Going to see Holly Black for The Wicked King was a sure thing. As soon as I saw tour dates posted on The Novl twitter account, I called Mysterious Galaxy about ordering a book and getting a ticket. I just happened to be the fastest dialer because we ended up being 1 & 2.
As always, Michelle and I had our regular routine and then got back to the store early. We squeezed our favorites and settled in to wait. Jessica got there shortly after and we procured our front row seats.
The ladies came out right after 7 to a packed house. Cindy started by introducing herself and then talked about her relationship with Holly and reading an early copy of The Wicked King.
C: I made the mistake of thinking it was a duology. Let’s talk about the second book in a trilogy and the challenges.
H: I love second books. It’s not the most popular opinion. They’re my favorite to write and to read. They’re an opportunity to mess with characters and have a lot of fun stuff happen. First books are all about introducing characters and third books are all about tying things up. Second books are challenging because you have to raise the stakes and they have to matter.
C: a lot of authors think the second book is hard.
H: well, yes. They are hard.
C: I never considered myself a fan of faerie. It was always too western to me. I know you’ve talked about why you’re so drawn to fae…
H: the book that brought me to faeries is an art book called Faeires by Brian Froud and Allen Lee. They’re heavily illustrated books about folklore. It set my expectations for what faeries were. It really interests me is that they were never human. They have different morals and different taboos. And also that they’re an ecosystem. I think a lot about faerie fruit. Something so delicious that will make everything else terrible forever, but you still want it.
C: I like that the heroine is an outlier because she’s human. Do you come back to the idea that she doesn’t belong?
H: what I’m really interested in is the idea of straddling two worlds. Do you have to make a choice? What does that choose look like?
C: do you like writing people who are the worst?
H: it’s fun to write people with the wheels off. I love people who make mistakes. I love writing it, I love reading it. It’s always so complicated and interesting. I just love a mistake and not a small one. I think we’re all attracted to characters who make big movements. We might know people who are bad tippers. Maybe you’re not friends with a thief. And definitely not friends with a murderer. But in a novel, the thief is the hero and the bad tipper is never going to win.
C: you’re a wealth of information.
H: if I’m a wealth of information it’s because I’ve made every mistake there is. I don’t know how to draft a book, only to fix it. I’m an angry drafter. I’m a slow drafter.
C: I don’t know how you can fix 20 things for me and can’t see your own way out of your story.
H: how I start a book is, I have a picture in my mind and it gives me a feeling. A lot of my learning and how to come up with plot is about coming up with it in a mechanical way.
C: I consider you an industry veteran. What would you say as general observations in publishing? How has it changed? What’s your advice for someone who wants to break in?
H: YA is in a interesting place right now. It changed with Twilight and Gossip Girl. I was there when BN moved it out of the children’s section. I think YA has aged. You see more college stories. We have a section of younger YA, but that doesn’t have a name. It’s transitional. There’s a lot of different things being published now. I think we have a lot of inclusivity that we didn’t have before. It makes me feel so great about the future. The #ownvoices books are great. You should talk about it.
C: it’s incredible and amazing. Both Malinda Lo and I…her book Ash was the first lesbian happily ever after. Silver Phoenix was the first YA Asian inspired fantasy. We both struggled trying to find our place. It was only recently that we found our place. It was The We Need Diverse Books push that helped. It’s important to see inclusivity. Kids look to books to find safety and a connection.
H: we still have a long way to go, but it’s good.
C: so what are you working on?
H: so third book. I got my edits yesterday. When I go home…
C: did you read them?
H: yes. I’m going to go home and revise and jump back on. I’m excited to get back to it.
C: what about after that?
H: I’m thinking about an adult book. I’m thinking about another faerie book that’s sort of connected.
C: so fantasy?
H: I’ve never written anything that’s not fantasy.
C: and you’ll never do a different genre?
H: Nope. I don’t understand realistic fiction. I mean, what makes it stop.
Chapter 15…yes or no?
H: well, it depends on what you consider a yes…or what you consider “it”.
When you’re headed towards a trope, how do you not write it?
H: when I was working on Tithe, I struggled with plot. I would summon them on a quest and what would happen if they didn’t go? We love a good trope reversal, but we love a good trope. You need to lean into it before you reverse it. If you reverse it too soon, they’re not going to know it was there.
TWK and Darkest Part of the Forest connected?
H: they are connected. They’re in the same world.
Do you think Jude or Taryn are more valid?
H: I like Taryn. She’s made some mistakes. I don’t think she made them for bad reasons. She’s a person who is trying to navigate, just like Jude is. And she’s trying to find a path, just like Jude is. I don’t think she realized how badly she was putting Jude out. They both had spots where they were made to feel small. If they would have talked about it they could have helped each other. I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but I think by the end of the series, they’ll find out they’re much more alike than either of them thinks.
New POVs in Queen?
H: I’m keeping it in Jude’s. Sometimes is frustrating not to see what other people are doing, but I’ve made my choice.
Did you ever create a character that you grow to dislike?
H: it’s hard. I live inside of them in a different way. Even when they’re awful, I have to see the reason they are the way they are. I’m not meeting them, I am them. I haven’t thought that way. There are some minor characters I don’t care for and there are some characters that make loathsome choices. But even then, I don’t think it’s awful. The thing I don’t want or that I worry about, is that you’ll think the character is making a choice or mistake as a plot point instead of it being their choice. Like instead of them choosing to go down the stairs, I’m kicking them down there.
What is the key to making these morally ambiguous characters so likeable?
H: they have a different moral system. And that’s weird right? Jude, growing up in Faerie, has grown up with a moral system that isn’t human. I think the big question of the series is how much like Madoc Jude is. Will she pull out of it? She is being raised by the person who murdered her parents. No matter how nice or friendly he is, he’ll always be the person who killed her parents. She’s always looking for danger and if it’s not obvious, she’s concerned.
Advice for authors?
H: I think the hardest part is writing a book. After that, find a critique partner or group to look at it and read it and help fix your book. After it’s all fixed up and edited, you look for an agent. The website agentquery.com is good. There’s also a site called Editors and Predators and it’s tells you all the scams.
C: there’s a lot of great query sites online.
H: the thing to remember is that agents are looking for books. Everyone likes debuts. We have been told that debuts aren’t excited, but they are.
C: you have to want it and you have to be ready for rejection. And realize that even Marie Lu had to shelf her first book because it wasn’t ready then. You have to be hungry for it.
What was your favorite gritty scene to write?
H: the most fun and gritty to write is the prologue in the cruel prince. It was fun to have all of the minute details on a normal house turned upside down.
Another novella in between?
H: No, but I might do one after. It was hard not to spoil anything, so to be able to spoil whatever I want would be fun.
There was one more question, but I didn’t get it down. Instead, I was taking my final photos and saving my draft of the recap. The signing started right after that and we didn’t rush to get up.
I got to Holly and thanked her for coming back. She said that it felt like she had just been at the store and wasn’t sure how it was going to go. And then she stopped and said she’d be right back, that she had postcards and had to give one to the woman who went before us. When she came back, we chatted for a second longer and I don’t even know if I made words.
Holly Black is definitely the queen of faeries and I have loved this series with a sickness. I can’t wait for book 3. Until then, I’ll be petting my copies and maybe settling in for a reread soon. If you get a chance to see Holly, I definitely recommend it. She’s fun and tells a great story.