THE CHRISTMAS SPIRITS ON TRADD STREET

In this penultimate installment (book #6) in the series, we find OCD Realtor (who also happens to be able to speak with dead people) Melanie Middleton and true crime mystery writer Jack Trenholm happily married and living with their toddler twins and teenage daughter, Nola, in their historic home on Tradd Street. Christmas is approaching and all seems to be going well for them—-except for a few money problems, Jack’s writing career taking a curveball, and an unpleasant specter seen haunting Nola’s bedroom that seems to be connected to the ancient cistern being excavated in their back yard.

New York Times bestselling author Karen White’s iconic series about a quirky psychic realtor (yes, you read that right!), set in historic Charleston, continues this winter. A long-anticipated gift to her fans, this holiday season White released her first ever Christmas novel.

Jane Ammeson, who writes the Shelf Life column for The Times of Northwest Indiana and shelflife.blog, interviewed Karen about THE CHRISTMAS SPIRITS ON TRADD STREET, the sixth book in her Tradd Street Series,

With each new release, Karen’s national platform grows. Her previous installment in the series, The Guests on South Battery (2017), was a New York Times hardcover bestseller. Her books have been featured on Southern LivingReese Witherspoon’s Draper James blogLate Night with Seth Meyers, and more. The author of over twenty books and 12 New York Times bestsellers, she has almost two million books in print in fifteen different languages.

 JA: Since you’re not a realtor and you’re not seeing ghosts (we don’t think so, anyway!), do you have much in common with Melanie—like are you super-organized with lots of charts and spread sheets, etc.?

KW: Let’s just say that people who know me who have also read the Tradd Street series seem to think that Melanie _is_ me.  I’m going to neither confirm nor deny, but let’s just say that I do love to be organized and I also adore sweets (although Melanie’s metabolism is simply something I aspire to).  She and I are both ABBA fans and neither of us can text without many alarming typos.

JA: You grew up all over the world but started off in the south and think of yourself as a Southern girl. Why did you choose historic Charleston for the setting of your series?

KW: My parents (and extended family) are all from the South—mainly Mississippi—which is where I get my Southern roots.  I went to college in New Orleans (Tulane) and actually planned to set the series there.  However, the year I started writing the first book was 2005, the year Katrina wreaked so much havoc on the city and her citizens.  I knew that in the series I was planning to write that this sort of natural disaster and its repercussions wouldn’t fit.  I would return to New Orleans and the storm for The Beach Trees, but for the series I needed to find another Southern city that had gorgeous architecture, lots of history, and plenty of ghosts.  Charleston was an obvious choice.

JA: Your Tradd Street series novels seem to require a lot of research into older homes, renovations and history, can you tell us about that?

KW: Since I was a little girl I’ve been obsessed with old houses.  They didn’t need to be grand or even well-maintained to make me beg my mother to pull the car over to the curb so I could get a better look.  When we moved to London, we were fortunate to live in an Edwardian building on Regent’s Park.  It had leaded glass windows, thick mahogany doors, and ceiling medallions to make a wedding cake envious.  Living in that flat made me believe that I truly could hold a piece of history in my hands.  My obsession continues with my daughter who holds a master’s degree in historic preservation from the College of Charleston and currently works as an architectural historian.  She actually appears in the last two Tradd books (as well as Dreams of Falling) as graduate student Meghan Black.

JA: Can you give readers who may not have read any of your other books about Melanie and Jack a description of The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street?

KW: In this penultimate installment (book #6) in the series, we find OCD Realtor (who also happens to be able to speak with dead people) Melanie Middleton and true crime mystery writer Jack Trenholm happily married and living with their toddler twins and teenage daughter, Nola, in their historic home on Tradd Street. Christmas is approaching and all seems to be going well for them—-except for a few money problems, Jack’s writing career taking a curveball, and an unpleasant specter seen haunting Nola’s bedroom that seems to be connected to the ancient cistern being excavated in their back yard.  Unwilling to burden Jack with one more problem and distract him from his writing despite promises that they wouldn’t hold secrets from each other, Melanie takes it upon herself to attempt to solve the mystery behind the ghostly presence—with unsettling results that Melanie may or may not be able to resolve.

JA: Are your ghosts based upon real life (if you can call it that when it comes to ghosts) tales of hauntings in Charleston?

KW: Growing up, my father loved to read true ghost stories to my brothers and me—usually right before bedtime.  I also had a grandmother who always spoke about conversations she’d had with dead relatives.  I suppose that’s the reason why I thought ghosts were like doilies on the backs of chairs—some people had them, some people didn’t.  I continue to enjoy ghost stories (I listen to several podcasts on the subject) and, even though I have never had an experience, my son has three times.  

When visiting Charleston, I love going on haunted walking tours (especially the graveyard ones) and always pick up fascinating tidbits to be used later in my books.  I’ve never borrowed a ghost story for my books, but tend to pick and choose certain parts of favorites and mix them together to fit into my stories.

JA: Do you live in an older home?

KW: Sadly, no.  My husband isn’t a fan of old houses (and in my first book, the derogatory remarks Melanie makes about old houses came right from his litany of why he dislikes old houses—mostly having to do with the expense of heating them).  Every house I’ve lived in since the old Edwardian building in London has been brand new.  I’m hoping my daughter and I can get sway him to our side when it’s time to move again.  Hopefully to Charleston.

JA: Besides a great story and enjoyable read, are there any other take-aways you’d like for readers to get from The Christmas Spirits on Tradd Street?

KW: This installment can be read on its own.  However, I do think that readers might enjoy the series more if read in order starting with the first book.  The books each have their own mystery to be solved, but the growing cast of characters and Melanie’s growth through the series is an important element and best understood if readers meet her in book #1.

JA: Anything else you’d like our readers to know?

KW:  Yes, there are ghosts and some spooky scenes in all of the books.  But these are not paranormal or thriller type books.  These are character-driven stories centered around Melanie Middleton and her relationships with family and friends and set in the gorgeous and historical city of Charleston, South Carolina.  This is Southern Women’s Fiction—with the added bonus of a few spirits who need Melanie’s help to solve a mystery.  

Brad Meltzer Book Signing: The First Conspiracy

              It wasn’t easy being George. He lost his father at age 11 and then his mentor and half-brother just seven years later. He was a veteran of the French and Indian War when in his 20’s and then returned home to tend to his estates. But he was a man of duty who put honor first and when the British butchered Colonists who complained about the high tax rate, he showed up at the Continental Congress, the only man wearing his military uniform. Tall and handsome, his posture erect, it was almost immediately decided that he would lead the newly formed Continental Army.

Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation Gala Writer’s Luncheon at the home of Terri and Jon Havens

              Though army might be too kind of a word. The troops were masses of men from the colonies—ill-fed, raggedy, without training or even much in the way of weapons (unless you count pitchforks) and given to gambling, cussing, enjoying paid encounters and fighting amongst each other. Not exactly an army to give the well trained, well-armed and smartly uniformed British much pause.

              Add to that, the former Colonel Washington didn’t have the knowledge or the experience of a general and since there was no You Tube at the time, he would have to learn on the job and by reading the several books he bought on the subject. But probably most problematic, several of his very own Life Guards, hand-selected men who were to personally protect Washington were actively betraying him as part of a conspiracy to preserve British rule.

              This is the conundrum New York Times best-selling author Brad Meltzer presents us in the opening chapters of his first non-fiction book, The First Conspiracy: The Secret Plot Against George Washington with Josh Mensch.

              “It’s one of my favorite details,” says Meltzer, who is so enthusiastic about the story says the same phrase more than once about other incidents as well. “Washington wanted the best of the best for his personal bodyguards, called lifeguards and they turned on him. That just totally hit me, this is the best of the best and they turned on him! You can’t write a book like this if you don’t ask yourself what would have happened if they got him.”

              Fortunately, we don’t need to ask. Washington is more than the man on our dollar bills, wearer of a white powdered wig, said to be heck on cherry trees and wore wooden teeth—the latter turns out not to be true.

              When two of his men were fighting, Washington rode right into the fray, jumped off his horse and seized each by the neck to break it up.

              “At the Battle of Brooklyn, he gets his butt kicks, and he could have said let’s just go out in a blaze of glory, but he didn’t,” says Meltzer. “Instead, he commanders all the boats and gets his troops across the East River. The British are coming fast but, in that moment, he won’t get on a boat until all his men are onboard. He’s the last one on. He’s risked his life for them and that’s when the troops really all came together.”

              He launched this secret society of spies that led to the modern CIA.

That’s why Meltzer says some stories that are just so good they need to be told the way they are.

              Anyone who has ever read one or more of Meltzer’s books (The Inner Circle, The Escape Artist) or watched his TV series Brad Meltzer’s Decoded and Brad Meltzer’s Lost History, needn’t worry that this will a long slog into boring history. The story of spy craft, war and the treachery surrounding the Washington reads as quickly as any of his novels or shows.

              “It was an untold story,” he says. “I discovered it the way you usually discover important things, in a footnote.”

              That footnote led to ten years of research which Meltzer says he couldn’t have done without the help of writer and documentary producer Josh Mensch.

              Besides a great read of an almost lost part of America’s history, Meltzer says he hopes readers see this not just as a famous story but a call to the greatness Washington showed.

              “We’re all capable of humility, heroism and generosity,” he says. “We have to stop creating this environment where everyone who disagrees with us is shallow or stupid, we have to work together and to do that we have to start with ourselves, the only way to change the world is to first change ourselves.”

Ifyougo

What: Brad Meltzer with Josh Mensch talk, audience Q & A and book signing

When: Saturday, January 22 at 1 p.m.

Where: Community Christian Church, 1635 Emerson Lane, Naperville, IL

Cost: Ticket for one adult, $34.00 ($36.18 w/service fee). This ticket admits one person and includes one copy of the book. Ticket for two adults              $44.00 ($46.53 w/service fee). This ticket package admits two people and includes one copy of the new book. Ticket price also includes a photo with author. Kids under 13 are free. To order: brownpapertickets.com/event/3914505

FYI: The presentation is hosted by Anderson’s Bookshops. For more information, 630-355-2665.

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