Interview With A Vampire Writer: Charlaine Harris

September 9, 2009 by  

img_0141Interview with a Vampire Writer, Rhodes alumna Charlaine Harris

Going to a small college like ours, you know that your great education and the closeness of the Rhodes community will help you succeed in your future life. One of Rhodes’ most successful graduates, Charlaine Harris, is a bestselling author many times over. I had the privilege to meet Ms. Harris at the sci-fi/fantasy convention Dragon*Con, held in Atlanta, GA, over Labor Day weekend, where we talked about her time at school, her books, and True Blood, the television show based on her Southern Vampire series.

SW: In what ways did Rhodes help you grow as a writer?

CH: It certainly helped me grow because it gave me the opportunity to read a lot of writers I would never have read if I hadn’t had to read them for class, and I think that’s always enriching. And it gave me the opportunity to write almost anything I wanted, for some reason or another. I could almost make up my reason. I wrote plays, I wrote a lot of things.

SW: What’s one of the best memories you have from school?

CH: Gosh, anything Professor Hill taught—Ray Hill. That was just fabulous. I learned a lot with him. I learned a lot about being in a group situation, and directing the conversation, a little bit about acting, a little bit about a lot of things that have really been helpful. And I had some wonderful English professors, of course—Bernice White was wonderful, Dr. Wood was great. And just getting to know the other students. I’m sure a lot of people at Rhodes have the same experience when they’ve been the big fish in a small pond in their high schools. They come to Rhodes and everyone is just as smart as they are, if not smarter. And that’s always a good reality check to get, I think. It makes you more respectful of other people.

SW: So you think theatre was a good background for being a novelist?

CH: I definitely think so, and just the area of communications, in general. My interest wasn’t really theatre, but I took the discussion group, and several speaking courses that helped me prepare for what I’m doing now.

SW: What did you read when you were younger that inspired you to write fantasy stories?  And what do you read now that can possibly measure up to what you do with your own imagination?

CH: [laughs] That’s a very nice thing to say. I read a lot of Poe when I was younger, and a lot of Sherlock Holmes, so I guess those two influences. And I read Jane Eyre maybe 12 times! And Rebecca. I guess the show and the books are really a stew of all that put together, come to think of it, with the horror, the mystery, and the romance. Plus vampires! It’s all a lot of fun. As to what I read now, goodness, there are so many good writers around now, I just feel fortunate to have so many good people to read.

SW: You have all 9 of your Sookie Stackhouse books on the New York Times bestseller lists right now. True Blood has about 10 million solid viewers, and the online community is one of the most devoted fan groups I’ve ever seen. So what do you think it is about this story that people are just converging on right now?

CH: Well, if I was sure, I would have done it several years ago, to make the past few years easier financially. I don’t know what it is that latched on. I can only be glad that it did.

SW: It’s such a wonderful escapism for people—life’s hard, you know?

CH: I think that’s true, people do need an escape more when they’re facing economic and social difficulties.

SW: You’ve just finished Book 10, Dead in the Family. Can you tell me anything about that?

CH: Well, it really turned out to be about family issues. I didn’t get the title until I was more than halfway through with the book. There are troubles in Sookie’s extended family, there are troubles in Eric’s family, there are troubles in Bill’s family. So, it’s a complicated book with a lot of characters. I really enjoyed writing it—it’s a more tightly focused book than the past couple of books have been.

SW: I know you won’t tell me who Sookie will end up with, even though you know, right? What I do want to ask is—her world has expanded so much since Dead Until Dark. Do you think she knows what she wants, what will make her happy and fulfilled?

CH: I think that she’s in the process of deciding. She’s still going through a lot of big life changes. All of the books take place in about a year and a half so far, so that’s a huge amount of change for a young woman who was a virgin until she was 26. I think that her life is still in the process of altering her character.

SW: When you watch True Blood, is it exciting for you to see the things that are different?

CH: Oh yes, because it’s surprising. I never know what Alan’s going to do! It’s so much fun that Alan and I trust each other. He never tries to suggest anything for the books, and I never try to suggest anything for the series, because we’re each doing what we do best and we’re enjoying it very much.

SW: So, for example, when Lafayette survives the end of Season 1, are you still emotionally invested in your character, even though he’s taken on a life of his own now?

CH: He has, and I think Lafayette lives because Nelsan Ellis has made such an amazing tour de force of that part. Nelsan is fantastic—he’s a wonderful young man. He took that part, and he had the chance all actors drool for. He just made it his own. I’m so proud for him, and happy for him.

SW: Do you think the same thing happened with Michelle Forbes? The Maryann character is so much bigger than in the book.

CH: I think that, probably, the writers were looking for a storyline that would carry them through the whole series, and the maenad proved to be that focal point. I think that really worked in terms of television.

SW: And then, what did you think about the Jessica storyline, and having Bill and Sookie become these kind of parents?

CH: I just think that was brilliant. That’s really been my favorite departure so far. I really wish I had thought of Jessica.

SW: They’ve integrated her so well.

CH: They have, and it’s hard to imagine the series without her now. She’s a delightful young woman.

SW: Obviously, the entire cast is so talented and has developed their own characters in really unique ways, but which one do you think most closely embodies who you picture in your head?

CH: Oh my gosh. I guess Stephen Moyer as Bill is probably the closest to the way I had him in my head. He’s just such a fine actor, and I love his subtlety in the role.

SW: You have a cameo coming in the Season 2 finale, don’t you? What was your favorite experience from being on the set that day and filming?

CH: Well, I had lunch in Merlotte’s with Alan, and I thought, “Okay, we’re in a place that isn’t real, but we are having lunch in the booth!” That was fun. And then watching how everyone did what they’re supposed to be doing was so interesting to me. To see how dedicated all the people were. To watch everything that goes into making two minutes of film–the hours that go into the makeup, moving the cameras, rehearsing the lines, getting the action in that little bit of film right. Where Rutina and Sam are gonna cross behind the bar, their little bit of business done. Who was going to bring the fake whiskey. It was just complicated and fascinating.

SOURCE: Janie Logan:  The Sou’Wester publication of Rhodes College

(Photo credit: Janie Logan)