Mississippi Writers and Musicians
MISSISSIPPI WRITERS: Melinda Haynes


Melinda Haynes Melinda Haynes from Mother of Pearl book flap. Photo by Ray Haynes.1955

Major Works

  • Mother of Pearl (1997)
  • Chalktown (2001)
  • Willem's Field 2003

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Biography of Melinda Haynes (2000)
By Catlin Connor (SHS)

Melinda Haynes was born in 1955 and grew up in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.. She was the daughter of a Baptist minister, who was the pastor of two small churches in Petal, Mississippi.  As a child, she had panic disorder that caused problems with school. The disorder caused Haynes to never complete high school (Mudge). She has suffered for years from agoraphobia (O'Briant). Melinda tells in an interview, "I would ride the bus to school at seven in the morning and get off and walk back home. At the end of the eleventh grade, I just couldn't handle it anymore" (Mudge). As a result, Haynes was tutored to receive a diploma, but never considered going to college. At the age of eighteen, she married another minister's son. She had three daughters, one after another (Veciana-Suarez). She felt that she was too young and that getting married was not the right thing to do.  However, she never admitted it until twenty years into the marriage. She was not proud of how her life was turning out, "I was living the definition of poor Southern: three daughters in diapers, no education, and no job."

She felt that it was time to do something and decided to study art. Her grandfather Opie Braswell taught Melinda the values and tones of light and color when she was little. He was a painter who focused on baptistry scenes and taught her how to see things with an artistic eye. A friend paid for her art studies and because she had a natural aptitude for it, she continued to broaden her talent at a local gallery. Melinda's ability in art, particularly in portraits, allowed her to support herself and her family with commissions. Her paintings and watercolors won both local and national awards. During this time, she was making roughly $6,000 per portrait.Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes

Although her paintings were quite successful, Haynes was having frequent panic attacks and no longer could deal with her clients.  Her life was getting a little too out of control. Her husband lost his job, and they were facing bankruptcy, plus their marriage was disintegrating.  In 1987 the bank foreclosed on her house (O'Briant). Everything Melinda did depended on pleasing some one else and she "crashed" as she herself has said (Mudge). Haynes attempted suicide by taking an overdose of antidepressants and ended up in the hospital (O'Briant).

After "the crash," Melinda started all over again. She converted to the Catholic Church. Although the news was hard on her father, she liked the independence she had never had before, so she broke away from her father, children (who are grown), and husband. Haynes also started a new line of work. She was the production manager for the Archdiocese of Mobile, Alabama's Newspaper, The Catholic Week (Mudge). While working there, she reached a real turning point. She was sent to Jamaica to cover relief organizations at work in Kingston. Her photos from the trip won Mobile Press Club's Award of excellence, and her essay was picked up and published by "Food for the Poor" (Finding Literary Voice). Also at her new work, she met her present husband, Ray, a co-worker and retired Marine captain and Vietnam veteran (O'Briant).

Melinda Haynes from BooksmithHaynes began to write short, fictitious stories. She first wrote "Strange Dirt." Her husband was the one who decided to send her two short stories to The Crescent Review, a literary journal. Eight weeks later, both pieces were accepted (Finding Literary Voice). From one short story came her present novel, Mother of Pearl. On how this came about, Haynes recalls, "I wrote the short story, and I fell in love with one of the characters. I didn't know if I could write, ut the story was so big. I thought I would just try and meet it half way" (Mudge). Again, her husband really encouraged Haynes' writing. He cleaned out a bedroom for her to work, screened her calls, and researched the best possibilities for a literary agent. Ray Haynes contacted Wendy Weil of Poets & Writers (Finding Literary Voices) to whom Haynes sent the first few pages of Mother of Pearl, and along with it, a letter asking for an exchange of trust if there was to be an exchange of funds as well as the information about her lack of formal education. She wanted everyone to know that she was who she was and did not try to hide anything. Within sixteen days, Weil called her back about Mother of Pearl (Mudge). Mother of Pearl was written in the fall of 1997. Six months later, the book was sold to Hyperion Press. In June of 1999, Mother of Pearl was available to the public in hardcover ("Art in Alabama"). In June, 1999,  her book was chosen as Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club Choice of the month (BookBrowse).

New to the writing scene, Haynes has only published (Editor's Note--as of 2000) two short stories and one novel. In Mother of Pearl, Melinda Haynes has put a little part of herself. She elaborates on her book, "The location is completely real, the visuality of it is real…The way Joleb Green (a main character in the book) feels about life is similar to what I felt:…Everything I was afraid of, I put in the book…" Two–thirds through writing her novel, Haynes started on a second, just to make sure it was not a "one time thing." She is still in shock by what has happened to her.

Melinda Haynes is now forty-four years old (in 2000) and is the mother of three daughters. She tries to keep life simple. She and her husband Ray enjoy fishing and riding motorcycles. She lives out in the country in a trailer with her husband near Grand Bay, Alabama. They also have a fishing camp out on the river. Haynes has no intention of changing, even with the promise of more money then she ever imagined. Some day though, she and her husband want to build a house and get out of the trailer because she doesn't like the thunderstorms in them. Haynes plans to keep writing and likes the fact that she does not have to worry about going out and getting a job (O'Briant). She is currently (2000) working on a second novel called Chalktown (Haynes).

UPDATE 2008: Haynes's second novel Chalktown was published in 2001. HerWillem's Field by Melinda Haynes third, Willem's Field, was published in 2003. Although she used to paint, she now writes full-time from her home in Mobile, Alabama. Her papers are available in The University of Southern Mississippi Libraries Special Collections.

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Timeline

1955- Melinda Haynes was born to a Baptist minister's family and lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi

         - Panic disorder started in seventh grade

1977- Stopped school in eleventh grade

1973- Married the son of a minister

1978- Had three daughters by twenty-three

        - Painted portraits for $5000 - $6000 each

1987- Bank foreclosed on her house,  husband lost job, marriage was failing

        - Attempted suicide with an overdose of antidepressants

        - Converted to Catholicism

        - Began working as production manager for "The Archdiocese of Mobile's Catholic Week

1993- Wrote article, Safe Distance, for The Catholic Week in Jamaica

1995- Married Ray Haynes, moved to Grand Bay, Alabama

1995-(six months after marriage) Began writing, wrote short story Strange Dirt

         - Two short stories published in The Crescent Review

1997-(fall) Finished writing Mother of PearlChalktown by Melinda Haynes

1997- Sent first pages of Mother of Pearl and a letter to Wendy Weil

1997- First printing of 10,000 copies

1999-(June) Mother of Pearl chosen for Oprah Winfrey's Book Club Choice of the month

1999- Forty-four years old 

1999- Lives in trailer with greyhound and husband, enjoys fishing and riding motorcycles, is currently working on second novel to be called Chalktown.

2001- Chalktown published by Hyperion.

2003- Willem's Field published.

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A Review of Mother of Pearl
by Catlin Connor (SHS)

I enjoyed author Melinda Haynes' novel Mother of Pearl . The opening lines are a little confusing in the way a reader is just thrown into the plot line and then left to wait for later explanation, but it proves to be a worthwhile read. Haynes's  use of verbose, clearly Southern dialogue tells a very entertaining tale.

Mother of Pearl, set in the 1950's in Petal and Hattiesburg, Mississippi, tells the stories of a number of characters who are all related by their friendship with the town soothsayer, Joody Two Son, a lady who lives in the woods by the river. Even Grade is an orphan in his late twenties who finds romance with Joody. Canaan is an old man, bitter from women , who keeps to his writings. Joleb Green is a sixteen year old boy who feels he has committed a sin because when he was born his mother had a stroke. Valuable Korner is a fifteen year old girl who has a great deal of problems:  her mother is the town whore, she is bearing child, and her life is all of a sudden changing. This is just a listing some of the characters.

The novel deals with friendship, family, finding oneself, and where they belong in one's life.   It is apparent that a lot of feeling and emotion is in Mother of Pearl, as well as a very intricate, interesting plot.

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Interview with Melinda Haynes (2000)
By Catlin Connor (SHS)

"What made you decide to start writing?"

Haynes: "I was driven to write [by] the intense desire to "find myself." I was never able to keep a journal because I felt it was too "personal." But through other characters, fictional characters, I can "act out" those painful parts of my childhood that never were properly dealt with.

Catlin Connor, SHS researcher"What do you feel is your inspiration for writing?"

Haynes: "My belief in the basic goodness of mankind is my inspiration. I feel like redemption is available through unlikely sources, and this goal: to present this concept through fiction."

"Do you plan on writing as a career for the rest of your life?"

Haynes: "I plan on writing as long as I hear the stories. I would hate to think that these novels are all that are inside of me."

"In an interview I read that you put a lot of yourself into Mother of Pearl, you also said that you are working on a second novel. Is there as much of "you" in the second novel as there was in your first?"

Haynes: "I believe Chalktown (new novel) actually has more of myself in it than Mother of Pearl. It's about a street in George County, Mississippi, where people communicate on chalkboards set up outside their houses. It's about losing your faith, and finding it again; the theme of redemption is again prominent and is brought about by the character Hezekiah, [who is] sixteen years old. The novel covers his walk to Chalktown while carrying his retarded brother on his back. I lost my faith years ago and am still in the process of finding it. This is the reason I feel more of myself is invested in this novel, than the first."

"I have noticed that themes of Mother of Pearl have a lot to do with family, mother - daughter relationships, or a lack of family. Is there a particular reason for this?"

Haynes: "Unfortunately, I have never had a close relationship with my parents or my siblings. I believe this is one reason I'm attracted to themes concerning relationships within the family. I seem to find more satisfaction outside the family circle."

"How do your children feel about your career in writing?"

Haynes: "My daughters (ages 25, 23, 21) are very proud of me. We have always been close and they feel like they are a part of the success of Mother of Pearl, and in my heart, I feel this too. They've always given me privacy and space while writing. I keep a sign on my front door that lets everyone know when I'm busy, and most people are good about leaving me alone during these sessions. Writing is very solitary, and quiet, and I have to work without distractions. Thankfully, I have people around me who understand."

"Do you plan on staying in Grand Bay?"

Haynes: "We are in the outskirts of Mobile, away from Grand Bay;  but yes, we plan on staying here for as long as we are able. We travel once a year to New York to take care of business,  and we have a fish camp on the Pascagoula River, for quiet getaways;  but we love it here and don't foresee moving."

Haynes: "One thing I'd like to add: I have an African Gray Parrot named Pearl. My husband, Ray, taught her the first sentence of the book, and I get a kick out of hearing her quote it. We have a retired greyhound named Elaine, but she seems reluctant to talk, right now at the moment. (just kidding)

* I have two novels I'd like to recommend: The Long Home, by William Gay, and The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. I believe that some day soon, both will be required reading in schools."

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Related Websites

Summary of Chalktown is found here.

Review of Chalktown in Bookreporter by Josette Kurey.

Alabama Bounds has excellent biography of Haynes.

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Bibliography

"Amazon.com: Buying Info: Mother of Pearl." [Online] Available
    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0786866276/davidframbes/104-7629503-3485266. April 5, 2000.

"Best Seller Reviews in Association with Amazon.com: Mother of Pearl by Melinda Haynes." [Online] Available
   http://www.bestsellerreviews.com/motherpear.html. April 12, 2000.

Hagler, Sheila. "Art in Alabama: Melinda Haynes Mother of Pearl author week 9." [Online]
    Available http://members.aol.com/BugSlapper/week9.htm. April 13, 2000.

Haynes, Melinda. Electronic Mail Interview to Catlin Connor.  May 6, 2000.

Haynes, Melinda. Melinda Haynes Discusses Finding Her Literary Voice. Press Release. New York: Hyperion. 1999.

Haynes, Melinda. Mother of Pearl. New York: Hyperion, June 1999.

"Melinda Haynes: Book Summary, Reviews, Author Biography." Book Browse 1998-2000. [Online] Available
    http://www.bookbrowse.com/fiction1/reviews/haynes_melinda.html. April 12, 2000.

Mudge, Alden. Interview. Pearls of Wisdom. Ed. Michael Zibart. ProMotion, Inc. 1999. [Online] Available
    http://www.bookpage.com/9906bp/melinda_haynes.html. June 1999.

O'Briant, Don. "A 'Pearl' at high tide." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. 5 Sept. 1999: K4.

Veciana-Suarez, Ana. "Attention changed 'tall woman's' life into a fairy tale." Miami Herald. 7 Nov. 1999.

Wilber, Alix. "Reviews Amazon.com: Melinda Haynes." [Online] Available
    http://www.allbookstores.com/books/motherofpearl.html. April 12, 2000.

"World Pages: People Search: Haynes, Melinda." [Online] Available. April 15, 2000.

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May 2000, Updated January 2010
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