Their World is Closer Than You Think...
It all started with a mysterious letter left at a tiny bookstore for authors Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black. Its closing lines: "We just want people to know about this. The stuff that has happened to us could happen to anyone." Little could Tony and Holly imagine the remarkable adventure that awaited them as they followed three children and a fascinating old book into a world filled with elves, goblins, dwarves, trolls, and a fantastical menagerie of other creatures.
The wildest part is that in entering that world, they didn't leave this one!
Q&A with Holly Black and Tony DeTerlizzi, creators of The Spiderwick Chronicles
Q: How did you two meet?
HB: I was working on a small "role-playing game culture" magazine called d8 and went to interview Tony. We had so much fun chatting that we wound up hanging out again at the Gen Con game fair. And then hanging out some more in Tony and his wife's apartment in Brooklyn. And hanging out even more after that.
TD: Holly and I have been friends for a long time. One of our common bonds is that we are both BIG book lovers. But Holly is definitely a more voracious reader than I am.
HB: Another common bond is our interest in faeries. We can talk about faerie and folklore stuff endlessly, boring our spouses, Theo and Angela, nearly to death.
Q: After the Grace children made believers out of you, you decided to put their story into words and pictures. Tell us about your collaborative process.
TD: The interesting thing here is that Holly and I are both writers. Holly writes for an older audience (Tithe), and I write for a younger (Jimmy Zangwow's Out-of-This World Moon-Pie Adventure, Ted). The Spiderwick Chronicles is kind of a middle ground where both of our writing skills meet. We both love story and plot and approach storytelling from different angles, so this made for an interesting hybrid that I am not sure either of us would have done separately.
So bringing the Grace children's tale to life was an experiment in true collaboration. Holly and I would discuss in detail the best way to tell the story, and, at the end of the day, she would go off and actually write the story and I would draw the illustrations.
HB: The greatest challenge for me was to take what the Grace children told us and translate it into a story. Life doesn't occur the way the plot of a book does-there are a lot more boring bits and a lot more complexity and coincidence. I had to change things around and emphasize certain parts more than others to make the series work.
Working with Tony was really helpful in figuring out how to do that, and looking at his art was always inspiring.
Q: How does your creative process in recording the Grace children's story compare with your writing and/or illustration of previous books you've created?
TD: It's completely different from anything else I have done. As I mentioned before, I have written my own stories, but I have also illustrated other writers' stories as well. The problem I've experienced with the traditional author-illustrator relationship is that there is an inevitable power struggle or a disagreement on how certain aspects of the story are imagined. Consequently the book suffers.
In the case of Spiderwick, Holly and I just wanted to bring the Grace kids' story to life using ALL of our abilities. So I helped with structuring the plot, and she offered lots of feedback on the visuals.
In the end, we created a more unified, solid book. Sure, there were creative differences from time to time, but for the most part we respected what the other had to say, and knew that we were offering input for the sake of creating the best story possible. I am sure it helped immensely that Holly and I are both close friends, so there was an open line of communication back and forth.
HB: This was a really different process for me, too. Working with Tony allowed me to see aspects of the book I normally don't get involved in-the art, the cover, the fonts, and the whole of the packaging. It really let me see bookmaking with new eyes.
I also feel that I have learned a lot about my own process by sharing it with another person. For one thing, the nature of what we were doing made it necessary to let Tony and Kevin Lewis (our editor) see my work much earlier than anyone would have normally. That made me more aware of the number of drafts that it takes for me to get to a final book. It also highlighted the areas I needed to improve on, so I really feel like I grew a lot as an author. While it was sometimes frustrating, I feel that Tony and I helped push each other into making every part of the book better.
Q: Are you surprised by the success of The Spiderwick Chronicles?
HB: You could knock me over with a feather.
TD: Seriously, I am so blown away. What's been interesting is the obvious comparisons we had when we launched the series and how it has now started to grow into its own identity. I knew that children would see Spiderwick in its own light.
Q: Each of the books has been an instant bestseller. What about The Spiderwick Chronicles do you think kids find so appealing and how are they different from other best-selling series?
HB: One difference is that The Spiderwick Chronicles are more of a serial than a series-they are really one story broken up into five books. But also, Jared, Simon, and Mallory are just regular kids in a magical world-their only powers are cleverness, compassion, and bravery. I think that kids respond to the idea of there being magic in their own backyards. I think we all like to believe that the world around us is a fantastical place, even if the magic is hidden from us most of the time.
TD: Exactly. These are ordinary kids in extraordinary circumstances. That's your basic formula for any classic fairy tale and, at their heart, that's what the Spiderwick books are.
I also think the books are different in that this serial is aimed at a younger reader than the other bigger/longer series that are out there. These books are meant to be quick enjoyable adventures.
But when a younger reader finishes them all, he or she has read a 500 page story, which is quite an accomplishment for a 6-7 year old!
Q: What's next?
TD: I am completing the restoration of the Arthur Spiderwick's actual field guide and that should be done sometime next year. The Grace kids, Holly, and I are VERY excited about getting the field guide out there for people to see. It will be a big book with a lot of Arthur's sketches and his finished plates, which are done in the tradition of the naturalist painter John James Audubon. It's a very cool book; you'll never look at the faerie folk the same way again.
HB: It is a beautiful book --- I can't wait to see the restored version myself. At the time of writing this, the fifth book of the series is in production. It's the end of the Grace kids' story and even though that's kind of a bittersweet feeling, I think The Wrath of Mulgarath is quite an ending. I hope you think so too.