Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Cagey is Almost Done

I am very pleased to report that my caginess about MagicalNovel is nearly done. Scholastic has given me the okay to reveal the details of my next project this Thursday. That is barely any time away from now! That is practically now!

But I'm still impatient.

So I shall tell you things that MagicalNovel is not. It is not the sequel to LAMENT & BALLAD. That's REQUIEM (briefly known on Twitter as WinterNovel), and I'm working on it on the weekends and it will eventually appear. It is not a sequel to THE SCORPIO RACES or FOREVER (these things will not happen).

And I shall tell you something that it is: namely, a project I've been cooking ever since I was 19 or 20, back when I was not a good enough writer to pull it off, an origin story that might sound similar to THE SCORPIO RACES'. What can I say? I wrote lots of crappy novels with good ideas back then. I have in fact been carrying around a hand-written draft of this manuscript through four moves, written in a journal which pretty much begged for something like MagicalNovel to be scrawled in it.

Exterior of MagicalNovel

Now, MagicalNovel doesn't resemble that old manuscript very much, but the central conflict and most of the main characters' names are unchanged. Even back then it was the most ambitious thing I'd ever tackled, and even using everything I learned so far, it is possibly the hardest novel I have ever written, a fact I hope will not be obvious on the pages.

Inside of Old Draft of MagicalNovel

So, guesses? Closest to the actual novel will get a prize that I haven't thought of yet. Something prizey.

Monday, January 23, 2012

From Rough to Final: TEN Dissections

So, do you remember the last time I blogged? Like, two hours ago? This blog post was originally scheduled to be that blog post, because I hadn't planned on winning a Printz Honor or Odyssey Honor today. Anyway, I did, and I posted about them first, but now that that little life-paradigm-changing news is out of the way, I can talk about a group effort that I'm really pleased about.

This is going to be a writing post.

I'm a hands-on learner, one of those people who would prefer to be told "recreate x" without a strict set of directions on how to get there. So when I posted my dissection of a rough chapter from THE SCORPIO RACES, with a description of why I changed the things I did, I was doing it because it would've helped starting-out-writer-Maggie in a way that theory never seemed to. For me, it was all right to be told how to do something. But it was even better to see someone at work at that something. If they would describe what they were doing at the same time, even better, but really, the most important thing was the work in progress. It's why when I taught my colored pencil classes, I used to do the same thing:

Moose in Progress

The reaction to my chapter dissection suggested that I wasn't alone in my learning style, and a few commenters wished that other authors might do something similar. I shot out some feelers and I'm pleased to tell you, some other authors are doing just that. Below is a list of dissection blog posts by ten other authors. I hope this helps show just how many different ways there are to get from A to B, and also gives everybody ideas on which way might be right for them. And thanks to the readers who prodded me in this direction. Without further ado, the blog posts:

  • Kimberly Derting writes about THE PLEDGE, developing real characters, and debating swearing and no-swearing.

  • Jaclyn Dolamore writes about MAGIC UNDER GLASS and pacing issues, struggling with descriptive versus info-dump, and the cutting of entire human beings from drafts.

  • Sonia Gessler writes about THE REVENANT and how to flesh out a moment using knowledge gained through multiple drafts. Fascinating stuff for those of you who tend to end up with really short drafts and aren't sure what you're missing (as I was when I first started out).

  • Dawn Metcalf writes about LUMINOUS and the process of finding out the difference between what the reader needs to see in order to know what's going on versus what you need to write to find out for yourself what's going on.

  • Saundra Mitchell writes about THE VESPERTINE and how drastically pacing can and should change, especially in crucial early chapters. Bonus round: examination on how to balance period language in your novel.

  • Jenny Moss writes about SHADOW and, like Sonia, talks about how you can take a very spare manuscript and turn it from a skeleton into a creature with flesh and facial features. Moreover, looks at the timeline for writing a novel, and just how long a quick draft can really take.

  • Jon Skovron writes about MISFIT and a very satisfyingly changed final draft — lots of red Xs and vanishing prose in this one, people. Though my Scorpio dissection made me look like a very tidy reviser, my process with MagicalNovel and Shiver looked a lot more like Jon's process with Misfit.

  • Kiersten White writes about PARANORMALCY and her line-by-line attack on her draft. To me, it feels very familiar — definitely similar to the thought process I undertook when cleaning up Scorpio.

  • Brenna Yovanoff writes about THE SPACE BETWEEN and her extremely skeletal first drafts. Brenna's one of my two critique partners and I've always been stunned and delighted and afraid of her first drafts — they are alien things of terror, full of non-words. I'm wishing she would've shown one of her more terrifying pages (they are full of place holder thingies) but you probably will learn more frm the one she picked.

  • Margo Lanagan writes about THE BRIDES OF ROLLROCK ISLAND. I very much enjoy Margo's precise language and in her dissection of her latest selkie novel, I can see where it comes from. Click on the images below to see them larger.

    Lanagan, first draft Rough Draft

    Lanagan, as novella As Novella

    Lanagan, final Final Draft

    Margo's Comments:
    Lanagan Comments 1Lanagan Comments 2Lanagan Comments 3Lanagan Comments 4

Okay. So now what is going to happen is I am going to go make the world's largest batch of chocolate chip cookie dough because I just don't see how I can process the events of this week without it. Tomorrow I'm flying out to work on my anthology with Brenna Yovanoff and Tessa Gratton and I'm afraid they're going to have to bear the brunt of my demented grinning.

How Caller ID Nearly Prevented A Very Nice Sunday (Twice)

I'm trying to figure out how to write this blog post. It wasn't the post I'd thought I'd be writing this morning — I actually have another major writing blog post that's going to go up later this afternoon, a collaborative thing with a bunch of awesome authors — and I reckon if I'd known how today was going to go when I was scheduling it, I would've done things differently.

Because today was the day of the ALA Youth Media Awards. You know, that fancy day when they announce the winner of the Newbery (for excellent children's books for 14 and under), the Caldecott (excellent illustrated children's books), and the Printz (excellent young adult books). I was keeping my eye on them for no other reason than the Alex Award winners would also be announced at the same time, and I generally make it a point to read and love all of the Alex Award winners.

But yesterday while I was vacuuming my house for company, my cell phone rang. I didn't recognize the number and I am hateful of telephones, so I nearly didn't pick it up, but then I thought: perhaps it is one of my author people's cellphone.

ME: Hello?
THEM: *garblesmackgarble*
ME: I can't quite —
THEM: *garblesmackErinfromgarblePrintzsmack*
ME: (thinking, this is a bad connection, truly, I thought they said Printz committee there!)

I then rambled incoherently in their ear about how I couldn't really hear them and moved into my piano room as if that would make the connection better (it did not) and then out of shame and regret that I couldn't hear the Printz committee when they were clearly trying very hard to be heard by me, I lied and told them I could understand them perfectly. So I'll relay the rest of the conversation to you, but in order to understand it, you have to imagine their voice with an octopus' accent. You know, watery.

THEM: We're calling to tell you that THE SCORPIO RACES has been awarded a Printz honor!
ME: . . . of course you are.
THEM: . . .
ME: I'm going to pass out now.
At that point the phone connection failed. I debated for a moment if it was unprofessional to call THE PRINTZ COMMITTEE back as they probably had extremely important things to do and had, after all, conveyed their message to me. However, I was struck by the knowledge that if I didn't call them back, they might believe that I had fallen down and struck my head on my piano and then decide to give my Honor to a more physically able candidate.

ME: *dials* Hi. I didn't pass out.
THEM: We thought we'd lost you!

I can't remember what happened then. I think I said "thank you" approximately 17 times, and then they told me I couldn't tell anyone anything until Monday, and then they left me in the silence of my unplayed piano room to stare at my phone.

And as if that wasn't enough, I had to pick up another call from an unrecognized number yesterday, which turned out to be the producer of my audio books, letting me know that The Scorpio Races had won an Odyssey Honor, which is the ALA award for excellence in audio books. You see? I TOLD YOU I loved my narrators.

I still haven't really processed it, though I watched the ALA webcast of the awards and my legs got all noodly when they said my name and saw the medal on my book. I mean, my book. With a medal. So many of the books I grew up loving bore one of these three medals — Printz, Caldecott, Newbery — and now I have one too.

Saying it that way makes me a little breathless, so maybe I am starting to internalize it. Maybe.

I should tell you, too, that by way of celebration, I went immediately to Fountain Bookstore's website and ordered all of the Alex Award winners that I didn't already own.

What a fine, fine day.


Thursday, January 19, 2012

My Top 15 Music Recommendations for 2011

Pretty much everyone who knows me knows I have a music problem. They might not know the full scale of it, but they know it's there. Well, it's time for me to try to rub that problem off on you with my 2011 favorites. iTunes informs me I purchased 583 tracks in 2011, and a bit of simple math tells me the top five songs with the most plays have been listened to forty seven hours total. That means for my top five songs (all used while writing MagicalNovel), I listened to them for two entire days of my life. I'm not sure how I feel about that.

Anyway, this list will be skewed toward the pop/ rock that I bought rather than the folk/ Celtic/ soundtrack that I bought, just because I realize that the latter has a more narrow listenership. But I can be bullied into talking about those too, and many of them will come out when I post the playlist for MagicalNovel (which I can talk about and reveal a cover for, turns out, in just a few weeks). Without further ado, here are my top four albums for 2011.

**actually, further ado: musicians, like authors, are able to do this crazy thing for a living because of legal purchases of their intellectual property. If you love a track, please buy it legally from iTunes, Amazon, or your local music peddler.**

1 - Death Cab for Cutie - Codes and Keys
Full disclosure: I'm a huge Death Cab fan. Their album Plans has always been my favorite, and I was hoping for something even remotely similar. Well, I think this album might beat out Plans for me. The album is one of those rare and lovely things: a bunch of songs that work perfectly by themselves but have even more impact when played together. "Monday Morning" is one of my favorites.

2 - Zoe Keating - Into the Trees

I'm not sure MagicalNovel could have been written without this album. If you are a cello fan, you'll adore Zoe Keatings's latest, which is her cello recorded over itself many times over. It's haunting. (And if that's not enough to spur you to listen, she worked with Imogen Heap). This song - "Escape Artist" - is one of my favorites off the album.

3 - Boy & Bear - Moonfire

An Australian newcomer for me. I got this recommendation while on tour. Basically, this is what I wanted Fleet Foxes' latest album to sound like. "Feeding Line" is the catchiest single off it, but my actual favorite is "Lordy May."

4 - Florence & the Machine - Ceremonials

More disclosure: I really liked Florence & the Machine's last album. A lot. It's one of those albums that is grand for putting on and then cleaning your entire house (which I'm not sure was my editor's intention when he sent it to me). I didn't have my breath held for this album, but . . . wow. Great from beginning to end. My favorite track off the album is "What the Water Gave Me" but if you are a fan of Maxfield Parrish or the 1920s, check out her fantastic video for "Shake it Out."

5 - Ramona Falls - Intuit
I'm sneaking this one on there, because it wasn't released in 2011 — that's just when I discovered it. I'm not sure if I would've been sucked in without their weird and distressing music video for "I Say Fever," but I did, and the rest is iPod history. Ah! Listening to it makes me think of MagicalNovel!

And here are my top 10 favorite singles.
1 - Coldplay - “Major Minus
Didn't love the album, but love a few of the tracks.
I like it because: it moves.

2 - Gotye - “Someone That I Used to Know
Another Australian recommended to me by a book blogger.
I like it because: it reminds me nostalgically of the Australian rock from the 80s/90s.

3 - Switchfoot - “The War Inside
True confession: Switchfoot is the very lightest of the hard stuff in my album. Much of my musical taste runs to the "my mother would not bear it" variety. But it's got to be catchy.
I like it because: it saved my bacon on MagicalNovel. Also, it makes me want to jump on cars.

4 - Adele - “Rolling in the Deep
More true confessions: Adele is not normally my kind of music. But I saw the video for this in France (wow, I sound worldly!) and the tune is just . . . infectious. I like every version of it.
I like it because: It sounds like anticipation.

5 - Imogen Heap - “Lifeline
Imogen Heap is doing a cool thing where she releases singles every few weeks instead of releasing an entire album. I highly encourage you to check out her website if you like her style. So far, this is my favorite of her new tracks.

6 - City & Colour - “Little Hell
Just because I'm not working on the Shiver trilogy any more doesn't mean I have lost my insatiable desire for bittersweet/ miserably sad musical tracks.
I like it because: it is bittersweet/ miserably sad.

7 - The Civil Wars - “Barton Hollow
A recommendation from my friend Natalie, one of those people who says "I have a song for you" and I rush to buy it without thinking, because our tastes are so similar.
I like it because: it sounds like my '73 Camaro. Or kudzu.

8 - Foster the People - “Pumped Up Kicks
This song has gotten so much radio play, I'm not certain it needs me to say anything. But in case you haven't heard this, here it is. Catchy and summery and as an artist, I appreciate that it's about something difficult that the band was trying to process.
I like it because: It's summer.

9/10 - Lost Lander - “Cold Feet” & “Afraid of Summer
This band gets bonus points because they are so new that you get to be the cool person for knowing they exist. At least for a few months. If you love The Shins, I reckon you'll love them too.
I like it because: This is the radio sounds when it plays in my dreams.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Five Things About THE LOCK ARTIST

Wow, am I ever on a reading roll. Considering I normally adore fewer than ten novels in a year (about one in six or seven of the books that I read), it seems impossible that I should find another novel I adore so soon after reading Where Things Come Back. But I adored The Lock Artist. Those of you who read my review of Where Things Come Back will remember that I was longing for a book about guns and helicopters and magic, but found Things instead. Turns out that The Lock Artist was the book I was looking for then. Well, if you substitute “safes” for “magic.”

Basically, it’s about a teen with a dangerous talent: picking locks and cracking safes. He gets tangled up with some dangerous people and dangerous things happen. Did you catch that? It is danger x 3.

Here, without further ado, are five more things about the book.

1. Even though it is a thriller/ mystery/ action-adventure, it’s very character-driven. Our main character (the thrillingly named “Mike”) has been silent since the age of eight, when Something Terrible Happened to Him. And by silent, I mean Quiet As The Dead And Not Like a Zombie Novel But Like a Novel Where the Dead Really Don’t Make Noise Because They Actually Are Dead. And by Something Terrible, I mean Something I Thought I Had Guessed Because I Have Read A Million Books But Actually No It Was Not That It Was Worse. Mike doesn’t speak. At all. It’s remarkable to watch how Hamilton manages this narrator who can only tell stories in his head.

2. The pacing. There is something magical going on with the pacing in this novel, and I need to go back and take it apart slowly and methodically to figure out exactly how Hamilton did it. It’s a page turner, but . . . not like that. Ordinarily I’m quiet bored by action sequences. Right, gun, sure, kick, yep, punch, okay, blood . . . are we done here? I want to get back to the plot, and action scenes are often like sex scenes — they are just hanging there, an exclamation point on the end of a sentence that we’ve already read. But, somehow, not with this novel. I HAD to keep turning the pages, yes, but not because of the action. It was because every page left me with a question, and I had to turn the page if I ever wanted to find out the answer. It meant that instead of my usual racing through an action novel, flipping pages faster and faster, I was reading with the same care and urgency at the end as I was at the beginning. I don’t know how to describe it any better than that.

2(b). The prose. This really is sort of in line with the pacing. When I first began reading the novel, I thought, man, this prose is so — easy. It just says what it says. Well, okay, whatever. I’ll just read a few more pages. And then, the next thing I knew, four hours had gone by and I’d finished the novel and I was hugging my Nook to my chest. The prose became utterly invisible. Like a very good thief, it got in, did its job, and got out, without leaving any trace of itself. I can appreciate just how hard it is to write a book that reads so easily. Well done, Hamilton.

3. Girl. You know these things always have a token girl. The one that makes the hero look noble and powerful and hetero. Well, this book also has a girl, but she is smart and unique and felt like a person. There was no thumping of chests and conquests. There was just a really wonderful and slightly uncomfortable teen romance. With comic book, menial labor, and lock picking overtones.

4. The annoying thing about thrillers is that they so rarely pay off. They’re, well, thrilling, and then you get to the end and go, yup. Well, that happened. Next? Possibly the best thing about this book is that the second half of it is as strong as the first, if not stronger, and there is one of the most psychologically horrific scenes that I’ve read in awhile in the second half. It might have something to do with the Terrible Thing That Happened to Mike. Hamilton proceeds briskly from this Terrible Scene into the denouement, which is tense and satisfying and exactly the way I wanted the book to end. That pretty much makes this book the perfect thriller in my eyes.

5. I am not the only person who has adored this book. It is an Edgar winner (that’s a prestigious award for mystery, for you muggles out there) and it’s also an Alex Award winner, which is how I found it. The ALA Alex Award recognize adult books with high appeal to teen readers, and I tend to love their choices. If you compare the list of Alex winners over the years with my five-star-books on Goodreads, you’ll see considerable overlap. Because it’s an adult book, not a YA, I should mention that there are f-bombs and violence and all that jazz. More Guy Ritchie than Tarantino, though, for the most part.

I have now managed to write a novel about this novel. If you’re looking for a book about guns and helicopters and safes, go pick it up. Or even if you’re looking for a book about guns and helicopters and magic. Because it’ll still make you happy.

Monday, January 9, 2012


1. So. Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley takes place in Lily, Arkansas, but it could take place in Nowhere, Virginia, as well, a place I am well acquainted with. It takes place in a small town the same way that my life took place in a small town — not in a surface way, not in a Hollywood way, but in a way that touches every bit of your life. Not good or bad, really, just . . . grit and dust and gross gas stations and lots of church. I appreciate that it feels effortlessly real, not like Whaley is trying to convince me that it’s real. It just is what it is.

2. This book is about a guy sighting an extinct species of woodpecker in Lily, Arkansas. Actually, it’s not. That is there, but it’s subtext and it’s delightful. The reappearance of the Lazarus woodpecker stands for everything that Lily, Arkansas needs and everything that Lily, Arkansas wants. Well done, Book.

3. This book is actually about Cullen Witter and the day his brother Gabriel goes missing. I know what you’re thinking, because I was thinking it too. Whatever. I’m not normally a terrible person — okay, that’s a lie, I am a terrible, jaded person — but I really didn’t care about Gabriel’s fate when I opened this book. I was not really in the mood to read a quiet book about a boy coping with his brother’s disappearance. In fact, before picking it up, I informed one of my friends that all I wanted to do was read a book about helicopters, guns, and magic and I didn’t have a book that fit that description in my house, so I guessed I’d just read this one. This book had such an uphill climb in winning my affection. Even when it made me laugh in the first two chapters, I resented it. “How dare you make me laugh, quiet book? Do you have any helicopters? Any guns? Any magic? No? THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT. Shut up!” The book did not shut up. And it turned out, I didn’t need any helicopters or guns or even any magic.

4. There are weird chapters from other people’s points of view. Again, I began my dialogue with the book. “Book, why are you telling me these things? Aren’t we supposed to be in Arkansas right now? Shouldn’t we be going home now?” I am here to promise you that those chapters not only eventually make sense, but also dovetail so delightfully with the main text that I was left saying only “well played, Book. Well played.”

5. It doesn’t really matter what this book is about. It’s a good book about a good kid and it’s a good story told remarkably well. In the last third, I thought there was no way that Whaley could really finish this in some way that I’d both believe and like, and . . . he did. So. Well played, Book. Well played.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

From Rough to Final: A Dissection of Revision

When I solicited readers' favorite blog posts for my last book contest, I didn't expect that so many readers would choose the post where I dissected my writing to show what I was doing. I promised that I would do a full chapter at one point, knowing it would take A Very Long Time to do. Well, it did take a very long time, and I'm not sure it will be helpful, but here it is. I tried to pick a chapter that showed a pretty typical amount of editing. And I tried to pick a chapter that wasn't too very spoilery. And I tried to pick a chapter that stood by itself so that people who hadn't read the book yet would have some clue of what I was trying to accomplish.

What I'm going to do is show you, first, the very first draft of Chapter 15 of The Scorpio Races. I've notated it with what I was thinking/ doing when I wrote each paragraph. If you click on the images, you'll be able to see them bigger. Then I'm going to post the final Chapter 15 of The Scorpio Races with notations of why I changed things.

I should hurry to say that this chapter is pretty typical of how I wrote this book, but your results may vary. I do a lot of my plotting and brainstorming in my head before I ever sit down to the computer, so, unlike some of my writer friends, you don't see my thought process evolving on the paper as much as you might suspect.

With that in mind and the apology that this blog post will be very very long, here is the rough draft.


Scorpio, Chapter 15, Rough Draft, 1

1. The first line, to me, is about the purpose of the scene; the mood I’m trying to set; the “mission statement” for the chapter. Edges — the first and last sentences of chapters, paragraphs, novels — are incredibly important for the work they do in the reader’s subconscious.
2. This paragraph is to set the scene. I want the reader to be able to “see” in their mind’s eye where the action is taking place for the rest of the scene. If I hold off on this information until later, the reader might set up a different image in their head and be startled when I tell them MY version of the location.
3. This paragraph looks like it’s about setting, and it is, but it’s also about Sean and what he thinks of the other people on the beach. The details he chooses to highlight emphasize how he finds them incompetent. Word choice: Privett is “beating,” not “disciplining.” Hale is selling charms, but Sean’s contempt of them is “that will not save you.” And Falk is “flapping,” barely more than an inanimate object. Sean is all about control, and everything in this paragraph shows how he views those who don’t have it.
4. For pacing, and emphasis.
5. This is about Puck, but it’s also about Sean. I wanted the reader to see what he admires in people. After his indifference to the people in the second paragraph, we now see what catches his attention.   
6. Pacing, and emphasis.
7. This is me conveying information about the subtle magic system and how it is that Sean handles the dangerous water horses. I want the reader to know that Sean’s skill is not by accident; he knows what he’s doing.
8. More of Sean’s prejudice.
9. “My beach.” By now, I want the reader to believe Sean when he claims ownership of the beach. Or if they don’t, I definitely want them to believe by the end of the chapter. This is me, too, referring to the way that he owns his water horse Corr — not in a fiscal sense, but in all the other ways that are important.
10. With so much going on, and so many characters, it’s easy to lose sight of the main players. Like a painting with a really busy background. This is me restating the piebald mare so that readers won’t forget about her.
11. Originally written so that all of the one liners were Sean’s careful control slipping.
12. I try, when I’m describing things, to make the reader FEEL what I’m feeling in the scene, rather than telling them out right. I want the reader to shiver without knowing exactly why. So instead of merely saying the wind is strong, I put myself in the moment (this is where hands-on research is so important) and remember everything that I felt. It is often the tiny details, like salt in your mouth, that will transport the reader, rather than the obvious things. Also, in this case, the things that he likens the wind to are things that DO happen on this beach (screams, drowning), so it serves as foreshadowing and making the island a character.
13. Pacing, emphasis, Sean’s lack of control.
14. Connecting Sean with the horses
15. A “murder” is the term for a flock of crows, but I liked it for the group of fractious horses. (See #12)
16. One of the things that I’m always harping on with drafts is that they need to be specific. Make it a book that can’t take place anywhere else, make so that it couldn’t happen to any other people, make it so that the plot couldn’t be told by anyone else. With this book, the specifics tend to get very horsey. I grew up with horses and rode them jumper/ dressage all through college, and one of the challenges was to convey that information and make the book feel SPECIFIC without losing non-horsey readers.
17. More of Sean’s prejudice. Although methinks he doth protest too much.

Scorpio, Chapter 15, Rough Draft, 2

18. Sean’s connection with the horses; his respect but lack of fear for them.
19. Sean’s connection with the island (notice the echo with the paragraph before).
20. One of my favorite lines. One of those that I knew I’d do absolutely terrible things in the course of revision to preserve it if I had to.
21. More horsey information to make it specific, and also more of Sean’s attention on Puck. I need the reader to believe that he is intrigued by her despite his disinterest in most people that can be classified as, well, humans.
22. With a taciturn character, I like to have another character make an observation about his/ her behavior that they wouldn’t notice of themselves. In this case, Sean is totally checking Puck out.
23. More subtle magic. What works/ what doesn’t. Emphasize the piebald again.
24. Thank YOU, Gorry, for getting that information to Sean in a non-info-dumpy way.
25. Remind the reader of the stakes.
26. Although the piebald may be beautiful, Sean will never see it. He sees only pain and death when he sees her, and the descriptions show that.
27. Earlier, Sean had warned buyers off the piebald. This line serves as a follow-up to prove that Sean’s opinion is taken seriously on HIS beach.
28. Building foreboding and urgency — the reader needs to start feeling a creep on their skin. Something is about to happen here.
29. Stakes, again, and a promise of what will happen in the climax.
30. This is worldbuilding, actually, that Sean refers to Blackwell by first and last name. It’s a part of the way Thisby speaks —who your parents are and their parents were is just as important as who YOU are.
31. Admiration from Sean and a hint to the reader: this person might be a player, later.
32. Gorry’s off-handed joke shows how everyday the danger is on the beach; he’s inured.
33. When writing action in first person, it always has to be seen through the “camera” of your narrator’s eyes.
34. Further reinforcement of Sean’s position on the beach. If you don’t believe that he’s earned the right to call it “his” beach by now, I’m in trouble as an author.
35. Pacing, stakes, emphasis.

Scorpio, Chapter 15, Rough Draft, 3
36. When I get right into an action bit, the pretty language and description disappears. I need to keep the reader reading at the same speed as the action, which is fast. Sean doesn’t have time to notice much, and neither does the reader. Anything he does notice needs to be tied tightly to his personality.
37. Such as this. Sean loves the water horses, even at their most dangerous. Even as he’s trying to kill this girl, Sean sees him as beautiful.
38. The magic we mentioned early, slowly coming into shape. There’s no reason to info-dump.
39. Specifics, specifics. How is a water horse dying from any other horse dying? What are the little details that would stand out in the heat of the moment?
40. So often during a frenzied moment, I will notice one strange, unrelated thing, and that will become my memory for that scene forever after. I try to make the action FEEL as much like a real action scene as possible.
41. This sentence is from the original short story that I wrote about Sean and the water horses.
42. Pacing, pacing. Coming back up for air, I’m trying to recall for the reader that sense of flashing images as the world slows back down again.
43. Edges. The whole chapter was about a girl on the beach, and this book ends it.
44. Just in case you were wondering what my thrilling outlining process looked like while I was writing a rough draft.

The Scorpio Races, Final, 1
1. Originally, this sentence was merely “It was the second day of training, and the first day it wasn’t a game.” Edited to expand upon this and give readers a better sense of what that first week of training entailed.
2. This was originally on a line by itself, but ultimately, the one-liner asides detracted from the pacing and made the scene a little unwieldy. I could get Sean’s unease across without resorting to gimmickry.

The Scorpio Races, Final, 2

3. Sentence added to tie into the action of a previous chapter and make the scenes flow together better.
4. Edited to put the cloth on one of the mares instead of Corr, because as I’ve written along, I realize I need for Corr to react poorly to the magic and tricks of the trade. Added line about weighting the mare to the ground to foreshadow a later scene Sean has with her.
5. Edited to put the solo line in with the rest of the paragraph for pacing.  
6. Broke this paragraph into two to allow the reader to read it faster, and also to put the focus of the subject from Sean’s wariness to the mare’s fear. Deleted the last sentence in the paragraph because it’s redundant.
7. Clarifying and setting Sean’s purpose for being on the beach.
8. Tidying and compressing the relationships between the horses, Sean, and Puck into one tiny sentence, isolated to draw the reader’s attention to it.
9. Streamlining these two awkward paragraphs — mostly you’ll notice it’s the edges I’m attacking. Changed “each uisce,” the traditional Scottish name for water horses, to “capall uisce,” which is still unpronouncable but slightly more phonetic, and also Irish instead of Scottish.

The Scorpio Races, Final, 3

10. Added sentence for clarity and flow, again, by reading aloud. Deleted that one standalone sentence of Sean’s thoughts, because it was unnecessary.
11. Needed some more mood and setting in here. Removed Sean’s redundant thought at the end of this paragraph.
12. Put this on its own line for pacing, better readability.
13. Tightened this paragraph to say the same thing, but better.
14. Removed redundant sentence at end of paragraph.
15. Put in contractions. Sean was starting to sound like a geezer.

The Scorpio Races, Final, 4

16. Specifics, specifics. Changed the commotion to a very specific commotion, an image the reader can really see.
17. Changed to be truer.
18. Change it to sound better read out loud.
19. Edited to streamline.
20. Changed “sand” to “jelly” for a more specific image.
21. Edit to tie back in to earlier action. Add description of Puck so that we know Sean still, subtly, sees something to admire in her.
22. To make it more specific, less cliche.

Man, I hope this is at all helpful, because this is the world's longest blog post. If you have questions, post 'em in the comments, and I'll edit the post to reflect the answers.

Giant Stack o' Books Winner!

The random contestinator has spoken and the winner of the giant stack of books is Caitlin (http://upbeatandwhatnot.blogspot.com). A huge thanks to everyone for posting about what their favorite blog posts were!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Interview with THE SCORPIO RACES Audiobook Narrators

I'm revoltingly pleased to say that the two narrators for the audiobook edition of THE SCORPIO RACES have agreed, very kindly, to do an interview. One of the things that I love about the folks who do my audiobook is that they encourage a large amount of author participation in the final project. So, in this case, the audiobook for SCORPIO features my music and an interview with me.

Moreover, after the first round of audio auditions, I got to choose the narrators for Puck and Sean. I thought Sean, understated and repressed, would be the most difficult to cast, but out of the pool of voice talent, Steve West's voice jumped out immediately. I wanted it to be even, restrained and mature, something the reader could imagine calming water horses and embodying the island, and Steve's narration pulled all that off. Puck turned out to be more difficult. She's effusive but not bubbly, childlike but not childish, humorous but with great depth of feeling. It took three times as long to find Fiona Hardingham — someone who fit that bill and sounded good paired with Steve West's voice. Because most of all, I wanted the narrators to eventually become invisible, for the reader to forget they were listening and just be in the story.

So. Here they are to answer a few questions about audiobook narration, and at the end I've posted the sampler (that some of you have heard before) I put together so you can hear what their voices sound like in action.


MAGGIE: First of all, Steve, thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for the blog. Before I do an interview, I always like to do a bit of research online about my subject. Imagine my excitement when I googled your name and discovered that there is a Steve West who is a world champion darts player. Not only is he a world champion darts player, but apparently he wins a lot. My first question was going to be: are you him — but then I saw a photo and you are very, very clearly not him. So my new question is do you at least play darts? if you don’t play darts, what do you do to kick back when you’re not voice acting?

STEVE: Did you also know there is a Steve West Reno radio vet? Yes, that was the first choice I got years ago when I tried stevewest.com.

I do not play darts often! But I did have a game last Feb in NYC and discovered I was not half bad at it after all these years (we played as kids).

As for 'kick back time' these days, well, I keep it quite simple. I guess half the reason I moved to LA was for the sunshine and outdoor lifestyle, so often when I'm not working, I enjoy the weather, being outdoors, having bbqs and sitting on my porch. I have a great view all the way to downtown LA so I have a sofa outside on the deck and love it — sitting there with a cup of tea (my Brit side coming through) and afternoon naps are the best! Santa Barbara is also a favourite of mine for an easy getaway visit as well as San Diego. And of course in contrast I also love my trips back to London for some time with the family, friends and a bit of city life.

MAGGIE: I’m now watching some commercials you did. Some of them are in German. Some of them are not. I particularly am enjoying this one involving you holding a drill in a Mischievous Way. As someone who does loads of acting — voice, film, commercial — is there one you find the most rewarding?

STEVE: Hmmm. I don't know, each has it's own particular stress, strain and joy. Movies and commercials and TV you can hang around a-lot. VO can be intense — especially narrating in the booth for hours. Of course some jobs we do for the love and some to pay the bills!
However I do love those actors that can do a play, then a movie, then a radio play, then narrate something, then back to the theatre and continue onto whatever else comes up. So, all in all I think I'm very much a variety is the spice of life type person. Nowadays the most important thing for me is doing things that interest me and give me a sense of accomplishment when all is said and done, which I have to say is what I love about audiobooks. When you reach that final page there's a real sense of having breathed life into something, and ultimately, bringing things to life is what being an actor is all about.

MAGGIE: I can’t help but notice a sense of humor in a lot of your projects. There are parts of The Scorpio Races, in fact, that you’ve rendered laugh-out-loud funny to me (they may or may not involve George Holly). Do you hunt for ways to incorporate humor, or is something that you have to tamp down?

STEVE: It is funny you should say that because I've often been perceived as the serious type, work wise anyway. Therefore I do love to get a chance to play around with things. Whether I actively hunt out the comedy I'm not sure but I'd definitely say if I perceive it on the page I can't resist bringing it out and that can be especially enjoyable in audiobooks where you get free rein to create a character's voice and delivery and timing from scratch.

MAGGIE: You know I have to ask: were there any parts of The Scorpio Races that you found more challenging or interesting than others? (this is where I recommend that if the answer is “no,” you make something up. I will never know.)

STEVE: The biggest challenge in Scorpio was having to consider another actor (and a female one at that)[Fiona Hardingham] and the characters she had created when telling parts of the story that involved those same characters but told from my side of the book. It was actually the first time I'd ever had to do that. Previously all the other books I've done have been solo works or else the little bits read by other people had no big impact on what I was doing. It was quite a challenge at first to listen to Fiona (she came in and recorded before me) and then incorporate what she had done - accent wise, tone, feel etc. into what I then had to do and especially as Fiona's voice is fairly high and mine pretty low! The main concern was that the listener would still understand who these characters were, whether it was I or Fiona performing them. Hopefully I got it right!

MAGGIE: And finally, please, tell me, because I can’t ever seem to pull it off. Do professional voice actors not make distracting spit noises when they narrate? Is it practice? Is it genetics? Is it editing? Because I’ve had to read several times now, and every time, it sounds as if I have just eaten a pudding cup. Tricks?

STEVE: It is part genetics, part behaviour and part editing. Some people just are noisier than others - I've heard this from editors! But these pointers should help, whether you are one of the noisier bunch or the not so noisy bunch!
1) Don't smoke (that really doesn't help)
2) take sips of water whenever you feel you might be getting a bit dry
3) use a lip balm
4) warm your mouth up before doing a read so you can enunciate easily (I use my old drama school speech class exercises).
And some people like hot lemon or certain other hot drinks and sweets that clear your airways etc. I like my English breakfast tea too much for that. And finally in the end, find a good editor — you'll be amazed what they can pull off when they put on those headphones and go to town.


MAGGIE: I am revoltingly pleased to have the talented and hilarious Fiona Hardingham on the blog to answer a few questions about herself and being the voice of Puck for The Scorpio Races. Thanks, Fiona, for taking the time!

So ordinarily I google my interviewees before I write the questions so that my questions look well-informed and clever, but my days of googling you are long past. We’ve actually met, haven’t we, in Portland, on a rainy day, over giant mugs of coffee. I did pre-coffee googling then and discovered that you are not only a voice actress, but also a comedian. Comedienne? I am particularly a fan of your Russian accent. http://vimeo.com/27021089.

Talk to me. First question: your work or someone else’s? Writing or acting?

FIONA: Both. Not one or the other. Acting and writing feed my passion equally. I feel honored when I get to perform work by a talented writer. When it's my own writing and I'm either seeing it come to fruition through someone else or performing it myself for example in my one woman comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival it's a totally different feeling of course. Writing and performing an hour long show with just you on a stage and hundreds of people watching certainly adds an extra layer of pressure. One that I certainly do not shy away from. I am far more critical of my own writing/performing than of other artists' work. But there is something about writing jokes that I adore. That moment when the audience responds. The good, the bad, and the down right silent. It's fantastic when you get it right and I happily fight for that all the time when writing/performing comedy. But the tough times are fantastic learning curves.

MAGGIE: I know you liked The Scorpio Races (thanks for that!) - did you have a favorite part? Was there a part that was more challenging to read?

FIONA: My favorite part was from the beginning to the end. I simply adored the book. I am very proud to have voiced the role of Puck. Steve West did a stellar job playing Sean. The parts that were the most "challenging" were the emotional bits. I tend to get choked up pretty easily. My imagination gets ahead of itself. Even when I'm in a booth speaking into a microphone. I really get immersed in the story, for example when Gabe said he was leaving, as Puck I really felt hurt. If it I were reading the final chapter as Puck it may have taken a few takes.

MAGGIE :Describe a day in the life of a Fiona. What is it that Fiona Hardingham does with herself when she’s not doing strange voices into a microphone?

FIONA: To be honest, I am always doing strange voices whether there is a microphone or not. As well as a Voice Over Artist I am a professional Actress and Film Producer. When I am not on set or in the booth I am running around Los Angeles for Commercial, Film and Television auditions. As a Film Producer I am on my phone and in front of my computer, in constant contact with Writers, Directors, and other Producers. There is always something to do, something to read, and someone to talk to. But after all the work is put in nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment and achievement in a completed film. I love it.

MAGGIE: And I asked Steve, but I’ll ask you again. Every time I do any sort of voice work at all, I become aware that I have more spit than anyone in the human race. I’m a sort of human St. Bernard, with saliva dripping from my maw. I can tell it’s there, because I can hear it in the microphone. Is it an actor thing that professional voice actors don’t make these sounds? Genetic? Practice? Editing?

FIONA: Much like any of the arts, voice acting is a skill in which you train your instrument (in this case the voice/mouth) over time to behave as you need it to in your work. However, all voice artists make unwanted sounds at times, and that's what editing is for. Our wonderful editing team have the joy of getting rid of the odd gurgle or saliva overload. I wish me telling a story poured out of my mouth like honey but, it does not. You learn techniques that help your voice and decrease the chances of making unwanted sounds. For me, herbal tea does the trick. Certain foods I would avoid as well. Granola bars full of nuts and gooey, sticky oats really don't work in the mouth when you are trying to read a story . . . let alone a story that's being recorded. Believe me, I tried.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

In Which Maggie Tackles Questions Asked a Lot in December

I thought in this segment of Maggie-Does-Blogging, I might tackle some questions I've gotten asked a lot in the last month or so.

Will The Scorpio Races have a sequel?
No. That’s the short answer. The long answer is maybe when I’m 60 and feeling very nostalgic, I will write something called RETURN TO THISBY that won’t be as good as the original, but will please both me and lovers of Scorpio. But like I said. It’ll be in 30 years. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

I would like to talk to you about the ending of FOREVER. Will you?
No, but I will tell you that I did talk to readers about it in this chat hosted by Mundie Moms. I think it might answer your questions. http://mundiemoms.blogspot.com/2011/08/live-author-chat-with-maggie-stiefvater.html (Click on “replay” and it will show you the archived chat)

What is it with you and cliff-hanger endings?
Psh. Double psh. I have only written one cliffhanger ending in my life, and that is Linger’s. The endings to all of my other books are “open” endings, which means that not every eventuality is described in an epilogue, but the immediate conflict has been solved/ conclude. A cliff-hanger is where a new conflict is introduced right before the end. A NON ending is when the conflict the characters have been grappling the entire book is not resolved. One of these things I might possibly do again. The latter I would not dream of doing ever.

Open Ending Example: Beauty & the Beast. The immediate conflict is resolved. Do Beast and Belle get married? We don’t know. Do they have 8 children? We don’t know? Does Beast get stomach ulcers and become an accountant? WE DON’T KNOW.

Non Ending Example: End of the first Lord of the Rings movie. We begin by questing, and end by questing. Tune in next week for more!

Cliff-Hanger: The second Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Certain people who were supposed to be dead suddenly appear in the last scene of the movie, cut to credits, cue the screams from the audience.

Will you write another book in the Shiver series? Will you write a spin-off series?
Nope. That series is about hope and beginnings and the last thing I want to do is follow the remaining characters to the bitter end. Unlike The Scorpio Races, the nope will remain nope, even when I’m 60 and feeling nostalgic.

Will there be another book after LAMENT and BALLAD?
Yes. It’s called REQUIEM, it’s the last book in that series, and I’m working on it right now. Currently, the first two words of the rough draft are “Luke Dillon.”

Did you see that your book(s) was(were) in People Magazine/ New York Times/ Salon/ NPR/ Seventeen Magazine/ Los Angeles Times/ that new Stephen King miniseries with Pierce Brosnan/ on adverts in the London tube?
OMG yes. YES, I did.

When will you release another book?
I just finished editing MagicalNovel, which is secret and I can’t tell you anything about RIGHT NOW. Well, I can tell you it was a very hard book to write for reasons I can’t tell you about yet, and that it took 9 months to write a rough draft, which is crazy for me. But I will be telling you something about it, including its real title, in a few months, and it will be on shelves in the second half of 2012. It involves teens. That’s all I can say right now.

I also have a weird short story anthology called STORYBOOK that I did with my critique partners, Brenna Yovanoff & Tessa Gratton. I say weird because some of them are stories you can already find online at www.merryfates.com and weird because most of the anthology is actually us talking about our critique partner relationship and what we were thinking and learning as we wrote about each of the stories in the book. That’s coming out mid 2012, I think.

Will Shiver be a movie? What’s going on with the movie? Can I be in the movie!? Don’t make the movie! Do make the movie! Please can Chase Crawford play Cole/ Sam/ Beck/ Grace?
I get asked about the movie. A lot. A lot a lot. Its film rights were optioned shortly after it came out by Warner Brothers/ Unique Features. Optioning means that they’re looking at assembling all of the movie parts, but it’s all very tenuous and at any time it can perish. No, it does not have a release date (everything you see online to the contrary is lies and damn lies). No, it does not have a trailer (although some fans have very fine editing skills on YouTube). No, they are not casting. And no, I have no say in any of the previously mentioned things, so all of the headshots I keep getting sent? Deleted. I can’t do anything with them. I get asked a lot if there are new developments. Trust me, if there were new developments, I’d be howling them from the rooftops. And by rooftops, I mean Twitter.

Will The Scorpio Races be a movie?
Scorpio just got optioned by Warner Bros/ KatzSmith Productions and I had a great and optimistic phone call with the producers. Remember what I said about optioning above, though. It’s early stages. And even with full speed ahead, it would be YEARS before the movie comes out. Did you guys see Hugo last month? Yeah, the book it was based on came out in 2007. Twilight the book was published in 2005. Twilight the movie appeared in 2008. Books-to-movies take a long time. I swear, I promise, I declare that if I get any new news, I will shout it.

I made your November Cakes recipe. Do you want to see them?
YES. Post them on Twitter or Facebook, pretty please.

Can I use your lyrics/ words/ poems with my own music?
You can sing them all you like so long as you don’t try to sell them or mass-produce them (I realize this removes most of the fun from it). The rights to the lyrics belong to me and to Scholastic and the only versions of Summer Girl, etc., that are out there on iTunes have been approved by both of us. So, singing them in the shower = good. Singing them at your local gig = bad.

Did you send out your queries letters in bulk or one at a time to agents?
In tiny batches. Here is my blog post about queries: http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/147714.html. All of my writing posts are tagged with "how I write."

Are you Team Peeta or Team Gale?
In matters of Team Dude A versus Team Dude B, I’m usually Team Sanity. That said, I think Peeta is a better guy for Katniss, because Katniss is an ass and pairing her with another ass seems ill-advised. I say this with all fondness, as I adored Hunger Games.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Favorite Reads of 2011

Tada! Happy New Year! As always, I'm going to start the year with a list of my favorite books of 2011. Shelfari informs me that I read 59 books in 2011. At one point I thought I was going to climb back up to my old reading levels, but then I started reading loads of nonfiction for MagicalNovel research. I'm a little sad to have only read 8 five star books this year, but part of this is because a) I'm in the middle of reading two books I think WOULD have made this list if I'd finished them already and b) I am getting pickier and more crotchety in my old age. Looking for patterns in them, I can see that only one lacks a speculative element, three are set in the past, three have a pretty extensive kissy plot, and two of them I read with their Australian covers. Nearly all of them are books to savor, not books to flip the pages faster and faster. Make of that what you will. Without further ado, however, here are the books I adored and links to my reviews of them.

1) Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupi. Gritty, coastal novel set in a grim future where our protagonist scavenges broken ships for the useful bits still left on them. My review says: "Just a neat and satisfying package, all in one. Incredibly well written. Do yourself a favor and read it . . . slowly. This isn’t a book to be eaten in a night, though it could be done."

2) Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys. A fairly dire but well-written YA historical about Lithuanians relocated to Siberian labor camps during World War II. I said: "It is a side of World War II that you might not have seen before. I certainly hadn’t heard these stories of displaced Europeans, and I have to say, having been to Lithuania on tour last year, it made so much of what they said have deeper meaning. I found their fierce national pride lovely and charming when I was there; after this novel, it seems incredibly brave and honorable."

3) The Big Bad Wolf & Me, by Delphine Perret. I know, it has pictures. But they are delightful, and I have Thing 1 and Thing 2 to think about. This book is full of sly humor and I laughed as much as they did.

4) Flyaway, by Lucy Christopher. A sweet middle grade novel with some faint magical realism. A girl finds a wounded swan while her beloved father is in the hospital. I said in my review: "It is precisely what it promises you. Sometimes I want to be shocked, yes, and sometimes I want twists, and sometimes I want to read about a very unexpected body in a closet. But this book promises that it is a certain sort of book on the first page, and then it gives you exactly that. Soft and sweet."

5) Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion. Oh, how I adored this book. I found it while in a reading slump and it basically cured me for most of the year. It's a zombie book — but not like you think it is. I said: "You’ve been looking for a book where you finish it with a smile on your face, haven’t you? I know it. Well, this is it."

6) The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. Everyone in the world has read this novel about a mysterious circus that pitches its tents in the middle of the night and runs on possibly real magic, but for those who haven't, I recommend it. This is one of those books to read over a few days, not a few hours. I said: "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."

7) Anansi Boys, by Neil Gaiman. I loved this book about brothers behaving badly and magic an unreasonable amount. It is a standalone companion to Gaiman's American Gods, and I preferred it. My review, however, was terrible. An excerpt: "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."

8) The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey. I was incredibly taken by this historical fantasy about the boy assistant to a monstrumologist — a scientist of the occult who is rather like an aging and unreformed Wizard Howl. My review said: "he beginning. Also, the middle. Also, the end. There is a character twist two thirds of the way through the book that I just did not see and I literally gasped on a plane. Then I was so delighted that a book had made me gasp on a plane that I punched Lover in the shoulder and made wild hand gestures."

Near misses on the Maggie-Five-Star-Train:
Heart-Shaped Box, by Joe Hill
War Horse, by Michael Morpurgo
In the Country of the Young, by Lisa Carey
An Aran Keening, by Andrew McNeillie
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