Meet Karen White, Author of On Folly Beach

Bestselling novelist, Karen White, took time to discuss her latest release, On Folly Beach, selected by SLR as our August Read of the Month. She describes this book as “Southern women’s fiction grit lit” and reviewers are raving.


Throughout this story, you’ve excelled at making the reader wait as the story develops. As an author, how do you break a story apart and deliver just enough to keep the reader turning the page? Do you pen the entire tale first, and then go back and break it into bits? What is your personal strategy when you “build” a mystery?

I really wish I knew the answer to this! I write books the same way I read them—not knowing exactly what’s going to happen next. This book was written in the same order you read it, with each chapter in the past paving the way for some revelation in 2009.

I didn’t really plan for the book to be written that way, it just sort of came to me when I started writing. I wish I could say I had some grand plan in mind when I began writing (that would make me sound so much more authentic!); instead I just started with a “What if…?” and began to write. I think the element of surprise works in this book because even the author was surprised at how it all turned out!

This is a book about women. Complex, complicated women. Yet, they are all driven by their love/desire for men. How do you feel about creating strong female characters who are still so heavily influenced by the men in their lives?

I agree that Maggie and Cat were certainly motivated by their desire for men, but not so much Lulu and Emmy.

The 1940’s characters were definitely more influenced by their relationships with men because back before the war when women went to work outside of the home, a woman was defined by her husband. There were very few options out there for women except as wives and mothers. WWII was the catalyst in changing that, but that society is one of the reasons why Maggie and Cat, despite being strong personalities, relinquish the driver’s seat to the men in their lives.

Lulu never marries. She loved Jim as a little girl, and never found the need to “settle” for somebody else.

Emmy, in 2009, is different. She’s grieving and unable to move on, and it takes another strong woman, her mother, to force her to take a chance and buy her own business–which she does. Heath does his part to help her move on, but all of her growing, changing, learning and evolving happen because she wants it to and she makes it happen.

It’s interesting how the women have all been affected by their relationships with their mothers. Cat has an inability to bond with those she loves, while Maggie seems to mother everyone. Lulu builds her defenses, while Emmy feels like she always needs to be “the comforter, the adult.” How has your relationship with your own daughter been affected by writing this book and how do you hope it will affect your readers’ relationships with their own mothers/daughters?

I write a lot about the mother/daughter relationship because it’s such a fascinating topic. As a mother and a daughter, I’ve had a lot of insight over the years.

My relationship with my own mother has not always been good, and it made me pay attention and really study the mother/daughter relationships of my friends. This gave me lots of material for my books! I’ve never met two mothers who “mother” the same way–and I’ve think I’ve used every “prototype” in my fiction to date.

We all know a Maggie–even as children the Maggies of the world are taking care of their dolls and friends with the same giving spirit. Cat was essentially abandoned by her mother and father, leaving her needy and greedy for attention; Lulu has been raised by her sister since her parents died when she was young and is what I like to call “an old soul”–wise beyond her years because Maggie has never really treated her like a child. And Emmy has always played the comforting roll to her own mother, until Emmy must relinquish her role and allow her mother to finally step up to the plate.

Everyone in this story has a secret. In the end, the truth is revealed – essentially setting everyone free. Do you think modern generations are more open and truthful, allowing people to confront issues head-on as compared to earlier generations? Have you noticed a cultural difference from England compared to your current home in Georgia? What is the “take-home message” you want to deliver about honesty and family secrets?

Through the relative ease of communication through texting, Facebook, Twitter, and emails, I think it would be virtually impossible these days to keep a secret! I have two teenagers and within seconds of anything happening in their world, it’s broadcast everywhere. And with the emergence of reality television, it seems that people think it’s ‘okay’ to air all dirty laundry to a non-specific audience. Whereas holding on to secrets is not always a good thing, neither is essentially stripping naked in front a room full of strangers!

I’m not native English, but I did live in London for seven years while growing up. I believe (and hope!) that there will always be the famous “British reserve.” It seems to be engrained there, and I think it’s a good thing.

As for the “take-home message”, I’d like to hope readers would consider how long is long enough; when a secret kept to protect someone who is no longer alive, or it’s causing more damage than helping, it’s time to set it free.

The book is coated with a sense of patriotism, exploring multiple generations affected by war. Being from England, did you find it difficult to write about American patriotism and U.S. military history?

Actually, my father’s family has lived in the United States since the French Revolution, and I had an ancestor fight in the Civil War (on the losing side), and I also have relatives on my mother’s side who were in the Air Force during WWII. I currently have a nephew recently deployed in Afghanistan and a niece and nephew currently at West Point. My father served in the US Army during peace time after college–so my family is no stranger to the US military!

I had the honor of visiting the National Medal of Honor Museum recently, and I was so moved by the stories of courage and heroism on display there. It made me proud to be an American, and it also made me think of those these brave men and women left behind. It was that visit that made me want to tell that side of the story, and how that particular plot element made its way into ON FOLLY BEACH.

Just for fun — your book will likely boost the sales of bottle trees. Have you invested in the bottle tree industry?

LOL! Not yet–but I mean to. I can’t tell you how many letters from readers that I’ve received, telling me how they’ve either made their own or bought one. I should start my own business!

Karen White has published eleven award-winning novels, including The Girl on Legare Street which debuted at #31 on the New York Times bestseller list. On Folly Beach  has remained on the NYT Extended List since release in May. Her next two books in the Tradd Street series will be released in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Learn more at

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