Saturday, December 31, 2011
1) it is the end of the year. Ends of the year should result in tidy offices, in a perfect world. This is not a perfect world, but I'm doing my best to make it that way, one tidy office at a time.
2) I have bought a house. I think. I mean, we haven't closed yet, and I'm new to this grown-up thing. But I think I have bought a house. I don't want to move anything I don't really want to move.
So I have this.
They are all duplicates or books I won't reread or ARCs when I have finished copies, etc. etc. Also there is a copy of Linger because I have a lot of them. I would like very much to give these two stacks to a blog reader. Because I'm sure that you're also very busy this time of year, cleaning out your office and living room and basement to make this world a perfect place, my giveaway is not going to be complicated. The way to enter is to pick your favorite post from my blog, talk about it in brief or at length on your blog, facebook, twitter, tumblr, etc., and then post a link back to where you talked about it in the GIANT CONTEST TABULATING MACHINE WEBSITINATOR.
Which is here.
If you don't have a favorite blog post, you aren't eligible. >:D It's going to run for a week, until January 7th, and unfortunately, because of the size of the stack, you can only win if you have a U.S. mailing address. Which means if you have a friend in the U.S. who will accept a large package of fiction, you're still eligible even if you live on Alpha Centauri.
Um, what else? You can only enter once. You can post it on anything vaguely blog like, facebook like, etc., so long as you own the content (so, not a public messageboard). Use your common sense.
I'm going to close this blog post to comments to avoid confusion — I get a lot of confused entries posted to the blog otherwise. It has to be posted in the GIANT CONTEST TABULATING MACHINE WEBSITINATOR or it doesn't count.
As far as finding your favorite blog post, may I direct your attention to the tags on the right side of the blog, which all the major subjects conveniently and slightly obsessively categorized (just like my bookshelves!)
Friday, December 30, 2011
Anyway, I am now going to wrap up my UK touring posts. I've been putting this one off as it requires a bit of assembly of the not-illustrated variety. See, after an assortment of school visits and travel in the middle of my UK tour, we finished with a rather impressive pair of events. One in Liverpool (which looks like Liverpool, if you've ever wondered) and one in London, with the assistance of Jonas & Plunkett. Blog readers will recall that Jonas & Plunkett are one of the bands I adore and also that they did a cover of Sam's "Summer Girl" from Shiver. I was revoltingly pleased when they agreed to play both "Summer Girl" and my personal favorite, "Spaceship," for the London event. In all honesty, I do have to admit that Adrian Plunkett did ask me to sing along with them. And I did write harmonies in my hotel room. But in the end, I did what happens whenever anyone asks me to sing in public. Here are the videos for those who couldn't be there (thank you, lovely reader, for video'ing these two songs)!
Sorry, Plunkett. I did actually think I would overcome my dislike of singing in public, but it turns out I'm still more comfortable playing my bagpipes for the entire planet than crooning for a roomful of readers. Rematch? With a harp or piano next time? (Also, for those of you who haven't heard the rest of their incredible music, it's all available on iTunes and you can listen to the studio version of Summer Girl here).
got lost on the moor (for an hour)
went to Wistman's Wood (which looked like a lost 80s fantasy movie set)
Found wild ponies! (or maybe they found us)
climbed Glastonbury Tor (crawled Glastonbury Tor)
Saw the whole world (or at least the pretty parts)
Found this crazy Bough House made by a guy in Dartmoor and had it shipped home for Things 1 & 2 for Christmas.
(no, seriously, is it not the coolest thing ever? that came in a crate bigger than my car?)
And thus ended my touring for the year. A perfect ending, and as always, I can't wait to go back to the UK. Thank you to all of my readers for reading my books all over the world!
Thursday, December 22, 2011
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
I know a lot of writing advice out there encourages you to kill your inner editor and let your work run free and to release mental possession of your draft. I know this advice is trying to battle the scores of writers out there who cling to their drafts, picking over them instead of working up the courage to send them out to critique partners, agents, and mothers. But I'm not sure I really like this condemnation of continual editing as a universal truth. For a beginning writer? Yes, I think there's some sense to it. You have to learn how to tell when a first draft is done. You have to learn how to give it away. But once you've finished a novel or two, I don't see why writers should be encouraged to think perfectionism is a dirty word. For me, "done" is such an intuitive thing. I can tell when my novels are done when they stop needling at me. When I stop thinking of things to do to them. When the characters are no longer acting out scenes in my dreams. It can't be about the fear that I haven't covered everything. It has to be that feeling that the movie in my head has reached the last reel. Until that happens, I edit and re-read and tweak and move one word three sentences down the page. Though a reader might not notice that you changed "cold" to "icy" on page 47, a word by word attack on a draft can change the subconscious effect of it on a reader.
So yes, I am an unrepentant fastidious editor.
I think this pretty much goes for every element of my life. So it should surprise no one when I say that I edited the recipe for November Cakes. A few months I posted about how I was delighted to have invented a food for THE SCORPIO RACES, and then I added a recipe. Well, it was still niggling at me. They were fine, but FINE IS NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I spent several months turning over possible solutions to my perceived unhappiness with my first November Cakes recipes, and then . . . I edited it.
Yesterday I tried out my fix. Of course it was hugely better. The cakey bit was fluffier, richer, more nuanced. The glaze was gooier and clung to the crevices of the cakes better. The entire consistency was improved. Now you bite through a caramel-honey glaze with a bit of resistance and into a fluffy, sweet dough beneath. That was what I was trying to do before.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that you shouldn't kill your inner editor. Just set up boundaries for her. Also, use this recipe and not the other.
*click for a bigger version
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Colleen from Blogger
Oh she speaks from LJ.
Both of you please shoot me an e-mail with your mailing addresses.
Thank you everyone for giving it a listen and also for giving me your thoughts on the narrators and on audiobooks!
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Well. Here is are examples.
CLEARLY WONDERFUL, yes? What do you think? I'm especially interested to hear from the folks that are non-habitual audiobook listeners. Does this tantalize you, or does it leave you wishing for the printed page?
I just started reading THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING and for perhaps the fifth or sixth time in my life, I have found myself wishing that I had it in audiobook format, because it seems like a sort of story I'd like told to me. Just the way the words look on the paper look like they'd be be better out loud. And I wonder about SCORPIO's translation from print to audio, because I frequently read sections out loud while writing in order to make sure I had them the way I liked them. So I wonder if/ how that affects the reader/ listener experience. Personally, I have a hard time listening to actiony books in audio, because I'm a much faster reader than I am listener, and when someone's going to die, darn it, I want to find out how much blood there's going to be. STAT. But when the prose is nice or when it is a fairytale sort of story, I think I'm getting won over to audio.
I reckon, since I have an extra copy of the audiobook in my office, that I'll randomly pick one of the blog commenters to bestow a copy of THE SCORPIO RACES audiobook on. (I officially just rewrote that sentence three times, with three different verbs, in an attempt to not finish it on a preposition). I'll pick one this time tomorrow (the 8th).
(for those wondering you can find the audiobook here. and here. and here. and here.)
Monday, December 5, 2011
1. This novel is not what it says it is. Well, back page copy is always a weird thing anyway, as it’s not written by the author. And a weirder thing because it is essentially a glamour shot of the novel. It is not a lie. But it isn’t really what the novel looks like when it’s wandering around in its bathrobe getting coffee and trying to figure out if that smell is coming from the kitchen sink disposal or under the table. The resemblance is always a bit sketchy. THE NIGHT CIRCUS’ resemblance to its cover copy is sketchier than most.
2. This novel is about a thing. It has people in it, too, but it is mostly about a thing, the eponymous circus. It’s told in third person omniscient, which means it sounds like God is narrating the thing, if God decided he really loved black and white tents and fancy umbrellas. The voice that narrates this book is interested in humans, too, but mostly about how humans make the circus and the circus’ magic interesting.
3. This is not a romance. There is a love story in it, which is good, because love makes the world go round, but it is not a romance. If you go in imagining to be swept off your feet from page one, you can keep on imagining. The novel starts before our lovebirds have hit puberty, so you’re going to have to imagine for quite awhile.
4. The circus is not really a circus. This is fine by me, because I actually don’t care for circuses. They smell, the animals always have that look of dubious maltreatment, no, I don’t want to win a prize by shooting that thing off that other thing over there, and also, clowns look a little grubby to me. No, the Night Circus is a circus in the respect that there are tents, and there are performers, and some of them are acrobats. Mostly it is a place where pretty, pretty magic is passed off as illusion so that us muggles won’t be scared by it. I’d go to that circus.
5. This is not a thriller. This is a not an action-packed adventure. It’s not even a simmering revenge or bubbling rivalry novel. It is a novel about a thing, with love in it, and it spans over a decade. If you have a problem with that idea, it’s best you walk away now. But if you like Ann Patchett or Audrey Niffeneggar novels, or if you really thought JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL was the bee’s knees, well. WELL. You have just found your next read. Enjoy. I did.
Saturday, December 3, 2011
1 - “Did you go to school for Creative Writing?”
2 - “Do you have to have a degree in writing to get published?”
3 - “Have you taken classes in writing?”
4 - “Will you be my mentor?”
First, the short versions.
1 - No. I was a history major.
2 - No. It’s one way to get published, but not the only way. Not even the most common way.
3 - No. Well, not technically. More on that in a bit.
4 - No. But thanks for asking. I barely have enough time to make breakfast in the morning, but maybe this blog will count for something?
Now, the long version. No, I did not get a creative writing degree. I did try, once, to take a creative writing class at my college, but they told me my writing wasn’t promising enough and turned me away. I wasn’t crushed. I was a writer and I was going to learn how to write no matter what.
Yesterday, I was having my blood drawn for a physical, and the lady drawing my blood asked me about how I became a writer (because everyone enjoys a little career chit-chat as their life blood swirls into a collection of tubes). Did I go to school for it? Did I take classes? How did I know about the business? Was it anything like the X-Factor? As I tried to explain my process, she grew more convinced it was a happy accident and I realized that it sounded an awful lot like I just decided to become a writer and then got magically published in a cosmic lottery.
This, of course, does not happen.
And I think what I should have told her is this: You don’t need a creative writing degree, but you do need a writing education.
These are not necessarily the same thing.
Warning: For a brief moment, I’m going to get on a soap box. I don’t usually do that on the blog, especially when it’s anything that can be construed as even vaguely political. I don’t like pretending I know any better than anyone else how to solve the world’s problems. I’m just a girl who eats cookies for breakfast and thinks a ’73 Camaro is a perfectly reasonable business vehicle. However, when it comes to this topic, I think I’m qualified to talk about it.
The thing modern education has gotten really wrong is this: ignoring the fact that there are 4,000 ways to competency. 100,000 ways to competency. One million ways to competency. One of the dumbest things ever decided was that a piece of paper with a college name on it made one person’s skill set better than someone else’s.
That piece of paper often means something. But the lack of it often doesn’t.
It’s convenient to put your average muggle through four years of college and expect that they’ll come out the other side equally educated in a specific field, ready to join the workforce. But if you take 50 teens who all want to be history majors, for instance, and put them through four years of college, at the end, you will not have fifty equally-educated graduates. Because some of them will be slackers. Some of them will be naturally talented teachers, but terrible at remembering dates. Some of them will excel at research, but only about 14th century Scotland. Some of them will be great public speakers, but terrible writers. Some of them will be have spent their childhood learning everything that college was going to teach them and will emerge no more clever or skilled than they were at the beginning.
And some people will skip college and go on to be more successful than any of those grads.
How? How!? My sister read and chatted with me about OUTLIERS: The Story of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell. In it, he talks about the 10,000 hour rule — he postulates that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any field. I think this is key. You need to learn everything you can about not only writing, but reading, and everything you can find out about the industry and business. I would say that 10,000 hours of writing sounds about right. But I think that there are lots of ways to accomplish those hours. You can self teach. You can apprentice. You can take classes. You can workshop. You can get a writing critique partner. You can steal someone else’s brain. The only thing that is standard-issue about a writing education is that it must happen in order to be successful. If you want a piece of paper saying you did it, that’s your business, but no one else’s.
Here is my education. I found it this week while I was looking for my social security card. It was a folder of some of my writing from before the age of 17: each of those pieces of paper represents a novel I wrote back then. I spent several hours every
evening writing, and when I wasn’t writing, I was reading, and when I wasn’t reading, I was living — riding horses, showing dogs, having a band, making trouble. You have to have something to write about, after all.
I reckon before I post this, I should emphasize that I have nothing against degrees in Creative Writing. If you think you need one to keep you motivated or to structure your education, go for it. But it’s not the way I learn. And I’d wager in some cases it can do more harm to an introverted creative person’s psyche than good. But the most important thing is: they’re pretty much invisible when it comes to getting your book published. Your education, however you manage it, is the process: the book is the result. Agents, editors, readers: they don’t care how you got there, just that you did.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
See, on day 4, I once again took another train to Newcastle, where I had a school visit. I'd never been to Newcastle, and I was struck by two things: first of all, that their city center was beautiful, and secondly, when Newcastle school children say vowels out loud, they all sound like 'a' to my American ears. It resulted in the following conversations:
TEEN: Would you sign this post card?
ME: Sure. What's your name?
ME: Spell it, please.
TEEN: A - S - H - L - A - A- A- THAT'S NOT HOW YOU SPELL MY NAME!
ME: Uh, write it, please.
Sorry, Newcastlians. I got the hang of it by the end, but I was pretty lame at the beginning.
Anyway, from Newcastle I flew to Belfast, Northern Ireland, for a librarian conference. By the time my Scholastic colleague, Hannah, and I, arrived at the Belfast airport, it was pitch black and sort of raining, but I had to be dragged off the tarmac in a state of shock. It's not that the Belfast Airport looks much different than other airports, it's just — when I was sixteen, there were two things I wanted more than anything. I wanted to be an author, as a career. I wanted to go to Belfast.
Standing there on that tarmac by the plane that had just brought me from Newcastle, I wished so much that I could tell 16-year-old Maggie that right before her 30th birthday, she'd be in Belfast because of her best-selling books. It would've meant a lot to her.
Maybe I did, and that's why I kept writing. Time travel is funny that way.
Anyway, so once I got over my shock and awe, we caught a cab from the airport. Our driver and I got to talking about life and Irish music and bagpipes, as you do, and then, this happened:
DRIVER: So I don't know if you ladies are in for the hunting, but it's lovely up here. I just got two pheasants today.
ME: Oh. Nice?
DRIVER: Yeah! I have them in the trunk now.
ME: the. . . trunk! Now? On . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
ME: They're just laying there!?
Yes. They were just laying there. The driver then explained to me that if he prepared the pheasants now, they would be "gamey." So his solution was to take them home (in the trunk of the car. Where they'd been all day.) and "hang them in the garage or someplace where people don't go often" until they stopped being so "gamey."
ME: How long will that be?
DRIVER: I dunno. Two weeks?
ME: on . . . ice?
DRIVER: *ignores suggestion of ice*
HANNAH: What about maggots?
DRIVER: You obviously work around the maggots.
At this point I decided that everything the man said was untrue and that we were being driven around by a crazy person. I didn't mind too much, because I was in Belfast, and also because I suspected if push came to shove, I was wearing better kicking shoes than Hannah and therefore she would be the first he stuffed into the trunk with the pheasants if the conversation went that way.
So the next day dawned misty and bleak, which was pretty much what I expected. We hitched a ride in a car without a parking brake to the school where the library conference was taking place, and then I proceeded to open up the conference with a talk about The Scorpio Races. I'll confess that I felt a little nervous about this. Not the talking itself, but the fact that I was now talking about my novel about Irish water horses while in Ireland. Despite the fact that my childhood looked like this:
. . . I still feel a little like a cuckoo when it comes to Irish music. Yes, we grew up playing and listening to Irish music, but it's not as if either Stiefvater or Hummel (my maiden name) are the most Irish of names out there. My family just loved the music and history and culture, and 29 years of describing why it was that I was not very Irish at all and yet played Irish music had made me defensive. Basically, I was waiting for the Northern Irish librarians to first shout PRETENDER! at me and then elaborate with a condemnation of how I had stomped in, all loud and American, and co-opted their mythology. But they didn't. They were brilliant. They told me my parents had raised me right and then they told me they'd read the book and loved it.
Then, no rest for the wicked, so we were off in a car to Dublin in the Republic of Ireland (the lower 26 counties that are not part of the UK) for a bookstore event there. It rained and then was sunny and then was rainy and then sunny again, and by the time we got to Dublin, it was gorgeous.
I'm afraid that I had another wide-eyed staring uselessly moment when I discovered that I was looking at the General Post Office in Dublin. One of my senior theses was on the 1916 Irish uprising, and that was where it all started. I'd looked at so many pictures of it in my life, but there. it. was.
I was dragged gently to my bookstore event, then, where I struck up a conversation with the bookstore lads (one of whom I'd met before. one of whom I hadn't). The following conversation happened:
BOOK GUY: . . . and, like a pheasant —
ME: WAIT! WAIT. Talk to me about pheasants. Let's say you shot one. Then what?
BOOK GUY: Well, it's rather gamey at first.
ME: So I've heard.
BOOK GUY: So what you want to do is hang it up in your garage —
ME: No! NO. YOU'VE TALKED TO BELFAST DRIVER GUY, HAVEN'T YOU?
BOOK GUY: *pleasantly bewildered*
ME: Just because you don't believe in the principle of decay does not make it go away!
BOOK GUY: I'm telling you, it is totally edible.
At this point, I have decided that either all men in Ireland are out to have a laugh on my behalf, or possibly, decomposition doesn't happen in Ireland. I have now fixed an image in my head of the average Irish garage.
BOOK GUY: How do you make pheasants in the U.S.?
ME: We don't.
But apparently, we do. And apparently, we hang them up in our garages. (no, really.)
Anyway, after a delightful event in Dublin, we immediately got back on a plane that night to head back to London (I did say no rest for the wicked, didn't I?). The following morning we headed to the studio to do over a dozen radio interviews back to back.
No. rest. for. the. wicked.
It turned out that our friendly coordinator for all of these interviews was, in fact, Irish himself. We had the following conversation:
IRISH RADIO GUY: Where are you from in the States?
IRG: No kidding! My father is a carpenter and he worked in Virginia for a few weeks. On a pub, actually, in Richmond, that was done with all Irish labor. About 10, 15 years ago.
ME: . . . Richmond? My band played for the opening of an Irish pub in Richmond. What was the name of it? Was it Siné?
IRG: I'll call my dad right now!
ME: *does radio interview*
IRG: THAT WAS THE PUB. He said there was a piper — OH THAT WAS YOU.
In which everything is about Ireland, ever.
I will post about other days on tour in a few days!
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
They are "Luke" and "Dillon."
Hope you have a delightful Thanksgiving.
Friday, November 18, 2011
As a present to myself, I re-alphabetized all my shelves. (Also, Lover took me to see Russell Brand last night, and I made cinnamon bread for myself, and I turned in my manuscript for MagicalNovel, and I bought three Madeleine L'Engle novels in hardcover because they would be prettier that way).
It is nice to be home.
This particular trip I brought my sister and mother along with, and they frolicked in London while I toured. Despite my rowdy and (to my way of thinking) exceedingly interesting travel stories at the dinner table, they still seemed surprised by what touring actually entailed, so I am going to try to describe the intricacies of touring in a short series of illustrated blog posts over the next week or so. That's the plan. Unless my shelves or cookie dough distract me before then. All right, without further ado.
The first step on my UK tour was getting there. This was a bit untidier than usual, as I had to fly to Long Island for an event first (where I procured a recipe for vegan chocolate chip cookies — I am not vegan but you never know when you will need vegan chocolate chip cookies) and then set off the next morning across the Atlantic. The flight is seven hours, but the deadline for MagicalNovel loomed large, and so I made myself busy.
People watch me when I work on planes. Generally, I can ignore this until they laugh at my jokes as I type them. Then I stare meanly at them or type something about the person in the next seat of the plane meeting an untimely death. You see here in this illustration that I am filled with the joy of creating. This is because MagicalNovel is a very difficult novel to write, because all of the characters are complicated people who hate me and want me to be unhappy as I try to write them well.
The next step in touring overseas is to get to your hotel and try to overcome jet lag as best you can. Every time I fly overseas, I think I might be getting better at dealing with jet lag, but I think you get better at dealing with jet lag the same way you get better at dealing with open chest wounds. Here's my program of relief:
Very soon after arriving in the UK, we had our first public event. And by public event, I mean anything on my schedule that requires me putting on pants and leaving the hotel room. Ordinarily, I view the first of my public appearances with distaste and horror, preferring instead to stay in my bed, but this time, it was a lunch that Scholastic UK had arranged for me and Jonas & Plunkett. You remember those guys, the ones that did the cover of "Summer Girl"? Anyway, both Jonas and (Adrian) Plunkett were delightful. We had lunch at a posh place called The Ivy, which is supposed to be good for spotting stars. Everyone else looked for stars. I looked for another cup of tea, and also I looked at my roast beef right before I swallowed it. Functional Jet Lagged Maggie is Practical.
At one point in the meal, I noticed that there was an item on the dessert menu called "Knickerbocker Glory." There was no explanation, as if assuming that all diners would know what exactly a Knickerbocker Glory was. I didn't know. My mother and sister didn't know. I asked Jonas and Adrian if they knew, but it was hard to tell whether they did or not, as Jonas grew very excited at this point and ordered one.
When it arrived, it was larger than life. This drawing is true to scale*.
*that is a lie**
**Adrian's head is not really that large in comparison to his body***
***but the ice cream really was that big****
I cannot tell you how much I think Jonas & Plunkett and the Knickerbocker Glory should be the first in a series of children's books.
There were no more fun and games to be had after the Jonas & Plunkett lunch. I had an interview in my hotel and then, it was time to head to Swindon for a day of school visits. Not only did this mean I had to put on pants, but I also had to take a several hour train ride from London. This did not displease me, however. Not only are the trains in the UK marvelous things, but this also provided another opportunity for me to attack MagicalNovel before my deadline.
You see the thrill in my expression. I knocked out several thousand words before it was time for the school visit. UK school visits, like all school visits, can be somewhat daunting. Generally there are two brands of American school children: "loud" and "emo." That is mostly the same in the UK, except it breaks down more tidily into "cheeky" and "sullen."
My job as an author is to make them forget their labels and laugh their heads off. I take this job very seriously. Because otherwise, what I end up with is a very long hour and a lot of pre-teens or teens who would rather be off drinking tea or listening to Jonas & Plunkett.
Perhaps I am projecting.
Unfortunately, while I was at Swindon, I contracted some sort of dreadful illness that woke me up in the night with lots of snot and . . . well, that's all. I really think lots of snot on its own counts as a dire condition, especially when you're expected to appear in public every day for the next ten days. The problem with me and cold medications is that I'm allergic to most preservatives and intolerant of the rest, and so I can take cold meds, but it makes my hair fall out. I was very sad to have to take cold meds for the Swindon Flu (that is what I am calling my ailment. Don't try to correct me). It did make me much more presentable in public (although there is video evidence on Youtube of me wiping my nose constantly through the Jonas & Plunkett songs at my London event later in the week) but I was sad about the hairs.
Also, it's always a tricky thing buying medications overseas. The packaging never quite seems the same as back home . . .
That brings me to the end of days 1-3 of my tour. When I write it down that way, it doesn't seem to explain why I was never in my hotel room or relaxing. Possibly I will blame Swindon. I'm blaming them for everything else.*****
*****sorry, Swindon. Your teens were actually quite pleasant. Distinctly more on the cheeky side.
Thursday, November 3, 2011
"Although I am going to desperately try to stop this from sounding like a tedious English essay in the hopes that you don't get so bored that you stop reading half way through, I just have to say that I find your use of metaphorical language and your character development beautiful. It seems to flow so naturally through the books and as someone who finds writing the most entertaining and frustrating hobby, I am not ashamed to say I am more than marginally jealous.
If, by some strange miracle Maggie (or anyone affiliated to her/you for that matter) could answer my question as to whether this is just something that comes naturally or had to be worked on?"
First of all, if I could please convince anyone affiliated with me to go through my e-mails, they'd get answered a lot faster. I have over 1,400 legitimate non-spam e-mails sitting in my inbox right now. If I had a trusty manservant or homicidal robot or trained penguin or something . . .
I really like this question because metaphor and character development is something I work at, a lot, and also because, for me, it is in fact the most important thing for me to work at. Other writers might have different priorities, but for me, the chief goal of my novels is not plot or premise or pacing, but to evoke a certain feeling. I will sacrifice most anything in order to change someone's mood in a certain way. I can't do that without careful navigation of metaphor and character development.
Here's the thing: when you're toying with people's emotions, they can't notice that you're doing it, or the effect is ruined. You have to be a sneaky puppet master, working in between the lines, never telling the reader how they are supposed to feel but nonetheless getting them there in the end. It's really hard for me to describe how I think about this, but maybe if I take apart two pages of The Scorpio Races, I can show you. And maybe you can ask questions in the comments if you have any? I'll be traveling but I'm trying to catch up.
Okay, so here are the pages just as they are, from the middle of the book, shortly after Puck (Kate) and Sean meet. If you click on it, it'll open in a bigger window.
Okay, and here is the marked up version. Yellow lines are everything I put in for character development. Blue lines are setting — in this case, Thomas Gratton is part of the setting, establishing the mood and the backdrop for this Sean/ Puck interaction. The red lines are mood and pacing sections that are not . . . I don't want to say strictly necessary, because obviously I think they are or they wouldn't be in there. They aren't necessary for a factual retelling of these events, how's that? Because when it comes down to it, this is what happens in these pages: Sean gets into the truck with Puck, the dog goes in the back, and Sean and Puck sit in awkward silence. There's all that happens in the plot. (That's also what the un-underlined lines accomplish in this scene.) But does that do anything towards toying with reader emotions? No! I say, double NO!
Again, click to make it larger.
For me, writing is reverse engineering. It's why I listen to music while I'm writing; because I have to have the mood for the scene and the book set firmly in my head before I begin. Then it becomes a problem-solving session of finding out what, exactly, I have to do to make that mood happen. It's like those writing exercises where you have to describe someone as tall without ever saying the word "tall." Found knowledge is always more valuable than given knowledge; the reader needs to draw their own conclusions.
So remember, it's not that the parking lot is lonely. It's that it's empty, and there's one seagull picking at an abandoned bag of cold French Fries next to an old Escort with a dent in the door and a dirty, crumpled battle of the bands poster.
Wow, that sounds like a destination.
I . . . should pack.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
*I am doing my best to explain all of this so I will get fewer "WHY DO YOU HATE MANCHESTER?" "WHY DO YOU HATE GLASGOW?" "WHY DO AUTHORS NEVER COME TO _______" comments.
**The publisher is sensibly aware that if the tour was left up to me, I'd end up with events in tiny towns in Yorkshire, Snowdonia, Stirling, and possibly Donegal. These are not, you may be surprised to know, look anything like dense population centers.
***There will be a next time. Next year. I'm sure.
So there are three. And the big thing I have to announce is that at the London event, Jonas & Plunkett will be performing. You remember Jonas & Plunkett:
Yes. Yes, indeed. I am Pleased.
Without further ado:
November 9: 6-8 p.m. Signing & Discussion, DUBLIN
Level 3 Unit 12-14 Dundrum Town Centre, Sandyford Road, Dundrum, Dublin 14
details here: http://www.dundrum.ie/events/a-new-chapter-for-easons/
November 12, 1:30-3:30 PM: Signing & Discussion, LONDON
JONAS & PLUNKETT WILL BE PERFORMING AT THIS EVENT!!!!
Foyles, Charing Cross Road, London
details here: http://www.foyles.co.uk/Public/Events/Upcoming.aspx
November 12, 7:30 PM: Signing & Discussion, LIVERPOOL
Public talk and signing from 7.30pm at a special venue in central Liverpool. More details to follow soon!
As always, I'm happy to sign as many books as you bring as long as you buy at least one from the hosting store to help them cover the costs and trouble of having an author event. Thanks for that!
I'm really pleased that I'll be coming to the UK again — I love it, and I would happily spend months and months there. One day I will even come when it is warm.
Thursday, October 27, 2011
I burned the brownies.
I picked one of them and four seconds later, the news hit the Internet, because the Internet knows everything. This is what the Internet is saying:
Warner Bros. & KatzSmith Productions have optioned the film rights.
I have to confess, of all the books I've written, this is the one I wanted made into a movie in the worst possible way. As I wrote, every scene was translated into words from a visual movie scene in my head.
I made some more brownies to celebrate.
Tuesday, October 25, 2011
But it never seems to work out that way. Every year I get ulcertastic before the book comes out, and every year I have that glow of signing the first copy, and every year, my first professional review makes me bite my nails, hoping it's good.
And this year, for The Scorpio Races, unbelievably, I have five starred reviews. I am not only not inured to the excitement of starred reviews, but the news of getting the fifth star left me absolutely useless for the rest of the day. I mean, I thought this book was the best thing I'd ever written, but I never thought that I . . .
insert more ellipses here to stand for my blinky eyes.
★ “Masterful. Like nothing else out there now.”
-Kirkus, starred review
★ “a study of courage and loyalty tested . . . an utterly compelling read.”
-Publishers Weekly, starred review
★ “A book with cross-appeal to lovers of fantasy, horse stories, romance, and action-adventure, this seems to have a shot at being a YA blockbuster.”
-Booklist, starred review
★ “gets better and better…all the way, in fact, to best.”
-Horn Book, starred review'
I can't quote the last one yet, from School Library Journal, because the issue's not out yet, but . . . man. I have to say that the Horn Book one has a ring to it. I like saying it at the dinner table. In the car. While doing laundry.
Which I guess is the opposite of cynical.
Maggie in 2010 said:
I know that you have enough people who love you and care for you that this break-up won't be difficult for you (Last collective word count of all NaNo'ers, everywhere, was 1,776,482,205 words), so really don't have a problem telling you exactly what I think of you.
You're a bad concept, NaNo. You suck.
No, no. Let me back up. I can be reasonable. Just because I'm feeling vehement and emotional about you ruining my life . . .doesn't mean I should be unfair.
You are not a bad concept. You're a bad concept for me, NaNo. This is why: you make me write crap, NaNo. You make me make bad novel decisions. You take away my ability to brainstorm between chapters. You make me rush through characterization. You make me pack filler in that will only get ripped out later, having taught me nothing about my novel. You make me into a bad writer.
You know what hurts me the most, NaNo? I want to write something meaningful. Something with subtext and theme. That's the reason I write, really. And you took that away from me. How could I possibly contemplate the greater picture when I was constantly chasing word count? What kind of conceptual boyfriend are you anyway? That you would make me write superficial tripe?
Oh, for weeks I believe your spiel: that it was okay that we were bad in the sack together now, that we'd get better with revising. But I see through your lies, baby. We will never get to sweet, sweet passionate love on the beach from where we are here. Basically, if we played the game your way, I'd end up rewriting every single word I wrote.
So this is me saying, I've been cheating on you. Since November 15th, I threw on the brakes, reread what I'd written, cut out huge parts, and started writing my novel the way I like to. And the difference is that now I have 23,000 words that I love. Instead of 50,000 words that I can't stand to read over.
But it took me a long time to get to that point, NaNo. Because you made me feel like I was turning my back on some great goal that I'd made. You hit me where it hurt, NaNo; you know that I don't like to give up a goal once I've made it. So here's where I say thanks. You taught me that not all goals are good goals. That some are picked up out of principle and aren't worth pursuing. You reminded me of what I used to always tell people in conjunction with my little goals speech: that you should choose your battles wisely.
And you aren't a good battle, NaNo. You're just a bad boyfriend and a lousy literary lay. I'm taking my Secret Novel and getting the hell out of this relationship before you can hurt us anymore! We'll be fine without you. Nay, better off without you! When you see me walking down the street with the hardcover edition of Secret Novel in 2012, looking fine, fine, fine with its deep theme and subtle characterization, I hope it makes you throw up a little in your mouth.
Oh, and happy Thanksgiving.
50,000 superficial words of love,
Maggie from 2011 adds to this: I don't have a problem with other people doing NaNoWriMo. If that's what it takes to motivate you, go for it. If you work well that way, go for it (not that you were sitting around, waiting for my approval). But for my style of writing, for my creative process, it will literally never work. I cannot knowingly write crap. I just can't. I can and do write crap, but I can't realize that I'm doing it at the time.
I know that lots of people use NaNo for the community, and I get that, too, but for me . . . I'd rather build a writing community that I have year round, a community that I know better than just a forum cheering zone. It's why I encourage everyone to have beta readers and critique partners: people who become friends and reading buddies. That's the sort of community I crave, not one with a sort of expiration date. I kind of feel like NaNo offers everything a writer needs, but in a diet version. Just because you don't write full time doesn't mean you can't have a full time support system and deadlines that you set for yourself. Having only a little time to write doesn't mean you can't have the non-diet, full-fat, all the whipped cream and sprinkles too please writing accoutrements. I wrote my first published novel only on Wednesdays, from 6-8 p.m., because that was all the time I had. Deadlines are good. Community's good. But NaNo . . . one month . . .
The how the story is told is just as important as the story itself to me, which means . . . NaNo and me are never meant to be. You, however, are welcome to it.
Tuesday, October 18, 2011
The reason why I wrote The Scorpio Races is because of a piece of advice I was given or read or found when I was a teen. I wish I could remember where it came from, but it was this: write the book you've always wanted to read, but can't find on the shelf.
Well, the book I always wanted to read had water horses in it. It's a tiny corner of Scottish and Irish and Manx mythology: swift and beautiful horses that jump out of the ocean and attack people or cattle. The legend was more complicated than that, though — the horses had their own kind of magic. Some of them turned into young men and attempted to lure women into the ocean with them. Some of them appeared as cute little ponies and tried to lure children onto their back. My particular favorite part of this legend was the line that said that as more children climbed onto the pony, its back would lengthen to accommodate them. Later, the victims' lungs and livers would wash up on the shore.
I tried to write about them when I was in my teens. They weren't the focus of the novel, merely one of the many faerie creatures in it, and the novel failed disastrously. There are a lot of reasons why that book didn't work, but it can basically be boiled down to this: it wasn't Maggie enough yet. It was fun, but anybody could've written those versions of faeries.
Then, after I finished the mammoth draft of a faerie book that was eventually rewritten entirely under the guidance of Editor Yoda (becoming LAMENT), I started on a sort of standalone sequel to this giant novel. It was called THE HORSES OF ROAN and it was yet another attempt at writing about water horses. I was closer this time. I was chiseling away with my writing, becoming a writer that only I could be, instead of the writer I thought I ought to be, or the writer the manuals recommended. It really was closer. There are still parts of that book that I'll cannibalize for others.
Here's photographic proof of my obsession. Back then, as part of my quest to become a better artist, I was doing monthly artist studies, eventually creating a piece in the style of whoever I was studying. That month I was studying my long-dead artist boyfriend, John Singer Sargent. The subject I chose? Water horses. This painting, "The Horses of Roan," (which is giant — 40" wide) is still in my living room. It was closer to the Maggie-Idea of water horses than any of my novels had been, but I wasn't sure why.
THE HORSES OF ROAN was set in the marshes of Virginia and used the man-to-horse shape-shifting element and it was close, like I said, but still, someone else still could have written it.
Fast forward five books later. By now, I've been to the UK several times, enough times to know that a sizable piece of my soul is somehow lodged there in one of the rainier corners. I've also written the Shiver trilogy and watched more hours of carnivores pulling apart prey animals than I care to mention and I'm well aware that I have a fascination with the beauty and the horror of nature. And I'm also sort of kind of house-hunting, and I realize that my desire to get as far away into the country as possible is not one shared by absolutely everyone on the planet. I find myself explaining why I'd sacrifice convenience to live out in the middle of nowhere, and explaining my childhood growing up with cottonmouth snakes under the porch and no neighbors that I could see and grocery stores one hour away and sitting on the deck listening only to crickets, and further away, more crickets. And, finally, I have four siblings, two of them ten and twelve years my junior, and they're going through late teenhood, and all our conversations are at once familiar, funny, and aggravating.
And now I was ready to write the book that only I could write. Because if it was about these things that were eating at me, it would have emotional truth, and no matter how great your plot or your hook or your legend is, if you don't have the emotional hook, it's just not going to mean anything to anybody else. It might be fun. But it will also be forgettable.
So I wrote a book that was about siblings and how it looks when they are your best friends and entire social network and what happens when one leaves. And I wrote about Thisby, a tiny island in the middle of nowhere, a rocky little bit of a place that looked a lot like where my soul was lodged 3,000 miles away. I wrote about why some people left and why some people stayed, the hardship and the beauty of it. I wrote about deadly carnivores that weren't villains and humans who were.
Oh, and it had other Maggie things in it: I adore race movies and I'll watch absolutely any one of them that comes on. Days of Thunder, Herbie, The Black Stallion. I love reading about descriptions of food, so in that went. I love old magic that looks like superstition until suddenly, in the dark, it's real. I loved the horses that I had growing up and in college, though I remember just how much work they were too, in the frosty mornings when your fingers are too cold to work. And, of course, the ocean, too. As a child we used to vacation in North Carolina and I would sit for hours just watching the ocean, making up stories about horses springing from the foam, watching each wave curl in differently. I nearly drowned as a kid and so I both loved it and feared it. It's hard to forget that sensation of warring emotions, equally matched.
And of course, finally, in chapter 46 of The Scorpio Races, I wrote the scene I'd been imagining since I was my daughter's age: a herd of water horses tearing in from an angry sea. Chapter 46 isn't a very long one, and it wasn't late when I wrote it, but after I finished the last sentence of it, I closed my computer and had to stop writing for the night. It's a weird feeling to finally do something right after doing it wrong for so many years. I knew before that that The Scorpio Races was the best thing I'd written so far, but that was when I really realized I'd written the book I'd wanted to find on the shelf all those years ago.
I can't believe it's finally out.
In retrospect, this blog entry seems so maudlin and earnest. But I'm going to hit "post" now before I change my mind.
Monday, October 17, 2011
It's finally here. Well, I mean, tomorrow. But tomorrow is practically today, if you're using the Children-Friendly Method Of Counting Days Until Christmas, where you don't count the day you're currently living, nor Christmas itself.
Remember how I posted about November Cakes and how I had to touch everything in The Scorpio Races for it to be real? That includes the cliffs that the deadly horse race is run beneath. I visited . . . a lot of cliffs.
I realize I made some dubious wardrobe decisions on those trips. I don't want to hear about it.
Man, though, I'm excited for this book to be out. Aside from the launch party in D.C. this Thursday and the California dates I have this week (I'm not even going to bother getting off of West Coast time), I also have two online events for those who can't make it out to a bookstore. There is this one:
And also an online live chat with Mundie Moms. That one is on Thursday at 9 p.m. and the original announcement is here.
What else? I feel like I should just get everything out there all at once. I was hoping to have my UK tour schedule available today, but alas, that will have to come later. Oh, oh, I should mention that on the home page of the website, you can now download me reading the first and second chapters of the book, as well as the music from the trailer (I think I mentioned that last one earlier, but the second chapter is a new development).
Now I have to go and brush my hair, because I'm going to drive down to Richmond to sign and doodle in the pre-ordered copies of SCORPIO at Fountain Bookstore. If anyone is in the Richmond area and dying to see what I look like signing and doodling in a lot of books, I'll be getting there at around 3 p.m.ish.
That's it! I think I shall close in the same way I opened. alkd;flajsd;fljksld;fkjaslkdfj;alskjdflasjdf.
Saturday, October 15, 2011
Weirdly, it has now suddenly only days away until THE SCORPIO RACES comes out. I remember back when it was still SecretNovel. So. October 18th. (well, October 20th, if you're coming to the release party in D.C.). Rumor has it is has already appeared in some readers' hands.
I'm not thinking about that. I'm so very ulcer-free right now. I mean, I've already waxed poetic about how this is my favorite novel of everything that I've ever written. And I've already talked a little bit about how I spent an obsessive amount of time on the research for this novel. (CUE THE SLIDESHOW OF ENDLESS CLIFFS). But now it is time to share recipes.
I’ve always loved reading food descriptions in books, and one of my favorite agonizing pleasures was reading about foods that didn’t exist. I still remember the 42 century butter pies on a stick that Diana Wynne Jones wrote about in A Tale of Time City. Completely delicious sounding. Completely not real. I always wanted to be that author. The one that torments loads of readers by inventing food so delicious they can't resist it . . . and then laughing meanly when they realize it's not real.
And I had the perfect opening in THE SCORPIO RACES. It's set on a tiny, remote island with not much to do and the yearly Scorpio Races are a big deal, so to kick it all off they have a folk festival involving bonfires, superstitions, and beer. This, I thought, would be a great place to insert a fake seasonal food. At first, all I had was the name: November Cakes. Even I wasn't quite sure how these things would bake up until the main character's brother showed them to us:
Finn finds my left hand, opens my fingers, and puts a November cake in my palm. It oozes honey and butter, rivulets of the creamy frosting joining the honey in the pit of my hand. It begs to be licked.
Of course, as with all food descriptions in my novels, I quickly warmed to my mission and proceeded to fill the pages of the book with more things about "the moist crumb, the nectar that seeps from the base of it, the icing that soaks into the cake before you can lick it off." Oh, yes, now we were getting somewhere. My legacy as a fake food writer was beginning to look more promising.
There was only one problem. Something about this book demanded that I put my hands on everything in it I possibly could. I had to do an incredible amount of hands-on research for it, because I just couldn't stand to wing anything. And this exact same principle meant that I found myself in the kitchen spending hours trying to make November Cakes.
Basically, I've failed in my quest to invent a lovely fake food. Because I'm sad to report that November Cakes are no longer fake. Nothing can be fictional if there's a recipe:
ETA! USE THIS RECIPE! November Cakes, II.
*dedicated blog/ twitter/ facebook followers might remember when I was asking about Golden Syrup. This was the recipe I was thinking of. You can use it instead of honey.
** click to make the image better. I mean, bigger.
Three more days . . .
Thanks to everyone in the funky, bearded, plaided Pacific Northwest for welcoming me. What a great corner of the world!
I would do this again for my next tour stop (California, next week), but I can tell you already, it will be all tea and avocados.
Some of that was more delicious than it looked. And some of it was less delicious than it looks.
C'est la vie?
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Also, there were an unfair number of unicorn band names representing. Apparently the cultural unconscious was feeling very unicorny at the time of this blog posting.
Some were hilarious and indecent. So, no.
Some were hilarious and completely nonsensical. So, no.
Some of them sounded suspiciously like they could've belonged to local Celtic bands that played the same bars mine did in college (it takes talent to invoke that much leg hair in a band name).
In the end, it came down to two:
Elizabeth Bennet's Petticoats, and Charlotte's Temper. In an ideal world, I'll confess I would've preferred Elizabeth Bennet and the Petticoats, but that small issue was not enough to edge it out of first place. Ultimately I think I would buy Charlotte's Temper's album and go see Elizabeth Bennet's Petticoats live.
Elizabeth, you get the signed copy of Scorpio. Email me!
But Charlotte, you get a signed copy of one of my other books (I haven't decided yet which to inflict upon you), so you e-mail me too.
My email is Stiefvater Reader Mail at gmail dot com. No spaces and make the dot a proper dot and all that.
Monday, October 10, 2011
This book is good.
This book is fast.
This book is fun.
This book is what it says it is.
Which is fun.
This book is a good, fast, fun read.
I'm just not sure it's going to get any better than that. I liked this book better than its predecessor, AMERICAN GODS, and you don't need to have read that one in order for this one to make any sense. The only other thing I can say is that I immediately went out and bought another copy to give away to a friend, so that should stand for something, surely.
2. I'm on tour in the Pacific Northwest this week. Portland = funky and awesome. Also, very plaid. As one native noted, "some people are wearing plaid to be ironic, and some people are wearing it because their blood is plaid." I would like to point out that IRONIC PLAID is the best Celtic band name ever. Feel free to use it.
3. Since it is only eight days away from the release of THE SCORPIO RACES, I've updated my website with a bunch of things that some readers have been asking for — like a place to download the music from the Scorpio book trailer for free, a slideshow of my research for the novel, and me reading the first two chapters. I did just find out that we got a fourth starred review for it from Horn Book, and proved to myself that I am still a book geek by galloping around the house when I heard the news.
4. If you are in the Seattle area, here are my events, including my event tonight. I will be wearing stripes to everything. All I have packed are stripes. Well, I guess if I merely wearing my jeans and striped socks, you won't be able to tell. Another great band name? INVISIBLE STRIPES.
5. I reckon I should give away a copy of THE SCORPIO RACES today. If you post a great fake band name (just one, please, so choose carefully) here in the comments today, I'll pick one person to get a copy of THE SCORPIO RACES, which I'll mail when I get back into town on the 14th. I reckon that's all the rules I need. International's okay, only one band name, only until today at midnight EST. (My computer is still on EST even if I am not)(Well, I definitely am still on EST. I merely am located in PST).
Wednesday, October 5, 2011
This calls for cookie dough.
A lot of that is gone right now.
Just like my novel.
Monday, October 3, 2011
It's been a very very long time since I've posted the covers of my latest foreign editions, but here they are. Do they inspire OH. MY. WHY? or WHY DON'T WE GET THAT COVER?
Bulgarian Edition of FOREVER
Italian Edition of FOREVER
French Edition of FOREVER
Spanish Edition of FOREVER
Chinese edition of Linger
German edition of Linger
Russian edition of Linger
Polish edition of Linger
Italian edition of Ballad
Mexican edition of Ballad
Polish edition of Lament
Spanish book club edition of Shiver
Swedish Paperback edition of Shiver
Serbian edition of Linger