::Literate Blather::
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
5 Questions About: Kim Harrison
An Interview With Novelist Kim Harrison

(Kim Harrison struck writers’ gold with her Rachel Morgan (also known as the Hollows) series. And it couldn't have happened to a nicer person -- or one with a larger imagination. The novels have been enormous hits and staples on the New York Times bestseller list. The novels take place in an alternate universe where a plague kills about a quarter of the world’s population and reveals that fantasy creatures live amongst the humans: vampires, witches, pixies, elves, werewolves, fairies, trolls and demons. The novels center on Rachel, a pure-bred witch who also happens to be a detective. She has two partners: Ivy Tamwood, a vampire, and Jenks, a pixy. Kim is currently on a book tour promoting her latest book in the series “The Outlaw Demon Wails” and was kind enough to answer five questions about her writing and her successful series)

DaRK PaRTY: Okay, genetically modified tomatoes kill most of the world's population. It's so ludicrous that it makes perfect sense! Where in the world did the idea for the alternative universe that has been the setting for your popular witch Rachel Morgan?

Kim: It makes sense to me, too, but I've had emails from genetic engineers who assure me that it is impossible for a mammalian gene to spontaneously adhere to a vegetable strand of DNA. I don't know. I still have my doubts. But you asked about the idea for an alternate universe. Actually, I had to create an alternative universe to make the story work at all, and making tomatoes the means to humanities destruction just seemed . . . right.

As a general rule, urban fantasies fall into two camps. Either the supernatural beings are living in hiding and known only to a few, or the supernatural beings are out of the closet, bringing fear and distrust into play. I didn't want to deal with the fear, so I decided that supernaturals living among us peacefully might be more plausible if I moved the "coming out party" into the past, hence the alternative history starting way back with Watson, Crick, and Roslyn Franklin. Beginning at the dawn of our understanding of genetics also ties in nicely to the themes of genetic manipulation that carry through from book to book to book. It's almost like background music to the trials that Rachel deals with.

But if you really want to get down to the first idea of the story itself, it grew from throwing a witch, a vampire, and a pixy into a bar, and seeing what happened.

DP: What attracts you to write about witchcraft and the supernatural?

Kim: I grew up reading both science fiction and fantasy, mixing Heinlein and Grimm fairy tales with no prejudice. When I picked up that pen for the first time, it was second nature to try to blend the best of both genres. For me, basing a story about witches and vampires in a present-day society helps ground the magic itself, allowing the reader to immerse himself easier and accept the magical aspects with less resistance. It's easier to relate to and sympathize with a character that has the same problems of rent, relationships, dropped calls, and the cops staking out your house. Well, maybe not the cops, but you get the idea.

The concept of magic itself has always fascinated me, and though I know you can't wave a wand and make magic happen, the idea of "what if I could" keeps me trying to find ways that it might. I have a background in the sciences, and the "black box" magic in many stories as I was growing up bothered me. As a reader, I will accept that you can wave a wand and magic happens, but as a writer, I want a plausible reason to go along with it. I want the magic to be backed up with some thought, making me have to go a step or two further to see that, alas, it's just a story. Hopefully by that point, the reader will realize that the magic is the spice, and the true story is of a character dealing with real issues of love, family, security, and the shades of gray morality that touch all of us.

DP: We understand that you guard your privacy closely, but what did you do before you became a full-time writer? And have you been surprised by the enormous success of Rachel Morgan series?

Kim: Before I became a full-time writer, I had a handful of odd jobs. A research project had me running trap lines for two summers, tagging and releasing chipmunks, mice, and one really mad weasel. After graduation, I worked at a large company babysitting sterile algae and later, documenting an experimental product from production, to testing, to disposal. I worked as a vet technician for awhile, until I got bitten one too many times. I was never bitten by the wild animals, but the tame ones were vicious. All of my jobs after a certain point were part-time, leaving me weekends and half-days to work on my writing. I always treated my writing before finding publication as a part-time job. I figured, if I wanted to write for a living, I ought to write like I made my living at it. My favorite piece of advice for aspiring authors is write like you've got the contract.

Have I been surprised by the success of the Rachel Morgan series? Absolutely. Every writer has daydreams of hitting high on the New York Times bestseller list, and to have that dream become a reality is always a shock. But on the other hand, it shouldn't be a complete surprise. There is, behind any success, untold hours put in by the artist, the support of a spouse or significant other, and the leap-of-faith backing of the parent-company's marketing machine. That's not even getting into the support of the readers. The surprise should stem from everything coming together perfectly: the raw story, the unsurpassed editing, and the priceless chaperoning of an infant book, the pinpoint marketing, and just plain luck. And when it works, it is fantastic.

DP: Unlike many authors who throw up walls -- you embrace your fans by maintaining your own web site, creating a Yahoo! Groups, and signing books when fans send you them. It's so refreshing. What's your philosophy about your readers?

Kim: Thank you! I'm glad you noticed. (Grin). It's a lot of work to keep up with everything, but for me, the rewards have come back ten-fold. I like my readers, and they are a big part of me finding the success that I have. They have interesting ideas and I enjoy seeing what they're getting out of my work. It is gratifying to know that the hours I put in on these characters and their moral dilemmas, are living past the pages and being talked about in open forums.

By nature, I'm a raging introvert, and when I first started seeing the possibility of becoming a well-known author, I took the time to see how other authors handled their reader relations, not seeing any benefit to walling myself off, and tons of opportunities if I learned the new trick of being accessible. The Internet makes it easy, and if I can make a prediction, we are probably going to see this becoming more of the norm as times goes on, especially in the sci-fi/fantasy genres. Fortunately, it's the writer who sets their own boundaries, barriers, and limits, and in most cases, the reader respects them. I've gained a lot from staying accessible, and I hope that I can continue to maintain some contact as my time becomes even more parceled out.

DP: Your books have the best titles -- "A Fistful of Charms" and "The Good, the Bad, and the Undead" to name two. So what's the deal with Clint Eastwood?

Kim: Ah, the Clint Eastwood titles! There's a reason for that. I've always enjoyed the characters that Clint played, especially in the westerns. The loner coming in off the prairie, able to solve the problems of the town but not really wanting to, and not necessarily in a legal way. It sort of reminds me of Rachel. If Clint had a pixy for backup and a boot fetish. And maybe a perchance to talk a lot more. And perhaps a convertible instead of a horse. And a love interest cluttering things up. Okay, maybe they aren't alike at all, but they both have strong personalities and do what needs to be done, regardless of the law.

Another, less flashy reason for the Clint titles is that I wanted a way to brand the books with something that was already highly recognized. I needed a way to help prevent someone from walking into a bookstore and asking for the blue book about witches and vampires, and walking out with something else. Add on "It has a title like a Clint Eastwood movie," and the right book goes home.

DP: And one bonus question: any movie adaptations in the works?

Kim: No, but my agent Richard Curtis and I are always open for real, solid offers. Until then, I'm happy to play in the Hollows by myself. A strong female protagonist with friends who actually likes her life has a lot of potential, and I'm eager to see for myself where I can take her.

Read some of our other author interviews:

Michael Marshall, author of "Straw Dogs"

Dave Zeltserman, author of "Bad Thoughts"

Steve Almond, author of "Candy Freak"

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Blogger SQT said...
Fabulous! I absolutely love Kim Harrison. Great interview.

Blogger Chrys Reyna said...
Love the questions you asked. Kim's so great at interviews. It's no wonder she has a legion of fans.

Blogger GFS3 said...
Kim was great -- one of the nicest people I've interviewed.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Many many Thanks for that great kind of Books dear Kim, i really love 'em and can't wait to get more feed ;-)
I wish you to have a great Weekend and tons of
good ideas for upcomming books :-)

Greetings from Germany


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