Interview Logo
SearchHomeContents PageSite Map
A Conversation With Laurell K. Hamilton
An interview with Alisa McCune
September 2004

© Suzy Gorman
Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton
Laurell K. Hamilton is the author of two New York Times Best Seller series that mix mystery, fantasy, magic, horror and romance. Her Vampire Hunter novels from Ace books, featuring necromancer and crime investigator Anita Blake, began with Guilty Pleasures and continues with Incubus Dreams. Her other is about Fey princess, Merry Gentry, who is also a private investigator and began with Kiss of Shadows. She lives in St. Louis County Missouri with her husband, daughter, two pug and two part pug dogs and an ever-fluctuating number of fish.

Laurell K. Hamilton Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Incubus Dreams
SF Site Review: Seduced by Moonlight
SF Site Review: A Caress of Twilight
SF Site Review: Narcissus In Chains
SF Site Review: Blue Moon
SF Site Review: Burnt Offerings
SF Site Review: Nightseer
Laurell K. Hamilton Tribute Site
Laurell K. Hamilton Tribute Site
Laurell K. Hamilton Tribute Site
Laurell K. Hamilton Tribute Site

Incubus Dreams
Seduced by Moonlight

Art: David Stevenson
A Caress of Twilight
Narcissus In Chains

Art: Lee MacLeod
Blue Moon
Burnt Offerings
Nightseer

Advertisement
Laurell K. Hamilton is a New York Times best-selling author of 17 books and numerous short stories. The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series made its debut with Guilty Pleasures in 1994. Since then, Hamilton has gained a huge, loyal fan base and is well on her way to becoming a household name. Incubus Dreams is Hamilton's latest release in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series.

The Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series focuses on Anita Blake, a necromancer who raises the dead for a living, a Federal Marshal and consultant to the Regional Preternatural Investigation Unit, sometimes lupa to a werewolf King, human servant to the Vampire Master of the City, Nimir-Raj to a pard of were-leopards, and so much more. Nothing in Anita's life is ever simple and straightforward. After 12 books in the series, fans still clamor for each new installment.

Hamilton is also the author of the Meredith Gentry series. This series focuses on Princess Meredith NicEssus, a princess of the Unseelie Court. The fourth book in the series, A Stoke of Midnight is due to be published early in 2005.

Below is a glimpse into the brain of Laurell K. Hamilton.

What is your background?  How does it impact on your writing?

I have two degrees: English and biology.  The best thing I got out English at a college level was the introduction to the British Romantic Poets.  I read Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, and a lot of the stuff they "force" you to read in junior and senior high on my own.  I took my first stab at Plato in high school, because I wanted to try, not because of a class. 

My degree in biology is probably one of the main reasons my "monsters" seem so real.  I start with real animals for my were-animals.  I try to use as much "real" science as I can.  I also was about two or three classes from having a history or Political Science major (it would have depended on what classes I finished up with, which the degree would have been in). 

I took a lot of history in high school, and again read more than my share on my own.  I think my knowledge of what has really happened in the past, helped give my vampires and their society a realistic feel.  It also helped me project what modern society would do if we had to deal with the monsters being real.  Anita's world is not truly an alternative world.  It's our world if we woke up tomorrow with all the monsters real and out of the closet, and had to deal with it in real terms; politically, socially, morally, etc.

What drove you to become a writer?
Truth?  I don't know.  I do know that from the moment I figured out how to read, I've loved books.  Before I could read, I drove my grandmother crazy asking her to read to me.  When she was too tired, or too busy, I would make up stories about the pictures.  By second grade I was making up stories, verbally, and telling classmates.  Nothing too fantastic, just outside what could be real.  I was attempting to write down stories at twelve and a half.  (All my main characters were exactly my age for years, so it has actually helped me keep track of what I was doing, and when.)  The first stories were more Louisa Mae Alcott than anything else.  Between the age of thirteen and fourteen I discovered fantasy and horror.  From that moment on, I was hooked.  Not only did I want to be a writer but that was what I wanted to write.  By seventeen, I was writing stories and sending them out, and collecting my first rejection slips.  But why, writing, why words, and not rockets, or flowers?  Who ever really knows why something captures their imagination?

What was it like to try and get published in the early part of your career? 
I'm not sure how to answer this question, except, difficult, but not impossible.  I'd been trying to sell my writing since I was seventeen.  I stopped trying to sell during college, to concentrate on getting my degrees.  Almost as soon as college ended I started trying to sell again.  I set myself a goal of a short story every three months.  My goal was to always have something in the mail and another story in the process, so I didn't hover by the mailbox.  Yes, I was working full time in corporate America at that time.  I wrote my first book by getting up at five in the morning, doing two pages, then getting ready for the day job.  I am not a morning person, but I did not have the discipline to write after a day in the corporate hive.  It was brain numbing.  I wrote most of my first book, Nightseer, like that.  Two pages a day, every day, no rewriting.  I'm a perfectionist.  If I try to make everything perfect before I move on, I get bogged down.  To this day as I work on my eighteenth book, I have to watch the tendency to want to be perfect.  It totally stops me.  You can fix it later, after you've got a first draft.  First drafts are where you have the luxury of mistakes.  The luxury of chasing the white rabbit and seeing whether it leads you to Wonderland or to hell. 

I interviewed Jim Butcher this past July and he told us his version of how he became published with a little help from lunch with you.  What happened?  Have you read the Dresden Files series?
I gave Jim Butcher the same career advice I've given hundreds of aspiring writers.  But he took it to heart, acted on at least some of it.  My agent at the time was at the same conference, and I introduced him.  But it was Jim's work, his books, that got him the agent.  No amount of introductions by me, or anyone else, will get anyone an agent, or get them published unless they have the talent to make it happen. 

Guilty Pleasures is considered one of the first successful books in the 'paranormal-mystery' genre.  Why do you think it as been so successful?  How do you feel about the explosion of publications in the paranormal-mystery genre?
Honestly, I don't know.  All I know is I enjoy writing what I write, and others enjoy reading it.

There is always room for good books and plenty of folks willing to read them.

Many fans have lamented the change in the Anita Blake series with the introduction of sexuality.  The difference in sexual content from Guilty Pleasures to Cerulean Sins is dramatic.  Why did the sexuality evolve and what impact has it had on the story line arc?
Chiefly because people told me I couldn't.  That I couldn't write strong sexuality from a woman's point of view.  The series simply evolved as it has.  There was no plan for it to do so, okay, no conscience plan at least.

In Obsidian Butterfly, the reader is confronted with a very violent, sexual episode involving children.  This disturbing section of the book gave me nightmares.  How did this part of the story evolve, as children are not a part of any of the other books?  Was this section difficult to write? 
This scene is probably one of the main reasons that I have been reluctant for any other supporting character to have children.  Look what happened to Richard's family in Blue Moon, and they were both grown-ups.  Anita and her cast live in a very violent world.  It is not a good place for non-combatants.  Obsidian Butterfly brought that home for me, for Anita, and for Edward.  I did not know what the bad guys were doing with the children they had taken hostage until Anita saw it.  It being a total surprise to me helped the writing up to a point, then trying to do the scene justice, and not cutting away.  This scene is probably the scene I most wanted to do as the 40s pan to the sky, and not look at what was happening.  I have actually talked to abuse survivors, and I felt strongly that if I blinked, if the camera turned away, that I would be betraying all the people who shared such painful memories with me.  Looking away from something doesn't make it go away, it just makes it harder to talk about.  We will be going back to New Mexico and doing a follow up book with Edward and his would-be family.  We will see how the children have coped with what happened.  I am both looking forward to that book, and sort of dreading it.  And no, I have no idea what number book that will be.  Somewhere in the next five books probably.

One of Anita's hang-ups is her latent Catholic-like morality.  This morality seems to conflict directly with her job as a Necromancer and her personal like.  How do her hang-ups drive her to react?
How does anyone's hang-ups drive them to react?  I never know until it happens on paper.

Anita Blake and Merry Gentry are similar and yet very different leading characters.  Do you have a hard time creating a distinctive voice for each character?
Yes and no.  With Merry I wanted someone who argued with me less.  Anita is very middle America while Merry is not.  I had hundreds of pages done I had to throw out on Merry originally.  She was too middle America so I had to go back and redo it.  Her culture is totally different from Anita's.  For Merry I read a lot of old folklore and oral tales that had been written to get her attitude and voice.  

Is it difficult for you to create the intense sexuality necessary for both Anita and Merry?
Sometimes, sometimes not on the sex.

One of my favorite aspects of the Anita Blake series are the wonderful cast of supporting characters.  Some of these characters could have entire series written about them -- for example Edward.  Have you ever considered spinning off any of the characters from the Anita Blake series?
I don't write from anyone's viewpoint but Anita's.  I just don't.  You are not the first to ask about Edward though.  But he doesn't talk to me that directly.  In fact he's one of the characters that goes off and has a life when I'm not around, then surprises me the most with what he's been doing.

After 12 books in the Anita Blake series, it is sometimes hard to remember who is who and everything they have done.  Have you ever considered creating a guide to the Anita Blake series? 
My staff and I are working on it.

What are you currently working on? 
The fourth Meredith Gentry book: A Stroke of Midnight.

Since you have indicated music is a very important muse for your writing process, what do you listen to and why?  Also, what is the deal with the Christmas music?
I pick a mainstream album for each Anita book.  I've written her to everything from Depeche Mode, Sting, U2, Alanis Morissette, Sarah McLaughlin, INXS, to the soundtrack to Desperado.  But Tori Amos is the big one for Anita.  I also pick a musical to listen to on days when the writing is not going well.  On days when the writing is really not going well I listen to Christmas music.  Everyone knows that if they hear Christmas music in July coming out of my office that it is not a good day.  Why Christmas music and musicals?  Don't know, but it makes me feel better, and sometimes helps me over the hump.

Will there be any more books in the Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter series after Incubus Dreams?  What are your plans for the Merry Gentry series?
Of course there are going to be more Anita books.  Where did the rumor start that I ever planned to stop writing Anita?  Wherever it began, it is a persistent little bugger.  I have no plans to stop writing Anita.  I'm still having far too much fun to dream of giving her up.  Merry is going to be eight to twelve books, as I'd planned from the beginning.  Merry's series was always outlined with an end in sight.  It's a fairy tale; she gets to have a happily ever after ending.

After reading the first three chapters of Incubus Dreams in Cravings, it would seem Anita and her gang are heading into areas I never anticipated.  Any hints of what Anita will face in Incubus Dreams?
I'm really bad at hinting.  I always give too much away.  Let it suffice to say that I, too, was very surprised by some of what happened in Incubus Dreams.  Maybe the fact that Anita and the gang can still surprise me this much, is one of the things that keeps the series fresh for me and the fans?

Did something specific inspire the Anita Blake series?  What about the Merry Gentry series?
Out of college, I started reading a lot of hard-boiled detective fiction -- Robert B. Parker in particular -- and I read a lot of strong female protagonists. But there was one problem, a difference between the male and female protagonists of the different series -- even the strongest of the women did not get to do some of the things the men got to do. The men got to cuss, the women rarely; the men got to kill people and not feel bad about it, if the women killed someone they had to feel really, really bad about it afterward and it had to be an extreme situation; the men got to have sex, often and on stage and very casually, but if the women had sex it had to be off stage, very sanitized and they had to feel guilty about it afterwards. I thought this was unfair. So I wanted a heroine who would be as tough as the men or tougher, who would be able to address all these issues, and I wanted to strike a blow for equality. I may have gone a little far in that direction.

As to Merry, I'd written five Anita books in a row. I needed a break. I needed to write something different. I was dreaming in Anita's world. Some people might think that's neat, but I was horrified -- I work in Anita's world, I don't live there. And the spill over was not good. So I put a proposal together for Merry Gentry. I wanted a character who wouldn't argue with me as much as Anita does. Not a pushover, just not as difficult as Anita can be. I wanted someone who wouldn't be so much in angst all the time. Merry is someone who was raised in the royal court, someone who was completely powerless there, so she learned to keep her mouth shut. She learned to be diplomatic. Anita, in Merry's world, would have been dead. She couldn't keep her mouth shut. I wanted to do fairies, the fey. Nobody had done it quite the way I wanted to do it.

So I planned the series to have a larger romantic element, to be more political, and I wanted to build on the fan base I already had. I wanted to mainstream the fairies the same way I mainstreamed the vampires in Anita. Instead of researching the English court -- which most fantasy courts are based on -- I researched the French court. Then I wondered, "If you had that kind of power for a thousand years, what would it do to you?" Having that kind of power ruins people with just a mortal lifespan. What would happen if you had that power forever?

Merry is different from Anita in another way, in that it's a close-ended series. Anita is open-ended, it could go fifty books. Merry is planned to between a seven and twelve book arc. It's a fairy tale. She has to become queen of everything she surveys and then she has to live happily ever after.  Anita would never allow that.

What kind of research do you do for each series? 
Lots!  Mostly it depends on the topic.  There is an entire list in the back of Seduced By Moonlight of books I have used for the Merry series.  There is an entire bookcase in my office and another in the hallway outside filled with books for research.  It crosses so many lines and areas it is impossible to list them all.  They range from archeology to mythology to voodoo to books on flowers and insects.  It just depends on what I am needing at the moment.  And I talk to people, I read about a topic, figure out what I need to know and then talk to people who have lived it or done it.  You will see most of them mentioned in the Acknowledgments section in the front of the books.  All these folk have been incredibly generous sharing their time and expertise with me.

One of the interesting sides of Anita is her gun fetish.  How do you choose the guns and other weapons Anita uses?  How do you gain the knowledge necessary to write such realistic gun play?
Fetish implies sex.  Guns are one of the few non-sexy items in the series.  I started with magazines like Guns and Ammo, then went to books, mostly gun manuals and encyclopedias, then to talking to experts.  Experts for me would be ex-military, police.  I try to handle as many of the firearms in the books, as possible.

Do you use any of your friends and family in your books?  If not, where do you get the inspiration for your characters?
I do not use real people as characters.  I'm superstitious.  Bad things happen in my books.  What if I killed someone off and then a few days later the person I based the character on also died horribly.  Also, it just never occurred to me to use real people.  Real people are real, fictional characters are well, fictional.  I've gotten character idea from listening to talk shows, music videos, movies, the way a stranger turns his head on the street.  The flash of an earring caught in someone's hair.  I'll use phrases or mannerisms if they amuse me.  Some of my friends get a kick out of that, but that's the extent of real life intruding on fictional.  Most characters are not so much inspired as just hard slogging work.  I start with a name.  I have a drawer full of baby name books.  Once I have a first name, then, if it's the right name, the character will coalesce around it.

What are you currently reading and why? 
I'm reading the essays of E.B. White: One Man's Meat, and The Essays of E.B. WhiteCharlotte's Web has been one of my favorite books for years.  I like the rhythm of White's language.

What inspires you to write?  Why did you choose to write about vampires, werewolves, and the Fae?
Getting up in the morning.  Walking the dog.  Everything and anything.  I've always wondered how everybody else keeps from getting ideas.  I once got the idea for an entire short story while taking out the trash.  That was the short story, "Geese," that later sold to Sword and Sorceress, edited by Marion Zimmer Bradley.  Why write about vampires, werewolves, and the Fae?  I've been fascinated with horror movies since I was a very little girl, like under six.  When I discovered the old Hammer vampire films around seven or so, I was enthralled.  I don't know why, but I've always loved movies about monsters that will eat you.  The old werewolf movies set in the 40s, and 50s.  I mean I liked the old monster movies, Frankenstein with Boris Karloff, and his mummy movies.  But my favorites have always been monsters that will bite, suck, or just plain tear you apart.  I like ghost stories, and the "safer" monsters, but if it can't get up close and physically personal, it just never interested me as much.  Merry owes her life to three things.  One, my Scottish-Irish grandmother used to tell me that Rawhead and Bloody Bones would get me if I wasn't good.  No bogeyman for me.  Two, I read War for the Oaks by Emma Bull, and that led me to Charles de Lint, which more than ten years ago, was about all there was in this subgenre.  I would pick up other books that promised to let me play with the fey over the years.  War for the Oaks is still my favorite of them all.  But no one was writing them the way I wanted to read them.  Vampires and werewolves, were the same.  We had some good writers out there, but no one was doing it the way I wanted to read it.  So, like the Little Red Hen, I decided to do it myself. 

Do you attend any writing groups?  If so, how did your participation enhance your writing?
I have been a member of the ALTERNATE HISTORIANS for over ten years.  Only two of us are original members, myself, and Deborah Millitello.  We met at a workshop at a local St. Louis science fiction and fantasy convention, NAMETHATCON.  It was my first ever convention, I didn't know they existed, and my first writer's workshop.  Emma Bull, Will Shetterly, and Stephen Gould taught an intensive all weekend workshop.  I didn't learn to be a better writer.  I learned to be a better editor of my own work.  I sold my first short story after that workshop, because I could finally edit myself better.  The members of the Alternate Historians as of this date are: Mark Sumner, Marella Sands, Deborah Millitello, Rett MacPherson, Tom Drennan, Sharon Shinn, and me.  Between us all we have over forty novels, for some members of the group under pseudonyms, and more short stories than I can keep track of.  I have never written under a pseudonym, all my stuff is under my name.  We are one of the longest running and most published groups that I am aware of.  If we could figure out how to make it work without the special mix of our personalities and expertise, we'd franchise it.  It has been one of the special things in my life to call these people my friends, and watch us develop as writers. 

What made you a science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan?  What are your favorites and why?
I think I answered that already in question one.  I am not sure why I am such a fan and my favorites are sprinkled throughout the rest of the interview.

Are you planning on attending any Cons in the near future? 
No.  I'm writing two series, with huge books.  I'm touring for both, which means there are some years that I tour twice less than six months apart, and I'm still trying to write the books, and have a family and personal life.  Not to mention I do more research for my fiction than most people do for their non-fiction, according to people in the publishing industry anyway.  I just don't have time to do cons, and everything else. 

Though I will be attending the Romantic Times Convention here in St. Louis in April 2005.  One of the central themes is vampires and there will be a lot of horror authors here for that one such as Charlaine Harris, Christine Feehan, L.A. Banks and more whose names I cannot recall off the top of my head. 

What do you enjoy doing when not writing? 
Spending time with my family and friends.  Reading other people's books.  Socializing my dogs.

Any movies you particularly enjoyed?
Its a hard choice between Bell, Book and Candle (1958) and Vampire Circus aka Circus of Fear (1972). Bell, Book and Candle, because it combines three of my favorite things, Christmas, Halloween and Publishing, and Vampire Circus, because it has stayed with me since I was a young child.

If you want a more recent movie, then it would have to be The Lord of the Rings trilogy because it is a phenomenal piece of literature that has translated into a truly phenomenal motion picture.

Has anyone approached you about the film and television rights for either series?
My agent handles the inquiries.  I don't have time to do everything I would like as it is.  So I leave that to her to let me know when I need to know.

You have a very extensive website at http://www.laurellkhamilton.org/  On the site you keep a blog of your thoughts and news of your life.  What made you decide to share your thoughts with the public?  What type of response have you received?
Temporary insanity.  My husband and I had done the blog for a year.  I'd about decided to stop it, but the last con I did MARCON, so many people in line at the signing told me they loved the blog.  So many told me that they started their Internet visit with our blog every day, that I decided to continue it.

One interesting side-note is your support of the animal shelter, Granite City APA.  Please tell us more about this charitable project you support.
Granite City APA (www.apagc.com) is a local no-kill animal shelter.  One of the few in the St. Louis area and the only one I believe in that area of Illinois.  It is a wonderful shelter run by very kind, dedicated people. Granite City APA is a very well run place. You can tell by how cramped the human areas are versus the spacious animal areas.  Everything they do is geared towards the animals first and foremost. It is the cleanest shelter I have ever seen and I have been to quite a few.  We drop in occasionally to see how they are doing.  The animals are always bright eyed and happy which is a really good sign.  You can just tell by looking at the animals how well and lovingly they are tended. In fact, our dog Pip came from there.

We started with them several years ago when during heavy winter storms part of the roof collapsed and they were soliciting donations to repair it.  I sent them a check to aid in the repairs and since then we have been running auctions on eBay, about one a month, to help raise money to move the shelter to larger quarters and to help with day-to-day expenses.  It is a long-term project for them and for us.

One of the most touching moments for me was our first trip over with an auction check, which I was matching.  It was late fall and winter was coming again and their furnace had quit which we didn't know until we arrived.  The combined donation was enough for them to replace the furnace and ductwork.  It was obvious how much it meant to them to know they animals would be warm all winter. It really touched us too.  They have been a favorite every since.

Copyright © 2004 Alisa McCune

Alisa discovered science fiction at the tender age of eight. She devoured The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and never looked back. She lives in Chicago with her husband, cat, and 5000 books. For more information please visit her web site at alisaandmike.com.


SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or anything else worth mentioning, please send it to editor@sfsite.com.
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide