Young adult fantasy: An evening with the funniest ladies in the business

False Creek towards Granville Island

As I crossed the foggy False Creek, I wondered what the night held in store. I was heading across the quiet and creepy river to attend one of the events at Vancouver Writer’s Fest: Fantasy @ 6, with the entertaining Maureen Johnson and Maggie Stiefvater, who I didn’t know but looked forward to hearing from. Both are current writing young adult urban fantasy, more so Maggie than Maureen, and both are quite active online (particularly on Twitter). When I won the tickets at Neil Gaiman’s event, I had been already following Maureen on Twitter for a few months.

What followed was a most entertaining evening. The event was hosted by a lovely quirky librarian named Shannon, whose introductions were fun and complimentary. There was a really great dynamic between all three women on the stage tonight that had the audience laughing and relaxed.


Maureen was everything that I expected, after following her for the better part of a year. She was funny and did spend about 5 minutes talking about her recently adopted puppy. Maggie was impish, with a fun sense of humour, a propensity to laugh  and big, expressive eyes. Both were dressed pretty casually, but especially Maggie in her jumper, jeans and combat boots. I loved Maureen’s leggings, which looked like winter forest from where I was sitting.

It was interesting to learn about Maggie; she’s driven rally cars (including having taken a rally driving course), professional bagpipe player and mother. She’s a history graduate but has no professional writing qualifications, apart from having written several books of course!

The whole evening was like one great big conversation. Maureen and Maggie admitted that writers leave the pen and run, going into the woods to die in some sort of writer graveyard. After a few unintentional innuendos from the lovely Shannon, Maureen started saying “Things are different in Canada” to great effect.

20131023-20131023-IMG_1959Both had readings from their latest books. Maggie started with a reading from The Dream Thieves, next in the Raven Cycle series. She recruited two audience participants and Maureen and read from the 14th chapter, a scene with 3 psychics and a hitman. It was actually really good fun.  Maureen read an teen angsty, yet funny, passage from The Madness Underneath, second in the Shades of London series.

20131023-20131023-IMG_1963At one stage, there was a noise backstage and Maggie took off, calling for the elves and using Tolkien terms to try and open the curtains. Maureen nabbed two soft toys, a cat and a hippo, and sat with them until the end of the evening.

An audience question had the women reflecting on when they first knew they’d made it as writers. Maggie described her moment as having two bestsellers out, but it only really sunk when she was reenacting a scene from Doc Hollywood, speeding down the highway with the same song playing.

They also talked about writing, and about self-doubt. Both talked positively about writing communities, and that they had friends who were also writers. After a question from an attendee, Maureen reflected that at some time or another every writer has felt that “this thing I am writing is a war crime; and maybe causes cancer”. Maggie followed up saying that being a writer was turning that war crime into something.

It was pretty appropriate that the night really ended on Maureen’s follow-up comment: “Spin that s*** into gold.”

If you’re interested, you can follow both of these fantastic authors on Twitter. They tweet as @maureenjohnson and @mstiefvater.

An editor’s work is never done

So, I have another story from my night seeing Neil Gaiman. You might have read the first part here.

At the end of the talk, and at the beginning of the signing, I decided to sit in some empty seats at the very front of the auditorium reserved for Harper Collins editors, who I had seen leaving moments before. All I wanted was to take a photograph of Neil Gaiman as a memento for myself, and there I could get a clear view and shot with my iPhone without being in anybody’s way.

The assistants from the Vancouver Writer’s Festival, who were hosting the event, were coming around to offer a Post-It to people in the front rows, as Neil had decided to gift them extra signatures for waiting in the hot sun all afternoon. I declined, as I wasn’t one of the eligible. A woman had sat down next to me shortly before, and was directing them as to the way Neil liked the notes put into the books.

I struck up a conversation, asking how she knew. Had she been to many of Neil’s signings before? Turned out she was his editor. I only found out later that I was talking to Jennifer Brehl, Neil’s editor from New York, that he speaks highly about. She also has a few other titles than ‘Neil’s editor’: Senior Vice President, Executive Editor, and Director of Editorial Development of Morrow and Harper Voyager. I wish I’d known at the time, but I wonder if I would have taken a different tack. She wasn’t there to talk to me about work or even my work, after all.

We were chatting about Neil’s endless signings and how tired he gets from those days, picking up again and moving on the next day. She had been on the tour for the eastern parts of Canada with Neil; so Montreal, Toronto, etc. She helps out with the events; I heard and saw her helping with those getting signatures. You will even see in the picture I post, she is standing to Neil’s left and assisting. I can’t even imagine how she fits that in with the rest of her workload.

Many think an editor’s work is accepting a book and proceeding to edit it (and even that takes a lot more time than you might expect). But there’s many promotional engagements that you take part in for the people you edit, because if they succeed, so do you. I hadn’t thought that editors at Ms. Brehl’s level would have the time but the factors that drive good publishing are the same regardless of your other commitments.

So thank you chance, for allowing me just a moment to see what being a successful and tireless editor is about. I also hope that I have another chance to discuss work with Ms. Brehl again one day, and that we see this great team working together for a long time, with many more great novels to come.

Neil signing