Three Pudding Shot authors attended author events on Maggie Stiefvater’s book tour promoting the release of the The Raven King, the final book in her acclaimed YA fantasy series, The Raven Cycle. These are their perspectives on the event and author as readers, fans, and writers.
I consider myself a Maggie Stiefvater hipster. I’ve been reading her books since high school, when I first put pen to paper on my werewolf novel (and also in the days where the fact that I was writing such a thing was hugely embarrassing to me). I read Shiver as a guilty pleasure, dropped it in the bathtub, and had to pay the library back for it. Somewhere in this process, I realized that there was no need to feel guilty—Maggie does emotional shifts and atmosphere like nobody else, and I knew there was a lot I could learn from her.
So I sought out her LiveJournal (yes, this was circa 2009). At the time, she was doing things that no other author was doing. She made her own book trailers from cut paper and music she composed and performed with her younger sister. (I used “One Thousand Paper Cranes” as an alarm clock for a year.) She gave readers long, detailed playlists to match each publication—to this day, I can’t hear The Bravery’s “The Ocean” without thinking of Grace and Sam. And then there was my favorite, something she doesn’t really do anymore—her “butt-kickings,” impassioned essays on the importance of hard work in clawing your way to where you want to be. Her butt-kicking on New Year’s Resolutions has given me hard-and-fast rules for every January’s list-making.
But despite living in Virginia for nearly all my life, I’d still never met her. When my friend Cecilia, who works at Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, told me Maggie would be celebrating the release of The Raven King there, I bought a plane ticket home and made sure Dana and Allie knew about it. Over Twitter, Cecilia and I discussed décor, and I sent her snaps of my Raven Cycle tarot cards so she could adorn the store with images of them and questions readers could ask themselves. Cecilia also put ley lines on the windows, which ended up looking absolutely incredible.
The event was markedly different from most author events I’ve attended. First off, the bookstore was absolutely packed—I’ve never seen anything like it before, except maybe for the time I went to see J.K. Rowling, but people were crammed into a concert hall there rather than a tiny bookstore. It speaks really well for Maggie that so many people are invested in Ronan and Adam, Gansey and Blue, Noah and the Gray Man, when The Raven Cycle is quite a niche thing, with no TV show or film franchise, at least not yet. I was extremely jealous of some of the T-shirts I saw.
On the other hand, the event was more like a stand-up comedy routine than anything else, and there was no reading, which rather disappointed me—there’s nothing I like more than to hear an author read their work aloud. To be honest, I was a little taken aback by the performance aspect of it all. I whimmishly saw Maggie again two weeks later with my friend Kayla in Westerly, Rhode Island, and her spiel was almost identical to the one in Alexandria—the only real differences came from readers’ questions.
There’s no question that she was hilarious—she had a bit about painting portraits of ugly babies that left me in stitches—but there’s something about authors doubling as entertainers that makes me a little uncomfortable. I do understand that being funny often stops you from having to be too earnest, which must be a godsend when you’re an introverted writer having to meet scads of people convinced that you’re YA literature’s messiah—but I think I had my hopes up for a quieter, more sincere discussion akin to the LiveJournal posts I remembered. I think perhaps I underestimated the fannish culture that has surrounded Maggie in recent years, turning her into a kind of rock star in the YA scene.
The best bit, of course, was the signing. Dana, Allie and I got a photo with her, and when I told her we ran a literary blog together, she looked delighted and said “That’s great!” And then she doodled a horse in my copy of The Scorpio Races.
Ultimately, despite the surprise of the comedy routine, I had a fantastic time, and by the end, my stomach hurt from laughing so hard. Being paranoid about this sort of thing, I’d bought our tickets very early, so we were some of the first people in the signing line, after which time we left and had dinner at Nando’s. When we walked back down King Street two hours later, we could still see Maggie in the window, laughing with readers and posing for selfies.
I went to see Maggie Stiefvater to see David Levithan.
Not because I am a massive David Levithan fangirl, but because I am fascinated by him as a person. Somehow, he manages to be both hotshot editor and bestselling author, and while many industry professionals have had their own books published, I can think of no one else who has met with so much success while also keeping their day job.
Think about it. Levithan has co-written novels with big names like John Green, Andrea Cremer, and Nina LaCour, but he also has a slew of his own works. Two Boys Kissing. Hold Me Closer Every You, Every Me. Meanwhile, he’s edited books by powerhouse Carolyn Mackler, Alex Gino, Holly Black, Cassandra Clare, Kenneth Oppel, and of course Maggie Stiefvater.
Basically, I want to be him. Which was why I was so darn excited when I saw that he was going to be at an event in conversation with Maggie.
He wasn’t there. I had read the advertisement wrong. He was going to be at a different event. In a different city.
I was still happy to see Maggie. She was funny and smart and charming. She did a delightful stand-up comedy routine. She signed my copy of The Scorpio Races.
I admire her just as much as I admire David Levithan—but in a different way. I admire Stiefvater for her writing; I admire Levithan for his career. As someone new to the publishing world, I’ve been thinking about my own career a lot lately, so I was eager to see a professional hero of mine.
I was deeply, deeply in love with The Raven Cycle when Libby got us into the first stop on Maggie Stiefvater’s book tour for the The Raven King. I didn’t know what to expect going in. I didn’t follow Maggie on social media, I hadn’t read any of her other books, I stubbornly avoided all Raven Cycle previews and spoilers and fan speculation. So I was open to pretty much anything happening that night, and I bopped around as an ecstatic fan just happy to be there, get my beautiful signed book and special goodies, meet Maggie, and find out how it ends. My main goal was the book and making sure my precious Adam Parrish got his happy ending, and everything else was icing on the cake.
But I was hoping to learn some things as an author and as a reader. As an author I wanted to know what kind of person could write The Raven Cycle and do so much with description and character that I wanted to do with my own stories. I wanted to hear Maggie’s personal voice as the woman behind the curtain and see what I could learn about telling stories from someone who made me fall in love with hers, who made a fantastic place like Cabeswater and an ordinary place like Henrietta real to me and her sublime cast of people more than real. As a reader, I wanted some insight into the story; I wanted to know how we got this sum of parts and why they worked together this why and why they happened at all. Where did this story come from? What compelled you to write it? What does it mean to you, and what can I do with that when I think of what it means to me?
Well. I got some of those things, and we certainly had fun. Maggie’s book talk was entertaining and definitely showed me what kind of person wrote The Raven Cycle—lively, energetically animated, funny, enjoys large metaphors and fast cars, dresses like a shy punk—and I told anybody who would listen that it reminded me of a stand-up comedy routine. You know, it was great, it felt authentic, it was hilarious, but it felt practiced with her returning jokes and strategic meandering and acting, and I hadn’t really expected a show with a literary rock star. It turns out it was, considering Sam saw the same thing in New York and Libby saw the same thing in Boston that she saw in D.C., but I would probably do it, too, if it were me out in front of adoring fans with the pressure to be someone they could adore and trust with their beloved characters and story.
So, the most I learned about how Maggie writes is:
- It is very hard to write on planes, because it always feels like people are watching you and reading over your shoulder. Sometimes they aren’t. Sometimes they are, and you’ll know because they’ll laugh when nothing else is happening except that you’ve just written a funny bit on the laptop they’re creeping on.
- Don’t write by committee, especially when the committee is large. You might have a bestselling series that is not The Raven Cycle with a lot of fans, and you might write the last book for the fans and what you think fans will like, and your editor might say it’s “fine,” but you will know it’s not, so you’ll take it back and write it all over for you and you’ll like it better but everything will be difficult and not fun.
- Meet new people and go to new places or you’ll never have anything to write about. Go to new places even if you’re sick in Wales because your son threw up on you and your only lead on finding ley lines and magic is from some locals in a military surplus store who send you on an Arthurian quest to find a “local place” in front of a “church that you stand in front of and it makes you feel funny.”
- Her work day often involves fire, but never take this strange, wonderful job as “author” for granted because the alternative is surviving by painting the classics with cat heads (which you enjoy) or very ugly babies (which you do not).
I also heard some great stories about how horseback riding, a loose goat, and a beloved pair of sunglasses led her to accidentally share a picture of her favorite boob on Twitter and how John Green set himself on fire multiple times through sheer anxiety in a borrowed race car while she lapped him on a track. We also learned that when she was a child, she and her siblings moved into a house that would sometimes feel weird, and when it felt weird they could play the “Knocking Game,” where they knocked on the wall and they would hear the pattern knocked back to them until the house no longer felt weird.
The only things I really learned about The Raven Cycle itself were:
- Ronan is her favorite character (which surprised no one), but not by a long margin. According to Maggie, he’s mostly her favorite because so much of his childhood and personal background is like hers; she overall likes the dynamic between the characters, like the relationship is her favorite character, which I certainly appreciated and can agree with.
- One of the themes is that time is circular, time slows down, speeds up, and generally is strange. That’s it, it came about in the middle of the story about how she accidentally posted a photo of her favorite boob to Twitter. (Which I was less happy about. Not the boob story, it was delightful, but I have a personal vendetta against time travel stories and having The Raven Cycle’s time strangeness confirmed gave me conflicted feelings and trepidation.)
- If The Raven Cycle were a food, it would be like really cheap General Tso’s chicken: the place you get it is kind of dodgy, but the food is astonishingly delicious, even if you feel a little sick after. (The audience had some very strange questions).
When we got to Maggie’s signing table, I stumbled over questions, because all I knew of her work was The Raven Cycle, and I was in love with it, and I had no idea how to express, “I am in love with the product of your brain and your passion, please indulge me with recognition of my infatuation!”
So I asked about Cabeswater. I jumped the cliff of embarrassment and revealed how that first description of Cabeswater so enchanted me that I could feel it, hear it, taste the moisture in the air in my mouth, and was it real? Was there a place it was based on that I could go? But Cabeswater was from Maggie’s dream when she was 19 years old, which actually made me so happy because I, too, have been holding onto stories since I was 19 and younger, and I was so encouraged to hear that she had kept and nurtured hers into a beautiful story so many years later.
And then I learned that everyone knew Cabeswater was from a dream, and I would have known, too, if I followed her on social media. Well. At least I confessed.