Friday, January 2, 2009
Here's my interview with Maggie Stiefvater, author of the very wonderful Lament. And if you read this, Maggie, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my questions at such a very busy time of year. Can't wait for Ballad and Shiver. Really!
Tell us a little about Lament.
Lament is the story of a girl, Deirdre, who falls in love with an enigmatic boy, Luke, who turns out to be a soulless faerie assassin. And she's supposed to be his next mark.
Though it has love and slight nookie in it, I don't think of Lament as a love story in the same way that Shiver, coming out next year, is. I think of it more as a coming of age story with homicidal faeries and cute boys. It’s a different animal entirely.
Did you always want to be a writer?
Yep. My first proclamation of my career intent was when I was eight.
And what drew you to YA?
An inability to grow up, I think. Plus, these were the novels that really changed my life. When I was a teen, I was reading constantly -- they're the reason why I am the way I am. I want to do that!
What inspired you to write Lament?
Lament is different from the rest of my novels in that it's a sort of mish mosh of a bunch of different novels I tried to write from age fifteen on, all featuring homicidal faeries, slight nookie, and four leaf clovers. I just really wanted to explore a world where an ordinary girl runs up against the extraordinary. Why would it happen? Would it turn out well? Would there be kissing?
This is your debut novel. Tell us a little about your journey to publication. Were there any major obstacles along the way?
Kind of, yes, if you count the first draft completely sucking. I submitted it to Andrew Karre at Flux and, amazingly, he saw a needle of inspiration in a bloated haystack of fifteen years worth of ideas. He asked me if I was willing to revise completely and switch to first person, and I was. I basically did a blind rewrite of the first three chapters and I think both of us were surprised by the results. Since then, it has been kind of a crazy ride from those first three chapters to four novels under contract and contracts in several countries.
Do you identify with any of your characters?
I sort of identify with all of them, a little bit -- I think you have to in order to write them well. Even the villains. You have to invest them all with a tiny bit of you. Everyone thinks I'm Dee, because we both play the harp, but I think James is probably the most like me, because he's sarcastic and rarely takes the world seriously.
Which of your characters would you most like to hang out with?
James is very funny and I think would make for great cocktail party conversation, but I think Brendan and Una would make for the most memorable dinner date.
Many of your characters are musicians (I loved that). How important is music to you? Do you play an instrument yourself? (Is it the harp?)
Music is incredibly important to me. It's always playing in the background while I write or in the car while I'm brainstorming. All through college, I was in bands: the college pipe band or Ballynoola, the Celtic band I started, or the Harvest Moon Quintet, the classical-Celtic band I had in my senior year, etc. Even when I was at Longwood University for half a semester, I tried to assemble a pipe band and ended up playing my harp with an Irish group down there. I'm sort of addicted. I also have three songs influenced by Lament available for download on my website, www.maggiestiefvater.com.
I play a long and boring list of instruments: the highland bagpipes, the lever harp, the bodhran (it's a sort of Irish drum), the tin whistle, the guitar, and the piano. I really wish I could bend the fiddle to my will, but it's not having any of that.
What music did you listen to while writing Lament? And did it affect the story or your writing?
I listened to a lot of Celtic stuff while writing Lament: Lunasa, Susan McKeown, Lorenna McKennitt (although she's not truly traditional Celtic), and also the soundtrack to the Bourne Ultimatum. While I was writing Ballad, I unfortunately had to listen to Leslie's Tune by Kila on constant repeat for one of the scenes.
Music definitely affects my writing -- it sets the mood, and I try to capture that mood in my writing.
I got totally caught up with the characters in Lament and hoped fervently for a sequel. I now know you've written one so please tell us a little about Ballad and Shiver (and when to expect them).
Ballad (Flux '09) is the sequel to Lament and is scheduled for fall of 2009 (I'm not sure of the month yet). It's narrated by James and a new faerie main character, Nuala, and I think it's a sharper, tighter read than Lament. The stakes are higher and even more personal, and we get to see a new side of James and Dee. Plus, there are kings of the dead and vampiric faerie muses and bonfires. What more could you want?
Shiver (Scholastic '09) is an unrelated title about the first love between a 16-year-old girl and a mysterious boy who spends his winters as a wolf and is fighting to stay human as the temperature drops. I'm really excited about this one -- it's my first hardcover, and Scholastic's lead title for next year. (They've been amazing to work with.) And it also manages to sneak some music in there too. September is the month I've been hearing for its release.
You're also an artist. How do you balance the demands of both? Are you interested in illustrating one of your forthcoming novels? Or maybe writing a story in graphic novel format?
I would love, love, love to do a YA graphic novel one day. I loved Shaun Tan's The Arrival and would like to do something like that. It's been weird not having any time to do art after doing it full-time as my career for two years. I'm looking forward to getting past my deadlines for Ballad and Shiver and having a bit more time to play with my colored pencils again.
Which writers do you admire most and did they influence your own writing?
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger has stuck with me for years. She does a great job with the love story and the chemistry between the two main characters, something that I really wanted to do in Shiver. I make a point of putting the books that I've really, really loved on my Goodreads page -- I only put five star books on there -- so people can always find out what I've been reading and loving.
And yes, I always try to take apart what I like about any good book. Good books are the only textbooks we writers get.
What are you reading now?
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. It's pretty amazing. Tight prose, very funny, great plot arc so far . . . oh, John, don't let me down in the last third. Please!
What's your favorite book as a young adult?
No heckling: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton. And before that, Dogsbody, by Dianna Wynne Jones.
What book would you like to read again for the first time?
Mmmm. The Time Traveler’s Wife, of course. Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. I dunno, the best books are the ones that hold up to a nauseating number of rereads.
Can you leave us with any advice for aspiring YA writers?
Read. I always say this, and it sounds obvious, but so many people tell me that they want to write novels, and when I ask them what the last novel they read was, it's some dog-eared old creature that they read six months ago. You want to be a writer? You'd better always have a book in your hand. Read the bestsellers and classics in your chosen genre. Otherwise you'll never know if you're reinventing the wheel. And you'll take twice as long to learn how to translate that aching emotion in your head onto paper.
For more information about Maggie’s novels: http://www.maggiestiefvater.com
Maggie’s writing blog: http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com
Maggie’s weekly short stories: http://www.merryfates.com
Maggie’s art blog: http://greywarenart.blogspot.com