Maggie Stiefvater is an “artist, musician, and car-lover,” as well as the best-selling and award-winning author of The Raven Cycle, The Shiver Trilogy, and many other books. Tuesday was the release day of Call Down the Hawk, the first volume in her new Raven Cycle spin-off series, The Dreamer Trilogy, and she dropped by r/Fantasy for a celebratory AMA.
The author had plenty of writing advice to share, books to recommend, and Raven Cycle lore to reveal. From what’s going on with that Raven Cycle TV show to what kind of BMW Ronan drives, here are the highlights!
On the books that inspired The Raven Cycle:
It is not really like it, but I was very influenced by the Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper. It’s a middle grade series from the 70s, and skip the first book, but see if you can maybe tell the dreamy blurring of reality and fantasy. Also, Fire & Hemlock by Diana Wynne Jones.
On the Raven Cycle TV show:
The Raven Cycle’s been in continuous development for quite awhile now, with Michael London/ Groundswell Productions (they did the Magicians on SyFy) & Legendary, with Catherine Hardwicke attached as director. Earlier this year, they benevolently tricked me into writing a pilot for them — which, if you’ve ever read or done any screenwriting, you’ll know that screenwriting is about as close to the opposite of my prose-style as you can possibly get. Lean, mean, to the point. They tried to get me to do more writing as well, but I knew that when you were in Fairyland they can’t magic you into staying as long as you don’t eat the food, so I only pretended to eat the grapes and then slipped out back to the East Coast through a crack in the sidewalk.
I’m always going to be a novelist at heart, and in any case, the project has an incredibly passionate team on it now. I can’t really tell you anything else right now except that the team is so passionate that one actually named their kid Ronan.
On what kind of BMW Ronan drives:
First of all, I had no idea that Ronan’s BMW was such a hot debate. It’s his father’s, which means it’s not very new, and it’s described as sharklike, which to my child-of-the-80s mind narrows it down to a very particular BMW era, and so in my head, when I write it, it’s one of the late 80s M3s, but your mileage may vary. It’s hard to imagine him in one of the new suave ones.
I have enough rejections to paper walls and walls and walls. I began writing novels when I was a young pop, and began submitting them under awkward pen names when I was 16, and so I have REAL PHYSICAL rejection letters, not just the anemic form e-mails from agents who really wish you would just stop. I have rejections from my first agent, I have rejections from my current publisher. Ever so many. But you know what, I actually always loved the querying process. I assumed — rightly or wrongly — that publishing was inherently fair, in a gross commercial way. I didn’t want to trick my way into getting published, what good would that do me on the other side? I assumed that since I wanted to be a commercial writer with a broad base, the moment I started writing novels that actually started looking like they might work, I’d get positive feedback, and I did. Of course, I didn’t need much to be motivated. Just them crossing out ‘dear author’ and putting ‘dear maggie’ or writing ‘almost there, this is pretty solid’ was enough to motivate me to put that book down, and work harder on the next one. I think Lament [Stiefvater’s first published novel] was my 30th novel or so.
On how she stays motivated:
It is incredibly important to me to decide at the beginning of the novel process what exactly I am trying to create. I want to know how it feels. I want to know how it’s going to make the reader feel. I want to know the general heft of it. I want to know if it’s a crying book, a dreamy lengthy tome, a pittery pattering thriller, a creeping horror.
Then I make a playlist that matches the mood of that. I find photographs, I make lists of imaginary titles that sound like what this book will be. And then I write and write and write and edit until it becomes that book, and I don’t stop until I do. And when I get to the book I intended to write, I stop.
I am most ill motivated when I haven’t been strict with myself and don’t really know where I’m headed/ what I’m trying to make. Then I’m just wandering on a road trip with no set destination. If I find myself there, I throw everything out and go back to step one: what am I trying to do.
On whether she’d ever write a book outside of the fantasy genre:
I think it would be hard for me to write something completely without magic, mostly because my life is kind of magical, so sometimes I forget what sounds true or not true, magical or not magical. I think if I set my mind on a totally contemporary thriller I’d end up with a casual ghost or demon or magical earthquake, because that is how my life seems to go as well. I do, however, really like grounding the fantasy as much as I can while still making it feel magical rather than gritty and hardboiled. Awe and wonder are important to me. So I’m hoping that Hawk lands that.
On the Glendower lore in The Raven Cycle:
Once upon a time, I wrote a series of books that took quite a lot of liberty with the legend of Glendower. Not the historical bits — I was pretty faithful about the historical bits and his bastard children and his warrior poets and the legend of his disappearance — but all of the other magical bits got pretty hairy, what with him granting wishes and being carried across the ocean and whatnot.
Once upon a time, after I had finished writing all of them, my mother did a lot of genealogy.
Once upon a time, I found out he was my direct ancestor.
I feel like you have to take the liberties readers expect you would, and not the ones they think you’d keep intact. If he’s going to be a mythical figure they are hunting for, yes, I can invent all kinds of magic around him. But I can’t change his wife’s name for no reason, or change the year of his birth, or have him fighting a different king than he was really fighting. Change as little as you can, and never for lazy reasons – I would never fudge something because I didn’t know the answer. Find the answer, hope it fits, do your best to make it fit, and then, and only then, if you absolutely must take the liberty, that’s where you finesse.
On whether there will ever be a sequel to The Scorpio Races:
The Scorpio Races is the book of my heart, and I always told people when I wrote it that I’d need to live another decade before I’d filled the well enough to write something so full of Maggie (Call Down the Hawk is that book, weirdly enough).
I love the idea of a sequel but I won’t let myself do it unless I’m sure it has something new to say. I loved writing The Scorpio Races, but I know I don’t need to simply write it again.
On what could be coming next [Ed’s note: These are taken from different answers.]:
I’m not gonna say too much, but I’m working on a holiday tale. ;)
My next project is an adult novel. YA readers are growing up and I’m growing with them, and it doesn’t make sense to Peter Pan my stories to fit the category when everything else has changed.
Head on over to r/Fantasy for the rest of Stiefvater’s AMA!