Vamping it up s a fang thang
Charlaine Harris. Picture: Supplied.

I remember once visiting the atmospheric ruins of North Yorkshire's Whitby Abbey, where Bram Stoker's 1897 gothic horror classic Dracula is partly set.

For some time now Whitby has been a place of pilgrimage for goths, emos and other fey creatures of the night. As a pale, wan vegetarian dressed in black, I was unfortunately mistaken for one of their kind.

So I thought it best to curtail my twilight perambulations and repair to a nearby tavern before one of them tried to engage me in conversation.

Years later I'm still wondering what it is about the fang thang that appeals to people.

"I have no idea," says Charlaine Harris, best selling author of the Southern Vampire Mysteries series, ahead of a visit to Perth.

"I do think people want to imagine that there is something more than what our senses tell us, something beyond the tactile and visible. Me personally? Vampires are versatile symbols and fun to work with."

Presumably she means fun to work with as material for her novels, not fun to work with as in sharing a joke with ol' Vlad by the office water cooler.

Harris' Southern Vampire Mysteries series, featuring the telepathic, vampire-dating waitress, Sookie Stackhouse, and a host of supernatural creatures including not just vampires but werewolves, fairies and shape-shifters, is a pop-culture phenomenon, thanks in part to Alan Ball's hugely popular HBO TV adaptation, True Blood.

And yet it's soon to come to an end. The penultimate title, Deadlocked, has just been published and Harris is busy finishing Dead Ever After, the last instalment in the series, for publication next year. So I ask the obvious question: will Harris miss Sookie and her friends (and enemies)?

"Not really, because I can always create more," says the Mississippi-born mother of three. "It's always fun building new worlds and new people.

"I'm writing the final Sookie now. Then I'll collaborate with Christopher Golden (Buffy the Vampire Slayer novels, Hellboy) on the second book in a trilogy called Cemetery Girl, a graphic novel. The first volume will be out next year. Then I'll begin writing Midnight Pawn, the first of three books set at a rural Texas crossroads."

Deadlocked is the 12th Sookie novel (that's right - the last one will be number 13) and is again set in the fictional town of Bon Temps, Louisiana. The opening makes it difficult not to continue reading: "I was hot as the six shades of hell even this late in the evening, and I'd had a busy day at work. The last thing I wanted to do was to sit in a crowded bar to watch my cousin get naked."

Yes, folks, it's Ladies Only Night at Hooligans, and the bar is "full of hooting and hollering women determined to have a good time".

Alas, in Deadlocked a good time is not had by all. Sookie's vampire lover Eric Northman is suspected of murdering a young girl whose blood he was seen drinking only moments before she was killed. As Sookie sets about proving his innocence, Freyda the Oklahoma vampire queen reveals her own plans for Eric. Then there's the small matter of those werewolves . . .

In the Sookieverse, vampires have become public knowledge and live alongside humankind, (ostensibly) surviving by drinking only synthetic blood. Much has been made of the new minority group's parallels with Afro-American and gay civil rights.

But Harris is fairly matter-of-fact about the use of genre fiction as a vehicle for exploring social and other issues.

Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer in True Blood. Picture: Supplied.
"Depends on the writer, doesn't it," she says. "Certainly I think genre fiction can be a great way to explore issues, social and political and ecological. But most readers don't want to be bludgeoned with a message."

And Harris' own reading preferences? "I read all the time, whether I'm writing or not," she says. "I'm fortunate in being able to do that. I read a wide selection of books, and I talk about the ones I like on my website (charlaineharris.com). I read thrillers, urban fantasy, mysteries, a little non-fiction, every now and then a romance. Everything."

An Evening with Charlaine Harris, Parmelia Hilton Perth Ballroom, Tuesday, July 31, at 6.30pm. Tickets $28 including refreshments. To book call Dymocks Garden City on 9364 7687/9364 7387 or email gcorders@dymocks.com.au. Deadlocked is published by Gollancz ($29.95).

The West Australian

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