Charlaine Harris' new "Gunnie Rose" novel, "All the Dead Shall Weep," went on sale Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Jami Scull Photography.
NEW YORK, Sept. 5 (UPI) -- In author Charlaine Harris' fifth novel in the Gunnie Rose series -- All the Dead Shall Weep, on sale Tuesday -- gunslinger Lizbeth's magic-wielding half-sister Felicia finds her voice.
"I really wanted to hear from her and see their relationship begin to change and deepen," Harris, 72, told UPI in a recent phone interview.
The book picks up the family drama Harris began with 2018's An Easy Death and continued in the best-sellers A Longer Fall, The Russian Cage and The Serpent in Heaven.
The saga is set in an alternate 1930s during which the United States is fractured into several countries -- with the West Coast becoming the Romanov-controlled Holy Russian Empire -- after the assassination of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Felicia and Lizbeth had been separated, each following her own sense of duty, until a violent incident in San Diego sent Felicia to Lizbeth's home in the region known as Texoma.
"Serpent was about Felicia and other books have been about Lizbeth, but getting them together meant that they could go forward together," Harris said.
"In the book I'm writing now, they are also going to be together, but I don't think we're going to hear Felicia's voice. It will be strictly from Lizbeth's point of view."
The Mississippi native said the idea for the books came from the "culture shock" she experienced spending summers in Texas with family when she was a girl.
"The people had different interests, and I couldn't understand them. It took me a long time to realize that was because they just came from a different background and a different world," Harris said.
"I wanted to go back to that world where people were focused completely on different things from what I was. I wanted to convey how bleak and harsh the landscape seemed to me, but how alive the people were."
Harris thinks the series is resonating with readers because it has an intriguing "What if ...?" approach to history.
"I tried to make the divisions as logical as I could and I tried to make the magic world make more sense," the author said.
She said he wanted to create characters who were as realistic and relatable as possible, despite the extraordinary circumstances under which they live, too.
"They are not prosperous people. They are not wealthy people. Lizbeth has been living hand to mouth her entire life," Harris said.
"Eli, her now-husband, has never been really rich his whole life because he was part of the water flotilla that followed [Tsar] Nicholas II around until he landed in California. These are people that have had a lot of adversity."
Harris is happy fans of the series appreciate Lizbeth's larger-than-life personality.
"I like the fact that people are enjoying Lizbeth even though she shoots a lot of people," the writer said. "It's not gratuitous shooting. It's people who are trying to keep her from her goals."
The challenge of writing a popular series like the Gunnie Rose books is keeping it fresh for readers.
"Of course, you have to do a certain amount of backstory with each book, just in case someone didn't catch the previous book," Harris said.
"You have to be really careful about that because consistent readers tend to resent a lot of backstory," she added. "You have to keep track of what you said before, which is not easy."
The upside to unwinding a story over the course of years is that a writer has the time and space to deeply explore the characters and world she has created.
"You can add in grace notes when you realize something else that would work. That is so rewarding and so much fun," she said.
"You don't have to sit and figure out if you are being consistent because you are so used to slipping into the voice. It becomes easier and easier to do that."
She doesn't see her storytelling process as letting her characters take the lead and making her follow them, however.
"That seems like you've lost control, which I don't think good writers should ever do," Harris said.
Asked how she knows a series is over and it's time to let characters she loves go, the author laughed and replied, "Sometimes you don't have a choice."
"When [a publisher] says, 'What are you going to do next?' And I'm going, 'OK, I understand this.' Sometimes it's easy because you realize that you don't really have anything left to say about the character and sometimes it's involuntary."
No matter how one project ends, she always looks forward to her next adventure.
"I don't look back too much. You have to move forward and I really enjoy my job," she added.
Harris has had a long relationship with Hollywood, since her books have been adapted into the TV shows The Aurora Teagarden Mysteries, True Blood and Midnight, Texas.
"Hollywood is a different world from the rest of the real world," she said, noting authors and filmmakers and studio executives often grapple to understand each other when collaborating.
"A lot of the people in the industry -- especially the production people -- don't have the same goals a writer would have," she added. "But when it goes right, it's wonderful."
She said she loves to interact with passionate, talented people whose skills are vastly different from her own.
"[There are] people who have to create the same thing over and over, maybe 25, 26 times before they are satisfied with it," she said. "My hat is off to them."
The current Writers Guild of America strike -- which along with the Screen Actors Guild labor action that has ground TV and film productions to a halt across North America -- is the second Hollywood strike by which Harris has been personally affected.
But she said she understands and supports her fellow artists.
"When True Blood was first being filmed [in 2007-08], there was a strike, which delayed the show by some months," she said.
"This is all about writers and performers and, in Hollywood, as in everywhere else, we need the respect that our talent should bring," the author added. "It should be a monetary thing as well as a respect thing."