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Hey Boys and Girls, I can’t contain my joy at featuring our first ever author interview By popular demand, the Temple Acolytes unanimously requested a chat with Charlaine Harris, author of the fabulous, fun and frightening Southern Vampires series. Ms. Harris was delightful, gracious and funny as we talked about the latest Sookie Stackhouse story, From Dead to Worse (Spoilers, ahoy! Click here for our review) and Sookie’s upcoming Hollywood adventures with the HBO series, True Blood, the adaptation of the Southern Vampires series by American Beauty and Six Feet Under producer, Alan Ball. Sit in to read Sookie’s mom speak with refreshing down-home honesty and common sense about the pressures of maintaining a successful book series, keeping Sookie sweet, blogging and whether or not sex really is a required component in a vampire novel.

Dig it!

 

Charlaine Harris

 

Mighty Ganesha:  Ms. Harris, thank you so much for chatting with us. We’re so honoured you agreed to be our first author interview. We are such fans of the Southern Vampire series.

Charlaine Harris: Oh, I’m so glad to hear that!

 

MG: From Dead to Worse is an exciting and transitional book, yet Sookie maintains the same lovely character and good-natured personality. How are you able to write Sookie’s progression through some frightening adventures without turning her into a hard or crazy character or making the changes in her too radical?

CH:  I’m just trying very resolutely to keep her character the same. Of course, she’s gonna change some. Anybody will under the stresses and strains she’s had; but I’m trying to keep her true to herself. I don’t think she would change that radically.

 

MG: That’s interesting because I felt in the previous book, All Together Dead, there were a lot of radical changes in her, that this was a harder Sookie.

CH:  Well, she’s definitely toughening up. She would have to. I mean she wouldn’t be human, which she really, really is, if she didn’t toughen up some in reaction to what’s going on around her.

 

MG: Her ability to keep humanity in the face of all she sees is amazing. Let’s face it, some of Sookie’s experiences would have sent anyone else to the loony bin.

CH:  She’s already had so many pushes and pulls on her sanity that she’s very strong.

 

MG: One of the most fascinating aspects in From Dead to Worse is the motif of family because despite everything, Sookie is a lonely character…

CH:  She is.

 

MG: … But in this book you’ve given her a lot of family. I wondered what it was that made you feel like giving her some new relatives and then for them to be gifted as they are at this point?

CH:  I have, but not quite the family she would’ve liked to have had, but you know, she’s really good at dealing with what’s dealt out to her. I just couldn’t see her getting a regular family. She just… That’s just not in the cards for her. Her regular family is gone. And she’s gonna have to learn why she became the way she was - the way she is - by getting to know this new family. And she’s formed sort of an artificial family, too, with Amelia and Sam as its core.

 

MG: It is nice to read the support she gets from her surrogate family, but I thought the betrayal by her brother, Jason was heartbreaking.

CH:  You know he’s always been a bad boy. He just became a really bad boy. He just let his inner selfishness show through. I mean he let her carry the weight for him and really showed that he doesn’t have the strength that she does.

 

MG: I think it’s a big moment in Sookie’s evolution when she purposely chooses not to tell Jason about their new Great-Grandfather, Niall. Was that choice something you had to think hard about? Here’s Sookie really making a grown-up decision. That moment for me hinges on the person she is versus the person she’s becoming.

CH: I think you’re absolutely right. She made a very adult, independent decision to support one side of her family as opposed to the other, because she knows her brother’s character. She knows that he wouldn’t keep it a secret - that he would try to gain some advantage from having this amazing Great-Grandfather. And truthfully, this Great-Grandfather cares nothing for him and there are good reasons for that that you haven’t found out, yet.

 

MG: This interview is going to kill me!

CH:  {Laughs}

 

MG: The action sequences, particularly the werewolf war are the finest action scenes I’ve read in the Southern Vampire series. What inspired you to write such an action-packed chapter?

CH:  Oh, I just loved writing that. I think maybe part of my thinking was there’s no sex in the book, so there needs to be other action. {Laughs} If there’s no action between the sheets, there needs to be action elsewhere.

 

MG: Although I love of the sexual tension between Sookie and various gentlemen, I enjoyed the non-horizontal action so much this time that I didn’t really miss it.

CH:  I’ve had readers who said, ‘There isn’t any sex in the book,’ I said, “There’s not always gonna be sex in them.” If it’s not pertinent to the plot, that’s just not me. But there will be in the next book! {Laughs} I’m just letting you know. {Laughs}

 

MG: What was it about Sookie and the Southern Vampire series that made you hang in for the two years that the story was passed over before she was finally published?

CH:  I just, you know, after so many years of working – and successfully working in the sense that I was published though not making a lot of money. But really when you consider all the people who never get published, I was in a good position, you know, not according to me, but in worldly terms. I just knew that this was the best thing that I had written. I just knew it, I knew that if I could get this book in front of people that they would like it and I had a lot of confidence in that book. And really, I never worry about it that much. I just thought, ‘Well, somebody’ll take it. It’ll be okay.’ And it was.

 

MG: When you created Sookie, did her story originally have a beginning, middle and end or did you always plan for it to be an ongoing, episodic series?

CH:  I had always planned to make it an ongoing, episodic series. In fact, this book, From Dead to Worse, is really episodic. The next book will have more of an over-arcing story behind it. But there were several things I needed to get out of the way in this book and several plotlines I needed to tie up. So, the book became probably three chunks instead of one book, but that was just what I had to do for Sookie this time. I began thinking I would write a series, but I had no idea it would last this long and it’s been a lot of fun. Really it hasn’t stopped being fun.

 

MG: I wondered what kept the stories coming and it sounds like it’s your interest in where you can take the character?

CH:  Yes and there’s just so much more story to tell. You know, we’ve just been two years since {indecipherable}, look at all that’s happened, God.

 

MG: And Sookie’s only been out of Louisiana I think, twice?

CH:  I know! She went once to Dallas and once to Rhodes. And then this next book she’ll be at home, too.

 

MG: I’m interested in how you space your books? The Southern Vampire Series, the Harper Connelly series, Aurora Teagarden and your other series and how do you keep the characters from bleeding into each other?

CH:  Well, the Aurora series and the Lily Bard series are pretty much on hiatus. I haven’t written one of those in quite some time. I’m only actively working on the Sookie series and the Harper Connelly’s. And for three years I wrote two of those a year, which was just … awful. So, this past year I have not written a Harper Connelly this year. I wrote instead of the Harper, I wrote two short stories and a novella.

But as soon as I finish the Sookie I’m working on now, I will most likely write a Harper. The fourth and possibly the final… but maybe not! It depends on how I feel. I’m just in a very good position now and I can pretty much pick what I wanna do, which is you know, a real luxury.

 

MG: That’s something I wondered about in terms of working with the publisher. Are you hired for x amount of Sookie books, x amount of Harper Connelly’s, etc.?

CH:  Yes.

 

MG: Are the deadlines set for you?

CH:  Yes, they have to get the book to press, so it has to be turned in at a certain time.

 

MG: Is that tough?

CH:  Well, you know it’s always tough, because you never really wanna give up on a book. I always think I could fiddle with this a little more. But after years of doing it, I’ve become pretty used to working that way.

 

MG: When you began From Dead to Worse did you consciously say, ‘Well I did this, this and this in the last book and I won’t do that here”? Was there a conscious paring down of some of the ideas in All Together Dead?

CH:  Well, All Together Dead was such a big book. I mean, it had a very large cast of characters, a lot of them were unfamiliar, or almost unfamiliar and had to be described in full. A lot of the action was on unfamiliar territory. That called for a lot of description. And it was also a very violent book, so that was different, too. It was pretty much about her relationship with Quinn, which has come to an apparent end, or at least is also on hiatus.

 

MG: On hiatus?

CH: {Laughs} They’re on hiatus. It was just a book with a very serious subject matter and this next book, I hope, well, it’s also got a very serious topic and I’m trying to lighten it up a little bit, cause I’m getting the usual, ‘Oh, your books are getting darker,’ Well, yeah! There’s no two ways around that. Sookie’s getting more and more embroiled in more and more trouble and they’re going to get a little darker.

 

MG: There seem to be traps around every corner in this book. I felt suspicious of everybody in it. Why did he do that? What is she going in Sookie’s room for?

CH:  (Laughs} I get a lot of that. I get suspected of a lot of things. People think I’m much deeper than I actually am.

 

MG: How affected are you by publishing trends in the vampire genre? Do you ever get pressured by your publisher or editor to sex Sookie up more, or make her more edgy, or have her whip out some high-tech gun?

CH: Oh, never on the technology, because that’s just not what she’s about. Umm... no, the most my editor has said is, “You know, it would be nice if Sookie had sex sometime soon.” Not necessarily in this book, but sometime later because people seem to enjoy that.

 

MG: Sookie/Eric shower scene! I will say no more.

CH:   Really, I do read other writers in the urban fantasy genre, though actually, I write rural fantasy. There’s a difference. I do read other writers, but as far as following a trend I think that, you know, I’m ahead of that, so I don’t really worry about it. I think it’s inevitable that there are gonna be some similarities if you’re dealing with the same topic and cast of supernatural characters.

 

MG: Was the intent always to bring in more and more “supes” as the series went on? We started off with mainly just the vampires, then we got the weres, then we got the faeries, and then we had the aliens!

CH:  You know, it just kept snowballing! {Laughs} I kept thinking, ‘Oh my God, is anybody gonna swallow this?’ Because I’m just having a great time, and they said, “Oh okay, bodyguards from outer space? All right!” {Laughs}

 

MG: How important is your editor in your process? I know some authors seem to pride themselves on not having one.

CH:  My editor is Ginjer Buchanan with Ace, who is pretty revered. She’s been in the business a long, long time. Ginjer is pretty much a live-and-let-live editor. She doesn’t give me a lot of advice; she does give me some good tips when she edits the books and says, “Oh, this isn’t gonna work because,” or, “You’ve already mentioned enough backgrounds, you don’t need to keep giving.” And that’s the hardest part of having come this far in the series is knowing how much backstory to try to work in or whether to give up and say, you know, “Sink or swim, reader!” {Laughs}

 

MG: Is there a title for the next book?

CH:  It’s under debate. You know I used to be able to just say, “Oh, I think this should be the title,” and they’d say, “Oh, okay.” But now, you know, a committee has to talk about it.

 

MG: Was it you who used to come with the titles?

CH:  Well, for the most part, from my agent and friends, but now it’s more big business, now.

 

Is there a title you particularly like?

CH:  I’m calling it; my working title is A Drink with the Dead, but I’m almost certain that will not end up being the title.

 

MG: I must ask about True Blood!

CH:  Oh, sure!

 

MG: We’re extremely excited about it. I believe it premieres in September?

CH:  September 7th.

 

MG: Have you seen a finished episode, yet?

CH:  No, I haven’t seen a finished episode. I’ve seen clips and heard some of the music and I’ve seen the credits, and you know I’m thinking I might have to move….

 

MG: What does that mean?

CH:  Oh, well, it has some pretty disturbing images, but after all, this is HBO! I spent a day on the set and it was just fabulous. I talked to some of the actors – Anna Paquin wasn’t there that day, unfortunately – but I talked to some of the actors, the guy who plays Sam and the guy who plays Jason and Andy and Terry Bellefleur. So that was really fun for me, it was like a little weird vacation. And I filmed an interview; you know they run that “The Making-Of" show. So they interviewed me talking about how wonderful Alan (Ball, producer) was, and they filmed Alan talking about how wonderful I am, then they filmed both of us talking about how wonderful we both are - you get the idea. If Alan can sit here and talk about how wonderful I am for another hour, I guess I can, too, so we did.

 

MG: What was it like to have somebody reinterpret your baby? Did you have any input?

CH:  Not really, no. But I went with the best, so I wouldn’t expect to. I had several offers at the time, so I was able to choose - which was a tremendous luxury - and I chose the man with the talent. Not that the others didn’t, but I just knew he was a known quantity and a winner. And I just knew he understood what I was doing with the books.

 

MG: Just looking at some of the pictures of the cast, it seems like the characters seem younger than they are described in your books.

CH:  Younger, no shit, yes!

 

MG: I wondered if you knew if that was intentional, because it seems like the audience for vampire fiction and urban fantasy is skewing downward toward the teenage market.

CH:  Yes, and I’m sure Alan thought about that very long and hard during the casting. For example, Terry Bellefleur is now a veteran of the Iraq War, not the Vietnam War. But you know… But they want young people; well for one thing, I guess young actors are more likely to be unknown. But I think they are skewing the show younger, which is okay. I mean, Sookie is just 25 when the books start and the characters are congruent with that.

 

MG: In terms of your writing, are you conscious that younger folks are reading it and does that ever affect how graphic you are with a violent scene? Or with the next book, how careful you are writing your sex scenes?

CH:  It makes a difference. When I first realised I had teenage readers, it scared me to death. It really did because I thought, ‘Oh, what responsibility do I have? I’ve got teenagers of my own!’ And I thought, ‘What am I supposed to do? Do I have to describe them opening a condom every time?’ This was a big debate in the mystery world for a long time. How obliged are we to say, ‘Yes, my character’s having safe sex’ ‘Yes, my character understands that unprotected sex spreads disease.’ Where does the responsibility lie?  It’s a very tricky question and I just hope when I talk to young people who read my books that they are mature enough to understand that this is fantasy. Most of them seem to and when I read some of the other things that are out there, I realise that my books are relatively mild, and I hold to myself the thought that Sookie is an admirable person. She makes mistakes, but she is not a terrible role model. Or, at least that’s what I tell myself.

 

MG: You’re on tour now with From Dead to Worse.

CH:  Yeah, if it’s Wednesday, it must be Portland. I am in Portland right now and I have I think, five more cities to go. I’ve been getting bigger crowds this time, which has been very gratifying cause when you do this you like to feel like you’re being effective.

 

MG: Which leads me to ask about the people you’re meeting; you have a very hardcore fanbase.

CH:  I do!

 

MG: Are you ever surprised by the devotion your fans have?

CH:  It does kinda surprise me. I guess… Oh, you know, a writer’s ego is like the plant in Little Shop of Horrors, “Feed me! Feed me!” This can be kind of overwhelming! Most of the people who read me are just very delightful, well-balanced people and I love meeting them. Every now and then I meet somebody who is kind of astonishing in their emotional investment in the books and you know I just hope that they step back and take a breath.

 

MG: I reckon that some of these fans know your books chapter and verse.

CH:  Yes, they know the books better than I do! {Laughs} Because I never imagined anyone would scrutinize them this closely. And honestly, I don’t think these books stand up well to this close of a scrutiny.

 

MG: Well, if I may, I have a little moment of scrutiny…

CH: Okay, {Laughs}

 

MG: We were wondering about the wards. There was a lot of emphasis placed on the wards that the witch Amelia placed around the house to keep the vampires out.

CH: Okay, that’s not the first question I’ve had about that…

 

MG: So, you might know what’s coming. Specifically from your description in earlier books, the vampires couldn’t enter a home unless they were invited. So what was the value of the wards during the vampire siege?

CH:  It would have worked if they had physically come in the house, but not if they had thrown projectiles – firebombs, etc. that’s where the wards came in handy.

 

MG: So Victor Madden couldn’t have come in even if Quinn broke down the door?

CH:  Yes.

 

MG: Okay, thanks for indulging my geek moment.

CH:  No, that’s okay. I was thinking, “Don’t trap yourself, Charlaine!” No, no, they couldn’t, not unless they were invited in and if they had come in without that, then Amelia and Sookie could’ve… well, Sookie, because she’s the house owner. But they were worried about - they knew someone else was out there, which was Quinn, and he had no such limitation, so they needed the wards for him and the projectiles.

 

MG: Well, we are close to Mother’s Day and I wanted to wish you a happy one!

CH:  Thank You! That’s nice of you!

 

MG: How’s your son in the Army?

CH:  I do have a son in the Army, but he is being released due to medical reasons – YES! And he will be home in June!

 

MG: Wonderful!

CH:  {My daughter}finished her state {softball} tournament. She made All-State and All-Tournament. And my oldest son is happily working away at a profitable job!

 

MG: Do you ever worry about blogging and exposing too much of your personal life to strangers?

CH:  I don’t mind if everyone knows I have three children. I wouldn’t put pictures of my children on my blog.

 

MG: What’s the most rewarding thing about what you do?

CH:  Well, oddly enough, it’s not the money, though I really like that. It’s giving people a vacation. That’s what I like most about it is people can take time off, even though I have an underlying agenda with the books, all they have to do is open it and read it and let their head take a little vacation from their problems, and that really, really makes me happy. When someone comes up to me and says, “My mother had cancer. I sat by her bed and your books helped me get through that,” and that is the greatest reward I could possibly have, and that is no shit!

 

 

~ Mighty Ganesha

May 12th, 2008

 

 

Author Photo © 2005 Caroline Greyshock. All book art courtesy of Berkley Publishing

 © 2006-2009 MightyGanesha.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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