Free for All: Charlaine Harris, the Art Car Parade and Giselle

Novelist Charlaine Harris is about to pull the plug on Sookie Stackhouse and her friends in Bon Temps, Louisiana. Ater the just-released Deadlocked, there's only one more title in the series of books that spawned the popular HBO television series True Blood.

Harris is in town on Friday to discuss and sign Deadlocked at Murder by the Book, one of her top two favorite bookstores in the country (more on that below).

In Deadlocked, Sookie faces two new devious opponents, a rogue werewolf and a vampire queen who wants to take Sookie's boyfriend Eric as her consort. (Eric is a big, beautiful Viking, so we understand the attraction.) The queen's plan doesn't sit well with Sookie, who thinks Eric should just refuse the request. But if the queen or other vampire officials decide to take revenge on Eric for his perceived insult and disobedience, that would put him in real danger. Yes, he's already dead, but even vampires can get deader.

Eric, on the other hand, thinks his curvy mind-reading girlfriend Sookie should just throw a little fairy magic on the situation and save him. But Sookie can use the fairy magic only once, and when one of her friends is hurt and about to die, she has to decide whether to save her lover or her friend. (If you know Sookie, it's no real surprise which one she chooses.)

Back to the role Murder by the Book, and especially former staffer Dean James, played in launching the Sookie Stackhouse books. Harris was already a published author when she hit upon the idea of a supernatural series built around a telepathic waitress living in a small town in northern Louisiana. (Anne Rice had already taken New Orleans, so Harris took the northern part of the state, she says. It's not as physically beautiful or culturally varied, but it made the perfect home for Sookie.) It was a change for Harris; apparently it was too big a change for her agent, who was reluctant to shop the title around.

Harris was certain she was onto something special with Sookie, and she decided to get another opinion. She sent the manuscript to her friend and fellow author Dean James. "No one knows more about mysteries than Dean, and I really valued his opinion," says Harris. "When he told me he fell off the bed laughing reading the manuscript, I knew I was right about Sookie." Harris's agent reconsidered and the series went on to be a huge success.

Catch up with Sookie and Charlaine Harris at 6:30 p.m. on Friday at Murder by the Book, 2342 Bissonnet. For information, visit the store's Web site or call 713-524-8597.

"Art can be anywhere, anything and by anyone," says Carol Simmons, a regular Art Car parade organizer. This weekend's 25th Annual Houston Art Car Parade Weekend is arty, wild, geeky, eclectic fun, all centered on modified automobiles, and most of the related events are free, including Saturday's parade.

"[The parade] takes art out of the museum and into the streets in a way anyone can enjoy. It brings the community together and shows the world that art doesn't just hang on a wall or stand in a garden," says Simmons.

Organized by the Orange Show, the weekend is four days of ever more outrageous events. There's the Legendary Art Car Ball at the Orange Show on Thursday, followed by the Main Street Drag and a sneak peek at Discovery Green on Friday.

Saturday's parade includes more than 100 creators who have never participated in the parade before, expanding the field of creativity significantly. There are a variety of on-site parties at the parade, including the VIPit Party, Starting Line Party and Retreat from the Street. There's an awards ceremony and brunch on Sunday.

The Art Car Parade entries line up at 9 a.m. and start down their route at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Allen Parkway. For a full schedule, visit the Orange Show's Web site or call 713-926-6368.

If you missed the Houston Ballet's fall production of Giselle, you're in luck. The company is reprising the romantic-era classic about broken hearts and forgiveness during a three-day run at Miller Outdoor Theatre. The company brings a new staging of the work by Ai-Gul Gaisina, who has been a central figure in the ballet world for more than four decades.

Houston Ballet's Artistic Director Stanton Welch is a huge fan of Giselle, stating, "Giselle is my favorite of all the classics because the story is the most complete, the resolution is believable."

The company will perform two additional pieces, a pas de deux from fan favorite Swan Lake and another from Le Corsaire.

See Giselle at 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Hermann Park, 6000 Hermann Park Dr. For information, visit Miller Outdoor Theatre's Web site or call 281-373-3386.

Abby Koenig contributed to this post.

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