An Interview With Laurell K. hamiliton
By Beth Tabler
"The wedding of the century"
The wedding of the century between vampire hunter Anita Blake and the vampire king of America Jean-Claude is almost here, but an ancient evil arrives in St. Louis and even Jean-Claude’s unmatched power isn’t enough to save them. Only with the return of a lost love can they hope to combat the monster and save their loved ones and every vampire in the country from being consumed by darkness.
If you have been an urban fantasy reader in the last thirty years, you will have heard of Laurell K. Hamilton. Hamilton’s first novel Nightseer, a stand-alone, was published in 1992. However, since then, her massive influence on the culture of urban fantasy cannot be overstated. She is one of the queens of urban fantasy and in her 29th book Smolder coming out later this month, the eponymous Anita Blake, a vampire hunter, private eye, and necromancer working in St. Louis, feels like she is just getting started.
There is a definite darkness in the Anita Blake books, so if you want your urban fantasy to have a rawer edge, look no further.
Hamilton had a lovely chat via email with me, where we discussed her newest novel, Smolder.
I read Pigeons From Hell by Robert E. Howard was the short story that put you on the road to being a writer. Is that true?
Answer: Almost, I already knew I wanted to be a writer, but reading this anthology made me decide that I wanted to be a writer of fantasy, dark fantasy, heroic fantasy and horror. I’d written several stories but never finished one until after I read these stories, then I started a new story and finished it. It was horror and from that point on I never looked back.
At its heart, Anita Blake is a hard-boiled detective fiction. Have you always gravitated toward these kinds of novels? Were you reading hard-boiled detective novels as a child?
Answer: I actually didn’t read much mystery until I was in college. I didn’t fall in love with hard-boiled detective novels until I graduated and moved to Los Angeles. We’d moved there because my first husband had gotten a great job offer. It took me longer to find a job, so I used the local library a lot. I discovered Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series first, which led me to Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. I wondered if there were any female writers or detectives in the genre and found Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Sara Paretsky’s V. I. Warshawski. This was the 1980s so they were pretty much it for women in the field.
Have you ever thought about going back to Nightseer and writing a second book?
Answer: I have, and if Nightseer had sold well enough for my publisher to want to publish the second book and then help me finish the series I might never have written the first Anita Blake novel and jump started the career I have today. Ironically my current publisher bought my first publisher so I might still get a chance to finish the series someday.
You are a practitioner of Filipino Martial arts. Has your martial arts education helped you write fight scenes? If so, how?
Answer: Absolutely. In research I always find that if I can do even some of the physicality of what I’m writing that I learn things I could never have learned by reading or interviewing people about a topic. But FMA in particular is a combat arts system not a martial arts system made for tournaments. It’s helped me look at blade work and fighting in general in a way that no other system I’ve tried over the years ever has. I was good at fight scenes before, but my seven years in FMA has helped me reach deeper on paper and off.
As a long-time reader of your novels, you unflinchingly create characters that deal with various forms of mental illness. Your audience can always look at your characters and feel seen. How have you approached the representation of mental illness in your stories? Do you ensure accuracy through research, sensitivity readers, or other means?
Answer: I’ve been in therapy off and on for decades, so some of it is personal experience. Researching to understand my issues and my family’s issues led me to research other things. I have also had the honor of people sharing their own painful truths with me. All of that has made Anita and the characters in her world richer and more real than they would have been without it.
The expression of characters’ sexuality is something you have always written about that feels open and honest. Has the way you approached sex scenes and sensuality changed between the first novel and now, and if so, how?
Answer: When I started writing the series my plan was to have every kiss, every caress so amazing that we wouldn’t need to ever complete the act. What actually happened was that I built up the anticipation higher and higher so when it came to the point where Anita was finally ready to have full blown sex I had to live up to all the amazing foreplay. I was incredibly uncomfortable with the idea of doing it on paper, but I’d written crime scenes and fight scenes with extreme violence in them and not hesitated. The fact that sex between two people that cared about each other bothered me more than writing violent murder made me question my priorities. Was sex really worse than violence? No, no it wasn’t, but in America we’re conditioned that it is, and once I realized where the bias came from I was determined not to be trapped by it. I promised myself that every sex scene would be as well written and unflinching as my murder scenes had been. I think I’ve kept that promise to myself and to my readers.
Anita and Merry have very different attitudes. Do you need to be in a specific mind frame to write them?
Answer: Not different mind frames, but I have to work to find their individual voices. My newest protagonist Zaniel Havelock was even more of a challenge because he was my first male first person narrator. At least with Anita and Merry they are both female and smaller like myself, but for Zaniel I had to explore a new world from the viewpoint of a man who was 6’ 3” a foot taller than Anita and myself, and thirteen inches taller than Merry. Not to mention all the rest of the differences.
One of the most exciting things for me as a reader of the Anita series is its freshness. Due to the large cast, most characters will eventually have their day in the sun. There are no minor characters; you just haven’t gotten to them yet. Is this one of the ways in how you keep Anita speaking to you as an author?
Answer: I think it is one way I stay fascinated with the world and the characters. I coined the term minor major characters for the larger cast, because every one of them is a new world to explore and add to the existing one.
Can you tell us about your newest entry in the Anita Blake series, Smolder?
Answer: I’m really bad at talking about a book without giving too much away, but I’ll do my best. We learn more about Anita’s family and her relationship with them than ever before. We get insight into why she’s never visited them on stage in any book. A major new threat is introduced that will challenge Jean-Claude and Anita as never before. It will force them to reach out for help to an old ally that hasn’t been center stage in the books in a long time. We will see the first of the wedding outfits on stage. We add new world building for my vampires and expand on my magic system in general. We have a first in the Anitaverse for mythology. It was so new that I didn’t include a bibliography in the back of Smolder because I thought it would give the surprise away.
Who is Anita now in book 29 versus who she was when she started?
Answer: Anita started out as Episcopalian, nearly celibate and looking for Mr. Right, monogamy, raising zombies as her main job, and being a supernatural consultant for the police. She believed utterly that vampires were walking corpses and that it wasn’t murder to kill one. The last line of the first book, Guilty Pleasures, summed it up, “I don’t date vampires, I kill them.” In the twenty-ninth book, Smolder Anita is still Episcopalian, but almost everything else has changed. Raising zombies has become her part time job, because she’s now a US Marshal with the Preternatural Branch of the regular US Marshal Service. She’s polyamorous and part of a large, complicated poly group that includes women as well as men. All the members of the group are either shapeshifters or vampires. In fact she’s engaged to be married to Jean-Claude, the newly proclaimed vampire King of America. Some fans keep asking if marriage will suddenly make Anita and Jean-Claude monogamous, but they are polyamorous and that won’t change just because of a wedding.
How would you describe Anita’s relationship with her father?
Answer: I can’t really answer that without giving too much away. Let’s just say, it’s a rocky relationship.
Is there a happily ever after for Anita? Her story seems ever-evolving.
Answer: I think where most stories end with their happily ever after is where real life happily ever after begins. That’s what I believe in real life and that’s how I write my fiction.
Is there any news on a new Merry book?
Answer: I’ve started making notes on it, and building the plot on paper.
Laurell K. Hamilton is a full-time writer and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series; Zaniel Havelock series; and the Merry Gentry series. She lives in a suburb of St. Louis with her family. Learn more online at www.laurellkhamilton.com.
My wife and I met on the Anita Blake forums!