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Harris brings strong Southern Sookie to the W.Va. Book Festival

Courtesy photo
Sookie Stackhouse creator Charlaine Harris

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."

"It has an element of the supernatural," she said, "but not a huge one."

Most recently, Harris has been editing an anthology with Toni L.P. Kelner called "An Apple for the Creature," which was released in September.

The anthology is about supernatural creatures and schools. "But not all these schools are conventional schools, and the characters learn more than the basic ABCs," according to the book description on Harris' website.

With supernatural themes almost commonplace in today's entertainment scene, Harris still stands out as one of the first to combine love and a little bit of blood.

"I was one of the first books doing supernatural mystery and romance," she said. "It was fun to blend everything together, and it wasn't being done."

But is the genre played out? "We'll find out from our readers," many of whom will turn out Saturday to listen to Harris and maybe snag an autograph.

"It's wonderful to see people who like to read in this day and age. It's harder and harder to muster that up," Harris said of seeing throngs of people show up for her various book-signing appearances across the globe.

"They are there because they love books, they love to buy books and they like writers," Harris said. "That is always the most amazing part."

Harris said it's not uncommon to have three generations of a family in a signing line.

"They are talking to each other about issues raised in the books or actions or what they want to happen with the characters," Harris said. "It's great to think that my books are providing a way for families to communicate."

Although Harris turns down about three-quarters of the offers she is sent, she said she couldn't turn down the West Virginia Book Festival.

"I got such a warm invitation," she said. "It was a good time of year for me and it was so genuine."

When asked if she knew Charleston native Sam Trammell -- who plays Sam Merlotte, the bar owner on "True Blood" -- she laughed.

"Well, I know him a little and I like him a lot," Harris said.

Even though she is ending her relationship with Sookie, the HBO television show "True Blood" has just wrapped up its fifth season and will be back for a sixth season in the summer.

Harris said she is "very happy" with the result of the show.

"It would be hypocritical of me to regret the deal I did," she said, "because HBO has boosted my sales so enormously."

In fact, everything she has ever written is currently in print.

"That's great and rare," she said. "More people are reading my work, and just reading, period. It's absolutely great. To get people reading is every writer's dream."

Harris said the "True Blood" "story lines are great," even though they are different. "I think [director Alan Ball] and his writing team are very creative."

Her favorite liberty Ball took with her beloved Southern series is the introduction of baby vampire Jessica, the progeny of Sookie's first vampire love, Bill Compton.

"I enjoy seeing their relationship and how it works with Bill," Harris said. "She is a good foil for his character."

Harris will speak at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the coliseum at the Civic Center. She will sign books in the coliseum from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Saturday and then again immediately after her program, until 4:30 p.m.

Because of time limitations, Harris has placed some restrictions on the book signing. She will sign only one book her person, with no personalization, according to Book Festival officials. People who want their book signed will receive numbered tickets as they enter the coliseum. Groups of people will be called via ticket number to have their book signed.

The West Virginia Book Festival is presented by the Kanawha County Public Library, the Library Foundation of Kanawha County, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail.

Reach Kathryn Gregory at kathryng@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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