Nelsan Ellis as Lafayette Reynolds was killed at the end of the first novel in Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series, but remains alive in the TV version, now in its fourth season. - Submitted photo
It was the kind of sudden, unexpected twist that drives details-oriented readers of popular novels over the edge.
In the July 10 episode of "True Blood," Academy Award-winning screenwriter Alan Ball's trippy TV adaptation of the Sookie Stackhouse series of novels by Charlaine Harris, fans of the books were shocked when Claudine, Sookie's fairy godmother, had her blood sucked dry by the dashing vampire and unrepentant ladies' man Eric Northman, played in the series by Alexander Skarsgard.
Claudine's sudden demise was a radical departure from the books, which kept her around much longer.
Then again, it's not the first time "True Blood" has played with readers' expectations.
Lafayette Reynolds, the short-order cook played by Nelsan Ellis in the TV version, was killed at the end of the first novel, but he remains very much alive - and one of "True Blood's" most beloved characters - in the HBO series' fourth season.
Most novelists would willingly drive a stake through the heart of any TV scribe or screenwriter who changes the story in such a dramatic way in the screen version, but not Harris.
In a candid, free-flowing conversation with Postmedia News, the native of Tunica, Miss., and author of 11 Sookie Stackhouse novels - beginning with 2001's "Dead Until Dark" - said she trusts Ball implicitly to do what he thinks is right for the TV series.
Harris herself doesn't know what's going to happen in the TV version until she sees it with her own eyes, usually in the form of an advance screener.
Ironically, she says, "I did not see this week's episode," because she was attending the Polaris science-fiction convention in Toronto, and, "Hotels in Canada do not have HBO."
"Don't tell me what happened," Harris says, dryly. "Usually, I like not to be quite so ignorant, so I can answer intelligently when people say, 'Did you anticipate that?' I can say, 'Yes, I absolutely did.'"
Harris likes to be surprised as much as anyone. And, so far, the surprises haven't alarmed her - not in any life-threatening way, anyway - even though some fans of the novels have been inclined to be incandescent with rage.
Harris's advice: Relax. "True Blood," the TV show, is better than anyone, even the author of the original novels, had a right to expect.
"As an author, if you pick someone you trust to handle the material, the outcome is much more likely to be something you can live with, than if you take a deal because it was the only one you were offered, or because it's so much money, you can't resist," Harris explains. "I don't disdain taking an offer because it's a lot of money - let me make that clear. In my case, though, I trusted Alan, and I don't think that trust was misplaced at all. I've been very happy with the adaptation."
Harris says it's clear that Ball is, well, having a ball making "True Blood." The same is true of Anna Paquin, Stephen Moyer and everyone else involved in bringing the TV adaptation to life. They're having fun, Harris said, and it shows. If they looked as if they were in pain, or just going through the motions, "True Blood" wouldn't be nearly as much fun to watch.
"I don't think there's competition between the show and the books. They complement each other."
Reading books will always be a different experience than watching a screen adaptation, Harris says, but each has its purpose.
"The writer has the ability and privilege to get inside the character's thoughts. On the screen, they have to verbalize their thoughts or telegraph them some other way. We can go inside the characters' heads, tell people what's there, tell people what they intend to do, and it doesn't have to be conscious; it doesn't have to show. It's internal. And I think that's a huge advantage.
"Filmmakers, of course, can show everything that's happening, and sometimes in much more explicit detail than (what) lies on the page, if that suits the story. The books are all told from Sookie's point of view, which is a limitation that does not bind Alan."
While the TV adaptation of "True Blood" is just getting started four seasons in, the writing is on the wall, so to speak, for the novels. Harris estimates she has two books left in her before she calls it quits on the Sookie Stackhouse series.
As for the old chicken-and-egg question - should one read the Sookie Stackhouse books first, and then watch "True Blood," or vice versa - Harris laughs out loud and says, "Of course, I want them to read the Sookie books first. I'm certainly self-serving enough for that. Seriously, though, I would say it's a completely different experience."
"True Bloods" airs Sundays on HBO at 9 ET/8 PT.
As an author, if you pick someone you trust to handle the material, the outcome is much more likely to be something you can live with, than if you take a deal because it was the only one you were offered, or because it's so much money, you can't resist.