READ INTERVIEW

Vampire queen's next chapter

Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer (both above) in True Blood. Charlaine Harris (top) is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels which inspired HBO's hit TV series. Midnight Crossroad and Day Shift, part of a trilogy.
Charlaine Harris is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels which inspired HBO's hit TV series. PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer (both above) in True Blood. Charlaine Harris (top) is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels which inspired HBO's hit TV series. Midnight Crossroad and Day Shift, part of a trilogy.
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer in True Blood.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer (both above) in True Blood. Charlaine Harris (top) is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels which inspired HBO's hit TV series. Midnight Crossroad and Day Shift, part of a trilogy.
Day Shift, part of a trilogy.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES
Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer (both above) in True Blood. Charlaine Harris (top) is the author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels which inspired HBO's hit TV series. Midnight Crossroad and Day Shift, part of a trilogy.
Midnight Crossroad, part of a trilogy.PHOTO: NEW YORK TIMES

Charlaine Harris moves on from the novels that inspired HBO's True Blood series and has started on a trilogy about a small Texas town

After writing 13 books in a best-selling series about vampires in America's deep South, which inspired HBO's seven-season TV drama True Blood, Charlaine Harris is treading new territory with a trilogy about a little town in Texas called Midnight.

Midnight Crossroad, released last year, and Day Shift, published in May, are loosely based on the Texan town where Harris' grandparents ran a hotel and features an ensemble cast of oddball characters, including a psychic, a witch and a vampire who owns a pawn shop.

Every character in the Midnight series also has a powerful reason for wanting to be isolated from the rest of the world - a feeling familiar to Harris, who turns 64 in November and has found fame somewhat overwhelming after Alan Ball's highly rated TV adaptation of her novels featuring telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse.

A resident of the small town of Magnolia, Arkansas, since the 1980s, with her husband and three children, Harris recently moved to a neighbourhood in Tarrant County, Texas, where few know of her connection to True Blood.

She prefers it that way.

"People know I value my privacy. When you're going to the grocery store, that's what you want to do, your shopping, not stop and talk about your personal life. I find I'm even more close-mouthed in my new place," she says on the phone.

Harris is a prolific author who has published close to 40 novels and is included in several short story anthologies as well.

"I don't like to sit around idle," she says - but the best-known are the novels featuring Sookie and her friends, who include vampires and animal shapeshifters.

New York Times bestsellers even before True Blood started airing in 2008 - the seventh season ended last August - the Sookie novels have made Harris the reigning "vampire queen" of fiction.

She was even crowned Queen of the Vampire Ball at a New Orleans fund-raising event in 2009.

The title was a thrill of course, since New Orleans is the setting for Anne Rice's famous vampire Lestat novels. So was the elaborate Victorian widow's mourning costume the HBO wardrobe made up for her to wear at the event.

"It's got a hat with a dead bird on it. It was the most mournful thing I could think of," she says, laughing.

But with these perks came a legion of viewers, many of whom might not have read the books but still had an online opinion on how Harris could have written the story better.

"I'm always glad to hear people are enjoying the books and it does help me start work during the day that people are actually waiting for this. But the criticism and actual personal dislike that comes across from some people is almost paralysing," she says. "There is a difference between spiteful and constructive criticism and people just don't seem to know the difference."

She has learnt to shut it off and just focus on her writing day, which begins around 7.30am with three cups of coffee. Her advice to aspiring authors is "shut yourself up in a room and finish what you started".

Harris majored in literature and communications arts at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee, graduating in 1973. She published her first novel, the standalone mystery Sweet And Deadly in 1981.

"I took a sabbatical of five years to have kids and it almost ruined my career," she says, adding that she could get back to writing only after her oldest was in school and she could arrange childcare.

Her struggles to have a career outside the home might have been the reason most of her books feature female protagonists overcoming some personal tragedy or handicap and who often find it hard to make ends meet.

"Women are very strong and I think the job they do is remarkable in that women are still expected to be in charge of so many things automatically. More men are stepping up to the plate and I think that's great, I'm all for that."

Fans of Sookie and her friends will find the Midnight series a stylistic change - it is told in the third person and does not focus on a single, first-person female narrative - but will also enjoy that it takes place in the same universe Sookie inhabits. Some of the characters in Midnight are connected to people familiar to True Blood viewers. Others are related to Harris' less well-known but cult-favourite mystery novels, including the Harper Connelly quartet about a woman who can sense dead bodies and the Lily Bard Shakespeare series, about a house cleaner with a tragic past and a nose for trouble.

Discovering the connections between the author's earlier work and the new Midnight series is half the fun for readers and fans. Creating these connections also helped Harris come to terms with completing the Sookie Stackhouse series with Dead Ever After in 2013.

On one hand, she was ready for a break from the storyline she had lived with since the first novel Dead Until Dark (2009), but on the other, these characters had been vital presences in her mind and career.

"The Midnight books are a way of revisiting characters I missed," she says.

But she has contracted for only three books about Midnight, wary of ending up with another long-running success that might stop her from exploring different worlds. "I don't want to lock myself into anything long term again," she says.

Midnight Crossroad ($17.71 before GST) and Day Shift ($25.00 before GST) are available at major bookstores.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 12, 2015, with the headline 'Vampire queen's next chapter'. Print Edition | Subscribe