Julia Kell

A strong woman who continues to inspire me is young adult author Maggie Stiefvater.  She has written many popular books, including The Wolves of Mercy Falls, The Scorpio Races, The Raven Cycle, and, most recently, All The Crooked Saints.  Before becoming a novelist, she was a portrait artist and played the bagpipes competitively.  Along with these interests, she loves ‘things that go,’ especially cars.  When I heard her speak at the West Virginia book festival in Charleston, she told us the story of how she challenged author John Green to a race and his car literally caught on fire, not once, but twice (don’t worry, he was okay).  Stiefvater’s storytelling is not only restricted to the page; she is able to captivate the audience with her speaking and her comedic timing is spot on.


Shop books by Maggie Stiefvater here!

In terms of her literary capabilities, her unique outlook on the world and the life experiences she's had help her bring fresh ideas to young adult fiction.  I've liked Maggie Stiefvater for many years now, and she encourages me to see the humor and whimsy in life.  Her creativity and boldness on the page has made me less afraid of taking risks in my own writing and helped me hone my craft.  

In her speech at the book festival, she shared a piece of writing advice that continues to stay with me years later.  In a discussion about how she created her novel characters, she compared writing to painting, explaining that it’s easier to paint realistically when you have a model.  If you don’t have a model, you might miss a shadow or something else that would make the painting look real.  In writing, real people can act as models for writers.  Basing characters on people in the real world allows authors to create relatable characters that readers will fall in love with.  In a 2014 blog post, Maggie discusses how her characters from The Raven Cycle were partly based on herself.  Not only does this fact make her stories more realistic, but writing about her characters’ experiences allows her to make sense of the world and figure out the answers to questions she’s had throughout her life.  Though it’s not always easy to understand why you are the way you are and how you can move past the tough times in your life, writing about your struggles and looking at them from alternate viewpoints can help provide closure.                        

I am also impressed by how Maggie stays true to herself.  As a teen, she struggled with self-image and suicidal thoughts.  Her interests made her different from other girls, and she was lonely growing up, often having trouble relating to female characters in books.  She always liked the male characters in thrillers and action stories but had difficulty finding female characters who showed strength the same way men did.  She writes, ‘We talk a lot about strength in women characters, but not so much about the things male characters still have a corner on: humor, aggression, confidence, ambition.  Heroes and heroines wear these things so differently still — look at the Avengers. Just look at it, okay! We’re still so stuck on gender roles.’  I love this statement because it's true that women, as well as men, can feel boxed in by stereotypes.  However, it's important to realize that you should stay true to yourself, regardless of society’s expectations.


By taking risks or stepping a little outside of your comfort zone, you can change your perception of yourself.


Maggie also inspires me with her bravery and grit.  In her speech at the book festival, she talked about getting her first horse.  The horse had raced for the past seven years, and riding it proved difficult.  When she first got on the horse, it didn’t listen to her and galloped away into people’s gardens and garages.  This experience, one among many, depicts Maggie as a brave, courageous person, and I was curious if she had any advice for people who wanted to step outside their comfort zone and partake in activities that might scare them.  It turns out she does.  A fan once asked her, 'How do you get to know yourself so well? I feel like I don’t know who I am.'  In her response, Maggie said, ‘Let’s imagine you’re afraid to hang-glide because you think of yourself as a cowardly person.  Now imagine your friends badger you into the hang-gliding anyway.  You do it, and you’re successful, even though you didn’t choose it for yourself.  Now you’ve done this brave thing, and you decide maybe you were wrong, you actually are a brave person.’  It doesn’t matter if you think you are inadequate or insecure – your actions define who you really are.  By taking risks or just stepping a little outside of your comfort zone, you can end up changing your perception of yourself.                           

These are just a few of the lessons I have learned from Maggie Stiefvater.  Along with her helpful advice and hilarious Twitter account, I love her novels for her poetic writing style, humor, and complex characters. If you need more material for your summer reading list, be sure to check out some of her books!  


Julia Kell is an English major at Radford University who intends to work in book publishing after graduation.  Since childhood, she has enjoyed writing and is the author of multiple novels.  She also loves Broadway musicals, animals, and the outdoors.   


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