That Gothic Influence
By Carolyn HainesApril 19, 2023
Ideas come to writers in the craziest way. This is the “seed of the story” for my latest Sarah Booth adventure. I woke up one morning thinking about the Edgar Allan Poe short story, “The Tell-Tale Heart.” I hadn’t read it in many years, but I found my Poe anthology and sat down for a read with my morning coffee. Instantly I was transported back to middle school and the huge library volume of Poe’s collected works that I carried with me everywhere I went. It isn’t an exaggeration to say I was a Poe addict. I loved the language, the chilling atmosphere, and the macabre. As a writer, Poe just did it for me.
The story I read first was “The Tell-Tale Heart.” For several days after my reading adventure, in quiet moments when I was writing or about to fall asleep, I could hear that heart, pounding, pounding, pounding beneath the floorboards. It didn’t matter that my home is built on a slab or that I was a fully grown woman not prone to audio hallucinations. I could hear that heart, and in the dark of night, if I looked out my bedroom window, I could see the blue vulture eye staring back at me. You might say Poe had gotten under my skin.
It was a few weeks later that the idea for a book came to me fully shaped and formed. I began to write Tell-Tale Bones.
I have always been a lover of Southern Gothic literature. I loved Poe and though he isn’t Southern, Sir Author Conan Doyle was another favorite. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a Gothic masterpiece. Doyle’s fascination with spirit communications intrigued me and prompted the one and only séance we had at my family home when my parents were away. Scared teenagers can do a bit of damage. Some really strange things happened, and we reacted in true form—we screamed and ran and broke some things my mother valued. Uh-oh! But I was still hooked into the whole gothic thing, us no more seances.
I have several friends who are psychic mediums and I love every conversation I have with them. I do believe there are people with gifts and talents. My friends use their abilities for good. My experiences with mediumship and contact with the “Great Beyond,” as Jitty would call it, have mostly been through books. Growing up, I read everything I could get my hands on.
There wasn’t a bookstore in my hometown of Lucedale, Mississippi. When I was 15, I worked as a clerk at the Hospital Pharmacy where they had a spinning book rack. Every month the jobber came in to change out the titles. On slow days I stood behind the counter and read a book. From sweet romance to gothic mystery to award-winning literary fiction to men’s adventure. If I had time, I read everything on the rack before the old books were taken out and new ones were shelved.
When I was in the eighth grade, I was sitting in English class. My mother’s best friend and my namesake, Carolyn Nyman, was my teacher. I loved Carolyn, but I was bored with grammar, so I was reading a novel tucked inside my English book. She caught me and I knew I was in deep trouble for disrespecting my mother’s friend. Surprise! Carolyn took the book I was reading (yeah, it was THE CARPETBAGGERS) and told me she didn’t care if I read, that she knew I was bored, but that I should read something worthwhile. She gave me a copy of Eudora Welty’s short stories. And that took me on the journey into the gothic South. How I loved Flannery O’Connor, Doris Betts, Ms. Welty, Lee Smith and so many more. That one episode changed the trajectory of my life. It was the first time I’d ever considered that I might be able to write fiction others would want to read. In reading the Southern writers, I heard my own voice and the voice of my friends.
My parents were both journalists, not necessarily fiction readers. My childhood itself was pretty gothic when I think about it. I was photographing spot news for the daily papers when I was still in high school. At 16, I went to work for the local weekly newspaper and saw and experienced a lot of hard things. Little did I know I would turn those experiences into fiction as I grew older.
Along with reading scary stories, I was also a huge fan of scary movies. In the 1960s, Vincent Price reigned as the king of chill. My grandmother lived with us, and I often daydreamed that she’d one day meet Vincent Price and marry him. It was a toss-up at times whether Vincent, Tennessee Ernie Ford, or Aaron Burr (Perry Mason) would be the best choice for her. I was rooting for Vincent because he was so deliciously creepy in all of the films based on Poe’s masterful tales. I thought he would make the perfect grandfather for me.
That time between childhood and young adulthood is a space where anything is possible to a girl who reads books. Talking ravens, beating hearts, the return of the dead, all possible in the imagination. Poe instilled a love of story and reading in me. And to this day he still ignites my imagination and my love of reading.
For those of us who came to reading as youngsters, we have enjoyed a rich life. Sometimes a little creepy, but always a darn good time. As my friend Charlaine Harris said recently, a book is the cheapest vacation anyone can buy. Books have given me easy access to the gothic world I love. Now Sarah Booth and the Zinnia gang have a little adventure into the dark side of crime writing. I hope you enjoy the tale.
Enter the Goodreads Giveaway for Carolyn’s upcoming book Tell-Tale Bones here!
And don’t forget to order Tell-Tale Bones everywhere on 5/16/23!
Love the blog post, Carolyn. I’m a Poe fan, too. Still remember my high school Lit. teacher reading “The Raven” with the drama of Scarlett O’Hara. My Aunt was my hometown librarian. She knew I was bored reading books in “my age group” so she’d slip books to me under the counter. Still remember reading “Forever Amber”, after I promised my aunt I’d hide it from my mom. My dad was a journalist, too, and I’m’ a big fan of mediums. Can’t wait to read this latest book!!
I read both your blog and also a book i really enjoy it your book gothic influence is so amazing.
Wow, you guys have accomplished so much! How exciting!!