Q&A: The Vampire Diaries Creator Penny Dupree on Writing and Losing the Series

by Ingrid Pitt
April 23, 2012 3:00 PM

As promised in our October feature story, Your Mom's a Twihard, here are the highlights from our big interview with Penny Dupree.

Before there was Twilight, there was The Vampire Diaries.

Penny Dupree’s first teen vampire romance novel came out more than 20 years ago. She wrote four books for the series by 1992, before calling it quits for nearly a decade to help take care of family business.

When Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight hit the shelves, Dupree got a call that The Vampire Diaries books were mysteriously back on the bestseller list. So, she wrote three more books for the series and was set to write another trilogy when Alloy Entertainment Inc. and HarperTeen hired a ghost writer to finish the series with shorter books that fit the new The Vampire Diaries TV series better. The Secret Circle, another series by Dupree, was also passed to a new author for the same reason.

Now, Dupree warns aspiring writers to be wary of the words "work for hire", expressing strong feelings for her current predicament. W magazine sat down with Dupree, who has 20 plus books published, to get her thoughts on losing the series, her thoughts on the fans and what she’s doing right now.

Let’s start with the origin of The Vampire Diaries.

Sure. So, those books were originally conceived as very different than what made print. Two books of mine had already been published, and I was trying to get a handle on my future works. My editor gave me a bunch of suggestions for the future, so I wrote an outline for a lot of ideas. When a book packager called me regarding a vampire series, I went ahead and wrote them up and submitted them. [Pause] I do sort of regret doing so now. The book packager and I butted heads until pretty much the moment they were printed over my original, more queer version of the book and what eventually landed on the page.

But you’re not writing them anymore, why not?

No, I'm not. Originally, the contract was a "work for hire" situation. At the time, I knew that it meant that I would be giving up certain rights, but I never really thought that I would end up in the situation I am now, where the series was taken completely out of my hands. It was pretty devastating; I already had another trilogy in mind when they called me and told me that they didn't need my services any longer. The vision of my Elena just didn't match up with the version of her on tv, and I guess that it was easier to fire me and get someone else to make the books more like the show than for me to continue on my own plans. I know some people say that the royalties should be enough to keep me happy, but that's really not the case. Royalities can't replace the loss of creative control.

That's certainly a tough situation to go through.

Yeah, it is. And I don't mean any harm to whomever is working on the novels now. They need to put food on the table too and Lord knows that I had to do my share of ghostwriting at one point. The publishers are the ones who I have most contempt for. Whoever is entering the industry, I would not advise to do work for hire, even if it gets your foot in the door. It's a trap, and one I wish I had understood better at the time.

Today the shelves are filled with supernatural romance. Was it like that back when The Vampire Diaries started?

Jesus, no! [Laughs] Back then, it was pulpy and scary, not so much outright romance. Not that I think romance is a bad thing; I think that monsters reflect ourselves, and ain't nobody more deserving of love than a good monster. I certainly do think the terms of engagement with monsters have changed; I see a lot of people unable to visualize real monsters though, or wanting to keep their monsters cuddly over being scary. One good thing is that it's nice to see people more willingly engaged with girls, though. I feel that was missing back then.

Do you think you rubbed off on some of today's YA authors at all? Can you see some of your influence?

I'm not sure, honestly. It wouldn't be totally surprising, but inspiration can come from anywhere.

You mentioned that you haven’t read Twilight, but are there any YA books you do read?

I still read Christopher Pike's books, yeah. R.L. Stine, and Sweet Valley High. For someone who writes a lot of supernatural stuff, though, I don't read a lot of that in YA. I like some of the grittier stuff, like Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes and a recent book I think deserves more attention is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson. I've read it so many times now. Other books I go back to are Rumble Fish, The Folk Keeper, Maniac Magee, and Taming The Star Runner.

You know your stuff! So, if you don't read a lot of YA books besides those, what do you read the most?

Non-fiction, mostly. I tend to do a lot of research for my novels, and when I'm not doing that, I'm still working my day job as professor.

So, let's talk about fandom! You've been around for sometime. Is there anything surprising about your fans?

I'd say so. A lot of them are actually around my age, which is surprising. And more than a few fans I've run into actually remind me of my dad, guys in business suits who are really eager to talk abot the books or asking about things I might've left hanging. That really shocked me most of all.

Wow, that is surprising. Does their response ever make you contemplate getting into adult fiction?

Oh, fuck no. [Laughs] I think the market for adult fiction is big enough and... I think it's too revealing in a way. Sticking to young adult suits me a bit better. The only way I'd pursue adult fiction at all is if I had something really, really important to tell that I don't think younger audiences would respond to.

Last but not least, we have a question about you on social media. In this day and age, more and more YA authors seem to be engaging online with fandoms. You have a Twitter account, but not much else. Is there any reason why?

I like to be pretty quiet online. It's a bit of a distraction and while it has helped me with a few things, I don't see it as an overall good thing. And I think that there's a limit to engagement and being on all the time.

Fair enough. Any message for the fans before we sign off?

Just that I'm grateful for them and hope that one day, I'll come back with something new, when I'm ready. And I read and respond to everyone, as much as I can.