Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Maggie Continues to Doodle in Books

Hallo, humans! As you might have heard, I have written my first ever novel devoid of swearing and maiming and kissyface — in the form of the second installment of Spirit Animals, a multi-author, multi-platform series for middle grade readers. I sort of feel like double underlining all of the aspects of that sentence. YES it is for middle graders — ages 8-12. YES it is multi-author (Brandon Mull wrote the first one, that came out in September). YES it is multi-platform, because Scholastic's designed a web-game to go with it. My children are 8 & 9, so I have been wanting to write something that they can read for awhile. When Scholastic invited me to come and muck about in this world they'd already created, I thought "YES and I'M ADDING HIGHLAND COWS."

Hunted cover 

Anyway, because it was the second book in a multi-author series, it hadn't occurred to me that folks might want doodled-in, pre-ordered versions available as with the rest of my stuff. But I've now gotten enough requests for it that I've paired up with Fountain Bookstore once more to offer doodled-in editions. The routine is the same as always: all copies pre-ordered from Fountain before the release date of January 7th will come with a signature and a doodle. They ship all over the place (they shipped out 700 pre-ordered copies of The Dream Thieves). Anyway, here is the doodle:

 sketch for Spirit Animals 

And here is the link to autographed copies (Fountain always carries signed books from me, year-round — the doodle is the only thing that is time-sensitive/ specific to pre-orders). I look forward to TAKING YOUR CHILDREN.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Novelist Error Messages

Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message Novelist Error Message

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Baby, do you dare to do this?/ Cause I’m coming at you like a metaphor

As an author, I frequently field questions from teens about Big Ticket English Class Items. “What is the theme of your work?” “Can you list three metaphors from this chapter?” “Why did you use a simile here?” The questions always carry a faint accusatory air. But metaphors and similes are glorious! They clarify and elucidate by providing an alternative way of looking at something.

In fact, today I was driving along in my Camaro and suddenly I found myself listening to "Dark Horse" by Katy Perry & Juicy J. It is chock full of metaphors. In fact, I think they use every metaphor. How clarifying! However . . . I must admit that the first 43 times that I listened to this song, the lyrics confused me. The metaphors confused me. What are you trying to say, Katy? How complicated this relationship must be that we need all of these metaphors to understand it. Even with my absolutely massive authorial grown-up collegiate brain, I was stymied.

But now, yes, now, I’ve listened to it 43 times more and I think I’m prepared to give my professional authorial interpretation of this song.

Which I'm sure is definitely right. Lyrics in bold. THE TRUTH in non-bold.


[Juicy J:] Yeah/ Ya'll know what it is
 [what it is: pop song, minor key, B-flat minor]
  
Katy Perry/ Juicy J, aha.
[cast of characters] [Norwegian pop group.]  
Let's rage
 “Let’s chat about the reasons why it is compelling to date me seriously.”

 [Katy Perry:] I knew you were/ You were gonna come to me/ And here you are
“I gave you my number. Even though you could have blown me off as there is technically free will in the universe, I'm Katy Perry. So please. You were going to call."  

But you better choose carefully/ ‘Cause I, I’m capable of anything/ Of anything and everything
“Sometimes when I get drunk I stand on the piano in the bar and sing Katy Perry songs.”  

Make me your Aphrodite
“Once upon a time, Cronus castrated Uranus and then tossed his nuts into the sea, and the goddess Aphrodite was created as a result. Despite being the product of sea-gonads, she was the hottest of the goddesses, and she also had a magical girdle that she used to compel people to love her. She also basically had sex with every god, ever, and had about a billion children. So, that. I want to be that to you.”  

Make me your one and only
“So, when I asked you to evoke Aphrodite before, I didn’t mean the slutty bit.”  

Don’t make me your enemy, your enemy, your enemy
“But the testicle part of her tale is still salient here.”  

So you wanna play with magic
 “So you wanna get involved with someone who defies the rules of science in a fashion frequently associated with both superstition and Warner Brothers?”  

Boy, you should know what you're falling for/ Baby do you dare to do this/ Cause I’m coming at you like a dark horse
 “Cause I’m coming at you like a metaphor”  

Are you ready for, ready for/ A perfect storm, perfect storm
“Are you psychologically prepared for a once-in-a-lifetime confluence of meteorological events?”  

Cause once you’re mine, once you’re mine/ There’s no going back
“No, seriously. Get sand bags, several gallons of drinking water, and fresh batteries for your flash light.”  

Mark my words/ This love will make you levitate/ Like a bird/ Like a bird without a cage
“The chemical production of phenylethylamine in your brain during our courtship stage will replicate the weightless sensation of a bird flying without the constraints of a cage (but presumably limited naturally by the bird’s physical capacity for high altitudes, so therefore our love will soar at or below 16,000 feet above sea level — unless the bird in question is a Gyps rueppelli, which has been recorded at 37,900 feet. Actually you know what, go with that. We’re aiming high with this love.).”  

But down to earth/ If you choose to walk away, don’t walk away
 “When I say you have a choice, I really mean: you don’t have a choice.”  

It’s in the palm of your hand now baby/ It’s a yes or no, no maybe
“Actually you do, but it’s binary.”  

So just be sure before you give it up to me/ Up to me/ give it up to me
 “You should be sure before you have sex with me. Because I am your Aphrodite, and historically, that’s meant that it’s possible that our children could actually turn out to be either nymphs, hermaphrodites, or children with over-sized genitals. So I’m just saying, be sure. Or, use protection.”

 [Juicy J] Uh/ She’s a beast/ I call her Karma (come back)
 “As she pointed out earlier in the song, she is capable of anything and everything. Which probably I deserve.”

 She eats your heart out/ Like Jeffrey Dahmer
 “At the best, she will strangle and dismember you before dining on your heart weeks later, and at the worst, she will drill a hole in your head and pour muriatic acid in. In the movie version of your romance, she will be portrayed by someone like Jeremy Renner or Anthony Hopkins.”  

Be careful/ Try not to lead her on/ Shawty’s heart was on steroids/ Cause her love was so strong
Author’s note: I appear to be too old to interpret this couplet. Compelling research suggests “shawty” could mean “a young girl or woman” but possibly could also be referring to Shawty Lo, a rapper who is neither a young girl or a woman. This author is forced to admit that she is bereft of the pop culture bad-assery necessary to shed light on this line.  

You may fall in love/ When you meet her
 “She is like Aphrodite and her magical girdle will most likely compel you to love her.”

 If you get the chance you better keep her/ She's sweet as pie
“She is such a pleasant experience”  

but if you break her heart/ She'll turn cold as a freezer
“She will no longer be a pleasant experience.”  

That fairy tale ending with a knight in shining armor
“I am a chivalrous sort of guy who treats women well.”  

She can be my Sleeping Beauty/ I’m gon’ put her in a coma
“Never mind.”  

Woo!
 “Woo!”  

Damn I think I love her/ Shawty so bad
 “. . . ”

 I’m sprung and I don’t care
“I have been captivated by her magic girdle and even knowing the potential consequences — the magical children with weird-ass body parts and whatnot — I can’t help myself.”  

She got me like a roller coaster
“Ever since taking her number, I have wavered back and forth between elation and wanting to vomit up the boardwalk fries I unwisely consumed before getting into this relationship.”

 Turn the bedroom into a fair
 “When we engage in intercourse, sometimes there is a petting zoo and/or a pie judging contest also in the room.”  

Her love is like a drug
 “She mentioned earlier that her love would make me feel as if I was soaring at at least 16,000 feet above sea level. Belladonna is a hallucinogenic substance that commonly causes the sensation of flying and was used in potions by witches in the middle ages. Her love is like a drug in general and belladonna in specific, which unfortunately has side effects including dilated pupils, slurred speech, and constipation.”

 I was tryna hit it and quit it
 “I considered taking her to Outback Steakhouse, making out with her against the side of my used Subaru, and then never calling her again.”

 But lil' mama so dope
“But this diminutive human of the child-bearing type was so great”

 I messed around and got addicted
“I decided to go steady.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

So. I See I'm A Girl. :/



When I was a teen, I spent a lot of hours wishing I’d been born a boy.

It wasn’t because I wasn’t happy in my own skin. It wasn’t that I looked at my face in the mirror and thought: that’s not me. It was just because I had seen the sort of person I wanted to be when I grew up and none of them were women.

Teen-Maggie loved all sort of books and movies, particularly thrillers and adventure stories. Like most readers and movie-watchers, I had a long list of characters I’d admired for sometimes very shabby reasons: Maverick from Top Gun, Sean Dillon from Jack Higgins’ novels, Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle, Tyler Durden of Fight Club, Athos of The Three Musketeers. The list was longer than that. By a lot. It was also all male. I wasn’t crushing on them. I wanted to be them. I wanted to be the wise-cracking adventurer with hidden depths, fearless and aggressive and bad-ass and car-racing and explosion-making and just . . . sexy.

I spent a lot of time looking for equivalent woman. But in movies, they usually wore spandex. And in fiction, they were called “sassy” instead of “funny.” And in real life . . . well, they didn’t exist in real life. At least not in my rural middle-class part of the world. How could you reconcile a funny, fearless adventurer with a Nurturing Mother Type?

I’ll give you a spoiler, in case you’ve never seen the hundreds of blog posts, articles, and generalized confessions of women feeling guilty about working away from home. You couldn’t.

So here was the moral of the story for teen Maggie: be born a boy, or take your toys and go home.
Don’t get me wrong, there were strong female characters in many of the books I read. They were just strong in different ways. When they appeared as secondary characters, they were the rocks the tempestuous men tied themselves to. They were the helpmeets and the scholars, the ones who did their homework and the ones who appeared with solutions at the last minute. And as narrators, they were often plucky and fearless and capable. But they were never just a female version of any of the people on my list of Dudes I Wished I Was. Where was the woman I wanted to be?

She didn’t seem to exist.

The thing is, girl characters mostly look different than boy characters. Even when written by women. We have hundreds of years of story-telling to tell us what a hero looks like, and what a heroine looks like, and that stuff is ingrained deep. It’s not that we don’t want to write women who are capable in the same way as men. It’s that it requires a helluva lot of imagination to overcome the weight of that narrative history. It’s one thing to write a better version of something you’re already looking at. It’s another thing to write something you haven’t ever seen before.

We talk a lot about strength in women characters, but not so much about the things male characters still have a corner on: humor, aggression, confidence, ambition. Heroes and heroines wear these things so differently still — look at the Avengers. Just look at it, okay! We’re still so stuck on gender roles. I’m reminded of it every time someone asks me about my masculine hobbies.
They’re not masculine hobbies. They are Maggie hobbies, thanks.

I wasn’t born a boy. And it’s taken me 31 years to finally become the person I wanted to be — 31 years to find a way to translate my list of admirable fictional role models into a woman I can actually be in real life. It took me that long to find a way to translate my often "masculine" interests into a "feminine" persona. It meant overcoming quite a bit of failure of imagination. Much of it mine.

Now I’m trying to translate that back into fiction. I really want a future-Maggie to grow up with a list of fictional role-models populated by both genders. I spent so many years depressed that I’d been born into a gender I didn’t seem to belong to. I want future teen me to know that she really can be anything she wants to be . . . and see examples of it all around her.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

This Post is Actually 10 Posts

I know it appears that I haven't been writing blog posts while I'm on tour, but in fact, I have written a million of them. Well, 10. Ten bloggers were kind enough to host me or at least my words, and here is a collection of all of the posts here:

1. Books to Cure Book Hangover on Nerdy Book Club

2. Side Characters & Goat Farming, on Me, My Shelf, and I

3. Writing Advice on Girls in the Stacks

4. Mythology in the Raven Cycle on Whimsically Yours

5. Music & Writing, on All the Write Notes

6. Artwork, Writing, & the Importance of Creative Outlets, on Books Complete Me

7. I Was a Library Ghost, on TATAL Online: Teens at the Arlington Library

8. Things that Go, on MandyBoles.com

9. Atmosphere and things I stole from dreams, with The Mountains of Instead.

10. Interview! with Scott Reads It  


ALSO I was just this second asked about my stance on swearing in novels, and my response is basically a blog post of its own.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

In Which Readers Become Hooligans (Briefly)

Do you remember that one time I spray-painted my car for The Dream Thieves video?
my car

At my Kansas City launch event for the book last night, I let readers spray-paint it, too. Here's what happened.

 

P.S. A huge, huge thanks to everyone who has supported the book on its first day.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

In Which Maggie Writes a Book about Cole & Isabel

I'm just going to say the facts right upfront: I have written a companion book to the SHIVER trilogy, and it's called SINNER, and it's a standalone, and it's coming out July of 2014, and it follows Cole and Isabel's lives in Los Angeles. It's the novel I've been calling WhitePantsNovel. (more here)

 It took pretty much in me to not tell the world what I was working on, because I have to admit: after the complicated and lengthy writing process for The Dream Thieves, SINNER was like a vacation. It was fantastic to be back in Cole and Isabel's heads. Readers had pointed out that their story wasn't ended — a fact I was well aware of — but I didn't want to return to them unless I a very specific story that I needed to tell. It has to eat my arms, a story, in order to gain admittance to the cluttered Stiefvater schedule.

At the beginning of the year, it started to eat my arms. I thought: am I really doing this? Surely not. I'm in the middle of a very time-consuming series, and also, I just agreed to write a middle grade group project. But the thing about Maggies is that there is a very fine line between think and do. By the time something I've said something out loud, there's no turning back. So I changed my summer plans. I flew to L.A. to look at research places (dragging along my family and Brenna Yovanoff and Jackson Pearce as well).

Santa Monica Pier

See that face? That is insanity-face. I took in some sights and sounds and smells and got to work.



BMW/ Santa Monica pacific

I made a giant playlist.

I remembered that once upon a time, I wrote books with kissing scenes.

I remembered that once upon a time, Cole St. Clair had been a rock star.

Oh, man, I had such a good time. I really hope you guys love it. I did it for me, but I did it for you, too.

Here is the official description: About Sinner Sinner (978-0-545-65457-9, $18.99, hardcover; 978-0-545-65458-6, $18.99, ebook; Ages 14 and up) follows Cole St. Clair, a pivotal character from the #1 New York Times bestselling Shiver Trilogy. Everybody thinks they know Cole’s story. Stardom. Addiction. Downfall. Disappearance. But only a few people know Cole’s darkest secret – his ability to shift into a wolf. One of these people is Isabel. At one point, they may have even loved each other. But that feels like a lifetime ago. Now Cole is back. Back in the spotlight. Back in the danger zone. Back in Isabel’s life. Can this sinner be saved?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Dream Thieves Tour & Signed Books Post That Goes On Forever

I have been hoarding a billion things about tour and pre-orders and special editions of books so that they could all be posted at the same time. I know it's frustrating to read a list of tour locations that are nowhere near you (and inevitably, that will be true for most people), but I'm trying to make it easier for those who aren't close to get a signed book if they want one. This post shall be full of all those details.

Also, this weekend I pulled out my pencils and paints and did some Art Things on three special copies of The Dream Thieves, and I shall put details on where those are going below, too.

covers

Okay. Places to get signed/ special books if you can't make it on tour.

If you're in the U.S. or willing to pay overseas shipping, you can order signed and doodled-in books from Fountain Bookstore. I will do this doodle, or something like it, in every copy ordered before 9/17:

Doodle

If you're in the UK or Ireland or are willing to pay for shipping from the UK, you can order a special copy from Seven Stories. Every pre-ordered copy of The Dream Thieves will include a signed, limited edition bookplate with some of my art on it. It will look like so (but with my signature):

 The Dream Thieves bookplate

And finally, if you're in Canada, a variety of stores are offering a limited edition postcard involving the Raven Boys trailer art if you pre-order from them. (this is what they let me know:

Dream Thieves Pre-Order Signage

) Here is a list. Ontario: The Book Keeper, BookLore, Kaleidescope Books, Mabel's Fables, Curiosity House Books. Alberta: Café Books, Monkeyshines. Quebec: La Maison Anglaise, Livres Babar. Manitoba: McNally Robinson. Saskatchewan: McNally Robinson. BC: Black Bond Books, Mosaic Books.

And those three books that I defaced with my colored pencils and my spray paint? I am sending one to Fountain Books (US), one to Seven Stories (UK), and one to Mabel's Fables (Canada), with the instructions that their special copy is to be sent to one random pre-order. I guess technically you can "enter to win it" by pre-ordering (certainly the odds are much better than any of my ARC contests have been - 1 in a few hundred versus 1 in 2000), but really I just wanted it to be a thank you to folks who pre-order. I like the idea that three people will be surprised when they open their box and find that instead of just a signed copy or whatever.

Phew. And now. The tour schedule (click each event for details of location, etc.)

9/17: Kansas City, MO - 7 PM

9/19: St. Louis, MO - 7 PM

9/20: Virginia Beach, VA - 6 PM

9/25: Dallas, TX- 7 PM

9/26: Houston, TX - 6 PM

9/28: Austin Teen Book Festival

9/30: Salt Lake City, UT - 5 PM

10/1: San Francisco, CA - 4 PM

10/2: Berkeley, CA - 7 PM

10/3: Lynnwood, WA - 7 PM

10/4: Seattle, WA - 12 PM

10/5: Wordstock, Portland, OR

10/19: Boston Book Festival

10/20: Exeter, NH - 4 PM 

10/22-23: Vancouver Writer's Festival

10/24: Alberta, Canada - 7 PM

10/ 26: NYC - 3 PM

10/27 - Rhinebeck, NY - 4 PM

 

I never want to copy and paste a link into a blog post ever again. PHEW.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Hi Maggie :D Do you self-publish?

Screen Shot 2013-08-12 at 7.43.15 AM

Well, it is 7:27 a.m. and I’m drinking cocoa and emailing myself and doing other writerly things before caffeine, so I’m not sure how wise this will be, but here goes.

I’m not self-published. Self-publishing is a complicated and shifting and very-not-homogenous model, but generally speaking, if you can find someone’s books in Barnes & Noble or WalMart, they’re published by one of the major New York publishers (at this point).

I’m published by Scholastic, whom I love. It took me quite awhile to catch their eye, but I am fine with that. Publishing is a hard business, but it does not want to eat your heart.

People ask me if I “agree” with self-publishing, which I think is a weird noun-verb pairing. Self-publishing is not a question. I cannot tell you yes or no. Nor is it something obvious and straightforward like chugging a whole bottle of maple syrup. I would tell you in a heartbeat that the latter would be ill-advised because I’ve never seen anyone that it worked out well for.

Before I was an author, I was an artist. I spent the first part of my art career promoting myself — doing all the advertising, marketing, and art-making myself. I enjoyed it and it gave me total control, but it meant I worked 60 hour weeks and spent 10% of my time making art and the rest marketing it. The second part of my career, I applied to a good gallery and got accepted. They handled the marketing and advertising and … it was glorious. I got to shift to 40 hour work weeks and spending 75% of my work time actually making art.

This is why, for now, traditional publishing is for me. I would rather spend my time writing than marketing. Yes, I must work as part of a team, and I must give up my 100% control of the way my books are put out there, but for the most part, Scholastic really gets me. It doesn’t feel like a compromise. It feels like that gallery: glorious. There is something marvelous about that very first moment that I share a manuscript with Scholastic, and I hear what the marketing and publicity team thinks of it.

Also, I really want to be in every bookstore everywhere. And right now, traditional publishing is the only way to make that happen.

Did that answer the question? Oh! Getting started. I would start by researching agents, personally. Also, I have bunches of writing business and technique posts on the blog, all tagged “how I write.”
Hm. My cocoa is all gone. Also, this girl “Maggie Stiefvater” seems to have emailed me a line to my next novel. Weird.
 
(via a Tumblr ask)









Tuesday, July 16, 2013

How to Label Wine and Books

Yesterday, I got into a discussion on Twitter about the validity of labels/ categories/ genres for fiction: namely, middle grade —tween — young adult — new adult — adult.

 I don’t like admitting I was wrong, but I will say this: I used to believe in labels. They guided me to the same sorts of books over and over. Books I knew I would like. And they also allowed me to be snotty about books with other labels. But it meant I also missed hundreds of books that I also would have liked, because they didn’t sit on that shelf. Labels can be a great finding tool, but remember that they are, by their very nature, exclusionary.

As far as whether or not middle grade, young adult, adult, etc. are useful labels, I think this: once upon a time, we had an idea that one became a more sophisticated reader the longer one had been reading. Like a wine-drinker whose palette refines and longs for more complicated sensations. So children’s books were supposedly simpler and adult books were more complex and young adult books fell somewhere in between.

But that’s a model that doesn’t account for books that work on several levels. Quite a few novels reward both a shallow read and an analytical read. There is something for the most flippant of readers and something for the most jaded.

What to do with them, then? Do we put all of the complicated books with hard words in adult? Do we put all of the simple books in children's? What about the complicated children who want heartier fare? What about the exhausted adults who want only to be diverted for a moment at the end of the day?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I do know that I mistrust labels deeply. Yes, they should guide readers, but they should never guide readers away. I don’t understand the shame in getting a book from the young adult section, or the romance section, or the sci-fi section, or the picture book section. Someone else put those labels on that book, not you.

And they aren’t the boss of you.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Dream Thieves Video! And lots of fiddly stuff

This is a post full of pictures and videos and things about The Dream Thieves. If a picture is worth 1,000 words, this post is going to be, like, a millionty words long. I shall make a bulleted list.

1. I have made a video for The Dream Thieves. Every year I make a video for my books, and generally it is an animated trailer of some sort. This year it is . . . well, I will just call it a video and you can tell me what it is. I swear that it has bearing on the novel. Here it is.

 

2. The music for the trailer, as always, is available for free download here on the website.

3. The first wallpaper for the book is also on the site in the same place:

The Dream Thieves wallpaper

4. I swear the book is not about cars, mostly. It is magic and kissing and darker things after dark. It really is my favorite thing of all, even including The Scorpio Races, and that is saying a lot.

5. As always, if you pre-order the book from the Fountain Bookstore, I will be signing and doodling in your copy. This applies to every copy of The Dream Thieves ordered up until its release date, Sept. 17. They ship worldwide, and all of the orders are being handled personally by the owner this year. This is what I will be doing inside each of them:

Doodle

5b. Except I have been thinking of changing my signature to something more legible from now on. So it might be a new one I have designed. You see, I have been practicing.

Signatures

6. I know that overseas shipping is a pain, so for the first year ever, I'm pairing up with a UK bookstore. 7 Stories will be putting signed Raven Cycle bookplates in their pre-orders. Here is their link (I think they are working on an ordering page, as well).

7. I will also be touring in the U.S. this fall, starting in September. I don't have the finalized places/ dates yet, but I can promise that at least one of them is Austin Teen Book Festival.

8. There are more surprising things to come in this department, but I can't tell you yet. 2013 shall be the awesomest.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Red = Rage. Ocean = Longing. Literary =

Every so often I have this conversation at a school visit.  

THE CAST:
STUDENT
ENGLISH TEACHER
ME  
THE SCENE:
After my presentation, a student drags a beleaguered English teacher to my side.  

THE CONVERSATION:
STUDENT (always with a rather mocking tone): So, Maggie, when you put red curtains in a scene, does that mean that the characters are angry and stuff?
ENGLISH TEACHER: That's not quite—
STUDENT: —Because we are supposed to analyze all of these books and I don't think any of the writers actually put in an ocean in the scene just so that two hundred years later we could read it and think the ocean stands for longing.
ENGLISH TEACHER: Sometimes a literary device—
STUDENT: I think we're just looking for stuff that isn't there. The writer just put in an ocean because the book TAKES PLACE BY THE BEACH. And the rest was invented by evil English teachers.
ENGLISH TEACHER: If I were evil, I'd—
STUDENT: —So, you're the writer: do red curtains mean anger?
ME: Curtains do make me angry.

And then I was at LeakyCon, sitting in on a panel called "Is YA Literature?" to find out if I was writing literature, and this (summarized) conversation happened:
  
THE CAST:
A SMART YA WRITER
A SMART ADULT WRITER
ANOTHER SMART YA WRITER

THE SCENE:
The panelists have just been asked to define what is meant by literary fiction.  

THE CONVERSATION:
SMART ADULT WRITER: All I know is, I know literary fiction when I see it.
SMART YA WRITER: I got a look at the guidelines for assigned school reading and they suggested it be a book with enough content to be analyzed. Enough depth to support multiple interpretations.
ANOTHER SMART YA WRITER: I think literary is a ridiculous term and value is assigned by our readers, right here, right now: do they like it or not? There's no such thing as a good book or a bad book. There's a book that matters to a reader.

I think you can talk in endless circles about what constitutes "literary" fiction and whether it's good or bad or has no value or can be traded for a gallon of milk. And I also think you can talk in endless circles about whether or not there are "good" books and "bad" books and who gets to decide which is which. And if you do ever find an end to these circles, you can finish up with a indefatigable dessert course of the literary writing versus commercial writing debate.

So I'm instead going to talk about the one thing that interests me about fiction: getting into your head and moving stuff around. I am in the business of changing people's moods and making them see scenes the way that I see them and feel things the way I want them to be felt. You may consider me Very Interested in learning everything I can about doing all that more effectively.

Sometimes, dear reader, this is going to mean making the curtains red.

Please know that I'm not much for literary writing for the sake of literary writing. I enjoy a nice turn of the phrase, sure. I do enjoy picking apart novels to see what makes them tick. But my academic pleasure runs out very quickly (now there is the least sexy sentence I've ever written). As a writer, I am delighted to be given literary prizes, but they aren't on my list of goals. I'm chiefly interested literary devices insofar as they allow me to more effectively get inside your head and move around the furniture.

 And they do. Allow me to demonstrate.

Here are two paragraphs from one of my favorite sequences from The Dream Thieves*:

 *these are not spoilery, although they are from the middle of the book, so if you want to be totally uninformed on the action of Book 2, I suggest you wander to another corner of the Internet.



bits and bobs from The Dream Thieves

Oh, I had such plans for this party scene. I wanted the reader to see it just like I did. The all-encompassing luxury, warm and old and unquestioned. The complexity of the political world, the beauty of wealth, and the stagnation and corruption of old, unchallenged value systems. Adam, as my point-of-view character, is feeling and thinking about all of these things, and I wanted the reader to experience it with him.

I could have told the reader all of those things. Point blank. I could have gone with a barebones description of the driveway: The circular driveway was packed with so many elegant vehicles that the valets had to turn cars away.

And then just had Adam muse in italics about his feelings on being there. But then you would only know it. You wouldn't have experienced it. I wouldn't really be getting into your head and moving things around unannounced. I'd be walking in, hanging up a mirror, then pointing and saying "there's a mirror. It's yours now."

 Here's another snippet from later:


bits and bobs from The Dream Thieves

Okay, the curtains aren't red. But the runner is purple. How noble!

Man, I was working hard in this little section. In reality, the hallway of the house is lush and content and established. But inside our two protagonists, trouble brews — you can see it in the mirror. The side table, on the outside of the glass, is docile. But the mirror-image of the tidy hallway is crazed and twisted and rakish.

Again, I could've just told you: on the outside, the boys look foxy and orderly in suits, but on the inside, they are hot messes.

But I don't want you to know. I want you to feel. And our old friends, those countless literary devices of simile, metaphor, allusion, figurative language . . . that's the way in. It's not about fancy literary prizes. It's not about seeming impenetrable or smart or high fallutin. I'm not trying to impress anyone. I am trying to make you feel a story, that's all. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't believe in the literary/ commercial divide. And I don't believe that literary is good or bad. I believe that good novel makes readers feel, and the more readers I can make feel, the more successful I will consider that book.

I also believe that sometimes that means making the curtains red.    

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Maggie Stiefvater's Top 10 Tips for Teen Drivers

On Tumblr, I got asked this question:

 about driving 

 Why, yes. Yes, I do.

1. Get a car with a spoiler. It will not add stability or otherwise do anything useful, but if you are in a fender bender, you will look cooler.

2. Learn to drive a stick shift. They might be less common in the States, but you’ll thank me when you’re over in Europe and that’s all you can rent. Plus, once you learn how to listen attentively to your engine to shift gears correctly, you’ll be a much better driver in an automatic as well. Plus, you can look lofty every time you tell someone, “what, you can’t drive a stick?"

 3. I suggest a car in a bright color. It’s a safety feature. They don’t make life vests in champagne or burnished silver, do they? When you pull over by the side of the road to hyperventilate over being unable to operate this stick shift you just purchased, you’ll want to be highly visible.

4. Go to a driving school. No, no, no. Not the Carl Q. Barkley’s Safe Driver Clinic. Take a two day rally school or drifting school or racing school at your local track — usually you can find one that lets you use their vehicles. Once you’ve learned how to toss a car around sideways on purpose, you’ll no longer be fazed if it happens to you by accident on the interstate.

5. You don’t get to drive fast until you know what the hell you’re doing.

6. If you’re driving slow because you don’t know what the hell you’re doing, for the love of ponies and Honda Civics and the angels overhead, stay in the right lane.

7. If your mother or father cannot sit quietly in the passenger seat looking like a pool of endless serenity, she or he must not enter your car. Find another licensed driver to be your wingman. Here, I’ll do it. I have no sense of fear.

8. Check your tires. They should be treadful. Check your brakes. They should be stoppingness. Check your phone. It should be in the trunk or someplace where you aren’t even thinking about it. So should that Eminem tape that came in the car when you bought it. And all of your stupid friends that can’t stop giggling over Eminem. People, it stopped being funny, like, five years ago. Eyes on the road, maggot.

9. If you can’t find a driving school that is awesome, find a field and a rental car. Go wild. What you want to do is to feel how the car responds to everything you do. It should feel predictable, by the end. The goal is to be able to control the car as you’re rocketing around hillocks. I know that you’re thinking: what about lines and other cars and laws and stuff! But they’re just details. Once you can control the car, other cars won’t rock you. Nor will bumps, debris in the road, aliens, or Michael Bay movies.

10. Have fun, but always respect other drivers’ safety first. They didn’t get into their cars today just so that you could ruin their day or life. And remember that driving is so much like coloring. In the beginning, it really works best if you stay between the lines.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

No, I Am Here. I HAVE Been Here

And by here, I mean on the Internet.

I know it might seem like the blog has been a bit dark lately, but it is not because I am not on the Internet. I'm working on a secret project, WhitePantsNovel, that I'll be able to tell you about soon, but it's been eating my large blocks of time*. So I've been snatching little posts here and there instead of full blog posts. In particular, a lot of my off-the-cuff stuff is over on Tumblr these days: http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/.

And I'm also on Twitter and Facebook.

I TOTALLY AM HERE.

*I cannot wait to tell you about this. Cannot. Wait.

Oh, while I have you, though, here is a brief run down of things:

- The Raven Boys audiobook is available for free, no-strings-attached download from SYNC for one week beginning on June 13th.

- I am giving away an advanced review copy of The Dream Thieves on my Tumblr. It's an art contest. Details here.

- My critique partner, Tessa Gratton, has a very excellent novel coming out on the 25th, called The Lost Sun. It's set in an alternative U.S. where Norse religion is the norm, and it's great.

- I will be at LeakyCon in Portland at the end of this month.

Monday, June 3, 2013

I Sneak Into Your Brain And Make You Think My Thoughts

As I was driving two days ago, I had the most piercing and true realization that has ever been had about humans and American society. It was a dazzling thought-culmination of all of the thoughts I had had up to that point in my life. I had to reorganize everything in my mind to fall into line with this epiphany.*

*and I'm not going to tell you

Right after I had this flash of insight, I immediately had another one: that none of my characters could have an insight that I hadn't already had myself. Dazzled and revolted by this appearance of writerly limitation, I had three more realizations before I got back to my driveway:

1. I can't ever write a character who's more clever than I am!

2. I can't ever write a character who's funnier than I am!

3. I was supposed to be buying paper towels!

I know this is a bit of an oversimplification. On the surface, it also seems inherently at odds with my certainty that a good author doesn't only write characters who are versions of themselves. I still think that's true. I can take the most basic emotions — anger, jealousy, happiness, etc. — and use my experience of them to create infinite permutations and exaggerations and variations of those emotions. A never-ending cauldron of characters, right there. But unlike emotion*, humor and intelligence are not inherent in everyone.

And I really do think that being funny or smart are two of the very few things that you can't just extrapolate from other experiences. I can write a fearless character even if I am not fearless, for instance, or a fearful character, even if I am not fearful. But I cannot invent humorous situations if I don't have a sense of humor. And I cannot write an internal, brilliant philosophical observation for a character if I have not had it for myself.

*barring sociopaths

I suppose one could simply copy a joke into a character's dialog to make them funny. Research a subject and blast facts out on the page for a smart character. Or just have everyone around them laugh at their jokes and be awed by their cleverness. And fake it the rest of the time. But as a reader, I despise being told a character is funny or smart when clearly they are neither.

I'm a massive proponent of indirect characterization. A reader can experience characters and settings in a novel in two ways: she can know them, and she can feel them. Knowing is technically all a reader needs in order to get the meat of a story. In the simplest sort of story, a fairy tale or fable, that's all there is. But feeling is what gets a story into your bones. It is how you infect a reader with your world.

Should we do a for instance? Let's do a for instance.

For instance, in The Dream Thieves, I could have written:

Niall Lynch had three sons. The oldest, Declan, was a political creature, slimy and disingenuous. The youngest, Matthew, was incredibly delightful and everyone liked him without any effort on his part. And the sarcastic middle son, Ronan, was always belligerent. Their father was far more of an influence on all of them than their mother.

The reader would know everything I needed them to know about this family. It would be a perfectly fine basis for a story, I suppose. But I don't think it would get under anyone's skin. For that, I must be indirect. This is where that silly adage "Show, don't tell" comes from. Really what it means is that you do everything you possibly can to make the reader understand the truth of the situation before you spell it out for them.

Here is how I actually wrote that paragraph about the three Lynch siblings:


excerpt

Here's a grand article Cheryl Klein wrote about Harry Potter a few years ago. In it, she points out that Rowling did tell you how a character felt, but only after she showed it to you first. So the telling served as a thesis statement, a topic sentence. Quite cleverly, she made sure that the reader both knew and felt the facts.

So: about characters being cleverer and funnier than the writer. Possibly one could get around this by direct telling. But I think that you'd rob yourself of emotional resonance if you did. Is the trade off worth it? Maybe. Are the writers of Sherlock as clever as him? Maybe I'm just not a good enough writer yet to think of a solution to this problem. Maybe it isn't even really a problem, because there are millions of character possibilities within my current mediocre level of brain power and humor.

I still need paper towels. Maybe I should go for a drive and think about all this some more.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Deadlines and the Working Girl

I'm writing this post under the assumption that my editor doesn't read my blog. He works hard, and he likes me, and I'd hate to do anything to possibly damage that relationship. But as he doesn't read my blog, I'll tell you guys: I'll do pretty much anything to keep from meeting my deadlines.

Deadlines, deadlines. For any given novel, there are usually deadlines for the rough draft, the first edit, the final edit, the copyedit, the first page proofs, and the final page proofs. I tend to write two books a year, so double that. I also do the book trailers for my books, so that means there is a deadline for writing the song for the trailer and a deadline for getting the animation done. There are also various interviews and article type things that come up throughout the year. They come with deadlines too. Baby deadlines, though. Infantile deadlines. Nascent deadlines. When I trample over them, I don't even feel them stick on the bottom of my boot.

I have devised all sorts of ways to avoid making a deadline. My most traditional method of missing one deadline is to work on another legitimate project. Yesterday, someone asked me on Facebook:

"I'm curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create...can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku"

I spend ninety percent of my work day working on things that have absolutely nothing to do with the most pressing deadline. For an example, here is a photograph of my desk as of this morning:


My desk is just . . .

I know what you're thinking. You are thinking: This is a girl who is Gets Things Done.

However, as sad as I am to disabuse you of this belief, I must report that absolutely nothing on that desk pertains to my most pressing deadline, the edits for Spirit Animals 2. Everything the light touches, Simba, are things that avoid my current deadline. From left to right:

a keyboard I killed by spilling a glass of water on it
The hair dryer I used to try to revive the dead keyboard and then on a piece of plastic to see if it would melt in a cool way.
A roll of scotch tape because I need scotch tape for . . . something.
A single corncob handle because I was making a birthday cake for Lover and needed only one.  
A copy of Forever, which I was reading because . . . because.  
A copy of The Rook which I was reading because it was delightful.  
An advanced review copy of The Dream Thieves because I need to open it every so often to admire my own animal cunning.
A video camera to record buzzards circling over my front yard because . . . because.
Some of my colored pencils, which I organize according to color and value whenever I feel like I'm in danger of meeting a deadline.  
Turpenoid, paint brush, pencil, and sketches for the Dream Thieves book trailer, which is not due until August which makes it more urgent than my Monday deadline.

Dream Thieves sketches 

the remains of cookies, milk, pecans, and a honey sandwich.  
A washcloth to mop up various spilled drinks and any tears from visitors sad about my missed deadlines.

I know it's pathological, but the more urgent something is, the more I want to do anything else. Is it work avoidance if you will do work to avoid doing work?

Because I've been like this since well before college, one would think I would have found a way to short-circuit my bad habits by now. And, you know, it's not like I don't try. Last week, I had a studio appointment to lay down the track for The Dream Thieves audiobook and trailer. The day before, I decided I despised the song I had written and threw it all away. As I had only twelve hours before studio-time, I knew I should spend my evening writing a new song.

But all I could think about was how I was going to drive my car two hours to the studio the next morning. And it was dirty. Covered with pollen. Very, very unsexy.

I had two choices. Write the song for the recording in twelve hours. Wash my car so that it looked sexier for the drive.

It's sexy enough, I told myself firmly. No one but you cares. It's not important. What is important is this song. You have a very little time to write a song that will be heard my thousands. You need to focus on your priorities. You — 

  Procrastination

OH the things I do to avoid deadlines. The more aware I am of the problem, the more devious and desperate to miss them I seem to become. As the dates press in more urgently, I watch four episodes of Sherlock in a row. I google all of the bands in my music library. I draw pictures of my author friends' characters. I make increasingly complicated food items, culminating in Indian feasts of curry, naan bread, hummus and rice finished with shaved apple muffins with cream cheese frosting. I clean the espresso machine, although I have resorted to popping caffeine pills and no longer remember where I put my coffee beans. I take energetic naps. I cultivate lethargic street races. I alphabetize my book collection. I write screenplays for movies that having nothing to do with anything but vintage arcade games. I take up rally driving. I walk the goats. I bounce on a yoga ball while listening to songs iTunes says I will like. I design fake covers and real covers and title books that I will write some day but not this day. Once, memorably, I broke up a wedding rather than meeting a deadline.

The problem with me is that I get bored very easily. The thing that seems interesting and excellent for distracting me from deadlines this week often won't work the next. Once I've done something, what's the point of doing it again? It means I must devise new and tricky ways of keeping myself entertained. For instance, I took up a new, obscure musical instrument and signed up for lessons from a teacher three hours away, but I must be careful to take a different route to the teacher every time I go because I know that otherwise I will get bored. I had to give up rallying because I could not convince myself that it was entertaining enough to break cars and go sideways when there were so many rules that made you always break them and go sideways the same way each time. What a trial it is to be unable to sit still and work quietly on things. What a trial it is to not sit still. What a . . .

I'm lying. I cannot imagine anything less entertaining that sitting still.

I reckon you are wondering how I ever get my books done. Eventually, I run out of things that are not my book, and I run out of time, and in that crushing moment of time constraint and personal crisis, I write them. It is not really that I don't work on them during the rest of the time. I do pick and tap and work at them. It's just that I can't really finish them without that moment of intense fire. I've written 30,000 words in a night, so long as it is the night before my deadline. I really do have work ethic, I swear, it's just that I have put pieces of it in so many different horcuxes that sometimes it's hard to prioritize them properly.

So, this question: "I'm curious how you spend your days, you seem to get so much done! Write, draw, write, read, create...can you give us a glimpse into a typical day for Miss Maggie? Plz n thnku"

I guess what I'm saying that there isn't a typical day. I know what I should reply. I should say, "I work for 8 hours on my current deadline and then I frolic for the remainder of the time."

But since my editor doesn't read my blog, I can tell you guys the truth, right?

 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

This Post Has Proof I Can Actually Be Delightful

And control my swearing, mayhem, and general whatever-it-is-that-makes-booming-sounds.

This weekend, Lover and I got into a giant fight because I told him I wanted to give his father a taxidermy possum for his birthday/ retirement party.

ME: What else do you get the man who has everything?

LOVER: *extremely heavy look* Would you like to be given a stuffed possum?

ME: I'd put it in the game room.

LOVER: Dad doesn't have a game room.

ME: The foyer, then.

Things grew more heated then, as discussions over in-laws and parties and aging often do, and finally I said:

ME: I was joking! Did you really think I would give him a stuffed possum?

LOVER: You were not joking. I know you and I know your face and you were going to give my father a dead possum to celebrate his freedom from the workforce.

ME: *stares heavily*

Apparently now I have to think of something else. Lover's mother didn't care for the alpaca hand puppet I got her for Christmas, so obviously that is out as well. There is practically nothing left in the world to give away.

LOVER: You are not appropriate for most public functions.

But that is not true! I can be delightful! I can control my swearing, mayhem, and general whatever-it-is-that-makes-booming-sounds. And the proof of that is that Scholastic asked me if I would write an entry in their new middle grade series, Spirit Animals. Would they have possibly trusted me with that if they thought I couldn't be delightful? NO WAY.

Here is an actual editorial note from the manuscript, by the way. 

Editorial Note

I learned a valuable lesson from this section of editing, by the way. It turns out it's very unseemly for middle grade heroes to perform unprovoked violence, even if there are weasels in the scene. It turns out you have to work a lot harder to support a character maiming someone in middle grade.

Anyway, I'm pleased to be able to share the cover (i.e. ACTUAL EVIDENCE) of my entry in the series. It comes out early next year. The first one comes out in September. Here are people who can be trusted talking about the series. And here is the actual evidence that I can be delightful and charming and not swear. At least for 180 pages or so.

Spirit Animals 2: HUNTED Cover

Now if you excuse me. I am going to go see if I can find a chandelier made of chili pepper lights or something else equally festive and gift-like.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Terrible Writing & the Prologue of The Dream Thieves!

I used to write terrible books all the time.

I've talked about this before, my terribleness. I have even posted some of my terribleness on the internet. By the time I went to college, I had over thirty manuscripts in various stages of finishedness laying around my house and ancient computers and word processors.

Terrible manuscripts.

I wrote novels about talking dogs, missing unicorns, IRA men with hearts of gold, enchanters with hearts of gold, missing dogs, missing IRA men, kids in suburbia who were secretly kings and queens, fairies who were secretly kids in suburbia, missing kids and fairies in suburbia . . .

Terrible. They were all terrible.

But like I said. I've talked about all of this before. I wrote a lot of terrible books. Today, however, in honor of Entertainment Weekly sharing the prologue of The Dream Thieves, I am going to share with you a very particular terrible book from my teens.

The Dream Thieves.

Well, it wasn't called that, back then. It was called The Llewellyn Society. And Gansey was an old man. And Ronan was named Sean. And Noah was named Adam. But it was the same. Mostly. Sort of. Except that I wrote this version longhand. Oh, and it was terrible.



 Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books

Here are some more terrible bits that sort of stayed the same in the real version, only I made them less terrible.



Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books


Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books

IMG_0672

And a typed version from a few months later:


Old College Draft of Raven Cycle Books


And like I said. Here is the prologue of the real version, and an interview, over at Entertainment Weekly.

I hope you find it not terrible.

(And as a reminder, you can pre-order a signed and painted in version of it over at Fountain Bookstore)

(and here is what I am painting in each of them: BJxGvIeCEAAbkv-.jpg_large)

Sunday, May 12, 2013

A Letter To My Mother, With No Swearing (Just As She Prefers It)

I suppose this post could be for mothers of creative, strange children everywhere, but mostly, it’s for my mom. My original plan was to write this note for her on a piece of stationery, but then I looked around my office. Somehow it didn’t seem very meaningful to give her something jotted in Sharpie on a Scorpio Races postcard or the corner of a Shiver bookmark or on the back of a Raven Boys bookplate or in the blank part of an index card that already has fourteen plot points scribbled on it.

Then I thought, no, my blog is my finest stationery. A thank you note on Mother’s Day is nice. A thank you note on Mother’s Day that is searchable in Google results is even better.

So here it is.

Hi, Mom,

I decided to write you a note for Mother’s Day. I’m sure this seems out of character, as I normally eschew all holidays that don’t involve cake or trees. But this year I looked at the jug of fancy conditioner I had bought you for your Mother’s Day present, and I thought: one day, this conditioner will be all gone. And then you will not remember my affection for you. This fancy conditioner won’t last for a year. It’ll last for a month. Then you’ll have eleven months of wondering if your middle daughter truly appreciates you.

Conditioner is transient. And once it has passed from this world, it’s just . . . gone.

So I tried to think of something more permanent. I considered artwork and furniture and knicks and knacks. However, I know that our idea of interior design differs. You have nice prints and wreathes on the walls. I have rusty metal scissors and twisted license plates hanging on mine.

And what is more permanent than the written word? Nothing.*

*with the possible exception of Gangnam Style

Here we go.

I know I haven’t been the easiest daughter to have. I remember well that I was a small, cranky, sullen, black-hearted, violent child. I pinched my siblings and punched my classmates. I didn’t really eat food. Mostly I ate the same four or five items for weeks on end and then, just as you had stocked the house with these a backlog of these items, I would remove them vocally from my diet. I’m still sorry about that letter the school sent home in third grade. Hey, at least I knew you weren’t starving me, right?

I was not very huggable. I liked things my way. I was a bad child and a worse teen. I had a very particular plan for my life and when I became interested in something, I would obsessively pursue it to the absence of all other things. I cut off all my hair because I knew you didn’t want me to. I swore because you frowned when I did. I street raced so often and got so many speeding tickets that I came within a hair of losing my license. And at no point was I sorry. Also I wore black all the time.

I was just terrible.

But despite my terribleness, I wanted to tell you that I think you did an amazing job. Especially now that I have my own children**. I guess I took it for granted how you always had an art project or a book for me to read or a piano lesson all ready. Until I had Thing 1 and Thing 2, I didn’t realize how much time and consideration it took to prepare something like that every single afternoon. You took all of us to the library nearly every week and let us browse in the stacks for hours. As a kid, I didn’t even think about how you might have other ways you wanted to spend your Saturday. And even though you were allergic to dogs and cats, we had about a billion of them growing up. I remember thinking you were being unfair by drawing the line at rodents. No doubt you said this with the traditional tissue you kept in your pocket — for when the dander of six or seven dogs or cats finally got to you. How crushed we were! HOW ABOUT A LIZARD, MOM? A KOMODO DRAGON?

**At first, I typed “my own kids” there and then I thought . . . no, now that I have goats, that is too unspecific.

I grew up surrounded by all sorts of different art stuffs and books and scratch paper and musical instruments and I just thought that’s how everybody lived.

Man, it takes a billionty hours a week for me to pull off even a quarter of what you did with me and four other siblings. I still don’t really know how you did it. But I didn’t want you to think I didn’t notice. Maybe I didn’t at the time, but I do now. Better late than never, right?

Here’s the most important thing: you never told me I couldn’t be a writer or an artist or a composer. You always made sure I had the tools to learn how to be the best writer and artist and musician I could be. We had our bumps along the way, but really, you were there at every step making sure that I could pursue that dream. Whether it was taking me to the library or setting me up with clay or hurriedly packing my stuff into a car so I could switch to a college with a Music Composition degree two weeks before the semester began . . . and then helping me switch colleges again when I left town after my morning classes six weeks later.

At the time, I thought, of course.

Now . . . well, I would have killed me. Or at the very least sent me to a distant boarding school with padded walls.

Thanks for making me who I am, Mom.

Love, Maggie

P.S. I will bring your conditioner out next time I’m at the house. It’s just great stuff.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Inside of My Sketchbook (and by extension, my black heart)

On Facebook, I shared a warm-sketch I did this morning while brainstorming about the look I want for The Dream Thieves' animated book trailer. It is this:

IMG_4645

Someone asked me if I would give a "tour" of my sketchbook. I actually have a few laying around at any given time, but this is one of my oldest. If you want to see the contents of my black heart, you can click on the image below to see the full set.


As you can see, I used to take it with me on tour a lot, so there are a lot of doodles of people sitting in airports and restaurants. You can also sort of tell which novel I was writing at any given time, based upon the drawings. And some of them are sketches for finished drawings. For instance, the first sketch on the third row became this:

The Language Of Us

And the second sketch on the last row became this:

The Scorpio Races

My hands smell like turpenoid.



(oh, and also, on Twitter, someone asked me if I could teach them to draw. Here is my biggest piece of advice for every artist — and writer — out there: draw what you SEE, not what you know is there.)

Monday, April 22, 2013

Readers Make A Millionty Calories

Today I thought I'd post about one of the unexpected pleasures of being an author. There are certain cool things about being an author that had always I hoped for — like good reviews, delighted readers, cool covers, sweet film deals. But then there are cool things that I just never even thought to look forward to. For instance, a bunch of teens sent me video of the Shiver musical they had done at their school. Fan art and photo manips and gifs are surprisingly satisfying. People name their hamsters after my characters. Hamsters! That is no shoddy thing.

Here is another satisfying thing: readers who bake. In The Scorpio Races, there is an imaginary food called November Cakes, no longer so imaginary because I invented a recipe for them. And since I posted that recipe, readers have been baking them. There is something very weird about seeing readers eating something you invented in a novel. I suppose cookbook writers have no problem with this concept, but for me, it seems rather magical, especially as November Cakes are a bit fiddly and require a several hour commitment.

Anyway, I thought I'd ask readers to share their November Cakes photos today, in honor of my readers and The Scorpio Races paperback release. I'm going to include the recipe again at the bottom of the post, but it's also in the paperback (along with four deleted scenes that didn't appear in the final draft of the book). A huge thanks to everyone for sharing photos. And I hope I get the credits in the right order.

Click to biggerfy the photo:



from left to right

1 Feli Huber, Ruth Link, Ainsley Louise, Caroline Foxwell
2 @anonymeet, Maggie Reynolds, ___* Sarah Whisted
3 @pixie319, Arlena Lockard, @xamandaolivieri, Rach Robins, @mandymia16
4 HouseonHarrison, Jackie Woodburn, @JessieBees, @seestephwrite, Barbara Moon
5 @morganmck18, @deadtossedwaves, @foundinamuseum, @beckiejean, @jocelynelaberge
6 @rhapsodyinbooks, Rowan Krajcik, @Bay64737572
7 @clarethewriter, Angie Thompson, Kim van Prooijen, Tara Lee
8 Katherine Phillips, Alexa Barry, Hei Ke, Julia Simpson
9 Stephanie Marie Souther Bittner, Leobarda Aquilar, Amanda Breck, Ruth Hofmann
10 @emumfy, Stephanie Dick & Jessica Koegler Yeager,
11 April Wanner, @HeathBear

*I cannot believe I can't find the name for this one. I think FB ate it.

And the recipe:

november-cakes-wallpaper1

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Publishing Does Not Want to Eat Your Heart

I got a writing/ publishing question from a reader and it was something I wondered myself when I got started, so I figured I’d answer it on the blog. Here ‘tis:

I've been trying to query for one of my novels for the past few months now, and already I'm racking up on my 17th rejection. However, three of those rejections the agents took some time away from their cookie-cutter mold to say that my story was "very interesting" but "They would have to pass..."

I'm really confused by this statement because it means my work caught their attention, but it is baffling me as to why they rejected it. Do you have any helpful hints in this department? Or even any hints on how to compose a knock out first chapter that could make agents stop say 'interesting, but no...' to 'interesting and yes!'

I should start out this post by mentioning that I've already written about query letters here. So if you want to read that, I’ll wait here.

Okay, we’re all back? Grand-o. Here is the thing you need to know about traditional publishing: it does not want to eat your heart. It doesn’t even want to wither your soul to nothing.

It just doesn’t care that you exist.

I’ve always been fine with that. I don’t need Publishing to be my friend. I don’t even need Publishing to like me. As a writer, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me a career. And as a reader, I’ve just wanted Publishing to give me books I want to read.

That last sentence is going to be my thesis statement for this entire blog post, so maybe I should put it in bold.

Publishing tries to give people books they want to read.

Oh, no, I have one other thesis statement. It’s two pronged. Let’s put that one in bold, too.

Publishing is run by readers.

If you remember both these things as an aspiring writer, I reckon you’ll be okay.

Let’s go back to the response from the agents. “Very interesting” and “have to pass” are not opposites, though it might feel that way when you’re staring at a rejection letter.

Here is a list of things an agent must do if she agrees to represent a book:

-love it -keep loving it after multiple reads while editing it for the new author -love it enough to pitch it enthusiastically to very busy editors -love it when it doesn’t sell right away and sits around for six months -love it enough to argue with editors over bad cover choices/ contracts/ publicity -love it enough to pitch it to foreign publishers months after signing the author -love it enough to passionately advocate for a marketing plan for it -love it enough that 5 years later they can still nod enthusiastically when people say “you agent that author?”

(an editor’s list looks a lot like this, only with even more passionate fist-pounding at editorial meetings)

An agent must love your book enough to be willing to spend hundreds of hours on it.

Imagine when you read a novel. I imagine you’re like me: you have novels you like, novels you love for a week and then forget, and novels that you hug to your chest for months afterward. For an agent to not despise her/ his job, she needs the last one: fiery passion that means she’ll still love your manuscript in a year. Moreover, she has be pretty sure that she'll love your next unwritten project as well. Because when an agent signs a client, she doesn’t sign just one book. She signs an author.

How many books do you read in a year that you love so much that you’ll absolutely pick up the author’s next work? For me, it’s less than five. How many books on your shelf would you advocate tirelessly for? For me, it's a handful.

I know what you’re thinking. “But if the projects sell, surely that is the point of all this! WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT?

I would never go with an agent who signed me only because she thought I would sell. I want an agent who loves what I write, so she can tell me if I’m hitting the mark with my new projects. An agent who is going to pitch my novels to editors like there’s no tomorrow. An agent who advocates my case because she believes in my work, not because she’s supposed to. Contractual obligation gets the job done, I guess, but love burns hotter and longer.*

*sexy!

Moreover, Publishing, against all reason, is run on passion. Because it’s run by readers. Although the bottom line is still putting out books that will sell to as many people as possible, generally those books end up on the list because somewhere, someone in the industry was willing to stand on a chair and shout for them. And that love needs to start at the ground level. Me. Then my agent. Then my editor. Then my readers.

Back to this thing: “Very interesting” and “have to pass.” What this agent is doing is giving you a compliment. Instead of just giving you a form rejection, she or he is merely letting you know that you’re writing something promising. If I were to parse it, I reckon it means that the concept is appealing, but maybe the writing isn't there just yet. I wouldn’t sweat it. I’d take it for the affirmation it is and move on. Oh — I'd probably add that agent's name to my list to query for my next manuscript. But really, otherwise, I'd be pleased with the little head nod and I'd move on.

So how to move to “interesting and yes!”? I don't think rejections will give you insight here. I guess sometimes a pile of rejections will give you a hint — if you get four rejections that say they couldn’t connect with your main character, fix your main character. But usually they’re just too vague. Which means it is back to the old fashioned way: critique partners.

And the answer to how to write a compelling first chapter is sitting on your own shelf already. Good writers are analytical readers. Get your favorite novels off the shelf and dissect those first chapters. What pulled you in as a reader? What do they all have in common? Can you apply the broad techniques to your own manuscript?

I promise you that Publishing is actually pretty fair. A little mercenary in that it prefers novels that appeal to a wide group of readers rather than novels that appeal to only a few. But in my experience, it’s very rare that a great, commercial novel goes unnoticed during querying. As soon as I wrote something worth reading, I got published. Not a moment before (a fact for which I’m grateful, as my name would be on that first effort forever), not for lack of trying.

Publishing really doesn’t want to eat your heart. Publishing is run by readers. All they want is a good read. It’s your job to give it to them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Things Fall Down

What do you know about goats?

For most of my life, this is what I knew about goats:

1. They have square pupils.
2. They are clever.
3 They are mentioned in the following song
Oh mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy A kid’ll eat ivy too wouldn’t you?
4. They have cute little hoofie-woofies.
5. They are one of the reasons I legally changed my name when I was 16.

And I wanted one. Well, I mean, I wanted one in a vague, distant way, the way that we all want a Lamborghini or backyard yew-hedge labyrinth or a leather bikini. These wants never become a concrete objects, because when you think hard about any of them, you can’t really imagine how, say, a life-size statue of William B. Yeats and John Singer Sargent holding hands would really fit into your current lifestyle.

So years passed. Somewhere along the way, I realized that I was now a grown up, and if I wanted to eat cookie dough for breakfast, there was no one to stop me. And also that if I wanted to get goats, I could just get goats. There was only one person who had to agree.

ME: I want to get some goats.
LOVER: Yep.

Now, I don’t know how much you know about goats. But there are a lot of different sorts of goats. There are dairy goats and meat goats. There are goats with ears that stick up and goats with ears that hang down. Horned goats. Unhorned goats. Goats with long hair, goats with curly hair, goats with long and curly hair. Goats that only come in black and white. Goats that only come out of the ocean every November. There are a cornucopia of goat varieties to choose from. A cornucopia.

Last Friday, as soon as I got back from tour, I brought home two Miniature Silky Fainting goat kids.
That’s a lot of capitalized words, so allow me to break this down for you. They are Miniature. And Silky. And they Faint.

Well, they are not really Miniature. Currently, they’re the size of cats, but they’ll get knee-high. Which is small. But not miniature. When I think the word “miniature,” I think — I can put that animal in my pocket. I could store it on a shelf. I could fit 50-60 of them in the back of my car. These goats, on the other hand . . . I could probably only fit 10 of these goats in my backseat. And I’d need Lover to pack them. He’s one of those people who are good at packing cars.

And they are not yet Silky. They will be, mind you. Right now they are merely fluffy. But I saw their adult brethren at the Miniature Silky Fainting Goat farm and I have a bottle of conditioner at the ready.

Also, about the fainting. Some of you may already know about fainting goats, as they are a bit of an internet sensation. Basically, when you surprise a fainting goat, they fall over.

I did a bit of research on this to find out if it was harmful. I knew myself, you see. My dark nature would be torn between allowing my goats a long and healthy life and making my goats fall over every time company came over. Luckily for me, I found out that I didn’t have to choose. Fainting goats — myotonic goats, really — don’t actually faint. They never lose consciousness. Instead, it’s like when someone honks a horn right by your head and you seize up for a second. Myotonic goats react the same way. Only they seize up for about ten seconds. Which is enough time for them to go completely rigid and fall off a picnic table*.

*this is the voice of experience.

This is the point where this conversation always goes this way.

ME: So basically every time they get surprised or excited, they fall over.
EVERYONE: Why would evolution do such a thing?

Evolution, although she is a tempestuous mistress at best, cannot be blamed for this. Farmers intentionally bred for fainting, and not just because they knew that hundreds of years later authors would want to have them. Goats are crafty little buggers and masters of escape. Not fainting goats, however.

Let's play this out. This is what happens when a normal goat scales a fence:

GOAT: I’m escaping! I’m escaping!  
GOAT: *escapes*

This is what happens when a fainting goat scales a fence:

FAINTING GOAT: I’m escaping! I’m escaping!
FAINTING GOAT: *faints*

Because, as I noted, excitement can also make them faint. There’s also some theories that fainting goats were kept among sheep so that when wolves appeared the goats would look up and say OMFG WOLVES where F stands for Faint, and then the sheep would get away while the goat remained behind as lunch. But I think that’s pretty unlikely, seeing them in action. Because it’s really not Peril that makes them faint. It’s Shock. So unless the wolf is rappelling suddenly from a helicopter, the goats will probably just be able to run away like any other normal snack-food-species.

Oh, I almost forgot. My favorite part of my research? I discovered that older fainting goats will learn that they faint in shocking circumstances. So when they feel they’re in a stressful situation: they will lean on something. They become Miniature Silky Fainting Self-Aware Goats.

I mean, it’s like they invented these animals for me or something.

I guess you want pictures? Here are pictures. This is General (the all white one) and Specific (the slightly more adorable one). They love to huggle and follow us around and they also have cute little hoofie-woofies.

 Specific

Specific, Thing 2, Kristofferson

Lover and Miniature Silky Fainting Goat

Here is also a video of Specific chewing.

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