Shaun Farrell interviews Kim Harrison
Shaun's QuadrantJune 2005
Born and raised in Tornado Alley, Kim Harrison now resides in more sultry climates. The author of Dead Witch Walking and The Good, The Bad, and the Undead, she rolls a very good game of dice, hangs out with a guy in leather, and is hard at work on the next novel of the Hallows.
Kimís new novel, Every Which Way but Dead, will be released June 28th, 2005. She will be appearing at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore in San Diego to discuss the book on July 10th. Visit their website (http://mystgalaxy.com) for more information and a chance to meet Kim.
Shaun Farrell: Rachel Morgan, the heroin of your first three novels, lives in a world where the supernatural and the physical live side by side. How much of this is fictional to you? Do you believe that the otherworldly coexists in material reality?
Kim Harrison: Wow, you just jump right in there with a hard one first! I would love to say that I believe everything I write, but I write for escapism, which for me means that fantasy is going to work its way in theresomewhere. I believe utterly in my characters. Their fears, hopes, confusions, and struggles are more real to me than my neighbors, but the skins of vampire, witch, pixy, and werewolf are just that, skins to bring out their tragedies a little clearer so we can see ourselves in them easier.
Do I believe that otherworldly creatures coexist in material reality? (Iím grinning now.) I have yet to meet a vampire in the blood sucking, afraid of the light sense, and I have intentionally kept Wicca out of the Hollows to avoid confusion. Now, having said that, I will admit that I blow on dandelions and make wishes, and I always nod respectfully to whirlwinds. No reason to take chances. I'm a firm believer that there is more about us than we can see, and my eyes are always open, trying to catch a glimpse.
SF: In Rachel Morganís world, a large portion of humanity has been wiped out because of a disease created through the genetic manipulation of food. Is bioengineering a real concern of yours?
KH: Mmmm, yes and no. I think we need to be more careful. The potential for greatness is there, and it swings both ways to good and bad. Once something is created, itís a whole lot more difficult to destroy, especially when youíre tinkering with something as complex as genetic strands. I think we have made great strides in medicine, and I wouldnít want that to go away, but I worry that our eagerness to better ourselves is going to backfire, and probably in a way we never imagined.
SF: What was it about Cincinnati that made you want to set your novels there? Albeit, an alternate version of Cincinnati.
KH: Cincinnati! I love Cincinnati. My editor, Diana Gill, first approached me on choosing a real city to base the Hollows in, and I remember her long hesitation when I proudly told her Cincinnati! I think she wanted something cooler, like Boston, or San Francisco, or NY. But I wanted Cincinnati. My gut feeling was the characters were going to be odd enough, and I needed a down to earth place to ground them in. Cincinnati felt right, and Iíve never been disappointed.
Iíve several practical reasons why I chose Cincy, the first being Iím not a big-city gal, and I canít write big cities convincingly. People would see right through me, and it would be embarrassing. Cincinnati has the right population, is at the right latitude, (I grew up fairly close, and I know the seasons.) it has that wonderful river which I wanted to play with, thereís a fantastic transportation system including planes, trains, interstates, and even a way to the ocean.
SF: How important is setting to you, and how did you come up with the Hollows?
KH: Setting is very important to me, and at its most basic, I make a point to try to include something real and distinctly Cincy in each book. Iíve got Eden Park, the Cincinnati Zoo, and Iím trying to work in the Basilica Cathedral. But going deeper, I think when fully realized, the setting can influence the story as much as a good villain. I didnít like the idea that the Hollowsa suburb of Cincinnati where the witches, vamps, and weres livedshould be clearly a danger. I was working under the assumption that these creatures had existed with us for the last few thousand years, and I thought they would still be trying to minimize their differences to fit in. I wanted a place that on the surface looked like a slice of comfortable Americana, the danger realized only when you looked close and noticed traces of other cultures, other needsthings like boarded up basements, basketball hoops over regulation height, flower beds planted in hexes. Little hints of big differences. I like the warning that danger is all around us, but weíre too absorbed in our lives to see it. I think itís closer to the truth than weíd like to admit.
SF: Iíve read in several places that you deny any personal experience with witchcraft, but witches and spells play an important part in your books. Rachel, after all, is a witch! How did you become interested in these themes?
KH: Oh, I was wondering if this would come up! I donít subscribe to any organized witchcraft, nor did I do what might be called real research. Iíve only one ďmagicĒ book, which I cracked open to see if I was anywhere near on target, and that one was theoryno charms at all. I am fascinated with the idea of magic, though, and I blame it on what I read while I was growing uplots of SF and fantasy, Grimm fairy tales, and anything of a magical nature.
SF: Do you know how many Rachel Morgan stories you want to tell?
KH: As many as they will let me? It may not look it at first glance, but thereís a common thread running through the books leading to an ultimate goal. I originally started with the idea that I could reach it in three to four books, but by the time I got done with the second, I decided it was going to take a few more volumes to do it right. Rachel keeps running into such interesting people, and each one of them is adding another layer to the culmination that Iím working towards. So to answer your question, Iím writing under the assumption that itís an open-ended series. There are six under contract, and Iím having a grand time playing in the Hollows universe. Iím going to continue until someone tells me to stop, be it my editor or Rachel herself.
SF: How did you come up with the titles for your books? Theyíre very playful.
KH: Oh, Iím laughing now. The first one, Dead Witch Walking, just seemed to fit, and I feel very fortunate that it made it through all the gatekeepers in the publishing industry and I was allowed to keep it. I think it helps that my editor and I seem to have a similar sense of humor. The second one, The Good, the Bad, and the Undead, started a pattern I hope to maintain, following it with Every Which Way but Dead. Fans of Clint Eastwood will feel right at home. I like basing my titles on movies because they are very recognizable and hint at the humor Iíve tried to instill to balance out the suspense and tension.
SF: You are passionate about music and you have created soundtracks, so to speak, for your characters. When did your love affair with music begin?
KH: I honestly donít remember a time when music wasnít important to me. Itís only been the last few years, after I nearly lost half my hearing, that I realized how much and stopped taking it for granted. I like to say my muse lives in music, but that is a paltry explanation for what I really find there. It frees my thinking and lets me make those jumps of thought that keep the joy of writing alive for me. Music to me is what books are to many readers. I wait for the releases and gobble them up when my bank account allows it. My To Be Read stack is more likely to be a To Be Listened To stack, and that works for me.
SF: Why did you decide to theme your characters through music?
KH: Thatís a good question. Unfortunately I donít actually know. It just . . . happened. I spend a lot of my time free-associating to put together what comes next, and generally my music is on while I do it. After that first relationship was made, it was very much like a spark igniting and I began finding my characterís stories and motivations everywhere.
Shaun Farrell: How does it feel to be compared to Laurell K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris? Do you think the comparisons are accurate?
KH: Can I take a moment here and just grin? It feels pretty darn good, though I cringe when I hear from disgruntled readers who pick up one of my books for the first time and expect the levels of sex, violence, and the storytelling style to be the same. Personally, I donít think I write like either of the two wonderful ladies you mentioned, but we write about the same subject matter, and I understand when comparisons are made. Perhaps more importantly, I donít want to write like them, either, and I live for the day when my work stands on its own, having a recognizable style that shows the joy and tragedy of human existence by pulling on humor and horror both. I like writing like Kim Harrison. I do that better than anything else Iíve ever done, and I plan on continuing it. The comparisons are enormously flattering in that I am a new writer struggling to make her voice heard, and to be compared to the greats in my field is a high like no other.
SF: When and why did you decide to become a writer?
KH: It was never a conscious decision, but I remember very clearly in hindsight when it happened. It was shortly after I dug out a nasty-looking theme book, sat myself in the sun, and started writing out the story I had composed in my head at the age of 15. I think I wrote for about an hour. The next day, I wrote for about three. It got worse. Really bad worse until I was neglecting things. Iím still neglecting things, but now I can say Iíve got an excuse. The thrill of laying out clues, of hiding them, of lacing the threads together to get the reader to discover what I wanted when I want is exhilarating. Mixing in a characterís complex desires and seeing how their past drives their future makes it addictive.
I have two strips of paper thumbtacked on my wall behind my monitor where they can only be seen from my keyboard. Theyíre for finding my courage and have been with me since almost day one. One is for the courage to work blindingly hard with no guarantee and says, ďWant it? Live it to get it.Ē And the other is for the courage to believe it can happen. I think I stole from Captain Kirk and Spock and says, ďThatís impossible/No, merely highly improbable.Ē
SF: Based on the extensive message board of your website, it seems very important to you that you connect on a personal level with those who read your work. Is it difficult to find time to make this connection happen?
KH: My website. (I find myself smiling fondly here.) I love my website. Itís not the posh, collected, spiffy-keen representations Iíve noticed may other authors have, but it suits me well, and since Iím the one who keeps it up, simplicity helps. I have a yahoo group as well, and the regulars will tell you Iím very approachable there, but on a person to person level, not author to reader. Donít ask me writer questions there. Itís where I go to relax.
As far as making the time to respond? Yes, it is hard. Even so, I hope I can stay this accessible for as long as I can. I worked too hard to get my own voice heard to not try my best to respond so those who have reached out to me know their own voices have been heard. Iím dreading the day when I have to make a choice between working and responding to readers. I know itís coming, and Iím hoping I learn to type faster.
SF: If you could write in another genre, what would it be?
KH: I tried to write Science Fiction but found I was more interested in the science of people than the science of space drive, and I actually have a few short stories that made the rounds and were lovingly shoved in a drawer. Iíve been enjoying inventing magic systems lately, so perhaps straight fantasy?
SF: If you could collaborate with any other author, who would it be?
KH: Collaborate? I donít really think I could on a project from start to finish. Iíve plotted with people before, and I thoroughly enjoyed and thrived on the energy created, but when I sit down to write, itís very internal and closed. The idea of allowing someone else in there with me gives me the willies.
SF: What are you reading right now?
KH: Nothing for pleasure, unfortunately. My schedule is pretty tight, and free time is spent with the people nearest and dearest to me. I jealously guard my weekends, and I make a point to stay as far away from the printed word as possible. When I do read for pleasure, itís almost a guarantee that itís not in the dark fantasy genre.
SF: What are you working on right now?
KH: Currently Iím working on the rough draft of the fifth Rachel book. I like to work as far ahead of the publishing schedule as I can, and Iím the happiest when I have a completed rough draft ahead of what my editor has seen. Thatís my comfort zone.
SF: Is there anything else you would like our readers at Far Sector SFFH to know?
KH: I think you just about hit everything! For those who are interested, I have a Kim Harrison website (www.kimharrison.net), and from there you can get to the Yahoo chat list where Iím accessible in a more relaxed setting. (Iíll be the quiet one in the corner who pipes up every so often, but I read every post unless the topic turns to politics.) The regulars there occasionally work a teaser out of me, but they will be the first to tell you itís a chore.
SF: Kim, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us.
KH: It was my pleasure, Shaun. I enjoyed it, and hope we have the opportunity to do so again.
Copyright © 2005 Shaun Farrell. All Rights Reserved.