Science Fiction & Fantasy

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Nonfiction

Author Spotlight: Holly Black

I loved this work from the moment I read the title. Given the richness of the Aarne-Thompson classification system, was it difficult not to put more in the story?

First of all, thank you so much! But, actually, I came to the title much later in the story than you did—long about the time that I realized that the performers had to be performing something and also that I needed to eventually title the story—so it had already evolved a really defined shape. It was a story I lucked into, one where I had an idea for the beginning and I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going until I got there.

Is the mermaid’s line about her comb working on “even the most matted fur” a signal that she recognizes Nadia as a supernatural creature?

Yes. I wanted them to be trying to signal to her that they knew, but she’s been alone too long to hear it.

Nadia is the only clearly supernatural creature in the story. Why did you choose to make the truth of the nature of the other characters more difficult to discern?

I wanted Nadia not to quite be able to see the opportunity for community around her, so I wanted to show it in subtle—but not too subtle—ways. She’s so locked within herself that she can’t see when she is among her tribe.

The use of the present tense to tell the story feels so right. Was this always the choice for the story or did it happen in revisions?

I started telling the story in present tense almost from the beginning because present tense can be really distancing in interesting ways for me. It allows a character to exist in a perpetual now, looking neither backwards nor forwards. And for a character like Nadia, who is trying incredibly hard to not think backwards or forwards, it really fits.

At the end when Nadia transforms on stage, why must she brace herself for the audience’s applause?

I must have tweaked that line a dozen times at least, but finally I decided that Nadia has done a brave thing, by showing her true self and being her true self, but she’s still vulnerable and raw and even acceptance is going to feel scary at first. Does that make sense? I also think that the audience rising up is scary, even if it is just to clap their hands. There is something about it that feels threatening—all that noise, all that attention—and, of course, since the story stops where it does, we’re never entirely sure that all they do is applaud. I mean, I don’t think they get their pitchforks out and storm the stage, but we’re not sure. And that lack of surety is also part of what makes her brace herself.

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Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin

Jude Griffin is an envirogeek, writer, and photographer. She trained llamas at the Bronx Zoo; was a volunteer EMT, firefighter, and HAZMAT responder; worked as a guide and translator for journalists covering combat in Central America; lived in a haunted village in Thailand; ran an international frog monitoring network; and loves happy endings. Bonus points for frolicking dogs and kisses backlit by a shimmering full moon.