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YA Wednesday: Holly Black Resurrects Vampires

ColdestGirlSo, we've all heard for the last couple of years that vampires are dead in YA (no pun intended), but Holly Black's new novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown puts a twist on the genre that is as relevant and refreshing as the cover image. This book made me love vampires again and easily earned a spot as one of the Best Teen & Young Adult Books of September

A vampire plague results in the creation of Coldtowns, where the monsters are quarantined along with those who join them in hopes of becoming one of the undead themselves or who just want to escape their lives for a community where anything goes.  Black's novel is a clever combination of horror--I'm telling you, you will experience blood with a multitude of senses--and urban fantasy with a YA heroine who kicks ass but also has more typical teenage girl vulnerabilities and desires.

I recently sat down with Holly (who is, by the way, a blue-haired bombshell) in our Seattle offices, and we talked about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.  My first question was the one I'd been asking myself since I heard about the new book (you can read the rest after the jump):

Why write vampires now?

The answer was not so simple, but I think Black hit the nail on the head when she said, "...there’s never been a time in the marketplace when vampires were either so big you would have to be nuts to write a vampire book because there are so many out there and they are so great that how could you ever possibly write one to compete or they’re so over that you would have to be crazy to write a vampire book because no one could ever possibly reinvent the genre again.  And I have seen vampires go from one to the other, to the other, to the other, to the other, and I realized there was never going to be a good time to write a vampire book so I might as well just write one." 

In her acknowledgements, Black calls The Coldest Girl in Coldtown "a love letter" to all the vampire novels she read growing up.  If you're like me, you want to know more about that.  When I asked the question I never thought part of the story would involve vampire Barbies. But it does.

"Well, when I was really little my mom told me that Dracula was the most frightening book that she had ever read and she described the Count outside the castle climbing on the wall and how weird and unnatural it was and I was too young to have read the book, but it lodged in my mind and terrified me.

I was a very easily terrified kid, so I actually I had these Barbies and I turned a bunch of them into vampires so they would be good vampires and they would protect me from the bad vampires that were clearly out there ready to get me and from there I had sort of a fascination because I grew to really like my little vampire stories with my vampire Barbies and then I wound up reading Dracula which turned out not to be as frightening as my mom had built it up to be because I had made it in my mind, you know, the scariest thing possible..."

In discussing her other favorites, including Nancy Collins’ Sunglasses After Dark, Black and I digressed briefly into our mutual affection for Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and all the Vampire Chronicles (how could you not love those books?!) and she gave me the lowdown on "...these books by Les Daniels about this vampire that was also a wizard who would turn into a silver skull when he was killed in different time periods and then he would be pulled back out of the skull to be a vampire again so he could go through time and romance different ladies in different time periods."  But Tanith Lee (Sabella or The Blood Stone) is the author Black cites as the most influential, "..because I liked Tanith Lee’s writing so much and wanted to write just like her, and tried, in very embarrassing ways to do so, and then I kind of put all of that stuff aside because I had also loved fairy books and high fantasy and I kind of went and did other things.  So writing The Coldest Girl in Coldtown I remembered this whole part of my childhood all of a sudden and was allowing myself to access it again."

Earlier I mentioned Black's incredible descriptions of the blood in this novel--and there is a lot of it--why did she choose to make blood such a main feature in her vampire story?  And what about the heroine, Tana, the level-headed girl with a reckless streak?

HB: Well I guess I was thinking about what I missed from the vampire books that I grew up with and what I missed was blood.  I remember first of all there is a big fascination with, and fear of, infection in sort of the books I grew up with and I wanted to really think about that in The Coldest Girl in Coldtownand think about what it meant to have sort of a plague narrative with vampires; but secondly I wanted to think a lot about what blood meant and really seeing a lot of blood and using it as imagery because it is the sort of primal motivation of the vampire is this need to feed and this need for blood as life and that was something that I guess had really lodged in my mind and I went back and reread all the stuff and the thing that stuck out to me the most was that I really missed seeing a lot of blood.

I wanted to give Tana a YA hero’s backstory, you know I had seen a lot of boys in YA with really tragic backstories that messed them up and made them reckless and you know, sometimes shoved down, and sometimes inaccessible and all these things and I thought I would really like to write the heroine as having that kind of backstory and so that was my initial impetus for making her the way she is. You know, reckless, damaged, guilt ridden, a little devil-may-care.

In Holly Black's Coldtown, the party never stops but there is also danger around every corner in a place where anything goes, and immortality comes with a price I asked Black if she would have been drawn to Coldtown as a teenager:

HB: I’m sure I would be...I think that Coldtown has some of that shine for me of that place you could go to and be re-made, either for good or for ill. 

What about you?

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