Category Archives: Blog

Charlaine Harris blog

March 24, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Quiet Dell, Jayne Anne Phillips
  • Mariana, Susanna Kearsley
  • Would-Be Witch, Kimberly Frost
  • Half-Off Ragnarok, Seanan McGuire

Jayne Anne Phillips’s Quiet Dell is the fictional version of a real event, the murder of a family and certainly at least one single woman by the would-be Lothario Harry Powers. Powers, who used several names in his pursuit of lonely widows and divorcees in 1930-1931, must have had some charisma or source of mesmerism unconnected to his appearance. Asta Eicher and her three children (Grethe, Hart, and Annabel) were murdered by Powers, but the case for which he was tried was the death of Dorothy Lemke, whose remains were also found on land owned by Powers. Phillips’s central character, a woman reporter, is richly invented to convey the pathos of the women victimized by Powers. Emily Thornhill acquires an entire family from the beginning of the book to the ending, and if none of them is truly related to her, they become a family nonetheless. Using the language and social norms of the thirties, Phillips manages to make Emily come alive.

Susanna Kearsley’s Mariana is the story of Julia Beckett, illustrator of children’s books, who is compelled to buy a house she’s come across three times at moments in her life. Julia meets two men in the vicinity who seem also to have been drawn there, Iain Sumner, and Geoff, descendant of the lords of the manor. They’re both attractive men, and Julia feels she may have moved to the right place. But she begins to have flashes of the past, in which she’s wearing clothes that are not made any longer, and she opens the door to rooms which suddenly have old-fashioned furniture in them. Julia is seeing her past life as Mariana, and as she begins to find out more and more about Mariana, she learns more and more about herself. This is a lovely time-travel book.

Would-Be Witch is more of a romp. Kimberly Frost writes about Tammy Jo Trask, a Texan with flaming hair and a temper to match. Tammy Jo is half in love with her ex, and more than a little in lust with the very sexy magician Bryn Lyons. She feels she has never developed her “witch” genes (her absent mother and aunt are both practitioners), but she is a magnet for trouble. When the family locket holding the family ghost is stolen at a home-invasion robbery, Tammy Jo must go through hell and high water to retrieve it.

Half-Off Ragnarok is Seanan McGuire’s latest InCryptid novel, and it’s just as much fun as the first two. The main character in H-O R is Alexander Price, brother of Verity, who “starred” in the first two. Alex seems to be quieter, but his life is just as interesting as Verity’s. While he works at a Midwest zoo, Alex is actually studying the local incryptid population and taking an interest in another zookeeper, Australian Shelby Tanner, who is not what she seems. So many people aren’t, in a Seanan McGuire book! Even Alex’s assistant Dee has snakes instead of hair, and the child who sneaks into the zoo so often is actually a wadjet, there to cuddle with her boyfriend, a male wadjet who retains the form of a snake. This is as delightful as McGuire’s books usually are, and I had a great time reading it.

 

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I might as well call this blog “What the hell?” or “I Throw up my Hands” because these are both things I said this past week. You know that feeling? When you decide the deck is stacked against you, and then one more thing happens to push you over the edge?

I had a little surgery, which was no big deal to anybody but me. And it turned out fine. But I was pretty nervous, and I walked out with a big bandage on my arm, and after a week, when I went back, the site was still sore and unpleasant. Finally, the surgeon was able to close it, which was an immense relief, and then . . . I turned out be allergic to the bandage his nurse put on.

This seemed to me to be adding insult to injury. Either I developed this allergy (presumably to Latex) because of the previous bandaging, or the new bandage had more of whatever I’m allergic to in it, because everywhere it touched my skin, I had swelling and redness and those little itchy bumps in a spectacular display.

Hardly life-threatening or disfiguring or even very serious, right? But while I was worried about other things to begin with, just enough to push me over the edge into paranoia.

Does it sometimes seem that Life, with a capital L, is taunting you? Or is this just a series of random events, a piling of misfortune upon misfortune? I’m reminded (in a more serious vein) of families who return from an interment to find that the house has been burgled. In a way, you can see that coming (lawbreakers can read the obituaries, too, just the same way that you can’t discover you’re allergic to Latex until you put some next to your skin and find out you are).

In another way, the tragi-comedic viewpoint of life has to kick in when the bad things start stacking up. Minor or major, it requires a great attitude adjustment to find the ridiculousness of it all, and to laugh at it.

So let’s pretend we’re at a bar together, and let’s belly up and have a drink, and laugh at life. There’s more to enjoy than not, and laughter is the best defense against misfortune pile-ups.

Of course, it can take good long while to get to the point where you can laugh.

Charlaine Harris

March 9, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
  • The Silence of the Library, Miranda James
  • Murder of Crows, Anne Bishop

 

In the interests of being thorough, I’m re-reading all the Rex Stout books and the Agatha Christie ‘Miss Marple’ novels on my e-reader as I travel. They make for good company!

 

But at home, I read actual, physical books. I had the pleasure of reading three really good ones since my last column. Laura Lippman is one of the best mystery writers in America; it’s easy to say that with qualification. After I’m Gone is a story of love gone wrong, at least in some ways. Cold case investigator “Sandy” Sanchez is investigating the case of Julie, the mistress of Felix Brewer, who fled prosecution twenty-six years before. Though everyone, perhaps including Brewer’s wife Bambi, has assumed that Julie went on the lam with Felix, her body has been found. A lot of history has to be reviewed and reinterpreted.  Did Bambi kill her old rival? Or are Bambi’s daughters guilty? There’s a lot of bitterness, and a dozen secrets, to wade through before the determined Sanchez can get to the bottom of what really happened to Julie Saxony.

 

My long-time friend Miranda James has a hit with her cozy “Cat in the Stacks” mysteries, and deservedly so. The Silence of the Library is another adventure of mild-mannered librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine coon cat, Diesel. Set in Athena, Mississippi, these entertaining and charming books always contain a satisfying mystery and plenty of character development. In Silence, Charlie, a great fan of the Nancy Drew books, gets to meet the author of another series he loved as a boy, the Veronica Thane series. Electra Barnes Cartwright is not in good physical shape, but she’s willing to participate in the library exhibit honoring her and other early writers of YA mysteries. Charlie is thrilled to meet such an icon of his youth, and the passages from one of the Veronica Thane books that punctuate the modern-day narrative provide a fun counterpoint. As Cartwright collectors swarm Athena, one of them is murdered, and Charlie and Diesel have to find the culprit and save the library’s event. You’ll enjoy this, and it’s suitable for all ages.

 

I’d been waiting for what seemed like forever for Anne Bishop’s new “Novel of the Others,” Murder of Crows. The previous book, Written in Red, was one of my 2013 favorites. Murder of Crows continues expanding the world of the Others, one in which humans are a minority and often regarded as food. Meg Corbyn, who has escaped from a secret compound where young female seers are cut to produce a prophecy, is learning to use her built-in talent to benefit her new community. They, in turn, are learning to live around Meg. But it’s an uneasy and uneven process, and the human world is reacting to the increasing tension among the Others and fanatic humans determined to kill them. It’s a much more divided world than we saw in the previous book, but just as intriguing. I really liked this book . . . and now I  have to wait for the next one.

 

Blog: The Instrument

 

My old PC had gotten balky, and I had been having uneasy twinges about it for some time. I kept promising myself that after I’d finished my current book, I’d consider buying something else. I did that for three books.

 

The decision was yanked from my hands when my computer decided to stop recognizing my keyboard. Of course, at first I thought it was the keyboard, and I bought another one. I use the ergonomic Logitech, and I love it, so I had to order that. In the meantime, I got out my laptop and set it up in another location, so I could answer email and so on.

 

But when the new keyboard came, the old computer wouldn’t speak to that one, either. When your machines won’t recognize each other, it’s a scary feeling. There they are, cheek by jowl, refusing to give each other a nod.

 

I had to go off for the weekend, and my husband bravely volunteered to try to reconcile the two by the time I returned. Since I am an optimist, I was blithely certain that all would be well by the time I returned. After all, this month and next month were on my schedule as the big push on the next book. My office had to work in unity.

 

Sadly, all my optimism was for nothing. I returned with food poisoning, after a flight cancellation necessitated another overnight stay, to the wretched news (everything was pretty wretched by then) that the two still weren’t speaking. Hal took the old, sick computer to a repair shop to loosen its tongue, and I looked forward to getting it back in a mood to communicate.

 

It was Not To Be. Poor computer! Its motherboard was fried. It would never speak again.

 

Now I have a shiny looking chrome computer sitting on my desk, and it’s beginning to warm up to the other office machines. So far so good.

 

I didn’t realize how my attitude to work was affected by the machine I was using. I feel quite jaunty with this new computer, and (once again) optimistic about how great a writer I’ll be now that I have something so up-to-date. It’s kind of ridiculous how “new” makes an emotional translation as “better.”

 

So far my printer and keyboard seem to like their new comrade just fine . . . so I’m optimistic.

 

Charlaine Harris

February 19, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Up from the Grave, Jeaniene Frost
  • Dead Harvest, Chris F. Holm
  • The Nero Wolfe books, Rex Stout
  • The Girl with all the Gifts, M.R. Carey

Jeaniene Frost ended her hugely popular Cat and Bones series with a great bang. Up from the Grave contains revelation after revelation, a loose end or two, and a satisfyingly happy ending for Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her handsome vampire sire and lover, Bones, who literally sail off into the sunset with . . . but I’m  not going to give away any spoilers, here. There are moments of great tension, and of course a lot of bloodshed and explosions, before Cat and Bones make their world as right as they can.

 

Dead Harvest (Chris F. Holm) has an unusual premise, which is not uncommon for an urban fantasy novel – the protagonist collects souls. That’s his job. He does this in payment for a debt, and he never doubts that what he does is necessary. But when he’s sent to collect the soul of a girl, he believes her to be innocent and the collection a mistake. Sam Thornton defies authority and refuses, and (almost literally) all Hell breaks loose. In a complicated and grim plot, Sam jumps from body to body in his attempt to keep the girl free. This is the first in a series.

 

Everyone who loves mysteries knows the name Rex Stout. Stout, the son of Quakers and a mathematical genius, turned to writing mysteries at an early age. The character of the eccentric private detective, Nero Wolfe, is iconic.  Wolfe, an orchid fancier, never leaves his brownstone unless there’s a terrible crisis, and he’s proud of his quirks and unashamed that he’s fat. His cook, Fritz, and his gardener, Theodore, live in the brownstone, too, along with Archie Goodwin, the younger, active, and brash private eye who does the legwork and interprets women to the misogynistic Wolfe. You can’t read just one Rex Stout – when you begin, they go down like potato chips. I read four in quick succession, and enjoyed every word. I read Three Men Out, The Rubber Band, and The Red Box.

 

The Girl with all the Gifts will be out here in JUNE. You should pre-order this book. It’s my literary grandchild, and I am bursting with second-hand pride. Toni Kelner and I asked M. R. Carey to contribute a story for the anthology, “An Apple for the Creature.” He sent us “Iphigenia in Aulis,” and I don’t think we changed a word of it. This story was nominated for several awards, and though it didn’t win any, Carey got a movie offer. He wrote a full-length book based on the characters in the story: Melanie, a little girl in a unique internment camp, her school teacher, Miss Justineau, and Sergeant Parks, who is in charge of keeping Melanie and the other pupils restrained. Melanie is a genius. She is also other things. I won’t reveal any of the other surprises about this brilliant book, but I HIGHLY RECOMMEND it.

 

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After being so indignant about Isabel Allende and bad announcers, I seem to have gotten over being angry for a while. And high time. I went to Boskone last weekend, a long-running science fiction convention held annually in Boston in February. Yes, Boston in February – doesn’t sound logical, does it? And sure enough, I had to fly in a day early to avoid a possible blizzard. So in the Riverfront Westin, I watched a snowfall the likes of which this southern girl has never seen. To add to my entertainment, it also sleeted and rained. I had a wide variety of weather events to choose from.

 

Boskone itself was very well organized and run by excellent people (and in a very comfortable hotel with a great staff). I had a great time on my several panels, and met some people I’d only heard about before, like Melinda Snodgrass, who knows so much about television writing and so many other mediums that it’s simply incredible. I also got to reconnect with friends, including Dana Cameron, Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Brendan DuBois, Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant), and Nancy Holder, as well as talk to my long-time agent, Joshua  Bilmes, and my long-time editor, Ginjer Buchanan.

 

Not completely to my surprise, but to my dismay, Ginjer told me she has plans to retire. I hope she has great fun creating a new life not built around work. She and husband John Douglas will have a fine time visiting relatives at their own leisure.

 

For me, this means change is in the offing. I’ve had Ginjer longer than any other editor. Change is the only thing that’s permanent.

 

I came home from 22-degree Boston to 72-degree Dallas, and the head cold from Hell. My husband had bought me pink roses for Valentine’s Day, and to my astonishment, a new television set for our room. A combination of the romantic and the practical. What a surprise. I hope all of you had pleasant surprises on Valentine’s Day.

 

Charlaine Harris

January 31, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Jane and Prudence, A Few Green Leaves, An Academic Question, An Unsuitable Attachment, Barbara Pym
  • The Cat and Bones books by Jeaniene Frost
  • Indexing, Seanan McGuire

As you can see, I continued my Barbara Pym binge. There are minor characters who pop up in many of the books, and they are fun to meet over and over; and some of the main characters from a previous book also are glimpsed in later books. Pym is at her funniest and most honest when she reveals peoples’ true reactions to the same events. I wonder how she saw the future of her most unlikely couple, Ianthe Broome and John Challow. Pym books are a series of small delights.

 

The Cat and Bones books are far steamier fare, but they’re written with style and verve and an attention to being true to character. Many, many people have enjoyed this series about Catherine, the Red Reaper, and her vampire lover, Bones. I could never stand Cat’s mom, Justina, and I’ve always had issues with her, but the irony of her becoming the thing she hated most – a vampire – and then being such a good one, is not lost on me. From being a damaged child and an endangered teenager, Cat becomes the strongest woman around, which is absolutely satisfying. I’m still reading the earlier books before I read the last one in this excellent series.

 

Indexing, which Seanan McGuire originally presented chapter by chapter, proved hard for me to get into at first. McGuire is a mistress of world building, but I had only a tenuous grasp of this one in the opening of the book. McGuire gives us a world in which fairy tales come true over and over, where a small task force must keep the narrative contained to avoid the general populace being swept up in the consequences. Or simply to keep it secret? I wasn’t sure. The main character, Henrietta (Henry), is a potential Snow White, and her muscle, Sloane, is a potential Evil Stepsister. Like all McGuire books, there are touches of humor and not a little suspense and outright fear, as Henry gets caught up in a place where all the previous Snow Whites are trapped in a snowy wood. Any McGuire is worth reading!

 

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Isabel Allende, originally from Chile and now living in San Francisco, is a bestselling literary author. I know many, many people who admire her intensely, and I am sure this is deserved. By all accounts, she is a great writer. But as far as the mystery community is concerned, she put her foot into her mouth in a major way.

 

She thought she would write a mystery “as a joke.” Though I don’t want to put words into Allende’s mouth, to me this translates: I’m so amazingly ‘literary’ that condescending to write a genre novel is incredibly funny.

 

This is a quote from her NPR interview:

 

“The book is tongue in cheek. It’s very ironic … and I’m not a fan of mysteries, so to prepare for this experience of writing a mystery I started reading the most successful ones in the market in 2012. … And I realized I cannot write that kind of book. It’s too gruesome, too violent, too dark; there’s no redemption there. And the characters are just awful. Bad people. Very entertaining, but really bad people. So I thought, I will take the genre, write a mystery that is faithful to the formula and to what the readers expect, but it is a joke. My sleuth will not be this handsome detective or journalist or policeman or whatever. It will be a young, 16-year-old nerd. My female protagonist will not be this promiscuous, beautiful, dark-haired, thin lady. It will be a plump, blond, healer, and so forth.”

 

There are a lot of factual errors in this statement. There are quite a few mysteries with young protagonists (can you say “Flavia de Luce”?) There are many, many mysteries that do not have promiscuous thin women as protagonists. And most mystery protagonists are NOT bad people. They are driven to solve problems, to seek justice, to right wrongs, to save the innocent. Admittedly, they may do bad things in the course of achieving their goals. But many do not. In limiting herself to bestsellers, Allende left untouched a huge body of work that would have informed her vision more fully: because the mystery genre is ALL about redemption.

 

Allende’s book is Ripper, and before I read the interview, I considered buying it. But having devoted my professional life to genre literature, I don’t think I will. So, am I coming down too heavily on Isabel Allende? As a writer who’s been misunderstood a lot(!), maybe I should have more tolerance for her poor choice of words. And probably, after a week, I’ll just shrug and forget it. After all, it’s not like my opinion will make any difference to Isabel Allende. But I still don’t think I’ll buy the book.

 

Charlaine Harris

January 14, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Fiend, Peter Stenson
  • Winter’s Bone, Daniel Woodrell

I went on a Barbara Pym reading binge right around New Year’s Day. I’ve talked about her books here before, so I won’t now at any length: but I read “No Fond Return of Love,” “Crampton Hodnet,” “Less than Angels,” “Excellent Women,” and “A Glass of Blessings.” It is always wonderful to revisit this much underrated English novelist. Her people are still waters who run very deep, and I love watching how Pym reveals them. And she’s funny, smiling-to-yourself funny.

 

Jeff Abbott’s The Last Minute is very much a thriller. It’s the second Sam Capra book. The first, Adrenaline, was aptly named and a great bestseller. I’m afraid you really need to read Adrenaline  to get the most out of The Last Minute, but that’s not a bad thing. They’re both excellent, heart-pounding thrillers with engaging characters, an international cast, and plenty of action. Sam is a great protagonist; he’s driven to the most extreme edges of his character when his pregnant wife vanishes in the first book, and in the second, he’s searching for his baby. In this search, he’s yoked himself with the most dubious of allies, a ferocious woman with no qualms at killing.

 

I got a strong recommendation on Fiend, or I don’t think I would have picked it up. Peter Stenson’s book is about addiction, in the guise of a zombie novel. I believe for the first time I understand the irresistible compulsion that drives drug addicts, since I’ve read the dreadful and despicable things Chase Daniel will do when the world falls apart around him. Chase has good impulses: he is loyal to his friend, Typewriter, and he still loves his former girlfriend, KK. He retains some beautiful memories of his childhood. But nothing can stand in the way of his need for crank.  This is an adventure and an education AND a zombie novel.

 

Daniel Woodrell is a great writer. Winter’s Bone is a great book. And to top off the accolade, Winter’s Bone was also a great movie. Woodrell’s novel was treated with reverence and intelligence in its screen adaptation; fortunately, it is a slim novel, so nothing was left out and not much added in the amazing movie. The novel, set in the Ozarks, is about Ree Dolly, a teenager who must take care of her two younger brothers and her mother, who has retreated into a mental haze and cannot be reached. Ree’s immediate crisis (as opposed to the permanent crisis of how to keep this family fed) is that her father has not appeared in court, and the bail bond company can seize the house and land – all the Dollys own – if he is not found. No one wants Jessup Dolly to be found, including some very nasty people involved in the meth business; but Ree must search for him nonetheless. It’s not surprising that this book is “taught” in many writing classes, because it’s simply excellent.

 

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Sharing good news is one of the purest pleasures we can experience. There’s a certain guilty pleasure to sharing bad tidings; the hushed voice, the “can you believe it” overtone, the shocked expression. But good news? Passing that long just elevates your spirits. It’s easy to believe human beings are mostly all right, when we take joy in sharing happiness. I’ve had two experiences with that lately.

 

This past year, I was president of Mystery Writers of America. Each year, the board votes on who will be named as Grand Master, which (in my opinion) is the ultimate accolade a writer in the mystery/suspense field can achieve. Some years, no one is nominated. Some years, three or more people are. This year, two Grand Masters were elected: Carolyn Hart, my long-time friend, and Robert Crais, whom I know slightly, a writer I’ve admired for years with an almost embarrassing fervor.

 

The executive vice president, my buddy Dan Hale, told Carolyn, for whom I am very, very stoked, that she’d been chosen. When Dan was about to call Robert Crais, he asked if I’d like to be in on the call. Ohhhhh . . . yes, I would! Nothing’s lovelier than to tell someone you revere that he’s getting an honor that he fully appreciates. Far from being blasé about the news, Bob was truly stunned. Really, I glided along for days on the happiness.

 

This week, my daughter (a volunteer for the Make-A-Wish Foundation) got to tell a family that their child’s wish had been granted. Since this is confidential, I will not give any details, but the child’s mother and the child were beyond happy; they were in some stratosphere of giddiness I can only imagine.

 

So with my faith in humanity all geared up, I hope I will refrain (at least for a while) from relaying bad news, and instead stick with the positive.

 

It makes me feel so good.

 

Charlaine Harris

December 27, 2013

BOOKS OF THE WEEK:

 

  • Nothing to Envy, Barbara Demick
  • The Last Minute, Jeff Abbott
  • Curtsies and Conspiracies, Gail Carriger
  • The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith
  • Daughter of the Empire, Lady Pamela Hicks
  • Written in Blood, Anne Bishop

Since David Sedaris was generous enough to tout Barbara Demick’s book, I was glad to buy it. It’s everything he said it was, and amore. Demick’s account, built from many interviews of people who’d escaped from North Korea to South, is a unique book about a country that prides itself on keeping secrets. Under Communist rule, North Korea has ground to a halt, the economy so depressed that factories don’t run, so people don’t work, so . . . they starve to death. Nothing to Envy is shocking and touching and unforgettable.

 

The Last Minute is a Sam Capra suspense thriller from my friend Jeff Abbott. If you read the first one, you’re sure to enjoy the second book about this government operative, who is searching for his stolen son with some very dubious help. This is a turn-the-pages-fast book full of plot twists and adventures.

 

The finishing school in Gail Carriger’s Curtsies and Conspiracies is the kind of school all of us would like to attend if we couldn’t get into Hogwarts. Sophronia, a proper young lady, is more adventurous than most, and going to a school that meets in a dirigible, a school that will teach her to be a spy, suits Sophronia down to the ground. If you read the first book in Carriger’s series, you’ll definitely want to continue with this one.

 

Famously, The Cuckoo’s Calling turned out to be written by J.K. Rowling. I think I would have enjoyed it anyway, but I’ll never know for sure. “Robert Galbraith” has written a private eye novel featuring Cormorant Strike, who is down to his last pound when he gets a lucrative case and a temporary secretary, Robin Ellacott. He is luckier than he knows. He’s hired to investigate the death of Lula Landry, a model, a high profile case that may change his fortune for good, and Robin Ellacott turns down a much better job because she develops a taste for detective work. This is really a good book, no matter who wrote it.

 

Lady Pamela Hicks was a Mountbatten, and her memoir, Daughter of the Empire, is a fascinating account of growing up in an unconventional household. Both her parents were extremely good-looking, and they both had numerous lovers, but despite that Lady Pamela has an upbringing of privilege, if not opulence. Her mother would forget to send money for new clothes for Pamela and her sister, and they would appear very poorly dressed. And once her mother forgot at what obscure town she’d left them with their nanny, and they’d run out of money by the time their mother tracked them down. But she also became a friend of Gandi and received 11 proposals before she found the man she eventually married.

 

Last but hardly least is one of my favorite books of the year, a book I have inexplicably not mentioned until now. Anne Bishop’s Written in Blood is a fabulous piece of imagination. There are certainly supernatural creatures in Bishop’s world, but they live in compounds to keep themselves to themselves, and when humans intrude there are problems that range from aggravating to severe. But desperate young woman begs for a job in that compound, because she’s fleeing from the unspeakable. When her pursuers try to snatch her from the compound, all hell breaks loose, almost literally. Though there’s an element of Mary Sue-ism in the attachment most of the supernaturals feel for her very quickly, there’s also some amazing story-telling. Don’t miss this book.

 

NEW EXPERIENCES, NEW CHALLENGES

 

Before I actually began getting older, I was comfortable in a rut. The everyday uproar of bringing up three children and trying to keep a career on track, a house running, and definitely took up all my time and energy. Learning something new seemed impossible; in fact, undesirable. I was too occupied with maintaining some friendships; in fact, running in place.

 

running in place

I kept putting off a lot of things until my life settled down. Then my kids were out of the house, but by then I was busier than ever since my career was in an upturn.

 

I turned down some opportunities I shouldn’t have, because I felt I didn’t have the time to learn anything new. But all that came to a halt. . . not abruptly, but gradually. I realized that there never would be a time to sample a new experience if I didn’t make it. If I didn’t say “Yes!” to some of the open doors that were in front of me.

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So I sat on a bar stool in an episode of “True Blood.” I went to a premiere. I began editing anthologies with Leigh Perry, aka Toni L.P. Kelner. I wrote a graphic novel (out this January!) with Christopher Golden. I switched my Hollywood representation. I did pitches (unsuccessful) for other books of mine I thought might make great movies. I was a guest judge on “Halloween Wars.”

 

Most of these ventures turned out just fine, and no one told me I was too old to do them. And every new attempt energized me. What’s the worst that could happen? Someone would say “no.” Is that so awful? Not if you keep trying to get someone else to say “Yes.”

 

Charlaine Harris

November 24, 2013

(no book recommendations this week)

Remembrance and Gratitude

The two months of recollection and reflection leading up to the fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy – and the subsequent assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy – have been a trip into times past for many of us, including me. In those times, when America was in such upheaval socially and politically, it seemed to many of us that America might not last as a country. Many citizens wondered if the United States were so united after all, or were perhaps divided with no solution in sight.

 

And it also seemed particularly horrible that our own president, the most powerful man on earth, could be shot in the midst of his fellow countrymen, in broad daylight, in a large city, by a man who was arguably an American citizen. (Oswald renounced his citizenship once, but took it back . . . something I doubt would happen today.)

 

Those three murders, which in retrospect seemed to have happened in quick succession (though Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were both killed five years after JFK) have a lot to do with the way foreigners regard Americans. In hindsight, it does seem strange that we didn’t learn any more about personal security in the interim. Maybe the death of the president was so singular and tragic that we believed such an event would never be repeated.

 

We’ve learned a lot since then, and most of it hasn’t been pleasant. Personal security is an issue to millions of Americans who are far from the presidential level.

 

Though the lives of the Kennedy brothers was cut short, as was Dr. King’s, we have to be thankful for the courage of these men, who lived out their lives in the public scrutiny. None of the three were saints. They were all flawed in various ways. But they had the moral conviction to stand up for what they believed, regardless of the consequences. In their cases, the consequences were tragic. Children grew up without their fathers and went on to make the best or worst of their lives. Widows grieved and were strong.

 

And I don’t know that American society changed as much as it should have after all this tragedy. That’s something to reflect on, during this week when we celebrate the plenty of this country, the plenty achieved by independence and cooperation.

 

Charlaine Harris

November 11, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Parasite, Mira Grant
  • Longbourn, Jo Baker

The two books I read this week ended up taking me quite a while. Parasite andLongbourn are both well worth reading, and I didn’t want to skip over anything important. The books couldn’t be more different.

 

As anyone who’s followed this column know, I’m a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, who is also Mira Grant. Under any name, she’s an excellent writer and a very, very smart woman. Parasite is a scientific thriller that also succeeds as a human story. Sally Mitchell is on life-support and is about to be unplugged when she wakens with no memory of her past or her character. You may not be very fond of Sally, or Sal as she prefers to be called, but her parents are somewhat relieved to find out that the old devil-may-care wild child has become a completely different person. Not that Sal’s not emotional – she is. She cries and screams her way through the book, but under circumstances that are totally understandable. The corporation that saved her life with their parasite transplant is Up To No Good, as any reader will expect; and there are secrets to uncover and villains to foil. I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises of this excellent novel.

 

After the recent flood of novels and books centered on Jane Austen’s world, Longbourn was a quiet pleasure. It’s the story of “Pride and Prejudice” told from the servants’ point of view. To the elderly couple, the young maid, and the child who helps out, the arrival of a new young manservant is a matter of wonder and upheaval – especially to the maid, Sarah, an orphan. The servants have to make the lovely surface of Austen’s heroines’ world happen: they’re working from before sunup to after sundown to draw the baths, iron the garments, launder the garments, curl the hair, cook the meals, polish the brass, curry the horses for the carriage, wait outside in the cold for the girls of the house to be ready to leave the ball . . . a never-ending round of drudgery. But Sarah won’t have it. Having finally found a little happiness, she will not let it slip from her grasp. Longbourn is set belowstairs, but it’s full of the commonality of the human spirit.

 

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I went to see David Sedaris recently, and I had an excellent time. Those of you who are interested in modern essays will surely have read something of Sedaris’s, who writes often for The New Yorker and has published many bestselling books of essays and other pieces, mostly dealing with his (funny, painful, bitter, loving) upbringing as one of six children of a mother who became an alcoholic and father who was, to put it mildly, challenging. Sedaris himself cannot have been an easy child to raise, as he points out gleefully, since he had obsessive-compulsive disorder and gradually came to realize that he was gay.

 

“Me Talk Pretty One Day” is the first book of Sedaris’s I’d read, and it remains one of my favorites, while “When You are Engulfed in Flames” is perhaps even better. But I believe I’ve read almost everything he’s written, and even in his “off” books, there is something screamingly funny and screamingly painful.

 

Sedaris started signing before the event and he signed more after the event, so it must have been a very long evening for him – this was a tour with 40 events! – but he seemed to keep his balance throughout the whole hour “performance,” which consisted of reading a couple of essays and other pieces, plus tying them together with some reminiscences. It was as funny as you can possibly imagine. I laughed myself sick. His reading was followed by a brief Q &A segment. To my pleasure and relief, some of the questions he got asked are just as repetitive as the questions I get asked. It felt strange to be on the other side of the lights, but it was a real relief, too.Here’s my point – besides urging you, if you ever have a chance to see David Sedaris live, do it! – is that he spent a goodly portion of the evening touting someone else’s book. And this book was not at all humorous. It was “Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea,” by Barbara Demick, which explores the extreme difficulty and stress of trying to live in modern North Korea, under a regime as totalitarian as any ever devised. With grace and admiration, Sedaris said it was better than any book he would ever write, and urged all of us to buy it. In fact, he had it with his books in the lobby, to sell. I didn’t buy a copy in the lobby, but I have purchased one since.I consider Sedaris a fine, fine writer, maybe a great one, though since his field is self-deprecating humor – sometimes so scathing that he seems to be flaying himself in front of us – he may never get as much respect as he deserves. And now I admire him for his ardent advocacy of someone else’s book. It’s really satisfying to like both the writer and the man.

 

Charlaine Harris

October 31, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Inherit the Dead, edited by Jonathan Santlofer
  • Serving Victoria, Kate Hubbard

I don’t ordinarily review books in which I have any part, but Inherit the Dead was written for such a good cause (the proceeds benefit Safe Horizon, the US’s leading victim assistance organization) that I want to recommend it here. As you can tell form the stellar lineup of authors (just to pick a few at random: Mary Higgins Clark, Heather Graham, Val McDermid, Lawrence Block, C.J. Box) Safe Horizon is a cause it’s natural to support.

 

Unusually, for a serial novel, all the chapters were written simultaneously, which entailed a lot of planning on the part of the staff who managed this effort. And Inherit the Dead, about a disgraced policeman-turned-private eye who is pursuing a missing heiress, is definitely a coherent novel. You would never mistake my chapter for John Connolly’s, or S.J. Rozan’s, or James Grady’s, but the story is consistent. This was an interesting experience for all of us.

 

Serving Victoria sounds like an erotic novel, but nothing could be farther from the truth. This entertaining non-fiction book is about (literally) coming to Queen Victoria’s court as a lady of the bedchamber, or a court physician, and what it was like to live under those stifling circumstances. Happily, there are photographs of these people. Hubbard provides an interesting variety of stories about Victoria (when she laughed, she laughed long and loud) and the protocol that determined every moment of every day for the people honored with her service . . . and many of them certainly did feel honored. Victoria was a puzzling woman. The queen comes across as not too bright or educated, very thoughtful in some ways of those around her, and utterly insensitive in others.

 

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Audible, the books-on-cd company, is making a big announcement today. There’s going to be an anthology of short stories set in the Sookieverse. But none of them will be written by me! They’ll be written by great writers who’ve been kind enough to tell me they enjoyed my work. My friend Toni L.P. Kelner is editing the stories, and I’m giving them a once-over, too. Here’s the link if you’d like to pre-order:

When Audible first approached me, I was skeptical about the idea. I’ve never read fanfic, and I thought that this might be too akin to fanfic; other people, writing about my characters? But when I mulled it over for a few months, I began to see the possibilities. After I had another talk with Audible, I felt more amenable to the idea, and the project gradually took shape.

When writers like MaryJanice Davidson and Seanan McGuire take part – plus some writers whose names I’m holding back for later – you know the end product will be entertaining.
The world being the way it is today, I can already hear the accusations begin to pelt me. “You’re just trying to milk the success of your books as long as you can!” “You’ll do anything for a buck!” “No one will buy this! It’s exploitation!”

 

All right, I’ll take that. Though it’s not my motivation, it’s one interpretation.
No, I won’t do anything for a buck. If that were the case, I’ll still be writing the Sookie novels, and I would have Eric end up with Sookie and magically allow them to have little vampire babies.

 

Okay. Don’t buy it. Fine with me.

 

So there you have it; a future project which I can just sit back and enjoy. And I hope some of you do, too. I look forward to releasing the names of the other writers involved, and I’ve already peeked at one or two of the stories . . . and I laughed out loud.Charlaine Harris

October 20, 2013

Books of the Week:

  • Pagan Spring, G.M. Malliet
  • Snowblind, Christopher Golden
  • Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson, Jeff Guinn

Diversity and Contrast are my middle names this week. I am a huge fan of G.M. Malliet’s Max Tudor books, so I was delighted to buy this one as well. And let me say up front that I read and enjoyed it all in one day. But this is a case of the plot running the characters rather than the characters running the plot, in contrast to Malliet’s previous novels. Pagan Spring is about the death of an actor who’s retired to Nether Monkslip, where former MI5 agent Max Tudor is the Church of England priest. Thaddeus Bottle is the odious actor and playwright, and his wife Melinda runs to the vicarage to report her husband’s suspicious demise. Of course! For those of you who are fans of Max Tudor’s beloved Awenna, he thinks of her often during the book, but her return to the village close to the end of the book contains a real doozy of a conversation.

 

Christopher Golden’s Snowblind will not be on the shelves until JANUARY 2014. So I am jumping the gun; but this is a really wonderful horror novel, so put it on your to-buy list. The New England town of Coventry experiences an epic snowstorm one year, and during this terrible storm some truly awful things happen. People disappear without a trace, others are found dead in inexplicable ways, and lives are changed forever. Managing an ensemble cast with apparently effortless ease, Chris Golden lets a few years pass before another epic snowstorm begins to blow into Coventry . . . and suddenly, some of the people who vanished are back – in some form or other. I would not read this while it was snowing, I can tell you.

 

Jeff Guinn, a long-time journalist and the writer of two previous historical crime books (one about the gunfight at the OK Corral and one about Bonnie and Clyde) has really achieved something amazing with Manson. This highly-regarded work really is about Charles Manson’s life and how it was formed by the America he grew up in, the America that provided the backdrop for the terrible crimes that put him in prison for (effectively) his life. Guinn has succeeded in interviewing people who had never wanted to be included in any work about Manson before, including Manson’s sister and his cousin. He’s also talked to members of Manson’s created “family,” the ones who lived with him out in the desert. Guinn’s research makes Manson both more horrible and more understandable a figure.

 

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COOLING OFF

I recently finished writing a book, the first in a new series.

 

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And then I finished it again. And again. Each time, I thought it was done. But it wasn’t. I hope this is the final time I close the door on “Midnight Crossroad.”

 

After years of writing in the first person, I made the insane decision that my next book would be an ensemble novel, told from several different points of view. It was a decision that was easy to make, because I was longing to do something different. I gloated over the flexibility this would give me in telling the story of a group of people in a small Texas town. What I hadn’t counted on was the sheer difficulty in making sure each chapter was in one voice.

 

I finished the first draft a little late, but I had had the first two thirds of the manuscript read by Toni L. P. Kelner (aka Leigh Perry) and Dana Cameron, who are my trusted readers. They reported a few voice problems, and a few logical issues, so I rewrote accordingly. I felt I’d solved my problems as I plowed through the rest of the book. I sent those rewritten 200 pages to my editor at Ace, because she needed to begin working on the cover material and a description for the catalogue.

 

When I finished the manuscript completely, I sent it to my agent (Joshua Bilmes) and his assistant, Sam Morgan. Joshua expressed overall happiness, but he had some major quibbles, to my shock and dismay (I always hope it will be perfect!). He let Sam get specific.

 

I was not sticking to a point of view. I should find some way of designating who was running with the narrative during the various parts of the story, and that POV had to prevail until the baton was passed.

 

That meant a reorganization of the book. EEEEEEEKKK!

 

But after some bitter reflections on pride going before a fall, I saw it had to be done, and quickly, because the book was QUITE overdue. I thought very hard, and began my revision. Three points of view. They didn’t have to alternate, but they did have to be consistent. That meant the bits of narrative written in other voices had to be redistributed and rewritten. My mental file cabinet began to overflow.

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In this time, my granddaughter was born. That assumed high priority for a few days, but then the book got its claws back into me. Since my usual editor had a medical issue, I emailed Susan Allison at Ace to tell her that I would have the revised book on her desk (which now means “in her computer”) by Sunday afternoon at the latest.

 

And I sent it off Sunday afternoon. I never hit the SEND button with such gusto. I learned a lot in the writing of this book, after thirty-four years of writing books. The first thing was: Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself, but don’t be surprised if that challenge turns out to be hard and sometimes unpleasant. The second was: After you finish the book, let it sit for three weeks before you revisit it. Even longer would be better. In the lag time between version number two and version number three, the book was out of my scope while I did other projects. And it was wonderful how much more clearly I could see what needed to be done when I opened the “Midnight Crossroad” file again.

 

But gosh, I hope I don’t have to rewrite that book again.

 

Charlaine Harris