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Author Interviews

Author Interview: Charlaine Harris

Charlaine Harris graciously agreed to answer a few questions about her work. I asked a former customer and Charlaine Harris fan, Diane, if she had some too. Her questions are noted as hers.

Q: What kind of research did you do for Grave Sight? Are there actually people hit by lightening who have special senses? And are you personally a believer in ESP, etc.?
A: Okay, lead with the tough question; I'm up for it. There are people who get hit by lightening who have all kinds of physical and mental and emotional repercussions (I'm on a list for lightening strike survivors) but none of them on the list have claimed it enhanced their extrasensory perception. Do I personally believe? Yes, but I think ESP is rare and comes with a lot of baggage that makes it very undesirable.

Q: I really liked the idea of a sister/brother team in Grave Sight - it's unusual and interesting. Are Harper and Tolliver going to stay together on the road, or settle down somewhere?
A: In my mind, this is a traveling series. Of course, Harper wants a regular house and a picket fence, but I'm not sure that's going to happen. And also of course, this isn't the regular brother-sister relationship.

Q: This is not a happy look at American family life - did you set out to write a dysfunctional family book, or did it just evolve that way? I thought it was a great way to draw in Harper and Tolliver's background.
A: You're right, this is not a happy look at American families. I actually started with Harper's character, the way she is, and worked my way back to the background she must have had to become that way. Harper's life would be much simpler if she didn't remember better times. But her life isn't simple, and her future isn't smooth.

Q: Any chance Harper Connelly is an homage to Harper Lee?
A: No, but a nice idea. I decided her mother and father were devotees of the old southern custom of using family names for first names, hence Harper and Connelly for the two sisters.

Q: Speaking of great southern writers, I think not only is there a new mystery golden age at the moment, but there seem to be a large number of talented southern women. Do you feel any special kinship or see any common threads with other talented southern women like Margaret Maron, Sharyn McCrumb, Joan Hess, Julie Smith, Nancy Pickard or even Karin Slaughter? And do you feel you are somewhat marginalized? I think all of the above mentioned women (and yourself) have so much to say it's a shame to be almost dismissed as "just" a cozy writer or "just" a female writer.
A: I have many great friends among other southern mystery writers. Do I feel something in common with them? Sure. Do I feel marginalized? Not since I wrote the Sookie Stackhouse books, which seem to have universal appeal (thank God). Do I sometimes feel that hardboiled writers, and reviewers, and the publishing industry, looked down on traditional mystery writers? Yes, because it's true, at least to some extent.

Q: (Diane) Is Lily Bard coming back? I love her and Jack. They had a cameo on the last Sookie (I think it was Sookie but it might have been the Roe book) - and I want more!
A: I just don't have time to write Lily and Aurora any more. I am writing one Harper book a year and one Sookie book a year, plus a short story here and there (my next one will be in the anthology My Big Fat Supernatural Wedding) and that is just about all I can handle. I'd rather have readers wanting more than run my characters into the ground.

Q: (Diane) Do you intentionally tweak the traditional Southern cozy? I feel like you set up your books with traditional cozy stereotypes, then shake them up. Roe has a cozy occupation, librarian, but the books aren't at all cozy. Lily and Sookie take it to the extreme. (I agree. Shakespeare's Counselor was really a wonderful look at different types of violation, not just rape - Robin).
A: Diane, I'm assuming you mean Roe, Aurora Teagarden. It's not so much a case of tweaking, as simply writing what I want to write. That makes a lot of my books kind of hard to sell; my agent has really had to work! That's the way I see the world, though; often predictable, boring, regular, even sweet, with a knife hidden under the afghan.

Q: (Diane) I feel like some of the attitudes in the Sookie books are a metaphor for racism. True?
A: Yes. And other things.

Q: What do you start with - character, plot or setting? I also think your prose is particularly lovely - it's deceptively simple, but there's always a sentence or two I go back to savor several times. What's most important to you?
A: I start with something that strikes me; it might be a bit of plot, character, or one image. For Dead to the World, the book began with an idea I had while we were driving somewhere at night. Trees, trees, trees... and then I thought, what if we saw someone running by the side of the road, running for his life? Would we stop? And the beginning of the book began to spring into my mind.

Q: What mystery authors have influenced you? I usually leave this question more open ended but was tired of getting the answer "Jane Austen". (Actually I heard S.E. Hinton say this at a book signing too).
A: Elizabeth Peters, especially in my early years, was a tremendous influence. She showed me you could write truly excellent books and still be funny. Janet Evanovich, Joan Hess, Carolyn Haines, I'm sure I learned something from them all in the recent past. In my earlier years, very early, I loved Dell Shannon; now I don't like those books, but I know I got something from her work, a sense of structure, maybe. I am a tremendous Shirley Jackson fan, and I learned a lot from Barbara Paul, too. Barbara and I still write back and forth every now and then.

And finally, this from Diane: "By the way, one of the sex scenes in the first Sookie book (with the blood sucking) was so intense that I fainted. I faint during intense s cenes in movies but I never fainted reading a book before. I think it's a complement to her skill." You don't have to comment on that!
A: In the word of the great Keanu Reeves....Whoa.

Thank you, Charlaine!

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