Last month, I got a chance to the delightful Holly Black, author of the much-beloved The Folk of the Air series, and we discussed her Maleficent-centered novel, The Heart of the Moors, as well as her love for faeries and the possibility of doing another collaboration with Magisterium co-author Cassandra Clare.
How did this book, The Heart of Moors, come about?
My agent was contacted by Disney, and they said, ‘Do you want to write, Maleficent middle-grade,’ and I had a whole plan of what I was going to be doing, and I was like, ‘well, not going to be doing that.’ Absolutely, yes, yes! I wanted to have the opportunity to write in that world, and write about Maleficent. I really loved the movie. I loved that it embraced the idea that the faeries in that world. That they had a vulnerability to iron, that they behaved like faeries. They’re different in…certain ways. There are specific kinds of faeries in that world, that only exist in that world, but I just loved it, and I loved the visuals, and I love Maleficent. I love that she gets to be angry, and gets to have regrets, and gets to be both sinister and loving. She is a big character with a lot of pieces to her and is a really wonderful character.
Yes, the original animated character was very 2-dimensional-
Yes, although she was still great. Still loved her! *laughs*
What was the challenge to making her more than that?
For me, the challenge was not so much creating her. She was by that point a character that I had met in the first Maleficent movie, and I knew she was going to go on into a second movie, and so it was about getting her voice right, and in film, we see the outside of characters. We intuit what’s going on with them. But when you’re writing a book, you are getting inside of them. You have to create interiority, and so you have to say what I really think she’s feeling here, what I really think she’s thinking about this. How does she see the events that happen in this movie, and how does she think we’re going to move forward. And also, can I make her sound right. When I write dialogue, when I write interiority, when you read it, is this going to feel like the character that you know, because if it doesn’t, this isn’t going to work.
Is has to align with how Angelina Jolie portrayed her?
Absolutely, and the way the screenwriter wrote the screenplay. It has to feel right. You want to hear her, right? And the same thing with Aurora and the same thing with Philip and the same thing with all the characters.
So, can you tease us on what the Heart of Moors is about?
It’s between the two films, and- you know, one of the things that you get to do when you are writing in a world is see, where are the spaces where we didn’t get to see what happened. One of the spaces is we don’t really get to see to see Aurora and Philip spend any time with each other. They meet each other in the first film, and they sort of see each other at the end, but they don’t really get to spend time together, and so that’s one of the things that the book’s about. The other thing is that Aurora has been oppressed from being a person who was raised by incompetent pixies, and then into a position of power, and she has to figure out, what do I do here? How do I interact with humans as a human for the first time? For Maleficent, she’s in a position where, how much can she protect her? She put her in this position as the head of all these things, as the head of the moors, as the head of the human world. How much can she make sure that Aurora is safe? And what does she think about having to interact with humans now that the walls are down?
You’ve written several books on fair folk. What is it about them that makes it fun for you to write?
I think that faeries are that, unlike some supernatural creatures, like unlike vampires, who die and then rose again, unlike a werewolf, who are sometimes human and sometimes somewhat other than human, faeries are not human, they never were human, they have a different moral system, they have a different way of seeing the world. They are eternal and ancient and capricious and dangerous and that’s really interesting, because at times they might look like us, but they’re not us. Another thing is that they’re an entire ecosystem. They’re not just like, tall elves with willowy hair, but they are pixies and nixies and sprites and tree spirits and all of these different things. All of those have different ways of seeing things. Customs, behaviors, some of them are more solitary, some of them want to eat you. But the thing I come back to again and again is the idea that “it is so delicious that other food is ashes in your mouth.” And that desire is something that is incredibly propelling, that ruinous beauty, being the thing we shouldn’t want, but we want anyway, is something I think about a lot when it comes to faeries.
With regards to the different faeries, in comparison with Maleficent, who do you think is more villainous? Maleficent or your character, Cardan?
My God. I mean, I think that Maleficent is much more effective than everything! But she’s not really a villainous character. She’s a character that has a, perhaps a villainous fashion sense, and she has a really bad moment when she does a thing that is, um– she casts a truly monstrous curse. And then, immediately, does not really have the courage of her convictions. In a scene, Aurora is running towards a cliff, and she could’ve easily get her to go over the edge… done! If that’s what she wanted, but she doesn’t want it. She wants to think she’s the person who could do it, but she can’t do it. In every case, she’s like, I am terrible…but not yet. I am really bad… but not here. She has a really bad moment.
And I think Cardan is someone who—there are a lot of things that—he is pretty awful in many ways, but I don’t think he realizes how the repercussions of some of the things he does, and what is interesting to me about Cardan is as awful as he is, there are certain lines that he won’t cross, like he would never murder someone. He’s like, ‘What do you mean!? That’s horrible!’ And there are so many people in those books who do that who I think we mostly admire. There are many people we don’t hold that against. So, there are a lot of things that are really terrible about him, but not that. And that’s what interests me about him. He is a petty evil. *laughs*
What can you tease about Queen of Nothing, which comes out in November?
It starts off in the mortal world, where Jude is going to have to figure out if she wants to get back in the game, and try to get back the things she lost. I think that the series as a whole, and certainly Queen of Nothing, is about this central question of what Jude is willing to give up to have power, and power for her representing a certain kind of safety. She’s grown up feeling that she’s in a really precarious, really unsafe position, and she was raised by the person who killed her parents , and she has become a lot more like Madoc than she ever thought she could. And I think she has to ask herself how much like him is she willing to become if that means she could be safe. What would she give up for it? Would she give up her humanity? Would she give up the possibility of love? Would she give up the good of faerie itself, if only she could have power and safety.
Is it an illusion for her, this idea of power?
I don’t think it’s an illusion at all. I think it’s a very real, very literal kind of power.
So, you wrote the Magisterium series with Cassandra Clare. Do you have any plans to co-write anything with her again, maybe in YA as well?
We don’t have any plans right now. She is a very busy lady; she’s got some books that she needs to finish, so maybe when she gets through all of the books she needs to finish, then she can come back and we can talk about it. We talked about doing it, we loved doing the Magisterium series together and would totally love to collaborate on something again, but you gotta talk to her about that schedule. She just keeps committing to more books!
What are your plans as far as after Queen of Nothing?
I’m done! I’m done! What I’m doing right now is actually sitting down and figuring out the next few years of my life and saying, what books do I want to write: I have plans for four books, and I’m trying to get them together. They’re still a little bit… all in the air. But I should, I think, in the near future, be able to talk about what I’m doing to do.
One of your books was adapted into film. What was the process like for that and would you consider going through it again for another one of your books?
Yeah, I’m absolutely willing. I think adaptations are another opportunity for other people to come and reinterpret what you did and hopefully in a way that keeps its heart and I think the thing that I was really lucky with with The Spiderwick Chronicles was I think with that movie kept the heart of what made people love it and what I loved about it. So yeah, I would get on that rollercoaster again.
The process to adaptation usually starts where you sell an option, what they call an “option,” and that means that either a production company or studio has usually about eighteen months to try to put together something, and a lot of times that means bringing on a screenwriter to write a screenplay. Bringing on a director, or an actor who is going to commit to playing one of the characters who’s known well enough to sort of move the project along. So, once they have a screenplay that they like, and they have, often, somebody attached, then they move into greenlighting it, and actually filming, whether it’s for a pilot or whether it’s for a film. That process where a lot of times, there’s a lot of things out of your hands, and you don’t always know what’s going on, and you just hope that’s it’s going to go for it, and it going that heart of the project.