Author Q&A: Cassandra Clare

The second Shadowhunters novel from the Dark Artifices trilogy, Lord of Shadows is set to be propelled to bestseller status by the author’s millions of dedicated young adult readers

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Did you ever imagine writing could propel you to the kind of celebrity status, with devout fans, that you’ve achieved?
When I wrote my first novel, all I was hoping was that some people would find the book and enjoy it. I never thought about bestseller lists or celebrity status because those things just weren’t realistic. I still don’t really think of authors as celebrities; the books are what people know, not the person writing them.

A downside of this must be “fantitlement” – when fans get angry at plot twists or the divergence from the text the TV show took at times. Have you had any backlash?
Certainly in the beginning there was a lot of backlash about how different the TV show was from the books. But now, after two seasons, I suspect those who watch the show have come to understand that they will not be seeing scenes from the books in it. In terms of my own books, sure, fans get upset about character deaths and plot twists all the time, but not in a way I would regard as backlash. People get upset when they are invested in something. I frequently joke with them about it online, saying things like: “The tears of my readers keep me young.”

Did you enjoy the Shadowhunters Netflix series?
I don’t watch the show, actually. It’s so different from my books that I find it confusing. I will say that below you mentioned the diversity in my books – that’s very important to me, so I’m pleased to have, for instance, a gay romance I created translated to film and TV, and winning GLAAD award nominations in both cases. We need so much more representation than what we have.

What sets your books apart from the masses of young adult and fantasy fiction out there?

There are certain elements of the books that seem to really resonate with readers. I aim to create relatable characters who are grounded in reality no matter what magical things are happening around them. I try to write them as believable people, who react the way someone you know might react, who use humour to cope with the challenges they face and the adventures they have. It’s important to me that my characters feel real, whether they are forming deep friendships, falling in love, dealing with complicated relationships with parents, summoning supernatural beings or fighting epic battles.

Why did you choose to root this fantasy world in a real urban environment?
When I sat down to sketch out City of Bones, I wanted to write something that would combine elements of traditional high fantasy — an epic battle between good and evil, terrible monsters, brave heroes, enchanted swords — and recast it through a modern, urban lens. So you have the Shadowhunters, who are these very classic warriors following their millennia-old traditions, but in these urban, modern spaces: skyscrapers, warehouses, abandoned hotels, rock concerts. In fairy tales, it was the dark and mysterious forest outside the town that held the magic and danger. I wanted to create a world where the city has become the forest — where these urban spaces hold their own enchantments, danger, mysteries and strange beauty. It’s just that only the Shadowhunters and Downworlders can see them as they really are.

What can we expect from Lord of Shadows?
Sea demons, a devastating sacrifice, a dangerous rescue mission, a good old-fashioned hunt for a spell book, terrifying faeries bent on revenge, revelations of family tragedies from the past, flying horses, midnight dancing and an unexpected appearance by a character from the Infernal Devices.

How do you keep track of all the complex storylines, relationships and built worlds in your books?
I keep careful notes. I have copies of the books that are tagged for repeating plot threads like weapons, magic, families, history, etc. I also have the Shadowhunter’s Codex, a published guidebook to the Shadowhunter world, which I refer to quite a bit. Sometimes I even use the Shadowhunter’s Wiki.

Can newcomers to your books pick up here and, if not, where do you recommend is a good starting point?
Lord of Shadows is the second book in a trilogy, so I recommend starting with Lady Midnight.

You are obviously not short of ideas for books. Why did you begin your career by writing fan fiction and how did you transition into publishing your own work?
Fan fiction was a fun activity, an expression of my love for books and a way to share my writing with other people as I’d always wanted to. But it has had unfortunate repercussions. What at the time seemed like harmless fun has meant that people looked down on me for ever having written fan fiction. These days I tell young aspiring writers that fan fiction is a great way to practise writing and have fun, but to be careful about making it public that you’ve written fan fiction, because it does come with these assumptions — that you lack originality, that you can’t think up your own stories, though interestingly people who’ve written decades of tie-in fiction (Star Trek books, the like) aren’t tarred with that brush. I always warn people fanfic isn’t a way to get published. I started my career in journalism, where people were paying me for my work and that work was selected for quality. That’s very different from the context surrounding fan fiction. Anyone can write fan fiction, which means some is very good and some is very bad. The knowledge that an author has written fan fiction doesn’t necessarily tell a publisher anything about that author and the quality of their work. If you’re a fanfic writer who wants to be published, what will matter is the book you write for publication.

How does it feel to have fan fiction and fan art based on your work?
It feels great! I don’t read fanfic based on my own characters, but I think it’s great that it exists. I love fan art and I’ve even employed several fan artists to do professional work for me.

You have strong female protagonists and LGBT characters in your work. Do fantasy and young adult books do a better job of representing diverse audiences than mainstream fiction?
I can only speak for my own work. I think that there’s a special value in making young adult books that are diverse in their representation of gender, race, sexuality and neurotypicality/neuroatypicality, because young readers are a vulnerable group and they don’t always get to see people who are similar to them represented in popular culture. I can’t count the numbers of teens who have come to me to tell me that Magnus and Alec have helped them come out and made a huge difference in their lives. Now that the Dark Artifices are out, I’m hearing from readers about Tiberius Blackthorn, about how much it means for them to read about a character who, if he lived in the mundane world, would almost certainly be diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Obviously diversity is important in adult literature, too, but as a young adult writer I’m very distanced from that conversation right now, so I couldn’t really speak to the situation.

Lord of Shadows: The Dark Artifices 2 is out 23 May, published by Simon & Schuster, £12.99/Audible £22.99

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