Nine Questions With… Carolyn Haines

Carolyn Haines is perhaps best known as the writer behind the Bones mysteries, a phenomenally successful series of novels set in the fictional town of Zinnia, Mississippi. Her other works include the novels Revenant, Judas Burning, Fever Moon, Penumbra, and Touched. Carolyn’s also been a journalist–of both the writing and photographing variety–a teacher, an editor, a mentor to scored of developing writers, all while finding time to be a passionate advocate for animal welfare. Most recently, she served as editor for the Delta Blues anthology and released her latest Sarah Booth Delaney installment, Bone Appetit.

To learn more about Carolyn and her work, visit her website at

Carolyn, readers obviously enjoy returning to Sarah Booth Delaney and company in your Bones books, so it’s easy to imagine that they must be fun for you to write. Leaving aside the fun parts, though, can you address a few of the challenges you’ve run across while working on them?

CH: There is always deadline pressure. This often works well for me, but if I get behind the gun, it can be a bit overwhelming. Also, these characters have a lot of history–and a lot of geography. It’s my job to keep up with all of that.

Did you originally envision the adventures of Sarah Booth as a series? If not, at what point did you realize you were heading in that direction?

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CH: I wrote Them Bones on spec–without a contract. It was just a book I felt compelled to write. My agent sent the manuscript out and publishers began to bid on it, so I sold it at auction as a three-book contract. The publisher wanted a series, and I was happy to write it.

Think back to the process you went through trying to establish yourself as a fiction writer. Is there anything you’d do differently now, knowing what you do about the profession and the industry?

CH: When I first started writing, I thought my job was to write the best book possible. That’s true–that is my job. But there is much more involving promotion. Like it or not, writers are expected to sell their books, to give talks and speeches and do whatever is necessary to make readers aware that our books are out there. Most writers are rather shy, and this is hard for us. But we do it. I would have paid more attention to this from the beginning. I would have learned how the business works instead of assuming that writing the book was all that was required of me.

When you were working on the Delta Blues anthology, how difficult was it for you to serve as both editor and contributor? Would you be interested in wearing both hats again?

CH: I had the pleasure of having Alison Janssen and Ben LeRoy serve as editors of my story. They’re the publisher, and ultimate had the final say-so on everything. I thought my story was strong enough to include, but I also told Ben and Alison to tell me if it wasn’t. I trusted them to make that call. It is standard operating procedure now for anthologies to contain a story from the editor.

Is there a story you’ve never published but that you just can’t seem to leave alone?

CH: Indeed there is. And I’m working on it now. Suddenly, I know exactly how to tell it. And I am writing like a fiend.

Okay, is there a genre you haven’t yet written in but that you’d like to take a crack at?

CH: Horror or psychological thriller. It isn’t that I haven’t written in it, it’s that I haven’t published in it. But I’m working on a book right now in that market.

Blogging and networks like Facebook and Twitter are providing fans with unprecedented access to their favorite authors, but it also works the other way. How has this affected the way you relate to your audience, and how would you advise aspiring authors to best utilize this kind of networking?

CH: I think Jeannie Holmes, one of my students who has a brand new book out right now, Blood Law, is so much smarter about the social networks than I am. Jeannie began to build a fan base before her book was published. She networks within the urban fantasy genre, linking to writers and readers who love the same type of story she loves. This can’t be faked–and no one should try to fake it.

I genuinely enjoy the interaction with readers. The Bones characters are my friends in a strange and twisted way. So people who read them and like them have a lot in common with me, so it’s easy to develop a true relationship. While we are separated by geography, we are linked by the characters.

Let’s shift gears to non-fiction for a moment. In 2003, you wrote My Mother’s Witness, a powerful account of a woman’s journey through a horrific cycle of abuse. If you had all the time and money in the world–no deadlines to meet, no bills to pay–would you write a non-fiction book today?

CH: No. I worked for years as a journalist and I truly enjoy the world of imagination more than the world of fact. I’ve learned never to say never, but I don’t think I’ll ever delve into non-fiction again.

Last question: What writer, living or dead, would you most like to have lunch with, and what question would you most like for that person to answer?

CH: That’s a tough question, because it changes with what I’m writing or reading. I met Doris Betts once at a conference. I so admire her writing. And she was so wonderful to talk with. I think I’d love to have lunch with her. I wouldn’t be able to limit myself to one question, though.

Click here to see more of Carolyn’s books.

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