By A.J. Colucci
GHOST GONE WILD is Carolyn Hart’s 51st published novel. Her titles range from WWII suspense to cozy mystery to romantic suspense. The books have won Agatha, Anthony, and Macavity Awards. Hart is a native of Oklahoma City, a Phi Beta Kappa journalism graduate of the University of Oklahoma, and a former president of Sisters in Crime.
In GHOST GONE WILD, the late Bailey Ruth Raeburn, Heaven’s irrepressible sleuth, returns to earth to help a scruffy but lovable twenty-something-video-game inventor who has lots of money and just as many enemies. Ruth foils a shooting but discovers her Heavenly supervisor has no idea she’s on earth, and this time she may never make it back to Heaven!
‘The well-constructed plot offers an ample supply of red herrings. Fans of benign ghosts such as those in Blithe Spirit and Topper will find a lot to like.”—PUBLISHERS WEEKLY
“Bailey Ruth and Wiggins will delight readers who prefer their mysteries light and seasoned with wit and the supernatural…Hart’s vision of heaven is a hoot.”—BOSTON GLOBE
We caught up with Carolyn for an interview on her latest book, remarkable career, and insight into her characters and writing process.
Your protagonist in GHOST GONE WILD has been described by reviewers as a benign ghost that is spirited, funny, and impetuous. What do you think makes Bailey Ruth so appealing?
Bailey Ruth is the girl in 8th grade that boys noticed, girls adored, and teachers enjoyed, while trying to keep her in her seat. She reminds us that Heaven is not a distant stained-glass dimension, but a haven for everyone, with all their quirks and individuality. Bailey Ruth lived joyously and that’s what she hopes for all she encounters on earth.
You have a unique and wonderful way of describing heaven. How much of it is your own belief and how much is pure imagination?
Bailey Ruth’s Heaven reflects my personal conviction that life is never ending and, whoever and whatever you were, those qualities will shine in the brightest way imaginable in Heaven. I have no idea of the physical realities of Heaven so my depiction is fully imaginative, but it may be one small reflection from a kaleidoscope of Heavenly realities. I might add that I gave the manuscript of the first book in the series, GHOST IN TROUBLE, to my favorite priest, who is clever and droll. He said “Until Edward R. Murrow returns with a first hand report, your description of Heaven is as valid as anyone’s.”
You’ve had a stellar career as one of America’s most accomplished mystery writers, receiving a host of awards, including a nomination for a Pulitzer Prize. Do you ever look back and wonder, how did I get here?
You are exceedingly generous. I’ve never seen myself as a star of any sort. I love language and mysteries and it has been my great good fortune to spend my life creating stories. It never occurred to me that I would write so many books. I have always tried to write the best book I can possibly write.
Is there a secret to writing over 50 novels?
I have always had a supportive family. I have had great editors. My agent is my friend and champion. I have been blessed.
Your characters are so imaginative, and yet realistic. Is there a process you go through when creating new characters and writing them into the story?
Characters truly become who they are. When I have an idea for a story, people will drift into my mind. As I write, I will have a clearer sense of their identity. Sometimes I make a mistake. I just finished GHOST WANTED, which will be out in fall 2014. I kept struggling with the early chapters and I realized that one character was absolutely wrong. I went back to the first and thought about who she really was and the entire flavor of the chapters changed. I’ve always remembered what Marilyn Wallace, a wonderful writer who died much too young, once said, “Everyone does the best they can.” When you think about that simple sentence, it has enormous impact on your perception of characters.
Like you, I began my career as a journalism student and newspaper reporter. Did you find that background helpful in writing fiction?
Very much. You learn to write to deadline. You learn that everything that is written can be improved. You learn to be skeptical.
You often surprise readers with red herrings and story twists. Are these plotted out or do you make them up as you write?
I wish I could plot in advance. As my editor once said gently, “It’s easier if you outline.” I’m sure it is. I am a By Guess and By God writer. I have no idea how I am going to get from Page 1 to Page 300.
You’ve had three book series, including 24 titles in DEATH ON DEMAND, yet your readers can’t seem to get enough. How do you keep the same characters and their relationships fresh after so many years?
I try very hard in each book to focus on an entirely new story. The series characters remain the same, but the mystery is different, and that requires different responses and different action. In the DEATH ON DEMAND books, I love returning to the island where Annie and Max Darling will always be young and in love—and scrambling to protect the innocent.
To learn more about Carolyn, please visit her website.