EFW: Thank you for coming over, darling. Rufus has been pining for Rome and been a bit under the weather. Let’s go in the cat-free room, shall we? We can talk a little bit and then have lunch. Would you like a little aperitif?
CH: Eugene, the last time you offered aperitifs to me at lunch I ended up drunk and drooling on my knees. But a small glass of port would be lovely. After all, it is Mobile, the county seat of sweet lunacy. How can I decline?
EFW: I’m a triple Sagittarius . . . and so happy to be so . . . Sun, Moon, Ascendant. And what are you? I was born in 1521 – but I’m a different age every day – so why not transcend time and space; I understand you’re fond of ghosts. What sign are you?
CH: I’m a Taurus through and through. From my hard head to me flat feet. And I have the ability to see ghosts. Not all the time, mind you, but enough to tell you I have a solid heart or else I’d have felt the big one.
EFW: When you first wrote Touched, I heard you fell into a coma and channeled the book, as told to you by a spirit who’d lived in 1926. Is that true?
CH: It was the strangest event. I had the opening in my head. Young Mattie has made taffy for a birthday party and she starts out in her long, ugly dress in the hot sun. The taffy begins to melt…and suddenly, I was no longer conscious of sitting at the computer writing. I saw the whole book unfold as this feminine voice told me the story, word for word. I merely transcribed. It was extraordinary!
EFW: Were you offered a book contract at a New York launch party by a publisher who overheard you telling an off-color story about a Semmes cowboy?
CH: I can neither confirm nor deny that story. I can only tell you the drinks were stiff and I had a bevy of women in little black dresses impressed with the wit and accomplishments of our native Semmes cowboys. The New Yorkers were enthralled with tales of lingerie parties on horseback. I did distribute several phone numbers, and I heard there was a special shuttle from Georgetown to Kennedy airport.
EFW: I do want to compliment you on having published over 70 books in various genres. Do you have a favorite book? A favorite character?
CH: I write in a lot of genres, as you noted—and encouraged me to do. I took a page from your book, Eugene, and decided not to be pushed into a pigeonhole. I write the stories I love. Sarah Booth Delaney, my sleuth, is great fun to write, but I also love the darker tales. I love giving people a good chill. It’s part of my heritage, I suppose. My grandmother and mother were terrific storytellers and the ghost story was their favorite.
EFW: As you know, I love cats—dear Rufus and Fanny Dryer and all the others. How many cats do you have? I heard you sleep with a black cat on your head to encourage dark thoughts.
CH: I have nine cats, one for each day and three for Sunday. Coal Shaft, my black kitty, has the magical ability to clear my subconscious. When he sleeps on my head, my brain is free to venture into dark places. But of course, I could be lying. The subconscious is a tricky place, and I am a professional liar.
EFW: Just yesterday I heard somewhat say what a great teacher you are. You are the Fiction Coordinator at the University of South Alabama, right? What is your approach to teaching fiction?
CH: While the art and craft of writing is vitally important, of equal importance is understanding the business side of publishing and making contacts. I’ve worked with almost every major house in New York for the past three decades. I’ve also stepped into the world of e-publishing, because it is the future. I try to teach my students to sculpt fascinating characters with a forward moving story, all bundled together with their own, wonderful style.
EFW: I appreciate your writing Moments With Eugene. I think you captured me lovingly in one of my reincarnations. It’s one my favorite things ever written about me. And I love your cookbook. What a wonderful thing you did to found the Good Fortune Farm Refuge – a 501c3 organization that offers basic vet care to low-income families through a Banfield Charitable Trust grant. Do you think there is a special place in heaven just for cats?
CH: I believe cats rule Heaven. The Egyptians got it right. And we can’t mention Moments with Eugene without Rebecca Barrett, who co-authored the book. As to the cookbook, Bone-a-fied Delicious, Recipes from Zinnia’s Finest Chefs, you know I had to include some of your recipes too. No cookbook with a focus on the South would be complete without several Eugene Walter recipes.
EFW: It pleases me that you are on the advisory council for Negative Capability Press / Journal. I was on the Board of that journal since I returned to Mobile until my most recent demise.
CH: I’m incredibly flattered to be included on the advisory board. For decades, Sue Brannan Walker has published the most incredible voices in poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. We have big plans ahead for future issues. I’d be willing to serve as your scribe, Eugene, if you wanted to channel a story or poem to me. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of you. You are greatly missed by your friends, sir.