Special Guest Friday: Maggie Stiefvater!

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Today we’re delighted to host Maggie Stiefvater, author of the upcoming young adult fantasy Shiver. Maggie’s already released one young adult novel, LAMENT , a YA urban fantasy about homicidal faeries, whose sequel, BALLAD, comes out later this year. Her new release, SHIVER, is a YA fantasy about werewolves in love. In addition to writing, Maggie is a talented musician who plays the piano, the Celtic harp and the bagpipes, and an artist. She’s been crazy-busy with appearances, so we’re thrilled to have caught her for a few minutes to introduce her to our readers. Here’s Maggie!

I thought, for my guest blog in honor of SHIVER’s release date this month, I would talk about how writing a novel about werewolves made an honest girl of me.

SHIVER is my second novel, coming out this August. It’s a bittersweet love story about Grace, who has always loved the wolves who live in the woods behind her house, and Sam, a boy who has to become a wolf every winter. He gets fewer months as a human every year, and this year is his last. The countdown to winter is on.

So, this is my confession: I’m a writer and I like to swear, dammit. While I write, I mean. In the worst way.

I never really thought about it, actually, until long after my debut, LAMENT (Flux ’08), came out. Along with a cast of homicidal faeries, LAMENT boasted two f-bombs and a spattering of less egregious cusses. My editor at Flux didn’t even raise an eyebrow. One of the f-bombs was even at his suggestion. I thought they helped convey the drama of the scenes. I didn’t think about much else.

You better believe I thought about it later, when several of the reviews called out the “excessive profanity, particularly the f-word” in the book. Excessive? Two instances?

Well, pardon my french, but hot damn.

Suddenly I was eyeing swear words in a whole new light. I was already primed for realizing the power of the swear, even before I sold SHIVER, my next book, to Scholastic. Even though the target audience for SHIVER is 14 and up with significant adult crossover, due to heavy nookie, Scholastic wanted to be able to sell SHIVER to tender 8th-graders, and in order to make that happen, I had a strict no f-bomb policy. That meant going through the entire manuscript and replacing the more evil swears with innocuous alternatives.

Annoyingly, the f-bomb makes compound words that cannot be replicated with any other word. We get excellent ones like “mother-fluffer” and “cluster-fluff” and “fluff-wad.” Try replacing these with words safe for middle school use and you will quickly get flustered.

Compound words aside, it wasn’t too trying to swap out the non-compound fluffs for a less contentious word, or to cut them out entirely. In other scenes, however, I thought I couldn’t do it. The scene that comes to mind is one where Sam, our werewolf protagonist, finds out something very troubling and angsttastic about his mentor and foster father, Beck. He proceeds to drop the f-bomb about a dozen times within the course of a two-thousand-word scene.

Now, Sam hadn’t used the f-bomb before that scene, so I thought that the fact that he went to town with it was shocking and really got across his betrayal. The following conversation between me and my editor ensued:

ME: I need them. They show his angst. His betrayal!

EDITOR: um, no. Sorry, but no. 13-year-olds will . . . what’s the phrase? WIG OUT.

ME: The scene will be neutered without them! Neutered werewolf is not sexy!

EDITOR: You’re overreacting. As a matter of fact, you’re conveying your angst quite nicely without swears. did you notice?

ME: D’oh!

Anyway, my editor suggested that I already had everything I needed in the scene to show Sam’s angst — that I had the body language and the non-swear words that told us everything. She asked me to just try taking them out and seeing what happened. Not substituting them. Just taking them out.

So I did.

And . . . the scene still worked. My editor was right. In the end, I had everything I needed in the and the swear words were just . . . extraneous. The scene went from a dozen f-bombs to totally tidy without any discernible change in emotion. Color me shocked.

When I started to write the sequel for SHIVER, I knew going in that I would have to be f-bomb free, but I wrote them with the swears anyway. And then I went in and took them back out afterward. Because this is what I’ve figured out about swear words. They can be one of two things: 1) lazy writing or 2) scaffolding. The first is when you do need them — you’re using “HOLY FLUFF!” as shorthand for your character being surprised. If you take out that holy fluff when you’re writing lazily, the scene will fall on its face. And if it’s scaffolding, you use it to write the scene, push in all the other emotional cues around it, and when you take the swears out — it still stands. You only needed it to build the scene.

Knowing that, I went back through BALLAD, my third novel, that was being put out by Flux. Even though they had no problem with the smattered of f-bombs in BALLAD, now I knew them for what they really were. And I deleted all of them.

I didn’t need them anymore.

I felt like a free woman.

So that is my story of how writing about werewolves made an honest, clean writer of me.

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5 comments to Special Guest Friday: Maggie Stiefvater!

  • Hi Maggie. *Great* post! I am totally with you. We writers easily get stuck on swear-crutches. A good writer needs *very* few (none?) to get the point across. Non swearers will be comfortable, and swearers won’t notice the lack. My AKA found it was a great way to build a broad and diverse readership of adult readers, too. In those rare times where a swear is needed, I can just say, “He swore long and profusely and with with great creativity.” Or, “He swore softly.” Whatever. Works just fine.

  • Thanks, Faith! It’s true — I still don’t write snowy white novels, but I certainly have learned to get by without the f-bomb. And yes, I’ve always been a fan of the “he swore heroically.” 😉

  • Deb Smythe

    A fluffin’ entertaining post. Thanks.

  • You’re fluffin-a right, Maggie. I’ve noticed this with my writing, too… taking certain dialogue out at an editor’s request and never noticing a negative impact.

  • […] the f-word” in the book. Excessive? Two instances?Well, pardon my french, but hot damn.[continue reading] This entry was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 6:47 PM and is filed under Book: Shiver, […]