This interview posted on June 22, 2010 at Pop Syndicate’s Book Addict blog.
Bullets, Vamps and Hot Sex
Laurell Hamilton’s novels have had a profound impact on the publishing industry.
Her Anita Blake series proved that readers are hungry for combination genres – but it took two years and hundreds of rejections before any publishing house would take a chance on it.
It’s been a long, fantastic, journey for the writer, who was kicked out of her college creative writing program. Today, Hamilton, a fellow Missouri native, sits down to chat about her latest in the Blake series, Bullet, strange things fans share with her and the craft of writing.
What’s in store for fans of Anita Blake in her next romantic thriller, Bullet?
Bullet is about looking at yourself, looking at the abyss, the darker half and seeing who you are and how that works in your life. It’s about trying to have a normal life while also being a U.S. Marshal and hunting rogue lycanthropes and vampires and also being involved in politics with vamps and were animals.
One of the things I wanted to point out about real policemen was that while hunting the bad guys, while doing the paperwork and solving crimes, they have to come home at the end of the day to their families. I tried to show both the crime solving and how Anita has people who count on her at home.
It is a very, very thick book.
How did you keep track of it all?
I organize by sticky notes. I have sticky notes up over my computer and that is how I organize a book as I go along. I have character descriptions, plot points and I move them around – like how you use a storyboard for a movie.
It’s a real challenge to keep track of everything when you have many different plots entertwining.
How different is Bullet from the earlier Anita Blake novels?
With Guilty Pleasures, I honestly didn’t know much of anything. I really just kind of threw the idea out on paper and jumped into space and hoped my ideas and characters would catch me. I knew what the mystery was, but honestly didn’t know how they did it until I was half way through (the manuscript).
That’s always been a constant. I always have my characters surprise me now – even when I plan. My plot is important to me, but I will change my plot if my characters are smarter, braver and more willing to sacrifice themselves for the plot.
I have to write about their lives. They have to live it.
Fans were intimately involved in the process of writing Bullet, thanks to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. What was that like for you, as an author? Did it make the process more difficult? More fun? Do readers truly understand that something you post in draft may not look the same when it is in print?
I started doing Twitter for the first time about a book ago, but this was the first book beginning to end where I was comfortable using it.
I tweeted a lot. I was too comfortable, I think, in some ways, with Twitter. I would have something happen on paper and I would immediately write down the emotional impact of it – say some of it, but try not to give the emotional impact away.
I’m not sure that was good. I’m not sure it was bad. I haven’t decided yet. It made the fans immediately involved in some of the emotional and day to day (writing). It made them more invested, but it always made it so that I had to be careful and not overshare and not let plot points out that I didn’t want to share. I had to really police myself on social media.
I recently added Facebook and I’m doing a lot more there.
I see why people are addicted to social media. Writing is very isolated work. Until I go on tour, I don’t get a lot of feedback. The social media gives me that immediate feedback. I have that illusion that there are people right there.
I love getting on and in 140 characters say what I’ve done and talk about the scenes I’ve written. I’m beginning to enjoy Facebook, but it did change the process of how I write. I began to feel compelled to post how I write. It didn’t change anything I did in the book, but it did change the process of how I wrote it.
I’ll have to do more books with this level of social interaction and see how I feel about it. I’m always leery of anything that changes my writing process.
Social media is a cultural phenomenon. It is a very different way of looking at socialization. I think we are not at all caught up with the changes it is making in society and people and how we interact.
What changes have you noticed?
When your online, some people feel more free to be critical, be more mean-spirited, but some people think that is the same as looking you in the eye.
People will sometimes confuse the two.
There is something about being a celebrity of any kind … I cannot imagine what actors and singers go through. Being famous seems to make some people feel as if they can say anything to you and you don’t have the same kind of feelings to be hurt as regular people – and that was before the Internet.
It’s just more weird than anything now. The shock has kind of worn off. 99.9 percent of fans are wonderful. It’s the fraction of percentage that say that stuff.
What do you think of the some of the negative thoughts of fans – especially those who simply don’t seem happy no matter what happens in the Blake novels?
If I read something or watch a movie and I don’t like it, I don’t go see it again. I don’t read something so I can hate it.
The negative is what sells papers and magazines. It’s not news if it’s nice. I try to focus on the positive. I try not to put any energy into the negative. I believe that what you put out there comes back to you.
Consistently, I see complaints from some fans who say they hate the sex in the Blake novels. Others have a problem with the violence. How do you respond?
We are culturally divided. It’s not that they hate the sex; it’s that they are uncomfortable with the sex. In Europe, they are uncomfortable with the violence as opposed to the sex.
What about readers who consider Anita a bit of a literary whore, rather than the kick-ass heroine she started about to be?
Well that very question implies that a woman can’t be sexual and enjoy sex and still be tough and I haven’t found that to be true – not in my life and not on paper. Sex is part of your life; it doesn’t change who you are. It should be an extension of who you are.
One of the reasons I think we stopped being as violent (in the books) and had more sex is that I got tired – and Anita got tired – of killing things. We were killing people on paper and that really can eat at your soul. I’d rather make love than war.
Only in America would readers rather I kill these people than have sex with these people on paper. Some of the Richard fans can be most intense about things. Whoever they don’t like, they want killed and Anita ride off into the sunset (with him).
Just like in real life, there is no sunset to ride off into. Prince Charming is not coming and the reason he is not coming is that we don’t need him to come. We can save ourselves.
You need to own your own life and make it as good a life as you can. Love who you actually love. As long as you are harming no one, why is it anybody’s business who you are having sex with?
I never understood why it makes people so uncomfortable that people are having sex – that they feel somehow slighted or insulted by the fact that my character is having sex with people they don’t approve of.
One reason they are uncomfortable with it is it’s a woman. If Anita was a man, they wouldn’t have a problem with it.
Anita Blake has been around for a long time. How has she evolved through the series? Are you comfortable where she is today? Is she comfortable in her own skin?
One of the interesting things about looking back at the first books is doing the comic books for Marvel.
I hadn’t remembered how unhappy she was at the beginning of the series. She was not comfortable in her skin, in her life. She had nothing but the job. She had almost nothing, but the blood and violence and crime fighting. It was bleak, actually. She is much happier as a person now as she was then – honestly, so am I. I am comfortable where she is and with what we are doing.
What type of research do you do for the books?
I do a lot of research with police work and crime. I am pretty unflinching in my world view on paper. If it’s violent it’s going to be show that way because if you pull away from the violence and soften it, then people think that violence doesn’t hurt.
There have been some readers who really learned about sexuality and other important issues from Anita.
When we have a regular signing, people will say the most intimate things. Sometimes it is really good stuff. They say, “Your books helped my husband and I renew our passion for each other,” and that’s good. Some plop down pictures of their kids and say, “That one’s yours!” They say they were reading my book and they got carried away and that’s how they got the child.
I have women in their 20s and 30s who said they didn’t know sex was supposed to be fun. Young men in their 20s and 30s say that one of their biggest complaints is that women don’t know what they want in bed and won’t help them know what they want to please them. Some men in their 20s and late teens say that women are so aggressive that it’s not flattering and it’s not attractive. It’s a change that has happened over the last few years.
One young girl wrote in to us and said that because Anita uses a condom, she told her boyfriend that without a condom, there was no sex.
Another teen girl wanted to be like Anita. Anita always wears a seatbelt because her mother died when she was thrown through a window during an accident. She said she decided to wear a seatbelt, got into an accident that day and the police officer said that if she had not been wearing it, she would have died.
I’ve had people say they got out of abusive relationships because Anita would not have taken it.
Is there an end in sight for the Blake series?
There’s always that rumor. Always. With every book I write, the series is going to end. It is so rare for a series to get to 20 (books).
That is part of it.
With new fans reading the series each day, how difficult is it to talk about new books without giving too many spoilers to series newbies?
It’s really, really hard. I am hearing from people who are going to be at the Q&A session who are only on book 6 or 8, and I don’t know how we are going to do questions without spoilers.
With 19 books in, how do you do it? It’s going to be a real trick to try to answer a question without giving stuff away.
What writing project will you sink your teeth into next?
I am actually working on the next Anita book – book No. 20. Usually I go between Merry and Anita, but I was hoping it would make the tour easier if I’m writing in the same world. I’m hoping it will make the tour less disruptive and enable me to get back into the writing process.
What else would you like to add?
With Bullet, I enjoyed Anita and my world more than I did with the first book. It is like having old friends or a long-term relationship. It just gets better.
Laurell K. Hamilton photo credit: Stefan Hester0