Thursday, October 24, 2013

October 22: Maggie Stiefvater & Maureen Johnson

When I heard that both Maggie Stiefvater and Maureen Johnson would be coming to Vancouver, I was beyond excited. I adore Maggie's books, the magic and the realism and the adventure, and Maureen's books are so much fun to read. And so I went. (I knew it was going to be an entertaining 90 minutes when two teens from the audience went up to 'assist' with a reading from The Dream Thieves and stayed up there for the whole event. They were awesome.)

The event was mostly made up of questions, which lead to lots of funny stories. Here are some highlights (sorry about the length after the jump, I promise it's worth it) (I recorded the event so what's below is very close to what they actually said during the event). :)

When asked if it was difficult for Maggie to write male characters, she just said no. Maureen claims she has no line between reality and imagination. Maggie says that music keeps her in the mood, that noise-cancelling headphones are great on planes when she's still writing, how one song will come on and she's right back in the scene she needs to be in. Maureen mentioned that there's one song that she will hear sometimes and it's like she's been transported back to Suite Scarlett.

What's on Maggie's playlist for The Dream Thieves? A lot of Bulgarian hip hop. "In order to remind myself that Kavinsky (a street racing jerk who's so much worse than Ronan) could not secretly be a street racer with a heart of gold, I developed an entire long list of terrible songs. I asked Twitter, actually, if they would recommend terrible songs that guys would listen to, and after I got rid of all the Beastie Boys, I was left with a lot of Columbian hip-hop. Normally I can recommend a lot of new songs. Not The Dream Thieves. It’s all stuff that has swearing either in this language or Bulgarian."

If Maggie could go into dreams, what would she bring back? "So in The Dream Thieves it's all about this whole idea that if you believe in something strong enough you can manifest it in the real world, and so terribly the best example of how this actually happened in my life is that when I was first writing The Dream Thieves I knew Kavinsky was going to drive a white Mitsubishi with a knife painted on the side. And so I went to a Mitsubishi dealership to do some research and I sat in one and I accidentally bought one." So she's kind of already done it. ;)

When did Maureen know she wanted to be a writer? "I was definitely one of these kids that always wanted to write. I was like an indoor kid, kind of an easy-bleeder, and I always wrote. I always wrote. I was like, ‘I'm going to write books,’ and people were like, ‘that's not a job.’ And I was like, ‘I'm gonna do it’ and they were like, ‘you should get a different career because that's not a job.’ And I was like, ‘just you watch,’ and they were like, ‘become an engineer,’ and I was like ‘just you wait.’ It did take a while but I did do it, so I always wanted to do this. And the sitting is great. If you're into sitting, then writing is for you because, let me tell you something, you will sit in so many places, you will do so much sitting that, it's like a dream. You're like, I just like to sit."

And how does Maureen feel about treadmill desks? "Suspicious. But I kind of want one now."

Maggie on Blue and fate: "I really liked the idea of (Blue killing her true love if she kisses him) because I like to explore what love looks like if you can't kiss someone and also if kissing actually means love, which in YA, did you notice that someone kisses someone that means that they're in love, that happens in real life (she said sarcastically with much of the crowd shaking their heads no, smart teens). Anyway so I like looking at that. I also like looking at the idea of fate because ever since I was small I always had very big plans for myself and always knew what I wanted to become, and so everything felt very fated and so the question is how much can you wiggle around in that and still get to the actual end point."

Maureen on why she wrote a mystery like The Name of the Star: "I really wanted to write a mystery, I'm going to be writing even more mysteries. I was a huge mystery reader as a kid. I was an Agatha Christie addict. I wanted nothing more than to be invited to a country house and solve a murder. I still want that. I still want that so so hard. I'm still waiting for something like, I've watched Castle and I was like, 'I could do that.' If you write a mystery novel and the cops let you work with them and then you solve crimes? I could do that. Waiting for the call."
What were the books or writers that got you interested in writing? For Maggie, Diana Wynne Jones and Susan Cooper, while Maureen was obsessed with The Great Gatsby as a teenager.

Maureen on her writing process (after knocking a glass of water to the floor of the stage): "It looks a lot like that. It's a messy process. It's unexpected. You have to make sudden, bold movements. And when you're in the middle of it, you'll think it's a disaster. But then you'll suddenly start seeing the pattern, this, for example, I've made a 6, with a sort of dot in front of it and a little sparkle like that. And you have to see the pattern in the chaos because when you write your first draft it will be terrible, it will be a messy messy process, and you will lose confidence and you will think that you are the worst person in the world. You'll question why you were born. You'll wish someone took your computer and just beat you with it. You'll think that they're coming to arrest you. You'll think that maybe you can get another job, like being a waiter, serving water. Because it's not an elegant process, you know, it's fraught with, there's always going to be self-doubt. When you first write something it is generally terrible and so much of writing is spent thinking as much as flailing, as I have just demonstrated. Flailing is a big part of it. Flailing and failing and just swimming your way through, like it's a long way through, and then you just rewrite and you revise and, so yeah. Also a lot of sitting."

Maggie on her writing process: "For me I am not really a writer, I am a thief. I have to steal everything from real life. All my characters start out as real human people, all of my settings are places that I've actually been, all of the emotions are things that I have already felt, and so for me I have to write what I've already experienced and so when I get to the bottom of my creative well, I have to go out and do other things and so my job does not involve a lot of sitting because I do my best thinking while I’m doing other things and then I sit down and I write in a mad rush, so the last 30k words of The Dream Thieves was written in one long overnight session. Now that’s not saying that that's the final draft, I will go back and edit, but for me the most important part is knowing what the story is first, and then I'm writing down what I'm already playing in my head. So when I say that I went out and I bought goats and I raced cars and I did all these things, while it's all hilarious and fun and games, it's because I'm always looking for ways to fill my creative well so I must live 40 lives so I can write 40 lives, I steal them. I will say though there is no replacement for that butt in chair, like those words will never actually happen for me going out and having a good time and driving cars super fast sideways, even though I do know how to parallel park a car from 60 mph."

What are their two favourite words? Maggie only has one, 'piscatorial.' Maureen: "Don't know."

Maggie on her books as movies: "my UK editor asked, “So, who would you cast as Sam?” And I went, “I don't think of him as being Hollywood handsome. In the book it says it's got that big nose a girl couldn't get away with and floppy hair like a Beatle and he's sort of gangly, so I can't think of an actor, but maybe Alex Turner the lead singer of the Arctic Monkeys (to which many in the audience said ‘YES’), cause he's got that big nose a girl couldn't get away with and floppy hair and he's all joints and he's kind of so funny-looking that he's almost cute. And as we got up to leave my editor takes my elbow and says, “Yeah, and that was his girlfriend sitting right behind us.” His model girlfriend. They're not together anymore, so she knew."

Maureen on writing magic or fantasy and sounding convincing: "Yeah, I live with a scientist and so when I worked on this series (the Shades of London series), and I have a dossier of information that's the whole system of how all these things work, and I also corrupted a lot of, this is a pretty common trick is to corrupt actual science, take various elements of physics or chemistry and twist them to your purposes, but yeah, it absolutely has to be consistent or the story will just be a large pile of garbage and make no sense."

And, the biggest bomb dropped at the event, Maureen reveals an internet secret: "I have secret Twitter accounts that I don’t use to, I don’t monitor anything. Never Google yourself. It’s a sure path to crazy. But I do have secret insane things that I put up that I’ll never claim ownership of. I have one alter-ego that I’ll tell you about. John Green. That has arguably been one of the most successful of my alter-egos, it takes a lot of make-up."

And then I got my books signed (not pictured is my copy of The Raven Boys that Maggie also signed). :)
Thanks so much to the Vancouver Writers Festival for inviting Maggie and Maureen to come speak. The whole audience seemed engaged, there was lots of laughter, and most seemed to be fans of Maggie or Maureen or both.

Also, when I woke up Wednesday morning, I found Maureen in the newspaper. How cool. :)
(For those interested, I have a more detailed write-up of the event. I recorded 54 of the event's 90 minutes (I missed the intros, the readings, and a couple of opening questions) and mostly transcribed what was said (I skipped some stories and some chat). It might go up in a Google doc if enough people are interested.)

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