Richelle Mead on the mythology of Vampire Academy

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Richelle Mead explains:

“I took a class at the University of Michigan on Slavic folklore and mythology. One of the units we studied was on vampires, and we had the opportunity to read some really great stories and examine a lot of the symbolism behind those old tales. Years later, when I decided to write a vampire novel, I decided I wanted to base my series out of that same region. So I went searching through eastern European mythology again and eventually found a reference to Mori and Strigoi that I thought could really make a great foundation for a vampire society. Dhampirs are a little widespread in pop culture, and I’d heard of them before, though they, too, come from this same region. What’s funny is that I decided early on that my kick-ass heroine would be a dhampir, simply because I liked the mix of human and vampire traits. Later, I learned that in a lot of eastern European myths, dhampirs have a reputation for being great vampire hunters. There were those who believed that if an evil vampire was causing trouble, you needed to recruit a dhampir to come get rid of him or her. So, without even realizing it, I’d cast Rose in a traditional warrior role!” (p.31)

Ref: (emphases in bold mine) Brandon T. Snider (2013) Vampire Academy: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion. Razorbill, Penguin: New York

Adapting VA to screen

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…been reading about adapting Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy books to screen… and I just found some of these points interesting, in terms of considering how  the books work…

Snider notes that “Richelle Mead’s story about the bond between two young women eclipsed expectations and delivered a modern, fresh take on classic vampire mythology. Not one to be done in by overused tropes of the past, Mead drew from previously untouched folklore to craft a story that transcended the genre and propelled the vampire’s long and sordid history in a bold new direction.” (p.11) “Mead’s story is thick with vampiric imagery and folklore, but those elements are just part of a larger, more important tale. The backdrop of St. Vladimir’s Academy allows Mead’s heroines a chance to experience the dramatic ups and downs that come with burgeoning adulthood. Just as any typical teenager deals with gossip, peer pressure, and the pangs of young love, so do Rose and Lissa. Together the two young women take ownership of their lives and the choices they’ve made, and though they can be sensitive and emotional, make no mistake – they’re not to be trifled with. They fight to the death to stand up for what they believe in. Thematically, Mead confronted numerous emotional issues like survivor’s guilt and depression, blending fantasy with reality to [-p.13] create an exciting new world all her own.” (pp.12-13)

Mead has explained that “Rose’s character and personality were, in some ways, inspired by one of my adult characters: Eugenie from the Dark Swan series. Eugenie’s another action heroine who’s [-p.14] not afraid to get in a fight, but she’s a twenty-something woman who has already come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. I began to wonder what it’d be like to write about a younger character, one who was kick-ass and not afraid to stand up for her beliefs, but who was still growing, finding her identity, and also learning what it means to control her fighter impulses. I was fascinated by the idea of that journey.” (pp.13-14)

According to Michael Preger, “The setting and world are fascinating but most of all, for me, it was the strong female relationship between Rose and Lissa that captured my interest; their independence, self-reliance, and loyalty to one another, above all others. They are the kind of role models that instill a different perception of females in today’s world. Something often lacking in today’s storytelling. But it doesn’t end there. The mythic underpinnings of this vampiric universe are unique. It’s not the same old monster story. It’s a wonderful setting to explore interesting personality dynamics between the characters.” (pp.24-25)

Producer Susan Montford noted: “I wanted to explore the friendship and bond between the two teenage girls, and the responsibility and cost of developing and honoring their talents and gifts. …Rose and Lissa’s dynamic is very relatable and forms the central thread through the story.” (p.27)

Daniel Waters explained that: “I was having a problem that the girls, in many ways, sit around waiting for new information and new dead animals to drop in their laps (a novel can get away with that more than a movie, especially when we are caught up in Richelle’s writing), but making the fate of Ms. Karp and even the true nature of why Rose and Lissa left the Academy in the first place into actual mysteries that the girls must proactively investigate – it suddenly gave the film an engine.
The elements of the movie are still mostly from Rose’s point of view, but she is no longer in control of all the facts, which makes things a lot more cinematic. At its bare bones, the adaptation process was taking the story out of Rose’s head and putting it on-screen.” (p.45)

Zoe Deutch commented: “Initially I was struck by how funny the script was. In my opinion, you don’t read a lot of young-adult adaptations that actually capture the hilarity of being a teenager. Also, as a woman, I deeply appreciated the fact that this is a story that puts friendship before romance.” (p.55) “I connected with Rose’s humor as a means of survival, her hotheadedness and passion, and her fiercely loyal nature toward those she loves. …Rose Hathaway’s sense of humor is as brutal as her fighting skills. …I connected with her being passionate and not holding back her feelings. Rose’s motivation throughout the story is rooted in protecting Lissa, but progressively she gains more desire to be the best protector she can be, and therefore has more confidence in her ability. Of course, there are many other motivations strewn throughout, including her big fat crush on Dimitri, her want for her mother’s approval, and her love of knowing everything that’s going on around her. My favorite thing about how Richelle Mead wrote the characters of Vampire Academy is that they’re all playing against type.” (p.54)

Talking about Zoey Deutsch as Rose, Mark Waters states: “I think that a lot of people like how in control she is. And even in regard to sex, it’s not callous or something she necessarily treats lightly. I think that’s what’s key. It’s not someone who gets used or isn’t thoughtful about her sexuality. She very much is and I think that’s the important part of being strong about it, being decisive and knowing what you will do and what you won’t do. And I think that was the most important piece to care about with that.” (p.56)

Ref: (emphases in bold mine) Brandon T. Snider (2013) Vampire Academy: The Official Illustrated Movie Companion. Razorbill, Penguin: New York

Vampire Academy links

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Some of Richelle Mead’s favorite links and fan sites according to Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide (so some years ago):

http://www.richellemead.com/books/vampireacademy.htm

us.penguingroup.com/static/packages/us/yreaders/vampireacademy/merch.html

vampireacademymybooks.ning.com

http://www.shadowkissed.net

http://www.shadowkissed.com

vampireacademy.heavenforum.org

http://www.facebook.com/BloodlinesBooks

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Richelle-Mead/103765809662856

Ref: Michelle Rowen with Richelle Mead (c2011) Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide. Penguin: New York

Some interesting Q&A with Richelle Mead

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Michelle Rowan’s Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide has little Q&A sections with Richelle Mead scattered throughout. I thought some of these answers quite interesting; for example:

“RICHELLE ON VAMPIRE ACADEMY

The idea for Vampire Academy was first conceived back in 2006. I was already working on two adult series and really wanted to do something for young adults. Since my first two series dealt with demons and fairies respectively, I thought I’d give vampires a try in order to be different – little knowing what a phenomenon they’d become in the next year! I knew from some college courses that a lot of the best vampire mythology could be found in Eastern Europe, so I went digging around the stories from that region and eventually discovered Moroi, Strigoi, and dhampirs. Really, all I had to work with was a snippet from that myth, but I was able to build an entire culture and history for my books surrounding those three races and their interactions with each other.

The idea of a young woman in love with her instructor was a story I’d wanted to do for some time. Rose’s character and personality were, in some ways, inspired by one of my adult characters: Eugenie from the Dark Swan series. Eugenie’s another action heroine who’s not afraid to get in a fight, but she’s a twenty-something woman who has already come to terms with who she is and who she wants to be. I began to wonder what it’d be like to write about a younger character, one who was kickass and not afraid to stand up for her beliefs but who was still growing, finding her identity, and also learning what it means to control her fighter impulses. I was fascinated by the idea of that journey. Rose and her fierce devotion to her friends were the results of my experiment, and she soon developed into the vivid and unique character we love today.” (p.2)

“RICHELLE ON FROSTBITE

Starting Frostbite was a little rough. I knew what the running plotlines were going to be, but establishing them was tricky. The writing of this book was also taking place in a tumultuous time in my own life, which made it even more difficult to just really focus and get out the words I wanted. I think I rewrote the beginning of Frostbite about three times! What’s surprising to a lot of people is that, despite the beginning difficulties, the book’s ending was pretty much set in stone. I wrote it in one energetic burst, and it was good to go. I’d known from the day I started writing the first VA book what the path of the series would be, and this ending – as harsh as it was – was essential both for the story and Rose’s growth. Terrible, traumatic endings would eventually become a normal thing for me in all of my series, but this was the very first one I ever wrote. Again, knowing it was needed for the series, I didn’t feel a lot of guilt over what happened, but I was a little amazed in looking back at it that I had actually created something so heart-wrenching.” (p.35)

“RICHELLE ON BLOOD PROMISE

Blood Promise stands out to me for a few different reasons. It was the first book to really deviate from the kids-in-school format and thrust Rose out into the real world. That certainly required a shift in my mindset while writing it, particularly since I also had to contend with an entirely foreign culture and language! A visit to Russia was out of the question for me, but the digital age we live in put all sorts of resources at my fingertips. I think one of my very favorite things that I found was a website that had virtual tours of the Trans-Siberian Railway cars. You could “walk” around the sleeping compartments and dining car and see all the features and decor. This was an amazing asset to have and really added a richness to the book. Still, I was concerned that some readers wouldn’t accept the change in story location and style, and my anxiety increased when we ended up accelerating this novel’s publication schedule. Amazingly, it all came together, and readers really enjoyed it. This book vies with Shadow Kiss as my favorite in the series.” (p.110)

“WHO WAS YOUR FAVORITE CHARACTER TO WRITE AND WHY?

I loved writing Rose in this series. Of course, when you’re writing in first person POV, it’s easy to fall in love with your narrator. You almost have to, since you’re in that person’s head so much! But Rose is wonderfully complex, and that’s a joy for any writer. She has a wry, witty outlook on the world that makes a nice contrast for the darkness that so often pops up in the series. She’s not afraid to point out the ludicrous, and I had a lot of fun putting in her asides and observations. At the same time, behind this humor, Rose has a depth and vulnerability that I think really speak to a lot of people. She’s larger than life in many ways, but at her heart, she shares the same kind of love and yearning we all do. Those qualities are what readers really love about her and are the reason I enjoyed writing her so much.
I’m amazed how, in all of my series, there are always a few side characters that readers absolutely adore – to the extent that I start seeing fan clubs and T-shirts made up in honor of those characters! For the VA series, Abe definitely wins the prize in this category. I get a lot of comments from readers who are excited to hear about his next wardrobe choice, be it scarves or fedoras. The more outlandish, the better! He’s a great character because most of his lines are completely absurd, but at the same time, you never doubt for an instant that he’s pretty fierce when push comes to shove. One of my most memorable moments as a writer was being contacted by a reader from Saudi Arabia who was happy to see someone of Middle Eastern descent on the side of the good guys. This comment meant so much to me, especially because despite all his layers of intrigue and questionable motives, we never doubt that Abe has a heart of gold.” (p.224)

“RICHELLE, ON THE BOND BETWEEN ROSE AND LISSA:

When I set out to write the series, I had a lot of characters’ stories and sub[lots in my head, and I had to decide early on how I was going to address those. Rotating characters with a third-person narrative certainly lets you get a lot of stories out there – but can also leave you with a thousand-page book if you’re not careful. I ultimately decided Rose was the character I was most interested in and that her story really formed the heart of the series. I chose her as my narrator but was still drawn to Lissa, both because she’s fascinating in her own way and also because of her close connection to Rose. I soon realized, though, that their very connection would let me get away with slipping in another character’s narrative. Rose’s ability to see the world through Lissa’s eyes allows us these moments of third-person POV that we wouldn’t ordinarily get in a first-person series. I ended up with a sneaky kind of hybrid style of storytelling that was ultimately told with Rose’s voice but expanded the world beyond her own experiences. This system became a really useful tool in Blood Promise, when Rose and Lissa were separated for the first time. Even though Rose was by far and away nearly everyone’s favorite character at that point in the series, I think we all would’ve been sad to have a book where we didn’t know what was going on with Lissa, Christian, Adrian, and the others. The bond let me continue keeping track of everyone, which became even more essential in later books as Rose and Lissa began to increasingly follow their own paths.” (p.266)

“WHILE CHRISTIAN AND LISSA’S RELATIONSHIP HAS ITS PROBLEMS, THEY’RE NORMAL PROBLEMS THAT ANY TEEN MIGHT EXPERIENCE, LIKE JEALOUSY OR MISUNDERSTANDING. WAS IT INTENTIONAL TO HAVE A MORE DOWN-TO-EARTH ROMANCE IN THE BOOKS TO CONTRAST THE EPIC DRAMA OF ROSE AND DIMITRI?

Lissa and Christian, while far from being a “normal” couple, were meant to be a contrast to Rose and Dimitri (and even Rose and Adrian). I wanted to show that not every romance is fraught with epic, world-shattering problems! That isn’t to say things were always easy for Lissa and Christian. They certainly had their share of difficulties throughout the series, and it was important for me to highlight the typical ups and downs that any couple, vampire or human might have. Some people might argue that if I’d really wanted something to contrast with Rose’s disastrous love life, i should have given Lissa and Christian a perfect, problem-free romance. There was no way I could do that, though. Aside from the fact that it wouldn’t be realistic, I also think those little relationship kinks and difficulties are what end up making Lissa and Christian such a power couple. Facing problems together ends up strengthening both their love and themselves as individuals.” (p.269)

“WHAT WAS THE PROCESS FOR BUILDING THE WORLD OF ST. VLADIMIR’S ACADEMY?

St. Vladimir’s serves a lot of different purposes in the series, so I had to consider all of them for its creation. It’s not just a school; it’s also a sanctuary of sorts. Moroi parents who choose to send their children here are trading family time for safety. Students attend almost year-round and hardly ever see their parents. With those things in mind, I had to put St. Vladimir’s in a location that would preserve that high level of safety – both from Strigoi and curious humans. Backwoods Montana – with its vast forests and mountains – became an ideal setting. At the same time, I also had to keep in mind that students at a school like this don’t quite have the same experiences that “normal” students at a private boarding school would have. There’s no easy way to get off-campus. Field trips are few and far between because safety won’t allow it. Once Moroi and dhampirs are there, they pretty much stay there. As such, it was essential to make sure the school was the kind of place where they could live happily. Everything there is the newest and best, despite the facade of historic buildings. Computer labs, athletic facilities, and medicine – all of it is state-of-the-art. Academics are much more extensive than ordinary schools, in the hopes that there’s something there for everyone to be interested in. Equally important are the touches of ordinary home life, the religious services, movie lounges, and lots of open green spaces. The message one walks away with is yes, you do have to spend a lot of time at St. Vladimir’s… but you’ll like it.” (p.276)

“AS THE NARRATOR OF BLOODLINES, SYDNEY IS THE COMPLETE OPPOSITE OF ROSE IN SO MANY WAYS. IS IT FUN, OR MORE OF A CHALLENGE, TO WRITE THIS CHARACTER?

Sydney is a really great character to have as a narrator, especially because she’s so different from Rose. I loved writing Rose, but it’s nice for an author to be able to switch voices and try something new. I also think having someone like Sydney to tell the story for a while will give us new insight into the VA world. Rose has grown up among Moroi and dhampirs, and from the very beginning, we’re influenced by her perceptions – mainly, that vampiric life is perfectly ordinary. For Sydney, it’s most certainly not ordinary. So, we get the perspective of someone who’s an outsider, looking at this world through human eyes. Sydney’s also much more of a careful observer than Rose is at times, so that too will provide some new insight. From a craft point of view, Sydney isn’t easier or more difficult to write – she’s simply different. After writing six books with one character, I’ve definitely fallen into a comfortable familiarity with Rose. I can jump right in and know exactly how she’ll respond. With Sydney, I’m still getting to know her, but I have no doubt that within a couple of books, I’ll know her just as well as I do Rose.” (p.285)

Ref: (italics in original) Michelle Rowen with Richelle Mead (c2011) Vampire Academy: The Ultimate Guide. Penguin: New York

Defining gated communities / Privatopias

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There are a number of private, heavily fortified schools in recent YA fictions (I’m thinking Vampire Academy and Gallagher Girls Academy)…. While not technically ‘gated communities’, the use of such settings for these stories of adolescence kind of interests me. I can’t help wondering what role the setting plays (and thinking about literature on gated communities in response). According to R. Atkinson and S. Blandy:

“Defining gated communities is difficult and contentious. There are two aspects of such residential neighborhoods which make them distinct from other examples of secured accommodation (such as high-rise condominiums with concierge staff or individual houses with gated access). The first aspect is, of course, the physical constitution of such neighborhoods, but even then there may be differing degrees of ‘gatedness’. In some gated communities we may find gates or booms across the road and in others it may be that gates block car access (or theft) while adjacent pedestrian thoroughfares are not controlled in the same way. The main differentiating physical feature of gated communities is that where access would ordinarily be expected in an ‘open’ neighborhood, it is restricted or available for control in a gated community.

The second key hallmark of gated communities is their legal constitution. As developers have built gated communities they have effectively created privately organized neighborhoods with their own infrastructure, including internal roads, common spaces, and services such as refuse collection. Unlike open neighborhoods, where roads are managed and repaired by the local state, gated communities are run by residents’ management committees, known as homeowners’ associations in the US. These governance organizations are often controlled by the developer in the first instance, and are then taken over by residents who pay an annual contribution for the maintenance of infrastructure and services provided to residents. These services may also extend to the employment of maintenance staff and security personnel and the use of closed-circuit television (CCTV) systems. Many gated communities also have their own amenities such as gyms and swimming pools, or are built around golf courses or sailing lakes, which are also paid for and managed by the residents.” (p.297)

“The relatively more recent trend toward purposebuilt gated developments as the preserve of the affluent began in nineteenth-century North America, and has accelerated over the last 50 years to the point where in some US states it is now almost impossible to purchase a new dwelling that is not located in an enclosed private neighborhood. It would be wrong to conclude that the parallel growth of gated communities worldwide has necessarily been influenced by developments in the USA. However, such developments are now common both in countries where this type of built form represents a relative novelty, as well as in regions, notably China and the Middle East, where inward-looking, multi-occupied residential developments have always been part of the architectural heritage.” (p.297)

“Gated communities can be broadly differentiated between three types of development, each meeting different consumer needs. ‘Prestige’ gated communities enable their residents to enjoy an urban lifestyle while providing complete security. ‘Lifestyle’ developments incorporate exclusive leisure and other facilities, while the third type is the ‘security zone’, an inner-city or inner-suburban area retro-fitted with walls, gates, and other security features, usually at the request of residents. Subsequently, analysis of the 2001 American Housing Survey has undermined the usual assumption that gated communities are the preserve of wealthy homeowners, by showing that low-income, non-white, renters are now more likely to live in gated developments than owner occupiers.” (p.298)

“From residents’ points of view, in high-crime societies like Latin America, the USA, and South Africa, the recent increase in gated communities can be seen as a relatively rational response to a fear of violent disorder and personal harm.” (p.298)

“The small amount of evidence on whether gated communities prevent crime or not for such neighborhoods is contradictory.” (p.298)

“Gated communities appear to be growing in their prevalence by appealing to people with concerns about crime, as well as delivering prestige and privacy for those motivated by such issues in their residential decisions. However, the limited anthropological evidence available so far tends to show that, in fact, the residents of gated communities are highly susceptible to fear of crime directed at those outside the boundaries of gated communities, as well as at service personnel who continue to connect these spaces of relative privilege with less-well off communities outside, and who are therefore also viewed as a possible threat.

Since gated communities have not been a regular feature of urban life until perhaps the last 15 years, and then predominantly in Latin America, South Africa, and North America, the longer-run implications of social life in these kinds of neighborhoods have not been fully thought through. However, some writers have begun to ask what will happen to children who grow up in the kind of predictable, racially homogenous, and privileged spaces of gated communities. These fears, of a withdrawn, shy, fearful, and affluent class have recently been realized in cities like Moscow where the growth of a super-rich social elite has led to the protection of their children in gated communities, as well as being trailed by personal bodyguards. Again, the implications of these lifestyles for the future views and social politics of affluent classes brought up in protected neighborhood environments is unlikely to be positive, with possible impacts on a lack of empathy with people from different social backgrounds, as well as a fear of such difference.” (p.299)

“Everyday life within a gated community is largely regulated by legal documents, which set out the rules with which residents must comply, and the arrangements for self-governance by the homeowners. These non-negotiable legal instruments undermine the concept of gated neighborhoods as voluntary communities able to develop their own informal controls
and sanctions. Existing evidence on life within gated communities thus suggests a high degree of regulation that must be accepted in order to find distinctiveness and safety for the purchaser’s household. Such developments may offer security or privacy but in a context in which, ironically, the freedoms of residents need to be sacrificed to achieve the apparent benefits of ‘gated’ living.” (p.299)

“Gated communities have figured in significant literary examples. For J. G. Ballard, collectively privatized neighborhoods have formed a significant setting for many of his novels, particularly Running Wild, Super Cannes, and Cocaine Nights. In fact the idea of enclosure and rarified environments in which often affluent residents run amok outside the normative restraints of mass society has become a recurring theme for Ballard.” (p.299)

“More recently T. C. Boyle has [-p.300] used the desires of an affluent community to gate their estate as a literary device in The Tortilla Curtain, in which an affluent young couple are confronted by their own fear and prejudices as they encounter desperate poor Mexican migrants on the US border. As fears of the Mexicans increase, fueled by the prejudices of a minority of residents, a surrounding fence and gates are finally installed against their instinctive rejection by the story’s ambivalent hero. Dystopian fictional treatments like these highlight the way in which gating can be seen as a zeitgeist through which we understand a series of wider social and physical transformations affecting an increasing range and number of cities.” (pp.299-300)

“…privatization of what would otherwise be public spaces has driven wider debates about the relative influence of gated communities on social life in urban areas which have, particularly in the European context, been associated with the diversity and democracy of the street. This raises a broader question about the implications of forting up for the character of Western urban life. If we take away freedom of access to the street what does a city become? For example, some commentators have that this form of hyper-segregation and fortification represents a new and critical moment which has transformed cities with earlier histories of open and democratic public spaces into a series of enclaves which protect affluent residents, while leaving an envious and poorer class of residents outside these protected bubbles.” (p.300)

“Gated communities are also notable for their growth in societies characterized by lower prevailing crime rates and higher levels of social cohesion. In this sense such ‘communities’ may be seen as social barometers indicating much deeper undercurrents of social fear and aspiration toward ex-territoriality as the signifier of membership to an affluent and secure class. In this context the significance of gated communities lies less in their number and more in what they say about a wider bundle of social forces that are directing where and how people live. Nevertheless, the continued growth of gated communities suggests that they are an increasingly significant proportion of dwellings, both responding to and perhaps also generating anxiety.” (p.301)

Ref: R. Atkinson, S. Blandy (2009) Gated Communities/Privatopias  pp. 297-301 International Encyclopedia of Human Geography

Monstrous bodies – Judith Halberstam

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Back to June Cummins for a moment…. In her analysis of Gothic gendering in Harry Potter, June Cummins refers us to Judith Halberstam‘s work, Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters (1995), explaining that Halberstam “examines the function of monsters in several famous British Gothic novels that include monstrous characters and argues that these monsters are used in order for humans to define themselves against.” (p.180) Cummins goes on to quote Halberstam a couple of times:

“Within the nineteenth-century Gothic, authors mixed and matched a wide variety of signifiers of difference to fabricate the deviant body – Dracula, Jekyll/Hyde, and even Frankenstein’s monster before them are lumpen bodies, bodies pieced together out of the fabric of race, class, gender, and sexuality” ([Halberstam] 1995: 3).

“The emergence of the monster within Gothic fictions marks a peculiarly modern emphasis upon the horror of particular kinds of bodies” ([Halberstam, p.]3)

“monsters not only reveal certain material conditions of the production of horrror, but they also make strange the categories of beauty, humanity, and identity that we still cling to” ([Halberstam, p.]6)

I wondered, reading these quotes, if Halberstam’s work might be relevant to Richelle Mead’s Vampire Academy series and the Strigoi (evil vampires) as they contrast with the Moroi (‘good’ or at least morally ambivalent vampires). Just a thought…

Ref: (all quotations p.180) June Cummins ‘Hermione in the Bathroom: The Gothic, Menarche, and Female Development in the Harry Potter Series’ pp.177-193 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to Judith Halberstam (1995) Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters. Durham, NC; London: Duke University Press.