Back into the Fae – a conversation with Holly Black the Faerie Queen

On the drive to Hachette Publishing in Sydney, I was skittish to say the least.
We read books and admire the authors that write them, so strongly, so fiercely, that in our heads the magic of celebrity takes over and makes them out to be otherworldly beings. But as one of my good friends said to me while I was mid-panic attack that morning, “Holly Black has two hands and two feet. She is a person like you and me.”
Although, when Holly walked into the room I was beginning to doubt my friend. With her turquoise pixie-cut hair and plum stained lips, Mrs Black looked as if she could have stepped right out of one of her books. A woman made of ink and pages and magic.
Straight away Holly asked, “Are you okay?”
Whoops. My anxiety was showing. Better tuck that back in Adelise.
“I’m just nervous,” I replied.
She laughed a little and smiled a warm generous smile. “You can’t be nervous!” she said. “… Don’t be nervous.”
We were taken back to a far room in the depths of Hachette’s office space where it was dark bar the lights of the traffic crawling across the Sydney Harbour Bridge, shimmering red and white like strung up Christmas lights. It was a beautiful view and the perfect place to sit with someone that had never been to Australia before.
I got straight to it and asked the all-important question that every Aussie fan is wondering. “Have you tried Vegemite or Tim Tams yet?”
She said no but assured me that she had been given a big box of Tim Tams to try.
Ashleigh from Hachette walked in and turned on the lights and handed Holly a coffee. I rather sheepishly passed Holly a small package with the famous Aussie Choky Bickies inside. “Oh! This is great,” said Holly, to my delight. “You can teach me to do the thing,” referring of course to the Tim Tam Slam.
Holly’s latest book, The Darkest Part of the Forest is, in short, about a horned boy in an unbreakable crystal coffin and the celebrity that entails in our modern world. About how we put famous people up on these pedestals and how easy it is to forget that you don’t really know who they are because we only see them through glass. But when the glass is no longer there we can see them for who they really are. Human.
Or in the case of the horned boy in The Darkest Part of the Forest. Dangerous.

How long did it take you to write The Darkest Part of the Forest

and can you explain a little bit about your process?

It took me about a year and a half. It was a very difficult book for me to write. There were a couple of different structural puzzles in it. I spent a lot of that year and a half really panicked and writing and ripping out what I wrote.
I try to write about a thousand words a day. My goal for next year is to try and figure out how to get that to two thousand words a day. I feel like I could be faster.
I’m a very nervous and uncomfortable first drafter and I’m a very quick editor. I really love “big” editing stuff, like ripping out a chapter and redoing it. I love making big changes. That is the times where I feel confident, where I enjoy doing it and I’m really fast. But just getting that first draft is like a plotting slog because I have this great idea for a book in my head and as I am writing it I can just feel the fact that I am not getting it to where it needs to be.  
I was swimming in this pond near my house and it was really cold and I know that if you go in and you stay there, your body adjusts and you can swim. And some of my friends were getting in and then they would get cold and they would get out. But then they would want to get in again, then they would get cold and get out again. And I looked at them and thought, “that’s how I write! That’s my first drafting process.” I start drafting. I find it painful. I stop. I do something else. I come back and try it again. What I need to do is figure out how to be the person to live in the discomfort long enough to be able to be okay with it… 

What was the thing that sparked your love of the Fae?
Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s book Faeries. My mum is a painter and she

had it in the house when I was nine or ten. And it is obviously not a kid’s book and it is kind of terrifying. I remember just paging again and again and again through the illustrations and reading all the little bits of weird folklore and strange facts. That is the thing that set me on the path of reading more folklore and seeking out books with faeries in them. 

Do you ever miss your characters or think about them? Particularly when writing standalone novel.
Absolutely. There is a lot of great things about writing standalones. You can plot out the whole thing right there. You get to put everything in, you don’t have to save anything for the way back cause there is no way back. This is it! But the downside is that, I really feel like by the end of a first book in a series that is when your characters cement. And then over the course of editing a standalone you get to know those characters and then you’re like “Great to meet you. Goodbye!” and that is really hard. 
One of the reasons why I just sold a series is because I was actually starting to feel that I just didn’t want to meet any new people! I want to meet some people that can hang around for a while and that can be here for more than a single book. 
There are definitely people [characters] that I would like to go back and find out what they are doing and there are others that I feel like “Okay, you guys are fine.” One of the interesting things about going back is how easy it is, in a way that writing something new isn’t easy, because you just remember what it is like to write those people and you know who they are and what their stuff is and you just don’t know that going into a first book. One of the things that messed me up with The Darkest Part of the Forest was that I felt that Hazel had a secret but I didn’t know what it was.

What is your favourite part of writing, besides editing?
It is fun to make something up right? Like you do when you’re a kid and you’re playing with dolls and you’re making up a story. You get to tell the story that you wish that someone had written, something that you want to read. You get to make up the story that is customised for your very specific tastes.

Can you give me a bit of a rundown on your process?
Sure, but it is stupid and terrible! Anyone reading this please don’t do what I do!
I often have a couple of things I want to do. Maybe I have a character or a premise. With The Darkest Part of the Forest I knew that I wanted to tell a story of a town called Fairfold in which they believed in faeries and that there were faeries around there and there was this sleeping prince in a glass coffin. They were a tourist stop. Kids would go out and party by the coffin. That is what I knew about the town. And I knew that I wanted to tell the story of a brother and sister and I wanted them to be in love with this sleeping prince.
Then I write a little bit to figure out more and to let the characters breathe and to see how they would behave and to see if I liked the way that they behaved. Then I start to try and plan it out and then I’ll write a little bit more. I’ll try to talk it out with friends, ask them if this sounds good and what they think should happen. Then I will go off and write a chapter and then go back and edit it extensively and then write another chapter. Then I will go back and edit the chapter before, then I’ll write a third chapter and then go back again to the first chapter to edit … it is such a terrible process, but it is often what I will do. And by the time I am done, I’ll have incredibly polished early chapters that descend into complete incomprehensibility.

How do you go tackling family life and professional writing and keeping those two worlds balanced?
I have a two year old, so it’s new and I’m still trying to figure out how to do it. I think that one of the great advantages that I have as a writer that does this for a living is that I get to be home a lot. I get to make my own schedule, so we can go and do something, or I can get up with him in the middle of the night and I get to do all that stuff.
The disadvantages are that I travel. 
My son is adopted and obviously we knew that we were going to adopt him (there is some paper work involved!) but when we found out that we were going to have him, we had a call on a Tuesday and we had a baby by Friday. So, it was a lot of “oh my god, how am I gonna do this!” My husband stays home with him, so it was fine, but I was travelling a lot. And that is hard! It is hard because I miss them so much, it is hard to be away, but that is a problem that every parent has. 
I think the problem is working out when it works for you to write; when does it work for you to be home? A lot of the time I write at night … like, really late at night. So, if my son has any problems or if he needs anything in the middle of the night then I’m the one who is awake so I can go upstairs and sort him out, but I’m not sure if that is a sustainable system. It definitely makes you become more focused when you’re working. I can’t mess around on the internet as much.
I didn’t know what to expect when having a family but it is truly so much fun! And it is good for getting me out of my own head. There us so much about writing that forces you down into the deep recesses of your own feelings and your own desires and your own fears and getting yourself out of your own mind to focus on another person is so good. 

As a female writer and especially one that doesn’t hide behind a pseudonym have you ever felt discriminated against?
There are ways that we [women] are seen differently in the industry that are systemic. I don’t think that I personally have felt discriminated against, but mostly the way I have felt is the systemic sense that the work that I do is probably romance, or is not necessarily for boys or men, or is not necessarily serious in the way that it would be taken seriously if I were a man. And that is something that is very difficult to change because it is such a pervasive thing. Then there is writing for kids, so when I go into writing adult science fiction and fantasy I know people are going to take me less seriously yet again.
You can see the ways in which your work isn’t read the same.

I read online that you have a secret library! Is this true?
It’s true! It’s not so much a secret library as a hidden door. So when you come down the stairs to my basement there is a bookshelf and if you push the bookshelf you go into the library.

Have you thought any further into making a sequel to The Coldest Girl in Coldtown?
I have not only thought about it, I have actually outlined it. However, I think my publisher right not would like me to do these faerie books first. I was going to try to stick the Coldtown sequel in the middle of them, but they thought that seemed weird. So, two faerie books, Coldtown sequel and then third faerie book.

And then fit the Magisterium series in there somewhere too?
Oh yeah! We are actually finishing up the third book this week.

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
Read everything. Read in a lot of different genres. Read broadly. Read deeply. Write a lot. Revise a lot. 
It takes a long time to find your voice. So it is going to mean writing and writing and writing. And I think the thing that could help a lot of people, it may not help everyone but I know it helped me, is to find a critique partner. Someone who likes the same kind of writing as you. And someone who likes your writing and whose writing you like and keep each other honest. Keep each other on deadline. 
My first critique partner was Steve Berman and I don’t think I would’ve finished Tithe if it wasn’t for him. He made me … (Laughing) format it properly. He would say, “you said you were going to have the chapter finished this weekend. Where is it?” And not only that but being a reader of his work taught me to be better by seeing and learning to be a better critiquer. When I was a better critiquer of his work I was a better critiquer of my own. 
I think having that is motivating because it is easy to get pulled back into your regular life. Before you have a deadline that is enforceable by contract it is easy to just think “I’ll fit this in when I can.” Having a critique partner creates a feeling of obligation to another person of getting the work done. That person can tell you what’s good and what’s not.

Do you have any hobbies other than writing?
I like to do a little crafting. When the last few books came out I made some things to send out with the ARCs (Advanced Reading Copies). For some bloggers and reviewers I made a vampire hunting kit with little stakes that we hand carved and a little mirror to go out with Coldtown. And we made walnuts that we cut open and left a message inside them for The Darkest Part of the Forest. I like making little weird things. I’m not great necessarily, but I really enjoy it. 

What’s your favourite word?

What’s your least favourite word?
… Pus.

What sort of books turn you on?
I love when characters make a bad choice. I love a bad choice. I have a thing I call the “Ecstatic Fall.” It’s the moment where the character deliberately does the terrible thing. They just know it’s going to go badly, but they don’t care anymore. It is like a *#@! Me. *#@! You. *#@! Everything moment.

If your world, let’s say Fairfold, existed and you woke up there tomorrow morning, what would you do?
Go to the café. I’d go take a selfie! I’d buy some over price merchandise.

If you would like to hear the interview please comment below or contact me via social media and I will post it. 
AMC xxx

One Comment Add yours

  1. Reblogged this on Killing For Pages and commented:

    It is coming close to the two-year anniversary of this interview. Still one of my favourite things… Holly Black is simply a wonderful person. Plus I got to pop her TimTam cherry. And the TimTam Slam… Let me know if you want to hear the audio of this.


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