Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Q an A With Carolyn Haines Editor of Delta Blues

Tell us a little about DELTA BLUES and the idea behind it.

Delta Blues is a collection of short stories centered around the unique musical form that sprang up in the Mississippi Delta, the blues, and a crime or noir element. There are 19 stories by some of the finest writers working today, and a forward by Morgan Freeman, who owns a blues club in Clarksdale, Mississippi, his childhood stomping ground. The stories run the gamut from true noir to classic mystery to a touch of humor and a pinch of the supernatural. With writers like James Lee Burke, John Grisham, Charlaine Harris, Ace Atkins, Tom Franklin,DenaJames, Les Standiford and so many more--the writing styles and contents are varied. That's what makes short story collections so fascinating to me. I asked each writer to do a story which included the blues and a crime element. Otherwise, it was wide open.

How did you come to edit it?

I met Benjamin LeRoy, the publisher, at a writers conference in Florida, and we hit it off. We talked a lot and came to realize our feelings about writing and publishing ran parallel. He'd published a very successful collection, CHICAGO BLUES, and he knew I had a series set in the Mississippi Delta (the Sarah Booth Delaney series) and he asked if I might be interested in editing a Mississippi version. I jumped at the chance, though I was a bit hesitant to put myself forward as an editor. But as we talked about the project, it was such a wonderful opportunity to work with writers I'd admired for such a long time and also to have some new voices. There are several debut authors in the collection.

How did Morgan Freeman get involved?

Mr. Freeman is very active in the Mississippi community. He's partners with Bill Luckett in several business enterprises in Clarksdale, the blues club among them. They do a lot of good things for the arts in the region. Ben and I both are deeply interested in supporting reading and writing, and the Mississippi Delta has some real problems in the area of literacy. We wanted to do something special as a book, and we wanted to involve the community. It was a long shot to ask Mr. Freeman to do the foreword to the book, but he agreed. And for each book sold, $1 will go to the Rock River Foundation, a non-profit that supports many good things in that region, including literacy. We're actually working with the Mississippi Writers Guild (the people in that organization worked hard to make all of this happen--very dedicated writers!) and Rock River to host a creative writing workshop next spring for high school students and adults. We had a writing contest this year, and the winner won a college scholarship (funded by the MWG) and a free pass to the MWG conference in Vicksburg in August.

Ben and Alison Janssen at Tyrus Books are very special people who see the circle of writing, reading, community very clearly. If we don't involve the young people in the act of creating and reading, we're not going to have an audience or new writers. I have to say this whole experience has just been tremendous.

How did the band come about?

Wow. I still can't believe we pulled it off. I had this crazy idea, since Mr. Freeman had agreed to do the foreword, that we should launch the book in Clarksdale. All of the contributors love the blues (or why else be in the book?) and several members are talented musicians. So even though we're scattered everywhere, I proposed the band idea, and everyone wanted to do it. We only had two practice sessions before we took the stage at the blues club, Ground Zero, but the stronger musicians carried the rest of us. We also had the advantage of Mike Utley on keyboard. Mike and his wife Fran are old friends, and when he agreed to play with the band, it was just incredible. We rocked that club!

 What was the most gratifying part of this project?

Holding the book! We all worked so hard to make this happen, and now it is real and I can pick it up and re-read the stories and think--these writers are so talented! And they trusted me with their stories. I'm still amazed. Each story is a gem. (Do I sound like some proud mama or what?) Every time I pick it up I just want to dance.


Anonymous said...

Wow. What a collection. Can't wait to check it out.

Carolyn said...

It was really a wonderful job to work with all of these writers.

Augusta Scattergood said...

I've actually read the book and it is terrific. Tremendous variety. Excellent writing. Really good stories.