In March of 2016 I was lucky enough to attend the Nova Teen book festival in Arlington, Virginia, where you were the keynote speaker. I had so much fun basically stalking you from panel to panel, learning about how to write a properly scary story during the Creep panel and sitting in the completely full classroom where you had your one-on-one with participants about writing fairytales. Don’t worry, I live-tweeted the whole experience so if you don’t trust my word on how psyched I was about the whole thing you only need to check your Twitter notifications from that day (I’m sort of sorry about blowing up your feed that way, but kind of really not).
Your keynote is what really got me, though. I had a really freaky moment there while you were talking because I’d been telling my friend Mad earlier that day how I would probably die if you and Neil Gaiman ever collaborated on anything, and lo and behold in your keynote you start talking about Lucifer and a conversation you had with Gaiman about why you write fantasy.
I pretty much died in that moment because not only was it like you’d read my mind but you also managed to combine your thoughts with Gaiman’s (and I think even G.K Chesterton’s which is a whole other thing (OK I’ll dish, I wrote a graduation speech in college based on a G.K. Chesterton quote that you may or may not have used during your keynote (OK you did))) to say what is perhaps the truest and most powerful thing about what fantasy even is. Pardon my paraphrase (I’m sure the direct quote is on Twitter), but you told us all that the power in fantasy is that it deals with reality in a world where the rules are shifted such that the everyday struggles of humanity can be exaggerated and focused on in a way that literary fiction just does not allow. Want to talk about the struggle to belong for teenagers? Write about a changeling. And all that good stuff.
It really got to me not just because it was true, not just because that was exactly why I’d always been drawn to really good fantasy over anything else, but also because your stories have always had that dash of really harsh reality blended in with the fantastic elements of the worlds you create. When I first read Tithe I picked it up because it was sold as a modern fairytale, but I loved it because of how freaking real it was. How even though it was about non-human creatures in an alternate reality it was one of the most familiar and one of the truest stories I’ve ever encountered, and the same can be said of everything you’ve written since.
Tithe itself is really a meta-example of that, since you even went and created a main character who could not lie but who knew how to deceive, and when I was reading that whole series, especially once it got to Ironside, I just kept thinking, “Oh my God Holly Black is Fae. She’s totally mastered the art of telling a story that has elements of untruth but which is actually entirely true.”
I mean basically what I’m trying to say here is you are brilliant. Absolutely brilliant and I love it. I love it all. I also love how your books are like the hard rock of YA and Middle Grade literature. They’ve got so many of the same elements as other books in their genre, but they’ve got this edge to them, this grit that just doesn’t exist anywhere else. Sometimes that is exactly what I need when I pick up a story to get lost in, and I can’t thank you enough for carving out that space and for continuing to create masterpieces within it.
You rock, literally, and I appreciate you.
Thank you now and always,