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Interview with...

L. J. Smith

El Templo #9 (abril 2009)
Por Gally y R. A. Calle Morales
3.997 lecturas

We can see that there is a "vampire boom", specially in young adult literature. Why are vampires so attractive to teenagers? What do you like about vampires as a writer?

I think there is a mystique about vampires—especially about vampires that drink human blood. In my books, not all vampires drink human blood; the ones who wish they were human, or who don’t want to hurt humans often substitute animal blood. But I think there is a thrill about the vampires that drink human blood because suddenly humans are not at the top of the food chain! They’re not hunters when a vampire is after them. They’re the hunted. That’s enough to get your blood pounding. And then there is a sort of classical idea that vampires like to go after young women and that instead of simply being painful, being bitten by one might be pleasurable. You might even want to exchange blood with a vampire.

There’s got to be some mystique or glamour about a vampire if you expect people to want to actually give them blood, or take blood from them. And so it’s often written in metaphorical terms. With my vampires, sharing blood also means sharing minds—and that’s an extraordinary experience. I also make sure that my vampires are gorgeous, because otherwise the very idea of sharing blood is just plain... ick!

So you have this very, very handsome vampire chasing you, and that’s really scary. But when he catches you, he doesn’t really hurt you. He just wants a small amount of blood from you... a very little. And to your surprise, when he bites you it doesn’t hurt. Maybe you even feel sorry for him because without your blood he will die. So you let him have some blood and suddenly you find that you can talk to him with your mind and you can see his mind—and he’s not such a bad person, after all.

It’s a little bit like a roller coaster ride. It’s really scary going up and then there’s the thrill—often happening too quickly for you to be scared—of coming down. It seems terrifying, but it’s really safe. At least, that’s the way it is in my books.

In any case—I’ll be frank here—the biting is a metaphor for sex! In YA one can’t write about sex openly. But being bitten by a vampire is okay. It’s a strange world. ^^

Each author has his own perspective about vampires. Yours are quite "classic". Which are your vampiric references?

I suppose my vampires are pretty classic—although it depends on which series you’re looking at. In my series Night World, there are vampires, called lamia, who can eat and drink and have children. That’s not very classic.

In The Vampire Diaries, the vampires are more classic, although I had to invent the lapis lazuli rings to keep them alive during daylight. I must admit I didn’t do a lot of research on vampires. I felt that I knew a lot about them already. (I mean, how can a vampire’s day go: sleep, get up, chase somebody, drink blood, maybe play a few hands of poker with your vampire friends, go back to sleep, wake up...) I also shattered some vampire/magician type myths: my vampires could change into animals, but not into mist, they can look at themselves in mirrors, they can’t fly (until the later books).

Of course I did read Dracula, and when I was about 12 I saw a month of reruns of a show called Dark Shadows. I suppose that was my research.

 

The power of your vampires depends on the type of blood they drink; the ones who drink human blood are more powerful. This means that they can escape their own nature, but paying a price: if they drink animal blood they are weaker and don't have certain vampire powers. Being a good vampire doesn't seem the best option. Is vampire nature always evil?

Well, you could make the same argument about guns. If I have an AK-47, I’m stronger than you are, because I can kill you before you can hurt me (most likely). But if I have a conscience as well, I won’t do that. And if I’m trying to be a good person, it’s likely that I won’t have an AK-47 at all, because there is no reason for having it except to hurt people. So it all comes down to a matter of conscience.

In my books, Stefan has a very deep and very strong conscience. (He was brought up in Renaissance Italy, remember, and was probably very religious as a youth.) He hates the thought of killing, even of killing animals. But his hunger, his bloodlust, drives him to drink blood. All he can do is try to do the least damage he can, by taking blood from some large animal, like a white-tailed deer, that won’t get hurt when he drinks some of its blood. And if the price of not drinking human blood is being weak, Stefan is willing to pay that, because what he really wants is to be human again.

One of the best things about Vampire Diaries is that we get to know the characters while the story goes on; they learn and evolve and are more complex in the end. This development of the characters is planned from the beginning or do you make them mature with the story?

Both. I always planned to take Elena on the journey from Ice Princess (and Homecoming Princess) to frightened, newly “born” vampire, to a gentler, more mature, more tolerant girl who is, in the end so valiant and generous that she... [SPOILER COMING IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE THIRD BOOK! DON’T READ THE NEXT LINES IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE FIRST TRILOGY ENDS.]

... willing to die for her hometown and her two vampire loves. (Not lovers: her beloveds. Stefan and Damon, I mean.)

But also the characters often run off and do things that I never mean them to do. They have minds of their own. Elena and Damon are especially likely to do this—and so is Bonnie. And all I can do is follow where they’re going.

In the beginning of the series, Elena is the typical "popular girl", seemingly perfect, selfish and superficial. It is dificult for a female young reader to identify with her, because her attitude causes some kind of rejection. Were you conscient of this when you wrote this novel?

Yes, but you see, you have to look at all four (soon to be seven) books to understand Elena. She starts out as an unreachable sort of girl, a sort of Scarlett O’Hara, with all her plotting and schemes. She’s also an Ice Princess—the key to her heart has never been found. Even when she’s infatuated by Stefan, it’s as much injured pride as it is true love.

But Elena changes. When she learns what Stefan really is, it breaks through the ice that has made her an Ice Princess. She falls in love with him in truth, and that makes her softer and gentler. And then when she becomes a vampire, she is the lowest sort of outcast. She never goes back to being a popular and shallow girl again. I see it, no matter how cliché the image is, as being like a rose blooming from a tight little bud. Elena becomes both stronger and more kind as the series goes on.

But Elena has also a strong personality and looks Stefan and Damon as an equal, she doesn't feel lesser than them because they're vampires and she is only human. Why did you build a character like her?

That is one thing that remains consistent about Elena (with a few lapses, such as when she is a newly-made vampire). She is strong. I made a character like Elena because I like strong women. I want all young women to grow up and become strong and feel themselves to be equal to any situation—even to a vampire. This is one of my main goals in all my books, not just in The Vampire Diaries. I want to show young women characters who are normal girls, but already have a career in mind, or who are simply the equal of all the boys around them.

I feel that this is very, very important. It makes me so happy when I get an e-mail that says “I grew up to be a geologist because of your books” or “I grew up to be a teacher” or even “Before I read your books I hated reading.” Nothing makes me happier than helping people learn to love reading!

 

Do you identify yourself with any of your characters?

I identify myself with all my characters. It depends on whose point of view I am looking through at the time. (I do a lot of thinking about the characters that doesn’t get on the page.) Sometimes I can see through Bonnie’s eyes. At other times I can see through Stefan’s. In my new books I can even see through Damon’s eyes (scary!). Or it might be Matt or even Meredith, who is the most mysterious character in the first trilogy.

It’s almost like a play going on in my head, but I also can see inside the heads of any of the characters if I want to. This is how I write.

Is Fell's Church inspired in a real place?

No, it is just my idea of an ideal small town.

Why the lapis lazuli ring? Why is this gem so special?

Nothing special about it. I just thought it was a beautiful ring. I hope to have a contest sometime and give away some of the many lapis lazuli rings I have been given.

It seems that the four books were planned from the beginning. Do you think that is important to plan a story before beginning the writing process or is better to let the story surprise the writer?

The first three books were planned. But Book Four was never planned until after I had written three other books (The Secret Circle trilogy).

By then I had so much mail from readers [SPOILER COMING IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE THIRD BOOK! DON’T READ THE NEXT LINES IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW HOW THE FIRST TRILOGY ENDS.] protesting Elena’s death that I said I would write one more book so she could come back to life. It wasn’t planned; it was a reaction to what readers wanted.

The series is called The Vampire Diaries, but in Spain the title is The Vampire Chronicles, like the famous Ann Rice's saga. What do you think about this change? Do you think it is a good option?

I don’t really think it’s a good change, to be honest. The idea of the series is that Elena keeps a running dialogue with her diaries. And the diaries are important in other ways, for the plot. I don’t know why they would change the name (unless there is already another series called The Vampire Diaries in Spain.

We know that, twenty years after concluding the Vampire Diaries series you are working in a new novel related to this story, from Damon's point of view. What can you tell us about this project? Do you know if Destino is interested in publishing it in Spain?

First of all, it’s not just another novel. It’s a full trilogy. And it does have Damon’s point of view—sometimes, and it does focus on him as a character, and (especially) on his relationships with Elena and Bonnie.

I can tell you that it is written for more mature readers than the first books, because in all this time, YA has changed so much that more mature books are expected. Also longer books! So I have to write almost twice as much to get a book done!

The story in Vampire Diaries: The Return (its official name) is that two twin fox spirits come to Fell’s Church and begin possessing young girls... and Damon. The kitsune, or fox spirits, do a lot of damage before the main characters can discover who they are and what they’re up to. One of the wicked things the kitsune do is to kidnap Stefan and trap him in a prison in the Dark Dimension. Elena, Damon, and Matt (and later Bonnie and Meredith) set out to find him and to find the two keys they need to open his cell. But to get into the Dark Dimension they have to pretend to be Damon’s slaves, since no human can enter unless they’re the slaves of a vampire or demon.

I think that Destino has bought the series, but I’m not sure (there are so many new countries buying things). If you want to see it, you might e-mail them and tell them so!

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