It had been over 2 years since author Cassandra Clare had been on a book tour. But with the release of the third and final book of The Last Hours, Chain of Thorns, it was finally time for Cassie to go and see her fans again.
Admittedly, it’s been a challenge for me since the start of the pandemic to be motivated and find pleasure in reading like before. But coincidentally enough, and maybe the publisher knew what they were doing in regards to the timing of the release of the book, as well as my love for Cassie’s stories and her characters, that I was excited to tackle this monolith of a book and not only that, but to try and score a ticket to see her during her stop in L.A.
And of course, I just had to see about getting an interview with her. So I reached out to my one of my contacts and asked if there was a possibility for an interview with Cassie. Because it had been a while that I’d even attended a book event or done any interviews, I did not want to get my expectations up, but I just waited patiently for a response without doing any follow-ups.
And by the angel, I got the response I was hoping for. I was to meet Cassie about an hour before the book event to conduct the interview. I needed to do a little bit of catching up, which meant reading the epistolary that made up the Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, the virtual serialized novel released on tumblr, and reading up on questions Cassie had already answered on her Instagram. I really wanted to make sure I was more or less decently prepared for this interview like I had been on previous ones.
My friend and I arrived at the venue early. I could already tell there were several other Cassie fans milling around as some looked familiar from other book events. You could feel the excitement as book enthusiasts do when it comes to book signings, especially when one gets to wait around in a bookstore. For me, it had been two years since I’d gone to a true book signing, so it was refreshing to see something like this again.
As for the interview, honestly, considering the time constraints, I’m surprised that I was able to get an interview at all, and for that I am even more thankful to Cassie’s publicist for allowing me to do so. The store manager brought us into the break room area where it would be taking place. There we saw stacks of Chain of Thorns books on the table, and more on a rolling shelving unit. Because of the limited space and the construct of how the interview was going to go, we found that video recording was not going to be possible, which was fine.
When Cassie, her husband Josh, and her publicist Anna, arrived, Cassie was to sit next to me and it was established that she would be signing the books while answering my questions. I wasn’t sure if this would be a problem for her, as far as signing and answering my questions at the same time, but alas, there was no need to worry at all. Cassie was the ultimate professional and doing both things at the same time did not phase her at all. Even though we were there to help promote Chain of Thorns, I kept most of the questions to Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, with some very mild spoilers for Chain of Thorns, and coincidentally one big spoiler for The Dark Artifices series.
At the end of the interview, I suppose I could’ve requested a picture with her, at least for the purpose of this post, but for some reason, I did not, something I regret. However, everything else about this interview was a joy as it always is when it comes to Cassie.
Warning: Spoilers regarding Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, mild spoilers regarding The Last Hours, one major spoiler regarding The Dark Artifices
The Fandom (TF): What inspired you to write the Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, and in epistolary form?
Cassandra Clare (CC): So, I had those since Chain of Thorns was going to be later than I had wanted them to be because of the pandemic – there were paper shortages and there were also printer shortages, so I knew it was going to take longer to come out. And I felt, you know, bad about disappointing people and also, I felt like, you know, it was such an extremely hard time for everyone and there was such the sense of, like, lack of connection and community that we were really having during the pandemic. Certainly I did not believe that this was something I could fix on my own, I was like, well, it would be fun to do a novel in installments. Sort of like the way, you know, this is based on The Great Expectations by Dickens, and Dickens wrote his novels by releasing them by sections, so that in between the sections, it gave the readers a chance to talk about what had happened in the previous section and discuss what they thought was going to happen next. There would be hints that someone was going to die. There would be cliffhangers. Everybody would kind of gather together and discuss it. And I thought we could try to recreate that in a virtual space. So, that was the idea behind Secrets of Blackthorn Hall. And then I just had to decide what the model was going to be about, and I had been missing Julian and Emma, and always when I’m working on one book, I’m like missing the characters from other books and I also wanted to do something that would bridge The Last Hours and The Wicked Powers. So I thought, okay, this will pull together kind of The Dark Artifices, The Last Hours, and The Wicked Powers, it’s kind of going to give us a little hint of what’s coming for our crew from the present day while also giving us little bits of hints and memories of what happened with the characters in the Edwardian era.
TF: When I read that Julian and Emma had visited other institutes during their (travel) year, it got me curious, did you establish an exact number of how many institutes there are in the world?
CC: That I have not done. It seems a bit like it would be like doing the family tree in the back of Clockwork Princess. I would establish something and then later for story reasons I would want to change it, and I’ve learned my lesson. I don’t want to close off those options. So, the institutes that we have established are the institutes that we have visited, that we know about, or we have mentioned in the texts somewhere. And I think we can assume that if you have a city of a certain size, it’s got an institute. Chicago? It’s got an institute.
Joshua Lewis (JL): Unrelated to the art institute
CC: Unrelated to the art institute of Chicago. It’s actually mentioned because Diana came from Chicago. So, all the institutes that have been mentioned, especially if they have a location, like the Buenos Aires Institute, they’re all noted down in the book. But for places that I haven’t yet written a story, like the Tokyo Institute, I don’t know where it is yet. I know there is one, but I don’t know where it’s located, and I want to hold that in case I want to write a story about it.
TF: That would be cool!
CC: That would be! It would be fun! I had a lot of fun with the Shanghai Institute.
TF: That kind of goes to my next question. What I loved about it is seeing how the characters from all your books are connected in some way through these letters. It’s like reading through actual history, but not our history, but it’s history that I love. Especially since I’ve grown to love your characters so much through the years. What has it been like for you to write these characters after all this time, especially the originals like Jace and Clary?
CC: It was initially kind of a little odd to get back into the mindset of Emma and Julian and Ty, Kit, Tessa, Jem, all the people who are alive in the present. But it’s like riding a bike. I’ve spent so much time with all of these characters, years and years on each series, so it’s easy to get back into their heads. We didn’t actually see that much of Jace and Clary and Alec and Magnus and it wasn’t because I don’t like writing them or anything like that. I just wanted to focus on Emma and Julian, and also because I felt that everything that was happening with our New York contingent was kind of a big spoiler for Wicked Powers, so we didn’t see them that much, but it was really nice. There was a particular installment where Emma and Clary hang out with each other, and I always really enjoy that relationship, so it was really nice to get back to that.
TF: May I ask the reason Emma names her diary Bruce?
CC: It’s completely unrelated to the books at all, I’m sorry to say. (laughs) Josh and I had gone to Africa the year before the pandemic and we, I think we were in Botswana, and we had seen all these different, really cool animals. It was really awesome, and we wanted to see a rhino, and there was a legendary rhino in the area named Bruce. So everyday, our safari leader, who would bring us around, would be like, “Today’s gonna be the day. We’re gonna see Bruce! We’re gonna see Bruce!” And we were all like, “Bruce! C’mon, Bruce!” And finally one day, we did see Bruce, and it was like the most exciting thing. And we were all like, “Bruce! Bruce!” So, sadly, Bruce is named after a rhino that I saw and does not have anything to do with Shadowhunters! (laughs)
TF: It seems you have a fascination with giving some of your characters unique eye colors, like Jace and James with gold eyes, Ty with gray eyes, and Christopher Lightwood with violet eyes. How do you determine what eye color each character gets, and what’s the significance of them, if any?
CC: Well, in the world of the books, the gold eyes are an indicator of either angel blood or demon blood. I wanted to give Christopher purple eyes because he’s a very ordinary guy. I do not think he would think of himself as particularly handsome or interesting looking or striking looking and I think he is often overlooked, let us say, by the people in his group of friends. Like James and Mattew are super hot and glamorous. And Thomas is big and muscular. And Christopher is a scientist who’s constantly covered in burns and stains and what not, so I wanted to give him one unusual and fascinating feature, because I just think that that’s a really interesting thing. Ty having gray eyes, I just wanted to give him an eye color that was different from the rest of his family. There was nothing else really particularly exciting there, it’s not like he’s secretly a faerie or something like that.
JL: You have gray eyes
CC: I sometimes have gray eyes. (to me) What color are they right now?
TF: I think kinda of greenish-gray.
CC: Yeah. They change color. They’re weird. (getting back to the question) They’re one of those things I don’t have a great explanation for, because Ty popped into my head, and I was just like, yep, he’s got black hair, he’s got gray eyes. Well, he doesn’t really look like the rest of his family, with the brown hair and blue-green eyes. And I was like, well, that’s fine. He can look different. That is okay. It sets him apart a little bit.
TF: According to Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, there’s no death date on record for Matthew Fairchild? Why is that?
CC: I know! I enjoy tormenting people. There… is no death date for Matthew… I would have to look at the family tree…
JL: The family tree’s such a mess
CC: Could you hold on a second so we can look at the family tree? If I was home, I would know all of those, but…
TF: You have your family tree, not the one that’s out there in the world.
CC: Yes, I have the accurate family tree somewhere. (after a couple of minutes, Josh comes to confirm that the Fairchilds are actually not on the tree.) Yes, that’s what I thought. Okay! So, there’s no death date for Matthew mentioned in Blackthorn Hall or Last Hours, at least as far as the first two books, because I didn’t want to provide a piece of information that wasn’t provided in the family tree, and I wanted to keep some sense of mystery about what happens with Matthew. And I know that there are a lot of theories out there. I’ve seen a ton of different ones, Matthew becomes a vampire, Matthew becomes a faerie, Matthew moves to Faerie. And I was just, like, it’s great to let people have theories and speculate about what happens to him, so I didn’t want to cut any of that off.
TF: How’s the kickstarter for Secrets of Blackthorn Hall coming along?
CC: Ooh, well, I’m actually not allowed to talk about it. (laughs) Well, kickstarter was my first idea of how to make a book out of Secrets of Blackthorn Hall because no publisher really is going to want to publish it because it’s already available. So that makes publishing it extremely complicated in terms of the rights. And I also don’t want to take it down, and any publisher would tell me to take it down (off tumblr), and I want it to remain available and free for people to read so that they can read it anytime they want to and create like an actual book so that people who want an actual book could have one, but that they’re not required to have one. So, kickstarter was my first idea. It has sort of grown from that, and I’ll say now it is like a big excel spreadsheet that’s shared with many people called ‘Cassandra Clare’s Secret Project.’ So, expect that there will be not just Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, but also probably some other things.
TF: Sword Catcher is labeled as your first adult novel. How does it differ from your YA novels in that sense?
CC: I guess I would say that Sword Catcher differs from my YA novels in that my YA novels are very much centered around the idea of people in this particular part of life. Young adulthood – usually, older teenagers. To me, that’s a very specific time. Because it’s a sort of time in your life when you’re deciding on the person that you want to be. And you have a certain kind of relationship with your parents where you are still very close with them but you’re also like differentiating yourself from your parents. How am I like them? How do I want to be like them? How do I want to be different from them? And often when you are having a romantic relationship, it’s your first. First love. And so, when I went into writing Sword Catcher, it was really interesting because suddenly, I was in this very different part of life. These characters are in their later 20s. So, their relationships with their parents are very different. I think we all know, when we grow up, we still remain close to our parents, but we have a very different kind of relationship with them that’s sort of adult to adult. You start to, instead of seeing your parents are your parents, you start to see them as individual people in their own right who flawed and imperfect and make mistakes sometimes. Also, these are people with jobs. Sword Catcher is the name of the job of the main character. He’s the guy who is the double of the prince of the city of Castellane. And so when Connor, who’s the prince, who’s supposed to go out and make speeches and appear at various functions, our hero, Kel, takes his place, in case someone wants to kill Connor, they will kill Kel instead. As you can imagine, this creates an extremely complicated relationship between him and Connor; they’re really, really close. And there’s also this knowledge that Kel’s ultimate purpose is to die for Connor. That’s his job. And Lin, our heroine, who I love very much, is a doctor, so I had to learn a whole bunch about being a doctor, and how you operate on people and all of this stuff, and how you think about things that don’t come up in this Shadowhunter world, like how long did she train, and how does she think about her job how important is it in her life, and what does she get paid? And the romantic relationships they have are more the romantic relationships of adults. Some of them have had romantic relationships before, sometimes this is their first time. Sometimes it’s their… many-eth time. I’m not sure that’s a word. So I think that the way, family relationships, romantic relationships, even friendships are treated as extremely different and just the way that they think about the world is very different. And to me that is the most significant thing. It’s not the one type of book is better than another, it’s just that the characters in them think about things differently.
TF: Chain of Thorns seems to deal a lot with guilt and forgiveness, and self-forgiveness and all that, which is something that, especially in this social media age where people are so critical of everything. Was this intentional for the present times?
CC: Actually, that’s really interesting. Honestly, I don’t think I thought of that as specific to social media, but now that you say that, that’s a really good point. I had thought that this as being a significant part of being a young adult is making mistakes and learning to forgive other people and also yourself and I felt like that people, especially in that period of life, they can be so incredibly hard on themselves. And you are right, because social media comes along and in some ways it works. There are good things about it, but it can also work as this terrible mirror that reflects back to you all of the bad things that you think are true about yourself because of the way that other people treat you, so I actually think that’s a really good point. And I think that that makes the message, which I hope, is that you need to forgive yourself, and if you have done something wrong, there are ways to make up for that. But hating yourself is not ever the answer, and I think that that’s a really important message right now.
TF: Which character in particular was challenging to write in terms of character development for this book or this series? How so? (major Dark Artifices spoiler)
CC: In The Last Hours, I would say, this is not going to be a wildly popular response, but I would say Malcolm Fade, because he’s a bad guy. We kind of learned his story backwards. In The Dark Artifices, we’re introduced to him. At first we think he’s a good guy. He seems like Magnus. Y’know, very Magnus-y, and that was on purpose, because I wanted people to like him and to trust him. And then he turns out to be a monomaniacal serial killer (laughs), so that was disappointing for everyone who knew him. And then when I went back into Last Hours, I had to remind myself, this Malcolm is a good guy. Like, he’s a nice person. He’s trustworthy. He says he’s going to do something, he’ll do it. He is not a murderer. He has no blood on his hands. And it was a question in these books of even though he is not the villain in these books, in the background of the books, he goes from someone who is a good, upstanding, trustworthy person to a person who is so wounded and so hurt, he kind of has the negative path of all of the guilt and self-hatred and all of that, that he has become a bad person. And we watch that happen. And yet it is not the main story, but yet, we watch it in the background. If you’ve already read Dark Artifices, I think a lot of it clicks into place for you. If you haven’t, then you can read it the other way around, and I think it would be a real tragedy because you would’ve met Malcolm as this really great guy and then you would find out that he didn’t stay that way.
TF: That’s the one thing that I wonder. Do you, at all, get confused, or a little discombobulated when you’re writing these characters? Some of these characters are throughout your series, and you’re like, oh wait, they don’t know this yet, or this doesn’t happen yet, or this part of them isn’t revealed yet, and stuff like that.
CC: It’s an interesting question, but I think for me, they’re very clearly denoted as different people. I think the first time this really happened with me was writing Magnus in Infernal Devices. This is Magnus as a different guy, and I have to show and portray him as a different person than he is in Mortal Instruments. He’s more vulnerable, he’s a little bit angrier. He’s more defensive. He’s not in a bad relationship. I was like, this is not the same person that Magnus is later, and so I think that was good practice, and so now I’m pretty used to sort of toggling back and forth between who people were in one stage and who they are in another stage.
TF: That’s what I was wondering about when you wrote Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, and going back and forth and thinking, wait, they don’t know this part yet…
CC: In Secrets of Blackthorn Hall, that was definitely- I think, in terms of what the character knows, that was definitely very complicated, in a sense of like, does this person at this point know this? There was a lot of checking back and forth with my assistant. We held this huge sort of story bible that’s collected all the information about all the characters and the family trees and what people know at what point, and I think that was the most common question we asked each other was, does this person know this?
TF: Out of all the Merry Thieves, who do you feel you’d connect with most?
CC: Oh man, I mean, I love Thomas. I love all of them. I love Christopher. He’s so much fun. I love Thomas, because he’s always cursing himself out. He’s always thinking romantic things about Alastair and then like being, “Thomas, you’re so stupid!” “Thomas! Keep that to yourself!” “Why are you thinking that?!” And I love Matthew. He’s so much fun to write. He feels everything so strongly. But I think I feel the closest to James because he is a lot like I was when I was that age. He’s more quiet, he’s more shy. I mean, we don’t see it, because he’s so forced out into having to do all these things on the page, but to me, James is happiest when he is at home with Cordelia, playing chess, reading. That’s what he likes, unlike Matthew, to be out partying in the nightclubs of Paris. James would hate that. And I’m totally like that.
TF: You said you were going to take a break from writing this year. How are this tour and promoting Sword Catcher later this fall (laughs)… how much of a break will you really be getting? What would you like to do outside of promoting and writing?
CC: Well, I did think about this tour and also about Sword Catcher, which comes out in October, so my plan was to take a break basically between now and October to not be writing and not be promoting, not be doing publishing-related work. I think this may be common to many people that over the pandemic, I found that I was really burned out. I used to write with a big group of my friends – Holly Black, Kelly Link, Maureen Johnson, and we would all write together – and then over the pandemic, even my assistant was just a little face on zoom. And it was really a difficult period, because writing is an emotional job. I can’t remember who said it, but it was a famous writer who said, “Writing is easy. All you do is open your veins and bleed on the pages.” And I was like, yeah, that’s not untrue. You’re writing things that are sad, you have to dig into yourself for that sadness. You’re writing things that are happy, you have to dig into yourself for that happiness. And I found that I was feeling burnt out and I wasn’t really able to connect with those emotions as well as I had been before. So, I wanted to take a break in order that that feeling of ‘I feel like I might be burning out’ would not become ‘I have burned out.’ because I have known people who have burned out who’ve never gone back to writing again and that would be the last thing I would want. I love my job, I love being a writer, I just want to rest my brain a little bit. It’s been 17 years, it’s been pretty much nonstop writing, and if not for the pandemic, things might’ve gone differently, but definitely looking at that, I’ve always sort of gone to writing to be the thing that cheers me up and makes me feel better as is what I do and I need to relax, and it was not working. And I was feeling sort of like, when I get up in the morning, this is the last thing I want to do, and I don’t want to continue with that feeling. I want to want to be writing. Usually what I feel is I can’t wait to be writing, I’m looking forward to this scene, I can’t wait to get to this part, and so I kind of want to just take a break and get to some of the basic things that have always brought me joy and fed my writing, which is connecting with my family and my friends and doing a lot of reading. So that is what I hope to do over that six month period.
TF: And I definitely don’t want you to not want to write The Wicked Powers!
CC: (laughs) Sorry! I punked out right at the end! I agree with you. And there’s a lot that I am looking forward to writing in The Wicked Powers, and I think that’s good, so I want to hold on to that, and just be like, yeah, you can’t write it yet. So that by the time I get there, I’m dying to do this.
Chain of Thorns is out now and can be ordered here.
Sword Catcher, Cassie’s first adult, and non-Shadowhunter related, novel, can be pre-ordered here.