Monday, April 7, 2014

Wordcraft -- Charlaine Harris tells all -- almost -- to MWA

Bestselling author Charlaine Harris was happy to talk about everything to do with writing at last Saturday’s meeting of the Dallas Mystery Writers of America. Everything except one, that is.

“I can’t tell you how to write a query letter, because I’ve been published so long they don’t expect them from me.” Her first mystery was published in 1981, although she’s been most famous since 2008 for her Sookie Stackhouse urban fantasies, basis for HBO’s True Blood TV series.

“I got published over the transom, when there were transoms,” she said. “And there were more publishers. Now you almost have to have an agent, or at least a connection. My agent called and asked if he could represent me. I’ve had one agent for my entire career--I’ve had him longer than I’ve had my daughter.”

That magical call didn’t actually occur out of thin air. She had already written two well-reviewed mysteries that earned her the respect of another writer who recommended her to the agent, Harris said. “It was not natural for me to self-promote. A famous writer once walked up to me and said, I’ve published 25 million books. And I thought, I don’t recall asking. I don’t want to be like that but. . .”

But aren’t agents superfluous in this day of Internet publishing, an audience member asked.

“Poppycock,” Harris replied. “If you want to be published conventionally, you need an agent. Even if you (self) publish by e-book, what about foreign rights, movie rights, TV rights?”

She gave an enthusiastic “yes!” to a question about whether conferences (such as next month’s DFW Writer’s Conference) are good places to make necessary contacts. She also recommended contests--provided you win, of course--as ways to make worthwhile connections with agents and editors.

So how does a woman with as many writing credits as Harris, and TV spin-off, and movie options, start a writing project? “With a character or a place,” she said. The setting for her newest book, Midnight Crossroad, out next month, is a crossroad, “which is very significant in the magical world. And then I have a key scene I want to write. Hopefully, it’s in the middle of the book.” Having in mind a significant scene set mid-book helps avoid the problem of sagging midsections, although, “when my books get slow,” Harris said, her trademark solution is to “kill somebody, and the messier, the better.”

Her usual writing goal is eight new pages a day, which she edits as she goes along. In addition to self-editing, “I have a couple of friends that read my books before I send them to my editor. You’ve got to have somebody you trust, somebody you consider your peer, to point out the black holes in your writing, the things that are invisible to you. Other than that, you’ve got to write the best book you can.”

For more about Harris, books she’s written and books she loves, see her site,, and at this site, “Harris gets deadly serious about character,” December 16, 2013.

For more about the Dallas chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and their programs, see

(Next Monday, local writers the Dallas Library’s April 12 Book Fair.)

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