Charlaine Harris’s phenomenal writing career spans 42 years and multiple genres, including urban fantasy, mystery, alternate history, and romance. She is looking forward to attending this year’s ThrillerFest conference, where she will be a spotlight guest as well as the recipient of the ThrillerMaster award. “I have always thought of myself as an adventure writer,” she says. “That’s why I’m incredibly honored and surprised to become a ThrillerMaster.”
Thanks to her strength at worldbuilding and creating captivating protagonists, Harris’s books have inspired such popular television shows as HBO’s True Blood, which was based on her Southern Vampire Sookie Stackhouse series; Hallmark’s Aurora Teagarden movies (a 19th film is in the works), and NBC’s Midnight, Texas, where paranormal activities abound. “I have always been interested in the supernatural, because I always wanted to believe there were things we couldn’t see or hear—at least most of us—and those were the things that fascinated me,” she recalls. “Real life can be weirder than any of that, I’ve found. Sometimes it’s just more fun to make your own rules.”
What did she feel when she saw her characters brought to life on screen? “Seeing the first episode of True Blood was everything: shocking, exciting, gratifying,” she says. “Alan Ball is a genius at casting. I have nothing but respect for actors, who have to do the same scene over and over, following the most inconcrete of directions, such as ‘play this a little less angry’ or ‘let’s try this again.’ ”
Two of her books have also been the basis for video games. “I had never played a computer game before the approach for Dying for Daylight,” Harris confesses. “My assistant had to walk me through how to play it. Now I set aside a little time every day for computer games, though they have to be very simple to be within my patience and capability. I loved seeing my ideas translated into that format. It was a small taste of what the TV adaptations would give me.”
How did being from the South affect her writing? “I grew up in the Mississippi Delta. It’s absolutely flat,” Harris says. “You can see for miles. There is nowhere to hide. You are exposed in your environment. That definitely influenced everything I did or felt, and of course it defined my writing process. I grew up long enough ago to remember segregation, the band playing “Dixie” at football games, and the upside-down view of the world that engendered. I learned so much growing up and casting that off. I also acknowledge the occasional beauty of the Southern culture.”
All good writers begin in childhood as avid readers; what authors influenced Harris? “Frank Baum’s Oz books fed my imagination in a good way,” she says. “I read them over and over. I’m still trying to find a way to work Princess Langwidere into a book. I also read a lot of mysteries. I enjoyed the C.S. Forester Hornblower books... not that I knew anything about the Napoleonic Wars, or sailing, or the social conventions of that time. Now I do! And Naomi Novik took the same conceit a step further, with dragons. I am a happy camper. I also read Jane Eyre multiple times: it’s the template for the entire romance industry, but so rich.”
Is there a new genre she would like to tackle? “I would love to write a terrifying horror novel,” Harris says. “I admit I’m not an extensive horror reader, but I’d enjoy being scary.”
Charlaine Harris will be interviewed by Karin Slaughter on Friday, June 2, 10:20–11:10 a.m.