TCNJ Magazine - Spring 2019

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42 The College of New Jersey Magazine H olly Black '94 has published nearly 30 fantasy novels for children and teens and racked up global sales somewhere north of 12 million books, so it's fair to say she's had a bit of success in the writing game. But nothing quite compared to seeing her latest young adult book debut at number one on The New York Times' best-seller list, as happened in January with The Wicked King, Black's sequel to The Cruel Prince (not incidentally, another best-seller). "It was really exciting," Black says. "You can always tell how many people read your first book, but you don't always know how many people liked your first book. I was hoping people liked it enough to read the second one." And sure enough, readers like it. These first two installments in the Folk of the Air trilogy are set in the fantasy world of Faerie and follow the travails of three young sisters who have witnessed their parents' murder. Black has mined the series format before, and to great acclaim. She is co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, a five-volume fantasy set that spawned a feature film starring Mary-Louise Parker and Nick Nolte in 2008. Black embraced the fantasy world as a young reader, and as a grown-up author she's doubled down. Her pixie haircut is dyed cobalt blue and two years ago she enlisted a Finnish body- modification artist named Samppa von Cyborg (yes, really) to re-contour her ears with elfin points, a procedure chronicled by The New York Times. "Everything looks better with a pointed ear," Black says. She's come a long way from TCNJ where she briefly considered a career in teaching but then remembered she didn't like to wake up early. She recalls an English professor (though she's unable to summon his name) who taught her the value of a "want line" in driving a plot. Black initially dismissed the notion as pure rubbish, but today she considers it among the best pieces of writing advice she's ever gotten. According to Black: "Stories are about characters wanting things and getting them or not getting them. The force of that desire is the thing that energizes the story. We are drawn to characters who want things, and we are bored by characters who don't want things." Given all her success, you might think Black has figured out some secret formula for writing best-sellers. Think again. For Black, the act of putting words on paper remains as perplexing as ever. "Writing is terrible for everybody," she says. "Writing is a process of having a great idea and then turning it into crap as you put it on the page. And then trying to clean it up and clean it up again, so it resembles your original idea, or at least a shadow of your original idea." That anguished process has not stopped Black from writing. The final installment of her Folk of the Air trilogy, The Queen of Nothing, is due to be published in January. —Christopher Hann CLASS N O T E S S P R I N G 2 0 1 9 SIENA KONCSOL "Writing is a process of having a great idea and then turning it into crap as you put it on the page."

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