A native of the Mississippi Delta, Charlaine Harris grew up in a family of avid readers (her father was a teacher; her mother a librarian). She attended Rhodes College in Memphis, TN, graduating in 1973 with a degree in English and Communication Arts. Although she penned poetry and plays in school, her first serious foray into fiction was with two standalone novels, Sweet and Deadly and A Secret Rage, published (effortlessly!) in the early 1980s.
After her early success, Harris released the first installment in a series of lighthearted mysteries starring spunky, small-town Georgia librarian, true crime enthusiast, and amateur sleuth Aurora Teagarden. When Aurora debuted in Real Murders (1990), Publishers Weekly welcomed "a heroine as capable and potentially complex as P. D. James's Cordelia Gray." The book went on to receive an Agatha Award nomination.
Anxious for another challenge, Harris began a second series in 1996. Darker and edgier than the Teagarden novels, these mysteries featured taciturn, 30-something housecleaner Lily Bard, a woman with a complicated past who has moved to the small town of Shakespeare, Arkansas, to find peace and solitude. The first novel, Shakespeare's Landlord, was well-received. BookList raved: "Harris has created an intriguing new character in this solidly plotted story." [Much to the disappointment of her fans, Harris concluded the Lilly Bard sequence in 2001 with Shakespeare's Counselor.]
Although Harris achieved moderate success with these two series (which she laughingly describes as "cozies with teeth"), she would hit the jackpot in 2001 with Dead Until Dark, a sly, spoofy paranormal mystery starring a telepathic Louisiana cocktail waitress named Sookie Stackhouse, who falls in love with a vampire named Bill. The novel, a delightful hybrid of mystery, science fiction, and romance, was an instant hit with critics. ("Harris' Sookie has the potential to attract more readers than Hamilton's Anita Blake," raved the dark fantasy magazine Cemetery Dance.) Readers, too, adored the Southern Vampire Series and have rewarded the author with bestseller after bestseller. (In 2008, the Sookie saga came to HBO in a top-rated television adaptation, True Blood, starring Anna Paquin.)
With 2006's Grave Sight, Harris added yet another fascinating character to her stable -- a young woman named Harper Connelly whose youthful encounter with a lightning bolt has left her with the ability to find corpses and determine how they died. In addition to juggling characters and plots for her popular series, Harris has also contributed short stories and novellas to several anthologies of paranormal fantasy fiction.
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In our interview, Harris confesses:
"I'm really a boring person. My family (my husband and three children) is the most important thing in my life. I go to bed early, I get up early. I love to go to the movies with my husband. My favorite things about finally making some money as a writer are (a) I can buy as many books as I want, and (b) I can hire a maid. The first job I had was working in an offset darkroom at a very small newspaper. I stood on a concrete floor all day and made minimum wage -- which then was $1.60 an hour. I hated it, and I learned a lot, though not necessarily about working in a darkroom. So being a writer is much better."
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In the summer of 2005, Charlaine Harris took some time out to answer some of our questions.
What was the book that most influenced your life or your career as a writer?
Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. This book has everything: mystery, unrequited love, class war, illicit sex, madness, and a woman with an unswerving sense of moral rectitude. Jane is no beauty, she never twittered in her life, and she's devoted to thinking things over carefully before arriving at a rational decision. And yet she's a passionate woman underneath that drab dress that she's decided is suitable for her station. Jane is extremely conventional, and at the same time unconventional; a prime example of still waters running very deep. She rises above adversity every time, and she has a lot of adversity to rise above. Jane Eyre is the basic blueprint for thousands of books that followed.
What are your ten favorite books, and what makes them special to you?Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman -- Gaiman's vision of an underground London that encompasses magic and evil, fantasy and good, is a book I've read again and again. The villain that eats ancient Chinese pottery is just brilliant.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen -- No one can write like Jane Austen, and there are reasons Pride and Prejudice is one of the most successful novels ever written. Mr. Darcy is changed by the love of Elizabeth Bennett just as she is changed by his love for her, though their initial impressions of each other are hardly favorable. I love Jane Austen's work, and this is Miss Austen at her best.
Passage by Connie Willis -- This book is about life after death, and I found it profoundly moving and mysterious. Connie Willis can write circles around almost anyone else, and she is one deep thinker.
Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K. Hamilton -- The first book in Hamilton's long-running Anita Blake series, Guilty Pleasures, sets the tone for the whole best-selling line. Laurell's trademark recklessness, imagination, and storytelling grip you by the scruff of the neck and never let you go.
The Fourth Wall by Barbara Paul -- Barbara has never gotten her due as a writer, and this book will show you why. It changed the way I wrote women forever. I should have seen the parallel to Jane Eyre a long time ago; this is another heroine who lives largely in her own mind, a woman who reads and values intellect, yet a woman who can take action once she's convinced her course is correct. Also, Barbara's playwright is a woman who never thought about living on her looks.
Lullaby Town by Robert Crais -- Bob Crais's Elvis Cole novels are all wonderful. There are only degrees of more-wonderful and less-wonderful. Elvis Cole and Joe Pike are the best private eyes in California, or maybe in the world. Crais knows Hollywood, humor and deep feelings, and he can write action. Nothing's better.
The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde -- Due to my love of Jane Eyre. Imagine being able to visit the book -- to actually be inside Jane Eyre. I couldn't imagine it, but Fforde could.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich -- This book started a whole phenomenon, but it's good to go back to read it every now and then to reacquaint yourself with the disaster that's Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter. I love books that make me laugh, and this book always does.
The Haunting and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson -- Jackson was one of the best American writers of the past century. She can write funny, or she can scare you till you want to scream. The Haunting can still make the hair on the back of my neck stand up, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle is eerie all the way through, from word one.
The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey -- Tey makes it clear that the crime novel can be a vehicle for much more, in her classic novel about a policeman in bed with an injury whose friends entertain him by bringing him an historical mystery to solve.
What are some of your favorite films, and what makes them unforgettable to you?Lawrence of Arabia -- Peter O'Toole is just great in this beautiful film about an incredibly complex man.
The Last of the Mohicans -- The music, the scenery, a good script, and Daniel Day-Lewis. You can't go wrong with this much-changed version of the James Fenimore Cooper book.
The Pink Panther -- I always laugh, no matter how many times I've seen it. All the Peter Sellers Panther movies are funny, and I love to laugh.
Blazing Saddles -- This is just a funny movie, and it set the pattern for many to follow.
"The Piano" A feminist fable with an awful lesson.
Saving Private Ryan -- A heartstopping depiction of war and the test it lays on men
The Birds -- Way to be scared!
What types of music do you like? Is there any particular kind you like to listen to when you're writing?
I love to listen to Yo Yo Ma playing anything. Mostly, I listen to movie soundtracks and bagpipe music, and Annie Lennox.
What are your favorite kinds of books to give -- and get -- as gifts?
I think the book has to match the giftee. If I don't know exactly what the person wants, I'd give them a gift card to a bookstore. But it's always fun to get someone to read a book he/she might not otherwise have read.
Do you have any special writing rituals? For example, what do you have on your desk when you're writing?
Some stuffed or ceramic vampires that people have given me as gifts; piles of papers, some quite irrelevant; a stack of CDs; a big glass of water; some dried flowers, one arrangement from the banquet where I won the Anthony, and one sent by a friend when I made the New York Times bestseller list; a mug full of pencils; and copies of the past Sookie books, for easy reference.
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?
It took me 25 years. That proves that success doesn't always come easily, or when you're young, but it can sure sneak up on you.
What tips or advice do you have for writers still looking to be discovered?
Read, read, read and then write, write, write. Persevere.
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|Charlaine Harris Home
Good to Know
|In Our Other Stores|
Signed, First Editions by Charlaine Harris|
|Dead until Dark, 2001|
|Living Dead in Dallas, 2002|
|Club Dead, 2003|
|Dead to the World, 2004|
|Bite (coauthor), 2004|
|Dead as a Doornail, 2005|
|Grave Sight, 2005|
|Definitely Dead, 2006|
|Grave Surprise, 2006|
|All Together Dead, 2007|
|Many Bloody Returns: Tales of Birthdays with Bite, 2007|
|An Ice Cold Grave, 2007|