Maggie Stiefvater, New York Times bestselling author of the Shiver trilogy and Raven Boys Cycle, visited the small town of Madrid, Iowa, on her cross-country driving tour across America this summer. The visit was sponsored by the Madrid School Library and Madrid Public Library, and made possible through donations through DonorsChoose.org.
Public library director Angie Strong, author Maggie Stiefvater,
and school librarian Kenya Arrants
From the moment she pulled up in her classic Camaro, she entertained the audience with her vivacious personality and clever witticisms. She encouraged the students to live their dreams and talked about how she came up with her ideas, as well as her writing process.
Part of what inspired Stiefvater to become a writer was reading books as a child by authors like Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, and especially Susan Cooper. “The thing that I loved about [Susan Cooper’s] books was that they took my Welsh mythology and set them in the real world...but it felt as magical as a magical country because she managed to write the mythology in such a way that it kind of seeped up through the pages and infiltrated your life, and I didn’t realize until I read those books that you could even write books like that...And so it’s pretty safe to say that that completely changed the way I looked at books and pretty much influenced the way I write my books nowadays, because I try and put as much magic as possible into real life situations.”
Stiefvater says that she gets her ideas from a variety of places. “I used to think...ideas were a lot like pimples,” she says. “One day you’re walking along and everything’s fine, and then the next day you think, ‘I think I feel something coming on,’ and then this giant voice from the heavens says, ‘Maggie Stiefvater, write about werewolves and kissing.”
When Stiefvater writes now, she knows she needs to have a plan. “If I got into my Camaro and I just started driving, I would end up somewhere--probably--but I wouldn’t know where I was gonna end up, I’d just start driving and stop eventually somewhere. And so, that’s a lot like getting into a book and not know where you’re going, or even knowing what kind of trip you wanna take. You just start driving, you’ll never know if you actually get to the end, because you never had a plan to start with. But if I get into the car and I plan to end up in Cleveland, I can at least map out, and even if I end up having to take detours, eventually I know I’m done because I’m in Cleveland.”
For her best-selling series Wolves of Mercy Falls, Stiefvater actually was inspired to write the book by reading another book, The Time Traveler’s Wife. Although she admits to being a “diehard non-crier” for books and movies, her second time through The Time Traveler’s Wife made her cry. “And not even the nice sort of pretty tears,” she says. “No, it was the snot bubble...and it goes on all evening, like a weather event, and the kids and the dogs are hiding under the table.” This experience inspired her to write Shiver because she decided she was “going to write a book that is so poignant, and the characters so 3-dimensional, and the situation so dire, that it ruins someone evening. I’m gonna write that book that people are going to be sitting there reading it in public, and their face is a snotty ruin, and they’re shouting, ‘Why, Maggie Stiefvater? Why?!’”
She was also inspired to write Shiver because of her fascination with wolves, rather than werewolves. She actually is “not a huge fan of werewolves...They shed, they slobber they savage the clerk at the local gas station, they always miss your birthday...However, wolves are interesting to me. And I don’t think of my characters really as werewolves because there’s not so much of the in-between; there’s more when they’re wolves, they’re just wolves, and when they’re human, they’re emo teenagers, so there’s no monster.”
Stiefvater even had the opportunity to have face-to-face interaction with a confined wolf pack in Hungary. She was able to get into their holding area, and while she was there, the entire pack began to howl. She was not afraid, but “even not being afraid, as I was sitting there with these wolves howling all around me, I could feel the hair on my arms and on the back of my neck slowly stand up as something deep and primeval inside me said, ‘Maggie Stiefvater, you’re going to die’...but I love wolves, and I don’t think that there’s any other animal that we’re so fascinated with as people that we can think are so beautiful but still deep down inside be terrified by.”
The Scorpio Races
Stiefvater also spoke about one of her other books, The Scorpio Races. “It’s based on the legend of Irish water horses that I first read about when I was a kid. I used to check out this book from the library all the time called The Encyclopedia of Fairies, by Katherine Briggs, and in it is an entry for the water horse, and legend says every November these horses would jump out of the water and gallop up and down the beach, and if you could catch one of them, they would make the best horse ever...But if they caught you, they’d drag you back into the ocean, and later just your lungs and liver would wash up on shore. And when I read this as a child, I thought, ‘This is the best story ever!’”
Stiefvater also “desperately wanted a horse” when she was a child, and she was able to earn enough money to buy a retired racehorse. “Bella, this racehorse, had been racing for seven years, and seemed intent on racing for the next seven. So, riding her was not so much about how good of a rider you were, it was more about your relationship with God...So this idea of horses that you love really dearly but were probably going to kill you before you hit puberty, I mean, The Scorpio Races were practically autobiographical.”
She was also fascinated with the setting of The Scorpio Races. “It’s set on a tiny little miserable island...I had an image in my mind of what I wanted the book to look like, and it was white-capped cliffs and a blood-red horse being ridden by a boy on the beach...And so I started to look for these cliffs, because I wanted to get the details exactly right, and I don’t think of myself as a very good writer, I’m a much better thief.” Stiefvater traveled to cliffs in California, the cliffs of Dover, the Yorkshire cliffs, and even went to the cliffs of Normandy while on tour in Paris.
Curate Your Dreams
Finally, Stiefvater encouraged students to follow their own dreams. When she went to college, she was denied access into the art, music, and writing programs, her three loves, but she didn’t let that deter her. “If I had accepted their no’s as being correct for me, I would not be standing in the middle of Iowa right now, talking to you guys, living the dream...And so, when someone tells you no, it’s important if you’re going to be in any creative discipline not to take it as an absolute no, because they aren’t trying to crush your dreams...And it’s not their job to curate your dreams, it’s your job to curate your dreams. So, if they tell you no, it actually means not yet.”
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