what my ‘new’ favorite place is!

THE MEMORY OF WATER VIRTUAL BOOK TOUR '08 will officially begin on June 1, 2008 and continue all month long. If you would like to follow Karen's tour in progress, visit in June. Leave a comment at any of her blog stops and become eligible to win a free copy at the end of her tour! One lucky winner will be announced on her tour page on June 30!

This virtual book tour has been brought to you by:


Daniel Bates said...

Sounds like a great book! I've lived in McClellanville most of my life and write about it on my website,, if anyone would like to read more about "The Village".

Karen White said...

Hi, Daniel--

Wow--I wish we'd met about two years ago when I was writing this book! It would have made my research _so_ much easier!

I have visited McClellanville on several occasions and fell in love with it. It's the quintessential Southern fishing village. You're very lucky to live there!