Interview with Maggie Stiefvater about "Shiver"  

Posted by Wishwords in ,

In case you haven't heard, Maggie Stiefvater's novel "Shiver" just came out. It's about werewolves, but she gave them a very interesting twist. It's always fascinating to find out how and why a legend evolves, and this was a chance to catch one in the act. I asked Maggie why she chose werewolves and why she made the changes she did.

Maggie is one of those authors who manage to insert their fun personality into something as mundane as an interview. I hope you enjoy this and let her know.

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Okay. So, werewolves. Honestly, I never intended to write a book about werewolves. I thought they were a dead creature, a useless monster. The thing about myths and monsters is that they reflect the current fears and hopes of the times, and werewolves -- they were irrelevant. At least, written in their present-day iteration: a man who shifts into a hybrid creature, sheds his inhibitions faster than a frat boy in a bar, and then proceeds to savage the villagers. Originally, the werewolf legend spoke to people who lived on the edge of humanity, vast forests and real wolves populating their real lives. The line between what separated humans from that wildness was thin and nebulous, and could be shed as easily as your skin.

But we live in a suburban jungle now, and there is no wildness left among we. We have to specify which bits of woods we’re not going to raze to build subdivisions on. Our wolves -- our monsters -- are endangered and kept on preserves. What threat is there to becoming a wolf now? There is no savage in our world anymore. We’ve domesticated our monsters thoroughly.

Clearly you can see that I was not inspired by them at all. But my editor at the time had suggested I poke around for some short story contests to possibly draw attention to my novel. The only one I found with a fairly close deadline and a paranormal theme was a contest that was devoted entirely to lycanthropic fiction. That would be werewolves. I didn’t think I had werewolves in me, but I thought I might have 2,000 words to say on the subject. So I put my thinking cap on for the day and . . . .

Got absolutely nothing. I thought for 8 hours straight of a way to refresh the myth, and nothing came to me. But that night, when I went to sleep, my subconscious kept working, and I had a vivid dream about wolves in a winter wood. They looked like wolves, acted like wolves, but they were werewolves. And when they became humans, they were undeniably human. There was nothing in between. No middle ground.

And when I woke up, I had my werewolf myth. The threat was not becoming a monster. The threat was becoming a wolf with none of your human thoughts, none of your human memories, no goals, no dreams, no thought other than survival. The threat was losing yourself, the way we lose our identities all the time in the slick, homogenized world we’ve made for ourselves.

So now I had my metaphor, my reason for werewolves, and I was psyched.

Onto the rest of the myth. I didn’t really have any particular bone with the full moon/ night catalyst (though I did think it was pretty cheesy). But it didn’t really serve my plot very well. If the threat was losing your identity, it wasn’t very scary to only lose your identity for a night or a month. I needed a logical, cyclical trigger that would give my protagonists a long time as human and wolf. I racked my brain for days, mulling over various natural cycles, and it took me longer than you’d expect to land on temperature. But -- duh -- the changing of the seasons was something that happened every year, was very regular, natural, and logical, and added built-in and easy to understand tension.

It also satisfied my desire to pay homage to the way the werewolf myth has evolved. It gets colder at night, so that explains how people might have thought that night was the trigger for the shift. And the fact that my werewolves are fully wolves instead of hybrids hearkens back to the very oldest origins of werewolves, when crazy German guys would strap on “wolf straps” so that they could transform into wolves and grab some of the neighbors’ sheep for dinner.

So now . . . now I thought I had something. I thought I had a creature that had been updated to please my modern sensibilities. Hopefully something that was less savage, as we’re less savage, but still terrifying. Those are the wolves of Mercy Falls, Minnesota.


SHIVER: For years, Grace has watched the wolves in the woods behind her house. One yellow-eyed wolf--her wolf--is a chilling presence she can't seem to live without. Meanwhile, Sam has lived two lives: In winter, the frozen woods, the protection of the pack, and the silent company of a fearless girl. In summer, a few precious months of being human . . . until the cold makes him shift back again.
Now, Grace meets a yellow-eyed boy whose familiarity takes her breath away. It's her wolf. It has to be. But as winter nears, Sam must fight to stay human--or risk losing himself, and Grace, forever.

Find out more about my work at http://www.maggiestiefvater.com, or at my blog: http://m-stiefvater.livejournal.com.

Buy SHIVER at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Indiebound.

Also available at bookstores everywhere August 1st and in the UK on October 1st.