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Author Charlaine Harris will appear Friday in Boonsboro

April 10, 2010|By MARIE GILBERT
  • Charlaine Harris calls her books "adventure novels" and many of her characters are vampires. She'll be part of the Washington Romance Writers of America mega book signing at Turn the Page bookstore on Friday, April 16.
, By Caroline Greyshock

BOONSBORO -- When it comes to vampires, Charlaine Harris doesn't see them as evil, cloak-wearing characters from a Bram Stoker novel.

Instead, she likes to think of them as people living alternative lifestyles.

They're outrageous, audacious, steamy and funny.

And they love to have a bloody good time.

Harris will be the first to admit she's no expert on vampires. But she does know how to write a series of books that people can sink their teeth into.

And her fans will have a chance to meet her at the Washington Romance Writers' mega book signing event 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday, April 16, at Turn the Page Bookstore Cafe in Boonsboro. She will be joined by more than a dozen other writers, including Nora Roberts.

The event precedes the annual retreat of the Washington Romance Writers, a chapter of the Romance Writers of America, that serves writers in the Washington, D.C., area.

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Writing and vampires

For the past 10 years, Harris has authored the Southern Vampire Mysteries, a series of books that are a mix of suspense, science fiction, romance and humor.

Harris prefers the term "adventure novels."

It all began with "Dead Until Dark," a quirky story featuring Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic Louisiana waitress; her vampire boyfriend, Bill; and a kooky cast of characters who all reside in a southern backwoods hamlet.

The book, which makes you shudder and laugh at the same time, generated a fan base that helped make each subsequent novel a bestseller.

The mania reached a fever pitch with the debut several years ago of the HBO series by Alan Ball, "True Blood," based on Harris' books.

Fueled by interest from the television program, the vampire novels occupied seven spots of the top 20 on a recent New York Times mass paperback list.

All of this from a woman born and raised in Tunica, Miss., who at one time worked in a newspaper darkroom and as a typesetter with FedEx.

The fact that she became a writer might surprise some people, but not those who really know her.

"I've written since I could hold a pencil," Harris said.

Her big break

At first, she wrote poetry, then began writing one-act plays while attending Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn.

Following graduation, Harris married and put writing on the back burner.

"Then I married a second time," she said, "and my husband gave me the option of staying home to write a novel. It was a golden opportunity."

The couple was living in St. Louis at the time. And Harris was taking a creative writing class that was led by a woman who had worked at Houghton Mifflin publishing company.

Harris said the woman "very kindly recommended a manuscript" she had been working on and it was accepted.

"My first book, "Sweet and Deadly," was published in 1981," she said. "I was very lucky. I don't have any old unpublished manuscripts."

Harris said she always has enjoyed a good mystery and "genre fiction is my first and best love." So that was the writing road she followed.

Her first two books were stand-alones, she said. Then, she began the Aurora Teagarden books, a series about a Georgia librarian who gets drawn into her share of murder mysteries.

The first book, "Real Murders," was nominated for an Agatha, a literary award for mystery and crime writers.

"Since it was my third book, it was overwhelming," she said. "I didn't even know there were such things as mystery conventions, much less that they gave awards."

Her second series of books were the Lily Bard Shakespeare books, set in the fictional town of Shakespeare, Ark.

She also has written the Harper Connelly mystery stories.

But it is her third series of books, the Southern Vampire Mysteries, that has really put Harris on the literary map.

Harris said she batted around the idea of a vampire book for quite a while until she decided to begin the series.

She isn't sure how she came up with the character Sookie Stackhouse, but the mind-reading heroine isn't based on anyone she knows.

"She's what I needed her to be for the purposes of the series," she said.

Business of writing

Harris said she does her writing in an office across the carport from her house in southern Arkansas.

"I spend about six hours a day working, though it's not always six hours spent writing," she said.

With each release of her novels, Harris spends a lot of time traveling around the globe for books signings and interviews.

One of her favorite things is meeting her readers.

When she's not writing, she enjoys spending time with her husband and three children. She also loves reading.

"I read a lot of genre writing: urban fantasy, science fiction, mystery," she said. "I read some nonfiction, too. Jon Kraskauer and Bill Bryson are my favorites in nonfiction. There's a long list of writers I enjoy reading - Jim Butcher, Kim Harrison, Laurell K. Hamilton, Kelley Armstrong, Tanya Huff. I think Sarah Monette is great. Lee Child, Barry Eisler, Dana Stabenow, Ton L.P. Keiner. I love them all."

"I've never had the pleasure of meeting her and I look forward to it," Harris said.

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