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Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Business of Writing: Author Interview with Carolyn Haines

You’ve now written 20 Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries and I must say your mysteries are the first ones I’ve heard about that has a ghost as a sidekick to the amateur sleuth. What made you decide to create such a team?
Sarah Booth and Jitty just came to me--arguing and bickering--as an aural presentation one day when I was sitting at my desk watching my horses graze. I just started writing the dialogue because it was so funny, and the more I wrote, the clearer the characters became to me. At first, I didn't realize that Jitty was dead. And I try to write her so that she functions as a ghost or as Sarah Booth's subconscious. 

How hard was that concept to sell to your agent?
My agent was very supportive of the idea of the book, and when it was done, she submitted it to several publishers and we had a handful of publishers bidding on it. That's when I discovered it was classified as a mystery and that it would be a series. Bantam won the auction bid and that's the story. 

I have been with my agent, Marian Young, for almost 30 years. I read an article about her and I just knew "that's the agent for me." She feels about writing the way I feel about it. I pursued her relentlessly--we joke about this. I trust my instinct about a story and about Marian.

Prior to writing your novels, you were a journalist. How did journalism help you in writing fiction?
Journalism teaches discipline and logic. Meeting deadlines, realizing that edits make a story better, understanding that publishing is a team effort. No single component can do it without all the others. Working as a journalist I was also exposed to many things regular people aren't. Some tragic things, some very inspiring and funny things. I learned that every single person has a remarkable story worth telling if you take the time to find it. 

Your bio says your grandmother was a great storyteller. Have any of her stories become part of your books?
My grandmother's stories resonant in a lot of my books--maybe not verbatim, but in spirit and heart.

Sarah Booth Delaney Mysteries are one of four book series you’ve written. How hard is it for you to switch from one genre to another? 

Switching genres to write is very easy for me, in the same way, that switching genres to read is easy. Some days I want to dig deep and really explore an idea or subject or emotion in a fictional world. Some days I want to laugh. We all need different things at different times. 

What is the hardest part of writing for you? 
The hardest part of writing is plot and structure. I work really hard it at.

I love the tongue-in-cheek titles for cozies. How do you come up with yours?
I'm really lucky that I have a million ideas for books, but even luckier that I have readers, editors, and friends who can get into the spirit of the titles and help me come up with names. My wonderful friend John Hafner teased me all the time about writing TROM-BONES. That title just makes me laugh.

You’ve won numerous awards for your writing. Do you have a favorite?
I don't want to single one out. Each award, coming as it did in my career, was such an honor and a much needed "attagirl." In March, I will be inducted into the Alabama Writers Hall of Fame. This is another honor that I never anticipated. 

Recognition by readers, when they review or shout-out or talk up one of my books is a salve to all the raw places that come from the self-imposed exile of writing. I spend hours and hours in a world of fictional characters to write about them. That's a lot of solitude. So when a reader "gets it," that is such a reward. I'm very grateful to organizations who picked me from a lot of very fine writers to honor me. It's a little mind-boggling.

You’ve also written a number of novellas. How well do they sell compared to your novels?
I've been surprised that they sell very well. I've always loved short stories, but it's very hard to get a publisher interested in them. I've been shocked by the number of sales I've had.

What’s the best encouragement you’ve had in your writing?
A new book contract with a publisher is always very validating. Comments from editors--terrific. Praise from fellow writers--awesome. Reviews are fabulous. And readers who write to me and tell me that one of my books helped them through a tough time or gave them a new perspective on an issue, or somehow touched them. That is the cherry on top.

What has surprised or frustrated you the most in writing/publishing?
How very hard it is--that surprised me a lot. The writing is hard. When it's a job with deadlines, it's often very hard. The promotion is mind-numbing. I had the crazy idea that when I sold my first book that I would suddenly be a household name (this was back in the late 80s before the Internet or the whole publishing world changed so radically.) 

The reality of publishing is that it's a business. Yes, it is also an art. But it is always going to be hard, hard work (even for the bestsellers who are household names). You really have to love it more than almost anything else to stick with it. And a good editor makes all the difference in a book. I've worked with a lot of great editors. It's a talent that should be acknowledged.

What do you know now about writing you wished you had known sooner?
That it is a business. Put on your business hat and big girl pants and act accordingly. Don't take rejection or criticism personally.

What is the best writing advice you’ve received or could give?
End the day in the middle of a scene so that when you pick it up the next day, you know where you're going.

Are there any other points about writing you would like to add?
Write every day. Every day. Hold the story close like a best friend, and treat it with respect.

What is the next book coming out? Can you give me a short synopsis?
THE DEVIL'S BONES will be out on May 12. The 21st Sarah Booth Delaney. (This is from Amazon--I suck at summaries. Spunky southern private investigator Sarah Booth Delaney tackles a thorny murder while away on a girls' weekend.

Sarah Booth and Cece are in Lucedale, Mississippi, where the newly-pregnant Tinkie is treating her friends to a girls' weekend at the fabulous new Bexley B&B. Tinkie's primary aim is to attend the Sunrise Easter Services at the incredible Palestinian Gardens, a miniature Holy Land that spreads over 20 acres and has recreations of all parts of Jerusalem—and to speak with the Biblical scholar, gardener, and creator of the Palestinian Garden Daniel Reynolds.

After waking up at the crack of dawn for the service the three friends wander around the gardens. The day is brightening when they find themselves at the Mount of Olives—with a dead body.

Daniel identifies the dead man as local lawyer Perry Slay, who was well known for his sly and underhanded dealings and had plenty of people out for his blood. When Erick Ward, a local pharmacist, is arrested, Sarah Booth takes the case.

As the bodies pile up like a pillar of salt, the suspect list grows as long as the River Jordan. Sarah Booth, Cece, and Tinkie must resurrect the truth before their own lives—and that of Tinkie's unborn child—are endangered.

That's all for today's interview. If you'd like to buy this book or any others by Carolyn, here are some links to get you started.

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