In honor of her latest audiobook, Queen of Air and Darkness, we sent your questions to author Cassandra Clare, creator of the Shadowhunters. She satisfied some of our most burning curiosities, AND gave us a sneak peek of a deleted scene from the new book
What is your world-building process like? How do you go about deciding things like the aging process for warlocks?
When I sketched 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 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. The world of Shadowhunters has really grown since then—with each book I’ve expanded the tapestry a bit more. That happens organically through the plotting of the books—I’m always on the lookout for ideas that I feel would be a natural fit with the Shadowhunter world!
Did everything in the book fan out as planned or did you have to change some things you weren't expecting to change? How is the shadow world different now from when you first came up with the idea in your head?
I am a big believer in outlining, so I always have a general sense of what is going to happen. But books definitely do evolve as you sit down to write them—that’s part of what makes them fun. They can surprise you. Like Magnus—he was supposed to be a minor background character, but as soon as I actually started writing him, he moonwalked onto center stage in a purple rhinestone jacket and was like, “Oh, hello, I’m here to be in every Shadowhunter book you write from this moment on.” That was a great surprise!
The world has changed a lot. I build it out a little more with each book. I love writing historical Shadowhunter novels, so I’m having fun working on The Last Hours, which is a trilogy set in the Edwardian era. Each time I do a historical project, more Shadowhunter history gets fleshed out.
Can you give us more details about the Manila Institute or will there be scenes in future books that are set in Asia? How long/much do you research before feeling confident enough to write about something?
I try to do at least 6 months of research before I set a book in a different time period or geographic location. I don’t have plans to set anything in the Manila Institute at the moment, but I’ll be heading to the Philippines on tour next year, so I’ll be looking out for the Manila Institute then!
Each book refers to a poem. Which poem would describe the whole Shadowhunters chronicles best?
I really love poetry and there are lots of poems that make me think of the Shadowhunters. I especially like to look at war poems, because the Nephilim are a military society. I often think about the classic poem that Winston Churchill used to quote, “Horatio at the Gates” which goes:
How can man die better
than in facing fearful odds
for the ashes of his fathers
and the temples of his gods
How did you feel during the first years of publishing your books and the reactions of your fans? And how do you feel now?
One of the fun parts about writing books and having them published is that you have all these characters and situations in your head, and then suddenly all these other people read and listen to the book, and suddenly they are right there with you and the characters—you get to see them love and revile characters, and get excited about the things you’ve been excited about for years. I had no idea that City of Bones would reach so many people and do as well as it did. I wrote the book I wanted to read, and it is gratifying that so many other people have wanted to read it too! Even now, starting work on the fourth series in the Shadowhunter Chronicles, it’s still thrilling when a book comes out and I get to share what I’ve been cooking up for so long. (Can you tell I’m excited for Queen of Air and Darkness??)
Of all the books you have written to date-who is/was your favorite character to write and why? Has it changed over time or has it always been the same character?
I can't really pick favorites, because my characters all feel like children in a family, and picking favorites seem cruel and unfair! But I always enjoy writing characters who are very different from me. Magnus Bane, for example, is far more outgoing than I am. Emma is the kind of tough and brave character I would love to be, who definitely wouldn't be afraid to kill a spider in her bathroom. Tiberius is great with animals in a way that I wish I was—he's always seeking them out and making friends with them. I feed the squirrels in my back yard, but I'm still a far cry from a Disney princess with songbirds circling my head!
Is there a character you feel closest to or one who shares some of your characteristics and personality traits?
I’ve always felt close to Tessa because of her love of books, but Drusilla is closer to what teenage me was like, with her love of horror movies and her sarcasm.
Do you plan on making a story (short set or trilogy) on any of the villains we've met? I think it'd be really interesting, because who doesn't love a villain backstory?
It’s true that villain POV is always fun! I have considered doing a project like this, but nothing is in the works right now. You might want to check out the short story Becoming Sebastian, on the “Excerpts and Extras” section of my website, which is told from Sebastian’s POV!
If you had to compare the level of pain we're going to feel in QoAaD with some film or book, what would it be? I’m rereading TDA because QoAaD is coming next month and my question is: do you think our suffering is funny? Because OMG THESE BOOKS ARE JUST SO CRUEL.
This animated GIF pretty much sums up my feelings about Queen of Air and Darkness.
I’ve always loved books that provoke strong reactions in me—happiness, amazement, even sadness. But I can’t predict how anyone else will feel when listening!
What’s the last best thing you listened to?
I am an audiobook fan! I love audiobooks.
People have been listening to stories for a lot longer than they've been reading. Literature grew out of oral tradition, and in some ways listening to a story taps into an ancient part of our brains in a way that can feel uniquely satisfying. There's nothing quite like being read to, which is something that happens more often when we are children than when we are adults. Audiobooks offer us a great way to listen to a story without having to chase someone around and cajole them into reading to us!
I like being involved in the process of finding narrators. Listening to an audiobook is rather like listening to a radio play, so I try to seek out actors whose work I have enjoyed in the past.
The last thing I listened to that I really loved was Richard Armitage narrating Georgette Heyer’s classic romances. He’s such a great narrator!
Who would narrate your life story?
Robert Downey Jr. Not for any particular reason, just because I really like Robert Downey Jr. and I’d love to have the chance to talk to him. Hi Robert Downey Jr, if you’re reading this!
Anything else you want to share with your fans?
Yes! I’d like to share this exclusive deleted scene from Queen of Air and Darkness:
“We should stay away from each other,” she said. “Like Magnus said.”
“I know. I wouldn’t have come to see you, but there was something I wanted to ask.” He let the knife go. It sank into the wall beside one of Emma’s. She felt a twist of grim pride; people often underestimated how good a Shadowhunter Julian was. “It’s kind of a strange question, but if you were going to think of a symbol, one thing that made you think of Livvy — what would it be?”
“Her saber,” Emma said. “Why?”
“It — doesn’t matter.” His voice was husky. “We probably shouldn’t talk about emotional things.”
“So what can we talk about? Not our feelings, not your family — what?”
“We throw ourselves into what’s happening,” Julian said. “We do everything we can to take down the Cohort.”
It was Emma’s turn to grab a knife. She threw it hard, viciously, and it hit the wall hard enough to crack the wood.