Interview with Kim Harrison
New York Times best-selling author Kim Harrison – the pseudonym of Dawn Cook – thought she was done with her Hollows series of urban fantasy novels in 2014.
Then she wrote another.
Her latest novel, the recently-released Million Dollar Demon (Ace $28), is the 16th installment in the Hollows series, featuring protagonist Rachel Morgan. Rachel is a witch and bounty hunter whose base of operations is Cincinnati, a place where magic and supernatural creatures are prevalent.
“At the time, I felt as if I had wrapped the story up nicely, and I wanted to stretch my writing muscles by working with something outside the Hollows universe. I took some time, writing and publishing The Drafter series, along with several unpublished manuscripts. But the Hollows was always there. After a while, I realized there were a few stories left to tell from Rachel’s perspective. I had grown, and Rachel was not the same person she had been when the series started. When I went back to her POV, it felt like coming home. I have no intention of cutting the series short again as long as I’m able to publish the odd story outside of the Hollows, so I don’t become stale again,” explained Cook, a Saginaw Valley State University alumna who lives in Southeast Michigan.
Rachel debuted in Dead Witch Walking. She stemmed from Cook’s desire to create a character with the attraction of the “girl next door” coupled with the appeal of someone who needs to make a positive difference in the world.
“Giving her the ability to do magic makes her more interesting, and I hope that my readers walk away feeling that they can make a difference, too,” said Cook.
In Million Dollar Demon, the master vampire Constance wants Rachel gone. Wherever she goes, Constance is always there, threatening Rachel and her allies, fomenting citywide panic and chaos, and even driving her out of her home. Eliminating Rachel will consolidate Constance’s powerbase. While Rachel fights back, she’s no match for Constance, but she must find a way to defeat her or else the city will be destroyed.
The plot for Million Dollar Demon – as do most of the Hollows books – came from the unfinished business of the previous book, American Demon, according to Cook.
“Rachel is not solving crimes and saving people in a vacuum. She creates enemies, as well as friends. For every step forward she takes, someone is eager to bring her back down and take her place. I wish I could say there was more to it than that, but it’s a long-running series, and though current events always impact the writing, the core inspiration seldom comes from outside sources now,” she explained. “It’s different from the rest of the series in that Rachel is consciously making a decision to take on the difficult, long-running task of keeping the people of Cincinnati safe. Up to now, she’s been handling situations as they arise, competent, but still reactive. But as her character grows and becomes more powerful, she has been beginning to make more proactive decisions. I’ve always enjoyed working with a character who grows, and Rachel has grown a lot.”
In fact, Cook spoke about how much Rachel has grown since her debut.
“When the series begins… Rachel is oblivious to her powerful heritage and abilities. She sees the world in black and white, and – to be honest – she’s a bit of a Stumbelina, bumbling through her life and managing to get the task done with the help of her friends,” said Cook. “But she grows and learns and makes mistakes until her worldview shifts to shades of gray and her strength begins to match her unchanging need to see that everyone is treated fairly – even the bad guys. Her core has remained unchanged, and that – I’ve always felt – is her greatest strength.”
Having been with Rachel for 16 books, two graphic novels, and several short stories and novellas, Cook finds it easier to write about the adventures of protagonist.
“I find writing Rachel to be easy – if writing anything can be thought as such,” said Cook. “Despite her changing attitudes and abilities, her core is solid, and she sticks to it. I know how she will react to any situation, and that is sometimes half the battle when it comes to getting the words on the paper.”
Cook described Million Dollar Demon as her “COVID-19 book,” which she wrote during the pandemic. The best part of writing it was turning it in.
“Like most people in creative fields at the time, my concentration was not good. I felt the book suffered for it in the initial stages. Fortunately, I had the time to rewrite it to my editor’s specs, and much of the unevenness was ironed out,” she explained. “But if you are looking for my favorite scene, I’d have to say I enjoyed writing Rachel working with her contractor to repair the church she lives in and works out of all the while hosting the unfairly displaced citizens of Cincinnati. Rachel gives so much of herself, it was gratifying to see her community not only recognize it, but step in and help get her church back together.”
With the exception of the first novel, all the titles of the novels in the Hollows series are riffs on the titles of Clint Eastwood movies. In the case of Million Dollar Demon, it takes its cue from 2004’s Million Dollar Baby with Eastwood, Morgan Freeman, and Hilary Swank.
“Part of the reason we chose them is marketability,” said Cook. “Readers found the books because of the titles, which is neat. I love the characters (Eastwood) plays, especially in the Westerns – solving the problems in a just way rather than a legal way.”
Television writer/showrunner Dan Angel – who created Animorphs and Night Visions, as well as wrote for The X-Files – has optioned the rights to the Hollows novels, wanting to adapt it into a TV series.
“There has been steady forward motion on the prospect of getting the Hollows on the small screen,” said Cook. “(Angel) is shopping them to all the usual suspects, taking great care to find the right home so the readers won’t be unduly shocked or disappointed. The Hollows can look like a hard nut to crack with its massive world-building and long-running storylines, but it’s always seemed simple to me, having started with three characters in a bar and slowly building to what it now is.”
Currently, Cook is under contract to write two more Hollows books, as well as two books in a new series about a woman named Grady who collects magical waste.
“She survives a total meltdown of their containment system and learns the skills needed to save what is left of the world,” explained Cook. “Is it a metaphor about the toxic waste/carbon emissions being generated in our quest for the next best thing to make our lives easier? I hope not.”