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Interview With Hilari Bell
Hilari Bell is a reference librarian in her hometown of Denver, Colorado, where she lives with her family. Her favorite books are fantasy, science fiction, and mystery -- all the ingredients for a great novel! She is also the author of Songs Of Power and A Matter of Profit, which was an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and one of the New York Public Library's "Books for the Teen Age 2002." Her latest novel, The Goblin Wood, is a captivating fantasy adventure where the difference between Bright and Dark magic is as deceptive as our memories, hopes, and fears -- and the light of loyalty and friendship has a magic all of its own.
I've always been a reader, but I didn't begin writing seriously, with publication in mind, until after I got out of college. Before that, I took occasional creative writing classes, and sometimes wrote bad poetry just to please myself, but writing is work! If I'm doing something for fun, I'd rather read what other people have written than write myself.”
Have sf and fantasy always been among your favorite genres of fiction, and what authors would you cite as perennial favorites?
The first chapter book I ever read was the Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander. I was in first grade when I read it, and I spent the next few years living more in Prydain than I did in Denver, Colorado. Fantasy has been a favorite genre ever since. I got into science fiction when I read Anne McCaffrey's The Ship Who Sang. But I also read a lot of mysteries, and some historical fiction as well—if my first favorite book had been a mystery, I might be a mystery writer today.
As for favorites, most of my current favorite authors are writing adult books—but for kids and teens, The Gammage Cup is a great story, even though the cover on the old edition, which is the one you'll find in most libraries, is lousy. Diane Duane's wizard series, starting with So You Want to be a Wizard is just magnificent—I was grown up myself when I found them, but I love them all. And she has a series of adult books, set in the same universe only the wizards are cats, which is every bit as wonderful. I'll never forget the night I sat in the bathtub (I have a great bathtub for reading in) crying my eyes out, because the cat wizard's ehiff, her person, had been killed. The Book of Night with Moon, that one is, and though it's technically an adult book there's no reason any kid couldn't read it. And there's a now-obscure series of three spy stories, by Lockhart Amerman—I don't know if you could even find them these days, but they were really exciting, funny, and very literate, which you don't always see in kids' books. And almost anything by Nicholas Stuart Gray, but especially The Apple Stone, and, and, and... You probably shouldn't have asked me for favorite authors—I've been a reader all my life, and I can go on forever.”
A Matter of Profit was reviewed by ALA Booklist as "a dynamic combination of sf, thriller and mystery." Do you see yourself as primarily an sf and fantasy writer, or are there other elements in your writing that you can see yourself developing further in future novels?
I'll probably always write sf and fantasy, because any time I have an idea for a story it turns into either one or the other of those genres. But there will always be mystery and suspense in any novel I write, because novels are pretty boring without them! On the other hand, I'm not going to say that I'll never write a mystery, or anything else, because I find that every time I say "I could never write..." I end up writing it just a few years later. Some real examples of this—things I've said and sincerely meant at the time—are: "I could never write a novel," "I could never write science fiction," and, "I could never write an adult book." Who knows? Someday I might write a mystery, or a thriller, or historical fiction.”
Can you tell us a little more about how you conceived the story of The Goblin Wood. (Your website tells us about your camping addiction and we are all wondering if it was a real wood, or even a real adventure that put the idea in your mind...?)
Sorry, not a real adventure. Actually, I'm not sorry—most of my characters have horrible things happen to them. There's a great line in one of the old, original James Bond books—Tiffany Case tells Bond, "It reads better than it lives." I wouldn't wish most of what happens to my protagonists on my worst enemy. Goblin Wood actually originated during the Gulf War. If you read any of my books—or especially all of them—you'll probably figure out that I'm a pacifist. The thing about the Gulf War that bothered me most, was the attitude—it was very prevalent then—that only the American casualties mattered. They never even considered the Iraqi dead, because after all they were just Arabs ... I can't tell you how much I hate that attitude. Anyway, I was driving to work one day, ranting about it, and out of this burst of anger came Makenna, who, for some pretty good reasons, writes off the whole human race as "the enemy." And then of course, she has to learn to see beyond that. And Tobin becomes this wonderful contrast to Makenna's anger and hatred, because he's a born protector. He starts by trying to protect his brother, then goes on to try to protect his people, and he ends by trying to protect even his enemies. And the goblins, with their differing magics and vivid personalities, were just one of those wonderful things that seem to come out of nowhere at all.”
And finally, when you write, do you always know where you are going, or do your characters lead you in their own directions?
I'm one of those writers who plans everything out in advance. It's just so much easier to get from New York to LA if you have a map, and route planned out, and money for gas in your wallet. Which isn't to say that characters don't surprise me sometimes, or that I don't have to change my basic route to encompass a few side roads that appear along the way, but I always know where I'm going, and how I plan to get there.”