Interview with Holly BlackPosted by Malinda Lo on Apr 12, 2011 in Blog, Featured, Interviews, Young Adult | 7 comments
Today we are happy to welcome the wonderful Holly Black, author of the Curse Workers series, which launched in 2010 with White Cat and continues this month with the newly released Red Glove. Holly is also the author of the Modern Faerie Tales series (Tithe, Valiant, Ironside) and the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles, with illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi.
Malinda Lo: White Cat and Red Glove, on the surface, are about a very cool mafia-like magical world, but there is a deeper metaphor woven throughout that focuses on difference. The fight for curse workers’ rights has allusions to not only civil rights struggles but the current battles over immigration and citizenship. The books are complex puzzle boxes that must have required a lot of forethought when it comes to plotting, but how did you manage the metaphor? Did you plan that just as carefully, or did it emerge sort of naturally?
Holly Black: I like the way you ask about “managing the metaphor” because I think the tricky thing about fantasy is that issues in the magical world should ideally both remind us of issues in our world, but not parallel one thing so closely that it appears to be merely that thing in disguise. I tried hard to use a variety of allusions — the worker camps in the Curse Workers world are informed by the Japanese-American internment that happened in the wake of Pearl Harbor, but much of the language that my worker rights activists use more closely parallel gay and lesbian civil rights battles. And, of course, in a totally different way, the way the mob has come to control magic parallels Prohibition. So there’s a lot of different material to work with — some which emerged naturally and some which was planned from the beginning — and all of it has to be managed.
ML: Speaking of puzzle boxes, I was just amazed by how everything fit together in Red Glove (and White Cat). How did you do it? Do you have a giant storyboard? Do you outline like crazy? What’s your secret?
HB: Thank you! These books involve the most outlining I have ever done. What I do is separate out the different plotlines and then try and focus on how they can inform one another, so that the secondary plots fold back in to the main one. And since I knew from the start how the relationship between Cassel and Lila would go, that’s been a touchstone for me in figuring out all the rest.
ML: You’ve included nonwhite and nonstraight characters in your books since your first novel, Tithe. To me, this seems like a natural choice, but there are so many fantasy novels without one single nonwhite (not to mention nonstraight) character. Why are your books so inclusive?
HB: I wish I could say that it was a conscious decision on my part, but it really wasn’t. My husband’s not white, both my critique partners for Tithe weren’t straight, and my editor was neither white nor straight, so I think my default was a world full of the people I knew and cared about.
There’s an interview with Joss Whedon where he’s asked why he writes about strong female characters and his answer, famously, is because we’re still asking that question. I’m really looking forward to the Diversity Tour, where the conversation can assume a desire for inclusivity.
ML: What advice would you give to a writer who wants to incorporate diversity in their novel, but isn’t a person of color or LGBT themselves, and is afraid of messing up?
HB: As someone who is not a person of color and who worries about messing up myself, I am probably the last person who should be giving anyone advice. But I think that we as writers have an obligation to tell the truth about the world — and diverse world is a true world. I also think that we have to be conscious of which stories are ours to tell, which stories we have points of identification with and which stories we need to do more work if we want tell responsibly. There is a very well respected workshop on “writing the other,” run by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward; resources exist to bridge those gaps in our knowledge and experience. We have to be thoughtful, but we have to try.