Winter Blog Blast Tour: L. J. Smith
When I was twelve/thirteen, I was a HUGE L. J. Smith fan, and so I was extremely excited when HarperTeen repackaged and published the first two novels in Smith’s The Vampire Diaries series last year. And that was just the start! Her other two series, The Secret Circle (also from HarperTeen) and Night World (from Simon Pulse) have been given the same treatment, and next year we’ll be getting a new Vampire Diaries book. If you’re unfamiliar with these books, they’ve got, as I wrote previously, ”romance, supernatural elements, friendship, and high stakes (pun intended), all in one package.”
L. J. Smith has already been gracious enough to write a guest post for us, but I still had a lot of questions I wanted to ask, so many things I wanted to know. And, lucky me, she kindly answered them.
How does it feel to see so many of your books repackaged? Are you hearing from old fans as well as new ones? Does one group predominate?
It feels wonderful to see my books repackaged! As for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, I like the clever, simple, chiaroscuro art on the covers better than the same-same-same drawings on the original American trilogy. I must say, though, that my longtime readers would probably roast me at the stake for saying so. I’ve had so many e-mails that speak of readers having taken their dog-eared, worn-thin, yellow-paged books from high school to med school to their married homes, re-reading them each year. Most old fans are buying the new editions for their children.
I would say that in the beginning I heard predominantly from old fans. A few hardcore readers got together so that the moment I posted my e-mail address on the Web I got a deluge of “Welcome back” and “From a Huge Fan” and “Love Your Books” e-mails within fifteen minutes. They had spread the word around in advance and were all waiting. It had me crying like a baby.
Now, the proportions have changed, so that I get about a fifth of my mail from old fans who’ve stumbled onto my e-mail address and four-fifths from computer-savvy new readers. Also a sprinkling of Italian and Spanish letters (as VAMPIRE DIARIES has just been released in Italy and Spain)! Each e-mail is a surprise: one is from a geologist who credits finding her career and her dream husband all from reading SECRET CIRCLE; another is from a fifteen-year-old who uses modern e-mail lingo (no upper-case letters, anything shortened that can be shortened) and has strewn the e-mail with paste-in happy faces.
I haven’t had the chance to (re)read all of your reissued books, but it doesn’t seem as though you went through them and changed the descriptions of clothes, added cell phones, or did any other “updating,” as has been done with Sweet Valley High and other recently reissused books. Was there ever any temptation to do so, and why or why not?
There have been no changes at all to any of my old series, from VAMPIRE DIARIES to NIGHT WORLD. I didn’t think they were necessary, and neither did the publishers.
When I write my books, I try very hard not to date them by mentioning too many things that are “in” at the moment but will be “out” in two or three years. And, do you know, it’s the oddest thing, but out of all my “new reader” e-mail, I have only gotten a few messages that say anything about the fact that the books were written back in the 90’s—and then they are messages of astonishment. They say things like, I read both the books (of VAMPIRE DIARIES) and then I saw when they were written and I was blown away! I couldn’t believe it!! One e-mail ends with:
“Thank you for reminding me that no matter what age you are, reading will always be timeless. As are your books” —Katherine
Most of your books are part of a series. Does your approach to writing a series vary depending on the particulars of each series? How much do you have planned before you start writing? Do you know what going to happen in Book 3 or Book 4 when you start Book 1?
I always know where I am going with each series. I do a synopsis beforehand and keep a “guidelines” file for each book of each series. Usually I have a chapter outline in my head, and I’m always certain of how the book will end and where it will fit into the series (this is important in a long series, like NIGHT WORLD or what the new VAMPIRE DIARIES will be). I do indeed know what will happen in Books 1, 2, 3, when I start a trilogy—but sometimes readers’ pressure causes me to add another book. At the end of the first VAMPIRE DIARIES trilogy, I was so pressured by readers that I wrote DARK REUNION and brought Elena back to life.
I must add, however, that sometime characters take the bit in their teeth and run, carrying me to places I never imagined I would go. The characters write the books; I’m merely an amanuenses.
There weren’t that many YA vampire books around when The Vampire Diaries was first published, as far as I can recall, unlike the plethora of vampire books that can be found today. What attracted you to writing about vampires? What do you see as the appeal of vampire books?
Oh, the appeal of vampires! I could write a whole book about that alone. I think that the appeal to women is primordial. Here comes this creature, swathed in darkness, with supernatural powers at his command, and superhuman reflexes to boot. He is of an unearthly beauty: chiseled pale features and, ice-cold gleaming eyes. The tiny hairs on your arms raise as those eyes somehow pierce your soul. His manners are elegant, perhaps a little old-fashioned; he seems chivalrous, but your woman-heart can sense the danger behind his slightly mocking smile. And what does he want? Well, that can vary, but at the heart of it, the answer is always the same. He wants YOU. Perhaps only for a few minutes of time and a few sips of your blood. Perhaps to make you his princess of darkness, to rule at his side like Persephone, forever. Whatever the answer is, most women are already melting as he holds out a hand, entirely under his spell.
And don’t we want to reform bad guys? Even if they’ve been demons in the past, in my books they can become saints because of the power of love. (See Those Who Favor Fire on my website.)
Finally, there is simply something attractive about self-aware evil, if it is packaged rightly. Any girl or woman who can listen to Laurence Olivier do the opening speech of Shakespeare’s Richard III, especially such lines as
“I am determined to prove a Villaine,
And hate the idle pleasures of these dayes.
Plots have I laide, Inductions dangerous,
By drunken Prophesies, Libels, and Dreames…” and has not felt the urge to cry “I’m here! Take ME!”—well, maybe she’s more of a Sweet Valley gal.
Stefan is the first vampire I remember reading about who drank animal blood instead of human, so I guess I’m wondering where this, and other things like him being able to go out in sunlight, came from. Is it based on any vampire folklore, or did you feel free to create your own rules? And Stefan is rather, well, vulnerable. I’m not an expert in vampire fiction, but was Stefan the first, or among the first, of vampires of this type (lonely, not powerful, self-loathing, etc.), especially in teen fiction? Basically, my question is, how did you develop the vampire mythology in The Vampire Diaries?
I researched all the vampire lore I could find before setting out rules for my vampires. Obviously, they had to be out and active in daylight so I created a magical ring (of lapis lazuli, which later found a mirror in Elena’s gold-flecked green eyes) that would help him go to school like an ordinary high school boy. Stefan seems vulnerable because he doesn’t drink human blood. I had decided that Stefan made this choice, after a number of years spent in hibernation in a crypt: he would come back to the world, and see if it would accept him. He would never drink human blood or prey in any way on humans, however driven by his nature. He would bind himself with oaths of steel and would try to rejoin the breathing human race, starting with the age that he had died: seventeen. And he would try to keep away from his brother, Damon, who hunted him down each time Stefan emerged from hibernation to punish and harass him. I’m not aware of any vampire who was like Stefan in any of the aspects that you mention. This, I’m afraid was a case of the character leading the author by the nose: Stefan made up his own rules.
If you would like to see what Stefan is like when he is drinking very powerful human blood, you must wait for NIGHTFALL. He becomes . . . rocket-powered . . . to Damon’s dismay.
Why return to The Vampire Diaries world now, nearly twenty years after the books were first published? Did you ever think you’d revisit it?
I never really left THE VAMPIRE DIARIES. Since it was one of my first books (I had written two hardbacks published by Macmillan) I put into it everything good that I had thought of up until then—the best characters, the best situations, the best relationships, the best mythologies. I’m talking about my point of view here, my idea of what was “best.” I feel truly privileged to be able to come back to THE VAMPIRE DIARIES and see what kind of trouble the old crew has gotten themselves into. However, if anyone thinks that this is going to be a same-old, same-old series, they’re wrong. The protagonists are out of high school. Elena has developed mysterious powers. They’re in major trouble in two different worlds . . . and at the end of Book 3, one of them is going to die. For good.
Has it been difficult to return to it, in the sense of challenges such as getting back into the mindset you had when you wrote the original series, writing about characters you created that long ago, etc.?
It hasn’t been difficult to get back into the mindset I was in twenty years ago because I haven’t even tried to do that. As I said, the characters have grown and changed, as I hope I have grown and changed as an author. The new books will truly be a separate trilogy, and will be packaged in hardback as such. I know that the old books made the New York Bestsellers list for three months running, and therefore that new readers are much like old readers and enjoy the same things. I hope they can adapt to THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: THE RETURN, where everyone has grown up a bit.
Can you give us a hint about what to expect from the series you’re writing about Damon?
THE VAMPIRE DIARIES: THE RETURN . . .
A pair of twin fox spirits, who have long black hair tipped with red at the ends like flames licking upward, who spread a possession not unlike that which gripped the victims of Salem in 1692, but modernized to the twenty-first century. (One victim pierces every part of her body—at home.) Damon turning from hunter to hunted as he cheats the twins and tries to steal Elena away alone. Damon, possessed, the apotheosis of evil, who wants Elena more than ever, and who will humiliate or kill her friends to get her. Elena’s blood an elixir that can supercharge any vampire who drinks it—making her a magnet for every vampire in the world. Glimpses of another world where evil reigns supreme. . . and where Stefan has gone, determined to get rid of the curse of his vampirism. Elena finding that she actually likes Damon when he’s not possessed, and having a crisis of the heart. Meredith, Alaric and the Field of Punished Virgins. Bonnie’s anguished choice between good old Matt Honeycutt, and bad old Damon Salvatore. Each well-loved character dealing with the change and challenges of growing up. And don’t forget, someone will die in the end of the trilogy—and is not coming back.
And is there any chance of additional Secret Circle books?
Perhaps . . . yes, I can envision that! I’m always astonished at the number of people (including perhaps 6 or 7 percent of them boys) who say they felt they were Cassie! And I always wanted to find out whether Diana and Faye were truly split souls or not . . .
Thank you! And, um, is it February yet so I can read The Vampire Diaries: The Return?
For your reading pleasure, the rest of today’s Winter Blog Blast Tour interviews:
Ellen Datlow at Chasing Ray
Tony DiTerlizzi at Miss Erin
Melissa Walker at Hip Writer Mama
Luisa Plaja at Bildungsroman
DM Cornish at Finding Wonderland
Kathleen Duey at Bookshelves of Doom