Laurell K. Hamilton
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Arkansas, and my first home was in the mountains, but my memories of childhood are of flat Indiana farmland. I knew the mountains of Appalachia from summer visits, and it always seemed less tame to me than the bean and corn fields of Indiana. There is something about a mountain that is always a little bit wild, but a cultivated field is the ultimate human hand on a piece of land, or so it always felt to me as a child. I lived in a town of less than a hundred people until I married and graduated from college.
Then I moved to Los Angeles. I’d thought 30,000 people was a big city, and suddenly I was in L.A. with my new degrees, new marriage, and the adventure began. I would write my first Anita Blake story on the shores of the Western Sea, so far from home, and homesick for the midwest. I would later revisit that feeling of exile on the shores of the ocean when I began the Meredith Gentry series. Where else would a faerie princess turned private detective hide, but in Hollywood.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
At twelve I wanted to be a wildlife biologist, or a writer. By seventeen I was sending off my first short stories and collecting my first rejection slips, some with handwritten notes from editors telling me to try them again. By eighteen all I wanted to be was a writer, which I dutifully went off to college to try and become. I was kicked out of the writing program at my college after two years, as a “corrupting influence on the other students”. The head of the program pretty much destroyed me as a writer, and I went from writing every day to not writing anything for over two years. I finished my English degree with literature classes, and fled to the biology department where I tested out, and worked my ass off to get my biology degree in two years.
At that point biologist was looking like the front runner for my career, but severe allergies to the “field” part suddenly hit me in my twenties, and I began writing again. It was tentative at first, but my muse and I began to recover from our college experience. By thirty I had published, or sold, about a half dozen short stories, and my first novel, Nightseer, hit the shelves when I was twenty-nine, so by thirty I wasn’t wanting to be, I was a writer.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Oh boy. *laughs* At eighteen I was a conservative, pro-life, Christian, who had never shot a gun, and was never going to marry. I didn’t see the point of marriage. Now, I’m a fiscal conservative, but that’s about the only thing conservative about me. I’m pro-choice, pro-second amendment, Wiccan, delightfully married to my second husband, Jonathon. We’ll be celebrating our thirteenth wedding anniversary this year.
4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?
Robert E. Howard’s short story collection, Pigeon’s From Hell, was the first horror, heroic fantasy, and dark fantasy I had ever read. I was fourteen and it was a life changing event, because up to that point I’d wanted to be a writer, but hadn’t known what kind of writer I wanted to be, but from the moment I discovered Howard’s writing I knew exactly what kind of writer I wanted to be, and I’ve never strayed too far from that ‘ah-ha” moment.
Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, and Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice have to tie for this one, because I read them both the same year. They are very different takes on the vampire myths and I would be hard pressed to decide which was more illuminating to my own fictional vampires, and world building.
Robert B. Parker’s Spencer series helped me discover hard-boiled detective novels. Parker is where I learned how to write my own dialogue, and the echo of his style is still there in mine, especially when I write Anita’s dialogue. I only recently realized when I wrote, A Shiver of Light, which was not a mystery, that I am at heart a mystery writer. Writing a book without a mystery to help me organize and pace was one of the hardest things I’d attempted in years. I wanted to stretch myself as a writer and I did it, but I am a mystery writer. Yes, there’s supernatural characters and elements in all my writing, and even romance, but at heart I never left the wonderful world that Parker’s Spencer series opened up to me just after college.
5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?
I can’t draw
6. Please tell us about your latest novel…
A Shiver of Light is the first Meredith (Merry) Gentry novel in over four years. In re-reading the other eight novels in the series I discovered something I hadn’t known before, that the first seven books are really an epic political fantasy series a la George R. R. Martin except with more mystery, sex, and less killing off of main characters. Book eight of Merry, Divine Misdemeanors was my attempt to make the series into more of a hard-boiled detective series like Anita Blake, and A Shiver of Light is my accepting of who Merry is, what her world is, and that I’ve been writing an epic fantasy series, that I thought was a supernatural thriller series; who knew? *laughs*
This book has been one of the hardest writes of my life. It forced me into some very dark places personally. I actually put a sticky note over my computer that read, “This is supposed to be painful.” Once I accepted that parts of the story were supposed to be painful I could face it, explore the personal pain attached, and translate it into more joy for Merry. I broke my own heart when I wrote this book, and I still haven’t recovered completely.
7. What do you hope people take away with them after reading your work?
To be yourself, whatever that means for you. That as long as it’s between consenting adults, and it harm none, who and how you love is okay. You’re good, just as you are. Take no crap from anyone. Fight, fight for yourself, for what you want! Fight for your rights, and for your desires. Never give up, never give in, never let go of what makes you happy, and never let anyone make you feel bad about it.
8. Whom do you most admire in the realm of writing and why?
George R. R. Martin because he seems to be able to kill characters left and right without suffering the emotional pangs that I seem to go through.
Neil Gaiman for, well, being Neil. He seems to move effortlessly from short story to novel, and even children’s picture books, screen play, or comic scripts without missing a beat.
James Patterson for his business acumen. Nobody uses his creative resources as well as Patterson does.
I suspect that they are all very different writers from me, and since I love both who I am and what I write, I wouldn’t change to be more like them, but you asked who I admired in my field and that’s some of the list.
9. Many artists set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
I want to edit an anthology this year. I want to write more comic scripts with my husband, Jonathon, and try our hand at movie scripts, as well. I’ve written 35 novels and an anthology of my own short stories, most of that in the last fifteen years, so I think I’m good on the ambitious goals. I’ve worked harder, faster, smarter but I’m trying something completely new. I want to work happier. I’m not sure what that means for me, but I’m making an effort to find out. I guess, happiness maybe the most ambitious goal of all.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write! Sit your butt in a chair and write. For the first novel don’t rewrite as you go, just finish the first draft of your book. Because once you’ve written hundred of pages, even if they suck, you will have the confidence that you wrote all those pages! You can fix it in the next draft, or the seventh draft, but you can’t fix what you haven’t written. If it’s just in your head there’s no way to edit it, because you need words on the page to rewrite anything. When I first started out I had the 70/30 rule. 70% of any first draft was garbage, but 30% was gold, the trouble is that that 30% of great writing was scattered in among the 70% of stuff I had to throw out, or totally rewrite. If I didn’t write all 100% of the first draft I’d never get the good stuff, or have the bad stuff to rewrite and turn into gold.
Laurell, thank you for playing.