This very self-disciplined woman (Karen describes herself as 'anal retentive') played classical piano since age 5, grew up in the US and London as the daughter of an oil company executive, and graduated Cum Laude from Tulane with a BS in Business Management.
Before marrying and having children, Karen worked in operations management, and then stopped working outside the home to pursue her life-long dream of writing. Publishing success came quickly to Karen, with her first book, In the Shadow of the Moon.
In 1996, while her children were babies, she began to write In the Shadow of the Moon, an historical time-travel novel about the civil war, using the research resources of Georgia's rich southern history for her novel. She had written a few chapters and sent it in to a contest and it won!
The judge was an agent who suggested changes and who then represented her to a publishing house. In the Shadow of the Moon was published in 2000. It was a double finalist in RWA's prestigious RITA award.
Since then, Karen has published her 8th novel, The Memory of Water, with two more scheduled - The House on Tradd Street (November, 2008) and an as-yet untitled book in 2009.
Karen's Website: http://karen-white.com.
I do not know how Karen does it. When my two children were small, I decided I could NOT manage to write and do everything a mom is required to do. She admits this juggling is one of life's more difficult tasks.
What I really like about Southern fiction is that it involves intense emotional drama, complex, tortured personalities and dark southern Gothic elements. While reading The Memory of Water, I kept thinking of Pat Conroy (one of Karen's favorite writers and author of The Prince of TidesÂ - I did not read it but saw the movie).
In The Memory of Water, two sisters become estranged after a childhood sailing tragedy killed their mother. In a cruel twist of fate, another sailing accident several years ago nearly killed one of the sisters and her young son, who has become mute since the accident.
One of the sisters, Marnie Maitland, goes back to the South Carolina low country of her hometown to visit her estranged sister, Diana, and her 9-year-old nephew, Gil. Marnie begins to realize how intertwined they all are - the Maitland family curse, the dark family secrets that begin to unravel, the mental illness that runs in the family, and the childhood sailing accident that killed Diana and Marnie's mother.
The Memory of Water by Karen White
Look at Chapter 10. Gil is the nephew.
"Last spring, before Mama got sick, she bought me a baby orange tree. She took me with her to pick it up, and then I helped her carry it to the highest part of Grandpa's property -- the place where you can see the marsh and the ocean at the same time. This was the spot where the first Maitlands lived in a small house while the big house was being built it burned down at the same time the big house did, and sometimes, when the wind is blowing out to the ocean, I think I can smell smoke.
I held the tree and its burlap root ball while Mama dug a hole with her shovel. She was feeling better, she said, and she wanted to remember it by planting a tree on that spot. When she was done, she wiped her dirty hands on her white pants but didn't seem to notice. Then she put both palms on my cheeks, and I had to remind myself not to back away. I wasn't used to her touching me, and it was like I was testing the temperature of the ocean by diving in headfirst.
Mama put her forehead against mine. "Gil, you might be too young to understand this now. But I just have this feeling..." She stopped for a moment and closed her eyes. I wanted to ask her what she was feeling, but I was pretty sure that I already knew. The tree and her bringing me here were a beginning, but they felt like an ending, too. Sort of like being on a sailboat and sailing close to the wind when it suddenly changes. Your sails go slack and you start floundering until you can figure out the new direction of the wind. Or you could just sit there and go nowhere. I looked in mama's face and felt sorry for her. Even with her medicine, I could see that she couldn't always tell which way the wind was blowing...
..."I know I haven't been the beset mother to you, Gil. And I want you to know that it's always been because of me. It has nothing to do with you." Her mouth turned up in a little smile. "You're a sweet, smart, handsome and talented boy --the kind of son any mother or father would want."...
..."You see, we're all born with holes in our lives, and we spend our years on this earth trying to fill them. My art has filled in most of them, and for a while, your father did." She kissed my cheek and smiled into my eyes, which look so much like hers. "And you, too, Gil. I know you might not believe me, but you have filled my life in so many ways." Tears started dripping down her face and I began to worry that this might be the beginning of one of her episodes. My dad had told me how to watch for them but I wasn't sure. I wanted to think the she had finally decided to become my mother, the way my friends had mothers. And I wondered if that had been the hole I was born with. The hole a mother was meant to fill and why inside of me was so empty..."
A terrific read, full of family drama and insight.
Link on Amazon:
Price is $14.00 but Amazon is offering it at $11.20 and has new or used copies available from $6.95.
- Paperback: 336 pages
- Publisher: NAL Trade (March 4, 2008)
- ISBN-10: 0451223039
- ISBN-13: 978-0451223036