At the 2013 National Book Festival
Holly Black is a best-selling author of contemporary fantasy novels for children and teens. She was influenced by a childhood spent reading books about ghosts and fairies. Her first book, "Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale" (2002), was an American Library Association Best Book for Young Adults and a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award. Her latest book is "The Wyrm King" (2009), the final book in the Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles series. Black describes finishing the series as "bittersweet." She lives in Massachusetts.
Previous National Book Festival Appearances
- 2009 Book Festival Webcast
- 2007 Book Festival Audio
- 2007 Book Festival Webcast
- 2004 Book Festival Webcast
From the 2007 National Book Festival
How did you begin to write your latest fantasy novel Ironside? What sparked your imagination?
I started Ironside a few months after I finished my first book, Tithe (2002). It took me five long years to write Tithe and by the time I was done with the book, I thought I was done with the characters, too. I was really surprised when I got the idea for a sequel and was so excited that I started working on scenes. My editor didn't want me to do a sequel immediately after Tithe, though, so I wound up working on some other novels, including The Spiderwick Chronicles, before I was able to go back and finish Ironside.
One of the things that inspired the Modern Faerie Tale books was my desire to juxtapose the landscape of dilapidated suburbia - specifically places like Asbury Park in New Jersey where the majestic old buildings have been abandoned and stand next to pizza places and food marts - with faerie folklore. That and, instead of writing about a good Seelie Court and a bad Unseelie Court, I wanted to write the two courts of faerie as alien with moralities far enough from human that they would both seem evil. But most of all, I wanted to tell a story about a faerie changeling from her own point of view.
What challenges do you face in your writing process? How do you overcome them?
As a writer, I think that each book has different challenges. I figure them out mostly by trial and error and by looking at other work and seeing how other writers tackle the same challenges. I think the most important thing is to keep pushing myself.
What tips or advice can you share with young students who hope to start writing? Do you know a fun writing topic to get them started?
The best tip I have for young writers is to read as broadly as possible and write a lot. Don't just read in one genre - read general fiction, mysteries, science fiction and fantasy, the classics, poetry, nonfiction, comics, the backs of shampoo bottles, everything - but write what you really love.
One writing exercise that I like a lot is taking a fairy tale and breaking it down into the basic plot points and then reinventing it by working through those plot points with a character in a different setting. The great thing about using classic fairy tales is that the characters are not very developed - they're just "the youngest prince" or "the goose girl" and so there is a lot of room for the stories to be retold in interesting ways.
What is your list of favorite children or teen books?
It's really hard to pick just five, but I think I am going to go with these:
- Megan Whalen Turner's The Thief
- Franny Billingsley's The Folk Keeper
- Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising
- Lloyd Alexander's Taran Wanderer
- Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat
What is it like having The Spiderwick Chronicles made into a movie by Paramount Pictures? How involved have you been? When will the film be in theaters?
The film adaptation of The Spiderwick Chronicles will be in theaters in February of 2008. Tony (Tony DiTerlizzi, co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) and I were kept pretty involved with the process, which made it even more exciting. We went to the set this past winter and got to walk around through the Spiderwick house, hang out with everyone and meet the kids playing Jared/Simon and Mallory (Freddie Highmore and Sarah Bolger). It was one of the most amazing things ever - I felt as though I was walking around inside of a book.