Blue Lily, Lily Blue: Why Maggie Stiefvater’s Writing is Special to Me.

bluelily

Blue was perfectly aware that it was possible to have a friendship that wasn’t all-encompassing, that wasn’t blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening. It was just that now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.

“What are you doing this afternoon?” my husband asked.

“I’m reading Blue Lily, Lily Blue, the third book in the Raven Cycle,” I paused, tightening my fingers around the spine. “And it’s probably all I’m going to want to do for the rest of the day.”

“So, I don’t need to ask you if it’s good.”

“Good isn’t the right word. The feeling I get when I read these books, it’s the closest I get to how I feel when I’m writing. Not because her writing is like my writing,” I grappled with how to explain it so it didn’t sound like I was comparing myself to her. “It feels almost as personal, almost as living as my own characters in my own body.”

This would make sense to my husband. He is accustomed to sharing me with the voices in my head.

I remember a blog post (or an answer to an Anon on Tumblr?) where Maggie Stiefvater was talking about copying your favorite writers — literally rewriting their sentences (not for publication in any form or fashion) as a writing exercise. Now, I am pretty sure she did not use the word exercise, that is likely my paraphrase, but the thought is that by studying the sentence structure, word choice, rhythm, and so on by the actual writing of their words you could illuminate why it works, and learn how to apply that in your own writing.

I never did this, but I like the idea. It’s the saying, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery” but for writing. And as I read Blue Lily, Lily Blue, I knew there was something I needed to learn from this book. From the purposefulness of her words. From what she showed me, versus what she told me. I have gotten to a point in revision that requires more.

So I read. And I felt and I felt and I felt. I am a vocal, passionate fan of Maggie’s writing, and I am always surprised when another reader does not share my enthusiasm for her stories. Subjectivity is the name of the game, and this is why I am not arguing with another reader, pointing out their wrongness. I am going to make a case now for why her writing in particular strikes this cord in me, because it may surprise you with it’s threefoldness.

“Three,” Persephone said, “is a very strong number.”


One:

Words have to read a certain way in my head heart. I think (and I am not a scientist or scholar) we read to the inherent beat of our own hearts, so certain kinds of prose can feel wrong to a reader not because they are badly written, or uninteresting, but because they hitch in our heartbeat, so they hitch in our heads.

Writers write in the voice of a narrator, but we bring our own voices with us, filtering out our personality, but retaining our uniqueness. This is why anyone can write sentences on paper, not everyone is a writer.

I am going to talk about a massive best seller that I have nothing against, in fact, I very much see it’s merit. Marie Lu’s Legend was super challenging for me to get through, and I never really fell in love. And I knew I wouldn’t from page one. Why? Cadence. My rhythm and her narrator’s rhythm could never sync up. This does not make it a bad book. It makes it a less me book and a more for someone else book. Books are not meant to please all readers — they are not popcorn. They are not pumpkin spice lattes. They are the opposite of basic.

However! Maggie Stiefvater writes words in a way that flows through me like music. I do not have to acquaint myself with her rhythm when I open one of her books. And, don’t get me wrong, I love many books that do not follow my beat, but this is about why I love HER writing so much specifically. Her writing follows the beat of my heart.

Two:

I am a frustrated actress who still secretly (busted) dreams of performing. Writing is acting without a stage. Reading is an extension of this, so the first thing I look for in a story is character.

Maggie Stiefvater is a fabulous storyteller, in the most true, classic sense of this word, and some of that is because she gets that character is the base from which all good plot is built. Character defines world. Character creates voice. And characters should be alive. I am of the opinion that powerful characters (not characters with power, or characters in a place of power) are conjured from our own selves, deep observation of other people, deep questions we are asking without asking, and magic.

I say magic because to create is a magical thing. And Maggie is a bit of a magician. Reading her books is really living with her people. Getting to know them, making bargains with them, losing their bets, celebrating their glory.

Gansey thought of how strange it was to know these two young men so well and yet to not know them at all.

Something Maggie does in Blue Lily, Lily Blue over and over (intentionally, and likely not fully understood yet) is repeat this kind of phrasing, from different points of view, as if promising us that we will never know any of these people completely because they are people, and people are always revealing new layers, manipulating perspective, changing opinions, and so we should not get comfortable, not assume anything.

And this is what I believe in life, and this is what I want in stories.

Three:

Writing is digging into your own scars, so when I am writing I am bleeding. Reading is not always this way, but there are some things I think reading should try to be:

— Educational. You should learn something about yourself, your sense of humor, your own questions, your own darkness. And yes, you can learn all these things reading genre fiction of all sorts.

— Entertaining. Reading is not popcorn, I have already said this, so it is also not a movie. It may take work to entertain yourself with a book. It will take imagination. But reading should fuel your mind and emotions, which means it should not make you wish you were cleaning the kitchen instead. We all have different barometers for this, yours is none of my business.

—Satisfying. When you close a book you may want to throw it against the wall, if you were given no promise by the author that the book would make you feel fuzzies, or if you were looking for something to bring out those emotions, you should feel satisfied. Satisfaction is not happy endings. Happy endings can also be satisfying.

Reading a Maggie Stiefvater book is like voyeurism. Sometimes, it is looking in a mirror. Almost always it is frustrating and thrilling and big. I need this to feel educated, entertained and satisfied. So, I can get this from other books, but I know I will get this from her books. She is not obligated to deliver this to me, and I am not obligated to always agree with the choices she makes as a writer.

But when she publishes a book, I have learned to expect a certain chipping away of my own soul while reading. I have learned to believe her capable to telling me the truth.


So. I needed to learn something from Maggie’s book. And I did. I learned I must be willing to get in the head of a particular character that I have resisted, and why have I resisted, because he will charm me and then he will really have power. And that is dangerous because of who he is.

Maggie Stiefvater writes books only she could write, which makes them more polarizing and less easily digested, but do yourself a favor and spend some time with the Raven Boys and Blue on their quest for a dead Welsh king.

What’s Up Wednesday

WUWKiteWhat’s Up Wednesday is a weekly meme geared toward readers and writers, allowing us to touch base with blog friends and let them know what’s up. Should you wish to join us, you will find the link widget at the bottom of Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Reading

Well. Let me paint you a little picture. Since last Wednesday I have finished A Game of Thrones (Triumph!), reread The Raven Boys (in about day and a half), and read The Dream Thieves (in less than a day). It was a stormy Monday and Tuesday in North Texas. I could, and maybe should, have written words of my own, but upon concluding A Game of Thrones (Hurrah! I loved it like a…everything coming to mind is offensive.) those roguish Raven boys started calling my name; their honeyed, moneyed Virginia twang tugging at my heartstrings like they were harp strings instead. While my son was in school, and storms crackled in the cloudy Texas sky, I just read. I read with abandon, my friends. I could hardly put the books down, and this after having previously read The Raven Boys earlier this year.

To say I enjoyed The Dream Thieves would be like saying I like whiskey. I savor whiskey. I tingle with whiskey. Whiskey and I are dear and long loyal friends. There is almost nothing I can do when reading any Maggie Stiefvater novel except feel completely and utterly other in my own life. Her book world is the real one, the laundry and dirty dishes that don’t do themselves, are the figment. I will at some point elaborate more eloquently about this book, for now I will say these statements:

1) This is Ronan’s book, and it is hard sometimes because of that, but as he is unflinching, so is the book, and in that something special happens.

2) It is hard to choose a Raven boy because they are a unit, though less of a unit in this book than the first.

3) If I had to choose, it would be Gansey. He is also the character I most identify with. Psychoanalysis unwelcome.

4) I want to read it again, but I want it to also be for the first time.

What I’m Writing

Wrote about 2,000 words on my WiP. I was sort of busy this weekend, and then, yeah, see above how two of my writing days were eaten by Ravens, so…but it’s OK. Today words will happen, and lots.

What Inspires Me

Maggie Stiefvater. Her brain is a complicated, magical, and probably very loud place— not unlike 300 Fox Way I think — and reading her books makes me jumpy with wanting. I am convinced she is the only person who can write the books she writes. I am also convinced she should teach me about cars. I also interacted with her on Twitter Tuesday, which was maybe the happiest I’ve ever been on Twitter and quite possibly the most deeply nerdy.

An interaction:

Words from an agent who passed on a partial. An agent who reps some pretty big deal authors. It was not a form rejection, which was made overwhelmingly evident, and so the compliment to both my writing talent and my storytelling ability were incredibly humbling. Passing on my MS was not yippee, but then, neither would be representation without certainty.

What Else I’m Up To

The usual:

Taking care of and spending quality time with my son.

My niece had her first birthday on Saturday, which was pumpkin themed and accompanied by delectable treats. There was this pumpkin mousse dip, and I just wanted to bathe in it.

The Cassie’s Cause crew filmed for eight hours (with lots of breaks and some major hiccups) on Sunday. But we got all the scenes, and these scenes are really some of the most crucial in the whole film. We are at our halfway mark. I may yet survive this.

My husband is in New York on business, my son goes to school, and I have decided I don’t think I should be left home alone. I get nothing accomplished.

To a productive, but not rigid, Wednesday!

Top Five YA Crushes

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I’m borrowing this idea from another YA writers blog earlier this week. You can check out her post here.

We all read YA for different reasons. For me, a big draw to this genre is the feels. I love how romance plays into the plots of YA novels. I largely read fantasy and paranormal (and all off shoots of that, though I do occasionally throw in a Contemporary or Suspense for variety and intrigue), which means the romance is integral but not always focal to the story. That’s what I like.

Plus, boys. Boy, boys, boys.

Here are my boys I will never get enough of:

5. Connor Lassiter 

Connor fan art by just-one-more-freak.deviantart.com
Connor fan art by just-one-more-freak.deviantart.com

The evolution of Connor’s character from UnWind through UnWholly is remarkable, but what I love about Connor is how unwavering he is in the pursuit to bring an end to unwinding. He’s a character that never wanted to be a leader, but was actually born to be one, and when he’s forced to, he handles himself admirably.  I love how tender he is with Risa, especially after her injury, even if all she wants him to do is take her by force. Plus, he’s kind of a loose canon, which I find very appealing in concept, if not in execution.

4. The Darkling

The Darkling, Deviantart
The Darkling, Deviantart

If you haven’t read Shadow and Bone, then shame on you, and I hope I don’t spoil anything here. The Darkling is alluring in the way a den of lions or chasing a storm is alluring. His danger is not a mystery, it’s clear from the beginning, and yet pulling away from him is impossible. For me and Alina. I have a case of the I can fix hims with the Darkling, as well as the, But do I really want to’s. He’s the kind of guy that you would loose yourself in, forget friends, and goals, and follow behind hoping to be touched. I am not advocating this behavior in females, in fact, I strongly disagree with it. That doesn’t mean we don’t all have a guy in our past, or our imaginations, that we wouldn’t do that for.

3. Four (Tobias Eaton)

Four by cassandrajp
Four by cassandrajp

Four is the guy we all really should be with. He’s intelligent and strong, but he doesn’t take anything from you by being the full version of himself. He knows who he is, and what he believes, and because of that, you figure yourself out so you’re not a drain on him. Plus, the guy is hot. He’s powerful and vulnerable at the same time, without making you feel inadequate for not always having your shit together. He’s a good kisser with a bit of darkness in his past. What I love about Four is the way he encourages Tris to be her, not someone else, even if Tris doesn’t realize he’s doing that. That’s her problem. (In case you can’t tell, Tris is not my favorite chick. I tolerate her because of Four.)

2. Richard “Gansey” Campbell Gansey, III

Gansey, and the whole gang, fan art by tea-cigarette-go.tumblr.com
Gansey, and the whole gang, fan art by tea-cigarette-go.tumblr.com

Right off the bat, I loved Gansey. Maybe it’s because I know he’s gonna die. Maybe it’s because Maggie Stiefvater can write guys almost better than any other female author out there. I don’t know, but from the beginning, I was into Gansey. Hell, all the boys in The Raven Boys have something to offer, but Gansey is the leader.

(I am noticing a bit of a trend in the guys I pick. Apparently, I am attracted to power. Hmm…)

Gansey is a character I believe. He’s a guy I could really know, and spend a long time getting to know, and that’s what makes him so appealing to me. He’s the long-game. On the surface he’s clean-cut, classically handsome, and a little preppy. He’s wealthy, like old-money, oil tycoon type wealthy, which doesn’t usually attract me, but on Gansey I like it. But underneath, Gansey has a passion that’s unerring, and if turned on you, would probably take your breath away. Or your life, depending on what else is going on, because Gansey gets himself into some scrapes. I like this description of Gansey, from The Raven Boys:

There were two Gansey’s: the one who lived inside his skin, and the one Gansey put on in the morning when he slid his wallet into the back pocket of his chinos. The former was troubled and passionate, with no discernible accent to Adam’s ears, and the latter bristled with latent power as he greeted people with the slippery, handsome accent of old Virginia money. It was a mystery to Adam how he could not seem to see both versions of Gansey at the same time.

1. Jace Lightwood

It should be said that I think the casting of Jace is spot on.
It should be said that I think the casting of Jace is spot on.

The first description of Jace in Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones, made my knees feel like jello. Something about his beauty and roughness, the scars all over his body, the sharpness in his cheekbones, his cunning, golden eyes made me fiercely interested in learning more about him. As the story progressed, and things happen that are seriously messed up, it only got worse for me. And Clary. Clary was really struggling there for a while.

Jace is powerful, he’s imposing, he takes up the whole room when he enters. Everything he does in purposeful, and everything he does is a little reckless. He’s not a saint, in fact, I got the distinct impression Jace had gotten around. Somehow, that doesn’t matter. Because when he falls in love with Clary, she’s like air to him, and the world had better get out of his way so he can be with her. Jace is flawed in ways that make him nearly fall apart, and that sort of brokenness is always sexy because it’s real and vulnerable.

Jace is also really witty and sly, with a devilish, mischievous side that makes him like a prowling cat. He’d be hard to keep up with, but then, that’s also what’s so appealing about him. His endurance. (That could be taken really, way wrong, sorry.) But, beyond all those features, the reason Jace is my number one has to do with his choices. He was abused, taught about darkness not light, and yet the choices he makes fall on the side of goodness. He strives to stay in the light, and that makes it possible for him to be saved.

Thank heaven, for boys in YA!