Charlaine Harris on Sookie Stackhouse, computer games and what's next
Bestselling author Charlaine Harris has seen her creation (the Southern Vampire novel series) turned into a hit television show (True Blood), and she's kept the momentum going throughout the chain of books that document the story of protagonist Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress who finds herself deeply involved in the vampire and supernatural underworld in her home state of Louisiana. Harris's books contain sex, blood, murder, mystery and politics in an addictive combination; we caught up with her to chat about a new Southern Vampire-related video game, fairies and what's next for her after Sookie's story is told.
Westword: You've been writing about Sookie Stackhouse since 2001; was her story arc something you had in mind since the creation of that character, or did you develop it along the way?
Charlaine Harris: I did have an idea, very broadly, of where the story arc would end -- probably by the second book, as I began to see things unfold. But it was easy to take my time getting there.
WW: How have you decided which paranormal creatures to include in this series? Are there any that didn't make the cut?
CH: I'm kind of a free-form writer, a seat-of-the-pants writer, and it was what arose while I was telling Sookie's story. It was easy to include the werewolves, because who doesn't like a werewolf, and the werepanthers -- I thought if there were werewolves, there have to be other were-creatures, too. And the fairies, I just like the idea of fairies. Maybe I'll include the Abominable Snowman at some point. I can't think of any off the top of my head that I didn't include.
WW: What kind of research do you do for these novels?
CH: It depends on what I need to know. I had to research architectural structure and safety glass for the one about the hotel in Rhodes (All Together Dead), I've had to research shotguns. I've had to research how a bar runs, for one thing, since I'm not much of a drinker -- in fact, I hardly ever drink. The funeral industry. Sheriffs and coroners and their jobs. Really, a lot of things.
WW: Can you talk about your construction of the fae in this series?
CH: I wanted the fae to remain mysterious. I didn't want to have to spell out another set of rules, because they're largely unknowable. They can vanish from our world into their own world and do their own thing, and we don't know what's there or what it's like for them, or what their governing system is, and I think that's more intriguing for the reader than some long explanation that would cut out the need for the imagination. I don't believe that everything has to be spelled out; I believe the reader should get to enjoy their own ideas.
WW: They're not much like the depictions of fairies in most of popular culture -- they clearly don't come from a Disney movie.
CH: No. They're much more ancient, and in a way, malignant. They don't have a Christian background or ethic, and that makes them a little hard to write, when they're not coming from the same place at all.
WW: Is it easier to write about vampires because of that -- because they do have history in the Christian background and ethos?
CH: Some of them are -- they're not a homogeneous race, they're acquired; they're changed humans, in other words, so they come from all different backgrounds, some of them are Christian, some of them Muslims, some something else entirely. But they all have a human background and culture somewhere.
WW: Where can we expect Sookie's story to go from here?
CH: Well, of course, her adventures are going to continue; there's a lot to resolve. I have two more books to write in the Sookie series, and there's a lot to tie up and conclude.
WW: Tell us about Dying for Daylight, the game. How did that come about?
CH: I-play approached me about doing a computer game, and that's a world I know nothing about, although my sons could certainly tell me about it, and I was interested in branching out to something new. They couldn't use the Sookie character, because HBO owns all the rights, but I'd written some books about Dahlia Lynley-Chivers, who's a very dark, ruthless character, but she's also very funny. She has a very high regard for herself, she loves being sexy and she loves amazing people, and she is sexy and amazing, as well as ruthless, and from a culture much older than ours. Dahlia Lynley-Chivers is like her third or fourth name. We developed a story around that character -- I suggested a couple, and I-play came up with a couple -- and I ended up using one of their stories, because it had better art options, and that's what they were looking for. I played it, and I really liked it. That was the first computer game I ever played, and I was shocked to find out how much time had passed before I was done! It reminded me why that's not a habit of mine.
WW: Do you have any favorite episodes of True Blood, that you feel are closest to your original storyline?
CH: Certainly not any one episode, but there are certainly parts, and being the writer, that's what I'm watching for. Every now and then, they'll use a line that was directly mine, and I'll go, "I wrote that!" That's getting less and less frequent, because they're getting more into their own storyline, and I knew that would happen.
WW: You've wrapped up series about Lily Bard, Aurora Teagarden and Harper Connelly -- do you have other characters we should be looking for in the future?
CH: I have so many options, honestly, it's just like a smorgasbord. I'm just trying very hard to decide what I'm going to be doing. I've enjoyed writing Sookie, and I love her, and I'm going to miss her, but at the same time, Sookie eats up more of my time than anything else I've ever written, because of my increased publicity obligations. So I would love to start something new and map out new territories. I have a list of possible projects that are five or six long, I think.
WW: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
CH: I'm certainly looking forward to coming to Denver! I haven't been to Denver in way too long, and I'm very excited that Penguin is sending me there again.
Catch Harris tonight when she signs copies of Dead Reckoning and engages readers in a Q&A session at the Tattered Cover LoDo, 1628 16th Street; free tickets for the book signing will be handed out starting at 9 a.m. at any Tattered Cover location, and doors for the Q&A session open at 4:30 p.m.; seating for the session is first-come, first-served. Call 303-436-1070 or visit www.tatteredcover.com.
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