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Holly Black ’94 on Newberys, hauntings and her upcoming book

Holly Black
Holly Black

Holly Black frequently dwells in fantasy worlds filled with supernatural happenings, but there was nothing imaginary about the call she received this past January.

The best-selling author and 1994 TCNJ graduate answered the phone at 6 a.m. and found an American Library Association (ALA) committee on the other end. The group told a stunned Black that her middle-grade novel, Doll Bones, had been named a 2014 John Newbery Honor Book.

Doll Bones follows three kids who are grappling with a might-be-haunted doll—and facing pressures to ditch their childhood make-believe games. “I wanted to talk about how making up stories with your friends is not childish,” Black says. “It’s something Vikings have done around fires, it’s something bards have done in great halls, and yet we push kids to stop doing it at a certain age.”

Black (nee Riggenbach) never stopped. She continued to invent characters and plotlines while playing Dungeons & Dragons as a teenager, and later put words to paper in a creative writing class at the college. She published her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, in 2002, and has since written a dozen more novels for child and young-adult readers. Her books have won multiple awards and been named New York Times bestsellers, but Black takes particular pride any time a parent approaches her and announces: “This is the book that made my kid love reading.”

In September, Doubleday Children’s Books will publish The Iron Trial—the first in a five-book series that Black is co-writing with author Cassandra Clare. Black says she and Clare work by “turning the laptop back and forth,” each writing about 400 words before passing the manuscript to the other. “I absolutely love it, in addition to the stuff I’m doing by myself. Any time you’re stuck, you’ve got someone contractually obligated to help you,” she says with a laugh.

Her mom insisted that a ghost named Robert haunted the family home, but unlike the heroes and heroines in her books, Black never has had a supernatural experience of her own. “I’d really love for there to be more things out there than we know,” she says. “But I’m also kind of skeptical, I think because I want it to be true so much.”

—Molly Petrilla