You may know children's and young adult book author Holly Black for her Spiderwick Chronicles series (made into the 2008 movie) and haunting fairy retellings. These are great samples of what Black does best -- deliciously dark stories.
Her latest YA release, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is Black's first vampire tale. Before you say "not another vampire book," let me reassure you that this novel is not the average blood-sucking scene. Black paints a reality where vampires exist in today's world, complete with streaming videos of vampire parties and live blogging inside Coldtowns where vampires are forced to live. (Read my full review of The Coldest Girl in Coldtown here.)
I chatted with Black about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown -- out September 3 -- including the gory details of the writing process, violence in the book and how social media is changing publishing.
Author Interview with Holly Black
In your acknowledgements, you say you were inspired by classic vampire stories by authors like Anne Rice and Tanith Lee. What is it about those books that influenced The Coldest Girl in Coldtown?
HB: I remember reading Tanith Lee and Anne Rice in seventh and eighth grade and falling in love with their language, with the blood-soaked imagery, with the decadence and debauchery, with the juxtaposition of the gorgeous and the horrific.
I really wanted to write the kind of vampire book that I would have loved back then, as well as the kind of vampire book I would love now.
Yours is the only vampire book I've read where social media and reality TV have a huge role in how vampires are experienced and interacted with by society. What inspired you to include social media as such a big role in the book?
HB: The social media aspect was inspired by thinking about the way we experience the world. We blog about it. We tweet about it. The other day, for example, my husband went outside and found a dead possum impaled on our fence. This is a real thing that actually happened, although I know it sounds kind of unlikely. I tweeted about it, asking if it was possible for a possum had fallen to its death from a tree. Someone tweeted back to me with a link to a UK news program talking about how falling on spiked gates is a common cause of death for cats, making me feel like it was less an ominous portent. My husband then went ahead and posted a picture of the dead possum on his Facebook. (We may be sickos, but my example still stands.)
If we saw a real vampire really sucking someone's blood, we'd totally make a Vine video. We'd be taking Instagram photos and tinting them sepia. There'd be gif sets.
I was also thinking about how people's harrowing experiences were being consumed as entertainment. We love danger -- especially when its a bit removed. We love to read about serial killers. We love to watch people get hurt. Among the most watched videos on YouTube are videos of people being tasered, falling, and fighting.
So Coldtowns, walled cities where vampires are quarantined with those nearby when the outbreak happened, are ripe for people on the outside wanting to watch what happens inside.
Social media means instant connectivity to millions of people across the world. Like anything, it can be a good or bad thing. How do you personally use it and how do you think it's changing the publishing landscape?
HB: I think there are a lot of really positive aspects to social media for novelists. Even though our work is pretty solitary, through Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook and Instagram and blogging in general, we're are better able to connect directly with readers. We're also better able to be able to pass along advice to new writers, to learn important professional information quickly, and to commiserate with other writers over the frustrations inherent in making art.
Also, I believe that the rise of book bloggers has created a community where it's easier for new books to be discovered and for word of mouth to make a huge difference in sales, both domestically and internationally.
The downside is that there is so much online that its easy for writers to be overwhelmed, distracted and disheartened. It's sometimes hard to remember that the book is the important thing.
I hear your addicted to reality TV shows...which ones are you favorites? (I'm a sucker for all of the Real Housewives shows).
HB: Oh, I am addicted. It's bad. I really do love them.
I too watch all the Housewives, but I have been a little bored with them this past year. I miss Bethany, Alex and Jill on New York. And I super miss Dina with her hairless cat on New Jersey. Plus Nene and Kim can barely bother to show up in Atlanta (although Atlanta is still the best).
Right now, I am really loving Catfish, where people in online relationships with people they've never met find out who've they've been talking with -- and the answers are way more varied than I would have ever imagined possible. It's actually kind of nerve-wracking. And I am kind of obsessed with Dance Moms; I enjoy watching the Moms yell and I enjoy watching the kids dance. I've been warming to Heroes of Cosplay and hoping that Fangasm might be good. Oh! And Breaking Amish, which is totally insane. These Amish kids are living in Los Angeles together, completely confused, drinking and going to strip clubs, and full of way more witchcraft-related drama than you'd expect.
In writing a new book, what is your creative process like from the first inkling of an idea to the fully fleshed story? Do you do anything you think others would find quirky or unusual?
HB: It's not a massively unusual process, although I'm sure some people would find it inefficient. I'm not a fast writer and I find the process of writing a first draft to be painful and frustrating. Usually, I start with a character, a premise and some image that gives me a particular feeling. Like a hairdresser can cross check a hair cut, I check the way the story moves against those things to see if the new stuff feels right or if it feels off. A lot of finding my way through -- whether talking the plot through with people, plotting it out on my own, or changing my mind and re-plotting it -- is about finding the story that feels right. I revise a lot while I'm drafting, often going back to the beginning again and again to revise because I've changed massive things about the story. By the time I get to the end of a first draft, I've been through the beginning lots of times.
Then, when I finally that draft to the point where it feels right, I can go back and try to make the book good. That's when I can deepen characterization, fine-tune description, rethink details, and raise stakes. That is when the book comes to life and that's the part that feels fun to me.
On your Tumblr, you shared that The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was based on a short story you wrote. What made you decide to turn that into a book -- and not to mention your longest book yet?
HB: I went into writing it kind of intimidated, feeling like there are so many great vampire novels, so many beloved vampire novels, and wondering what I had to add to the conversation. Writing it made me remember how much I'd loved vampires and made me discover that I had a lot to say about them.
So much that even after the story was over, I had ideas for what could happen in that world. In particular, I had this image of a girl waking up a party where everyone else was dead. I imagined her taking off her bracelets so they didn't jangle. That was pretty much all I had, but it was enough to start. And from there, the story just kept going.
The Coldest Girl in Coldtown was the most realistic depiction I've read of what would happen if vampires really existed in the world right now. If it was true, would you be a watcher on the outside of coldtowns or would you be more daring and venture inside?
HB: Thank you!
At this point in my life, I'd stay on the outside of Coldtown if I could. In my seventies, though, I might go take my chances. As the old lady at the Dead Last Rest Stop says, dying isn't only for the young.
As this book has some defining moments in the characters' lives that are shaped by intense violence, what would you say to critics who have decried YA fiction as too dark and brutal?
HB: I think there's a reason that horror appeals to teens. There's a lot of useful lessons to take away from reading horror. We get to be scared in the comfort and safety of our own homes. We can put the book down if we get too scared and no one will ever know if we decide not to pick it up again. And if we do read it, we learn that although we were really scared, we survived the experience. Like a roller coaster, what is terrifying in the moment can be fun when we look back on it a few moments later, from the safety of the ground.
Some readers are going to identify with Tana and feel like they have experiences that map onto hers. Some readers are going to empathize with Tana, even thought their experiences are nothing like hers. And some readers are going to be freaked out and put the book down. Readers are the best judges of what they can handle. Not every book is right for every reader, but every reader deserves to be able to find that right book.
Every chapter beings with quotes about death and dying from writers and philosophers. Which one do you identify with the most?
HB: My younger sister, Heidi, died many years ago. She was a big horror buff and would have loved all the death and dying quotes. Menander's "He whom the gods love dies young" always makes me think of her.
Charles Dicken's "He would make a lovely corpse" is what set me off on the idea, the one I am most proud of finding is William Winter's "For I know that Death is a guest divine/Who shall drink my blood as I drink this wine" and my favorite is Emily Dickinson's "Dying is a wild night and a new road."
What next project of yours can fans look forward to?
HB: I am currently working on a new faerie book for teens, another stand-alone, called The Darkest Part of the Forest, which is coming out in early 2015.
I'm also collaborating with Cassandra Clare on a middle grade series. The first book, The Iron Trial, will be out next fall.