The opportunity to interview young-adult-fiction writer Maggie Stiefvater was an opportunity too good to pass up. I’ve recently been introduced to her books by my friend and fellow writer Kate Armstrong. I figured who better then to help me interview Stiefvater (read: come up with intelligent questions) than her?
I’ve popped Kate’s questions and Stiefvater’s answers below and highly recommend that you both pick up one or all of Stiefvater’s books and catch her while she’s touring the country. This week she’s at the Brisbane Writers Festival and I’m gutted not to be in town to hear her speak in person…
You’ve got a lot of what some would call ‘dark themes’ in your books involving swearing and nudity and consumption of live meat (to name a few). How do you decide how far to push the dark-theme envelope in your writing? And do you think it’s important to include life’s darker side in stories for teens?
The young adult audience is an interesting and rewarding one to write for. Teens are clever and sophisticated readers; I would never ‘dumb down’ my writing for them. As both a reader and a writer, I love my stories to have extremes: very beautiful bits, but also very dark bits to make the beautiful parts shine more brightly.
Is this for every reader? No. But the young adult shelf these days is filled with every flavour of novel out there, and it’s easy for a teen reader—like an adult reader—to find options that fit their comfort level. In short? I don’t hold back. If the story demands it, it’s going in.
As an avid follower of your blog [read: Kate is, but I’m signing up now], I’ve noticed how much time and energy you devote to connecting with your fans. Why is reaching out to readers important to you? And how do you keep it from swallowing you whole?
First of all, I love to write and blog. I’ve had a blog continuously since March 2006, when I began blogging as an artist. It’s great to feel like you’re not working in a vacuum, and having relied on so many author blogs for inspiration during my writing journey, it’s nice to feel like I can be a part of that for other aspiring writers.
It definitely needs to have boundaries, of course, and I’ve suffered quite a lot of growing pains over the years. I’ve gone from having a few thousand hits on my blog a year to over a million, and it means that sometimes I can’t answer every comment any more—a strange and agonising conundrum.
I’ve received some pretty darn interesting fan presents. My favourite, however, was a reader who gave me a copy of her favourite novel (other than mine, she was quick to say). It was personal without being creepy and it was a pretty good book to boot!
You’ve commented on your blog that you’ve been surprised by the way readers have bonded with some of your characters. If you could have real-life relationships with some of your characters, who would you be most likely to:
- be best friends with? James from Ballad
- get romantically involved with (in a reality where you were single and teenaged)? I don’t date characters. Strict policy.
- Have heated arguments with? Isabel from Linger
You’ve done a lot of travelling in the last few years promoting your books. How has exploring new places inspired or informed your writing?
Oh, definitely. Life in general informs my writing and so travelling invariably works its way in. There are references to my journeys that I’m sure a very intent reader would see. My latest book (coming out 2012) bears a Ned Kelly reference from my time here in Australia.
What drives your storytelling: a recurring image, a particular character, a theme, a message you want to put out into the universe, or all/none of the above?
Usually the reason why a book cries out for me to write it is because of a central mood or feeling; then plot and characters and theme wander in, generally in that order. Really, it’s like when you go to a movie theatre: you don’t say, ‘I feel like watching a movie with a man embodying his personal demons in order to overcome them as he fights crime in the form of a bat.’ You just say ‘I feel like watching some character-driven action movie!’ That’s how it feels for me. I know what SORT of book I want to write, but not always what it’s about at first.
There are so many reasons why authors say they write. But what is it that really compels you to write, and in the genre that you do?
It’s subconscious, whatever it is. I have to tell stories. When I don’t write them out, I dream them. It’s just who I am. And as for the magic? It’s what I love to read, so it’s what I love to write.
This one’s for avid aspiring writers everywhere: if you could give one piece of writerly advice, what would it be?
Write the book you wish you could find on the shelf, but can’t.
Writers often say that their characters like to take on minds of their own and act as they see fit, with or without the writer’s permission. Have you found any particular characters challenging to work with in this regard? Or have they all been well behaved?
I’m a firm believer that writers should be in control of their own novels. I don’t like to get sentimental about writing or imagine there is a muse exerting influence outside of me. I will say, however, that when I’ve done my job well and I’ve brainstormed and immersed myself in the world of my novel, that I can sort of step outside my body and let my subconscious push the characters forward. I suppose it could feel like the characters are driving the action, but really, it’s the mental groundwork I’ve already done sweeping the novel to its logical conclusion. It’s dreaming the story, but while you’re awake. And that, to me, is pretty magical.
Stiefvater is appearing at the Brisbane Writers Festival and touring throughout Australia. I’ve read her first book in the Wolves of Mercy Falls series, Shiver, and am heading home from China soon to read the next two, Linger and Forever.
Her next book, The Scorpio Races, will be released in October, so I should just about be up to date with the other books. Huge thanks to Kate Armstrong for helping out (read: coming up with) the questions. I’m looking forward to writing about her just-published book and book tour on here one day.