Writing with Maggie Stiefvater

I was on a trip with my husband to Lake Winnipesaukee when I fell in love with Maggie Stiefvater’s books. I can still remember where I was, in the charming little Innisfree Bookshop when I cracked open the spine of Shiver. It was a hardcover, the kind of book that felt good under my palms. When I reached the line “as the hours crept by, the afternoon sunlight bleached all the books on the shelves to pale, gilded versions of themselves and warmed the paper and ink inside the covers so that the smell of unread words hung in the air,” I knew I was sunk. That moment was life changing. Sentences like those are the kind I aspire to write, the kind that are like a fine dessert, the ones you want to savor on a while. I spent what was supposed to be a romantic vacation reading about wolves that changed shape depending on the temperature, about young love overcoming the odds, then read it again. (Don’t worry. Hubs wasn’t complaining. He was happy to be able to sleep in.)

That was eleven years ago. In the time since I’ve read every book Maggie has written, traveled miles to see her speak, and this June got to take her online class on writing. It’s not often you get to learn from one of your idols, and as a writer, craft days are so important. They are ones where I’m not creating but learning, turning off the need to churn out words and filling my well with someone else’s knowledge. One class segment in particular on description really got my gears turning – one on description. All too often in romance, I feel trapped, trying to explain a hero or heroine who is beautiful and perfect and yet not. Real but still just larger than life enough that a reader can fall in love with them. So much time is spent explaining rippling ab muscles and golden locks of hair. But turning description into feeling, into how the POV character feels when looking at the other character and describing them through their eyes, got the words flowing out of me for two characters I’ve been struggling to crack. They’re from an upcoming project, one I can’t even tell you much about yet, but I thought I’d share the words I worked on, just to show a bit of my process.

(And of course, dedicating this little bit to Maggie)

Alex Caldwell wasn’t just beautiful. Looking at him, Peyton almost didn’t see the man in front of her, with his dark blond hair, crisp dress shirt, finger and thumb poised by his chin. It was the bartender she’d barely known that flashed before her eyes, all warm smiles and sparkling eyes and bad late-night decisions. He’d moved through the room with a confidence most bartenders had, a confidence she recognized—she was one too, after all—but with something more to it, charismatic and mysterious. Back then she’d thought it was his desire for her, a hunger to break the rules held aloft behind a veil of pretenses, hot and urgent and crackling. Now she knew it was because his last name was Caldwell, because when he wiped down the gleaming bartop it wasn’t because he had to for a job, it was him taking care of his own.

Peyton liked people who took care of their own. It nudged at that sharp empty place inside her. He’d been magnetic to her then, stalking toward her with a gaze that said he owned everything around him, a gaze that said he’d own her, too, with solid arms and smooth hands and a kiss that threatened to unlock everything she’d been trying to forget.

The same gaze he was throwing in her direction now.

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