"There aren't any hard women; only soft men." – Raquel Welch
After almost two decades and 20 novels featuring sexy badass vampire executioner Anita Blake, Laurell K. Hamilton continues to redefine herself – and all of genre fiction.
LKH’s profound impact on contemporary genre fiction cannot be denied. Her Anita Blake saga is one of the longest running – and most popular – paranormal fantasy series to ever hit the shelves. Begun back in 1993 with the release of Guilty Pleasures, LKH’s story of vampire hunter Anita Blake would irrevocably change the landscape of genre fiction in just a few short years.
I managed bookstores in the ’80s and ‘90s before becoming a book reviewer, and I witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. In fact, I pinpoint the exact beginning of this Golden Age of Paranormal Fantasy as January 1, 2000. That’s the day LKH’s Obsidian Butterfly – her ninth Anita Blake novel and first to be published in hardcover – was released. Nowadays seeing a hardcover paranormal fantasy release is relatively commonplace – Kim Harrison, Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, Kat Richardson, Richard Kadrey, etc. – but back in the day it was a rarity and the release of Obsidian Butterfly in hardcover was a major event.
One of the fascinating things about this series is how it has organically evolved over the years – and is still evolving today. When Guilty Pleasures was originally released, if I remember correctly, we shelved it in horror and cross-referenced some later installments in romance – where to shelve a book that utilizes elements from mystery, fantasy, horror, and romance? It took time for LKH to grow her audience but, obviously, by the time Obsidian Butterfly was released, she had accumulated a virtual army of fanatical readers who were addicted to the dark, erotic, storyline.
You can see an interesting progression in the saga’s cover art as well – the first few books had a decidedly horror feel but then the marketing brain trust at Penguin (Ace/Berkley) switched to more stylized, erotic fantasy covers in an attempt to make the books palatable to a wider reading audience. And, more recently, the publisher decided to switch it up yet again with a gritty, noir look (to appeal to more male readers?). The truth of the matter is that any cover art for an LKH Anita Blake novel is going to be sadly inadequate – but witnessing these multiple cover art overhauls gives readers who have yet to experience this series an indication of its genre transcendent allure.
But bringing the killers to justice isn’t the real issue – it’s that the Harlequin are trying to capture Anita so that the Mother of All Darkness, the leader of all vampires, can destroy her soul and inhabit her body…
But as Anita tries to complete her job as a US Marshal, she must also come to grips with her ardeur and her quickly evolving abilities. Far from home and the safety of all of her men, Anita finds solace in Ethan, a mixed blood weretiger who has been outcast because of his impure blood.
Throw in a serial killing psycho (hello, Olaf!), some peripheral characters from previous novels, a misogynistic boss, and some eye-poppingly sensual sex scenes, and you’ve got yourself classic LKH!
Because of LKH’s unprecedented success with the Anita Blake saga, she has become a lightning rod of sorts for paranormal fantasy naysayers. As a longtime moderator in BarnesandNoble.com’s paranormal fantasy forum – where readers voice their opinions about novels, series, authors, etc. – I am continually shocked and amazed at the intensity of reader’s reactions to this series, both good and bad. In a series that appeals to so such a wildly diverse readership – mystery fans, romance fans, fantasy fans, etc. – I can’t help but think that LKH, like her heroine Anita Blake and her cadre of supernatural lovers, finds it virtually impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time… to be all things to all readers.
I had the honor of interviewing the perpetually busy Laurell K. Hamilton recently and I asked her, among other things, how she feels about being the creative fire that sparked this current Golden Age of Paranormal Fantasy.
PGA: Hit List is your 20th Anita Blake novel – that is a remarkable feat! Aside from Chelsea Quinn Yarbro’s Saint-Germain sequence, I can’t think of a [paranormal fantasy-powered] series that even comes close to Anita Blake in terms of longevity and popularity. Why do you think this saga has had such an amazing run?
LKH: Fans tell me that my imaginary friends have become their friends too. I also think the fact that I'm still having a blast writing the books shows. You can always tell when a writer has grown bored with her world and characters. The series continues sometimes, because the writer is too popular to stop, but the heart goes out of the world and characters. I still put my heart, mind, and body into my books, and the fans give that same level of devotion.
PGA: After finishing Hit List, it’s apparent that Anita is still growing and evolving – and there is still plenty of room for her “to play” in this realm. Do you have the overall story arc outlined or is the saga open-ended at this point?
LKH: It's open-ended. I honestly hate over-arcing story lines in my own writing. I much prefer writing Anita more like a mystery series with every book as much of a stand-alone as possible, except for ongoing character development.
LKH: Yes. In fact, when I started the next book very recently I was having trouble getting the book off the ground. I tried several opening gambits, and nothing made me happy, and I've found when I'm not happy I haven't found my beginning. So, I threw out all my preconceived notions of where I thought the book would go, what had to happen next, logical progression, etc. . . .and thought what interests me? What sounds fun to me? I made a list of the characters, ideas, and unexplored avenues in the world that intrigued me. Suddenly I had the opening and then as I wrote the first pages, the rest of the plot just formed. Now, I may still not have the whole plot done; but then again, maybe I do. I'll find out somewhere between 50-150 pages into the book on average.
PGA: We’re in the midst of a glorious Golden Age of paranormal fantasy. It’s the fastest growing category in all of fiction and is continually redefining itself with new releases that explore and expand its boundaries – in my mind, it’s nothing short of a genre fiction revolution. The potential for this fusion of genre elements – fantasy, romance, mystery, horror, etc. – is just limitless. Is there a sense of motherly pride knowing that your Anita Blake sequence primed the pump for all of this?
LKH: Motherly pride? Hmm, I hadn't thought about it like that. *laughs* I am certainly astonished that a type of book that I was told would never sell back in late 1980s/early 1990s has become the genre that, arguably, saved publishing in these rather dire times. The first Anita Blake novel, Guilty Pleasures, was rejected over 200 times. Editors told me the vampire genre was dead, or that mixed genre didn't sell. They had no idea how to market a book that mingled so much in one package.
PGA: Rumors of an Anita Blake movie or television series has been flying around for years. Honestly, I’m conflicted about this. Yes, if done right, this could be just jaw-droppingly spectacular, but if done wrong, well, I just think about all of the novels that have been butchered on the big screen – Dune, Starship Troopers, Stardust, The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, Enemy Mine, The Shining, The Golden Compass, Eragon, the new Planet of the Apes, etc. Are there any new developments on a possible Anita Blake movie or television series?
LKH: All quiet on the movie front as of this writing. But have pity on the poor movie producers, writers, and directors. A novel is between four-hundred to eight-hundred pages in manuscript form. A movie script is about one-hundred-and-twenty pages, to one-hundred-and-sixty pages, so how to take 400 - 800 pages and winnow it down to only 120-160? You do the math, it's a real challenge to do justice to a novel in a two hour movie. They are very different art forms, so what works in a novel won't always work on screen – big or small. We've come close to having a television series, and it prompted me to learn a lot about the process. The more I learn, the more astonished I am that anything gets made; it is an amazingly complex process.
PGA: You unarguably have some of the most dedicated fans in all of genre fiction. When we did that BarnesandNoble.com Facebook event with you back in 2009, I was blown away by how many people turned out – and by the detailed knowledge they had of the storylines, relationship intricacies, character backgrounds, etc. from both of your series. I can only imagine what you’ve experienced at book signings and conventions. Is there a particularly noteworthy memory that comes to mind that exemplifies how great your fans are?
LKH: My fans are great. They are better at Anita trivia than I am, because they re-read the books a lot. *laughs* So many stories have touched me over the years that it's hard to choose.
PGA: What would the world be like if more women were like Anita Blake?
LKH: You mean, they aren't? *laughs* Honestly, this kind of question always puzzles me. It's the whole "why did I make Anita such a strong person?" thing. I didn't know there was another option. My experience as a girl growing up was that you were either strong or a victim – I chose strong. There is no alternative for me, so there couldn't be for Anita either. It was actually hearing from fans that they used Anita as a strong role model that first let me know most women don't grow up surrounded by strong females. I was astonished at how many women told me Anita's strength showed them how to be strong, when I learned that from day one.
Paul Goat Allen has been a full-time book reviewer specializing in genre fiction for the last two decades and has written thousands of reviews for companies like Publishers Weekly, The Chicago Tribune, Kirkus Reviews, and BarnesandNoble.com. In his free time, he reads.
Keep up with all of my blogs – as well as all of Barnes & Noble’s exclusive reviews, authors interviews, videos, promotions, and more – by following @BNBuzz on Twitter!
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