by Jenny Beatrice
It was a gray, rainy night at the gothic cathedral where 350 devoted followers of the queens of the modern vampire tale generated so much excitement they could have raised the dead. No, this is not a storyline from the imaginations of the wildly successful paranormal authors Charlaine Harris and Laurell K. Hamilton, but the reality of the special September 14 event that brought the writers together with their fans for a good cause.
This fundraiser for the St. Louis Public Library was a collaboration between the library, Christ Church Cathedral and Subterranean Books, held in conjunction with the Bouchercon Mystery Convention that was in St. Louis from September 15-18. The Very Reverand Michael Kinman, dean of Christ Church Cathedral, welcomed the guests, noting that hosting an event such as this is part of the millennia-long tradition of cathedrals serving as community hubs. Christ Church’s local community includes Central Library, currently undergoing a massive two-year renovation and slated to reopen in late 2012. Waller McGuire, executive director of the St. Louis Public Libraries, thanked all involved with the event, stating that the funds from this event will benefit the Central branch, “helping assure that the library will have another century of service” and “become one of the world’s great modern libraries.”
Speaking to a crowd very familiar with their works, Harris and Hamilton skipped the speeches and jumped right into a Q&A session. Fans (mostly female but wide ranging in age) lined up one by one for more than 1.5 hours, asking questions that proved their love for and knowledge of the books, the characters and the authors.
Both women are prolific writers with dozens of books in print and more than one popular series. Arkansas native Harris is best known for her Southern Vampire Mysteries, an 11-book-series that follows Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic Louisiana waitress, through her adventures with vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. The series is the inspiration for HBO’s True Blood. Local author Hamilton’s protagonist is Anita Blake, a U.S. Marshall for the Regional Preternatural Investigation Team who uses her supernatural skills to contend with were-animals and vampires on the streets of St. Louis. The “Anita” series is 20 books strong and counting.
Faithful followers were privileged to hear about the moments of inspiration that gave birth to these well-loved characters. Harris developed the idea after reading a scene in an Anne Rice book that led her to explore “a human woman dating a vampire and the problems that would result.” She favors strong female characters so it left her wondering what kind of woman would date a vampire. Once she decided to grace Sookie with the gift of telepathy, she felt she reached the perfect solution. “If you could read a human guy’s mind–really, would you date him?”
Hamilton was determined to challenge the literary stereotype of female detectives who do not have the pleasures of cussing or having sex like their male counterparts. “I wanted a character to outdo the men,” she said. She succeeds with Anita, who claims prowess in the field and in the bedroom. Anita’s numerous sexual encounters are signature of the series. “Writing a sex scene is like writing a fight scene,” said Hamilton. “It’s difficult to get things to work on paper.”
Although the sex scenes are left to Hamilton’s creativity, she perfects Anita’s work by doing field research, talking to members of the police and military, as well as shooting the guns she puts in Anita’s hand, from her first shot of a 357 Magnum to the bigger weapons she packs today. “I try to use everything she does.”
Many loyal fans of Sookie wanted to know Harris’ feelings about the on-screen translation of her work. When asked how much say she has in the TV series, she quickly responded, “None!” She was as quick to say that she has complete trust in creator Alan Ball. “I’m totally cool with the changes,” she said. “It doesn’t follow the book, but it makes it less boring for me.” It was an adjustment for Harris to see actors and actresses fill the shoes of the characters that lived in her mind. “It was hard watching people in the roles because they’d been in my head for so long. To see them doing these things that I had written, it was like looking at these things through different eyes.”
Hamilton has been close to an “Anita” TV deal, but it never came to fruition. She holds no regrets, especially considering her books are up to 400 pages long and scripts are a mere 160 pages. “So much has to be left out,” she said.
Event tickets entitled the attendee to a signed copy of one of authors’ latest books, Hamilton’s Hit List or Harris’ The Sookie Stackhouse Companion, yet the fans already had burning questions about what’s next for Anita and Sookie.
“I have no plans to stop writing Anita,” said Hamilton. “When I’m 85 and using a walker she’ll still be young and spry.” She said her “biggest work of fiction” is crafting a character that dates 15 men so for her next book, she’d like to have her “go home to live [with them] and see how that works.”
Hamilton’s readers were also eager to know what’s in store for another of the author’s series featuring Meredith Gentry, a faerie princess turned private investigator who is currently enduring a long-pending pregnancy. “Uterine liberation is near,” she promised. The next book is set for release Christmas 2012.
The crowd groaned when Harris said there would only be two more Sookie books. “That’s what I’ve got left,” she said, “and I will not cheat you by writing a book I do not love.” Harris is thinking about getting back to more of a crime agenda, but she is sure of one thing: “I’m going to write something that’s going to blow your boots off!”