Friday, October 14, 2011

Karen White - Paranormal Grit Lit - Really??

I’m known for writing ‘grit lit’—Southern women’s fiction.  My books are recognized not only by their Southern setting and characters, but also by their emotional intensity.  From my very first book (a time-travel historical published in 2000), that has been my trademark and what my readers look for in all of the books I write.  And believe me, an author doesn’t ever want to mess with reader’s expectations!
So when I proposed the idea for the first book in my Tradd Street series, THE HOUSE ON TRADD STREET, to my agent, she was a little leery at first—especially after I told her that I wanted to make this into a series.  She couldn’t have been too surprised, though.  In the last eleven years I’ve published fourteen books:  a time-travel historical, a gothic romance ala Victoria Holt, two contemporary romance/mainstream fiction novels, eight “grit-lit” books, and two “paranormal/grit-lit” novels. I’m not one for sticking to the tried and true, I guess!

In this series (THE GIRL ON LEGARE STREET is the second book, and THE STRANGERS ON MONTAGU STREET will be published November 1st of 2011), I’ve blended my favorite elements of ‘grit-lit’ but threw in my passion for old houses, the city of Charleston, a lot of history, mystery, and ghosts.  The main characters are multi-layered with a lot of emotional baggage (ala Karen White books), but their dialogue is lighter, and snarkier, than my readers are probably used to.  And, yes, my protagonist, Melanie Middleton, sees dead people.

So, how did I sell this idea as a marketable proposal to not only myself but to my agent and editor?  After all, isn’t the publishing industry married to the ‘tried and true’ despite their insistence that they want something ‘fresh and new’?  I made a deal with the devil (figuratively, of course).  I promised my editor that I could still do a ‘grit lit’ novel every year—if I could just be allowed to sneak in these cool women’s fiction/paranormal mystery books in between.  Seeing as how my books are usually around 150,000+ words, it was no mean feat promising two in a single calendar year.  But I believed in this project and I signed the deal.  It didn’t hurt that I’m the mother of two teenagers so that the need to escape to my “happy place” of writing is an almost constant one.

I am blessed with a really wonderful editor who likes what I write and trusts me a great deal.  I think all of us (me, my agent and my editor) were holding our collective breaths as I worked on the first book in the series, hoping it would live up to its promise of being a book that my current readers would enjoy as well as one that would attract new readers.  After all, I’ve always had a dash of the paranormal as well as a mystery in all of my books—this one just had a little more.

I’ll admit that I had a lot of fun writing the first three books and especially THE STRANGERS ON MONTAGU STREET.  I really know these characters at this point, almost like they’re family, and they truly do lead the story and I let them!  These books are a little lighter in tone than my other books, and the dialogue between the two protagonists, Melanie and Jack, was the most fun I’ve had between the pages of a book in a long time.  With ‘bated breath, I turned in the book and waited.

Luckily for me, my agent and editor loved the book as much as I did and they reinforced the decision to keep my name for this series because it was definitely a ‘Karen White’ book—recognizable by not only the southern setting but by likeable but flawed characters who have to work through internal and external conflicts—including a ghostly presence who’s not all that nice.  Each book has its own self-contained mystery, but the characters change, evolve, and grow over the course of the entire four book series (the fourth book will be released in 2013).  I even have a cute catch phrase for them:  “Sixth Sense meets National Treasure meets Castle.”  I wasn’t a marketing major in college for nothing!

So, did I pull it off?  Did I manage to merge women’s fiction with a paranormal romance?  I think so, and judging by readers’ reactions, they agree.  Nobody really knows what to call this series—and that’s okay because I don’t know either.  Maybe my books will be the beginning of a whole new genre!  My publisher was pleased with the response and what was initially only supposed to be a two-book series became four.  It’s not too much of a hardship for me since Charleston is one of my favorite cities.  From the first time I visited about fourteen years ago, I knew it had a special place in my heart and I look forward to each trip I make from Atlanta to “research.”

Regardless of what genre people call my books, I’d like to believe that with each and every one of them I have achieved the goal that I set for myself every time I sit down to write:  to create characters readers will care about, and put them in a story that will make my readers feel every emotion, want to turn the pages, and give them a sigh of satisfaction when they get to the end.  And that’s really what it’s all about in the end, isn’t it?


marybelle said...

The term 'grit lit' is totally new to me. I kind of like it.

Karen White said...

I heard it a long time ago (around the time "chick lit") was being bandied around, and I though it was so much smoother on the tongue than "Southern women's fiction with a dash of romance and mystery." :-)

Pat Cochran said...

You're a new to me author but your
books sound great! Love the name
"grit lit!" Will look for you on my
next bookstore run!!

Pat C.

Karen White said...

Thanks Pat--happy reading! :-)

Margie said...

I've never read you before but am totally going to be on the lookout on Nov 1 for your new one. It sounds wonderful--I love your tagline.

Good luck and happy sales!

Michele L. said...

Your book sounds fantastic! I will definitely have to put it on my To-Buy list! Never heard of Grit-Lit either.