Holly Black has published three young adult urban fantasy novels, Tithe, Valiant, and Ironside, which reached the New York Times bestseller list. She co-created the Spiderwick Chronicles series with Tony DiTerlizzi, which has been adapted into a movie by Paramount, to be released next year.
Daily Dragon (DD): What was it like watching a trailer based on something you and Tony DiTerlizzi created?
Holly (HB): I have issues with other people, and so I was really nervous. I had already watched the trailer like 72 times online, so I knew it was good. I went into the theater thinking “I should be really excited, I should be really excited,” but all I was thinking is that someone is going to think this is going to be a terrible movie. So I was anticipating that some jerk was going to be like “I don’t like this movie.” I spent the entire time braced for that jerk. It was okay. No one threw their soda at the screen or anything. I thought it was great. I spent the whole time wondering “Did they like it? Did they really like it?”
DD: In several interviews, you’ve said you worked closely with creators of the movie. How involved in the process were you?
HB: What we mostly did was give feedback on scripts and designs. We just decided to think about it not in terms of our specific project, but what would make a fun movie. It was really a matter of getting a good script and making it into a movie that we would want to see.
DD: The movie could reach a vast audience; do you have any concerns about it becoming people’s entry point to your books?
HB: I’ve seen it. I think it’s good. I think people are going to enjoy it, so that certainly makes me feel good about it. It’s so different; I think people will come to the books in their own way. When people make a bad film of a book that I love, it doesn’t make me love the book any less.
DD: What new projects are you working on?
HB: I have three graphic novels I’m working on called The Good Neighbors, with Ted Naifeh. They’re a little bit like my modern faire tale series, but its not specifically the same universe. I’ve been so involved with my world; it’s been great to work on Neighbors. It’s based on this true story. A hundred years ago, this guy called Michael Cleary killed his wife in front of his daughter because he thought she was a fairy changeling. So the premise of this story is this wife and daughter are missing, and there is so much weirdness she has to figure out what’s real. Is her mother really a fairy?I have three more Spiderwick books coming out, and they go beyond the Chronicles. They’re about three different kids who purchase the guide in the bookstore—proving that it doesn’t matter if you found it in an old New England House, or purchased it in a book store and taken it back to your home, you still can still get into a lot of trouble.
DD: You once said you never had much published before Tithe, what made that project different?
HB: I think for me, the process of writingTithe was the process of learning plotting. I was very enamored with vignettes. I was writing a very long vignette about fairies, and I had no idea what to do with them. I would get a whole bunch of different characters on stage and had no idea what to do with them. I would get almost all the way through a book and realize “I’ve done this wrong,” and I had to go back and rewrite from the beginning. I had a very similar problem with long fiction. I would write the story to near the end, but I wouldn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to construct an arc, how to know when enough was enough. Through the process of revising, I really figured out how a story works, at least for me. By the time I had finished [Tithe] I felt I knew something that I didn’t know before. The more I write, the more I feel I have a good understanding of the basics, so I’m not anxious about the ending. I’m now confident about that, so I’m getting anxious about other parts of writing. I think the art of writing is about finding new and exciting things to worry about.
DD: And then after you had Tithe published you went back for more education?
HB: I thought if you’re going to have a day job, you should love your day job, and I knew I would never be a truly great medical market researcher because my hobbies went in another direction. I knew I could be a great young adult library director, because what I would be doing in my spare time would be making me a better librarian. Also, I knew a librarian and she was the only person I knew who was really happy with her job.I thought this is okay, this is great, and I went back to school. I ended up leaving because Tithe came out, and I had cataloguing, and I never came back. I kept thinking I would need a lot of time for cataloguing. I was afraid of cataloguing and so that’s why I came back.
DD: Your work is darker than a lot of young adult fantasy. Do you ever self-censor?
HB: I think that people have an idea about teen literature, especially adults who are around my age, that it is like the books that they read as kids. In fact, those books are solidly in the middle grades. The books that I read I read as a kid are comfortably shelved in middle grade, and when I think back, I read them back in the fourth, fifth, and six grade. I’m writing for 14-year-olds and 17-year-olds, and when I was that age, I was reading novels. What teen and YA are doing is trying to bridge that gap between being in middle school, and in some cases, college. So teen books have to address the concerns of teens, and their concerns are perhaps not what we would like as parents. They’re dealing with drugs, they’re dealing with sex and bullies and gangs and really scary stuff. They’re making decisions that could massively affect what happens to them for the rest of their lives.It’s a real turning point, and it’s a fascinating time to be writing about. I think to be fair, and to do a good job, in order to service it you have to remember what I was really doing at that time. People I think would be surprised at the stuff that I didn’t make up. I really did sleep in a subway platform in New York, just like Val in Valiant. I wasn’t on an abandoned platform with a bunch of homeless teenagers, I was there with my friends because I was 13, and we snuck away to the city, it’s true. I would be doing a disservice to kids if I wasn’t being true to that.