Monday, April 30, 2012

Sushi/ Play-Doh/ Happiness

I'm aware that many exciting things have happened in my life in the last week, but for me, the most immediately exciting is the fact that I managed to pull off making avocado sushi rolls. I am very motivated by food. LOVER: There is some sort of flavor to these things that I'm not sure about, but it doesn't seem to stop me from eating them. ME: How many have you eaten? LOVER: 11. It is a sort of food that requires a preparation very similar to that of making Play-Doh snakes, and I like that. I am easily pleased.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Maggie Does Texas. And California!

I apologize for my blog radio silence. You don't have to tell me that I've been bad. The weight of my shame dogs my footsteps. That said, it's not entirely without reason. I've been on the road since the 13th (I'm now in that stage of touring where time feels imaginary, which is why I'm posting on my blog at 3 a.m. in the morning), and in lieu of any actual words left in my brain, I'll show some pictures. My first step on the tour was Houston Teen Book Con, which I attended with my fellow Scholastic authors Siobhan Vivian (The List) and Elizabeth Eulberg (Take a Bow). After an action packed day of panels back-to-back, we were supposed to rent a car and drive to Austin to meet our editor, David Levithan, and have an event there. I figured that when Scholastic meant "rent a car," they meant, rent this:

So I did. Siobhan, Elizabeth, and I blasted up the highway from Houston to Austin at nearly the speed limit sometimes and then we arrived in Austin in time for an event at Book People. You see us here with David moderating.

Then David tried to drive the Camaro back (I fought him for the keys and lost). But you can see that the Camaro took its own revenge. It's not designed for Davids. Camaros are designed for Maggies. (As you can see from this photo which is NOT from this week but rather three weeks ago when I took my real-life, non-rented, much-older Camaro to the track):

This is what happens with Davids behind the wheel:


Then it was time to drive back to Houston for TLA. I think my favorite event there was the Scholastic Breakfast. I remember when a crowd this size would've made me hide under a table.


The reason I loved this event, aside from the fantastically passionate Texas librarians, is the format. It was a Reader's Theater, which meant that the authors were assigned a role from a scene in each book, and together, we acted them out with fairly hilarious results. Some of us were thespians. Others of us were just hams. (This is Elizabeth Eulberg, me, Michael Northrop, and Augusta Scattergood).


And it was also the first event ever where I talked about The Raven Boys in public. We acted out a scene that nobody else has heard, which was fairly awesome and terrifying.


The day was closed out with the YART dinner, where all of the authors got together and milled with librarians. I don't drink, but I'm aware these photos of Siobhan, Elizabeth, and I, will not convince you of this.


Then it was on a plane to California! Siobhan and I met up with Libba Bray and Pete Hautman (winner of the LA Times Book Award!! whoo, Pete!) Our first event was at Mrs. Nelson's, a delightful indie. We did blog interviews first.


We'd admired our wall of books second.


Then we had another panel, moderated/ barely controlled by David again.

Then it was time for the LA Festival of Books. Two action-packed days of signing and panels. And lots of sunshine, which is nice. Why aren't more book things outdoors? Oh, right, because they aren't all in California. Alas. Alack.  

Anyway, that brings me to today. To 3 a.m. California time. Now I'm meeting up with fellow Printz honoree Daniel Handler and Printz winner John Corey Whaley for another three days of events in LA and San Francisco. Okay, that's a lie. David & I actually already met with Corey, and I have photos on my phone of him not enjoying sushi. But they're the sort of bad photos of contorted faces that you save for blackmail later. Or at least I do.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Remembering Diana Wynne Jones

Just a tiny bit over a year ago, my author hero Diana Wynne Jones died. I wrote a letter to her on my blog that she would never see and mourned that there would be no more Diana Wynne Jones books. Now, the blogosphere is alight with a celebration of her life, and her editor asked if I would be a part of it. I struggled to think of what I could say in addition to the letter I already wrote her, and I think the best thing is to just repost the letter and then add what I missed at the end. And please, any of you guys who also loved her — please post your experiences with her books on your blogs and twitter and Facebook so that this whole week can be one big love-fest of DWJ fans.
Dear Diana,

I found out yesterday that you'll be discontinuing the chemotherapy you'd been undergoing for your lung cancer and I realized it was time to write a letter. Past due time.

Again and again in interviews, I've listed your books and career as one of my main influences, but I never actually told you directly. So here goes. When I was a young, evil child, I read your books again and again. I'm pretty sure I stumbled on Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant first, during my years living in between the shelves of my public library. Then Archer's Goon and The Ogre Downstairs, checked out again and again. Then I hit on Fire and Hemlock, which I didn't like the first time, partially because I was too young and partially because my sister loved it, and there was no way I was going to be caught dead loving something that she loved. She must feel so vindicated now that I've finally agreed to love it.

All the while I was writing horrible books with overwrought characters and dreaming of being an author.

Then some summer I hit upon Dogsbody and I know I did other things that summer, but I don't remember any of them. Because I read Dogsbody back to back six times. I still remember laying on my bed -- on a hot, muggy, thunderstorming Virginia afternoon -- closing the last page of the book, sighing, and then flipping it back over to the front to read it again, not even getting up to stretch my legs.

And somewhere along the way, I decided, that was why I wanted to be an author. I wanted to be that author who changed someone's life. Not through deep and weight philosophical tomes, but merely by the sheer physical weight of the days spent lost in the pages and mood of the book. So much of my childhood was reading and so many of those books were yours. So even after hitting the bestseller list and getting lovely emails from around the globe, my favorite ones are still the ones that say: "I have reread Shiver or Ballad or Lament 14 times."

Thank you so much for being part of my childhood and adulthood and everything in between. I owe a debt more than any letter sent via e-mail or post could say, and I'm sorry that it took bad news for me to send it.

The other day, I pulled out Fire and Hemlock and reread it for the first time in years. And you know what I did when I got to the end? I flipped it back around and started reading it again.



I'm reading it again and thinking, what can I add to that? I don't know if I can. Maybe just additional gratitude for how her body of work and her career continues to support me as an adult. Every time I wonder what my goal is with each book that I'm writing, I think about opening a Diana Wynne Jones novel and seeing that page "also by Diana Wynne Jones" — with her list of other books. And I'd run my eyes down the list to see if I'd missed any, and I'd remember the ones that I loved particularly, and I'd feel that warm glow of knowing I had so many options of Diana-books to dive into when I was done with this one. I would like to do that, Diana. I don't know if I can pull if off like you did . . . that's a bit of a lofty goal. But if I can come close, that would be a pretty amazing life.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The First Two Chapters of The Raven Boys!

Man, I'm revoltingly excited to let you guys know that Entertainment Weekly is giving an exclusive peek at The Raven Boys -- they have the first two chapters up for you to read here.

I hope you like them. *ulcer*

I always think this moment will be less ulcertastic with each novel, but, no. No, that first moment of the book getting out there is always like that moment when the roller coaster first starts to plunge . . .

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I'm a Magician. No, Really.

I'd be able to pack faster if I didn't want people to think I was a magician.

Tomorrow morning first thing I'm headed off to the airport to begin two weeks of touring to fun places (Texas! California! Texas! California!), which means today I have to pack for two weeks of touring to fun places. There are a few difficulties associated with long term packing:

A) One never knows what the weather will be, and in 2012, one knows even less. One could pack for all possibilities, but that would not be space efficient. Tis better to gamble, gentle reader. Better to gamble.

B) One has to pack for multiple dress codes. I have simplified this process considerably by refusing to wear anything but jeans since 2008, but occasionally there are extenuating circumstances. For instance, I have to attend the LA Times Book Award reception where THE SCORPIO RACES is a finalist, knowing that if I win, I will have to stand in front of everyone. I will break my jeans-rule for that. I have a dress I can crush into the size of my eyeball that I can wear, but the shoes will be annoying. Maybe I can wear my combat boots.

C) One has to abide by TSA standards. So that means no more than 3, 3 ounce bottles of fluid in carry on, and nothing that you could poke someone's eye out before gaining control of the plane and using it to fly to Tahiti. Also one has to be able to whip their lap top out in security.

D) One has to hoard food whenever possible. Maggies are allergic to some preservatives and intolerant of others (which you might be too, to some degree)(although hopefully it doesn't make all your hair fall out and your skin slough like it does to me). So one must find room to stuff bags of cookies and possibly loaves of bread, like a hobbit or Peeta would do.

E) One must bring the office. One is always on a deadline, so the lap top and the charger and the iPod and the headphones must come along. Otherwise one's editor begins to make squinty eyes.

F) One probably has to look cool in public while carrying the stuff. It had to be said. I think it's important to counteract all the cranky, tired, deflated people I see in airports whenever possible. Which is why I usually pack in this for trips a week or less:

Every little bit helps.

And then, of course, if you are me, there is also:

G) One must convince others that one is a magician.

Basically, what I'm trying to tell you is this: every time someone says "I can't believe you got ___ weeks of travel into ___ bags," or some variant, I get an additional 10 minutes added to my life. 10 minutes might not seem like very much to you, but go eat a cookie and time yourself. Do you see how many cookies you can consume in 10 minutes? A lot. It adds up.

So it has become not only a matter of convenience but a matter of pride that nothing short of a month-long-book-tour can break me and send me packing a bag I have to check in at baggage. Everything else I will make fit into carry-on bags. Through sheer force of will.

Which means that today, packing day, becomes all about me trying to get as much of A-F into my luggage while still accomplishing G. And I use all my old techniques: packing jeans that will stand me wearing them two or three times. Packing layers instead of sweaters. Packing only what I need and not what I think I might possibly need. Rolling everything instead of folding it. Eventually, after working away at it for an hour, I end up with one or two or three weeks of outfits and my duffel spread out on the floor. And things of course don't fit, because you can't fit two weeks of touring into a duffel bag, no matter how good you are at packing.

Which is when I use magic.

Because I'm a magician. No, really.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Solving for X

In my continued attempt to answer reader questions, I decided to pull another one out of the stack today. Some of the questions I got were quite specific (like “what font did you use for the chapter headings in Lament?), so I’m trying to hit the ones that have the most universal relevance first. Here’s one I though might interest multiple people.
What's considered too much? My book is hovering at a precarious 156,000 words, and I'm not even halfway through the plot. I've run it by some people and so far they don't think I can cut any of what I have already. Of course that will change later, but how do I where the line between a long book and rambling is?

There are a few things you should know about me.

1. One of my eternal fears is being boring. It means when you ask me a question out in public, I will always try to answer in as few words as possible, and then I will pause to analyze your facial expression. If your eyebrows are still saying that you are interested, I’ll shoot more at you. If I’m at all not certain about the status of your eyebrows, I will fall silent and give you a chance to escape to powder your nose.

2. I write young adult novels. I like bucking the system and setting fire to expectations and other amusing pastimes, but I don’t do those things without good reason. That means that I am aware that most young adult novels are between 50,000 and 90,000 words long, and I will do my level best to put my story into that many words unless badly pressed.

3. I believe you can always cut. When I wrote the first draft of THE RAVEN BOYS, it was a monster — 40,000 words too long, in my opinion. I went through the draft and cut out a word here and there, a redundant sentence here and there, and lo and behold, I lost 40,000 words without removing a single scene. That means I kept all of the action in a book 2/3rds shorter. There is always more you can cut out of a manuscript. There’s always a shorter way to say something. A chapter is like an equation: solve for x. You can start out with a huge long equation and get it down to x = 32 x 11, and that might accomplish what you want. But never forget that you could always strip it all the way down to just this, if you had to: x.

4. I think nearly any writing question can be answered by looking at it from the perspective of a reader. So when the question is: “is eight narrators too many?” imagine books you read with loads of narrators. When the question is: “can I tell this story entirely through flashbacks?” remember how you react to it as a reader. When the question is “is length a problem?” try your level best to recall everything you feel about long books. How they affect your purchase decision, how they affect your decision to pick them up out of your TBR pile, how they make you feel when you’re halfway through. The answer will be different for every reader, but the best thing you can manage is to write honestly for the reader you are.*

*not the reader you wish you were, either, by the way. no cheatsies.

How does all this boil down in regards to our question above? Well, like this. At some point in the world of word count, a manuscript ceases to be a story and begins to be an assault.

You don’t want to be that person who gets asked a question and goes on and on without checking the eyebrows for permission. It is better to leave them wanting. You don’t have to solve entirely for x, but if you leave your book in epic form, it becomes an equation that fewer and fewer readers have the desire to solve. I don’t know if you remember my post about gimmee points, but exceptional wordiness is a decision you have to make consciously. You have to be aware it’s going to limit your audience every time you go over the standard length for your genre. Personally, I’d rather use my gimmee points elsewhere.

Because too often length is not a conscious story choice. It’s a sign the author doesn’t really know their own story. That the focus has been adjusted too wide. That the prose is sloppy. And when I say too often, I mean, pretty damn often.

You might convince me that your 156,000 word novel needs to be that long. But I will then turn around to my bookshelf and pull out my favorites in multiple genres and quote numbers at you:

ANANSI BOYS (adult genre sci-fi/fantasy): 107,972
ENDER’S GAME (adult genre sci fi): 100,609
THE NIGHT CIRCUS (adult literary)(ish): 120,937
TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE (Adult literary): 155,717*

SAVING FRANCESCA (YA literary): 58,782
HUNGER GAMES (YA genre): 99,750
WHERE THINGS COME BACK (YA contemporary): 56,527**

*this is the fattest book on my shelf at the moment, apart from Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.
**you can find out more numbers here at Renaissance Learning.

So is x>156,000 a good length for your book? It is, if you can answer the question like this:

“I can’t cut anything from this manuscript.”

But you’d better be right.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Two Virginia Events Added

I always feel a little tremulous about adding Virginia events to my calendar because I, like all authors, fear the prophet-in-your-home-town effect of local events. There is nothing weirder than having lovely events elsewhere and expecting to come home to a lovely event bolstered by family and friends and then discover that somehow, you have lost your family and friends and in fact, no one else got the memo either. In past years, I've actually managed to have more family and friends show up at the events hundreds of miles away than just down the road.

NONETHELESS it has been a long time since I've done events really close to my stomping grounds, and we have added two to the May calendar. Also, they're not just events but awesome events because John Corey Whaley will also be at them. You will recall, gentle readers, that I adored his book.

So here are two events that are really, really in my stomping grounds. In fact, the Jabberwocky Books store is about 50 feet away from where I first took bagpipe lessons, 500 feet away from where I first met my husband in college, and a mile away from my old alma mater. It's also really close to the used bookstore that I completely ganked for the bookstore in the Shiver series. The plus side to coming to the events close to my house, though, is that I tend to bring loads of extra foreign editions and swag to give away, because I don't have to bring it on a plane.

May 17th, Printz Event with John Corey Whaley, 6 p.m.
Jabberwocky Books, 810 Caroline Street, Fredericksburg, VA 22401

May 18th, Printz Event with John Corey Whaley, 7 p.m
Hooray for Books, 1555 King St., Alexandria, Virginia 22314

Friday, April 6, 2012

Maggie Answers the Easy Ones

I feel a little guilty because I solicited reader questions a few weeks ago with the full intention of immediately jumping on them. And then, instead, life jumped on ME, and began punching me about the face and neck until I cried "Uncle." And by crying "Uncle," I mean that I last night I finally turned in the first draft of REQUIEM (the third and final faerie book) to my crit partners (Although now I wonder about the title REQUIEM. Maybe SO SING THE DEAD would be sexier.). And then I realized that I hadn't, in fact, answered a single question, and that was what was keeping me up nights (also saying "REQUIEM?" "SO SING THE DEAD?" "REQUIEM?" "SO SING THE DEAD"?)

But no more of this obfuscation! I got many deep and important writing questions from readers. But those are not the ones I'm going to answer today. No, in three hours I'm headed to the studio to work on the music for the RAVEN BOYS trailer, and I would like to keep my brain soft and tapioca-like until then. So I'm going to answer a bunch of the easy questions instead. Here goes.

Where did you get your satchel? I've been looking for one that expands, and yours appears to do so very well.

Book signing in HungaryI'm not certain where Reader saw my Giant Leather Bag. In person it's easy to spot on me, as I always have it, but online I think maybe . . . in the first four seconds of this video? In this photo? It is delightful and old and I think from the 1950s. Which is not where I got it from, lest you think I have a Tardis (I traded that for my Camaro). I got it from

Will you be returning to Australia after releasing the Raven Boys?

I don't know when I'll be in Australia next, but I know I will, one day, come back. It was awesome, as Australians already know. Right now I'm trying to keep my international travel in 2012 to a dull roar since I'm juggling about 14 creative projects that I want to get out into the world.

I know that all fan mail to you is sent to Scholastic, but do you ever get to see it? It wouldn't be an inconvenience on you, would it?

For the record, the politeness and kindness in the way this question was worded warmed the cockles of my black heart, so thank you for that. And yes, I do see it. It goes to Scholastic where they put it, unopened, in giant envelopes with other fan mail, and then they send the lot to me. They seem to be quite efficient at it, judging from the dates of the letters that arrive daily (thanks for that, guys!). I, however, am NOT efficient in replying, mostly because I insist on replying to all hand-written letters with a fellow hand-written or anciently type-written letter, which takes me a long time. And then I am notoriously bad about putting the replies into the return addresses if an SASE wasn't included. For instance, right now, I can look at my Sharpie Printer and see that there are 12 letters that I replied to ONE MONTH ago that I have not had the time to address envelopes for. So I do reply to them all. But it takes me a glacial time.

Can you give us any further information on Requiem? Even just a few words?

You mean SO SING THE DEAD. Or maybe REQUIEM. Or maybe SO SING THE DEAD. Well. Apart from the fact that the first two words of the current manuscript are "Luke" and "Dillon," what else can I say? Just that it follows Dee and James in their final adventure, and that it's slated to come out in 2013 but I don't know which season at the moment. Sorry.

What time period was SCORPIO RACES set in? Sometimes it seems modern, often not so much. Maybe it is just set in an alternate universe.

I see people describing SCORPIO as dystopic, and it really, really isn't. It's not sent in future where killer horses bust out of the sea. It's set in an alternate history where the only thing that is different is killer horses that bust out of the sea in one tiny part of the world. I have an actual time frame for when I believe it takes place, and I put some clues in the book to that effect (like the cars), but I'm not going to tell you. Yes, I'm playing the enigmatic author card. I hear it's all the rage.

How many email address/ online profiles do you have? Okay, that came out sounding a bit stalkerish, but honestly, do you have specific public address and then 'friend only' email for personal life?

Rule of thumb: if you say the word 'stalker,' you probably aren't one. Also, I have three e-mail addresses, but they all funnel into one inbox. I have it set up so they tidily shuffle themselves into about 25 different folders labeled things like "family" and "blog" and "twitter" and "reader mail" and "scholastic." It took me an entire year to realize that if I did the sorting after they came in, I went insane. I couldn't look at 4,000 emails a month without deciding I was running away from the civilized world and never coming back. I don't have multiple profiles on social networks, though. I consider all of them public. I tried having a private Facebook, but I never used it. I do really like having the multiple email addresses, though.

How many instruments do you play? And what are they?

I play six, but like foreign languages, I speak some better than others. They're the piano, highland bagpipes, tin whistle, harp, bodhran, and guitar. Is that six? Most of them are on my youtube channel in one form or another.

Where do you live in Virginia; my English teacher wanted to know?

I am currently living on the east side, but in two months I am moving to the west side. The east side has more caffeine but fewer mountains. The west side, where I was born, has more mountains but fewer teeth. It's a trade-off.

What happened in the end of Forever?

I'm not going to say anything I didn't already say here: (Click on “replay” and it will show you the archived chat).

Not really a question, but would love, love, love to see a post with your Scorpio Races playlist.

It's on the new website here! This is my sort of music. Well, I mean, it all is. But this is more me than usual.

Do the people in THE SCORPIO RACES go to school? They never seem to go to school!

Like a lot of farming communities in Ye Olde Days, school in Thisby is secondary to scraping out a living, is very seasonal, is often done by parents, and is also done at age 16. There is no University of Skarmouth where you can major in Homicidal Horse Husbandry with a minor in Terse Expressions (though if there was, Sean Kendrick would be teaching.) So Sean and Puck are already well past school-age. Leaving them all their time to do productive things like risk their lives on dangerous animals and make questionable decisions.

When was the last time you Googled yourself?

Just now. The first hit in the past 24 hours, according to Google, is, which is seems so unfair, as it is MY site. Well, the site I have with Tessa Gratton and Brenna Yovanoff, but still. Google, I already know that exists. You FAIL! no cookie for you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

BEHOLD! New Website = New Goodies

I realize that this announcement is probably not as thrilling to the rest of the human population as it is to me, but here it is:

I have redesigned my website.

And by "I," I really mean "Forefathers," who are crazy talented web designers. I asked them to design a site that would fit all of the extras for all the books and incorporate some of my art and be easy to navigate. I didn't think it was really possible, but they've done it. And it is now officially live at

And there are all sorts of goodies there that I hope readers will like. Such as:
- all of the book trailer tunes for download
- prequel and postquel extra stories for the faerie books
- discussion guide for Shiver
- wallpapers and icons
- playlists for all the books
- the recipe for November Cakes
- foreign editions and where to find them
etc. etc.

I will also be gradually moving my blogging presence over there, too, though I'll try to make the transition slow and painless by mirroring blog posts over there for awhile (although not this blog post. It seems strange to put a blog post about your new website on the blog which is on your new website).

So let me know what you think!
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