Author Richelle Mead Talks Vampire Academy, Her Fans, and Being on the Film’s Set

Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky in 'Vampire Academy'
Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky in 'Vampire Academy' (Photo: Laurie Sparham Courtesy: The Weinstein Company. All Rights Reserved. )
Author Richelle Mead’s bestselling book series Vampire Academy is coming to the big screen next Valentine’s Day with Mean Girls director Mark Waters at the helm and Zoey Deutch and Danila Kozlovsky in starring roles. The book series has a passionate fan base and when I found out I was going to be interviewing Richelle, I put out a call on Twitter for questions from fans. The response was immediate as readers are eager to hear any and all news about Mead’s Vampire Academy books and the film adaptation.
 
“I always hoped when I set out writing that I would have readers who were super dedicated and loved what I did,” said Mead when asked about her Vampire Academy fans. “But the actually reality of it has been nothing I was prepared for. They’re wonderful. They’re so into it and they follow things that even I miss. It’s amazing. I’m pretty lucky to have that.”
 
Fans are possessive of the characters and are anxiously awaiting the film to see if their expectations are met. And speaking about how her readers feel so involved with the characters she’s created, Mead said, “Obviously in writing plot is important to me, but my heart is especially with the characters. My hope as a writer is that I’m making them real and when I see that effect on readers, that kind of shows me mission accomplished. If they feel that real and that important to my readers’ lives, then hopefully I’ve done what I set out to do.”
 
During our lengthy interview, Mead graciously answered a batch of questions fans had submitted via Twitter:
 
On a scale of one to 10, how close is the movie to the book?
 
Richelle Mead: “Actually, like an eight.”
 
Did you expect it to be an eight? Did you think they would get that close to the source material?
 
Richelle Mead: “No, I really didn’t. I’ve seen some young adult adaptations that go through just a huge transformation and there are reasons for it, which I think fans should understand. When changes are made it’s not to piss anybody off or upset the fandom. A lot of times changes are made because certain things simply will not translate onto the screen in an interesting way. Sometimes those are smart decisions and sometimes in adaptations they can get carried away. You don’t know what you’re going to get, but everyone has the movie’s best intentions at heart when they make these changes.
 
I was pleased that the changes they made were smart ones. It wasn’t just someone who’s like, ‘You know what? Let’s just totally go off in our own direction.’ It was because, ‘Okay, this in the book would not have been as interesting or would not be as clear to the viewers, so we have to do this.’ It made sense and I don’t have a problem with anything like that.”
 
Did they ask you to do a cameo?
 
Richelle Mead: [Laughing] “No. There was always cameras on me while I was on set, so who knows? There’s so much going on a movie set that I had no idea. So, yeah, I’m waiting to see. Who knows? Maybe they secretly caught me as I was looking around all the classroom settings and everything.”
 
And speaking of that, what was it actually like to be on the set? Was it kind of surreal to see your characters come to life?
 
Richelle Mead: “It is, but it was a good surreal. I was surprised at how just enchanted I was by just watching it. I can’t listen to the audio version of my books for some reason. When I start hearing my words being read, it just freaks me out and I stop listening. And so I thought, ‘Oh, how am I going to sit through these set visits?’ But when I watched these scenes, I was just mesmerized. And they do so many takes! People just don’t realize how much work goes into getting 60 seconds of footage. It’s like six hours of work. I would sit and watch the same scene, just different takes of it 10 times over and it never got old. My agent was with me and I was like, ‘I could do this all day.’ He was like, ‘I know. Me too – it’s great.’
 
It was just fun to see what they did from the crew’s point of view. There were so many people working to bring this world to life, just such detailed things. They had handouts on their desks in the classrooms that the viewers I don’t think would ever see. They had every detail pinned down. And then the cast, they were so enthusiastic about what they were doing which was just really wonderful. And, again, it was just grueling hours and they were on a night schedule while I was there because they were filming on location and to get access to those places, they had to do it at night. [Laughing] It wasn’t so much a vampire thing, just a scheduling thing.
 
They were doing it, these 10 hour work days, over and over all night. They were going for it and they loved it, and that was just really inspiring to see as well. [Laughing] I would hate to have the most wonderful movie in the world and then find out that everyone hated making it. And that’s not the case. They loved it; they were having a good time and that means a lot. The stuff I created that forms the basis of this brought them that kind of joy or happiness out of their work, so I was really glad about that.”
 
Besides the footage that we see in the trailer, how much footage have they actually shown you?
 
Richelle Mead: “When I was on set, they quickly threw together a 14 minute compilation of some of the key scenes from the books. I got to see some fan favorite scenes that’ll be coming up, and then I saw two scenes that I don’t think I can, unfortunately, talk about anything explicit. But I saw two or three scenes being filmed while I was there. That’s it. That’s all I’ve seen that fans haven’t seen in the teaser. I mean, I think there’s still tons I haven’t even seen of it. Maybe I’ve seen…no, I don’t even want to say a third. I hesitate to throw out a number for you, but there’s still plenty I didn’t get to see.”
 
Is there a particular scene you’re most excited about fans getting to see?
 
Richelle Mead: “I think the ending sequence, which there’s just a series of scenes that are all action-based. I think people are really going to love those. I saw some snippets of those and those were just amazing. There’s a lot of stunt work in those, and plus it’s just such an exciting scene in the book. So much of the book is just kind of slow-built mystery, and that’s when the house of cards comes down there at the end. I think they’re going to love that.
 
They’re going to love the lust charm scene. I know that’s a big fan favorite – the big, hot romance one. I have not seen any of that except what was in the trailer. That was not part of my 14 minutes, unfortunately.”
 
Too bad!
 
Richelle Mead: [Laughing] “I know. I kind of hinted, like, ‘You can put that in there if you want,’ when they were picking what scenes, but they’ve left me in suspense as well. But hearing people talking about when it was filmed and everything, I think that’s going to be pretty cool too. Again, I know fans are dying to see that, so I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.”
 
How much of Mason is in the movie and what do you think of Cameron Monaghan?


Richelle Mead: “Oh, I love Cameron. He’s got a goodly part. He’s got some funny lines in there as well. It’s a shame but I don’t think he made it into the teaser. I’m trying to think now … I’ve seen it like a hundred times. I don’t think he made it into the teaser, but he’s got some pivotal scenes in the movie. He plays Mason just so well and just takes him to other level that even I wasn’t prepared for.
 
You know, Mason is a tragic character and people know what happens to him in the second book. I think we sometimes forget the feelings that he had for Rose up until then. Cameron really plays that out, even though it’s just in small, quiet ways. You see him kind of pining for Rose and he’s supporting her because he’s her friend. And Cameron brings that out so well. It’s just a gut punch, because you’re just like, ‘Oh, he loves you so much,’ and he’s just kind of brushed aside for the much more glamorous and exciting Dimitri. But he’s always there and Cameron really played that out.
 
He’s a super nice guy. I actually felt a little guilty by the end of my experience there, not that I’m going to go back and rewrite the second book. [Laughing] I wasn’t that guilty! But after meeting Cameron and putting a real live person to that character I was just like, ‘Oh, I feel a little bad about what happened to you.'”
 
What month is Dimitri’s birthday? I thought that was one of the most interesting questions that was tweeted.
 
Richelle Mead: “I know and I’m asked this a lot and I never answer because it’s buried away in some of the notes that I have, which I don’t have handy for you either. It was in my very initial notes that I did like in 2006 when I wrote the book. I had some info on that, but I don’t have it. No, I don’t even want to guess because even if it goes out as a guess, it’ll become fact on the internet. [Laughing] It’s lost in the notes. Someday I will dredge that up. There’s a few other character birthdays people are dying for.”
 

Zoey Deutch, Lucy Fry and Sarah Hyland in 'Vampire Academy'
The cast of 'Vampire Academy' (Photo: Laurie Sparham/The Weinstein Company)
Which is your favorite book of the Vampire Academy series and why?
 
Richelle Mead: “I’d say Shadow Kiss. I mean, Frostbite certainly takes a really dark turns as well but Shadow Kiss, I think, was just the one that really just threw people for a loop. People were not prepared for that and people could not see how I could fix that. I got emails from that from readers who did not want to read anymore because they were absolutely certain that things were so dire for the characters that there was no way anyone, not even I their creator, could get them out of it. It is terrible to be getting lots of emails from people saying, ‘You’ve made me cry from that book.’ But at the same time, when you realize that you have elicited those emotions and caused such a strong response, it’s a powerful thing as a writer. No one wants their writing to be easily dismissed or forgettable. And so that was a big thing to me.
 
The story was big for me, too. I always knew that was going to happen when I set out to write the series. I knew it was happening in book three. It’s kind of the lynchpin that then sets the rest of the events off for the second half of the series, so it was always a key thing. And so it was fulfilling for me as an author to write it, to see the effect on fans. It was just big all around. I love that as a writer to put the unexpected in there. I think there’s a lot of book series that follow kind of the sitcom model where at the end of each thing, everything returns to the status quo and everything is cool. I don’t know, and maybe it’s sadistic, but I kind of like to show people sometimes that doesn’t happen and then it’s time to readjust what happens when it doesn’t quite work out like you were hoping.”
 
Are there going to be more books (not spin-offs) in the Vampire Academy series?
 
Richelle Mead: “I don’t know. We’ll see. I try not get carried away as a writer dreaming of all the tons and tons of books I want to write, but it would be fun to go back to the central characters in Vampire Academy. It was especially inspiring after being on the movie set and seeing, not just Cameron, but some of the other actors kind of have that same effect on me where they brought out dimensions and emotions in those characters that I haven’t thought about for a long time. I felt, ‘You know, it could be nice to revisit those guys.'”
 
Is there another spin off in the works from Vampire Academy?
 
Richelle Mead: “There’s Bloodlines. Do you know about Bloodlines?
 
I read Bloodlines. Will there be another one?
 
Richelle Mead: “No, there’s just Bloodlines right now. That’s what I’m currently contracted for. There’s two more books left in Bloodlines and then after that, I’ll have to make a decision. I mean, I could stop altogether but I don’t see that happening. I’ll have to decide if I want to do a spin-off with different characters or do I want to return to the old ones. That’s still kind of in flux right now. I can say that I’m keeping my options open though and I have seeded things throughout the Bloodlines series that would let me go in a few different directions. There are actually things in there that if I did want to go back to Vampire Academy, there are things happening in the Bloodlines series that would set up a series to go back. Savvy readers can ponder that and try to figure out what’s going on.”
 
Is there going to be a fifth Dark Swan book?


Richelle Mead: “I would like there to be; it’s just a matter of time. I have two series I work on right now and with that and motherhood, there’s not much time for much else.”
 
You actually need to sleep?
 
Richelle Mead: [Laughing] “My son would suggest otherwise. But, yeah, I would like to do it is the short answer. When? I don’t know. It has kind of, I call it an artistic ending – book four of Dark Swan – and some people are cool with it. Some people would say it’s not an ending at all and that I left them hanging. There are certain things I would like to touch back on in that series and so as time permits, whether that’s next year or five years from now, I would certainly like to go back.”
 
Are you still a little nervous about seeing your characters on the screen?
 
Richelle Mead: “Sure. It’s a weird experience, for sure. But I’m not that stressed about it because I guess I just feel confident about what I’ve seen. I really do. I just feel good about the quality of the work that they’ve put out and how accurate it is to it. At this point once I read the scripts and said, ‘Okay, all of this looks good,’ all the work is in the actors’ hands and the director’s and the editor’s. I feel bad for them because I want them to get the recognition they deserve and I want people to see how wonderful this is, but when people see something they’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if that’s what I thought it would be. I don’t know if I want to watch it.’ And I just think, ‘No, no. You’ve got to see how much work these people put in and how much they love the story,’ because everyone who is working on it is a fan, which I think is super cool.
 
I think that’s my biggest thing. I can sit back and just keep writing books and I have the ‘easy part’ and they’ve got to handle all the moving pieces of the movie. I just really hope people are able to see how amazing it is.”
 
So no regrets at all about letting Vampire Academy become a movie?
 
Richelle Mead: “No. It doesn’t affect what I ultimately do, which is I write books. Even the worst movie in the world would tell people who didn’t know about my books about my books, and that’s not a bad thing – and this is not the worst movie in the world. This is a great movie and so it’s win-win, I feel like. I’m just very open-minded about artistic interpretations of my book. To me, there is the movie, there is the graphic novel, there’s fan art, and all of these are just different ways people are looking at my story. My story and my books are just the definitive source, and so if one of those is a slightly different lens than others might expect, it doesn’t change the books or do anything to the immutability of the story. It’s a fan perspective and if a random fan out there made a movie, they would have a different take too. I just love seeing all these perspectives on it. I think I’m more open-minded in that regard than some of the fans might be who feel it has to be absolutely one way. It’s easier for me, I think.”
 
Who inspired the books in the first place? Where did this idea come from?
 
Richelle Mead: “I wanted to do a young adult project. I’d already written and sold my first adult books in the Georgina Kincaid series. That was waiting to come out and I wanted something else to work on. I was teaching at the time and I thought doing something young adult would be good. It was just kind of a question of, ‘Okay, what paranormal creature haven’t I done yet?’ because the succubus series dealt with demons, the Dark Swan series which was also kindling back then was fairies. It was kind of like, ‘Oh, vampires. There’s not much out there for teen vampires.’ Ha-ha.
 
I think people don’t always realize how long it takes for books to come out. Twilight was … I need to check the timeline on this since I’m asked about it a lot. I know the first Twilight book was out, but I don’t know if the second one was or not. And so when I wrote Vampire Academy, again thinking, ‘Oh, there’s not much teen vampire stuff out there,’ I had never even heard of Twilight because it had not reached that household name status at all. If it had, I am not sure I would have picked vampires for my teen series. I think that would have been a lot of pressure to realize what kind of marketplace I was setting out into. So timing was lucky for me, because if I tried to write that a year later I wouldn’t have done vampires. It would have been too overwhelming because by that point it was crazy. The genre had kind of exploded at that point.
 
I wrote that first book in a vacuum without knowing what I was getting into. The whole idea of the Moroi and the Strigoi are from just a fragment of a Romanian folktale I heard about. There’s two races of vampires in the world and I thought that was cool, and I was able to kind of build this society around that idea. And from there came the birth of the series.”
 
Emotionally, what was the most difficult part for you in writing the Vampire Academy novels?
 
Richelle Mead: “The most difficult part? I think it was just scheduling at the time. I was writing the Vampire Academy series at the busiest point in my career. I had three active series and that’s just … I don’t know how to convey how crazy that is. I think one year I had four or five books come out, which is just nuts because for them to come out that fast just meant the previous year was extra crazy. I think that was the hardest part of writing the Vampire Academy series, just doing so during such an aggressive point in my career. In an ideal world, as an author you have all the time in the world to write that first draft and linger over every beautiful word. But in reality when you’ve got all these deadlines and contracts pressing on you, it gets much more rushed. There’s a lot of pressure and stress on you. It always felt stressful writing the Vampire Academy series, especially as it got more popular because that added its own kind of pressure onto it, because suddenly you had a lot more expectation than a book no one’s reading.
 
There was also a lot more pressure for promotion and publicity. And so I was not only turning out all these books, I was just constantly – I think at least once a month – I was going out if not like on a book tour than to a book festival or something. There was nothing in and of itself about Vampire Academy that was emotional or hard; it was just the atmosphere it was being written in. It wasn’t relaxing and now it’s actually eased up now that I’m down to two series and have a slightly less stressful schedule. Even with a toddler at home and another baby on the way, which have their own stresses, the book environment has eased up and it makes the writing a lot more fun. That’s not to say that I didn’t have fun with Vampire Academy, but it’s definitely just a different vibe now which is nice.”
 
Do you have any advice for young writers?
 
Richelle Mead: “Actually, there are two things I recommend. One is, if you’re trying to get that first piece of writing out, be it a story or a book, to not over-think whether people are going to like it, whether it’s too much like this or not enough like that. People will ask me things, ‘You know, I have this idea but I don’t know if people want to read it,’ and they can’t think like that, especially if you’re trying to get that first thing done because that’s such a daunting task in and of itself to finish that first work. If you love a story and you’re passionate about it, just write it. Worry later if anyone wants to read it. Initially, you’ve just got to worry about you wanting to read it and getting it on paper.
 
And going along with that, my other piece of advice is just to write as much as you can. If you can only get in five minutes a day on whatever book or story you’re working on, one page, that is great. There’s so many people that say, ‘Yeah, I’m gonna write a book,’ and they say that for five years. They just take these long, long breaks and they’re going to get back to it maybe. You’ve got to keep putting something down on paper. Maybe you’ll hate it, maybe you’ll scrap it, but it gets you towards that goal eventually.”
 
What are your literary inspirations?
 
Richelle Mead: “When I was younger, like elementary school age, I read a lot of historical, famous girl books like Little House on the Prairie, Anne of Green Gables, and just a whole bunch of other just historical series. I just really loved that. I loved girls in dangerous and adventurous situations. I really loved those, and when I got to middle school there was not the amazing array of young adult literature that we have today. [Laughing] I feel so old when I say this to my readers: ‘You have no idea how lucky you are to have all this.’ I mean, the young adult genre has just exploded and it’s wonderful. There was not much out there when I was around that age in the ’80s, and so I kind of jumped to the next level of adult books. I was reading romance novels in middle school, like Danielle Steel and Harlequin romances, so those were my influences.
 
And when I went to high school I shifted more into sci-fi and fantasy, which were viewed as boy books. None of my girlfriends in high school could even believe I was reading stuff like that. The guy I dated in high school thought I was awesome, of course, but it just wasn’t a common girl thing but I loved it. I loved the Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. That was one of my favorites. The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley, which was an epic Arthurian fantasy. That was what I just really delved into in high school. I look back on all of that and it’s just a very eclectic mix of things I read growing up. I think that’s definitely influenced what I write.
 
I can’t point to one of those and say, ‘Yeah, that was totally the inspiration for what I’m writing,’ but I think just that wide array of those fantasy elements and the romance and all of that, it kind of merged into what I like to write. I don’t consider my books easily one thing: all-action, all-romance. There’s just a sprinkling of all of it in there.”
 
One of your fans wanted to know if you’re ever going to Russia.
 
Richelle Mead: [Laughing] “I would love to, certainly. I don’t see it happening any time soon, again, especially with the little ones. I don’t do much international travel right now while my son and his soon-to-be brother are so little. But, who knows? Years down the road it definitely would be fun to see some places.”
 
* * * * *
 
Thank you to Richelle Mead for spending a substantial amount of time answering questions, and thanks to all the Vampire Academy fans who tweeted questions!
 

 

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