Author Portrait: Charlaine Harris, author of the Southern Vampire Mystery (True Blood) novels

In recent years, few authors have had such an impact on the vampire book scene as American author Charlaine Harris. Born in Mississippi and living in Arkansas, she’s written many books and is very engaged in the mystery- and crime reading and writing scene, being a member of American Crime Writers League, Mystery Writers of America and the Sisters in Crime (where she is a member of the board). From time to time, Charlaine is the president of writing club Arkansas Mystery Write.

Of Harris’s books, it’s her Southern Vampire Mysteries series that has made her famous, first among vampire fiction readers and later when HBO television picked up the novels for adaption for TV series. The series lead character is young Sookie Stackhouse, a psychic, cheerful and good-hearted waitress at Merlotte’s Bar and Grill, who attracts the attention of a rare kind of guest in the bar she works at – a vampire. Their affair marks the start of no end of trouble for Sookie and her friends, and as of May 2010 the total count of books about their lives is 10.
The Sookie Stackhouse novels are set in the deep, hot, Cajun-scented and crocodile-crawling American south, far away from Forks but in the neighbourhood of Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles and Poppy Z Brite’s cult vampire classic “Lost Souls”. The setting plays a major part of in the books; there is no shortage of characters and locations with a strong southern feel to them. One can hear the cicadas in the background when reading the novels. Most characters are pretty unforgettable, and not only because they might have a supernatural trait or two – Harris is a great author who looks far beyond fangs and fur when fleshing out her protagonists.

One thing that stands out in Charlaine Harris’s books is the subtext, because it’s powerful and plenty of it. Most vampire novels tell many stories at once and use vampires in a metaphorical way: Dracula is a fantastic story of undying love; the Twilight novels portray, among other things, complicated love; Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (especially Interview with the Vampire) are largely about loss; and Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake novels traces (here again among other things) how evil affects people.

But Charlaine Harris has a different take: She uses her many different beings to talk about conflict and being in the middle of it. There are not only vampires abound in The Southern Vampire Mystery novels, but also many other supernatural beings (Werewolves? Of course. Shapeshifters? Check. Faries? You got them. And there’s more – much more), and the friction between these races often turns bloody, with poor Sookie caught in the mayhem. But beneath the fang-versus-claw clashes, Harris’s novels haul nasty things such as racism and homophobia out of the shadows and into the hot southern sun. This makes the Southern Vampire Mysteries novels seriously intense, as the action is played out on many levels.

The content of the Sookie Stackhouse novels are clearly meant for a pretty grown-up audience. Many vampire novels (not to mention vampire movies) are on the bloody, violent or even gory side – Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels are seriously restrained compared to other vampire books by authors such as Laurell K Hamilton, Bram Stoker, MaryJanice Davidson and others – and Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse novels rarely shy away from the eye-watering details of the conflicts between vampire factions and various mystical races. Harris is writing for an audience thirsting for a more visceral brand of vampire fiction – her books go for the arterial (pun fully intended). And to boot, much like MaryJanice Davidson and Laurell K Hamilton, Harris never backs down from including sex - intense lust is a central element to her books, even though the scenes seldom get very explicit.

When director and producer Alan Ball, who made Six Feet Under and wrote the script for American Beauty, said he was interested in bringing Sookie and the other Southern Vampire Mystery-characters to the TV screen, many were happy, but a concerned buzz rose among members of her devoted readers – would a TV adaption do the novels justice? The Sookie Stackhouse Novels were (and, of course, are) loved by many and no one wanted to see a half-hearted, cliché-ish take on the books. Fortunately, Alan Ball landed Academy-Award winner Anna Paquin (The Piano, X-Men) as lead actress for the role as Sookie Stackhouse, and Anna brought all her talents into play to make Sookie the Sookie of the books. And better yet, Alan Ball is a fantastic TV maker who isn’t scared to take on the more explicit and charged aspects of the books, and he set out to make the series both intense and honest to its origins.

The result is True Blood - an original, no holds-barred and deeply atmospheric series. True Blood started out with relatively few viewers but quickly turned into a cult must-see. Alan brought the subtexts to the front without playing down any supernatural elements, and this makes the series amazingly good – every episode is a full-on sensory fest with strong points made about relations, fear, phobia and injustice. And while the books are ‘slightly’ adult, the True Blood DVD boxes come with age restriction stickers all over the packages.

This is because Alan Ball’s creation doesn’t hold back in the least when showing violence or sex. It’s not an action series, but when something violent happens, it’s usually really violent. When the fangs come out, the blood-per-minute ratio rivals Tim Burton’s Sweeney Todd. The same goes for sex: it’s usually pretty explicit but never cheesy – it’s there for a reason, as part of the atmosphere and to mirror the other strong subjects that Sookie deals with. The title “True Blood” comes from the synthetic blood that vampires can drink instead of the human variety, for the first time allowing vampires to blend with humans. Though not all vampires choose to go down this route – the lust for blood is too strong in some.

Other sensitive issues dealt with in True Blood include drug abuse and dealing; a vampire’s blood, if drank by a human, works as a powerful and highly addictive hallucinogenic, and some unscrupulous people catch and drain vampires of blood to sell. Fantatsim and fundamentalism is another theme that is represented by the anti-vampire organisation The Fellowship of the Sun, who wants to see the world rid of vampires – and any other “dangerous” beings.

As the plot develops, Sookie finds herself drawn into all kinds of lethal complications as she’s caught in the crossfire between the dangers that go bump (or, sometimes, “hello there, young girl”) in the night. We get to meet the owners of a vampire club called “Fangtasia”, managed by a certain Eric Northman, a once-Viking turned influential vampire who comes to play a large part in Sookie’s life. Because the Southern Vampire Mystery books are from Sookie’s perspective only, the True Blood series allows us to follow other characters – and this is a real treat, as Charlaine Harris’s novels are packed with wonderful, quirky and interesting people, including the abovementioned Eric. For example, we get to see what Sam, the owner of Merlotte’s and Sookie’s employer, is up to when he’s “out of the picture” in the books. The same goes for Lafayette, the coolest chef ever; Jason, Sookie’s misguided brother who has a dark secret; and of course Bill Compton, the first vampire Sookie meets and also her first lover.

Pick up the novels or grab the DVDs as soon as possible – this series is not to be missed.

/ Ruefus

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Free Desktop Wallpaper Charlaine Harris True Blood Merlotte's Free Desktop Wallpaper Charlaine Harris True Blood Jason Raynard Parish Road Crew


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