W. Randy Haynes

W. Randy Haynes
Cajun Snuff

Interviewed by: Lauretta Pierce
February 22, 2007

Q.    Who is W. Randy Haynes?

A.    Iím a seventh generation Texan with rural roots, a Scottish-Irish-English-Cherokee. I feel a deep spiritual connection to this wonderful land we call America and want to protect it -- both the ecosystem and our idealized values of justice and equality. I grew up in a family that took me to a bible based church three times a week until I was eighteen. Ironically, it was my motherís progressive instincts, the same woman who dragged me to church each week along with my minority sexual orientation, that allowed me to open up to a much larger and wonderful world. I guess you could say that Iím an eternal questioner who aspires toward empathy and compassion then questions why I canít attain them.

Q.    What inspired you to write the novel Cajun Snuff?

A.    I was blissfully unaware that I had a special talent for writing and storytelling in written form. In my high school English class I remember getting assignments to write short stories or poems, and I would break out in a sweat of fear. I was clueless. Itís taken decades of life experience for me to gain my voice, to feel I have something to say.

While living in Lake Tahoe, I founded a Unitarian Universalist congregation and was forced to do a lot of writing. Several of my friends told me I should be a professional writer. The idea was new to me, so after breaking my arm one winter skiing, I had plenty of time on my hands and decided to write. At first it was just something crazy to do to beat the boredom, and then I really got into it as my confidence grew.

Q.    How did you come about the title?

A.    The working title was Death on the Spectral Cross. I still love the poetic overtones of that title, but decided that the symbolic meanings, important to me as an author, would be too obscure for the reader and, therefore, misleading. A writer friend suggested that I make the title short but convey the meaning of the book so that the buyer understands exactly what they are getting. The word Cajun sets the locale and cultural landscape, while Snuff is a mystery genre term for murder. Snuff can also refer to a form of tobacco, a dark, strong intoxicant that works its spell then gets spit out as filth -- a metaphor in many ways to Reverend Maurice Jonesí life and his murder.

Q.    How did you come about the idea to choose Louisiana as the setting for the story?

A.    I had an old Army buddy who used to live there, and on my frequent visits I fell in love with the Cajun people. They have such a joyful and positive outlook on life with little time for negativity. My friend later moved to New Orleans, where I was able to experience that unique city and the vibrant people who lived there. I thought the foreboding swamp landscape juxtaposed with the joyful Cajun culture created an interesting contrast. Also, I hoped the gumbo mixture of Southern, Cajun, and Creole mores, along with the notorious corrupt politics Louisiana is known for, would spawn some interesting clashes. I love contrasts.

Q.    How did you come about the idea for the story?

A.    Iíve always loved all the things your mother tells you not to talk about in polite company: politics, religion, sex, questioning customs and authorities. While I wanted to write a traditional mystery, I also wanted to go beyond the usual form by bringing in controversial subjects, the taboo, but not in an offensive way. Iíve always been told to write what you know, and I know the American South. Swampy Louisiana with its history of corrupt politics, racism, religion and cultural diversity seemed to be the perfect place for a murder. I wanted the hero to be an FBI agent since that was my dream occupation when I was a small boy, my way of going back and creating that dream. And since the image of the Bureau has been so tarnished in recent decades, it was another area for tension and conflict, something vital to a good novel. It was fun tackling many subjects that look typical on the surface then giving them a twist.

Q.    How did you come about Adamís character?

A.    As a little boy growing up in rural Texas in the 1950s-60s, there was no such thing as a gay role model of any kind and certainly no gay heroes. Regarding heroes, little to nothing has changed in all these years. I made Adam bi-sexual so he could be a hero to anyone, including young gay people who need positive people to emulate. I didnít want to write a gay book, however, or to be preachy, so the book isnít about his sexuality, except as it relates to the plot. Itís about his values, his unique world view, including his Native American spirituality. I also wanted to include others whoíve been left out of hero roles, so Verda Hamilton comes along -- an overweight black woman with an attitude. So fundamentally, the bookís about who are allowed to be seen as heroes in America today and the difficulties they face from the guardians of tradition.

Q.    Why did Dorthea give Dontelle the insurance money?

A.    Faith. Dorthea is, in some ways, a typical older, black woman from the South. Her life revolves around the church, a sanctuary from the harshness that surrounds her and the many wounds and disappointments she has persevered through. Raped as a child, abused by her husband, discounted by white society, laughed at by the ladies in her community -- she goes on with a strength few of us could muster. Itís her faith that carries her forward. Dontelle was a test of that faith. She had every reason not to trust the guy, yet, her faith wouldnít allow her to be so jaded. She rose above her bitterness and allowed the possibility that Dontelleís conversion was a genuine work of God, a true salvation. By giving him the money, she showed her God, and the world, that she hadnít been beaten.

Q.    How long have you been writing?

A.    I had to do a lot of writing in the military, technical writing -- volumes of Standard Operation Procedures. Later, in Tahoe I wrote sermons for three or four years, and then it took me five years to write Cajun Snuff. I would get frustrated then put it down for months at a time, but the characters would always call me back. In the end, itís their story.

Q.    Are you currently working on another novel?

A.    Iíve almost completed the Cajun Snuff sequel, Murder by the Sacred Tree. Adam moves to Sacramento and gets involved in a series of mass murders that has the whole state in terror. Of course, some of the characters from Cajun Snuff carry over. Iím also working on a comedic novel, Fairy, Texas. Itís about a small town in Texas settled by Celts in the 1800s. Their descendants turn out to be an eccentric and dysfunctional bunch -- totally over-the-top as only Texans can do. Weíve always been a peculiar people.

Q.    What message would you like readers to receive from reading Cajun Snuff?

A.    That anyone can be a hero, and that everyone deserves to have a hero.