In our dreams, we race cars, create hand-drawn tarot cards and write gorgeous lyrical novels with Maggie Stiefvater. So when we caught up with the author before THE RAVEN KING release, we were thrilled to discover she’s as intriguing and wild as her books…
You only think this is an easy question. The very first handwritten rough draft of The Raven Boys (still stashed dustily in my office) dates from over a decade ago, when I was a bagpipe-playing teen in the wilds of Virginia. That early version was chaos, but I suppose it was interested in the same things that the final version is: the desire for a heroic mentor, the challenges of friendship, a fascination with driving with career in transportation stupid-fast cars, and a creeping suspicion that something old and magical is hidden in the humid valleys of western Virginia.
The truth is that there are strange and magical things lurking in the mountains of my home state. Some of them are just kids shouting “yee haw!” from the back of pick-up trucks, but some of them don’t have names. You should visit. You’ll see.
Your books are so character-driven—fleshed out through revealing small details and fleeting thoughts that ultimately make us fall madly in love with the characters, sometimes because we know their fears and flaws and love them for that all the more. (Okay, enough with the confessions!) So…do you know your characters fully when you start writing or do they reveal themselves to you as you write?
For me, being a writer is a little bit about being an artist and a lot about being a thief. There’s a lot to be said for a story told stylishly, but there’s a lot more, in my opinion, to be said about a character who feels like they could really be walking around the world somewhere. In my case, they sometimes really do: I steal real people to be in my novels. Not the details of their entire life story, but the heart of it. So, like an illustrator, I begin with my real human model, and then I alter as the story grows. Does that answer the question? I know them when I begin. But I know them better by the end.
I was a black-wearing, bagpipe-playing, dark-hearted, unfriendly teenager with a deep suspicion that the world was going to let me down. But at the same time, I was an idealistic, wistful teenager with my eyes on the stars and my fingers digging for history. I’m not sure if being both of these people at once is part of being a teen or part of being Maggie Stiefvater, but it sure did make for a wild ride. Does make for a wild ride. I’m still composed of opposites.
As far as influencing my writing, of course. The biggest theme that’s affected my writing, I suppose, is one of my oldest beliefs: you can have any sort of life that you plan to have. If you plan to have a terrible one, you will have a terrible one. If you plan to have a magical one, you will have a magical one. So many life events are neutral until you impose a value on them. Good, bad, ugly. You get to decide how you feel about them. Stack up enough feelings and you start to have a life colored by the ones you pick most often.
Which Raven Cycle character would you have identified most with as a teen? How about now?
Ronan Lynch and I share a lot of DNA.
You started with a love story about a girl who knows she will kill her true love with a kiss. Were you ever concerned about where that was going to go?
I like how there is an unstated thread of pessimism in that question, guys. What you’re really saying is: were you ever concerned? Because, honestly, you should have been. I can appreciate that. I wasn’t concerned when I started because I had the big-picture elements of the series blocked out from the beginning and knew what I was planning to do with the plot twists. I got more concerned, however, when I realized it meant I was going to be spending five years writing a love story with no kissing. Look, after a while, it gets difficult to find ways to say “they mostly just looked at each other but it was kinda hot anyway.”
Your books create such lush, wild and dangerous worlds out of mixing mythology (Welsh, Irish, werewolf) worlds with contemporary life. Do you have a favorite mythology, or a mythology that’s calling you to pursue it next?
I used to ride horses. I mean, I still do, just not all the time. How often do you have to go riding to say you still ride horses? In any case, I used to do it quite seriously, and I spent a good deal of my teen years looking at horses for sale. I remember once going to look at a terrific half-warmblood gelding that I couldn’t afford. He’d looked stunning in the photos, and when I arrived, they led him out. Here he was: a beautiful bay with a liquid-black eye. And then he turned his head, and his other eye was shockingly pale blue, nearly white.
The mythology I love and use will always be a lot like that. The ordinary suddenly punctuated by a bright flash of the unexpected.
This series haunts us. Have you ever been haunted? Yes. It’s not as bad as it sounds.
Something people don’t know about you is…I can time travel.
Where would you live—Cabeswater or The Barns? The Barns. Cabeswater would lose its magic if I had to do my laundry there.
The Raven King is really a book about…how heroes are made.
Favorite book that reveals the true nature of a hero? I’m a King Arthur fangirl.
Right now you’re inspired by…it’s been a really good year for music. I share favorites on my Tumblr and tag ‘em “music.” http://maggie-stiefvater.tumblr.com/tagged/music