As some of you know, the book that inspired me to write Tempest Rising was Ms. Harris’s fifth book in the Southern Vampire Mystery series, Dead as a Doornail:
This was not the first urban fantasy I’d ever read, although when I was reading the genre that name did not exist.Â When I was a child,Â it was simply a weird sort of fantasy being published by Charles de Lint and Mercedes Lackey. Back then, to find Anne Rice, one needed to wander out of Fantasy and over to Horror, where she was shelved with Stephen King. Now Rice and King are both housed in Fiction, and other writers have come along claiming to have single-handedly spawned urban fantasy, ignoring de Lint and Lackey.
Despite my very early reading in the genre, however, I hadn’t read any popular fiction in a very long time. For I’d been doing my Ph.D., and readingÂ mostly “serious literature.” So after I’d sat my defense, it was almost with a sense of shock that I realized, while wandering around a bookstore with my brother and his children, that I could buy whatever book I wanted. I didn’t have to slog through Philip Roth’s latest ode to his aging penis, or another postmodern experiment by Martin Amis. I could read anything in that store, unapologetically and without feeling guilty for “wasting” time I could be researching.
So I wandered over to Fantasy. Once there, I didn’t even know where to begin. Where once Lackey had a handful of novels, now she had about three shelves. I didn’t even remember which ones I’d read. I also, if I am completely honest, felt a little embarrassed looking at the neon, buxomy elven warriorresses draped over most of the covers.
Then my nieceÂ joined meÂ and I did what any self-respecting doctor of English literature does when choosing a book: I asked a five-year-oldÂ forÂ help. She pointed to a book at just about her eye level that had an adorable cover. “Buy that,” she said, and I had to acquiesce. The cover looked like folk art, and the young woman being carried by the vaguely Count Chocula-looking vampire was wearing a sparkling green dress.
“So cute,” I said, putting it in my basket. Then we picked out some more “cute” books, till I had enough to get me through my flight back to Edinburgh, where I was living at the time.
Sitting on that flight, reading Dead as a Doornail, I experienced a sensation I’d never felt before. It was one of connection: not just with the character, or the plot, or the genre, but with the tone of the book. For it was the tone of Harris’s novel that made me think, “Wow, I could do this. Not this book, obviously, but a book that feels like this.”
For what I felt while reading Sookie’s story was that it was real. This was a woman like women I knew, reacting in a “normal,” human way to absolutely abnormal circumstances. She wasn’t automatically reaching for a sword, or a glock; she was sweating, and scared, and doing her best not to faint, panic, or (god forbid) get herself killed.
In other words, she wasn’t a hero long familiar with the hero business. And even better, she took herself with a grain of salt.
Jane came to me then, almost fully formed, and dying to tell her story. I was just as surprised as everyone when I wrote her book, and I still can’t believe that book became a real book, sitting in the same section of stores as Misty and de Lint.
It wasÂ just over a year and a half ago that I read Dead as a Doornail, and things have moved so fast since then. I’ve had so many amazing experiences related to publishing Tempest Rising, butÂ one of the biggest treats was finally meeting Ms. Harris, at a dinner party in Alpharetta, Georgia, and discovering she’s just as lovely and charming as her books. And yes, I did geek out on her. Realistically, Jane would have come out some way or another, but reading Sookie’s story definitely acted as a catalyst. I owe Ms.Â Harris so very much, and that’s what I tried to tell her, awkwardly, over warm-artichoke dip while Mark Henry looked at me like, “If you go all stalker-fan, I’m pretending I don’t knowÂ you.” Charlaine was, however, very gracious about everything, and I got to see her again at a signing in Shreveport, where I slipped her cupcakes. And a copy of my book.
The cupcakes paid off, and it is with an enormous amount of pleasure that I read Ms. Harris’s review of Tempest Rising, on New Year’s Eve, just before midnight.
Happy New Year to me . . . 🙂