Just for Fun
L. J. Smith’s Daily Life and Writing
English Transcript of an Interview for Portuguese Fans by Ana Luisa Neeves –
1 – There are a lot of people who know you for your «The Vampire Diaries» books, but what can you tell us about yourself and how you spend your days?
I hope that there are a lot of others, at least in the USA, who know me for many other books than TVD. I always wanted to be a writer, and “wrote” stories and poems in my head ever since I was a child. I loved fantasy, and began to write my first published book when I was in high school. I finished it in college and it was published while I was in graduate school. Since my parents didn’t think I could ever make a living as a writer I majored in both English and Psychology, and went to graduate school to become a teacher of children with special needs. My first two books were pure fantasy books (two-thirds of a trilogy I plan to finish: THE NIGHT OF THE SOLSTICE and HEART OF VALOR. They got great reviews but did not sell well. However, my next trilogy, THE VAMPIRE DIARIES, was an instant bestseller and after three years of teaching I became a full-time writer.
My days? Well, writing dominates them. I wake up (sometimes with my cheek pillowed on the keyboard) and I do my morning routine. I get a cup of coffee or tea, feed my dog (a three-year-old yellow lab named Victor) and before I even jump in the shower I start to write. Early mornings are my favorite time for writing: my mind is clear and my inner censor is shut off. I write and write—and sometimes when I look up it is after 12:00 noon! Then I hurry and shower and (if I’m going out to have lunch with a friend) get into whatever clothes fit the weather. Otherwise I just put on my comfy sweat clothes and take Victor for a walk. I sometimes do errands: shopping for groceries or items for my new house. I’m in the middle of moving, so these days I frequently have appointments with landscapers, decorators, contractors, electricians, etc. When I get back home I deal with business things like reading email, signing new contracts, paying bills, checking out the Internet news and so on. Then I sit down and try to write some more. If inspiration strikes, I can get a lot more writing done—if not, I do things like research for other books, chatting with friends, doing articles, contests, or other materials for my website, or sometimes even reading a book just for fun! I always take the last hours before dinner and call my father, sister, other relative or a close friend. Often my dinners are very informal—but Victor gets his at 6:30 on the dot. I only have one TV in my house, and I never watch anything live—only special things I’ve TIVOed or movies. Also there are no chairs in the TV room, only an elliptical trainer and a treadmill. Frequently, I invite a friend to exercise and watch a movie with me. You have to work out while you watch! This doesn’t stop us from having lots of fun.
Finally, at night, I go back to the computer. I think about things I’ve brainstormed with friends throughout the day, and I make sure to write them down. Then I answer emails I’ve earlier marked for reply, and sometimes read new ones. I also try to write on my current manuscript. Sometimes the mood takes me and I write until I fall asleep using the keyboard as a pillow.
2 – How and when did you discover your love for writing?
I didn’t discover it; I always just knew that I wanted to write books. I thought everyone who read me a book had written it. All through elementary school, junior high, and high school I wrote poems and stories, and I began two books. One, THE NIGHT OF THE SOLSTICE, came out to critical acclaim when I was in graduate school. The other, working name, THE PRINCESS WANDERER, has never been finished in novel form, but will be in the next few years. Although set in a backwards fairy tale universe, it is a story of forbidden love and the dangers and rewards of leaving your home country.
3 – Was it difficult to write your first book?
No. What was difficult, but ultimately incredibly valuable, was editing it. My editor wanted it cut by nearly a third of its length. (Although I had written it for YA, she wanted to place it as a middle-grade book.) Working with my writing taught me to be brutal with myself when necessary, to take my favorite scenes and chop them in half and to lose scenes that marked it as a book for older readers. It also taught me how to discipline my writing style so that most of my subsequent books were described as “page-turners.”
4 – How do you do research for your books?
Now I do it on the Internet—it’s far easier than what I used to do. For THE VAMPIRE DIARIES I read all non-fiction vampire lore in books that I could find, and also read DRACULA. (Remember this was in 1990, before many of my gentle readers were born.) I also read non-fiction about witches and various spells and superstitions like dumb suppers, tea leaf reading, palmistry, love magic and so on. I read about the Druids and their beliefs so that Bonnie could be an expert about them. I also bought many baby name books so that I would never be at a loss for the name of a new character.
Today, it is much different. I research as I write, using the World Wide Web as my goddess of all knowledge. I even hire qualified translators to translate foreign phrases for me, and I can afford to hire a researcher to produce “A Guide to Ireland” which focuses on the time of the Salem witch trials for my upcoming book ETERNITY, and “A Guide To Norse Mythology” for another book I plan to write: the sequel to THE FORBIDDEN GAME.
5 – Sorry but I have to ask you this: I read in a website that your favourite character is Damon, so why did you choose to end Elena with Stefan?
See my previous bewilderment about this question. Also, I must say this, that while Damon was a very amusing character to write, I have moved on after the series was so unexpectedly taken from me and have written a new sort of book, which I have the very great honor of saying has been accepted by Margaret Ferguson Books of Farrar Strauss and Giroux. Right now, my favorite character is in that book, THE LAST LULLABY, and is the melancholy lullaby singer Brionwy, daughter of Branwen.
6 – How did you feel when a ghostwriter wrote the «Stefan’s Diaries» series?
About the same as I felt when a ghostwriter took away THE VAMPIRE DIARIES series. Very sad. Very grateful to the many loyal fans who gave me their support. Now I simply feel an inner tranquility, as I have put that painful episode and the other similar episodes behind me and forgiven those who hurt me.
7 – Do you have any special message for your Portuguese readers?
Yes! I love you all! I have had many emails from Portuguese readers who wrote excellent English, and I only wish that I could speak another language as well as they do! Thank you for reading my books, for being interested in my daily life, thank you for reading this interview! All my best love and kisses to all of you. Please try all my trilogies and series: NIGHT WORLD, TH FORBIDDEN GAME, DARK VISIONS, and the upcoming book THE LAST LULLABY.
8 – Do you have any advice for those who want to pursue a career as an author?
I do. I don’t know if you can go to my website and translate my “Ten Quickie Tips” for young writers, (in “Burning Fan Questions” on my Home page) but the very first of them is to write something every single day. It’s a good idea to write at the same time every day—it teaches you discipline and you will find that your ideas are ready to flow out of your fingertips and onto the computer if you try this for about a month. Sometimes it can happen after only a week! You have to pick the time that best suits your needs, but if it takes getting up half an hour earlier, I promise you’ll find it’s worth it. Also, write about things that you know about—or things from your imagination. Make the protagonist of your story a person like you, and write as if you were talking to your best friend. Don’t censor yourself as you write—just let the story flow out and when you’ve finished a chapter or a short story, edit it then. If you re-write each sentence three times over you’ll find that you still hate it the fourth time you try it, because your inner censor is now awake and telling you you’re a bad writer. Never listen to that little voice that says you’re not a great author! Just work hard, brainstorm with your friends if you’re stuck for an idea, and always keep dreaming.