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:


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.


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.  

After my presentation, a student drags a beleaguered English teacher to my side.  

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 panelists have just been asked to define what is meant by literary fiction.  

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.
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