Kim Harrison is the bestselling author of the Rachel Morgan series. Her newest book, The Outlaw Demon Wails will be released soon, and our review recommends picking up a copy! In addition to being a great writer, Kim was very friendly and agreed to this interview.
- While I think everyone should read all of your books, they are also wonderful as stand-alone novels. It appears to be a difficult balance between giving the reader enough information and cluttering the book with too much information. How do you balance the amount of back story you give?
I prefer writing with as little back story as I can get away with, and in fact, I think sparse back story has become one of my stylistic trademarks. I often find myself hearing in my head, Diana, my editor, telling me, “Just a line or two,” and I will stop the story flow to add what’s needed. I’m a lot more interested in what’s coming next compared to what’s happened in the past, but I’ve found an unexpected challenge in trying to find new ways to drop a line here, a line there, into Rachel’s thoughts that give old information in new ways, or even better, give out old information tied to a character’s emotion or new resolve. The quick drops of information give the new reader what he or she needs to know to follow the story, but the old reader, hopefully, finds something new to think about. And sometimes, I just chuck the back story and hope for the best. The tomato issue, for example, is a big slice of back story, but there have been entire books where I mostly ignore it because it just doesn’t matter to the story itself. It’s all about giving what the reader needs, only when they need it. And when I forget, Diana is always there to bring me back in line.
- You have changed the way I look at tomatoes! I know that tomatoes are some of the most bio-engineered foods now, was that a reason why you chose the tomato as the catalyst for the Turn? Or was it alluding to Adam and Eve? Or something else entirely?
I love tomatoes, and I usually have a couple varieties growing in with my landscaping bushes. Forget the formal vegetable garden, they grow everywhere! I chose tomatoes as the means for humanities destruction for a couple of reasons. As you guessed, it was indeed a nod to one of the first engineered tomatoes that flopped on the grocery store shelves. But mostly it was a reference to the B-rated movie, Attack of the Killer Tomatoes. Killer tomatoes. You’ve got to love it.
- You have created characters with a lot of depth, ones with plenty of shades of grey. How do you manage that depth, and not make Rachel pure and Trent evil?
I thoroughly enjoy writing villains, I like them almost as much as my protagonists, and allowing the bad guys to evolve redeeming features or better yet, setting their “evil” deeds in the middle of a moral dilemma is one of my favorite ideas to explore. I write with the motto “one man’s good is another man’s evil,” and that makes for interesting characters, both good and bad. For a lot of people, evil equals power, and power is attractive. As the books progress, Rachel herself is finding in her the very things that she once considered evil, and watching her come to grips with that has been interesting to say the least. Is there pure evil? Only as much as there is pure good, and I enjoy seeing that come to light in the Hollows.
- Every author’s paranormal world has different characteristics. Did The Hollows come to you suddenly, or did you build it piece by piece?
The Hollows slowly evolved from that very first bar scene, piece by piece, species by species, and making it all mesh has been a challenge. If you pick the series apart, you can see how I took the first few books to develop the vampires, then turned to the Weres, and now, Rachel seems to be exploring demons. Building the magic of her own species of witch has probably been the slowest process as I bring new elements in as Rachel needs them, and I’m looking forward to finding out what happens now that she is consciously finding out what it means to be a witch.
- Rachel has had a hard time with her public image in the past few books because she has demon “smut” on her aura. How did you come up with the concept of demons darkening a person’s aura?
Unfortunately I don’t remember where the idea for demon smut came from. If I had to guess, it probably came from my need to explain the magic with as much logic as I can, and since nothing is created or destroyed, the imbalance for changing the laws of nature has to show up as something! A hazy smut on one’s aura just seemed to fit a lot of the mythology out there already, yet be something unique to the Hollows. It sort of took on a life of its own until now it is becoming a major part of the story line.
- You have written a series that has clues from the first book being uncovered in the sixth, and many mysteries that take a few books to uncover. Did you outline the first 6 books as a series originally? Can you explain a bit of how you conceptualized it?
That is a great question. Though I never did sit down and write a series outline, I did finish that first book with some definite ideas of how I’d like to see the series end. Characters like Ceri popped up unexpectedly, but they melted seamlessly into the overall story arc in my head. The relationship with Ivy was a complete surprise, as was Kisten himself, but the ending to The Outlaw Demon Wails is remarkably close to what I had envisioned. I have a new story arc I’m working on now, pulling on a few new characters and building on a couple of ideas that sparked in both For a Few Demons More and The Outlaw Demon Wails. Hopefully it will be a smooth transition as Rachel shifts her focus.
Working on a story arc that spanned six books was a challenge, but it came together much like how I write a book. I have an idea of what I’d like to see, and an idea of how I’m going to get there, but no matter how much I plot, scribble, plan, and outline, I always follow a new idea and occasionally scrap everything and rewrite my outline to get to the original end. It’s this mix of plot and free-flow thinking that keeps me interested in the story and my fingers on the keyboard.
- There are a lot of surprises in The Outlaw Demon Wails and several secrets about Rachel uncovered. You’ve written that this book ends one section of Rachel’s life, and is a beginning to the next. Do you have a similar plan for clues that are uncovered in later books? Do you have a plan for how many more books will be in this series?
I do plan on starting threads throughout the next set of books that will culminate in the final volume, but as to how many books it will take to get there, I don’t know. As before, I know where I want to end up, but the individual story, not the series goal, is where my main focus is when I start working on a rough draft. If I can’t wiggle the next step toward that series goal into the current book, it has to wait for the next book.
- There are many paranormal novels that double as chick-lit or romance. Do you feel a need to balance the witchy part of Rachel with her dating side? Also have you caught any flack about Ivy’s bisexuality and interest in Rachel?
Do I feel a need to balance the magic with Rachel’s personal life? Rachel’s personal life is so closely tied to her witchy and business life that the two seem to march side by side pretty evenly without author intervention. I have found that Rachel’s personal life tends to blossom in the middle portion of the book when the action seems to slow, serving as a natural balance.
I hear from readers who are enjoying the relationship between Ivy and Rachel quite often, and the response has been, for the most part, positive. The potential for Ivy and Rachel to become physically close has been in the storyline from the very first book, but it hasn’t been until recently that I have known for sure how this particular thread is going to be tied off. No spoilers here, but I will say that their relationship is evolving into something more stable. Stable doesn’t mean everyone is getting what they want, but Rachel and Ivy are beginning to realize that what you want might destroy what you need. And choices are being made.
9.Rachel grows up a lot in The Outlaw Demon Wails. She learns about different types of love, and about the effect that her life choices have on others. While that’s an important lesson, do you have a plan for balancing that with her impulsive nature?
Rachel is growing up fast with certain characters leaving the series, and this goes a long way in curbing her impulsive nature. Readers will see her slowing down, assessing the possible outcomes, and then moving forward. Somehow she’s still getting into trouble, but now it’s not from not thinking. As a writer, I’m enjoying this new side of Rachel, and I hope the reader does, too.
- So, will Rachel end up with Trent? Or is her future boyfriend going to be someone else? (I know, I know, you can’t answer that) So instead, after reading your “about the author”, my daughter and I ask What is your favorite type of sushi?
Trent? No, not Trent, although a one-night-mistake might be really fun to write. I do have my eye on someone as Rachel’s happy end, but it’s not quite going as I planned, turning into something a little more complex and interesting. I guess we’ll see what happens. I learned early on not to try to script out Rachel’s love life, but just let it happen. Sometimes I feel like Rachel’s mother, presenting her with blind dates and scripting meetings . . . and then Rachel does something Rachel-ly, and it goes downhill.
Mmmm, sushi. My favorite is something called a sweet potato roll, which sounds really southern when I write it out, but shrimp tempura or a tuna roll are right up there, too. I’m not as good with the chopsticks as Ivy purports to be, but I’m not bad . . .
Many thanks Kim, for a great interview!
Kim’s publisher, Eos Books is celebrating a decade of publishing sci fi/fantasy. Check out the Eos blog and Eos Books for information, free ebooks, and previews as part of their celebration. Don’t miss the podcast interview with Kim!