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Holly Black: LibraryThing Author Interview

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Holly Black is well-known for The Spiderwick Chronicles and the Modern Tales of Faerie series. The Poison Eaters is Holly's first short story collection. Filled with gritty scenes of magic enhantment and disenchantment, The Poison Eaters features previously published stories as well as new ones.

Holly has four cats and a lot of books. In her spare time, she enjoys planning elaborate and macabre dinner parties.

This collection has a feeling of modern and noir folktales. Are there any specific stories, tropes or cultures of traditional lore that you are inspired by?

Well that's interesting, because although I have been interested in folk and fairy tales for a long time, in the last year or two I have been reading a ton of noir and I've been really aware of its influence on my writing. But given that most of these stories pre-date that, I guess the influence was there before I was aware of it.

I have been most drawn to Celtic and Scandinavian folklore. What I love most about it is how alien the faeries are. They're beings that have never been human and have a whole different set of mores, rules and affinities. They're capricious and dangerous and, when I'm reading folklore, allow me to imagine a world that's bigger and stranger than the one we know.

By pulling together these stories that had never been published side-by-side, did you discover anything you hadn't realized about your writing, either within the stories themselves, or about your other writing?

There's certain things that I can see I'm interested in. Lots of disenfranchised characters, often existing in some kind of liminal state whether that means living on the street or hiding their true selves. I love characters who make mistakes. I love cleverness. I love ambiguous motives. I think all of that comes through in the collection.

Several of the stories are permutations of the Modern Tales of Faerie series. Do you feel there is more to come out of that world?

One of the stories—"Going Ironside"—was a short piece I wrote before Tithe was finished. It influenced Valiant, although at the time I wrote it, I didn't know that it would. The second story, I wanted to tell to check in with the characters and show what I think they're doing and what I think they're dealing with. It was a fun story to write. I always like having Roiben and Corny talk about their views of the world, because they both are so dysfunctional that they almost see eye-to-eye in a way that no one else does.

I love the Modern Faerie Tale world, but right now I don't have any plans to write a fourth book, mostly because I am busy with an entirely new series, The Curse Workers. I have two more books in that series to write before I can even consider anything else.

Small Beer Press is offering a DRM-free ebook of The Poison Eaters. Is digital rights management control something that you feel strongly about?

I absolutely think that when something you steal functions better than something you buy, that's a problem. So, yeah, I am not in favor of DRM.

I read that you listen to music while writing. What kind of music do you listen to while writing? Is it particular artists, or styles that work for you?

One of my favorite ways of wasting time is assembling a playlist for a new project, because I think that what you listen to has to match the tone of what you're working on. When I was writing the Modern Faerie Tale books, I listened to a ton of Dead Can Dance, the Magnetic Fields, Hole, and Rufus Wainwright.
With Spiderwick, I listened to a lot of instrumental soundtracks (although I found it really weird to try writing to the Spiderwick movie soundtrack). For the new book project, I have been listening to a lot of Nina Simone, Snowpony and stuff I've never really listened to before, like Jace Everett.
With short stories, I will often listen to music more randomly—whatever I am feeling at the time.

Do you have any daily rituals? Do you have a cycle of writing habits that change over the course of a book or story?

I don't write at any particular time of day, but I do find that I do more writing in the afternoon and evening and more administrative stuff in the earlier part of the day. I like writing at night because I'm less likely to be interrupted and because I have a sense of infinite time—I can write until I fall asleep.

I just discovered that you're co-editing the the upcoming Zombies vs Unicorns anthology, where you lead Team Unicorn. The question posed by the book is, "which is better?" What I'd like to know is, what would happen if the two creatures came around a blind corner and encountered each other?

If a zombie and a unicorn came around a blind corner and ran into each other, I am afraid that the zombie's skull would probably be accidentally impaled on the unicorn's horn. The unicorn would be very apologetic, I imagine, but due to the horn's ability to purify things, the zombie would already be dead.

You were a library science student before your first book took off. If you went back to librarianship, where would you like to work, and what job would you like to have?

I wanted to be a Youth Services librarian. I was only maybe two classes away from completing my degree when I took time off to tour for Spiderwick, but one of those classes was cataloging, so I kept avoiding it. I think that being in that program was really helpful to me as a writer starting out in children's publishing, because I learned so much about the history of writing for children and read a wide range of novels that I might not have otherwise found.

What's your favorite book right now? What have you read lately?

I've read a lot of great books recently, actually. Some of my favorites are Richard Kadrey's Sandman Slim (contemporary noir revenge novel, with angels), Megan Whalen Turner's A Conspiracy of Kings (set in a fantasy world based on ancient Greece, full of clever turns) and Cassandra Clare's The Clockwork Angel (the madcap adventures of Victorian Shadowhunters).

Usually I ask "what's on your bookshelf?" since it's the LibraryThing tagline, so I just have to ask, "What's in your secret library?"

Actually ALL my books are in my secret library (unless I've pulled them out and piled them up near my bed or in my office). Pictures of Holly Black's secret library.

—interview by Sonya Green

Books by Holly Black

Tithe (4883 copies)
The Field Guide (3611 copies)
Valiant (2862 copies)
The Seeing Stone (2701 copies)
Ironside (2484 copies)
Lucinda's Secret (2281 copies)
The Ironwood Tree (2190 copies)
White Cat (2010 copies)
The Cruel Prince (1497 copies)
Doll Bones (1495 copies)
The Iron Trial (1432 copies)
Zombies vs. Unicorns (1110 copies)
The Nixie's Song (1091 copies)
Red Glove (868 copies)
The Wicked King (794 copies)
The Poison Eaters (707 copies)
The Copper Gauntlet (636 copies)
Black Heart (594 copies)
Kin (540 copies)
A Giant Problem (529 copies)
Naked City (496 copies)
The Bronze Key (401 copies)
The Wyrm King (362 copies)
Rags & Bones (301 copies)
The Silver Mask (282 copies)
21 Proms (254 copies)
Happily Ever After (245 copies)
Half-Minute Horrors (219 copies)
Kith (219 copies)
The Golden Tower (180 copies)
Press Start to Play (178 copies)
A Flight of Angels (165 copies)
Kind (164 copies)
Wings of Fire (153 copies)
The Emerald Circus (102 copies)
The Lost Sisters (82 copies)
Bewere the Night (67 copies)
Full Moon City (62 copies)
Heart of the Moors (39 copies)
Bloody Fabulous (37 copies)
Lights Out (34 copies)
Shadow Unit 8 (33 copies)
Shadow Unit 7 (31 copies)
The Golden Boy (19 copies)
Curse Workers 4 (5 copies)
Not for Humans (2 copies)
The Night Market (1 copies)
Virgin (1 copies)
Heartless (1 copies)
Sobek (1 copies)
Noble Rot (1 copies)
Not Alone {ss} (1 copies)

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About author interviews

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