LaReeca Rucker has been a journalist for more than 20 years, and her work has appeared in newspapers across the nation. She spent a decade as a features writer and multimedia journalist with The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, where she was also a USA TODAY contributor. She is a freelance journalist and support journalism instructor in the University of Mississippi's Meek School of Journalism and New Media in Oxford, Mississippi.

Mississippi Biting: Character on HBO's 'True Blood' may make trip to Jackson

LaReeca Rucker
The Clarion-Ledger

Aberdeen auctioneer John Dwight Stevens acquired a number of items last October from the estate of a deceased Natchez antique dealer.

Among them: a wooden box containing a cross, Bibles, wooden stakes, a gun with silver bullets and garlic.

The vampire killing kit believed to have originated in 1840s New Orleans sold for $14,500.

"I don't particularly believe in vampires, but I guess some people did," said Stevens, who has sold antiques for a quarter of a century. "To me, it's just a myth."

The sale made the front page of the nationally distributed AntiqueWeek newspaper with a headline that read: "How much would you pay to kill a vampire?"

Chances are the price would escalate amidst the current vampire craze that has sunk its teeth into American pop culture.

The latest installment of the "Twilight" vampire film franchise comes to theaters Nov. 20. "The Vampire Diaries" debuted Friday on The CW network, and the season finale of HBO's current most popular show, "True Blood," airs tonight.

Set in rural Louisiana, "True Blood" features Sookie Stackhouse, a waitress with telepathic powers. She is friendly with vampires, who recently came out of the casket and into mainstream society thanks to the creation of a synthetic blood beverage that enables them to exist without feeding on humans.

Mississippi native Charlaine Harris, 57, created The Southern Vampire Mystery Series that became the framework for "True Blood."

She was born in Tunica in 1951 to a father who was a farmer turned principal and a mother who was a librarian.

In 1973, Harris graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis and worked at newspapers in Clarksdale and Greenville before her first novel, Sweet and Deadly, was published in 1981.

Harris later created two mystery series featuring Southern women as lead characters, but in 2001, she took a different turn with the publication of her first vampire tale, Dead Until Dark.

It marked the debut of Sookie Stackhouse, a character Harris has described as a hard worker and churchgoer who struggles to do the right thing but, unfortunately, has to kill someone occasionally.

"I was getting a little bored and restless writing conventional mysteries, so I wanted to do something different," she said. "Certainly, the level of interest has somewhat startled me."

When the vampire series made the New York Times Best Seller List, Harris had three offers to option the rights but felt Atlanta native Alan Ball best understood her work.

Ball, who won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar in 2000 for the film "American Beauty," created and produced HBO's "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood."

"I am working with the writers now, and we are creating the story arc," said Ball by phone. "Yes, the story will take place in Jackson."

Jackson is the setting for one plot twist that Ball plans to incorporate next season. Sookie will travel to Jackson to investigate the disappearance of her vampire boyfriend, Bill. She'll likely check out a Jackson nightclub called Club Dead frequented by vampires and shapeshifters. And viewers will meet Russell Edgington, the vampire king of Mississippi.

Mara Mikialian, of HBO, said there have been no discussions about whether the show will film in Mississippi. Season 3 episodes haven't been written, but Ball said he hopes to capture the authenticity of Harris' books.

"I grew up in a small town in Georgia," he said. "I sometimes see a cartoon version of the South portrayed. The authenticity is certainly something we try to maintain on the show."

Kevin Williams, a Mississippi State University professor specializing in pop culture, has tracked vampire mythology from its origin - Lilith, a character from Jewish folklore that is often viewed as a creature who steals and devours children.

Williams said vampire mythology continued with the rise of Roman Catholicism, which believes in transubstantiation - the idea that bread and wine change into the body and blood of Christ during the Eucharist. Many early Christians were persecuted as vampires because of that belief.

Vlad the Impaler, a ruthless leader of Wallachia who impaled people on sticks and invented new torture methods for his enemies, inspired Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.

In recent years, Williams said vampire popularity has come in waves, from cult classic films of the 1970s to Anne Rice's The Vampire Chronicles.

Rice changed vampire mythology, Williams said. No longer were vampires one-dimensional monsters; they began to have remorse, a conscience, and the battle between good and evil became more complex.

In "True Blood," vampires no longer have to hide who they are; they can emerge and become part of society.

"There's also the fact that these people have been living amongst us for years as domestic terrorists, and we haven't really noticed it," Williams said, adding the show might not work if it were set somewhere other than Louisiana and (in the future) Mississippi.

"We are in a geographic area where you would kind of expect weird things to happen," he said.

Williams said the Mississippi River, the lifeblood and major artery of our country, could be symbolic. And the Delta has long been known as a place where the devil makes deals.

"If you've ever got a question about your soul and need an answer from the devil," Williams said, "it seems like the Delta is the way to go."

Fans love vampires for different reasons.

Mississippi resident Nathan McCracken, a 24-year-old phone tester for Cellular South, has a thirst for blood.

"'True Blood' is just a great show with all the elements most people look for: lust, betrayal, deceit, fights, love, superhuman powers, mystery," he said.

His girlfriend, Brandon native Lacey Michael - a mom, waitress and nursing student - prefers "Twilight."

Fondren resident Larry Ambrose, a 48-year-old retired Air Force officer, grew up watching vampire movies and enjoys "True Blood's" fresh perspective.

Richton resident Leanne Stanley, a 24-year-old stay-at-home mom to twin girls, likes watching "True Blood" with her husband, Ken.

"For my birthday in August, we went to New Orleans and took a vampire tour," she said.

Meridian resident Donna McClendon, 55, has read all the Sookie books. The retired children's librarian watches "True Blood" and hopes to become a fan of "The Vampire Diaries."

Tarsha Paris, 13, is in love with Edward the vampire from "Twilight." Highly interested in the film and books, she has already made plans to attend the opening of "New Moon," the next film in The "Twilight" saga.

"The books are the only ones she's been interested in since Amelia Bedelia in second or third grade," said her mother, Joyce. "She has an Edward shirt, and she tries to get me to buy a poster every time we're in Wal-Mart."

But perhaps the most die-hard vampire fan is Oxford native Rebecca Lynn Grice, who savors every last drop of the fantasy. She plans to take the books to Iraq.

Employed with the Mississippi Army National Guard's military intelligence unit in Canton, Grice was deployed this week to fill an administrative position as a noncommissioned offer.

Last week, she had her appendix removed and was surprised to learn her surgeon was reading the Sookie series.

"I'm excited about the 14-hour plane ride because I can finally finish the books," she said last week, knowing she'll miss tonight's "True Blood" season finale. "I told my husband that maybe I could call him, and he could turn the Web cam around so I could watch it."


The Journalism Portfolio of LaReeca Rucker