Charlaine Harris is a happy woman. She has every reason to be with the popularity of her Sookie Stackhouse adventure novels being boosted by True Blood, the successful HBO television series based on her characters. Chatting with Art Attack in anticipation of her upcoming reading and Author Luncheon event with Murder by the Book, Harris is bubbly and vivacious. "I kid you not," she laughs, "I am as happy as I can be!"
While many authors complain about television and film treatments of their books (who can forget Anne Rice famously bashing Tom Cruise when he was cast in An Interview with a Vampire). Harris, however, has wholeheartedly embraced the show. "I'd be a fool to be anything but delighted," she says, her signature southern drawl stretching out the words. "Not only have I enjoyed the process and learned a lot but my sales have escalated. Even if it wasn't a great show, I'd be happy about it, but it is a great show so I can be proud of it."
The True Blood effect has had a major impact in the number of books she's selling these days. She's also seen a difference in the people who are buying the books. And for Harris, having fans who came to know about her from the television series rather than from the books, has presented a few challanges. "It's delightful from a sales point of view, but they do tend to bring a different expectation to the readings. They do have the tendency to see the characters as the actors on television, which was not the original intent. Every now and then there's the tendency to get the action in the books confused with the series, which is quite different."
Some True Blood fans go so far as to chide Harris when the plot in a book doesn't reflect the plot in the series. (They overlook True Blood's disclaimer - "based on the characters created by ..." - and seem to think the storylines should be identical.) "Eric has a different maker in the television series than he does in the books. What tickles me is that sometimes readers think that I made a mistake."
Despite that incidental confusion, Harris, now working on her 12th Sookie Stackhouse book, has been pleased with her fans' willingness to take a leap of faith with her and jump into a world filled with fairies, werewolves, shapeshifters, and, of course, vampires.
"With the first book, I established the fact that you have to say, 'Yes, in this world, vampires are a part of everyday ... well, not everyday, every night life. They're here, they're out, they're not going anywhere and we have to learn how to live with them. Since then - the legislation pertaining to vampires, the fact that at first vampires can't legally marry and then they can in some states, the fact that the government had to deal with a whole new beauracy to deal with these new citizens - I think that reflects what I think would happen if we were presented with this new reality."
Harris is aware that the vampires and other non-humans in her books represent a sense of otherness, which some readers interpret at homosexuals, racial minorities, or other groups. She confirms she's purposely discussing otherness, but nimbly avoids naming which others she has in mind.
Asked if she's more amused or puzzled by fans' interpretations of her books, she laughs, "That about covers it - amused and puzzled. Sometimes things are very accurate and I think, 'Yeah, that's exactly what I was trying to do.' Then sometimes people get so involved in the books that they kind of lose sight of the reality; they get very interested in interpreting everything that happens in the books in a very convoluted way, when actually I'm pretty straight forward. I find that almost confusing."
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Sookie's story wil soon get wrapped up; the next two books will conclude the series. What will the next two titles bring? "Sookie will continue to have terrible and wonderful adventures," says Harris. "I see the series as being about her reaching the place in her life where she can be content, about her finding happiness which is where I'm trying to go."
Having lived with Sookie and her assorted friends and enemies for almost 12 years now, Harris doesn't seem to have any pangs about letting her go. "I think that I'm trying to do the best by my readers that I can by not extending the series beyond what I think I have in me. I love writing Sookie but the series is consuming my life now.
"I don't have time to do other things and that's not where a writer wants to be artistically."
Charlaine Harris is the featured guest at the Mystery Authors Luncheon at noon on May 13 at the Briar Club. $65 (includes a copy of Dead Reckoning). She also appears at Murder by the Book for a reading and signing session at 6:30 p.m. that same day. For information, call 713-524-8597 or visit www.murderbooks.com.