In the third in our trilogy of interviews between three authors who are powerhouses of paranormal romance, urban fantasy and more, Nalini Singh (author of the Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter series) interviews Charlaine Harris (author of the Sookie Stackhouse Mysteries, Midnight, Texas and more) about writing horror, going on set for Midnight, Texas, and character crossovers . . .
NS: Hi Charlaine! Thank you for virtually sitting down with me for an interview – it truly is an honour.
CH: Nalini, for me as well.
NS: I’m curious about your writing process. From the Sookie Stackhouse books to the Aurora Teagarden Mysteries – your series span the mystery and supernatural genres (and sometimes mix both together). Does your process change depending on the genre or the series?
CH:I never thought about it, but I think my process does change. With mysteries I’m goal oriented; the denouement must be a surprise to the reader, or at least very tense for the reader. If it isn’t, I haven’t done my job. With the supernatural books, I take time and smell the roses as I’m going forward with the narrative. The supernatural books also have to have a bang! at the end, but it’s not necessarily the same kind of surprise.
NS: Is there a genre you haven’t written that you’d love to try?
CH: Oh, gosh, yes. I would love to write a really scary book. I idolize Shirley Jackson, and ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ is one of the most terrifying books ever written. (Disregard the movies, though the first one is far more true to the book than the second.) I would love to provide that experience for someone else. Maybe the darker part of me . . .
NS: Given your busy schedule, how do you organize your writing time? Any tips for writers trying to find time to get more words on the page?
CH: I’ve been going through a very disorganized phase lately, due to various industry issues. But when I’m really cracking, I work in the morning and some in the afternoon, and if I can produce six good pages a day, I’m happy. I have had the luxury of being able to concentrate on the work. When I married Hal, he gave me the option of staying at home write. That was a big challenge, to put my money where my mouth was, but eventually, it paid off. When I had small children (three) I really hadn’t the energy to write. I was an oldish mother. But the minute baby three was born and the other two were in school, I was SO ready to pick back up. This doesn’t amount to a lot of advice. I would say set yourself a goal every day; if it’s three pages, or a thousand words, or a chapter, it’s still a goal. Have a dedicated time to write, if you can arrange that, and just WRITE. Don’t start a load of laundry or pick up the house.
NS: I find it fascinating that some of your characters from one series cross over into another – what inspired these crossovers? Were any of them particularly tricky to orchestrate?
CH: The problem is television. If a character is in a TV show, the show producers own the rights to that character for a predetermined length of time. I could use them in a book, but that book could never be filmed with the character who’d been in another series. And I’ve been fortunate enough to have great luck with landing television deals. So crossovers can be fun, but can also cause great complications down the road. For instance, I could use Quinn from the Sookie novels in my Midnight world, but not Andy Bellefleur.
NS: People worldwide are familiar with True Blood, the television adaptation of your wonderful series based around Sookie Stackhouse. What was it like for you to see your vision come to life on the screen?
CH: Very exciting and terrifying. I had no idea what Alan would do with the world, and to my delight he did a great, great job. His vision of my work was really surprising to me, as I think any writer who’d had material adapted will agree. You never really appreciate how the world you created will look quite different to someone else. To a lesser degree, the Hallmark Movie and Mystery channel adaptation of the Aurora Teagarden books has also been startling; since it’s filmed in Vancouver, the Southern background was simply scrapped, which I didn’t expect. That made a lot of difference in the books, but not so much in the screen version. I was a little more braced for the visit to the set of ‘Midnight, Texas’ a few months ago. The casting choices are always initially startling, but if you have a good producer and a good production, the best actor will be cast, not the one who most resembles the character in the books.
NS: Can you give us a little look behind the scenes from a writer’s perspective?
CH: I never in my life thought I would have experiences behind the scenes. This work can lead to such unexpected opportunities. You get to see the result of the work of literally hundreds of people in each moment of a television show or movie. But that moment took literally hours to achieve. This industry’s work is both exciting and really boring. Though I’ve always been treated with the greatest respect on sets, I’m also acutely aware I’m in the way!
NS: While I was in San Diego earlier this year, I saw posters for the television adaptation of your Midnight, Texas books. How did you feel when you found out that another one of your stories was about to be adapted for television?
CH: Nalini, I’m beginning to feel I have an embarrassment of riches. My experience with NBC, an established network, has already been quite different from what I had with HBO or Hallmark (which are opposite ends of the spectrum).
NS: All the Little Liars is out next month – what was it like returning to Aurora Teagarden? Can you see yourself returning to any other characters?
CH: It was so much fun getting back into Roe’s world. It had been a long time since I’d plotted a conventional mystery, and I had to rewrite and rewrite. I will never write another Lily Bard or Sookie Stackhouse novel. I wouldn’t mind writing another Harper Connelly book if I had a great idea, or another Midnight book. I left some trapdoors there for a continuation of the story.
NS: Do you have a secret ‘under the bed’ manuscript that hasn’t been published? If so, do you think readers will ever get a glimpse of it?
CH: Ahhh . . . no. My cupboard is bare.
NS: Can you share what you’re working on at the moment?
CH: Sure. I’m writing another Aurora Teagarden book.
NS: And last but not least – what books are you currently reading? Are there any authors you’d particularly recommend to readers who love your books?
CH: Thanks for asking. This is my favourite question. Right now I’m reading some Golden Age mysteries, because I’m on that panel at Bouchercon next week. And that’s a delight. They’re so soothing. But this year I’ve loved Daniel O’Malley’s STILETTO, Anne Bishop’s MARKED IN BLOOD, Mishell Baker’s BORDERLINE, and Hailey Lind’s Art Lovers’ Mysteries . . . I could go on and on.
You can check out all of Nalini’s books here. To find out more about Nalini Singh visit her website, or follow her on Twitter @NaliniSingh.