Richelle Mead, The Emerald Sea
TPC, member Hayley: What is the first story you remember writing?
Richelle Mead: Well, actually, I was writing books, I should say books in air quotes, because when I was a kid, I would take my parents’ business letterhead, fold it, and staple it into a spine, and then I would just write books on mermaids, unicorns, things like that. In elementary school, when I was nine years old, I had a short story published in a children’s magazine. It was titled “Judy and the Mermaid.” It was like, I don’t know, maybe two pages long, but it was pretty exciting. And I have a framed copy of it in my office.
Haley: What do you think makes a good story?
Richelle Mead: You need everything, really. That’s the kind of answer you’d expect for me. If it comes down to one thing, I feel like characters need to be so strong the readers have to believe in those characters and connect with them and again to reiterate, you want all the rest of the elements to be great, too, and the pacing of the plot. But I have found with the things I love the book series, the TV shows, I can suffer through some weaknesses to see what’s going to happen next because I love the characters so much. And so there’s been a lot of like TV shows come to mind where you know the plots are lame, but because I love those characters so much I would do anything for them. And so, I try to do that with my books.
Haley: Where is your favorite place to write?
Richelle Mead: I love to write in my office. This sounds like such a boring answer. I know authors who have a coffee shop they’ve been writing at for years, or they go to the park. But my office–I love it partially because I’m distractable and so I think if I was out in public, I’d be people watching, but I have recently renovated my office into this delightful, crazy shrine of pop culture and things. I got a miniature fountain and I have Star Wars posters on the walls. And, it’s just all this fun stuff that it just makes a good vibe and it’s cozy and I wear my pajamas. I love it.
Haley: Do you have any writing rituals?
Richelle Mead: I wouldn’t say so much on a daily basis. As far as the writing process. I tend to do all my books in the same way, which is it gets bigger to smaller. So I’ll start say on a whiteboard, just jotting outcomes, steps, the sort of character this is, and then I’ll start honing that down into a more solid list of points. Okay, this will happen in the books. And then that turns into an outline and so forth until I am finally able to write the book I need. I need a plan for my books or, you know, some authors, they just sit down and like magic flows from their fingertips. But I need to know where I’m going.
Haley: Do you listen to music when you write or do you like the peace and quiet?
Richelle Mead: I need the peace and quiet because what I was saying about being distractable. I will listen to the music instead of writing, but I will add in that I do a lot of my mental writing in the car listening to music and so lots of times when I’m mulling over plots and ideas I’ll have nice music going and that sets the mood.
Haley: Do you prefer to write on your laptop or on paper?
Richelle Mead: Type. But I hand-write the notes. When it comes to the book book, I always type.
Haley: When you were younger, did you know you wanted to be an author?
Richelle Mead: I thought I did. Basically, as I was telling you, I would write all these things. And that was just kind of this thing I carried with me as, “I’m gonna grow up to be an author.” Then when I was a teenager, and in college, it was less of something I held with me. Even though I still loved the books, I was just distracted by other things. And I had a degree in Humanities. So I was still like, right in the thick of it for writing. It wasn’t until I was almost 30 that I really sat down and said, “You know what, I’m really going to do this right.”
Haley: If you weren’t an author, what would your dream job be?
Richelle Mead: I was a teacher before I became a writer and I really, really loved that. It was a lot of fun working with teenagers. So I could go back to that. Also, though, as I get older and become more aware, I sometimes think if I had an alternate career, I’d like to be working in social justice, which I know sounds really heavy, but I feel like this is a time in the world where there’s so much that needs to be done.
Haley: What was your most embarrassing moment in high school school?
Richelle Mead: Boy, I don’t know. But they’re out there. It’s not to say I didn’t have them. I’m a bit stumped. I know at the end of my senior year we had to pick a teacher that had inspired us and then in this presentation, in front of the whole faculty, we had to talk about them and why they meant a lot to this and I did not prepare–not because I was lazy, but because I thought you know what I can just pull this off the top of my head and not only did I falter, I wasn’t that good of a speaker and I don’t think anyone really cared because it was high school right? I just felt really bad because I loved that teacher and I look back on that now where I do a lot more public speaking and a lot of it on the fly. And I wish I could go back.
Haley: How do you choose the names of your characters?
Richelle Mead: Most of the time they just feel right, which is just weird because I love the etymology of names. Like I love reading the meanings and history, but I don’t usually have a character name that has some significant meaning. Perhaps if there’s a character from a certain country you know, I may try to err on that side. The one exception I think, though, is Lissa from Vampire Academy. I think it’s even mentioned in the series. It’s the name of a much-used heroin in Russian folklore, and I don’t know it just seems like a name with impact.
Haley: What Hogwarts house would you be in?
Richelle Mead: There’s no “would.” I know I was sorted into Slytherin, which was a surprise to me but who am I to question the sorting hat on Pottermore!
Haley: If you were a flavor of ice cream, what would you be?
Richelle Mead: Mocha fudge almond. Which is really a surprise to me as those words flow from my mouth. There’s just a lot going on there, and that’s like what I feel like sometimes–being held together when there’s so much going on.
Haley: How do you begin a book? Do you have a character in mind or scene or line of dialogue?
Richelle Mead: Usually, it’s the characters. I think of a character that is some way which is hard to explain in generalities, but I always to go back to Vampire Academy, because that’s what people know. With Rose, I wanted to write this sort of tough, impetuous girl who didn’t back down and who was on her way to be an action hero. Like, we often see heroes and women even, who come fully formed to us, like here they are, and I wondered how how did they get there–they don’t come out perfect. They have struggles and so that was kind of the character concept I had. Then I had been also independently thinking about a vampire context. And then suddenly it’s like these two things that were bouncing in my head.
Haley: What are you currently reading?
Richelle Mead: I am rereading the Sandman graphic novels by Neil Gaiman. I read them in high school. It’s so interesting the way you can back up and reread them. It’s one of those things everyone has with a book, you find new things.
Haley: Do you have a favorite genre to read?
Richelle Mead: I usually come back to fantasy. Fantasy and sci-fi are what I do, but I’ll read other things.
Haley: What was your favorite childhood book?
Richelle Mead: Oh, I guess it depends on the age. I would say as a child child, I loved Little House on the Prairie. And then when I was, I’d say in adolescence, the Mists of Avalon was my favorite. I was also a huge fan of the King Arthur saga.
Haley: What can readers look forward to next from you?
Richelle Mead: How much can I say about it? I am working on an extension in the Vampire Academy universe. It’s not a direct continuation of Rose’s story, but she is certainly a figure present in this concept and that’s, that’s all I can say right now. It’s not finished.
Haley: What is the hardest part of writing a book?
Richelle Mead: I would say connecting parts. And what I mean by that is when you start a book, the beginning is usually you jumping out with your whole premise. And for me, especially, I know the endings, and the endings are big. There’s, you know, the scene of action: it becomes like a roller coaster. Once you’re on it, it’s going but sometimes getting between those is tough, and it’s tough for two reasons. One, it’s hard for me to write. But also you’ve got to be careful that it’s not boring for the reader, and that you’re not just putting in filler because you don’t know what you’re doing. You need to make the entire story as compelling as possible.
Haley: Can you tell me about the process of Vampire Academy being turned into a movie? How much say did you have in it?
Richelle Mead: I didn’t have much of a say at all. They bought the rights to it, and then nothing happened for a while, and that happens to so many authors. They sell the film adaptation rights to their books and don’t even know if they’ll become anything. And then suddenly they get the go-ahead, the green light, and they have producers and directors. I think they asked me in the very beginning a couple of questions to clarify the world and then after that it was more like I was being told what was happening, like we cast this person and they did this and this and this. They had their own vision as this is what happens when someone does that, and so I got to visit the set and see the kids in class. It was a lot of fun watching it.
Haley: What was it like watching the movie for the first time?
Richelle Mead: Well, there’s three phases. I wish I had a simple answer for you. But I consider sort of my first time when I visited the set and I watched them film the scene when they’re in class and there’s gossip going on about Rose and Christian and someone was set on fire and they took so many takes of the scene because they get it from different angles and different nuances. And so they filmed the scene like 30 times. Each time was just riveting. The flames were CGI, and so the guy would just like jump off with nothing on him, screaming, and I loved that. It was magical. And then I got to see a rough draft of the whole movie. And that was just more surreal than anything else. And it was weird to see my dialogue and often not my dialogue because it was adapted. When I finally saw the finished version in a theater, I was kind of prepared for it and I was more at ease with it. I was just like, you know, here it is. This is someone’s spin. And there’s some cool things, you know, I just kind of went with it. It’s really cool.