Charlaine Harris is a happy kind of nervous these days. That sort of thing happens when your new novel is taking you on tour, while your old ones are being filmed by HBO.
"They're still shooting it, I was just there yesterday," Harris says of "True Blood," the upcoming series. "It's very interesting, and very unusual to see people you created walking around. But the director, Alan Ball ("Six Feet Under"), is such a tremendous talent, and the characters seem to be holding true."
Hollywood may seem like a long way from southern Arkansas, but the self-professed "softball mom" is used to bizarre changes. That's what working with vampires will do for you.
'FROM DEAD TO WORSE'
Harris will appear at The Poisoned Pen on Friday to promote "From Dead to Worse" (Ace Hardcover, $24.95), the eighth installment of her popular vampire/adventure series. Her novels walk the same dark streets as gothmeister Anne Rice. But Harris' protagonist - telepathic barmaid Sookie Stackhouse - walks them with a sense of humor and sass.
"You need a center point for your stories," Harris says. Sookie provides a likable guide for tales that leap into the vampire and werewolf realms. "She's a very good, young woman. Sookie makes her mistakes, and she's not always patient," she says. "But she's loyal and brave and a very hard worker."
"From Dead to Worse" tests both her heart and survival skills. As the supernatural world reels in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Sookie finds herself caught in the middle of a werewolf war. "I wanted this book to answer some questions raised earlier in the series, and raise some questions we'll confront later on," Harris says.
In so doing, she shares a task with her heroine - solving Sookie's mysterious ancestry while steering her around danger and toward ... what?
Harris laughs. "I know the ending of the series - but only very roughly," she says. "I'm learning as I go, and having a great time getting there."
FAME AND IMMORTALITY
Harris' journey from literary obscurity to fantasy cult favorite was more hard work than luck. An author of 27 years' experience, the Arkansas native honed her chops writing conventional drawing room mysteries.
"There are a lot of rules you have to observe to make a mystery work," she says. "You have to bury the motivation and identity of the murderer; you have to plant credible red herrings along the way."
But, like Sookie, Harris was just "more relaxed" around vampires. "Fantasy is a different place. I enjoy doing things I couldn't do before - like writing (vampires)."
Eight novels into the series, the creator of countless vampires is still a little mystified by their allure. "I think it has something to do with eternal life," she says. "People have trouble thinking about their own deaths. Here are these creatures. They're still people. They're not spirits. They have bodies and can love. But they live forever."
And their antics may throw more light toward a certain Southern softball mom.
"Things are changing with (the HBO series) coming up," Harris says. "It's a very conservative area - polite, good manners, very respectful. I blended really well before this. But I may lose my protective coloration a little bit."