Kim Harrison is the creator of the New York Times bestselling series about the Hollows, a seemingly ordinary Cincinnati suburb with one distinguishable difference – It is populated primarily by vampires, witches, weres, pixies, and other supernatural beings. In a follow up to my recent review of her latest novel, The Outlaw Demon Wails, Kim Harrison was kind enough to take time out of her hectic book tour schedule to provide some thoughtful answers for an interview.
Damian: You are adept at creating a credible, deeply dimensioned universe with an alternate history, allowing the reader to easily imagine a world in which supernatural entities ‘came out of the closet’ after ‘the Turn,’ and yet even your most otherworldly characters seem very believable and ‘human,’ as it were. Where do you find inspiration for your characters and their stories?
Harrison: Thank you! I love spending time with my characters, and I know them better than my real neighbors. Much of the inspiration for them comes from the story itself. I enjoy learning about the characters as Rachel does, little by little much as anyone gets to know someone new in their life, so that preempts much of the pre-story character building process. I really don’t have a hard and fast answer for where the inspiration for the people who populate the Hollows comes from. They spring up to fill a need, and I enjoy finding out who they really are. I’ve made it a rule to not base my characters on people I know, but I will take bits and pieces of people I know.
Damian: What do you read in your spare time? Who are some of your favorite authors?
Harrison: Unfortunately, as the books become more popular, I find I have less and less time for reading in my spare time. But I have been reading some of the up and coming and new talent, and I enjoy Rachel Vincent, Vicki Pettersson, and just now starting her writing career, Jocelynn Drake. I can’t wait for her first book to come out, Nightwalker, scheduled for this summer.
Damian: You write about supernatural characters as the basis for the Hollows alternate universe. Do you have any personal beliefs regarding supernatural phenomena?
Harrison: I do, but they are really quite bland, and I don’t want to bore anyone.
Damian: Your books have been categorized under a variety of topics. They are sometimes found in the horror section of bookstores and sometimes categorized as fantasy/science fiction. How do you feel about being categorized into a particular genre, and what terms would you use to describe your work?
Harrison: The term urban fantasy has recently become popular, which suits me just fine. Genre categories are great for helping readers find what they enjoy, but I like being thought of as a fiction writer, and that’s where I usually find my books. But as you mentioned, I’ve seen them just about anywhere.
Damian: The conflicts and plotlines in your novels have followed numerous threads from book one to book six in an intricate pattern, and some of the characters, Rachel in particular, have grown significantly throughout the series. How much of the specifics were preconceived from the beginning, and how much evolved during the writing of each book? Did anything “surprise you” as it unfolded in later books in the series, anything that took a dramatic turn from what you had originally envisioned?
Harrison: I’m always surprised by where the books take me, but I’ve never lost sight of where I wanted to end up. I spend a lot of time plotting out the action of each individual book, heading for a particular series-arc end, but I never script out the relationships or character growth. They are too fluid. So where I could say that I’m a religious plotter, having to have extensive outlines and something clear to work from, I’m also a seat-of-the-pants person when it comes to the interpersonal relationships. It’s a good mix for me that keeps me focused yet lets me enjoy the writing process as surprises crop up and must be worked into the story line. Most of the revels in The Outlaw Demon Wails were planned from the end of Dead Witch Walking, but every one of Rachel’s emotional entanglements were a complete surprise. Kisten, Ceri, and David were all characters that I was not expecting, and working them into the ultimate end has been a pleasure.
Damian: Your characters often find themselves in dangerous and frightening situations, as they are increasingly forced to face their fears. What are some of the things that you find frightening?
Harrison: What do I find frightening? Online interviews. (grin) Really, I have fears just like everyone else, but why on earth would I want to tell the world so boldly what makes me tick?
Damian: I think that Rachel Morgan, Ivy Tamwood, Jenks, and other characters would translate extremely well into pictorial illustration. Have you ever considered working with an illustrator to develop the first book, Dead Witch Walking, or any of the other Hollows stories into a graphic novel?
Harrison: I’ve discussed the option of translating the Hollows into graphic novels with both my agent and publishing house, and at this time, we are not heading in that direction. Which suits me just fine. It seems that everyone is doing it, and if everyone is doing it, I will probably want to do something else.
Damian: Have you considered writing for the movies, and are there any plans to adapt the Hollows novels for the screen?
Harrison: I’ll admit that I’ve daydreamed of seeing the Hollows on the big screen, but to tell you the truth, I’m content right now working with the media I’m in. I will say that if the right script came along and I was confident that the characters I created would come through the movie process with their spirit intact, I would be very attentive to a movie offer.
(Note from Journalist Lisa Damian to Big Movie Studio: You would find a goldmine of a fan base at the box office if these books were made into movies!)
Damian: How do you, as an experienced author, continue to hone your writing skills and further develop your own craft?
Harrison: I’m always striving to improve my craft, and I do so by putting my butt in a chair and writing.
Damian: Even though your recent novels have consistently hit high marks on the New York Times bestseller lists, you manage to carve out time in your schedule for frequent interaction with your readers and fans, participating in book signing tours, offering contests and free giveaways on your website, and responding to questions via your online “Drama Box” and Yahoo! Groups. Now that you are firmly entrenched in the spotlight, how do you deal with fame as you have become increasingly well-known, and in what ways has success impacted your work?
Harrison: How do I deal with the issues of becoming increasingly well-known? I’ve had to start relying more on my publisher and agent for helping me deal with the increasing demands for my time, using them to filter cover-quote requests and appearances. I hope that I can continue my close relationship with my readers online, but it is getting harder. The time spent with my readers has always impacted my work, and I’m currently exploring new ways to balance that with what I truly love—the writing.
Damian: Please describe your writing process. For example: Does it flow easily, or is it a pain-staking process? Where do you write? Do you use a pen, type-writer, computer, or make use of an audio-recording device? Do you journal? Do you start at the beginning of a book and work forward in a linear way? How would you describe your editing process?
Harrison: My writing process is really simple in that I don’t use audio-recording, dry-erase boards, or fancy software systems to keep track of the story. It doesn’t flow easy, and the story is painstakingly built with a bunch of ideas all being juggled until they fall into place. I use a lot of paper and pencil work when I’m plotting or if I’m trying to decide how to handle a certain situation, but much of the actual rough draft is done right on the keyboard. Which in turn puts me in my office. I can write anywhere, but being in my office turns the switch to work and there’s less distractions. I don’t journal, but when I’m not in my office I spend a lot of time staring at my ceiling, toying with ideas and the possible outcome of using them. And yes, I always start at the beginning and move to the end, trying not to go back and change things until I have at least a first rough draft. Editing is a jumbled mess of sticky notes, but I like the process as it really solidifies a particular piece of work in my mind.
Damian: What advice do you have for other writers new to the publishing process?
Harrison: What I tell aspiring writers often depends upon what stage they are at in their career. Becoming a published author often takes a decade, and it’s never easy. If one is just starting out, I always suggest starting a pattern of writing every day, even when you don’t feel like it, because that’s what successful writers do. They write until the words start to make sense. I also like suggesting that writers join a writer critique group that meets face to face at least twice a month, to help polish their voice and their prose. This is also a fabulous place to start to make the friendships that help you stay the course. Not to mention the networking opportunities. I’ve always credited my critique group with finding my agent as “quickly” as I did.
If a writer has several manuscripts under their belt, this is when I strongly suggest they start shopping their work around, going to conferences where the agents and editors are. They’re looking for new work, and having had the chance to actually see the person who wrote the manuscript now sitting on their desk makes a much stronger impression than just a cover letter.
But my favorite piece of advice is write like you have the contract.
Damian: It seems that many of the ongoing plotlines have been tied up in this last book. Where does the series go from here? Are there any plans for a non-Hollows book or series? For readers looking forward to future Kim Harrison work, are there any hints you can provide about what is next on the horizon?
Harrison: I spent some of book five and book six laying down the rock to support the next story arc. I see an end to the series, but how long it is going to take to get there is up for debate. Closing off a successful series doesn’t scare me, and when I get to Rachel’s happy ending, I will close the book, seal it with a kiss, and lovingly set it on the shelf, clearing my desk off for the next big adventure. Right now, I’m totally wrapped up in Rachel’s life, but yes, I have a few characters niggling at my unconscious, wanting to come out.
I do have a new young adult series scheduled, the first to come out summer 09. This is a completely new universe, new characters, and new magic. I’m really excited about it, and interested readers can get a taste of it in the short story, Madison Avery and the Dim Reaper, available in the anthology Prom Nights From Hell headlined by Meg Cabot.
Damian: In the Hollows, you installed a charismatic master vampire as president to help manage the chaos during the Turn. Do you have any predictions or endorsements for the upcoming U.S. presidential election?
Harrison: (Grin) I’m voting for Trent Kalamack. Pride, Progress, and Productivity.