Richelle Mead on the mythology of Vampire Academy

Standard

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

Standard

…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

YA Lit tropes 

Standard

…some interesting comments and complaints in the reviews to Shadow and Bone (I haven’t read it yet…). They are comments on YA Fiction as much as on this novel more specifically:

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10194157-shadow-and-bone

…so, just wondering, how important is self-sacrifice to YA fiction?

…how important are the characteristics ‘smart and sarcastic and sassy’ to female YA protagonists?

…what is it with first person narrative and YA? That does seem pretty common.

… Nataliya took issue with the setting of Shadow and Bone, because “the real country where it’s set is the faceless characterless dystopic YA-landia with the traditional settings, stock responses, and common conventions.” What are common features of what I instinctively recognise in the term ‘dystopic YA-landia’?

Sometimes reviews just annoy me, but sometimes I think they’re an interesting genre on their own

Vampire Academy links

Standard

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

Standard

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

cookbooks as literature

Standard

Speaking of community cookbooks in her introduction to Recipes for Reading (1997), Anne Bower writes “Usually put together by women to raise funds for a church, temple, school, museum, or other cause, these texts seem innocent of narrative force. After all, what do they contain? A preface explaining the group’s philanthropic intent and/or a few words on how the cookbook was compiled, a few illustrations, chapters dividing food by categories, paid advertisements (sometimes), and mostly, of course, the recipes, normally accompanied by their donors’ names.
It is the contention of Recipes for Reading that fund-raising cookbooks comprise a genre containing much more than the discrete elements listed above. The contributors to this volume find that these cookbooks tell stories – autobiographical in most cases, historical sometimes, and perhaps fictitious or idealized in other instances. The discourse of the discrete textual elements and their juxtapositions contribute to the creation of these stories, which quietly or boldly tell of women’s lives and beliefs. In community cookbooks women present their values, wittingly or unwittingly (we often can’t know which).” (pp.1-2)

She poses the question “Could I value this book not just as a fun source of recipes but as a literary text whose authors constructed meaningful representations of themselves and their world?” (p.2)

“As we come to see the links between what Susan Arpad classifies as “literary artifacts (diaries, letters, reminiscences, and oral histories) and material cultural artifacts (especially quilts and other needlework, photographs, and gardens),” we acquire more and better techniques for reading all texts related to women’s self-representation.” (p.5)

Part of what we’re coming to see about these varying texts, once considered decorative and/or private and/or trivial, is how they have served the communication needs of women. Scholars, particularly those in women’s studies, or feminists in literature and history, have demonstrated that, although women were often limited in access to recognized status-bearing discourse forms such as poetry and fiction, public speaking, and journalism, they expressed themselves through other print and nonprint materials. And in those materials they not only recorded and reflected the world around them, they worked to construct their world. Whether complicit with or pushing against the constraints and categories that bound them, women acted to shape the communities around them. Thus, what we may designate as fairly private activity or discourse (sewing, the writing of letters, contributing to a cookbook) may actually have been seen by women of the past as forms of public participation.” (pp.5-6)

Karen L. Blair reminds us that because a “male definition of activity” has dominated discussions of history and social change, only women engaged in public work such as suffrage have been termed active.” (p.6)

“scholars have for a long time seen the great cultural significance of food, though they did not contribute directly to discussions of community cookbooks until recently. Mary Douglas puts it bluntly in a discussion of ethnic food: “Ethnic food is a cultural category, not a material thing.” She goes on to explain that “food is a field of action. It is a medium in which other levels of categorization become manifest. It does not lead or follow, but it squarely belongs to whatever action there is. Food choices support political alignments and social opportunities.” This kind of insight is immensely applicable to research into the compiled or charitable cookbook.” (p.10)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Anne Bower ‘Bound together: recipes, lives, stories, and readings.’ pp.1-14 in Recipes for Reading, Ed. Anne Bower, Amherst, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997

Border crossing – Como agua para chocolate

Standard

Of Como agua para chocolate, Cecilia Lawless once wrote that “Laura Esquivel has written an unclassifiable work that simultaneously breaks and brings together boundaries of genre so as to concoct something new in Mexican literature.” (p.216)

“In linking the act of narration and the act of cooking, this novel doubles as a community cookbook. The novel intrigues me because it equates cooking and eating with both a sense of self and a sense of community. Like community cookbooks, which so often cross and collapse formal borders and share some characteristics of autobiography, history, etiquette, and folklore texts, this novel crosses boundaries as well. It collapses borders – those between fiction and instructive cookbook; reading about food and wanting to eat food; woman as provider of sustenance and woman as object of consumption. Indeed, rewriting and rethinking borders is a primary focus of this text. Like Water for Chocolate takes place along the Mexican American border, so that the setting underscores the novel’s exploration of the limitations of the woman’s role in the kitchen, and its movement between the forms of novel and community cookbook.” (pp.216-217)

She asked: “How does this cookbook/novel participate in the act of creating community among its readers?” (p.217)

“[An] association between food and sociability is a strong factor in Like Water for Chocolate, where constant slippage occurs between the narrative and cook-book discourses of the text. This novel demonstrates a particular Latin quality that encodes dining as a rite of eating, speaking, and narrating about food. As you eat, you tell stories of other great gastronomic moments. Eating and storytelling become intertwined. In such a way, food operates on various levels and rarely ceases to act as a mode of communication, a base for community.” (p.218)

Right up to the last chapter, the plotline follows with unnerving accuracy the recipe for a gothic novel. Here is Eve Sedgwick’s summary of the European gothic […]: “You know the important features of its mise en scene: an oppressive ruin, a wild landscape, a Catholic or feudal society. You know about  the trembling sensibility of the heroine and the impetuosity of the lover. You know about the tyrannical older man [woman] with the piercing glance who is going to imprison… them. You know something about the novel’s form: it is likely to be discontinuous and involuted, perhaps incorporating tales within tales, changes of narrators, and such framing devices as found manuscripts or interpolated histories.” The introduction of food in Like Water for Chocolate serves to subvert or at least parody these very conventions. In spite of many troubles – a brush with insanity, the jealousy of her sister, repression by her mother – Tita manages, through her cooking, to develop her own language and sense of self, combining erotics with independence.” (p.219)

“In Like Water for Chocolate the culinary “secrets” are made public.” (p.224) This notion of secrets being made public is certainly a theme throughout the novel and works on multiple levels…

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Cecilia Lawless ‘Cooking, community, culture: A reading of Like Water for Chocolate‘ in Recipes for Reading, Ed. Anne Bower, Amherst, Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts Press, 1997