Posted February 3, 2014 by in Interviews

Getting to Know Carolyn Haines: Interview

Photography by John Adams with Adams Imaging

Photograph by John Adams with Adams Imaging

Carolyn Haines is a well-known Southern writer of 64 novels with two more works of fiction coming out later this year. Haines was born in Lucedale, Mississippi; as the daughter of two journalist parents, one might say that writing is in her blood. She has taught fiction writing at the University of South Alabama for eleven years. She has won several awards including the Harper Lee Award for Distinguished Writing and the Richard Wright Award for Literary Excellence, and she is the recipient of an Alabama State Arts Council writing fellowship. Her Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta mystery series won a best female sleuth award in 2011. In addition to her writing and teaching, Haines is very passionate about animals. She runs the Good Fortune Farm Refuge, and she is working to implement spay and neuter programs in Alabama and Mississippi.


Q: Your Bones series has been very successful. For those who are not familiar with it, will you give us a brief synopsis of that series?

A: Sarah Booth Delaney returns to her hometown of Zinnia, Mississippi, when her dream to be a stage actress in New York falls through. She discovers Dahlia House, her home, is haunted by the ghost of her great-great-great grandmother’s nanny, one very bossy Jitty. To save the family plantation, Sarah Booth agrees to help an old friend explore the dark and tragic background of handsome Hamilton Garrett V. In the process, Sarah Booth learns she has a talent for sniffing out criminals. The books are a combination of both the light and the dark elements that make up the modern South. They are humorous, but also serious. The 14th book, Booty Bones (set at Dauphin Island and involving pirates), will be released in May 2014. Each book resolves a mystery, and each book develops the personal relationships between the characters. The friendships among the women are crucial to the series.

Booty Bones

Q: What have some of your favorite Bones books been? How much more do you think you can do with the main character Sarah Booth Delaney?

A: Sarah Booth is like a very close friend. I don’t suppose I’ll be done with her until one of us dies. I’ve spent many hours with her over the past 15 years, and I think my life would be somewhat empty without her. As long as the readers love her enough to continue to buy the books, I’ll continue to write about her life and adventures. I think some of my favorites (primarily because of thematic elements) are Crossed Bones, Hallowed Bones, Bones of a Feather, and Smarty Bones. And, of course, I love best the one I’m working on now!


Q: Last year, you released the novel The Darkling under the pseudonym R.B. Chesterton. You’ve got a second book titled The Seeker coming out under that name in March. Why are you writing under a pseudonym?

A: Partly as a courtesy to my readers—I want them to know this isn’t a humorous mystery—and partly because of my perceived marketing issues. I feel there is a preconception about women in horror. I simply wanted to avoid that and allow for the book to have a clean read.


Q: Tell us a little about your new book, The Seeker.

A: This is a departure for me—not in story content but in setting. The story is set at Walden Pond and involves a young woman who is writing her dissertation on Thoreau. She seeks the solitude of Walden Pond to find her muse—and she finds something very different. There is a young girl who watches her from the woods. One who leaves her macabre gifts. Aine Cahill (the protagonist and narrator) has decided to write about Thoreau because she has an old journal written by a long dead aunt, Bonnie Cahill, who claims to have been Thoreau’s lover at Walden Pond. As Aine begins to unwind the secrets of her past, the dark and bloody secrets of her family, she realizes that nothing is exactly what it seems to be at Walden Pond.

The Seeker

Q: You’ve said that The Seeker is set at Walden Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. What prompted you to make a change in your setting? How did it affect your writing?

A: I was able to find the Gothic at Walden Pond exactly as I find it in my haunted South. But I had to do a lot more research trying to make sure my distances were accurate, the weather close to the mark, etc.


Q: You’ve branched off into cookbook writing as well. What led to this decision?

A: This is a once-in-a-lifetime cookbook. It’s a fundraiser for Good Fortune Farm Refuge, the animal rescue I work with. It’s a crazy way to do a cookbook, but 13 wonderful friends each took one of the Bones characters. We collected recipes for those characters, and then we put the recipes together. Each cookbook “director” made up comments and observations from the point of view of her character. It’s a ton of fun—a little naughty and a lot fattening. These are recipes that have been Southern tradition (with a few other traditions mixed in as well) for decades. They are the best down-home recipes you’ll find anywhere. And a few exotic things, too. It’s not your typical cookbook.


Q: Do you have a favorite Southern recipe you’d like to share with us?

A: You have to wait for the cookbook!


Q: Recently, you started a writer’s conference called Daddy’s Girl Weekend. Tell us about the conference, the planned speakers, and some of the highlights one can expect if attending this event.

A: This is a writer/reader conference, all genres, designed for fun. We have three Big Daddy candidates who lie and wheedle and threaten to get votes. We have fabulous speakers and industry professionals (agents and editors). We have parties and serious manuscript consultations. This year we return to the Battle House hotel in Mobile (swanky, and we get discounted rooms), April 3-6. We have a website.  Check out our top-of-the-line speakers. This is a fundraiser for Good Fortune Farm Refuge to help defray spay/neuter expenses.


Q: Do you have any plans for other upcoming conferences or signings?

A: I am signing Feb. 28-March 1 at Delta State University in Mississippi with Charlaine Harris and Dean James, two wonderful Mississippi writer friends. I have three books coming out this year: The Seeker in March; Bone-a-fide Delicious: Recipes from Zinnia’s Finest Chefs in April; and Booty Bones in May. I will have a very, very busy signing schedule later in the spring, but I haven’t finalized it yet.


Q: You are a great lover of animals. Will you share with us some information about your work with the Mississippi State mobile spay and neuter clinic?

A: The MSU mobile spay and neuter clinic is staffed by veterinarians from MSU and vet students. They rove from shelter to shelter, neutering animals so that the animals stand a better chance of finding a forever home. In the South, we have a serious overpopulation matter. City, county and state lawmakers have failed to address this problem until it has now reached crisis proportions. Tens of thousands of animals are euthanized each year in all of the Southern states. In contrast, in the Northeast, where neuter laws have been enacted, there is not this mass execution of animals whose only “sin” is that no one wants them. The MSU clinic, which visits numerous shelters across the state, will make its first trip to Lucedale on April 10-11. We hope to get on the regular schedule. I just have to wonder why Auburn University doesn’t have such a unit? I know they have a fabulous vet school, but why haven’t they moved in this direction? And the same could be said for LSU. This program provides great training for the vet students and is a great help to shelters drowning in unwanted pets.


Q: In 2010, you won the Harper Lee Award sponsored by the Alabama Writer’s Symposium. What influence, if any, has Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird had on your writing? How did you feel to win an award named in her honor?

A: TKAM was a life-changing book for me. I read it shortly after it was published, and it focused my mind and emotions on racial issues and injustices. My parents believed in justice for all people (and animals, too). But fiction has a way of engaging the heart that sometimes facts don’t. TKAM turned me into a crusader for justice. I became a journalist because I believed that if people read the truth, they would do the right thing. Can you say idealistic?


Q: You teach at the University of South Alabama. What works (books and authors) do you use in your classes? What lessons have you learned from your students? Got a great success story you’d care to share?

A: Several of my students have won awards and some have multi-book publishing contracts. More will come as the students mature and truly settle into the work of writing. Publishing is not a young person’s game, for the most part. You have to have lived a bit to have something to say as a writer. I allow the students to pick the novels we’ll discuss. I use several books about writing, but Sol Stein’s Stein On Writing is one of the best I’ve found.


Q: Who are some of your favorite authors/books?

A: I love many different authors and books. Some marked me early, as TKAM did. The Secret Garden. I will never tire of James Lee Burke’s novels. He speaks to me in a way that few writers do. He, too, is a crusader for justice. So is John Grisham in his own way. I like books that deal with ideas and ideals and characters who bite into my soul. But the stories must move forward. Fancy writing, while beautiful, without a forward moving plot is tedious to me.


Q: Good writers have to be good readers, so what are you reading these days?

A: Right now, The Waking Dark by Robin Wasserman and The Gunslinger, part of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. These were chosen by my students, and I am enjoying both very much. I’m also reading a lot of entries for the Bram Stoker award—some very fine writers I didn’t know about until now.

Mollie Smith Waters

Mollie Smith Waters teaches American literature, theater, and speech at a small community college in rural Alabama. Her hobbies include reading, writing, traveling, and walking.