Monday, September 30, 2013

Wordcraft -- Stories supernaturally dire and poignant

The Dream Thieves

by Maggie Stiefvater


Always on the lookout for places to hear authors talk about (and sell) their books, I was thrilled to see my neighborhood HalfPrice Books beginning to sponsor author appearances. Last Wednesday, a crowd overflowed the community meeting room at the Dallas store, 5803 E. Northwest Highway, to hear bestselling YA author Maggie Stiefvater, on tour for her latest book, The Dream Thieves.

Stiefvater currently juggles three separate series, as well as stand-alone novels and short stories, each with its own mix of adventure, romance, mythology and the supernatural.

“My books are hard to get past the elevator test,” Stiefvater told her audience. “You know, when you’re in an elevator and somebody sees you holding a book and asks what it’s about? And you have two floors to tell them.”

The short answers for previous books, she said, were things like “werewolves kissing,” or “murderous fairies” or “homicidal water horses.” Answers that may have left her fellow elevator riders still guessing.

Her new book out just a week before her HalfPrice appearance, may be even harder to explain to fellow elevator passengers. The second book of The Raven Boys series, The Dream Thieves, is the story of Blue Sargent -- “the only non-clairvoyant in a very psychic family” -- apparently doomed to kill her true love the first time she tries to kiss him. And this, everyone in the family predicts, is the year Blue will fall in love. But at the book’s beginning, the boy who meets a psychic’s test for the true love in waiting, rich preppie Richard Campbell Gansey III, is looking pretty unlovable.

As Blue lugs equipment for a search for a legendary king, she asks herself, Am I in love with him yet? Gansey sneers, ‘“I would’ve thought you had more muscles. Don’t feminists have big muscles?” Decidedly not in love with him.’

There are also a strange and strangely handsome assassin, a search for a long-dead Welsh king, and a very cool car involved. Better not try explaining the plot in an elevator, unless it’s an elevator in the world’s tallest building.

Looking young, svelte and dashing enough to be a heroine in her own books, Stiefvater recruited enthusiastic volunteers for a staged reading from The Dream Thieves, before fielding non-traditional answers to their questions about her writing.

“I don‘t really write by word count,” she replied to a question about how many words she churns out daily. “I write by scene count. . . Sometimes it takes twenty minutes. Sometimes it’s twenty-one hours.” (Usually, though, she said her goal is to complete a significant scene each day.)

Asked about what comes first in planning a novel, a character or a plot, the answer was, neither. Instead, she referenced her emotional reaction to another writer’s book, The Time Traveler’s Wife, whose ending made her spend an evening weeping so long and hard her husband wondered why she was putting herself through so much pain. “And I thought, I’m going to write a book so poignant, so dire, it’s going to ruin somebody’s evening. That’s how I started the Shiver series. And pretty much rinse and repeat for the rest.”

She both encouraged aspiring authors in the audience to start writing as young as possible, not waiting to acquire life experience, but at the same time realizing they’ll need the experience they’re gaining to write well. And don’t drop the day job too soon.

After her first book sale, she said, her husband joked that at least they could finally afford a new mattress. “But it was a very nice mattress. And with the second book, we could buy a mattress and a set of tires.”

See more about Stiefvater, her books, writing advice, and newly-bought race car at

To keep up on events at HalfPrice Books, including, I hope, more author events, see

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