I’m thrilled to announce this gem of an interview with Carolyn Haines, acclaimed author of the beloved Sarah Booth Delaney mystery series! From light-hearted mysteries to paranormal-infused crime thrillers, Haines’ books have wide-reaching appeal to mystery lovers, ghost enthusiasts and fans of southern fiction. This prolific author has published 19 books and several stories in anthologies, including Many Bloody Returns, a collection of vampire stories co-edited by none other than Charlaine Harris!
In between rescuing animals at the Good Fortune Farm Refuge and writing her next whodunnit – this lovely lady was kind enough to take some time out of her busy schedule to chat with Chick Lit Café about her love of ghost stories, the allure of southern fiction, Sarah Booth’s complicated love life, and what’s up next!
Welcome Carolyn! What made you want to write, and how did you get started?
I was always a storyteller. And a reader. So it was a natural transition from reading and oral storytelling to writing. My parents were both journalists, and the written word was highly regarded in our house.
Unwed, over 30 and flat broke, Sarah Booth Delaney is not your typical southern belle. What inspired you to write about a down-on-her-luck southern woman with a penchant for solving crimes?
Typical Southern belles were never of much interest to me—I wanted to be a cowgirl or a detective. Nancy Drew and Dale Evans were my role models, and while they were “good” girls, they could also hold their own in a man’s world. They were not “little ladies” who waited at home for their men to return. They got out and did things. Sarah Booth is of that model, but what she learns is that even women who present themselves as “helpless” are not always so.
Eleven books into your series, I think it’s safe to say that you have a steady following of loyal fans. What is it about southern culture that readers find so fascinating?
Not all readers are enamored of the South. I’ve had some pretty crummy remarks made—to my face and behind my back. The South is very misunderstood, but those who are willing to give books set in the Deep South a try often find that there is great charm in families who relish their eccentric relatives, who fly in the face of tradition while also having a deep commitment to tradition. Southerners have real humor about our humidity, our penchant for fried things, our crazy relatives, our dogs, and our land. Southerners are contradictory, on many levels. And like every other region, the people who live here can be wonderful, generous, and brilliant or they can be willfully ignorant, cruel, disgusting.
I always look forward to appearances from Jitty, Sarah Booth’s wise-cracking resident ghost. It’s always entertaining when she pops up in fashionable ensembles – from Scarlet O’Hara gowns to Daisy Buchanan flapper dresses! How did you come up with this character?
I wish I could say I had something to do with Jitty, but she was simply there, brow-beating Sarah Booth over viable sperm and the need for a Delaney heir. I learn more about Jitty with each book. She is Sarah Booth’s subconscious, on many levels. While she never helps with solving the mystery (that would be cheating, now wouldn’t it?) she does keep Sarah Booth in line in all other ways. Sarah Booth needs Jitty to remind her about what’s important in life.
With a slew of hot suitors vying for Sarah Booth’s affections, the Mississippi summer heat isn’t all that’s steaming up your books! For the aspiring writers out there, could you share some advice on how to create and maintain romantic tension?
Many people write me and they want Sarah Booth to settle down. Coleman has legions of supporters. Graf is gaining ground, but I haven’t given up on Harold and Hamilton Garrett V. The truth is, once Sarah Booth is settled and happy, a lot of energy goes out of the books. It is that romantic tension that works as a counter-point to the external tension of the murder plot. Sarah Booth is like a dear friend. I don’t always agree with the decisions she makes, but I always love her. And she is so truly her own character by now that I wouldn’t dare try to force MY decision down her throat. Her life is a journey, as is mine. We will come to the answers in due time. But I will assure my readers that she will never move toHollywood, just as I will never move from the South (though hurricanes and humidity can truly test my resolve).
If you could spend an afternoon with one of your characters, who would it be and why?
Madame Tomeeka, I think. She does have a link to a different plane, and like Sarah Booth, I would give a lot to have a conversation with my family members who have gone to The Great Beyond. I should probably ask to spend time with Oscar for financial advice so I could one day afford to have a huge preserve for animals so they could never be hunted or chased. Or maybe if Sarah Booth acted “purdy” to Hamilton Garrett V, he would simply buy it for me. Hummm. So many possibilities.
Many of your books, including your standalones, infuse paranormal elements. What sparked your interest in ghost stories?
My grandmother and my parents were both marvelous storytellers, and often they told ghost stories. Horror movies are a family tradition. Some people barbecue—the Haines clan goes to horror films. And we are always poorly behaved and play tricks on each other and our friends. I have seen ghosts on several occasions (When I told this in my class at the university, one of my students offered free psychiatric help from her father! I was flattered!). Although I have no special abilities myself, I sense there is far more to our world than what is on the surface, and I know that all living creatures are linked, which is why we should treat animals with more compassion that some people do.
Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what readers can expect from you next?
I’m working on the 12th bones—BONEFIRE OF THE VANITIES (I know, I just can’t help myself!) And I am going to see what this e-publishing is all about. I have a story set in South Dakota about a serial killer, and I’m going to give it a try as an e-book (in all formats) and also as a regular print book with print on demand capability. Long ago I started a small publishing company, KaliOka Books. I loved the idea, but distribution was a big, big problem. Now all of that has changed. So I just want to have the experience, and I think it will give my readers a chance to see a darker story from me. Many of them love the darker books. The title is SKIN DANCER and you’ll be hearing more about it in just a few weeks.
And in conclusion, I ask you all to spay and neuter your pets. Please don’t allow them to reproduce, no matter how cute they are. Thousands of unwanted cats, dogs, and now horses, are dying each month because no one wants them. If we can stop the supply, then the demand will grow and each creature can find a loving home.
Interested in learning more about Carolyn Haines’ books? Well then check out her website, which includes book event updates, giveaways, and Jitty’s love advice column!