Before Cassandra Clare and Holly Black signed their book The Iron Trial in Cologne on November 12, I sat down with Cassie and Holly to chat about plot twists, diversity in novels and how aspiring authors can make writing novels easier.
Since the interview was 25 minutes long and Cassie and Holly also talked about spoilers for The Iron Trial, there will be two parts: the non-spoilery part and the spoilery one which also has an unedited mention of the f-word.
Cathrin: [Before the interview] You briefly mentioned the cover for The Copper Gauntlet, will the whole series have matching covers?
Cassie: Yeah, as far as we know. They’re all gonna be – they’re all done by Alex Chaudret and they’ll all be in the same style. They won’t all have the same characters but they’ll all be reminiscent of each other like the Percy Jackson covers.
Cathrin: [Since you’re writing Magisterium together] You share one laptop and you push it back and forth, are there also notes scattered around you or is everything relevant inside your heads?
Holly: We actually use a program called Scrivener which I’m super obsessed with and we had put a lot of our notes into the Scrivener file for Magisterium and so when we sit down to write it’s not in a blank chapter, it’s in a chapter with the notes we already put together.
Cassie: We save things like short phrases: ‘Call, Aaron and Tamara go to the test, they fight…’ and then we have to fill it in but we know what the general idea is.
Holly: In Scrivener we also have files on who everyone is at the Magisterium and which year gets which color and which metal and things like that. We can go back and check when we’re in this moment so that is actually the usefulness of writing on one laptop. We can have the master Scrivener file and not have it get confusing where one of us is adding to their own Scrivener file but it doesn’t translate in so we have one set of notes as well as one manuscript.
Cathrin: You are making this interview incredibly easy for me because you’ve mentioned the years and I was wondering: what’s your favorite school year at the Magisterium and why? If you were a student there.
Holly: I assume I would like the last year at the Magisterium. [chuckles] I could laze around, wait to graduate, that would be the greatest year at the Magisterium, right?
Cassie: I don’t know…
Holly: Do you think you’d spend too much time being pressured about the Collegium?
Cassie: Yeah! Cause there’s actually a school after the Magisterium, there’s the Collegium. I feel like I’d spend too much time stressing about what I wanted to do with my life so maybe I would enjoy the silver year the most where I got another year to make decisions.
Cathrin: You’re often at writing retreats with Maureen [Johnson], Sarah [Rees Brennan] and others and there are a lot of funny things that happen when you are together. Did anything really funny or unexpected happen when you were writing The Iron Trial or maybe also the second book?
Cassie: Yeah, the bat!
Holly: Wait, was I there for the bat?
Cassie: You were there for the bat. You were asleep though, weren’t you? Well, it was in Italy.
Holly: No, I wasn’t there.
Cassie: But you came like the next day!
Holly: I did come the next day and I heard about the bat. This bat situation would not have happened if I were there.
Cassie: No, it would not.
Holly: I would have taken this bat situation in hand.
Cassie: It was the night before Holly arrived in Italy so it was me and Sarah and Leigh Bardugo who wrote Ruin and Rising and Leigh had just arrived and Holly was gonna arrive the next morning so we were getting ready to go to dinner. It was this big villa and had a long hallway with these bedrooms off it and a high ceiling and I came out of my room and I saw this bat flying towards me. I’m terrified of bats, I’m terrified of rabies so I screamed. I was like, ‘Sarah, can I come into your room?’ And she said, ‘Nooo, I’m naked.’ And I was like, ‘I don’t care!’ I burst into her room, she was naked and she was like, ‘Why would you do that? Why would anyone do that?’ And I was like, ‘A bat is chasing me!’ She said, ‘That can’t be!’ So she goes out in the hallway, basically naked, she was wearing underwear and she’s like, ‘There can’t be a bat’ And the bat swoops towards her and then she starts running but she is just running naked up and down the hallway, the bat’s chasing her and then Leigh comes out of her bedroom and Sarah is running up and down the hallway naked, screaming and she [Leigh] was like, ‘I don’t even wanna know.’ [Cassie and Holly both laugh] We had to spend half an hour getting rid of the bat. … If Holly had been there, she would have made friends with the bat.
Cathrin: I think I would also have run away. … Let’s talk about diversity [Holly laughs because of the sudden shift in topics] How strongly do you as authors feel the readers’ need for more diversity in Young Adult novels or in novels in general?
Holly: I definitely think it’s much needed. Malinda Lo has done a really great job of putting together statistics and they are sobering! When you see how consistent the level is and how low the level is, of representation across the board in terms of people’s color, in terms of …
Cassie: Non able-bodied characters…
Holly: Yeah, they’re really sobering statistics. Obviously it’s still something that publishing has not figured out how to address.
Cathrin: So they still have a long way to go.
Holly: We have a long way to go… And actually, I have been thinking about this because we have been talking about this in different places, we all sort of notice and think, ‘What can we personally do about it? What can we do about it today?’ What we can do today – I’m gonna recommend three books that I think that anyone reading this might enjoy. Since this [Magisterium] is a middle grade series, I’m gonna recommend two middle grade books: Coe Booth’s Kinda Like Brothers which came out this year. Absolutely great and Varian Johnson’s The Great Green Heist; really fun! Really great. I think there’s gonna be a sequel and then – since I know that many people are reading YA books who might be reading this – Alaya Dawn Johnson’s Love Is the Drug. They are recent releases and they are all great! And if we all listen to this and go ahead and buy these books today, we will have made a difference! … I think about this because we’re talking about this so much and I have been thinking, ‘What can we all do?’ We can do this.
Cathrin: Great! So you’ve written this book together and you’re writing the other books together, what advice would you give friends who are writing a book together so that they don’t fight?
Holly: When we’ve talked to people, a lot of times what they talk about is having disagreements. Having things where one of them wants one thing and one of them wants another thing and I think that the thing we have always talked about is that believing that if you get to the core of why you want something and your buddy gets to the core of why they want something, there’s a way to have both those things. There is a third way.
Cassie: For me it’s the idea of if you’re having an argument and you want one thing and the other person wants another thing, you both have to give up. You’re not gonna get your thing, what you have to do is work together to find a third solution. So it stops it from being a fight about ‘I want this and you want that’ and you’re alike, ‘Instead we work to find thing three’.
Holly: I think just having a very similar view of the characters, like really knowing who they are and both of you kind of believing that they’re the same people. I think if we didn’t have that I think we really would have a rough time.
Cassie: Yeah, most of our arguments are about pacing and timing like when something happens. We argued in the car today.
Holly: Yeah, it was all about, ‘Is it going in this book or the next book?’
Cassie: Which is not an argument about ‘Does this happen?’ We both agreed it happens, absolutely it happens, but when.
Holly: Where does it fit in? How does it fit in? So those are arguments that are easier to have than ‘Who is this person?’ You have to start from a place of building that together.
Cathrin: This is another writing question. Holly, you’ve got a little boy; Cassie, you’ve got your godsons and I was wondering if you could picture yourselves writing a book for even younger readers and since your characters, Cassie, in the Shadowhunter Chronicles have grown [up], if you could imagine writing for older readers (New Adult books)?
Holly: I will say this: I sat down and tried to write a picture book [pauses] and I haven’t figured that out for me yet. I thought, ‘Yeah, sure. I can write a picture book.’ I’m not so sure. It’s tough! It’s a very tough format. […] Picture books are like an iceberg and you see the little bit on top and there is all of this stuff underneath that you have to make work. I think about Mo Willems’ Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus, a book that is genius – GENIUS! – because it allows the child to both identify with the disobedient pigeon who is doing this bad thing and also to be the person who for once gets to say no. That kind of thinking [pauses again] breaks my brain! I would love to do it but I’m not sure I know even the first way how.
Cassie: Picture books are very, very difficult. It’s like a poem, you have to say everything in a much smaller period of time but for my godsons I would love to write something that is younger than this [Magisterium]. More like around the age for six-year-olds, about twins that were detectives.
Cathrin: That sounds cool!
Cassie: I think they would love that! There’s such a unique relationship, watching them grow up. They are always together, everything they do is together, the other person is like just a part of you, they are always there. And so I think that would be really fun to explore. […] They sleep in the same room, they sleep at the same time, they eat at the same time, they do everything together and I was spending so much time with them and I was like, ‘Aw, it’d be fun if they had a book about kids like them.’
Holly: I would have written that book!
Cassie: I know but this is my book. [both laugh]
Holly: I’m excited to watch her write really short. It’s like a dream.
Cassie: I’ll just write one really long thing and then chop it up randomly.
Cathrin: So the New Adult… maybe more snippets, like you did with Tessa and Jem?
Cassie: I really enjoyed writing After the Bridge and I would do more. Most people really liked it but I kept getting the same comment from people, ‘I don’t think it’s right that you write this kind of thing about underage people’ and I was like, ‘They are a hundred and forty!’ [Holly laughs] ‘They are not underage, they are senior citizens! They are ancient!’ […] It actually wasn’t even that explicit, it was clear what was going on –
Holly: I’m not sure it was New Adult.
Cassie: I would not pass my stories as New Adult, they would want it to be much more explicit. I don’t know if I write this about Clary and Jace, Julian and … you know, whoever [laughter], am I gonna get all these cranky comments? I don’t know, it made me wonder. But it was really fun to write and I might do it again. Maybe something about Will and Tessa after they’re married cause you can’t really object to people having sex after they’re married. I mean, come on, they’re married!
Cathrin: Holly, you’ve written about faeries and vampires and you’ve also written about people with magical abilities. What do you think is so fascinating about fantasy creatures that the readers buy your books and buy so many fantasy books in general?
Holly: I think that fantasy allows us to talk about the real world in a different way. We all have had the experience of getting angry, so angry that we were afraid that we’d say something or do something that we hurt the people we care about and if you take something like a werewolf and you literalize that. You say: Once a month this person becomes a monster, you’re no longer asking the question ‘Is it okay to feel that way?’ That’s just accepted, it is what it is and now you tell a different story of what it’s like to be out of control. I think because we get to come at life in a different way, we get to think about it differently, too. So I think that’s the value of fantasy. We can tell our own stories in different ways and the more we are able to make them malleable and turn them around, the more we’re able to see different sides of them.
Cathrin: Cassie, before the interview we talked about Simon and Isabelle in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy, but let’s quickly talk about another installment: there is one about the Circle and then there is also The Secret Treasons [the graphic novel project], is it still a project?
Cassie: Secret Treasons is on hold because we couldn’t do The Secret Treasons and the Shadowhunter Academy at the same time because then I would have two sets of projects that are set at the Academy, going on at the same time and they’d contradict each other so there was no way to keep the continuity going so we have The Secret Treasons on hold. We’re doing Shadowhunter Academy first and then whatever is established as canon about the Shadowhunter Academy in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy will be the canon for The Secret Treasons. We tried it and it’s impossible. I was working out the stories with Sarah, Maureen and Robin [Wasserman] and at the same time I was doing notes for Secret Treasons and getting back from my co-writer blocks of stuff about what was going to happen [in Tales from the Shadowhunter Academy] that totally were contradicting the other stuff and I was like, ‘I can’t do both at the same time.’ And it’s a lot of stuff. […] The Simon and Isabelle stuff is really fun, actually. They’re in this really interesting situation: she loves Simon now and we started out with he kinda liked her and she was like, ‘Ugh, Simon!’ And now it’s really flipped because she loves him and because she knows him and the Simon that she knows doesn’t remember her! There is this beautiful girl, who’s really nice, who really seems to like him and he’s like ‘I … don’t know what to do about it’ so it’s really tough for Isabelle because she is both really confident but also a person who has issues about trust and so what does she do in a situation where she has to either walk away or trust that Simon is going to fall in love with her again? It’s a really hard thing to do with yourself, to put yourself out there. […] I really felt for her, ‘That’s really scary.’ So we get to see how that’s gonna play out.