You’re a native of a small town in Mississippi and most of your books are set in the South. Reviewers have said that setting is a character in your stories. Do you find the South to be a unique place?
I think time and place influence everyone, even those who don’t turn out to be writers. I grew up in Lucedale, a town of about 3,000 people in a dry county in the southeast corner of the state. The South was a distinctive region then, a place where culture was centered around extended family, screened porches, farming, and boundless woods and clear-running creeks. The South was unique then. Not so much now as technology breaks down the geographical boundaries of the world. I believe I had one of the “last golden childhoods.” That has influenced me greatly—my love of the land, the natural life. The balance that must be struck between human needs and nature. Most of my characters are aware of nature because I am. So setting plays a vital role to my characters and my story.
You’re active in animal rescue. I’ve heard rumors that you have delusions of being St. Francis? What’s the pet count as of today?
As of today, there are 21 “critters” living at Casa Carolyn: 7 horses, 6 dogs, and 8 cats. My oldest horse is Miss Scrapiron, a Thoroughbred mare who is 32 and I’ve owned since she was three. Some of the horses I rescued. Of the 8 cats and 6 dogs, many were abandoned after Katrina and I took them in. We all get along pretty well. Amazingly well for such a diverse group of personalities.
I will climb on my soapbox for just a moment and urge everyone to please spay and neuter their pets. And if there’s any room in your home, please go to a local rescue and adopt a cat or dog.
What people or things have influenced your writing?
Books and writers, first and foremost. In the aforementioned town of Lucedale, there was little for a young girl to do (well, little that wouldn’t have made my parents hair stand on end). Reading was my salvation. And I read indiscriminately—gothics, literary novels, collections of short stories, adventure tales, scandalous books, and mysteries. I adored mysteries and dark tales that explored the human condition under stress. So books played a big role in shaping me into a writer.
Also, I came of age in the 1970s, when the Old South was exploding and changing under the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, the Feminist Movement and Watergate. I was a journalist, as were my parents, and I was caught up in participating in historic events as a chronicler of the action. Turbulence was a way of life for a journalist back them, so I became comfortable with it. My days as a journalist gave me a lot of material to draw from when writing. It exposed me to people, places, and events out of the reach of normal folk.
You write both dark and light. Why is that? Is it a reflection of some mental fracture?
You’ve exposed my Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde duality. I grew up enthralled with Edgar Allan Poe and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft and Shirley Jackson, those dark-edged tales. It was a family affair to watch THE TWILIGHT ZONE and Boris Karloff’s THRILLER. My entire family told ghost stories and enjoyed scaring each other. I also love the texture of fiction that pulls toward the bottom of the river rather than the surface.
Yet my life is sort of this Lucille Ball mess. Not a day goes by that some bizarre thing doesn’t happen that has my friends rolling on the floor and laughing at me. So, yes, I love both extremes, the light and the dark. And I find writing both keeps me fresh in each area. Because of my newspaper background, I learned to write fast, and that allows me the luxury of working in both areas, the dark and the humorous.
What was your best Halloween costume?
Based on the answer above, you probably have no doubt that Halloween is my favorite holiday. Costumes are important, but we have a family rule that no store-bought costumes are allowed. Thrift stores and Goodwill are okay to accumulate pieces of a costume, but that’s it. So my most recent good costume was Jiminy Cricket—top hat, tails, green tights, green face paint, etc. I worked hard on singing “If You Wish Upon a Star” but no one let me get past the first verse. Other good costumes include the Queen of Spades (Spade being the operative word. I carried my own grave shovel.) and Demeter (gotta love a costume that involves a toga).