An Evening with Charlaine Harris

To kick off the 11th annual Vegas Valley Book Festival Charlaine Harris delivered a keynote address at the Clark County Library on November 1st.

I’ve only read one of Ms. Harris’ novels, the first of her Sookie Stackhouse series, Dead Until Dark.  I didn’t like the book well enough to plow through the other 12 installments of the series, but I always enjoy hearing writers speak about their success. So I lined up a full hour in advance beneath the lattice awning of the library to insure I got a good seat for her talk.

I’d already read an interview with Charlaine Harris in Writer’s Digest so I was somewhat familiar with the trajectory of her career.  In 1978 she enrolled in a creative writing course. Her instructor liked her work and passed her first book on to an editor friend at Houghton Mifflin. He liked it too and signed her as client.

For the next 13 years she wrote cozy/dark mysteries (two standalone novels and two series), achieving mid-list success.  When she tired of this, she tried her hand at paranormal. Her agent disliked this new manuscript, but shopped it around anyways. Two years and several rejections later, the novel, Dead Until Dark, was finally picked up by Ace Publishing. It became best-seller and spawned the hit HBO series True Blood.

What I like about Charlaine Harris’ story is that it took years of writing before she became a glowing success. She took a chance on becoming an author and then took perhaps an even bigger chance by breaking away from her tried-and-true genre.

In person, I liked Ms. Harris even more. With her southern drawl and modest, matronly attire, she exuded warmth.  But wit and confidence crackled behind that grandma-like exterior.  She responded to the audience’s questions with humor and honesty, gracious of complements and unapologetic in the face of critique. At the end of it all, she cheerily sign several hundred copies of her work, as friendly to those with well-worn copies of her 1981 mystery, Sweet and Deadly, as to people like me who purchased paperback Stackhouse novels in the library lobby only hours before.

Whether or not I read anymore her work, Charlaine Harris will always stand out to me as an example of perseverance and pluck. And I’m grateful to the Vegas Valley Book Festival for providing such inspiration.

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