Today’s post by New York Times bestselling author, Karen White
Karen’s latest novel, After the Rain, is now in stores. But we’ve got a copy for one lucky reader today. Leave a comment on this post to be entered.
Update: the winner of this giveaway is Vanessa. She has been notified by email. Thanks to everyone who entered! Check back soon for more giveaways!
I had the misfortune of growing up with three brothers—two older brothers who loved to torture me, and a younger brother who had the misfortune of having an older sister. I wanted a sister so badly that when he was born and named Steven, I dressed him up in my doll’s clothes and blond wig and called him Stephanie until he was old enough to fight back.
When I was nine years old, my father’s job with Exxon moved us to Venezuela where the insects are huge and the reptiles even bigger. If you’re a brother with a younger sister, the opportunities to torture her are endless. For reasons that have yet to be explained to me, my father bought the two older brothers BB guns for Christmas one year so they could shoot the iguanas out of the mango trees. What do you think they did with those iguanas once they fell from the branches? Hence my nickname “Blarin’ Karen.”
I suppose it’s no surprise that it was while living there that I discovered books for the first time. My best friend brought me with her to pick out a book at our small American library and while there the librarian, Mrs. Shero, asked me what I liked to read. Imagine her shock when I told her, “I don’t.” She promptly rifled through a few shelves until she found the perfect book and placed it in my hands: The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene. My first Nancy Drew book. And thus my life-long love affair with books began. I now had something to keep me company while I hid from my brothers as they attempted to put enormous reptiles down my shirt.
In the seventh grade we moved to London, England, into a building that stood directly across the street from the location of the house where Charles Dickens lived while he wrote David Copperfield. Imagine my delight when I discovered that my walk to the Tube (subway) stop each day to get to school and back had me passing in front of a book store. I devoured every book my babysitting money would allow me to buy.
And then one day a friend recommended a book she had just finished reading: Gone With the Wind. They had several copies in the school library and I checked one out. I began reading on the Tube on the way home and missed my stop because I was too engrossed in the book. I went home and continued to read, skipping dinner and homework, and then sleep. In the morning I knew I couldn’t go to school without my homework (and without sleep) so instead I got dressed, pretended to leave for school, then went up to the roof of our building and continued to read. And read. It was the only time in my life when I’d skipped school—and all because of a book!
It was a life-altering experience. I knew then that I wanted to either become Scarlet O’Hara or become a writer. Specifically a writer of the sequel to GWTW since I’d already worked out what was supposed to happen next.
But then college happened, and a degree in business, and then a career in the business world. Those years were followed in quick succession by marriage and two children. I simply didn’t have time to read. I missed books, but couldn’t find a way to squeeze them into my busy life.
Until my sister-in-law recommended a book, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I remembered thinking at the time how corny the book sounded—a WWII nurse being sucked back in time to the Jacobite rebellion of the 18th century. By touching standing stones. Right. But she insisted and so I bought a copy and brought it and my two small children to the park and set them on swings. Something like six hours later they were begging to get off the swings and go home because it had started to rain at some point and it was getting dark.
We returned home and I continued to read even past my husband’s return from work to a dark house with nothing on the stove. (Luckily, this experience prepared him for the many dinnerless nights he would experience as the husband of a writer).
I quickly devoured the entire series (only three or four had been written at the time). The author had transported me to another place and time, and into the lives of her characters—so much so that I could not pick up another book to read when I was done. So I did what my teachers since elementary school had been telling me I should do: I started writing my own book. That book, In the Shadow of the Moon, was my first published novel.
In that first book, along with every book I’ve written since, I try to replicate for my readers the feelings those favorite books evoked in me. I want to share emotions, and transport my readers to a difference existence. In my new book, After the Rain, I return to the small town of Walton, Georgia where six children and their father are grieving for their mother, and where a stranger is about to turn their world upside down. It’s the kind of book I like to read—part mystery, part love story, part woman’s journey, but mostly a book about people I can care about and root for. Just like the books that inspired my own writing journey.
There have been other books I’ve read before and since that have shaped my own writing, but The Secret in the Old Clock, Gone With the Wind, and Outlander will always have a special place in my heart as my literary first loves—remembered much more clearly and fondly than any romantic first loves from my distant past. At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
About Marybeth Whalen
Marybeth Whalen is the co-founder of She Reads, mother of six, and life-long reader. She is also the author of two novels with a third out in July: The Mailbox, She Makes It Look Easy, and The Guest Book.