Friday, January 29, 2010

Interview with Charlaine Harris

From Metro Spirit (Augusta, GA) --

Vampire mastermind --

Issue #21.26 :: 01/20/2010 - 01/26/2010 --

Author Charlaine Harris talks about the inspiration behind Sookie Stackhouse and the Southern Vampire Mysteries

AUGUSTA, GA – Charlaine Harris counts herself as lucky. But patient might be closer to the truth.

It’s true that she got her start by taking a college creative writing class from a former editor at Houghton Mifflin, who obviously had the connections to get Harris’ work reviewed by the right people. And that part might have been luck.

But “Sweet & Deadly,” her first book — which she finished as a member of that writing class — was published in 1981. So for 29 years, she’s paid her dues, putting out a lot more than luck.

Harris has published four books in the series about grave-finder Harper Connelly, eight that focus on librarian-detective Aurora Teagarden, and five with crime-solver Lily Bard.

It’s her most recent protagonist in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of books detailing Louisiana barmaid Sookie Stackhouse’s adventures with the supernatural, which has made her nearly a household name. But even that series is almost 10 years old — and despite its current popularity, it wasn’t easy.

“My agent was against it at first,” Harris said. But she was determined to move toward darker fare, the usual realm of male writers.

“I was really tired of people who write amusing things just not getting the respect that people who write darker do — when really they’re both as challenging,” she said. “I just decided to see if I could do it. I think it worked out OK.”

The twist is that Harris didn’t see vampires as inherently dark.

“I thought, ‘Well, what if they’re funny?’” she asked herself.

It took two years for her agent to sell the books.

“It got turned down again and again,” she said, followed with a triumphant but good-natured cackle.

Even after the books caught on with readers, the road to “True Blood,” the HBO television series that focuses on her vampire mysteries, was a long one.

“You know, my books were on the New York Times bestseller list before the show, so I think I would have been fine,” she deadpanned, with the wry humor that characterizes her series.

But they were so popular that she had four offers from television producers. One optioned the rights, but didn’t bring it to fruition. Two were solid offers. But a fourth was from Alan Ball, the mind behind “Six Feet Under,” who wanted to work with HBO again. Ball was looking for a new project. HBO no longer had “The Sopranos” or Ball’s previous series to carry it. They wanted Ball, and Ball wanted “True Blood.”

“You know, it was Alan Ball,” Harris said, stressing his name with all of the gravitas one can muster for a producer who is both critically and popularly acclaimed. “He understood what the books were about, a mixture of extremes: humor, violence, awakenings.”

He was also polite, considerate and believed in putting out the best product.

“When I was out there, I met a lot of jerks,” Harris said, with her characteristic good humor. But everyone who works with Ball, she said, loves him. And that made Ball the most attractive creative partner.

And yet, because so many optioned books never make it to a screen — small or silver — Harris didn’t allow herself to get excited as casting began and scripts progressed. Then, shortly after shooting began, the writer’s strike happened. But the series progressed when it was able, and Ball sent her the opening credits.

“I thought, ‘Oh, my god, I’m going to have to move,’” Harris laughed. “It was so extreme.”

It was also more explicit. While the books spend an awful lot of enjoyable time on the sex lives of its characters, Harris bristles slightly at a complaint about Sookie’s dry spell in Book 8.

After all, she isn’t a romance writer.

“If it doesn’t work naturally in the story line, it’s not going to be in the books,” she said.

Yet the TV series is different. A number of the stars have had some very sexy nude scenes, along with takes that frequently require actor Ryan Kwanten, who plays Jason Stackhouse, to sit around with his shirt off. Pity the ladies. But no one is complaining — in fact, one Metro Spirit reader sent in a request that Harris consider an all-nude episode. Harris referred the reader to Ball for that request.

“There’s a lot of ‘hottitude,’” Harris said, on the set of the show. “But they’re just all so hard-working, and they’re just people. They all have cell phones and sit and text between takes.”

And the show is only on its third season. The characters have plenty of sexy stories left to tell, and Harris has plenty of books left to write. She plans 13, in all, of the Sookie chronicles, and will decide after book 11 whether to continue the universe by spinning off and exploring one of the other characters.

“I’ll know by then if I’m ready to head towards the stable with Sookie or not,” Harris said. “I’ve loved writing her adventures, but I don’t want it to get stale.”

Author Charlaine Harris
Columbia County Library
Saturday, January 23
Doors, 6:30 p.m.; program, 7 p.m.


Author Charlaine Harris answers questions from Metro Spirit readers

By Stacey Hudson

Author Charlaine Harris gets a lot of questions about her work — and I mean a lot. So here are some answers — compiled from our interview, and from previously available interviews — to the most frequently asked questions Metro Spirit readers sent in!

Is the Sookie Stackhouse series complete?
No, but Harris doesn’t know how many there will be.

How involved is Harris in the “True Blood” television series? Does she like it?
Not very involved, and she loves it all — including the changes that have been made.

Will Sookie ever become a vampire? Will she have a vampire baby? How will the series end?
No, no and she’s not telling.

Will Harris write more of her other series?
There will be no future Lily Bard books, but perhaps Aurora Teagarden will return. However, Harris’ time is currently absorbed by her many Sookie-related projects.

Write faster! Write what I want you to!
Harris writes at the pace — and on the plotlines — that produce her quality of work.

I need more Sookie!
While waiting for the next book in the series, read the following short stories: “Fairy Dust” from the anthology “Powers of Detection”; “Dancers in the Dark,” from the anthology “Night’s Edge”; “One Word Answer,” from the “Bite” Anthology; and “Dracula Night,” from the anthology “Many Blood Returns.”

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