Charlaine Harris on Starting Over— Goodbye Bon Temps, Hello Midnight
Imagine you're a bestselling author. You've spent more than a decade writing a series of 13 novels -- building a vivid town, dynamic characters, complicated relationships, wicked plot twists. You've ignored the boundaries of traditional genres and mixed dark romance with bits of horror, supernatural fantasy with a hint of mystery. Your world took the mainstream by storm when HBO picked it up as a TV series, followed by Emmy nominations, Golden Globe nominations, and more. You saw places you've invented on the page promoted through clever merchandising -- a bar on a t-shirt, a backwater restaurant on a kitchen apron, cookbooks, branded bottled drinks.
And then, voila! It's complete. What now? How do you even begin to follow that up?
If you're Charlaine Harris, author of the Sookie Stackhouse novels (and credited writer on 72 episodes during the six-year run of "True Blood"), you just do. You focus on a new town, you concoct a new cast of characters, and you jump in head first.
We asked Harris to tell us a little more about that process of leaving such a successful past behind and building a new future. Here's what she had to say.
Starting a new series is a lot like having your second baby. The basic mechanics are the same as when you had the first one, but the result is completely individual. Though the Sookie Stackhouse books were far from my first, I lived with Sookie and her world for well over a decade. I found it both exciting and terrifying to face the prospect of creating another world, one populated with different people and operating under different rules.
I wanted a challenge (as if writing a book isn't always a challenge), so I decided to forego the first person narrative that was the earmark of the Sookie books. So Midnight Crossroad has multiple points of view. In the first book (there'll be at least two more) I chose to tell the story through the eyes of Fiji Cavanaugh, Bobo Winthrop, and Manfred Bernardo.
Fiji is an entirely new character. Even in a town like Midnight, Texas, where everyone has secrets and some have unusual abilities, Fiji is not taken as seriously as she ought to be by some of the other citizens, maybe because she hosts a new-age women's group, maybe because her cat is named Mr. Snuggly. But it's a mistake to turn your back on Fiji.
Bobo Winthrop and Manfred Bernardo, on the other hand, may be recognizable to my readers, especially Manfred. The psychic was a character in the Harper Connelly books. I got a lot of mail about the tattooed and pierced young man who was smitten with Harper. In Midnight, he's a little older and wiser. He's running several successful businesses, and to keep his momentum going, he needs peace, quiet and good internet connections. In Midnight, renting a cottage from Bobo Winthrop, he finds all that and much, much, more.
Bobo Winthrop is someone I always wanted to work with again. He entered the world in the Lily Bard books as a teenager enrolled in the same martial arts class as Lily, my housecleaner with a horrible past. Bobo did a lot of growing up in the books, passing through his own valley of the shadow to gain a new maturity. I wanted to find out what he was like in his thirties. When I understood what his life had been during those years, I met up with an interesting guy who had definitely been through hard times; but he'd still retained his balance and his enjoyment of the moment.
The real core of Midnight Crossroad is the town itself, founded at a mystical crossroad and anchored by the old pawnshop that has stood for decades. In fact, one of the first owners is still around. He only comes out after dark, when he takes the night shift at the pawnshop. That's when the really strange customers come in.
There are touches of the supernatural in the Midnight books, but they're primarily anchored in the mystery genre. It felt like the right time to revisit my roots, as well as some old friends. I hope you enjoy a roadtrip through my new town.
If you do come to visit Midnight, stop and fill up your tank at the Gas N Go. You might want to go in to buy a Coke and a Slim Jim, meet the proprietor and his son and daughter. Or walk across Witchlight Road to have a meal in the Home Cookin Restaurant: Madonna is a great cook. If you need your nails done or you're in the market for a new sideboard, try Chuy and Joe at the Antique Gallery and Nail Salon.
If you're really anxious to get married, visit Rev. Emilio Sheehan's chapel; and if your pet is dead, the Rev can provide a great burial service.
Whatever you find to do in Midnight, don't forget to look both ways when you cross the road. You never know what's coming.