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INTERVIEW: Bestselling Author Charlaine Harris Discusses New Timelines and Relatable Heroes

The Serpent in Heaven Charlaine Harris

Bestselling author Charlaine Harris is most well known for writing The Southern Vampire Mystery book series, also known as the Sookie Stackhouse books. HBO turned the thirteen novels into the hugely popular television show True Blood. Even if you have never watched the show, I am sure you know who Sookie (Ana Paquin) and Vampire Bill (Stephen Moyer) are.

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The Gunnie Rose series, Harris’s latest novels, takes us far away from the southern backwoods. Instead, we are in an alternate version of 1930s America. It mixes the wild west, magic, and Russian influence. Gunslingers, like series star Lizabeth Rose, help keep the peace in a no longer united country. Harris sat down with The Mary Sue to talk about the fourth addition to the series, The Serpent in Heaven.

A new timeline for America

In the Gunnie Rose timeline, the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt fractured America. It dissolved into several countries, including turning the west coast into The Holy Russian Empire, where the Romanovs rule and descendants of Grigori Rasputin practice their magical abilities.

She wanted to set the story in the 1930s using the attempted assassination of Roosevelt as her catalyst. “If he had died,” Harris said, “I think all of this might have possibly happened because he was such a unifying force for the United States.”

Also, she wanted to use the Romanovs and the family’s complicated relationship with Rasputin. The mysterious man held many women, including the Czarina, in his sway. Harris said, “I think he was probably a horrible person, and he smelled, which is not something I find alluring, but evidently a lot of women did find him compelling. And he was very free with his favors, so I think it is quite likely though he remained married his whole life to one woman and had some children with her, I think it is quite likely he had a lot of illegitimate children.” In this alternate world, Rasputin’s many progenies help keep the Czar alive with their blood and any magical properties it may have had.

Relatable Heroes

For the first time in the series, the narrator switched from Lizabeth “Gunnie” Rose to her younger half-sister, Felicia. “There was a different part of the story I wanted to tell. I always thought Felicia really was an interesting character.” Unlike Harris’s customary narrators, Felicia is about 15 years old. Harris admitted she wasn’t sure she could write that age. “It wasn’t really quite as hard as I thought it was going to be. Because, like most 15-year-olds, I was in perpetual flux and angst and all those kinds of things. And really, it was pretty easy to think myself back into it.” With the last few years we have had, I think all of us can relate to the angsty uncertainty of a teenager. Especially when said teenager is dealing with a Spanish Flu outbreak which Harris used from history and our current ongoing pandemic.

When I asked her which of her many characters she would like to be for a day, Harris paused to think about it. Very firmly, she said she would not want to be Sookie. “I think telepathy must be the worst thing.” In the end, she picked her most recent heroine, Gunnie Rose. The idea of being a gunslinger for a day really appealed to her. Who wouldn’t want to be a cool, cowgirl-type character who doesn’t take guff from anyone? Gunnie might be my second choice of Harris’s characters (after Alcide Herveaux because I want to be an amazing werewolf).

Harris promised after the new installment there should be two more books set in this universe. Pick up a copy of The Serpent in Heaven, in bookstores everywhere on November 15th.

(featured image: Simon & Schuster)

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D.R. Medlen
D.R. Medlen (she/her) is a pop culture staff writer at The Mary Sue. After finishing her BA in History, she finally pursued her lifelong dream of being a full-time writer in 2019. She expertly fangirls over Marvel, Star Wars, and historical fantasy novels (the spicier the better). When she's not writing or reading, she lives that hobbit-core life in California with her spouse, offspring, and animal familiars.

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