Unveiling the Mysteries: An Interview with Bestselling Author Carolyn Haines

 Exploring Writing, Inspiration, and a Lifetime of Literary Adventures with the Acclaimed Author


Carolyn Haines is the USA Today bestselling author of over 80 books. Tell-Tale Bones is the 26th book in the popular Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series set in Haines’s home state of Mississippi. A former journalist, Haines also directed the fiction writing program at the University of South Alabama for 14 years. In 2010 she was the recipient of the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing and prior to that the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence. She also writes general fiction, short fiction, crime novels, horror, and comedy. An animal activist, Haines operates a refuge on her small farm in Alabama.

You’re organizing a party. Which two authors, dead or alive, do you invite?

Flannery O’Connor and Thomas Williams.  I read them when I was most impressionable. I’d love to hear them talk about their lives and writing.

 Which writers — working today do you admire most?

James Lee Burke, Stephen King, Jonathan Carroll, Sarah Waters.

What moves you most in a work of literature?

A nugget of truth, a universal emotion or moment that connects me to the characters, the setting, a much bigger world. I love to wallow in the rich details of fiction that make it come alive.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? 

Mysteries. From the grand stories of Poe to the noir writers and contemporary mystery writers. I love both dark and light. And I also love horror. Not slasher or gore, but the classic gothic tales.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? 

Atticus Finch. He had honor and integrity. I wanted to be a lawyer like Atticus, but even though I had a free ride to law school, I chose fiction writing. I was already hooked on telling the full truth in fiction, without the limitations of journalism or the courtroom.

What kind of reader were you as a child? 

I read everything. I spent my entire allowance on books. The only books I dislike are ones where animals are gratuitously harmed. Growing up in a small Southern town in the 1960s-70s, there wasn’t a lot to do. I found books and never lacked an adventure or good friend. Ghost stories were a favorite, and today as a writer I still take time to write some scary stories even though I am mostly devoted to writing about Sarah Booth Delaney. I believe I had one of the last Golden Childhoods of America. Freedom to explore the town and the woods, unburdened by financial pretentiousness.

Have you ever changed your opinion of a book based on information about the author, or anything else?

I haven’t changed my opinion of a book, but I have of an author. There are authors whose value systems so conflict with mine that I don’t read them anymore.

Which writer would you want to write your life story?

Mandy Haynes. She’s a younger Southern gothic writer who I jokingly call “my daughter.” She gets my writing and the values I hold in life. I think she’d do a great job.

What books do you find yourself returning to again and again?

THE SECRET GARDEN, because I read it when I was the most impressionable. It was a mystery, an adventure, a coming-of-age story, and a potential ghost tale. In other words, a novel, combining all the elements I love.

 BLACK CHERRY BLUES, because James Kee Burke uses language in a way that interjects me right into the scene. His sense of justice runs parallel to mine.

 FROM THE TEETH OF ANGELS—You just have to read Jonathan Carroll to understand how incredible he is.

 TURN OF THE SCREW—one of the best scary stories ever.

 MURDERS IN THE RUE MORGUE—nobody does it better than Poe.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. I read this book at a time when I was having a fine romance with the moors. It kept me on the edge of my seat. What excellent fun.

A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY. This is a book that changed my life. It is genius.

Anything by Val McDermid, Agatha Christy, Ruth Rendell, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth George and John Irving.

Do you ever expect to retire from fiction writing?

No. But I have the last Sarah Booth book already plotted out. I just am not ready to write it yet. I can’t imagine a day without writing. When I am working on a Sarah Booth story, it is like visiting family and old friends. They have grown and changed as I have. Except they aren’t creaky—they’re still young and ready for trouble.

I love writing darker books, like the Pluto’s Snitch series and Penumbra, Fever Moon, The Darkling and The Seeker. I’m so lucky that I’m able to write two books at once. I’m also engaged in an idea for a Southern gothic thriller writing with Mandy Haynes. I never thought team writing would be for me, but I’m having a fine old time. If it works out, it will be fabulous to have a co-author who is so much fun.

You live on a farm in Alabama. Why?

Good question in these times, but I live only about 40 miles from where I was born. And I run an animal refuge. I have many dogs, cats, and horses that I save and take care of until they die. This is my mission from the goddess. Writing is my passion. Animals are what I do to make the planet a better place for all living creatures.

Except from Tell-Tale

I let my mind wander the corridors of memory. There are many ghosts at Dahlia House. Mostly good, but a few ringers. I can see Nellie standing on the backdoor steps, waving me to come inside as she used to do whenever she visited. I wave back at her, just to be sociable.

“She cuts a fine figure of a woman.” The male voice so close to me it almost gives me whiplash as I whirl to see who’s talking. The dark-haired gentleman is not of my reality. He wears a black frockcoat, broadcloth in fabric, and a stock. His dark, fine hair is in need of a cut. Wide, expressive eyes, beneath a broad forehead, study me with keen interest. He is a handsome man possessed of elegant bearing, though he is slight in stature.

“You can see Aunt Nellie?” I ask. Not an unreasonable question.

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things which escape those who dream only by night.”

I am no literature whiz, but I recognize the Poe quote. He was a favorite of Aunt Nellie, and she would often performa rendition of “Annabel Lee” for me, creating a delicious ambience of horror. She loved the minor key of life and had given me the same taste for it. Mama had often teased me about singing dirges that Aunt Nellie taught me, not to mention my penchant for ghost stories. Which was a good thing since I now live with my very own haint, who is in the middle of deviling me right this red-hot minute.

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