Ruminating on why so many writers love the loner type protagonist, Laurell K. Hamilton, author of the bestselling Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series, says, "You pick the outsider 'cause they're a more interesting character. But a lot of us who write are the outsiders. Most of us do not fit in very well where we were raised. You have to grow up and find your place." Hamilton's place turned out to be St. Louis, Mo., which she has called home for a decade. It's also the city where her alter ego, Anita, lives.

Although Anita's fictional lineage might be traceable to the ghoulish vampire novels of Anne Rice, Hamilton's heroine owes more to the hardboiled PI fiction of Robert B. Parker. Skilled at slaying vampires, Anita works for Animators Inc. as a necromancer: someone who raises the dead. In Anita's world, vampires and other creatures of the night are commonplace, and the ability to raise the dead is an art form inspired by commerce (think contested wills, lawsuits involving wrongful death, etc.). At first, in books like Guilty Pleasures (Ace, 1993) and Circus of the Damned (Ace, 1995), Anita just moonlighted as a killer of vampires that murdered humans. Ten years later, it's become a way of life as Anita assists city and federal agents who investigate preternatural crime. But even that seemingly straightforward situation has—like everything else in Anita's life—become complicated.

"I knew her change in attitude was going to have to happen," explains Hamilton, referring to Anita's increasing acceptance of the lifestyles of vampires and shapeshifters—especially in recent books like Narcissus in Chains (Berkley, 2001), Cerulean Sins (Berkley, 2003) and her newest, Incubus Dreams (just out from Berkley). Interviews with policeman and soldiers while doing research convinced Hamilton that "people who kill people in the line of duty" and are told that "the other side is the enemy" reach a point were the world is no longer black and white. "You begin to look down your rifle sights and realize that that's another human being," says Hamilton. "That is an awful realization. I knew Anita would have to go through a similar process. Some of the people [she meets] are more monstrous than the monsters; some of the monsters are nicer than the people. She's no longer sure who the good guys are."

That attitude adjustment has resulted in Anita's cohabitating with some of the same types of creatures she hunts. An ongoing "triumvirate" among Anita, Master Vampire Jean-Claude and her ex-fiancé, Richard (who happens to be a werewolf), began forming in the middle of Hamilton's 12-book series. And Anita's struggle with her growing metaphysical powers and her relationship with the creatures she has always hunted takes up a large part of Incubus Dreams, relegating the action set pieces to a sort of secondary plotline.

"Once you look at these creatures and realize that they aren't monsters, they become people to you," says Hamilton, speaking of the various shapeshifters and vampires that crowd her novels. "That means if you love someone who is a lycanthrope, do you truly love them, or do you only love half of them? What Incubus Dreams ended up being about was, how deep do you love?"

Those excursions into the depths of her character's psyches have also resulted in the physical consummation of various relationships: between Anita, Jean-Claude, Richard and a handful of others, like Micah, a wereleopard—written in lusty detail. Which is odd, given that initially Hamilton was reluctant to try her hand at erotica.

"In the beginning, I was terribly uncomfortable with it," Hamilton recalls, noting that she had to be talked into it by a close friend and one of her editors. She admits that many of the sex scenes in the earlier novels took place "60 pages in," so she would never have to read them in public. "Once I decided to break the boundary," says Hamilton, "I decided to do the best I could." There are a number of readers who would agree she has succeeded. Half of her fan mail offers accolades for the erotic content of her novels; the other half is complaints and threats. After a 2001 book tour to promote Narcissus in Chains, Hamilton had to hire a bodyguard to accompany her on subsequent signings and readings.

"People got up in my face about the sex," says Hamilton, recalling how they shouted questions about her sexual desires—and worse. "It was vicious." Hamilton notes, "Europeans, almost without exception, think the sex is fine but the violence is too great. And Americans are not bothered by the violence at all—they're bothered by the sex! It's okay [in America] to die on stage or in the movies, but God forbid you make love."

Erotic content also flows through Hamilton's second series, featuring Merry Gentry, a half-mortal princess of the fairy Sidhe courts. Caught in a political power struggle, Merry hides out among humans, working as a "magical consultant" for an L.A. detective agency. "The last Merry book—Seduced by Moonlight (Ballantine, 2004)—definitely had more erotic content than usual," says Hamilton, laughing at the comments of one reviewer who claimed Merry had sex with 16 men at once. "You can't even do that! It's not even possible!"

As for whether or not she'll acquiesce to the pleas of the more prudish yet bloodthirsty readers by cutting back on sex scenes and amping up the violence, Hamilton makes no promises. "I'm a contrary person by nature," she says. "If you bitch at me about something, then probably the opposite result will happen."