Interview with Charlaine HarrisPosted by Goodreads on May 6, 2014
Maicon Vollzin asks, "I want to know how she creates her big universes—beautifully designed small towns with a rich mythology. The dynamic of the scenery and the story becomes so intense that I want to know about her world-building process."
Charlaine Harris: That's a lovely compliment embodied in that question. I start off with just the kernel of something that interests me. In this case, I started thinking about pawnshops. I went to a pawnshop, and the stuff in it was pretty boring—old tools, televisions, and gold. The first things that go are televisions and gold, apparently. I looked at all the stuff there and thought, I could write a much better pawnshop. My pawnshop would have really weird, creepy stuff in it as well as the more mundane things. That really piqued my interest. I didn't want to put it in a busy place. I wanted to put it in a small place, so I put it at a crossroads. Then I thought, Well, I just see that crossroads as being in Texas. It's funny how sometimes your mind is just made up. And I saw that crossroads in Texas as a place where the trees aren't big, and they're spread apart, and the ground is scrubby. That turned out to be the right location for the book, and it sprang up from there. I thought, Who else would live there? There has to be more than one person! It just evolved. I think my world building is the evolution of a single idea into a whole world.
GR: The residents of Midnight are incredibly diverse in terms of race, sexuality, religious beliefs, and supernatural abilities. Was it important to you to create residents who were not only diverse, but also very accepting of each other's differences?
CH: Yes. That's the way I wish the world was. I think maybe if I keep writing people that way, it will rub off. Of course the bad people in Midnight aren't accepting. They're very intolerant. I wanted to provide that contrast, because this is certainly not a perfect world. There's a lot of intolerance and injustice. But I hope that we're moving toward something better.
GR: How do you decide how long a series needs to be? How did you know that the Midnight books would be a trilogy?
CH: I didn't want to sign a contract for any more books than that. That's one lesson that Sookie taught me: Be careful for how much you sign up for, because you may run out of steam before you run out of contract. I just made it under the wire with Sookie. I had just enough ideas left to continue her through my contract. Of course they would have signed me for more books, but there comes a point where you have to say, I've done the best I can on this and it's time to move on. So that's why I just signed for three Midnight books. There may be more if I'm still feeling the love after I finish the first three.
GR: One of the main characters in Midnight Crossroad, Manfred Bernardo, appeared in the Harper Connelly series. What made you decide to revisit his character?
CH: I just wanted to see more of him. There are characters in the book from all the series I've written, and they're people I just wanted to see again. I wanted to find out more about him. I thought he was good enough to use more, if I can put it that way. I had a lot of reader feedback on him, and I thought, Well, obviously people are interested in Manfred and it would be fun to see him again. And if I use him, maybe I can revisit some of the other people I've missed. Not the main characters but some of the subsidiary characters I've enjoyed writing.
GR: Your fans are very invested in Harper Connelly. Will she be appearing in the trilogy?
CH: You know, I actually wrote her into the first book, and then after a long chat with my editor, I decided that was a mistake. She's such a strong character, and it's like she took over the book once she appeared. I didn't want this to be a Harper Connelly book. So I took that part out and rewrote it. I really think it's a better book for it. Quinn [from the Sookie Stackhouse series] will be in the next book. Not as a main character, but he'll be there.
GR: Goodreads member Darren asks, "Charlaine, you create such unique female characters who can show strength but also exhibit immense vulnerability. In your opinion, what other qualities make a great heroine? Also, can we expect anything in the future with Harper Connelly, in print or onscreen?"
CH: The most important thing for a heroine to have is inner strength. A sense of humor is a big plus. I have written women, like Lily Bard, who did not have a big sense of humor, and it was rough going. It's always helpful to me if women have a sense of humor.
I had two television deals for Harper, and they both fell through. I am just waiting to see what happens. I have other things that are very close to bearing fruit, so we'll see.
GR: Your fans are extremely devoted to your work and your characters. How much are your fans in the back of your mind when you're writing, and is that something you have to fight against?
CH: I just can't think about that when I'm writing. I have to write the book that I'm called upon to write. I hope it pleases people, because I love to please people. I love to be a bestseller, no two ways about it. But I have to write the book I have in me. I can't think about how people are going to receive it when I'm writing it.
GR: Can you tell us about your writing process? What is a typical day like for you?
CH: I start out every day around 8:30. I answer my emails. Inevitably a proportion of those are business emails about decisions I have to make. It seems that business is all about decision making. Then I have to start the work of the day. I try to write six to eight original pages a day, but I start out by reviewing what I wrote the day before and rewriting that. By the time I finish the book, it's essentially the second draft. I go over it and try to iron it out and pick out any obvious mistakes. I write directly to the computer, which I think is God's gift to writers. My first two books were written on an electric typewriter, and let me tell you, this is easier.
GR: What is the revision process like when you've finished the book?
CH: I send it to my two beta readers, my good friends Toni Kelner and Dana Cameron, who are also writers. We've been friends for a long time, and I know they'll tell me the truth in a tactful way and give me some good ideas about how to improve areas that are weak. Then I send it to my editor at Ace and my agent. They both have some input, and then I rewrite. And then I send it in again, and the copy editor works on it, then I rewrite that. Then my continuity editor, Victoria Koski, who is my own employee, reads it again and tries to catch any continuity errors. Hopefully since there are so few books in the Midnight series there won't be any. As the Sookie series went on and the world got so complicated, it was impossible for me to keep track of everything.
GR: That must be hard because you have very sharp-eyed fans, who will definitely notice if there are any inconsistencies.
CH: Oh, yes. And they always let me know. God bless'em.
GR: Goodreads member Carolyn Fritz asks, "As a budding author, I'm finding it hard to make time to write with a full-time job and maintaining my home/family. Do you have any suggestions for new authors on how to maximize their writing time without going crazy?"
CH: It's always a struggle, isn't it? I was super fortunate. When I got married the second time, my new husband offered me the opportunity to stay at home and write full time, which was fabulous. If I'd had to juggle everything, I don't know if I would have ever finished a book. So my hat is off to people who are trying to do this. As far as managing your time, I think you have to get at least a dedicated hour every day. Just one hour. And just write. Don't answer emails. Don't write query letters. Just write. Just move forward. That's the only suggestion I can offer. When I had my children at home, I could write when they were in day care, which was two mornings a week. It's very hard, and I fully appreciate and understand that.
GR: What writers, books, or ideas have most influenced you?
CH: I've never read a book about how to write, because I'm scared I'll find out I'm not doing it right. I read voraciously, and there are a lot of books that I've reread over and over that have spoken to me about how to make something effective. You have to find the books that speak to you—the books that are as excellent as you want to be—and diagnose how they got that way. What did the writer do that made this an excellent book? Was it the descriptions? Was it in the characters? Was it in the dialogue? Was it in the plot? What made this such a good book? You have to be analytical about it, and if it's a really good book, it will stand up to being taken apart like that.
GR: What books have you reread and analyzed?
CH: Jane Eyre. It's got everything. It's the template for so many books that came after it. You can just see the trail from Jane Eyre to Rebecca to modern romance novels. It's a clear forerunner of so many books.
Books that I've reread intensely are Anne Rice's first two or three vampire books. She uses her vocabulary so incredibly and so precisely. I don't want to write like she writes, but I admire the way she achieves her effects. You just have to be in awe of someone who can be that selective in their use of language. There was a book called The Fourth Wall, which is out of print now, by an author named Barbara Paul, who became my friend. Barbara achieved something with that book that I'm still trying to achieve. She had a way of writing women that was unlike anyone else at the time that book was written, and I've learned so much about writing a woman as an individual character rather than as a woman.
GR: How do you find new things to read?
CH: My publisher sends me things. Sometimes I enjoy them, sometimes I don't. There are writers I follow no matter what, and I read everything they write.
GR: Which authors do you follow religiously?
CH: Patricia Briggs is one of my favorites. There are a lot. I don't want to leave anybody out! Kim Harrison, Kelley Armstrong, Jim Butcher, Mike Carey. Benedict Jacka is just great. I like Kevin Hearne's books, too. And Lee Child is a big favorite of mine.
GR: What are you reading now?
CH: I'm rereading an old Geoffrey Household book, The Watcher in the Shadows. I hadn't read it in a long time, and I thought it would be a good book to read.
GR: Do you feel a sense of relief to have left Sookie Stackhouse behind, and are you excited to move onto the Midnight series?
CH: Yes and yes. I felt like I had lived with Sookie long enough. She had done great things for me, and I'll love her forever, but it was really time for me to do something else. I was so excited—it was like going to a buffet after eating bread and water. I was just so excited at the prospect of doing something different that I knew I'd made the right decision.
Interview by Elizabeth Stamp for Goodreads. Stamp is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York, and was previously an editor at Architectural Digest and Elle Decor.
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