Fantasy writer Richelle Mead understands the allure of a bad boy. Honorable, duty-bound Dmitri may be the hero of her best-selling young adult series Vampire Academy, but readers have always had a weakness for Adrian, the impudent scamp. Now her fans may get their wishes answered with Bloodlines, the first book of a new young adult series featuring minor characters from Vampire Academy. Adrian is back (although Mead isn’t revealing exactly how), and the new heroine is Sydney Sage, an alchemist trained to conceal the supernatural world and protect ordinary humans. Known for her robust and resilient female leads, the prolific writer (18 books in six years) also helms the adult fantasy series Georgina Kincaid and Dark Swan.
Mead reveals to DS her thoughts on vampire popularity and feminine characters.
I hope you enjoy.
Richelle Mead: It is, actually, and it’s kind of refreshing to start hearing reviews come in from people who didn’t read the first series. For those who know it, it’s a great continuation, and those who don’t know it can follow along and catch up.
2. With teen alchemist Sydney Sage now front and center (she played a supporting role to Vampire Academy’s tough heroine Rose Hathaway), Bloodlines delves further into the arcane world of alchemy. What were your sources of inspiration or topics of research for the centuries-old tradition of alchemy in Sydney’s family?
RM: It’s pretty loosely based on history. It’s my own interpretation, so I’m sure there are purists who will say, “Hey, I’ve read about medieval alchemists, and I don’t remember them doing anything with vampires!” I liked the idea of a “Men in Black” society of people trying to keep vampires secret from the world. So that was part of the inspiration. And then at the same time, because I do like tying everything to mythology and folklore if I can, the alchemist idea came in—people dabbling in half magic, half science. They were particularly fascinated with magical substances—that was where the whole lead-into-gold idea came from. So I thought if ever there was a substance you could do wild things with, vampire blood was it. So I borrowed from that history and mixed it back into the “Men in Black” idea, and they sort of spawned from there.
3. Sydney struggled with body issues in Bloodlines, and while we seldom think of reality entering paranormal story lines, it was great to see a real teen issue come into play. Perhaps this is just a small indication of controlling behavior to come?
RM: The Moroi [full-blooded vampires] have runway-model figures, which aren’t necessarily the ideal female figure, which tends to be a little curvier. Even still, if you’re around that all the time it would probably mess with your head a little bit, and everyone, I think, who grows up in the U.S. and is female is bombarded with images about “What should I look like?”—especially at that age. Also, it’s an interesting side to Sydney’s nature, because she is very controlling and she keeps her world very orderly. She’s always asked to keep things working smoothly, and so there’s this idea of, “Why can’t I make myself work with that same efficiency?”
It’s an interesting, very vulnerable part to have to her. Sydney knows five languages, she’s well traveled, and she seems like someone who should not be fazed by anything. Yet there’s this little tiny thing that nags at her. I think that’s an interesting piece—to have that flaw in someone who we would otherwise think is so “with it” and well-rounded.
4. Some have criticized Twilight for having an anti-feminist message, interpreting Bella as a weak woman enthralled by a possessive and much more powerful man. When writing for younger readers, do you feel the author has a responsibility to craft a positive message, whether it’s determining whether your heroine is empowered or including relatable teen issues like body image?
RM: It’s hard for me to imagine writing a character without strength. There’s not even a conscious process about making a role model or anything like that. When I look back after I’ve created the character, I’m glad that I can provide an image to someone. But I don’t think I would be interested in writing a character that I couldn’t respect. And I think that the best characters, the strongest ones who do give us the best positive images, are those who are flawed. I think the characters in all my series—young adult and adult—have certain qualities when you meet them: Sydney’s braininess or Rose’s bravery. That’s their dominant trait. And then they’ve got all these little things that make them “human,” and I think that makes us respect the strength more.
5. Do you feel you need to sacrifice some of Adrian’s bad boy ways in order to make him a viable romantic lead?
RM: Yes and no. It’s part of his charm and personality, and you can’t give someone a complete 180. The totally reformed bad boy—I’m not sure that’s realistic. At the same time, someone who’s completely in the mode we’ve seen Adrian in cannot enter a relationship. Not because he’s “bad” but because there’s an element of selfishness with his persona. It’s less that all his vices are inhibiting a relationship and more that he needs to start thinking beyond himself. It’s not just about him anymore. He’s got to shake some of it if he’s going to seriously enter into something that has trust and affection, but to completely get rid of all that wildness wouldn’t really fit either.
6. By the end of this year you will have written 18 books in six years. You also have two adult series coming to conclusion: Georgina Kincaid’s final book and the Dark Swan series final book. Are you brainstorming fresh ideas for what you’ll be working on next?
RM: I would certainly like to get another adult series out there, and I’ve had some ideas. I’m just sitting on it at the moment. I’m also trying to slow myself down because the past few years have just been crazy aggressive. I have a baby on the way, so I don’t have the luxury of pulling out these crazy three-book-a-year deadlines where I’m doing all-nighters to get it all in. Suddenly my time has to be reprioritized. I hope that once I get used to the baby and he gets on his own schedule—I would like to get back into that groove and have one other series going on. I think two would be pretty manageable, a young adult and an adult. So we’ll see.
7. You’ll be doing all-nighters of a different kind with a new baby.
RM: Yes, exactly. [Laughs.] I won’t have time for writing-all-nighters for a while.
8. Supernatural creatures come in and out of vogue in young adult fantasy literature. Right now it’s the summer of mermaid books. Have vampires had their heyday? Are they a subject you want to continue writing about?
RM: I would be surprised if I were writing about them ten years down the road. And that’s probably just for my own mental peace. I would have to move on just for myself. But vampires—they just don’t go away. We’re in a current trend with them with adult urban fantasy and the Twilight popularity creating a kind of vampire archetype. Before that we had Anne Rice’s kind of vampires, and looking back you can just keep going back and back all the way to Bram Stoker. People are always coming up with the next cool paranormal creature; it’s mermaids and shape-shifters shifting into things I never would have imagined they should. And you think, “Oh, maybe it’s because vampires are going out of vogue.” But they always come back. So I don’t think vampires are going to lose popularity; I think it’s going to shift. The kindly vampires we were just talking about may shift into something else. I was just reading a book that’s coming out next year that’s a mix of dystopian with some very evil, bloodthirsty vampires thrown in, and that’s a neat evolution to see.
9. Do you want to write outside of the world of fantasy?
RM: I will probably always be in fantasy sister genres of some kind. I’m certainly not going to make a transition into westerns or anything that far off. But the cluster of sci-fi fantasy, that’s always been of interest to me. So I’m not sure where I’ll go, but I can’t always imagine it being this exact same niche of paranormal romance urban fantasy. I would have to do something at least one-off from that. But again, it will always have something fantastic in it.
10. [Has] she considered writing any other spin-off series from any of her previous works?
RM: It’s something I would consider, but it’s not something I would consider immediately. They’re the kind of books that are going to need a break. So it would be years down the road that I come back and check in and see how everyone is doing. I’m not saying it’s impossible or possible, just that it would be a little while, and I’ll shift into something else adult-oriented in the meantime.
11. Describe a typical day spent writing. Do you have any unusual writing habits?
RM: A typical workday usually starts with catching up on e-mail, which is insane when you live on the West Coast and the world of publishing has been up for three hours ahead of you. Once I get that out of the way I try to put in a normal workday. When I was younger I was particularly into the all-nighters. But now with my husband, if I want to see him it’s nice to have my work done at 5 or 6—just like a real person. That’s definitely my goal, and it’s also essential when you’re keeping schedules with all these books. You have to treat it like a workday.
I don’t leave the house; I’m too distractible in coffee shops. So it’s just me and the cats for the afternoon, hoping we get our work done. So many authors go to cool places. “I’m writing on the beach today!” Or playlists—that’s a big thing, writing to music. For me, the less stimuli in the world around me, the better. I just want to focus solely on the writing. I don’t want the interesting scenery, I don’t want the music, and that doesn’t seem strange to me until I start talking to other people who have all that cool stuff going on. I need a cone of silence.
12. What authors, books, or ideas have influenced your writing?
RM: If I look back at my childhood books, I liked a lot of the “girl books,” like Anne of Green Gables, which you wouldn’t think has any bearing on what I write. But they’re so character driven, and that’s what I took away. It doesn’t matter what the setting is, it’s the characters. That’s what the reader falls in love with. And when I was in my teens I started finding a lot of fantasy and sword and sorcery books. The Dragonlance franchise, which was kind of a spin-off of Dungeons & Dragons, was a huge favorite. Their flagship authors Margaret Weissand Tracy Hickman were just masters, creating these wonderful characters and putting them in action plots, but you loved the characters so much that you forgot about the action. That’s the way my writing has developed.
13. What are you reading now?
RM: I’m reading, like so many others right now, A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. It’s a book that’s going to take a while. He’s another great character author.
Thanks, you gave us such an opportunity, because we took advantage within :-P.