Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Sands of Time

Guest post by Karen White, Author of The Beach Trees
The Beach Trees
I’ve written fourteen books and in all of them I’ve found myself writing about either sisters, old houses, the beach, or a combination of all three. What’s so interesting about this is that I was raised with three brothers (no sisters), always lived in brand new houses (with one notable exception), and I’ve never had a house by the ocean.

As a writer, I’m supposed to write what I know. But I’m a believer in also writing what I’m passionate about—and about what I’ve spent a lifetime of studying. That’s why my books usually contain an old house or old structure that’s like another character in the story, and if my protagonist isn’t an only child, then she has at least one sister. And, with few exceptions, my books are set somewhere near the water.

I’m actually petrified of deep water, and have been since as far back as I can remember. Yet some of my happiest childhood memories revolve around visiting my paternal grandmother who lived in the Florida panhandle near Pensacola. I loved the powder-like white sand that dusted my feet as I walked in it, and searching for treasures on the beach at low tide. My two older brothers would swim far out until they were just specks on the water, but I would stay next to my father and grandmother, under their protective umbrella, and listen to them talk about people they knew or had passed on, or what so-and-so brought to last week’s Sunday School picnic.

I was mesmerized by the sounds of the waves slapping the shore, at the sight of frothing bubbles and tiny creatures that left holes in the sand. I still love the smell of the sea, of the salt air and sound of the shore birds squabbling over food. It’s such a part of my childhood that every time I visit the beach, I feel like a child again listening to those voices and old stories, feeling the hot sun on my face. It’s a piece of home I carry with me always.

When I was in third grade, my father’s job took us to Venezuela. We lived too far inland to be near the beach, but we weren’t too far from Lake Maracaibo. My best friend, Tina, and her family went to the Lake every weekend and usually invited my brothers and me.

Lakes are different than the ocean, and I found it easier to swim in despite the dark green appearance of the water. My brothers would push me way out in an inner tube, leaving me while they swam back to shore right after pointing behind me and yelling, “shark!” That’s one of many reasons why I don’t write about brothers.

But the feeling of being by a large body of water, of the slower-pace, of wet bodies drying in the sun, of emerging from quiet depths into the open air, is the same. Those memories and scents, too, are a part of my childhood.

Despite the fact that my mother wasn’t a beach-lover, we still managed to get her on a family vacation to Greece when I was in high school. We spent two weeks cruising the Greek isles, snorkeling in crystal blue water, watching our skin brown under a relentless sun. We were living in London, England at the time and I craved the warmth of the sun—and the lovely tan I’d bring back with me. Greece was an intoxicating mix of astonishing history and glorious sun and water; a piece of heaven. I’d love to go back some day.

For college, I attended Tulane University in New Orleans. One of my sorority sisters and closest friends, Lynda Ryan, was from a family who’d lived in New Orleans for several generations. The Ryans owned a modest beach house on the Mississippi Sound in Waveland, Mississippi. The Sound, protected from the Gulf of Mexico by barrier islands, is like a cross between a lake and an ocean—without high waves and the color of iced tea, yet salty like the ocean. I loved it because you could walk very far from shore and still have the water reach just around your knees. Great for cooling off in the hot Mississippi sun! I spent many happy weekends at the house where the Ryans treated me like family and where I could get away from the stress of college life. My parents had moved to The Netherlands from London, and Waveland was a little piece of home away from home. I loved sitting at the end of the long dock, dangling my feet in the water, sipping Tab (yes, I’m dating myself) and working on my tan. Lynda always invited lots of friends, and we all camped out on cots on the “sleeping porch”—a long open-air room at the back of the house upstairs that looks a lot like summer camp. And for me, it was.

In August, 2005, Hurricane Katrina took away the house and most of Waveland, too. News footage focused on New Orleans, but Katrina made landfall not far from Waveland, taking out homes, business and lives long before New Orleans began to flood.

I cried when I heard about Lynda’s beach house, feeling as if a part of my growing up years had been permanently erased. But I have pictures, and memories. And when it came time to write my latest book, THE BEACH TREES, I knew I had a great idea for a setting.

In the book, a woman searching for her lost sister finds herself the owner of a beach house (that bears a striking resemblance to the Ryan’s house!) in Biloxi, Mississippi. The house is devastated by Katrina, and Julie, the protagonist, has to decided whether or not to rebuild. Going only on memories, Julie makes her decision, and each nail and each new roof tile brings her closer and closer to what she’s been really searching for.

This summer, as we do most summers, I’m taking my family to the beach for a week of sun-soaking relaxation. This year it’s Watercolor, Florida—with that glorious white sand! And with each whiff of salty air and suntan lotion, I’ll be back in my childhood reliving all those wonderful memories of the times spent by the water.

Thank you Karen, for sharing with us and being on my blog today!  I highly encourage those reading this to check out my review of The Beach Trees HERE.  It is a wonderful novel.  You won't want to miss it!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for featuring Karen White's post - I love getting to know a bit about where the idea for a novel comes from.


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