Charlaine Harris: A bumpy road. A very bumpy road.
I got through school, and I felt like a real outcast most of the time. I wasn't. That was no one else's perception but my own. But I strongly held that perception, because there were so few people I could share my thoughts with. My parents were absolutely the most wonderful people in the world, but they thought I should prepare myself to be a schoolteacher. I would've been the worst schoolteacher in the world!
I went to college and got through it not knowing what I was going to do. So, since I didn't know what I was going to do, I got married. Then my husband quit his job.
[Giggles.] I did not know how to do anything! Honestly, I did not know how to do one thing. When I got married, I did not know how to cook a meal. I was the most useless human being on the face of the planet, and I'm sure I was the worst thing that ever happened to [my husband].
But I got this job in a darkroom of a newspaper -- standing up on concrete eight hours a day -- for $1.20 an hour. What a job! But I learned a lot. I learned how to get along with people in authority over me, which was something I was not used to. I learned how to keep -- which has taken me a long, long time -- but I learned how to keep my mouth shut when I had to.
Eventually that marriage ended. By then I was a typesetter, which at least you could actually sit down and do. I was always writing little things on the side, but I was really tired too.
Then I met my present husband. He asked me to marry him the second time we went out. We did get married, and for a wedding present -- remember this was a long, long time ago -- he gave me an electric typewriter. And he said: "Stay home and write your book."
Crescent Blues: What a nice thing to do.
Charlaine Harris: I thought it was an awfully nice thing to do. That's how nice he is. He's a lot nicer than I am.
So I did. I stayed home and started writing, and after about a month he said: "You know, I haven't seen you writing." I said, "OK." I was really scared, but I got out the typewriter and learned to use it and wrote a book, and it got published.
Crescent Blues: Was this the first Aurora Teagarden mystery?
Charlaine Harris: No, I wrote two stand-alones before I started the Teagarden books. The first was called Sweet and Deadly. I hate that title! I didn't pick that title. The book came out from Houghton Mifflin. Then I wrote what's become kind of a cult book: A Secret Rage. It was a book about rape, but it was a mystery. I still get letters about that book.
Then I got pregnant. It was like no one had ever had a baby, because I'd had so many fertility problems. I reveled in it. I couldn't do anything else, except sit there and gestate. [Laughs.] I had my first baby, and I was really involved with it. Then I had a second.
Then I thought: "I'm not happy." I have to do something else. So I started back writing again, and I got an agent. I wrote the first Aurora Teagarden. Then I found out I was pregnant. Back in the saddle again!
Crescent Blues: Having three kids, do you have any writing rituals? Or should the question be, can you afford to have any writing rituals?
Charlaine Harris: It was very hard when they were little bitty. Now that they're all older -- they're 17, 13 and 10 -- they go to school, and I don't have to have a babysitter in the summer anymore. A referee would be good, but I don't really need a babysitter.
I work in the morning. When they're going to school, I try to get over to the office at eight. I lift weights first thing in the morning, then I get to the office about eight, after I get them all off to school.
Crescent Blues: Is your office outside of the house?
Charlaine Harris: It's in a separate building, which is just wonderful. I used to work in a kind of glorified closet. This is much better. I work over there until about 11:30 a.m. everyday.
In the summer I have to go over and get out of the office earlier, because the kids are up, and they want the computer. They want to get on-line themselves.
Crescent Blues: Your kids use your computer?
Charlaine Harris: We've actually got two others, but of course, the one I use is more desirable because it's newer, it's got more memory. So I'm hoping… Maybe I'll put them all out in the cotton field this summer and get some work out of them.
Crescent Blues: Do you live in a rural area?
Charlaine Harris: All south Arkansas is rural. There's only one city in Arkansas: Little Rock. It's in the middle of the state. Everything else is rural, except for the really built-up areas around Fayetteville and Fort Smith up around the University of Arkansas, where Joan lives -- Joan Hess.
Crescent Blues: But she doesn't write about that part of Arkansas.
Charlaine Harris: Yes, she does. Her Claire Molloy series is set in a thinly disguised Fayetteville.
Crescent Blues: I'm thinking more about the Ariel Hanks series.
Charlaine Harris: Oh, I love those books -- the Maggody books. They're set in a small town in the mountainous part of Arkansas.
Crescent Blues: Do you get together with other Arkansas writers?
Charlaine Harris: No, almost never. I email. There really aren't that many other Arkansas writers. There's Joan at one end of the state and me at the other. We're a seven-hour drive apart. And there's a really, really nice lawyer/writer in Little Rock: Grant Stockley. Grant lives in Little Rock, and he's a fantastically nice guy.
Crescent Blues: So you come to conventions to find other writers.
Charlaine Harris: That's where I get my fellowship in.
Crescent Blues: You were born, though, in Mississippi and moved to Arkansas…
Charlaine Harris: With points in between too. I was in South Carolina for ten years. I lived in Memphis for some time and worked for Federal Express briefly.
Crescent Blues: But not as a typesetter.
Charlaine Harris: Yes.
Crescent Blues: You worked at Federal Express as a typesetter?
Charlaine Harris: That was the last place I was a typesetter.
Charlaine Harris: It is the prettiest place I've ever lived. The people are exquisitely polite. You cannot stop your car by the side of the road without at least two people stopping to help you. If you get stuck in a parking lot, five or six guys will act like they've got nothing better to do than march your car out of the hole.
Crescent Blues: That creates additional tension in the Lily Bard books -- the contrast between what she's been through and this cocoon of politeness.
Charlaine Harris: It can be a form of reality dodging. Lily is polite too. Her rebellion lies in not saying what people expect her to say. She keeps silent, and that's very rattling.
Crescent Blues: You mentioned earlier that you've got very broad reading tastes. What are the books that have influenced you the most?
Charlaine Harris: Most?
Crescent Blues: Which books do you think of off the top of your head?
Charlaine Harris: Pride and Prejudice -- you can't beat Jane Austin. I really love that book. And Barbara Paul, who I think is the most underrated writer in America today. Her book, The Fourth Wall -- a classic mystery -- changed my point of view on women and men. It changed my point of view on what a woman should be. It's a tremendously important book that never got the attention it deserved.
I like to read Laurell K. Hamilton. I like her very much. There are just so many writers I like tremendously. I really enjoy reading Katy Munger. I really enjoy reading Andrew Vachss. I really enjoy reading Dennis Lehane, Harlan Coben. And the great thing is now I know all of them!
Crescent Blues: A little earlier you said you were on a deadline to for another book. Could you tell us something about that?
Charlaine Harris: It's the sequel to Dead Until Dark. My agent said, "We're going to have to ask for an extension." I said, "I don't think so."
"You think you can write eighty or ninety pages by June the first?"
I said, "Yes." We'll see.
Crescent Blues: Well, after Malice Domestic, you don't have any more conventions until Memorial Day.
Charlaine Harris: Yes, "Mayhem in the Midlands" over Memorial Day weekend. I write like the wind. [Laughs.]
Crescent Blues: Can we expect any more Aurora Teagarden mysteries? I know we can expect more featuring Lily Bard.
Charlaine Harris: There will be a new Lily Bard in November: Shakespeare's Counselor. Aurora in 2002: Last Scene Alive. Then I think I have a contract for another Lily Bard.
Charlaine Harris: That is too subtle for me.
Crescent Blues: You don't think of yourself as subtle?
Charlaine Harris: No, I don't. I'm more of a blunt instrument-type person.
Crescent Blues: In crafting each of your series, do you have an overarching plot to the series or do you write each mystery as you go along?
Charlaine Harris: Do I know my goal [for each series]? Specifically: no. In general: yes.
I think the next Lily Bard will be a very surprising book. People tell me, "We see her changing from book to book." She's not. She's going back to what she was before the attack. She's deconstructing, not reconstructing. As I see it, she's going back to the more relaxed, gentle person that she was before she was attacked. There's a lot of healing -- which is regeneration -- in the process. But that's what she's doing, and I think the next one will be a very surprising book.
There is a pattern. The Aurora Teagarden books are about a woman who is perfectly conventional in many ways, yet nothing ever goes right for her. The Lily Bard books are about a very unconventional woman who really wants conventional things without knowing it, and they happen for her.
And then we've got Sookie [Stackhouse], who just wants to have a nice date that she can't hear in her head.
Crescent Blues: When you write, are you in control of your characters, or are your characters in control of you?
Charlaine Harris: My feeling on that is that it's bullshit. You may fool yourself into thinking: "Oh, my characters took over. Blah, blah, blah." It's all you. It's all coming from you. It may not seem like it, but it truly is. [Your characters are] all little pieces of you, maybe changed or seen through a prism. Some very unattractive pieces of you, some very nice pieces of you -- but they're all pieces of you. I think it's your less conscious mind telling you when you're heading in the wrong direction.
Crescent Blues: Do you draw all your characters from your imagination, or do you sometimes take a physical characteristic from one person or an attitude from someone else?
Charlaine Harris: Actually, I did use a real person one time, but she never reads the books, so she'll never know. (I didn't like her.)
Sometimes I will pick a person physically, because sometimes I get tired just like anybody else. I keep my college directory by my desk, and when I have to think of a name, I just open it and sift through it until I say, "That's the first name; that's the last name." I can't keep thinking all the time, or at least I tell myself that. And I do use real people.
Crescent Blues: But nothing libelous.
Charlaine Harris: Oh no. Never. It wouldn't be nice.
Crescent Blues: Anything else you'd like to add before we let you go?
Charlaine Harris: I forgot to mention Tanya Huff. I like Tanya Huff.
Crescent Blues: [Huff's vampire] Henry Fitzroy…
Charlaine Harris: And her Keeper books. [Huff] can do just about anything. She's an amazingly flexible writer. We have the same agent. [Smiles.]
Click here to read the Crescent Blues review of Dead Until Dark.
I love Dead in Dixie. Will you be doing anymore with Sookie Stackhouse???? Please couple her with Alcide. i adore this book. Do you autograph???
I've just finished reading your interview with Charlaine Harris. It was great. I am a fan of her Sookie Stackhouse series and can't wait until the next book. Will Ms. Harris be publishing another Sookie Stackhouse mystery next year? I've read all three of her books including this spring's Club Dead. Keep interviewing her she has me hooked on "Southern Gothic".
Thanks for the feedback. When I talked to Charlaine at this year's Malice Domestic, she was happily plotting more books for all her series. She didn't provide any details, but you can track her progress through her Web site.
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