BookCon 2020: A Conversation with Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

At BookCon 2020 day 2, authors Cassandra Clare and Holly Black had a virtual conversation about books, writing, reading, and dealing with the challenges facing everyone today.

Clare has written multiple novels within the Shadowhunters Chronicle and recently published Chain of Gold (the first novel in The Last Hours series), a look into the lives of the Nephilim of the London Institute during Edwardian times. Up next will be The Lost Book of the White, which is the second piece in the The Eldest Curses series.

Black has penned numerous books most notably The Spiderwick Chronicles, Modern Faerie Tales and the Folk of the Air series. Her most recent publication is The Queen of Nothing which concludes the trials and tribulations of Jude Duarte as the exiled Queen of Faerie. Her next novella, How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories is set to be released in November 2020.

The two have also collaborated on The Magisterium, a five book children’s fantasy series centered around twelve-year-old Callum Hunt as he finds himself thrust into the world of magic his mage father walked away from.

The whole panel can be viewed below and starts at the 2 hours and 40 mins mark.

They began with discussing how complicated life currently was as they are often asked how writing is during this time of COVID-19. Clare noted that it’s a different feeling where there is one fear for the pandemic but there is also being afraid for the protestors and the need to help them in any way. She also added that every writer she’s talked too is having trouble figuring out a way to be creative, but she believes there’s a way to channel one’s pain, anxiety, and message into one’s work. At the same time however Clare acknowledges that it’s completely legitimate to be too upset to work.

The two also mentioned how it has been strange for them to be seeing each other virtually on Zoom since they normally get together daily to work in the past. They’ve spent many years building a writing community and it’s been hard to have that separation. Black confessed that she’s been writing and re-writing the same section over and over again because in the past someone would stop her and now she’s alone in her office.

Currently Clare is working on editing Chain of Iron (book two in The Last Hours) and then she’ll be returning to the first draft of Sword Catcher. The latter is a high fantasy series for adults.

In a 2017 she wrote on a Tumblr post, “Sword Catcher will be the first book in my new series written for adults, my first ever high fantasy project. Many of my readers have been with me for years, and have grown along with my characters. And over those years, readers of all ages have come to me both to say that they would like to read books about older characters, and also to say that they’d love to see me build my own new world from the ground up.”

In writing adult characters, Clare is excited to delve into the question of whether characters are happy with who they are. Black commented on how she is very used to writing under a YA framework and now that she herself is also working on an adult focused novel she has to determine what that new framework will be. The author also has some new projects in the works though unfortunately can’t disclose anything quite yet.

Audiences were also able to ask questions via chat including how the two writers approached world building.

Clare noted that she tends to think about what is the central piece of business that she wants for the world and then everything else is crafted around that. She stressed the importance of rules because it will determine how characters behave and what kind of power they will have whether it be political, intellectual, etc. Clare adds that there’s another layer to consider when you have a closed world vs. an open one. For instance in the Shadowhunters Chronicles humans don’t know about the shadow world and she had to consider how the Shadowhunters stayed hidden, governed themselves, how they got money, and other circumstances. In Sword Catcher as an open fantasy she’s had to think about trade, exporting, and a myriad of other elements.

“You will need to know 100% of this stuff even if just 10% shows up in your book,” she said.

In the meantime, Black said that she needs to understand how the magic system works first. Pushing it one direction or another helps her understand tonally what kind of story belongs in this new world.

In addition, both were asked faeries in their writing.

Black explained that what she loved most about faeries was that they had a different moral compass. She gives the example of the faerie fruit, where one bite will have everything else taste like ash. Black sees this as ruinous beauty where something can ruin you but you want it regardless. This is what keeps her coming back to the subject.

In contrast, Clare for the longest time felt that she couldn’t write about faeries because of the way they talked. Eventually though she realized that their inability to lie allowed her to flex creative muscles on how these characters can deceive without really lying. She admitted that she made fun of how faeries spoke a lot and then they featured prominently in The Dark Artifices series and will continue to do so in The Wicked Powers because of Kit Herondale’s heritage. Black was gleefully unsympathetic to her friend’s situation.

Another interesting question was on what makes a good villain.

Clare starts by noting that no villain is a villain in their own mind. A great antagonist is someone you can sympathize with and understand where they are coming from. In addition, having the villain be connected to the protagonist is important because they can shape each other.

Black also adds that having a connection is vital because what the villain brings out of the protagonist is  essential.

The Shadowhunters author ends the panel talking about the Joker’s relationship with Batman and how the two have a push-pull dynamic. It’s the connection between the two characters that makes it interesting.


Check out other BookCon 2020 stories HERE.


Nicole C
Nicole C
Nicole is the Features Editor for The Workprint. She may or may not be addicted to coffee, audiobooks, and sci-fi.

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