By Leslie Lindsay
Old homes. Secret Passages. A decades-old mystery. Ghosts.
I’m pleased to welcome New York Times Bestselling Author Karen White to the…shall I say—parlor—to discuss her newest book, THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY (just released yesterday, January 3rd 2017 from Penguin/Random House/Berkeley).
***PLUS…You’ll want to get in on the re-read tour and enter to win a complete set of Karen White’s TRADD STREET series! Follow instructions at the end of Karen’s interview to learn more. ***
This is my first Karen White book and my attention was drawn to it much for the same reason anyone else who loves old homes, the languid days of old Charleston, and the allure of mystery, intrigue, and well, ghosts. What can I say? I loved Nancy Drew as a kid, Lois Duncan and Joan Lowry Nixon, too. Old habits die hard.
Even though THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY is the fifth in the TRADD STREET series, you can pick right up at any book; they stand-alone quite well.
Leslie Lindsay: Karen, I’m delighted to have you. Thank you for stopping by on this frigid January day to chat all things literary. First, I have to say, I love old homes. A lot. We lived in a 1920s two-story colonial when we were first married, but it wasn’t haunted. I think that’s a good thing. Do you also live in an old house?
Karen White: I WISH I lived in an old house. Sadly, my husband is very practical so we live in a new build. However, I’ve adored old houses since I was very young, my passion turning into an obsession when we moved to London and lived in a gorgeous Victorian building. Oh, the architectural details! The history! Some of the leaded glass bay windows on one side of the building had been replaced with plain glass because they’d been shattered during the Blitz in WWII. It was a piece of history I could hold in my hands. I will one day live in an old house again, preferably in Charleston. Just don’t tell my husband so it will be a surprise.
L.L.: I could talk about houses all day, but alas we’re here to chat about THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY. This is the fifth book of your TRADD STREET series. I’m curious what sparked your imagination to write the series? And was THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY drawn from any particular event in your life?
Karen White: I’ve always loved history, and architecture, old mysteries, and the houses that contain all three. Most if not all of my books have at least one or more of these elements, so it wasn’t that much of a surprise when the character of Melanie Middleton smacked me upside the head one day while I was taking a shower and the series was born. Here was this OCD Realtor who saw dead people asking me to tell her story and she wouldn’t let me go. So I wrote a few chapters and sent it to my agent (even though I was supposed to be working on another kind of book entirely) and she loved it—so did my editor. That’s how it all started!
L.L.: I think many of our life’s stories are about facing the ghosts of our pasts. Would you say that is a theme in your writing?
Karen White: Absolutely. The literal and figurative ghosts of our pasts haunt us for as long as we allow them. The scary part is turning around and facing them. I think that theme is one my readers appreciate and can relate to. It’s the human condition, really.
L.L.: And so with ghosts…are you of the persuasion they exist? Are you sensitive to them like Melanie?
Karen White: My grandmother and dad always talked about ghosts as if they were a natural phenomenon so it didn’t really occur to me to not think they were real (even though I’d never had an experience). I’m not sensitive (for which I’m sometimes grateful) but my son is. I’ve been with him (starting when he was four years old) when he’s had an experience. He’s not happy about this at all.
L.L.: I really enjoyed reading about Lake Jasper in Alabama. In THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY, you talk about the lake being flooded to sort of wipe out an entire town. Is that a real thing? Or purely fictional?
Karen White: It’s a real thing! The Army Corps of Engineers has created a lot of man made lakes for a variety of reasons—but for this to happen, low lying areas are flooded—including existing towns that just happen to be in an inconvenient place. I didn’t know about this until a few years ago when there was a really bad drought in Georgia, and lake levels got so low that remnants of flooded towns began to poke through. As a writer, I was fascinated. I actually can’t believe it took me this long to use the idea in a book!
L.L.: There’s some talk of a mental illness in this story. Was that something that sort of organically developed, or was there some careful thought and plotting that went into that? Are you a pantser or plotter?
Karen White: I’m definitely a pantser. I’d much rather be a plotter because that would make my life a whole lot easier, but I’ve tried and I just can’t. Being a pantser meant that the story evolved organically. I knew a child had died in the house—I just needed to figure out how and why, and how her story tied into Melanie’s story. And so the idea of mental illness came to me, along with the rest of the connecting plot lines. I’m always amazed (and grateful!) that my brain allows me to figure these things out before I have to type THE END.
L.L.: What’s on your TBR pile this year? Do you draw your inspiration from things you read? Is it hard to ‘shut off’ those voices in other stories?
Karen White: Pile? You mean room, right? Seriously, I have quite the accumulation of books. I justify it by saying there are FAR worse habits. I read for escape and don’t read in the genre in which I write (Southern Women’s Fiction) so that I won’t be inspired. I’m currently listening on audio to THE LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly (a great WWII historical) and am reading an upcoming debut novel called THE HIDEAWAY by Lauren Denton that will be out in April. Most of my physical reading these days is for research or (as in the case of Lauren’s book) to give a blurb to an upcoming book. Most of my book ideas are gleaned from true stories in magazines or in the newspaper, on TLC’s Mysteries at the Museum or the Investigation ID channel that hosts a plethora of shows all about true crime. My particular favorite (aside from Southern Fried Homicide) is A Crime To Remember which is all about crimes from the 50’s and 60’s that had to be solved using pre-modern forensics methods.
L.L.: Karen, it was a pleasure chatting with you today. Thank you so much for taking the time to pop by.
Karen White: Thank you! And so glad you enjoyed the book.
For more information, to follow Karen White on social media, or to purchase THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY, please see:
- Twitter: @KarenWhiteWrite
- Pre-order THE GUESTS ON SOUTH BATTERY
- ENTER to WIN a complete set of Karen White’s TRADD STREET series, a gift from Berkley/Penguin/Random House. Here’s how: Retweet/Forward/Share this interview between now and January 13th (Friday) 2017, then contact me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your name and that you shared. One (1) U.S. winner will be selected at random and contacted via email (so check your “junk” folder) on Saturday, January 15th. You will not receive any additional emails from me. May the odds be in your favor!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Karen White is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty previous books, including Flight Patterns, The Sound of Glass, A Long Time Gone, and The Time Between, and the coauthor of The Forgotten Room with New York Timesbestselling authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, through these social media outlets:
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[Cover image, including banner, as well as author image courtesy of Penguin/Random House and used with permission. Image of lock and dam/flooding of Martin Dam on the Tallapoosa River in the 1920s contributed by Alabama Department of Archives and History. Image of Southern Home retrieved from Pinterest on 1.4.17, library image from L.Lindsay’s personal archives]