This is the last blog before Dead Ice hits the shelves here in America, you lucky fans in the U.K. already have your copy, but on this side of the pond we’re still waiting and in anticipation of that wait here is Anita. Because if there’s just one more blog left before the pub date, it’s got to be Anita.
Question: How did you come up with the character of Anita?
Answer: The summer after college I read my first hard-boiled detective fiction, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser series, Sue Grafton, Sara Paratesky, Raymond Chandler, and Dashiell Hammett. I’m sure there were other male writers in the genre I read that year, but that’s the list that sticks out in my mind. What stood out in my mind then was that the male detectives got to cuss, have sex, and shoot people pretty much without remorse. The female detectives rarely cursed, sex was either nonexistent or sanitized and off stage, and if they had to shoot someone they had to feel really, really bad about it. The difference between the two hard-boiled genders was so unbalanced that it pissed me off, and out of that anger I decided to create a female detective that could even the playing field. At the same time I read a short story with zombies in it, several articles on real life voodoo as a religion, one on Sanataria, and . . . the idea that Anita would be more than an ordinary detective began to take shape.
Secrets to Share: In retrospect I may have done a bit more than just evened the playing field, but then if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing? *grins* The seed that would eventually become Anita Blake, and spawn a #1 New York Times Bestselling series, began with that sense of outrage at the gender inequality in hard-boiled detective fiction. If I’d stayed with that original idea then I would have tried to sell a seriously violent detective series with a hard talking and sexy female detective, and respected editors in the mystery genre have told me that they love Anita Blake, but the series would never have sold if it had been straight mystery. We may have come a long way, baby, but apparently mainstream mystery hasn’t come far enough to have a female detective that can play as hard as the men. In fact, Anita gets to play harder than most of the men in the plain mystery section. If I hadn’t read the pieces about voodoo and zombies at nearly the same time as the mysteries, then I don’t know if I would have thought to have Anita raise the dead for a living. Adding the horror genre to the mystery was what allowed me to be as violent as the crimes Anita was investigating needed to be; and horror also lets women fight back right alongside the men, more even than mystery.
The zombies came from reading the right things at the perfect time, but I’d already decided to put the supernatural in the series because I thought I’d get bored with just straight mystery. I read a lot of mystery series after those initial ones, not just hard-boiled, but cozy, and everything in between the two. What I found was that most writers seemed to get bored with their series between book five and eight. You could watch them fall out of love with their characters and their worlds. Some authors rallied and were able to find renewed energy and fall back in love with their series, and some were selling too well to stop so they struggled on for more books, but the lack of joy in their work showed through on the page. I decided I’d give myself enough toys so I would never grow bored. I’d read fantasy and horror most of my reading life and I loved old horror movies, especially the old Hammer vampires films. I’d watched them as a child on the late night creature feature show and been enthralled. I’d read all the real life ghost stories and folklore that I could get my hands on from the time I could read, so I decided I wanted a world where everything that went bump in the night was real. More than that though, I wanted it to be modern day as if we went to bed one night and got up the next day with all the monsters being real and everyone knew about them. I wanted to see modern day America have to deal with vampires, zombies, and shapeshifters as a reality, not as a rumor or a ghost story, but real. I wanted to mix the fantastic with the mundane in a serious way and see what happened. That was one of the main things that interested me at the beginning and is still one of my favorite things to write about today.
The fact that I then added relationship tropes to the series just helped me push the writing in any direction the story took me.
Question: Will we ever meet Anita’s family on stage in a book?
Answer: I think so.
Secrets to Share:
I actually wrote the first chapter and planned the mystery plot for a book where Anita goes home for Thanksgiving. The original idea was she would take Richard to meet her family, but by the time I sat down to write the first chapter it was Micah and Nathaniel. Why not Jean-Claude? First, vampires don’t travel as well by car, and that was the original plan. Second, Grandma Blake is crazy religious and prays for Anita’s soul because she’s sleeping with a vampire. We don’t trust her not to do something like open a window so sunlight hits Jean-Claude. The original idea was that Anita would stay in the house she grew up in, like most of us do when we go home for the holidays. Nothing like being surrounded by family and staying in your old room to throw you back into old childhood mindsets. Not sure how much of the plot would change, but every time I try to make it the next book it just doesn’t work. My muse and I aren’t ready, or maybe Anita isn’t ready.
Question: Is Anita you?
Secrets to Share:
I made Anita my size, because it was easier to choreograph a fight scene if my main character was my size. If I’d made her taller, or in any way that different from me physically, then I’d have had to find a friend the size of my character anytime I went gun shopping or looked at a shoulder holster. She’s my size because the hand I have is the hand I need to fit. It just made sense to me at the time. I gave her my hair because I like my hair, and I figured if I was going to screw her life up with terrifying mystery/horror plots that I should give her something that she might like, too. I’m told that Anita’s attitude is tough, strong, masculine, not very feminine, and in many ways, it is my attitude; but I didn’t think of it in those terms until readers and interviewers started telling me. Anita’s personality and mine were closer to the same at the beginning of the series, but it’s a first person narration so making her sound and think like me was easier as a new novelist. When I sat down to write Merry Gentry years later I would make sure she didn’t sound like Anita, which meant she didn’t sound much like me, and made writing her a whole lot harder. I think it’s one of the reasons that Merry writes slower than Anita, because I don’t think like Merry does, and yet she’s a first person narrator, too. Anita and I have diverged as people because our experiences have been very different. She’s gone on to have one of the highest kill counts in fiction outside of war novels, and I married, moved to suburbia, had a child, dogs, and did a much more traditional approach for the first decade I wrote Anita. She was anything but traditional by any standards. Anita is now decades younger than I am, because I read an essay by Agatha Christie years before where she complained that she’d made both Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot too old, and if she could do it over again she’d have started them off much younger. I took that bit of advice to heart and Anita was twenty-four when she stepped onto the page, as was I when I wrote the first short story with her in it. Seven to eight years is all that’s passed in Anita’s world, while much more has passed in the real world.
Anita and I both lost our mothers in car accidents as children. She was eight when her mother died, I was six. Why did I do that? Because when I was twenty-four my mother’s death was still so traumatic that I couldn’t imagine understanding a character that hadn’t had a similar experience. That early tragic loss made me understand just how fragile life was, and took forever the ideal that the adults around me are omnipotent and could keep me safe, because they couldn’t keep themselves safe. That knowledge at such a young age has made me a different person than I might have been, and it’s so intimate to who I am that I gave the viewpoint to my main character, because again, first person narration. They say, write about what you know, so what did I know? I knew death and loss, monsters and lovers, small town American lost in the big city, I knew how to be a strong woman in a man’s world, I knew not to ask for mercy for there isn’t much to go around, save the mercy for someone who needs it more.
Sneak Peek from Dead Ice:
Lita looked at me, head slightly to one side. “You didn’t worry that it’d make men not want you?”
“No,” I said.
“You didn’t worry that it made you look like a victim?” Kelly asked.
I frowned at her. “No, every time I look at my scars I think that I lived, and I killed what hurt me. These are victory marks, not victim,” I said.