When Richelle Mead wrapped up her bestselling "Vampire Academy" series in 2010, some die-hard fans wanted it to go on forever. But Mead decided on a different tack: She launched a spin-off that picked up where "Last Sacrifice" left off, centering a new series on an alchemist named Sydney who is tasked with protecting a vampire princess. We caught up with the 35-year-old author, and new mom, to talk about "The Golden Lily," the second installment in her six-book "Bloodlines" series, published Tuesday. Mead is currently on tour and will stop at Barnes & Noble in Santa Monica on June 18.
Jacket Copy: Did you worry about alienating "Vampire Academy" fans with a lead character in the new series who isn't especially fond of bloodsuckers?
Richelle Mead: Sydney is interacting with vampires so much, it's hard to get away from them. But part of this series is looking at the human aspect of the supernatural. In the first series, the narrator was a half vampire, and you were looking at the vampire world from inside out. Sydney lets us look from outside in. To see it through human eyes gives you a different perspective. Things you thought were normal in the first series aren't.
J.C.: The way you kept the two series connected was to import minor characters from "Vampire Academy." What was it about the chemistry between Sydney, Jill, Eddie and Adrian that made you bring them together? And why, in "The Golden Lily," are you adding Dimitri and Angeline to the mix?
R.M.: The stories of these four characters were left incomplete at the end of the first series, by design. All four of them have something startling happen to them, and it was all directly or indirectly a result of Rose, the narrator of the first series. They had these big shocking life changes they're trying to cope with now, so that's how I put them together. As far as Angeline and Dimitri showing up, I knew they were fan favorites. I told people when I wrote the spinoff, I wasn't going to abandon old characters. We'll just see them in the periphery as opposed to the main focus.
J.C.: You live in one of the rainiest cities in the U.S. -- Seattle -- so it's funny that you've set the new series in sunny Palm Springs, but there's another reason, too?
R.M.: The premise of the "Bloodlines" series is they're trying to hide this vampire princess, and they've pretty much chosen the last place anyone would look for a vampire because it's so sunny, so that is by design. It's tricky for her because it's not a particularly pleasant place for her to be. She's in high school, and trying to do mundane things like P.E. outside is strenuous because the sun makes her sick.
J.C.: Palm Springs also sets your vampires apart from the "Twilight" series in rainy Forks, Wash.
R.M.: There is that desire to stay away from that. All the vampire books out there are so different. It's good to throw in some different things.
J.C.: I'm sure you're asked this all the time, but why are vampires so popular?
R.M.: I do get asked this all the time, and I would think by now I would have an answer. I don't know. People have always had a fascination with the supernatural going back to the beginning of time and with vampires in particular. This phenomenon is not new. When I was in high school, it was Anne Rice. Go back farther, and it was Bela Lugosi and Bram Stoker. People like vampires because they're kind of human like, but they're still sort of dangerous and supernatural, so maybe it's a relatable mix. I'm not sure. It's something I would like the answer to as well.
J.C.: You started "Vampire Academy" well before Stephenie Meyer and "Twilight" became household names. Has the success of that series been a help or a hindrance?
R.M.: It's definitely helped. People really want to set up these rivalries because there's a lot of vampire books out there. People want to believe we're all fierce rivals, and really there's just so much camaraderie with authors. Everyone kind of boosts each other. If readers like one vampire book, they'll want to read more, so "Twilight" kicked it off, and it's really helped my series, but I like to think it's more than it being just a vampire book. I like to think it's the characters and stories that appeal to readers.
J.C.: How would you describe the new series' core story?
R.M.: It's a couple different things. One part is the love story. It's a slow burn, so we'll see things progress. Another part is about questioning what you're told. The people Sydney works for have a lot of rules. There's a lot of dogma, and they tell her: This is what vampires are like. This is what these people are like. There's this idea of overcoming prejudice to see things for yourself and ultimately making your own choices. Sydney's working to find her own voice in this series.
J.C.: As a reviewer, it's so great to see such strong female role models in teen fiction.
R.M.: You're absolutely right. It's a great thing to see in books. It's definitely something that's always been important to me. What's fun about "Bloodlines" is it's a different kind of strength we're seeing in a young woman. Rose was obviously strong physically and getting into fights and punching her enemies. She was literally a strong, fierce woman. Sydney is quieter. It's an intellectual strength, and I think that's important to show, too. There's a lot of ways to assert yourself and be a strong person.
J.C.: You're a new mother. How has that impacted your work and creativity?
R.M.: It certainly affects the 9 to 5 schedule. I've had to manage my time better. As far as writing style, I think I'm a little less dark. There's still plenty of that. Don't get me wrong. It hasn't all become rainbows and unicorns, but babies just make you hope for some better things in the world, so there's a little more optimism.
J.C.: Where does film interest stand in the "Vampire Academy" and "Bloodlines" series?
R.M.: There's a lot of rumors. Nothing with "Bloodlines" at all. There's a production company shopping "Vampire Academy" around, so I think that's where the confusion comes from because it sounds more promising than it is. They need to get a studio on board.
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Photo: Richelle Mead; "The Golden Lily," "Bloodlines" and "Last Sacrifice" book jackets. Credit: Malcolm Smith Photography; Penguin Group