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Behind the Fiction, Past
A Fiction Column

Q&A with Karen White followed by an Interview with her main character "CeeCee " from Dreams of Falling

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.


Elise: Why dreams?

Karen: 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.


Elise: It seemed to be an anti-Cinderella story?

Karen: 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.


Elise: The characters had to deal with a loss of a loved one, some literally and some figuratively?

Karen: 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.


Elise: How would you describe Larkin?

Karen: 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.


Elise: The secrets bring in the mystery?

Karen: 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.’


Elise: The house, Carrowmore, also plays a role?

Karen: 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.


Elise: You have Ivy unconscious throughout the book. How did you write those scenes?

Karen: 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.


Elise: Music plays a role in this book?

Karen: 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 should.


Elise: Can you give a heads up about your next books?

Karen: 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.

An Interview with CeeCee Purnell, the Lead Character in Dreams of Falling.

For those who do not know CeeCee Purnell she is a reflection of her times, growing up during the 1950s and 1960s in the South. Her life is a plateau, with many ups and downs. Growing up and living in Georgetown, South Carolina, she raises her late friend’s daughter, Ivy, and her daughter, Larkin. CeeCee is grateful that Larkin has returned home after nine self-exiled years to help locate her missing mother, Ivy. Larkin finds out that in 1951 three best friends, Ceecee, Margaret and Bitty have just graduated from high school with all their dreams ahead of them. CeeCee has agreed to open up about her experiences and what happened during those turbulent years.

It must be bittersweet for you to have your granddaughter returning home, while your daughter, her mom, is trying to survive a horrific accident. It must have brought back memories from 1951 when your life changed forever. Thank you for consenting to this interview because you can be an inspiration as someone who had hard knocks but survived.


Elise: Do you see yourself as a product of the 1950s?

CeeCee: Definitely. Especially Southern small-town 1950s. Being the only daughter of a pastor, I was definitely sheltered from the realities of the world outside of Georgetown, South Carolina.


Elise: Do you regret going on the road trip after graduating high school?

CeeCee: No. I wish I could go back and change a few things, but if I hadn’t gone, I never would have met the love of my life, Boyd.


Elise: Do you think writing on ribbons and sticking them in a tree is rather nerdy?

CeeCee: I’m not sure what you mean about the word ‘nerdy’?


Elise: A geek?

CeeCee: If you mean fanciful or even a little far-fetched, then yes. It’s like blowing on a dandelion and making wishes on the seeds—we know it’s not real, but we can’t help but believing there’s a small part of truth in the legend.


Elise: Were you, Bitty, and Margaret considered The Three Musketeers?

CeeCee: We were never called that, but I felt that way many times throughout our childhoods together. We were rarely apart, and believed we really were “all for one, and one for all.”


Elise: How would you define friendship?

CeeCee: A good friendship can be defined as loving someone unconditionally---even when things in your own life are sliding into the ocean and all has been stripped away, you can still be loving, giving and kind to your friends.


Elise: How did it feel to be a surrogate mother to Margaret’s daughter Ivy and a surrogate grandmother to her daughter Larkin?

CeeCee: I don’t feel as if you need to be related by blood to feel a kinship with someone. I was raised with two younger brothers, but always felt as if Margaret and Bitty were my blood sisters. My mother was a wonderful example of how to mother, and I suppose that’s why when I saw two children who needed mothering, it was easy for me to step in.


Elise: Do you agree with your granddaughter’s friend, Bennett’s attitude about Carrowmore and developers?

CeeCee: Absolutely. Few people seem to realize anymore that our history lives on in old buildings, and that once they are gone, along with the stories and memories that are contained within their walls, they are gone forever.


Elise: Do you wish Bennett and Larkin hooked up?

CeeCee: When, while back in high school?


Elise: Yes?

CeeCee: No. They were friends first. It’s only when they became adults and Larkin could see Bennett with adult eyes did it make sense for their relationship to move into something deeper. And neither Larkin nor Bennett are the ‘hooking up’ kind of people—their relationships are meaningful.


Elise: Do you think it is good or bad to keep a secret?

CeeCee: It depends on the motive. If it’s to protect a loved one, then it can be excused and/or forgiven. If it’s used for subterfuge, or to keep hiding something that might help another person, then no.


Elise: Does Bitty still play an important role in your life?

CeeCee: I think it’s natural for people who’ve known each other for so long to get on each other’s nerves sometimes, just as it’s natural for your love to grow to something deeper. There is something special about someone whose known you your whole life, knows all your secrets and flaws, yet loves you anyway.


Elise: After the accident and Ivy unconscious, was it hard to see her physically there, but unable to communicate with her?

CeeCee: Of course—she’s always been like a daughter to me. The one thing that got me through those early days was believing she would wake up and be able to answer all the questions we had for her.


Elise: Do you think dreams really do come true?

CeeCee: Only when hard work and determination are added to the dreaming!


Elise: Who taught Larkin how to shag dance?

CeeCee: I’m thinking probably her mother, or Bennett. They used to have impromptu dance/ barbecue parties when they lived near each other.


Elise: What do you do for fun?

CeeCee: I love to work in my garden and of course I love to bake. I always make sure I have something in the freezer waiting to be defrosted in case of unexpected company.


Elise: What are your interests besides baking and gardening?

CeeCee: I love keeping in touch with my friends and being an active member of my church and community.


Elise: Are you content with your life?

CeeCee: Absolutely. I’m surrounded by family and loved ones. I’ve had losses, but I’ve also had a great deal of love and blessings in my long life.


Elise: If you could put another ribbon in the tree what would it say?

CeeCee: I wish Larkin would stay in Georgetown forever!


Elise: Is there anything you want to add, if so please do?

CeeCee: Be kind to one another. And honest. Those two things alone will guide you through life.


Elise: Thank you for your time and insight!

2018 Past Columns

Karen White