“I am not a hugging person,” began Maggie Stiefvater, during Thursday’s tour for her newest novel The Raven Boys at the Cambridge Public Library’s teen room. As she elaborated why, I mulled over her statement. Going into this book talk, my knowledge of all things Stiefvater was patchy at best. I had read exactly one of her many books (The Scorpio Races) and I had the vague notion that one series featured werewolves and romance (neither of which I particularly seek out in a book). Taking into account the paranormal romance phenomenon, it was possible that she had an extremely enthusiastic fanbase (think Twilight) with embrace-y tendencies and was taking preventative action.
Or maybe not, because Stiefvater told us to hold that thought. Then, changing directions, she began the way most authors do, telling us what inspires her writing and which author had the most profound effect on her when she was young. That honor goes to Susan Cooper, which makes complete sense because The Dark is Rising books are steeped in mythology and fantasy and set within the real world. At this year’s ALA conference, Stiefvater got the chance to meet her literary hero. There’s even a Twitter picture of the two authors, which, as Stiefvater’s friend puts it, “looks like [Susan Cooper] is a cookie and you want to eat her.”
Stiefvater, who’s keen on enactments, reproduced their epic meeting as follows:
MS, girlishly: I just want to thank you for introducing me to myth!
SC: You’re welcome.
MS: (long pause) Can I *hug* you?
I have to hand it to Ms. Stiefvater. Although she neglected to tell us Susan Cooper’s reaction, that opening remark about hugging was no throwaway line. Then again, Maggie Stiefvater is an author who plots out her endings before she even begins to write!
As she segued into her new book, The Raven Boys, we also learned about Stiefvater’s writing process. As a history major, Stiefvater is big on research. She researches when she has writer’s block, and she definitely did a ton of digging to justify the unlikely connection between Welsh mythology and rural Virginia, the two things she wanted her book to be about. (A quick airline search reveals there aren’t even any direct flights between Norfolk International and Cardiff!) But as the internet would have it, these two locales are linked by ley lines, or New Age highways of mystical energy. I’ll leave you to imagine what Stiefvater thinks of ley lines, psychic energies, and treatises written by people named Rainbow, but the subject is ideal for making things work in fiction.
Also interesting is how Stiefvater builds her characters. As an artist (she animates and scores her own book trailers!), she used the metaphor of a portrait to describe her methods. While one may or may not start with real people (like her brothers), as one builds up, one tries to capture not just the likeness but the essence of that person, preferably in a way only you can.
Stiefvater then opened up the discussion to the audience and fielded some intriguing questions, the “undignified” kind that you want to ask anyway. Like how she feels when fans ship her characters (it depends, but the books-on-tape narrator for The Scorpio Races may have been on the money for a certain unconventional pairing). And which books she wished had been available when she was a teen (a shout out for Code Name Verity). Like a cool older sister, she also gave us some relationship advice (despite his character arc, do not date Cole St. Clair!). No matter what the question, Stiefvater had a ready (and humorous) answer and a reenactment or two. In fact, I enjoyed the talk so much, I can’t wait for the next time Maggie Stiefvater visits Boston; until then, I shall have to satisfy myself with unraveling the Wales-Virginia connection in The Raven Boys.