Mystery writer Kathryn Miller Haines will be in Marion this week talking about and signing the six books she’s written since she was a youngster in Marion.
Haines, daughter of Stephen and Nancy Miller of Cedar Rapids, will be the featured speaker at the annual Friends of the Marion Public Library Author Dinner on Tuesday. A few tickets remain available for the event.
Now 42, Haines lives in Pittsburgh. She is creator of Rosie Winters, a scrappy, would-be actress who ends up solving mysteries in New York City during World War II. Rosie is featured in four entertaining novels published by HarperCollins.
Haines’ latest creation is Iris Anderson, a plucky 15 year old whose dad runs a detective agency in New York City, also during the war years. Iris wants to help her dad on cases; he won’t let her. You know who wins. Roaring Brook Press, a division of Macmillan, has published the two young adult titles.
Haines also is an actor and playwright, with two off-Broadway plays to her credit. She works full-time at the Center for American Music at the University of Pittsburgh. She’s a wife and mother. Presumably, she finds time to sleep.
“I take the bus to work and write on the bus,” Haines said. “I’ve become adept at balancing a laptop on my knees. I sometimes get a sitter for a few hours and escape to a Starbucks to write.”
Haines is an expert on the World War II home front, steeping her books in pop culture references. Characters deal with ration books and blackouts, listen to the radio and dance to popular songs. The women draw seams on the backs of their legs to simulate hosiery; the men enlist; the gangsters lurk. In the Rosie Winters’ books, the chapter titles are all taken from Broadway shows of the time.
“My mom raised me on a steady diet of movies from the ’30s and ’40s,” Haines says. “I loved the milieu and how women were depicted in that time period. And Dad was always interested in World War II history, so it was a time period I was very curious about.”
When it came time to name her fictional heroine, she thought of Rosalind Russell, a popular actress from that era, figuring Rosie was “a tough-talking-dame kind of name.”
Haines also made Rosie an aspiring actress “who’s very conflicted about what she does in the times she lives in. She feels superfluous, unimportant at times. When you’re going through World War II, when you’re doing theater, it’s hard to feel what you’re doing is worthwhile.”
Haines says she, too, has had her moments wondering about the value of writing fiction, particularly in the rapidly changing book publishing business.
“There are times when you just want to walk away,” she said. “But the writing keeps drawing me back. I never think of doing something else when I’m writing. It’s exactly what I should be doing at that moment.”