Julia interviews Carolyn Haines

Author of the acclaimed Bones series - the world of Sarah Booth Delaney. Visit the author's web site.

For those new to your best-selling traditional series, what are the “Bones” mysteries all about?

Sarah Booth Delaney, an anti-Daddy’s Girl with a deep love of the land, falls into becoming a private investigator in a desperate effort to save her family land in Zinnia, Mississippi. Each book is a mystery that revolves around Sarah Booth, her partner (by book 3) Tinkie, and her wonderful friends. While the tone is humorous, there is a dark little heart to many of the stories.

What is WISHBONES all about?

In this 8th installment, which will be out in July, Sarah Booth at last achieves her dream and is offered the role of Mattie in the high-budget re-mark of BODY HEAT. She has broken with her past romantic interest and heads off to Hollywood to film. Things are going great (except for the one, pesky dead woman), until the film crew goes on location to Costa Rica. Then things really become strange, and Sarah Booth must confront how far she’s willing to push herself to find the answers to a current murder and a series of past crimes.

Do you consider yourself a Southern writer or a crime-fiction writer?

Both. Some writers don’t like to be given a regional label, but I am from Mississippi and I live in Alabama, and sometimes it gets a little tedious to confront the prejudice that’s directed toward the Deep South states. It’s funny, because in some circles, invoking the state of Mississippi is like a sacred charm when speaking of writers. In other places, it’s a black mark. This actually has nothing to do with the quality of my work, but more of a perception about what the South was and is. So I guess it’s a matter of ornery pride that I say I’m a Southern writer. I’m also a crime-fiction writer and a mystery writer and a whole lot of other things that shouldn’t be revealed in public!

What’s your writing process? Outline or organic?

My preference is organic. I try to force myself to outline. But I always allow myself to work on a book that isn’t outlined. This is a book just for me. A book that I write for the love of writing. IT may or may not sell. Both PENUMBRA and FEVER MOON were organic books.

Not unlike my books, you frequently explore the dark side of small towns. What drew you to this environment, and drives you to return?

This is what I know. I could research and study New York and give a fair representation of it in fiction, but I know small towns. I grew up in Lucedale, and my parents were active in the community, so it was part of my everyday existence. And I find it easier to examine the issues that are important to me in the smaller scope of a town rather than a city.

What projects are occupying Carolyn Haines at the moment?

I’m working on the next Bones book (and struggling with the title, darn it!) and I’m working on a book just for me. A dark little tale about good and evil and the fine line between perception and reality.

What pithy words of advice would you offer for newbie crime fiction writers just starting out?

Same old advice--read, read, read. Find your favorite book and begin to deconstruct it. See how the point of views work, read with your gut and figure out why certain passages hit your emotions. I believe that’s the key to improving your writing.

Who are some new voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

Sean Chercover is a new writer I met in Chicago recently. I’ve just started his book and I’m impressed. Lee Jackson. Deborah Crombie. And I’ve been reading a lot of British and Swedish crime writers and enjoying that different flavor.

Who were your literary influences growing up?

Mark Twain, Harper Lee, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Carolyn Keene, Flannery O’Connor (love that dark humor), Mary Stewart, Taylor Caldwell, John Irving, Thomas Williams--I just read all over the place.

Your body of work is exceptional in that you are tremendously skilled at stand-alones, series, AND short stories. You write funny one book and dark, spine-tingling suspense the next, and all of it so well. How do you ever know what to write next, and what inspires you to write in such different forms (every short story I attempt immediately evolves into a novella...)?

You’re very kind and I’ve been lucky in many ways. I do my best to stay under contract, but I also always write just for me. Short fiction was my first love. I was trained for journalism, and the idea of a novel was so daunting, but I loved to read and write short stories. I got my first agent on a collection of short stories, and she advised me to work on a novel. Because I’m a “reading slut”--I will read anything with a good story that’s well done--I tend to write a lot of different kinds of stories. I believe the story is a gift, and I try to honor it by rendering it as well-crafted as I can. I also believe that writers who stay in one genre burn out quicker than those who shift around and learn new things.

Sarah Booth Delaney is such a terrific Southern Gal. How did you first conceive of her?

I was sitting at my computer and I heard her bickering with Jitty. At first it was just their voices, and I was amused by the contentiousness between them, as well as the depth of their relationship. So as I listened, they came into focus, and I started typing.

I became a writer after 15 years of marriage. Surprise! When and how did you discover your inner muse?

I had two dreams when I was a child. I wanted to be a cowgirl and to be Nancy Drew. I wanted to solve mysteries and ride my horse. Instead, I became a journalist who wrote short stories secretly at night--and read voraciously. And with some wonderful encouragement from family, friends and my agent, I braved the self-doubt and showed my work. But I write because I love the process. I love the time alone and the total absorption in a world that holds surprises and often, complications. I love language and story and the whole mess. When I was younger, I never thought I would write novels, but I’ve always known that I would write.

Carolyn Haines

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“I had two dreams when I was a child. I wanted to be a cowgirl and to be Nancy Drew. I wanted to solve mysteries and ride my horse. Instead, I became a journalist who wrote short stories secretly at night--and read voraciously. And with some wonderful encouragement from family, friends and my agent, I braved the self-doubt and showed my work. But I write because I love the process.”