The vampire genre has enthralled readers ever since Bram Stoker introduced a certain Transylvanian count over a century ago. Since then vampires have been used as vehicles for everything from romantic novels to erotica to humor to the expected tales of terror. However, very few writers have combined all of these facets of the never-say-die vampire quite the way that Laurell K. Hamilton has.
Hamilton has not always been under the spell of undead things that go bump-and-grind in the night. When she was a young girl, her literary tastes were a bit more on the traditional side. "I wanted to be Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women, because I had never read any science fiction, fantasy, or horror," she confessed in a podcast on Mayor Slay.com. "Then at 13 or 14 I found Robert E. Howard's short story collection [Pigeons From Hell]. It was the first horror, the first heroic fantasy, the first science fiction I'd ever read, and the moment I read that I knew that not only did I want to be a writer, but this is what I wanted to write."
Furthering Hamilton's burgeoning fascination with the fantastic, she discovered Anthony Masters's The Natural History of the Vampire at her high school library. Coupled with the ghost stories her grandmother had told her when she was a child and heavy doses of Hammer Horror movies from Great Britain, Hamilton was well on her way to creating a character that would only be rivaled by Buffy in the field of vampire slaying.
Hamilton first introduced vampire huntress Anita Blake in her third novel Guilty Pleasures. Blake is an unlikely combination of action hero, federal marshal, "necromancer," and lusty dame. Her exploits between the sheets and in the graveyard won Hamilton a rabid following hungry for something new in the well-traveled vampire genre.
Along with the kinds of scares normally associated with vampire stories, Hamilton's books are notable for their unflinching eroticism. Vampires have had a sexual lure since Stoker, but Hamilton particularly draws that aspect to the surface of her work as one of her creatures might draw blood from a victim. "I [want] a kiss to be so believable it gives the reader shivers," she says on her website. "Two things I do well are sex and violence, but I don't want gratuitous sex or violence. The sex and violence is only as graphic as need be. And never included unless it furthers the plot or character development."
Another unlikely trait of her books is humor, vampire tales classically being of the more solemn sort. However, a writer weaned on a book titled Pigeons From Hell is not likely going to shy away from wit. Consequently, her books have been consistently entertaining and fun, as well as creepy and sexy.
Hamilton has also brought her delicious combination of sex, humor, and frights to another series, this one more ingrained in dark fantasy than horror. Her faerie princess/P.I. Meredith Gentry made her debut in Kiss of Shadows in 2001 and has since sparked her own crowd-pleasing sword and sorcery meets pulp series.
Increasingly, the Anita Blake and Merry Gentry books have added more sexual content to their story lines, classifying both series in a new hybrid genre that blends romance, erotica, and paranormal fantasy. To judge from Hamilton's consistent appearance on the bestseller charts, readers find the mix spellbinding.
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One thing you will never find in a Hamilton novel is a cliffhanger. She believes that cliffhangers unfairly tease readers who would then have to wait six months to a year to have some sense of resolution. As she said during an interview with Bill Thompson of Eye On Books, "Every book is a full meal. All the way from the appetizer to the dessert, so that you come away feeling that you've had an experience... and at the end you have that satisfied, full feeling."
Before Laurell K. Hamilton made a full-time career of blood, guts, murder, and mayhem, she had more humane pursuits -- she volunteered at an animal shelter where she played with unwanted pets.
In our interview, Hamilton shared some fun and fascinating facts about herself with us:
"I am incredibly stubborn. Telling me I cannot do something, especially if you cite the fact that I am a girl, will make me want to do it more and do it better."
"I am not my characters. We have some of the same traits in common, but we are very different people."
"Everything inspires me. Getting up in the morning, walking the dogs, watching a music video. Inspiration comes from everywhere."
"I love animals. I own four dogs, two of whom are rescues. In fact, Jimmy is with us because they were going to gas him if we didn't take him with us. As an older dog his chances of finding a home were fairly slim. But he has been a wonderful addition to our home."
"I like spending time with my family and friends. Something I often feel I do not do enough of. But there are only so many hours in a day."
"I like to read other people's works. I love reading cozy or historical mysteries when I can."
"I enjoy interacting with fans at planned public events. I enjoy talking to them and have met many wonderful people."
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In the winter of 2004, Laurell K. Hamilton took some time to talk with us about some of her favorite books, authors, and interests.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Pigeons From Hell by Robert E. Howard -- it was the first heroic fantasy/horror novel I ever read. I read it and knew that not only did I want to be a writer, but this was what I wanted to write.
Andre Norton was important both for her science fiction and fantasy novels, and the fact that she was a woman. Before I became enamored of fantastic literature, my first writing hero was Louisa May Alcott, as in Little Women, and many more books. When I began writing horror and the like, I thought I'd left her far behind, only to discover that Ms. Alcott had also written gothic horror stories.
What are your favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Charlotte's Web by E. B. White -- E. B. White was one of the writers who taught me to be concise and descriptive at the same time. It is one of the great classics of American Literature.
101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith -- One summer, I read and reread this book 25 times. It left me with a lifelong love of the book -- and Dalmatians.
The Robert B. Parker Spenser novels -- Robert B. Parker was my introduction to good hardboiled detective fiction, and where I learned how good dialogue is done. Spenser books still remain a delight after all these years.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Bell, Book and Candle -- This movie combines three of my favorite things: publishing, Halloween and Christmas.
Vampire Circus (Circus of Fear) -- This is an old Hammer vampire film. This film probably influenced my writing more than even I know. I saw if for the first time at age seven and then again when I was in my twenties. The film stars a master vampire with long black hair and a frothy white shirt, a vampire who becomes a leopard, and more sexual innuendo than you can shake a stick at. Oh, and some not-so-sexual innuendo. It wasn't until after I started the Anita Blake series that I got to see it again. Talk about your subconscious absorbing something.
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
Tori Amos is a perennial favorite, but I have listened to everything from Nine Inch Nails to The Veggie Tales Christmas album.
If you had a book club, what would it be reading?
Any Nero Wolf books by Rex Stout -- because we (my husband and I) started reading them a year ago. They are clever, charming and the quality of the writing is consistently high. They are a wonderful hybrid of hardboiled detective and super-genius detective.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I try to pick books that the recipient will actually read. I find most folks give books that they want to read or ones they hope will expand the mind of the recipient whether they like it or not. Books can do all that and still be entertaining. Books should be about the person you're giving it to rather than the gift giver.
As to what kind of books I like to get, I tend to like animal books -- ones with lovely pictures of dogs or other animals.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
I don't really have any rituals. And my desk needs to be an uncluttered space for me to work. So most likely I will have a cup of hot tea and the music I have chosen for this book. Much else and I tend to get distracted.
Many writers are hardly "overnight success" stories. How long did it take for you to get where you are today? Any rejection-slip horror stories or inspirational anecdotes?
Nearly fourteen years ago when I was first trying to sell Guilty Pleasures, I had one publishing house reject the book on the grounds that the market couldn't bear another vampire book, and the week they were going to make the decision another vampire novel came out from another publisher. They used that as a reason to reject me, and Anita. They said that the vampire market was dying out, and no one wanted to read about vampires anymore.
I was told by a prominent mystery editor that if my Anita Blake mysteries had been straight mystery, no horror elements, or fantastic elements at all, that I'd have never gotten published. Because I am a woman writing from a first person woman's point of view, that no one would have touched it. Maybe that's true. Maybe it was one of the things that sent Anita around to nearly every publisher before it found a home. I don't know. No one complained about the sexual content of the first book, but then, there wasn't any.
I don't know if I'd have had more trouble if the first few books had had a higher content or not. I do know that by using the tropisms of several different genres, I get to play exactly the way I want to play. I get the tough as nails attitude of a hardboiled-mystery, the monsters and gore level of horror, the sex and sensuality of romance, the sheer wonderment of fantasy, and the feeling of reality that the best science fiction gives to amazingly odd facts. If I hadn't chosen to mix genres I might have had a harder time. Though most people told me that mixing genres this badly would doom me. Just goes to prove that you have to believe in yourself and your vision.
If you could choose one new writer to be "discovered," who would it be?
Rett MacPherson. The Victory O'Shea mysteries are delightfully different. First, the main character, Torie, is happily married, has more than one child and a mother who has been wheelchair bound most of Torie's life. The books are set around a small Missouri town that is a concentrated version of several historic towns here. Rett makes good use of Torie's extended family in the books and explains dramatic versions of some of the problems we all face with blood relatives. The series began in 1998 with Family Skeletons and is now in it's eighth book with the just-published In Sheep's Clothing.
They are fun to read and I don't think enough people have found them yet. Rett is also a personal friend and member of my writing group.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Write. You'd be surprised how many wanna-be writers never seem to do that. Write, then finish it. Finish the story. Finish the book. Do two pages a day, every day. Do not revise as you go. If you come to something you don't know, like what does 14th century underwear look like, put a note, skip it, and keep writing. I hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth, but trust me I've met too many writers that have the perfect three chapters of their book, but nothing more. Three chapters isn't a book, it's a beginning -- finish it.
Once you have hundreds of pages on the other side of your computer, then go through and fill in those blank spots with research. Now, you can look up how to undress your 14th century heroine. Now you can chorography that fight scene. If you spend more than a week on a scene, maybe two days, skip it, write a note that says, fight scene here. You know who wins, just move on, keep going. The second draft is just filling in the blank notes. The third draft is where you begin to edit, and polish the writing. I did seven drafts of my first book, and I wrote it just like I've described. It sold. Most first novels don't. My way is not the only way, heaven knows, but it's the way that allowed me to write my first five to six books.
I've gotten better at my job, and I no longer need seven drafts to get it where I want to be. But I find even today, as I write my seventeenth novel, that if I spend more than a week on a scene, I'm stuck, and I need to move on. Perfectionism has set in, and I'm trying to make it perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal -- trust me on that. Just write, try not to worry, and when it's done, send it out. Try to sell it. For money. Not copies, not for friends to read. Sell it. This is a business, not a charity. Remember that. Your goal is to earn a living writing what you most love, right? Well, if that's your goal, act like it.
I always started at the highest paying appropriate market for my short stories, and then worked down as they got rejected. I'm assuming that you have researched your markets and aren't trying to send vampire stories to magazines that don't even buy fiction. It's a business, remember. Sending your stories to inappropriate markets is like showing up for a job interview because you really want to edit fiction books, but you've walked into a computer-engineering firm. They don't edit fiction books there. Sending your story to the wrong market is the same deal.
Here's another important piece of advice: send the story, or book out, then get started on the next one. Don't fret, and hover around the mailbox angsting over that one story. It's like a mother with one child -- you worry more. So have more literary children, that way when one is rejected you know that there are others out there, that haven't been. It takes some of the sting out of the rejection process. Not a lot, but some. You've got to want this more than any other job, and you've got to toughen your ego, so that the business doesn't crush you. Be tough. Believe in yourself and your dreams.
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