Holly Black, Author of The Spiderwick Chronicles – Exclusive Interview

Interview with Holly Black

Holly Black is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, and The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.

JMW: Hello, this is Jean Marie Ward for BuzzyMag.com. With me today at Capclave is Holly Black, the bestselling, award winning author of [easyazon_link asin=”1442487984″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]The Spiderwick Chronicles[/easyazon_link], [easyazon_link asin=”1442403403″ locale=”US” new_window=”default” nofollow=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″ add_to_cart=”default” cloaking=”default” localization=”default” popups=”default”]The Curse Workers[/easyazon_link] series, and so many more. Welcome, Holly.

Holly Black: Thanks for having me.

JMW: We’re glad to have you here. How did you go from New Jersey and The Journal of Pain to writing about fairies in suburbia.

Holly Black: Good question. I was actually writing about fairies while I was in New Jersey. And while I was working, I was a production editor on medical journals including The Journal of Hand Surgery and, indeed, The Journal of Pain. And one of the things I was really interested in is that suburbia is often portrayed as these cookie cutter houses, and this fairly high income level, and these very specific things that did not match my understanding of what suburbia was. I grew up by the Jersey shore, and there were a lot of abandoned spaces. There were a lot of strange spaces. There were a lot of us disenfranchised kids, and it didn’t feel at all like what I was seeing suburbia portrayed as. And so it was one of the things that I really wanted to do when I was writing my first novel, Tithe, was write about that space and put fairies into it because there were so many really interesting, old, abandoned buildings. These majestic old buildings, for instance, in Asbury Park, which had once been these grand places that people would come and go to the beach. Presidents would come. Fancy folk from New York would come. And now it’s just as easy to take a jet somewhere as it is to drive down to the shore, and so all of these places have pretty much been abandoned, these merry-go-rounds and old hotels. And then a particular place that struck my fancy was there was a half built mausoleum in the graveyard right behind the high school. And the top level of it was overgrown with ivy and with trees that came up out of the top level, so it looked very like a palace because it was all stone and then with this strange greenery on top. And it really seemed like a place nature was reclaiming in a way that made it a really interesting landscape to put fairies.

JMW: Cool. What attracted you to the fae? Was it their otherness or the narratives? What drew you to them?

Holly Black: I think both. I think I am interested in the fact that fairies are one of the supernatural creatures that we have that have never been human and never will be human, that they are other than us even though they can appear like us, and that they have different values. And I’m interested in the way the stories go. Fairy stories are much like ghost stories in that they are often a thing that happens with no conclusion. You know, I saw a little man in the woods. He gave me a warning. I turned back.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: A few weeks later, one of my neighbors went out, and we never saw him again.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: You draw your own conclusions. And so there are all these mysteries sorta inherent in the stories. And the magic is very organic and numinous and very attractive to me. The idea that this sorta around the corner and out of the corner of your eye, that there’s this whole other world existing side by side with ours that is as frightening as it is beautiful.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: So I think the action was the stuff that gets to me about them and makes me wanna write those stories.

JMW: And setting, it seems like, is also an important component of that. The fact that you have these odd places that exist in our world. A half built mausoleum with ivy growing over it. How important is it to pick the right setting or to make the setting a character for you?

Holly Black: I think the setting can be a really great character and can do a lot of thematic work. In particular, I’m thinking about the way that in old fairy tales, people would go into the dark forests. And the dark forest was the place in which you would come out transformed for good or for ill. Once you went in there, things were gonna change. You might be lost forever. You might come out with new abilities and new understandings. And right now, contemporarily, our idea of that has shifted to the city. The big city is the place you go. It’s gonna chew you up and spit you out, or maybe you’re gonna make it. And so it’s interesting how much that narrative though remains the same. And so transplanting fairies from the dark forests into the big city makes a lot of thematic sense because that’s where right now we feel there are those hidden spaces and that kind of magic. And so, yeah, I think that finding setting is really important and then figuring out what are you doing with it? What does it mean? What do you wanna say through the setting?

[easyazon_block add_to_cart=”default” align=”left” asin=”1442487984″ cloaking=”default” layout=”top” localization=”default” locale=”US” nofollow=”default” new_window=”default” tag=”buzmag-20″]The Curse Workers[/easyazon_block]JMW: Yet, but you are going into the dark forest very soon, in January 2015. You’ve got a book that’s titled In the Deepest Part or the Darkest Part of the Forest.

Holly Black: In the Darkest Part of the Forest. It is a much more rural story. It’s about a very small town called Fairfold where you know how like some American towns have like a giant ball of string or an enormous piece of cheese…

JMW: Right.

Holly Black: …which is the…

JMW: The thing.

Holly Black: …the thing that people come and take photographs of. And in Fairfold, what they have is a fairy prince in a glass coffin out in the woods. And they believe that the forest is haunted, that there are fairies out there. And tourists come and they take photographs. And they don’t believe in it, but the townsfolk do. And for generations, kids have gone and partied out by the coffin after games. And there’s a carpet of old beer cans and smashed bottles. And Hazel and her brother Ben have known about the prince for as long as they’ve lived. And they have made up stories about him, and they’re both in love with him. And in the way that you are brought together by your love of a rock star that is far, far away, they really love sharing this until all of a sudden he’s not there. And then he seems way more real. And the fact that they’re both in love with him is a really big problem for them.

JMW: Sounds like you’re really enthusiastic about this one, and I speak as a writer who knows what production cycles are like.

Holly Black: Oh my god. It was really hard to write. And I’m not sure why exactly, but it was a book that trying to figure out all of the different pieces to get what I wanted to do with it were hard. And I’m so happy that it’s done.

JMW: Cool.

Holly Black: I hope you like it.

JMW: Well, I’m looking forward to it myself. But I gotta take a little detour here and talk about the fact that you have a reputation for playing really well with others. The Spiderwick Chronicles was a collaboration with Tony…

Holly Black: DiTerlizzi.

JMW: …DiTerlizzi, and you worked with Ted Naifeh to create The Good Neighbors. And you just released, as of this filming, The Iron Trial, the first book in the Magisterium series written with your friend Cassandra Clare. What’s the secret to a great, creative collaboration?

Holly Black: Well, I think, certainly with Tony and with Cassie, the huge advantage that I had was that they are my friends. And so working with Tony, we already knew each other pretty well. And we’d already argued about movies many, many times and talked about plots and talked about the kind of things we liked in stories. And so actually when we sat down to plot out what happened in the Spiderwick books, we already had that shared vocabulary. And that’s true with Cassie too. We’ve been critique partners for a really, really long time. We’ve known each other for 12 years, so working out the details and writing with one another is, I think, made a lot easier by the fact we already know how to negotiate. We already have a relationship that we’ve already negotiated. And we already know how to be truthful and to be honest and say this isn’t working, this is really working, I need help, I think we should do this. With Ted Naifeh, I didn’t know him very well. And it was a much less…I think we were much less entwined in each other’s work in The Good Neighbors where I had already completed the full first script when he came in to do the art.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: And so we were able to sorta start collaborating with the second and third volumes. But I think the fact that we didn’t have a relationship together before that meant we couldn’t just jump in and be super honest with one another from the get go.

JMW: Mm-hmm, so a change, but what I’m hearing is sorta compromise is important, honesty.

Holly Black: Yeah, I mean, I think when you have a disagreement with a collaborator, a lot of times you have one way that you wanna go. And they have another way. And what I have learned is that there’s almost always a third way. Because you usually you want what you want for a reason, and they want what they want for a reason. And so it isn’t about those two things. It’s about getting those to fit, to effect…

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: …that those pieces of business will give you. And you can often find something that will give both of you what you need.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: And I think that’s really the joy of collaboration is coming to places you wouldn’t have come to on your own, and coming up with solutions you wouldn’t have come up to on your own.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: Hopefully, ideally the thing you make is a thing that is better than the thing you could have made by yourself.

JMW: And how does that apply to The Iron Trial? What was the thing that surprised you in that?

Holly Black: Well, I think Cassie is really, really good at getting at how people feel. And in working with her, she is always pushing me to put more of the character’s feelings on the page and to let them have these big scenes where they actually work out what’s going on with them. And that is really helpful for me because that’s something I won’t do till a very late stage in a book, and she really thinks about it from the beginning.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: So it shifted a lot of my thinking, and I think it was part of the reason why normally I struggle a lot with the first draft. A lot of times, my first draft is about figuring out what happens.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly: And because she focuses on the emotional lives of the characters in the first draft…

JMW: Yeah.

Holly Black: …I think it was a lot more fun to write a first draft with her. She really helped me like first drafting.

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: I’m not sure I can do it alone and enjoy it. But I often struggle with it, and so that was a really good experience.

JMW: Sounds like a gift. It really does. What are you working on now?

Holly Black: Well, we’re working on the second book in the Magisterium series, which is The Copper Gauntlet. We finished the first draft, and now we have to like gooden [sic] it…

JMW: Mm-hmm.

Holly Black: …which is my favorite part, so…

JMW: Yeah.

Holly Black: …I feel excited. And I have to figure out what I wanna do next, and I think I might try writing a high fantasy that I started 20 years ago.

JMW: Oh.

Holly Black: And I think maybe I’m finally ready to actually tackle it, but we’ll see.

JMW: That will be so cool. That will be so cool. Anything you’d like to add?

Holly Black: Just that I had a lovely time at Capclave, and a lot of fun with you on panels.

JMW: Oh, thank you. And thank you for BuzzyMag.com.

Interviewed by Jean Marie Ward

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Jean Marie Ward
Buzzy Mag Reporter & Reviewer

Jean Marie Ward writes fiction, nonfiction and everything in between, including art books, novels (2008 Indie Book double-finalist With Nine You Get Vanyr), and short stories such as WSFA Small Press Award finalist “Lord Bai’s Discovery” and “Personal Demons” in the award-winning anthology Hellebore and Rue. Her videos include author interviews and tutorials.
Jean Marie Ward
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