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Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Ravens Eye is on Carolyn Hart

This Halloween I've got one treat you won't forget. An interview with a woman who has made an indeliable mark on the mystery world with her wit, style and panache. In the ranks of the most illustrious and esteemed authors of mystery, there are a few names that have the rare honor of having illuminated the path for the rest. One of those is Carolyn Hart. Not only does Carolyn possess a rare and wonderous talent at creating clever characters and ingenius mystery plots but she is a truly lovely and gracous woman. I am thrilled and grateful that she took the time to share with The Raven Croaks. Make sure you run out and get the second book in her Ghost at Work series, Merry Merry Ghost, its one book that will linger with you as long as the afterlife.

When did you begin the process of writing your first adult fiction book?
Carolyn: I wrote several books for children and young adults, then turned to adult fiction in the early 1970s. My first adult novel was FLEE FROM THE PAST, a suspense novel.

How long did it take you?
Carolyn: As I recall I spent about a year writing it. At that time, my children were young and I didn’t work in the summers when they were out of school.

What did you find the most challenging?
Carolyn: The challenge of writing fiction is to be able to have the confidence to trust in the process. Books are built sentence by sentence, character by character. I am not able to plot in advance except in the most general terms so I have to believe that if I keep on writing, I will find the book.

Is there anyone, author or otherwise, in particular you draw inspiration from?
Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, and Phoebe Atwood Taylor. Christie is the premier genius of plotting and characterization. Rinehart always wrote with great charm. Taylor’s humor celebrated the absurd.

If so, how has that influenced your writing?
Carolyn: I write a fair play mystery, a la Christie. I love to celebrate being an American and writing about Americans, a la Rinehart. I hope that I offer humor, a la Taylor.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Carolyn: From the news, from observing people, from an interest in human relationships.

I found this quote in your biography and I liked it so much I wanted to share it. ""Readers read mysteries and writers write mysteries because we live in an unjust world where evil often triumphs. In the traditional mystery, goodness will be admired and justice will prevail"". Is this still your most fervent belief?
Carolyn: Emphatically yes.
What do you think of writers who want to delve into the darker more sordid aspects of mystery without an emphasis on good triumphing over evil?
Carolyn: All authors follow their heart and write what matters to them.

It is becoming more difficult for authors today to become published. Your career started in a different era of publishing. What was the process when you got started?
Carolyn: Publishing was indeed different. There were about 47 publishing houses in NY when I began. Now there are about 5. My first book, a juvenile mystery, was published because I won a writing contest. I attended writing conferences and found my first agent. That is how the later books sold.

What do you think caused the implosion in the publishing world?
Carolyn: Publishing houses are now huge conglomerates and are expected to sell an ever increasing number of books. The concentration on best sellers has severely limited the number of mid-list books purchased and mysteries are usually mid-list.

Should new writers really start re-thinking their previous concept of how to get published?
Carolyn: I still recommend becoming a part of the writing world via workshops, Sisters in Crime, and conferences. Self-publishing usually is a dead end for authors. Be patient and seek an agent.

So many mystery writers have been inspired by Nancy Drew, what was it about her that appealed to you the most?
Nancy is brave, kind, independent and devoted to justice.

While getting a book onto store shelves is a huge challenge, the work doesn’t end there. How do you go about publicizing your work and keep expanding your fan base even at this stage in your career?
Carolyn: I think the most effective outreach is a web site and attending conferences.
Up until the ""Ghost at Work"" and the soon to be released, ""Merry Merry Ghost"", your books were primarily ""living"" mysteries, what made you decide to branch out into the world of undead mystery?
Carolyn: I always loved the Topper books and films. I enjoy funny ghost stories. The Bailey Ruth Raeburn books are intended to be fun as well as provide a good mystery. They are whimsy.

Do you believe in ghosts?
Carolyn: I believe in whimsy and imagination.

I’d like to say you’ve seen your share of the mystery world evolve throughout the years, what changes do you see ahead? In both publishing and writing?
Carolyn: My crystal ball is murky. E-books will continue to increase their share of the market but I believe paper books will always be available. Possibly POD may become more the norm.

Do you work with a schedule to get to your deadlines or do you have a more freeform style towards your writing?
Carolyn: I work to meet deadlines. I try to write five pages a day. Some days are good; some days are not.

What is the single best piece of advice you could give to someone, such as myself, striving to become a published author?
Care passionately about what you write. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.

Who do you read when you the time to?
Carolyn: I often read books to provide cover quotes. Two of my favorites coming out this fall are ALL THE WRONG MOVES by Merline Lovelace, Berkley, and THE WITCH DOCTOR’S WIFE by Tamar Myers, HarperColins.
When I am writing, which is most of the time as I am expected to write two books a year, i enjoy old favorites by Christie, Rinehart, Taylor, and Patricia Wentworth

Thank you Carolyn. This interview has truly been a pleasure. I hope everyone gets out there and makes merry with Merry Merry Ghost this holiday season.


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