Interview: Cassandra Clare

Thursday, November 6, 2008

There are only a few series I can honestly say I've been addicted to since page one. Set against the backdrop of Manhattan, New York Times Best Selling author Cassandra Clare's urban fantasy, The Mortal Instruments series, is smart, witty and gripping.

Ms. Clare was kind enough to answer some of our questions concerning the development of her series as well as the future of our beloved characters. Enjoy!

Hi Cassie! Thanks for taking the time to talk to us! First off, over here at The Reader's Quill, we love all sorts of books and music. We're curious, what are your top three favorite books? And top three favorite musicians?

I don't have three favorite books! I can tell you three OF my favorite books, will that help? Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers, Famous Last Words by Timothy Findley, and Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. Musicians: again, it's very hard to pick three. I'm fond of Belle and Sebastian, VNV Nation, and Brand New.

We love the idea of the Mortal Cup and Sword. While developing them, did you draw inspiration from any legends or stories?

Sure. The Cup draws from all sorts of Cup legends — the Grail legend, for one, though it's not meant to be the Grail. It also draws from the imagery of the Tarot card class of Cups. The Cup is also a symbol of faith, and Shadowhunters are all about faith. The Mortal Sword is one in a long line of fictional, historical and mythological swords. There are swords so famous we all know their names — Arthur had Excalibur, Roland had Durendal, Caesar had Crocea Mors, and Seigfried had Balmung (made by Wayland Smith), etc. I wanted the Mortal Sword to be one of history's famous swords, so ,since the MI series draws on a lot of Biblical myth, Maellartach is supposed to be the sword in Genesis — "So God placed at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life." So it's the sword that separates man from Paradise, in theory. It's also why I named one of the chapters in Ashes East of Eden.

Your books have a lot on biblical, Dantonian and poetic references. In what ways do you feel these works have influenced your writing?

Well, with Dante and the Bible — and Paradise Lost, which is another big influence on these particular books — these are all works of (for want of a better term) Christian mythology, specifically the myth of the Nephilim, and of the war in Heaven, angels vs. demons, the fall of Lucifer, all of that. And when you're dealing with a magic system dependent on the idea of angels and demons, you have to draw on all that, that's your canon. As for poetry in general, I love reading it but have no talent for writing it, so I content myself with including passages of my favorite poetry in the text.

Various of mythical creatures are featured in the series, what kind of research did you do to learn more on them? What advice would you give to young writers who also want to write fantasy?

Nothing out of the ordinary as far as research goes. A lot of reading up on world mythology, especially anything having to do with good and evil spirits. I wanted to make sure multiple types of demonic myth were present, not just the Christian view of them, so you'll find Japanese, Indian, Tibetan, and other kinds of demons represented (plus the kind I've made up.) I read a lot of old "demonologies" — there was a whole time period where scholars were obsessed with listing every kind of demon and mapping Hell.

We've noticed that Clary's dreams always seem to come to fruition. Is this a consequence of the "experiments" the Faerie Queen alludes to in City of Ashes?

Clary's dreams do often come to fruition, though she dreams more symbolically than specifically and can't always interpret what her dreams mean. Yes, that has something to do with the "experiments," but I can't really say more than that!

Will Jace and Clary's star shaped scars feature prominently in City of Glass? If so, does this have any connection to Amatis, Celine and the Inquisitor?

I wouldn't actually say they feature all that prominently. You do get an explanation for their existence. I can't say whether the scars have to do with Amatis, Celine or the Inquisitor, but I will say they don't have to do with all three of them.

Are any of the characters based on people in your own life?

Hm. A few of them, though generally so altered that they're unrecognizable. Raphael is based on a friend's younger brother (whose name is Gabriel, and I was tickled that it was an angel's name, so I changed it to Raphael, another angel's name.) Simon is sort of a combination of my boyfriend and my best friend. Magnus is based on a friend of mine — a guy who used to wear a ton of glitter and outrageous outfits, but there was this real keen intelligence under all the glitter and partying, which is what interests me about Magnus.

Who is your favorite character in the series? (Personally, I'm partial to the ever-courageous, kind hearted Clary.)

I'm glad to hear you like Clary! It's hard to write that balance of tough and relatable, but I hope Clary is both. As for a favorite character — it's like picking a favorite child. I'll say that Magnus is the most fun to write, and Simon is the most like me.

We know you love to travel. Do you find that your travels have influenced your writing?

I think it's partly why I wanted to make sure the Shadowhunters were a worldwide enterprise — cross-cultural, cross-global. They exist in every country. I didn't want them to be limited to protecting, say, New York. That sort of thing always reminds me of Roger Ebert's complaint about Blade, which is that he's "one guy, dealing locally, with a problem that's clearly global" and he wonders why the vampires that are always fighting with Blade don't just move to another city.

We are really looking forward to City of Glass. Any hints you can give us as to what's in store?

The drama's definitely amped up. New characters appear and compete for Clary and Jace's affections. It's a very romantic book, but very dark, very angsty. And there's a war, so definitely lots of blood and some character death.

What's your next writing project after the final book comes out?

The next project is a series of prequels to The Mortal Instruments, set in 19'th century London. It won't have our current characters in it, except for Magnus, but it does deal with their ancestors. You can find out more at I'm really having a lot of fun writing it so far!