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Live Author Chat: Telling Fairy Tales with Julie Kagawa and Holly Black

Figment hosted a Live Author Chat with Julie Kagawa and Holly Black last Sunday, December 2 at 7:00 P.M. ET. I was able to cover it since I was right on time when I saw Julie Kagawa’s tweet about the live author chat. They got this pretty and catchy title for the chat. For those who didn’t know, Julie Kagawa is the author of The Iron Fey and Immortal Rules. Meanwhile, Holly Black is the author for Tithe. Both authors have written novels about Faeries.

Francesca Lia Block was supposed to be on this chat too but sadly she was sick and didn’t make it. She is the author of The Elementals. In any case, here is the run down of the chat. 🙂


FIGMENT: What drew you to writing about fairies in the first place? What’s different about fairies than, say, vampires or ghosts or ancient gods?

Holly Black: I think I came to love faeries first from Alan Lee and Brian Froud’s illustrated book, FAERIES. The faeries in the book are organic, frightening, folkloric faeries and looking at those illustrations and reading those stories had a huge influence on my imagination. They also led me to the Bordertown series, a shared world fantasy set in a city caught between the human world and the world of faerie. And then to Charles de Lint, Ellen Kushner and later Emma Bull, who wrote about faeries in a contemporary setting. So between that and my love of fairy tales, I was well set up to write the changeling story that eventually came into my head.

In particular, though, the three things I love most about faeries are: 1) that unlike vampires and ghosts and most other creatures, faeries were never human 2) there are lots of different sorts of them and 3) the way that bringing them into a gritty modern setting creates an interesting juxtaposition.

Julie Kagawa: For me, I’ve always loved the fey. (Also, WOW Holly can type fast.) I’ve always been intrigued with the older, more primal faeries that caused fear and mischief, instead of the Tinkerbell type “nice” fairies. When I started The Iron King, I wanted to mix modern fey with the more ancient tales from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and such, so that’s where the Iron fey came from.

FIGMENT: Speaking of Tinkerbell, were you both consciously trying to undo the “pretty sparkly fluttery” image of fairies?

Holly Black: Oh yes. Absolutely. I think people who are unfamiliar with the old stories have no idea how scary faeries were in them. How people called them “The Good Neighbors” for fear of making them mad, not because it was true.

Julie Kagawa: Definitely. Faeries were once feared and respected, for good reason. I wanted to remind readers why.

FIGMENT: Julie—your fairyland is completely unknown to the humans. Holly—yours is only known by the few “in” characters. How did you all decide how “underground” to make your fairy lands?

Julie Kagawa: And how you said “The Good Neighbors” instead of the word faery, because you didn’t want to attract their attention. I loved the idea that Faeryland is all around us, but only a few can see it. It makes it that much more intriguing to think that fey are everywhere, only we can’t see them.

Also, with the Nevernever being this whole different realm, I could really go all out and make it as surreal and bizarre as I wanted.

Holly Black: Exactly. 😀 A world with faeries in it, where everyone knows and accepts that, isn’t our world. When I was writing Tithe and later, Spiderwick, I wanted to write about a world that would be closer to the one most readers would know. It’s funny, because I just started a new faerie book. It’s tentatively titled The Prince in the Glass Coffin – anyway, the thing is that I decided to try out the idea of setting it in a small town where people lived near a fey-haunted wood and so believe in faeries.

It’s kind of scary to be working on a faerie book again! But I have gotten really into open world fantasies. The Curse Workers is one and so is my new vampire book. It’s hard though, because with a book like TITHE or THE IRON KING, the reader figures out about the faerie world along with the protagonist and I think that bonds you to her, even though (and maybe especially because) in both cases she turns out not to be quite what she appears.

Julie Kagawa: Yes, exactly. You’re figuring the fey world out right alongside the heroine.

FIGMENT: Some of the faeries you write about are very dangerous—would you choose to live in a world with fairies?

Holly Black, author of Tithe

Holly Black: Yes. I’d rather have a richer, stranger, more magical world, even if its also a more dangerous one.

Julie Kagawa: Lol, I think I could get by. I’d be VERY paranoid, though. Kinda like Ethan Chase in my new book; I’d have anti-faery charms hanging everywhere. BUT, my kung fu lessons would come in handy. 😉 All in all though, I think it would be pretty awesome. As long as I could find a Roiben or an Ash. 😉

FIGMENT: You both talked earlier about drawing inspiration from traditional fairy myths. Do you have a favorite?

Holly Black: Well, I have used the changeling story a TON. In Tithe. In Spiderwick. And now I am planning on using it again in a different way in the new faerie book. The thing I love about it is that it’s fascinating that people truly believed their loved ones were changelings — only a little more than a hundred years ago a woman was killed by her husband in front of her neighbors and family b/c they thought she was a changeling — Bridget Cleary. But the idea of it being real and something strange looking out of a familiar face is also really rich with story possibilities. So both ways its fabulous for story.

Julie Kagawa: I do love the Changeling myth, because its so delightfully creepy. Yes, the Changeling myth wasn’t a myth at all in olden times. People actually killed children if they thought a changeling had replaced them. Its pretty scary, actually.

FIGMENT: Do you mind explaining the Changeling myth, for those in the audience who aren’t familiar with it!

Holly Black: There are two nonfiction books about the murder of Bridget — The Cooper’s Wife is missing and The Burning of Bridget Cleary. The changeling can be a child or adult which is stolen by the faeries. But the human child/adult can be replaced with “stock” or wood enchanted to look like the person. If “stock” the child will die.

If a faerie, it will act super crazy, crying at weddings and laughing at funerals and generally being not-quite-human. And if you suspect your wife/father/baby of being a changeling, the best way of getting your own family member back is sticking a hot poker down the changeling’s throat. If you’re wrong, the problems are obvious.

Julie Kagawa: The most common Changeling myth is that a faery steals a real human and replaces it with a faery offspring. If the parents suspected their child was a changeling, they could beat it or burn it or other unpleasant things to force the faery to return the real child.

FIGMENT: A lot of your work focuses on the “I didn’t know I was a fairy” moment. When you were a kid, did you ever dream you’d wake up one day and discover you were special or supernatural?

Holly Black: When I was in 7th or 8th grade, I bought a copy of Interview with the Vampire for a quarter at a garage sale and read that book probably something like 300 times. (I know this only sort of seems relevant but…) For me, part of the discovery of being a faerie was the discovery of being transformed into a monster, but a powerful one. That’s what I think fascinated me about Louis in Interview. So it’s part being special, yes, but also part a profound horror at being something other than human that I was trying to get at with Kaye.

Julie Kagawa: Lol, I think most every kid has wished they were special at one point. When I was a kid, I sort of wanted to be a werewolf. I would sneak out of bed at night and get my dog and we would howl at the moon. (We lived on a farm, so there were no neighbors, thank goodness.)

FIGMENT: Holly and Julie, your books deal with normal teen problems — your characters struggle with love, school, and parent issues — but with an element of magic thrown in. Is it tough to add a fantasy element to contemporary novels and still make your characters seem relatable?

Holly Black: As a fantasy writer, it is a lot harder for me NOT to write a book with magic in it. I think fantasy allows us to explore the real world, but explore it slant. Explore it through metaphor and through literalizing metaphor. Like the way a changeling speaks to that universal not-belonging feeling. Or the way a werewolf can literalize being so angry that you hurt people close to you.

Julie Kagawa: Yeah, I tried to write contemp. But then vamps or fey or dragons kept sneaking in, so I kinda submitted to the inevitable. But I do think that you have to especially have “real life” issues in a fantasy novel to keep the characters relatable. Even if they’re a vampire or a half-faery princess, they should still have something that is human.



Q: What’s your secret(s) for creating non-cheesy, unique, fantasy? Whenever I write it, it comes out sounding very repetitive and blah.

Holly Black: First of all, I just want to say that very few people aren’t frustrated by what they write. But secondly, I really think that reading a lot of folklore and myth is incredibly helpful, especially if you read widely.

Julie Kagawa:  For me, I try to concentrate on characters. I think if I have a good grasp on the characters, if they seem real to me, everything around them will fall into place.

Q: What suggestions do you have for keeping fairy tales the “right” amount of traditional?

Julie Kagawa: But I do agree with Holly that we writers are our harshest critics, and that most first drafts especially will seem like crap. Its okay, though. First drafts are supposed to be crap. We can always go back and change them when the book is finished. 🙂

I think that it depends on the story you want to tell. If you want the fey to be traditional, then stick to the older myths. But there’s nothing wrong with inventing new types of fey or putting a more modern twist on them.

Holly Black: I try not to contradict the folklore, but I am okay with adding something. I try to get at the flavor of it, though, and hope I manage okay. I want it to *feel* true and right to me. I am just going to throw out a couple of faerie folklore books that I think are really helpful and great places to start. Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by Evans-Wentz. The Middle Kingdom by Dermot MacManus. And anything at all by Katharine Briggs.

Q: How do you decide a characters’ reaction to meeting/seeing a faerie for the first time? Assuming neither of you have actually met one, isn’t it hard to describe how one would react in the scenario?

Holly Black: The first two are probably obtainable from Project Gutenberg. Well, also the thing you have to remember is that your reader will have read the “OMG, supernatural things are real?!?” scene a million times in a million books. So I think you want to make it visceral but really really SHORT.

In real life, it would probably take me a while to get over. No one will thank me for putting that in a book, though. We get very frustrated with characters who don’t accept things fairly quickly.

Julie Kagawa, author of The Iron Fey

Julie Kagawa: How aware is the character to the fey world? If they’re completely oblivious, then their reaction will be a bit more intense than someone who is in the know. But we have all read about the person who screams and then spends the next week claiming faeries aren’t real, when it’s obvious (in the book) that they are. So yes, I agree with Holly. Visceral but short.

Q: If you were one of the fae, which one do you think you’d be?

Holly Black: Oh, I am sure I would be the human, like Corny in Tithe, who was stupid enough to drink the faerie wine and now has a collar around my throat. Or dancing in a circle until I drop from exhaustion.

Julie Kagawa: A kitsune. (Japanese fox spirit) They’re like the oriental version of the pooka; being able to take human form, create illusions, and they love playing pranks. 😀

Q: What were some of your favorite books as a child? Did they inspire your stories? How? What are some of your favorite childrens/YA books as an adult?

Holly Black: It depends on what you mean, age-wise. When I was a kid, I absolutely loved The Prydain Chronicles, I loved fairy tales, I loved all the Madeline L’Engle books. But I think I was more influenced by the books I read in my teens, particularly Tanith Lee, Charles de Lint, Anne Rice, Ellen Kushner, Neil Gaiman, etc.

Julie Kagawa: The book that inspired me most as a teen was The Druid of Shannara by Terry Brooks. It was an epic fantasy with great characters, and most of all, it made me cry. I remember reading it and thinking “I want to make readers cry like that.” So, whenever I say “Your tears feed my Muse,” you can thank Mr. Brooks for that. 😉 As an adult, a few of my favorite YA books are Poison Study, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, 13 Reasons Why, and Tithe.

Q: I am curious; how do you guys create your villains? Do you prefer them to have ‘explainable’ problems (death of a wife, child, ect) or do you think the villains who are just PURE evil are more fun?

Holly Black: I don’t believe in pure evil — I think all actions are motivated by desire that’s at least comprehensible, even if we have to look at the darkest corners of the darkest parts of ourselves. I always think its useful at some point to try and run a book through from an antagonist’s point of view to make sure that their actions make sense. As for where they come from, I think characters *evolve* — usually none of them spring fully formed into my mind.

Julie Kagawa: I think every villain needs a reason for what he does. I remember someone telling me that the villain is just like the hero except his choices are different. The villain should be just as compelling as the hero. If you can understand why he’s doing what he does, and even sympathize with him, he’s a much more dynamic character than a villain who is just evil for evil’s sake. And if the villain is TOO sympathetic, and the reader likes them just as much as the hero, than you’ve done your job well.

Q: It’s kind of a silly question, but do you ever go into a bookstore or library, find some of your books, and just go, “Wow. Those are my books.”?

Holly Black: Oh yes, absolutely. In fact, sometimes I am startled by them, as though I’ve left something out in public that I need to quickly grab and take home before someone sees.

Julie Kagawa: All. The. Time. 😉

Q: Reading Tithe and the Spiderwick Chronicles changed my life and everything I believe in, creating an obsession with Fae and the “dark side” of Faerie I would love to know, has your writting changed your own life?

Holly Black: First of all, THANK YOU. Secondly, yes, it really has. When I was a kid, one of the things I loved about shared world books like the Bordertown books was the idea that there were communities of writers who knew one another and hung out. That’s what I wanted most — friends who liked the same books I liked and liked writing. And now I have that community.

Q: Julie, I was wondering, how did you come up with the concept of the Iron Fey and how hard was it to come up with all different types of Iron Fey, like the Pack Rats?

Julie Kagawa: Chiming in even though this may not be my question. 😉 Books have been an obsession my whole life. And now that I get to write them, it really is my dream come true. 😀 The iron fey evolved because I wanted to write about a different type of faery. Also, I wanted to explore the concept of what happens when magic fades. The gremlins were actually the first iron fey that I thought of. I thought that we already have “monsters” in machines: gremlins, bugs, worms, etc. that they could easily be a type of faery. Just a more modern one.

Q: What is the most difficult part about being an author? The deadlines? Writer’s Block?

Holly Black: Before I was a full time writer, I worked as a production editor on medical journals like THE JOURNAL OF HAND SURGERY and THE JOURNAL OF PAIN. And, you know, if I didn’t screw anything up, I was doing great. But being a writer, you have to do your BEST work all the time. Good enough isn’t good enough. You have to always try to be better.

Julie Kagawa: Oof. The most difficult part for me is actually just sitting down and making myself write, everyday. Don’t get me wrong. I love it, and I want to do it forever, but there are some days when the words just won’t come. But you can’t wait for inspiration when you’re on a deadline, you just have to keep writing. Also, being distracted by Twitter and email does not help.


Um. Wow. Okay, I know this is so long… But I hope you do enjoy reading them. 🙂 Laters!

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  1. December 10, 2012 at 10:19 am

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