Fantasy writer makes real impact on fiction genre

September 7, 2012
TRAVERSE CITY — Her name is synonymous with fiction fantasy in the young adult world.

Now novelist Maggie Stiefvater hopes to broaden her audience with the first book in a new series called “The Raven Cycle.”

“This is more complicated than previous works,” said the New York Times bestselling author of “The Raven Boys,” book one in the four-book series. “So far readers have said it’s their favorite one of my books.”

The novel launched Tuesday to advance praise from TIME Magazine (one of the “season’s most anticipated reads”), Amazon Books (a “fall favorites” editors’ selection) and IndieBound (an autumn Indies Next List kids’ pick). Stiefvater said she aimed for a slightly older and more gender-balanced audience with the book, which follows her popular “Books of Faerie” series, “Wolves of Mercy Falls” or “Shiver” trilogy, and “The Scorpio Races,” now being produced by Warner Brothers.

“Shiver,” a supernatural Romeo and Juliet story, spent over 40 weeks on New York Times bestsellers lists.

“The ‘Shiver’ trilogy is very romantic, and romance appeals to women,” said Stiefvater, 30, who pronounces her last name “Steve-Otter.” “With ‘The Raven Boys,’ it’s much more of an adventure story that just happens to have a little romance in it, so it’s more universal.”

The book introduces Richard “Dick” Gansey and his Raven Boys, the rich boys at prestigious Aglionby Academy. Gansey has family money, good looks and devoted friends but he’s on a quest for more: Glendower, a vanished Welsh king. When Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic, crosses the boys’ path, she remembers the prediction she’s heard all her life: that if she kisses her true love, he will die.

Like her other works, “The Raven Boys” is grounded in mythology, said Stiefvater, who is already at work on its sequel.

“When I was a kid I used to love, ‘The Dark is Rising.’ It’s a (five) book-long series based on Welsh mythology but set in the real world,” said the Virginia-based writer, who was drawn to the magic that resulted from fusing the two. “And that’s what I wanted to do with this series.”

A voracious reader, Stiefvater said she always loved fiction fantasy and checked out every book stamped with a unicorn design — the designation for the genre at her hometown library — though there were “no real teen fantasies of that kind.”

“The thing I’ve always loved is how universal it is,” she said, noting that her books have been translated into 38 different languages. “I was surprised when I started getting letters from readers in the (Czech Republic), Lithuania and the Philippines. I didn’t understand how a book by a young American author could resonate with them.”

Stiefvater will talk about her work and unusual path to success on Thursday, Sept. 27, at the City Opera House. The National Writers Series event will feature a drawing for a guitar embellished by Stiefvater, also an artist and musician whose compositions grace her audio books.

“When I was a kid I thought I would be a soundtrack composer and an animator as well as a writer,” said Stiefvater, who plays several instruments including the Celtic harp, the piano and the bagpipes, and is an award-winning colored pencil artist. “It’s kind of a way of scratching that itch.

“I started doing (the guitar giveaways) a couple of books ago because the main character plays guitar. I love to draw and paint with Sharpies. I try to work in concepts from the books. This one is a ‘Raven Boys guitar.’ The drawing covers the entire guitar. It killed a lot of Sharpies,” Stiefvater said.

Linda Smith, teen services coordinator for the Traverse Area District Library, said she ordered extra copies of “The Raven Boys” in anticipation of Stiefvater’s local appearance. She expects adults to check them out, too.

“Adults are still pining for supernatural and they’re still coming to teen services for that,” said Smith, who “read” most of Stiefvater’s books on iPhone and audio books. “A lot of adults listen to teen audio books. They’re great car material.”

For more information on Stiefvater’s NWS appearance with guest host Lynn Rutan, a popular Bookends blogger and a reviewer of young adult books for Booklist, visit nationalwritersseries.org.

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