Thursday, April 2, 2009

Carolyn Hart At Home/Interviewed by JoAnna Carl

Carolyn Hart was our guest at a real-time Mystery Readers International At Home Literary Salon many years ago. Since most of the readers of this Blog were not there, I asked JoAnna Carl aka Eve Sandstrom to interview Carolyn Hart for our continuing At Home Online series for the Mystery Readers website, posted here, too. An accomplished master of mystery, Carolyn Hart is the author of 19 Death on Demand novels that have won multiple Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity awards. She has also written 7 Henrie O mysteries, 2 Bailey Ruth Raeburn "ghost" mysteries, and over 20 non-series books, plus multiple short stories. Hart is one of the founders of Sisters in Crime.

JoAnna: When we were in college, all of your fellow J-school students thought you'd be the next Margaret Bourke-White. Do you ever regret that you passed up becoming a top Washington correspondent or a foreign correspondent?

Carolyn: It is possible to have the best of all worlds when you write fiction. I too thought I would have a trench coat, notebook and pen and travel the world. Instead, I married, had a wonderful family and turned to fiction. When I created Henrietta O’ Dwyer Collins (Henrie O), she had the life I thought would be mine. Henrie O is taller, smarter and braver than I am and a successful foreign correspondent, but she reflects my attitudes and interests.

JoAnna: Why do you write mysteries anyway? What appeals to you about this literary form?

Carolyn: I write mysteries because we live in an unjust world. Mystery readers and writers long for a world where justice is served, goodness admired, and wrongs righted. We don‚t find that world in our everyday lives and that‚s why we revere mysteries, both reading and writing them.

JoAnna: Did you ever consider writing anything non-mysterious? Fantasy? Scifi? A combination there-of? Biography?

Carolyn: I was fascinated by the plight of the nurses trapped on Corregidor and wanted to write a non-fiction book about them. At that time, the diaries and papers were not available so I wrote Brave Hearts, a World War II book set in London and the Philippines.

JoAnna: You're recognized as an authority on Agatha Christie. What draws you to her work?

Carolyn: Her brilliance, charm, creativity, and insight.

JoAnna: What mystery novel influenced your development as a writer? Or can you point to one? Or was it a book of another type?

Carolyn: Christie‚s works and those of Mary Roberts, Rinehart, Phoebe Atwood Taylor, Mary Collins, and Josephine Tey. As for a particular novel, I will always be in awe of Christie's Ten Little Indians.

JoAnna: Mystery fans may not know what a great teacher you are. I've heard successful mystery writers say, "Oh, I'd never take a writing class." Did you yourself ever take a writing class?

Carolyn: No, but I have attended many writing conferences and always learned something new.

JoAnna: What should a potential student of mystery writing look for in a writing class?

Carolyn: A teacher who understands that styles and minds and attitudes and tastes differ. The teacher should offer insights into the creative process and offer criticism that judges a work against the objectives of the writer.

JoAnna: You had bunches of books published before you made a hit with the Death on Demand series. What encouraged you to hang in there?

Carolyn: I don’t think writers have a choice. They (and I) must write whether the work is accepted or rejected.

JoAnna: You've written three popular mystery series. What is the key to creating appealing, lasting series characters?

Carolyn: Respect. The writer must respect the characters and the readers.

JoAnna: Agents, editors, professors and other people who hand out advice on writing all urge the author to develop his or her "own voice." Then they say, "Voice is hard to define...." What's your take on this?

Carolyn: Every individual is unique. Each of us sees the world differently. A writer must relax and offer what they have and who they are without artifice.

JoAnna: Do you recognize recurring themes or ideas in your own books?

Carolyn: I almost always seem to write about the abuse of power in relationships or the overweening self aggrandizement that destroys relationships. The underlying theme is always a celebration of goodness. Goodness, decency and honor matter.

JoAnna: You were one of the founders of Sisters in Crime. Do you have any special memories you'd like to share about this organization's early days?

Carolyn: I think it was the spring of 1989, possibly it was 1988. I was in New York for Edgars and my editor told me there was going to be a gathering of women writers to talk about forming a new organization. She thought I might be interested in attending. The meeting was in Sandra Scoppetone's loft.

That was the first time I ever met Margaret Maron and Sue Dunlap. At one point, everyone was talking excitedly about what could be accomplished if women worked together. Sue Dunlap asked the people standing behind her to catch her. She toppled over backwards and they caught her and it was an illustration of how we had to trust each other and be willing to take chances. Everyone was incredibly enthusiastic and excited. The idea for SinC had first been suggested by Sara Paretsky at a Bouchercon breakfast with a few writers. This meeting in New York was to decide whether to form the group. the decisions was made and Sisters in Crime came into being in Sandra Scoppetone's loft.

I also remember walking into that room, filled with about seventeen women writers, and it was the first time I ever felt at home with a group.

We were amazed and touched by the generosity of our fellow writers and by the warmth of readers. Today the organization is more than three thousand strong here and around the world.

JoAnna: What are some of your personal likes and dislikes?

My favorite things:
Children's laughter.
Summer, sea, and sand.
The 1928 Episcopal Prayer Book.
Authors to reread: Agatha Christie, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Constance and Gwenyth Little.
Car trips.
Having written.

Things I hate:

JoAnna: Do you have any predictions on the future of the mystery?

Carolyn: The mystery will always prosper. Readers seek goodness. They do not find goodness triumphant in the world as we know it. They will always find goodness triumphant in the mystery.


Deb Baker said...

I'm teaching my first mystery writing workshop this weekend. Your ideas couldn't have come at a better time. Wonderful interview!

Anonymous said...

From Pat Browning:

I am especially curious about her mention of a book she wrote called
BRAVE HEARTS, a World War ll book set in London and the Philippines.
It's the first I've heard of it and I'll look it up.

My favorite book of Carolyn's is LETTERS FROM HOME. I'm old enough to
remember Oklahoma in those days, and she paints an accurate picture.
I'm also impressed by the skillful way she worked in backstory by
opening chapters with a brief excerpt from the letter that brought the
protagonist home.

Pat Browning
(Krill Press 2008)

Janet Rudolph said...

Carolyn Hart writes:

Brave Hearts was a Pocket Book paperback and was later reprinted by Five Star in hc. There are lots of cheap copies online!

Anonymous said...

Hi, Janet:

In the meantime I found Brave Hearts at

Hi, Carolyn:
I enjoyed your interview.
I love your Henrie O series, and sent an e-mail about this interview to the SeniorSleuthsForum, as well as Oklahoma Federation of Writers,Inc.
I hope some on those lists will check in.

We're proud of you in Oklahoma!

All the best,
Pat Browning

Beth Groundwater said...

A lovely interview with a lovely lady! I really enjoyed Letters From Home, and I hope to work my way through the Death On Demand series--along with all the other mysteries on my TBR list. Carolyn, my fellow Sisters in Crime friends had been such a helping force in my career, and I thank you and all the other founders for forming this supportive group. Here's one sister, though, who loves snow and mountains! :)

Janet Rudolph said...

Listen to Carolyn talk about her life as a writer via

Hannah Dennison said...

What a wonderful interview. I am one of Carolyn's biggest fans. Your questions really captured her warmth, generosity and kindness. My favorite of all her books is LETTER FROM HOME.