Cassandra Clare

Cassandra Clare spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father's backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old. She spent her high school years in Los Angeles where she used to write stories to amuse her classmates. After college Clare worked at various entertainment magazines and even some rather suspect tabloids where she reported on Brad and Angelina's world travels and Britney Spears' wardrobe malfunctions. Her first professional writing gig was a short story called
The Girl's Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord in an anthology of humour fantasy. She also has a short story published in the anthology So Fey, from Haworth Press, and another in the anthology Magic in the Mirrorstone from Mirrorstone Books. Charles Packer caught up with Clare as her first novel, City of Bones, was released in the UK...

Charles Packer: Most writers can identify the influences on their writing, who did you admire most and why?

Cassandra Clare: I'd say my influences can be pretty clearly drawn back to what I'd consider the golden age of urban fantasy, when the genre was being defined by writers like Terri Windling, Midori Snyder, Charles de Lint, Emma Bull, and Will Shetterly.

I'm also an admirer of the current movement toward a darker, gritter urban fantasy: the work of Holly Black and Scott Westerfeld comes to mind.

CP: You seem to have had quite a bohemian lifestyle, having travelled across the globe more as a child than most people do in their adult life. Do you think that this has influenced your writing and do you still feel like a literary Gipsy?

CC: It gave me a lifelong love of travel, bordering on an addiction. I have to travel at least three or four times a year or I get cranky. So far this year I've been to Wales, Amsterdam, Belize, and Guatemala, and I'm planning trips to Jamaica and Iceland.

I feel like travel detaches you from your normal life just enough to allow you to really engage with your own imagination. I do my best writing on the road.

CP: Although you had experience of writing as a journalist and in the short story genre, what made you want to take on the Mortal Instruments trilogy as your first major project?

CC: The story - really the two main character, Jace and Clary - came into my head and wanted to be written. I did think: "This is a big project". But I love reading epic fantasies and big fat books and so I really wanted to write one. I think you always write what you want to read.

I sold the trilogy from a proposal and a few chapters, so it was really a leap of faith on both my part and my publisher's!

CP: Where did you originally get the idea for the trilogy and how long did it take you to develop?

CC: I got the idea years ago - I was in a tattoo shop in Manhattan's East Village when the idea came to me that it would be fun to write about magical tattoos. The characters came just after that.

It took about two or three years to develop that into a consistent magic system and a book.

CP: I notice that a lot of reviews and the PR blurb are insisting that you are somehow writing an updated Buffy. Do you feel that this sort of niche product placement is helpful for an audience interested in this genre to identify your book as one of interest or do you think that it denigrates your efforts to always be compared to something else?

CC: I don't mind being compared to Buffy - I'm a huge fan. I can see where you might be concerned that people picking up the book and expecting something exactly like Buffy might be disappointed - it's like Buffy in mood, and in its blending of action and humour, rather than in anything specific.

I think that when marketers, who are trying to get the word out about a book to a big population, look for comparative language, they look to the world of television and movies - because, like it or not, many many more people watch TV and movies than read.

CP: Although a lot of the major characters were teenagers I personally thought that the book could be enjoyed by all ages, was there any pressure to increase the ages to gain a wider audience?

CC: I'm glad to hear that. I don't necessarily think a book about teenagers is a book only for teenagers, any more than Dandelion Wine or A High Wind in Jamaica are only for children because they're about children. And as we've seen with the Harry Potter books, adults are increasingly willing to read books whose protagonists are younger.

Very early on when I was selling the book, I was approached by a publisher who wanted me to age the characters up and make the book a romance novel. I thought about it and realised it wouldn't work - though more from the romance angle than anything else!

CP: The book was aimed at a teenage audience, how difficult was it to pitch both the action and the dialogue at this age group without falling into the trap of talking down to your audience?

CC: I think talking down to your audience when you're writing YA is a disaster. Kids are not: "like adults, but not as smart." They are just as smart, they simply have different concerns.

When you're writing YA I think it's good to keep in mind that you're writing about teens, not "for kids" , and that you write the book you'd write if you were writing for adults; it's just that your protagonists are teenagers and so your book addresses their concerns.

CP: Most of you characters, including the heroine Clary Fray, are presented as strong charcters but with flaws. Do you feel that people's flaws are as important in determining their destiny?

CC: Well, your flaws make you who you are and who you are determines the choices you make. I think characters without flaws are no fun - you can't relate to them or put yourself in their place.

CP: The next book in the trilogy is City of Ashes, when does that come out and what can people expect in terms of the story?

CC: City of Ashes will hopefully be out in summer of 2008 in the UK. It cranks up the actions a notch - it's about a spate of murders happening in New York's Downworld, in which Downworlder children are being killed and their bodies drained of blood. After all the Silent Brothers are murdered Jace and Clary and the rest are drawn into the mystery. Oh, and one of the main characters dies.

CP: How have you found the experience having your first novel published? Any dancing in the streets?

CC: I think when I initially sold it I was pretty deliriously happy. But then you realise that your day-to-day life doesn't change all that much, and what's mainly happened in the past two years is that I've worked harder than I ever have before in my life!

I think I got a grey hair this year. I'm going to name it City of Glass after the last book in the trilogy.

SFO: Thank you for your time.

With thanks Ruth Drysdale at Taylor Herring

City of Bones is released by Walker Books from 02 July 2007.

Click here to buy City of Bones for £5.59 (RRP: £7.99)

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