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Holly Black has created other worlds and a writers’ colony

Holly Black, author of “The Spiderwick Chronicles” series, at the door to her hidden library in her Amherst home.SUZANNE KREITER/GLOBE STAFF

Holly Black’s friends and collaborators will tell you that her gift for building communities is like magic. The author, known for “The Spiderwick Chronicles” series and the Newbery Medal Honor book “Doll Bones,” writes children’s and young adult fantasy novels populated by fairies, vampires, and haunted dolls who have supernatural powers but live among ordinary humans. The books have earned Black a dedicated fan base that has launched her sales into the millions.

“She creates this really believable alternative world. Humans and fairies coexist. At the same time, it’s so mundane,” says Alvina Ling, vice president and editor in chief at Black’s publisher Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

In Black’s new January release, “The Darkest Part of the Forest,” two siblings live in a small town, where tourists coexist with townies and suburbia stretches to meet the wild. It sounds a bit like Amherst, where Black has lived since 2004.

It’s where she writes her “faerie” tales and fosters her own community of fantasy writers. Black remembers reading Terri Windling and Ellen Datlow’s anthologies of “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” and learning in their biographies that the authors knew each other. Black was desperate to have a similar community, where she could work with other writers who would be open to talk about their fabulist fiction.


Now, more than a decade after she wrote her first book, she’s considered the pack leader and mentor to a group of writers in her genre. They hang out in her house. They read each other’s drafts. Sometimes they just watch TV.

Ling says Black’s benevolence with her peers isn’t typical. Some authors are private about their work or too focused on their own projects to be part of a team.

“She has this great reputation for helping authors.” she said.

One of those writers is Cassandra Clare, author of “The Mortal Instruments” series, which has more than 20 million books in print and was made into a movie in 2013. Clare says she met Black when she was still in the thick of developing her paranormal romance series. She approached Black at a signing, the two hit it off, and then started helping each other with their story ideas.

“All she wanted to do was talk about the book I was working on,” Clare remembers. “Holly is very generous with her ideas. She’s happy to throw all of her ideas down in the middle of the room.”



Clare wound up moving to Amherst too. She’s a part of Black’s group, a pack of writers that includes Northampton author Kelly Link and Black’s collaborator on “The Spiderwick Chronices,” writer and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi, whom she met when she interviewed him for a magazine for fans of fantasy role-playing games. Their series, which has been translated in more than 30 countries, became a film (“The Spiderwick Chronicles”) in 2008 with a cast that included Freddie Highmore, Mary-Louise Parker, and Seth Rogen.

Clare and Black are also collaborators. They now co-author “The Magisterium Series” for middle grade readers, a project that is set to include five books, with the last set to be released in 2018.

The writers often gather in Black’s house, a dark, expansive property that, like her books, is a mix of the mundane and the magical. Just before the holidays, her living room was decorated with an upside-down Christmas tree. There were stacks of books in just about every crevice of the house, and sculptures of wild mushrooms around the kitchen table.

In Black’s basement is a hidden library that looks straight out of Hogwarts. The most ordinary thing in Black’s home might be her son’s play area; she and her husband adopted him in 2013.

Black says she’s been into horror and fantasy since she was a kid in New Jersey, probably because her mother used to tell her that their house was haunted.


“It was like a crappier version of ‘The Spiderwick Chronicles,’ ” Black says, laughing. “I used to make her swear that nothing would get me.”

Next month she’ll be on a writing retreat organized by Clare. Black hasn’t disclosed what type of creatures she will bring to life in her new project, but she’ll be surrounded by her pack for support and inspiration.

Clare said the rest of the group is ready to work. They’re also ready to help, which is what they’ve learned from Black.

“Being a writer requires enormous generosity,” Clare said about what she’s learned from her friend. “The more you give, the more you get back in the end.”

Meredith Goldstein can be reached at mgoldstein@globe.com.