True Blood: Charlaine Harris speaks

SFX ’s True Blood/Vampires special is currently brightening up your local newsagents - and True Blood season three is currently airing on FX. So we don’t need any further excuses to reprint this interview with Sookie Stackhouse creator Charlaine Harris, which originally appeared in our last vampire special, out in May…

SFX : When True Blood first came out, you told us you were “90 per cent happy with it”. Would you stick by that figure now, or are you more or less happy with the show?
Charlaine Harris: Oh, I’m delighted with the programme. I couldn’t be happier with it, really!

SFX : How much input do you have into the storylines of the TV series?
CH: My input consists of having written the original books that the stories are taken from.

SFX : So they don’t run things past you?
CH: No, they know how to run their show and I know how to write my books.

SFX : What do you think it is about your stories, and the way they’ve been filmed, that has made them so popular?
CH: I think the advantage lies in the fact that Alan Ball is a genius. He’s such a great talent that I think everything he creates is going to be of popular interest. When he’s involved, you know it’s going to be controversial enough that people are going to want to talk about it at the water cooler, it’s going to be sensational enough, and it’s going to have a group of very talented actors.

SFX : Do you think HBO’s high production values have helped?
CH: Of course, the high production values help. HBO is a really class act and I’m very proud to be working with them.

SFX : Has the series brought new readers to the books?
CH: Yes, in the high multiples. It’s certainly brought me more male readers.

SFX : Has anything in True Blood – characters, settings or suchlike – had an influence on subsequent novels?
CH: I like to think not, because I’ve been living with the characters for many years before the show started, so they were pretty well established in my head.

SFX: Have you ever been tempted to take one of the new characters from the series into the books?
CH: Not really, because they’re someone else’s creation, and I only write what I think of myself. But I have been pleased with their extraordinary creativity. I think introducing Jessica was just a fabulous idea.

SFX : Do you ever get requests from readers for more similarity between the show and the books?
CH: I think they’re happy to have the two, because that way they get two very different entertainment experiences.

SFX : Are there events in the novels that you think will be tricky to transfer to the screen? We’re thinking of the hotel bombing in All Together Dead mainly.
CH: The hotel bombing would certainly be a very expensive proposition, and I wonder if the series will last long enough to get around to it. To me, that was one of the most fun things I’ve written in the whole series. It would be a pity if it were left out, but the show would have to run about three more years to get around to it.

SFX : Are there any characters that you killed off and later wish you hadn’t?
CH: There have been characters I’ve regretted killing. On the other hand, sometimes I think I haven’t killed enough – it would certainly simplify the series!

SFX : We were quite shocked when Claudette went…
CH: I regret that most of all, I think, but at the time it seemed necessary.

SFX : Do you think you’d ever write a novel or even a series about any of the other characters in the Southern Vampire stories, or will the novels stay Sookie-centric?
CH: If I do write another series with some of the same characters, it will be after I’ve finished Sookie’s story, because that’s the story I’m telling now.

SFX : Is it troublesome creating a character that ages?
CH: She’s ageing naturally, but the books have only taken place over a span of two years and I’ve been writing her for ten years, so she’s ageing very slowly.

SFX : Do you keep old newspapers to help with Sookie’s timeline? Hurricane Katrina occurred part of the way though the series…
CH: No, because I was very close. We live about six hours from New Orleans and we had Katrina refugees in our home, so it’s a current thing for me.

SFX : Was Bon Temps based on a real place?
CH: It’s based on an amalgamation of small towns I’ve lived in and driven through. At heart, I’m essentially a small-town woman and the books definitely reflect that.

SFX : Why do you think the southern US works so well as a setting for dark stories, including vampire stories?
CH: Oh, I’m not so sure that the southern US is so different from other places. I think you can set a great story anywhere. My story just happens to be southern because I am.

SFX : Have you always been fascinated by “classic” monsters – werewolves, vampires and the like? And do you have a favourite vampire novel or film?
CH: I’ve definitely always been fascinated by those sorts of monsters. And there are a few vampire novels I’ve really enjoyed. I know it’s really schlocky, but I love Blade , and I like Kate Beckinsale in Underworld . I’m a B-movie lover, I can tell you.

SFX : So you’re very up to speed with the modern ones as well as the old classics?
CH: Oh yes. I try to keep up!

SFX : When you created your vampires, did you know from the start that certain rules from folklore, such as needing to be invited into a house, would apply to them and others, such as not being visible in a mirror, wouldn’t? Or did these things arise as you wrote?
CH: I had to work out a way to make the concept relatable in the books, and I had to work out what would work for me in terms of the story I wanted to tell, which wasn’t the vampires’ story, it was Sookie’s story.

SFX : Were there any clichés about vampires, or any of the other supernatural beings in the Southern Vampire Mysteries, that you were especially keen to avoid when writing your books?
CH: The one about vampires being unable to cross running water. I have yet to understand that, and then Tanya Huff made such a great explanation of that one that I just couldn’t try to think of another way to get around that, so I just ignored it completely.

SFX : The societies of the vampires and werewolves are well explored in the novels. Will we see more of the social side of part-demons, such as Mr Cataliades, or other unusual beings like the Maenads?
CH: There’s certainly every possibility, because I’m always trying to think of ways to keep the books interesting to me.

SFX : Are the demons related to the angels, part of the evolution of the fairies?
CH: No, they’re not.

SFX : Has the success of True Blood made the Southern Vampire novels take priority over your other work?
CH: No. I was writing another series concurrently until this year, when I stopped the Harper Connolly books because I felt I’d said everything about her that I wanted to. So I’m sure I’ll be writing something else too.

SFX : Do you ever wish you could focus more on another series?
CH: There’s always a trade-off. I love writing Sookie, I’m very happy doing that, but it does help me as a writer to write something else also.

SFX : Are any of your other novels likely to be made into films or TV series?
CH: There’s certainly a good chance of that.

SFX : But you think Sookie’s got a lot of life left in her?
CH: I hope so. Alan’s signed up through season four, so we’ll hope that it’ll continue after that.

Interview by Miriam McDonald. True Blood airs on FX at 10pm on Fridays.