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. She has been a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award and for an Eisner Award, and the recipient of both an Andre Norton Award and a Newbery Honor. Her new books are The Darkest Part of the Forest, a return to faerie fiction, and The Iron Trial, the first book in a middle grade fantasy series, Magisterium, co-authored by Cassandra Clare. Holly currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.
Holly was kind enough to chat with me about her upcoming book, The Darkest Part of the Forest!
Kristin Centorcelli: Will you tell us a bit about The Darkest Part of the Forest and what inspired you to write it?
Holly Black: I was initially inspired by the image of a horned faerie prince sleeping in a glass coffin where local kids came to party, so that the grass around the casket was full of smashed beer bottles and crushed aluminum cans.
My second piece of inspiration was the story of Kate Crackernuts. I changed around a lot of things from the original tale, but that’s what got me started on the book. From there, it was discovering the characters: Hazel, an ordinary girl who always wanted to be a knight. Her brother Ben, blessed by the faeries, whether he wanted to be or not. Jack Gordon, a changeling who is being raised beside the boy he was supposed to replace. And the horned boy himself.
KC: Why do you think readers will connect with Hazel and Ben?
HB: I am interested in the ways that Hazel and Ben are both very close and also keeping huge secrets from one another. I think that feels true about siblings, especially siblings who have gone through some traumatic things together. They’re both trying to protect one another – but in protecting one another, they’re actually causing one another a lot of unnecessary pain.
Hazel herself is difficult to get to know. She has her guard up and doesn’t want to let anyone see that she has any vulnerabilities, no less know what they are. She’s made big mistakes and knows she’s going to have to pay the price for them. But there’s still a lot about herself and her situation that she doesn’t know.
Ben is someone born with a gift that he’s not sure if he can control and which scares him. Both of them have hidden their fears and hopes and feelings in stories – stories about one another, stories about the horned prince, stories about their family. But stories have a way of unraveling once real people get involved in them.
KC: What supporting characters did you particularly enjoy writing about?
HB: I really love Jack Gordon. I’ve written about changelings before, but not one quite like him. His human family knows what he is and raised him beside Carter, the child he would have replaced. His faerie family knows what he is too and wants him to return to them. He’s stuck with a foot in both worlds, trying to figure out who he wants to be.
And I really love Hazel. She’s prickly and scared and was hard to get inside of because she held onto her secrets really tightly, but she’s also brave enough or stupid enough to want to save everyone, even if it means dooming herself.
KC: Many of your novels involve the fae. What do you enjoy most about writing in the world of these supernatural beings?
HB: I am fascinated by faeries. They’re these beings that have been called nature spirits and angels too good for Hell and too wicked for Heaven. Whatever they are, unlike so many other supernatural creatures, they’re not human and have never been human. They have different customs and different taboos and woe to someone who crosses them. Not only that, but there are so many different kinds of faeries – from phookas to kelpies to hobs and hags and faerie gentry – all of them capricious, dangerous, and full of story possibilities.
KC: Much of your work has a distinctive “dark faery tale” feel about it. What are a few of your favorite fairy tales?
HB: My favorite fairy tales are transformation ones like “The White Cat,” “Beauty and the Beast,” and “The Snake Prince.” Which is maybe why I also love faerie ballads like “Tam Lin.”
KC: You have a long list of wonderful and award winning titles under your belt, but what is one of the first things you can remember writing?
HB: Thank you! I don’t know that I remember much about what I first wrote, but I remember the novel I wrote in 8th grade called Knights of the Silver Sun (which, I believe, was a reference to the moon). It was a pastiche of Lord of the Rings, various other high fantasy quest novels I’d been reading, and possibly Interview with the Vampire. A group of heroes (including an elf) have to save imprisoned vampires being held by the evil dragon Venthromax. It was, er, pretty terrible and yet I have a great fondness for its terribleness.
KC: What do you enjoy about writing, and reading, speculative fiction?
HB: I like that speculative fiction allows us to write about the world, but write about it in a way that gets at different questions. Fantasy is never just metaphor, but it’s always also metaphor – and metaphor can be a really powerful way to get at the truth.
KC: Have you read any good books lately? Are there any that you’d recommend without hesitation?
HB: I’ve been doing a lot of high fantasy reading and re-reading recently. I just finished Cinda William Chima’s Seven Realms series, which is absolutely fantastic, and I loved Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, Marie Lu’s The Young Elites and Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow and Bone series.
And, although not a recent read, I eternally love Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series and always recommend it without hesitation.
KC: What are you currently reading?
HB: Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds.
KC: You’ve certainly been an inspiration to other authors, as well as readers. What is one piece of advice that you would give to an aspiring author?
HB: Write for your reader self and not your writer self. Write the book or story you would most like to read.
KC: What’s next for you?
HB: Cassandra Clare and I are revising the second book of our Magisterium series, The Copper Gauntlet, and then we’re starting on the third.
As for me, all by myself, I’ve started work on a project that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I don’t have a title yet and I am still working out a lot of details, but I am excited about it.