For Rhodes alumna and New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris Schulz ’73, each month seems to bring even more accolades and recognition.
“True Blood,” a HBO television series based on Harris’ Southern Vampire series, follows Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress, as she attempts to solve mysteries involving vampires, werewolves and other odd creatures of the night. Anna Paquin, the Academy Award-winning actress, pays Sookie in “True Blood.”
Seven of her books from her acclaimed series have simultaneously appeared on the New York Times best seller list, setting a record for the most books on the list by one author.
Harris, who majored in English and Communication Arts at Rhodes, attributes the success of the vampire series to people’s innate desire for escapist art. “Everyone wants there to be something else beyond the mundane world, something beyond our day to day existence,” she says. “The possibility, fictional or real, of another world beyond the one we can see, is very attractive to a huge cross-section of the world population.”
“Huge” might be an understatement to describe Harris’ fan base. The first five episodes of “True Blood” averaged 6.5 million viewers per week, putting the show on track to be the third most watched HBO series, after “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City.” The Southern Vampire series has been translated into several languages, appearing around the world in countries such as the United Kingdom, Japan, Greece, Poland, Germany, Spain, Thailand, Korea, France, Czech Republic, Australia and Russia.
For the most part, she has been impressed with how HBO has translated her work onto the screen. “I have been delighted with the episodes of ‘True Blood,’” Harris says. “Some of the changes caught me by surprise, but of course the series had to be changed from its first-person point of view; that wouldn’t work for television.”
The success of “True Blood” can also be attributed to the show’s producer, the award-winning Alan Ball. Ball was the screenwriter and co-producer of the 1999 Oscar-winning film “American Beauty,” and the creator and executive producer of the hit HBO series “Six Feet Under.” He discovered Harris’ talent when he was early for a dentist appointment in 2005. With time to spare, he went to a nearby bookstore, only to discover Harris’ Dead Until Dark, the first book of the Southern Vampire series. His reaction was similar to that of almost anyone who picks up Harris’ novels: He couldn’t put it down.
When Ball expressed interest in turning Harris’ books into a television series, Harris was flattered and taken aback. Nevertheless, she jumped at the offer. “I was surprised to be working with someone so famous and established,” she says, adding, “I’d had other offers on the books, but his was the most outstanding.”
Despite her international success and recognition, Harris still finds time for her family and personal hobbies. She lives in southern Arkansas with her husband, three dogs and a duck. She is the past senior warden of St. James Episcopal Church, a board member of Mystery Writers of America, and is past president of the Arkansas Mystery Writers Alliance. Harris also works with Sisters in Crime, an organization founded to combat sex discrimination in the crime writing industry.
Involving her family with her career has been a seamless transition for Harris. Her three grown children, she says, “loved going to the premiere ‘True Blood’ with me and watching me do the red carpet walk.”
Harris will be walking on that proverbial red carpet for quite some time to come.
By: Bryan Hearn ’09