Holly Black’s latest novel, “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown,” imagines a world in which vampire attacks are an everyday occurrence, despite quarantine zones (i.e. Coldtowns) where the infected live out their days in what could best be described as a televised orgy of blood and booze. Enter 17-year-old Tana, who after a crazy night of partying, wakes up to find all her friends murdered—save for mysterious vampire Gavriel and her newly infected ex-boyfriend Aidan. She decides it’s her duty to take them to the nearest Coldtown—but once she gets in, will she be able to get out?
With “The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” out in a matter of days, Hollywood Crush rang up Holly to chat about this latest entry into the vampire canon (“Twilight” it’s not!), her favorite reality show (we’re partial to it, too) and whether Tana could take a trip to the silver screen.
Hollywood Crush: The vampire genre has been a well-tread one over the last few years. Did you have any trepidation about entering the fray?
Holly Black: About partway through the book I asked my friends, “Why didn’t you stop me?” [laughs] In eighth grade I probably re-read “Interview With the Vampire” like 50 million times. There’s never really been a time when vampires weren’t so over that you would be crazy to write a vampire book, or so huge that you would be crazy to write a vampire book. I’m not sure there’s ever going to be a time. We went from Anne Rice to Buffy to “Twilight.” Into every generation comes a vampire.
Why do you think we find vampires so interesting?
I think they’re a very flexible metaphor. I think we can use them to tell a lot of different kinds of stories. I think they bring out our most base selves and our most fantasy selves. They live forever. They’re always beautiful, but they’ve also got an uncontrollable appetite. They’re also sort of a cyclical thing in vampires, where you have the vampire as sort of this monster come back from the grave that you fight. Then they sort of become this sympathetic monster. Then they become the love interest, the hero who’s so far removed that vampire hunters become the monsters. And then they cycle back around.
You mentioned Anne Rice: What other vampire writers do you enjoy or draw inspiration from?
I read “Sabella or The Blood Stone” by Tanith Lee, which was hugely influential to me. I love Tanith’s writing. She’s just really lyrical, beautiful use of language. So I watned to write stuff like hers, so I wrote many terrible Tanith Lee pastiches. Suzy McKee Charnas, “The Vampire Tapestry” is fantastic, vampire sociopaths. Nancy Collins’ “Sunglasses After Dark” had a female vampire at the center. Very “Blade”-like, where she would hunt other vampires, and she was the only one who was sort of half alive. Super bloody, super amazing. And Poppy Z. Brite’s “Lost Souls,” which was also a really different conception of vampires. Vampires aren’t made they’re just born that way, and no one knows why. They’re sort of a race unto themselves. Again, really dark, really bloody. Like, all of the vampire books I grew up with, they were sort of villains or anti-heroes, and there were buckets and buckets of blood.
With so much mythology to draw upon, how did you decide the rules by which your novel would operate? For instance, the 88-day quarantine.
A lot of it came from what I wanted to do, and sort of backward engineering the rules to make that possible. I really wanted to tell a story about infection because in a lot of the books that I had growing up, there was this idea that vampirism, there was both the desire for and fear of the idea that it could come to you whether you wanted it or not, and maybe if you wanted it, it would be harder to get … I think some of it came from that I really wanted to also keep the plague from spreading too fast. There was some degree of just, like, creating a world if you just had a vampire bite you and you just became a vampire, the plague would be so fast. There wouldn’t be much for me to do, and so I needed to sort of forestall it, and I needed to figure out how long that would be and if it would be enough time. Like, a month felt like not enough time. It felt like you could do almost anything or restrain almost anyone for a month.
What inspired the idea of Coldtowns?
The idea of quarantine. The idea that if you have infection, you have these quarantined areas. But also just what it allowed me to do was create sort of separate cities that had their own rules and have the rest of the world remain pretty close to our world. Whenever you’re writing anything that’s near-future, it’s really helpful to figure out how some of it remains very familiar so that you can build out the part you want to build out. So having Coldtowns allowed me to have my cake and eat it too.
And technology plays a really important role.
The way that our own world has evolved now, being in a pretty remote place, we can still speak to one another, and I think that’s very interesting. I was interested in the way that we watch each other, both online and in terms of reality television. We have a lot of live-streaming videos of people, sort of confessional videos, videos of people telling stories. We’re able to consume them like media, even though they’re real, and we’re able to feel quite distanced from them in interesting ways. I thought about that a lot when I was imagining how people would react to seeing what was happening inside the Coldtowns. I was thinking we’re pretty able to see pretty extreme things and both distance ourselves and sort of envy the intensity of that experience, even if it wasn’t a positive experience.
Did you watch reality television for research?
I’m sorry to say that I did not. I watch it anyway, because I love it!
What are some of your favorites?
Well, right now, I’ve been super-obsessed with “Catfish.” It’s so good. I had no idea there were so many variations… [Editor’s note: We did not pay Holly to say this…]
“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” started out as a short story. Besides length, how does the novel differ from its original incarnation?
Well, there’s a couple things. The biggest thing is that the short story was about a girl named Matilda, and when I sat down to write this book, I thought that I could tell more stories about Matilda—that she would be a more minor character in it, and that I would also get to have new characters. But as I wrote that beginning, I realized the most interesting thing that happened to Matilda already happened to her in the short story, so I ended up throwing out all of that stuff and starting over with the party. The other thing that’s different, I actually had to work on the details of how the world works, which I kind of waved away in the short story. Some of it is the same. But the details I had to figure out, to make sure it all worked. Like, how are people kept out of the Coldtowns? How do people enter the Coldtowns? What exactly is going on here? How many exactly are there, and what’s going on with them?
The story has a very cinematic feel to it. Have there been talks of adapting?
I mean, there’s a little talk, but nothing definite.
“The Coldest Girl in Coldtown” hits bookstore shelves on September 3.