For an author who gives a lot of interviews, Charlaine Harris knows how to keep a secret. She's working on a new series, but can’t share the details (“people who talk don’t write”), she's cagey about where Sookie’s telepathic abilities came from, and she won’t say whether Sookie really wants to live her life with a vampire.

But with the skill of a Southern lady born and bred, she manages to avoid revealing those trade secrets very graciously during a phone conversation to her Little Rock home, where, she says, “a storm is rolling in.”

Storms are definitely rolling in to Bon Temps, Louisiana, in the 10th Southern Vampire novel, Dead in the Family. After being kidnapped and tortured during the Fae War in last year's Dead and Gone, you'd think Sookie Stackhouse might be in for some happier times. But though there are a few bright spots in Dead in the Family, there are also more obstacles for our intrepid heroine, especially when it comes to her relationship with Eric, the vampire sheriff in her district. There's a dead body in Sookie’s yard. Eric's maker returns, bringing a new “little brother” with some psychotic tendencies. Her first vampire beau, Bill, is slowly wasting away from silver poisoning. And Sookie's fairy cousin, Claude, is now her roommate.

“She’s facing a lot of challenges,” Harris says, “and she’s having to change in order to rise to them or to sink to them, as the case may be.”

Sometimes Sookie herself can’t decide. Though she’s still a churchgoer who wonders “what would Gran do,” her recent experiences have brought out a dark side. As Bill says, “No one could be . . . carefree and sunny . . . after coming as close to death as you did.” Sookie’s newfound anger is focused on two deserving vampires, however: Victor Madden, who oversees the Louisiana vampires and kept Eric from coming to Sookie’s rescue; and a Roman named Appius Livius Ocella, who happens to be Eric’s maker. Ocella has rolled into town unannounced with a new “child” in tow: Alexei, the Romanov tsarevich, whose violent past has left him even more bloodthirsty than your average vamp.

“She’s facing a lot of challenges, and she’s having to change in order to rise to them or to sink to them, as the case may be.”

Another family member who shows up to complicate Sookie and Eric’s relationship in Dead in the Family is Hunter, the five-year-old son of Sookie’s late cousin Hadley. After spending the weekend with Hunter—who’s also a telepath—Sookie can’t help but think about what she’d be missing if she stayed with Eric. “Certainly, when she looks at a child and realizes she can’t have one with Eric, that’s a sobering thought,” says Harris, who is the mother of three children, now grown.

Those are just a few of the conflicts that the inventive Harris, 58, manages to throw into the action-packed Dead in the Family—and the other Southern Vampire novels. “I’m easily bored and I’m always trying to think of ways to keep myself amused,” she says, and she takes readers along for the ride.

One of those readers is Alan Ball, the creator of shows like “Six Feet Under,” who used the novels as inspiration for the HBO series “True Blood,” now in its third season. She is a fan of the show, and has “a pretty good relationship” with the cast after accompanying them to events like Comic-Con and even making a cameo in the series’ second season. “I certainly think Kristin Bauer is very close to Pam. And Chris Bauer, who plays Andy Bellefleur, is exactly the way I imagined Andy Bellefleur!”

Though the novels were selling briskly before the TV adaptation, now Harris’ career has reached a whole new level—at one point last summer, all nine books in the Southern Vampire series were on the New York Times bestseller list, and she just returned from her first European book tour, which included Italy, England, Portugal and Poland. “They were all enthusiastic; it was really eye-opening and I’m really glad I did it,” she says.

Dead in the Family comes to an uneasy close, leaving several tantalizing storylines open for development in book 11—such as a possible new love interest for Bill. Like any good suspense author, Harris doesn’t want to spoil the surprise for fans, but she did offer one hint at an entirely new plot line: “There’s an elf in the next book. And believe me, you don’t want to meet up with an elf.”

 

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