The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe

The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe: Holly Black

Welcome back to The Pop Quiz at the End of the Universe, a recurring series here on featuring some of our favorite science fiction and fantasy authors, artists, and others!

Today we’re joined by Holly Black, bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children. In 2003, Holly collaborated with her long-time friend, Caldecott award winning artist, Tony DiTerlizzi, to create the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles. The series was adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Films in 2008. Holly’s latest novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, is available now from Little, Brown Books.

Join us as we cover subjects ranging from Dracula to Anthony Trollope, and more!

What D&D character alignment best describes you first thing in the morning?

Whenever I think of alignments anymore, I think about trying to explain them to Kelly Link and how she called True Neutral “Neutral Neutral.” I couldn’t convince her that wasn’t a thing. So, in honor of Kelly:

Neutral Neutral.

Before coffee, I can’t summon up the strength for Good or for Evil.

Name your favorite monster from fiction, film, TV, or any other pop culture source.

Count Dracula.

When I was a kid, my mother told me Dracula was the scariest book she’d ever read. In particular, she described the part where the Count climbed down the wall, moving like human beings aren’t mean to move. I became absolutely terrified of vampires and, to protect myself, turned a group of my Barbies into “good” vampires who were supposed to protect me from the bad vampires.

Later, when I actually read Dracula, I didn’t find the Count all that scary. But I did find him fascinating. And I love how constantly he is being reinvented and how flexible the story of Dracula seems to be. He was the terrifying monster of Nosferatu, the hot villain of Frank Langella’s Dracula, the anti-hero in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the straight man to Abbott and Costello in Abbott and Costello meet Frankenstein, and the quirky pal on Sesame Street.

Coldest Girl in Coldtown Holly BlackWhat’s the most embarrassing guilty pleasure you’ll admit to? (music, movies, pop culture, food, drink, etc…all fair game!)


Reality television.

I kind of really love it. I think part of what I like is that it’s relatively non-narrative and there’s something really restful about that. But probably most of what I like is observing people. I know that reality television is mostly scripted, but it’s always interesting when a tiny bit of real reality shines through.

I thought about my love of reality television a lot when I was writing Coldtown. We have reality shows about serious things—about addiction and recovery, hoarding, hunting down bail jumpers and braving perilous waters—but we see them at a remove, we see the people in them as characters, we can eat popcorn and check our email as we view them. How would it be any different if we were watching vampires and people trapped in a quarantined zone with them?

Bad news: You’re about to be marooned alone on a desert island—name the five things you would bring along.

That is bad news!

1. The complete works of Anthony Trollope. It shames me to say it, but I haven’t read all that much Trollope. Happily, that also means there’s a lot of it to enjoy on my island.

2. A machete—the ultimate multi-tool.

3. Flint and tinder.

4. 50’ of rope. Every adventurer has it; how could I go without?

5. Laminated plans for reproduction of Kon-Tiki.

Strangest thing you’ve learned while researching a book?

When I was doing research for the Curse Workers series—which is about magical mobsters—I decided I needed to experience what it felt like to ride around in the trunk of a car. Kelly Link was writing with me at a coffee shop (this whole interview turns out, weirdly, to be largely about Kelly) and offered to put me in the trunk of her car and drive me around. Problem was, when one imagines someone tossed in the trunk of a car, one imagines being in a Caprice Classic or something like that. I climbed into a hatchback. Good news, I had a window. Bad news, any car behind us could clearly see that I was being kidnapped.

What I learned was (a) it’s actually pretty comfortable in the trunk of a car, so long as you’re not tied up, (b) a neck pillow would definitely improve the ride, and (c) Massachusetts is a lawless land where no one seemed at all concerned at the sight of me trussed up in the trunk of a car.


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