In the beginning of the year, SciFi Vision attended a press day at the Midnight, Texas
set in Albuquerque, New Mexico. While there, journalists talked to the showrunners and cast of the series, as well as the author of the book series on which the television show is based, Charlaine Harris.
Harris's book centers around the town Midnight, which is home to supernaturals trying to stay hidden from the world. Manfred (François Arnaud), who can talk to the dead, is trying to escape his past when he moves into the town. Although he finds it to be a safe haven for supernaturals, the town has a lot of secrets. Midnight sits on a weakening veil between life and hell, and something is trying to break through.
In the set of Fiji (Paris Fitz-Henley)'s shop, Inquiring Mind, the journalists sat down with Harris to talk to her about her books as well as the new series.
While sitting on set, the author talked to SciFi Vision about her favorite set pieces. "I have enjoyed all of them. They weren’t complete the last time I was here, so I’m looking forward to seeing them. I love [Fiji's] shop. It is just great.
"Now, of course, it’s not just like the one in my head, because that was in my head, and they can’t see it, but it is just intriguing, and mysterious, and just very rich. I like it very much. So, I would have to say that was kind of my favorite."
She also talked to the site about what part of the series follows along with her novels and what part was written for the show. "[It's] a little of both. They are going to end up where I ended up, but they are going to end up there very quickly, [laughs]
whereas it took me three books. So, they’re just compressing, and I think, probably after this it’ll be completely their brainchild. But I’ve got to say, I’m really looking forward to how they film that."
She also talked to SciFi Vision about her inspiration for the story. "When I came to the end of the Sookie series, I was casting around for what I wanted to write next, obviously that was a big hole to fill. I didn’t want to commit myself to a long series, because thirteen years, that was a much larger commitment than I ever thought I would make. But I thought, 'I could write a trilogy; I could do that.'
"I was thinking about the summers I spent as a child. My mama was Texan, and we went to Rock Springs, Texas every summer to help our grandmother during the rodeo; she owned a hotel. This hotel, it was always full, in this tiny town, and most of the people in it were drunk. [laughs]
So my mother came to help, her mom and her two sisters, came to help change the sheets, and generally, keep order, which was not always easy to do.
"When I would stay in Rock Springs, I would feel like the culture was so alien to me. The landscape was so different. The people were so different. They were a lot tougher than anybody where I came from; much heartier. And I felt like a stranger in a strange land, and I kind of used that as the basis for the books, the location and that feeling."
She later told the site about where her supernatural research and inspiration comes from. "I made it up. That’s the great thing about supernatural characters; you can make it up. I borrowed from this tradition and that tradition to make something that would work for what I was trying to do in my books. Not day walkers; I didn't have that. I couldn’t understand why vampires aren’t supposed to able to cross running water. So, I went, 'Okay, I’m just going to throw that out, because I’ve got nothing.'
"Tanya Huff had the best explanation for that: they sink like a stone. And I thought, 'Well, I can’t top that, so I’m just going to ignore it. They can cross running water.' So I just used what I needed to tell the story I wanted to tell."
Another thing Harris mentioned to the site was how she chose the name of the town. "I look at the atlas every time [laughs]
before I name something. I just thought that would be a good name for it. I ran through a lot of possible names, but I named Sookie’s city Bon Temps, which was, you know, pretty ridiculous, and I thought “Midnight” was the right name for this town."
Some of the other highlights of the round table style conversation included discussion on her vision of the story versus the look of the series, including the look of the characters, her writing habits, her readers, and much more.
Be sure to tune into Midnight, Texas
on July 24th on NBC.
Check out the full transcript below. Having a couple of shows under your belt, have there been any adjustments along the way about how you want to be involved in the show? Whether it's distancing yourself more or having a little bit more say over certain things, have you adjusted any of that, and did it impact the show?
I have no say in anything, and I had to make my peace with that, and then I thought, "Well, they don’t tell me how to write the books, so it would be strange if I told them how to do their profession." So, I did make my peace with that and adjust to that.
I’d always heard that the writer is the least important person on the set, [laughs]
and that’s true! But that means I can have fun without worrying about the outcome. I’ve calmed down a lot more. At first I was very hyper-conscious of talking to people who did things I couldn’t even imagine doing. I was really terrified, but once you talk to people who do all this wonderful, creative stuff, you find out that they worry about their mortgage [laughs]
and their car insurance, just like everybody else. And I was able to get pretty Zen about it after that. What about doing a cameo? Is there ever a moment where you itch to be seen somewhere there, in one way or another?
I've have done one! I was on True Blood
twice, and I’ve been in the Aurora Teagarden
movies on Hallmark. My husband and I both did that. So, you know, I enjoy that. So what have you learned in your acting jobs? [laughs]
I didn’t get nominated for any Emmys! I learned how hard it is to do the same thing over, and over, and over, and over.
When I went to the filming of the last episode of True Blood
, there’s a scene between Bill (Stephen Moyer) and Eric (Alexander Skarsgård), and I was waiting up to do my scene after that, and they did it over, and over, and over. And I thought, “You know, I really want to leave.” [laughs]
I thought, “Isn’t this good enough?!” But they didn’t think it was good enough, so we kept doing it several times with little twitches and twitters to it, until finally they thought it was good enough.
And my poor daughter was a nurse at Vamp Camp. She was the sadistic nurse. I gave her a name; I can’t remember what it was; she didn’t have a name in the script. She had to dress in pantyhose and heels and a white jacket, and they never showed her below the waist. [laughs]
She had to spend the whole day like that. [laughs] I guess it's not her bones to be in the acting business?
No, not at all. She is an action woman. SCIFI VISION: Obviously, we’ve only seen one set so far, but out of all of them, what’s your favorite set and why?
You know, I have enjoyed all of them. They weren’t complete the last time I was here, so I’m looking forward to seeing them. I love [Fiji's] shop. It is just great.
Now, of course, it’s not just like the one in my head, because that was in my head, and they can’t see it, but it is just intriguing, and mysterious, and just very rich. I like it very much. So, I would have to say that was kind of my favorite. When you see something like that, does it then alter your ideas going forward as to how you might envision something you've seen, versus how they envision something from your brain, and then you realize, “Wait a minute, I didn’t look at those details in that way?”
No, because what’s in my head is my product that I created, and it stays the same. Every now and then I’ll see a plot point, and I’ll think, “I wish I had thought of that,” [laughs]
but I didn’t, you know? And I’ve gotten used to my world being populated much more densely than when it’s on television, because books just don’t have enough singular action, pretty much all the way through, and they have to fill the screen with other incidentals. So, I thought, “Well, you know, they're just embroidering.” And I’ve enjoyed a lot of the results, although sometimes I’ve thought, “I wish I could have done that.” You said that so much of this is in your head. What was your reaction to some of the casting? You must have specific images for all of these people?
You know, not anymore. I got disillusioned about that with True Blood
. I always thought that Niall (Rutger Haber), the king of the faeries in True Blood
, David Bowie should have played him. He would have been so perfect. That was the only thing I ever wanted. I thought, he would be so great. But that didn’t happen, and now he’s gone, and it can never happen.
And this may sound every unenterprising and dispassionate, but I leave that to the experts. If the casting director thinks the actor can do the job, the actor can do the job. I’m no arbiter of that. It must be interesting, for Lem (Peter Mensah), let’s say, because he's so different from what’s in the book, to see him on the screen.
That was! [laughs]
That was startling, but you know, he’s just got so much power, who could not want him? He’s just kind of an absolute character, which was my point. He was very much one-of-a-kind, and I think he’s just great in the role. He has to wear blue contacts, no big favorite of his, [laughs]
but, you know, he just has power. You said every project’s completely different, and certainly this piece will take your mythology and do what they want with it, but in this case, has Monica [Breen] talked to you or picked your brain at all about some of the choices that you’ve made, or is it sort of a separation of church and state with this one too, in terms of that?
I have a couple of answers. [laughs]
I can’t talk to anyone on the set about what I think might have happened to the characters at other times. But that having been said, Monica and I have talked about how the characters have reacted on the screen and what that means about how they got there. SCIFI VISION: I don’t know how much of the show you’ve seen so far or how many scripts you’ve read, but do you know how closely they've followed the book? I mean, I know it’s out of order, but are there pieces they take from book to the script, or is it just more of a jumping-off point from there?
A little of both. They are going to end up where I ended up, but they are going to end up there very quickly, [laughs]
whereas it took me three books. So, they’re just compressing, and I think, probably, after this it’ll be completely their brainchild. But I’ve got to say, I’m really looking forward to how they film that. You have all of the universes of your books in your head, but you are dealing with different groups of people that come in and interpret one book one way, or one series one way, one series another way. What do you learn from how they reinterpret you?
I learn that you cannot be responsible for a book after it’s published. Each reader will interpret it differently. Each reader will get - or not get - some big point you thought you made, and you can’t be responsible for that. You can just accept it.
Sometimes I’m kind of horrified, sometimes I’m amused, sometimes I’m just startled by things some people have gotten from my books, because that may have never been my intention, and it surprises me quite a bit, but I have learned to just accept that and not get upset about it. You know, that’s my big goal; don’t get upset! [laughs] On the heels of that, when you see the narrative outside of you, do you see certain philosophical, sociological, or even spiritual elements that you didn’t see when it was only inside you or on the page?
I do. Alan [Ball], obviously, is a very political filmmaker, and he made points that I have never thought of making, but I was totally in agreement with his philosophical and moral viewpoint. And he did put in elements that I thought were so important.
I think the spirit of this story, is that unlikely people can bond together to create their own family, and that they’re stronger as a unit than they were apart. That is my philosophical view of the books, and I think that’s going to come through in the filming, definitely. So every book has a pacing. You have, you know, climatic scenes, or big scenes. How curious were you to see how they would translate those pivotal moments on TV?
Some of the pivotal moments in other shows just never happened. [laughs]
So, I’m pretty excited about seeing the last episode of this book, because for me, I pulled out all the stops. I kept thinking, “How can I make this bigger, better, scarier?” And I was just like, "This is a carnival of a last scene; I loved it." So, I’m very much looking forward to seeing how they film it. SCIFI VISION: Where did your inspiration for your book originally come from? What made you think of this story? Is there something - a dream, or whatever - that popped into your head, and that’s why you wrote it, or is it something else?
I don’t write from dreams. [laughs]
When I came to the end of the Sookie series, I was casting around for what I wanted to write next, obviously that was a big hole to fill. I didn’t want to commit myself to a long series, because thirteen years, that was a much larger commitment than I ever thought I would make. But I thought, “I could write a trilogy; I could do that.”
I was thinking about the summers I spent as a child. My mama was Texan, and we went to Rock Springs, Texas every summer to help our grandmother during the rodeo; she owned a hotel. This hotel, it was always full, in this tiny town, and most of the people in it were drunk. [laughs]
So my mother came to help, her mom and her two sisters, came to help change the sheets, and generally, keep order, which was not always easy to do.
When I would stay in Rock Springs, I would feel like the culture was so alien to me. The landscape was so different. The people were so different. They were a lot tougher than anybody where I came from; much heartier. And I felt like a stranger in a strange land, and I kind of used that as the basis for the books, the location and that feeling. SCIFI VISION: Where did the title come from? Because I don’t remember, but I don’t think it’s a real city in Texas, is it?
No, it isn't. I look at the atlas every time [laughs]
before I name something. I just thought that would be a good name for it. I ran through a lot of possible names, but I named Sookie’s city Bon Temps, which was, you know, pretty ridiculous, and I thought “Midnight” was the right name for this town. It’s interesting to me, because they’re kind of an inverse of each other, in terms of the Sookie novels. Bon Temp is very open in terms of supernatural elements, and Midnight is very hidden and closed. Was that a deliberate angle?
It was. I wanted this book to be quite different, and I wanted this book’s approach to the supernatural to be quite different. When I wrote it - when I first conceived it - I considered not having any supernatural elements in it, whatsoever. But when it came down to it, I just couldn’t resist! [laughs]
It was like being on crack; I was like, “Oh, she’s got to be a witch; that would just be so much more interesting!” And I thought, “Oh, you know, weretigers, yes!” So, it just kind of evolved. I thought, “Okay, well, I’m going to do it anyway.” When it evolved did you wonder if both of these worlds could exist in the same universe? Because, obviously, some of the powers kind of translate.
Was it for you where you just kind of looked at a map, and Midnight was here, and Sookie and Bon Temps was there, but it's a world where if they ever connected it would be…
It would be congruent. Because in the books, Lemuel goes to Dallas to the vampire nest I referred to in Living Dead in Dallas
, so it all tied in. Those vampires weren’t in the Sookie books, so I could use them again in the filming. So, I thought that this will tie the worlds in together, at least to me it did, but Lemuel had to be different; he had to be unique. So, I made him one of the rare energy-sucking vampires, who we’ve all know people like that haven’t we? [laughs] Did you find that there’s a particular age, not that you write for, but that you write your characters as, that you feel most comfortable writing, like an older person or younger person? Or are there ages that are a challenge - not writing for the audience, but the characters?
Sometimes it’s hard to write young, I’ll tell you. I have to call my daughter and say, “What would you...,” or “How would you...,” or “What word would you use?”, because I don’t have kids in the home anymore; all my kids are grown. And I'm going, "That makes me feel pretty out-of-touch." On the other hand, a writer should be able to write any age, and I'm certainly get better at writing older people. [laughs]
So, I hope that they ring true to the reading audience. I really try my best to make my people credible. What is your writing process like, and has that changed from when you first started writing to now? Do you have any rituals or any things you always do?
No, I’m just the least ritualistic person. I’m not quirky. People used to ask me what I was wrote wearing, and I used to say, "fourteenth century court dress," [laughs]
but you know, it’s just part of what I do, and I’m very relaxed about it now. I just go to work in the morning, and I do my little social media, then I get my Word program up, and I say, “Okay, page one, chapter one, what’s going to happen?” Are there times where you just don’t want to quit, and you go for twenty-four hour periods?
No! That never, ever happens! [laughs]
I could go for eight hours; I’ve done that when I had a book that was due, and I was really rolling towards the end - I could see it. When you can see the end, that’s a great incentive to keep on going. Are you an easily distracted writer? I know all of us as writers will go, “I’ll just look at that on the internet for a couple of minutes.” Do you have to give yourself some rules of shutting things down so you can be productive?
I do. You know, when you’re looking up wolves, because you’re going to have werewolves, and you spend fifteen minutes watching the filming of the wolves in Yellowstone National Park on live camera, and you’re going, “Aww, they’re so wonderful! Wait a minute; I’m supposed to be writing the book!” [laughs]
Sometimes the research just leads you in so many different paths; you don’t really need to go in. Have you ever done research where it’s led you to another idea for a new book that you never thought of?
All the time. And I love the fact that people who have unusual occupations are so willing to talk about them. In fact, they're eager, because they don’t get the notice or the respect, and people just really don’t want to know what they do. [laughs]
So, they really enjoy talking about what they do, and I love to listen. Do I hear a documentary in you?
Oh no! No, no documentary for me! SCIFI VISION: Where have you gotten your supernatural research from? Where have you gone to or been inspired by?
You know, I made it up. That’s the great thing about supernatural characters; you can make it up. I borrowed from this tradition and that tradition to make something that would work for what I was trying to do in my books. Not day walkers; I didn't have that. I couldn’t understand why vampires aren’t supposed to able to cross running water. So, I went, "Okay, I’m just going to throw that out, because I’ve got nothing.”
Tanya Huff had the best explanation for that: they sink like a stone. And I thought, “Well, I can’t top that, so I’m just going to ignore it. They can cross running water.” So I just used what I needed to tell the story I wanted to tell. Do you create your own bible, for your own mythology? Just so that you can remember it?
Well, I don’t, but I do have one though. Victoria Kosky does all my bibles. [laughs]
She just has the most wonderful, retentive mind, whereas mine just [isn't]. [laughs]
When I went to Portugal to do a signing, and it was well into the series by then, and the audience there they said, “What about the character, Joe Portugal; why did you name him that?” And I was going, “Who is this? Oh please, brain, cough this up!” [laughs]
It finally did; he got killed, really pretty quickly; it was the third or fourth book. I thought, “I’ve got to make up something,” so I said, “because he was so brave and strong.” [laughs]
Yeah, why not, I’ll go with it. You meet fans that have read your books and been inspired by them. Have you found somebody that, in the course of their being inspired, just had a voice that was so unique and original that you’re going to tell us about them now?
I don’t read fanfic. I don’t mean fanfic; I mean writers that go on and create their own thing, that [you were the inspiration for]?
Yeah, I have had a couple of readers who have gone on to become published writers. And are there ones that you are so blown away by that they didn’t imitate you, they went in their own way, but they…
I hope they always go in their own way. I’ve read books by people I’ve never met, that seemed, you know, pretty reminiscent of my work. But there are just only so many arrangements that you can come to between a human woman, and a werewolf and a vampire. You know what I mean? You can juggle them around, but it’s always going to end up more or less the same. But I've read some books that are just fantastic by people who said that they enjoyed my work, and it didn’t really bear any relation to where I was coming from. It was their own thing, and I love that. I’m sure you’d say all the characters are your babies, but is there one you feel will surprise the viewers the most for the show?
Well, Fiji was a surprise to me. She is a very gentle and sweet woman, but she has a lot of power to tap when she gets angry, and in the books, it really takes her a while to really tap into that, but she really does - really, really does - at the end. She taps into it much more quickly in the TV series, because that makes for better television, but she didn’t turn out to be the warm, fuzzy, body-conscious character. She just became different. Is there a particular character where it was more difficult to write their voice?
You know, the Midnight
series is the first time I’ve ever ,written guys. I’d never done a male point-of-view, and in Midnight
, they switch points of view, usually three main characters a book. That’s what I tried to limit it to. I hadn’t written a third-person book in fifteen years, and never from a guy’s point-of-view. So, that was a big change for me, and I thought I’d better do it before I got too scared to do it. I thought, after all, I’ve been married to a man for thirty-eight years; I should be able to do this. [laughs]
So what I did, when I was thinking of a man’s thoughts, is I simplified, [laughs]
you know? So, as a result of thinking in the man’s state of mind, besides simplifying them down, what else did you learn about them? Or were you able to apply it to something you hadn’t thought of in your relationship with your husband?
I think a lot of men probably are very uncomfortable with talks about relationships. That has been my experience. Very few guys will go, “Yes, let’s just hash it out,” you know? That doesn’t really happen. So that was an attribute I used in there. And I felt like I did come to a little bit more understanding of the point-of-view while I was writing it. It was kind of fun to think, “Can I do this? Can I think myself into it?” [laughs] Reading your books, I’ve always loved the character names, and I lived in the South, so there’re always fun names. I was wondering, do you hear names, and then catalogue them to apply them to characters down the line? Or in your process of development, is naming very important for you to kind of get an anchor, as to who they are?
Naming is very important. And there are all kinds of considerations that I had not thought of. You can’t name the characters in the book with the same initial letter. Readers just get confused. I tended to name all characters beginning with “C,” and I had to drop that pretty quickly in my career, because I just had a penchant for it.
Now I take a great deal of time picking out character names, mostly. Sometimes I’ll go through the phone book and go, "That’s the name I’ll use." But as I become older and more conscious of the world, I try to make my characters a lot more ethnically diverse, because that’s just becoming a fact of the world that I want to pay tribute to. What character did you explore that was ethnically diverse that led you to discover something unique or different about that character?
Well, I had a Jewish family in the Harper Connelly books, and one reader said, “Why are they Jewish?” And I thought, “Why not?” They are; that’s okay. They are. And there have been several characters that have been from a Hispanic background or another background that I did not know much about. But of course, now that I live in Dallas, I’m surrounded by people of Hispanic descent, including my daughter-in-law, so I really am getting used to that and trying to become more familiar with it. I just want to know about the fandom a little bit. Of course, this has a huge fandom, and you’re active on social media. What’s really surprised you by some of the reactions you’ve gotten prior to this pilot even coming out?
Ninety-seven percent of my readers, which I prefer to fans, because “fans” just sounds too, I don’t know, weird [laughs],
are the nicest people you could ever meet. In fact, bookstore owners have told me frequently that my signings are the most pleasant signings they have ever had. And I thought, “Yes!”
I lost a lot of readers with the last Sookie novel. And I thought, “Well, okay, I just have to live with that. I can’t do anything about it.” And I wouldn’t. I did what I felt I had to do.
I did get a big lesson about how people can get bound up in your mythical narrative and how entitled they feel to tell you what they think you should do. You know, I don’t write by vote. This is not a popular election. This is my story; I’m telling it, and I own it. If you don’t like it, really you don’t have to read my books any longer; I’m not going to hold a gun to your head and make you. If you do like it, you can tell me so, but don’t tell me what I should have changed. Too late! You know? Too late now. So how does that apply, specifically for Midnight Texas? I know even if the fans or readers haven’t seen the pilot, they’ve seen the casting. They know some of the directions; they’ve seen some footage that has come out. What have been some of the reactions that you have encountered or have been surprised by?
Well, a lot of my readers were happy to see that Fiji was a full-figured woman. And of course, Parisa is just absolutely lovely. She is not full-figured, but she is a very body-conscious person, which, really, is the nub of it. But a lot of people have said, “Oh, why didn’t they cast a plumper woman in the role?” And I thought, “Well, I don’t know! Parisa was the one they felt could do it, and so she got the role.” [There’s also] Lemuel, who is described as white as a bone in the books and is the complete opposite in the show. But I think it’s whoever can do the job. Can you just tell us what’s next?
I signed a three-book deal with Simon & Shuster for a completely different universe, and I’m very much looking forward to plumbing it. I’m writing another Aurora Teegarden, and it’s kicking my butt. I really have to go home and work very hard on it! So we're you're break?
Yes! This is my fun.