I don't remember when I first heard "step on a crack, break your mother's back," but I do remember leaping over the concrete lines in sidewalks, over the asphalt fissures and splits in the street, trying to avoid what seemed, at the very least, to be bad luck.
I don't remember when I first heard
'step on a crack, break your
but I do remember
the concrete lines.
I remember, much later, trying to define myself as narrowly as possible, so that defending my borders would be easy. My mother sewed glittering costumes; made cloth dolls; wrote dozens of chapters in never-to-be-finished manuscripts; painted seascapes, caricatures, portraits; wore clothes of every color; and read whatever struck her fancy. I read fantasy, wrote stories with endings, and wore black.
Somehow, however, things got muddled. I found myself thrilling to works on the edge of the genre as well as those in the center of it. And while certain writers were expanding my ideas of what fantasy could be, I noticed writers outside the genre using fantastical elements as well. These works, pairing the familiar with the strange, lured me outside my genre safety zone. They made me uneasy. They made me want more.
While studying for my Masters in Library Science, I realized how arbitrary categories could be. "Where do you shelve it?" librarians post to their newsgroups. Should all graphic novels be placed in the Young Adult section, no matter their content? What about a book for adults that teens check out regularly? Or bilingual books? Should picture books with queer content be tucked away in the parenting section or sit out with all the others? Should controversial titles be placed behind the counter, available only upon request?
Most of my own writing is shelved in the "children" or "teen" sections of libraries and bookstores. Works there are not separated by genres — fantasy sits next to mysteries next to historicals. Other boundaries are in place; books are separated by the anticipated age of their readers and kept far from the adult titles. And even here, things change — just look at how many books have been repackaged for a different age group than the one they were initially intended for.
I have come to think that borders confine as much as they define. They help us sort through things and find what we are looking for, but they also help us lose those things that don't fit in just one place. The Interstitial Arts movement is about drawing attention to works that overlap or fall between categorizations. It's also about reassuring people like me that it's okay to step on the cracks. Nothing bad will happen. I know. I've tried it.
About the Author
Holly Black is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children, including Tithe, Valiant and Ironside, and, with Caldecott Award-winning artist Tony DiTerlizzi, the Spiderwick Chronicles. To date, the Spiderwick books have been translated into 32 languages and were adapted into a 2008 film by Paramount Pictures in conjunction with Nickelodeon Films. Holly's first collection, Poison Eaters and Other Stories, will come out from Small Beer Press in 2010. She is currently working on the second book her in Eisner-nominated graphic novel series, The Good Neighbors, and a novel about capers, curse magic and memory, called The White Cat. Holly lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library. Click here to learn more about Holly Black.