Charlaine Harris, the author behind "True Blood," offers an exclusive writing prompt


The July/August issue of Writer’s Digest began shipping to subscribers yesterday, and for some reason, July/August is shaping up to be the issue that WD Ed. Jessica Strawser and I geek out over every year. (Last year we featured Anne Tyler and our money-belted hero, Rick Steves—and without naming names, I can reveal that at least two staffers on this magazine own Rick Steves travel wares, and one may even have a Steves poster up.)

This year, Jessica interviewed Life of Pi scribe Yann Martel, and I profiled the awesome Charlaine Harris (author of the Southern Vampire Mysteries behind “True Blood”). We’ll have some more exclusives in the next few weeks, but for the time being, here’s a prompt direct from Harris.

As a bit of background, Harris and mystery author Toni L.P. Kelner have created three anthologies together, and when they do they provide their contributors with topical prompts (werewolves + Christmas, vampires + birthdays, and so on).

Harris’ prompt for us?

“Write a story involving sorcery and lawyers.”

Feel free to take the prompt home or post your response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below. If you’re having trouble with the captcha code sticking, e-mail it to me at writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll make sure it gets up. We’ll also draw up to five commenters’ names Monday to snag a copy of the new issue of WD featuring Harris and Martel.


And for WD’s take on writing in the genre, check out The Writer’s Digest Guide to Science Fiction & Fantasy by Orson Scott Card and the Editors of WD.


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7 thoughts on “Charlaine Harris, the author behind "True Blood," offers an exclusive writing prompt

  1. Ricki Wilson

    Sixteen-year-olds Willow and Jasmine were thrilled to have been invited to one of their aunt Leigh’s fancy soirees.

    “Stunning,” Leigh exclaimed, kissing both girls’ cheeks. “You wear sophistication well,” she added. “Now remember, pretend this is your own party. I want you to mingle, introduce yourselves, get to know some of these people.”

    “Who’s coming?” both girls asked at once. Back home, this was so common that no one thought anything of it, but the girls knew from experience that their simultaneous outbursts would draw unwelcomed attention anywhere else. Born just hours apart on a stormy, July afternoon, Willy and J were as close as two girls could be without being twins.

    “These are the people behind some of my little charities. They work so hard all year long, I thought it would be nice to treat them tonight,” Leigh explained, but the look in her eye didn’t capture the benevolence of her words.

    “You don’t seem too thrilled,” Willy remarked.

    “Well,” Leigh began, pausing to choose her words, “I’ve received some bad news.”

    Willy poured a glass of wine for Leigh, and handed a soda to J.

    “It takes millions of dollars to keep these charities running,” Leigh explained. “So you have to have the right kind of people working behind the scenes: bankers, investors, celebrities, people who can get things done. The thing is,” she continued, “sometimes you have to work with people who are just on the fringes of ruthlessness, and choosing these people can be tricky. Your Auntie Leigh’s done a pretty good job for a long time, but I slipped up somewhere. We’ll have a thief in our midst tonight,” she stated flatly. “And I intend to find out who it is before the night is over.”

    Most people would not have noticed the electric charge or the sudden rustle of air at Leigh’s declaration, but Leigh’s nieces were not most people, and neither was Aunt Leigh.

    ***************

    Willow and Jasmine had confidently immersed themselves into the throng of thirty plus guests. Soon, so enthralled were they with the girls’ charm, the guests were passing the trays themselves, leaving Willy and J to mingle.

    “What are you doing?” J demanded, cornering Willy in the kitchen.
    “I’m sorting,” Willy snapped, as frustrated as her cousin. “What are you doing?”

    Both girls laughed out loud. “We’re going to have to coordinate better,” Willy said. “Where are you putting them?”

    “I’m putting the eliminations by the bookshelves and the maybes by the fireplace.”

    “No wonder, Willy responded. “I’m putting the eliminations by the foyer and the maybes by the bay window.”

    “We need a plan,” the girls said in unison.

    Leigh smiled knowingly at the growing bevy of guests who were congregating around her where she languished regally in her carved teak chair. Soon, the entire party had surrounded Leigh, save for one. Albert Crane, Attorney at Law, who stood across the room was flanked on either side by Leigh’s beautiful nieces, and he seemed to be choking.

  2. Zac

    Mark, thanks for your words about the Charlaine piece — it means a lot!

    Martha — it’s great to be reading you again.

    Angela — Thanks for sharing, and welcome.

    And thanks to everyone for the stories! I have some Promptly regular addresses, but if I don’t have yours, e-mail it to me at writersdigest [at] fwmedia [dot] com and I’ll ship you a copy of the new issue of WD. (Or, if you already have a subscription, I’ve got a nice alternative, too.)

    [And I wasn’t in the office today, but have a new prompt primed for tomorrow…]

  3. Angela R.

    I’m new here, thank you for the opportunity to share what I’ve for so long considered a private hobby.

    Beat

    Ms. Hattie Blane stood behind the bench at the prosecutor’s table. She looked down at her letter to the defendant, Mr. Jose Perez. She looked at him briefly, taking in his distant stance. Why won’t he look my way?
    She had spent days pouring her broken self into each word of the letter. Hattie wanted him to feel what was hurting her so much. There were no longer any feelings of guilt at his current handcuff situation. There was only remorse on her part, for allowing such a vile man into her life. She was only sixteen and felt a lifetime older already.
    Due to Hattie’s adolescence, and her parents’ lack of interest, a victim’s assistant had been designated for the young lady behind the prosecutor’s table. Hattie could feel Mrs. Price seated behind her and looked back to make eye contact before reading her letter aloud to the judge. If she were honest with herself, she would know it wasn’t the judge she wanted to hear the letter, but Jose instead. With one curt nod meaning for Mrs. Price to remain seated, Hattie began.

    "Dear Jose, I gave everything I had to you. I tried so hard to be what you wanted in order for you to love me. No matter what I did, it was never good enough."

    Hattie stifled a sob and Mrs. Price stood next to her.

    "You made me believe I would never be good enough for anyone. You beat my face and my body and I never complained, because somehow, I really believed I deserved it. I’ll never understand how you did it but I know now that it’s not true. It never was."

    The young Hattie Blane gripped the bench in front of her while Mrs. Price held her steady. Meanwhile, Mr. Perez’s lawyer, Jills Buckner, leaned in toward her client. The whisper distracted Hattie for a moment until she continued. But this time, she did not look down at her letter, she looked directly at Jose.

    "You thought you could get away with all this. You thought you were above me." Hattie gritted her teeth. "For every time I said I loved you, I hate you even more. I’ll dream of your death every night for the rest of my life." Mrs. Price placed a calming hand on Hattie’s shoulder and Hattie shrugged it off. With one last hateful glare, Hattie walked out of the courtroom with Mrs. Price tailing behind her. Hattie flipped Mrs. Price the bird and fled the building.

    Ms. Buckner smiled to herself as she sat in the quiet courtroom. No one knew what to say after the young girl’s sudden outburst. Ms. Buckner could read their confused minds by the look on their faces; the young girl had seemed so composed. She sat waiting for the judge to collect his thoughts. With out Hattie Blane’s testimony, Mr. Perez would go free.

    Another client of Ms. Jills Buckner, was released once again. Mr. Perez was now trying to remember why he had hired her and was now terrified of what kind of sorcery he had gotten himself into. He had never seen Hattie look that way. It couldn’t have been her.

  4. Heather H. Simone

    The Trials

    As I looked around the bare one room courthouse, built specially to house my hearing and the others that were surely to follow, I couldn’t help but to be reminded of the Salem Witch Trials. It had been a long journey up to this point. My lawyer had promised he would have me out in a matter of days when I was first arrested. Arrested on charges of sorcery. In this day and age I would never have thought that possible. But it had happened. To me and eleven others.

    They were calling us “The Witchy Dozen.” A play on words of the old movie “The Dirty Dozen.” It was a horrible, silly name if you asked me. But no one ever asked me anything. No, people were afraid of me. Strange things had been happening in our little town and soon people began talking. Stories ran amuck that witches were in town and before long fear ran everyone’s thought process. So much so, that I had been rounded up with others who were not mainstream and dubbed a witch. We were charged with using sorcery.

    There was even an emergency vote against sorcery nationwide. It was now a crime to use any type of sorcery. I, like the others, was placed in a white padded cell that was claimed to be a “sorcery free” zone. They tried us together in the first trial. It was soon decided that was a bad idea. All electronics in the building went haywire. People claiming to be experts insisted that we were separated and sent back to our cells. We were proclaimed guilty without the trial taking place.

    Now, a year and a half after I was first arrested we were in a one-room, electronic-free, wooden courthouse in the middle of a corn field in Middle America. My lawyer had been successful in getting me a retrial. This place was built just for this occasion. I hoped he was as good as he seemed.

    “Your honor the defendant pleads, not guilty.” My lawyer was standing next to me sweating like a pitcher of lemonade in a Texas July. Funny. It was only in the mid-seventies today. The windows were open and a light breeze was floating through the windows to my right and exiting the ones on my left.

    “Your honor if we may? I would like to have an expert examine the defendant before we proceed. I would like to make sure no one in the court is at danger.” Nice, the prosecutor was already beginning to place doubt in the minds of the jurors. They looked just as nervous as my lawyer.

    “Denied. The defendant was already inspected before being transported to the court. The prosecution will begin their opening comments.” The judge looked nervously between the prosecutor and me.

    Clearly, things were not going to go well for me. It was going to take a miracle for me to escape this. Or perhaps a little "sorcery." …

  5. Martha W

    Great pieces, guys.

    Zac, feels good to be back writing like this.

    ###

    “You think you can get away with it?” Jeanie yelled across the courtroom. She rubbed her palms together, gradually moving them apart, letting the energy build between them.

    A little man poked his head around his overturned table. “You’re insane!” His voice was pitchy, like he’d just breached puberty instead of their photography contract.

    She glared at him, the spark in her hands turning from burnt cream to blazing red in the space between heartbeats. “Insane, Robert?”

    He squeaked and ducked out of sight as she sent the ball of fire sailing in his direction. It hit slightly to the left, bursting the jury box into flames. The sprinkler system kicked on, dousing the fire.

    “Stop.” Another voice sounded from the back of the room, freezing both litigants in their places.

    Jeanie turned her head, slow and hesitant, in the direction of the newcomer. “Rick. How lovely to see you.”

    Ice blue eyes followed her every movement when she bent to pick up her bag from the floor. “What are the two of you doing here?” His tone brooked no argument. It was either answer or spend the next lifetime in some modified Hell.

    Robert bounded out from behind the table, babbling away in a thick brogue. “She started it. Rick, you know she can’t control herself. She needs a different keeper, this one does. Set fire to my shop, she did!”

    “All you’re missing is the pot of gold, you freakin’ Leprechaun,” she muttered.

    Rick looked at Jeanie, long and steady before continuing. “You burned down his building?”

    She toed the ground, unable to meet the knowing stare of her Master. “He started that one.”

    “How?”

    “He said that any pictures taken at the wedding would scare people because I wouldn’t be in any of them.” Tears pooled in her eyes. “I didn’t want them to show everyone else. I wanted them for me.”

    Rick focused on the Leprechaun, making him squirm where he stood. “You need to head back to your country. Now.” He snapped his fingers and the little troublemaker disappeared.

    Her voice no louder than a whisper, she said, “I’m sorry.”

    He wrapped his arms around her, pulled her close to him. “For what? Wanting to remember our wedding day?” He kissed the top of her head. “There’s nothing wrong with that.”

    “Are you sure you’re not mad?”

    “No, love. I’m not mad.” He stepped away, assessed the damage to the old room. “Where’s the lawyers?”

    “Ah, yeah. About that.” She chewed her lip, earning her another kiss. “They were the first to go. You know they don’t know any magic?”

    Rick laughed. “Not in this world, honey. You have to be more careful.”

    She nodded her head, eager to please. “I’ll do better.”

    “Okay. Head home, I’ll fix this.”

    She brushed her hand over his, gave him a quick squeeze. “I’ll be waiting.” Jeanie reached for the knob when Rick spoke again.

    “Jeanie?”

    She looked back over her shoulder. “Yes?”

    “Back in the bottle, love.”

  6. Mark James

    Zac, awesome interview with Charlaine in WD.
    Charlaine, I’m with you. It’s all about the fun.

    “Stop it,” Michael said. “You don’t look honest squirming around like that.”

    “Be serious, Michael. I’m his lawyer.” Lucifer rubbed his back on the wall again. “How do you stand human clothes? My wings itch abominably.”

    “It’s only for a little while.” Michael straightened his brother’s grey tie. “Besides, you look good.”

    “Of all the places for a trial,” Lucifer said. “Why Texas in summer?”

    “It’s the closest place to Hell we could find.” Michael glanced ahead of them. “Look mortal. Cameras.”

    The two angels navigated a path through a crowd of reporters, their sweating faces crammed behind a wall of policeman whose hands dangled dangerously close to their guns.

    “Is it true you’ll be using sorcery as a defense, Mr. Cypher?”

    “I’ll be using your hide to line my furnace,” Lucifer mumbled under his breath.

    Michael grabbed his brother’s arm, pulled him through the barricade of microphones that had sprung up over broad shoulders in blue.

    Inside the courthouse, where the air conditioning had failed for the first time in over half a century, Michael said, “Don’t say stuff like that. What if they hear you?”

    “Hear me? That man beats his wife every weekend, after he gambles away the rent. He’ll hear me for all eternity in just a few years.”

    “Okay, so maybe you melt his laptop before you go,” Michael said. “Make the insides creamy. But not now. You have a client.”

    A surprising change came over Lucifer. Lines of fury smoothed out of his face; his green eyes became warm; his smile could have charmed a man into eating the fateful apple first.

    #

    In the depths of the courthouse, in a room small enough to give a blind man claustrophobia, two archangels and a saxophone player whispered together.

    “They’ll never believe me, Lou,” the man said. “No one thinks magic is real.”

    Lucifer pressed his small hands together, drew them apart, revealing a glowing fireball. “But we know better, don’t we?”

    “All you have to do is sit in your chair and let him do what he does,” Michael said. “Believe me, he can talk anyone into anything.”

    “There is one question you must answer honestly for me,” Lucifer said.

    The man hunched over, his eyes on the floor. “You mean don’t lie?”

    “If you hadn’t been under a sorcerer’s spell, would you find eternal damnation a fitting punishment?”

    Michael jumped between Lucifer and his client. “You don’t have to answer that.” He rounded on his brother. “What are you doing asking him questions like that? You want him to look all scared? Like he did something wrong?”

    “That’s all right, Michael.” The client was on his feet. “I’ll answer that. As God is my witness, may I burn in Hell if I – -”

    “Shut up!” Michael said. He turned to Lucifer. “You can’t take him before the trial.”

    “Anything,” the dark angel said. “Let’s get on with this so I can let my wings out of this damned suit.”

  7. Mo James

    As I sat looking around at the officials in the courtroom I felt the panic rising… A bony hand rested on top of mine on the battered oak plinth and an old and crackly voice whispered two words I shall never forget… "Trust me"

    I’d spent the last few days of my life in panic over the potential outcome of my time here in the musty old courtroom. The attack had been fast – brutal – and fatal. The life had been choked out of the victim, and here I was trying to explain things to a bunch of people who were clearly more interested in moving along swiftly to sentencing. Today was NOT a good day.

    The judge motioned me to stand – time for me to say my piece and receive my just deserts – or so I thought.

    The instant I stood up he started coughing – violently – spluttering, retching, his face getting redder and redder all the while.

    A five minute break was called by the attendant and Judge Morris was helped to his chamber for water and a mop of his now sweat covered brow. Suddenly he didn’t look so scary any more? His previously grey and hardened complexion had been replaced by a softer, boyish more Billy Bunteresque facade… HE was the one walking out of the room looking frightened.

    The bony hand and crackly voice reminded me of their presence one again, but this time it was to tell me they too had to step out – but not to worry because their young – and rather more attractive – partner would be taking over. Gavin was a mere baby at thirty seven compared to his Father whose practise he was looking at taking over. His Saville Row suit and neatly positioned hair were far more in keeping with this environment than the unkempt grey beard and hair and dated (and not matching!) tweed jacket and cashmere trousers. Yes, I felt that Gavin was definitely the better option for a final plea.

    "All rise" an ushers voice heralded from the direction of the Judge chamber. Judge Morris re-entered the court room looking, well, confused really…?

    "Does anyone in here have a cat?" were the first words to come out of his mouth. A new wave of silence hit the room as people started looking around at each other in disbelief. Not a word was said.

    The next few moments went by in a blur. All I know now is that I was free to leave – a technicality or something – and that the judge ran out of the court quicker than I did!

    As Gavin escorted me through the vast double doors of the courts and into the heat of the afternoon sun outside something pointy caught me on the hand. I jumped and looked to the wall next to the steps, and there, sitting staring at me, was the scruffiest looking cat I’ve ever seen in my life.

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