Friday, October 25, 2013

Vampire Diaries: A Chat with the Authors of Love You to Death

As many of you know, it’s been a long road for me to appreciating The Vampire Diaries, and while my heart will always belong to Spike and Angel, in the past year it’s definitely found room for both Stefan and Damon as well. Mostly Damon.

About nine years ago, a new girl started working at ECW Press — my publisher and the house where I was an in-house acquisitions editor for 15 years, and am currently still freelancing for. Immediately we began talking about Buffy, and later Friday Night Lights, dinosaur comics, The Office, Arrested Development, and everything else pop culture. When the Buffy comics were first released, we’d both rush across the street each month to the comic book store, where the guy had reserved copies for the two of us, then we’d rush back, open them up and sit side by side gasping and freaking out about each page. She read all my books and talked them up to others, and I knew she was a very talented writer herself, so I kept bugging her to write a book. And eventually, she did, putting together an excellent companion guide to Gossip Girl. The following year, we discussed other options, and landed on The Vampire Diaries, and she struck out on her own and wrote three volumes of the companion guides, entitled Love You To Death, one for each season (you can find them here: Season 1, Season 2, and Season 3). And they’re astoundingly good.

Somewhere in there she met Vee, co-administrator of, and began doing recaps on the site (which series regulars — and series creator Julie Plec — saw and began commenting on) and for the Season 4 instalment of the book, Crissy joined forces with Vee.

This week I had the opportunity to talk with these lovely gals about TVD, spinoff The Originals, the book series, and which Salvatore is their favourite.

Crissy and Vee at the Gilbert mansion. Before it... well, you know.

Nikki: As Crissy knows, I was late to the TVD party, but once I announced I had arrived, many TVD fans seemed to want to know the answer to only one question, so I'll pose it to you: Team Damon or Team Stefan, and why? 

Crissy (@crissycalhoun): Team Salvatore! I'm a flip flopper when it comes to romance: whoever the writers want me to like with Elena, I do. While there have been some epically romantic moments in the series, I don't watch for the love triangle. I watch for the utter insanity, heartbreaking plot twists, and general amazing production values. 

Vee (@dieslaughing): I'm going to have to echo Crissy and say I am, and will always be, Team Salvatore. And that has nothing to do with Elena, but the relationship of these two brothers. I'm not a 'shipper; I am very much someone who is focused on character and plot, not romance. Not that I don't appreciate that element, but if it's all I focused on, I'd be incredibly bored most of the time.

Nikki: I’m so glad you both said that. I’m not a shipper either, and frankly I’ve tired of the Spike vs Angel/Jack vs Sawyer questions I get all the time, but I figured if I didn’t get that out of way it would just be hanging over us. And we have better things to move on to. Like… Klaus or Elijah? OK, kidding… kidding. (But seriously, it’s Klaus, right? RIGHT?)

Ahem. I’m pretty sure both of you were watching the show from the first night the first episode aired — when did you know that this was the show you wanted to write about? What was it about TVD that appealed to you?

Crissy: Well, I came to the series not having read the L.J. Smith books from the early '90s that it was adapted from. So I was drawn because (a) Kevin Williamson and (b) Boone lives! But quite early on what punched me in the gut about the show was how it was mixing this supernatural insanity, comedic touches, romance, and this really heartbreaking story of grief and isolation, centered on Elena Gilbert, recently orphaned, but it extended to the supporting characters as well. It struck a chord with a friend of mine who was going through something incredibly difficult, and that sort of showed me that you could watch this show just for the fun of it (and there's a ton of fun), or you could dig a little deeper and unpack what's going on beneath all that handsomeness and shirtlessness. That question of "Is there enough going on in this show to write a whole book on it?" is a tricky one until you get into it, but the answer turned out to be Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.  

Vee: Well, my history with the TVD book series goes back two decades; I read the series when it was originally released in 1991/1992. So the site I co-own (with Red, a longtime LJS fandom leader and one of my oldest and dearest friends),, has been covering the show since the pilot was announced in early 2009, first from the perspective of book fans worrying over the TV adaptation, then later as full-fledged fans of the TV series.

The Vampire Diaries had a lot stacked against it from the get-go: it predates Twilight, and there are some similarities to Twilight, but the smartest move the show made — and fairly quickly — was to place emphasis on characters and high-stakes plotting. There are few shows that move through story as ferociously as this one does, and they got to that point about halfway through the first season, and it's served them well. I can't remember the last time anyone compared it to Twilight and, trust me, that was all we heard throughout the first season. Bucking those comparisons and going whole-hog on story and mythology is what really made me fall in love with the show for what it is, not just because I was a fan of the book series.

Nikki: I remember having trouble watching TVD in the beginning because it was too Buffy-like for me: there's a brooding vampire (Stefan/Angel), and a vampire who doesn't care (Damon/Angelus/Spike), and a love triangle with a woman, and a best friend who's a witch (Bonnie/Willow). Throw the werewolf stuff in there and have that guy end up with the other best friend (Tyler/Oz) and the comparisons were driving me nuts. AND THEN I found out the book series predated Buffy by about five years. D'oh!! And it was that realization that made me start watching again, and I'm really glad I did. 

Crissy, this one's for you: Your first book was about the CW show Gossip Girl (Spotted), and I was there when you were pondering your next book project and landed on TVD, and you've done a book for every season since it started. Tell me how you first met Vee and when you knew you were destined to pull her in for the fourth book in the series. 

Crissy: Well, Vee is a gift from the Internet Gods. Back when I was working on the first Love You to Death book, there was a fansite that Knew All Things — — run by two mysterious characters, Red and Vee. I reached out to them, asking for an interview for the book. From there, we became Twitter pals, then I started writing for the site, so we had legitimate reasons to email each other weekly. At some point in the midst of all that, I was like, I want this Vee person to be my real-life friend because she is awesome. Red and Vee had edited the SmartPop book on TVD (A Visitor's Guide to Mystic Falls), so I knew she could write, and for book 3, I asked her to contribute a short piece on the introduction of the character Meredith. I always want to know what she thinks about the episodes, and I know I'm not alone in the TVD Family on that front. So I bullied her into cowriting the fourth book with me. (Which executive producer Julie Plec called a "genius move." Julie is among those in the TVD fam who want to hear Vee's insight on the series.) And, fingers crossed, we'll be back together writing the fifth soon...  

Nikki: This question is for both of you: I find the experience of working with someone through the internet to be pretty easy, and I would think today more people use that method of working together than actually working face-to-face with someone, yet people still ask me how I'm able to write with other people when I'm not sitting directly across from them. How did the two of you split up the book to work on it, and what was the process like?

Crissy: We relied really heavily on Scrivener and Dropbox! It would basically have been impossible to write this book without file-sharing and the wonders of Scriv. Vee's in Arizona and I'm in Toronto, so we Skyped a lot, divvied up the sections of the episode guide and the sidebar material (Vee is a history and mythology whiz, so she took the reins there, for example), and hid shirtless photos of David Alpay in our file for each other to find. (For science.) It was really smooth and easy — from my perspective at least! — and Vee was always ahead of me, so she made me type faster and (almost) meet my deadlines.

Vee: Yes, huzzah for Scrivener and Dropbox! I can't imagine co-writing any other way. I loved opening the file and seeing funny notes and photos from Crissy and being able to easily move things around, insert footnotes so we could hash things out right there within the file, and then be able to reference those notes later. My brain melts when I imagine us using any other method. And because we were feeling things out as we went, I believe the next time around will be even easier.

Nikki: For anyone who hasn't yet read Love You to Death, this is an analytical and fantastic episode-by-episode guide with a lot of sidebars, extra information, feature chapters, bios... basically it sits with you while you rewatch the season, and tells you everything you missed in the episode and more. But let's get to the part that made me squee with excitement when I saw it: creator Julie Plec wrote the foreword, and it's amazing! She refers to the previous books as "legendary" and gives a huge bow to you for toiling away on this series as she toils away on hers, referring to the season 4 book as "an entertaining, exhaustive bible of the character arcs, plot lines, mythology, and the behind-the-scenes happenings of a TV series made by people who are crazy in love with their work. Or just crazy. Hard to say." So... tell me how you both met Julie Plec in the first place, and on a scale of one to EPIC, what was your reaction when you got the foreword from her? 

Vee: I first "met" Julie during pilot pre-production, through the wonders of social media. But I met her (and Kevin Williamson, Ian Somerhalder, Paul Wesley, and Nina Dobrev) in person at Comic-Con in 2009, when TVD was there for the first time. I don't think I can overstate how supportive and open and encouraging she and Kevin were in the early days of the show — and even since! But their enthusiasm and respect for as a site and us as longtime fans has always been second to none. And that respect is entirely mutual. As contentious as the discussion and passion around the show can be, this fandom lucked out in a big, big way having Julie Plec captain this entire endeavor. Take away all of her responsibilities, she's a fan at heart, and that passion is infectious.

The foreword made me cry. There's a lot of history there, but what I appreciated most was her recognition that we love celebrating the unsung heroes of the production and are genuinely fascinated by the process of getting this show on television every week. We learned so much in writing this book, yet there's still so much to learn!

Crissy: I also "met" Julie through social media and then met her in person for the first time at Comic-Con, between seasons 2 and 3. My favorite moment from that experience was when the TVD signing was about to start in the WB booth and Eliza Dushku came up to say hi to the cast and Julie. Julie grabbed her name sign, wrote "Faith!!!" on the back, and held it up to Vee and me to make sure we saw her; Julie was totally fangirling over the presence of a Slayer. She gets it.

The foreword 100% made me cry too. It cannot be overstated how freakin' busy she is (running three TV series will do that) and yet she's been so generous with her time, with her answers to our endless questions, and by writing that foreword. It means the world to us to get that kind of recognition from her. Epic is the exact right word for it.

Nikki: We're only a few episodes into season 5 of TVD right now, so it's hard to say if you like the direction of the season so far, but what do you think of The Originals? Were you happy when the announcement was made (I mean... two shows!!) or upset (the Originals are leaving TVD?!) Judging from the handful of episodes so far, how has it lived up to expectations? 

Crissy: When The Originals spinoff was announced, I was among those cheering. As much as Klaus, Rebekah, and Elijah have been a massive part of the past few seasons of The Vampire Diaries, the characters and their near limitless backstory felt so ripe for their own series. The backdoor pilot (save for a few clunky moments) was awesome and had quite the controversial twist, so my hopes were high. The first couple episodes suffered from Exposition Addiction — like, they all but explained what a vampire is — but the latest episode, "Girl in New Orleans," just knocked it out of the park. I now officially care about all the characters, they each have interesting stuff going on, and it's all a bit intertwining supernatural fustercluck. And of course, any show with any amount of Elijah Mikaelson is A-OK in my books.

Vee: I was flat-out ecstatic about The Originals and, yes, there was a bit of worry losing such a vital dynamic from The Vampire Diaries. But I think it was obvious from as early as TVD Season 3 that the Original story was so much bigger than a subplot; a spin-off made complete sense and, as we are now learning, it reinvigorated The Vampire Diaries, putting the focus on characters who have often been sidelined. More importantly, giving Joseph Morgan, Claire Holt, and Daniel Gillies their own show validated how outstanding they have been on TVD. While The Originals is still in its growing stages, its latest episode lived up to the expectations I've had for this show since it was announced. I couldn't be more pleased with how quickly its findings its voice and footing.

Nikki: Am I correct in thinking you have both been to "Mystic Falls"? Tell us about the spot where they film. 

Crissy: "Mystic Falls" is a lovely town called Covington, Georgia (and a whole bunch of sets in a nearby studio) just outside of Atlanta. I went there a few years back for a convention and it was there that I first met the lovely Ms Vee. The town square looks just as it does on your TV, and admittedly I got a little verklempt when I saw the clock tower in real life. (Yes, I am lame.) There's a locations tour — Mystic Falls Tours — that we went on and it was very cool to see all the spots and these grand old plantation houses used in the flashbacks to the Civil War era. Fun fact: the tour company now has a storefront on the town square, which means you can buy the Love You to Death series in Mystic Falls. Which I love, obviously.

Vee: Covington's a small town with very distinctive features, so I see why it's the filming hub it is, and it was charming to recognize so much from watching the show. I was especially impressed with the "Lockwood Mansion," with the lake out back, the aggressive Steve the Swan, and the owners of the house were just lovely. I really enjoyed our time there.

Nikki: Thanks so much for this, ladies! One final question: Will you guys be doing a S5 book together and will it include The Originals?

Crissy: Happily we have just been offered a contract for Love You to Death Season 5! So you have the totally exclusive scoop on that news, Nikki. We're talking about The Originals and waiting to see how the series develops, but we would love — and Vee would love especially — to have the opportunity to dive as deeply into that world as we've been able to for TVD.

Vee: Crissy and are indeed hard at work tracking down our doppelgangers so we can realize our LYTD5/The Originals companion dreams. Very much hoping The Originals is picked up for a back nine so we can start talking about that, but I am equally excited to get going on a TVD Season 5 guide because, three episodes in, it's already bananas. Plus, I'm just really proud of how LYTD4 came out, and love working with Crissy, and I think we can up the ante for the next book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I love the love you to death series! So much stuff is going on in Ted that these books really help to figure everything out! I just finished book 4 yesterday ( in like two days) and again it is amazing stuff! Like i told crissy on Twitter. Glad to read that book 5 Will come ( can hardly wait!) and i really hope they can make a book about the originals too cause the spin off is a hit! More mature, more dark, more sexy. JoMo and Co. can really show of there talents now and i and others around the world just cant get enough! So to all of you ladies, THANK YOU for all the hard work you put in to the books and keep writing! If any of you watch elementary and want to write a book about that, please do! ( just a hint). A lot of love from Belgium! Jill