Last night, BookPeople had the pleasure to host best-selling author Kim Harrison, creator of the Hollows series, also known as the Rachel Morgan series. Rachel is a witch turned day walking demon detective with a sexy vampire detective partner named Ivy. Most of the human race has been wiped out due to a virus that spread from a genetically modified tomato, leaving the Inderlanders to come out from the shadows and live in the open. Now in the 11th installment of the series, titled Ever After, Rachel has been through several trials and many tribulations, the latest of which is the deteriorating boundary between Earth and the ever after, the demon realm that parallels our daily lives, unseen. Not only is it Rachel’s fault that the barrier is crumbling, but she is the only one who can right it, and if she doesn’t…it doesn’t look good for those left on Earth. Before the event, Kim was nice enough to meet with me for a few minutes to chat about The Hollows, writing, knitting, and tomatoes.
BookPeople: So I have to ask, why the tomato that wipes out humanity?
Kim Harrison: Really it’s because of that movie, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Another reason was the tomato was one of the first plants to be bio-engineered. When it first came out it was a total failure, because it was so bland and tasteless. I thought I would just take a poke at that, but mostly it was Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Some people who know me say it’s because I can’t grow them. So maybe a little bit of spite too.
BP: It’s clear you’re a Clint Eastwood fan, given the inspiration for the titles of your books. Was that all that was playing into the titles, or was there something else?
KH: That’s part of it. I like the characters of the movies, especially the westerns where the guy comes in off the prairie and solves problems, not necessarily in a legal way, but in a just way. I like that character. Another reason is marketing. The titles are recognizable, and people will tell me that they originally pick up one of my books because they recognize the title, and end up really liking the book. That’s what you want, you want people to read the stories you write. My editor and I jointly decided that we were going to go with this Clint Eastwood title theme and follow it through to the end. The first one, Dead Witch Walking, is not a Clint Eastwood title, but we’ve been doing it since The Good, The Bad and The Undead. We got away with it for a couple years before HarperCollins Publishing said, whoa we need to watch what these book titles are doing. Now the titles have to go through marketing and sales before they get the ok, but we’re already fixed on the Clint Eastwood films, we’re going to keep going with that.
BP: Have you ever met Clint Eastwood before?
KH: No! And he probably hasn’t even heard of the books! But maybe one day (smile).
BP: What motivated you to write Urban Fantasy?
KH: I grew up reading Sci Fi–a lot of it–and a lot of Fantasy which I read without discrimination; just anything! I just grabbed it and read it. So when I started writing, it was a natural step to meld those together and write something that I knew so well. I like the magic, and I like the idea of things happening that we can’t explain and being able to put that in a real world environment where we have cell phones, TV, and jets. It adds another layer to the narrative and it makes for a rich palate to work with.
BP: What were some of your favorite books growing up that had such an influence on you?
KH: My favorites were the Anne McCaffrey Dragon Riders books. They made me want a fire lizard so bad! Maybe that’s why I always have someone small and winged right there with Rachel (Jinx!). I liked Jack L. Chalker’s Well World series, and a lot of Larry Niven’s work. Early on I read a lot of Andre Norton, and many other authors that were popular in the 70’s and 80’. There was so much good stuff! It was all classic and these authors really knew how to craft a story.
BP: I think that’s one thing the Sci Fi/Fantasy genre really gets a bad rap on. Because a work is classified in that genre, it often doesn’t get the recognition it deserves for being quality literature or being as a work of literary fiction.
KH: There is a lot of that! Sci Fi and fantasy writers are telling stories about people. Just because there’s a witch or vampire or a demon doesn’t mean that these characters don’t struggle with a job, or trying to balance out home and family and their work. It’s all the same. It’s stories about people facing challenges, and growing on their journey.
BP: Do you have much time to read for pleasure?
KH: No! I don’t, but when I do it’s in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I read Veronica Roth, who wrote the Divergent series, and Richard Kadrey who did the Sandman series. I like Vickie Patterson, who has a new series coming out dealing with fallen angels, and I read Jocelynn Drake’s Angels Ink, the first in the Asylum Tales series. Her magic is working around tattoos, and I love that magic system she’s got going for her.
BP: In your stories, is there a particular supernatural being or character you find yourself drawn to?
KH: I hate to say it but I really like the demons. They have such a tragic past. They’re very strong and powerful, and yet they can’t get it together. There’s something missing with them. They know it’s missing, and they’ve been ousted from the circle of life so to speak. They know the world is there but they can’t take part in it. It’s so tragic for me because they’re so powerful, and they’re being vengeful and spiteful because despite their power, they are still powerless in a way. Watching Rachel realize this and seeing her work to understand them and get to know them and then want to help them has just been absolutely fascinating as a writer to see if I can pull this off. But I like them most because they can be anything.
BP: When you’re writing these stories and characters it seems like they develop somehow on their own. Do you always know where things are going?
KH: I always know where I want it to go, and I always follow my instincts. They will often take me in different places. I always go there joyfully. I will happily throw out my outlines, and re-write it with the surprises that come out of the story. If I’m surprised, then the reader will probably be surprised, and that’s what I like.
BP: Do you research any of the mythology and demonology for your books?
KH: I do research, but not usually for that. When I research, I usually research about a place, the buildings, the demographics, and I try to get a feel for the place that I’m writing about. For the magic and creatures and mythology, I just make it all up, usually drawing from popular movies and books I’ve read. I don’t do research on the magic at all, I just write what sounds right.
BP: Do you spend much time doing other things besides writing?
KH: I try to get out of my office and finish up my writing by 5:00 or 6:00, and if it’s warm outside I will definitely be in the garden. I love to landscape and I need to do something physical after sitting still for so long. Digging, moving rocks, planting trees and bushes, I love it. If it’s winter, I’ll bake. Again, it’s very tactile, which I like. Lately I’ve been knitting, and I’ve been feeling…I don’t want to say embarrassed because I’ve been knitting since I was 12 and I’m really good at it and the more complex the pattern the better, but I felt embarrassed going in there and buying yarn–until I saw 20-year-olds going in there, and I thought oh it’s ok, it’s cool! Cool kids are doing this.
Kim certainly doesn’t have any cause to worry about whether she’s cool or not. The crowd of devoted fans who came out to hear her speak left no question about her status as a much loved author. With only two books left in the Hollows series, many fans were concerned about getting their fix of good Sci Fi/Fantasy, but were assured that Kim has plenty of ideas that she is very excited to write about and share with everyone. And don’t worry—everyone in the Hollows series will have their own Happily Ever After.