Interview with Charlaine Harris

Posted by Goodreads on May 6, 2014
For American author Charlaine Harris, the past year has been filled with the amount of drama and adventure one might expect from her bestselling fantasy novels (minus the vampires). Last May she released Dead Ever After, the thirteenth and final chapter in the Sookie Stackhouse series (the basis for the hit HBO show True Blood), to a fury of criticism and even death threats when the series took a surprising turn. Now that Harris has left Sookie's world of Bon Temps, Louisiana, behind for good, she's making a fresh start in Midnight, Texas, the setting of her new paranormal trilogy. The first in the series, Midnight Crossroad, introduces the one-stoplight town and its intensely private inhabitants, each with their own secrets to keep. When psychic Manfred Bernardo moves in and the body of pawnshop owner Bobo Winthrop's missing girlfriend is found, the residents band together to find out what happened and clear Bobo's name. In the process, their own carefully concealed pasts begin to unravel. Harris spoke with interviewer Elizabeth Stamp about revisiting old characters, the importance of diversity, and why the best female characters have senses of humor.

Goodreads: Let's start with a question from a Goodreads member. 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.

Learn more about Elizabeth and follow what she's reading.

Would you like to contribute author interviews to Goodreads? Contact us.

Comments Showing 1-39 of 39 (39 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Susan (last edited May 08, 2014 12:49PM) (new)

Susan Chesnoff thank you I just love to know about the Author's and what they are thinking. Loved the Sookie's and I will look forward to Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine! But just not yet I have a list of reading that is waiting for my eyes to stay open! Susan :)

message 2: by Michelle (new)

Michelle i love charlaine!!!!!!!!

message 3: by Ladyshyn (new)

Ladyshyn Love this

message 4: by Micaela (new)

Micaela Just so you know, I thought the way you ended the Sukie books was perfect. SPOILER: Sam had been there for sukie and sukie for sam all along...

message 5: by Trine Lise (new)

Trine Lise Great interview and a lot of interesting information, but I suspect she meant Kelley Armstrong, not Kelly Armstrong. The former would certainly be a logical addition to the group of prominent urban fantasy writer she lists, while the latter appears to be a poet.

message 6: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Macdonald Susan wrote: "thank you I just love to know about the Author's and what they are thinking. Loved the Sookie's and I will look forward to Midnight Crossroad, by Charlaine! But just not yet I have a list of readin..."
I recommend reading Charlaine's- Aurora Teagarden mysteries. There are about 6-7 books out- all of them are great. They are mysteries with a bit of romance thrown in. I really enjoy them.

message 7: by Kathie (new)

Kathie 'Got to read Midnight Crossroad this week and loved it. I love the way she writes and her character development. I am now anxiously waiting for the next one! It was a great read! Thanks for another great series!

message 8: by Neely (new)

Neely Powell Great interview! Terrific writer. Love her books.

message 9: by Jama (new)

Jama Great book. Read in one day.

message 10: by Fran (new)

Fran Lawren I would just like to say thank you to Charlaine Harris for so much good reading! I look forward to her new series, and I liked Manfred Bernardo so I am glad to be seeing him again.

message 11: by ابو (new)

ابو اسماعيل good

message 12: by Sharon (new)

Sharon I miss Harper most but I miss Lily also. Thanks for their books!

message 13: by Hunter (new)

Hunter Jackson I can honestly say after what Mrs. Harris did with the Sookie Stackhouse series that I will never read her again. I loved the the series and it hurt when the effort and the quality of her workmanship disappeared. I do not feel as if I can trust her enough not to do this again. She is a great writer don't get me wrong but once burned is enough for me. I wish her well with all she does and hope all enjoy her books.

message 14: by Shirla (new)

Shirla Ghadaki I just finished the book last night. I am ready for the next book in the series.

message 15: by Hermon (new)

Hermon Mihranian I am looking forward to read the book

message 16: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Allen The ending to the Sookie Stackhouse series was so appalling, character's making decisions that were ludicrous and the whole book was such a slap in the face to loyal fans that I just can't ever read anything else she writes. You can't trust her to be faifhful to the characters created. Shame because those early books were excellent.

message 17: by Hunter (new)

Hunter Jackson I would like to state for the record that I wan not a fan of the series in any form other than maybe the first 2-3 episodes, after that all I did thru out was say that did not happen, he is dead, who in the heck is that so no that is not correct. The series on T.V is a farce. I did love the books but when the last book came out it was NOTHING but a disappointment, it was more like a Sookie lovers reunion. As I said I wish her the best and hope all enjoy her books but for me personally..... no sorry.

message 18: by Marilyn (new)

Marilyn Swartz I have read all of the Sookie books, the Shakespeare books, and the Grave books. I am so happy to have something new to read by Charaine.

message 19: by Deborah Tindall (new)

Deborah Tindall I am so excited about the new series...I enjoyed the Sookie Books, and am enjoying the Aurora Teagarden series and was very happy to see that Charlaine has a whole new place for us to get to know! She is going to be at the Phoenix Comicon in June and I am so excited about the chance to listen to her again (saw her at the SDCC years ago when True Blood came out) and maybe get to meet her and have her autograph a book for me...but I really want to thank her for so many hours of fun and pleasure reading her books and look forward to many more! Thanks for this terrific interview!

message 20: by Victor (new)

Victor Nganguem j'aime ça

message 21: by Paul (new)

Paul My daughter gave me the first six Sookie (True Blood) books. I read them all. Charlaine is great. The TV series did not do justice to the books. I cannot wait to find Midnight Crossing. Thank You Carlaine.

message 22: by B.C. (new)

B.C. Deeks I adored the Lily Bard SHAKESPEARE series and am truly looking forward to starting on the new Midnight series. Ms Harris is such a talented and imaginative author.

message 23: by Doreen (new)

Doreen I have loved the Sookie Stackhouse series and have not finished it yet. I will be looking forward to the new Midnight series! I also will be adding the Aurora series to my must read list. Thanks for the great interview!

message 24: by Lynne (last edited May 17, 2014 03:36PM) (new)

Lynne Macdonald I loved Sookie Stackhouse series. I love all of her books so far. I found Aurora Teagarden series which is a mystery, and to me they are great. Charlaine's genre or forte is mystery novels and she sure enough writes a great one. Looking for something new to read- I highly recommend this series. I just got the Midnight Crossings this book- I will read this upcoming week. From the teaser's I have read, I am sure I will love one too. Then I will wait for the other 2 books since it is a trilogy.

message 25: by Sharon (new)

Sharon I have all of the Aurora Teagarden paperbacks. I forget about Aurora. I have read several books in this series but I need to finish them. Thanks for reminding me!

message 26: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Nice... love it <3

message 27: by Carol (new)

Carol Hi - had to weigh in because I just read the first Midnight book and I really LOVE it!! I, too, was disappointed in the very last Sookie book, but nothing can make everybody happy all the time. I never watched True Blood because I like the characters as I imagined them when I was reading the episode of True Blood and I was turned off. If Charlaine is reading these comments, I just want to say how much I do love her work. Don't stop!

message 28: by Soumy (new)

Soumy loved it

Erin *Proud Book Hoarder* Looking forward to checking out the new series, love Charlaine's writing style and was a big fan of the Sookie series

message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

Last year I was so sad to see sookie come to an end, but I am very excited to read this new series! Charlaine just keeps getting better with every book she writes, so I have no doubt this will be great!

message 31: by Carmen (new)

Carmen Lang Very glad she only signed up for a trilogy. I loved the first few Sookie Stackhouse books. If you read between the lines of Ms Harris interview, she was tired of the series, but was contractually obligated to continue. This showed in the quality of the last few books in the series. It felt like she was taking out her frustration on the readers and trashing the series and characters we had come to know and love. That said, this in no way justifies some of the readers reactions. This is fiction for entertainment, nothing that warrants death threats.

message 32: by Wendy (new)

Wendy Collazo Charlaine Harris you are an amazing writer. I absolutely love The All Souls novels and I'm anxiously awaiting book three.

message 33: by Deborah (new)

Deborah Charlaine Harris certainly does do great world-building, and create characters that readers become passionate about. I've read all the series books - Roe Teagarden, Lily Bard (my hero!), Sookie Stackhouse, Harper Connolly - and thought they were all great series. yes, a couple of the Sookie Stackhouse books weren't as strong as the rest, but I thought the conclusion was great, and true to the characters.
very interesting to read a series with a male lead - I love Manfred - and with different characters' points of view. Midnight, Texas is an intriguing place.

message 34: by S.K. (new)

S.K. McCauley I just moved "across the pond," and had to down-size everything...including my beloved books. But, I wouldn't leave behind a single Charlaine Harris novel. Too big a fan. And... her advice helped me to finish my own novel. She's and inspiration all the way around.

message 35: by Lynne (new)

Lynne Macdonald Ms. Harris has been very nice to me too. My girlfriend met her at a signing. She said she was very nice too. She embodies old southern charm. I have not seen this in a very long while. My great aunts had this trait too. To me it is nice to know it is still around.

message 36: by Heather (new)

Heather I love Charlaine Harris' writing. Every book is a treat for me. Each series is vastly different, but her charm and warm voice remains the same. I may not agree with every direction the narrative takes, or every decision characters make, but it is the authors vision we are reading, and I feel it deserves respect. I look forward to Charlaine's future work. I just wish I had half of her talent for the written word.

message 37: by Kim (new)

Kim Cox My son convinced me to begin the Sookie books. I read them all and I loved them. I am also watching the True Blood series, but I agree that they do not do the books justice. Very few TV/Movies based on books are as good as the books, so I guess that is something I've come to expect.

message 38: by Kathyjacks (new)

Kathyjacks Hunter wrote: "I can honestly say after what Mrs. Harris did with the Sookie Stackhouse series that I will never read her again. I loved the the series and it hurt when the effort and the quality of her workmansh..."

I agree and with her books going for more than $8 a pop I'm not willing to invest in her anymore after the Sookie series! Glad I'm not the only one that feels this way.

message 39: by Mary (new)

Mary Smith I love her new Louisiana series. I loved the first few Shakespeare mysteries, but fell off after a while. I loved all of the Sookie Stackhouse ones, but some more than others. I hated to see them end. I am sooooo glad she is digging in and beginning with more can't-wait-to-read stuff!

back to top