|Kristy Woodson Harvey, Author|
Kristy Woodson Harvey just released DEAR CAROLINA, described by a reviewer as a “great tale of love, complicated family relationships, and heart-wrenching sacrifice.” Harvey tells us that a friend originally sparked her story, and the birth of her own son amplified it emotionally. Set in the South, she also believes that southern lifestyle augmented the plot, although she looks forward to viewing how other areas of the world receive it.
Harvey is working on her next novel about family secrets and what we do to protect those we love, scheduled for release in Spring 2016. When she’s not writing her novels or blogging at Design Chic, she enjoys spending time with her three-year-old son and her husband.
Don't miss the excerpt from the book following the interview.
Don't miss the excerpt from the book following the interview.
Q: What inspired the plot for DEAR CAROLINA? How authentic is the story?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: The story was inspired by a friend telling me years ago about a family he knew that adopted a child and essentially ended up adopting the birth mother as well. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but, when my son was born, I had this moment where I started to realize what an incredible gift giving up your child really was. Of course, you always know that, but it hit me on such a deep and profound level, far beyond what it had before. I wondered what would have to happen in a woman’s life in order to be able to give up her child and then, on the flip side, what both birth and adoptive mothers go through in an open adoption. The insecurities and fears…
The story and the characters really came to me sort of all at once, but then I did research as well. I have a lot of friends who are adopted and/or have adopted children, so they were generous with their stories and their feelings, and I read a lot of books on the subject as well. It isn’t “my story,” per se, but, all the same, writing it felt intensely personal. It actually took me months to sit down and write the book because facing Jodi’s story was so emotional for me at that time in my life.
Q: DEAR CAROLINA is described as Southern women’s fiction. How much did your upbringing in the South influence your story?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: The South is such a special place to me, almost more like a feeling, really. I wanted to write a book that captured the South—or at least a particular region of it—and some of the things that make it really special. The importance of family, in particular, is something that was extremely important in my upbringing and the book. And the focus on living near the land and the role that food plays in our lives is something that I think is even more sacred in Eastern North Carolina, where the book is set and where I live now. I learned a lot about it for this book, and it was fascinating.
Q: How relevant is Southern culture to the setting? Could the story have been as effective if set in California, for example?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: I think the South is really almost a character in the book. It influences every aspect. The growing seasons, for example, are critical to the plot, as is a certain Southern dialect. I think the story could have been set anywhere, but the Southern element adds a richness that wouldn’t have existed otherwise.
Q: How would you characterize the genre “women’s fiction?” Do you think it’s different in the South, i.e., are southern women more likely to embrace a different type of story than northern women?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: To me, women’s fiction is anything that tells a woman’s story—and we have diverse and varied ones to tell! I will be very interested to see how this book is received in different parts of the country, but, as women today, I think, no matter where we live, we’re all facing similar challenges—and joys. Juggling children (if we have them) and work and family and following our dreams can be tricky. I do think the South still respects and honors the stay-at-home in a very real way, but there’s no doubt that women are largely finding ways to be great mothers but still pave a way for themselves in the world outside of that. Certainly motherhood isn’t a part of every woman’s story, but women without children are juggling a lot of demands on their time and energy too. In fact, in some ways, I think life has slowed down since I became a mother! So I think Khaki’s story in particular is one that women can relate to no matter where they live. I find it encouraging that my reviewers have been from all parts of the country, and I think the story has largely resonated so far.
Q: Would you characterize DEAR CAROLINA as “modern” women’s fiction? Do you think women’s fiction has changed as women’s interests and roles have changed?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: I’ll have to say yes and no to that question! I think the South in and of itself can tend to be a bit of a throwback (Khaki says that, actually!) so, in some ways, I think there are traditions and roles that maybe don’t even exist in other places anymore. But, in a very real sense, I think both Khaki and Jodi are very modern women. Khaki isn’t worried about cooking dinner and changing diapers. She’s worried about cooking dinner and changing diapers and her coffee table book edits and catching the red-eye to check a sofa in a huge client’s living room remodel. And Jodi is finding her passions and making her way in the world all on her own. There is romance involved, sure, but I think the men in these women’s lives make them more meaningful but certainly don’t define them.
My friends run the gamut from full-time, incredible careers to full-time, incredible stay-at-home moms to something in between, but, no matter what, we’re all making choices every single day and creating lives that we want to live within the constraints we have. I’m 29, so I’m at a time in life where my friends are at every life stage imaginable and we’re all really starting to navigate who we’re going to be for the rest of our lives. There’s no blueprint and there’s certainly no right or wrong, and that is very, very exciting! We’re all learning from each other, and, to me, that’s what being a “modern” woman is all about: choosing the path that’s right for you while cheering other women along on the path that’s right for them.
Q: Reviewers tout your characters as “rich” and with “strong voice.” What makes them so? How do you create characters that readers will embrace?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: These characters are totally real. Khaki is strong and loving, but she can be a little obnoxious and know-it-all. She has good intentions, but she thinks she always knows what’s best for everyone. You feel for Jodi and she’s totally lovable, but, at the same time, you want to shake her at times for decisions she makes. But flawed characters that you can fight for are the best kind, I think, because we’re all flawed and we’re all a little obnoxious sometimes!
I credit the birth of my son for the “strong voice” and not in some sweet and poignant way. When I had him I was sneaking in writing a few minutes at a time and I didn’t have time to worry about what it was “supposed” to sound like. When I let that go, I really heard these characters’ voices and that’s what I think made them come to life.
Q: Why did you choose to tell the story from the perspective of letters from the adoptive and birth mothers?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: I’m not really sure except to say that that’s how the story came to me. Jodi was the character that really kept me up at night and I envisioned her telling this story to her daughter. And it went from there.
Q: Did you write DEAR CAROLINA to entertain or did you intend to deliver a message or educate your readers?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: In all honesty, I wrote it to entertain. But I think there are some definite touchstones that readers can take away from this book, the biggest one being that families don’t have to look any certain way to be “real.” There is a lot of talk in this book about family being the most important thing, and I hope it’s clear that that doesn’t only mean the people in your bloodline. And if you’ve ever wanted to can or make jam or decorate your own house you can probably get some good insight into that as well!
Q: What’s next?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: My next novel is coming out early Spring 2016, also from Berkley/Penguin, and I am beside myself! It’s all about family secrets and the things we do to protect the people we love. Both of these books have a lot to do with motherhood, simply because I was becoming a mother when I wrote them. But I look forward to telling so many other women’s stories in the future. I’m in the midst of three manuscripts right now, and they are all decidedly different from one another.
Q: Tell us about Kristy Woodson Harvey. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?
Kristy Woodson Harvey: I am first and foremost a mom to my three-year-old and a wife to my incredible husband. My mom and I have an interior design blog, Design Chic, that served as a lot of inspiration for this book and Khaki’s career, in particular. Plus, it’s a lot of fun! I love to read and write (obviously!) and do yoga. Those are my “must-dos,” but right now, other than that, spending time with my son is my main activity! And he keeps me on my toes!
About Kristy Woodson Harvey
Kristy Woodson Harvey is the author of DEAR CAROLINA. She blogs at Design Chic about how creating a beautiful home can be the catalyst for creating a beautiful life and loves connecting with readers at kristywoodsonharvey.com. She is a Phi Beta Kappa, summa cum laude graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's school of journalism and holds a Master's in English from East Carolina University. She is a regular contributor for The Salisbury Post, Domino magazine and Houzz. She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three-year-old son.
About DEAR CAROLINA
One baby girl.
Two strong Southern women.
And the most difficult decision they’ll ever make.
Frances “Khaki” Mason has it all: a thriving interior design career, a loving husband and son, homes in North Carolina and Manhattan—everything except the second child she has always wanted. Jodi, her husband’s nineteen-year-old cousin, is fresh out of rehab, pregnant, and alone. Although the two women couldn’t seem more different, they forge a lifelong connection as Khaki reaches out to Jodi, encouraging her to have her baby. But as Jodi struggles to be the mother she knows her daughter deserves, she will ask Khaki the ultimate favor…
Written to baby Carolina, by both her birth mother and her adoptive one, this is a story that proves that life circumstances shape us but don’t define us—and that families aren’t born, they’re made…
I designed a special scrapbook for each of my children. A custom-made blue or pink album with white polka dots and a fat bow tied down the side, the front center proudly displaying a monogram that was given to each of you. I take those books out every now and then. Sometimes I add a new photo or memento. Other times I gaze at the pictures and marvel at how quickly the eyes-closed-to-the-world phase of infancy morphs into the headfirst-plunging alacrity of toddlerhood.
Other times, like tonight, with your book in particular, my sweet Carolina, I sit on the floor of our family room overlooking my favorite field of corn and simply stare at the cover, running my finger across the scrolling monogram. It’s only a name, we have been reminded since middle school in what has now become perhaps the most cliché of Shakespeare’s musings. But, in what is certainly not the first exception to a Shakespearean rule, that name means more than the house your daddy built in this field where we spent so much time falling in love or the sterling silver service that has been in our family for generations.
It means more because that name wasn’t always yours. And you weren’t always ours.
I was, just like a mother should be, the first person to hold you when you were born. Your birth mother, after thirty hours of labor, fainted when she saw you, perfect and round and red as a fresh-picked apple. I felt like holding you first would be like stealing money from the offering plate. But as soon as the misty-eyed nurse placed you in the nest of my arms, you quit crying, opened your eyes, and locked your gaze with mine. That instant of serendipity was fleeting because it wasn’t more than a few seconds that your birth mother was out.
When she came to, and I was there, cuddling this lighter-than-air you that she had grown inside herself for nine long months, I begged for forgiveness. But she said, “I’m glad you got to hold her first. You’ve been here this whole dern time too.”
I had given birth myself before, and that teary first introduction to a new life after a forty-week hormone roller coaster was fresh in my mind, still damp like the coat of paint on the wall in your nursery. But I’d never been on my feet, outside the bed, when four were breathing the air and then, with one tiny cry, there were five. To experience that kind of wonder is like being born again.
Even in that resurrection moment, I couldn’t have known that one day, I would get to hold you, swaddled and warm, all the time. But I did swear that I would do everything in my power to protect you, love you, and make sure you grew up good and slow as salad greens.