Authors on the Verge: Meet Maggie Stiefvater, young adult novelist

Maggie Stiefvater AuthorThis week, we have Maggie Stiefvater, a young adult novelist and professional equestrian artist. A mother of two toddlers, Maggie lives in Virginia with her husband, her children, and two small dogs who have a distressing tendency to fart.

(By the way, Snoop is trying really hard NOT to make a farting joke right now.)

Ahem … So Maggie, tell us about your debut books coming out this fall with Flux (a Llewellyn imprint).

Right now I have two novels under contract, LAMENT: THE FAERIE QUEEN’S DECEPTION and BALLAD: (PROBABLY GOING TO HAVE COOL SUBTITLE HERE). Both of them involve homicidal faerie types, but I don’t think of them as being very dark. If I write a dark scene, I like to balance it with a beautiful scene.

Maggie Stiefvater Lament novelAnyway, in LAMENT (Flux, Oct. 1 2008), Deirdre, a phobic but musically talented teen falls for an enigmatic boy who turns out to be an assassin for the faeries, and she’s supposed to be his next mark.

BALLAD (Oct 2009), is technically LAMENT’s sequel but it stands alone as well. In it, one of the characters from LAMENT, by virtue of being a rockin’ musician, draws the attention of Nuala, a faerie muse/ psychic vampire, and even though he turns her offer down, she ends up falling for him. There’s lots of other good stuff in there, like bonfires, kings of the dead, Dee from LAMENT, and of course, lots of faeries. I’m clearly going to have to work on boiling this down a little better by next October.

I’d rate both of them either PG or PG-13 for very limited language and slight nookie.

(Nookie? *Snoop blushes*)

When you received your offer, what happened?

After my editor told me (I sold LAMENT without an agent), I told him I was going to scream when I hung up the phone. I think he believed me. Anyway, I hung up and then went outside and screamed (my toddlers were napping and I didn’t want to wake them up). My husband was out running errands and arrived home to find me standing in the driveway like some sort of lost zombie. When he got out of the car, I said, “They took it.” He said, “Thank God. We’re getting a new mattress.”

So now that you have a contract, what’s it like to be on the other side–on the verge of publication? What does it feel like to be official?

This weird thing has happened now that the publication date is drawing near. Even though I have an enthusiastic and wonderful editor and an enthusiastic and wonderful agent and an enthusiastic and wonderful publisher, I’m now filled with the horrible feeling that perhaps LAMENT really does suck and I will be blasted with horrible reviews on Amazon. I’m fully prepared for negative reviews by journals, but for some reason, the idea of a regular person leaving a one star review that says “I cannot believe someone actually paid this girl to write something, does she really think you could stun a faerie with a fireplace shovel?” . . . brrrr. Shivers.

How long did it take to sell your books, from putting the first words on the page to receiving an offer? Here are your choices.

  • 0-3 months
  • 3-6 months
  • 6 months to 1 year
  • 1 year – 2 years
  • 2 years – 3 years
  • 3 years+
  • The manuscript has been around longer than I have.

Tell us a little bit about your path to publication.

I hate to put 3 + years for the last question, because it’s sort of not true. When I first started writing LAMENT back in college, it was called THE QUEEN’S BIDDING and it sucked. I mean, it had some great ideas, but it had no voice whatsoever and my main character . . . she was bad. Anyway, it sort of simmered without getting real bites until my now-editor Andrew Karre made some revision suggestions. I liked them, so I did it. But he didn’t take it. And by then, I knew why, so I wasn’t even fussed about it—I’d already started writing another novel and realized that it was kicking THE QUEEN’S BIDDING’s butt. A year later, I subbed THAT novel to Andrew and he said, “Do you remember that old one? I was still thinkin’ about it … .” He made some really drastic revision suggestions, and this time, I wrote it from scratch. Three months later, I had LAMENT and a contract.

Now I have three great crit partners that make the process a thousand times easier, and Andrew is really hands-on and helpful as well. I also have a fantastic agent now too, and she makes it possible for me to just write instead of worrying about the business details.

If you’ve already begun or have finished the editorial process, tell us what that’s been like.

Well, mine was a little different for LAMENT because I was rewriting it from scratch under my editor’s watchful eye anyway. He gave me suggestions along the way—little pokes here and there. But when I turned in the final draft, I got a three page revision letter with suggestions. I ended up changing the ending completely because of it, and it was much stronger for it. I had about four months to write LAMENT and another month to revise it — with BALLAD I have much more time but I don’t think I’ll need it because I’ve learned to work efficiently.

Tell us about a typical day in your writing life.

I usually don’t write every day. I prefer instead to schedule a day with myself so that my subconscious can work on what’s going to happen next for the rest of the week. Then I sit down and belt out a few thousand words. Rinse and repeat.

I’m one of those writers that blasts out words quickly without thought to whether they’re any good, and I tidy up the (considerable) mess later.

Here’s a multiple-choice question for you. How many rejections did you receive IN GENERAL (not just for these books) before you landed your first major publishing contract?

  • 0-10
  • 11-25
  • 26-50
  • 51-100
  • 100+
  • I didn’t keep track because it was too depressing.
  • I didn’t keep track because I am not that organized.
  • They don’t make a number that big.
  • I plead the fifth.

Tell us about some of your most heart-breaking rejections and some of your best!

Most heart-breaking rejection? Hm. I had an agent (I thought) I really wanted who said I was definitely ready to be represented . . . but not by him. Otherwise, I got plenty of rejections, but I was pretty stoic about them. I think you have to have a thick skin and confidence in yourself to get by in this—I had this crazy idea all along that I was bound to get published at some point. I just figured when I got a bunch of form rejections, I wasn’t ready. When they all started getting personal, I knew I was getting close.

(Readers: Definitely check out our article Analyze this: to learn more about the rejection ladder.)

Best rejection? I just got a rejection for LAMENT a few months ago… after I’d already signed a contract.

Prior to selling your books, you were …

Working a full-time job unrelated to writing.

I was and still am a professional artist.

After you sold your books, you plan to …

Reduce the number of hours I’m working at my current occupation.

I don’t know if I’d ever quit, even if my writing takes off—I think it’s important for a writer to have a job other than writing to be able to write realistically about the world. Plus I love what I do!

What are some of the new things you worry about now that you have a contract?

I used to worry about my new books living up to LAMENT, but now it’s the other way around. I feel like I get so much better with each novel I write that I worry BALLAD will kick LAMENT’s butt.

Any advice for aspiring authors?

  • Read. Read good books in your genre and take apart the ones you love to find out why you love them.
  • Find hard critique partners that ask tough questions that sting—crit partners that read the same genre you write.
  • Be persistent. You will have to be your biggest champion.
  • Research the business like crazy. There are too many online sources of info for you to ever have to make a gigantic idiot of yourself at the query stage
  • Be willing to take apart your own work and put it back together to make it function better. Sometimes you’ll have to. Sometimes you’ll want to.

One last question. Snoop wants to know: which books have changed the way you think about writing? Any ones you like to nibble on most?

  • FEED by M. T. Anderson. A challenging and thought-provoking YA with great voice.
  • THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE by Audrey Niffenegger. A love story with wonderful and consistent characterization.
  • THE DARK IS RISING series by Susan Cooper. A series of five books firmly grounded in folklore.
  • SOMEDAY THIS PAIN WILL BE USEFUL TO YOU by James Cameron. The plot is wanting but the main character is so endearingly human that I’ve read it twice since I bought it a few months ago, just to take apart how the character is written.

This concludes our interview with the delightful Maggie Stiefvater. We wish her and her flatulating dogs a prosperous future! (Let’s just hope the dogs aren’t too prosperous.) If you’d like to learn more about Maggie, do visit her website at http://www.maggiestiefvater.com and her blog at http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com.

Tune in next week to learn about our next Author on the Verge, Danette Haworth, middle grade novelist!

If YOU are a debut children’s book author with a major trade publisher and would like to be featured on AOTV, please contact me.

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