Q&A with Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff

The Merry Sisters of Fate (Maggie Stiefvater, Tessa Gratton, and Brenna Yovanoff) join us on the blog today to talk writing groups, social media, and writing prompts! The three are co-authors of The Anatomy of Curiosity, a combination of original novellas and commentary on their process of critique and collaboration.

Carolrhoda Lab™: How did you get to know each other and form your writing group? Do you have recommendations for how teens can find writing groups?
Tessa Gratton: We met on the internet! Maggie and I were both active in an old Livejournal group for readers and writers of Urban Fantasy called Fangs, Fur, Fey. I believe we started talking because of a mutual love of “The Little Mermaid” and from there followed each other’s blogs. Maggie posted one day that she was in need of new readers, and Brenna and I both reached out to crit-partner “date.” I still remember what I wrote to Maggie about the book that would eventually become Shiver. I said, “Maggie, I think this might be even better than Twilight!” 
About a week later, Maggie emailed Brenna and I and said “You two will be friends now.” We obeyed, and now 9 years later we’re all still close as readers and friends. 
Brenna Yovanoff: Tess said it! We met on the internet after Maggie posted an open call for critique partners, and then got to know each other through email and chat. I didn’t meet Tess in person until months and months later, and with Maggie, I think it was after more than a year. I finally got to hang out with Tess at a regional conference and was delighted that it turned out we totally had fun in real-life and not just on the internet. The first time I ever met Maggie, I was sitting on a plane and she boarded after me and came walking down the row and I said “You look just like online!” She said, “So you. I thought you’d be taller.” But everyone says that. Because I’m not.
Brenna, Tessa, and Maggie
Maggie Stiefvater: I think the thing that remains the most remarkable about our friendship is how it began entirely online and continued seamlessly in person—there’s some sort of lesson to be learned there about how it is possible to capture your essence in the written word alone. We were not pretend-friends until we met in person. We were real friends, entirely online, and then we became even realer once we’d met. 
Lab: Social media has changed a lot in the seven years since 2008, when you started posting Merry Sisters stories. How has the change in social media affected your work as authors?
Tessa: To be honest, it’s changed my work as a writer very little, but my work as a professional author is drastically different, and that’s all about the online kidlit community. I use Twitter and Tumblr in particular, and Twitter is a hotbed of activity for kidlit authors. We argue about current events, tell jokes, share pics of our celebrity crushes, and occasionally commiserate about actual writing and publishing. It’s easier for reader opinions to find you—good and bad, so it’s important to develop skills to deal with that. 
Brenna: I’d say that the biggest change for me is probably Tumblr. I—love—Tumblr! (Sometimes to my detriment.)  I used to blog pretty regularly, and in the last couple years I’ve mostly moved away from that. Now I do most of my internetting by sharing cool stuff on Tumblr. I just really like how it’s become almost effortless to post a mix of gifs, videos, photos, text, without having to follow a specific protocol for each format. And hey, if I want to? I can still totally write a blog post.
Maggie: The biggest difference is that now the internet is full.

All of the words I would’ve said seven years ago online have already been said, and there’s no real point in saying them again. If I put something else online, it has to be specific to me, or specific to my story, or specific to the day, or I just don’t see the value in adding to the often-fraught overflow. Seven years ago I would have said that authors should only climb onto the internet if they enjoyed it, and I’d now say that and underline it. 
Lab: Say you’re teaching a writing class or working with a writing group. What writing prompt would you use? 
Tessa: One of the things we did frequently on Merry Fates was take a fairy tale and each of us write a story based on it. (Some of the last writing prompts we used were “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.”) I loved it because it showcased two things: 1) how we were unique while still being in the same genre, and 2) that initial ideas don’t matter, it’s the implementation that matters. Young writers frequently worry about having their stories and ideas stolen, but it’s really not something that happens. We talked about this a lot in Anatomy, and it can be a great exercise.

In a group, pick a single idea, and everybody write their own flash fiction. It can be illuminating and fun to compare how different writers use the same kernel to come up with entirely unique stories. If you’re working on your own, see if you can write two different stories that are both based on the same kernel idea.
Brenna: One of my favorite writing prompts starts by skimming through the classified ads—whether online or in print. You look through the ads until you get to a really good one. And by good, I mean strange (“12-foot python, very friendly, free to good home”). Then, you write a story about the events that led up to someone placing that ad. Preferably make it even stranger than the ad.
Maggie: I nod my head firmly at Brenna and Tessa’s suggestions to generating the prompt within the group, but as a writer obsessed with character over everything else, I’d also add the suggestion that it’s a useful exercise to try to populate the story with a person you know from real life. Someone else from inside the writer’s group, or someone in the writer’s family. This portrait-making can help writers learn how to make people from scratch. 
Lab: Thanks for talking with us!
Look for The Anatomy of Curiosity tomorrow, October 1, in bookstores and libraries near you!