The #1 New York Times bestselling Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris spawned the hit TV show, True Blood, and captivated fans around the world—including many writers. Now a group of writers, specifically chosen by Harris and co-editor L.P. Kelner, pays tribute to “the southern, mind-reading belle who gets mixed up in the world of vampires and magical creatures” (The Kansas City Star) with a collection of fifteen all-new stories about your favorite residents of Bon Temps.
DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN is the seventh paranormal anthology produced by Harris and co-editor Kelner, an acclaimed writer in her own right. With this latest effort, the powerhouse duo may have outdone themselves.
Kelner and Harris graciously answered a few questions for THE BIG THRILL.
The smash-hit Sookie Stackhouse series may have had its finale, but Sookie’s world set in Bon Temps, Louisiana, lives on in this collection of 15 stories. This DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN anthology includes an incredible line up of notable authors. How did you decide which authors to invite to write new tales within the Sookie universe? And were you looking for a diversity of narrative styles and voices to create this collection or similar appeal?
Toni Kelner: Of course, we wanted great authors, but also we were looking for people we knew to be actual fans of the Sookie books, people who’ve spoken to Charlaine over the years about their favorite characters and storylines. Since Charlaine has had such a huge influence on urban fantasy and paranormal romance, it wasn’t hard to find folks.
Four of the contributors had special significance. Miranda James was one of the first people who read Dead Until Dark, back when Charlaine and her agent were worried that the market couldn’t hold another vampire series. Needless to say, Dean told them to get that book published ASAP. Dana Cameron’s first paranormal short story—the beginning of her award-winning Fangborn series—was in our second anthology together, Wolfsbane and Mistletoe. And Nicole Peeler and Leigh Evans were directly inspired by Charlaine’s work to create their own urban fantasy worlds. In fact, Leigh was a member of Charlaine’s fan club—the Charlatans—before she started writing her series.
Charlaine Harris: It was weirdly like trying to decide to ask someone out on a date. “Does she like me, really? Will she say yes?” To my pleasure, everyone agreed!
What sparked the idea for this collection?
Kelner: Steve Feldberg at Audible Books came up with the idea, which is why it was originally released as an audio book, earlier this year.
Harris: I was very reluctant initially, but I knew if Toni would sign on, too, I could be assured of the quality of the work. She’s the best editor I know.
What overall ‘vision’ did you have for the anthology? Was there a particular message or theme you wanted to get across to your audience? And does your original vision reflect what the book has become?
Kelner: Our main vision is always just to have good stories. For this one, our instructions to the contributors were simple. (1) No stories from Sookie’s viewpoint—nobody could do her as well as Charlaine herself, after all. (2) Keep within the rules of the Sookieverse. (3) Make sure to draw from the books, not the TV series. (So no Jessica, even though we really liked that character!)
Harris: Yes, no TV influence. The books and the show had grown increasingly divergent, so we wanted to be sure the books were the source of the stories.
Were there crucial elements or storylines that the authors were asked to incorporate in their tales? And were there any stories that surprised you? If so, why?
Kelner: Nope, we didn’t make any suggestions. We wanted to see what they’d come up with.
As for surprises, I think I was most surprised by Leigh Evan’s story. She picked a couple of really obscure characters—characters who’d only been mentioned as being on a TV show Sookie was watching—and just ran with them. Otherwise, I was surprised nobody wanted to write a Bill Compton or a Sam Merlotte story. (Sam shows up in two stories, but is not the viewpoint character in either.) I would have thought somebody would have grabbed one of them right off.
Harris: I don’t think you ask talented writers to participate and then try to lay strictures on them. Aside from the few rules we gave them, we didn’t want anyone to feel they had to toe a party line.
You have worked together as co-editors on several other paranormal anthologies. What is your usual collaboration process and was editing this collection any different for you?
Kelner: Mostly it was the same. We picked the authors together and we both read all the stories. The only real difference is that with the other anthologies, we took turns being the primary editor on the stories. Being primary means reading the story first, editing it thoroughly, and providing the bulk of the feedback. With DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN, the unusual circumstances of all the characters being Charlaine’s required a little bit of adjustment. So I was the primary editor for all the stories, with Charlaine getting final say for both story and continuity issues. Plus we had Charlaine’s longtime continuity editor Victoria Koski giving feedback.
Harris: Toni was the frontrunner, for a lot of reasons. I wasn’t sure my reaction would always be reliable; hers would. I trusted her gut a lot more than mine.
For the segment of readers who aren’t familiar with Sookie Stackhouse, could they consider DEAD BUT NOT FORGOTTEN a good introduction to the series?
Kelner: Well, I’m hardly unbiased, but I think all the stories are wonderful as stand-alone stories, so of course readers would enjoy them without knowing the Sookie world. Still, nothing beats the original books, so I would always advise people to go right to Dead Until Dark first.
Harris: I agree.
Will this collection spawn any more Sookie Stackhouse anthologies on the horizon?
Kelner: I don’t think so. As fun as this was, we’re not planning to do any more.
Harris: I agree on this, too. I’m sure we’d consider any offer we got, but as far as I’m concerned, I’m moving on.
What’s up next for both of you? More vampires and magical creatures—or something completely different?
Kelner: Writing as Leigh Perry, I’ve got my first horror story coming out in an anthology called Seize the Night, edited by Christopher Golden. That’ll be out in the Fall of 2015. And in October of 2015, Berkley Prime Crime will release my third Family Skeleton mystery, The Skeleton Haunts a House. The story is about a vampire and the novel is about an ambulatory skeleton, so I’m doing both!
Harris: I’m collaborating with Christopher Golden on the Cemetery Girl trilogy of graphic novels. I’m writing a new series of my own, about Midnight, Texas. The first one, Midnight Crossroad, came out this year. The second one (Day Shift) will be out in May 2015. I also have a story in Seize the Night, “Miss Fondevant.”
Counting Dead But Not Forgotten, Toni L.P. Kelner and her co-editor Charlaine Harris have produced seven paranormal anthologies together. Several of them hit the New York Times bestseller list. Toni has also published thirteen mystery novels. The most recent, written under the pen name Leigh Perry, was The Skeleton Takes a Bow (September 2014). Toni is an Agatha Award winner and multiple award nominee for short fiction. She lives north of Boston with her husband, fellow author Stephen P. Kelner; their two daughters; and two guinea pigs.
To learn more about Toni, please visit her website.
Charlaine Harris is a New York Times bestselling author who has been writing for over thirty years. She was born and raised in the Mississippi River Delta area. Though her early works consisted largely of poems about ghosts and teenage angst, she began writing plays when she attended Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee. She switched to novels a few years later, and achieved publication in 1981 with Sweet and Deadly. Harris is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the American Crime Writers League, Sisters in Crime, and the International Crime Writers Association. She is a past member of the boards of Sisters in Crime and MWA, and she has served as president of the MWA. She is also a member of Science Fiction Writers of America, Horror Writers Association, and Romance Writers of America, just to make sure she’s covered.
To learn more about Charlaine, please visit her website.