On Saturday 20th February, at the Eternal Twilight 3 UK convention, Puffin presented me with the amazing opportunity to meet and interview Richelle Mead in person. She talked about everything from her publication process to upcoming book Spirit Bound, and even told me a little bit about the 6-book Vampire Academy spin-off series. Read on to find out more, but make sure you're sitting comfortably... it's quite long!
[After many hello's and thank you's had been exchanged, Richelle (who, by the way, has the loveliest hair colour!) and I sat in my hotel room and talked books!]
Wondrous Reads: Okay, let's get started... Has your education had a big effect on your writing?
Richelle Mead: Not as big as people tend to think. I didn't major in English or anything like that, but I certainly took a lot of liberal arts classes that gave me some background rather than content matter. I learned to write more just by reading -- you read good writing and it helps you to pick it up.
WR: Weren't you a teacher as well?
RM: Very very briefly, yes!
WR: How long for?
RM: 6 months. I was writing while I was getting my teaching degree, and then my books sold well, I had my first job and I decided to quit teaching.
WR: How did you go about getting your books published? Did you go through an agent?
RM: Yes. For fiction, you pretty much have to go through an agent, or the publishers won't take it.
WR: Was it a quick process?
RM: Not that quick, but quicker than most. I never know how to answer that - people ask me was it easy but it's not easy for anyone. I was luckier than most.
WR: Well, we're very glad you got published! I've always wondered though, does writing 3 different series get confusing?
RM: Not confusing, just demanding because there's never enough time. I have to turn over a new 100,000 word manuscript every 2-3 months, and then I'm always editing the previous book while writing the next book. It's time more than anything.
WR: Is it a rush?
RM: Very much so.
WR: How do you get a balance - do you just not have a social life for 3 months?
RM: I have a social life but I work at weekends, there's no boss to tell me you can't have that day off or anything. I still get out and see people, but you've got to stay on track as an author. Some people think you can take time off when you want, and go out and enjoy yourself for a day, but the books don't get published if I decide not to get on with them.
WR: So which books do you prefer writing? Do you have a favourite?
RM: I like writing them all... they're all different. Some parts are harder in one series and easier in another. I enjoy it.
WR: What music, if any, do you like to listen to, and does any in particular inspire you?
RM: No, I'm not one of those authors who listens to music while I write, or has any particular inspiration. I'm old, I listen to a lot of 80s music - I never seem to have the radio on any more.
WR: Which 80s music?
RM: Oh, all of it - the cheesy bands were great.
WR: And still are! One question I have to ask you, have you always been a vampire fan, and do you like Buffy the Vampire Slayer?
RM: I never disliked vampires, but I didn't love them either. I was already writing about paranormal creatures before Vampire Academy, so they were kind of the next stage. I like Buffy, but I didn't watch it while it was on, I was never a die-hard fan - I watched the first couple of seasons.
WR: What do you think about the recent surge in vampire popularity?
RM: It's good, but people seem to think us vampire authors all hate each other, and people slam Twilight a lot. That's something I don't like - we're all contemporaries, and people read vampire books and look for others, so it's helped everyone's careers.
WR: Do you read other YA vampire books, like House of Night and Morganville Vampires?
RM: Morganville I do read sometimes, I'm a fan of Rachel Caine and I like her books. As a general rule, I avoid all the vampire stuff - I've never read Twilight or House of Night. When you write about vampires, you don't really want to read about them. It's not that they're going to influence me and I'm going to start writing Edward, I just don't want that in my head.
WR: A lot of authors say that when you write YA, you don't read YA, so that's interesting to know. When you started writing the Vampire Academy series, did you have it all planned out, or did you go one book at a time?
RM: It was planned. I can't be one of those authors without a plan and who makes it up as they go along. I know how each book is going to end, and a lot of the sub-plots are created along the way as I write. All the big plots and moments are planned - I always knew how the series would end.
WR: But you didn't have the last chapter written way in advance, like J. K. Rowling?
RM: Does she write them first?
WR: She had the very last chapter locked in a safe for years, apparently.
RM: No, I write the last chapter when I get to the last chapter.
WR: Has there ever been part of a Vampire Academy book you wish you could have re-written after publication?
RM: Nothing significant. As an author you always want to keep revising and revising, because I do write them so fast - to me there's never enough time to fully polish them, and that's what I wish for. I see flaws that I think one more round of editing could have fixed, but there's nothing traumatic I did to a character that I regret. I stand by it all, all the good and bad parts.
WR: So how long is the process between you writing a book, and it being published as a hard copy?
RM: Like I said, I have to write the first manuscript in 2/3 months, editing with the publisher takes about 4 months, then probably another 3 months when the book is turned into a book, y'know, it's printed and produced. There's a whole business side to publishing people don't know about, like there's someone at Penguin who works with Barnes & Noble, someone who works with Borders, who works with Amazon. They all have to communicate with each other during that lead time, because the books don't magically appear on the shelves - they talk orders and that's what the last few months are spent doing. Everyone's prepping for release, and then it shows up on the shelves. My books tend to run about 9 months - some authors can turn it over in 6 months, and some take a year.
WR: How far are you with Spirit Bound?
RM: Oh it's done, it's in pre-production now.
WR: In the editing process you mentioned, how much does the editor change?
RM: Each book is different, you know the editor doesn't change anything without my consent. And at the same time, something the editor hates doesn't go through either - we're very much a team. They may say this part could be cleaned up and you can change this, and I might agree to change one bit but not another bit. It's a group process.
WR: Do you have any say in your book covers?
RM: No, no. I have never had a cover I've hated so much. I like some better than others, but as an author you learn to pick your battles. I have had very good covers - I have known others who burst into tears when they see their covers, and vent at their publishers. I haven't had a cover that bad.
WR: Which is your favourite Vampire Academy cover?
RM: Blood Promise.
WR: Same here. Do you like the new UK ones?
RM: Yes they're very nice, they look much nicer in person. I can't see them properly when people send me digital images.
WR: When you've finished the Vampire Academy series, would you consider revisiting the character's lives in short story format?
RM: After this, there will be another 6 book cycle - there's going to be a spin-off. I mean we're not going to leave them, there will be more, but about a different character. Occasionally short stories will show up, but I really dislike short stories. It's a very different writing style than a novel, people don't know that and I don't have the short story mindset. But one is coming out in an anthology, it's about Lissa's parents. I'm not a fan of how that turned out, because I just don't like my short story style. Other people may like it, though.
WR: I like the story you wrote for the Immortal anthology.
RM: Yeah, people like that one, but I didn't like that either. Short stories have a very small word count, and to me you need a lot more to tell a story.
WR: You mean there's not enough time for development?
RM: It's very plot-orientated, a short story, whereas in a novel you can build characters. Maybe if I do more short stories, which I'm intending to decline now, there could be. But with the next 6 books, we'll see more people anyway.
WR: Can you say anything about the spin-off series?
RM: It'll be characters people already know, the only character I'm giving up, that's in there, is Sydney. The rest, you'll know who lives or dies when the current books stop, and I can't give that away.
WR: On the subject of future books, is there anything you can tell us about Spirit Bound? Is it a big Dimitri book?
RM: Oh, everyone's in there, it's a continuing story so it's all the usual characters. Spirit Bound is action-packed, and there are no tragic 'I'm going to cry' moments in it. Hopefully that'll cheer people up, because I know books 3 and 4 largely, and 2, upset a lot of people. There's nothing quite that traumatic in Spirit Bound, but there are a lot of 'OMG I can't believe that just happened' moments.
WR: One of my friends read Shadow Kiss, and she was in tears.
RM: You could have a support club, so many people cried over it.
WR: So which is your favourite Vampire Academy book?
RM: Shadow Kiss.
WR: I agree with you on that one! And going totally off-topic, what's your biggest dream?
RM: I'm living it. I'm happy with my career, if anything I'd probably want to finish these series and write 2 series. So that's my dream - most people would want to be putting out more books, but the schedule's too hectic at the moment, so I'd like to focus on my 2 series, to make sure I was writing the most best books that I can.
WR: Do you just want to carry on writing forever now?
RM: That's the plan. We all have bills to pay, and I enjoy my job. It's still a job, I think people have a much more glamorous image of an author, but it's a lot of work.
WR: Does going on tour like this set you back a lot?
RM: Well, the deadlines don't change. The deadlines don't move because I tour, so it falls back on me for time management, to deal with the loss. I can't write - partially it's time, and partially it's exhaustion - I can't write while I tour. So this is 8 days out of the cycle of book six, which doesn't seem like a lot, but it is. I mean, touring's great, it does its part, and so I'm very happy to do it.
WR: You must be like Superwoman!
RM: Well, y'know, it's just time management.
WR: I suppose you're used to it now, after doing it for so long?
RM: You fall into a certain rhythm after a while, and people ask me, are you enjoying the UK. And I am, but after a certain point, I could almost be in any city, because it's such a hectic cycle. You go from signing to signing, and I forget that I'm in another country. I could be in Miami or New York, y'know. It's a busy schedule.
WR: Do you enjoy meeting all your fans though?
RM: I do, that's the best part.
WR: And travelling around?
RM: I don't enjoy the travelling. This is luxurious, to be based out of London here. When I tour in the US, I'm in a different city every day, and there are so many travel hassles. The travelling is miserable, and then that signing I do every night is gold. I've never had a signing I disliked, and I really enjoy them. You hear about authors who resent their signings, but I've never been like that.
WR: You sell a lot of books at events though, and get to meet your fans.
RM: You do. So many people come with books they already own, but then they hear about other ones, so it spreads that way. Word of mouth is really what does it.
WR: Talking about word of mouth, do you think the internet has helped, like blogging and reviewing? Has that helped with your sales?
RM: Yeah, absolutely. The internet is just a whole new world for writers. I don't know if you guys have seen The Shining - y'know, the Jack Nicholson author who's locked away in his office - that's gone. We're all writers connected to each other, we're connected to our readers and social networking is just great for spreading the word.
WR: Like Twitter?
RM: Twitter's fantastic.
WR: I agree! Just going back to your writing for a sec, do you have a set time and place where you have to write, or does it all change?
RM: I try to write in the day, if only to sync up with my husband, so I can see him at night. I have to write in quiet settings - I prefer my office, I don't like to change it. So like I said, no music. I can't go to a coffee shop, because I'll people watch, rather than write. So I do like that routine every day.
WR: I have one more question: if you could be any character from any of your books, who would you be and why?
RM: I don't think I'd want to be any of them, their lives are so hard. I'm always fascinated that Georgina, who's in my Succubus series, shapeshifts. How cool would that be to not have to get ready every morning?
WR: Very cool! And that was that last of my questions, so thank you very much Richelle!
RM: No problem, I'm just glad we got through everything!