I first started writing VA in early 2006, right after I quit teaching. The whole thing had come about as a suggestion/dare from my then-agent who said people were looking for YA vampire books. Now, I had no clue about how hot those books were becoming, nor was I trying to write to the market. I was actually just amused by the idea. It seemed so out there--teen vampire books? Would people read those? It almost seemed like a wacky challenge, so I set about doing it as a pet project to test my writerly skills.
I knew for sure that I didn't want the main character to be a vampire--I wanted a human who interacted with vampires. The original concept for VA--though it wasn't called VA back then; it wasn't called anything--was actually about a teenage boy and girl. Through an ancient family tradition, they had been arranged to be married and met each other for the first time at the start of the book. One of them was in danger, so the other took on a bodyguard role. I can't remember who was protecting whom--or which one was the vampire.
Eventually, the story more or less morphed into how it is today. However, I originally set out to write it in third-person POV, with a wider cast of characters having bigger roles. In fact, side character Camille Conta once played a much more significant role and had her own subplot. Here's an excerpt from the original draft, told from Camille's perspective as she watches Rose and Lissa's return to the school in Chapter 2:
Camille jerked her head around. She had heard the expression ‘loud silence’ but never understood it until now. There were almost five hundred students out there. A regiment of Strigoi couldn’t have caused silence like that.
But two girls could.
Hesitantly, creeping out of the door, Camille stared into the commons at a sight she never thought she'd see. A sight she'd never wanted to see.
Lissa Dragomir and Rose Hathaway.
All those subplots soon bogged down the story, and I got frustrated. I decided the book was going nowhere and gave up on it. Instead, I started writing Storm Born and had much more luck with that. I finished it quickly and sold it quickly and was content with the world.
Six months after having shelved the vampire manuscript, I finally decided to give it another shot. In looking at it, I realized a couple of things. One, I was much happier writing in first person POV. Two, I wasn't nearly as interested in anyone else's stories as I was Rose's and those of her two closest people, Lissa and Dimitri. So, I reworked the whole book over, switching it to Rose's voice alone. That made the difference, and it changed from a wacky experiment to something I loved. That was also when I made Rose a dhampir, not human. I finished the book, called it Kissed by Shadows, and sent it off to my agent.
He liked it, and it went up on the market shortly thereafter. While there, one editor rejected it because "It wasn't enough like Twilight." Another editor rejected it because "It was too much like Twilight." And I was--seriously--like, "What's Twilight? Is that a book?" Little did I know! Eventually the good folks at Razorbill thought it was just right, and we closed our deal on the same date Succubus Blues had sold one year earlier.
In the following months, the manuscript went through a lot of editing, rewriting, editing, and rewriting. The title was changed from Kissed by Shadows to Vampire Academy. At long last, everything on it was finished, and I had nothing left to do but wait for its release. I had a lot of wild emotions throughout that time because I had no idea how VA would be received, and by then, I was working on Frostbite--and having lots of trouble. One person in the pubishing industry told me I'd wasted my time with this series and should write it off and focus on my other books. Harsh, huh? Definitely not what my anxiety needed. But when VA finally came out on August 16 last year, it had respectable opening sales, and I could breathe a sigh of relief. People didn't hate t.
Only, by January of this year, the sales had gotten even better, and VA got an ALA nomination. I was also starting to get a lot more email about this series, often from from people who were going to hunt me down "if Rose and Dimitri don't get together." That was very unexpected! The series kept picking up its momentum, Frostbite hit the lists, and now...well, here we are waiting for Shadow Kiss, and people are *still* threatening to hunt me down if certain things do (or don't) happen. A big, big year. Happy Birthday!
Post-script: here are some more Kat Richardson sightings for people in California:
* Saturday, August 16 @ 2pm at Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego
* Sunday, August 17 @ 4pm at Barnes and Noble in Huntington Beach
Clearly, there is more than one way to see a Kat.