Interview – Kathryn Miller Haines
I met Kathryn Miller Haines a few months ago at the Women Read/Women Write conference. She was articulate and funny and had some of the best advice to offer writers ever. When I first started this site and was thinking about wonderful Pittsburgh people to interview, she immediately sprang to mind. A quick email later and voila! Here we are! An interview with Ms. Haines herself.
During our email exchanges, Kathryn was just as great as I remembered. And, considering she’s gearing up for a big promotional push for her newest release, she was really fast in responding to my emails! (Grin) Even better, she was able to get me an ARC of her upcoming release, The Girl Is Murder – which I DEVOURED a day later. A full review will be up soon!
I can honestly say that this girl is awesome!
1. On your fabulous website, kathrynmillerhaines.com, you write that you in addition to being a writer, you are also an actor and playwright. How has being the latter two affected the former?
I have a natural tendency toward wordiness, so I think being a playwright really taught me how to let dialogue do more of the work than the narrative (descriptive) part of writing. Acting I think has guided me to be more cognizant of how people respond in giving situations, what their natural instincts are, etc. as well as being aware that what we don’t say is often more important than what we do say.
2. You were very forthcoming about your road to publication. Your rejections, your highs, your lows. Talk to me after you signed with your agent. Was the journey from agent to book shelf what you expected? What has surprised you most?
I think I was pretty shocked the book sold as fast as it did. I really thought I would languish in limbo for a long time, just like I had while hunting for an agent, so when my agent let me know that there were publishers who were actually interested I was shocked.
I think the biggest surprise is that you’re never done as a writer. You’re always thinking about the next project you want to sell, how to grow the audience for your current project, etc. You never feel completely safe that everything you write will be published. I had manuscripts that languished in the drawer before I sold my first book, and I have manuscripts that have joined them since I sold my first book.
3. Let’s talk about your young adult series for a moment. Your first book, The Girl is Murder, was released to high praise. Kirkus (the holy grail of reviews for writers) stated: As with her popular adult mysteries starring actress-turned-gumshoe Rosie Winter, Haines’ pitch-perfect rendering of postwar New York City is “murder…you know—marvelous. A stylish, slang-filled teen noir that is as entertaining as it is absorbing.”
The book has been described as teen noir. Can you tell us a little about that genre? What does that mean to you?
I think of it as a grittier, more realistic look at crime, history, and life as a teenager. I didn’t want to recreate Nancy Drew or her contemporaries, but depict what life would actually be like for this particular girl, at this particular time, facing these particular challenges.
4. Book 2 is called The Girl is Trouble. Already, you are receiving excellent reviews. Tell us a bit about the story.
It’s a sequel, obviously, to the first book. This time around Iris is in a better position with her father and working with him at his detective agency, rather than sneaking around behind his back. She also uncovers information about what really happened to her mother, who she believes committed suicide the year before. If the first book was about Iris coming to terms with her father, this one is really about her getting to know who her mother was.
5. Are you doing anything exciting for the release? I see your party will be at the Mystery Lover’s Bookshop in Oakmont.
The release party on July 7th is the big one locally. I have things planned here and there, but most everything is happening this fall, when I’ll be headed to Gettysburg for a conference,Las Vegasto do a panel for the National Council of Teachers of English, and Cleveland for Bouchercon, the Mystery Writers of America’s big conference.
6. Wow! That sounds like a lot of fun! Gettsyburg is a gorgeous place. So, what made you decide to continue Iris’ story?
My publisher 😉 They always saw this as a series and since I came to Iris after writing a series for adults, continuing the story felt natural to me. Plus, there was so much that I still had to explore about her life and her family. There was no way I could cram all of that into one book. I would love to continue her story beyond book two, but we’ll still waiting to see if that’s going to happen.
7. Let’s shift gears a moment and talk about Pittsburgh! You’re a Steel City girl. You haven’t always lived in Pittsburgh though. So, a multi-pronged question:
A. How do you like the city?
Love it. I love living someplace with seasons (I’m a native Texan). I love the arts and culture scene here. I love the kindness of the people. It’s just a great place.
B. Do you have a favorite place?
My house I think. Followed by the fabulous parks we have in the area.
C. What has been your most memorable Pittsburgh moment?
Probably hearing Pittsburghese for the first time. My husband, who’s a native, had tried to prepare me and I was convinced he was exaggerating when he took on the regional patois. The first time I heard a real Pittsburgher speak that way, I realized how dead on he was. And promptly fell over.
8. Do you find much inspiration in the city? I know you adore the era of the 1940’s and World War II. Pittsburgh was a major player during that time.
I’ve found a lot of outstanding research resources here (the libraries here are amazing), but I haven’t really pulled much from the city’s role in the war. I think there is definitely a story there, but I haven’t written it yet.
9. So you sort of already answered this, but would you officially ever set a story in Western PA?
See above. I’m working on something set here now, but it’s contemporary rather than historical. I definitely want to represent the area, but I find it challenging to write about a place when you’re right in the middle of it. I’m so scared about getting it wrong, so thePittsburghI’m writing right now is highly fictionalized.
10. Finally, your books have been nominated for the 2012 Edgar Award for best Young Adult Mystery, nominated for an American Library Association YALSA award, and named one of the best books for young adults by the Texas State Library Association. When you think about your beginnings as a writer and where you are now, how do you feel? Does it relax you as a writer, that you’ve hit so many amazing milestones? Or does it add more pressure? There’s some great expectations to be with all of these accolades?
I think I’m finally starting to accept the idea that I’m a good writer, but unfortunately, in this industry, getting good reviews and being nominated for awards isn’t enough – it’s also about sales numbers I’m afraid. So I’m constantly worried about whether I’m selling enough. I want to write the best book possible – that’s always the most important thing – but I also want to be able to keep writing, and that means that people have to buy the books.
11. Alright, Kathryn, I lied!! One last question: what advice do you have for someone with a manuscript in the desk drawer, who has been rejected before, who’s maybe not sure what the next step should be? You’ve been there. We’ve all probably been there! What did you do?
I always think the difference between someone who’s published and someone who isn’t is persistence. Yes, talent is important, but hanging in there, facing rejection, and learning how to improve whatever it is you lag in is really key to reaching the next stage. Every time I’m rejected (and yes it still happens more often than I’d like to admit), I look for new ways to approach what I’m working on. And no matter how much it stings, I don’t give up. I look to my peers for feedback, advice, and assistance and I remember how much I love to write and that stopping that now isn’t an option.