|Laurell K. Hamilton: Getting Real with Things That Go Bump in the Night|
Laurell K. Hamilton claims if other writers would only write exactly what she wants to read, she wouldn't feel so compelled to write herself. Fortunately for readers everywhere, smart, mouthy, monster hunter Anita Blake and her personal guilty pleasure, the seductive vampire Jean Claude -- not to mention dozens of the most memorable monsters in dark fantasy -- declined to visit the imagination of anyone else.
Hamilton brings a sense of bedrock reality to the fantastic. She not only writes about the things that go bump in the night as if they were real but carries that reality several steps further. What would happen to our world if we woke up tomorrow and found werewolves ran the restaurant down the street? How would it change society and politics -- and what would those changes mean to the family next door? A few weeks before her scheduled appearance at DragonCon 2000 Hamilton shared her thoughts on Anita's world and the world of new series character, Merry Gentry.
Crescent Blues: When you sit down to write a new Anita Blake adventure, which comes first: the case or the monster?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Usually, the monster comes first. Or the mystery. I have the main cast pretty down by now, so the monster or the murder, or the mystery comes first, then I write new characters that are needed to make the mystery work.
Laurell K. Hamilton: Yes, I was surprised how popular Edward has been over the years. You'd think a sociopath assassin wouldn't have a fan following but he does, a big one.
Crescent Blues: How much did Edward's popularity affect decisions you've made with regard to the depiction of his character?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Edward's popularity didn't effect any of his character growth. Edward is, who and what he is, always has been. But the fan interest did let me know what I wasn't the only one interested in Edward's mysterious past, or his personal life -- if he had one.
Crescent Blues: How much do you feel yourself influenced by the interests of your readers? What kind of challenges has this created in terms of the Anita Blake series?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I'm more influenced by my own interests than anyone else's. Writers have to entertain themselves, or they can't entertain anyone else.
Laurell K. Hamilton: No.
Crescent Blues: What do you think draws readers to these characters? Were you surprised by the intensity of the responses, or was it something you expected from the moment they emerged from your keyboard?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I don't know exactly what draw people to certain characters. I think characters are just like people. Who knows why you have chemistry with one person, but not another? It's a mystery. I am surprised, and humbled, that people are so enthused by characters that I created out of thin air.
Laurell K. Hamilton: I try not to worry about rewriting books that worked well the first time. I'm too busy writing new books to worry about things that are already in print.
Crescent Blues: How has your approach to a new book changed since you began writing fiction professionally?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I always treated writing as a profession, never as a hobby. If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will.
Crescent Blues: How long have you been interested in ghoulies and ghosties and things that go bump in the night? Was there a particular time or incident in your life that pointed you in the direction of dark fantasy?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I've always been attracted to ghoulies and ghosties, as you put it. As early as five I was begging to watch horror movies. Everyone is always wanting some horrible -- or at least interesting -- incident that pushed me into dark fantasy, but I think I just came this way.
Laurell K. Hamilton: Readers respond to every genre intensely, if it's a genre that appeals to them. Again, who can say why anyone enjoys horror and dark fantasy? If I can't answer the question for myself, I wouldn't dream of trying to answer it for others. What we prefer to read is sort of like sexual preference, you like what you like. Most of the time you have no clue why.
Crescent Blues: What do you think people fear most, and how do you try to work that into your stories?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Everybody fears different things. I can't even begin to answer that question.
Crescent Blues: How do you feel about the label "erotic horror" as it applies to Anita Blake's adventures?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Erotic horror? Hmmm. I was initially uncomfortable with the label for Anita and the gang, until someone in New York explained that it didn't mean sexual content. It's suppose to refer to the fact that my writing style is very sensual, as in sensory detail. I still think that most people see the word "erotic" and think "sex," but "sensual horror" just doesn't have quite the same ring, I suppose. Some of the Anita books have almost no sex in them, but when sex is necessary for the plot of a book, or a character development, then I don't shy away from it. Why should I?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Greatest challenge in writing a new Anita Blake story? Gosh, where to begin? Each book is a unique challenge. Book nine took me to New Mexico, which I had never even visited until I went to research it for location. I'd never set a book in a place I knew nothing about, so that was difficult.
Why set a book in a place I'd never been? Because Edward decided that's where he lived. I argued with him, but he was insistent. When I stepped off the plane in Albuquerque, I thought this is the most alien landscape I'd ever seen, it's perfect for Edward -- and it was. Never argue with your characters; they know themselves better than you do.
Crescent Blues: What do you do to get yourself in the mood to write about Anita and her crew? Does that change when you're working on other stories, such as those featuring Meredith Gentry and the fey?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I finish the last chapter of an Anita book, then open a new file and write at least a few pages of the first chapter of the next book. That way, months later when I sit down to write a new book, I'm not staring at a blank screen, and the voice is strong, because it's right there on the page. I did the same thing when I finished the last chapter of Merry Gentry's first adventure. I've already got the beginnings of book two started.
Crescent Blues: Kiss of Shadows, the first book in the Fey series, is scheduled to be released in early fall. Could you tell us something about that book and the world of your "lead," Meredith Gentry?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I'd read a few books about the fey that came close to capturing what I thought the fey should really be like, but no one had really done it the way I wanted to see it done. So I decided to do it myself. Much like [I did with] Anita when I wanted a hard-boiled female lead that could be as tough as any man, and be able to play with the monsters exactly the way I wanted to play with them. If people would write exactly what I wanted to read I wouldn't feel so compelled to write myself.
I did a few things very deliberately with Merry, just as with Anita. [Merry is] over 30 so she's a little more relaxed and comfortable with herself. Even Anita is going to have to chill a little when she hits 30. You either mellow at 30, or your head explodes -- take your choice.
Merry is also much less in-your-face about arguing. She was raised in the courts where she was one of the lesser powers, so to survive she had to learn how to pick her fights. Kiss of Shadows, the first Meredith Gentry book, is actually due out in October now. I'm told this is the last schedule change. Here's hoping.
Merry's world is modern America where the big difference is magic and metaphysics work. In this world the fey were given a choice after the last great fey/human war in Europe. They could either come out of their hollow hills, intermarry with the humans and give up their culture, or they could get out. The ones that chose to leave rather than give up who and what they are, were offered a home by then President Thomas Jefferson. They moved into the Cahokia Mounds in Illinois, one of the largest Neolithic mound sites in the world.
When I was searching for a place for fairie mounds in America, it was the perfect place. The fey in America are local tourist attractions, and their royalty is our royalty, photographed, followed, written up in the tabloids. Though I don't mean to imply that America's politics have changed. Nope, the fey in this country keep to themselves, and are a separate nation, much like the American Indians, but with even more autonomy.
Kiss of Shadows opens in Los Angeles where Merry is a detective in the Grey Detective Agency, Supernatural Problems, Magical Solutions. The book is divided between L.A. and Illinois.
Crescent Blues: Kiss of Shadows isn't your first excursion to other fictional worlds. You've written in the Star Trek and TSR Darklord universes as well as creating the sword and sorcery fantasy world of Nightshade. Do you feel a particular kinship for one world or another?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Actually, my first novel is Nightseer. The Star Trek novel is called Nightshade. Nightseer was my first novel, ever, so I will always have a great deal of affection for the world and the characters. My first dream realized.
Laurell K. Hamilton: The greatest challenge to writing in someone else's world is abiding by their rules. I found it quite interesting, but I knew going into both projects that I would playing in someone else's world, so it wasn't a surprise that I had their rules to play by -- in fact, it was fair. But I still found it bothersome. No, I don't want to write in anybody else's world but mine. I like playing by my rules in my own world.
Crescent Blues: Given all the characters you've created or reinterpreted, is there one you find has a particular resonance, either in terms of your own life or in terms of their depiction?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Well, Anita is certainly very close to my own voice, and she's a kick to walk around with for a few months. After nine books, and almost done with book ten, she's an old friend. All the continuing characters are like that at this point.
When I wrote first Obsidian Butterfly, where the only continuing cast member with Anita was Edward, then followed that with Kiss of Shadows where I had none of the old gang, I really missed everyone. I'd never been away from Anita's supporting cast for so long, and I found that as I introduced each of them in book ten, it was like meeting friends you hadn't seen for months. It was really nice to be back in St. Louis with everybody.
Crescent Blues: For the world you've created for Anita, you've postulated all different kinds of vampires, including one that began life as something other than human. Did you ever postulate an origin story for vampirism in Anita's world?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Yes, I have an origin story for vampirism, and no, I won't share it here. If I ever share it, it will be in the plot of a book when it's time for it. But I may never try to explain. One of my rules is never explain. A writer is a lot like a magician, if you explain how the trick works then a lot of the magic turns mundane.
Crescent Blues: Facing issues like vampire rights and the fear of were contagion, Anita obviously occupies a fantastic but mechanistic alternative universe that shares much of the real world's history. What happened to make Anita's world so different from ours?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I created Anita's world as if we all woke up tomorrow and everything that went bump in the night was real. There was probably a break in the past where vampires and such were hidden, but somewhere long before Anita came on the scene the monsters came out of the closet.
Crescent Blues: How much have you been influenced by the theories of alternate historians in crafting Anita's world?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Anita really isn't an alternate history (see my last answer). If I'd meant it to be alternate history, I'd have made more changes in the political and social fabric. But I was more interested in what would happen if we all woke up tomorrow and had to deal with real monsters in the real world. How would it work? What would we do? What would it change if the break came that late in our development as a society?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I have no idea why some people have problems differentiating Anita's world from our own. Some people just don't seem to understand the concept of fiction. I am very careful that the magic in Anita's world works in her world and not ours. It is based on solid research, but it's always a step beyond. I research, then think what if this worked just as written, just as the legends say? But it is fiction; it ain't true, folks.
Crescent Blues: How do you work when you're writing -- do you write your books in a linear fashion, from start to finish, using an outline? Or do scenes and characters come first?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I am a very linear thinker, so I write beginning to end. But before I sit down to write, I have a list of incidents that will take place in the book; a rough mystery plot outline; a rough romance arc, if the book calls for it; and lots of notes. I write hundreds of pages per book that never make it into print, but because it is a continuing series I often find that a character, or plot or monster that didn't work in one book is perfect for a book further down the line. Since the fey series is also a continuing series, I'm finding the same applies to it, as well, as Anita.
Crescent Blues: Some writers speak of being merely secretaries for their characters. How often do your characters surprise you, or do they pretty much do what they're told?
Laurell K. Hamilton: My characters surprise me constantly. Edward insisting on living in New Mexico and when I stepped off the plane I didn't know the surprise he had waiting for us, any more than Anita did. I was strident when I began this series that she would never be with Jean-Claude; I brought Richard on for Anita to marry. My characters are like my friends -- I can give them advice, but they don't have to take it. If your characters are real, then they surprise you, just like real people.
Laurell K. Hamilton: Nope, my plots rarely change in mid-stream, only the romance arc, or the character development catches me off-guard or an occasional nasty bit by the villain. It's not usually anything that changes the book too much -- just steps up the intensity.
Crescent Blues: If you could cast the Anita Blake books as a movie or television series, who would you like to play the leads?
Laurell K. Hamilton: I will not get caught up in the on-going debate on who should play whom if the Anita Blake books are filmed for television or movies.
Crescent Blues: Over the course of the Vampire Hunter series, do you see Anita growing to a greater understanding and acceptance of her world, or will she always be struggling with the balance between good and evil?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Everyone spends their lives trying to balance their world between good and evil, why should Anita be any different? But Anita has changed so much since the first books; her world is no longer black and white, but much more gray.
Crescent Blues: Obsidian Butterfly is Anita's second road trip in as many books. Does this mark the beginning of a trend?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Book 10 is set in St. Louis, and I believe so is book 11 -- though I'd like to go to Washington, D.C., soon and have Anita talk in front of that subcommittee on undead rights. We'll probably get Anita to California before we get to Washington, but I don't know. One book will often give me ideas for a totally different plot and a totally different location that will then push the other plots further down the line.
Laurell K. Hamilton: Anita is definitely open-ended. The series is structured more like a mystery series with no climatic end. Expect the one at the end of each book.
Crescent Blues: Is it getting harder to find new preternatural menaces for Anita to vanquish? Do you think she will ever run out of monsters?
Laurell K. Hamilton: No. Most of the monsters in the Anita series are based on some sort of mythology. Every culture and even some geographical areas have monsters and mythology that is their own. Just pick up a book on mythology and you have a wealth of creatures to choose from. We could easily run into the hundreds on books just by choosing a new monster each time.
Crescent Blues: Anything you'd like to add? Soapboxes provided free of charge.
Laurell K. Hamilton: I'm not terribly fond of soapboxes, so, nope.
Jean Marie Ward
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