The Raven Cycle: A Fangirl’s Love Letter

“Gansey looked up to them, and she saw in his face that he loved this place. His bald expression held something new: not the raw delight of finding the ley line or the sly pleasure of teasing Blue. She recognized the strange happiness that came from loving something without knowing why you did, the strange happiness that was sometimes so big that it felt like sadness. It was the way she felt when she looked at the stars.” –From The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

There have been books that have utterly shook me, searing themselves into my soul, and I didn’t shrink from the screaming heat of the branding iron. Harry Potter was the first–really the only–series I fangirled over. I read the first book sometime in my early teens. I shared a room with my two sisters, my bed a solitary twin that laid perpendicular to their bunk beds, so I think I was in eighth grade. I can remember the exact moment, laying back on my bunched up blankets and pillows, holding The Sorcerer’s Stone, that I fell in.  

My love for that series was swift and lasting. As each book came out, it became ingrained even deeper in my thoughts, who I was becoming. I have not read a series until now that has transfixed me so completely. The plots over all seven books are certainly intricate. But more than that, it was this orphaned outcast I loved so much, and his aggregate of emotions upon entering a world it seemed had been designed just for him (and designed just to destroy him!) for how much it feels like home.

After that, there were other, standalone novels that moved me to that same degree. The Catcher in the Rye, because well, Holden Caulfield is my spirit animal. Jane Eyre and later Villette for their lonely, harrowing, emotional, full protagonists. Years and years after Harry Potter, The Fountainhead nearly killed me. Again, it was a solitary outcast of sorts, Howard Roark, and his electric relationships to the other alive characters that took my breath away. The year my daughters were born, during my maternity leave, Carry On reminded me of my deep love for Harry Potter. And then there was Uprooted, because Jesus Christ, how can a novel have that much magic, and horror, and emotion, and love? But still, no series that caught me up quite like The Boy Who Lived and his story.

Now, I have come face to face with what will most certainly be a life long adversary, for I will forever have to fight for headspace with this series even now that I have breathed its final breath.  The Raven Cycle starts with The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater. A psychic’s daughter sees a spirit on the corpse road, which means he will be dead within the next year. That non-psychic Blue Sargent can see him means he is either her true love or she is the one who kills him. Considering her family of psychic women have all predicted she would kill her true love with a kiss since forever, she isn’t precisely excited by either scenario. Especially when she meets the boy of the mysterious spirit to see he is a very much alive and very much the bastard that she has come to think of the private school Aglionby boys. Gansey, Ronan, Adam, and Noah are on a quest to find and wake the sleeping Welsh king Owen Glendower, and Blue is willing to overlook Gansey’s faults (and the constant whisper of her hand in his impending death) to join them.

Maggie Stiefvater’s art

The series is so much more than this starting point, this single moment in a universe of moments, each as powerful and vibrant as all the others. But I did not expect what came next, which made the novel–and the following three –all the more mind-blowing.

The Raven Cycle has, not only, “it all” but so much of “it all” that I feel very near to combustion when I think about it. Three-dimensional-walk-out-of-your-dreams characters, palpable tensions, tragedies, the crisscrossing strings tying events, places, and characters together, and an atmosphere so terrifyingly alive, I could feel it breathing against my ear.

I read the entire saga in June, and in August, started listening to the audiobooks, because I was dying to hear Will Patton voicing Kavinsky, a character from the second (and my favorite) book in the saga, The Dream Thieves. I was not disappointed with his performance.

kavinsky ronan
Art by Cassandra Jean at cassandrajp.tumbler.com***

Listening to the books so soon after reading them allowed me to appreciate all the concentric circles, the resonating themes, the sheer magnitude and power of this idea. 

One article claims the series is “a meticulously crafted cycle that rewards rereading in heaps” (don’t read these essays until you’ve read the series). And when I reread it less than two months later–listened to it–I enjoyed it even more the second time around for this reason, the intricacy, and magic, and infinity of it all.

“There were many versions of Gansey, but this one had been rare since the introduction of Adam’s taming presence. It was also Ronan’s favorite. It was the opposite of Gansey’s most public face, which was pure control enclosed in a paper-thin wrapper of academia. But this version of Gansey was Gansey the boy. This was the Gansey who bought the Camaro, the Gansey who asked Ronan to teach him to fight, the Gansey who contained every wild spark so that it wouldn’t show up in other versions…Ronan didn’t really care. All that mattered was that something had struck the match, and Gansey was burning.”  –From The Dream Thieves

I am so in love with these books, these characters, I have an ache in my chest when I am looking around listlessly, trying to remember what it was that had my heart so high in the sky–and then remembering: The Raven Cycle. And how it’s over. But lo, it is not. Maggie Stiefvater is working on a new trilogy for Ronan, my favorite character in the series (hint: ALL the characters are my favorite). You have time to read these damn books before the era of the new trilogy dawns. Please read or listen to the audiobooks and come back and tell me what you think. I will never tire of singing this series’s praises.

I will be going to see Maggie for her All The Crooked Saints signing in October. I wish I could smash all these words into a concise, heart-felt utterance of the crush I have on her brain and my devotion to and adoration of this world she’s created. Instead, I’ll probably just stand in front of her smiling like I’ve been body-snatched and forget my own name. Alas, this will have to suffice.

***Don’t look up fanart because spoilers! Listen to this song the author wrote instead–it conveys the tone of the series so beautifully

The Writing Kind

“The sensual novelist and his admirer, are beings of depraved appetites and sickly imaginations, who having learnt the art of self-tormenting, are diligently and zealously employed in creating an imaginary world, which they can never inhabit, only to make the real world, with which they must necessarily be conversant, gloomy and insupportable.”

Patrick Brontë’s children had the run of his books and must have read these words often, but no group of young people ever took less heed of such a warning.

–From Charlotte Brontë: A Fiery Heart, Claire Harman

Sometimes I wake up before the sun does to satisfy this craving. I shuffle on aching bones that ache for no reason other than holding up my person to the coffee machine. I say machine because it is not the simple device the coffee maker is. Insert cup under spit, deposit cup of grounds on top of needle, pull lever to enact piercing and scalding processes. Acquire sweet treat if one has been hunted in the wilderness and brought back home on recent scavenging trip. No, these are not the cravings this beast has woken at this ungodly hour to satiate.

I shuffle back to office and sit down. Squirm in chair. Aching bones and all. Open blinds because sometimes our kind like to feel connected to the great outdoors. Shut blinds. Dawn is too bright.

The images of a recent dream dance a quadrille in my mind’s eye: a formal dining room resplendent with light from a three-sided bay window; the room occupied by a crudely made dining room table circa 1970 at which nobody sits; outside the window were rose bushes, not all the picture of health, some new blooms, some leaves snail-bitten, but the coral pink of their petals struck the eye amid the shaded garden vista.

Return to the now. Sometimes it’s not even my own inner voice demanding it, but that of them, those clamorous beings in my head. Mind torn between sickly leaves and murmuring voices caressing my brain, I turn back to the work at hand. I do not know where to begin. So I just open a door. Sometimes the words that satisfy the craving sputter out as though from the irked coffee machine. Sometimes they pour out as easy and rich as cream.

Sometimes the craving is fixed at night over coffee again, of course, and often a mischievous cigarette. The sounds of Saturday night surround us like the rings around Saturn–the high school band’s metronome, the laughter of unseen people, a distant siren. As massive and exclusive as our inner worlds are, we cannot seem to shake the rest off the world. But the company, the indulgence of nicotine and caffeine, again, are not the primary cravings sought at this assembly.

It is the build up of weeks in planning, the preparation, the carefully laid stonework and mortar of verb, noun, and article. The layering of tone, character, and story. It is of like minds meeting like, kinfolk in this art sitting down with me on the other end of the screen before the sun rises, or in a patio chair across from me at the local coffee shop until midnight. It is solitude, as well. It is living two lives: the external, full of aching sorrow, vivid joy, and twisting nostalgia; and the mind’s life, full of aching sorrow, vivid joy, and twisting nostalgia.

For the writing kind, this craving is necessary.

5 Unusual and Practical Ways To Break Writer’s Block

Below are 2 practical and 3 unusual ways to help overcome writer’s block. Most of these revolve around immersing yourself into your story, while some suggest taking a step back. Sometimes all you need is a seed of inspiration to have you busting through that writer’s block like the the Kool-Aid man. Ah, apologies. Only people who grew up in the 90s or earlier will get that reference.

Unusual

1. Draw your characters. Or draw the warehouse or stronghold or spy headquarters in your novel. Design the room your gentleman frequents, or even more intriguing, the room your lady finds respite in. Or just doodle something entirely irrelevant to your novel and let your mind wander.

If you don’t like to draw, Pinterest is a great way to stimulate visualization of your work. If you want to be a perfectionist about it, here’s a how-to to make a really professional, themed storyboard for your novel. Below is the board I am working on for my novel, The Seer. As you can see from my board, there are foreign landscapes and travel in the novel. Because The Seer takes place in faraway places and dated societies, Pinterest has aided me in going to those places and seeing those societies.

2017-03-26
Board for The Seer

Practical

2. Read. You’re probably rolling your eyes, writers. But truly, stop drafting/editing/revising and take some time to read. And read outside of your comfort zone at that. Here’s a WriterUnboxed post on the benefits of changing up your reading habits. I never read biographies, but I’ve picked one up on my favorite author, Charlotte Brontë (Harman, 2015), and have gotten loads of inspiration for my Gothic romance WIP, Wrathmoor. And from the smallest things too:

“Patrick Brontë’s [Charlotte’s father] quirks included…having a ‘volcanic’ temper that he sometimes relieved by firing his pistols out of the back door ‘in rapid succession’.”

Unusual

3. Make a mix tape/CD/youtube/spotify soundtrack for your novel. There are songs I will forever associate with certain novels of mine, because they belong, heart and soul, to those characters. For instance, Loreena McKennitt’s Beltane Fire Dance will forever be associated with the novel mentioned above, The Seer, and Apocalyptica’s Metallica covers are being hardily applied to Wrathmoor for the good ole’ Metallica rage expressed through a mid-nineteenth-century-approved instrument, the cello.

Practical

4. Take a day off. Or a week. Seriously. Either from work, or from your writing, or both. Sometimes all you need is a reboot to come back to your work with a fresh eye and mind.

Unusual

5. Make a map. So your novel has an epic scene in a Buddhist temple or maybe a battle on a mountain side? Or maybe it has a ton of townships, cities, and ports. Make a map. You can do this the old fashioned way. For my fantasy WIP, Blood of the Realm, I dyed watercolor paper with tea water to make an approximation of parchment. I may or may not have referred to Tolkien’s Middle Earth for inspiration.

middle earth

You can also take a more modern approach. If you own the PS3 game FarCry 3, you can use the map feature option for your novels! Writers, even if you’re not a gamer, this game–which would surely be on discount now–might be worth it solely for this feature. The game takes place on a tropical island amid the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There are countless combinations of different landscapes you can create and landmarks. You can even adjust the time of day and weather. It is one of the most unique and immersive ways, in my opinion, of diving into your own story.

FarCry3
WallpaperSafari.com

 


After finishing my 6th novel in January, I had been pretty stagnant, just working on rewrites to an older novel, and nary a poem or short story in sight. But since I took vacation from my job, unearthed the “soundtracks” for my novels, and reading a lot, including things outside my usual reading repertoire, something has opened inside of me, creatively.

Have you ever tried any of these block breakers? Any others to suggest?