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12 August 2009 @ 08:46 am
Interview with Maggie Stiefvater: Author of SHIVER  
I'm wildly excited to be able to introduce Enchanted Inkpot readers to our newest guest, Maggie Stiefvater, author of SHIVER (Scholastic, 2009) which has just hit the New York Times Bestseller list at #9  on its first week out! This book about th bittersweet love between a girl and a werewolf has received a ton of internet buzz, and with good reason. It is a lush book, full of longing and love that is both heartbreaking and hugely satisfying.



Thanks so much for stopping by Maggie, especially because I know how swamped you are right now. I just recently finished SHIVER and loved it. How did you come to write fiction? Especially with so many other creative pursuits in your life?


I think that some people are just born storytellers. I firmly believe that anyone can learn how to write a novel, and probably make it a pretty decent novel, actually, but I also think that some people have to tell stories. It busts out of them in a million different ways -- telling stories to your siblings, making up improbable plots in your head for people you see at the gas station or airport, stories scribbled in notebooks, and finally, novels. I’ve always had the urge to make up stories -- it’s something quite separate from my other creative urges.

Why fantasy and why YA?


There is a “rule” floating out there that says “write what you know.” I’m not so sure about that one -- I think it only holds true for emotional situations as I, personally, have never become a werewolf and seem to manage to write about it quite well, thankyouverymuch -- but I do like this rule: Write what you love. And I’ve always loved reading fantasy YA and middle grade, particularly contemporary fantasy, with a healthy dollop of the real world. So while I did battle with some pretty awful IRA thrillers in my teen years, I started and ended with paranormal YAs, and it’s where I’m at home. It’s still my favorite thing to pick up off the shelf to read too. When my reading tastes change, that’s when my novels will too.

Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to write SHIVER? What came to you first, the plot or the characters? And what pieces of you are in Grace? In Sam?

Well, first came a desire to make people cry. I’d just read THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE for the second time and despite knowing how it ended, and despite not being a crier at anything, I bawled. It put me in a bad mood all evening as I grieved once again, and when I finally got over it the next day, I thought, I want to do that for teens. Can I do that for teens?

And then the plot came when I was trying to rustle up a plot for a werewolf short story contest. The character of Grace came first after that, out of necessity, and then Sam evolved quite late. Originally he wasn’t even supposed to have a point of view. But first his lyrics snuck in, and then his entire person. I’m not really much like Grace -- she’s actually got quite a few pieces stolen from my husband -- but I do share a lot in common with Sam. I used some of my creative bits as a jumping board for developing his character. I think almost every character has to start with a little piece of a real person, even if it’s just a sliver of emotion or a tiny gesture, and then you build on that. Readers can tell, I think, if a character is built on a real foundation, even if 99% of them is pretend.

So how did your werewolf mythology evolve?

I was not a fan of monsters and slavering, so that went away just as a matter of course, thrown away at the beginning. And then to make my readers cry, I was going to need my wolves to stay wolves longer than a single night. So I started looking for ways to justify a longer transformation. I wanted something very logical and natural feeling --- something easy to understand. The weather and cycle of the year fit my needs perfectly.

The temperature as a chapter heading was intriguing. At what point did that show up in the work?

I think it was sometime after the fifty page mark. I had an early reader poking through it and she said something about the temperature conflict being great and I should really play it up. As I looked for ways to hint at it through the text, I realized it was a far better thing to put on the chapters than what I had, which was the date. Because an October in northern Mercy Falls, Minnesota, was so much colder than a lot of other folks’ Octobers that it wasn’t as effective as telling readers just how cold that day was.

I was fascinated by Grace’s narcissistic mother. It was a great way to get her parents out of her life, but it also made Grace very self sufficient. What other strengths did having that kind of parent give Grace, and in what way did those strengths play into her relationship with Sam?

We’re all products of our upbringing, and I wanted Sam and Grace to be strong and resilient in entirely different ways. Sam is strong by modeling -- he has loving role models in Beck and Ulrik and Paul, and he is becoming like them as he gets older. It makes him strong in a way that craves family, that makes him look backwards on the things that he’s lost. Grace, on the other hand, is strong by neglect -- left to her own devices, she could succeed without her parents or slack off, and she chose the first one.  It makes her strong in a way that is very lonely and independent; she is desperate not to be her parents and to have control in her own life, but she’s also desperate for someone to fill the family role. It’s a fun dynamic to play with.

What do you hope teen readers take away from SHIVER?

Hmmm. I don’t write my novels with morals, but I hope they’d look at Sam and Grace’s relationship and see how they love each other for who each other is. There’s no power struggles, no attempt to change each other, though I think they both become better people around each other. They stay individuals throughout the novel, rather than giving up the things or people they loved before they met each other.

Oh, oh, I thought of something. I hope they see that love is not grand gestures or bundles of roses or sweeping through your bedroom window with poppies between your teeth. I hope they see that love is reading a book side by side in your sock feet or stirring pasta while the other one whistles and grabs a can of sauce or any number of ordinary situations. Love is someone who feels like home.

Were there any times when you pulled back from something in the book because of its intended audience?


The only thing that was pulled was some swearing -- f-bombs -- and that was mostly to make librarians and teachers happy, as I don’t think it would’ve really put out the teen audience. I don’t believe in censoring for teen readers. I just followed the story where I thought the characters took it.

Do you have a sense of your thematic core? The type of stories you're drawn to write time and time again? Why do you think fantasy is the best genre for these types of stories?


I do seem to be drawn to the same kinds of stories again and again. The theme of identity and losing it, or individualism and losing it . . . it seems to fascinate me. Even when I think I’m writing about something else, I am actually writing about one of those two. And I think that all books are ripe for theme, just that fantasies often lay the metaphors out more clearly for us to see them.

What books did you read that broke your writing world wide open?


THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE, obviously. For making me love characters enough to make me cry -- I didn’t think that was possible. I mean, I’d loved character before, but not enough to give me a physical reaction. DOGSBODY, for cunningly twisting funny and angsty together and making my middle-school self read it six times back to back. JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL, for building a palpable sense of dread and anticipation that actually made my heart race a little.

What’s your writing process like? Do you outline? Fly into the mist? Have you experimented with your process or did it arrive, fairly well
established? Also, what’s your favorite part of the writing process?


Ha! This is funny because I just posted a blog post on this: (http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com/120688.html). My personal process involves coming up with the idea and then writing a two page synopsis where everything in it is a lie except for the ending. I have to know where I’m going and then pretend I know how I’m getting there. This is the result of a lot of trial and error -- 30 unfinished novels before I was 20, and a shelfful of failed ones with endings. I’ve written my last four novels this way and am getting to write my next two this way as well. I think that your process has to mesh with your personality in order to work. And so the idea of knowing where I’m going but not knowing how I’m getting there is very Maggie.

Also, I’ve heard rumors that SHIVER is the first of a trilogy. Did you plot the trilogy out all at once? Book by book?


Actually, I meant for it to be a standalone when I wrote it, just about Sam and Grace, but Scholastic asked me if I’d thought about doing a sequel. And as I edited it with them, I started pulling on threads with side characters and seeing how much more I had to work with. Like with my individual books, I knew where I was going with the ending, but now how I was getting there. Basically everything about LINGER was shocking to me, because I didn’t expect it. Heh. I’m just starting FOREVER, the final one, this month.

Do you have a number of projects in the works? Do you work on more than one at a time? How long did it take you to write SHIVER? Are there any outtakesthat you can share with us that didn¹t make it into SHIVER?


I tend to have two projects going at a time -- one rough draft and one editing. I can’t rough draft on two at a time. It’s just impossible, as rough drafting is all engrossing. It sucks you into the world and takes over your brain. Like right now, part of me is writing this interview, but part of me is thinking about what’s going to happen to Isabel in FOREVER. SHIVER, like most of my novels, took me four months to do the rough draft. That’s a comfortable time for me to write them in. I wrote BALLAD in 3 months, and that was distinctly cramped.

And I looked for some outtakes, but all I have is one with Sam’s mom. Here, I’ll cut and paste it. It got deleted when we changed Sam's flashbacks to present day rememberings instead; this one wasn't really necessary, so it came out. It also sounds a bit different from the rest of Sam's stuff as he's supposed to be quite small here. Here goes, never before seen SHIVER footage:
“Mom.” She wasn’t paying any attention to me. She was singing and then stopping to dab at her face and then singing again. She smelled like going places without me. I took a handful of her slippery skirt because it was fun to feel it wriggle in my hand, trying to get away. “Mama.”
    “What, Sam?” In the mirror, the other Mom, who looked yellower and darker than the real Mom, looked at me.
    “Why are you putting another face on?”
    “It’s make-up.”
    “Why are you making up another face?”
    “Because I’m old and have giant bags under my eyes from not sleeping enough.”
    “You should sleep more.”
    She laughed and began to draw around her eyes with a black pencil. It made her look like someone else. “Then you should try sleeping more.”
    “Can I make up a new face?”
    She blinked and began to draw around the other eye. “No, you’re young and beautiful. You don’t need make up to look human.”
    This clicked. “Do aliens makeup faces?”
    “No, people make up faces. To make ourselves look better than we are. But we’re still the same underneath. Now stop bothering me so I can finish getting ready.”
    I didn’t go away, but I stopped talking and just watched her, running my hands up and down the slippery crinkly fabric of her skirt while I did. She kept making up a new face until she had one that looked smooth and sharp at the corners.
    I asked Dad later if I could make up a new face, but he told me that boys didn’t make up new faces. We just wear the ones we have. Girls can put on new ones and pretend that they are something different. But we boys have to make do with what we have, that’s what he said, we have just the one face.
    He was wrong.

So, you’re highly musical, you’re artistic enough to do that wonderful paper cut trailer for SHIVER. And you can write amazing books. Don’t you think that’s an awful lot of artistic talent in one lone person? :-) In what ways do they influence each other?

Hahahah! Leading question, anyone? I actually think that most anyone can do all of those things to one degree or another -- maybe not amazingly, but serviceably -- but most people don’t TRY. That’s the big difference. When I see something that interests me, I have to try it out. Put my hands on it, try and duplicate it, be a maker as well as a consumer. It’s not enough for me to experience it. I have to try to create as well.

It used to be quite tough to balance my interest. I wasn’t sure which one to focus on and I wasted a lot of time trying to do all at once, with equal drive. They worked the best when one was dominant. I did music in college -- started a band and toured around. I did art after college -- did portraits full time as my career (www.portraitswithcharacter.com <http://www.portraitswithcharacter.com> ). And now writing is queen. Only recently have I been able to get them to play nicely together, which is why it’s fun to do the book trailers.

What kinds of books do you read to fill your creative well?

All sorts. I read a ton of YA, some adult quasi-literary (lately I’ve been working my way down the list of Alex Award winners), a handful of graphic novels, and a decent bit of nonfiction on folklore. I can’t write if I am not reading.

What fantasy author, alive or dead, would you like to have dinner with?


Diana Wynne Jones. Pretty please?

I think it would be vastly entertaining to spend a day inside your head. What’s it like in there?

Crowded. Cluttered. There is music playing all the time and at least three characters at any given time getting ready to face their worst fear. There’s also a jumble of to do lists, a stack of emails, secret good news at any given time, fears that I am not doing enough with my career or my kids or my dogs or my car or my toenails. There’s also a distorted lens to look at the world through: one that sees us all as players and focuses on the whimsical things.

It’s a strange place.

I must like it, however, because I spend a lot of time there.

So you’ve tackled fairies and werewolves, what other fantastical conquests are on your horizon?


I have a project that I’m just about to tackle, after FOREVER, that I can’t say much about other than . . . it’s Jurassic Park meets National Velvet. I think that says enough.

Thanks for having me!

No, no! Thank YOU for stopping by! I loved hearing all about SHIVER and your process. You can find out more about Maggie and her amazing books at her website or at her blog.

.


 
 
 
annastanannastan on August 12th, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
Wonderful interview! I think my favorite part is about the inspiration for Shiver: to make teens cry. I love it! I just bought Shiver this morning and I can't wait to read it.
rllafeversrllafevers on August 13th, 2009 03:16 am (UTC)
I'm betting you'll enjoy the heck out of it. I know I did!
amarisglassstirlingbennett on August 12th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Love the excerpt! So little kid-like, and then that foreboding last line...

And I agree with the 'write what you love' statement–for so long, all through my late twenties I was wondering if I should be reading more grownup books and less YA. Finally I figured out that a) it's okay to read YA, because YA is pretty much where awesome lives, and b) I need to *read* YA because I need to *write* YA.

Great interview, Robin!
ellen_ohellen_oh on August 12th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
I love Sam. LOVE SAM! I didn't want this book to end. sigh. Sam is my new book crush.
rllafeversrllafevers on August 13th, 2009 03:18 am (UTC)
Wasn't that a great excerpt? I agree with the POW! of that last line.

I also agree that YA is where awesome lives. I may have to snag that quote, Stirling. :-) So glad you liked the interview. This is the second time I've interviewed Maggie, and she is a dream to interview. She always has terrific answers.
ebooraem on August 12th, 2009 08:57 pm (UTC)
Another Diana Wynne-Jones fan! (And DOGSBODY is one of her best, no doubt about it.) Great interview--her "process" is particularly intriguing. Can't wait to read the book!

I once interviewed Doris Grumbach, an editor, reviewer and writer now in her 90s. She also needed to know the end of things before she started them...even spoken sentences! Apparently she stuttered as a child, and an actress told her to think a sentence through before she opened her mouth. This gave her an unusually deliberate speaking style, cured her stutter, and established her writing process.
rllafeversrllafevers on August 13th, 2009 03:19 am (UTC)
What a fascinating story about Doris Grumbach, Ellen!
pjhooverpjhoover on August 12th, 2009 10:17 pm (UTC)
TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE had that same effect for me. I sobbed.

Great interview, Robin and Maggie!
rllafeversrllafevers on August 13th, 2009 03:20 am (UTC)
So clearly I'm going to have to read TTW. I have it on my shelf, in both book format and CD. Now I just have to squeeze it in...
kellyrfineman: Heart pebbleskellyrfineman on August 13th, 2009 03:59 am (UTC)
Great interview. Love this quote in particular: "Love is someone who feels like home."

frootjoosfrootjoos on August 13th, 2009 05:16 pm (UTC)
great interview!
I loved the Sam outtake. I have to say, the cover gave me a weird optical illusion when I first started reading; I thought the print was in the medium-blue ink of the cover art instead of black. If you had seen me on the first day, you'd have seen a girl turning a book this way and that, upside-down, and open-closing it while trying to do some kind of Magic-Eye viewing of the print. Loved this book!
amarisglassstirlingbennett on August 13th, 2009 06:22 pm (UTC)
Re: great interview!
But it is blue! Sometimes it looks black, in certain light–take it outside, you'll see it clearly. I wonder if that will spark a trend...
frootjoosfrootjoos on August 13th, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
Re: great interview!
What, really? I thought I was just going crazy ^_^
Leah_Cypessleah_cypess on August 13th, 2009 07:07 pm (UTC)
Re: great interview!
Jurassic Park meets National Velvet? Okay, now I totally can't wait...