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Maggie Stiefvater Has Words on Her Face September 26, 2012

Posted by ccbooks in Nerd Line.
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Probably one of the best things for a fan to see when meeting a favorite author is tangible evidence that they are writing something new. At the National Book Festival this past weekend, Maggie Stiefvater had her hands covered in Sharpie notes for the next Raven Boys book, which made me indescribably happy. She did say, however, that the Sharpie often came off on her face, leaving her, as the post title says, with words on her face.

Stiefvater explained at one point during her talk that she had been raised by “feral librarians” (if I were a better artist, I would draw a doodle of the image that phrase brings to mind) and they must have brought her up on books with unusual word choices and vocabulary. She included various colorful descriptions and phrases throughout her speech, including ‘stone cold delightful’, ‘malevalous sheep’ and ‘distances be dammed!’ She repeatedly referred to her younger self as a ‘maggot’ and told a great story about her attempts at age 12 to write books that her dad would like (namely, thrillers) with kissing scenes that read ‘like instruction manuals, without the illustrations.’ Stiefvater’s comedy bits were fun (“Panic!” was her knee-jerk response to being asked for advice about anything) but she also included some excellent words of wisdom for young writers–my favorite being “When someone tells you no, it doesn’t mean NO. It just means NOT YET.”

Stiefvater also, probably without intending to, answered a few burning questions of my own. One was incredibly random–what the heck was a ‘boat shoe’? Gansey, a lead character in The Raven Boys, wears them and I had no visual in my head that could help me understand why they got on another character’s nerves. Fortunately, Steifvater had an example of said boat shoe with her. Mystery solved. If I had any doubts as to whether she had the ability to spot an amazing bit of YA fiction, they were laid to rest when she gave a shout out to Code Name Verity (Yes, I cheered. Yes, I got strange looks from the crowd around me.)

She also gave me a simple, concrete reason for why I like her books so much–we are influenced by the same writers and traditions. Stiefvater credits Susan Cooper’s series The Dark is Rising, for inspiring her to write folklore based fantasy, and Cooper is one of my children’s book idols. I’m sure that if I ever meet her, I will be as tongue-tied as Stiefvater was.  We also apparently share a love for Katherine Briggs, the British folklorist who wrote A Dictionary of the Fairies. I will wholeheartedly admit to being very jealous that I did NOT have a copy in my local library and had to wait to discover it until I found a book of excerpts at Oxfam in Cambridge. No wonder I immediately fell in love with the capall uisce of The Scorpio Races and the Welsh kings of The Raven Boys. They had been lurking in my imagination for awhile. Stiefvater was passionate about these early influences–she demanded that the audience raise their hands if they had read the Cooper series (“Ponies for you!”) or not (“You are heathens!”)–and later, when asked about how to use influences as inspiration without plagiarizing, she pointed out that the key is to use influences that matter deeply to you. I look forward to reading more marvelous work from Stiefvater that draws on her influences and inspiration.

P.S. Stiefvater clarified later that the ponies we got for having read Susan Cooper are from Wistman’s Wood in the UK. Here is the picture, stolen from her blog. Ana, take note. We are going here next summer!

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