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The Deceased Language of Speed

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I’ve always enjoyed languages. I like ’em dead, really, because then they can’t go round changing on you. Latin, my favorite in college, is beautifully, thoroughly, conclusively dead. No one is inventing any new Latin idioms any time soon. No one has to worry about “google” switching from a noun to a verb in the Latin lexicon. I’m telling you all this because I’m about to tell you about my first rally, and even though you might think this will be a post about cars, it will actually be a post about languages.

I guess I have to start with cars, though. Those of you who read the blog regularly will know that recently I bought a race car. How I arrived at purchasing a race car is a long, convoluted, and ultimately spoilery story that I cannot and will not share at the moment, but all you need to know is that I have been having a mid-life crisis since I hit age seven or eight. You never know, man. You never know when that scythe-guy is coming for you. BUY A RACE CAR NOW BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE.

This is the part where everyone always asks “do you mean Nascar?” No, I do not mean Nascar, because Nascar involves roads, and I think driving a car on roads is cliché. Everybody drives their cars on roads. My race car is a hipster car. It drives on gravel paths, which were cool before anybody even thought of asphalt.

I feel like I’ve already said the word “car” a lot of times for a blog post I promised wasn’t about cars. I’m going to skip ahead. I’m going to skip to the part where we’re all driving to our first rally, a Canadian race called Rally of the Tall Pines (which was not the species of tree I became the best acquainted with while there, but I get ahead of myself). We were in two cars — Lover and my dad in one, as I’m such a bad influence that they’d decided to race as well, and me in my Evo, listening to loud music that you will not like.

After about ten hours of driving, we arrived at the Canadian border. I arrived first, and even though I turned down my music, Canada didn’t seem happy to see me.

CANADA: What is your destination?
ME: A rally race in Bancroft.
CANADA: What’s that?
ME: A car race on gravel roads with lots of jumps and cliffs and stuff.
CANADA: Why would you do something like that?
ME: Are you questioning my life choices?
CANADA *coldly*: Explain your license plate.

Mitsubishi Evo

ME: It’s a reference to my next novel. It’s sort of spoilery. I can’t tell you.
CANADA: We need to see you in the office.

And then they sent me to be questioned in the building where all of the other punks sat while Canada searched their cars for drugs and illegal fruits and vegetables. I had to pull out my rally notes and explain I was an author (Canada was very unimpressed). Generally I flapped my hands around a lot and was charming.

CANADA: We see that you are charming. That might work back where you are from — Virginia — if you are even from Virginia. For our part? we are going to do a background check.

They did a background check. They asked again about the license plate. By this point, Lover and Dad were feeling a little tetchy about my life choices, too.

LOVER: You could have just gotten a normal license plate.
ME: Normal is so cliché.

Ultimately, Canada let me in, although she looked displeased about it. It just goes to show you, though, that people believe in the packaging. If the cereal box says “heart healthy!” they totally think it’s good for their cholesterol levels. If the car says “THIEF,” clearly the driver is a stone-cold bandit.

So in I stole to Canada (get it? get it?) and didn’t even speed that much. I don’t think, anyway. Everything is in kilometers in Canada and I find it hard to speed in kilometers.

Once again I find that this blog post seems to be about cars, and I promised languages. I’m going to skip ahead again.

Once in Bancroft, there was evidence of the rally everywhere:

Who knew?

Including my car. It was still white and naked — it won’t be sexily vinyled* up to look like the book cover until the 2013 races. But I liked it anyway.
The Fiesta at Rally of the Tall Pines 2012

*I feel this is the most innocent use of the phrase “sexily vinyled” ever.

I wore my green sunglasses, because they make me faster.


So. Rally. The hipster roads we run on are unpredictable and rutted and lacking in guard rails and signage and all of the other things that humans have come to expect. Which means the Rally of Tall Pines (really, it should be the Rally of Tall Birches, but I get ahead of myself again) has an attrition rate of fifty percent. Most years sixty cars start and thirty cars finish. There’s always a list of the cars that didn’t finish and why and it usually looks like:


Some of those are lies. But most are not.


In an attempt to make fewer cars and humans die, rallying has adopted stage notes. Each rally’s Big Book of Misadventure/ Handbook for the Recently Deceased lovingly describes each turn, crest, jump, and distance. Like a bedtime story on fast forward, the co-driver reads these to the driver at precisely the correct time. With funny voices for the good parts. And this keeps all parties from being shocked by a suddenly tight turn with a cliff on the other side.

stage notes
Allow me to translate. That would be

RIGHT 5 minus over a small crest into a LEFT 4 plus over a small crest, 80 meters, crest, BRAKING OMG BRAKING, RIGHT 6 into CAAAAUUUUTTTIIIOOOOON big jump! into crest, RIGHT 4 plus, off camber, and crest, 100 meters, RIGHT 5 short into LEFT 5 over small crest, 100 meters go go go!

What a fine bedtime story that is! You can see, in addition to its compelling prose style, how it would prevent the car from flying over a blind crest and off a cliff. You can also see how, when the co-driver and driver are working perfectly together, you can hurtle along blindly, much faster than a) someone without notes or b) someone with common sense.

And did you notice that it is a lot like a DEAD LANGUAGE? A language without jokes, but still, a language. I’ll admit that when I cooked up my plan to race with Bill, I fully intended to co-drive as little as humanly possible. All I really cared about was hurtling through the woods behind the wheel. But . . . color me fascinated. Driving + dead language = puzzle. It also helps that co-driving is really hard. As in, the hardest thing I think I’ve attempted in the last ten years, and that includes trying to make tortillas (I always somehow end up making the kitchen smell like fish). I’m sort of a practice junkie. I don’t like not being good at something. Basically what I’m telling you is that you’re going to be hearing rumors of me doing a lot of co-driving in 2013. And hopefully improving.

I think I’m done with the language part of this blog post. I think now I’m going to consummate my tree references by telling you that on the first stage of the rally, Bill and I hit a tree. A small one. Five inches diameter? Seven? It was not a pine, though. It was a birch, and it left a birch-shaped print on the hood of the car. Possibly the most interesting part of hitting the tree was lifting our eyes to where another rally car was buried in the trees a few yards ahead of us. Clearly someone had had the same idea as us, only they’d approached it with more enthusiasm. It was a cautionary tale.

We backed out of the tree and then the ditch. We were vexed, but there was no swearing. I generally use swearing very sparingly while driving.

Example A:

CAR: *hits tree*
BILL: Yes.

Example B:

CAR: *flies successfully over giant jump*
MAGGIE: %^&* yeah!
BILL: Yes.

And we continued racing. We didn’t hit more trees. Instead, we passed forty cars. I’m not sure how to tell the next part, because it’s not very plausible. It’s this:


Really, this shouldn’t have happened, as it was my first rally and Bill’s first rally. And because we started off by hitting a tree. But we got better. You, gentle reader, might also be pleased to know that Lover and Dad did not roll over, crash, or otherwise destroy their car. I hear that they swore more than us, though. And I’m telling you now that Lover knows a lot of swear words. Some of the compound words he knows are linguistically incredible. I’d tell you, but there are children reading this blog, and they don’t need to hear #$%^&nozzle in a sentence.

Anyway, the rally was brilliant. And I was looking forward to driving back over the border into the U.S. We used the Evo to recce the rally roads, and it looked delightfully disreputable, and I was certain that they’d be even more suspicious than Canada had been.


Evo after Recce
But this is what happened.

U.S.: Where are you coming from?
ME: Canada.
U.S.: Ha ha. Where in Canada?
ME: Bancroft.
U.S.: What was in Bancroft?
ME: A rally. I was —
U.S.: Tall Pines! AWESOME! How’d you do?
ME: First. I was —
U.S.: You can go. Great license plate, by the way.

So off I went back home. Listening to music you will like.

2013’s going to be awesome.

  • Hellz yeah, Maggie! Glad you made it back home in one piece as well, by the way.

    I was inspired by your previous post about research to do some of my own for my book. I now need to go out and find a 1959 Chevrolet Brookwood to drive to get the full effect for my narrator. Perhaps I will also feel inclined to get a racecar. Baby steps.


  • Jami

    I so would write something more coherent here, but I’m too busy laughing at the #$%^&nozzle and language nerdery.

  • LOVER: You could have just gotten a normal license plate.
    I can hear him saying that in my head. And the compound cuss words. a$$hat is one I’ve read him write before. I like a$$hat. I will use that if it’s okay with him.

    • He’s very free with them. I’m sure you’re welcome to a$$hat.

  • OHMYGOD, NO MAGGIE, gosh dang it, now I want to try co-driving. Thankfully, I have only a learner’s permit so no races in Canada for me anytime soon. Anyways, I love the language aspect because language is sooo much fun and finding other languages that don’t change often is great. You’re a daredevil!!!! (And I really wanna know how you go about tortilla-making because there are no fish ingredients….. :D)

    • Tortilla making is like alchemy in my house. There’s no gold or fish to start, but by the end . . .

  • Lisa Langdale

    So . . . Santa is bring Thing 1 and Thing 2 race cars for Christmas? (decorated in wreaths obviously!)

    • We’d have nowhere to park them. The rule is: they want a car at age seven and eight, they can have them, but they have to build the garage for them.

      • Lisa Langdale

        Man, it would take a lot of LEGOs to build a garage that big. Guess they’ll have to wait a bit longer…

  • You know me so well, Maggie–I did like the latter song and not the former. Also, it is hilarious how differently Canada and US customs treated you and your fabulous license plate! Your writing always makes me laugh, in the best way!
    Great post, and congratulations!

    • Thanks! And yes, I suspect most humans prefer the second song to the first.

      • I love Alt J = mostly fr writing to but the first song is so dam racy!! Go grrrl!

  • I find the opposite happens to my dance team and I when we cross over into the States, I should note were from canada, this is how our conversations goes
    USA: Where you going?
    US: (so and so) High school
    USA: Why?
    US: For a winterguard competition
    USA: Whats that?
    US: (we explain avoiding telling them that we toss guns and sabres in the air)
    USA: Whats in the trailer?
    US: Vinal floor and flag polls (We have 12 people in our van by the way)
    USA: You may cross

    WE cross and my coach says funny “I think that cop thought that we (The 2 men in the front) were the pimps and u guys were… well u know. LOL

    • Next time you should wave the sabres and flags and see what happens.

  • Hah! I love the difference between US and Canada! 😛
    The Rally seems like such fun, too bad you don’t have a dashboard camera to record it, maybe next time!

    • The sad part is I *do* have a dash camera, only I didn’t install it before this rally. Next time, definitely.

  • Anonymous

    This post took me far longer to read than usual. I spent too much time obsessing over and deconstructing what THIEF means for/to the Raven Boys…

    • Nicole Jakubowski

      This post took me far longer to read than usual. I spent too much time obsessing over and deconstructing what THIEF means for/to the Raven Boys…

  • Ishta

    Maggie! I just… WOW. Also, awesome. And the license plate thing? I look forward to many more such stories in the future. 🙂 I’m still laughing (although I am sure you WEREN’T at the time…). This blog post made my morning.

    • Oh, I’m always amused. >:D And you can imagine how often I get pulled over in the States with that plate.

  • You provide me with endless amounts of vicarious life action! Congrats on the win & I am totally convinced that your Lover could write a dictionary with all the cuss words he knows.

  • Hahaha, this story was awesome. And the ending was the best. I can’t wait to find out how the car and license plate, etc. are spoilery!

    The co-driving language is certainly interesting. Even translated, it’s still slightly mysterious. Congrats on first place, too! ;D

    • *wiggles eyebrows meaningfully* I am quite keen for the world to know about the sequel.

      And thanks for the congrats.

      • Annie

        Then tell us about the sequel! WE WANT TO KNOW!!!! please

  • This is one of the funniest blog posts I’ve ever read! Gotta love the differences between entering the U.S. and Canada. 🙂 Congrats, Maggie!

    Laura 🙂

    P.S. I’m still laughing about the #$%^&nozzle!

    • In all fairness, it might have been the difference in music that made Canada and U.S. react differently to the car. Although I was wearing the green sunglasses on the way back in, too. Hm.

      • JayT

        I’ve heard entry into Canada goes a bit easier if you’re playing some Gordon Lightfoot on the radio…

  • Maggie,
    I just want to apologize for the two Canadian dimes that made their way into the Florida toll booth operators hand. She was super offended and handed me back what she called “not real money”. She was so repulsed by my Canadian money that she didn’t even ask for the twenty cents in American change! She just told us to go on … I think I won that one.

    By the way, any idea WHY the Detroit bridge is so expensive to cross? Clearly my dad has not driven across the border since he was a kid because he told me it would be about a couple of dollars. No sir it was more like nearly $5 each way.

    • It was offensively expensive, that was for sure. I took one minute to assess which currency I needed and then just handed over my debit card.

  • Scarlet

    Two things: you got to Canada in 10 hours?! That seems quick. And also, I’m wondering how Canada would like my SVRSPY license plate…

    • I did. We just shot up 81 for a million years.

      Canada: SAVE RASPY?

  • Ryan

    So hilarious! I laughed pretty much the whole time!

    Although I’m slightly offended that you are refering to the unhumorous Canadian apples you had the displeasure of meeting as “Canada”. I’m not enourmously pissed off or anything because I know you are joking around. It was more of a “Hey!” when I saw it.

    I promise we aren’t all like that.

    • In all fairness, you’ll note that U.S. also got referred to as “U.S.”

      And I spent the rest of my week around actual Canadians who were delightful as always. I also heard this joke three times: “If you bump into a Canadian, he will say sorry.”

  • Ah we had great plans of family bonding up at Bancroft last weekend. My brother in law is a die hard rally fan, and since the hubs and I are die hard Maggie fans we though it would be good times all around. But alas, I had far to bad a case of morning sickness to drive the three hours up there! Which is a shame, because it sounds like a sight that really needs to be seen.
    Do they film parts of the race? I am now dreadfully in need of watching the rolls, horse attacks and various other calamities. Though for the full experience I think you would likely need the soundtrack from within each car as well.
    Congrats on both your win and your grand customs caper!

    • I am sorry to hear of your woes! It was fiendishly cold, so probably not as thrilling to watch as it could be. There are indeed already videos popping up on YouTube, specially of the crashes – just search 2012 Tall Pines Rally and they all appear. I swear I’ll be taking video in ’13.

      • JayT

        Put some GoPros on/in the car for Sno*Drift Maggie!

        Here’s a short vid from TV2Go, mostly showing the top Nat’l teams:

        I believe they will put out a longer version in the weeks to come.

  • Creasy

    I read this and while reading this part “really, it should be the Rally of Tall Birches” my mind told me it said “really, it should be the Rally of Tall Bitches” and so I was waiting for you to explain that one. And then later on you were talking about birch trees. *sigh* I thought it was going to be a story of mean girls. lol

    • Not yet. Maybe after I convert all of my readers into rally fans. Right not there just aren’t enough girls there to support a Tall Bitches Rally.

  • Leigh Smith

    Soo glad you lived! Admittedly, it does sounds quite fun. Well done, you!

  • B J

    speaking of languages they’re not called races they’re Rallies. They”re not Race Cars they”re Rally cars. Like that. Glad you had a good time – how could you not?

    • Oh, *I’m* aware of what they’re called. But if you merely call them rallies and rally cars, trust me, no one in my world has the foggiest idea what you’re talking about.

  • Congrats on winning! Hopefully the experience at the border doesn’t stop you from coming to Canada again! And you were right about the music

    • Oh, I had a great time in Canada both this time and on tour, so I will definitely be back. Border control and airport security people are sort of a different species.

  • B J

    Sorry. Tired and cranky and old. I enjoyed reading your blog. Truly. Next time I”ll resist the temptation to respond after a day of Christmas shopping with two grandchildren. It was fun but tiring.

    • It’s okay. I’m tired and cranky and young. And getting used to the idea that most non-rally people don’t know what rally is and most rally people assume I don’t either. Heh!

  • ROTFL! I swear the same thing happened to my daughter when she went to Canada. They delayed her for about four hours and made her get an official work permit because “a GOTH girl couldn’t possibly want to do volunteer work in Canada”.

  • A story so excellent, even my husband could enjoy it. We also decided that my husband’s crazy-driving bestie should race rally and I should be his co-driver. See you on the hipster roads!

  • anne

    As a Canadian who lived/worked in the US for awhile and thus crossed the border numerous times, I feel the need to point out that you will always get asked more questions on your way into the other country than when you are from. I’ve had customs agents not believe I’m going to a wedding in the US until I show them a wedding invitation. I’ve had them not believe my profession. What? Girls can’t be engineers. So, while I’ve never been taken into the type of questioning you were… but it’s not all that unusual for there to be a difference.
    (At least you are in good company. John Green had a post a while ago about how he always gets harassed when he tries to go into Canada.)

    • Oh, I’m harassed going from state to state. I’ve accepted I have an anarchist’s face. I did not begrudge the Canadians.

      • Kent


        One thing we “rally people” have learned is that at border crossings into Canada you never tell them you are going to a “rally”, you always say you are going to a “race”. Why? Because a rally has political implications and they don’t need no durn furriners messing up their politics. And secondarily, if you are going to an event to assist the organizers you don’t say you are going to “work”, you say you are going to “volunteer”. Why? Well obviously you don’t want to be taking jobs away from Canadians.

        Looking forward to seeing your team at SnoDrift.

  • Haha They definatly are! Hopefully you’ll come close to wear I live on your next tour!

  • Ananya

    Wow. You are so incredibly funny.

    Congratulations on your big victory, and yes, good old U.S.! Doesn’t meddle with your choice of license plate like Canada does. 🙂 I am very intrigued by the whole THIEF thing now!

  • How is it that in this many years you never seize to amaze me? How do you do it?
    Welcome home almighty victorious rally winner!
    2013 will be amazing, no doubt. Cheers!

    • It’ll be interesting, for sure, which is the plan. Now that I’ve finished a rally without breaking a LOT of pieces off, I find I’d like to do it again.


  • Karla

    When I drove to Canada (to see Stars on Ice, which is not as cool as racing), the Canadian border patrol agents were very nice, but asked a lot of questions. The American border patrol agents were not nice at all. If I was judging the country based on the welcome I received, I would pick Canada.

    • Oh, my experience was entirely reversed when I flew into Canada last time, so it really does depend on the person you end up with!

      Stars on Ice is a lot like Rally of the Tall Pines, if you replace the word “stars” with “cars.”

  • Dennis

    After the “THIEF” gets caught, you can borrow my wife’s CELL ST (honestly it has nothing to do with an address in Attica.)

    “ius V minus super parva crista” The more I read that, the more I’m starting to think stage notes ARE in the wrong language.

    You left one item of the Did Not Finish list – GAVE AWAY MY ROUTE CARD

    Congrats on a very successful first rally.

    • You left one item of the Did Not Finish list – GAVE AWAY MY ROUTE CARD

      I have NO idea who would POSSIBLY do something like this. NO IDEA.

      • Anonymous

        Probably someone with a generous heart who saw a poor lonely marshall without a Route Card of their own.

  • Sherie

    Sounds like you fun in Canada, after they let you in, and you stole first too, true to your license plate. Actually, I have to say I like the first music better than the second, but I must admit, I spent a fair amount of time in college around people with liberty spikes, so my judgement might be a tad skewed.

    • I just like the phrase “liberty spikes.” Honestly, I didn’t know they had a name.

  • You have my admiration for jumping into rally sensibly…both feet first.
    Congrats on doing so well in not only your first rally, but one that also typically throws a little bit of everything at you. Have any luck spitting the notes out during the particularly rough section of the Peanut stage? 🙂

    I’ve played the role of vocal ballast in rally cars for a few years now, shoot me an email if you’d like some tips or have any questions.

    See you on the stages!

    • Oh, I won’t lie, I had two stages where I went offnotes, and Peanut was one of them — it was only the second stage, too, which meant I hadn’t yet figured out a single #$%^ thing about life — it still seemed very different from our practice by then. My favorite was Egan, though.

      Thanks for the offer of advice! My email’s StiefvaterReaderMail @ if it still stands . . .

  • Maggie,
    It’s fantastic to see a fellow writer being lured by the siren song of racing. Excellent post. If you have a minute to kill, this is from our last race of the season –

    • Look at those bug eyes there. As the owner of a beloved ’73 Camaro, cars from both that decade and the one before have my heart.

  • Is that a rock on your trophy? Why?

    • Probably because of all the rocks we had to drive over to get it.

  • Stephanie

    So when I tell my husband I want to buy a racecar, I can blame you, yes? My children (Things q-4) would seriously by thrilled with that, btw.

    And huge congrats. I shouldn’t be at all surprised that you won. It’s such a very Maggie thing to do.

    PS- Latin is a favorite of mine as well and I’m teaching it to the kidlets this year.

    • I’m not going to get used to the winning thing, although it was nice. I will settle for not breaking a whole lot of things off next time.

      And yes, you may blame it on me. I will be pleased to accept that blame.

  • Sharneyy

    Hey there,
    Sorry to say but this has nothing to do with your blog, I just couldnt find any other way to contact you.

    I am a huge fan of the Shiver trilogy, they are the best books i’ve ever read and I was addicted from the first line! I am just very confused to how it ended? That suely cant be it? There are so many un-answered questions?
    Does Grace’s cure that she used on sam work on her?
    Does it carry on working for him?
    Do Isabelle and Cole finally admit their dying heat for eachother?
    Does Isabelle actually get sent back to California?
    I have many many more questions, I just feel like I cant let go just yet?
    Please could you write a finall book? Maybe based around Cole&Isabelle, but still explaining what happens to Sam&Grace?
    You would be making me one HAPPY fan!

    Many kind regards.

    Sharneyy Biddle.

  • hahahahhahahahhahahaha this is hastarical. thats the U.S. alright. hahahahahaha sorry i cant stop laughing. great job in the race! it sounds like so much fun, i want to go!

  • Noella

    Why, Maggie, you are so amazing!
    In other news, I received the bookplate in the mail today. I was so excited when I saw you wrote a note back.
    I love you so much, Maggie! Keep being so fantastic!

  • Chi

    Does “THIEF” have anything to do with Requiem/So Sing The Dead???
    And how can I download your Henrietta song for The Raven Boys onto my iPod??? I know you give us a link to listen to it, but I can’t seem to download it. Or are we not able to download it onto our music players?

  • This rally sounds like it was all kind of awesome! My first car was a Mitsubishi Lancer OZ Rally and I absolutely loved her. I would still have her if I hand’t crashed up in the mountains. I’m hoping to get a Evo when I graduate Law School next year!

    But I digress, awesome job! Awesome rally! Awesome license plate! I’d love more posts just like this one =)

  • Mika

    Haha I like how Canada asked you a bunch of things and pulled a background check, But U.S. just asked where in Canada and how you did in the race then complimented your plate and sent you on your way XD

  • Ri

    Honestly, I liked the Brokencyde music WAAAAAAAAYYY better than Alt J.
    Also, America all the way, baby!

  • liz


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Maggie Stiefvater
Hi, I'm Maggie Stiefvater

Professional novelist by day and artist by night. I live an eccentric life in the middle of nowhere, Virginia with my charmingly straight-laced husband, two kids, and neurotic dogs. I’m the author of the Books of Faerie (LAMENT and BALLAD); the bestselling SHIVER trilogy (SHIVER, LINGER, FOREVER), and THE SCORPIO RACES.

How I Write

Maggie Stiefvater Novels

Copyright 2012