Jun 02, 2010 12:00AM

Sass and Bite

Charlaine Harris, author of the True Blood books talks sex, blood and vampire models. From Oyster Issue 86: Ouch!.

"When I first saw the show, I thought 'Oh god, I'm gonna have to leave town!'? Over the phone, with her rich, drawling accent and impeccable manners, Charlaine Harris is a model Southern woman. It's hard to imagine that the orgy of violence and nudity that makes cult television phenomenon True Blood so endlessly compelling originated in the head of someone so polite. "I calmed down and realised what Alan [Ball, the series' producer]'s doing is great, and people are gonna love it. Especially people my kids' age are going to love it, and that's how it turned out - I had to warn my kids before they watched it, but however horrified they may have been, that faded because they got such cool points from all of their friends,' she laughs. 'They got to go to the premier and meet all the actors - how cool is that?"

While watching the escapades of telepathic waitress Sookie Stackhouse in a world where vampires have 'come out of the coffin' and shape-shifters live as humans may have been confronting at first, Harris admits the show's graphic tendencies are not an embellishment on Ball's part. 'It's always been there, in the books, it's just when it's on screen, you see it.' Indeed the sexual subtext of the books partially informed the mechanics of Harris' vampires.

'It was very hard to pick how my vampires would be, I didn't want to be a clone of anyone, and I had my own opinions of what would work,' she tells us. 'I also knew what would be fun. Anne Rice's vampires are this amazing construct, and they're interesting in that they can't have sex. That wasn't something I wanted to skip.' She laughs. 'I had never written an explicit sex scene before, but I wanted to try!'

Written in the first person, Harris' novels do not have the same sexual scope as the television show's omniscient camera, but they are hardly tight on titillation. 'I'm not writing a 'how-to' manual,' Harris tells us. 'I figure people old enough to read my books are old enough to understand the mechanics of sex. I just write what I think is exciting about sex, and try to find ways to engage emotionally in the sex act. The scenes I write are not about screwing for the orgasm, they're about a way of presenting sex in the context of a connection.'

While it is terribly tempting to discuss the vampire's recent the turn for the zeitgeist, Harris points out our lust for blood suckers flowed long before Robert Patterson first sparkled on screen. 'The second highest selling book in America, next to the bible, is Dracula,' she says. 'There's always been a vampire obsession - I think people find creatures of the night romantic.' Despite the content of her highest selling series, on a personal level, Harris doesn't get the appeal. 'I would think it would be a huge pain in the butt to not be able to go out in the day time, or eat your favourite food - but some people see it as romantic and erotic.' 'Of course,' she adds, a note of cheekiness in her voice, 'it stands to reason that if you live that long you'd have plenty of time to get good at love making. I mean, I'd hate to think you wouldn't learn anything!'

Perhaps the most obvious appeal of vampires is their un-aging visages. 'Just think,' Harris says, 'no wrinkle-cream, ever!' This statement is particularly amusing, given that according to Harris, anti-wrinkle cream wouldn't work on a vampire anyway. 'No matter what, they always revert to how they looked the day they died.' This rule also applies to hair-dye, tattoos, plastic surgery and dieting. 'The lucky ones were turned at their peak,' Harris explains. 'If you're going to make an eternal companion, you'd pick the nicest looking person you can find.'

Given vampires can't alter their physical appearance, we figured fashion must be important to them. 'I don't think vampires have a typical look, it depends on the vampire,' Harris tells us, somewhat taken aback by our curiosity for un-dead trends. 'Some like to be cutting edge in the latest clothes, while some dress in the style of the era they were born in.' We wonder if, in Harris' world, there are vampires working in the fashion industry? 'Oh,' she says, intrigued by the idea. 'Well I think vampire models would be a great idea! They'd look wonderful, they'd never get tired and they'd be up all night anyway. I think there might be an issue with the Spring/Summer shows because of their pallor, but you could hire black vampires for those seasons. It would be a challenge, but you'd get their endurance, attitude and strength.'

Reflecting on this seasons trends, it's not hard to imagine a vampire fitting in perfectly at a Givenchy or Gareth Pugh show, while Kaiser Karl himself would make a convincing creature of the night. However, Sookie Stackhouse - and Harris - live worlds away from the international catwalks. 'I get a lot of criticism for the way Sookie dresses in the books,' Harris shares. Fans of Anna Paquin's lady-like Southern Belle style in the TV series may be taken aback by this statement, but in the novels, Sookie's personal style is somewhat more - authentic. 'She just dresses like any poor girl from the South would. She shops a lot at Walmart, maybe buys things on sale sometime. She's a girl that likes to show a little boob, and a little leg.'

Those familiar with both the books and the series will know that Sookie's style is far from the only thing changed, but these alterations don't bother Harris. 'I don't think about how something would look on screen because Alan'll change it. He can do anything, no matter what I write he'll think of a way to make it look good, or just won't use it and will change the story line.' The author tells us that 'even I don't know what's happening next on the show', something that, as a die-hard mystery lover, she rather enjoys. The one thing that hasn't changed is the depth of imagination. It is the level of detail in the world Harris has constructed that give her novels, and the show they spawned, such life, and that's something even the undead can appreciate.

Words by Alyx Gorman