Interview with Author Holly Black

Holly Black is the #1 New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of speculative and fantasy novels, short stories, and comics. She has sold over 26 million books worldwide, and her work has been translated into over 30 languages and adapted for film. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret library. Book of Night is her adult fiction debut.

I had the opportunity to interview Holly, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a bit about yourself?

Sure, I’m Holly Black; I’m originally from New Jersey and now living in Massachusetts, and I write contemporary fantasy, often involving mythic or folkloric beings, with a melancholy bent. I love cons, heists, twists and surprises.

How would you describe your writing process?

I think I’ve tried it all – outlining, fast drafting, note cards, whiteboard, three act structure, five act structure, reading the entrails of goats. But none of it has made the drafting process less agonizing! Recently I’ve tried skeleton drafting and found that useful – at least I can get my mistakes over with quickly and get on to the revising stage, which is where I feel I can actually begin to make the mess of the draft into a book.

Can you remember any of the stories or authors who inspired you growing up? Who or what inspires you now?

As a teenager and in my early twenties, I lucked into finding books that inspired me – Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint, in particular, which I continue to think of as a perfect book. That was also when I came to read Tanith Lee, with her delicious prose, and also Anne Rice, whose Interview with the Vampire was my bedside reading all through eighth grade.

From my childhood, one of the most important books in molding my writing was Brian Froud and Alan Lee’s illustrated book, Faeries. The art is extraordinary and a little frightening. And along with that, there’s a lot of somewhat brutal folkloric accounts. I came back to that book again and again as a kid, and I love it as much as an adult.

Since the beginning of your career, you’ve been known for dabbling in urban fantasy. What draws you in about the fusion of everyday mundane reality and the supernatural?

I love the way that in contemporary fantasy, it seems possible that if you were to look out of the corner of your eye, or turn the right (or wrong) way down a street, you might stumble on magic.

What can you tell us about your upcoming book, Book of Night? What can readers expect?

Book of Night is about Charlie Hall. She’s spent half her life stealing secrets from shadow magicians, and is now trying to get out of the game. She’s hoping to settle down with her shadowless (and possibly soulless) boyfriend, Vince, and resist the pull toward her worst impulses. But when her past comes back to threaten everything she’s built, she discovers she’s not the only one with a complicated history or dark desires.

Unlike your previous work, which consisted of books for younger or young adult readers, Book of Night is considered to be adult fantasy. Was the writing process for this book in any way different from your previous books?

It was – and I can’t really say why. I wrote and deleted more from this book than any I have written previously, including at least a dozen first chapters. I was on a writing retreat with Kelly Link, and I’d give her a new chapter each morning and then delete it at night, only to give her another the next day. She found the whole thing very puzzling! But I love the world and the magic and the characters a lot, perhaps the more for having had such a hard time finding them.

Asking for a friend, but where did the idea for your stories, the queer favorite, Valiant. come from? 

I am so surprised that’s the one you’re asking about and not Darkest Part of the Forest or Ironside, but Valiant was my favorite of my books for a long time. The story came out of my younger sister’s struggle with addiction and her overdose, as well as being a Beauty and the Beast retelling.

If the characters of Book of Night could interact with any characters from other fictional worlds, what characters would they be and why?

Odette, the dominatrix owner of Rapture, where Charlie tends bar, would be a great dinner companion for Catwoman. They could compare latex outfits. 🙂

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

My biggest advice is to write for your reader self, not your writer self. Think about the kinds of books you like to read, the characters in books you like to read about, and write for that person – you!

Are there any other projects you are currently working on and at liberty to speak about?

I am currently working on another YA novel set in the Faerie world. I hope to be able to talk about it very soon. 

Finally, are there any LGBTQ+ and / or fantasy books/ authors that you would recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

In terms of YA books, I would highly recommend Charlie Jane Anders’ Victories Greater Than Death, which is the space opera I have been waiting for. Malinda Lo’s Last Night at the Telegraph Club is fantastic and has won all of the awards, but I also have a special place in my heart for her Cinderella retelling, Ash. Recently, I read Eliot Schrefer’s The Darkness Outside Us and Aiden Thomas’s Cemetery Boys, both of which I loved. Also recommend Alex London’s Black Wings Beating, which has a fascinating magic system. And Emily Skrutskie’s Bonds of Brass, which was a lot of fun.

And back when I was writing my first book, one of my critique partners, Steve Berman, was writing a teen ghost story entitled Vintage, which was recently re-released with a new cover and updated text. Re-reading it, I was reminded of its unique mix of horror and romance.

In terms of adult books, my friends group passed around Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth, which we all were obsessed over. I’ve always loved Stina Leicht’s books, so I was excited to get my hands on Persephone Station. Carmen Machado’s work is both lovely and urgent. And of course, my recommendation for Swordspoint always stands.

Interview with Author Shveta Thakrar

Shveta Thakrar was one of the inaugural Walter Dean Myers grant recipients of 2015 and has been a shining mainstay in fantasy, appearing on conference panels since 2010. She has had fiction published in Uncanny Magazine, Faerie Magazine, and forthcoming from anthologies TOIL & TROUBLE (HarlequinTeen, 2018) and A THOUSAND BEGINNINGS AND ENDINGS (Greenwillow, 2018). She is also the author of Star Daughter.

I had the opportunity to interview Shveta, which you can read below.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for having me! I am a very spiritual dreamer who believes in magic and kindness and has a violet felt witch’s hat I like to wear around the house sometimes just for fun.

Congratulations on your latest book, The Dream Runners! Could you tell us what’s about?

I really love the blurb my editor came up with, so I’m going to cheat and just paste that here.

“Seven years ago, Tanvi was spirited away to the subterranean realm of Nagalok, where she joined the ranks of the dream runners: human children freed of all memory and emotion, who collect mortal dreams for the entertainment of the serpentine, immortal naga court.

But when one of Tanvi’s dream harvests goes awry, she begins to remember her life on earth. Panicked and confused, she turns to the one mortal in Nagalok who might be able to help: Venkat, the dreamsmith responsible for collecting the dream runners’ wares and shaping them into the kingdom’s most tantalizing commodity. And as they search for answers, a terrifying truth begins to take shape—one that could turn the nagas’ realm of dreams into a land of waking nightmare.”

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

A number of things, starting with my fascination with the ancient lore of the war between the nagas (serpent shape-shifters) and their cousins and nemeses, the garudas (eagle shape-shifters). You can read more about that here:

I love the idea of selling dreams, and originally I was thinking of a store where you could buy and sell dreams—as inspired by Laini Taylor’s wonderful Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, in which wishes are sold in exchange for teeth—but once I combined that with another of my favorite folklore motifs, that of the changeling, and realized the story would be set partially against the landscape of the mythical war mentioned above, I had the foundation of this book. And it grew from there!

How did you find yourself drawn to the art of storytelling? What drew you to young adult fiction specifically?

I’ve told stories as long as I can remember, even if they were just adventures in rich worlds in my imagination, so it was natural for me to start writing them down. And once I realized I never saw myself in any of the books that I loved, especially minus the real-world problems of things like prejudice, I decided to do my part to help change that.

Young adult fiction is a place of firsts, and I really like thinking maybe I could bring hope to someone who needs it. But also, it’s a great place for adventure and exploration, both inner and outer, so there’s room for all kinds of stories.

How did you find yourself getting drawn into the world of fantasy? What were some of your favorite examples growing up? What are some of your favorite examples now?

This question made me laugh, only because I’ve never not been attracted to fantasy and magic! See above, re: adventures in my head.

My favorite examples from childhood: I’m not even sure where to start! Maybe Dorrie the Little Witch and collections of fairy tales and Amar Chitra Katha comics?

My favorite examples now (always an impossible question, so I’ll just grab a few at random): Holly Black’s Modern Faerie Tales trilogy; Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone; When the Moon Was Ours, by Anna-Marie McLemore; A Green and Ancient Light, by Frederic S. Durbin; The Light at the Bottom of the World, by London Shah; Magical Women, an Indian anthology edited by Sukanya Venkatraghavan. (There are definitely many more than these five, all of which I’m sure I’ll start remembering the second I send this off.)

How would you describe your writing process?

I’m definitely an intuitive writer, and I figure out things as I go, layering in various aspects through various drafts. That means some mistakes along the way, but I’m getting better about accepting that and even starting to view it as a challenge. And revision is where I shine.

As a writer, who or what would you say are some of your greatest creative influences and/or sources of inspiration?

Creative influences: Holly Black and Laini Taylor and Anna-Marie McLemore, all for different reasons.

Sources of inspiration: their books but also my Hindu/Indian background and its folklore and mythology, along with global folklore and mythology. Plus the possibilities hidden in the world all around us.

What are some of your favorite parts of writing? What do you feel are some of the most challenging?

My favorites: the fact that I’m spinning something out of nothing. Literally nothing. That’s magic! And that people I don’t know then get to read it and play in the worlds I’ve created and get to befriend the characters who sprang from my imagination and my heart.

My most challenging: it’s a toss-up between figuring out how to get the story right (sometimes it takes many drafts and lots of despairing) and accepting that sometimes what a reader is looking for doesn’t mesh with what you wrote. But as long as you’re happy with what you produced, that’s what counts.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want people to know about you?

I recently got back into video gaming after a twenty-year or so hiatus, and it’s been so fun, both revisiting games from my youth and trying ones out now. It’s a different type of storytelling, and I’m so excited to see what it inspires in my own work!

I’m also a big fan of cupcakes and kaju katli (definitely with the silver leaf on top, thanks).

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet, but wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

If you had to choose between hands or wings, which would it be?

I’m leaning toward wings; I could fly, and falling would just not be a thing. I could figure out how to make up for hands, even if it would be challenging.

As of now, are you currently working on any other ideas or projects that you are at liberty to speak about?

I’m not sure when the announcements will be made, so I have to keep it vague for now, but I can say you’ll definitely be seeing more fantasy from me! It’s probably safe to say it’ll also be drawing on more Indian folklore and mythology, because of course.

What advice would you give to other aspiring writers?

I actually have two separate bits of advice to offer. The first is to figure out what kind of story you want to tell. Not what you think other people would want to read, but what the reader in you would want to see in the world. What would be fun for you to write? Follow that glimmer of a notion down the rabbit hole and see what results!

Secondly, I’ve been working with Becca Syme and the team of her Better-Faster Academy for writers, and it’s been so illuminating to understand what kind of a writer I am based on my CliftonStrengths and how to work best with that, rather than trying to follow advice meant for someone else. I’d strongly advise any writer to check out Becca’s work!

Finally, what books/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT?

Let’s see; off the top of my head, aside from the authors I’ve already mentioned:

Bethany C. Morrow

Imani Josey

June Hur

Axie Oh

Lori M. Lee

Akshaya Raman

Rati Mehrotra

Maya Prasad

Ciara Smyth

Cassidy Ward

Header photo credited to Luminous Creative Studio