The creator of the popular Sookie Stackhouse books, Charlaine Harris, recently visited Adelaide for the first time. Her vampire world is the basis for the HBO series True Blood and early next year the final Stookie Stackhouse (correctly titled: The Southern Vampire Mysteries) book Dead Ever After will be published.
In Australia to promote the penultimate Sookie book Deadlocked, The Adelaide Review meets the 60-year-old author in the lobby of the Crowne Plaza. Born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area of the United States, Harris’ Stookie Stackhouse books are set in Louisiana, the same southern state where Anne Rice based her The Vampire Chronicles (Interview with the Vampire etc) world. That’s not where the similarities between Rice and Harris’ vamps end. Harris is the true heir to Anne Rice’s vampire crown, as both authors created vampires that were not monsters like Nosferatu but instead are sexy, beautiful, exciting, stylish (usually) but still a tad dangerous. Harris says Rice is a fan of the books and the show and, of course, Rice is an influence on the 60-year-old writer.
“I thought that Anne had an amazing vision and I hoped to create a world that was just as original as hers,” Harris says of the influence of Rice.
Although popular culture has enjoyed a five-year vampire crush with the hugely popular Twilight and The Vampire Diaries joining True Blood in the vampire zeitgeist, don’t confuse Twilight’s brooding emo vampires with Sookie Stackhouse’s blood suckers, as Harris created a rich world, which is sexy, violent and humorous. Set in the small town of Bon Temps in Louisiana, the first book exposed the protagonist, Sookie Stackhouse, a bar maid who can read minds, to the world of vampires after they come out of the coffin to reveal themselves to the human population when a safe synthetic blood is invented, called Tru Blood, which means they do not have to hunt humans to feed. Harris’ vamps are an evolution of Rice’s vampires but unlike Rice’s vamps, Harris’ aren’t asexual, they have sex, and in the TV show, a lot of sex. The vampires’ coming out of the coffin is a metaphor for gay rights as well as civil rights. The south seems to be the perfect location to highlight these issues with the vampires and other supernatural beings clashing or embracing the south’s human population.
“I think the south certainly has it problems,” Harris says. “It’s depressed economically, it’s depressed socially, it’s behind the rest of America but it also has it strong points and I do like to say it is a good place to live. I’ve never lived anywhere else but the south, I’ve lived in all different parts of it. But I’ve always lived in the south and I love it.”
Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series has sold more than 800,000 copies in Australia. Already a popular mystery writer before she started the Sookie series, her vampire books took her to another level of popularity, as the addition of humour connected with a large audience across the world. The series is now 12 books deep and the 13th and final book will be released early next year. Harris says she has finished writing the final book. Did she have the ending in mind when she started writing the series?
“When I wrote the first book I had no idea I would ever get to write anymore. But quite soon thereafter when I started developing what in my mind would be the arc of the books – I never realised there would be so many – but I knew how I would bring it back around at the end.
“I didn’t think I’d write another book. I really didn’t get to prepare the world as thoroughly as I should have. I just wrote it on spec. In fact, it took my agent two years to sell it, which gives me a lot of satisfaction now, frankly. It was a gamble. I thought maybe I wasted a few years of my life writing this book. But, you know, I just loved it, I loved this book. I thought, ‘this is funny, this is gory and funny and sexy’ – it was everything I wanted it to be. Writers don’t often get that feeling that they completely achieved what they set out to do. I felt like I completely achieved it.”
Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball then turned her books into the series True Blood starring Anna Paquin, Alexander Skarsgard and Australia’s Ryan Kwanten.
“I trusted Alan Ball from the get-go. He’s such a great talent. He’s a southern guy, like me. I felt like he understood where I was coming from with the books. I always got along with him so well. We’re not bosom buddies but we are very cordial.”
Harris is currently working on a graphic novel, and her Harper Connelly books have been optioned for a TV show. But as the end for Sookie Stackhouse is nigh, does Harris feel like Stephen King’s character from Misery, Paul Sheldon? As he was an author who had to battle an enraged fan who didn’t like the ending to his popular romantic series.
“I’ve had concerns, I’ve really had concerns,” Harris laughs. “Of course they [fans] are quite disappointed but I think when I explain my reasons for doing that [finishing the series] they understand.”