Friday, November 18, 2011

Meeting an idol: Charlaine Harris

I love fictional vampires. We’ll analyze that another time. Right now, pop open the champagne, because I met a ROCK STAR of the vampire genre. And by “met,” I mean I handed her a book to sign and had my picture taken in her vicinity.

Why I adore Charlaine Harris: The Southern Vampire Mysteries are addictive. Sookie is my kind of heroine - smart and sexy but vulnerable enough to be relatable. The Sookieverse is funny, magical, and located in backwoods Louisiana. Alexander Skarsgard is HOT. That may be tangential, but I'm sticking with it.

When I found out at the last minute that she was appearing a few miles from my house, I threw together some childcare, rushed out the door, and made it just in time to hear her speak.

Tell us, Sarah-san, what was she like?
Entertaining and delightful, of course! Ms. Harris speaks with such an easy, melodious drawl that it is impossible not to crave sweet tea when in her presence. Impossible, I say, and I don’t even like sweet tea. She was candid and real. She touched on her discomfort with fan fiction, hurt feelings from mean-spirited reviews, being queen of her fictional universe, and getting to meet other big name authors as a member of the club.

As I waited in the signing line, I was determined to tell her how much I appreciate her work. And I did. Sort of.

Blathering Blathery
Here's the thing: I suck at speeches. I have never made a toast that failed to be cringeworthy. Also, I am not pithy.

But I had to try, right?

It came out something like this:
“Ms. Harris, ah, I just wanted to tell you, I’m a mom, a stay-at-home mom I mean, but, ah, well, the thing is, I always wanted to write fiction - I mean I’ve written other stuff but not fiction, because I never really thought I would be very good and maybe I wasn’t creative or something but then I read Dead Until Dark, and I don’t know, ah, things kind of clicked, and there was something about the book - it was just really fun, I don’t know, but I, um, decided to try writing and I’ve been really loving it and so even if I don’t get published I’m just so glad that you, you know, opened up that world for me and stuff.”

Southerners are nothing if not gracious
Here’s what I think she heard:

“Blah blah…mom (we’re the same!)…blah blah blah…Dead Until Dark (I could have written that)…blah blah blah…published (read my stuff!)… blah blah.”
Her understated response:
“Good luck to you! I was a mom when I started writing and it seem to have worked out okay for me.”
See? She's awesome.
Charlaine Harris and MOI at Mysterious Galaxy, Redondo Beach

Mulligan! Mulligan!
She won’t read this, but I’m writing my do-over anyway, because I wield that awesome power on Fridays.

My copy of Dead Until Dark is marked up from beginning to end. It was my first textbook for decoding this beast called plot. It was also the book I was reading when a niggling feeling started in my gut that maybe I should stop putting off a dream just because I might fail miserably.

I hadn’t written a single piece of fiction in my adult life. I'd been writing for years, crafting poetry and snippets of heartfelt prose about marriage and children and the inner world of Sarah. I shied away from fiction, believing I lacked any talent for making stuff up.

When I read about Charlaine Harris, her bio seemed so… normal. Accessible. She had combined motherhood and writing, publishing regularly and with moderate success before she tackled the fun and kooky idea that led to big success. She seemed, fundamentally, not so different from anyone else with a passion.

So, I started writing and... okay, I wasn’t great. But I got better,  and finding ways to improve is just part of the fun.

The real discovery was that my dreams of publication went on the back burner once I got into my story. I never knew how much joy I would find in writing fiction until I started.

What is this JOY of which you speak?
That’s right. Joy. Maybe literary types get to be miserable, but with fantasy there is joy, even when your character is broken and bleeding. (It can be a sadistic joy.)

In writing, I’ve found imaginary friends. I’ve found a hidden part of myself that doesn’t depend on real life’s cooperation to feel good. I’ve found a community of people who love the same things I love. And I’ve found desire, the kind of desire that sometimes gets lost amid carpools and grocery shopping and laundry.

What if I could have a do-over? I’d probably just say, “It’s a real pleasure to meet you, Ms. Harris. I love your work,” and leave it at that. The thing I wanted to thank her for is too precious for me to capture in a nerve-wracked fan speech. But whether she knows it or not, Ms. Harris does have my gratitude, as does every author I’ve ever read who made me think: I wish I’d written that.

~ Sarah


  1. Love your post, Sarah. You were way more articulate than I would have been.

    I gotta put the Sookie books in TBR pile.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. Isn't it funny how authors are real people? I mean, I want to be a published author, and I'm a real person, but the people who write the books I love feel like imaginary friends to me.

  3. Wow, what an experience, no matter how you thought you sounded. I met an author (published) once, in fifth grade. Maybe I should get out more.
    But, I think you don't need a do-over in what your said. Isn't 'you opened up a world for me' about the best thing an author could ever hear?

  4. Sarah, loved your post!
    Write a book with that same engaging style and I'll be first in line.
    (Thanks for the PSI back-up.) -Kelly

  5. That's so fantastic that you got to meet your literary hero! I'm sure I'd make an equal fool out of myself should I ever meet Patricia McKillip (I'm safe from embarrassing myself with Joseph Conrad, but only because he's dead).


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