Q/A: Charlaine Harris, the author behind True Blood, shares her writing insights – and even the scoop on her custom vampire fangs

In the current issue of Writer’s Digest, we have a profile of Charlaine Harris, the delightful and hilarious author behind the Southern Vampire Mysteries—the basis for the HBO series “True Blood.”

But even though the story is on newsstands, I still have a mountain of leftover notes from the interview. So rather than let them sit dormant in my WD vault forever (insert egregious vampire-stuck-in-coffin pun here), here are some of the highlights and outtakes from the interview with Harris—in which she talks about everything from why she tends to stick to first person to the future of her vampire series and, yes, how she owns her own custom fangs. As always, a regular writing prompt follows. (And for a prompt directly from Harris, click here.)

How old were you when you first felt the need to write, or where did it come from in your history?
“That was always my secret identity. Other kids want to be other things, but all I ever wanted to be, really, was a writer.”

[You became a full-time writer after your husband presented you with an electric typewriter and an offer to stay home and work on your material.] Is writing full time an important development for a writer?
“It is. It was for me. I know a lot of writers who are still coming home in the evening from their day jobs and writing. That would be incredibly hard.”

Did you ever feel compelled to give up over the years?

“Oh, no. No, that’s where just burying my head in the sand had its uses. Because I thought, well, I’m just gonna keep going, I’m just gonna keep on doing whatever I can think of to do and it’ll just work out somehow. And it did. But of course I had the luxury of doing that because my husband’s a chemical engineer and he was able to support me and the kids. If it had been my income that was my sole means of support, I certainly would have reacted differently.”

Did you know that [the Southern Vampire Mysteries] would have a different reception than your earlier series? ?
“Oh yeah, I was definitely trying to appeal to a broader readership because my mysteries had always done OK, but not great, and I thought, you know, if not now, when? This is the time. Amazingly, it worked.

Who inspires your work, and who has impacted your work?
“Hmm. Well, of course, the late, great Shirley Jackson has been a tremendous influence on me, I think. I can only aspire to be the writer she was. And there are so many writers I know and enjoy and I feel like I get something from each of them, like they’re all teaching me. Of course, I’m a huge Jane Austen fan. But I enjoy a very diverse bunch of writers. And hopefully I’ve, you know, melded them all into my own style.”
[Ed. note: For good vampire fiction, Harris recommends Barbara Hambly’s Those Who Hunt the Night and Traveling With the Dead, early Anne Rice novels, and books by Christopher Golden. As Harris says, “There have just been a lot of good vampire books, and all of them have their own pluses and minuses, but they all give a fresh look at the genre.”]

What is your best craft advice?
“I think you have to read everything you can get your hands on. And then you have to write. And there’s nothing that will teach you how to write more than writing. I’m still learning with every book. … I know that some writers lock into a method and that’s what they do, but I’m still thinking some day I’ll find the right way to write a book and it’ll be easier. It never is. So you just have to read, read, read, and then write. My strongest advice is not to tell anybody. You know, I think all the writers or the people who’ve wanted to be writers that I’ve met, who would sit down and describe the book they were working on in detail, were people who were never really gonna write it.”

What is the worst craft advice you’ve heard?
“[Laughs] I’ve heard quite a bit. Some of the advice I hear is so forward of where the writer is … when the first thing you have to do is write the damn book. I mean, you know, you’ve got to get the best possible book written. And I think that people who pay more attention to all the trappings are the people who will never write a great book.”

It’s easy to get lost in all of the other stuff.
“It is. I think it’s certainly possible to be an OK writer and still get absorbed in that, but maybe I’m just a hopeless romantic—I believe if you write a great book, the chances are it’ll get a great reception.”

As far as your style, why do you tend to write in first person?

“Because I get into the character better that way. I think there are a lot of similarities between writing and acting, and I think that part of that for me is assuming the character of the person, of my protagonist. I really enjoy writing that way, I enjoy being that person. I enjoy knowing how that person would react. I have written in the third person, though rarely. And that can be fun, too, but it’s almost like a writing exercise for me.”

Aside from your regular writing process, do you have any other rituals or tics?
“Nooo. I’m not against that, but the way I was brought up, that would seem self-indulgent. There’s not anything wrong with being self-indulgent [laughs] but I just wasn’t brought up that way. I’ve developed a few tics as the years go along, but really nothing outstanding.”

What are some of the challenges unique to writing a series?

“Oh, keeping track of everything! Oh my god, that is so hard. That’s just the … that is … incredibly difficult.”

Do you ever write from personal places?
“Absolutely, I certainly do. Quite a lot of my writing comes from really some dark places in my life.”

Does [your vampire series protagonist] Sookie Stackhouse come from any of your own experiences?
“No, but I think the idea of telepathy has always been interesting to me because I think that would just be absolutely horrible. When I was considering what kind of disability she had, that was the one that made the most sense to me in terms of where I wanted her to go, and I really considered some ridiculous disabilities.”

As some writers have said before, is it ever hard when your work is so closely associated with an adaptation on another medium, like “True Blood”?
“Well, I’m certainly not going to quarrel with that because it made my sales just skyrocket, so I can only be delighted about that. However, people do sometimes get confused about the differences in the characters between the books and the show. And you know, we’ve had to almost—on my website—we’ve had to establish a difference between show Eric and book Eric, because they’re not the same, really.”

… On a mildly related side note, I’ve heard you have your own custom vampire fangs.
“I do. But I got them years ago … probably 10 years ago, even. … I thought that was the funniest thing in the universe when I got my own custom fangs. It was before I’d ever written a vampire novel; I just thought I was so cool, I thought it was really funny. And now so many vampire writers say, ‘Oh, that’s so cheesy having fangs,’ and I thought, Well, I like mine! But they really do still look awfully good.”

Can we coax any morsels about how the series will end?
“Nope. I have signed for three more, and I’ll sign for more after that if I don’t feel like concluding the series. I’m just going to wait and see on that. I don’t want to let the story get stale and repetitive. I really don’t wanna overstay my welcome.”

To read our full profile, in which Harris talks about how her vampire series was almost dead on arrival, walking the red carpet as a writer, how she got to where she is today, and much more, click here to check out the July/August issue of WD.

* * *



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After decades of friendship, it doesn’t seem possible, but she realizes she won’t ever speak to her best friend again. Explain why.



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5 thoughts on “Q/A: Charlaine Harris, the author behind True Blood, shares her writing insights – and even the scoop on her custom vampire fangs

  1. Vibram Five Fingers

    I don’t really run barefoot. I wanted to, but the combination of super hot sidewalks and the fear of sharp objects convinced me that Vibram Five Fingers were a good compromise between running shoes and none at all. What I didn’t know was that my reasons were the same as almost everyone else’s and the guys that I looked up to were the same Vibram Fivefingers that everyone else did.
    Though I don’t call myself Barefoot Tyler (mostly because I DON’T RUN BAREFOOT), this video is absolutely hilarious. The insults are far better than the random crap the Vibram Five Fingers guy is spewing. http://www.2vibramfivefingers.com/

  2. Martha W

    Sorry I’ve been gone again, Zac.


    James rang the doorbell for the thousandth time; Ellyn wasn’t answering. The last conversation they’d had, she had spouted some complete nonsense at almost every turn. In fact, she’d sounded like her mother. And then she’d said it.

    The uncommitted life isn’t worth living.

    It was only some random quote she’d read by Marshall Fishwick, but she’d never forgotten it. He’d seen her write it repeatedly on the covers of her books in school. It had become her code for when she was ready to quit something.

    Before it had meant band or Spanish class. But he had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. It felt like… like he was never going to see his best friend again.

    James pounded on the door. “Ell!” The yellowed lace curtain to his left fluttered, he banged again on the door; paint chips fell to the ground, faded blue almost lost in the glare of the noon sun.

    The rusted brass knob twisted slightly and a sallow, wrinkled face peered out of the crack Mrs. Porter made in the door. “Impatience never commanded success.”

    “Where’s Ellyn?” He never should have gone to college and left Ellyn here with this old crotch.

    Eyes that used to be sharp, cold and fathomless were now opaque, seeing nothing but her own thoughts. “I’ve done nothing. It’s her that’s gone and done it.”

    James crowded the doorway, urgency thrummed through his veins. “Where is she? Let me take her, help her.”

    “Time, which changes people, does not alter the image we have of them.” The old woman smiled, then her breath caught and choked out in a dry cough.

    Panic rose in his gut. James shoved hard on the door, ripped it from the tight grip of the crazy woman who used to be Ellyn’s mother.

    Left her shouting from the living room about sinners and their penance.

    Rushing to Ellyn’s room, taking the steps two at a time, he swallowed over and over, trying to convince his stomach – his heart – that it wasn’t true. He flung the door open, afraid he was too late.

    And there she lay in the center of her bed; her old pink comforter framing her too-slender body. Ellyn’s flannel nightgown was too threadbare to count as clothing. Her blonde hair matted, her face hollowed and pale. Barely, her breath moved the few strands of hair that dared to cross in front of her mouth.

    “Ell.” He could only muster a harsh whisper. This was not the plan. Not hers. Not his.

    Her eyes opened, green the same as the sea on a rough summer day, unfocused at first. When he moved to her side, she smiled. “You can’t climb this mountain, Jimmy.”

    That she remembered his dreams from when they were kids gave him hope. He scooped her from the bed, blanket and all. “The difference between a mountain and molehill is your perspective, angel.” He kissed the top of her head. “And we’re already going down the backside.”

  3. Tom T.

    "A Garden Paradise Lost"

    It was a beautiful day in late July. It reached perhaps 85 degrees with hardly any humidity. Of course, in Southwestern Pennsylvania that isn’t unusual. People always complain about the winter, particularly this past winter, but there really no reason about Pennsylvania weather generally.
    Anyway, after a morning on the golf course, one of my retirement enjoyments, I came home to our wonderful small ranch that we bought ten years ago. Judy, my wife of 20 years, looked up from her perch on the bedroom recliner, where she always sat when chatting on the phone with our daughter, and mouthed hi. This was a ritual I haven’t quit comprehended as yet. One would think that talking that long, day after day, at some point most subjects would be exhausted, but not the case. Our daughter Lori, has a consulting job which give her the freedom to work from home. Regardless though, she only called her mother when she takes her dog Francis for a walk. Francis by the way is rescued lab mix who has serious problems which Lori has worked very hard to overcome.
    I changed and started to make a sandwich, just at Judy came out of the bedroom, ending her conversation with Lori.
    “How’d you do?
    “I broke a 100! My usual response when anyone asks my score. This way if they don’t ask for specifics I don’t have to tell them how far below a 100 it was (99). If they want further details I embarrassingly try to explain my lack of ability even while playing three days a week.
    Of course Judy knows the rouse and doesn’t pursue it any farther.
    Again, Judy knows me too well to push it and so we spent the afternoon on our back porch that we refinanced our house for just before I retired just for afternoons like this.
    “We talked about the flower garden and how it looked especially nice this year. The color mix and variety of annuals and perennials we thought were good. Neither of us are “Master” gardeners but by some symbiotic sense we always end up with a wonderful and comfortable view, which by the way is completely private, by forsythia and pines that Judy insisted on as soon as we moved in. And of course she was right.
    The golden years must be exactly this: a summer afternoon on a garden surrounded patio with your partner, your best friend who knows you as well as if she were you and you her.
    As I look back now, I don’t think we talked about anything important, just chit chat about family and friends. I think we also talked about going out that night…but my afternoon nap was interrupted by the phone call from the police informing that my wife was in an accident.
    I didn’t even know she was going anywhere. She just wanted some unimportant items from the store and a drunk driver unwittingly took my best friend from me.

  4. Mark James

    Today, I write like . . . Stephen King

    “Go home. Lock your door, latch the windows, draw the curtains.”

    “Matt.” I grabbed his arm, made my fingers stay wrapped around his cold flesh. “Don’t do this.”

    He undid my grip. “Leave the night to us, Priscilla.”

    I lost my temper, pushed at him with both hands. “There’s no us. You think you’re in some brotherhood now?”

    A hint of a smile twisted his lips. “Yes. And you,” he said, looking past me, “are in danger.” His dark blue eyes came back to me. “My scent is on you. I’ll have to take you home.”

    I grasped at the chance. “Yeah.” I swiped at a tear. “And stay. Keep me safe.”

    We’d been best friends since the day he picked up my muddy books after Zeke, the biggest bully in the first grade, had chased me past the bus stop.

    “Be reasonable, Scilla.” He put his cold fingers through mine. “You know I can’t stay.”


    Matt turned to me. “I’m hungry.”

    “There’s steak at home.”

    He caressed my arm. “You’re so warm, so full of blood.”

    I slapped his hand away. “Stop. You’re scaring me.”

    “I know,” he said. “I can feel your pulse, pumping your blood wildly along just under your skin.” He stroked my face. “All over.”

    When his fingers drifted to my throat, I closed my eyes, told myself I wasn’t scared of the boy who’d walked me home from first grade everyday for a whole winter. “God, Matt. Just come home with me. I’ll think of something.”

    At five-thirty on Maple Street there should have been dogs barking, the blue white glow of televisions in windows, the soft ticking of cars cooling in driveways.

    “What will you think of, little Scilla?” His voice was eerie on that empty, quiet street.

    “You promised you’d never leave.” I hadn’t planned on pulling out the dirtiest card I had. “You said you’d be with me forever.”

    “We were children.”

    Like the little girl I still was inside, I said, “So what? We pricked our thumbs.”

    “I’m dead.”

    “You’re acting like it’s the end of the world,” I said. “You have to suck blood at night. Things get weird sometimes.”

    “I’ll find Ezekiel,” he said. “He’ll never chase another girl and throw her books into the mud.”

    I gaped at him. “We were kids.”

    He smiled. “So what?”

    Somehow he’d maneuvered me along the sidewall. We were in front of my house. Mom wasn’t in her usual spot, looking out for me after dark. “You can’t kill him. That was ages ago.”

    “I won’t,” my best friend said. “Not for a while. I’ll enjoy making him wait.” He stroked my hair. “Go inside, Priscilla. It’s dark, and I’m so thirsty.” He gave me a gentle push.

    I ran up the steps, yanked my door open and banged it shut behind me.

    Just before I’d spun away, I’d seen his fangs, long and curving up, and his mouth falling open, his eyes dead with greed and hunger. Matt would always be my best friend, but I’d never talk to him again.