I first met Maggie through John of Dreaming in Books (who I interviewed in a previous Blogger Wednesday). I mentioned in that interview that I’d done a giveaway on his blog. It was a copy of my novel Jumpstart the World. And Maggie won it. And that was a lucky thing for me. Because Maggie has a great blog, Maggie’s Bookshelf. And Maggie liked Jumpstart a lot. Not just enough to write it an incredible 5 out of 5 stars review, but enough that it kept turning up on her yearly favorites and such. Which was fun.
Face it. That’s a sure-fire way to my heart.
But it wasn’t just because Maggie raved about the book (though, granted, that’s lovely). It was the level of personal honesty that came through in that review. I was blown away. Impressed in a way I wouldn’t forget. I guess I’ve mentioned that I value emotional honesty. Don’t be surprised if I mention it again.
So that’s how Maggie got to be one of my favorite YA book bloggers.
Now. For the interview part of the interview.
Me: Maggie, not sure why I’m choosing to start here, but…you’ve had some pretty serious issues with your health lately. Can you tell my readers (and me) the short (or medium) version of what was going on? I kept picking up bits and pieces on Twitter, but I always felt like I’d missed the beginning of the story. Which I probably had. How were you able to blog and go to school and feel so bad all at the same time? Feeling better now, I hope?
Maggie: As good a place to start as any for me, as being sick has taken up so much of my time and energy this past year! It started with a severe concussion last July, and they’re weren’t sure exactly why I had so many complications—for a while they thought I might have Lyme disease, which is pretty common up in the Minnesota northwoods where I live—but now it looks like a lot of the symptoms were actually caused by bipolar disorder, which I was diagnosed with back in February.
Book blogging has always been so much fun for me, so that was never really a difficult commitment to keep up, even when I was feeling so down. School, though, was a lot harder—being manic or depressed all the time made it difficult to study, and I missed a lot of school for doctor’s appointments. I still managed to graduate with my Associate in Arts degree with honors this spring, and I’ve never been prouder of anything. I’ve been so lucky to have a wonderful support network in my friends and family. I couldn’t have done it without them cheering me on.
Living with bipolar has taken a lot of getting used to, but I’m getting better at it all the time. It’s going to be nice when it’s just background noise instead of the all-consuming endeavor it’s been lately.
Me: Which leads me to the most epic get-well-soon card of all time. Which I want to talk about, because it’s such a terrific example of how authors can support bloggers, and how the online book community can do something other than snark. So please do tell my readers about it. Who signed it? Do you have any idea who organized the project or how it came to be? How excited were you (and anything you care to share about why)?
Maggie: I was so disappointed to miss out on the ALAN convention (due to aforementioned health problems), where I was supposed to be a panelist, so my wonderful co-panelists (Ari of Reading in Color—Edi of Crazy Quilts—and Lyn Miller-Lachmann, author of Gringolandia) decided to put it together. So many of my favorite authors signed: John Green, Sarah Dessen, Rita Williams-Garcia, M.T. Anderson, Lauren Myracle, Francisco X. Stork, A.S. King, and many, many more. To say I felt like a million bucks would be an understatement.
Me: Did the epic get-well-soon card offset other less positive experiences you’ve had with authors? Or have you been lucky right down the line?
Maggie: My experiences with authors have been almost entirely positive. The YA community is so wonderful and supportive, and I think most people know that if you don’t play nice, word gets around. I have had some run-ins with authors who didn’t like my reviews, especially early on, and I had one memorable experience where an author accused me of being an adult masquerading as a kid to get more review copies. My mother offered to send her pictures of me with braces on my teeth. It’s pretty funny in hindsight, seeing as a lot of people I know in real life have mistaken me for older, too.
But really, the card just confirmed what I already knew—authors are awesome!
Me: When you reviewed Jumpstart, you stated as one of your reasons for reading it “author’s Twitter presence.” Which of course made me happy, because now I know I’m not wasting my time on Twitter (I sort of knew that already, but it was still good to hear). What do you get from following an author’s Twitter account? Does it give you a look into whether you’d like their books? Does that impression usually bear out?
Maggie: What I’m looking for in an author’s Twitter account is two things: personality, and community involvement. You don’t have to be as witty as all those other guys, and you don’t have to respond to every single review and @ message you receive, and you definitely don’t have to participate in #FollowFriday and #WriterWednesday every week, but I definitely want to get an idea of who you are, and I definitely don’t want to feel like you’re in an ivory tower. Find your voice. This should go without saying, but don’t get bitter or mean. And definitely engage with other authors, reviewers, and book bloggers in the YA community.
Actually, some of my favorite author Twitter accounts have very little to do with their books. The reason I tend to buy books by authors I like on Twitter is familiarity, and the desire to support people whose online company I enjoy, just like I prefer to shop at a store whose owners I know and chat with behind the counter.
Me: This is a very pet-oriented blog, because I’m an animal lover. Usually I feature dogs and cats, because that’s what most of my readers and fellow authors have (along with the occasional bunny or what-have-you). Now…you live on a farm. And I remember you were pretty shaken, not too long ago, over the death of two farm animals. Or was it three? So please tell us a little about specific cows, goats…whatever animals you share your life with, and what they mean to you.
Maggie: We actually lost seven goats in a recent barn fire, and in the blizzard that followed, we lost four more. One of our beautiful baby calves was born pretty weak, and she died yesterday, despite us bringing her into the house and staying up with her for hours. It’s the circle of life, I guess you could say, and it’s not something you ever get used to—all of our animals have names, and there are lots of tears shed every time we lose one.
On our farm we have cows, ducks, chickens, sheep, turkeys, water buffalo, dogs, cats, guinea hens, horses, and rabbits (whew!), but I have to say, it’s our dairy goats that have a special place in my heart. Good thing, too, since I spend about two hours every day milking them by hand!
In this picture you can see April, Lauren, Brandi, Oreo, and Cazanovia. Right after this was taken they started chomping on my hair, which was pretty gross, but also pretty funny.
Me: I wasn’t going to talk too much about your personal comments in your Jumpstart review, because I didn’t want to seem like I was trying to put you in any kind of a box. But then I read another blog post of yours, the one about your favorite LGBTQ books for National Coming Out Day. The thing I like about what you said is the way you resist labels and boundaries. And, well…that’s a compliment, not a question. But if you want to speak to it, please do. If not, that’s okay, too.
Maggie: My blog accidentally ended up as a diary of my gender identity, and it’s interesting to see the evolution. I read and reviewed LGBTQ books from the start, but stated pretty adamantly all the while that I was straight (mostly because I was afraid friends and family would be reading). In truth, I’d been questioning ever since I was old enough to know what a sexual orientation was, and finally came out last year on my blog as questioning, gender-queer, and then finally bisexual. It was a lot easier to say it online than it was out in the real world, but I did eventually come out to my family and friends, too. I still don’t really feel comfortable with any labels, and I’m not sure exactly where I fall on the continuum. I’m sure I’ll be figuring that stuff out my whole life. But one thing I’m sure about is that Jumpstart the World made me face a lot of the questions about my identity that I’d had all along, and I don’t know how long it would have taken me to come out as queer otherwise.
Me: I notice on your Review Policies page you have a very blunt slam on book piracy. You say, “Book piracy is stealing an author's hard work. Buy it, borrow it from the library, or suck it up. End of story.” Which I like, because I’m an author, and I seek to pay the mortgage in return for my work. But a lot of people online these days feel quite entitled. Do you get arguments on your strict policy? Or are people too inherently ashamed (I hope) to try to justify their piracy to you?
Maggie: I’ve never had anyone bring up the piracy part of my review policy, actually. I wrote it as more a statement of my manifesto than anything else. And while none of my friends have pirated books (that I know of), we definitely have this conversation about music all the time. If I can’t afford something, I listen to it through a legal service like Spotify or Pandora instead, and a lot of people make fun of me for that. But as an artist, I think it’s important to pay other artists their due.
That said, I think the copyright system is broken, and I love collaborating under public domain and creative commons licensing. I have a lot of respect for artists who use pay-what-you-think-it’s-worth systems. I think we’ll see a lot more of that as social media evolves. But just because the big picture is messed up doesn’t make flat-out stealing an artist’s hard work okay, and I stand by that.
Me: You write. In fact, you’ve gotten published, and won an award or two. Care to brag on that a bit? What do you get from writing, and sharing your writing, that keeps you going down one of the hardest roads in the world?
Maggie: Writing’s been my passion ever since I could hold a pencil, and I’ve written dozens of little stories and poems and even a couple of epic fantasy novels. I seriously tried my hand at getting published when I was thirteen, and got pieces in a girl’s magazine and a sci-fi magazine. I took a few years off from submitting to work on other projects, and I’m glad I did, because it really forced me to grow as a writer. After I started college I didn’t have much time to write, but I did submit to my college’s writing awards and won the second-place fiction prize twice, which was wonderful. Two composition classes, a creative writing class, and a literature-centered ethics class later, I’m ready to dive in again.
As far as why I do it? I’m not really sure. I can’t imagine doing anything else. I’m very shy, so I think it’s my own way of sharing my voice with the world. It’s a good thing my drive to keep going comes from the storytelling voice inside my head that won’t shut up, and not from the outside, because so far I haven’t gotten very much outside recognition at all. Hopefully that will change someday!
Me: What are your plans for the future, and how do books fit in?
Maggie: Oh, boy. Since I started Maggie’s Bookshelf, my plans from the future have ranged from being a botanist, to a politician, to a sociologist, to a neuroscientist, but the only thing I’ve really stuck with so far is writing. So I hope I’ll be lucky enough to make a career out of that someday. But as a backup plan I’m getting my English degree and getting my editing certificate or another publishing certification, because if I can’t make a living writing books, then I’d love to make a living helping others get their voices heard.
Me: Will you recommend a few other book blogs you think are worth visiting?
Maggie: I always love to give a shout-out to my fellow teen bloggers, so here goes—my ALAN co-panelist Ari of Reading in Color, Emma of Booking Through 365, Jessica of Shut Up! I’m Reading, and John of Dreaming in Books. We’re teens, we read, and we’re taking over the world. Let’s just hope we use our collective powers of awesome for good, not evil!
Me: If I were a betting woman, I'd put some money on good. Thanks so much for the interview, Maggie. In addition to her blog, you can catch up with Maggie on Twitter.
And that wraps up Blogger Wednesday. If you got something out of it, and would like it to come back sometime, speak up. That's the only way I'll know.