The Witch with No Name, out this month, is the 13th and final volume in Kim Harrison’s popular Hollows series, about a young witch from Cincinnati who battles demons and vampires. The books have landed Harrison on at the top of the New York Times best-seller list and attracted the interest of TV producers, but the path to success wasn’t easy. Harrison’s early novels—published under the name Dawn Cook—failed to reach a large audience, so at the behest of her publisher Harrison reinvented herself as a completely new author, going so far as to wear a long red wig so that no one would recognize her.
“My editor picked out the name she wanted,” Harrison says in Episode 117 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I was either going to be Kim Harrison or Lisa Harrison, because she wanted me shelved right next to Hamilton.”
With the success of the Hollows books, Harrison felt free in 2009 to reveal publicly that she is also Dawn Cook, and she says she may soon dispense with the red wig as well. Maintaining dual identities has gotten confusing at times—she has to remember who knows her as Dawn and who knows her as Kim—but it also has its advantages, especially when she was living in a highly religious town in South Carolina.
“I’d get weird looks just because I was out in my garden working on Sunday,” says Harrison. “If they knew I was writing witches and vampires, I’d have no friends at all.”
Listen to our complete interview with Kim Harrison in Episode 117 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). Then stick around after the interview as guest geeks Paolo Bacigalupi, Tobias Buckell, and Ramez Naam join host David Barr Kirtley to discuss extreme weather in science fiction books and movies.
Kim Harrison on reading science fiction books as a child:
“I used it to keep people away. I was very introverted. You know, I had my close group of friends, but I really didn’t care what the cool kids were doing. And the weirder the cover, the weirder the name, the more far out it was, the more they left me alone. … My favorite one that I carried around was a collection of stories by Asimov called Tomorrow’s Children. And it was a big, thick, massive book, and I’m tempted to go back to the library and see if they still have it, because it would have my name on it, and then my name would check it out again, and then I’d check it out again, and I’d check it out again. I think I’m the only one who checked that thing out for the two years I worked in the library. ”
Kim Harrison on killer tomatoes:
“Dead Witch Walking is basically a modern-day witch living in Cincinnati. Now here comes the quirky part. At this point the human population has been decimated by a virus that was carried by [GMO] tomatoes. … I think we are doing a few dangerous things. You know, putting a beta-carotene gene into a rutabaga is fine, but when you start putting genes into your corn that they make their own toxins, that’s another story, and people are not being careful with what they’re doing. I mean, that toxin that they’ve engineered into the corn, that’s great, except that toxin is in the pollen, and we’re breathing the pollen, and insects are eating the pollen, and dying, and we’re upsetting our food chain. … And so that is one of the reasons why I did choose a GMO to be the end of humanity’s power, because if we’re not careful it’s going to be.”
Extreme Weather in Science Fiction Panel
Tobias Buckell on science fiction becoming science fact:
“When I started writing [Arctic Rising ], I called it science fiction, because I thought the idea of completely eliminating the polar ice cap was science fictional, that’s pretty wild. A lot of the people who criticize climate change are like, ‘Oh, they’re way too pessimistic.’ And I’m like, ‘These guys are way too optimistic.’ IPCC was calling for possibly ice-free summers being like the wildest thing when I started writing. And so I started out with the science fictional scenario being ‘no polar ice cap.’ And by the time the book was in copy edits, IPCC was saying that they were willing to call a completely ice-free winter as well at some point in the human future, as their worst-case scenario. And it had gone from being completely science fictional—and scientists had it off the table—to being in their projections within the time I wrote that novel, and that’s just a year and a half.”
Ramez Naam on reasons for optimism:
“Carbon is something that we have relatively recently woken up to as a pollutant. Smog is a pollutant you can see and touch, and you’re immediately aware that something is wrong, with soot and smog or with something in the river. And we didn’t know that CFCs were a pollutant, so there was no correlation there, and once we did we started to act on it. … But you look at forests being protected, species being protected, those are phenomena that arise in societies when people feel like they have some sort of personal affluence. And then empathy does take hold, and human beings actually seem to have some desire to protect the natural world. So once they actually do get convinced—and I agree with you that it takes some effort to overcome the doubt industry—they do say, ‘Yeah, I do want the natural world to keep existing, and I’m willing to do something—if I understand that the cost is reasonable—to make that happen.’”
Paolo Bacigalupi on the doubt industry:
“Ramez brought up the fact that we stopped using CFCs, and there was actually a concerted industrial effort to prevent us from regulating CFCs, and we pushed past that, and we did regulate, and so, you know, hey great, we still have an ozone layer, that’s awesome. But I think the industries have become more disciplined and more effective in the ways that they slow down policy changes that affect their profits, and I think you saw that play out in the amount of time that it’s taken us in the United States even to come to grips with the idea that global warming—oh gosh—might exist. And that makes me a little worried and cynical that there are actually specifically people who profit every quarter from us doing nothing, and that they are partly holding the reins of government.”