Q&A: Holly Black Ventures into The Darkest Part of the Forest

Holly Black is a YA favorite. Her fantastical stories have amazed readers again and again, and her latest, The Darkest Part of the Forest, is no different. We wanted to know more her return to faeries, the book’s origins and what readers can expect, so we asked her all our burning questions! Here’s what she had to say:

Holly BlackWhat motivated you to write about faeries again?

I started writing about faeries because I love their capriciousness, their strange beauty, their rules and prohibitions and above all how dangerous they are — and that’s why I came back to write about them some more. More specifically, I wanted to write about faeries again because the image of a horned boy in a coffin stuck in my head and I wanted to write the story, not so much of him, but using him as a catalyst.

One of the central themes of the book is the idea of belonging, whether it be in society, within a family or even in a certain world. Why do you think this is such an important topic for teens?

I think belonging is important to everyone, but I think what makes it particularly important for teenagers is that teenagers are engaged in a process of self-invention. Discovering who you are, whether your friends and family will be able to understand you, and where that new you belongs is a huge deal.

What was the most challenging part about writing the book? The most rewarding?

Two parts of writing this book turned out to be the most challenging. One was the romantic structure. I knew who I wanted to wind up with whom, but actually figuring out how to make that work without undermining either relationship was really challenging! The second thing that was hard was ferreting out Hazel’s secrets. This is going to sound ridiculous, but I knew something was going on with her before I ever knew what it was — and then, when I did finally discover what it was — the whole book came together. But before that, I didn’t know how I was going to pull it off. Actually pulling it off was the rewarding part.

Your writing is incredibly visual and vivid. Can you tell us a little bit about your writing process and how your stories translate from your imagination to the page?

Thank you so much! My inspiration is often quite visual. This book started with the image of the horned prince in the glass coffin being surrounded by the detritus of teenage parties in the woods. From there, a lot of what I had to do was create a story that felt thematically true to that first image and the feelings it evoked in me when I first thought of it.

Which is, of course, easier said than done. Normally, with a book, I try to write my way into the story, drafting and discarding beginnings until one sticks. Often the first three whole chapters are pretty exploratory and can get scrapped more than once. From there, once I feel like I know the characters and the world, I outline the rest of the book. Then I make a schedule, writing about a thousand words a day, moving through the story and sometimes doubling back if I find a better direction. Then I send it out to my editor and my critique partners. With their feedback, I rip it open, reconfigure its guts and refine it.

Or, well, that’s the idea. Often what I’m actually doing is drinking a lot of coffee, complaining to writer friends that my book is completely and irrevocably broken, deleting chapters and messing around on Twitter.

What has been the most fascinating — creepy or otherwise! — thing you’ve learned about faeries while researching?

The most creepy piece of faerie folklore I know is from the historical record of Bridget Cleary, a woman in Ireland who was burned to death by her family (including her husband and her father), because they thought she was a faerie changeling. The story is bad enough, but apparently Bridget’s sister-in-law threw her own urine on Bridget because urine was supposed to have “purifying” properties and might drive away the changeling. So — creepy, awful, fascinating and gross! Now aren’t you sorry you asked?

If one of your readers were to make a bargain with a faerie, what advice would you give them to ensure the best possible outcome?

It’s not an easy thing to make out well when bargaining with a faerie, but there are a few things that might work in your favor. Faeries cannot stand being in debt, so if you’ve helped out a faerie already (or can find a way to help one out), you might be able to get what you want in repayment. Along the same lines, faeries favor the generous, the kind and those gifted in the arts. Write them a beautiful ballad, sing them a beautiful song or bake them a beautiful cake and they will be less likely to screw you over.

The Darkest Part of the Forest is available today! And for more Young Adult author interviews, books and buzz, visit our Everything YA page!

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