Kim Harrison is the New York Times bestselling author of the Hollows series, about a young witch from Cincinnati who battles demons and vampires. She also writes the bestselling Madison Avery series for young adults.
This interview first appeared on Wired.com’s The Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast, which is hosted by David Barr Kirtley and produced by John Joseph Adams. Visit geeksguideshow.com to listen to the entire interview and the rest of the show, in which the host and his guests discuss various geeky topics.
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about how you first got interested in reading fantasy and science fiction?
I grew up on it. We’re going to go way back to middle school. I’d always been a really good reader, but in middle school, they let me become a library aide. As bad as that sounds, I was a library aide for two years, and the library was stocked full of fantasy and science fiction. I made that library mine. I read everything in it. Believe it or not, they had Asimov in there, Heinlein, and Andre Norton, so I got a lot of my early science fiction from them. But they also had the fantasy, and I wasn’t reading just the Hansel and Gretel stuff. I later found out that they were actually research textbooks for the teachers because they were fairy tales from Germany and France and the U.K. They were telling the same story over and over in different ways, so I was seeing all these little differences that different societies would put into their fairy tales to make them unique and different and pertinent to them. I was soaking it all in, and that’s where I really got my start in reading science fiction and fantasy.
People used to kind of look askance at you if you were reading fantasy and science fiction. Did you encounter that at all among the librarians?
Yes. Going back to middle school and high school, I would always have a pleasure-reading book on my stack of books as I’d go from class to class. I used it to keep people away. I was very introverted. I had my close group of friends, but I really didn’t care what the cool kids were doing. I would use these books and the weirder the cover, the weirder the name, the more far out it was, the more they left me alone. So yes, I used it. Maybe I shouldn’t, but there it is.
What book was most effective at keeping people away because of what the cover looked like?
I’m going to say that my favorite one that I carried around was a collection of short stories by Asimov called Tomorrow’s Children. It was a big, thick, massive book. I’m tempted to go back to the library and see if they still have it, because it would have my name on it. My name would check it out again, and then I’d check it out again, and then I’d check it out again. I think I’m the only one who checked that thing out for the two years I worked in the library. That’s the one I used. Actually, that collection made such an impact that when I finally found publication, one of the first things I did with one of those bigger checks that I didn’t have to put towards food, heat, or rent was to track down a signed copy of that. That is one of my treasured things.
Speaking of publication, why don’t we talk a little bit about how you made that transition from being a reader to being a writer?
It was horrible and it was uplifting. Keep in mind that my story happened about fifteen years ago and we didn’t have ebooks. We didn’t have the self-publication. If you self-published, you were vanity press. So really the only way that you could do this and be considered a writer would be to have one of the Big Six publish your work. They were swamped at that point with manuscripts, like they are now, because the computer had become more popular. People thought that if they could put sentences on paper that they were a writer, which is kind of silly because you wouldn’t sit down and paint a picture and expect a museum to take it, but people assume that “I wrote this body of work, why aren’t you buying it, why isn’t it any good?” It’s a skill; it’s a talent. You have to work really hard at it.
I worked really hard at it, but it was hard. My first thing that I wrote was absolutely pathetic. They all are, but I thought they were good. I figured, “I’m just going to keep at this and rewriting it and rewriting it until somebody shows some interest.” Well, this was, like I said, about fifteen years ago, and the first person I sent my work off to was Tor. I got a lovely rejection letter back and I think I cried for about ten minutes. I took a walk and said, “I’m never going to do this again. Just never.” Well, that lasted about half an hour. Thirty minutes later, I’m back at the keyboard. So it’s like an addiction. If it’s in your blood, you can’t shake it.
Eventually, though, I found a writers’ critique group, and if there’s anybody out there who’s really serious about writing for a living, get yourself in a face-to-face writers’ critique group. I’ve heard about the online ones. You never get a chance to really see who you’re talking with and you don’t have the opportunity to evaluate how pertinent their advice might be, so that’s why I always say get yourself away from your desk, do something social—yeah, we have to be social—find a writers’ critique group that meets every week if you can. They’re in bookstores; they’re in libraries; they’re in coffee houses, and it’s not going to be easy to find them. If you do, get in there and start sharing your work, because these are the people who are going to go with you to the writer conferences where agents and editors go to find new talent.
That’s how I broke into print. I had a published author who took me under her wing, Faith Hunter. She’s still my best friend. I talked to her today. She took the whole group there and set up a party, and I met Richard Curtis, the man who eventually became my agent. But if not for her, I don’t know how it would have evolved. As much time as we spend alone working with our words, we have got to get out and do something social and interact with other people.
What conference was that where you met your agent?
That was a conference down in Atlanta. I’m not sure, but I believe it was a mystery writers’ conference. I don’t write mystery, but it worked. That’s where I met Richard Curtis. I went to a panel that he was on. I got to talk to him. I think I spent maybe five minutes with him, actually, because you have to be careful when you meet agents and editors not to swamp them and soak up their time and be the stalker. It’s more like a “Hi. This is who I am, this is what I write. I understand you sell this. Can I send you my synopsis?” Then, once you have that invite, you can put that in your cover letter, and they will remember you and think well of you at that point. If you just get that “yes, you can send it to me,” and then walk away. Now, I know things have really changed tremendously with the advent of ebooks and self-publication, so I don’t know how helpful my advice is anymore, but getting out and meeting agents and editors is never a bad idea.
So he sold your first book for you, and at that time, you were writing as Dawn Cook?
Yes, I was. That would be The First Truth.
And that was more sort of epic fantasy kind of stuff?
It was. I like to say it’s like Tolkien, only with a tiny, tiny cast. We never go anywhere. It’s really not like Tolkien at all. I really like going back and looking at my earlier work because watching it evolve has been really fascinating for me. When I first started, I had a very small cast and I was able to devote a lot of time to developing the characters. The book would span a year or six months, this huge amount of time, and I’ve been watching, as my skills increase, that my books now take maybe a week, maybe two. The cast is bigger and I’m involving world events rather than just this one little thing. But I’ve been able to pull the skills that I learned on those first books, of how to make a character memorable and important and kind of evolve them really quickly on the page. I’ve been able to pull that from my first stuff and put it into my latest things. So it’s been really interesting looking back and seeing how I’ve evolved my writing skills.
How did you go from Dawn Cook, the epic fantasy author, to Kim Harrison, the urban fantasy author?
That was a trip. Urban fantasy was really new; it didn’t even have a name yet. This was just about when Jim Butcher started writing and Charlaine Harris and [Laurell] Hamilton. Hamilton had really broken ground. She wasn’t the first, but she was the first who made it marketable. Then Butcher and Charlaine came along and then I was shortly behind them, but I was still writing as Dawn Cook. My publisher at Ace passed on the manuscript and so my agent shopped it around. It took about a year, actually, before somebody picked it up. What you read in Dead Witch Walking really is not what I wrote. There were so many tweaks and changes and shifts. It was more young adult. It was more quirky. I had puns all over the place, so it needed a lot of work. I really don’t blame Ace for passing on it, because it was not what you see on the shelf.
One of the odd quirks about the publishing industry is that book buyers will often give a new name more of a chance than they will an old name with a kind of “meh” track record. Now, the Dawn books were doing okay, but they hadn’t accelerated, so my new publicist wanted to make a clean break from the Dawn books. Since it was in a new genre, it really wasn’t an issue for me. My Dawn name really hadn’t taken off, so I said sure. My editor picked out the name. I was either going to be Kim Harrison or Lisa Harrison because she wanted me shelved right next to Hamilton. Yeah, there’s kind of a joke: If you’re going to write urban fantasy, you need to have a name that starts in H, because we’re all over there.
So she picked out my name and from a legal standpoint, it’s also easier to write a new series and change publishers by taking on a pen name because of the legalities. It’s just so much easier, so there are a lot of reasons why people will take pen names. For me, it was so that the books would have a better chance. And that’s also why the wig. I’d been doing publicity as Dawn for a while and my photo was out, and my editor really wanted a very sharp degree of separation so she said: “Get a wig; have some fun with it.” That’s what I did.
You don’t really have red hair?
No, I am actually a blonde. So there it is.
That’s interesting. So, tell us a bit more about Dead Witch Walking, just for people who haven’t read the series.
It’s really quirky. Dead Witch Walking actually started out as a short story. I was trying to break into print—this is even before the Truth books came out—and I wrote a short story called “Life is a Bowl of Cereal,” and it’s basically that first chapter in Dead Witch Walking. I was trying to get agent attention or editor attention, and the stuff that was making the short story market was really weird at that time. I knew I couldn’t match that level of weirdness, so I said, “Okay. You want weird. I’m going to put a pixie, a vampire, and a witch in a bar and see what happens.” I hate to tell people to pick up Dead Witch Walking cold and try to read it without knowing that yes, it starts very quirky and odd, but there is some substance here, there is some science. I’m basing the magic on science. It’s not all flight and fancy and silly stuff, but it sure starts that way.
Dead Witch Walking is basically a twenty-something witch living in modern day Cincinnati. Now here comes the quirky part. At this point, the human population has been decimated by a virus that was carried by tomatoes. That’s my nod to the movie Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. My sense of humor showing, whether it’s good or bad. A third of the human population has been wiped out, which has left the witches, werewolves, and vampires, who’ve been there all along, to sort of say, “Hey, we’re no longer a minority, let’s come out of the closet.” That is exactly what happened forty years before Dead Witch Walking starts. So at this point, magic is out, vampires are out. If you think your high school teacher was a werewolf, you know what? He probably was.
Rachel works for the police force that patrols and tries to keep tabs on the supernaturals. When Dead Witch Walking starts, she quits her job, which was a really bad idea, and she takes their best agent with her, who also has an agenda of her own. They move into a church, and they have a pixie backup, which sounds like a horribly bad idea, but this guy—he’s four inches tall, his name is Jenks, and everybody loves Jenks because he’s the family man. He’s the guy with the mortgage. He’s the one with the worries. He’s got fifty-four kids he has to feed. Nobody takes him seriously, but he’s the most dangerous one in the group because he can fly, he’s got this sword he knows how to use, and he’s not afraid to give you a lobotomy if you tick him off. That’s probably more than you ever wanted to know about Dead Witch Walking.
When you say that the magic is based on science, what do you mean by that?
I actually have a Bachelor’s degree in science. My dad, he’s scratching his head saying, “You went to school for science and you write books for a living,” and I just nod and say, “Yep, I use it every day, Dad.” It always bothered me, the black box of magic where you wave a wand and say a word and something happens. That just never pleased my sensibilities, so I tried to put a spin on the magic that goes back to science in some ways. The magic is run in my universe by ley lines—the idea of ley lines has been around for a long time. Not really popular until the last ten years or so. I take that, which is mythical, but then I go in and say, “Well, maybe it’s a rift in time where the energy is leaking through or maybe it’s the back end of a wormhole.” So I try to find a basis for it. It turns out they are a kind of slice in the fabric of time where you can get to an alternate reality where the demons have been and so it goes on. I do like basing things on science when I can.
And it was biology, right, that you studied?
Yes. Well, the degree is technically in science technology and something else, but my core of study was biology.
Was the idea of the GMO killer tomatoes inspired at all by your biology studies?
Yes, it is. I think we are doing a few dangerous things. Putting a beta-carotene gene into a rutabaga is fine, but when you start putting genes into your corn that they make their own toxins, that’s another story. People are not being careful with what they’re doing. That toxin that they’ve engineered into the corn, that’s great, except that toxin is in the pollen, and we’re breathing the pollen, and insects are eating the pollen and dying. We’re upsetting our food chain. Just because we can do it, we need to make sure that it’s the smart thing to do, that money is not the deciding factor. It should be: Is it good for the environment or are we screwing ourselves? So that is one of the reasons why I did choose a GMO to be the end of humanity’s power, because if we’re not careful, it’s going to be.
Do you ever get people who have strong feelings on that issue write to you?
I don’t and I think part of the reason is because the books are so far out there from the span of the people who are the movers and shakers and who are concerned with it. The people who are concerned with it would never pick up a book about a witch, a vampire, and a pixie. However, the people who are reading it are getting the message. Change sometimes happens very slowly and I’d like to think that maybe I’m helping make a change.
Tell us about why you decided to set the books in Cincinnati.
Actually, it’s all about location. My editor came to me very early on when we were doing the rewrite for Dead Witch Walking and she says, “From a marketing standpoint, it would be really great if we could set this in a real city.” So I literally took and opened up the map, and I said, “Okay, I can’t talk about East or West Coast because salt interferes with the magic, and I can’t do anything west of the Mississippi because I’ve spent my life on the east.” You’d pick right through it if I tried to put it in the desert. I needed it at a certain latitude because I wanted to use the seasons to help ground the books, so that took out the southern cities. I wanted a river to run through it. I wanted a city of a certain size so that there was mass transit but most people got around in their cars. So I looked at the map and I said, “Ah, it’s got to be Cincinnati.” I called up my editor and said, “I picked the city. It’s Cincinnati.” There’s this really long silence on the other end. I don’t think she was pleased with it being Cincinnati, but I started doing research on it and I really chose wisely. Cincinnati kept a lot of its old architecture. They’re the end of the Underground Railroad. They’ve got that world-class zoo that nobody knows about. They’ve got the Basilica there. A lot of those things that I talk about are really in the books, even the tunnels that are underneath the city. Those really exist. I had a chance to go down under them this summer. They’re down there; they look exactly like I thought they would. So Cincinnati was very fortuitous and I was really fortunate to have picked it.
Could you say a little more about the tunnels? What were they for?
The tunnels under Cincinnati are over a hundred years old. It used to be an old canal that they used for transport and the city fathers said, “We’ve got to get rid of this canal.” It was causing problems with cholera and whatnot, so they dredged it out and started putting in a subway system that was only going to be two or three miles long. Unfortunately, they ran into some trouble. World War II came along. They had some issues with kickbacks, and politics got in the way. They basically ran out of money. They did get large sections of it finished, but they’re empty. There are no facilities down there; there’s no electricity; there’s no water. They do use a portion of the tunnel for their phone lines, and I think they have a water pipe under there, which turned out to be not such a good idea, but they overbuilt it. Their rebar is like an inch thick and the cement is, like, feet. They treat it like a bridge; they have to go down there every two years and inspect it. They have tours that go down there. This summer, they made a special trip down there, and they took me and a film crew. That was fun. I’m a mess in the video because it’s dirty and dank and there’s no light, but I had a blast.
Was that difficult to arrange or did you just say, “Hey, I’m Kim Harrison, number one New York Times bestselling author,” and they let you down there?
It took my publicist and a film crew to arrange it. I probably couldn’t call them up and say, “Hey, I’m Kim Harrison; I want to go down there.” But my publicist had the backing of HarperCollins, the big name there, and then the film crew was there. So they worked it together to get me to go down there, but they do have tours that fill up very quickly about twice a year that go down. If you ever get the chance, do so. It’s really kind of cool.
You mentioned the Underground Railroad, too. Could you say a bit more about how that worked with Cincinnati and the Underground Railroad?
There are a lot of places that say they’re the end of the Underground Railroad. Detroit has one, because once they get across the river, they’re in a completely different country, but most people call Cincinnati the end of that particular branch of the Underground Railroad, because once they get across that Ohio River, their chances are much better that they won’t be pulled back. They actually have a museum there. I took some time and went through it. They have a slave pen right in their front. I’ve got goose bumps just thinking about it. I went to visit and did some research on it. That particular slave pen made such an impression on me that I had to put it into the books, and I was a little inventive with it. I believe White Witch, Black Curse is the one that I mention the Underground Railroad in. I said that the slave pen that they have on display is actually a fake. This is not true; this is me making this up. The real one, the one with the magic symbols and with all the power in it, is belowground in the area where you can’t get to. One of my main characters was really angry that they hid this from the general public until he got down there and felt the power behind it and realized that—to see it, touch it, and feel it was so powerful—they were right to hide it. Those feelings that Glen experienced were the same ones that I felt when I was there. That’s one of the reasons why I do like getting out and seeing the places that I write about.
I also heard you mention that in Cincinnati, there are these garden cemeteries that you really like?
Yes. Spring Grove Cemetery is one of the first and oldest garden cemeteries in the United States. Cincinnati used to be the fourth-largest city in the U.S. and a lot of the remnants from that era still linger. Spring Grove Cemetery is one of them. I did set a scene there, so I have been out there, and I’ve walked through it. It’s very peaceful and lovely. But Spring Grove came about as a way to rehouse the cholera victims of that century, and it’s kind of gruesome when you stop and think about it, but that’s one of the reasons why they wanted a garden cemetery.
A garden cemetery, as opposed to a regular cemetery, is one where not every grave has a huge headstone. Most of the graves are marked with a small plaque set level with the ground so you can still find them, but visually, it’s more open and more garden-like. It’s quite nice out there, actually.
Cincinnati, though, did have a problem for a long time with grave robbing, which I think is very cool, in a morbid sort of way. They hadn’t come up with any regulations on corpses, how to handle [the need for] cadavers that the medical schools were demanding. At this point in time, there was a huge demand for cadavers for the medical schools, and Cincinnati was just a short railroad ride from a lot of the big schools. Often times, you’d be in the ground for several hours, and then you’d be unearthed, stolen out of your grave, and put on a railroad car and shipped out, which is horrible. But they used to have people who would guard your grave for several days until your body had decomposed to the point where it was no longer useful, which is awful. I don’t think they do that anymore, but the fervor from people being upset that their relatives were being yanked out against their will and shipped off did help bring about the laws that are now in place to prevent it.
There’s actually a short story about that called “The Body Snatcher.” I think it might be by Robert Louis Stevenson.
It would not surprise me.
It was a really good story. So, is that cemetery where you took your author photo?
No, actually, my author photo is from a small cemetery in York County, South Carolina. It’s either South Carolina or North Carolina. We used to live right on the border, and I’m not sure which side of the border that cemetery was on. It’s a really nice cemetery. A lot of the graves are over two hundred years old. You can walk through it and see the family names and how people would have five or six kids. They’d live for a year or two. It’s kind of nasty, but there it is. It’s kind of comforting to know they’re all there, I suppose.
Let’s talk a bit more about the characters in these books. One thing I think is really interesting about the series is that your villains keep turning into good guys.
Yeah, that’s because I really like the bad boys. If you want to talk about Trent, there’s a reason why he kind of turned good. I really wanted my bad guy to be the suave, debonair, rich kid who had everything, which is how Trent started. And I wanted my good guy, the one that Rachel would fall in love with and change and grow, to become a full person, would be the downtrodden, smart, intelligent, very wickedly clever guy. That’s where Nick comes in.
But Nick turned out to be a nasty guy. He never really understood Rachel, and he kept betraying her, thinking that it was for the best. At the same time, Trent started showing some redeeming features that I completely didn’t expect, but I didn’t want him to be the good guy. I wanted him to be the bad guy, which is why he does all these awful things in the first half of the series. It was when he started making decisions that he knew might please Rachel that I realized that my idea had gone horribly wrong, and my downtrodden, smart, intelligent, wickedly clever man was really a not nice person, and my spoiled rich brat of a powerful man had the biggest potential to grow, learn, and use his resources for the greater good. It took a long time because I had dug a huge hole that Trent had to pull himself out of. I mean, he was a bad man. He was doing bad, despicable things, and it took a lot of creative mythology to show “Oh, he did this to save his species. Well, wouldn’t you kill a man to save your species?” I probably would, but it would have to be for a very big reason, and slowly I pulled him out of this hole that I’d dug and realized that Trent and Rachel were probably meant for each other, because he was challenging her view of the world just as much as she was challenging his. She was changing him. She was causing him to make different decisions, and at that point, I threw it all up in the air and said, “Okay, let’s do it, let’s see if it works. She hasn’t liked anybody else I’ve thrown at her.” I think it has worked. It’s taken a long time, but I was fortunate to have the twelve, thirteen books to work in, and I do love the long-running romance.
Could you talk a little bit about Rachel’s relationship with Ivy?
Ivy was also one of the people that I showed Rachel as possibly being a life-mate. I like Ivy; she’s one of my favorite characters. I cried for her. I’ve used vampirism as a metaphor for drug abuse and spousal abuse, and being this strong person who is manipulating someone weaker than them and making them love them for all the wrong reasons. Seeing Ivy pull herself out of that and try to overcome her past and become the person she wants to be has been absolutely wonderful. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from readers saying, “No, no, these two should be together. They need to be together,” and I can agree with that, except that Ivy—she has made huge steps, but I was concerned that if these two ladies got together as a happily-ever-after that her past was going to ruin it, that she’d fall back into old patterns. It would be exciting and fun to write, and I didn’t want to do that because I’ve seen Ivy grow. I’ve seen her become who she wants to be and I couldn’t risk Ivy becoming that person again that she was. I did try to make a clean break of it, and it has been hard because I didn’t want to get rid of Ivy from the books. I needed to have her there. She was important to me, and she was important to the readers.
I think the way I’ve kind of wrapped it up has worked. We’ll see. I haven’t got the readership feedback yet from this last book. It was important to me though that Ivy not end up with a guy. She needed to find her soul mate, and it was going to be a woman. I’ve known that for a long time, and it needed to be someone that Ivy could still help because Ivy needs to help somebody to feel good about herself. She couldn’t help Rachel anymore, so that was another reason why I ended that relationship. The end of the books to me has always been Rachel saving Ivy’s soul. Right from book number one that was going to be my ending, so we do see a return of Ivy a little bit more in this last book. We’ll see how it goes. I’m really anxious to see how the readers react to it.
Speaking of that, when we interviewed Charlaine Harris, she mentioned that some readers just had really over-the-top, emotional investments in who Sookie ended up with in the end. Have you had people who have really extreme views about who Rachel should end up with?
I did a couple years ago. One of the responsibilities of the storyteller is to know their audience and be able to tell the story that they want but remember that they are still a storyteller, and they have a responsibility to the readers. It’s a fine balance. I watched what happened with Charlaine, and I felt really bad for her because I know that when you invest, as a writer, that much time into something, that you want to end it the way you feel it should end. There’s no reason that she should feel like she needs to change it. But I watched what happened, and I said, “I can’t let this happen to me because I love these books too much.” So I spent a lot of attention on making sure that the reader knew where I was going. I wasn’t going to tell them how we were going to get there, but I made sure they knew “This is where we’re going. This is where the story is headed.” Ivy’s important, but Ivy and Rachel’s story has got to part. They’re always going to be together in some way or fashion, but if it’s not the way you want it, this is why. I was careful to tell the reader ahead of time why this was happening and why this couldn’t happen and why this had to happen. Fortunately, I write far ahead of my work schedule, so I was able to go back several books at this point and do some tweaks.
I think it worked. I am also very active with my readership. They know where they can find me. They know where they can ask me questions. I’m on my Facebook; I’m on my blog. That’s me answering those posts. That’s not my assistant, because I don’t have one. I have seen—at first, there was a big flurry of, “you better not do this, you better not do that,” but then they got the next book, and they read it and saw where the storyline was going, and it’s calmed down quite a bit. Of course, I won’t know until that book comes out. I know I’m going to get some flak from a few people, but for the most part, if you end the series right, there should be no regrets.
Yeah, and I mean, writing a thirteen-book series just seems like a really ambitious project. Looking back on it now, do you have any advice you would give or any thoughts about writing that many books?
My advice would be don’t ever sit down and try to plot out a thirteen-book series. Break it up. When Dead Witch Walking was accepted, I thought, “Yay, three books. I can tell a good story in three books.” Then it was extended to six, and then it was like, “Oh, I can slow down. I can take my time.” Every renewal, it was like, “Oo! Now I can explore this. Now I can explore that.” I never expected thirteen books. It has been an honor and a treat to be able to work with these same characters in the same world for so long. It’s kind of a double-edged sword, though, because it does take up your time, and all those ideas that have been building up for the last ten years, they’re going to come out eventually. Locking them up in a cabinet is very frustrating at times. But I would never in a million years sit down and say, “Okay, in book one I’m going to do this, then in book five I’m going to do this, then in book thirteen it all comes together.” You can’t do that. The writing is so fluid and organic that I don’t even try to plot out the book that I’m not working on. I love to plot. I’m a religious plotter, but I only plot the book I’m working on because I know that when I get to the end, there’s going to be so many threads and trails and new ideas that I’m going to want to bring to that new book that it would be useless to try and figure out where it was going until I was actually ready to move forward.
I heard you say in an interview that Jack L. Chalker taught you how to write a series.
Oh yeah, the Well World. That was my favorite series when I was growing up. I learned from him how to carry on a series and how to keep it fresh and entertaining and make it meaningful to the world you’re living in. In one of the books, they’ve got a drug called sponge, and I was just fascinated with the idea of that, so that’s probably why I’ve got Brimstone in my series. In fact, the one I’m working on right now has a drug in it. I’m going to say it is probably his fault. But being able to see his books—they’d come out with one every year, and every year, I’d read the whole series up to that point. I’ve read the first one many, many times, and just seeing how he tied them all together is kind of my backbone there.
When you say the one you’re working on now, do you want to tell us a bit more about that?
It doesn’t even have a title. I haven’t shared it with my editor yet. I’m on the cusp of starting to share this with other professionals, and I’m really excited about it. I’m not really saying a whole bunch because there could be big changes in it, but Peri kind of picks up where Rachel left off. Peri is in the top of her field. She has a very dangerous job; it’s exciting. She knows who she is and she’s good at it. She’s got everything the way she wants, and then by page eight, the rug gets pulled out from under her, and she realizes that she’s not the person she thought she was. It goes from there, but it’s much faster paced. It’s more thriller-ish. If I have to put a genre tag on it, it’s more thriller than urban fantasy, although I cannot stray far from my roots. So there is . . . I don’t want to call it magic. I like calling it accelerated science. It’s when science has gone so far that these abilities that science has given us look like magic. It’s out there. A lot of the popular movies right now have it. It’s kind of like a mix between Bourne Identity and Minority Report. It’s really cool. It’s fast. I’m also writing from third person now. I feel like I’ve got a lot that I can say to the male readership. I have a lot of male readers. A third of my readership is male, but I want to tap into it a little bit more, and I’m hoping this helps. I’ve got two black belts: one in Hapkido and one in Tae Kwon Do. So I like bringing this to my fight scenes. You can kind of see it in Rachel, but in this new Peri novel, I can really bring it out a little bit more, because like I said, her job is very high risk.
You mentioned that the book kind of draws inspiration from Minority Report, Paycheck, Inception, that kind of thing. Do you expect this to appeal to a more science fiction-oriented audience?
I’m hoping that it does. I love the science. The fantasy works for me, but my favorite movie is probably Blade Runner. I love getting into the science stuff, and Paycheck, Minority Report, and Bourne Identity—you wouldn’t know it by looking at me, but that’s my bread and butter. I love those movies. If it’s got Tom Cruise in it, I’m there watching it, because he always plays really interesting, weird characters that jump out and say “This is different.” That’s really kind of my target. I’m really excited about it.
Actually, it’s funny. I wanted to ask you about this, and this is like something out of a Philip K. Dick story, but you’ve talked about when you started the Kim Harrison pseudonym, that you had to keep that secret for a while, and so you would have to tell people, “Call me Kim, don’t call me Dawn. You can’t blow my cover.”
I had to do that for a couple of years. We kept a really tight lid on it for quite a while. I was really surprised. There were people in the publishing industry who knew, of course, but they kept it very quiet. At the time, I was actually living in South Carolina, very rural, and if people knew I was writing about witches and vampires? Now it’s more acceptable, but ten years ago, they would frown at you. These are God-fearing people who go to church twice a week: Wednesday and Sunday, and don’t work on Sunday. I’d get weird looks just because I was out in my garden working on Sunday. I mean, God-fearing people, and if they knew I was writing witches and vampires, I would have no friends at all. So I was very eager to keep it quiet as well. But as time went on, it became more acceptable and attitudes shift and change a little bit. I was able to let that go. It’s been really nice the last couple years to be able to use Kim and Dawn interchangeably. It’s out. I did a Locus article where it was publicly announced, which was kind of nice. I have a feeling that eventually, maybe with the beginning of this new series, that the wig is going to finally go away. I’m ready to get rid of the wig, and I think I can do that now that the Harrison books are so well established. There’s no chance that the Dawn stuff is going to interfere. I’m ready to do that, and I’m looking forward to it, but not for this last tour. This last tour, I will have the red wig.
Were there any times in that period where your cover was almost blown, or someone got an inkling, or anything like that?
There were a couple times, and I did have to delete a couple posts here and there. But people were really understanding about it. Now my biggest problem is that I don’t know, when I’m out doing public stuff, if people know me as Kim or if people know me as Dawn. Just the other day, I was on a phone conversation prepping for another interview, and I introduced myself as Dawn and the woman was like “Well, when Kim gets here, we’ll get started.” I was like, “No, no, no, I’m Kim Harrison, this is the same person.” So that has been a challenge, to know who’s who. It’s really interesting. A lot of people think it’s weird, but people have so many names anyway. I am Dawn. I am wife. I am mom. I am sister. I am daughter. We call ourselves many things. So Kim has evolved into my work name, so to speak. When I’m out pushing the books and I’m at events, I’m Kim. If somebody calls me Dawn, that’s cool, but it really doesn’t matter.
I know some people are going to want me to ask about film and TV adaptations. Do you want to talk a little bit about the CW adaptation?
Yes, CW had the rights for a short time. They’ve since reverted back to me. One of the few stipulations I gave my agent was that if somebody was interested in the Hollows that I didn’t want my rights to sit in a drawer year after year after year. Well, they just sat on it and did nothing. I’ve seen other authors do that, and sometimes it pays off, but I didn’t want to lose control for that amount of time. So CW had it. They had somebody working on the pilot. I liked the direction they were going. It was a very narrow slice of the Hollows that they were focusing on, but it was okay. But they kept asking for less and less magic, and I think everybody kind of lost interest in it because one of the things that make the Hollows special is the magic mythology. When that got taken out, it was like anything else you’d see out there. They lost interest, and the rights reverted back to me. I’m open to having the Hollows picked up again. Big screen, small screen, but I’m not really pinning my hopes on it. I think that this new thing I’m working on with Peri has a lot more marketability at this point. It fills a niche that’s there, that’s hard to write in. I’m really anxious to see if I’m able to pull it off.
When they wanted less magic, was that just mostly because of a special effects budget sort of stuff?
I have no idea. The communication really wasn’t as good as I hoped it would be, so I don’t have a good answer for that.
Because I heard you say that they were going to take out Jenks? How could you take out Jenks?
Yes, they were going to take out Jenks. I think they were going to take out Jenks because they were afraid he was going to make the whole thing look silly. It’s true. A four-inch man with wings could really make it look silly. It depends heavily on how he’s treated, and if you’ve heard the audiobooks—my reader is Marguerite Gavin—and she does a wonderful job of making Jenks, who is small and she has a high voice, sound serious. Someone who counts, someone who matters, and someone who is dangerous. That’s really hard to do, and that’s one of the reasons why I was so glad to get her as a reader. Now, translating that same power and intensity to a small screen might be more difficult. I can see why they took him out, but by taking him out, they took out the heart of the Hollows. He holds everything together. He is the everyman, and when he’s gone, it would be harder for the person watching to actually identify with the whole crew, because he is the one who is like everybody else, even though he’s four inches tall and has wings.
Another thing I wanted to mention is you say you don’t like coffee, and I also don’t like coffee. It makes me feel really in the minority sometimes, so I was glad to hear someone else doesn’t like coffee.
Yep, I think I’ve had coffee twice in my life, and both times it has ended up back in the cup. My husband likes it. I can’t stand it. I am a tea drinker, which may be looked down upon, but hey, it’s what I am.
And there’s the demon coffee in the Hollows series, right?
Yes. Two shots of espresso, Italian blend, light on the froth with a splash of cinnamon on it, yes. That’s actually how I take my Chai tea. Every time Rachel is rhapsodizing over coffee, that’s me really enjoying a good cup of tea.
I have to say, looking at people’s Twitter accounts, I’m struck by how often they mention “coffee drinker” as one of the things they list in their hundred-character bio. As a non-coffee drinker, I just don’t get it, but it’s obviously central to a lot of people’s identity.
I never noticed that. I’m going to have to pay more attention.
Speaking of Twitter, I did want to ask . . . your Twitter handle is “burningbunnies”? I was just curious what the origin of that is.
Burningbunnies. I think of ideas as sweet and innocent. They’re like little bunnies. You see them there. They’re sweet; they’re innocent; they’re soft; they’re harmless. You can pick them up. You take your bunny idea in, and you pet it, feed it carrots, and take care of it. Eventually, like bunnies do, you get more ideas and more ideas, and pretty soon your desk is overrun with burning bunnies. You corral them up with pen and ink, put them in a box, and send them off to New York where they just let them go rampant. Eventually, they package them up and put them on a shelf where people walk by and pick up these sweet, innocent, unsuspecting little books and open them up. Hopefully, if there’s luck, they will start their own burning bunnies from that one. That’s kind of what I think about, burning bunnies.
Kim and/or Dawn, thanks so much for joining us.
Thank you. It’s been a lot of fun.
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