Not all vampires are evil. So says a prize-winning Renaissance scholar who created a fantasy world where a centuries-old vampire intermingles with a witch who neglects her powers.
On Tuesday, Deborah Harkness, author of the New York Times bestseller “A Discovery of Witches,” will discuss her novel in Wichita.
Recently out in paperback, “A Discovery of Witches” examines a world where humans live alongside vampires, witches and daemons.
“What if my research subjects from 1550 were correct (about alchemy and other beings),” Harkness said as she pondered this question and others when she began conceiving her novel. “I began imagining, what if my next-door neighbor was a vampire.”
Harkness, who is a professor of 15th- through 18th-century history at the University of Southern California, has written two well-received scholarly books, “John Dee’s Conversations With Angels” and “The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution.”
Like her heroine in “A Discovery of Witches,” Harkness has a doctorate degree, rows for sport and enjoys wine. Also, similar to Diana Bishop, Harkness discovered a rare tome while researching at the Bodleian Library in Oxford.
“I opened up a book catalogue and saw it,” Harkness said, referring to “The Book of Soyga.” “It was basically hiding in plain sight.”
Years later, the memories of finding this 16th-century book on magic in that English library inspired Harkness when she began to craft her fantasy novel. But unlike when Bishop opened the book, magic did not come out of “The Book of Soyga” when Harkness discovered it. Neither did vampires, witches or any other otherworldly beings — just scholars and librarians.
“Writing is a magical experience,” Harkness explained. “You draw on all kinds of things that you know.”
Although “The All Souls Trilogy,” of which “A Discovery of Witches” is a part, is classified as a fantasy novel, Harkness has incorporated her love of teaching and history into her books. Details about the colleges at Oxford, castles in southern France and magical antiquarian treatises are creatively interwoven into the novel.
Other facts are melded together to create a fantastical story of intrigue. Popes and carpenters become vampires, and an executed Salem witch becomes a part of the main character’s genealogy.
“I like being able to tell an imaginary story and put historical detail in,” Harkness said. Harkness calls her book a modern fairy tale for grownups.
Because historically angels, daemons and other beings were placed in a hierarchical structure, Harkness chose to do the same with her fictional beings. She divided her fantasy world into four types of creatures: witches, daemons, humans and vampires.
She recently handed over to her publisher her second work of fiction, “Shadow of Night.” This second book in the trilogy is expected to hit bookstores sometime in July.
Harkness said that in “Shadow of Night,” even though the story winds around the characters of Bishop and Matthew Clairmont, the focus drifts toward Clairmont, the vampire.
“Matthew needs to confront his own past,” Harkness said. “He needs to figure out how he’s going to move on to the future.”
Because Harkness became so enchanted with the characters she has created, she began outlining the third book of her trilogy within a few days of handing in her manuscript for the second novel. Having done so much historical research and work with her imagination, Harkness has notebooks filled with background information on all of the main characters and many minor characters, lists of historically pertinent books and recipes for ancient remedies.
She knows that the trilogy will end the story of Bishop and Clairmont but wonders if others, namely Clairmont’s son Marcus Whitmore, will share more of his story in future novels. “A Discovery of Witches” should hit movie theaters in the future. Warner Bros. acquired screen rights to the novel last summer.
Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books & Cafe, said she is excited to be partnering with Penguin Group for this event. Harkness also is speaking in Minneapolis, Chicago, Atlanta and Los Angeles.
“Her fans can come see her now, read the paperback and then they don’t have to wait long for the second book to come out,” Bagby said. “She has a big fan base here. We’ve been big champions of this book.”
Harkness hopes her readers will not only enjoy her novel, but that they will walk away with a new acceptance of others.
“I feel like I have come away with a better empathy for other people who might not be exactly like me,” Harkness said about her relationship with her books. “All the people that divide us are not as important as what makes us one family.”