Wednesday, October 1, 2014

20 Questions for Horror Authors: Carolyn Haines



Carolyn Haines is a prolific author who has written over 70 novels. She also writes macabre mysteries under the pen name, R. B. Chesterton.


1. What do you think makes a good story?

If a writer engages the reader’s emotions, that’s a good story. I enjoy books that engage my intellect, too, but the best stories do both.





2. What do you think makes a character a compelling villain or hero? 

He/She is bigger than life—not necessarily in action or deed, but in focus of intention. Most of us rush through life without a clearly defined goal. The hero/villain that captures us is the one that knows exactly what he or she wants and what he is willing to do to get it.



3. What did you learn from writing your book that you think would help other writers out there with their craft?

Each book teaches me something new. Some of it is about writing, some about character motivation, some about the limits of my abilities. I re-learn each time that I must control the focus of the book while giving my characters as much freedom as possible. And never, ever believe that you don’t need the help of a good editor.



4. Are there any horror books that have influenced your life? If so, what are they?


"The Exorcist" impacted me greatly. As did "The Shining." But it was Edgar Allan Poe who introduced me to the Gothic and the macabre, and Daphne du Maurier’s "Rebecca" which really ignited my passion for what I call “gentle” horror. Shirley Jackson, H.P. Lovecraft—I read their stories in magazines growing up. And I can’t forget "Silence of the Lambs," from fellow Mississippian Thomas Harris. Psychological horror has always interested me a lot more than blood and gore.




5. What is the scariest book you ever read, and what was your reaction to it?

"The Shining" really scared me. I was living in a rather isolated area when I started it and I would have to get my roommate to go in the bathroom and check the tub to be sure it was empty before I would go in that room. Everyone laughed at me, but I didn’t care.



6. Do you think that writing will be a long-term career goal for you?


It is really the career of my heart. I’ve published over 70 books in a number of genres and under different pseudonyms, and I’ve worked passionately at other jobs. As a journalist, I really believed if I wrote the truth I could change the world. Funny, but I’ve grown to believe that there’s more truth in fiction than fact. In the past decade, I’ve taught fiction writing at a university and I am very passionate about that. I adore my students and many of them are now publishing. But it is the creative process of writing that I love most of all.



7. Who is your favorite author, and what have you taken away from their books?

I write in a number of genres, and I read everything. It’s impossible to name just one. If there is one living writer working today that I never miss his release date, it is James Lee Burke. He is listed as a mystery writer, but he has villains who are more horrific than anything crawling out of hell. His use of language simply stuns me. Each book reminds me why I want to be a writer and how powerful language can—and should—be without being pretentious.



8. While this may seem like a given to some people, others may be wondering; Why write horror?

I love this genre. It has always been my “go-to” section in the bookstore. For a long time, there didn’t seem to be a lot of new horror, but now there are hundreds of wonderful writers I’m just beginning to explore.



9. What is it that attracts you to the macabre?

I like a good chill in a story. I am not big on torture porn or some of the “dread” genres. I don’t like to feel dread. But a little creep is wonderful!



10. Halloween is the biggest holiday for horror lovers. Have you ever had any interesting, spooky, or fun experiences during the best holiday of the year that you'd like to share with your readers?

My family celebrated Halloween in a big way. I grew up in a haunted house, and there were a few times I saw the resident ghost. (She scared me senseless.) Each Halloween my mother would make a fake coffin and we’d have someone in it to “sit up” when the trick or treaters came. And I would gather the younger children inside and tell them ghost stories and send them screaming back out onto the street to their waiting parents. It was a tradition. I’ve always loved to tell stories.



11. What is the one thing that scares you the most?

Evil children. And dolls. I never played with dolls—ever.


12. How were you introduced to the horror genre?


My mother loved horror stories and movies. We would all gather to watch Boris Karloff’s "Thriller." We told ghost stories to each other. My mother encouraged creativity, as did my father and grandmother. I was lucky in that regard.



13. What is your favorite horror movie? (If you're anything like me, you’re bound to have more than one)


Another tough question. Some of the newer horror movies are pretty good. I hate movies that don’t explain the evil. It’s a failure of plotting and structure. I especially hate movies that rely on special effects rather than story telling. So I have to go back to "The Exorcist," which has everything a movie should have.




14. Do you use childhood experiences and your own nightmares as inspiration? Have you ever used some of your own personal phobias in your writing?



Absolutely. Dolls and evil children! "The Darkling" is evil children, and "The Seeker" has a few really creepy dolls in it AND an evil child.


15. Does your creative process (the one where you come up with the concept for a horror story) involve daydreaming; brainstorming; ripping stories from headlines; or using terrific fantasies that you've had?


It all depends on the story. "The Darkling" is thematic—about a desperate desire to be loved and what can be conjured from that. "The Seeker" is about how impossible it is to escape the past, but it came to me as an image of a birth mark. That’s the opening of the book. The book I’m working on now, "The Book of Beloved," is basically a ghost story which involves geographic resonance—the power of place. How things that have happened in the past linger.


16. What is one thing that you'd like people to know about horror writers?


Horror means many things to different people. Don’t toss off the entire genre because you don’t like "Texas Chainsaw Massacre." There are thousands of wonderful storytellers who will have elements you like and enjoy. The sad thing about dividing books into genres is that the rich subtlety of what it once meant to say “this is a novel” is lost. Horror can be as rich in character and theme and plot and setting as any other book.


17. What got you interested in writing, and how long have you been doing it?

I’ve always written. I come from a family that practiced the oral tradition of ghost stories and they were also journalists, as was I for a number of years. We’d write facts by day and tell spooky stories at night.

I’ve been writing seriously for over thirty years.



18. What, for you, is the hardest part of writing? How do you overcome writer’s block?


I’m fortunate to be under contract, so I have books due. A deadline is a magnificent cure for writer’s block. And being under contract is wonderful because I know I can pay the bills. It is also a tremendous amount of pressure. I often write two books at the same time, one mystery and one horror, or one short story—this allows me to stay fresh as a writer.


19. Tell us about your most recent or current novel that you've had published.



"The Seeker" (My scary stories are written as R.B. Chesterton) came out in March from Pegasus Books and is the story of a young woman who grew up in a brutal family. Aine Cahill was sent away from the blood-drenched Kentucky hills to boarding school in Massachusetts by her granny in an attempt to save her from the Cahill curse, which often displayed in second sight and the ability to see the dead. 



When the story opens Aine is working on her dissertation on Thoreau—because she has her great-great-great aunt Bonnie’s journal that claims she was Thoreau’s lover at Walden Pond. Bonnie Cahill was a medium and she and Thoreau attempted to call up the dead, according to the journal. But there is something else in the Walden woods—a young girl who appears to Aine. Perhaps the ghost of a young girl murdered in those woods, or perhaps something much older and far more evil.


So it’s a ghost story, of a sort. It’s gotten some great reviews.




20. Are you working on your next novel or short story at the moment? If so, what is it about?



My latest story is “The Hanged Man,” a short story which will go on sale Oct. 1 as an e-story. It’s about a couple who lose their nine-year-old daughter while on vacation in New Orleans. Rachael simply disappears. No trace of her is ever found. Three years pass and Laura convinces her husband to return to New Orleans for closure. They find more than they bargain for in “the City that Care Forgot.”


I love writing short stories, and e-publishing has really allowed this genre to return from near death. I’m very excited to see what happens.


I’m also working on "The Book of Beloved" and the 15th Sarah Booth Delaney Mississippi Delta Mystery series, "Bone to be Wild." 

I also run a small animal rescue, Good Fortune Farm Refuge. We are currently selling cookbooks, BONE-A-FIED DELCIOUS at my website www.carolynhaines.com to raise money for a spay and neuter program we are now administering. 

We have sold an amazing number of cookbooks! In the South, we have a serious problem with unneutered animals and it is horrific (yes, I use that word intentionally) to consider the hundreds of thousands of animals killed in shelters because no one wants them. Talk about fodder for a horror novel.




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