A decade ago, Charlaine Harris's first novel featuring Sookie Stackhouse was released and did well enough to merit more titles in her southern vampire series. But she never expected that to translate into mega-bestselling author status, a beloved TV series based on her books with HBO's True Blood, or a coveted featured speaker spot at today's Author Breakfast. She sums up her reaction to all this wild success simply: "It's disconcerting," says Harris, laughing.
This was one overnight success story "many years in the making." Harris published her first novel 30 years ago, a stand-alone mystery with no fantasy elements whatsoever. She went on to write many more mysteries, but after they failed to gain traction with readers, found herself mulling which direction to take her career. She decided to tackle paranormal romance, even though there wasn't much of it being published yet.
"At that time, there was almost no one—besides Laurell K. Hamilton—writing paranormal. It was a bold move and I felt like that's what I needed," says Harris. "I thought it was time to shake up my career a little."
And shake it up she did. Adding "a little bit of everything" to the mix, Harris wrote and sent off the first Sookie Stackhouse novel to her agent... only to have it rejected over and over. Still, Harris didn't give up. "I felt like it had a future. I knew it was the best thing I'd ever written," she says. She credits her agent with sticking with the project, until finally it was picked up by a junior editor at Ace. Once it was published, she realized it was developing a following through word of mouth, especially when the publisher quickly came back with an offer for more books.
"It was very exciting to think I'd finally hit the right topic, with the right publisher, and the right market," says Harris. "It's hard to hit all three at the same time."
The series currently has more than 20 million copies in print, and the 11th book, Dead Reckoning, was published earlier this month. The novel is notable as another milestone—it's the first of the series' final three books. The decision to end on a high note was Harris's own. "I appreciate the success and opportunities, but I feel like I'd be repeating myself if I continued."
Dead Reckoning begins with Sookie witnessing the firebombing of her workplace, Merlotte's, and becoming determined to find the culprit—while navigating danger and vampire intrigue, of course. Harris says working toward the end of the series has proved unexpectedly to be fun. "Now that I have a goal—satisfying the reader by concluding the many, many story lines I've started over the years—it's very energizing."
As for what's next, there are too many opportunities for Harris to say yet. Her earlier books now sell well, a "constant delight" to the author. Meanwhile, True Blood will be back with a fourth season next month, and a comic book adaptation of the first novel in her Harper Connelly series, Grave Sight, is due out then too. "So many projects I could do that I'm like a kid on Christmas morning," says Harris. "What do I open first?"
For this week, she plans to enjoy her time at BEA. "All those people and books in one place sounds just great to me," says Harris.