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Charlaine Harris, living and dying in Bon Temps

John Williford
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

You could start a holy war by attempting to proclaim any one author the “queen” of vampire fiction. Yet whether they like their vampires cute and sparkly, suave and French or with a genteel Southern drawl, few fans of fangdom would contest that Charlaine Harris is on the shortlist of heiresses to the throne.

Harris is author of the hugely successful “Sookie Stackhouse” novels, the most recent of which, “Dead Reckoning,” made its debut at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list. The series is also the inspiration for the Emmy-winning HBO series “True Blood.” The novels follow the life of Sookie, a waitress and mostly-secret telepath in the fictional northern Lousiana small town of Bon Temps. Sookie’s life is complicated by vampires, shapeshifters, witches and fate, just to name a few of the supernatural creatures that inhabit Harris’ world.

In addition, Harris has written the Aurora Teagarden and Lily Bard mysteries, as well as the recently concluded Harper Connelly series about a girl who after being struck by lightning gains the ability to sense the dead and to know how they died.

Harris recently spoke with The Miami Herald from her home in Texas.

Question: The book after “Deadlocked” will be the 13th and final Sookie Stackhouse novel; can you tell us the title?

Answer: I blabbed it on a panel, but I wasn’t supposed to, so no, I don’t know what the title is! (laughs) Really, they’re going to announce it soon, and everybody will love it, I’m sure.

Q: So we learned in “Dead Reckoning” that Sookie’s mind-reading ability was meant to be a gift. Do you see it as a gift or a curse?

A: Oh it’s a curse, definitely! No matter what (the gift-giver) thought of it, it was a curse for her. It’s a curse for humans.

Q: Will we see Hunter (the 5-year-old cousin who shares Sookie’s mind-reading abilities) in the last book?

A: Hunter is going to be in a short story. He’s one of the main characters in a short story that’s coming out in August in “An Apple for the Creature,” which is an anthology collected by Toni L.P. Kellner and myself about supernatural creatures and school. This is our fifth themed anthology edited together.

Q: What about Sookie and her cohorts has kept you entertained as a writer for 13 books?

A: Oh my gosh! Well, her world is so complicated, it just seemed like a rich field to explore. She has so many issues; her family is complicated; her relationships are very complicated; and it always seemed like something new was happening to keep my interest in the world up.

Q: Do you discover a lot as you write?

A: I do! Very often because — alas! — I’m not much of a planner. So it’s always discovery for me. It’s the way I write, whether good or bad. I’ve often wished when I started a book I knew what was going to happen. I talked to writers who write 80-page outlines, and I’m just in awe of that.

Q: It’s no secret that “True Blood” is quite different from the books. Have the show’s writers ever made you say “Gee, I wish I’d thought of that” or “Ugh, I never would have done that?”

A: I’ve certainly wished that I had thought of Jessica (the young vampire that bloodsucker Bill Compton was forced to create, who doesn’t exist in the books)! She’s just a great character.

Q: The Southern Vampire books are popular; other writers — Anne Rice, Kim Harrison, Stephenie Meyer —write about vampires, too. Why do you think we need vampire stories?

A: Well, of course, there’s the erotic overtone. Anne Rice’s vampires could not have sex, but her books of course were very heavy on homo-eroticism. My vampires can because — when I started framing the books, I thought, “You know, I’ll just take whatever Anne didn’t want and see what I can do with it.” She took the southern part of Louisiana; I took the northern part. Her vampires were romantic and had wonderful names. Mine weren’t. And I love Anne’s work — I’m a huge fan — and I know her. There was no disrespect in this; it was a “let’s see what we can do.” And at the time the only other person writing anything like that was Laurell K. Hamilton. So I was lucky enough to have an open field. Now it’s very crowded.

Q: How did the graphic novel collaboration “Cemetery Girl” (coming in 2013) get started?

A: I had this idea, and I’d had it for a while, but I couldn’t really see writing a novel about it, and I was really uncertain what to do with it. But it was a good idea, and I don’t like to waste anything. Very atypically, I was at DragonCon, and my friend Christopher Golden was there. Christopher … has written comic books, screenplays, a great variety of things, mostly in the science-fiction, superhero and urban fantasy genres. I was telling him this idea but said I didn’t know when I’d get to write it. So after a couple months I got an email from him, and he said, “You know, I’ve been thinking about that idea, and it was really great. Couldn’t you see it as a graphic novel?” And I thought, “Oh my gosh! That’s it!” … So I said, “Well, if you would be willing to collaborate with me, why don’t we try writing a graphic novel?” Of course he’s very well-versed in all that. With him showing me the ropes, we’ve actually finished the first book.

Q: This will be your first graphic novel?

A: It certainly will be, and it will be the first original graphic novel for Penguin. They’ve republished graphic novels, but this will be the first original one. It’s going to be an adventure for all of us.

Q: Do you think the advent of the iPad, Nook and Kindle will change how novelists tell stories?

A: I certainly think we’re going to see more and more graphic novels and more illustrated novels. But I think perhaps they will lead to more people reading because people are so trained to look at screens. If they can look at a screen and read, maybe that’s what they’ll do.

Q: Would you rather be the tail of a lion or the head of a mouse?

A: The head of a mouse! I like the cerebral process. I’m not sure mice really have that, but anything is better than being the tail.

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