Saturday, November 27, 2010

Things Maggies Never Expected Readers to Put in Their Letters

Really, the video says it all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Maggie And the Astronauts

As some blog readers will recall, I recently did a talk for NASA. Those of you who didn't know that are probably wondering why it is that NASA wanted me, which is a question everyone asks (sometimes twice or three times, if you're my grandmother). NASA said that they were totally flexible, they just needed me to be profound and write the best damn speech of my life*.

*I apologize (slightly) for the swearing, but this is an exact quote, so I feel I should be specific.

They also wanted me to drive my Camaro.

So down I drove to Langley and Newport News in Loki, my Camaro. See the sign? That says NASA. What you can't see is the guy in the car next to me, who was first staring because I was a chick in a '73 Camaro and then staring because I was a scary-looking-chick taking a picture of a sign pointing toward a government installation with a big-ass camera. I believe his next phone call was to Homeland Security. (their response? "oh yeah, we already know.")


Then I got a great tour of NASA along with some NASA engineer folks from elsewhere in the country.

TOUR GUIDE: I'm gonna go slowly, but I assume you guys are all engineers, right?
ENGINEERS: Yep.
ME: Except Me.
TOUR GUIDE: What do you do?
ME: Write about werewolves and sex.
TOUR GUIDE: . . .
ENGINEERS: What kind of werewolves?

No, seriously, I got to see inflatable space stations and planes with Columbian bullet holes in the bottom and wind tunnels. And also, about twenty NASA engineers trotting around machines clapping their hands and skipping like school children. If you ever find yourself in a pack of feral NASA engineers**, I recommend throwing a gadget at them. Preferably one with really large rivets. It will give you time to escape.

**Luckily, I have determined that most NASA engineers seem to be entirely tame and, yes, even friendly. Our moon is in benevolent hands.

And then it was off to be orientated. Hilariously, we took a van back to the hotel, and on my itinerary, it told us to take the NASA SHUTTLE. It's the little things. Anyway, there I met the other twenty-some presenters at the TEDxNASA conference. And it was completely humbling. They were all Smart People, Famous People, Smart and Famous People, and a Comet. Which meant that I spent the evening in my hotel room drinking root beer and rewriting my speech because it didn't seem profound enough.

After troubled dreams of monkeys and spacecraft, the next day it was off to the Ferguson Center, to speak in front of 1,700 of my peers***.

***Again, these are NASA's words. I feel the need to be specific.

I was next to last on the day's agenda, which meant I had the whole day to think about whether or not my speech was profound enough. I also met more NASA folks in charge of the conference, and they were actually delightful and funny.

NASA: Hi.
ME: Hi.
NASA: My fiance follows you on twitter.
ME: That's awesome.
NASA: NASA reads your blog.
ME: So does the FBI.

I even convinced NASA to pose with me for a blog photo.


And then it was my turn. NASA had exhorted me to be profound, entertaining, and above all, only be profound and entertaining for twelve minutes. The first thing I saw on the stage when I climbed on was a monitor pointed towards me. This is what was on it:

MONITOR: 12:00
MONITOR: 11:59
MONITOR: 11:58
MONITOR: 11:57
MONITOR: 11:56

Freakin' NASA. Everything's gotta be a shuttle launch with these guys.

But there was no time to wonder what would happen when it got to 0. There was only time to talk. And here it is.


Thanks, NASA, for putting up with mild anarchy, some shedding, and a bit of howling at the moon. It was awesome.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Things That Are 1973's fault

For your Monday morning entertainment and education.

Things that were invented in 1973.


1. Lover, my husband.



2. Loki, my car.



3. Hilariously, this video.


I encourage you to watch the video until you stop laughing, and then go back to work.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dear Warner Bros., You Ruined My Birthday

Dear Warner Brothers,

Seeing as you are hard at work at making the Shiver movie*, I understand that you and I are business acquaintances, not, like, friends. Still, I think the fact that you're releasing the next Harry Potter movie tomorrow, when I am flying to Orlando** for a conference, instead of today, which is my birthday, is extremely bad form. I realize most big movies come out on Fridays, but surely, surely you realize that I am to be the future queen of America*** and thus worth a bit of rule-bending. The complete disregard for my sole happiness would make me boycott the movie, but let's be honest. I really want to see that sucker. Fine. I'm going on Sunday. But I'm not happy about it. Not happy about it one bit. Now I'm going to be forced to do something else festive, like mail-order an elephant and eat blondies**** for breakfast.


Business-like Regards,

Maggie Stiefvater

*and by "hard at work" I mean "making mysterious hand gestures over the top of a screenplay"
**If you're in Orlando and want your book signed, I'll be doing a brief & informal stock signing there on the 19th.
***I really need to come up with a title that embodies more anarchy. Unless I want to go for ironic. I guess I could do ironic.
****9 tbs. butter, 1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar, 1 tsp vanilla (beat at medium speed until light), 2 eggs (stir in completely), 1 1/3 c. white flour, 1/2 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt (stir in completely), 1 cup chocolate chips (add). Preheat oven to 350, spray cooking spray into an 8 x 13" pan, spread in batter, bake for 28-35 minutes or until golden. Eat for breakfast.



ETA: photo evidence of blondies for breakfast.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Which Maggies Binge On Books

Do you ever have that problem where you have unread books on your shelf but you're dying for a different sort of novel to read? You know, you have a bunch of lovely YA novels, but you really want to read an excellent adult mainstream novel with a touch of the paranormal? And then you go and spend $216.00 on Barnes and Noble's website? Well, actually you spend $201 but then you realize that you have 13 items in your cart so you ask yourself if you're a superstitious person, decide that you aren't, but then add another book to the cart just to make sure? 

That is the problem I had yesterday. So I asked readers on twitter and Facebook for suggestions for adult mainstream novels with a touch of the paranormal -- no genre fiction (so no Charlaine Harris, Kelly Armstrong, etc.) and no YA (so no Richelle Mead, Becca Fitzpatrick, etc.) I wanted something really particular. And I got a load of suggestions. And I was looking at the reader questions that I have left to answer, and one of them was: "Any books you planning on reading?"

Another one was: what do you recommend I read? And that answer, as always, that I add all of my 5 star reads to my Goodreads account here (I'm very picky, so the list grows slowly).

So I thought I'd share what I bought. If you've read any of them, I'd love to hear about it.

1. THE GIRL WITH GLASS FEET, by Ali Shaw.

2. THE GHOST WRITER by John Harwood

3. THE HOUSE OF LOST SOULS by F. G. Cottam

4. IN THE COUNTRY OF THE YOUNG, by Lisa Carey

5. THE STAND, by Stephen King (yes, I realize this is genre, but I have never read any King and decided it was time to try it.

6. GARDEN SPELLS, by Sarah Addison Alle

7. LULLABY by Chuck Palahniuk

8. HOUSE OF LEAVES, by Mark Danielewski

9. ANGELICA by Arthur Phillips

10. THE MERCY OF THIN AIR, by Ronlyn Domingue

11. THE HOUSE ON THE STRAND, by Daphne du Maurier*

(items 12 and 13 were a cookbook and a science kit. Both things every kitchen needs).

*You'll notice that a lot of these are links to used items, which is a Secret Peek into How Maggie Often Buys Books. In lieu of regular library usage (ours is a half hour away and my travel schedule makes it tough to get things back on time), I will often buy books used and then, if I love them, but new copies (often to give away, too). I'm a big fan of rewarding authors or musicians with royalties if I love their books, what can I say.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Glamorous Life of an Author

So yesterday, after deleting 1,600 words from my current manuscript (the 1,600 I'd written the day before), I decided to make Tibetan Butter Tea for research purposes. It's a sort of tea that is normally made with Yak Milk* and Yak Butter** and drank by enthusiastic Tibetans. Rumor has it they drink 40 cups a day.

Before you ask, no, Secret Novel is not set in Tibet, or anywhere near Tibet.

*I've learned that a Yak is actually the male of the species. A female yak is, hysterically, a Nak. So there is no such thing as Yak Milk.
**Or Yak Butter. At least not that you'd want to cook with.

Those of you who follow me on twitter will already know what went down. I boiled the water. Simmered the tea bag in the water for several long minutes. Added salt, milk, and butter (Not Yak butter. Or Nak. Which I understand changes the flavor.)(I think positively). Beat the hell out of it.

The websites all told me that Tibetan Butter Tea was best drank as hot as possible. So I sat down with it at my desk and looked at it. I really didn't want to try it. But I did. Basically, it was like drinking a scone. Or like licking a piece of buttered toast after its fallen on the floor. Or like drowning in the ocean, if the ocean were made of butter. And that was while it was hot.

You know what I have to say for it, though? That butter tea has an aftertaste that just won't quit. There are government applications for this stuff, i know it.

And in the end, it all boiled down to two sentences in Secret Novel that may or may not make it to revisions.

I tell myself it's character-building.***


***No Naks were harmed in the making of this blog post.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

It's Not the Size. It's How You Use It.

For starters, my latest short fiction is up at Merry Sisters of Fate (I was going for creepy).

Far too late to be useful for my two NaNoWriMo posts from last week, I realized that I had visual aids to show what I was trying to talk about. I've had to revise my thoughts on NaNo now that I have heard from so many people participating (thanks for that, by the way!) so my insistence that you can't write an amazing 50,000 novel in 30 days is somewhat of a moot point. But if I was still harping on that, I would've whipped out these visual examples because if I love anything, it's an analogy.



and

I know that's a lot of cats to pull out first thing on a Tuesday morning, but there it is. Back before I was a full-time author, I was a starving portrait artist (I wrote LAMENT two hours a week, on Wednesdays, because that was when I could find time). And one of the things that was very successful for me both professionally (that means paying the rent) and technically (that means not sucking) was the Painting a Day movement. The whole idea behind the movement was to create a new painting from beginning to end all in one day, every day.

So, like NaNoWriMo, an impossible deadline.

The thing was, it worked. At first, I failed miserably. I was working on commissions and Painting a Day at the same time, so in essence I was trying to complete an entire painting, work on my commissions & gallery work, and also keep up with all of the marketing and traveling stuff that comes with being an artist. My daily paintings looked like a dog's breakfast . . . until I figured out that the scope of my daily paintings was too vast. I started shrinking down the size of the painting. How small did I have to go for it to be doable in one hour (the amount of time I was able to dedicate to a daily painting). Turns out, for my acrylic style with big brush strokes, it was 6 x 6" (the cat on top). For my colored pencils? 2.5 x 3.5", the size of a baseball card (the cat on the bottom).

And the reason why my daily paintings didn't work when I tried to do them bigger was because, when I was working on a full-size painting, this was what I got in an hour's worth of work on a 16 x 20" painting:


Stunning, eh? I feel like that's what I get when I work with NaNoWriMo within the rules. If I try to write a novel in a month, that's the absolute best I could hope for -- a skeleton. And I understand that's fine, so long as you understand that you have to go back and fill it out:


But that pretty much assumes that you'll have the gumption to keep working at it after NaNo has finished. So that's why I was suggesting that the scope of NaNo be scaled down -- a 15-25K short story instead of a 50K novel, or a 50K novel in 2 months instead of 1. Because if you make the size of the painting smaller, you ended up with a prettier and more useful piece of art at the end of the hour. If I stopped after an hour and had cat #2 at the end, I'd be happy. I have something to be proud of forever. But if I did that 16 x 20" dayglo skeleton and never got a chance to go back to it? Well, all I'd have is a painting that looks like an angry child did it.

Plus, I think that you learn more by completing the whole process -- beginning, middle, end, editing -- as often as possible. It's not really about length. That's the reason I mentioned the Merry Sisters of Fate at the beginning of the post. Most of y'all probably already know about it, but it's a short story blog that I started with my crit partners a few years ago, inspired by how much a Painting a Day improved my art. Initially, we were each posting a short story every single week -- so over forty short stories each, that first year. I have to tell you, I learned more in that year than I have in my entire writing life. The process of starting and finishing is what taught me, rather than working over my full length novels again and again.

So I have made my peace with NaNo, because I know now that people use it for the community, the inspiration, the impetus to start, not necessarily to create something publishable. But if you're using it to get better with your writing, I hope you'll learn from my mistakes. It's not the size. It's how you use it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

My Letter to the Astronauts

Dear NASA,



I'm wearing jeans to my TEDxNASA talk. I'm sorry, I really am.

But not enough to wear something else.

I will be wearing striped socks, if that makes it any better.




Profoundly yours,



Maggie

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

NaNoWriMo, the sequel

Okay, so my last NaNoWriMo post opened about eighteen cans of worms as well as my eyes.

I had no idea how many people wrote for NaNo without any plans/ hopes of publication, which changes how I think about it (my last post was very much framed in terms of producing a novel for publication versus pure personal edification). Also, I had no idea how many people were part of NaNo just for the community. I feel spoiled because I have the boards at Verla's, the LiveJournal writing community at large, and my two critique partners. So I have my community year round -- I've searched it out and made darn sure of it. That collective frenzy and energy that I understand powers NaNoers? I guess I'm more immune to it because I have it every day with my support group of writers.

I still have my issues with NaNo, but I can see the other side better now. Thanks for that. Those of you with the exceptionally articulate counter arguments? Made my day.

So.

Now that I ranted at you about NaNo, I have some questions about you guys.

1. How many of my blog readers are NaNo'ing?
2. Have you done it before?
3. Have you won?
4. Are you writing purely for pleasure or hoping for publication with this one?
5. Do you think making it two months instead of one would increase or decrease your productivity? 
6. How many of you are writers but not NaNo'ing?

My NaNoWriMo Anti Pep-Talk

Today is gonna be a rant.

This time last year-ish, I wrote a Dear John letter to NaNoWriMo. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month. Every year, thousands of aspiring writers sign up for the challenge, which is to write an entire 50,000 word novel during the month of November. The goal is to get a complete novel that you can then revise at your leisure, to prove to yourself that you can reach "The End."

It sounds like my sort of thing, doesn't it? I mean, it hits all those big Maggie points. Setting goals, concrete results, sitting your butt in the chair and just doing it.

I really dislike it.

As my Dear John letter points out, it really doesn't work for me because of my writing style. But more than that, I think it encourages crappy writing and superficial novel-ing. I think it makes you a slave to wordcount instead of focusing on pretty prose, and that that is not something that can be fixed in revising without totally throwing out what you've already written. Now, now, I know what you all are going to say, because many people have already said it. When I rant about NaNoWriMo, I inevitably get three rebuttals:

1. But Maggie, I need to know that I can get to the end.
2. But Maggie, I need a deadline.
3. But Maggie, Jennifer Lynn Barnes writes her novels in 19 days.

Okay, here's my rebuttal to those rebuttals.

1. You can get to the end. Don't be ridiculous. You don't need a gimmick to prove it to yourself. You need to stop making excuses and just write the damn book. Everyone can finish a novel, just like everyone can finish a term paper. Just like everyone can finish a sandwich. You pick up the sandwich and you eat it. For me, I had 30 unfinished novels during my teen years, until I discovered that I had to have the very last scene in my head before I started. For you, it might require an outline. Or a synopsis. Or some other method to eating the sandwich. But trust me, you can definitely do it, whether you pick the crusts off or not. So there, I've solved problem one. You wanted to know if you can get to the end? You can. There ya go. Now you know.

2. I get this, I really do. Because if I don't have a deadline, I wander around and make cookie dough and lay on the floor and listen to music and play my piano and run up and down my stairs instead of writing. But a month is a patently ridiculous deadline. Why make something difficult -- writing a novel -- more difficult? That's like saying "I'm determined to learn how to speak Spanish. So I'm going to read this Spanish textbook . . . BACKWARDS." Why? It doesn't make it any better. You're never going to have to speak Spanish backwards. Why not make it National Novel Writing Quarter? A three month deadline is utterly doable and gives you much more time for craft and to learn your process. Give yourself a deadline, sure, but how about one that is not Sheer Insanity Farewell My Home Life and Bathroom Breaks? Set it with your friends so that you're accountable and voila. Voici. Go to it.

3. Yes, I know she does. But (and I've told her this) Jennifer Lynn Barnes is an alien. The fact that she writes her novels in 19 days is shocking because 99% of the authorial world does not. The statistics are against NaNoWriMo being your natural habitat. That means that you're basically trying to write your novel with your dominant hand tied behind your back.

And the most important thing that people seem to forget during NaNoWriMo? Writing a novel is supposed to be enjoyable. It's not a term paper. Writing a novel is supposed to be about reflection and entertainment and introspection. What about NaNoWriMo encourages that? By forcing yourself to do it at gunpoint, it seems to me that you take away the reason to write in the first place.

That is my anti-pep-talk for NaNoWriMo.


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