Maggie Stiefvater’s bestselling Raven Cycle unites prep school students Richard Gansey, Adam Parrish, Ronan Lynch, and Noah Czerny with daughter of a psychic Blue Sargent on a quest to find and wake a mythic Welsh king, whom Gansey believes to be slumbering somewhere along the ley line that runs through Henrietta, Va. The quartet concluded in 2016 with the publication of The Raven King, but this November, Stiefvater is launching a standalone series, the Dreamer Trilogy, that’s set in the same magic-tinged world and follows Ronan Lynch, who struggles with a propensity for pulling items from his dreams. PW spoke with the author regarding Call Down the Hawk and its characters, her creative process, and the grand unifying theory of Maggie Stiefvater.
What made you decide to revisit this particular fictional universe?
You should know right off the bat that I am not much of an episodic watcher or reader. I’m not a huge fan of series, which I realize sounds ridiculous, because that’s mostly what I’ve written. I want to know that we’re headed to someplace that’s been figured out beforehand. I don’t want to wander in the woods; that’s not fun for me! And so, although I absolutely loved the world and the characters—I’ve been working on the Raven Cycle since I was 19—there was no way I was going to return to it unless it was its own new thing. Just going back and playing in the world isn’t satisfying for me; it has to be saying and exploring something else. So I put it down.
I swore I wasn’t going to come back to it, but I just kept on thinking about the central family dynamic of the Lynch brothers, and Ronan Lynch, a person who can take things out of his dreams, and thinking about that metaphor of creativity. Because I am also an artist and a musician as well as a writer, so I think about creativity and the weight and the joy of it a lot. And the more I thought about it, I said, “You know what? There’s something here.” There’s something about what it looks like after you’ve hit that first flush of creative genius, of finding out that you can make a thing. What do you do with that skill then? What does that mean as far as carving out meaning in your life and finding a place in society? And [what does it mean] when society likes to consume things that you make, but doesn’t necessarily understand what it means to be a maker? Then I was excited to dive back in.
The Raven Cycle is in many ways a Gansey-centric series. At what point did you know that you wanted to write a trilogy that centers on Ronan?
When I first began writing the Raven Cycle, like I said, I was 19. I put it down then, because it was terrible. I was not successfully juggling all of the characters. They all sounded like me. It was like, Scholar Me, Angry Me, Dead Me—it was awful. But back then, when I first began writing it, it actually was Ronan’s series, it was Ronan’s book, it was based on the Lynch family. When I rebooted it as a more mature writer, having written the Shiver trilogy and The Scorpio Races, knowing more about building character and building series, I chose to reframe the entire series around Gansey and Blue because I knew that the moment that you put Ronan’s power and the Lynch family up front, it became only about them. In many ways, this feels like coming home, back—not to the story I wanted to write, because the Raven Cycle was the story that I wanted to write in so many ways—but to the people and the dynamics that I wanted to write about.
In the books that comprise the Raven Cycle, the boys are defined by their relationships with each other. How was it for you to essentially write Ronan in a vacuum?
I really wanted to talk about what it means to be a creator. At the end of the day, you are alone, as a creator. You create in response to the world, but no one can inform the way that you process it, and I wanted to talk about that—about what it’s like to have that kind of loneliness, to feel alienated. And so part of the first book is Ronan discovering that there are other Dreamers, other creators out there. At first, this is quite euphoric and fascinating; he assumes that they’re going to be more like him than a non-creator, but the truth is, we all create for different reasons. I wanted to explore how you can still be surrounded by creators and be lonely, or you can be surrounded by people who support creators in really cool ways and find your people that way. It’s reconfiguring who you are as you get older. Ronan’s not in college, but I think this will resonate with college-age readers. This was definitely my experience at 19, 20, 21.
Did the enormous popularity of the Raven Cycle make this book easier to write, or more difficult?
It’s a blessing and a curse. I always wanted to be a writer, and I always knew what kind of writer I wanted to be. I wanted to be the kind of writer that when you walked through an airport, you would see your big fat paperback with your name printed bigger than the title—you know, this pulpy thing that your hairdresser would read, or anyone would read. I just wanted to be a commercial storyteller—stories for everyone. So the idea of writing for an audience was always built in. That’s great, to know that you’re writing something that’s not going to disappear into a hole—it’s going to go out there, people are waiting. But then also, just knowing that everyone’s going to be bringing their hopes to this... I tried to set expectations very early on that this was going to be different and even though I love the Raven Cycle, I was not going to write the Raven Cycle again.
I don’t know how it will go, to tell you the truth. I don’t know if people are going to love that it’s completely different, thematically, or if they’re gonna be sad that it’s not more like Raven Cycle #5. But for me, silencing those voices was tough. In the back of your head, you can never really shut down that voice that says, “What would the reader want?” And to be honest, I don’t ever really want that voice to go away, because I’m not writing just for me, I’m also writing for them. There’s a big difference, though, between writing what they want to read and writing what they need to read.
You recently published a blog post about your struggles with undiagnosed adrenal insufficiency, and the long periods of dreamless sleep that accompanied it. What was it like for you to write a book about Dreamers when you yourself had none?
You know, I do wonder if folks who have read about that now will read this book and see that this book is secretly about chronic illness, in a way that even I didn’t understand at the time. There’s always a thing that I think that the book is about, and then there’s a secret meaning that kind of seeps in there, if you’re being honest and true and really cutting open a vein and writing. With the Raven Cycle, I was desperate to find a place to call home. I was a Navy brat. I moved 18 times before I was 18, and I just felt like my feet were always itchy. No Zip Code felt like my home. And I remember I came back to the Shenandoah Valley, and I thought, wait, this is it; I’ve returned to my roots. This is where I want to be. And that theme of me searching for home, I think you can really see that permeate, especially the first two, three books of the Raven Cycle.
Likewise, you look at Call Down the Hawk and you can see how this long stretch of trying to be present and awake is reflected in the feeble pulse of the ley line, and Ronan’s struggle with nightwash, and Jordan’s limitations with suddenly falling into a dreaming reverie that she can’t control. They have all of this ultimate power and yet they feel that, at the end of the day, they’re tied to something that’s beyond their control. It would be impossible to look at that and not say, “Well, there you are. Right there.”
Were you healthy when you started writing this book?
I wrote an entire draft of this book while I was fogged and at my absolute illest. And then as I started to find a solution, a diagnosis, I would have these long stretches of lucidity, when my publisher had taken me off the road, and in one of those I looked at this, and it was my deadline, and I told my editor, “I don’t want this book to be the book that goes out. This is a book that on every single page, you can see the struggle of trying to get these words out. It’s like this book is being seen through a dream.” And I threw the entire thing out and rewrote it from scratch when I actually had my moments of lucidity. And my rule was, if you are fogged, if today you can’t figure out why you can’t stay awake, you don’t touch the book. The book is not going to be touched by this nightwash, by this kind of corruption.
Did writing about Ronan and Hennessey’s dreams influence your own?
I love dreaming. When I’m well, I dream every single night—crazy, lucid dreams. And I can always tell when I’m on the right track with a book: when I start to actually dream scenes of the book. Not true scenes; kind of metaphorically, the scenes of the book. So I was actually really grateful when I started dreaming about these characters because it meant that I was on track—my body and my brain and the book, all at the same time. I’m quite grateful for this book. I had kind of convinced myself that I would never feel the way that I felt [while] writing ever again, and so once I actually got into the swing of this book and words were just pouring out of me and I was so excited to get up and start working on it the next day, I thought, oh wait—you know what? You are going to crawl out of this hole. You are still a storyteller.
Call Down the Hawk is being billed as Book One in the Dreamer Trilogy. Do you already have the other two books more or less plotted out in your head?
I am almost done with book two now, actually.
So you know how it’s all going to end.
Yes. As I said, I definitely do not enjoy reading things where I don’t think the person knows where they are going. I don’t need to know everything along the way, but I need to know how to stick the landing. I need to know the big twist. I need to know who wins, etc.
Will this trilogy be the end for these characters, this universe?
Aw, man. Every time I say I will never return to a world again, that’s when I sound like an idiot later. When folks are interviewing me and saying, “So, why did you return to this world after you told us that you weren’t returning to this world?” I’m gonna say that I can’t imagine it right now, because I already know what project I’ll be working on after this, and it’s brand new characters, but never say never. There are also corridors. One never knows.
You hinted that you know what’s coming after this trilogy. So, what’s next?
What do I want to say? I’m a changeable, fickle creature, so I don’t want to lock myself in. But I think it’s safe to say I am working on a holiday tale.
You’ve written books about faeries, saints, werewolves, killer horses, ancient Welsh kings, and people who have the ability to pull things from their dreams. What makes a book a Maggie Stiefvater book?
Oh, I love this question. To me, it needs to be that sense of something more. I want people to think that they are looking at the world, and then [the book] turns the vase just a little bit, and all of the sudden they understand [the world] in a different way. I remember when I wrote the Shiver trilogy, I thought I was writing it just for me—this quiet little werewolf novel. And then it sold in all of these countries, and I would get all of these emails from all around the world telling me that people had cried at this one chapter. I didn’t understand how this was possible until they started explaining to me what they thought the book was about. They would talk about how they thought that the werewolves were a metaphor for loss—a metaphor that reminded them of grief, or reminded them of losing a parent to Alzheimer’s. Once you take a true thing and you translate it into myth, then people translate it back into another true thing and it becomes universal again. I think as long as I’m being as true as I can when I translate that magic, people are going to keep on translating it back into a real thing. So, it feels like magic and reality at the same time. That, I hope, is what a Maggie Stiefvater book is.
Call Down the Hawk (The Dreamer Trilogy #1) by Maggie Stiefvater. Scholastic Press, $19.99 Nov. 5 ISBN 978-1-338-18832-5