Kim Harrison interview
chronicles: Hi Kim, and thank you for agreeing to an interview with the chronicles network.
There seems to be some confusion about the most appropriate name for the genre that you’re writing for. It seems to be trailblazing beyond what we’d normally consider to be horror, and crossing boundaries of fantasy, romance, and action/adventure.
The first question is do you think it needs recognising as its own genre or horror sub-genre? At present some readers are stumbling to call it romantic-horror-fantasy or romantic-paranormal-action! Also, why do you think this area of the genre appears to be so popular recently?
Kim Harrison: Do I think this genre needs to be recognized as its own genre or a subgenre of horror? It certainly couldn’t hurt. I don’t know if I would classify it myself as a subgenre of horror, though I’m sure that’s where it got its start. I feel that most of what we’re seeing today might be so far from traditional horror as to soften what true horror is. But giving it its own genre tag would be helpful for new readers to find it.
How to categorize this particular shading of fiction has been a growing question as the number of people writing in it has increased. Coming from a SF/fantasy background, I’ve always been partial to calling my work dark fantasy, or contemporary fantasy. I don’t think there’s any other genre that has such a wide acceptance of varying levels of sensuality, action, horror, or humour. The romance genre, especially, has begun to make inroads, stretching the boundaries of sensuality and romance.
As for why this genre of fiction has become so popular? I think it’s a lot of things. Popular films and TV serials with a paranormal theme have become very mainstream. I’ve also noticed a growing acceptance for people practicing Wicca, which certainly has an impact. Finally, as our real world becomes more complex, the need to be reminded that the good guy should finish first despite the odds becomes more important, and much of dark fantasy can provide that.
chronicles: Secondly, do you read other authors in this area, such as Laurell Hamilton, Charlaine Harris, Kelley Armstrong, or Anita Blake? Do you see yourself as part of a movement here, or do you consciously try to avoid what they seem to be writing in their books?
Kim Harrison: Do I read other authors in this subgenre? Some. I’m by nature a SF or traditional fantasy writer, and I actually had to do some research on the big writers in the dark fantasy genre when Dead Witch Walking was purchased and it was pointed out to me that I’d almost written a dark fantasy. I had no clue. I did a quick read of the greats to see how they handled a few key issues, then closed their books and got busy.
I do consciously try to explore different options from what’s been done before, but there is always going to be overlap. The trick is to give enough overlap such that a reader will feel comfortable in your world, yet give enough new turns that they will be surprised and entertained.
Lately I’ve been reading the up and coming writers for the next big name and a chance to help them find the limelight. Writing is a fragile career path, especially when you are just starting out. I was helped along the way, and it’s important to me to do the same now that I’m in a position to do so.
chronicles: Do yourself or your publisher ever push to ensure that there are certain guidelines, themes, or similar that must be included in every Kim Harrison book – or is it simply the case that whatever you think the story needs, goes? Also, do you choose your book titles yourself, or does the publisher?
Kim Harrison: I have never felt a personal need or a push from my editor to adhere to any guidelines in the series other than good taste. I have a fantastic editor. She seems to trust me to give her a good story without me having to detail anything out beforehand or follow any pattern. And in turn, I trust her to let me know when I go astray. To me, each book so far has had a different flavour, ranging from cat-and-mouse, to detective, to self-discovery. It’s been the ongoing plot threads of both an overall theme of discovery and the character’s evolving relationships that hold the series together, binding it into a very solid core.
As for the book titles. I’ve been watching a trend in how they are chosen as the popularity of the series grows. The pattern of following Clint Eastwood titles was set fairly early on, but whereas before the decision was balanced mostly between what I’d like to see and what my editor would like to see, it now seems to be heavily weighed to what marketing would like to see. I’ve lost a chunk of enthusiasm that should go along with titles, but I totally understand why they are so important. I do need to say that I am always happy with the titles the books are marketed under. I’ve never been unhappy with one. It’s just getting harder to find one we all like.
chronicles: The supernatural plays a significant role in your writings, but how much do you focus on research, and how much would you leave to artistic licence? Do you think the importance is in the detail, or the overall impression of the story itself?
Kim Harrison: I don’t do a lot of research when it comes to the supernatural aspects of the Hollows. Much of what you see in the books is pulled from my past voracious reading of multicultural fairy tales and popular urban legends of today, mixing it with my scientific background. If there’s a spell in the books, I’ve made it up. If there’s a magic system, I’ve pulled from a variety of sources and tried to add enough personal stuff to make my own. I have a technical degree in the sciences, so much of my need for balance, cause and reaction, and a logical reason for anything comes into play. In my opinion, detail is very important to believability. Nothing crumbles my suspension of disbelief faster than magic done without a reason behind it, so I try to put in details based on real world science when I can. The importance is in the detail because the detail makes the overall impression.
chronicles: Your characters have caught the imagination, and some readers are going to wonder how much of you is in them. Is there any that specifically resembles you more than most? Also, where did you get the idea for Rachel, and is she based on anyone you know?
Kim Harrison: The idea for Rachel actually came from desperation as I tried to break into the short story market when the novel manuscripts weren’t doing it. The shorts that were making print at that time were totally off the wall, so I took the most bizarre situation I could think up coupled with the appeal of the girl next door and got Rachel. Ivy and Jenks were there right from the moment of conception, and Trent followed hot behind. I can’t imagine the Hollows without them.
The minor characters have been developed to meet certain needs in the story so there isn’t as much of me in them, but I often tell people that I live my life like Rachel, I plan my work like Ivy, and I curse the driver who cuts me off in traffic like Jenks. There’s a lot of me in all of them, and if I’m honest, Rachel has the lion’s share. I’m not saying I have aspirations of summoning demons and kicking bad-guys butts in way-cool boots, but Rachel’s determination in the face of adversary, her humour in the same, her stick-to-it-until-the-job-is-done attitude, and her love and loyalty for her friends is much the way I try to live my life.
chronicles: It’s going to be very interesting to see how the rest of the series continues. For example, are you planning to move it into a darker direction, morally, psychologically, and sexually? And what are your plans for Jenks and his family? Also, are we going to see the vamps explored in more detail as characters?
Kim Harrison: Ah, Jenks. He is so much a part of Rachel’s life, that I can’t imagine a story without him. I make no excuses for using my power as the author to increase his lifespan for as long as I can. The way has already been put into motion, and the astute reader has probably already found it. It’s just a matter of Rachel and Jenks figuring it out. But it’s going to be sad, and I’m putting it off. I’m a chicken when it comes to hurting Jenks.
As for the vampires? They, too, will always be a major player in the Hollows, but the next few books will be centering upon the demons. They’ve been there from the very first, and now that all the pieces are on the table, it’s time to start putting them together.
I’ve noticed a definite shift into darker places as the series progresses. I don’t expect to move terribly off the beaten track sexually, but Rachel has surprised me before. On that issue, I would like to say that I honestly don’t know where Rachel is going, but she makes decisions with her heart, and I have to trust that.
The underlying themes will—and should—shift as the characters grow. To keep them the same would be to deny them their “humanity.” I like to tell people that I populate my made-up world with vampires, witches and werewolves to help us see ourselves in them more clearly, our faults brought out in startling clarity yet made more palatable with the trappings of make believe. Questions of morality, when might makes right—and when it makes a wrong, the balance between the good of the self and the good of society . . . There are no answers, but when the book is closed and on the shelf, the questions might remain in the thoughts of the reader. And therein lies the power of fiction.
chronicles: If you could choose one character to go out to lunch with, who would it be?
Kim Harrison: Oh that would most definitely be Rachel. I’d love to get to know her from an outsider’s point of view. I bet she shoots a mean game of billiards.
chronicles: Many thanks for your time – best of luck with the rest of the series.
Kim Harrison: It has truly been my pleasure. Thank you so much for the chance to reach your readers.
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