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Vampire hunter sinks teeth into merchandising

Author Laurell K. Hamilton Looking for fantasy adventure with a little bite? Sink your teeth into Laurell K. Hamilton's "Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter" series, the sexiest, scariest and funniest tales of undying (and undead) love ever to claw their way onto the bestseller lists.

In Hamilton's alternate reality, vampires, werewolves and assorted monsters have been granted equal rights by the U.S. Supreme Court. They live among us, running businesses, getting haircuts, sponsoring blood drives, just regular Joes.

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Hamilton's plucky alter ego is your attractive girl-next-door, working two jobs to make ends meet: as an animator she raises the dead to solve inheritance disputes and preternatural crimes; as a badge-carrying vampire executioner she hunts down rogue neck-biters and destroys them.

Back in 1994 when the series began with "Guilty Pleasures," Blake insisted, "I don't date vampires. I kill them." In her 12th installment, "Incubus Dreams," she's not only the main squeeze of master vampire Jean-Claude but shape shifter Micah as well.

Hamilton learned the power of storytelling early on. Born in Heber Springs, Ark., she was raised by her grandmother in tiny Sims, Ind., (pop. 100) after her father abandoned her and her mother was killed in an auto accident. Her grandmother always had plenty of "bloody bones" stories from Arkansas to share with the wide-eyed Hamilton.

The fang queen repaid the favor in 2000 by launching a new series featuring Merry Gentry, a faerie princess private detective named after her grandmother. At 93, Laura Gentry claims she still reads all of her granddaughter's books.

Since her aptly named debut, Hamilton has gone from guilty paperback pleasure to hardbound bestseller. She and Jonathan, her husband of four years, run a St. Louis marketing company that spends much of its time generating merchandise around the Anita Blake series.

Bankrate.com checked in with Laurell Hamilton by phone at her home near St. Louis.

Bankrate: You not only grew up without parents, you and your grandmother struggled to make ends meet, right?

Laurell K. Hamilton: My grandmother didn't tell me how little money we had until I was in my early teens, when she wanted me to know so I could learn how to handle money. And I was horrified how little we were getting by on. My grandmother could make a dollar sit up and sing Dixie. She knew how to make money work because she had been poor her whole life.

Bankrate: Do you remember going without as a kid?

Laurell K. Hamilton: You just didn't ask. Little kids wore little kid clothes; they didn't wear the designer stuff so I didn't feel as much pressure as seems to be on kids today. Either that or I was oblivious to it, because I'm still pretty oblivious to clothing. I've never been one of those people to really worry so much about the outward appearance. Going on tour, I know I have to dress up and I pay attention to clothing, but on a day-to-day basis it just isn't that big a deal. But I got clothes once a year for school.

Bankrate: How poor were you?

Laurell K. Hamilton: The biggest thing was, my grandmother owned the land and the house, which is a big deal when you don't have money. We were living on Social Security, hers and what we both got for my mother's death. Once a year she would work in the tomato-canning factory. But if I needed new shoes, I would have to wait until we had the money. I didn't know how to cut steak because I didn't have steak. The first time I had steak was on a prom date and I didn't know how to cut a piece of meat. I'd never learned how to do it.

Bankrate: Did you work when you were in school?

Laurell K. Hamilton: No. For one thing, we had no car, so I had no way to get anywhere. The other thing is, my grandmother did not want me to. She felt it was very important to work on your education, especially for a girl. She felt that if you couldn't take care of yourself, you wouldn't be independent. She certainly taught me that. She taught me probably a little bit more than I wanted; I took that to mean depend on no one. My grandmother says that my self-reliance goes to contrariness.

Bankrate: Did you leave to go to college?

Laurell K. Hamilton: I went to college at what is now Indiana Wesleyan University, but I stayed home. My grandmother did not wish for me to leave home, so I went to a college that was close enough to drive to. I'd wanted to be a writer since I was 14, but by that time I had read up on it and knew that you cannot count on making a living at this. So my goal was to go to college and get my doctorate in English lit and teach at the college and write part-time until I could devote myself to writing full time. Then I was kicked out of the writing program.

Bankrate: Kicked out?

Laurell K. Hamilton: I had put a vampire story and a horror story together to get into the writing program. It wasn't like I hid what I was going to write. And what I learned in my junior year was that the head of the department thought she would cure me and teach me to write something worthwhile, and when she realized she couldn't convert me, she decided to ruin me so that I would never write. She told me that I was a horrible writer and that I would never publish. She sliced me and diced me and served me on toast. She did her best to make sure I would never write. She told me I was a corrupting influence on the other students. So I had to leave the writing program, since she was the head of it.

-- Posted: Nov. 15, 2004




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