IF YOU GO
West Virginia Book Festival
Where: Charleston Civic Center
When: Oct. 13, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Oct. 14., noon to 5 p.m.
More info: wvbookfestival.org or blogs.wvgazette.com/wvbookfestival
CHARLESTON, W.Va. --New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris knows how to write a strong woman.
"My mother always said a woman could do whatever she had to do," Harris said. "She didn't think men were as strong as women, emotionally."
The Mississippi-based author has instilled that sentiment in the main character of her award-winning Southern vampire mystery series starring Sookie Stackhouse -- a telepathic waitress who works in a bar in the fictional Northern Louisiana town of Bon Temps.
Harris is headlining the 12th annual West Virginia Book Festival this Saturday at the Charleston Civic Center.
Her Sookie Stackhouse series -- with a 13th and final book set for release next May -- spawned the popular HBO show "True Blood," named after the synthetic blood that vampires live off in her novels.
She set her popular books in a small, Southern town with a Cajun flair, where everyone knows each other's business.
"I think there are plenty of books set in big cities. I thought it would be redundant of me to write a book like that," Harris said. "A small town let me put focus less on the difficulties of Sookie's everyday life and more on her relationship with the people around her."
And Sookie's life is full of relationships. As a telepathic waitress, she can hear the thoughts of everyone who comes into the bar. When she meets her neighbor, Bill Compton -- a Civil War veteran, and a vampire -- she finds solace in not being able to tune into his brain waves.
The peace is short-lived for Sookie, as supernatural creature after supernatural creature -- from vampires to werewolves, fairies and demons -- descend on the small Louisiana town. More than once, her life is put in danger, but she stands her ground and takes charge.
"She is a very strong character," Harris said of her heroine. "She can do anything she has to do. Even if she makes a choice she doesn't like, she is always the best person she can be, and yet survive."
After more than 10 years with Sookie, though, Harris has decided to let her go. Harris' last Stackhouse novel, "Dead Ever After," is in the final stages of revision and is on her editor's desk.
The author wouldn't give anything away about where her final story will leave Sookie and her friends and neighbors, but she did say she is leaving the series in a place she always wanted it to go.
"There is no way I could wrap up everything in one book, but there are some bits of conclusions for people who have followed the series," she said. "I am doing what I always planned to do [with the characters], and when you know that is the goal, and you've reached it, you feel pretty satisfied."
The conclusion won't satisfy all the readers, but Harris said she couldn't always take her fans' opinions into account.
"I take note of what readers say," she said, "but it would be false of me to write anything other than the ending I have planned all along."
Harris said that, although her series has been wildly popular, she hasn't always been thrilled with the end result.
"There were a couple of false starts I would have eliminated if I didn't know they would go anywhere, but you try with your writing," she said. "I am sure some of the books aren't as strong as the others, but that is inevitable with any series."
Harris said the 10th book, "Dead in the Family," is one of her favorites. It centers on Sookie's relationship with Viking vampire Eric Northman and the problems he encounters with his vampire maker, Appius Livius Ocella, and his brother vampire, Alexei Romanov.
Fans might have a little more to sink their teeth into if Harris goes through with her plan to publish a coda for the series.
"I am not sure how or when it will be presented to readers," she said, "but [the coda] will wrap up a lot of the stories."
Harris is wasting no time moving on to a new project: a three-book series to launch in 2014 that Harris calls "a sort-of mystery."