Give us a quick breakdown of True Blood, and a pitch to convince other newbies to become Truebies.
True Blood is set in sleepy, sweaty Bon Temps, Louisiana. It’s a small town where everyone knows everyone else’s business, so it’s an interesting mix of political tensions (racism and homophobia still run rampant) and a need to get along with everyone, especially when there’s only one watering hole in town, Merlotte’s Bar & Grill.
Alan Ball, the series creator, has said that True Blood is about the terrors of intimacy. I think that’s spot on. Most of life is about such terror, but it’s particularly fitting for this show, one in which the main characters struggle constantly with what they share with the outside world, what they keep hidden, what secrets they’re trying to outrun, and which secrets need to be brought into the light of day. Sounds like typical, heady, Alan Ball fare (he’s the mastermind behind Six Feet Under), but the notable difference is that many of these characters inhabit extraordinary traits. In seasons 1 and 2, we become most acquainted with vampires, shifters, and our heroine Sookie Stackhouse, a telepathic waitress.
Vampires feature most heavily in the first two seasons of the series. A Japanese company has manufactured a synthetic blood, which resulted in vampires “coming out of the coffin” now that their needs were being satisfied with Tru:Blood. However, while this synthetic blood nourishes, it doesn’t necessarily satisfy, and there are vampires who refuse to relinquish their true selves simply to mainstream into modern society. Like any good suspense show, there are the Good Vampires and the Bad Vampires. But, of course, it’s more complicated than that. It’s far more about working against a homogenous society that shuts out anything it deems “different” and immoral. To that end, the show has been cited as a strong example of programming that seeks to comment on “real world” problems, the parallels to homophobia and heterosexism particularly apparent.
At the core of the show is Sookie’s relationship with Bill Compton, a 173-year-old vampire who was turned shortly after the Civil War. Their relationship, and the series itself, is full of dark humor. Certainly, there’s a lot to mine in a relationship between a vampire and a telepath — they’re particularly drawn to one another because he has no glamouring effect on her, and, because he’s dead, she finds relief from the constant assault of people’s thoughts and feelings — but the real charm of their budding romance is quite universal, just two people from (in this case) very different sides of the track, trying to find a happy middle place in which to fall in love.
You can’t talk about True Blood without the necessary (and deeply impressive) preamble. The series is based (sometimes more loosely than others) on the hyperbolically successful Southern Vampire Mysteries (also known as The Sookie Stackhouse Novels) by Charlaine Harris. The novels are at the forefront of urban fantasy, which melds supernatural elements into urban settings. That these stories have now been brought to the small screen by Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball is testament to the rising popularity of genre storytelling.
What made you think True Blood worthy of a TV companion treatment, and what kinds of things will you be focusing on in Truly, Madly, Deadly?
What I personally love about True Blood is that there are any number of entry points to the series for audience members, be they familiar with the books, or complete newbies, which makes the series at once wildly diverse as well as a piece of marketing genius. More than anything, it’s this inclusiveness that drew me to the show and convinced me that we could clear the hurdle of writing about a cable show, a challenge in this publishing climate where it feels more and more like every book has to be a bestseller just to break even. It’s true that you really have to make a case that your book is capable of keeping its fangy little head above water. But the fan base for True Blood is so active and vocal and thirsty for thoughtful discussion about the show, that, fingers crossed, they’ll appreciate having it all in one volume, two seasons in one book!
And if I may say, now that I have the book in my hot hands, I really couldn’t be happier with it. If only as a glimpse into what kind of viewer I am — what I take from the show, and what I bring to it myself — Truly, Madly, Deadly is a fun, sassy, sexy, considerate cross-section of a really valuable experience in my life. Television is not a vapid waste of time, especially not this show. So, I suppose it’s also a tribute to what I think is some pretty stupendous entertainment.
But you asked a question. What can readers can expect? There are the requisite actor bios and episode guides. The guides themselves aren’t synopses, so much as one long thread that ties two seasons of storytelling together. They showcase the key themes along with my own take of their effectiveness. But the reader can also expect highlights, Did You Know tidbits, as well as my vote for the creepiest moments in each show, and relationship advice for all the characters who seem to be fumbling through their love and family lives with stupendously horrific results. There’s also two exclusive interviews with two of my favorite actors from the show, Kristin Bauer (Pam Ravenscroft) and Patricia Bethune (Jane Bodehouse.)
There are also a few unique bits in the book: correspondence between me and Kevin Jackson, the author of Bite: A Vampire Handbook (because I couldn’t stop at just one email, he’s that intriguing); an interview with screenwriter Karen Walton (Ginger Snaps) on monsters as metaphor; a ton of vampire lore and how the vampire has come of age in books, film, and television; and two chapters that I’m particularly proud of, one of the LGBT themes in True Blood, and a focus on some of the bloggers who keep the undead discussion very much alive, even when the show has shuttered itself back into the coffin between seasons. They’re absolute champs and worthy of space on a page for all immortality.
All told, the book speaks to a variety of people: fans of Alan Ball, fans of vampire lore, fans of popular culture and online fandom, and fans of alt lifestyles. And then there’s the international flavor that has blessed True Blood in a cast that’s blowing up around the world. And by that I, of course, mean PRETTY PICTURES! Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer, Alexander Skarsgard, Ryan Kwanten, Nelsan Ellis, Sam Trammell, Rutina Wesley, Michelle Forbes. Whoo, child. It’s one damn attractive book. (Inspiring cover art by Keith Berry and evocative, windy author photo by Carl W. Heindl.)
CAVEAT: To be fully transparent, while I adore the books, I would call myself a Truebie, through and through, someone who falls more onside with the series as its own entity. So, I don’t focus a lot on the books in Truly, Madly, Deadly, save for a solid overview of them and an interview with Charlaine Harris, which is pretty cool in itself. And I’m not unsympathetic to Sookie’s Bookies who having championed the novels for years, now chomp their nails down to the cuticle as the series writers rear their own baby into adulthood. To borrow from Alan Ball, the terror of their intimacy I love reading their compare-and-contrast analysis. It brings tremendous insight into how much I enjoy the show.
But wait, there’s more to this interview! Tune in next week to find out which character Becca would roleplay on Twitter, who she would sire, vampire “fangdom,” and what other TV shows she keeps on her radar.
And for more of Becca’s views on all things True Blood, check out her website and don’t miss her weekly recaps for the National Post during Season 3!