Quickie with Charlaine Harris

(May 28, 2001)

Earlier this month AAR Reviewer Jane Jorgenson sent this message to her AAR colleagues:

"I just read a book this weekend that all you Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter fans would probably love. If I get some time I'm going to do a DIK Review of it, but even if I don't I wanted to let all of you know. It's Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris. I thought it was funnier then Blake, and not as gory, but definitely in the same category.

"Here's a bit of a blurb:

"Sookie Stackhouse is just a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. Until the vampire of her dreams walks into her life - and one of her coworkers checks out....Maybe having a vampire for a boyfriend isn't such a bright idea."

"By the way, the vampire's name is Bill - not Armand or Lestat, as Sookie herself notes in a hilarious bit when she meets her vampire."

With a recommendation like that, several of us got Dead Until Dark, and I read it myself last week. It was swell, for want of a better word. Author Harris, who has written several mysteries, is an auto-buy for Jane. We got in touch with her over the weekend and present our brief Q&A with her below.

Jane Jorgenson: Well, as a reader of both mystery and romance, I'm interested in how you're able to find the balance between the two. All of your mysteries include very strong relationship subplots that continue from book to book, which is why I particularly like them. Many romance readers love Janet Evanovich and Laurell K. Hamilton because of this same romantic element. Like them you're successfully combining the two. Is this something you intend? Other mystery writers develop romantic relationships for their protagonists without really making them romantic at all - yours are romantic. How do you manage this?

Charlaine Harris: I wrote what would please me to read. I hope that isn't too simplistic. I like mystery, I like a very intense relationship, I like being startled and intrigued by the unknown. I felt sure there would be other people out there who enjoyed the same elements. (By the way, I wrote Dead Until Dark almost three years ago, now. It was a hard book to sell.)

Maybe what makes the book "romantic" is Sookie's character. She is needy, but independent. She won't settle for less than she deserves. She has a strong sense of privacy and decency. She is completely ready to enjoy her relationship with Bill, but she would never share any detail of it with others. She has that eerie, baffling ability to read the minds of other humans.

And then, there's the mystery of Bill. What is he, really? What life force animates a vampire? There's surely a great deal about his life that he hasn't shared with Sookie. What kind of future can they have? There's nothing like a little mystery to make the relationship more intense.


Jane: You've written a couple of different mystery series, the Aurora Teagarden series and the Lily Bard series. You've also written the stand-alone mystery - A Secret Rage. When I read that I was struck by its high level of romance. Have you ever written a genre romance?

Charlaine: No, I've only written mysteries. Two stand-alones, six Aurora Teagardens (another due next year), and five Lily Bards (the fifth of which will appear in November). I'm working on the sequel to Dead Until Dark right now. It's gone through some title changes. The working title now is Living Dead in Dallas, and it should be out May 2002.


Jane: I want to ask you about the sexual aspects of Sookie and Bill's relationship. Many mystery and SF writers simply stop at the bedroom door, but you didn't. Does this differ from other things you've written? If so, in what ways?

Charlaine: Yes, this is a first for me - and thanks, it was great! Seriously, in the mystery genre (my only other writing experience) explicit sex is not the norm. And I was very comfortable with that; a straight mystery just doesn't call for opening that bedroom door very wide. But Dead Until Dark required the development of that part of Sookie and Bill's relationship; maybe in part to explain why Sookie is so intrigued by Bill, and in part to explain why various threats to their relationship affect their lives so drastically. This will be come much more apparent in Living Dead in Dallas.

In order to maintain their relationship, which is very intense and dynamic, they are forced to be in situations they ordinarily would avoid. Neither Bill nor Sookie are danger junkies, but with the emergence of vampires as a force in American economics and society, there's going to be a certain amount of backlash.


LLB: I thought the humor was really fun here, what with (the secondary character known as) Bubba and all. The relationship between Sookie and Bill was really nice. And, it wasn't overly gory either, which was a nice change from LKH and Anne Rice. Nice love scenes too! What I particularly liked was that Bill wasn't simply a tragic monster; he had a wife and kids in the past and still did nice things like brushing Sookie's hair.

Charlaine: I'm so glad you enjoyed the humor. I love books that make me laugh. And life is always a mixture, isn't it (at risk of sounding unbearably pretentious)? If your life is anything like mine, the fun and humor of it is always balanced by the grief and anger. That's what my life is like; and that's what Sookie's is like, too. And Bill's. When you think of it, what a goldmine of living history vampires would be.


LLB: I'm very intrigued about the fact that it took you three years to find a publisher for the book, particularly in light of how successful Laurell K. Hamilton has been. Can you comment, and can you give further detail on the next book in the series?

Charlaine: Maybe if Dead had been my first book, it wouldn't have been so hard to get it published. Since I was an established mystery writer, it wasn't what mystery editors expected from me. Naturally, the mystery editors were who my agent tried first, since they knew my name. It took a fantasy and horror editor at Ace, who did not have any preconception of me as a writer, to decide my book was great all on its own. Even then, there was a long debate over whether or not to use the "Charlaine Harris" name.


LLB: Coming from a mystery background, how did you end up doing a vampire romance, which is really how I'd classify this if somebody asked me? Have you ever read a romance novel - classic (Jane Austen) or modern? What about Laurell K. Hamilton?

Charlaine: I call Dead Until Dark a humorous vampire mystery with a romantic element, even though that takes a long time to say!

Yes, I've read Laurell K. Hamilton, and I really enjoy her work. It's so kinetic! I began reading her after she'd published four or five books, on the recommendation of a bookseller friend of mine. I've read some romance. I had never thought of Jane Austen as a romance writer, but she is my favorite writer, period. I have especially enjoyed Amanda Quick and Laura Kinsale.

(Charlaine Harris' comments about Jane Austen in this interview led to the writing of an entire At the Back Fence column, including further thoughts from her.)

Charlaine Harris writes the Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard mystery series as well as the Sookie Stackhouse series.