Hannah Moskowitz’s A History of Glitter and Blood is singular and sad, a disordered, deeply personal history of interspecies conflict in the fairy town of Ferrum. It’s half story and half love letter, full of crossouts, digressions, and occasional stabs at seriousness (quotes from other, drier works, visual aids). Fairy girl Beckan and her tribe, boys Cricket, Josha, and Scrap, are the only ones of their kind to stay behind after the Tightropers invade, under the guise of freeing the fairies from the constant threat of being eaten by gnomes. (The fairies are used to it. Nearly all of them are maimed, and some exist only as sentient body parts—no part of a fairy ever dies.) All but Josha survive by working as prostitutes in the gnome mines, and when the story opens, they’re reeling from the murder of Cricket by the gnome king. I spoke to Moskowitz about History‘s dark fantasy world, weird YA, and her pop culture inspirations.
Your conception of fairyland is like nothing I’ve ever read. What was the seed of such a dark fantasy vision?
Super weird answer, actually: when I was in chorus in eleventh grade, we sang a version of that song “On Broadway” that has that line “But when you’re walking down the street/and you ain’t had enough to eat/the glitter rubs right off and you’re nowhere.” And I sort of nursed the idea of this glitter-sloughed wasteland for three years until I started writing it.
What fantasy novels, if any, did you refer to or reread as you wrote this?
It’s only kind of fantasy, but a lot of my inspiration for the feeling behind found families and little houses was from Weetzie Bat.
Can you talk about the format you chose: a disintegrating, disordered history written like a love letter?
When I was twenty I was taking a postmodern literature class and a class about representing the Holocaust in literature at the same time. And I got really obsessed with the idea of how you write about history, not even to mention tragedy, in a way that can’t be at all objective when you’ve been so leveled by it. And, if you’re not one of the leveled-people, do you really get to write that story? Is that really yours? So a lot of it was from the idea of what happens when you’re trying to write something objective but it’s too personal and something different keeps coming out of you—there’s this line in The Decemberists song “The Engine Driver” that’s “I am a writer, a writer of fictions, I am the heart that you call home/and I’ve written pages upon pages trying to rid you from my bones” that I listened to a lot while working on this—and also the question of who’s allowed to tell what stories, particularly women’s stories. The kind of ultimate question is, is it okay that Scrap wrote from Beckan’s point of view? I don’t think he would do it again, if he could go back.
You often write from a boy’s perspective, but in this book you wrote in a boy’s voice by way of telling a girl’s story. Whose story were you most interested in: Scrap the historian’s, or Beckan the girl’s?
I think at first it was definitely Beckan’s, but as I wrote more drafts Scrap’s voice started to have more and more of a presence. So it started out as a story about her before it became a story about both of them, sort of the way it probably did to him.
The way you write about pain is lyrical but completely concrete. In History you go beyond even Break by adding to the fairy myth the idea of body parts that continue to pain their owners after being severed. For you, what is pain’s role in defining character and driving plot?
Pain brings people together, and it sets up and tears down power dynamics.
You’ve also said you’re inspired by movies—were there any movies (and books, of course!) that gave you the spark or inspired the story along the way?
For books it was really Maus, The Book Thief, and The Handmaid’s Tale. The movie The History Boys has this scene that was hugely influential, so I saw the play and read the script and they were both immensely helpful as well.
Your books are weird. Gloriously weird. When you follow an idea down a rabbit hole, do you generally know how you’ll get out again? Or do you just write and see where it’ll take you?
I don’t start writing until I know the end and the major things that happen along the way. I used to wing it more than I do now. Now I’m way too afraid I’ll lose track of things. I’m more cautious in my old age.
Do you have any drawer novels whose weird hearts you’re dying to cannibalize for a new book one day? Or do you generally leave the old stories behind completely?
I have over twenty finished and unpublished manuscripts, I’m sure. I’m always dreaming up ways to try to bring them out, but no, they’re terrible.
That being said, there are two manuscripts of mine that the people I was working with at the time told me were unpublishable, that they wouldn’t send them to editors, that I’d have to completely gut it and start over if I wanted to see any part of it in print. They’ve said that about manuscripts that actually were terrible, too, but on these two occasions I wouldn’t give up, and I ended up severing ties and setting out on my own because I believed in the book. A History of Glitter and Blood is one of those books.
Glitter and Blood is among the most boundary-ignoring YA fiction I’ve read. Have you ever had an idea you’ve deemed too risky for YA, or to you is there no such thing?
No, I haven’t. From my perspective, my weirdest one is probably Teeth, and I probably sound like a crazy person but I’ve actually been surprised that people have been so shocked by the Glitter and Blood content. People are really edgy about Beckan’s dad being in a jar, which I just thought was kind of a fun image…
YA at this point is kind of a meaningless categorization, because there’s so much crossover. If I weren’t already a YA writer, Glitter and Blood probably wouldn’t have been published as YA just because there’s no reason that the characters have to be teenagers. But maybe it would have been, no matter what age they were, no matter if I already had YAs on the shelves, just because YA is where a lot of the changes in fantasy are happening right now, and compared to adult fantasy it’s a much friendlier market for female authors. YA as a whole is.
I have a YA cowrite coming out next year where the main characters are 18 and 20-something, and YA used to be high school or bust. But YA is what I read, and it’s what a ton of adults I know read, as I know is well-documented…it’s just where a lot of interesting things are happening right now.
You’ve rooted this story of pain and sacrifice and tending your tribe in a fantasy universe we only see one corner of. So, two questions: First of all, is this a universe you have a wider conception of, enough that you’d want to revisit it? Secondly, why were reimagined fantasy characters the best vehicles to tell this story?
There’s a bigger world out there, definitely—there’s actually sort of an Easter egg in there that implies there are humans in the world too. I have ideas for other books set in this world, but they’re really ephemeral. There’s a thing with Beckan making wooden birds that deliver mail.
I think the fantasy creatures worked because I wanted to be able to form my own history here, and since discussions of racism are really paramount in the book, I wanted to create a racist world that didn’t have any direct parallels to reality; none of my races are representing a real-world race. I didn’t want that.
I’m an obsessive lover of weird YA—what are your favorite risk-taking and/or just totally oddball YA books?
Adam Rapp has got to be some kind of weirdo like me—Under the Wolf, Under the Dog was one of my favorites growing up. I already mentioned Francesca Lia Block. Jaclyn Moriarity’s The Ghosts of Ashbury High was weirder and darker than some of her others—which I also adore—and was a really interesting departure for her, as was E. Lockhart’s We Were Liars. I can’t not mention Steve Breznoff’s Brooklyn, Burning, and Melina Marchetta‘s anything.
What are you reading right now or have you just read that lit your hair on fire? GIVE US YOUR RECS.
I cannot talk enough about House Arrest, by K.A. Holt. It’s…guh. It flayed me.
I read on your blog that you’ve used playlists to plot. What was on your History playlist?
It’s right here. Lots of Decemberists.
The Gymnast, High Above the Ground –The Decemberists
Invincible –OK Go
Good Old-Fashioned Lover Boy –Queen
Easier Than Love –Switchfoot
The General –Dispatch
Hey Baby–No Doubt
All These Things That I’ve Done –The Killers
Here’s to the Night –Eve 6
Revolution –Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe Soundtrack)
We Both Go Down Together –The Decemberists
Celebration Guns –Stars
It’s Only Love –The Beatles
No Children –The Mountain Goats
Know Your Enemy –American Idiot Soundtrack
21 Guns –American Idiot Soundtrack
The Engine Driver –The Decemberists
How to Be Dead –Snow Patrol
A Perfect Sonnet –Bright Eyes
Hometown Glory –Adele
I Remember –Damien Rice
If You’re Gone –Matchbox Twenty
I Want a Warning –Idlewild
Nothing Wrong –Jimmy Eat World
How Far We’ve Come –Matchbox Twenty
I’ll Cover You (Reprise) –RENT Soundtrack
We Will Rock You –Queen
Things –Frightened Rabbit
At Last –Etta James
Alive With the Glory of Love –Say Anything
Sons and Daughters –The Decemberists
A History of Glitter and Blood is available now.