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Laurell K. Hamilton: Kick-Ass Author

(January 12, 2002)


After reading Laurell K. Hamilton’s Narcissus in Chains I started to wonder about book series and their appeal. While developing an At the Back Fence segment on this topic I was able to submit a series of questions to Ms. Hamilton via her fan club president. Due to her book tour requirements it took longer than expected to get my questions answered, but I think they were well worth the wait. I hope you think so too.

–Jennifer Schendel

Since AAR is devoted primarily to the promotion of the romance genre, are you surprised to have such a large following amongst readers whose primary choice is romance? And along those lines how often do you hear “I don’t normally read books about vampires/werewolves, but I love the Anita Blake series”?

I was surprised at first. But then some friends, who read more romance, recommended some authors for me to peruse and I discovered that the romance genre is every bit as broad as the mystery or fantasy genre. I’d never heard the term paranormal-romance before I sat down and wrote Guilty Pleasures. So not as surprised now as then. As to the second part of the question: I get it all the time.

Did you always intend for Anita Blake to turn into a series when you were writing Guilty Pleasures? If so how did you arrive at the idea? And if not, what made you want to continue visiting Anita’s world? Anita herself? The vampires? Or just the possibilities of this world you’d created? Or something totally different?

Yes, I read hard boiled detective fiction after I got out of college. I found the women didn’t get to be as tough and ready as the men do no matter how independent they were. Strangely, the men were allowed more romance. Not just sex, but romance than the women. In retrospect, I thought about that. I wanted a heroine who could do all the things the guys do at least as well if not better.

I’ve had a lifelong love of mythology and folklore and things that go bump in the night. I decided to create a world to play in where I could play with all the monsters with a heavy interest in movie monsters. The old Hammer films left an indelible impression on me as a child. Once I had the idea for Anita’s world I planned for longevity. Not just one book, but volumes. I don’t think I’ve ever had a stand alone book idea in my life.

When developing characters for a series, how far into the future are they “mapped?” When you wrote the first book, had you already had in mind a love triangle?

 When I wrote Guilty Pleasures, I had 17 tentative mystery plots, i.e., what folklore monster but no character notes. I argued long and loud that my series had nothing to do with romance. It was Lunatic Cafe before I admitted to myself that the romance angle was integral to the series. Now I do a lot of character plotting. I do a tentative outline for character development for each book. Not just the major characters, but the recurring ones too. Not that they stick to it.

How do you craft a love triangle and keep it going throughout so many books w/out it going too long, “choosing sides,” or doing anything else that is liable to upset the readership?

Who says I haven’t upset the readership? More time and attention is spent by fans of Jean-Claude, Richard or the throw them both out the window fans arguing this. There are people who advocate she should choose a specific male from the books. Pick any character and there is someone who thinks they should be with Anita exclusively in the books. Everyone has their own preference. Obviously, I have upset some fans. As for crafting a love triangle, I think it is because I don’t think of it as a love triangle but as character development. Jean-Claude, Richard and Anita make their choices whether I like their choices or not.

Are you worried how readers will accept the new man in Anita’s life? How readers will accept the apparent end of her relationship with Richard? Was your intention in Narcissus in Chains to get away from the “love triangle” or will we see more of it in future books?

No, I am more worried how Anita will accept the new man in her life. This rumor that there is no relationship with Richard I am beginning to wish were true. But because you’re not dating someone or having sex with them doesn’t mean the relationship is over.

My intention in Narcissus in Chains was to fix Anita’s love life. I have failed miserably. I brought Richard on to save her from Jean-Claude and simplify her life. Some of the changes in Narcissus in Chains were to simplify her life. I should stop apparently trying to fix that because I complicate things more.

Do you ever get frustrated by reader expectations for Anita/the boys/other characters?

No. I find the characters’ unwillingness to do what I want them to do when I want them to do it more frustrating by far.

Do you ever feel limited by writing a series? Do wish once in a while to write about someone besides Anita Blake or Merry Gentry? Any interest to write a story that doesn’t involve the paranormal?

No. I love writing series.

Yes, I have some short story ideas that would give me a break from them both. I had maybe a handful of ideas that didn’t involve the paranormal. None of them interest me near as much as the ideas with paranormal.

What was the motivation for creating Merry Gentry? A need for a break from Anita? An interest in the fey?

I had done five Anita books in a row. I needed a break. A chance to do something different. I had a lifelong interest in mythology. A little less longer one in Celtic mythology. The more research I did, the less I realized I actually knew.

Both Anita Blake and the Merry from Kiss of the Shadows are “kick-ass” heroines. Anita keeps getting stronger and I presume the same will happen to Merry. What was the genesis of such strong women?

I don’t know how to write anything else. Why write a main character who isn’t strong? Male or female.

Why did you decide to write primarily from the first person point of view?

I prefer first person in both what I read and what I write.

Some readers have mentioned a discomfort with the sudden increase in sex in the Anita Blake series, was their any reason behind this or is it just the natural evolution of Anita’s character?

Me too. Anita is my eyes on her world, my camera. The camera had stayed steady on the violence for books and books. What did it say about me as a writer that I wanted to take the camera away for sex scenes but not violence? If the camera stays on track for one, it must stay on track for the other.

Do you ever worry that your books are too violent or graphic? Especially when you hear of teenagers reading them?

No. No matter how violent or graphic my books are, the news on television is worse. I am concerned about the teenage readership. But I don’t write anything I wouldn’t have read as a teenager.

Do you already have an end in mind for either or both series or do you think they can continue indefinitely? Can you envision the killing off a very major character in the future, and if so, how do you do this without upsetting your readership?

Anita is an open ended series. There is no ending, just like most mystery series. Merry on the other hand is planned with an end in sight. My original plan for Merry was eight books. It may go longer. But I definitely want her to have a happy ending. Once you have a happy ending that’s it, everyone goes home. There is nothing else of interest going on.

And finally on a completely frivolous off-track note: where do you get the inspiration for Jean-Claude’s fashion choices?

I design the clothes myself with some help from costume books on historical clothing. I created Jean-Claude’s clothing because I was frustrated by the lack of beautiful, sexy clothing for me.