Lise Haines doesn’t read scary stories – but she likes to write them. Take, for instance, her latest book, Book of Knives, that takes place in the ever-creepy setting of an old campground.
“I decided to embrace tropes instead of run from them,” said Haines, Writing, Literature and Publishing senior writer-in-residence, about her fifth novel. “There’s just so much material out there that I wanted to not worry about whether I was doing something that had already been done in that setting. But I thought the particular angle of someone who has a set of novelty knives was intriguing.”
The knives were created by the family cook’s father, and were made specifically for her. The knives go missing, and are then discovered in disturbing ways in the literary ghost novel.
“One morning the family wakes up, goes downstairs, and all of the chickens have been decapitated,” said Haines. “The first question is, who did this? There’s a sense of fear of what are they going to do to us if that’s what they did with the chickens.”
Now for the tropes: the characters are in the middle of nowhere; family members don’t all get along; a little girl is a sleepwalker; and there’s a little boy who sets ants on fire.
Haines said she, personally, has had some ethereal experiences through the years.
“When I was 17, I lost my mom, and a day or two after she died, I heard her singing to me when I was out walking,” said Haines. “I think that a lot of people have those kinds of experiences, and it’s easy to write it off and say you were in a sad state or a state of trauma. Or we can say there’s a lot of people who believe in ghosts or spirits of some type.”
And while scary stories often have confessions, Haines has one, too.
“I don’t watch scary movies. And for the most part I don’t read scary books. I get too scared,” said Haines. “Somehow it’s easier to write it, then view it, or read it.”
Haines does appreciate some of the more famous macabre stories such as Frankenstein, The Haunting of Hill House, Kafka’s The Trial, The Tell-Tale Heart, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
In Book of Knives, the story is told through one character’s points of view. Haines said she regularly uses a first-person point of view to tell stories.
“I think it gets at something about consciousness and the idea that we live on this planet with all of our thoughts and fears and desires,” said Haines. “It’s all channeled through this one human being. I like the idea that you can really get inside someone — almost living with their thoughts. I definitely love reading third person, but first person is what I’m drawn to.”
Haines speaks with her students about finding their own writing styles when she teaches introduction/intermediate/advanced fiction workshops, and works to hone their theses in classes such as the undergrad course Novel Starts.
“A lot of undergraduates are working on longer works,” said Haines. “I absolutely love the students. This is not an easy time to teach because of the pandemic. So much has changed in colleges. But we manage to draw an incredibly creative group of people, who are so keen on making their work the best it can be. So that’s a thrill.”
Speaking of the bigger picture, Haines added that the notion of knives runs a lot deeper than just a simple blade in hand.
“Knives are present from cutting the umbilical cord to the rending of cloth at a funeral,” said Haines. “They’re essentially a survival tool, of course. But in this case, the family cook has a set of novelty knives. The reader knows something has to happen to them.”