Q&A with bestselling author Deborah Harkness

  • Article by: LAURIE HERTZEL , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 3, 2014 - 5:55 PM

Writer and scholar Deborah Harkness hits bestseller gold with her All Souls trilogy.


Deborah Harkness is a scholar, professor and the author of bestsellers about time-traveling vampires.


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Imagine spending years toiling in school, studying hard, inching up from bachelor’s degree, to master’s degree, to doctorate, and then, maybe, to a second doctorate, becoming an expert in your field. And then imagine the world coming to admire and love you not for all of that, but for writing a novel about vampires.

Deborah Harkness — like Diana Gabaldon, Kathy Reichs, Mary Bly and others — is a serious academic, a professor and a scholar, and also a very successful bestselling author of fantastic fiction. It’s a fascinating new breed, these scientists and historians who have turned their keen minds to making up stories that spring somehow from their field of expertise.

Reichs, for example, is a forensic anthropologist and a full professor at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, and also the author of a string of bestselling mysteries (starring a forensic anthropologist). Bly is a professor of Shakespeare at Fordham University with degrees from Harvard, Oxford and Yale, and the author (under the pen name Eloisa James) of a string of historically-accurate-down-to-the-buttonhole-and-petticoat historical romances. Bodice rippers, if you will, but accurate bodice rippers.

Gabaldon is a scientist and former professor with advanced degrees in marine biology and quantitative behavioral ecology but is world-famous for her time-traveling “Outlander” series, in which a nurse in 1946 Scotland walks into a ring of stones and ends up in the year 1743 (No. 8 in the series, “Written in My Own Heart’s Blood,” was published in June).

And Harkness has lived on the New York Times bestseller list for three years with her All Souls trilogy, which is about time travel, vampires, alchemy, a missing manuscript and forbidden passion. She is also a Fulbright and Guggenheim fellow and a professor of history at the University of Southern California.

These writers have all used their professional expertise — how to read bones, how people lived in Shakespearean England — to bring authenticity and accuracy to their novels. (Yes, even when writing about vampires.)

Harkness will be in the Twin Cities at 7 p.m. Tuesday to launch “The Book of Life,” last of the All Souls Trilogy. The series follows the story of historian Diana Bishop, who discovers a mysterious rare manuscript and falls in love with a vampire. She will be at Macalester College’s Weyerhaeuser Chapel at an event sponsored by Common Good Books.

Here, she talks about how a lost manuscript inspired her first book, and what vampires do all day.

Q: You’re a history professor, and a Guggenheim and Fulbright fellow. What made you decide to start writing about vampires, witches, time travel and magic?

A: There was no decision. I wondered: If there were vampires, what did they do for a living? And pretty soon I was writing a novel. It was a wonderful, unforeseen accident.


Q: Like Kathy Reichs’ Bones series, your trilogy is populated with extremely intelligent academics and scientists. Is smart the new sexy?

A: Smart is, and has always been, sexy.


Q: When you began the trilogy, was there ever a concern that it would affect your standing in the academic world?

A: I wasn’t concerned. Nobody told Montesquieu that he had to decide between writing political philosophy and satire.


Q: I’ve heard that the genesis for the series — your protagonist, Diana Bishop, stumbling across a lost manuscript in the Bodleian Library — mirrors something that happened to you. Can you tell me about this?

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  • "The Book of Life," by Deborah Harkness


    What: The author of the “All Souls Trilogy” will read from her new book, “The Book of Life.”

    Where: Weyerhaeuser Chapel, Macalester College. Sponsored by Common Good Books.

    When: 7 p.m. Tue. Free.

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