Saturday, April 30, 2011

Charlaine Harris discusses "True Blood"/latest Sookie Stackhouse Novel

Charlaine Harris, author of the popular Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries.

For most fiction writers, the worlds they create exist only in their heads, on the pages of their works and within the imaginations of their readers.
Charlaine Harris, the New York Times bestselling author of the successful Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries (the basis for the equally successful HBO series “True Blood”), was able to literally walk into the world she created when she had a brief cameo in season two of the series, sitting at the bar of Merlott's (one of the key settings in her books).
Harris shares a scene with Sam Trammell (Sam Merlott) in a second season episode of "True Blood."
“I had seen the set while they were building it for first season, but it wasn't finished,” the 59 year-old author said. “Being on the completed set was surrealistic. Before we shot my scene, I ate lunch in one of the booths of Merlott's with Alan [Ball, “True Blood” producer and creator]. It was so strange and weird sitting in the booth eating lunch in a place that I created. Not too many people can say they have actually eaten there.
One of Bon Temps' favorite watering holes.

Surreal might also be a good word to describe her wildly successful novels that follow telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse, whose unique gift of reading other people's thoughts has made her an attractive target to the supernatural community. Fairies, vampires, werewolves shape shifters, witches and other things that go bump in the night have all sought to exploit the plucky heroine's talents.
Dead Reckoning, the 11th book in the Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire Mysteries, is out May 3. Things kick off with a bang when someone throws a Molotov cocktail through the window of Merlott's and Sookie must unravel the mystery of whether she, the bar's shape-shifting owner Sam, or someone else was the intended target.  
The book is already receiving high praise from some fans of the series. Round Lake Beach, Ill. native Liz Henderson is the co-creator of, one of the leading fansites for the HBO series that gets upwards of a million hits when the show airs and about half that during its hiatus. She got an early look at the book and said she likes the direction the new book is going. 
“The last couple of books in the series have gone to a really dark place, so I was glad that things lightened up a lot with Dead Reckoning,” Henderson said. “We get to see a lot of the old, snarky Sookie. She's not this Barbie-like barmaid from Merlott's. She is very strong now because of everything she has been through. This should please the fans a lot.”
Another book, The Sookie Stackhouse Companion streets Aug. 30. Not just an encyclopedia of all things supernatural and undead in both book and series, the Companion will feature a new short story featuring Sookie.
 “I was hoping it would come out before the next book as the novella takes place before Dead Reckoning,” explained Harris, who lives with her husband and three children in Magnolia, Ark. “It also features a timeline by my continuity person Victoria that is exhaustive. There's some recipes for food that has been mentioned in the books, a brief history of the an club, a map of the town of Bon Temps drawn by me and my best friend Paula, interviews with myself and Alan Ball and so much more, I can't remember.”
The world of Sookie Stackhouse has become so time-consuming that Harris intends to end the series after the 13th book.
“I am grateful for the success, but Sookie has taken over my life for the past dozen years,” she said.  
Though much of her focus has been on Sookie Stackhouse, that hasn't stopped Harris from keeping her other creations alive. Lily Bard, a cleaning lady-turned-slueth from Harris' five-book mysteries series set in the fictional town of Shakespeare, Ark., features into the plot of Dead Reckoning.
Still, Harris says the end is nigh for the Sookie series.
“I've known how it will end for a long time how it would end,” she said. “The very first scene I ever wrote in the series was the last one and it will be in the that last book. It will have taken me a long time and a few detours, but I'm working my way to there.”“I've known how it will end for a long time how it would end,” she said. “The very first scene I ever wrote in the series was the last one and it will be in the that last book. It will have taken me a long time and a few detours, but I'm working my way to there."
Fans should be able to feed their Sookie addiction with additional seasons of HBO's hit series, “True Blood,” though. That show returns with new episodes in June. The events of Dead to the World, the fourth book in the series, are expected to figure largely into the plot, but there are no guarantees.
Ball, the creator of “Six Feet Under” and now "True Blood", hasn't colored too far out of the lines in adapting the books for television.
"True Blood" creator Alan Ball (center) surrounded by the cast (from left to right)  Nelsan Ellis (Lafayette Reynolds), Anna Paquin (Sookie Stackhouse), Rutina Wesley (Tara Thornton), Sam Trammell (Sam Merlott) and Stephen Moyer (Bill Compton).

“He is respecting the source material. That's what he likes and it is what he brought when he optioned the books. So, I'm not surprised he's using me as the general outline for the series,” Harris said. “He and the rest of the writers on the series are all terrific, though. And I'm glad they've been able to put their own spin on things. They never tell me what I should do next in the books, so I am fine with them doing there own thing." 
Henderson said changes to the book were inevitable.
“The books are written in first-person from Sookie's perspective,” she said. “Ball and the other writers have remained true to the spirit of the books while adding a bit more color to this world and letting us see what happens when Sookie isn't in the room.”
Harris even said she was a bit envious of one of the additions to the television series, young vampire Jessica, played by Deborah Ann Wohl.
Wohl, right, with Paquin on the set of "True Blood." 
“She is a wonderful idea and the perfect foil for Bill [a Civil War-era vampire played by Stephen Moher],” Harris said. “I with I had thought of her.”

Harris appears at the Rivoli Theater (5021 Highland Avenue, Downers Grove) at 7 p.m. on May 5. Tickets, $36 (includes a copy of Dead Reckoning, admission to the author program and a screening of an episode of “True Blood”). To purchase tickets, call Anderson's Bookshop at (630) 963-2665 or visit 
Catch Harris on the web at
You can read the first chapter of the new book here.
A version of this story originally appeared online April 28 and in print May 1 in the Chicago Sun-Times. You can read that version here.

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