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Originally published Monday, August 31, 2009 at 12:03 AM

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Lit Life

Kirkland author Richelle Mead gets a taste of success with Vampire Academy novels

Richelle Mead wrote her first Vampire Academy novel before she'd ever heard of "Twilight." Now she's selling books like crazy, thanks to the current vogue for vampires.

Seattle Times book editor

Richelle Mead published her first supernatural novel in 2007, and her very first reading was at Seattle's University Book Store. Twenty people attended, "and a good portion of those were my friends," the Kirkland author recalls.

Last Tuesday was the publication date for Mead's fourth installment in her Vampire Academy teen/young adult series. Mead appeared at 4 p.m. at the University Book Store with another author, Lilith Saintcrow.

The bookstore had presold 200 copies of Mead's book; at the packed reading, booksellers sold 100 more. At the Borders bookstore in Redmond, 125 teens, adults and in-betweeners waited quietly for Mead to get across the bridge for a 7 p.m. appearance. They texted. They pondered their custom-toenail jobs. But mostly they immersed themselves in "Blood Promise: A Vampire Academy Novel" (Razorbill).

If you have not been living in a closet, you may have noticed that vampires are even more popular in 2009 than they were in 1897, when British theater manager Bram Stoker published a novel based on a creepy character in Romanian folklore and mythology.

Stoker's "Dracula" inspired dozens of plays, hundreds of movies and uncountable Halloween costumes. Then came Anne Rice, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse novels (the basis for the HBO series "True Blood") and the "Twilight" series.

Then came "Vampire Academy" heroine Rose Hathaway, "a combination of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angelina Jolie in Tomb Raider," in the words of Shadee Berger, a Seattle Public Library teen-services librarian.

Mead is a petite, articulate 32-year-old with perfect teeth and a stylish sweep of dark red hair. Her romance with vampires began as an undergraduate, when she took a course in European folklore and mythology. Romanian culture is the mother lode of vampire lore.

For the Vampire Academy series she plucked concepts and names straight from Romanian folklore — the strigoi (roughly, bad vampires); the moroi (good vampires); and the dhamphir (half-human, half-vampire creatures who inhabit the margins between the two worlds).

When she started writing her first vampire book, Mead had never heard of the Twilight series, "for which I'm very grateful. I wrote it in a vacuum, which is nice."

But she benefited from a piggyback effect — after devouring the "Twilight" saga, many readers picked up the Vampire Academy books to keep feeding their vampire habit. According to her publisher, more than 1.5 million books in Mead's series are in print.

Why teenagers, and why vampires? Mead has written other books for adults but says her vampire series taps into the tender, vulnerable nature of teenage love.

"The forbidden romance idea is very alluring" — Rose has a vampire boyfriend, who by the end of the third book had been turned into a strigoi. At the beginning of "Blood Promise," Rose travels to Siberia on a stake-in-the-heart mission to put him out of his misery. Yesterday's vampires were middle-aged monsters; today's vampires have hot bodies and sensitive souls.


And Mead's heroine is no weenie. Librarian Berger says that in the "Twilight" series, "Bella is always waiting to be rescued." But Rose tends to kick-box her way out of trouble.

Jessica Henkel traveled from Arlington last Tuesday to see Mead at Borders — a mom, she says she'll pass on the Vampire Academy books to her daughter when she's old enough to read them. She likes Rose's strong, opinionated female persona. And equally to the point: "I laughed, I cried and I couldn't wait until the next one."

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@ Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's arts channel at

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