Charlaine Harris: Making Vampires Southern

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Feb. 25, 2013 12:00 am  

Charlaine Harris

Writer Charlaine Harris’ decision to bring vampires “out of the coffin” 12 years ago has made her rich, most probably, though all she’ll allow is that she’s “very comfortable.”

It definitely made her famous.

Did it make her influential?

• She has sold more than 20 million copies of her Sookie Stackhouse series, which began in 2001 with the publication of “Dead Until Dark,” in 35 languages, including Slovenian.

• In May 2011, Amazon.com announced that Harris had become the fourth author to enter the “Kindle Million Club,” having sold more than 1 million Kindle books. She joined Stieg Larsson, author of the Millennium Trilogy (“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” etc.); James Patterson; and Nora Roberts.

• Her books have repeatedly topped The New York Times best-seller list, and for the week of May 5, 2012, the 12th book in Harris’ Southern Vampire Series, “Deadlocked,” debuted at No. 1 on the NYT hardcover fiction list.

• In November, The Hollywood Reporter ranked her No. 14 on its list of “Hollywood’s 25 Most Powerful Authors,” noting that “True Blood,” HBO’s highest-rated show, was based on her Stackhouse novels. The series, the creation of writer and producer Alan Ball (“American Beauty,” “Six Feet Under”), premiered in 2008. It begins its sixth season in June.

A native of Mississippi who lived for 20 years in Magnolia, Harris looks exactly like the wife and mother of three grown children that she is. And though she and her family moved to the Dallas area just a little more than a year ago —”it became evident none of our children were going to return to Magnolia, and proximity to a major airport was a real attraction” — Harris said Arkansas is a part of her fiction.

Following is an email interview Arkansas Business conducted with the writer.

Q. Based on interviews with you and stories I’ve read about you, you seem pragmatic about writing, viewing it as a job with certain steps to follow to achieve success. What accounts for your pragmatic approach?

A. Publishing is a business; writing is an art. Though what I do is subjective and difficult, I still have deadlines to make, a travel schedule to maintain and business decisions to make every day of the week. It can be hard to keep both sides of this job up to par, and harder yet to simply immerse myself in the pleasure of writing. And there’s no plan you can make in writing that will be sure to achieve success. It’s a fickle business.

How much money does a writer with your track record make?

We’re very comfortable.

What has been more profitable for you, your Sookie Stackhouse books or the HBO series based on Sookie?

The books. The HBO series has been a benefit to me primarily because it has given the books greater visibility.

You’ve been quoted as saying you used vampires in the Sookie novels as a metaphor for “alienated minorities” and that you were “thinking specifically of the gay community.” Is that an accurate reflection of your intent? And have your views on vampires as a metaphor for the gay community changed?

That is an accurate reflection of my intent. No, my views haven’t changed. But you can take the comparison too far; I certainly don’t mean that gay people are blood-sucking murderers. I was going for something a little more abstract.

Is there something you’re trying to teach your readers through your fiction, or are your books entertainment for entertainment’s sake?

Both. I’m not teaching: I’m no teacher. But if I can point out a different way to look at things, I will. I’m well aware that if my books aren’t entertaining, no one will read them anyway.

Have you liked HBO’s adaptation of your novels and if so, what about the series has most pleased you?

I’m constantly amazed and entertained by Alan Ball’s creativity. The bigger themes of the books are there, but so many of the specifics have changed. I think the fans benefit by having two different versions of the same world.

Did living in Arkansas help or hurt you in your pursuit of writing success?

Fortunately for me, writing is one of those professions that can be pursued anywhere, and the Internet has made communication the same everywhere. I could live in New Zealand or Russia and do what I do.

Is there anything about Arkansas that you’ve incorporated into your fiction and if so, what?

The genuine helpfulness and courtesy of the people.

What has surprised you the most about your success?

That some of the old saws about becoming successful do really apply. People do want something from you, if they perceive you as successful and influential. Of course, sometimes it’s something you don’t mind giving at all. And people do quite often treat you differently if you’re seen as being very successful. On the other hand, it’s very gratifying to be able to use some of the perks for the greater good.

In a speech you gave at the 2012 National Book Festival, you described yourself this way: “I was one of those moody, misfit children who never quite fit in with her friends. … I always had the typical feeling of being misunderstood, of being an outsider, and of wanting to live in a bigger world. Luckily I was able to do that.” Has your success as a writer entirely banished those childhood demons?

I only have to read my Amazon reviews to bring them all back.

What’s your next project?

I’m writing a graphic novel with the great Christopher Golden, “Cemetery Girl,” out this October. My last Sookie novel, “Dead Ever After,” will be out in May. Toni Kelner and I are editing another anthology. I’m working on the first book in a new series.

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