Friday, July 9, 2010

Charlaine Harris Hits the Road

Posted By on Fri, Jul 9, 2010 at 8:33 AM

She'll be at Comic-Con in San Diego later in July with the cast of a hit TV show. She'll be in Australia in September with the cast of that same hit TV show. But she'll be on her own when she signs and reads from her new novel, Dead in the Family (Ace), at the Tunica Museum on July 11th and at the Hernando (Mississippi) Public Library on July 12th.

Dead in the Family sits on The New York Times' best-seller list for fiction. Her coming title, a co-edited collection of stories by a company of authors and called Death's Excellent Vacation (Ace), is due the first week of August, and "she" is Charlaine Harris — Tunica native, Rhodes College alum, Magnolia, Arkansas, resident, and very prolific and very successful author of, among a long list of fantastic tales, the Sookie Stackhouse Southern vampire series, which happens to be the source material for True Blood, the very successful HBO series.

But who, in her own words, is Charlaine Harris?

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"I was born in Tunica, and for many years my father was a planter," Harris said recently by phone from her home in Magnolia. "He got a job as a schoolteacher and then as a school principal. And my mother worked at the local library for many years."

Reading in your family must have been a given.
Oh yeah, we were all great readers, my dad and brother included. It was our family pastime.

And you wrote even as a child?
I did. My parents were probably a little worried about that, because they never thought I'd be able to make a living at it. But they were pleased I kept up with it. I did have to work for many years. But I worked it out. I was able to become a professional writer.

You wrote at Rhodes too when you were a student there in the early '70s?
I majored in English and communications, but I also wrote in college — including some terrible poetry and some plays. But I got a lot of encouragement as well. Rhodes is a wonderful place for people to realize the creative part of themselves.

What started you on the path to publishing?
After living in Memphis and working at FedEx, I and my husband moved to St. Louis and from St. Louis to South Carolina for 10 years, then to Magnolia, Arkansas.

But I found a publisher pretty quickly. During my first year in St. Louis, I took a creative-writing class. The teacher was [the future co-founder of Algonquin Books] Shannon Ravenel. She'd just quit at Houghton Mifflin. She liked what I wrote and recommended it to a colleague at Houghton Mifflin and they took the book.

And it's been smooth sailing ever since?
Oh, no. You don't know. Publishing can be a terrible industry. It's almost as bad as acting!

How did you come to work with Alan Ball, who created "Six Feet Under" and then "True Blood"?
I'd already been on the Times' bestseller list, and I knew it was probably only a matter of time before somebody paid attention. And sure enough, I had one option (which lapsed) on the Sookie Stackhouse series, then three more options for the books. Alan's offer was the most interesting artistically. I had a conversation with him that convinced me that he would remain true to the spirit of the books. Of course, I'd seen his body of work. I was just so impressed with myself! [laughter] Everyone was great, but I felt a connection with him. It's worked out wonderfully.

And what's been your involvement with the TV show?
My involvement consists in having written the source material. I think that's actually quite a lot of "involvement." But I do make appearances with the cast. And I've been in the show.

What part did you play?
"Woman on barstool." I was in the last episode of the second season.

How'd you do?
It was okay. I've done so much public speaking that it didn't scare me being on camera. They even gave me a line, which I tried to deliver without falling off the barstool!

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Have you been surprised at the popularity of the Sookie Stackhouse series?
Seeing as I think they're pretty good books, it always surprises me when people ask me that — like, there's no reason they would be popular.

But readers are interested in fantasy right now, which is wonderful. In depressed economic times, people do read more fantasy.

Do you write on schedule? A set time every day?
I do. I start work at 8 in the morning, quit around noon, then go back to work in the afternoon until 4 or so.

You live in a small town in southern Arkansas. How are you dealing with your celebrityhood? How's the town dealing with it?
I was doing okay until True Blood. The show kind of blew my cover. Still, people here in Magnolia are nice enough to let me go about my business.

Your website says you're running a book sale through July. What's that about?
My closet gets too full, because I get so many copies of my books from the publishers, including the foreign-language editions. (I'm in 30 languages.) So every now and then my assistant organizes a book sale. Considering all the editions in English alone, in America and the United Kingdom, that's an awful lot of books.

So my assistant and two college students gather the books, I sign them before they go out, my closet gets empty, and people are happy.

You'll be at the Hernando Public Library and the Tunica Museum this weekend. At the museum, you're going to be officially recognized as one of the "Sons and Daughters of Tunica County."
These appearances are especially for my mom. She still lives in Tunica. It makes her so happy when I do things locally.

And then you're off to Comic-Con in San Diego.
Yes, along with the cast of True Blood and about 100,000 people.

And then on to Australia in September.
Yes. Lucky me!

Congratulations on all your success, Charlaine Harris.
Thank you!

For the latest on Charlaine Harris, her upcoming appearances, publishing news, and that book sale, visit her website here.

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