Seven Reasons It Must Be So Utterly Awesome To Be Holly Black:
1* She won the first ever Andre Norton Award for Valiant in 2006.
2* She went to two proms this year, and one of them actually served alcohol (more on that later…).
3* Over the past month she’s toured across the country and back, gone to WisCon, Book Expo America, and the Sycamore Hill Writer’s Workshop, and today she’ll be at ALA in D.C. She’s a busy, busy woman, doing very important things and hanging with seriously cool people. And yet she took the time to be interviewed by three bloggers for the SBBT.
4* She almost became a librarian. This makes us, like, practically related.
5* She slept on Cecil Castellucci’s couch.
6* She has lots and lots of very cool shoes. That may be a shallow thing to mention in a literary interview, but whatever. Look at those black-and-red ones!
7* Most importantly, her books. Holly Black has earned a reputation for imaginative, readable, and highly original fantasy for middle grade readers and teens.
If you’ve been living, say, on a glacier in Antarctica for the past 4 years, you might, possibly, have missed hearing about The Spiderwick Chronicles, the fabulously entertaining fantasy series penned by Holly and lavishly illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi. But if that is the case… well, welcome back, and as soon as you’re thawed out you should go take a look at these books. These spooky and fanciful stories about the Grace siblings and the field guide to supernatural creatures they discover have become every children’s librarian’s best friend – an answer to those kids who really really want to read something Harry Potterish but are maybe a little young to take on a 900-page tome with not-enough pictures. There’s a new book coming in September: The Nixie’s Song, the first in the Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles books. And next year the Spiderwick movie will be released, so probably even your Antarctic neighbors will be in the loop by then.
Then there’s her books for teens. Tithe (2002), Valiant (2005) and Ironside (2007, all Simon & Schuster) form a loose trilogy, and depict misfit teens in New Jersey and NYC who find themselves – either by accident or heredity – drawn into the darkly seductive Realm of Faerie, which coexists under humanity’s collective nose. Often the characters are used as pawns in the eternal battle between the Seelie (light-ish) and Unseelie (dark-ish) Courts, with plenty of elegantly-depicted violence, inter-species romance, and teen angst to speed the plots along. Read my mini-review here for a little more about why they rock.
There are more projects in the works, including a new graphic novel trilogy… but let’s let Holly tell you all about that.
Holly: Weirdly, I’ve been to two proms in the last two months. First, an event in New York for 21 Proms and then the Goth Prom in San Francisco. Both were great, but Goth Prom wins because I got a leafy tiara.
7-Imp: Have you been surprised by the huge successes of the Spiderwick series, as well as your YA novels Tithe, Valiant and the newest Ironside? How has your life changed over the past five years?
Holly: I was stunned at the success of Spiderwick because it happened all at once and because I figured that if I liked something then it was unlikely to be all that popular. And the success of my YA novels surprised me too, because it happened the opposite way–they grew an audience over time. I was gobsmacked when Ironside turned up on the bestseller list.
Five years ago, Tithe was a couple months from coming out. I was in living in New Jersey, with a slightly damp office in my basement, working as a medical market researcher and studying to be a teen librarian. I kind of felt like I didn’t know what to do with myself because for so long my only dream had been to sell a book and, having done it, I had no idea what to want next.
7-Imp: You and Tony DiTerlizzi forged an unusual collaboration between author and illustrator with the Spiderwick Chronicles. What was that like? Would you ever attempt it with another illustrator?
Holly: Artists and authors are discouraged from communicating until the book they’re working on is finished, so the way we work is sorta odd. Tony and I talk about the story we want to tell and then I go off and write and he goes off and draws. We send stuff to one another along the way and critique each other. It is a whole lot of fun and I think that fact that we were friends before we started working on Spiderwick allows us to be really honest with each other.
In terms of working the same way with another illustrator, I think each creative relationship is probably different. I’m looking forward to working more with Ted on Good Neighbors and seeing what that’s like.
7-Imp: Your books always have very thorough, complex mythologies that ground the stories. What is your research process like? Did any particular works or sources provide the basis for the Seelie/Unseelie Courts in your YA novels? How about the creatures in the Spiderwick Chronicles?
Holly: I have loved faerie folklore since I was a kid and my mom brought home Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s Faeries. That was the book that made me realize that faeries were dangerous. Since then, I’ve collected lots of books, including Evans-Wentz’s Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, Dermot MacManus’s The Middle Kingdom, lots of Katharine Brigg’s titles and a few editions of The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns, and Fairies by Robert Kirk.
In addition to the folklore, I was also pretty influenced (in both series) by urban fantasy writers that came before me, particularly Charles de Lint, Terri Windling and Ellen Kushner. What I want most of all, in my own writing, is to evoke the sense of the numinous that both their writing and the folklore inspire.
7-Imp: One of the coolest features of your website is the Resources page, which offers advice to would-be writers on the publishing biz, as well as bibliographies and pathfinders for faerie art, folklore, and good YA lit. Is this a compulsion left over from your library school days, or do you feel a responsibility to help out the next generation of writers? Or both?
Holly: In part, I put together those links on my Resources page because they were helpful for me. I already had lots and lots of bits of information for my own use as a writer, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch to put it into a place that would be easy for me to find and easy for other people too. Probably my library school background make me go a little crazy with it, though. Actually, answering your question is making me itchy to update the book lists. I wanted to create read-alike lists, but have never gotten around to doing it properly.
7-Imp: What can you tell us about The Good Neighbors and The White Cat?
Holly: The first book of my graphic novel trilogy, The Good Neighbors, is coming out in 2008 from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint. It’s going to be illustrated by Ted Naifeh, who writes and illustrates the fabulous Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things and was the co-author/illustrator of How Loathsome (among other things). It was interesting writing in the comic form – challenging too. I am really, really excited to see how the finished book turns out.
The White Cat is currently still just a few crappy pages that I am in the process of revising – but I think cat fantasy is a too long neglected genre. Okay, I’m kidding. Mostly.
7-Imp: You maintain a strong web presence, with a kick-ass website, a blog, and a MySpace page. How do you view these media outlets in your role as an author? (i.e., do they help connect you with fans, or take up valuable novel-writing time?)
Holly: Thank you. I really enjoy having a blog and interacting with other writers and readers on it. I had never kept a journal for any length of time before and although some months I update more than I do others, the fact that it is more like being engaged in a conversation than monologuing keeps me at it. As methods of procrastination go, I have much worse ones — like reading other people’s blogs!
7-Imp: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/ipod lately?
7-Imp: What’s one thing not many people know about you?
Holly: I met my husband through playing Dungeons & Dragons in high school. A friend of mine (that I played with) switched to private school, joined Theo’s D&D club, and introduced us.
We like to conclude our interviews by posing to people the weird and wonderful set of questions called The Pivot Questionnaire (most well-known by its use on “The Actors Studio”), since who knew that asking someone, say, what their favorite sound or noise is could tell you so much about them. So here goes:
7-Imp: What is your favorite word?
7-Imp: What is your least favorite word?
Holly: Poop. I’m actually cringing as I type that.
7-Imp: What turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Holly: The ocean. I grew up about five miles from the water and the crash of the waves never fails to make me feel electric and alive.
7-Imp: What turns you off?
Holly: Public speaking. I get horrible stage fright for days in advance.
7-Imp: What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
Holly: Fuck. My mother used to say that she thought that using it showed a lack of creativity because people made incomprehensible sentences out of it, like “fuck that fucking fucker for fucking up” but that’s actually what I love most about the word. The other thing that I love about it is that when I was in 6th grade, I would try and combat people that teased me with witty repartee and I would get mocked, but once I learned how to say “fuck you,” I finally got left alone.
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you love?
Holly: The rattle that says the coffee pot has finished brewing.
7-Imp: What sound or noise do you hate?
Holly: When people drum their fingers or tap the table over and over. It makes me nuts.
7-Imp: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Holly: This is going to sound crazy, but interior decorating. I love how changing around furniture or changing the color of a wall can change the feeling a whole room. And I would try really hard not to put gargoyles everywhere.
7-Imp: What profession would you not like to do?
Holly: Sales. I get nervous and flustered ordering pizza over the phone so I can only imagine how useless I would be at pitching anything.
7-Imp: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Holly: “Let me explain how all of this works”
More Holly links:
Holly has been featured in two other SBBT interviews:
Bibilography on Holly’s website, including poetry and magazine articles. (This one saved a lot of work for me. Thanks, Holly, you closet-librarian, you.)
“Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black” – interview on Powells.com Kids Q&A, 2005 (?).
“The Spiderwick Chronicles” – author information and interview on Kidsreads.com, November 5, 2005.
“Holly Black: Bookfest 2004” – webcast from the National Book Festival 2004 with Tony DiTerlizzi on the Library of Congress website.
“Author Interview: Holly Black on Tithe: a Modern Faerie Tale” – interview with Cynthia Letitch Smith on Cynsations, April 25, 2005.
Holly on 43people.com.
And here’s today’s SBBT schedule:
Tim Tharp by Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray
Justina Chen Headley by Kelly Herold at Big A, little a
Ysabeau Wilce by Gwenda at Shaken & Stirred
Dana Reinhardt by Little Willow at Bildungsroman
Julie Ann Peters by Sarah Stevenson at Finding Wonderland
Cecil Castellucci by Liz at A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy
Bennett Madison by Leila at Bookshelves of Doom
Justine Larbalestier by Vivian at Hip Writer Mama
Kirsten Miller by Elizabeth Bird at A Fuse #8 Production