Saturday, June 27, 2009

Charlaine Harris's Vampire Empire

From The Wall Street Journal --

Charlaine Harris's Vampire Empire --

May 4, 2009 --

The author releases her latest book in the best-selling Sookie Stackhouse vampire series -- the inspiration behind HBO's hit show, 'True Blood'

In Charlaine Harris's new novel, "Dead and Gone," she again puts her good-natured, telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse in harm's way. That's saying a lot in a town where vampires, werewolves and other suspicious characters drink together at the same bar.

Vampires, at least those imagined by such writers as Stephenie Meyer, Laurell K. Hamilton, and Anne Rice, have emerged as one of the most popular genres in American fiction in recent years. Ms. Harris's Southern Gothic Sookie Stackhouse books have also been big sellers, boosted by the HBO series "True Blood" that debuted at last fall and had an average viewership of 2 million, according to Nielsen Co. A second season, which again stars Anna Paquin, is scheduled to start June 14. The show was created by Alan Ball, who wrote the screenplay for "American Beauty" and later served as executive producer for HBO's "Six Feet Under."

Ace Books, an imprint of Pearson Plc's Penguin Group (USA), says it has issued 400,000 copies of "Dead and Gone" -- and that there are more than 8 million copies of the nine-book Sookie Stackhouse series in print.

Ms. Harris, 57 years old, has written nearly 30 novels, including three other mystery series. She lives in Magnolia, Ark., where she says there aren't any supernatural creatures "that I know of."

The Wall Street Journal: What accounts for the fascination with vampires in this country?

Charlaine Harris: America is obsessed with youth. We all want to look young forever, and vampires do. They are caught in their prime, if that's when they've been turned. And they'll be that way forever.

WSJ: How did the HBO "True Blood" series come about?

Ms. Harris: Somebody had an earlier option on the Sookie books, but it didn't come to anything. Most writers go through this once or twice in their careers. When that option expired, I had three more offers. One was from Alan Ball, who convinced me that he understood what I was doing with the books. If I wanted the spirits of the books represented as I'd written them, he said, his was the offer I should take. And I've been so happy with the choices he has made.

WSJ: Do you have any input in the show?

Ms. Harris: No, I'm on the sidelines, and I'm happy to be there. I have plenty to do. He doesn't tell me how to write my books, and I don't tell him how to run his series.

WSJ: What did you make of the show's racy material?

Ms. Harris: The sex scenes startled me very much. There are sex scenes in the book, but not as many as in the show. The books are all written in the first person, so when Sookie's brother leaves a scene [for a romantic encounter], you don't see what goes on. But you do with the show, and that took some getting used to at first.

WSJ: How did people you know react?

Ms. Harris: I live in a really conservative town. I thought, oh my gosh, people will just hate the series because it shows so much skin. But so far, so good. They don't seem to be objecting too much. Or if they do, they are too polite to tell me about it, which I really appreciate.

WSJ: Did your life change after Sookie became a hit on TV?

Ms. Harris: Yes, my sales have become incredible. That's been the biggest change -- I have a lot more money. Of course with being better known comes some problems, too. On occasion a yo-yo person approaches you and wants to be your best friend. They feel they already know you because they've read your work. It's part of becoming well-known in America. It's been more puzzling and bewildering than frightening. I'm a middle-class former housewife who goes to my daughter's softball games.

WSJ: You were born in Tunica, Miss. How did your Southern heritage affect your writing style?

Ms. Harris: I'm very much a product of my raising and the place I was born. It's had a complete influence on my work, especially in the topics I write about. I almost never set my books in cities because I like the small-town setting. And I almost always have Southern characters. I try not to write in dialect because it looks condescending. But I retain the Southern speech pattern, in which people change their verb tenses sometimes, or tend to add extra words to their sentences. And they tend to elaborate on things a little more.

“The closer I got to the vampire bar, the more my pulse picked up. This was the downside to the blood bond I had with Eric Northman.” Read an excerpt from "Dead and Gone"

WSJ: You set the Sookie Stackhouse series in Bon Temps, La. Did you think that the South's conservative, religious heritage would sharpen the drama?

Ms. Harris: That was one of the reasons I set it where I did.

WSJ: Sookie preaches an unwavering message of diversity. Were you having a little fun with political correctness?

Ms. Harris: Yes, humor is my way of dealing with the unpleasant parts of the world, I guess. I amuse myself very much with my own books.

WSJ: Are there any Southern writers who inspired or motivated you?

Ms. Harris: I don't really trust the word inspiration but there have been some wonderful Southern writers I admired. Truman Capote was a great writer. Margaret Maron is a very successful and revered mystery writer. Joan Hess, who lives in Arkansas, is a sardonic writer I admire very much. And James Lee Burke is fantastic.

WSJ: What is the appeal of genre fiction, is it that we take comfort in the familiar?

Ms. Harris: I think we enjoy seeing the familiar become unfamiliar. Also, it's an escape, which people need, especially now. They need to get away from the very real troubles and confusions of everyday life and they need to escape to a place where justice triumphs.

WSJ: You've written a numbers of series over your career. Are you thinking of ending this one, and starting something new?

Ms. Harris: I'm still entertained by Sookie. It's not so much the writing that is exhausting as everything else. I do three interviews a week. I get back copy-edited manuscripts that I need to reread. I stop by my Web site every day. There is always some task waiting to be accomplished.

Write to Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg at

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