November 17, 2017

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The Mane Event: Maggie Stiefvater on success, rejection, and her new novel, ‘The Scorpio Races’

Hollywood’s eager to turn your New York Times best sellers into movies, your book tours take you all over the globe, you play a few instruments and paint, plus you have two small kids—and you’re not even 30. What’s it like being such a slacker?

[Laughs] I always dreamt when I was a little kid of being a best-selling author. I used to have this fantasy of walking into a bookstore and someone would recommend my own book to me. When I hit the best-seller list, it was thrilling, but at the same time I thought, “Oh, now I’ve hit the dream. What do I do after this?” What’s been so exciting is all of the other things that go along with it: the movies and the other creative venues. I didn’t see that coming, and it’s been fantastic.

I heard you were rejected by a college creative writing class.

It’s true. I’ve always been into music and art and writing. I tried to take piano classes, and I auditioned and they said I wasn’t good enough. Then I went to the art department, and they said my portfolio wasn’t sophisticated enough. And then I went to the creative writing department, and they read a sample of my writing and said that I didn’t show any promise, so they turned me away.

Have you always followed your own drummer?

[Laughs] When I was a kid, I used to wear black turtlenecks all the time and tell people I was mourning the death of modern society.

That must have gone over well in rural Virginia, where you grew up and still live.

I was homeschooled from sixth grade on. It wasn’t really until I got to college that I realized I was completely strange, and by then, I was used to it. I was a pugilistic child, anyway. I was very much like Puck: if you have a problem with me, well, take it elsewhere.

Puck, of course, is a key character in The Scorpio Races, a teen love story that features killer, flesh-eating horses who live in the ocean. You’ve said it’s your best and most personal work to date. Does that mean you grew up with predatory horses?

It kind of does. My parents were very strict about some things, but they were very permissive about animals. We could have any pet that we wanted as long as we learned how to take care of it and could earn the money to buy it ourselves. When I was 13, my sister and I worked all summer and bought these two horrible, off-the-track racehorses that always ran faster to the left. They were completely inappropriate for teens to ride. And so it was this sensation of having these horses that you really loved but could also possibly kill you. That is really autobiographical. Also, all of the sibling stuff, because I have two brothers and two sisters, and I really wanted to try and capture that dynamic of, again, loving and hating someone.

One last question: Why’d you legally change your first name at 16?

I disliked my name for a long time. But the catalyst was when I walked into an eye doctor’s appointment and the receptionist said, “Heidi Hummel. What a great name! It sounds like a figure skater!” I got in the car and I told my mom, “Mom, I’m changing my name,” and because I was named after one of my dad’s ex-girlfriends, she said yes. I’m really sad to say that I was a very contrary child, so I named myself Margaret, after Margaret Thatcher, because everyone hated her.

Rick Margolis About Rick Margolis

Rick Margolis was executive editor for SLJ.

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