Cassandra Clare Interview

Sep 8th, 2010 | By | Category: Book News, Book of the Month, Fandom, Featured Articles

Over the weekend I (Stefanie) went to Cassandra Clare’s Q&A at the Decatur Book Festival. The Q&A took place in a church where at least 250 fans flooded into the sanctuary and filled it almost to capacity! After the Q&A was over everyone rushed out of the church and headed across the street to where Cassandra would be signing.  There were probably 200 or so people in line!

The hilarious Jackson Pearce, author of Sisters Red, came out on stage dressed as Magnus to introduce Cassandra Clare and in her intro she makes a valid point about Jace and Clary that I’m sure everyone agrees with! Here’s a clip of her intro:

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Jackson Pearce: “You’re thinking, number one: Magnus wears rainbow leather pants, not this sparkly, blotchy thing, I know.  Rainbow leather pants they’re very hard to find.  Very hard to find; I was all over ebay.  Number two: he doesn’t wear a dress; to which I respond, “Magnus Bane wears whatever Magnus Bane wants to wear and right now he’s wearing a dress.”  The other outfit didn’t come in on time.  But, the reason I know you all know this is that I know you have all read all of Cassandra Clare’s books and that is why you eagerly waited in line to be here and you’re very excited to see her come through these doors at any moment.  And you probably, like me, are thinking like—I mean it takes a really, really good book to make you think like: “He’s just her brother, it’s cool.  Kiss him!  Don’t worry; I won’t judge you I swear!”

Below are some highlights from the Q&A which include information about Clockwork Angel, City of Fallen Angels and much more!  Some of the answers are slightly spoilery in regard to Clockwork Angel, and most definitely spoilery for The Mortal Instruments.

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I’m gonna read a tiny little piece from the City of Fallen Angels and then I’m pretty much just gonna chat and take questions ‘cause I’d rather make you guys do the work.  So you probably already know there’s a full three more books coming in The Mortal Instruments series.  There’s City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls, and City of Heavenly Fire and City of Fallen Angels is comin’ out in early April of next year, and it takes place about two months after the end of City of Glass when everybody’s starting to settle back into their normalish lives.  As normal as you can be when, you know, Simon’s going to school being a vampire and Clary is training to be a Shadowhunter.  So this scene takes place right after one of her training sessions at the Institute.

{Cassie read part of the excerpt from City of Fallen Angels that’s in the paperback edition of City of Glass}

CC: Alright, so I’m hoping you all have some questions for me.  So go ahead, raise your hand if you have a question.

Q: How did you create such a complex world like with the storyline concerning whether or not Jace and Clary were brother and sister?  How did you come up with that idea?

CC: Well what gave me the idea for Jace and Clary’s relationship was this story I read in the newspaper about these two people who got married and they were trying to have kids and they went to get genetic testing, as you do, you know to see if they had any diseases or whatever that they might pass on to their kids.  And they discovered that in fact they were related, they were brother and sister, and they had been adopted out to different families.  One of them hadn’t been told that they were adopted so that was the end of their marriage.  They had to break up, and it was this really heart-wrenching story, like disturbing and sad and I thought, “Disturbing, sad, heart-wrenching.  Yes, this is a great story!”  You know it’s that kind of stuff that happens in real life that gives you the ideas for fiction, and so immediately it gave me the idea of writing a romantic arc in which this happened because it’s such a—You know everyone says they want to write about forbidden love but, it’s one thing to have your parents forbid you to go out with someone; it’s another thing they turn out to be your brother.  It’s really, really forbidden and I was drawn to that as an idea, and I did know that I wanted them to have a happy ending at the end and the only way that that would work out was if they weren’t related.  So I have to work out from the get-go how it would come to be that; firstly, the thing was that they were related and then you realize they weren’t.  And people often ask me, “Why did Valentine want Clary and Jace to think they were related?”  And my response is he doesn’t care about their love life at all.  Valentine wants Jace to think he’s his son and there’s no way to explain that they’re not related without also explaining that he isn’t Jace’s blood relative.  So I basically centered the misunderstanding about them being brother and sister around Valentine’s plot and I worked it out from there.

Q: Will we ever find out what Clary’s middle name is?

CC: Will we ever find out what Clary’s middle name is?  I didn’t realize it was like a compelling question that people wanted answers to.  I think it’s Adele like in my notes.  I could go and look, it just never comes up.

Q:  How many more types of demons are there?

CC: Infinite.  Infinite kinds of demons.  All infinite and all gross.

Q: What was the inspiration for Jem’s story in Clockwork Angel?

CC: This is so cool, I’m not really getting—I haven’t really been getting Clockwork Angel questions up until now so thank you.  So Jem, and not to spoil it for anybody I’ll just tell you a little about what it is.  He is one of the characters of Clockwork Angel and he is half-Chinese and hails from Shanghai.  His mother was Chinese, his father was British.  He has a very sad, tragic back story and the inspiration for it was that I was reading—researching into the…I knew I wanted a character who came from outside Britain and I know that one of the themes of the book is colonization and the British and China have this very fraught history and so I was researching into the Opium Wars, when the British used to basically have this huge trade in drugs, in opium.  They would grow opium in India and ship it up to China where they would deliberately addict the inhabitants of the country so that they had a market to sell their drugs to, and so Jem’s story came out of my learning about that which was something that I hadn’t known about.  That for a large part of the Victorian era the British Empire was the biggest drug dealer on the planet and so that’s where I got the idea.

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Q: How did you come up with Magnus?

CC: I was getting a pedicure, this is how the story begins, in one of the many Korean pedicure places that you can find on 32nd Street in New York City and it had a little stack of magazines and one of them was—none of them were in English—one of them was like…looked like it was sort of a fan magazine for J-pop bands.  So I picked it up and was flipping through it and came across a picture of this guy and he had his hair all spiked up and he was wearing rainbow leather pants and his nails were painted green and I was sort of like…enchanted by the picture.  He looked like he was having so much fun and so full of life and energy—no idea, to this day who this dude was because it was written in Chinese—so I [inaudible]…the image of that stuck in my mind and I started to think about that I knew I wanted to have warlocks in my book and I knew I wanted this warlock character and I started thinking about how wizards and warlocks are often in this sort of Merlin/Dumbledore moment of the kind of older, wise-looking, long gray beard.  And I thought that you know if a warlock is immortal why would he choose to be frozen in time as an older guy with a long gray beard?  Why not choose to be frozen in time when you look nineteen and why not spend your eternity partying?  Why not bring some changes on this particular trope of an old wise guy, and the thing is Magnus actually is—he’s chock full of wisdom.  He’s just also a guy who likes to party.  So those are the two—double influences that made Magnus.

Q: How did you get so good at frustratingly good cliffhangers?

CC: *laughs* Gosh.  Well thank you, I appreciate that.  Um, I think, in high school I used to write books—they were terrible—but I would share them with my friends and I would give them a chapter every once and awhile and I got used to writing in installments, sort of like Dickens used to write in installments, and when you write in installments you learn to end things on a cliffhanger to keep people coming around for the next installment.  Also, you gotta learn not to overuse the cliffhanger, like there’s this book, I won’t tell you the name of this book, it’s a popular book, and it has my favorite bad cliffhanger of all time.  One chapter ends with the sentence “It was a trap”.  And the next chapter begins with the sentence “It was not a trap”.  And I’m like okay yeah that’s not really how cliffhangers are supposed to work.  So there are two different kinds of cliffhangers: there’s the literal cliffhanger, which is you end in the middle of the scene or in a moment of tension you end on a question.  And then a lot of people say to me that the end of City of Bones is a cliffhanger and it’s not, it just is a book that ends without you knowing what’s gonna happen next.  It’s not exactly the same thing as a cliffhanger.  A cliffhanger—I would say the end of City of Ashes is a cliffhanger and the end of Clockwork Angel is a cliffhanger where you literally have someone go: “Would you like to know this important piece of information?  Okay. Nope.”

Q: Rumors about there being a movie in the making, is there any truth to that?

CC: Yeah, there’s truth behind it in a sense that The Mortal Instruments were optioned for film by Unique Features, which is the production company run by the guys who used to run New Line films so they did like Lord of the Rings movies.  Movie production stuff is just real slow.  I met with them in August in New York and I met with the screenwriter, she’s just finished the draft of…her first draft of the City of Bones movie, and then she turned it in [inaudible] and what they do with the screenplay when it’s—when you first turn it in—and I didn’t know this, they had to explain it to me— they cost it out, they go through the screenplay and try to figure out how much will it cost to make this movie based on the descriptions, what the special effects are gonna be and all that other stuff.  And so it came out like way over their budget so she has to kind of go through and try to chop it down.  Try to get [it] a little cheaper.  And that’s what she’s doing right now.  So… I mean that was the last update that I got, but they’re very enthusiastic about making the movie.  Every time I talk to them they’re like: “Oh yeah we’re gonna get this movie made!”

Q: Who are your favorite authors and do you have any favorite modern authors, and how do they influence your work?

CC: The definition of modern being like twentieth-century?  Um, I always say the two Dorothys: Dorothy Sayers and Dorothy Dunnett, who are my favorite authors.  Dorothy Dunnett writes these amazing, really complicated and complex and involved historical novels called The Lymond Chronicles.  There are six of them; each one is named after a chess move, the last one is Checkmate.  They’re sort of indescribable.  The historical detail is incredibly rich and authentic.  She is a master of the cliffhanger and the incredibly complicated plot and the mistaken identities, the drama and the angst, and all of that stuff so I love her stuff.  And then Dorothy Sayers is a mystery writer and she has been very influential to me in her economy of language and the way she writes.  Then there’s also, I mean I write children’s books so I’ve been widely influenced by a lot of children’s book authors, and I would say Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling, Susan Cooper, [inaudible] and all of the people who wrote urban fantasy when I was growing up, like Charles [inaudible] and Emma Bull, people like that were all a big influence on me because they were the first—those were the first books I read where magic sort of intruded into our world.  Most of the books, like [The Chronicles of] Narnia, that I’ve read involve children or people going to a secondary world where magic existed or there was a little magic in our world that had to be carefully hidden.  Those were the first books that I read where there was a whole secret magical world that was blended with ours.

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Q: In the next books in The Infernal Devices are we going to find out what Tessa is?

CC: Yes. It would be mean if we didn’t, right! In the second book we’re gonna find out a lot more about Tessa and what she is, and the third book we’re gonna kind of find out what the ramifications are of that.

Q: One of the things I liked about Clockwork Angel was the fact that, being based in the Victorian era, you dealt with the difference between how women were treated back then, especially between how Tessa was raised and how Shadowhunter women were raised in the Victorian era.  Was that part of the appeal to set in the Victorian time period?

CC: Um, I mean, okay so the question is that Clockwork Angel deals with a lot of issues of gender and how women are treated differently in the Victorian era obviously than they’re treated now.  That was part of the appeal; I mean I love the Victorian era.  I feel a special attachment to it because many of my favorite books date from that period, many of my favorite writers date from that period and it has it’s own sort of glamour with the gaslight, the carriages, the rain on the streets of London and all of that stuff is just very appealing to write about, but I knew that if I was gonna write about it I would have to engage with issues of gender, because obviously Tessa is gonna be treated differently than Clary.  She’s also gonna have been brought up with completely different ideas about what a woman’s role is supposed to be, and so one of the fun things about writing it was having the four main female characters—you’ve got Tessa, Sophie, Jessamine, and Charlotte—who all sort of represent different ways of contending with the limits that are placed on them by their era.  Charlotte fights really hard for respect, she wants to be able to fight like a man, she wants to run the Institute.  She wants to be treated like an authority.  Jessamine rejects everything that isn’t you know the Victorian woman’s ideal of domesticity.  She wants to stay home and she wants to raise children and she doesn’t want to fight.  Then you have Tessa who is sort of questioningly in between.  She’s coming to terms with the idea that she might be powerful and she might be a fighter and what does that mean—what does that mean to her as a woman in the Victorian era.  So there’s a lot of fun stuff to kind of grapple with there so I think that was part of the appeal of setting the book in that time period.

Q: With two and a half books about incest have you gotten any negative comments from the press or people who have read the books?

CC: So the question was with two and a half books about incest have I gotten any negative stuff?  No, shockingly little!  It’s disappointing.  What disturbs me is that I get more flack for having gay characters than for the incest and I’m always like: “Incest? Like would that not be bothering you?  No?  That’s okay with you and everything but the gay characters are not?”  No, I mean I get nothing, literally nothing.  I’ve never had a school cancellation because my books have incest.  Never had anything happen.  Sort of hoping it’d be more scandalous but I guess [inaudible].  I dunno, still waiting for the scandal to erupt

Q: How much time did you spend researching Victorian England?

CC: It felt like a lot of time.  Um, I spent about six months just reading books that were set in the Victorian era or that had been written in the Victorian era or would be things that would likely be familiar to people in the Victorian era.  I read cookbooks and train timetables and I had a research assistant that I hired to dig up people’s diaries from the time period, specifically diaries of American’s traveling in London ‘cause I wanted to get kind of a sense of the ways in which it would seem alien, you know strange, to Tessa since she’s American.  And I read—there are several collected books of the slang and the speech of the time period and one of the things that I discovered about research is that—and as much fun as it is to do—you can only use like literally about 5% of what you’ve learned.  So you learn to [inaudible].  And I also had to research the history of China and its war with England and the Opium Wars and all of that and literally like probably about a paragraph worth of that stuff makes it into the book.  So it’s really a lesson in learning to let go because you feel like you acquired that knowledge with such hard work, surely you should be able to put it into the book but nobody wants to read a book where the three middle pages are taken up with train timetables, like London and New York.  So yeah it was about probably six months solid research and also going back and forth from London.  But I do feel like it stands me in good stead for the next two books ‘cause I have this big bank of research that I can drawn on, but you also—you never feel like you’ve learned everything, there’s always more to learn.

Q: How did you come up with the “love pentagon”?

CC: I like really complicated relationships.  I like in books when we start the book and you really don’t know how it’s going to turn out and I felt like in—there are two different kinds of love triangles—and I felt like in Mortal Instruments what I call a “false triangle”, like there is Jace and Clary and Simon but there’s never any question who Clary wants to be with.  You know who she wants to be with; she just can’t be with that guy so she tries to go out with Simon, it doesn’t work.  But I wanted to do what they call the “true triangle” where you have—I guess Tessa—and you actually have a complete—a real balance between the other characters in a sense that you actually don’t know which is the one who will better for her or which is the one that she feels strongly about.  The first book centers a lot more on her relationship with Will but the second book centers a lot more on her relationship with Jem.  So I’m hoping that by the end of Clockwork Prince, which ends even more cliffhangeredly than Clockwork Angel, that you will really literally be like: “I don’t know what’s gonna happen.”  And hopefully we find it out because I always enjoy that.  And also, the pentagon thing, I wanted characters to have other options besides just these three with each other so anyway I think it’ll be interesting.

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Q: Where did you get the inspiration for Simon?

CC: Aw, Simon.  We love Simon.  I know how everybody loves Simon.  The actual fact is Simon is a mash-up of my fiancé and my best-friend, and it’s so similar to both of them that both of their parents have told me that they read my book and were like: “Oh my god, that’s Josh” my fiancé or that’s [inaudible] my best-friend.  So Simon in that sense is very dear to my heart and the character that is the most like me.  I don’t really have favorite characters, it’s like having favorite children they’re all sort of your babies and you have to love them all.  Even the ugly mean ones.  But Simon is the one that—Simon and Tessa are the characters that I related to the most: Tessa because she’s such an obsessive reader and Simon because he is sort of a geek and he has geeky interests and I’m a geek.  I have geeky interests. And I always say this at signings and then people come up to me and are like: “I hate Simon.” And I’m like: “Do you remember the part where I said he was the most like me?”  *laughs*

Q: What was the inspiration for the Shadowhunters and runes?

CC: I was in the East Village in New York, it was right after I moved there so it was 2003 or something like that, with a friend of mine who’s an artist and she’s a tattoo artist.  She took me to her tattoo shop because she wanted to show me her flash book which is the book of art that a tattoo artist has specifically designed; it’s their own work, their own designs.  Her designs were all these sort of dark, swirling, obviously tribally influenced tattoos and I asked her what they meant if they had any meaning to the patterns ‘cause they felt like they did.  She said that they were based on various runic languages, they were her own original work but she based them on various runes—there are multiple runic languages—and she talked to me about how people used to put them on their skin before they went into battle because they believed that they gave them extra bravery or extra strength.  And so I thought it would be great to bring that forward into modern times as something that actually worked; like create a race of demon slayers or evil fighters or whatever you want to call them, and have them use these symbols to fuel their power and help them fight evil.  And so, I never actually did get a tattoo, I went to study runes and runic languages and her art.  There are what they call heavenly alphabets and stuff like that are supposed to be special [inaudible] and that’s where I got the idea of them coming from the angel.

Q: How did you come up with the idea of Maia?

CC: Maia actually wasn’t in my original outline for the series, and I usually do really  detailed outlines and I know all the characters so that is unusual for me to introduce or invent a new character in a second or third book.  I wanted a…I felt like I was missing a piece, I was missing a [inaudible] or friend for the Shadowhunters.  There’s only Magnus, and Magnus is so powerful that he wasn’t really quite on their same level, so I needed someone who—and Magnus is obviously really used to working with Shadowhunters and has been for many years and if you read Clockwork Angel you read sort of the origin of how he starts working with the Shadowhunters and learns to trust them—I wanted someone who would be a viewpoint character who didn’t trust the Shadowhunters who had this sort of fear of them and prejudice against them because I needed for people to be able to understand that from the inside by the time we got to City of Glass so that they would understand how significant it was when they could forge an accord that would bind everybody all together.  And that she sort of turned out to be a love interest for Simon just came as I was writing it.  It was one of those things where I hadn’t originally planned that but after their first encounter or whatever I was like: “Alright [inaudible]. This is working for me; I’m gonna see where it goes.”  So we’ll see where it goes in City of Fallen Angels where Simon starts off dating Maia but also dating Isabel and they don’t know about each other.

Q: The Mortal Instruments were originally only supposed to be a trilogy, what made you decide that there needed to be more books?

CC: I deliberately ended City of Glass with some plot threads left hanging because I had been asked to write a spin-off series of graphic novels and so I was going to address those plot threads in the graphic novels which were going to center more around Simon but that fell through.  Therefore I decided that I should write it as a novel instead.  I went to my publisher and said, “What do you think about a novel?” and they said, “Great!”  And then I went back and I started working on it as a novel and I realized that as a novel it was going to be gigantic to actually address all of the stuff I had left unaddressed; it was going to need to be three books.  I went back to my publisher and said, “What about three books?” and they were like: “Okay.”  I don’t know what to expect from me.  Next I’ll come back and be like seven more! [inaudible] But I felt like there were several arcs started in the end of the City of Glass that I needed to address and so this is how I’m addressing them.

Thanks go to Stefanie for getting this audio and transcribing!

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5 Comments to “Cassandra Clare Interview”

  1. Melaine says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!! I just finished reading Clockwork Angel today and can’t wait for more! What a wonderful and informative Q&A!!

  2. Amanda says:

    Jackson Pearce was at my school today (Brookwood High in GA) and shes doing a book signing at a Borders tonite. She is SO awesome. And sisters red is an amazing book, i definatly suggest it.

  3. molly says:

    Is this the book of the month ? I hope so I love this series and the fact theres more to come ! she is such an amazing writer and soo nice to her fans xx

  4. Aurelia says:

    Thanks a lot for posting this !!!

  5. Susan says:

    Ohmygosh, amazing! Thank you sooooo much for posting this :D What awesome answers!

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