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A Conversation With Kim Harrison
An interview with Alisa McCune
March 2005

© Kim Harrison
Kim Harrison
Kim Harrison
Born in the Midwest, Kim Harrison has been called a witch, among other things, but has never seen a vampire (that she knows of). She loves graveyards and midnight jazz, and wears too much black.

Kim Harrison Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
SF Site Review: The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
SF Site Review: Dead Witch Walking
SF Site Review: Dead Witch Walking
SF Site Review: Dead Witch Walking
Excerpt: Dead Witch Walking

The Good, the Bad, and the Undead
Dead Witch Walking

Kim Harrison is an author to track. Her first novel, Dead Witch Walking, received rave reviews. Harrison is being compared to Laurell K. Hamilton, Jim Butcher, and Charlaine Harris. Her skillful mix of mystery, fantasy, and horror is unique and very entertaining. Her second novel in the Rachel Morgan series, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead was published February 1, 2005 and a third in the series, Every Which Way But Dead is scheduled to be published July 1, 2005.

The series focuses on the exploits of Rachel Morgan -- a witch and private investigator. Rachel's world is similar to our own, but vastly different. The world was devastated by a plague from genetically engineered tomatoes. Regular humans died -- but supernaturals where immune. Supernaturals include witches, warlocks, vampires, werewolves, elves, pixies, demons, and more.

Rachel lives in a community called the Hallows -- a section of Cincinnati that is predominately populated by supernaturals. She partners with Ivy, a living vampire, and Jenks, a pixie, as private investigators in an old church -- graveyard and all. The exploits of Rachel and her cohorts is a wild ride.

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

My background at first glance, is far away and distant from a writing career. The possibility of being a writer never crossed my mind through high school and even through college. I went to school concentrating on the sciences and arts, taking only the required English classes. Do I regret not taking more English classes? Yes and no. I had a terrible time playing catch-up with the fundamentals of writing -- and still feel like I'm on a learning curve -- but developing the ability to work through a problem with many solutions and apply that to my writing has stood me in good stead. To this day, I'm a firm believer that my saving grace in managing to carve a spot for myself in the writing industry has been that I read ravenously in my younger years, subconsciously noticing pacing, character development, vocabulary, and other nebulous aspects of the writing craft from the masters. So I would venture to say that, though my background doesn't consciously lend itself to a writing career, it has been pivotal in helping me develop new ways of looking at old ideas.

What drove you to become a writer?
What drove me to become a writer? That's a toughie. It was several things coming together at once that caused me to pick up that number-two pencil the first time. But what kept me going -- and still keeps me going to this day -- was the drive to know "how the story ends." I still don't know, and every time I think I'm getting close, my thoughts open another door and my curiosity pulls me through. I love watching people, and writing about them is one of the best ways I've found to figure out why we do the things we do.

What was it like to try and get published?
Trying to move from the unpublished to the published was a steady, slow progression made tolerable only from the friends made along the way. It was the better part of a decade before I figured out what I was doing wrong, and more importantly, what I was doing right. When I began looking in earnest for a publisher, I had no idea of the difficulties I was facing, which was probably a good thing in hindsight. It was never, "if I get a publisher," but "when I get a publisher."   And with that mindset, I just kept at it until my writing skills caught up with my determination.  I found my agent first through a writing conference and the help of my writing mates, and he ultimately paired me up with Diana Gill.  She helped immeasurable in making Dead Witch Waking what you see today.  I know that if not for her, it wouldn't be the success that it is, and I don't know if she realizes how grateful I am for that.

Have you written anything else besides Dead Witch Waking and The Good, the Bad, and the Undead? [Note: The internet rumor that Kim Harrison is Robin Hobb is false.]
It's the rare writer who manages to get their first attempt at a full manuscript out on the market.  For me, writing has been a self-taught profession. I've got a closet full of manuscripts in various stages of development.  I wrote and rewrote the first Rachel Morgan book more times than I can count, and I was very fortunate to have it land with the editor who guided the last few rewrites into what you see on the shelf today.

What are you currently working on? 
I'm currently working on the next Rachel Morgan book. [Every Which Way But Dead to be published July 1, 2005]

Did something specific inspire the Dead Witch Walking and The Good, the Bad, and the Undead?
Desperation? I was writing short stories at that time, trying to break into print that way. Nothing of mine was selling, and so in a defiant gesture of "Well, if you don't like that, maybe something really weird will get your attention," I melded the most bizarre characters I could think of in the most bizarre conflict I could think of. What I got was pretty much the first chapter of Dead Witch Walking. It didn't sell either. (Laughing now) But I fell in love with the characters, decided to try developing them into a full length novel.

Which came first, the Hallows or the characters?
Most definitely the characters. I adore working with Rachel, Ivy, Jenks, and whatever unfortunate man stumbles into their collective lives.

I find the magical aspect of ley line magic and the Ever-After to be amazing, especially the part about the Demon City. Did something specific inspire this or is it your creation? What kind of research did you do for the books? 
The inspiration of the witchcraft rituals and magic systems of earth magic and ley line magic come from several sources.  I've been asked before if I practice Wicca to which I can answer a sincere no. I've made a conscious decision to keep Wicca out of the Hollows, preferring to come up with rituals out of my head, trying to base them on a few laws of nature such as nothing is created or destroyed -- just changed, and for every action there is a reaction.  I like to think that for every act of magic there ought to be a price.  Waving a magic wand and having a miracle occur should only be allowed after a lot of practice and maybe a little pain, and though I might not detail it out in the manuscript, you can bet I've got at least a theory on how it "might" be done.  I did very little book research -- I've only got one "magic manual," and I only looked at it once to make sure what I was doing made some kind of sense.  No charms in it at all, just theory.  I pulled on common myth and knowledge that the man on the street might know or concepts that other authors have made into a mainstay. I built on that, trying to keep it familiar but adding my own feel to it.

Do you use any of your friends and family in your books? If not, where do you get the inspiration for your characters?
My characters come from parts of me and parts of people I know, all mixed up together.  No character is based on any one person in my life.  Rachel is probably closer to my personality than anyone in the Hollows, Ivy -- with her personal baggage -- is me on a bad day, and I scheme like Trent.  Jenks is the part of me I don't show anyone -- much.  He's the little voice in my head making snarky remarks to the driver who cuts me off in traffic.

What are you currently reading and why? 
Currently I'm not reading anything for pleasure, but when I do, it's usually out of my genre.

What inspires you to write?
I know a lot of writers find inspiration from other's works, but my muse lives in music, not the printed page. I'm a firm believer in outlines and will not write anything but the last chapter without one. Having said that, I have to admit that I never keep to it, and it's letting my characters take over and direct the plotlines that keep me interested.

Do you attend any writing groups?  If so, how did your participation enhance your writing?
Up until recently, I went to my twice monthly writers' meetings religiously. If not for the moral and skill-building support, I would not be where I am today, and I owe a great deal to Gwen Hunter, the lady who kicked the rocks from my path. Thanks, Gwen.

What made you a science fiction, fantasy, and horror fan?  What are your favorites and why?
Eep!  Do I have to answer that?  They're all old guys for the most part. Robert A. Heinlein, Jack L.Chalker, Ray Bradbury, Stephen R. Donaldson, and Harry Harrison.  (No relation.)  These are the authors I read while I was growing up, and they will forever retain that new-penny brightness of discovery in my thoughts.

Are you planning on attending any Cons in the near future?
Things are coming together, and I will be at Virginia Festival of the Book March 18th and the RT Conference at St. Louis April 27th-May 1st.

What do you enjoy doing when not writing? 
When not writing, I enjoy listening to alternate rock and jazz, or playing pool.  If I'm lucky, I can mix the two and throw in a slice of cheesecake for the perfect night out.  Lately I've been working with braiding leather to wrap my signing pens in, but they're kind of sloppy and sad looking.  I'm getting better.

Any movies you particularly enjoyed?
Anything with action is a good bet. Not so much the vampire-plot based, and not even the ones that do great at the box office. I have people who can attest that getting me to come out of my own world of writing can be tricky, but a good movie with fast cars, lots of action, a clever screenplay with clever writing and complex characters can do it. My highest compliment I can give to a movie is "I never saw that coming" or "I laughed through the whole thing."

Has anyone approached you about the film and television rights for either series? Are there any plans for other media using any of your work?
Actually, yes. There have been a couple, and I always refer them to my agent. I can't afford to get excited about the possibility; it's very distracting. But I do have a dream list for actors, and a sound track to go along with it. A few people have talked to me informally about trading cards, comics, and even games. (You gotta love it!)

On your web site you have information regarding music for the series. Please explain how this came about.
Music has always been important to me, but lately it has flashed from a background sensation to a conscious decision to explore everything I can wrap my mind about.  My muse lives there, and discovering that was almost a shock.  From music, I pull twists of plot that surprise even me and help me keep the joy of writing alive.  Occasionally, I've found the right song can round out a character or help me decide what he or she is leaning towards. I think it's rare that my interpretation of any particular song coincides with the original intent of the artist, but that's what makes music like poetry. I have the greatest respect for people who create music and the lyrics that go along with them, impressed with their ability to condense into three minutes what I take four hundred pages to invoke. Much of the plot of the Rachel Morgan series comes from Evanescence, A Perfect Circle, Offspring, Rob Zombie, Garbage, and maybe a little Korn thrown in for spice. There's some jazz from the 40s, if you can believe it, and electronic dance music to get the blood pumping.

In one blurb you wrote, you described yourself as having been called a witch. Please explain.
Well, when one writes about witches, it happens!

Thank you, Alisa. I really had fun answering these questions for you, and appreciate the chance to talk to your readers. I can always be reached at my website, and I love to talk to readers.

Copyright © 2005 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

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