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The Sirens of Suspense




Carolyn Hart is the author of over 40 novels. She writes three series. The Death on Demand series, the Henrie O series and the Bailey Ruth Raeburn series. She has also written several WWII novels, including ESCAPE FROM PARIS and LETTER FROM HOME. Hart's books have won the Agatha three times for Best Mystery Novel and been nominated nine times. Hart is a past president of Sisters in Crime and lives in Oklahoma City with her husband Phil. Her most recent book, DEATH COMES SILENTLY (which we’re giving away at the bottom of this post) the 22nd in the Death on Demand series, was released in April.

item1 Carolyn Hart: At the Heart item1

First, let me say thank you for being a co-founder of Sisters in Crime. I know how greatly I've benefitted from being a member of the organization, and think it should be an imperative for any mystery lover or writer. Thank you for using your craft and your experience to make it easier, not only in the industry, but in society, for all of those who have come after.  My local SinC chapter has a growing number of male members. Do you feel we're on (closer to) equal footing now? Has the message of SinC changed?

Sisters in Crime continues to provide a forum for books by women mystery authors. Since the organization was created on a premise of equality, Sisters in Crime is happy to include men writers as members. The hope for fair treatment of all writers remains a guiding tenet. In addition, SinC now offers insights about publishing and with the sea changes now occurring this is an incredibly important resource for members. 


You've been writing in one way or another all of your life, and your first mystery, CALLING ALL GIRLS, was published in 1964. As a result, you've seen the tremendous changes in the publishing industry. Not only in the development of new media like e-books, but also the quasi-requirement that new authors must establish a presence on the internet and social media. What do you think of e-books?

I'm delighted that e-books are making more books available to more readers. In addition, ebook publication offers a venue for authors' OP works and that is very exciting.


Do you embrace social media?

I believe my website  is the most important showcase for my books and that it has made a huge difference for me as a writer in connecting to readers. I always respond to emails sent to the webpage address. When I have a new book coming out, I blog when invited. I have a business Facebook page but I am not very active on it.


Are these developments distracting us from the art?

Every minute we spend away from writing is a minute spent away from writing! However, the reality of publishing is that authors must engage as best they can in reaching out to readers.


Advice is always given to new writers to create a protagonist you can live with because publishers are looking for series. Did you anticipate when you first wrote DEATH ON DEMAND in 1987 that you would still be writing Annie twenty-two books later?

I was surprised and thrilled when the editor of Death on Demand suggested a series. I love writing about Annie and Max and, to me, they will always be young and happy on their sea island.


How do you keep the character fresh for yourself as well as for readers?

Every book is a new adventure because the people involved in the mystery are different. That keeps the series fresh for me. Annie and Max  are fun. I like them and I;m always eager to see what they will do next.


You've put a lot of yourself into your protagonists, as many authors say, you write what you know. Annie runs a bookstore. It was only later that you wrote a journalist in Henrie O. Between them, all your protagonists epitomize various ages and stages of womanhood. Since you've written the series (except for Bailey) for many years, have you found that at certain points you relate more to one protagonist than the other?

Annie is based on my daughter who is enormous fun and who always tries to do her best. Henrie O is the author except she is taller, thinner, smarter and braver.Bailey Ruth is a composite of my mother and mother-in-law.


I think it's interesting that only your most recent series featuring ghost Bailey Ruth Raeburn, the first of which was released in 2008, is the only one set in your home state of Oklahoma. What prompted you to finally write about home?

I have a stand alone WWII novel LETTER FROM HOME that is set in Oklahoma during the summer of 1944. I set the Bailey Ruth books in a small town inspired by my husband's hometown. I love Oklahoma and I am enjoying using Oklahoma now as a background. WHAT THE CAT SAW, a suspense novel coming out this fall, is also set in Oklahoma against the backdrop of a small town newspaper.


You've said before that being a child during WWII really impressed upon you the importance of newspapers, as I am sure did your experiences as a journalist. Now, many newspapers and magazines are folding daily. Do you see the future of news online?

News may well be  fragmented among many sites online. Journalists who care about truth will always do their best to get the news but viewers must remember to be wary and to check a number of sites to be sure they are reading news and not opinion.


Are we poorer for the lack of a daily print paper?

Yes. Emphatically.


Speaking of changing times, do you feel the mystery genre is fundamentally the same as it was when you first began writing? If not, how do you feel the genre has evolved?

Mysteries still deal with the search for truth though graphic sex and violence are much more prevalent but that reflects our culture in general.


Being such a prolific writer, you're no stranger to deadlines. In my mind, you've reached rather mythical status, so writers block probably doesn't happen to you.

How I wish . . . Every book is a struggle. At some point in each book I slam against a dead end wall. I'm stymied. I think there is no way to continue. I keep struggling and thinking and finally one day I will have a sudden thought, What if . . . And I'm on my way. 


Hypothetically, if it were to, what are your suggestions for how to get un-stuck? 

Take a walk, think about your characters in your dreams, take another walk, sit in your office chair, write, throw out pages, take a walk . . . Never give up.


I have to ask, many of your biographies and interviews state that you met your husband on a trip to Europe in your junior year of college, and are still happily married. Yet, nowhere does it seem to mention in what country you met. Can you give us a little more of the story?

We were on a student trip sponsored by the University of Oklahoma. Our paths were utterly different in college and we would never have met there. We met when the group first gathered in a dormitory at Columbia University in New York, then boarded a student ship . . . And the rest is our history. We will celebrate our 54th anniversary this coming June.


DEATH COMES SILENTLY was just released last month. What can we look forward to next?item6

WHAT THE CAT SAW will be released Oct. 2, 2012:

  “After the death of her fiance in Afghanistan, Nela Farley possesses an unsettling ability to know a cat's thoughts when she looks into the cat's eyes. Nela realizes she is trying to avoid painful realities and believes her mind is playing tricks on her. Nela arrives as a stranger in a small Oklahoma town. When she walks into an apartment, she sees a cat and the cat is thinking " . . . dead and gone . . . she didn't see the moving board on the step . . ." That night, Nela learns the woman who lived in the apartment died in a fall down her steps. Nela soon realizes she is caught up in a danger she never imagined with knowledge she cannot share.”


What's the best advice you can give a new writer or what do you wish you had known when you started?

Write about something you care about. If you care, somewhere an editor will care.



QUESTION FOR CAROLYN? COMMENT ON THE INTERVIEW? Ask here, or tell us your thoughts further down on this page, or commenting on this blog entry on our Facebook page and be entered to win one of THREE SIGNED Carolyn Hart books! GHOST TROUBLE, DEATH COMES SILENTLY, or RENDEZVOUS IN VERACRUZ! Thanks so much to Carolyn for taking the time to do this interview, and generously sending so many books!



Writing ambience: In my office sitting at my desk.

Reading now: THIEVES by Hannah Dennison. A laugh a page.

Book she’d like to read again for the first time: AND THEN THERE WERE NONE by Agatha Christie. Brilliant.

Favorite protagonist (other than her own): Miss Zukas from the wonderful books by Jo Dereske.

Favorite big or small screen detective: Joan Hickson as Miss Marple.

Favorite sentence she’s written: “Across a span of time, I remembered a girl, dark-haired, blue-eyed, slim and eager, who seemed quite separate and distinct from the old woman walking determinedly toward the graves.” A LETTER FROM HOME

Cats or dogs? Cats. Specifically, Rockingham, a large orange tabby who chose our house on a cold winter night. He joined Sis and Bro, a brown tabby brother and sister from cat rescue. Sis is Head Cat. We serve as staff to them.

Where she’d like to travel that she hasn’t been: Wyoming and Montana.

If she could have one superpower: It would be fun to appear and disappear as Bailey Ruth Raeburn does.

Favorite independent bookstore: My hometown indie is Full Circle Books and they are hugely supportive of Oklahoma authors.

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