Monday, February 6, 2012

Questions & Answers with Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison will soon be releasing A PERFECT BLOOD (Harper Voyager, February 21, 2012, $26.99)and here is an interview with her to stir up some interest in her latest addition to the HOLLOWS series.

You have written as Dawn Cook and as Kim Harrison. What prompted you to create the Kim Harrison persona?

The Kim Harrison name was the idea of my publisher, actually, who was eager to keep the Hollows books separate from my earlier, more traditional fantasy works written under Dawn Cook. Having an established name in one genre is not always advantageous to selling books in another, and that was the case here. A pen name would also help ease any possible legal issues since I was also writing for a different publisher at the time.

It was actually my editor who picked out the name Kim Harrison as a way to get me close on the shelf to other authors publishing similar stuff. Creating a persona to go along with the name was a natural step. I’ve gotten my share of flack from readers who think it’s dishonest, but I didn’t create Kim from nothing, simply fleshed out facets of myself that were already present and minimized others. I have yet to meet the person who doesn’t use makeup, clothes, or attitude to define themselves, and that’s all that’s going on here. I like to think of Kim as being the public face, sort of a work title.

What are the differences between Kim and Dawn? (Other than Kim’s fiery red hair and proclivity towards leather…)

I have to laugh at this question because there really are none. I drink the same brand of tea whether I’m at home at my desk or on the road. I am naturally quiet whether I am doing the PR thing or writing. I don’t like answering the phone, whether it is my land line at home or cell on the road. My Drama Box (blog) is a public, daily snapshot of my work and home life, and though I admit my mom sometimes calls to get the real story, it’s nothing made up or sensationalized. About the only difference is the clothes, hair, and makeup, and I’m not enough of a media star to be able to sign in sweats and a T-shirt and still be taken seriously.

In the wake of the True Blood phenomenon, did you ever ask yourself why you were keeping up this façade, if the country was embracing vampire fever so fervently?

No. I never saw it as a façade. Kim was never a way to hide from my neighbors, she was a way for me to separate the real (my desk) from the fantasy (people clapping when you enter a store) Kim was, and still is, a professional face to help maintain a healthy relationship with my readers—not too close, not too far. It’s worked wonderfully, and I feel safe among my readers unlike some urban fantasy superstars. My readers are the butchers, the bakers, and candlestick makers, (schoolteachers, housewives, cops, and military guys and gals) and they know what they see up there on the stage or at my Drama Box is a real person.

Now that you have moved from a conservative Southern community to more liberal environs near Ann Arbor…where does Kim go from here?

I don’t see much of a change in Kim now that I live in an area that doesn’t frown upon writing about witches. All my neighbors know what I do for a living now instead of a handpicked few, and that feels comfortable, but I’m still not going to go down to the store wearing my Kim outfit. That would be . . . weird and unhealthy.

Kim, would you ever consider going back to your natural blonde?

No, but Kim’s hair is going to be getting progressively shorter. The long hair was fun, but if you don’t grow and change, you become stagnant, and our outward appearance is a direct reflection of what’s going on within. Besides, that natural blonde is going gray. *laugh* Which I totally love. Gray hair? Bring it on! I can’t wait until I have enough of it to make the statement that gray hair can be sexy. That would be the only reason that I’d lose the red hair while doing appearances.

The world you created, The Hollows, is so different from others within the urban fantasy genre. Tell us about its inhabitants, and its magic.

Thank you! I really appreciate that you think the Hollows stands alone. I have worked hard to create a world that is both easily recognized and yet contains danger from unexpected sources. It’s populated by witches, Weres, warrior pixies, and vampires like many urban fantasy worlds, but I’ve tried to stress that these inhabitants have been living side-by-side with humans for thousands of years, struggling with the same issues, fighting in the same wars, sharing the human experience of noisy neighbors, dogs peeing on their car, and a willful child needing tutoring in math. It makes my otherworldly characters highly identifiable, and therefore an effective tool for me to tell my story with.

For me, the vampire, witch, and Were in literature have always been facets of human nature fleshed out and given a name to be better recognized as the predator, the innovator, and the animal side in all of us. They are fun to work with, and seeing the predator struggle with her instincts to be the person she wants to be, the innovator grow emotionally before she can develop her talents, and the bestial side of us turn out to be more nurturing than expected, has been satisfying.

Another aspect of the Hollows that I’ve tried to stress is balance, with no faction of the populace having superiority over another. The magic, too, is balanced with pros and cons, logically divided into earth magic (traditional fireplace brewing of spells) and ley line magic (the more modern experience of waving a wand for a result.) I know this has come about from my background in the sciences, and I love talking about genetic pitfalls and having logical reasons for illogical situations.

Do you think the recent (overwhelming) popularity of the True Blood series (based upon the Sookie Stackhouse novels) has driven more readers to urban fantasy? Has that affected you?

I’m sure the popularity of True Blood has had only a positive impact on my readership and the readership in urban fantasy in general. I owe the urban fantasy greats a huge debt of gratitude for their success which allows me to make a living doing what I love. However . . .

I don’t want to say that the popularity of urban fantasy has been a two-edged sword upon itself, but I do harbor a concern that with its recent success, many publishers have been tempted to push badly written, ill thought-out books so as to have an urban fantasy on the shelf with their name on it. Urban fantasy should be smart, clever, suspenseful, and make you think even after the last page is turned. Its roots are in mystery, science fiction, suspense and just a touch of romance, and the writing should reflect this. Producing melodramatic slush to gain short-term readers at the expense of quality storytelling is a mistake. There’s always the fear that several poorly written books in a row might turn away new readers who have not yet gotten to the good stuff.

You have a very different breed of vampires from those that inhabit True Blood, such as Ivy – a living vampire. What’s the difference?

I originally wanted to have both living and dead vampires for the very simple reason of desiring a book that took place in the day as well as night, and working with sunscreen felt like cheating. I wanted an old-school vampire with all the ugliness intact, but the appeal of a sympathetic, sexy vampire also had its draw. My solution was to have both with a very clear dividing line between the two.

My living vampires have all the sex appeal, the blood lust, and the charisma of the dead without the light restrictions, sensitivity to holy artifacts, and the lack of a soul. The separation began as a way to have my cake and eat it too, but I soon realized the potential and widened the gap between them. The dead became a metaphor for sexual abusers, child molesters, and the powerful that destroy people for their personal pleasure. The living vampires became the embodiment of the abused—perfect and enviable on the outside, hiding the decay and pain within, carrying the knowledge that they were doomed to become what they both hated and loved, unable to escape. I have a hard time writing Ivy, my living vampire who is struggling to overcome her abuse and learn to love without causing pain. Seeing her grow has been a relief, and I’m now able to imagine a happy ending for her.

You also write Young Adult fiction. How does an author “tone down” vamps, witches, angels, demons and ghosts for a younger audience? Or do they want their “UF” fix to be as gritty and edgy as the adults do?

Yes! I write Young Adult fiction as well, and though I’ve gotten dirty looks from other YA professionals for “dipping into their pool,” I will continue to do so. I found my love for reading in the YA shelves, and the chance to pass that love on to a new generation is a high like no other.

I believe the YA reader wants the same thing an adult reader does, and I’ve tried to make my YA series as gritty, thought provoking, and complex as my adult series while not sacrificing a full throttle, anything-goes mentality, but yes, there needs to be some thought given to what you’re putting on the page.

YA has always been an area where boundaries are pushed and sensitive topics are discussed. It’s a natural reflection of the audience that you’re writing for. While I shy away from graphic abuse, rape, and drug use—preferring to showcase strong will, endurance, and the belief in oneself and the power of friendship—the heavier topics in YA literature have a place and should be handled with respect, and though I’m not advocating a rating system on books, if the content is extreme, the back-page blurb should reflect it.

And to finish up: what do you have against tomatoes; and -- pixies…can be macho?

I love tomatoes! And I love to laugh. I’m sure I’ve lost a few potential, serious readers because of my wont for the end of the world as we know it to be at the hands of a genetically engineered tomato, but if I can’t laugh, then what’s the point? There are enough serious topics wedged between the killer tomatoes and macho pixies to keep the reader satisfied and looking for more.

And yes, pixies can be macho. They would have to be to survive. I never understood the concept behind beautiful, frail, happy little winged spirits full of joy and laughter, so I styled my pixies a little closer to the reality of trying to survive in a world bent on killing you. Jenks is my main man, a pixy with 53 kids, a mortgage, and the job of trying to keep a risk-taking witch alive. He’s good with electronics, would make an excellent thief, has a heart of gold, and a frontier mentality of kill or be killed. “Protect your own,” would be his motto, and his world has expanded to hold those outside his kin. There is still the joy and laughter that one would expect from a pixy, but it’s tempered with the drive to survive. It doesn’t hurt that he looks good in tights, too.

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