Hi Again 🙂
I like to read, as you’ll all have worked out by now 😉 and I decided back in 2015 that it would be a nice touch if Flora’s Musings… had some interviews from authors who write within my favourite genres; I’ve enjoyed finding out more about them and I hope you do too.
I found this interview with Laurell K Hamilton on the Goodreads site that they did back in June 2015. I haven’t read any of her Anita Blake or Merry Gentry series but I know that she has a legion of loyal fans. I will catch up one day! Lol!
In Laurell K. Hamilton‘s vivid fantasy worlds, vampires, wereanimals, zombies, and faeries walk among us, comingling with humans in sometimes terrifying, sometimes seductive, ways. Known for her long-running and bestselling Anita Blake series, an urban fantasy saga that began 22 years ago with Guilty Pleasures, Hamilton was inspired to create her gritty kick-ass heroine when she noticed the lack of tough female characters in the hard-boiled crime fiction she loved to read.
In Dead Ice, the 24th novel in the series, U.S. Marshal Anita Blake displays her signature tenacity while hunting for a criminal making zombie pornography. Dark mystery blends with a healthy dose of romance, while the author continues to explore relationship dynamics between Blake and the characters her fans have come to know and love, including her fiancé, Jean-Claude. Regan Stephens spoke with Hamilton on behalf of Goodreads about changes over the span of two decades, the importance of research, and finding inspiration in Louisa May Alcott.
Goodreads: You introduced us to Anita Blake more than 20 years ago. How has she evolved over that time? How have changes in your own life affected the character?
Laurell K. Hamilton: Anita was a conservative. In Europe they complained that there was no sex. In fact, one Italian reporter said that Anita was not a modern woman because she didn’t have sex, and of course in America over here people lost their minds when she did finally have sex. She was still trying to hold out for marriage, or at least a serious relationship. Mostly she was her job, she was a workaholic, like a lot of career people. And especially if you’re a police officer, and especially if you’re a detective. The hours are horrible, and you get involved in a case. As a writer, if I have a bad day and someone does something on paper, I have a chance to wake up tomorrow morning and rewrite it. If you do some version of Anita’s job—police officer or military for real—people really die, and there’s no redo. It’s an all-consuming kind of job. At the beginning she is consumed. She is her job. She raises the dead and tries to help protect and save people as much as she can, and that’s what she does. It’s been very interesting; for Dead Ice I reread parts of earlier books, because I had characters who had not been onstage in a long time. And going back to the earlier books afresh, I noticed she was not happy at the beginning of the books. She was very lonely, and she didn’t know how to have a personal life and have her job, which is a struggle for all of us.
For me, when I first started the series, I was in my early twenties, I was newly married, I had just moved from a college town of 30,000 people, and the town I was raised in was less than 100. I was conservative as well. I had done the traditional. I had waited until marriage, I had married my college sweetheart. So now, 20-plus years later, I was Episcopalian, I’m now Wiccan and have been for over a decade. I started out monogamous, and I meant it. I got out of my first marriage and thought I’d never marry again. I knew that traditional marriage did not work for me. So when, to my great surprise, I fell in love again and wanted to get married again, I knew I didn’t want to go back to being traditional, and as it turned out, my future husband, Jonathan, didn’t know if it was for him, either. Even though we didn’t know there was a word for it at the time, we decided that we would leave the idea open for nonmonogamy. We’re polyamorous, which is specifically that you have long-term relationships. Everybody knows about it. There’s no such thing as cheating. If your partner says no, you can’t do it. You have to talk incredibly honestly. The level of communication is almost uncomfortable.
Anita was dating multiple people before I was. What I’ve learned is that my subconscious gets there before the rest of me. I researched Celtic and modern pagan religions for the Merry Gentry books while I was still a card-carrying Episcopalian. I started doing nonmonogamy on paper long before I was doing it in my real life. Now that I know I do that, though, I have to say that when certain new themes come up in my writing, I think, uh-oh. [laughs]
GR: In the span of 22 years some subjects have become more mainstream. Have you found it easier to write about certain themes now versus when you started writing?
LKH: Back before I realized BDSM was a part of my own interest, when Nathaniel came into the series, I researched it, just the way I had researched guns and police work. I don’t see a difference between sexually themed things and nonsexually themed things. I treat everything in writing the same—I research it. I found people I trusted to take me to clubs. (Though nothing I saw was used on paper. It’s private. It’s very intimate.) BDSM is getting more mainstream, but even the people who are helping mainstream it are treating it as a freak show, and they don’t have to do any research. I’m a stickler for my research. When I first started writing the Anita Blake series, I had shot two guns in my life. I had gone to the range and shot them. That’s all I knew. I started almost from scratch. They say write about what you know. I say write about what you want to know.
GR: Anita is such a strong, fierce character in a male-dominated arena. I read that being raised by your grandmother influenced your writing. What else inspired Anita’s personality?
LKH: Interestingly the inspiration for Anita came after college, when I read hard-boiled detective fiction for the first time. The men got to cuss, they got to have sex on paper, and they got to shoot people without feeling bad about it. At that time there were really only two series out—Sue Grafton‘s [Alphabet series] and Sara Paretsky‘s Warshawski series. That was it. The women rarely cussed. Sex was either nonexistent or sanitized and offstage, and if they killed somebody, they had to feel really, really bad about it. I thought this was unfair, so I set out to create a character who would even the playing field. I may have overcompensated just a wee. [laughs]
In writing this series I’ve learned a lot about society. When you’re a little kid, you don’t know the world is any different. Your family is it. I was raised that if you weren’t strong, then you were a victim. I wasn’t interested in being a victim, so the only other choice was to be strong. I didn’t know that other people didn’t know how to be strong. But I have now had countless women, and men, tell me that my books were the first time they realized that women could be strong. People seem to have this idea that they are brave because they are not afraid. And I say on paper, more than once in this series, that true bravery exists only in the face of fear. I’ve had men and women tell me that they didn’t know that’s what bravery was. By writing such a strong character, I’ve helped people understand that strength is genderless and that women can be just as strong as men. And that men can do some of the gentler stuff. Nathaniel is the one who enjoys the housework, not Anita.
The way I see the world is more traditionally masculine. I was raised to be the boy. That was how my grandmother raised me, because there was no one to help her do the more traditional guy things. It wasn’t important what I looked like. I didn’t have my nails painted until I was in my twenties. Being raised that what I could do was more important than what I looked like, that seems to be one of the prime differences between me and most women in how I interact with the world. I missed a lot of traditional American women’s culture, and I didn’t know it. I was in my forties before someone really made me understand how much I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why women competed against each other. Though writing Jean-Claude has made me like clothes more than I ever had before. Writing Jean-Claude was what prompted me to get my first pair of nice high heels and watch the fashion channel, because I was having to dress him.
GR: Where do you find inspiration for each new story? For Dead Ice specifically?
LKH: There are those writers who struggle for ideas and those who seem to have more ideas than they’ll ever be able to write if they live to be 300. I fall into the latter camp. When I first wrote Anita, I had three book ideas. When I got the contract, I made a list of about 13 plots. I’ve now used them, but I find that one book leads to another. For Dead Ice I needed and wanted to have the mystery as the backbone. We had to talk about the engagement—that’s continuing, you can’t drop that bomb, then walk away. It was fun, we could see Anita doing police work at the same time she’s engaged to a celebrity. She’s spent so long building her reputation, and now we start in the first chapter, and the FBI agent says to her, “So you’re engaged.” I find that it’s very typical, no matter how hard you’ve worked for your reputation, especially as a woman, you suddenly become somebody’s girlfriend, or fiancé. It was fun watching Anita have people react to her like that.
I’ve been blessed with a lot of police and ex-military giving me the benefit of their advice and experiences. It made Anita a very different character than I had originally planned. One person I’m lucky to call my best friend—I’ve watched him [grow] from a rookie to a ten-year-plus veteran, and watching his process helped me make sure Anita did justice to that. I’ve done my best to show the cost, the impact her job has had on her.
For Dead Ice I went back over notes I’d made on characters and themes I’ve considered to find things that still interest me…. I find that usually I write about something that disturbs me greatly. I only have one rule. If I make something up out of whole cloth, not research, if I’ve made up a crime that’s never been committed (that I can find) and it can be done without my magic system, I won’t write it. I don’t want to feed the monster. People can come up with their own awful ideas on their own. If it’s in my books, I didn’t make it up; it’s been done in real life.
GR: Your worlds, characters, and story lines are so rich and complex. How do you stay organized and keep track of everything?
LKH: Honestly, I do and I don’t. Once I’m done with the book, I can send it to people. My husband, Jonathan, has been reading the books for many years, and I have other readers who’ve been reading for years, so I hand it over to them to read and see if they catch anything. My editor, who I’ve been working with for over a decade, is also a huge help. Interestingly it’s the throwaway lines that can get me in trouble. It’s not major plot points; we all remember the major plot points. It’s the throwaway lines, in a quip you talk about family background, or somebody’s personal details. And you didn’t remember it, and you didn’t write it down. That’ll be the biggest stumbling block. I would lose at Anita Blake trivia. The fans would so kick my ass on it. Some people swear to me that they reread the series before every book comes out. That amazes me.
LKH: I don’t know if there’s a difference in how I prepare, but there’s a difference in how I write them. Anita writes very fast. I joke that I write Anita as if the monsters really are chasing me. She writes better fast. Merry has always been a slow write for me. She’s a much more cautious character. Even though they both have a lot of action and danger, it’s more the character. Maybe that’s because it’s first-person narration, so it’s a very intimate viewpoint. But the preparation is the same.
GR: Goodreads member Natalie asks, “If you could choose for one world to be real, Anita’s world of vampires and shapeshifters or Meredith’s world of the Faerdref, which would you choose?”
LKH: If I was guaranteed my safety and safe return, it would be Meredith’s, but it wouldn’t be with the main characters. I would want to spend time with the lesser fae that I had never really gotten to see onstage. But if it were just going to visit (again guaranteed safety and coming back), it would be Anita’s, to spend time with the main characters. I’ve often wondered, If Anita could talk to me directly, would she like me or hate me? Would I be seen as the person who would be making this horrible stuff happen?
GR: Many of your readers asked about bringing characters from previous books back. Is there any character you’d consider revisiting? Which was the toughest to let go?
LKH: Dead Ice goes back to plots from the first three books. Manny Rodriguez is onstage in probably the most major way he’s been since the first three books. We get to see his whole family onstage because his daughter is getting married. Raphael the Rat King is majorly onstage in the book. The fans always want Edward in the book for Anita. The character who’s not been onstage in a couple of books, but the fans want to see, is Olaf. I didn’t expect this, but he’s become a fan favorite. It’s never who I think it’s going to be.
It’s always hard to say good-bye to a character. The first person who died onstage was Phillip in Guilty Pleasures, and Anita and I are still not over that. I don’t want to give away the last Merry book I wrote, A Shiver of Light, but I was a basket case.
I wrote a blog post about it without telling people who it was, and the fans lost it over that. I didn’t think about it; I just wanted to share this emotional trauma. But it ended up being a tease. I don’t drink, it’s not my thing, but after [writing that scene], I told my husband I need a drink. I don’t know how George R.R. Martin does it.
GR: You said that you’ll continue to write the Anita Blake novels, but do you ever envision a conclusion to her story?
LKH: No. I don’t think happily ever after. I just don’t think like that. Happily ever after means the story is over, but for me the story begins there. I didn’t recognize that Meredith Gentry should have ended at book seven. I had her happily ever after, she had won. But I didn’t understand that I was writing epic fantasy; I saw it as a mystery series. Well, a mystery series has no end. Each book is self-contained.
For Anita I don’t believe in Happily Ever After. I think if I ever did, my first marriage kind of took that. Being polyamorous, I don’t believe there’s just that one single person. I seem to be different from most people in that I don’t like the beginning of relationships. I like long-term relationships, I like knowing people’s stories. I’m not as enamored of happily ever after. I’m not enamored of the beginning. It’s fun, but that’s not the good stuff to me. The good stuff is knowing someone.
Dead Ice is my 24th novel. I learned new things about Anita, Jean-Claude, Nathaniel, Micah, Domino, and Nicky. We get to see a lot more from the wereanimals, I brought on a lot of new female characters in the guards. I’m still enjoying myself so much, because I’m still learning so much. I’m not a static kind of person, so I don’t get to a certain place and think I’m done.
GR: Can you describe your writing process? Do you have any sort of ritual you follow?
LKH: My process evolves. The time of day I write has changed. When I started out, I was a morning writer. I had to be because I had a corporate job. I would get up at 5 a.m. and write for a couple of hours and then go to work. I was too drained to write at the end of the day. I’m not a morning person, but I wanted to finish my novel. As time went on, I would start writing from 10 a.m. until about 3 p.m. It was a good day if I wrote through lunch. Sometimes if I was on deadline, I would write after dinner in the evening. Then I had my daughter, and as you know, life changes. I started working whenever she would go down for a nap. I wrote longhand in spiral-bound notebooks. I would go to McDonald’s playland and let her play, and I would write.
GR: Have you read anything you’ve really enjoyed lately?
I also just read The Dirty Life, a memoir of farming food and love by Kristin Kimball. Elegant writing. It’s a book about a woman who lives in New York and thinks she’s a city girl, but she meets an organic farmer, and it’s a love story. Not just her falling in love with him, but her falling in love with farming and the land. As I get older, I read less and less fiction and more nonfiction.GR: What authors or books have influenced you?
LKH: Robert B. Parker‘s Spenser series taught me how to write dialogue and gave me a love of the hard-boiled detective genre. If I had never read that, and read some of the women’s detective novels instead, Anita might not exist. He was very influential to me. Also, Robert E. Howard, who was the creator of the character Conan. I found a short story collection when I was 13 or 14, when I was in the drugstore—it was called Pigeons from Hell. It was the first horror, first heroic fantasy I’d ever read. I didn’t know this existed, and I decided right then and there that not only did I want to be a writer, but this is what I wanted to write. I never wanted to write the great American novel, though for years and years I would read To Kill a Mockingbird once a year. I wanted to write horror fantasy and horror, and if I had never picked up Robert E. Howard, I’m not sure I would have. That was very important for me.
Also, Andre Norton. I started reading her science fiction and fantasy. Even though her name is masculine, in the back of the books it said she was female, and that she had had to leave college because of ill health, and she had cats. She seemed like a real person. She was writing this genre, and she was successful, and she was a real person. And I thought, Maybe if she can do it, I can do it. And then one of the early influences for me was Louisa May Alcott. I read every book I could get from the library that she wrote. It was years after I was already doing what I was doing, and a friend gave me a collection of Louisa May Alcott’s pulp stories. She wrote Penny Dreadfuls. She wrote horror. There’s an anthology of her horror, ghost, and gothic stories [called Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott]. One of the reasons she was an early influence on me was that I found out she had supported her family with her writing at a time when most women did not have a career. So that was very important for me. Even Charlotte’s Web helped me with language. That was when I started noticing the written language, the rhythm, how he would describe things that were so vivid. I remember the moment as a child, maybe in junior high, when I paid attention to how it was written, not just the story.
GR: Are you working on your next book now?
LKH: I’m actually working on a short piece, but I don’t want to say what I’m working on because if that’s not the next thing published, the fans could get irate. I’m working on a short story. I hope to finish it today.