When I was a little girl, my father’s job has us moving all over the world about every two years. I loved the experience of meeting new people and making a new house a home. I actually thrived on it. But what I didn’t like was leaving behind the friends I’d made. Luckily, back then things called “hand-written letters”, “postage stamps,” and “mailboxes” existed, which allowed me to keep in constant contact with a growing number of friends. Sort of an old-fashioned Facebook, but more personal.
I remember fighting with my brothers over who got to run out to the mailbox after the mail truck left (twice a day—remember that?) and then getting the warm and fuzzies as I recognized the soft pink stationary of my friend Suzy Dorf who lived in New Jersey, or the one with kitten stickers all over the envelope from my friend Monica who lived in Venezuela.
Fast-forward mumble-mumble years and here we are in the age of the Internet. Where anonymity and in-your-face coexist hand-in-hand. For a writer, it’s wonderful that I have all this instant access (and visa versa) with my readers. On the other hand, all that access can sometimes seem, well, daunting.
A while back, I received an email from a reader that started out like most of the ones I receive and that gives me a warm squeeze around the heart. “Dear Karen, I just started reading your book and I it was so wonderful that I couldn’t put it down. Until the fairies came and started plucking at my sleeves.” The letter ended with my book in a plastic bag surrounded by rocks and candles. No, I am not making that up.
Last month I received an email from an irate reader berating me for making my readers wait so long for the fourth book in my Tradd Street series (as if I had any say in the matter, and as if it took as long to write one of my books as it did for her to read one—which, for the record, isn’t true). She was so upset about being made to wait for the next book that, she informed me, she wasn’t going to buy that fourth book when it came out.
Huh? But wouldn’t that mean…? Oh, never mind. My attention was quickly diverted to the reviewer on Amazon who gave me one star for one of my books—despite a really glowing review—because several of the pages in her book were crumpled.
I spend a lot of time on my Facebook fan page because it’s a great way to connect to my readers and they’re all very nice there. I love to post pictures of my dog, and my dreadful manicure when I’m on deadline, and pictures of the layers of pollen on my screened porch. We talk about books, too, but it’s all these other things that help my readers and me see that we have a lot in common besides books.
When I was bemoaning the fact that my poor dog had horrible seasonal allergies, I had about thirty comments from readers about their own tried-and-true remedies. It was like having a direct link to WebMD and Dear Abbey!
My next book (June 2013), The Time Between is set in Edisto Island, Charleston, and Hungary. Even though I had the opportunity to travel to all three places while writing the novel, the Internet was like my personal travel agent, showing me pictures and travel routes, and neighborhoods where my characters should live. I even found a website where I could listen to recordings of Hungarians speaking their native tongue so I could get an ear for the accent to give to Helena, one of my protagonists.
For my characters’ names, I searched the web for burial records in each setting, looking for recurring names that would be indicative of the families that had once lived in those areas. I ended up with the surnames of Beaufain, Murray, and Szarka—but the first names are all my own: Finn, Eleanor, and Helena.
I try to schedule my Internet time to two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon—but sometimes the draw of checking email or my Facebook page pulls too strongly during the middle of the day, especially when I see I have a new email from a reader (I really need to turn off my email notifications on my iPhone!).
Last week, I received an email from a woman thanking me for my books. Her husband had recently passed and she said it was by reading my books during her husband’s long illness that she was able to get through a very difficult period in her life. What a blessing to me, as a writer, to know that my words had offered comfort to a complete stranger. And what a wonderful thing the Internet is that allowed her to communicate with me.
On the flip side, I have a folder in a filing cabinet in my home office. It’s filled with printed out emails from people who, let’s just say, aren’t necessarily readers or fans, but maybe lonely people with lots of cats at home who don’t get out much but love to express their opinions—however misguided they might be. I keep them so that if I ever disappear, my husband knows where to direct the police as they being their search. We’ve all seen Stephen King’s Misery after all!
And then there’s this blog. I’m sitting here in Florida listening to the rain while typing this, knowing that people around the country will happen upon it and read it, and perhaps smile, or skim over it before hitting the next button, or they might be compelled to visit my website (www.karen-white.com). They might even check out my Facebook (facebook.com/karenwhiteauthor) page where they’ll find photo albums of bottle trees sent by readers after reading my book On Folly Beach, and of course lots of photos of my dog.
The world is a very big place—sometimes bigger than I’d like it to be—but in the World Wide Web, it’s a wonderful place where readers and writers connect.