Author Charlaine Harris Talks New NBC Series’ ‘Midnight, Texas’
Midnight, Texas, NBC’s newest series, premieres on July 24 at 10/9c! And since the premiere is so close, the embargo has been lifted from my set visit earlier this year! I was able to sit down with Charlaine Harris, author of the book series that the show is based on (and author of the Sookie Stackhouse series that HBO’s True Blood was based on), to talk about her inspiration behind this new story, how the Sookie Stackhouse books influenced Midnight, Texas, her easiest and most challenging characters to create, what genre television has to say about our culture and more (including a highlight of my photos from set)!
Do you remember, and this was probably a long time ago now, do remember some of the germ of this, this concept, what triggered the whole thing?
Charlaine: I do. When the Sookie books ended, I was kind of out of gas and I wanted to write short series and I thought, “What could I plummet on?” and I thought, oh, my mother grew up in Texas and every summer I would go with her to this small hotel my grandparents owned in Rocksprings, Texas, nowhere. It’s on the Edward’s Plateau, it is very desolate. If you think this is desolate, you should see that. Every summer they had a rodeo and July and the hotel was filled with people who were mostly drunk and it was the worst time of year and the best time of year for my grandparents.
Their three daughters would come help them keep the place running during that very hectic time and of course, my mother would bring me and my brother with her and Texas was a real challenge for me, the terrain was so different. I grew up in the Mississippi Delta. The society was different and the people were much tougher, much tougher and they had different goals. I felt like an alien and I thought, “You know, that was an interesting feeling to be an alien in your own country,” and it kinda grew from there.
You know, at first, there wasn’t gonna be anything supernatural in “Midnight” but I thought, “What the hell?” I just missed the supernatural elements and it seemed to me like the story would be so much richer if I used them and that it would make their bonding so sensible or so reasonable. So it just evolved. It just evolved and when it got to the cat, I had this big debate, big debate, I thought, “I think the cat can talk,” and then I thought, “No, that’s too cheesy, nobody will buy that,” and I thought, “But I think this cat can talk,” and finally the cat talked and I thought, “I just have to leave it in. This is too good, that’s too good.” Since then, people have told me that’s your favorite thing about the books. Of course, there’s probably people who just hate it who were nice enough not to tell me that.
Since you were so tired after the Sookie books, did you feel creatively reinvigorated now with this new concept?
Charlaine: I did because I was telling it from the third person. Before, first person point of view was my bailiwick. Third person, some of the points of view were male, I had never done that and I thought, “I’m just gonna do something completely different.” A friend of mine said, “Charlaine, you always do what you’re scared of.” That’s pretty much true, though I had never made myself sound that good in my head. I do try to do what I’m scared of and something that has to jolt me out of that track. I think there’s nothing that’s more alien to me than writing the same book over and over.
Will the show spark new books you think?
Charlaine: That’s a complicated and a simple question. I might write another Midnight book but my publisher has not asked me for one, so there you go.
How involved with production have you been on this?
Charlaine: Zero and I expected that by now. This is my third go-round and I expect that, which makes it all fun for me. I don’t have to worry about anything. I don’t have to worry about casting, I don’t have to worry about the script, I don’t have to worry about directing or sites or anything. I can just go and say, “Wow, this is great.”
So you don’t feel precious about changes?
Charlaine: No, if I did, I would never had allowed my wonderful Hollywood agents to sell the books, that would be weird. Why do I want them to sell the books? I want people to come back and buy my books, that’s my goal. What the show does, is its own goal, if that makes any sense. They’re pursuing their own ends. I just want people to say, “By Charlaine Harris. Hey, I’ll buy that book,” and I’m going, “Yes, that’s what I want.”
I asked you this for “True Blood” and I’m wondering if you could answer for this series is, what is something that they’ve done that you wish you wrote or did or pictured ’cause I think for “True Blood” you said it was the baby vamp?
Charlaine: Yeah, I wish … Jessica was such a great character. With this it’s a little soon to say but I have to say, some of the scenes where Jason’s wings sprout, that was not exactly how I had it in the books, but I thought it was very powerful, very beautiful and I enjoyed that so much.
Was the casting as you pictured? Some of them are totally different obviously but …
Charlaine: Yeah. No, I never picture. I just wait and see what’s gonna happen and it always surprises me and yet it always works out. The people do a great job, that’s why they got it and I just have to say the casting directors know what they’re doing.
Since you were writing to the Sookie books while “True Blood” was still going on, were you affected, like how you pictured your characters, were you picturing the actors at that point or still going
Charlaine: No, they were ingrained in me by then. They were my people and I knew how they looked and they were completely separate, which was lucky. I was well into the Sookie series before “True Blood” was on the air and that was really good for me because I could continue to take it in the way I had planned and finish it the way I had planned rather than try to … I don’t know, buckle on with the show plot lines or anything like that.
How closely do you watch the shows? Like when “True Blood” was on and now this. Do you watch it closely?
Charlaine: No, I watch it. Usually they send me a screener. Which has my name stamped across it so I can’t possibly give it to anybody. I enjoy watching them. As far as objecting to them or being excited by them, sometimes I think, “Wouldn’t have done that, but okay,” because it’s not my thing, it’s completely separate to me. But I always enjoy it and I know people are gonna ask me about it, so I better watch it.
Who was the most difficult character to develop within your books, within these books?
Charlaine: Well, I’ve gotta say, I never took the Rev’s point of view because he was a very mysterious character to me, even though I was writing him. Finally, I thought, “Okay, he sees the Bible very differently from the way we see the Bible. He sees the Bible as interpreted through the animal scenes.”
Wait till you see the art. It will knock your socks off. I thought he interprets the Bible from what happened to animals in the Bible and that’s a very different point of view. He wasn’t one of my voices and I was kinda glad ’cause that would have been very tough, but I had to keep him mysterious and tense because that’s him.
So continuing off of that, which one of the characters gives you delight or is easier or you have fun with?
Charlaine: Well, Fiji was always fun. In the book, she does not know the full extent of her power until later on and I just loved watching her grow and she made brownies for everybody and she loved to bake. I just enjoyed the fact that she was trying to live a very normal life in a very abnormal situation and that she was also secretly powerful, “Yes!”
You said the Rev’s take on the Bible was different. How did you come about it if it was so foreign to you?
Charlaine: I don’t know. That’s what being a writer means, is trying to see things differently from the way you as a person is seeing. You have to get inside their head, which is a mysterious and complex process, probably much like acting, try to get inside the character and say, “This is the way he is. Why is he this way? How did he come to be this way? What pushed him to be that way?” because I start off with people as they are and then I do the backstory to find out why they’re like that.
On that note, when you’re working on character development, where do you pull your inspiration from? How do you decide how a character is, what their backstory is gonna be or what kind of powers they’re gonna have? Where do you draw that inspiration from?
Charlaine: I distrust the word inspiration because it sounds like you go, “Hocus Pocus.” I think it’s just a result of experience. Being a writer means making a thousand decisions every day. It’s just, “Well, I have him turn left, he’ll have a car wreck, if I have him turn right, he’ll go to the bakery.” You just have to make up your mind what’s gonna happen to that character and what will be the most satisfying thing to happen to the character because you have to satisfy yourself with what you’re writing. Sometimes you say, “I just want to kill someone,” and that’ll be the day you do it. I always kill someone when I can’t think of anything else to do.
You created them, you can kill them too.
Charlaine: Yes, I can kill them. I have the power of life and death.
Is there a book that you wish you wrote?
Charlaine: “Jurassic Park,” oh, I love that book. Dinosaurs, people, “argh”, I just love that. “Jurassic Park” is the greatest book ever, though I have to admit after reading it the first time, I skip all the scientific stuff and go right to the “argh”
Why do you think your books connect the way they do because they obviously do, they connect with a lot of people, they connect these TV shows?
Charlaine: They do, yeah. Realistically, I have to say they do, even though I don’t think of myself as a bragging person, but obviously, there’s something in them that people connect to. I don’t know. I don’t know what it is. I would have done it much sooner because I had a pretty long career before I started writing Sookie. I would have done it 15 years before that if I’d known I could do it.
I think just writing the right book at the right time with a character that a lot people identify with or a lot of people can feel sympathy with. You know, a blue collar woman, who doesn’t have much education, she’s trying to make her life better, she has a disability, and yet, she manages to create a very rich, rewarding, and terrifying life for herself. I just think she would be okay at the end of the books if she never had another man, she will survive. That was my point, she made a great life for herself and I just … I guess a lot of people really, that resonated with them and of course the guys, they like the sexy guys.
If the genre is often times looked as a means of serving as a prism of who we are, what “Midnight Texas” saying about us, as people, as a society? In your opinion, what is the comment?
Charlaine: Comments are not always praise. I think people are very unkind in general to those who are different in significant ways. People who have learning disabilities, people who have epilepsy, people who are fat, people who are boney, people who are any different from the average run are picked on, derided, called names. That is the least pleasant part of human nature. I think that I created a space for all these people to come together and be a whole that’s more powerful than the individual.
What is your writing process like? When you were writing this, did you sit down and write when you were inspired, when the characters came to you? You know, but when the characters came to you and go, “Oh, that’s one part I have to …
Charlaine: Inspiration hits me at nine o’clock every morning. I have a job. That’s my job, so I can’t wait for lightening to strike me. I have to work. Sometimes that means I have to discard some things I’ve written, which is painful, but at the same time, that’s just the way it is. My job as a writer is to think of things, imagine things and I work. That’s the attitude I take towards it.
Why was it important to have Lem be a different type of vampire?
Charlaine: I was sick to death of the other kind of vampires. A lot of my problems with the Sookie books was Eric. I just made him too sexy, apparently and then people identified him with Alexander. I told Alexander, I said, “It’s all your fault.” He didn’t see it that way but I thought, “I just can’t go back to that,” especially after the Twilight books became big. I thought, “If I ever have another vampire, it’s gonna be a different kind of vampire. I just can’t do that again.”
So what separates Lem then from those vampires?
Charlaine: He has an alternate source of food. He can drain energy, which I think could be quite handy in a lot of situations and he can use that energy instantly. I think that is the big difference. Haven’t you all known an energy-sucking vampire?
Do you think that opens him up to have different relationships with these people too?
Charlaine: Yes because he doesn’t see them solely as food. He sees them as people who are on this trip with him, though he will live much longer than any of them, but this is what he’s got to work with and he is part of a group, which is pretty rare for him.
Is there a character closest to you personally?
Charlaine: Probably Fiji. Fiji worries about how she looks all the time and she really tries to be a nice person. Those are probably attributes I have too and she likes to bake, okay, guilty. I guess Fiji really is, not Olivia, she is probably how sometimes I wish I could be, kick ass, that would be so much fun but I’m not like that, so I think that’s a little bit of wish fulfillment.
So Mr. Snuggly [the talking cat] say things that you a lot of times would like to say but you’re too polite to say them?
Charlaine: You know, cats would be that way, wouldn’t they? Cats are never gonna say a sweet thing, they’re gonna interpret life solely in terms of who’s around to feed them and they’re gonna be very upset when they get wet. That’s just cats. For a long time, I couldn’t believe he was gonna talk at all. I thought, “Oh, that’s too cheesy, I can’t do that, can’t do that, can’t do that,” and then all of a sudden, I thought, “No, I’ve gotta do it. I gotta do it, he’s gotta talk,” and when he did it was just like, “Yes,” I thought, “This is really gonna work,” and I got really fond of the cat, though I don’t use him as a … he’s not a prime player, but every now and then he talks to Fiji and says something that she needs to hear.
You talk about how nine o’clock the workday starts, you have a job to do. Where is your passion these days? Do you still have the passion, the excitement of getting behind the keyboard and typing, so it’s never just a job per se, there’s still moments of-
Charlaine: No, it’s a calling, definitely a calling. I used to think that was ridiculous and silly and that people who said that were pretentious. Okay, so I’m pretentious. I feel like this what I was born to do and I’m incredibly, incredibly fortunate that I can make a good living at it and get recognition for it. I never imaged any of this would happen to me when I started this path. Who could have ever imagined any of this? When people say, “Are you surprised by your success?” Well, hell, yes, I’m surprised. I thought, “Well, if I could just make $70,000 a year, that would great,” but “Pshaw,” I went by that one. Just think, “It’s all good now.” I can do what I want to do and people are enjoying it and I get paid for it. That’s great.
What is the impact on your life when you achieve that … I’m not talking about the money, money is great, but I’m talking about the lack of anonymity, the online people who are reaching out to you constantly, what impact does that success have on you as a person?
Charlaine: You really have to learn to deal with it. Normally writers don’t get recognized in public but sometimes I do and it always startles me. I went with my grandchildren to breakfast with Santa at Nordstrom’s and when I’m getting up and walking out with my grandchildren, this woman said, “You’re Charlaine Harris, aren’t you?” and I thought, “Oh shit, unmasked, you got me.” I said, “Did you like the books? If you liked the books I am Charlaine Harris.” So it always surprises me when somebody knows who I am if it’s just out in public somewhere. Interactions with readers, mostly great, they’re just so sweet. I wish they would take the time to read the other questions and answers so they would know I’ve already answered it 10, 20 times, but people just want instant gratification, so I’m going, “Okay, I can do that.”
What kind of advice would you give to other writers. I know, especially genre television, show writers get a lot of harassment online from fans, not liking what they’re doing a certain character, who they’re ending up with. What kind of advice would you offer to writers in that position?
Charlaine: You don’t write by popular vote. A writer has to do what he or she thinks is right for the characters, you have to have your goal in mind. I think for a beginning writer, you have to learn to shut yourself in a room, by yourself and most people cannot do that. They think they can but they go, “Oh no, I’ve gotta go do that. I’ve gotta go do that.” Shut the door, finish the book. Until you finish the book or the screenplay or the graphic novel, you cannot call yourself a writer. You gotta finish. I can’t tell you how many people have said, “Oh, I had a great start for a book and I started writing it, but then I thought of something better, so I started a different one,” and I’m going, “You’re not a writer.” You’ve gotta finish. You gotta carry that idea through. Anybody can think of a great initial idea. It’s carrying it through to the end that proves what you’ve got in you.
Is there a certain type of supernatural character that you’ve not written that you want to write or are serious about writing?
Charlaine: There are quite a few. I’ve never written about a Naga, which is an Indian snake goddess. There are several I’ve never written … Laura Hamilton got them all first. I thought, “No, Laura did that.” I always feel that I can do my own take on it and that will make them fresh and different, I hope.
This series has the benefit of being produced in a bubble, in the sense of they’ve produced all the episodes, they’ve written all the episodes. Does that make it easier? Now they’ll put it out there and people will either like it or not like it.
Charlaine: Like or not. Every now and then I get a letter from a reader or really an email, of course … you can tell how old I am, letter, huh, by people saying, “Oh, did you know she was a werefox on one page and something else on the other,” and I’m going, “I don’t care.” There’s nothing I can do about it now. Am I gonna buy back all the books and mark it out and write it in? I never know what people like that expect. I think, “What was your goal in telling me this, right? You wanted me to feel a little bad or a little stupid?” I make mistakes and it got past the editor and the copy editor and my beta readers. It got past all of them, so you know, mistakes happen, what can I say? But they can hardly wait to tell me … you know, the book comes out, the next, the next day.
A huge thank you to Charlaine Harris for her time in chatting with us. It was an absolute pleasure to meet and interview her! Stay tuned for more interviews from our Midnight, Texas set visit as well as our Comic-Con coverage next week with the series!
Midnight, Texas premieres on July 24th on NBC at 10/9c! Will you be watching? Let us know your thoughts below!