A Gathering of Secrets by Linda Castillo is a powerful story. From the very first page, when a young Amish woman commits suicide, the plot takes on a dark and gripping tone, a very thought-provoking
novel. Bur readers should not be surprised considering Castillo books are always insightful and riveting.
The story begins with
Amish teenager Emma Miller hanging herself and then fast forwards six months where Painter Mills police chief Kate Burkholder is called to investigate a body found in a burned barn. The initial reaction is that it was a freak accident, but as the evidence
builds up Kate suspects murder. This eighteen-year-old Amish boy, Daniel Gingerich, is found inside, burned alive, and barricaded in the tack room with no way to escape. She is baffled since it appears Daniel has no enemies in the world, yet, he
dies a harsh and cruel death. The investigation takes on twists and turns since Daniel has a secret life. Secrets are the heart of the story as the Amish community stays silent, basically attempting to stonewall the case. Kate begins to wonder
if this peaceful and deeply religious community is conspiring to hide a truth no one wants to talk about.
As she wades through a sea of suspects,
she’s confronted by her own violent past, which made her leave the Amish community. She finds that there are many parallels to her past as the rape of Amish girls are hidden, and not talked about or reported. This part of the story is very relevant to
issues of today. It is an Amish MeToo Moment. What also makes the plot authentic is Kate’s reflection on the Amish sects, their principles, rules, and her ability to speak the Dutch language.
Castillo is a master at building suspense with intense and dark secret undertones. This harrowing thriller, with so many interesting characters, emphasizes how religious beliefs influence
the communities’ morality and the desire to obtain justice.
Elise Cooper: How did you get the idea for the series?
Linda Castillo: That’s a difficult question to answer without giving away too much but I’ll take my best shot. One of the elements of writing crime fiction that I love—and
always strive to find—is the unexpected. The unexpected in terms of motive. The unexpected in terms of the suspect. Those elements can never come from out of left field. They must be part of the story. I believe I achieved that
with A Gathering of Secrets. That’s about all I can say without including a spoiler.
LC: I’m not Amish although I have been asked that question on more than one occasion. I’m originally from Ohio’s farm country, so I’ve
always been aware of the Amish. As a child, I wasn’t particularly interested. As an adult, while I was working on the idea of writing a big thriller I made a trip to Amish Country. That trip prompted the core idea for the Kate Burkholder
series. I found myself fascinated by the culture, the history, the religion. I couldn’t think of a more interesting setting, especially for a thriller. As a writer, I was intrigued by that juxtaposition of the bucolic setting standing
in such sharp contrast to crime—or evil. In addition to the mystery, the books also offer an intimate glimpse into the Amish culture. I wanted to explore that culture. I wanted to write a protagonist that could immerse us not only in
the Amish world, but the “English” world as well.
EC: You write in the acknowledgements that this novel was
difficult to write. Why?
LC: It was because of the subject matter. The book opens with a young Amish woman committing suicide. Readers do not know why, but
as they turn the pages they begin to understand what happened to her. There is also this young man who was burned to death, a very sad situation. As the investigation takes on an ominous tone, I chose to explore the question, is murder justified?
EC: You write how suicide is viewed by the Amish?
This girl felt helpless. I hope I showed how one of the Amish beliefs gave her courage. This is why I wrote, “At some point, she’d begun to cry. But she thought they were tears of happiness, of relief. Mamm had always told
her that death was part of God’s divine plan. She knew the Lord would welcome her with open arms. He would see her through this.”
EC: How has the Amish community reacted to your stories?
LC: I am going to see one of my Amish friends when I am on tour in July. He loves these
books. On the other side, I did hear from another Amish man who is from a more Conservative sect. He was really upset after reading an earlier book, Breaking Silent, and told me he burned the book.
EC: This story did not show the Amish community in a good light?
LC: I think that we
should never generalize the entire community. But in this story, the community did try to sweep things under the rug. The mother of the girl who committed suicide was first seen as uncaring and not supportive of her daughter. The parent reactions
depend on how they were raised and which sect they were from. Another girl, Ruth, who became pregnant from a rape, had her mother decide to find her a husband to pass the baby off as her husbands. Each mother tried to sweep the secret under the rug.
EC: Why do you think the mothers had the attitude, “God doesn’t let things like that happen to good girls.
She must’ve done something to tempt him”?
LC: In my research I read that an Amish boy who does something terribly wrong, even raping someone, can get off.
If he confesses before the Church congregation, he is forgiven. This is why I wrote the girls not speaking up, some committing suicide, because they knew the boy would have been forgiven and they would be caught up in the stigma.
EC: Many of the Amish boys are not likeable characters?
I write one of them as a little weasel. He knew that girls were getting raped and did nothing. He even saw what happened to one personally and did not step up to the plate to stop it. It was very satisfying for me as a writer to have Kate
slap the cigarette out of his mouth.
EC: It was surprising to see the Amish did not object to some modern technology, such
as fire engines, autopsies, using the dentist/emergency rooms, and having cell phones?
LC: They have absolutely no problem using modern medicine. Many times, if there
is an illness they will first try folk remedies. If that doesn’t work they will go to a dentist or doctor. Regarding the cell phone or technology, if it is used for business many think it is OK. When it comes to business or making money they
are very enterprising. I think many are more lenient with their business life than their personal life. There are community phone booths. Teenagers on Rumspringa will buy a cell phone. This is a period in their life when they are not yet
baptized, and they have not joined the Church, so they are free to drink, have modern technology, and dress as an “Englisher,” with their parents looking the other way.
EC: Does it depend on the different faction of Amish?
LC: There are sub-groups of the Anabaptists that include
the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites. They were very persecuted during the Reformation in Europe because they believed in adult Baptism. Now there are sub-groups of Amish, which I write about in the book, the Beachy Amish and the Swartzentruber. One
of the girls, Neva Lambright, who was a Beachy Amish, could drive a car, use a cash register at her business, and wore clothes that were decoratively colored. But I contrast her with the Swartzentruber Amish who are much more Conservative. They
do not allow indoor plumbing, have no running water in the house, and do not have gravel driveways. They will not have windshields on their buggies, which makes for hard times with inclement weather.
EC: How do you come up with all those Amish names?
LC: Usually I go to Holmes County Ohio, the largest Amish
community in the world. I actually have an old Amish directory, a huge book that I go through. The most popular Amish name is Miller, which is why they are prone to use nicknames like Abe “chicken” Miller, the Miller who raises chickens.
EC: Why the pets of chicks?
LC: Kate and her beau,
John Tomasetti, both work too much to have a dog or cat. I wanted to use subtle symbolism for Kate and Tomasetti, as they put down permanent roots. In this story John gives Kate strength and support. Each are absolutely nuts for each other. I hope readers
see it as a touching scene. Chicks were chosen so Kate could relate to her past, since she grew up in a rural setting. Even though John is a city guy he is also really into the farm scene. I guess subconsciously I used chicks because I grew
up in a rural area.
EC: What do you want readers to get out of the story?
LC: Entertainment, but also a feeling that everything was tied up. I am curious to hear what they thought of this story.
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next book?
LC: A mystery involving a murder that happens at the same time an Amish girl goes missing.
In future books, I know that in my writer’s mind John is holding back a secret as he keeps his cards close to his chest. I will play one of my favorite writer games, “what-if.” I need to make their relationship and John’s
secret relevant to the Amish Community.
Freefall (Pendulum Trilogy Book 2)
May 17th, 2018
Freefall by Adam Hamdy is the second book of a three-book series. The Pendulum has swung to this novel where all the main
characters are trying to survive. FBI Agent Christine Ash is still trying to prove her conspiracy theory, English DI Patrick Bailey is trying to recover, and war photographer John Wallace is attempting to escape his past. Although readers can probably figure
out what is happening it is better to read book one, Pendulum.
The novel starts out with the horrific scene of a London journalist, a mother having hung herself.
The death triggers an investigation that brings back together Ash, Wallace, and Bailey, hurling them into the path of an unknown enemy. They have one rule, “Trust no one.” Each have encountered these masked men that target them for the kill. It
becomes obvious that all three characters suffer physical and emotional pain as they find themselves in mortal danger. Suicide, attempted beheadings and IED explosions, are all described in graphic detail. The investigation leads them to discover that the
Pendulum killer was not working alone. As with the first book, the theme has Hamdy examining the internet and its excesses.
Tragedy, conspiracies, and deadly encounters
powers this adventure and action story. It is a pulse-racing read that is relentless and is not for the squeamish. Readers will empathize with the three heroes, hoping beyond hope that they come out of the danger with an emotional and physical
Elise Cooper: Is this a warning about the Internet?
Hamdy: It is fascinating to me how we could be victims of crimes without realizing it. I really wanted to explore this subject so I spoke with a lot of people on how the Internet impacted their lives.
EC: It is a three-book series?
AH: The first book, Pendulum,
looks at the consequences of how one person can do someone else wrong. It deals with anger and fear. This book, Freefall, expands upon Pendulum and explores how technology can subvert government and financial institutions.
It looks on how each character can trust each other and the government. The third book, Aftershock, looks at our belief system and how technology has changed the way others can manipulate our beliefs, creating an illusion of facts. I call
it Fake News on steroids.
EC: Can you explain the book quote, “Concealing our identity only protects those with something
AH: I think technology is only in its infinite stage, and will end up rivaling the Industrial Revolution. No one asks questions about what we want out of
it. There are a number of parents who are upset that their children are addicted to social media. There is this perception that we are not living our lives for ourselves, but for an audience. Those on social media who are anonymous are far more
rude and aggressive. I am pretty sure if they are in front of the person they are goading they would not behave in that way. It gives people license to go further than they normally would.
EC: The opening scene speaks of someone committing suicide. It seems very relevant to today’s current events?
AH: Suicide is a delicate subject. Technology has opened up people’s access to information. There are positives, such as suicide support, anti-depression groups, and counseling services. But there are also negatives:
on-line suicide cheerleaders, and chat rooms encouraging people to film themselves as they take their own lives. What studies have found across the Western world is that the more people are aware of suicide the more they make the choice to end their lives.
EC: How would you describe Ash?
AH: She is a damaged
individual who had a difficult childhood. She became an FBI Agent to honor her murdered mother. Outside she has a tough shell, but inside is very fragile and vulnerable. Overall, she is tenacious, smart, paranoid, and wants to isolate herself.
EC: How would you describe Wallace?
He embodies the average person. He is on a journey of redemption and forgiveness.
EC: How would you describe Bailey?
AH: I think he is the only blameless character of the trilogy. He is a good guy who tries to do the right thing. He is compromised by childhood friends like Salamander, which is
based on my childhood friends. They came from the wrong side of the tracks who live their own moral code. Overall, he is smart, tough, dogged, and someone who keeps getting punched but gets back up. I have him suffering from PTSD because
police, law enforcement, and soldiers that go through life changing events quite often have serious repercussions and emotional scars.
How would you describe the main antagonist, Smokie?
AH: He is a psychopath. I met with some murderers who consider themselves the heroes of their own stories.
Smokie thinks that everything he does is justified, including all the pain and suffering he inflicts. He is very angry and believes that the end justifies the means. He has no morality.
EC: Interesting your filler characters have no names but are referred to as “scarred man,” “fatman,” and “bomber-jacket.” Why?
AH: I write from a character’s perspective. What they don’t know is what I, the author, as well as the reader, doesn’t know. These names go along with what Wallace, Ash, and Bailey have
named the characters in their heads. Readers experience the story through the eyes, ears, and brains of one of the principled characters.
EC: Those torture scenes are pretty intense?
AH: I do not think there is much physical torture, but more emotional torture. I am a great believer
that once you read the shock the fear is caused by the reader’s imagination. I think I only suggested the pain, but the reader takes it from there with their mind filling in the gaps. What makes it terrifying are the psychological aspects,
the loss of control and how it takes someone to their darkest places.
EC: Can you explain this book quote, equality
is “used to garner support from people who were too idealistic to recognize the darkness that lay at their heart?”
AH: Throughout history someone has used others
better judgement to their advantage. Sometimes it is too late before people realize what the others are truly after. In the next few years once the companies get more sophisticated, and more competent, we will see mass manipulation by the digital
mediums. No one ever comes to power saying ‘I want to be evil.’ They try to tap into the aspirational aspects of ourselves. Smokie comes to power by saying how he believes in equality. These people come along and sell us our dreams.
There is this ideological version of ourselves with all these wonderful words that are actually ugly.
EC: Can you give a heads
up about your next book?
AH: The antagonist in Aftershock, the third book, is the embodiment of pure evil. Ash will grow as a character and this novel
will be her story. Wallace and her relationship will be at the heart of the plot. I hope people find it entertaining, but also will ask questions about the Internet.
The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington by Charles Rosenberg is a great Fourth of July novel. Anyone who feels a sense
of patriotism will want to read this gripping story about America’s General George Washington. The suspense ratchets up as readers wonder what will happen to one of America’s greatest heroes.
This thought-provoking alternative history book takes place in the midst of the American Revolution. An English plot to kidnap General George Washington, brings him overseas to England, and puts him on trial as a traitor. But some like British Prime Minister Frederick North want to use him
as a bargaining chip to put an end to a very costly war. British special agent Colonel Jeremiah Black, an officer of the King’s Guard, is assigned the task of landing on a deserted beach in late November 1780. Aided by “Loyalist” Americans
he is able to sprint Washington aboard the HMS Peregrine. Upon their arrival, Washington
is imprisoned in the Tower of London to await trial on charges of high treason.
Although Washington is more
of a secondary character, throughout the novel his presence looms significantly. Key characters include the American ambassador, Ethan Abbott, sent to negotiate Washington’s release, the British
Prime Minister Lord North, and the defense attorney chosen to defend Washington, Abraham Hobhouse, an American-born barrister with an English wife. An added highlight has all the characters’ debating key issues of the time. Rosenberg does this with a great writing style where readers do not feel as if they are being hit over the head with a history lesson.
This alternative history is informative and interesting, within a gripping novel. Part adventure story, part spy novel, and part courtroom drama it has many twists.
This what-if plot has an intriguing storyline.
Cooper: Why write this alternative history?
Charles Rosenberg: Fifteen years ago, I read about a British attempt to kidnap George Washington, in 1776. I thought at the time that would make for
an interesting novel. Several years later, I read about the Carlisle Commission that wanted to negotiate a peace settlement. I knew I had a premise where the British would kidnap Washington to use as a bargaining chip. I
also read the diary of an American, Henry Laurens, a President of the Continental Congress, who was captured by the British and imprisoned in the Tower of London. To some extent, I drew from what he wrote.
EC: Washington was more of a secondary character?
CR: He is definitely not the protagonist of the novel, but is more of a topic in it. I realized that the first third of the book, where the planning
and capture of the General happens, would have him not commenting at all. For the second part, where he is on the ship, he is a prisoner, who is basically
helpless. This means that he would not have a lot to say.
EC: Was it also because you would have to be very careful to cross the t’s and dot the i’s?
CR: Yes. Various people would have objected
and commented that Washington would not have thought that or done this. I tried to present him as his contemporaries described him. There were not a lot
of personal writings since Martha Washington burned his letters after he died. This made it hard to get a lot of material. However, I did read his speeches and hope that I came close to the way he would have said things when I did quote him.
EC: You have Washington drawing a red line in the sand, no agreement unless full independence?
CR: This was his position. This
is why I put in the book quotes, “If it will secure the independence of my country, they may put my head where they please,” including on pikes, and “You may not apologize, say, suggest, or hint that I am sorry for my actions, or that I desire
any compromise. It is either full independence or fight them in the swamps and forests for however long as it might take.” I found in my research
that Washington rejected all the overtures the British made. The 1778 Carlisle Commission that tried to negotiate reunification was sent away.
EC: Do you consider Washington a hero?
CR: I have a lot of respect for him. After finishing the research it became very clear he was the Father of our country. He led the military to victory and as our first president was in charge of how the government would be formulated. Many thought he would be like Napoleon. I put in
the historical notes how the British King George III said if Washington returns to his farm, “he will be the greatest man in the world.” Think about it, Washington gave up power twice, as leader
of the military and as leader of this country. He had tremendous accomplishments.
EC: You also include Benedict Arnold?
CR: His name still conjures up bad connotations. I ran with the feeling that he is a traitor who had very little loyalty to anyone. He did take a reduction in rank when he moved to the British side, which
is mentioned during the scenes of the cross-examination. I found a document called “The General Orders of The Army” and one particular one said the name of Benedict Arnold should be struck
from the United States Army, basically writing him out of history. I also wanted to show Washington’s disdain for him, which is why I put in the book, his “face was red and his lips were compressed
in a hard line. It was perhaps a good thing that the General was being guarded by soldiers. The look on his face suggested he might otherwise leap
out of his dock and throttle the witness with his bare hands.”
EC: Washington seemed to straddle
the fine line about the King. Consider these quotes, “My effort was and is to defeat the British Army. I have never thought the King was truly our personal enemy,” and “He is perhaps
your sovereign, but he is no longer mine. He has forfeited the right.”
CR: This is in itself an interesting topic. If the colonists were going to achieve independence they have to undue the sovereignty to which they pledged. They attacked the King in the Declaration of Independence. This really upset George III because he considered himself a Constitutional Monarch who had to support the laws passed by
Parliament. The core of the colonists’ dispute was their feeling that they had no say in the English government’s policies. But that was also true of many Englishmen who did not have the right
to vote unless they were landowners. Parliament kept responding that they always take everyone’s interest at heart when deciding laws, but the colonists did not have any representation regarding
what was done to them. Eventually, North was willing to acquiesce to independence, but not in writing. This was unacceptable to Washington and others because what Parliament gave could be taken away and
then the colonists would have no recourse.
EC: You also examine
how the “rules of war” impact the issue: Are the US colonies in rebellion and therefore subject to charges of treason, or are they a separate country; thus, Washington should be
treated as a prisoner of war?
CR: These were actual arguments at the time. Washington would argue he
was a prisoner of war, and that under the laws of war, he must be released at the end of hostilities or exchanged for another prisoner. The debate: were the colonists a legitimate authority or rebels,
as the King proclaimed in 1775, in a state of rebellion? Although, there were actually exchanges of prisoners. In 1781 Henry Laurens was swapped for the British General Lord Cornwallis who was famous for
losing the Battle of Yorktown. I think given the chance George III would have wanted Washington executed.
EC: How would you describe Ethan Abbott?
CR: A retired soldier
who was a real Patriot. He answers the call of his country.
EC: What do you want the readers to get out of the story?
CR: An entertaining story. But also, to learn about the Revolution as an event that centered on real politics. I hope they get into
the details on how America’s Independence became such a great triumph.
EC: Your next books?
CR: I am thinking of possibly writing a novella on what happened to Ethan Abbott or Mary Smith, the Loyalist who helped in the capture
of Washington. My next novel, possibly out in 2019, has a working title, The Day Lincoln Lost the Election, about the election of 1860.
Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier blends a murder, cover-up, and twisted relationships. Through manipulated lives, prison hardships, abuse, friendship, and wrecked futures readers understand how
someone’s life can go so wrong.
The story centers on Georgina (Geo) Shaw, someone who had to deal with the grief of losing her
mother and two best friends. But it appeared she overcame it, becoming a successful, thirty-year-old self-made executive at a Seattle pharmaceutical company. That is until she was arrested at a board meeting and charged with being an accomplice
in Angela Wong’s murder, her high school best friend. She makes a plea deal, to testify against her former abusive boyfriend and the actual killer, Sweetbay Strangler, Calvin James. Not only did he choke Angela to death, but also killed three others.
Georgina is sentenced to five years in prison for her role. After she is released from prison, new killings of mothers and their children start piling up, and Geo, unable to escape her past, is suspected of knowing something about the new murders.
It is a riveting story that readers will not want to put down. Just when people think they have the plot figured out Hillier throws a curve ball with an even more sinister and darker plot.
Murder, lies, grief, obsession, guilt, friendship, and distorted love add up to make a gripping story.
Elise Cooper: How did
you get the idea for the story?
Jennifer Hillier: It started with an article I read about the wife of a serial killer that was released from prison and re-invented her
life. Karla Homolka was the wife of Paul Bernardo, a serial killer that murdered three young women back in the ’90s in Toronto. Karla testified against her husband in exchange for twelve years, which turned out to be a very lenient sentence once it was
discovered what an instrumental role she played in helping Bernardo find his victims. Her sentence was not harsh because she claimed he was abusive and she became a victim of his as well. After serving her time she re-married, had children of her own,
and became a PTA mom. For me this is just mind blowing.
EC: Do you think Geo was a sympathetic character?
JH: I want readers to be unsure if they liked, disliked, or are somewhere in between with Geo. After all she was only sixteen when her friend was murdered and she was scared of Calvin
and scared about going to prison with a feeling that her life would be ruined. Because Angela was already dead she felt it would not matter if she came forward. As days went by it became harder and harder for her to get out of the lies. The secrets just
pile up. How do you go back and undue all of that?
EC: Can you answer that question?
JH: Since no one specifically asked her she was hoping it would just go away. She basically learned how to compartmentalize. I do think she felt if someone had asked her that she would have told them
and confessed. She became entrapped by her own secrets. Her moral code shut down and her survival mode took over. She did not think of the other consequences, that more women could die and Angela’s family would never have closure. I hope
readers think what would they do if they were put in that position? I would have probably gone to the police.
EC: Did you have
sympathy for Geo?
JH: She dealt with a lot of guilt after losing her mother, best friend, and her friend in prison. She also lost her innocence. What she wanted to
do is to build a life even though it was filled with holes. I do think her grief is relatable to people since many of us have lost someone.
EC: You have a book quote, “In every story there is a hero and a villain, but sometimes one person can be both.” Please explain.
Detective Kaiser Brody is the moral compass to remind us what is OK and what in not OK. Having a character like him is needed. He is probably the most upright of all the characters, but even he is not perfect and is a flawed person because
he is having an affair with his partner who is married.
Angel Wong was bossy and moody. She was a ‘mean girl.’ If she chose to be your friend the light
would shine on you, but when she was mad at you she was cold and would cut you off. She always thought of herself as the leading lady and that Geo rode shotgun in Angela’s life.
is a man-child. He is twenty-one to Geo’s sixteen, the older boy who Geo thought was cool and hot. He was certainly not good for her: abusive, manipulative, and someone who wanted to be in control. He is meant to be a bad guy through
and through. But even he has a moment when he leans on Geo and breaks down. He also loved her in a creepy way.
Geo is someone I cannot say if she is a hero or a villain or
both. I write in the book how Kaiser views her, that she goes through three versions to her life. As a teenager, she was sweet and wanted to succeed. After she met Calvin she became distracted, consumed, and selfish. The third version
happened shortly before her arrest: successful, mature, and remorseful.
EC: Do you think Geo was able to re-invent herself?
JH: We are all an accumulation of all of our mistakes and life lessons. She tried to use the reset button many times.
EC: This is not a black and white story?
JH: There are a lot of blurry lines. Everything changes from chapter
to chapter. When I read a thriller, I do not always know how I feel about a character. Geo is the most interesting I have ever written. I wondered about the real-life Karla and Geo, what would have happened to them if they never met their boyfriends.
Would they have turned out differently? When writing thrillers, I concentrate on the dark side of human nature.
and Geo had an abusive relationship?
JH: He picked Geo because he thought he could control her. At the initial meeting, he sized up Angela and Geo because he knew
that Angela would not take his abuse. She would have walked and told people.
EC: There was also rape in the story?
JH: I tried to imagine the impact rape would have on someone’s life. It is more than just the physicality of it. There is the violation and dominance that makes someone feel inconsequential
and insignificant. The body might heal, but the spirit would be affected forever. I put in the book quote, ‘Taking something he wanted that she didn’t want to give. Taking the best parts of a person and leaving the empty shell
EC: The jar of cinnamon hearts had some sort of symbolism?
JH: It is a gift that is not a gift. Calvin is the only one that eats the hearts. It is a gift she did not want, an empty gesture. The symbolism is that the jar became empty because what Calvin gave her he also took
away. It is a metaphor for their relationship. His attitude, ‘I am not going to give you what you really want, but what I want to give you, and then I will take it back.’ By the time the jar was empty, she was empty, left with
only the guilt.
EC: Did you do any research for the prison scenes?
JH: For years I was obsessed with the TV show Lock Up. I spent a day taking a tour of a correction facility for women outside Seattle to see how they lived and interacted. It has its own world that can be very bleak
and monotonous. I think I would be like Geo and adapt to the situation because we are both scrappy. Just as she did I would make friends with the right people. I also talked with someone who used to work in corrections. She told me how manipulative
inmates are, many deviate and evil. Given the right circumstances it could bring out the worst in people.
Can you give a heads up about your next book?
JH: It will be another stand-alone thriller that explores a bad marriage. It is about two years away.
Dreams of Falling by Karen White once again proves why readers have fallen in love with her books. Blending together friendships, betrayal, loyalty, and forgiveness over three generations makes
for a gripping plot. At the heart of the mystery are the secrets each character is hiding.
This is a story about three generations of women and is told from the perspective
of Ceecee, Ivy, and Larkin. The main story goes from the present day (2010) to 1951 flashbacks. Set in Georgetown, South Carolina, the story begins as Larkin returns home to help locate her missing mother, Ivy, and realizes there is a dark secret centering
around the death of one of Ceecee’s best friends from high school. Margaret, Ceecee, and Bitty have just graduated from high school in 1951 with all their dreams ahead of them. But they are shattered when Margaret finds she is an unwed mother who
lost her boyfriend while fighting in the Korean War. Years later her daughter Ivy has a similar experience when she loses her recently married husband who fought in Vietnam. Now the third generation, Larkin, must piece together what happened during those
turbulent years. The mystery comes into play as the fifty-year secrets are slowly unveiled.
White masterfully crafts a story that has deep emotion, a riveting mystery,
and surprising twists. Readers will keep the pages turning to find out what happens to all the characters.
Elise Cooper: Why did
you choose these timelines?
Karen White: I am love with the 1950s and now had the pleasure of delving into this era. This post war period was one of the best times
to live in, and the crazy sixties had not happened yet. I chose the other timeline, 2010, on purpose. Bitty and Ceecee were still sprightly and would have been too old if I set it in 2018. I also wanted Ivy to be a particular age during the Vietnam
War. This way I could move from the Korean War to the Vietnam War.
EC: Why dreams?
KW: I had the Tree of Dreams, a moss-draped oak on the banks of the North Santee River. The three girls, Ceecee, Margaret, and Bitty, wrote their dreams on ribbons and placed it into the tree's trunk, including
the most important one: ‘Friends forever, come what may.’ I personally have had really bizarre dreams, which my daughter tries to interpret. My imagination and the desire to learn more about dreams is why I decided to put this in. But
the story is not about nocturnal dreams, but the dreams of the three girls, what they hoped for the future.
EC: It seemed to
be an anti-Cinderella story?
KW: I wanted to have it realistic where dreams do not always come true. I wanted to show it is not the end of the world if they don’t.
Another door will open, and that everyone should have a Plan B.
EC: The characters had to deal with a loss of a loved one,
some literally and some figuratively?
KW: All the characters lived through it in a different way. Both Ivy and her mother had to deal with grief. For Ivy, she
always wondered what could have been, creating a sad life. When Margaret’s life fell apart she had no recourse because she was never taught to rely on herself, just a pampered rich girl. Ceecee on the other hand had to fight for her place
in the world and tried to make a purpose out of her life, a survivor.
EC: How would you describe Larkin?
KW: She is a little bit of all of us. Successful professionally but when you look inside of her there are gaps. We all wear masks. Everyone thinks she has no past, but she
has this gaping hole that needs to be filled. She has been away from home for nine years, but comes back to forgive people. She decides to look toward the future.
EC: The secrets bring in the mystery?
KW: Each character had a different reason for keeping
them. It presented the family and friend dynamics. Maybe they were used to save a friendship or to protect those they loved. I do not think people who keep secrets always have bad intentions. The mystery is what happened between the
friends. To emphasize this point I put in the quote, ‘It’s easy to be kind and giving and loyal when you have everything. But the mark of a true friend is when everything is taken away and you’re still kind, giving, and loyal.’
EC: The house, Carrowmore, also plays a role?
The house is based on a real place. My daughter has a degree in house renovations and she took a whole class on the restoration of this plantation, named Tidwell. I put in the book the truth about developers, not some of my favorite people. In my books,
I like to give a dig to things that bother me in society. The National Forest people did not want the house, but did want the land to preserve it for development. Tidwell was rescued from complete demolition and ruin. I think old houses should
be saved because they have such integrity. I put in this book quote about Carrowmore, “It’s been owned by your family since the seventeen hundreds, and the land, right on the river-I can’t imagine them razing all of these old-growth trees
and the house and putting cluster homes on it.’ I think the house went through a transition just as the characters did.
You have Ivy unconscious throughout the book. How did you write those scenes?
KW: I read a lot of anecdotal stories about people that have been in a coma. They
say they hear every word even though they cannot respond. We should read and talk to people even if they cannot communicate back. In some sense, it is reassuring to understand this. Ivy chose to hang on until her loved ones could come to
their own realization about the secrets.
EC: Music plays a role in this book?
KW: I have the same talent as Larkin where I can hear a few notes and name the song. I am a music hound. I love all types of music except Rap. I want “Name That Tune” to come back
because I would so be a contestant and I would so win. I adore Tom Petty so I gave him a nod because he died when I was writing the book. When I was driving through Georgetown South Carolina I saw a sign about the annual Shag festival. Of course,
I had to check it out and write it into the story. It is a combination of rock/R&B/pop music of the 1950s and 1960s. People can dance to it, kind of like Swing dance, but with a Carolina emphasis. I definitely need to learn how to dance it, everyone
EC: Can you give a heads up about your next books?
I collaborated with authors Lauren Willig and Beatriz Williams on a book out in September called The Glass Ocean. It is set on the last voyage of the Lusitania, and goes back and forth between the perspective of someone in the present day and two
characters on the ship. It will have intrigue, romance, and espionage. There will also be the sixth book in the Tradd Street Series that will continue to have historical homes, a South Carolina setting, and more adventures with Melanie Middleton and Jack Trenholm