Interview With Laurell K Hamilton by Rachel Clinesmith & Logan Boese
When did you first become interested in vampires?
When I was seven, we would visit my Aunt Bonita and her current husband, and there were the creepy features, the Cemetery Late Night Double Features. They were hosted by somebody with skeleton makeup and everything. It was a treat that we could stay up late and watch it with them, (myself and my cousins). So, I was about seven when we started this, and it was the old Hammer-Horror vampire films! (Which I was probably too young to be watching!) My uncle would fall asleep, and he would just let the kids stay up, and then everybody would fall asleep but me. I never fell asleep to a vampire movie. I absolutely adored them!
Vampire Circus, I saw it when I was seven, and it is not one of their best films. In fact, I learned later that they ran out of money before they got to finish this one. It was put out under Vampire Circus, our Circus of Fear. The end is very dreamlike, because they had to use cutting room floor stuff to end it, because they had run out of money! So, it is not even at the high end of their catalogue.
I watched at seven, and it really left impression. I would not know until I was in my 20’s, (after I had already written the first Anita Blake novel,) how much of an impression it left on me!
There is a vampire that has long, curly black hair. He's wearing the white shirt. He's got the nice jewelry on and he is seducing a woman there's even partial nudity, (Remember, I was seven, so, I didn't remember this part!) and he says, “One hunger feeds the other.” I went, “Oh my God, there I am! There I am.” I didn't remember it, but in the back of my mind, apparently this made an incredible impression.
I've loved vampires ever since.
The first good story I ever completed was a vampire story. (The first story that I showed people without having them just patting me on the head and saying, “Great job,” when it wasn’t.). I was a freshmen or sophomore in high school, and my writing teacher paid me the highest compliment that a shy, 14-year-old girl in the middle of farm country could get. She wrote on my paper that I scared her, and that was it, I was done. That was what I wanted to write, period. I’ve always loved vampires, but being able to scare an adult, I still remember being so excited, and I guess I've never gotten over being excited about that.
If there's one thing about vampires that you think captures the imagination, what is it?
I've thought upon that, and I think that it's more than one thing. I think, for a lot of people, it is the fact that they “die”, but they don't. Most people are afraid of death. It's one of the reasons that I created the Church of Eternal Life in the Anita Blake series. Because I think it's this huge thing to be able to ask a person, “How is it like to be dead?” Because they can just tell you! There's no uncertainty, and now you know, you can go on, and you're beautiful, and you can be whatever age you are when you die and everything. So, it's eternal youth. You're on a liquid diet, (which most people don't mind).
Being a vampire is all about conquering death, and still being beautiful. Because it's not just death we fear, it's that loss of whatever we think of as beauty. Now, thanks in part to me, (I take my responsibility for this,) there's this idea that vampires are automatically beautiful, and so you can be beautiful forever. I really am going to have to put some vampires in the books that are not suave and debonaire, because I've really contributed this idea that you become a vampire, and then you're just instantly suave and debonaire. It doesn't work like that. Jean-Claude was suave and debonaire before he died. He got better, because of course, practice makes perfect, but he was no slouch when he passed and became a vampire. It's not instantaneous. Just like being a Shapeshifter in my world doesn't give you abs. You don't get a washboard Abs just because you become a werewolf. You have to go to the gym. I'm sorry, it just works that way.
The flannel doesn't just form on you?
No, it doesn't! So, I think part of it IS the fear of death. Vampirism is a way to go on. I think one of the reasons that vampires are more, and more popular is that fewer people every year have a spiritual connection to traditional religion. So, if you don't believe that you lose your soul, if you don't believe you're going to hell for it, then why wouldn't you want to be eternally youthful and live forever? Especially if you're not quite sure what's going to happen to you when you die?
Why leave a question when you can have your answer right now?
Exactly. The other thing to remember is that traditional vampires are not sexy. If you look at people who actually hunted vampires, saw vampires and interacted with vampires back in the 1700’s and before, vampires are frightening! They're closer to ghouls. However, starting with Dracula and Carmilla, there's this idea of sex and the vampire. I recently went back and watched some of the old Hammer films that I hadn't watched before, and that sadly explained so much. One of them has this beautiful, negligee-wearing vampiress, and she's being held down by two to four men, and she's about to be staked and I'm going, “Oh, my God! it is a parable for that.”
As a little kid, you don't get it, but it goes in there. I'm not the only one that came out of that going, “Vampires. Sex. Rough Sex. Okay, we can do that!” So, there's this idea of both sexuality and danger within vampires. You're rolling the dice, as it were. Which is it going to be? Is it going to be sensual and romantic? Or is it going to be so dangerous that you can't cope with it? Is it going to take everything away from you? Because you don’t always become a vampire.
Sometimes you just become food.
If you're reading a book, you can be safe in your own home and still feel like you're in danger. I think that's why everyone loves horror in general. Why vampires, though? I love anything that will eat me. That's pretty much it. if it is dangerous. I've loved it since I was little. Vampires, they take blood, shapeshifters, because they literally eat you. If I had gone on with my biology degree for Masters, I'd have gone into something predatory, either the big cats or birds-of-prey.
If it's dangerous, I've always loved it. That's just the way I came. I don't know for everybody else, though. I think it's a combination of a fear of death, and sexuality. I don't know. It's giving over power. It's very much a power dynamic with vampires. They can take agency away from you, so that it takes away that fear of having to worry about whether it's morally consensual, and it takes some of your power away, so that you can be the victim and still get what you want.
I've been thinking about it because this is what I write. So, why do so many people love vampires? It is partially that they are “the other”, “the monster”. They are beautiful, and sexual, but still the monster. They take you, and you can give into it without being the bad guy, without giving consent for it. I think that's what attracts a lot of people. But for me, I'm all about consent. So, for me, you have to choose to be the monster in my world. You don't get any passes. I don't give any passes. You have to make the decision. You have to embrace it. Otherwise, literally, somebody will Hunt you down. You can't bring people over against their will.
In your world, even feeding has to be legally consented to, or it is a "slay-worthy" offense.
It's really unfair! It's unfair to the vampires that are brought over and aren't suave or debonair if you're not allowed to use your hypnotic gaze.
Like Willie! I know. I mean, I've never really discussed it on paper. Who does Willy feed on? I love Willy, but he doesn't quite fit the profile. Or the Church of eternal Life. I know I haven't written about it on paper yet, but I know that Jean-Claude, and Anita have slowed down the spread of that congregational. Because, it's one thing to save you, if you're dying. You have a little bracelet, or a necklace that you wear, (if you remember the Church,) and then the vampire that's been taking care of you comes and gives you the final bite so that they you can save your life, and that's fine. That's part of being part of the Church of eternal life. But many people don’t understand that they now have to feed at the Church, they take all the fun out of it. It's not sensual. “I donate blood.” It's a very wholesome experience, but we need to do better. I've been making notes on showing Jean-Claude and Anita at the Church with Malcolm, and how it's changed. since their blood-oathing with Jean-Claude.
I mean, it's not like in human relationships where physical attraction is the most important thing. I'm sure there are other reasons why a person would consent to be fed upon. Aside from just being physically attracted to the vampire.
For me, the vampire is very sexual. It just is. I've done the research on this. I've seen this stuff at such an early age, for some people. They've actually done studies on this. Men will fixate, sexually, at a much younger age than women will. They don't know why, they just know that between eight and about fourteen, for boys, whatever goes in stays there. Women adapt more throughout our lives. Again, they don't know why, Of course, I have to buck the curb and be a boy. So, because I saw it at that time, I cannot separate the vampire and sexuality. So, for me, it is about physical attraction, because the taking of blood, to me, is not just feeding. It is a sexual, or sensual, act. But other people do come to it from a power play. They want to exchange power. They don't want to be in charge, they want to be consumed. That’s a big thing for people. They want somebody to want them.
Think about that. The vampire needs you to literally keep him alive. Without you, he would die. It's a kind of power. It's the submission/dominance thing, where the submissive has far more power than you think, (if you're not in the community).
I recall you exploring that in Narcissus in Chains, and even as early as I think, Guilty Pleasures.
There were the “freak parties” for people coming to get up and close with the vampires. One of the reasons I stopped writing about that in the first two books, I had written directions so specific that you could actually find the places. It was all real places. I learned by my third book, Circus of the Damned, that I had to change that, because this big house does exist, and fans were walking up to the house and knocking on the door looking for the freak party.
I didn't know these people who were living in this house! I felt like I owed them flowers! I'm so sorry! As a writer, you don't anticipate being this popular, right? You just never know; you just tell your stories. You just don't think that anybody would take the time to try to find the real places. By Circus of the Damned, I changed that because that wasn't cool. Guys, please don't bother the poor people, I don't know who they are, and I’m pretty sure that there are no vampires there. In Circus of the Damned, there’s an underwater cave scene. I went caving to explore it, to research it. (I did not go underwater without Scuba gear, I am not that devoted to research,) Then, I changed the caves. I put the caves specifically where there were no caves at all, which is actually harder to do than you think here in St. Louis.
I had first signing for it, and I had a couple come up to me, and they were mad at me! Because there were no caves where I said there were caves. I said, “how do you know that?” “Well, We went looking for them.” So, I said, “Were you going to try and duplicate what Anita did? She almost died! You do remember that part, right!?” And they said, “Well, yes, but, the cave wasn't there!” I said. “That's why I moved it! To keep you safe from yourself!” So, that's why if something really bad happens or scary, potentially, I will move things around so that you can't find them as easily as you used to be able to.
To save fans from themselves?
As much as you can! You can't save everybody, and people really have to be willing to save themselves. That was one of the hardest lessons of adulthood, that you can't save everybody. Some people don't want to be saved. If you keep trying to save them you take their lessons away from them, then they don't learn, and they don't grow. Or, like a drowning victim, they'll take you down with them.
Unfortunate but true, and unfortunately, very relatable.
I think any of us that can call ourselves an adult, that is one of the lessons we have to learn. Sadly.
Of course, we have to ask you about your influences. I know you've already kind of gone into it, but what are your influences, both just in general and for vampire fiction?
Well, I'll start with vampires. Anne Rice’s Interviewed with the Vampire. That was a huge influence on me. Then, the other one was Stephen King's Salem's Lot. I read those two books almost back-to-back. I cannot say how much that influenced me as a young writer. With Salem's Lot, the biggest thing about that was that I had never seen vampires portrayed in such an everyday setting. (Even though nobody knew the vampires were real and out there, and it was still hidden in Salem's Lot.) I'd never seen it portrayed so mundanely. They were hiding under trailers, and they were just in such random places, places where real people would probably go. They would go to the nearest dark place that they could. It isn't like you instantly get someplace to keep yourself safe, you have to find it! I remember thinking that it was more frightening to think that a person could be walking through someplace very innocuous, and suddenly there would be a monster. Because, the vampires in that book were much more animalistic, especially at first! It took them a long time to be anything else. So, they were very closer to something that you didn't want to see in your window.
I know that reading them so closely together was a huge influence. I would write the story that I mentioned earlier after reading those! So, those were the big ones for vampire fiction. I did a lot of nonfiction research, though I didn't know it was research, but I read anything on witchcraft and folklore and superstition and ghost stories, (since I've loved that kind of thing since I was old enough to read on my own). For cadence of language, you can't do better than E. B. White. Charlottes Webb, (everybody goes “Charlottes Web"? Yeah!) Read E. B. White. His use of language and descriptions for things is amazing. For dialogue, it's Robert B. Parker's Spencer series, especially early on.
As a writer, one of the things I would do is that I would think, “Well, what am I bad at? What can't I do?” I was pretty good at scaring people, and that seemed to be a natural gift. Before I decided to write horror, I was trying to imitate Louisa May Alcott, who wrote Little Women, because that's what I read. She was also the only woman writer I knew that supported her whole family. (In the 1800’s! think how amazing that was! She supported her extended family, because she never married). I would find out later that, though she made her money from like, Little Women and Little Men, and that kind of thing, she actually loved the pulps. She wrote scary stories and sold them under a pseudonym, and if that had taken off, she would have preferred to write that. I didn't know that. So, I was trying to write Little Women and not finishing anything because it wasn't my style. Then I found the short story collection called Pigeons from Hell by Robert E. Howard. The creator of Conan, but he also wrote horror as well. The moment I read that, I went, “not only do I want to be a writer, I want to write this. I want to write dark stuff.” I found Edgar Allen Poe, and then I found HP Lovecraft, and those were huge influences on me. Then Andre Norton was an influence. She wrote fantasy and science-fiction, but she was also a woman. There were so few women that I could read who wrote what I wanted to write at that time, (I think that's another reason Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire was so important to me,) So those were all influences for me.
I could scare people, but I realized I couldn't do a good fight scene. I went through a period of writing heroic fantasy, and heroic fantasy, or sword and sorcery, is all about fighting. Then, when I thought I could do a competent fight scene, I thought, “Well, my dialogue sucks.” So, Robert B. Parker helped teach me how to do good dialogue, because hardboiled-detective fiction is very much about witty repartee. Then I thought, “Well, what can I still not do? Well, I can't do a decent kiss on paper.” I thought, “Well, I'll get better at that, too.” ...I may have overcompensated on that one, just a little.
That’s Okay! A lot of times, we sort of pull the camera back from any kind of sex acts, even though we just described cutting someone's head in two. It's kind of this weird double-standard.
Right?! I do not understand that. I didn't understand that. I finally decided that I couldn't just do sensual kissing and flirting forever, and we were going to have to cross the Great Divide.
(For those who are new to my series: I'm still getting new people coming in, I'm writing book twenty-nine, and it's almost impossible to not have spoilers! Even me saying who she has sex with for the first time, for some people, I have literally been discussing things like on TikTok or something, and people go, “No, I haven't read that far yet!” And it's like “you're not to book six?!” I don't know how you can be on any of my sites and not have spoilers. I'm so sorry!)
I finally realized that I was going to cross the Great Divide, and have Anita and Jean-Claude actually have sex. We had had five books of foreplay, and flirting, five books of fighting and arguing with each other, and will-she-won't-she, do-we-don't-we? I had had so much violence so many violent, violent murder scenes, and nobody had said boo to me at my publisher. Nobody had problems within my fan base. They were all fine with it, and I was fine with it, and then I wanted to write a scene between two people that cared about each other, and suddenly I was uncomfortable. I thought, “what does it mean?” That I can cut up a body, scatter it across enough that I've had police, and forensic people tell me that they could have put it back together, and say “Good job”. But having consensual sex between two people that care about each other, that was more uncomfortable? I thought, “Well, it makes me American, is what it makes me”. We are so weird here in this country. We're okay with violence, but we're not okay with sex. Even today, we think we are. But really, we still have this really weird dichotomy about it. When I realized I was uncomfortable about it, as always, I thought, “Well, then I'll just get better at it.” It went from there, because, if I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it well, and if I can't do it well, I don't want to do it.
People were okay with that. Fans were okay with book eight, when we crossed the Great Divide and she actually had sex with Richard. Book Ten, Narcissus in Chains, some of the fan base lost their ever-living minds! It's been 20 years since Narcissus in Chains came out. 20 years! I am still getting grief! I am still getting people telling me that Anita dumped Richard. On the tour for Narcissus in Chains, I was told so often that Anita dumped him, that I had to go back and read my own book, in the middle of tour, to go, “Wait, No. Richard dumped her!” I didn't know there was a rule that you could only have this triangle thing. I didn't know that you couldn't add new people. I didn't know this is a rule! Who says this is a rule?! So, when Micah came out of nowhere and, Nathaniel (who had been there the whole time). But Micah? Some of them still hate Mica, still haven't gotten over it.
I don’t like Micah, specifically. However, I do find it very relatable, that transition, and how it progressed. I find it very realistic. Richard got very toxic, with the screaming, and the jealousy, and he couldn’t handle that Anita went with John Claude first. ...or at all.
No, he couldn’t, and then Micah came in, and Micah really took his place, and did a lot of the stuff that Richard would have done if he had wanted to step up. Micah's taken over the coalition that was created, and is now trying to help survivors of attacks like himself. The coalition will send somebody to try to talk them through it, and help their families through it.
Richard took a shot, an inoculation, in college to try not to get lycanthropy, and that's how he became a werewolf. Micah nearly died being attacked, and that's much more typical in my world. Though, as we learn later, there's enough people that have had the vaccine go pear-shaped on them. (I'm so glad it's not this book that I'm writing currently, because with everything that's going on in the real world, there would be people sayin, “Oh, it's a parallel!” No, it's not. I've had this planned for years!”) I love Micah because Micah literally just makes it easy. He doesn't argue about everything, because that just gets old, man. That gets so old.
Personally, I date the big, dominant guys, but do not successfully cohabitate with them for long because you can't have too many dominants, or too many alphas. Too many big dogs in one household start to fight. It takes them a while to figure out that the packaging is not indicative of the content, for me. So, if you think you're coming in to my life and you're going to be the dominant personality of my life? HA!
No, Micah didn't try to play that card. Richard can't give up being traditionally male in a toxic way. Jean-Claude is Jean-Claude. He's just his own thing. I know where his physical appearance comes from now, having gone back at watched those movies. However, he literally stepped on stage just fully himself. I didn't create Jean-Claude. He just stepped out and was. Once I let him be French, I mean. I didn't speak French. I still don't speak French. And what French I do speak? I'm told that I speak like a British peasant. (That is from somebody from Paris.) At that time, 20 years ago, I spoke Spanish, or at least I could read in Spanish. I’d taken four years of Spanish, so I said, “Why don't you be Spanish? Be Spanish for me! I can do Spanish! I know Spanish.” Jean-Claude wouldn't have it. He just said, “I'm not Spanish. I'm French.” I said, “Why do you have to be French? What is it?” And he insists on it. Once I got out of his way and let him be French, then he was Jean-Claude, and he was just himself. It was perfect. He's not toxic. If he had toxic masculinity, (that idea of “I have to be in charge no matter if I'm not good at it” kind of thing,) then that got beaten out of him centuries ago. He was part of Belle Morte’s courts. You can't really think you're all that and a bag of chips around her, because she's the only game in town.
Marmee Noir is not going to put up with that! I feel like it says more about how the fans are projecting themselves onto the characters, and how they respond to you in that way. It happens to every author, I'm sure, but it's not fair.
Well, outside of board games, “Fair” doesn't count. One of the interesting things is that, while everybody was being so horrible about Micah, they'd still literally come up to signings for a year, they would get me to sign their book, and then they would call me a whore.
But they always got their book signed first! Let me just add that!
I think it was Narcissius in Chains, or no, it was the next book. I had somebody stand up in the thing and say, “when are you going to kill and skin Micah and put him on the wall?” I didn't have to do anything, the crowd turned on her and some of the people said, “I hate Micah too, but that's just-No!”
On the one hand, it means that you created characters that people love, right? That that’re invested in. On the other hand, I didn't see it coming. After Narcissius in Chains, I traveled with security, and there was a reason for that. It got really bad. Who knew? You'd think I dumped their brother personally, Their favorite brother, at that!
I also realized the timing. It's taken me years of therapy to come to this conclusion, to realize that part of it was this was just after 9-11, so everything had changed. Everybody was scared. They wanted something familiar. They wanted something to make them feel better. Anita was their refuge. Then, suddenly in book ten, out of nowhere comes Micah, and everything changes. I think it was the accidental timing. I think if that had not been the timing, that maybe they wouldn't have been as emotional about it.
Part of it is that some fans don't tend to like change, especially the “Superman's Underwear Shade” fans, the ones who say “this is what I like, and I want it to stay exactly the same!” Even though the narrative can't stay the same. The book can't stay the same. I think every fandom has those, though I don't think it's just in the one world.
I agree. Like I said, they're sanctuary. They're refuge. And you don't want your refuge messed about with. One of the interesting things about it is that, while it's wonderful that people get invested in fandoms and stuff, (and I have stuff of my own that I love,) it's still the artist's prerogative to change things.
It has been interesting dealing with fans for years. One of the things that led to everybody being so nasty and so violent in some ways, is that during that period, is that those people are who you can think for the sexual content of the middle books. Because every time they would call me a whore to my face, every time they would try to lay hands on me in a violent manner, every time they said how much they hated me, or hated Micah, or how could Anita leave Richard, or anytime they complained about the sexual content, the next book got more sexual content. I have now worked my therapy, and I understand that, in a way, acting contrary is still letting them controlling me. So, now I've calmed down and I can have the sexual content appropriate to the books without being reactionary. It was sort of like a rebellion kind of thing. “Well, if you think that's bad, just wait!” So, I've calmed down a little bit, and now it will be appropriate content. Everything has to justify its own existence. So, if it's a sex scene, it has to justify its existence. Nothing gets a free pass, and its world building. People started to say, “Oh, I skipped the sex scenes, but I still love your books.” So, I started putting clues to the mystery, the magic world building in the sex scenes, so they'd skip things, and then they wouldn’t know. I'm trying to be more fair about that now, but in those middle books, I was going, “all right, everybody's being mean to me, and you push me, I push back.” That was my pushback, and now I've evened out, and had enough therapy, self-actualizing and realizing that sometimes in rebelling against something, you're just as controlled.
I love that. How you keep talking about things that relate to that sort of growth.
Yes, oh, my God. In a minute, I'll be writing book 29, and I have people that just started, and there's no way to keep you safe from spoilers. There's just no way. But we're talking about character growth and things like that. I wish I could tell you some of the things that I'm writing in this book I'm just finishing. I can't, because my editor and my agent haven't even seen them. But it really does speak to character growth, and how you can accept yourself, and fandoms don't like change, but then again, I don't think people like change.
People just don't like change, but think about it. I've actually been doing research on anxiety. Everybody gets those ideas, they get anxious, and then you get those weird urges to drive off a bridge or do something really out there. Well, actually, that is your brain under anxiety, and not being able to tell the difference between being chased by a lion or preparing to give a speech. Our bodies literally cannot tell the difference between the two. So, it's your body trying to do a life-or-death choice when it's not a life-or-death situation. So that's why our brains get those weird ideas. That's what it's from. It's our bodies going, “Well, we don't seem to be running from a lion, and we don't seem to be chasing a zebra to eat it. And yet we feel just as anxious. So, this must be more dangerous than we think.” So your brain tries to create danger for you.
I love these answers. You’ve already touched on a lot of the questions I have. I also feel that, personally, I have to apologize. I never did more than leaving a nasty comment, but still, I feel bad about leaving a nasty comment about Micah at one point.
Well, I'll accept the apology on his behalf. You know, he was originally designed to be a villain?
No, I didn't!
If you don't follow me on TikTok, you really should, because I have actually found that it is a way to say insights and stuff very quickly. You're in, you're out, It's three minutes or less. One of the things I came to, somebody was asking me how I created certain characters, and they asked about Micah. The original plan was that Micah was a villain. He was supposed to be the big betrayal. Go back and reread Narcissus in Chains with the idea that he's a villain.
Well, at the time, I thought that's what he was, because he came in and he's very seductive, and he's very open. So, I thought that he was going to be this knife-in-the-back kind of thing when he finally turns.
That was the plan, but then as soon as he stepped on stage, Micah refused to be the bad guy. Micah said, "No, I will do anything to be with this woman. I will do anything.” He would have done anything, literally. Everyone thought that Richard was coming across for Jean-Claude as a lover. So, Micah really thought he was going to have to go be with Jean-Claude completely
But in Narcissus in Chains, Mike and Jean-Claide almost kill each other on-stage. So, he was supposed to be a bad guy, but he said, "No, I will do anything to be with her!” And he meant it. He really meant it.
Some of the characters are fairly diverse. Bernardo Spotted Horse was one of the first Native American characters I read about in vampire novels, and moreover, he wasn't introduced wearing buckskins! It was a rarity at the time to see woman in the role of the hard-boiled asskicker, let alone a woman of color. What made you decide to make her Latina, and how much do you feel that informs her character?
Well, Anita chose it. Anita chose her name and her ethnicity, and I'm very much for letting the characters talk to me. I don't impose on them. Her mother's heritage was from Mexico. Her mother was first generation, born after her family came up from Mexico. So, Anita decided she would be half-Latina and have that Latin heritage. It totally informs her, but at the same time, I've realized that Anita is based on a lot of people I grew up with, or have known, who have a heritage that I always thought was so much more interesting than my little white-bread Scottish, and English.
I always thought it was just so cool, but they never seem to. They tried to be “American normal”, so hard that it was like they erased part of themselves. Anita doesn't have that part of her heritage due to the fact that she's not really around them. That's partially because I never had a father because by the time I was six-months old, the divorce was final. So, you have this whole part of your heritage that's just gone and you don't know anything about it. The fact that she has this ethnic background, but she doesn't know how to be that she doesn't have that as part of her identity. She wasn't raised in it. She can't speak Spanish. It's that juxtaposition of being Latina, but not having grown up in the culture, and not having grown up with that half of your family. I knew several people like that, and I remember and I was always fascinated by it. The idea that half of it’s gone, and I'm missing half. I mean, my grandfather was born in Bavaria, but by six months, I didn't know the family. So, the fact that I've met my father twice in my entire life probably echoes for Anita. She's just the opposite side of the family kind of thing.
One of the reasons that her father is never on stage is that I never had a father. I don't know what to do with him. We're supposed to have him on stage in this book, but I don't know, I still don't know what to do with him. Anita chose to be Latina. I'll be honest, I didn't know that it was unusual. Why not? That's one of those wonderful ethnicities and cultures that we come in. She chose it, and we went forward. Nobody questioned it. Nobody questioned it at all. I had more trouble having a woman who did violence than anybody ever questioning her heritage. Bernardo Spotted Horse is actually one of the very few characters, (like the only one,) that is based on somebody that I actually saw and met. I got to meet him briefly, and the person was actually fully immersed in his culture. He had been raised with his family and everything. Bernardo, however, is another character that has the ethnicity, but he's cut off from it. He came up through the foster system. I have a very dear friend that came up through the foster system as well as several other people that I know. We may be exploring that more later for Bernardo, but I don't know.
Anita's world was always diverse. We've always done that, and I didn't think about it. It wasn't conscious. I was being ahead of my time, I guess. As I said, I got more trouble for having a woman who did violence. I had reporters tell me they were uncomfortable with the fact that Anita was so violent that women were supposed to be soft and nurturing. I just looked at them and thought, “Well, you don't come from where I come from. If you're not hard or tough, or whatever. You're not going to make it.”
So, I don't know. Anita chose to be that, just like Jean-Claude fought me to be French. I'll never be able to pronounce French. I love how many people reach out to me and say that she's the first Latina character they read. Bernardo Spotted-Horse came with that name. I love the name. The name is great, but he is the first Native American in the books. I didn't think about it. I wasn't trying to be inclusive. It's just that's who they are.
Part of what I love about your world is that it's so immense. The world-building is hard to be beat. You take your inspiration from more than just “standard” European fantasy. One of the earliest antagonists draws their power from this boogeyman from the Southern United States, Rawhead and Bloody Bones.
Well, Rawhead and Bloody Bones is actually a Scottish nursery bogle. I wasn't told the boogeyman would get me if I didn’t sleep. I was told that Rawhead and Bloody Bones would get me. It's one of the only things left of my Scottish heritage. We've been in the country from 1700’s on. Yet the only thing that lasted is that my grandmother would tell me, (and she didn't even know it was Scottish,) Rawhead and Bloody Bones would get me. I loved using it as the monster it was supposed to be. Nursery bogles are things you tell children that are scary. Like don't go in the deep water, “Jenny greenteeth will drown you.” “A Kelpie will get you, stay out of the water!”
Anita didn't just fight any dragon, for instance, she fought a quetzlcoatl, drawn from Mesoamerican folklore. Where do you draw your research from all these creatures?
I have an immense research section, and people ask that a lot. They ask me the research books and stuff. I start with real folklore, real archaeology, and real science as much as I can. I always start there. There's an amazing book that I used for the Obsidian Butterfly, and then about the conquest, it was a book written by the Spanish Friars. Not priests, but Friars. Friars used to be sent out first to talk to the indigenous peoples. They were friendlier, (or they used to be friendlier,) they would go and try to get them to worship the way they wanted, but they also wrote down folkways and folklore and things so that they wouldn't be lost. Some of the Friars were in the Church, of course, but they also seemed to really have respect for Native customs. Some more than others. Some things got translated through Christianity to the point where you can't recognize them, but some of the friars that went to Mesoamerica with Moctezuma, they wrote down some really detailed stuff that they didn't have to write down.
This friar, in particular, was very fascinated with the culture, and that book was invaluable. It also had passages from people who were natives that learned English enough that they wrote down their own versions of what happened. That was really rare. I cannot think of the name of the book. It's on my bookshelf, but I would have to go and search. I found a book that literally had people that were there during the conquest who wrote about what they saw in their diaries. Then there were actually people who were part of the Native culture themselves that learned enough English that they wrote about it not too long after it happened, and they got to tell what they had seen. That's so rare! It's so hard to find that!
Anita is also, at least in part vaudun, or practitioner of voodoo, (a fantasy interpretation at least,) which is another rarity. What kind of research did you do to prepare for writing about that? And you mentioned before how you change locations and things like that. Did you also choose to change certain things about witchcraft, to also protect people from doing things they shouldn't be doing?
Yes. It's not my job to teach you! You’d think people wouldn't use things as a how-to, but people surprise you, and not always in a great way. So, yeah, I read books. I researched voodoo, and actually, it's very well-researched. There's a lot more books on that than a lot of other “magic systems” because it's a religion. It's not just a magic system, of course. For Anita, it's a magic system, but it's a faith and a path of faith.
It was interesting when I did Laughing Corpse, I really thought I was going to get taken to task by people for whom it was their religion. I thought they would come at me over the “movie zombies,” because there are no “movie zombies” in real Voodoo. There just isn't. I was waiting for it, and then at one of the big conventions I went to, I had somebody come up to me and they said, “This is my path of faith.” I went, “oh, here it comes.” And he says, “I love this book!” And I said, “Oh, really?” And I said, “but the movie zombies, that's not real.” He says, “No, but it's so fun!”
If you get your research right, the people that actually believe in that path of faith, they'll let you take that next leap if you get the rest of it right and are respectful. That is what I learned with that. You can do the movie zombies as long as you get the other stuff right and are respectful. One of my big bugaboos is how often anything that's not mainstream culture is treated as if you don't have to do your research, and Voodoo is one thing that's been overused in a bad way over the years, where people haven't done the research. Anything unusual like that, like witchcraft, like Wicca, people can play fast and loose with that. I do not do that. I try to be respectful to everyone, and all paths of faith. I’m wicca now, but I wasn't when I started the series. I was Episcopalian when I started the series.
One of the earliest things that gave me a chill while reading your books was Anita's description of being enclosed in the back of a Paddy-wagon with a real demon. It made me wonder, have you yourself ever had any incidents with the paranormal or the otherworldly.
Oh, yeah. Weirdly enough, you're one of the first people to ask, and you would think that somebody would have at this point, but it's rare. Yeah. I was raised on ghost stories that were real. I was raised on being told that various family members had seen ghosts. They lived in a haunted house where you had spirit lights and things moved. So, I was raised with the idea that ghosts and supernatural were just everyday things. My grandmother was raised back in the hills of appalachians, and she was incredibly superstitious.
I didn’t know that it was abnormal for people to see ghosts. I did not know until that it wasn't normal for people to be sensitive to energies of other people. I did not know that wasn't normal. So, yes, one of the things that led me to be wicca was that, if you go to your priest at your Church, and you say that you're having trouble with some kind of entity, they'll pray over you, but they won't teach you how to work with energies. They won't teach you how to do your shielding better. They won't teach you how to shield when you're around somebody who's emotionally draining, or who is very negative. If you want to talk about negative energies that are floating around trying to feed on all of us right now, (they always do this, but they're having a feast right now,) they're drawn to negativity. There are entities, and the Church has a very narrow view of what that could be and what to do about it. So, you have to go to somebody who believes in what's happening to you to get any help.
Well, where are you going to go? A friend knew somebody who was a Wicca priestess, and I was in the middle of writing the first Merry book, and I was doing my research, and still Episcopalian but I realized that my path of faith lay elsewhere. If you're one of those people that come into the world sensitive, and you don't have anybody to teach you, or show you how to block it out, then the world is a very overwhelming place where it can be. One of the things I would like to see in my lifetime and probably won't see is that they test small children for psychic ability in kindergarten, and then you just have little shielding classes and things.
Like, look at New Orleans. The energy in New Orleans is unique. I've never been anywhere like it, but it's interesting. New Orleans is settled by the French. St. Louis is settled by the French. What is it about the French and vampires? (I don't know, but I perpetuate it!)
Ghosts are boring. They usually just want you to carry messages. Or what people see is the repeating trauma and that's soaked into the very boards of the house. That is somebody reliving something so bad that happened to them that it just soaked into the very wood of the house. That's very different. I think it's like a video, but the real ghost, you sometimes can get to pass on. You just need to say “it's, okay. You can go on.”
Well, I think I know the answer to this, but I'm going to ask it anyway because I want to hear your answer. Did you draw from your paranormal experiences as inspiration?
Not as much, point by point. Most of my experience has been with ghosts or entities that are a little less... corporeal. You're not going to be able to have fisticuffs with them. You're not going to be able to use a weapon against them. It doesn't work like that in real life. So, I had to kind of up the physicality, as you do in fiction. Like I said, I grew up thinking that it was a given that this was kind of true, that this was just how the world worked, that there was more to it.
I always loved ghost stories, real ghost stories, fantasy folklore, anything that people talked about and believed. Part of that is the way I was raised. Part of it is that if somebody believes this so much so that, all these years later, we still have the story, then who am I to discount their experience? That's really it. That's really one of the big things for me. It's just that this is somebody’s experience. I want to know what they really believe, what they really felt, as much as I can. It's kind of disrespectful not to believe people when they tell you they've seen or experienced something, of course. A lot of people have a very narrow view of the world, and they don't want to see outside of it.
Since we're talking about new things, you've just started on a new series, A Terrible Fall of Angels. Tell us a little about that.
A Terrible Fall of Angels features a new main character, Detective Zaniel Havelock, and he is the first male first-person narrative for a book that I've ever done. That was interesting. It was very interesting writing from the male perspective, and he's also six foot three. So, he's a foot taller than Anita and myself. So, I figured if I was going to have right from a male perspective, I might as well do something else I'll never be, which is tall.
Okay, I don't know where this book came from, which is interesting, because I still don't know. The first line of the book came out of nowhere. I put it on a sticky note. It sat on my wall for almost ten years, "There were angel feathers in the dead woman's bed.” I thought it was a short story. I realized that it wasn't. I believe there are Angels around us. We have Guardian Angels. I believe that because it's true.
Notice, I say deity. I don't differentiate. The Deity gives us the spark of the divine and not just in who we are. We have a Guardian Angel, and I got to write about our cowalkers on this path that are part of this world. They’re a part of nature, because we're part of this planet.
Zaniel is an Angel Speaker. He literally can talk to Angels, (the highest order of Angels,) and not be driven mad or die from exposure to that much Holy energy, which can happen. One of the reasons that most Angels appear humanoid is if people see them in their true form, people can go insane. They're terrifying. If you just read the description in the Bible, there's a reason they say “Be not Afraid!” because if you read the descriptions of Cherubim and Seraphim in the Bible, they are absolutely alien! They do not look like people with wings. Angels are energetic beings, they don't have a set form like we do.
Zaniel is a member of the Heaven and Hell Squad, the Metaphysical Coordination Unit, which means anytime there is a crime that is supernaturally related, they're called in. He is the only Angel Speaker to be fully trained that left the College of Angels. He was studying from the age of seven to the age of twenty-one, when he finished his training, and then he left because of something horrible that happened, and he could no longer, in good conscience, stay at the College of Angels. So, fully trained, he goes out and he's this six-foot-three man in good shape. He's never seen a computer. He could talk to the highest order of Angels, but he doesn't know how to fill out a job application. He passes a recruiting station, and the army recruiter says, “Young man! May I speak with you?”
What else is he going to do? So, he did his time in the army, and then he came out, and now he's a Detective. One of the most interesting things about Zaniel is that Zaniel is very gentle. He doesn't have a chip on his shoulder like Anita does. I realized something. At five three and female, every time Anita goes into the room, (just like every time I go into a room I'm the only woman or one of the only women,) we have to prove that we get to be in the room.
Anita is a police officer in an area of violence. If you're going to look for help for something physical, are you going to look at the five-three woman or the six-three man? If you're fighting monsters, who are you going to go for if you don't know them? The six-three man. Anita always has to prove her right to be in the room, and so do I. You go to the martial arts dojo, or whatever, and you have to prove that you're strong enough to be there.
Daniel, at six-three, if he was as aggressive as Anita, people would be frightened of him. So, he didn't have a chip on his shoulder. It was so relaxing to write a whole book where when Zaniel walked into the room, nobody questioned his right to be there. Nobody questioned that he could handle himself. It really let me know why I have such an attitude problem, because you have to prove every time that you have the right to be there. That you can handle yourself. It was so relaxing to write a whole book about somebody who didn't have to have the attitude that Anita and I both have because everybody just assumed that he could handle it.
I am tall for my family. So, to me, I never thought of my grandmother (who was 4’11”,) or myself as short, and she was one of the toughest people I know. I didn't equate shortness with being soft, or shortness with being not tough. So, for me, going out into the wider world and seeing the culture and everything, I think it's one of the reasons that I'm not impressed with height. My attitude is very unique, and the more people I meet, the more odd I am. I'm an odd person in so, so many ways and how I view the world. Traditional women walk into a room and go, who's the prettiest? Men walk into the room, traditionally, and go, who is tougher than me, who is not? I wasn't indoctrinated into either culture. My grandmother didn't give a rat’s ass what I looked like. She wanted to know, could I lift something heavy for her? Could I do chores? So, I wasn't indoctrinated to being female, and I wasn't male. Had I been six foot and more athletic, I probably would have been much more masculine than I am, but I just wasn't good enough at it. I couldn't do the traditional sports. I couldn't do the physical things. I'm small, so there's leverage. Had I been taller, I probably would have been even more so along that line.
I think that kind of tenacity is really important to see, regardless.
I had a very dear friend that was six-three, and somebody else was complaining that he was tall and says, “Why do all the tall men date short women?” He said, “because so many tall women are told to be quiet and to not attract attention. You're already tall.” So, you're conditioned that somehow, that's bad. I love a woman who is tall and put on a pair of kick ass heels and just go for it because everybody should be who they are and nobody gets to tell you that you should be less. If you're a woman and tall, you should not be told you're less. He says that's why so many tall men date short women, because we have to fight to be noticed. A lot of tall women buy into the idea that they're already “too much” for their height, and so they dampened their fire a lot.
I've been in male-dominated fields. I'm a biologist. I call it a non-practicing biologist because I have my degree, but I've never made my living at it. (I said this on a panel with biologist, a veterinarian, and I said, “but I've never made my living at so I don't usually call myself a biologist,” and she says, “Well, most of us haven't made a living with our biology degree.” Okay, fair enough.)
So, science and martial arts and you go to the shooting range and do all the research, talking to the military and the police and everything, and it's just very often you're the only woman or you're one of the few women. The problems Anita has in the books with people thinking that she's sleeping around, and that she has to constantly prove herself, people who are not in law enforcement or the military say, “oh, that's just excessive.” However, I have had so many police women tell me, “No, that's accurate. That is accurate.”
Anita Blake was sort of a forerunner in modern vampire fiction. The books really read like modern-day hard-bitten detective stories with vampires. At what point did the vampires enter the equation? Did you set out with the goal of writing a vampire story? Was it a Detective story foremost, or was it both?
It was both. Initially, though, it was only zombies. Initially, Anita raised the dead. That was from the very beginning. She was a Necromancer, and she raised the dead. I actually found the first first draft of Guilty Pleasures in a box. It wasn't a finished draft. It was like the beginning scenes trying to figure things out and Dolph and Zabrowski were there, and Larry was even there in the first book, (even though he wouldn't come until later in the actual series), but there were no vampires, no Jean-Claude, just zombies and crime and violence.
It was after college that I read hard-boiled Detective fiction for the first time, and at that point, (and it hasn't changed that much actually,) the male detectives were able to cuss and kill people and have sex on camera. If they killed people, nobody remarked on it, but if the female detectives killed somebody, they had to feel really bad about it. If they had sex, it was off screen or they never dated successfully, and they didn't cuss as much. I just thought it was really sexist and unfair. So, Anita was created to even the playing field on that. But I thought that I would get bored if I wrote a straight mystery series. So, I decided to put all my love of ghost stories, and folklore, and everything that goes bump in the night into the same world. So, I didn't plan on vampires at the beginning. I planned on it being all sorts of the folklore of that kind. But until I put the vampires in at the beginning, the book didn't write. It wasn't until I put in that it was a vampire crime, and not zombies, that the book really took off.
One of the ways you world-build, (or at least I world-build,) is that if you have the character right, then the world can start to form off the characters back. When it came to Zaniel, I hadn't written a new world with the new main character in 20 years. I didn't realize Merry had been that long! Merry Gentry was 20 years earlier, and so writing Daniel, I really ate a lot of humble pie because I'd forgotten how hard it was to build the world from the beginning, and to recreate the wheel. I know that when Anita had the right voice, then all the characters began to coalesce around her. All the other stuff came. The same thing for Merry and the same thing for Zaniel until I got his voice right. It's like you get the right voice, and then all these other characters go, “Yes, I want to be in his story or her story.” I knew vampires would be in there eventually. I didn't plan on starting them from the beginning, but once I did, the story worked.
The book worked, and my writing group gave me such grief over this. I said loud and long that I would not contribute to what I saw as a problem: The sexy vampire. The vampire is supposed to be scary! Not a sexy lead. Now, I have so contributed to this problem! Jean-Claude just would not be what I wanted him to be. When I sat down to write him, I wanted him to be scary and menacing, and he can be, but that’s not who he is. I tried to kill him in book three, Circus of the Damned. I tried to kill him! We planned to kill him! When it came down to it, Anita and I couldn't do it. Anita would have missed him, and so would I. Also, think, how different the series would be!
Oh, it would be totally different. He's been such a linchpin of the books, and you can't just slot in Asher or Requiem, or another vampire to take his place.
Everyone would be dead! Because the next master of the city that would have come in would have killed them. In Circus of the Damned, the one who would have taken over was who would have just helped her kill him. So, that would be Alejandro.
Oh, that wouldn't have ended well!
No, it wouldn't have! Jean-Claude was here to stay after we got through book three. I even said if I keep him around, he's going to take over my series, and take in a direction I don't want, and that’s exactly what happened. Absolutely. I absolutely wouldn't change it, but it's interesting that I had these very set ideas. “We weren't going to do this.” Then here we are, and now we're planning a wedding. I never planned to have a wedding!
The thing about publishing a book is that after it's published, it's done. The narrative is set, and you can't change the story anymore. You're almost 30 books in. Looking back, is there anything that you might have wished you'd written differently?
Yes. There is a point in the first four books, I think, where Jean-Claude tells Anita that if she doesn't date him and Richard, then he'll kill Richard. I would change that if I could. Because in real life, if somebody gave me an ultimatum like that, they're gone. If you want to play violence, I do not back down. I do not give an inch. I do not. I wouldn't have tolerated it. Anita wouldn't have tolerated it. I did not understand at that time how much people take from fiction. I would not have had him give her an ultimatum and have her cave to it. I would change that if I could. Remember, these books were first written in the late 80’s. It may have come out in 1993, or 94, but it took me a while to sell it because nobody knew what to do with it.
Right, you had to shop it around, and everybody thought it was somebody else's project. Like, the romance people didn't think it was theirs, the vampire people didn't think it was theirs, and that's why I say it's kind of a forerunner in the genre because it's one of the first to blend all these.
There are a few people that did some small stuff in it, but I was the first person to popularize it, and I was the first person to bring it all together. You're welcome for paranormal, because it didn't exist before me. There was urban fantasy, and I still think of it as urban fantasy. It's paranormal, but paranormal is created to show that there was more relationship and more romance. I think that's really how it ended up dividing up, and I do both.
I would change the few times that Anita said that she had gained ten pounds tasting food for Jean-Claude, and I'd made a couple of other remarks about that early in the books before all the eating disorders were made public. I still get people saying, “Well, that was not okay.” I'm going, it was the 80’s. Nobody thought about that. So, if I could take those out, I would. I would take out that bit of Jean-Claude. Those are the things that I have noticed. I reread the whole series, in order, over the first lockdown. I'd never done that. I'd go back and read one or two if I was using a character that I hadn't seen on stage in a while.
This was the first time I read them all the way through, beginning to end, in order, and I made notes. I would not have her give in to the ultimatum, because I do not think it's a good example of what you should do in real life. There are far too many people that kind of take their relationship advice and insight from this series. I am polyamorous, but one of the reasons you get some of the talking on stage that other people complain about is because people really are using this as a jumping off point. I wish there were better resources than fiction for them.
Because you don't see Poly or non-monogamy almost ever in fiction.
It's becoming big in the indie-paranormal scene. Unfortunately, most of the people writing are not polyamorous, and most of the people writing it are not actually living the lifestyle, just like bondage. Bondage and submission is done so poorly if you're not in the lifestyle.
A popular book came out, and it was obviously written by somebody who knew nothing about the community. The bondage was so poorly done, and so tame, while being emotionally abusive. It's led to a whole brand-new interest in the kink community, but you've got people going to places that don't know the etiquette, and you're doing some edge play. You're doing something that's literally dangerous if it goes wrong and you've got people crowding around watching until someone comes and tells them to back up. It's like they think it's a movie. They don't think it's real. “No, honey, this is real, and that would be an ouchy. You need to back off now.”
One more situation where representation good representation is important.
It is! It's Nathaniel's fault that I started researching the kink community. I researched for the character of Nathaniel. I was researching bondage and submission, going to parties with a guide and everything who was taking me through. I would research things that I would write about, and then I would end up researching them and end up going, “oh, that's why I wanted to research.” That's the thing that if you're going to do research, if you're going to do your gun research and your crime research, why do people treat sexual ideas or nonstandard religions is if it doesn't deserve the same amount of research?
I think it's because to them, most people have a very kind of black and white view of the world. It's right or it's wrong. “It's my way or it's wrong” usually. That's why you have people who are happy to write about Christianity and Angels as if they are a religion versus, say, Native American beliefs, as if it's just fun magic stuff.
Yeah, I agree. And, you know, some of the really popular paranormal series that you have on TV, the research is so poorly done, and it’s disrespectful. If I think of it as disrespectful, then I don't care. You can't be good enough to overcome that to me
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