writin’ stuff

All I want in life, is to be able to write a book/series that’s as beautifully written as The Infernal Devices. I’m currently studying to become a vet, & as much as I adore animals… I want to be an author so much more. But I can’t write an interesting sentence to save my life. I’m sure you hear it everyday, but you are amazing, & authors like you are what keep my dreams alive. — jessikweh

First: thank you.

Second: If you can’t write a sentence of surpassing lyrical beauty right now on command, don’t worry about it.

One of the most common comments about books I see is “I don’t like the writing, I’m just there for the plot/the characters/the world-building.”

The thing is, all that stuff is writing.

Creating characters: that’s writing. World-building: that’s writing. Plot: that’s writing.

Being able to write sentences that drift down gently upon the reader like beautiful crystalline snowflakes is a hell of a skill. But it is a piece of a skillset, the screwdriver in a toolkit full of tools. If you are freaked out about your sentences, concentrate on world-building or character creation for a while. Being able to create characters people care about is hard. And it is also writing. You are bringing a person to life with nothing but words on a page. You have to give them a life, a heartbeat, goals, despairs, risks, blood. That is the alchemical magic of writing, just as much as we beat on, boats against the current, drawn back ceaselessly into the past or The barefooted drummer, beating a folded newspaper with whisk-brooms in lieu of a drum, stirs the eye’s ear like a blast of brasses in a midnight street.

Beautiful prose makes us feel all sorts of feels, but characters we love make us laugh and hurt, and plot that engages makes us gasp and flip pages. The ability to create any of these things is a talent. And like the development of any talent, we learn by example. If you want to write beautiful prose, read a lot of beautiful prose. (Read poetry. Poetry is all about the distillation of language into the specific and the beautiful, and it isn’t obscure or incomprehensible, I promise. Try Elizabeth Bishop: “One Art” or “Insomnia.” )

Learn the rhythms and the echoes of prose you admire. Take a month and read only beautiful prose; you’d be surprised at the effect it has on your own work. It’s like a language immersion class. We learn to speak by hearing; we learn to write by reading.

But don’t think that stylistic loveliness is all there is to writing. (There’s nothing particularly poetic about the prose in, say, Harry Potter, which is actually one of its strengths. You can mainline plot and character because the writing is so undistracting and straightforward. That’s not a bad thing. The “I don’t like the writing but I like the plot/characters” thing is something I first saw said about Harry Potter, and even then I thought, but characters are writing.) Plot and character are the bones and skin of a story, style is like designs drawn on that skin. Work on the bones, the skin the design first, whatever makes you comfortable. Ideally, they all work together.  


You use a lot of other languages in your books and I was wondering how you did the translations? Or do you speak them?

I’m writing a book and including other languages and I was wondering if I could use Google Translate?

First: Definitely, I do not speak Mandarin, Welsh, French, and Spanish. I’m conversational in French and speak some Spanish and Italian. 

Secondly, no, Google Translate is never a good idea except if you’re trying to get a basic idea of what a website is about or something like that.

The translations in my book are done by native speakers — the French was translated by Angélique Issen who runs TMIFrance, and the Mandarin was translated by native speaker Margaret Pon, who is the mother of the lovely Cindy Pon

The phrases, and then the translations of the phrases, then go to Wolfstone Translations to be checked over. I would never do the translations myself! *— even though I’ve lived in France, literally the worst translations you can get are if you think you know a language, or if you do know a language well enough to chat in it, but you don’t know the idioms, you don’t know when things are supposed to be inaccurate because that’s how it’s colloquially spoken (“I’ve got all the feels” means nothing at all in standardized English, but all languages have expressions like it) and you don’t know how the same word is interpreted differently in different locales (“pants” in America and “pants” in England.)

You’re never going to get every single thing about a language right, and there will be native speakers who disagree with other native speakers about how language should be used. Language is a mutable thing. Consult native speakers; if you can’t, work with a reputable translation agency. Ideally do both.


* The only exception I can think of would be the Spanish in TiD, because the only person who speaks it is Gideon, who just learned it — there’s no reason his Spanish would be accurate.


Diversity in Publishers Weekly’s 2013 Young Adult Bestsellers

The number of diverse YA titles — when diverse means main characters of color, LGBT and/or disabled main characters — has remained flat. There has been no improvement overall since last year.

Read the whole post with charts and analysis at DiversityinYA.com.

Hey Cassandra,

I noticed that you’re very outspoken about misogyny in the publishing world and beyond - and that’s great! Inherent, subtle misogyny is rife in our society and I love seeing authors and other public figures speak out against it.

However, one of the things you talk about is how misogyny includes pitting woman against woman. I really agree with this, and I think the media, and fiction, is very guilty of this. So I was wondering, with this in mind and your obviously very strong views on the subject, how do you justify the outward hostility your female characters have towards one another? I’m thinking especially about Clary’s first interactions with Isabelle, and Tessa’s with Jessamine. I never understood on what basis the main characters disliked the other female leads, other than the fact that they were girls. Maybe at a stretch because they were feminine girls - but being feminine isn’t a bad thing. I just wanted to hear why this portrayal of women interacting with women fits in with your feminist ideals.


* * * 

Hi Stella!

A writer’s personal beliefs always play out to some extent in that writer’s fiction, but not usually through perfect characters who always behave perfectly. 
Clary and Isabelle’s relationship is a deconstructionof the way that  girls are trained to view their peers as rivals. It investigates the trope that different kinds of girls as suspect because there can only be one kind of “good” girl—they’re both girls who have had primarily male friends, who are initially wary of each other and who come to love and be loyal to each other. By the time City of Glass comes around, Clary is “comforting Isabelle like a sister”, by the time City of Fallen Angels comes around, it isn’t Jace Clary calls on when she’s in danger and needs someone to save her life: it’s Izzy. There is no well-worn trope of “girls who initially dislike and then come to love each other through working together and mutual empathy”—that’s a plotline given almost exclusively in most cases to boys, or sometimes to a girl and a boy. 
I’m interested in writing books, not tracts, but I hope you can see how two girls who originally disliked one another learning to love and be loyal to one another is a deconstruction, not an example, of the “women pitted against one another” trope. And I hope that doesn’t make either of them Unlikeable Female Protagonists to you.
As for Tessa — after a bumpy intro she gets along fine with Jessamine  and it’s only later their relationship unravels because Jessamine is a terribly damaged person with PTSD who is not stable enough for a friendship with anyone. She is, however, always more hostile to the boys that to Tessa. Meanwhile it’s a bit odd to focus on Tessa’s relationship with Jessamine but not her relationships with any other women …? Tessa’s close female friendships  are with Sophie and Charlotte. She loves and respects Charlotte. She adores Sophie and their mutually supportive relationship crosses class barriers and lasts their entire lives. There’s a range of female relationships in TiD — Sophie’s total loyalty to Charlotte, Charlotte’s frustrated mother-love and eventual betrayed harshness to Jessamine — not just one, and Jessie, while important, is less, not more, of a lead character than Sophie or Charlotte.
 Thinking an uncharitable thought about another girl or not liking her when you first meet can be the result of a lot of things — from rubbing one another the wrong way to the internalized misogyny which makes us judge one another by different standards than we judge guys. But to write about that is to engage with it and write about all of it — the evolution of relationships, of working through the baggage we have as women and girls, and figuring out the people beyond the assumptions. Above all, characters should be people: that means female characters should be strong and weak, clever and thoughtless, selfless and selfish, brave and cowardly, giving and resentful. They should be everything, just like guys get to be everything. 
 I love writing female relationships (Emma and Cristina have an intense sromance, Lucie and Cordelia are parabatai) — the whole range of them. There is a massive world of complicated, often immoral, sometimes unlikeable male characters out there, with complex, layered, intense, fraught relationships with each other — when we talk about the way internalized misogyny judges the same kind of relationships when portrayed between women, we’re not saying we want more tension-free female relationships; we’re saying we want to see more female relationships written with the depth, contradictions, and indeed tension that exists in fictive relationships between men and we want people not to look at those relationships and judge the participants as good women or bad women depending on their temporary and evolving thoughts about each other. Not everyone is going to be friends with everyone, nor should they be: writing with your feminist ideals in mind doesn’t mean writing only one kind of female character, or being unwilling to show women and girls as sometimes flawed or not at their best. 
TLH questions

Hi Cassie! Tessa is my favorite female character and I was wondering on what did she do as the years passed by? Did she train all these years to be a better fighter? Does she continue reading :3? Will we find out in CoHF? — love-herondales

You do find out a little of what Tessa has been background doing in CoHF. She has been much more a scholar than a fighter and in fact the Spiral Labyrinth of the warlocks (mentioned only once before, briefly!) is important in Heavenly Fire.

"So.. my question is.. Will Magnus be in TLH?" — siegemaelstrom

He does appear in TLH. (The Midnight Heir dates his first real reappearance into Will/Tessa/Jem’s lives.) 

In TLH there will be Will and Tessa?

— jim-moriarty-is-the-king
Indeed. They are James and Lucie’s parents, and James and Lucie live with them in the Institute. I don’t know how I’d get rid of them if I wanted to (extended balloon tour!) but I’m happy to have them and write about them as a bit older. The story is not theirs, but the next generation’s, but they are there.
Is there a family tree that encompasses all of the Shadowhunter books? I absolutely adore the series but with all the new releases/reveals am getting a bit lost as to who is related to who and how. — settingfiretoourinsides-forfun
Here is the family tree that exists that should clear up connections between Infernal Devices and TLH . Only 5 years passes between TMI and TDA, and the blood relationships between the characters isn’t super important — also I think it’s hard to keep track of relationships between characters who you don’t yet know, but once the books are real things, and you meet the characters, it’s a lot easier.
I was wondering if will herondale will be in TLH
I’m sensing a theme. :)
Ok, don't get me wrong because it's just curiosity, but I have to ask: how much of Supernatural is in Demon's Lexicon, if any? Please don't get this wrong, i love your books, it's a great story with great characters (and better storytelling, to be fair). It's just that I started to watch it recently and some similiarities struck me. And because it would be SO great if someone made a tv show out of DL :)


Oh, you poor sweetie. Please don’t feel at all self-conscious about asking this question, because it’s totally fine, and I so appreciate you saying you like the books (and I would love to have a TV show!) but this is actually something that comes up a lot. This ask about my books is really nice, which is why I chose it, because people have told me they find hostile asks upsetting. I do myself.

Since this question DOES come up a lot, sometimes in not-so-nice ways, I figured maybe I could use this nice question and write some kind of Ultimate Tumblr Answer to all such questions so I wouldn’t have to answer it again. 

This is going to be kind of a BIG answer and it might feel overwhelming, so check out of it any time after the simple answer, which is:

None. Zero. Zip. Nada.

There is no Supernatural in my books. I promise you.

I have only seen a few episodes of the first season of Supernatural, back maybe six years ago, and I didn’t enjoy it. (Which doesn’t mean that people can’t enjoy it. Many people cooler than me enjoy it. I have a brilliant lady astrophysicist friend who owns all the box sets!) I’m not going to go into why I didn’t enjoy it, because then people will come and argue with me about my judgy ways, and criticise all the stuff like Vampire Diaries and Teen Wolf that I do like. Fair enough, people. Let us all like what we like, accept that we like different things, and everything will be lovely!

I always feel like I have to be careful talking about Supernatural: if any Supernatural fans read the Demon’s Lexicon series and think to themselves, ‘Hey, this contains some of the stuff what I like, i.e. demons and brothers (the only two things TDL and SPN have in common)’ - then fabulous. I want people to read my books, and whatever way they get to my books is wonderful.

But it’s also important to be clear and honest: I would not base a book series on a TV show I never saw much of, and which I didn’t enjoy. That would be a lot of time to devote to stuff I didn’t enjoy! I wouldn’t do it. (Why do people think I would? Well, we’ll get to that later.)

There are a lot of demon stories out there, and a lot of family stories out there, but here are some obvious dissimilarities between Supernatural and the Demon’s Lexicon series:

1. The brothers in Supernatural are actually blood related, while the brothers I wrote about are not blood related. They are not even the same species.

2. One of the brothers in Demon’s Lexicon is disabled.

3. Road-Trip-Through-Small-Town America is a very distinct aesthetic Supernatural seemed to be going for. Can’t be achieved when your setting is England. The magic system itself is rooted in American folklore—mine is totally different.

4. There are ladies in my series who are present in every book and important, whereas I do not believe the Supernatural series has a female lead present in every episode or indeed season.

5. There’s also a queer character present and important in every book, and I do not believe the Supernatural series has a queer character present in every episode. Or indeed season.

6. There are no angels in my world and I understand angels become pretty important in Supernatural. Obviously, they like angels and I like—other stuff.

This has come out seeming judgy of Supernatural after all. I understand that Supernatural now has a queer lady character played by Felicia Day, and that’s excellent. I don’t mean to bag on Supernatural. But it is a very different story to the story in my books, and its creators have very different priorities to me, and I think that’s pretty clear.

There’s something else to be discussed here, which is that people may say unto me: Why’d you write books about brothers and demons if you didn’t want people to think your books were fanfiction, you dumb jerk?

I have two answers to that.

1) I can write what I like and I think it’s gross to say that I can’t.

2) It wouldn’t have mattered what I wrote about. Every book I’ve ever written gets this. My books haven’t just been called Supernatural fanfiction. They get called Harry Potter fanfiction, too. Definitely! How would I have the ability to come up with my own characters? 

No, the hero of Demon’s Lexicon is definitely Harry Potter. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was an evil demon, right?) And Unspoken is definitely Harry Potter too. (Y’all remember that Harry Potter was a part-Japanese sassy girl detective? As well as being an evil demon. That Harry Potter. Such a multi-faceted individual.) 

My books are also Twilight fanfiction. (What isn’t?) And Full Metal Alchemist fanfiction. Just ceaseless fanfiction. And that means of course that the books are very, very bad.

My books get called fanfiction all the time, I think, for two reasons:

a) I am a girl. Dudes get to write perceived-as-derivative/actually-derivative fiction all the time and it’s a HOMAGE, but girls can’t do either. People decide girls’ stuff is derivative and lousy all the time, whereas boys’ stuff is part of a literary tradition and an important conversation. This is sexist and terrible.

Neil Gaiman referenced Asimov in Neverwhere: 


And G.K. Chesterton in Coraline:


And William Gibson in Neverwhere:


Yet I do not see Neil Gaiman getting chased around and called a plagiarist like I was this summer when I wrote three words which also appear in the Hunger Games! (And before that, as it turns out, in The Emperor’s New Groove. Llamas, sue the Hunger Games!)

I am very tired of seeing women insulted for things every dude in the world is allowed to do. It is not literary critique. It is violent misogyny.


b) I used to write fanfiction. (These two issues—sexism and fanfiction—are actually very closely intertwined, because writing fanfiction is something that mostly girls do, and thus like all things Associated With Ladies, such as sewing and pink, is treated as dumb and worthless. And fanfiction, as I’m going to discuss, provides people with a narrative that go ‘why this lady actually sucks’ and people love narratives which say that.)

For those who didn’t know I used to write fanfiction, it’s obviously irrelevant to your opinion of me, and honestly, you can cut out here. Definitely if the person who asked me about Supernatural this time around wants to cut out here… they should. I am about to get mad. It is not your fault. I have just got this too many times, and I have had it up to here.

When someone is traditionally published after writing fanfiction, they get treated like trash, both by people who think fanfiction is weird rubbish and by people who themselves like to write and read fanfiction.

Read More

This is kind of too long to be a response to a post, but Sarah’s post should be seen. So tl;dr warning upfront!

It’s hard for me to think of what to say in response to this post of Sarah’s, because so much of it falls under the Code of Silence: things we just don’t ever talk about online because there’s no safe way of doing it. 

4) A reporter stated and then argued with me that I got my book deal because of my fanfiction despite the fact we were friendly at one time and she knew exactly how the process had gone for me. (I did tell people that I’d written fanfiction, because when you have a hobby people think is weird, you want to tell people yourself in case it becomes an issue. And you present it as a good thing - ‘hey I’m a nerd, I love to blog!’ because… why wouldn’t you?)”

I was in the same article, and the reporter claimed the same thing about me. We also were friendly once. Then we weren’t friendly, and she wrote an enormous blog post about how I was a terrible bitch. After I got my first book deal with Simon and Schuster, someone sent hundreds of physical copies of that blog post, which wasn’t about my writing but about her opinion that I was a bitch personally and a bad friend, to my publisher. Fortunately they were smart enough to recycle it all — publishers don’t really care about your personal life, but it was the first book deal I ever had, and I was so excited, and you can imagine how humiliating that was. (Maybe you can’t. But I can imagine you probably can.)

I (and Sarah) were sort of at the leading edge of fanfiction writers who sold original work and didn’t cover up that they’d written fanfiction. I got, and still get, a lot of vicious flak for not having changed my name when I sold my original work: I was told I was profiting off my fanfiction name. But there’s really no winning, because Sarah did change her name and I saw her get just as many comments saying she was trying to hide that she’d written it. (She wasn’t.) And I knew that even if I did change my name, there were enough photos of me around, and enough stuff known about me — like that I was friends with Holly Black — that it would be a very short time before people figured out that “Jezebel Smith” was actually me, and then it would be an issue of people trying to publicize it as much and as hard as they could, the same way people have tried to dig up and publicize my real name, my address, the directions to my wedding. I didn’t want to live in total terror of the day people found out, so I decided just to be open with it from the start, even though I knew it would be a different kind of awful.  


"… It is so strange that people who read and write fanfiction do this thing where they decide former fanfiction authors can’t be writing their own characters. Because that’s who’s saying this stuff. Nobody who has read my books but not my fanfiction has ever, ever suggested that I based my characters on other characters. Not because these readers haven’t read Harry Potter—who hasn’t?—but because why would it occur to them that Harry Potter is a girl detective, or Ginny Weasley is a pink-haired wannabe Goth, or Ron Weasley is an antisocial lesbian brunette with a flawless make-up game?"

Well, that’s my Ron headcanon.

Joking aside, like Sarah, these are all experiences I’m very familiar with. The narrative about what you’ve done changes, but the narrative is always that if you wrote fanfiction you’re incapable of any originality. I’ve seen people try to bend themselves into pretzels attempting to somehow map my Shadowhunters books onto Harry Potter, though they share little in common except some basic fantasy tropes. Jem is Harry Potter, somehow (because he is nice…?) so I guess Harry Potter is a tall silver-haired Asian demon-fighter addicted to drugs and good at the violin. Who knew? Harry contains multitudes. Jace is Draco (blond!) and Magnus is — I don’t know who they think Magnus is. Dumbledore, maybe. Sexy Indonesian bisexual Dumbledore.

I spent years coming up with the magic system for the Shadowhunters books and it is bogglingly different from the Harry Potter magic system but Clary has red hair and Ginny has red hair so … they are the same.

But, anyway. What is so interesting about this stuff is that it does basically all come from people who are in fandom/write fanfiction. Never do I see anyone unaware of the fact that I wrote fanfic say that Jem reminds them of Harry Potter, or that Will Herondale is obviously Draco Malfoy. They just don’t, ever. 

 I will see people in the comments, I know, saying “But that is different, you see, because you are a terrible person/a self-plagiarist/a fanfiction plagiarist/a cyberbully/a person who deserves this treatment [as John Scalzi once said to someone on his blog who said I deserved the death threats I got because I had gotten people “banned from fandom” (not a thing you can do, fandom’s not a country): “Yeah, she shouldn’t have worn that dress.”] 

Because that is how misogyny works —we divide women, we split them into good and bad women, we use some women’s behavior to shame other women, and we use the consequences meted out to them to terrify others. I can’t count the amount of times my friends have been contacted in order that people might inform them that they shouldn’t be friends with me because I am a terrible person, and that if they do not denounce me publicly they are bad women too. It’s part of a pattern of pitting women against each other than I often see reflected in the weird lies that turn up about me and my writer friends:

1) My publisher paid Holly Black and Sarah Rees Brennan to be friends with me. Which assumes a much higher level of organization on the part of publishing than exists. Also I was friends with them before I had a publisher.

2) Libba Bray hates me and got her husband, my former agent, to fire me. (Agents don’t actually fire you, agents work for you.) Except no, Libba and Barry and I are all friends.

3) Holly Black is is love with me. I am kind of into this one. But it does remind me of Mean Girls.

4) The Bane Chronicles are fanfiction when Sarah writes them but not when Maureen does

5) Holly wrote Magisterium all alone but apparently decided to pretend we cowrite it because she wants a blurb from me, despite already having a blurb from me

6) I continue to secretly write fanfiction under another name. I mean, that would be fine if I did, but I don’t. I regret having written fanfiction more than I regret anything else I have ever done. I can’t really read it or look at it without feeling a little shaky and frightened. I wind up remembering how when I went to DragonCon the year before my book came out they got so many threats about my presence that they were moved to assign me security, which I had never asked for. I remember leaving the country for the publication date of my book. I couldn’t stand to be there. I remember fandom spamming Amazon and Goodreads with bad reviews of City of Bones that contained admittals that they’d never read it. I remember people saying over and over  that “everything would be okay if you just apologized” though I did apologize - groveled, even - dozens of times in fandom, a decade ago, and it never did help or make a difference. 

As Sarah points out, writing fanfic is a largely female hobby/space, and therefore it is mocked and looked down on in that “hordes of scribbling women” way. And contempt for women and what they do, is as always, deeply felt and painful, and it becomes part of how women view themselves. A sort of “I’d never belong to a club that would have me” thing. I’ve been torn to pieces in tumblr comments for using the word “feels” because it proves that I am “fandomy” — by people in fandom …who also use the word feels. 

Fanfic is only growing. More and more young women are coming up writing it. I get asked all the time about transitioning from fanfic writing to pro writing and a lot of times I don’t know what to say. “On my first book tour, people threatened to throw acid in my face and bookstores had to hire security”? “People from fandom dug up my grandfather’s phone number (he was 90) and called him up to tell him his granddaughter was a bitch whore?” (He died before I ever saw him again after that phone call.) “Okay but accept that people will assume your books are just your fanfic because apparently fanfic is like crack and once you start you physically can’t stop and will just sit in the corner going, OH GOD IF I COULD JUST RESIST DRACO MALFOY FOR FIVE MINUTES I COULD WRITE A BOOK BUT I CAN’T”? 

I think probably I’m not the right person to ask for uplifting commentary :) I think I’ll close out with what Holly (who has lived through all of this with me, for a decade, just like Sarah) says on her journal:

This is a really important post, especially for all you young writers coming up now, because I have seen it happen to some of the smartest, most well-read writers I know, writers who care deeply about craft, who are generous and clever and good. And I have seen it happen over and over again…Writers who once wrote fanfiction are not some different breed of writer. They’re not less original. They’re not less good. They’re not less anything. They’re writers, full stop.

On writing continuing series and a gratuitous picture of Tom Hiddleston

Is TLH yet another Shadowhunters project? Don’t you get tired of just writing Shadowhunter books? It doesn’t seem like you can really care about them anymore… if you ever did… so it’s flogging a dead horse. You and your publishers end up looking money-grubbing. Why do all these successful writers keep dragging out their series for the money? And are you ever going to write other books besides Shadowhunters books?

Wowzers. Well, let’s start with the simple stuff: TLH is a Shadowhunter project. I’ve talked about it before. Looking in the James Herondale or The Midnight Heir tags might tell you more…or you can wait till end of February when I can talk about it.

Also yes, I do plan to write other books than Shadowhunters books. I am currently working on both Lady Midnight, the first book of The Dark Artifices (a Shadowhunters book), and also the second book of the Magisterium series, which is cowritten with Holly Black; there are five books; the first one comes out this September 9th, and it is definitely not Shadowhunters. It’s a completely different world and it took us quite a few years to come up with the magic system. 

And now to unpack this pile of loaded questions (which I have stripped down of identifying markers, because even though its a really problematic ask, I don’t want anyone yelling at the asker.)

Don’t you get tired of just writing Shadowhunter books?”

No. I mean, other than the obvious fact that I am not actually, in reality, in this world we currently live in, just writing Shadowhunters books, no, I don’t get tired of them. 

I keep from getting tired of them by not in fact continuing the same story, but setting each series in a completely different time and place, making it about different people, and giving it a totally different tone. The Infernal Devices is a steampunk retelling of Tale of Two Cities set in 1878 London and The Dark Artifices is a noir inspired romantic mystery set in Los Angeles in 2013; the only thing that ties them together is a magic system —so saying they are therefore all the same story seems to me as stupid as asking people who continue writing realistic books set in the actual world when they are going to get bored with the actual world because it’s all the same actual world. They should write fantasy! Change it up! All their books contain carbon-based lifeforms! It’s a travesty! *headdesk* Except no one ever actually says that because it’s ridiculous. Realistic writers of fiction should not be sat on and forced to write fantasy, and continuing writing fantasy set in the same universe is not by definition an act of hackery any more than the fact that there are twelve Dance to the Music of Time books means Anthony Powell should have stopped at three. Writing books set in the same universe in fact requires you to set yourself an ever-increasing set of challenges: how do you grow the universe, develop it, find new corners, tell a wide range of stories, keep a massive mythology running and consistent in your head? These aren’t bigger challenges than building a new world or magic system from scratch (I’ve done both in the past two years) but they are equal.

It doesn’t seem like you can really care about them anymore… if you ever did… so it’s flogging a dead horse.

If I never cared about them, why would I have written them …at all? I would have written something else. There was no particular advantage to writing City of Bones when I did. It could have been anything. When I proposed The Infernal Devices my publisher was not thrilled. They told me historical fantasy didn’t sell. I had to produce a list of YA historical fantasies that had been bestsellers to even sell the project. And I had already been a bestseller. I wrote TiD because I loved the idea and I really really wanted to write them. I would actually have gotten a lot more money for a contemporary fantasy about something else. The TID books succeeded despite expectations, not because of them.

Also, I don’t think flogging a dead horse means what you think it means. Either way I break down what you might mean, it’s inaccurate:

1) Flogging a dead horse means writing books nobody wants to read, for which there is no demand, etc. That is not actually the case here, so what you are really saying is “Why don’t you take this horse that just won the Kentucky Derby out and shoot it, due to the fact that it would be IMMORAL TO CONTINUE OWNING THAT HORSE FOR REASONS I HAVE MADE UP?” You cannot both argue that no one wants to read these books and also that I am writing them for money. It is an either/or. You cannot have both.

2) Flogging a dead horse means the creative spark is gone for the writer but they will keep writing them anyway because they are all about the Benjamins and need to keep up their collection of Louboutin shoes. Although in the case of writers, it is generally more like they are all about the Washingtons and need to keep up their collection of health insurance. Writers don’t usually get paid that much.

To which all I can say is: if the readerly spark is gone for you, then I am sad for it, but it’s a valid feeling. [I do not think it is actually a feeling possessed by the person who wrote this ask, since they spelled all the characters’ names wrong and didn’t know The Infernal Devices was either historical or set in London.*  It is actually hard to fake being a fan of something if you aren’t. But I think it is a feeling that could well be possessed by someone. We all get tired of stuff.] But for me, the writerly spark is not gone.

* (I always find it odd that people who hate my writing are so obsessed with everything I do with my career — though usually clueless about the details or content to make them up — but I suspect that if you hate my books and me personally, you would not suddenly find your opinion changing if I wrote about something other than Shadowhunters.)

I’m writing TLH and TDA because I want to. I want to write about Jules and Emma because I love them and I love their story. I feel the same about James and Lucie and Cordelia and Matthew. They are all very real people to me and so are their stories. If I suddenly couldn’t write them, if my contracts were canceled, I’d be heartbroken. I’ve seen people heartbroken, catapulted into massive depressions, by that same thing. And what is enormously ironic is that then those writers actually do wind up writing something else for money because they have to write something they think will sell. They are in fact in much less of a position to be free and to experiment, to take risks, to do weird, new, exciting things with their work, than you can if you have the very tiny amount of leverage afforded you in a business that is canted enormously in the favor of publishers, not writers, by the fact that your books sell enough copies to make the publisher money.

(And also, if you have not heard, traditional publishing is skint right now. Most of the Big Six have tiny profit margins. Eighty percent of books never earn their advances back and the bestsellers and cookbooks and celebrity books that people think it’s hip to detest pay for the rest of everything — yeah, all those indie literary books, and anything where the publisher is taking a chance on an unknown quantity. That’s off the backs of the small percentage of books that do earn a profit, and so it should be, but it’s not an equation most people are ever aware of.)

So, no, I do not “not care.” I probably, as you can tell here, care too much!

You and your publishers end up looking money-grubbing.

I will now go and kidnap the Hubble Telescope, with which I will attempt to detect the interest of my publisher in whether or not people think they are interested in turning a profit. They are a media conglomerate. One wonders what you expected. If they do not turn a profit, they go out of business.

As for me personally: always interesting to see the absolute and total discomfort with the idea of writers making money, and especially women writers making money, rearing its head.

Not that long ago I was attending a panel at a convention about writing for a long time in the same world. It’s something I’ve always aspired to do — Tamora Pierce has always been one of my literary idols because she’s developed such a rich world with the five series set in the Tortellan universe.

One of the things I found most interesting about the panel was that the women writers on the panel talked about how people viewed them expanding their universes or writing more books in a successful series with deep suspicion, (and a lot of “you’re just in it for the money”) and the male writers reported — well, not experiencing that.

It’s easy enough to get on the internet and announce loudly what you think other people should do when it isn’t your money, your career, or your family’s welfare that you’re risking. Writers by and large don’t make a living wage at all; one book that doesn’t do well can tank your whole career, and all of this goes double for female writers as compared to their male counterparts who are paid more, promoted more, reviewed more, and given more second chances.

 ”She’s writing it for the money.” I see this about me, and about a lot of women writers who have created popular universes and continue to write in them. I don’t see this so much directed at men: in fact I can think of several male writers off the top of my head who are doing exactly what I am doing — creating a big universe and then writing stories in different corners of it — and I’ve never seen this critique aimed at them. Not that it doesn’t exist ever, but it isn’t common enough to have passed across my dash, twitter, etc.

People get really uncomfortable when you talk about art and money, and especially when you talk about women, art and money. They want an incredibly clear separation between art that is done for the sake of art, and art that people expect to get paid for. Tough. There’s not one. It’s complicated. People think women should be supported by their husbands and therefore free to pursue their art unburdened by financial issues. I have actually seen this. (I did not realize that one could access the internet from 1850.) I am on a retreat with four talented lady writers at the moment and all of them are the breadwinners in their families. Without the salaries they make writing, there are kids who would be going unfed, elderly relatives going uncared for, and siblings not attending college. I don’t really know what else to say about that except that there is a long tradition of making women feel like shit about the art they choose to produce, and it is not a proud one.

Why do all these successful writers keep dragging out their series for the money?

The really baffling thing about this complaint isn’t just that you assume you can intuit why a total stranger is doing what they do, or making the creative choices they’re making — which is not just arrogant but borders on the creepstery — but that you genuinely cannot see the logical  tissue that connects 1) successful series and 2) people continuing to write in that world. Let me break it down for you.

There is a reason you see people extend successful series or keep writing in universes in which they have previously written popular books.

Because they can.

And I don’t mean because they can in the sense of “I DO WHAT I WANT!”


I mean it in the sense of “because they are really really lucky, lucky enough to  get to write what they want.” Successful series get expanded and writers write more in that world because when series are successful, publishers will publish more books related to that series. This may seem blindingly obvious, but apparently not. Series that make money continue on because publishers do not publish series that do not make money. The only way you get the opportunity to continue to write in the same world is if your previous books in that world have been financially successful. 

Every single one of my close circle of writing friends has had to abandon a project because it was not financially viable.

Every. Single. One.

These writers  had whole other stories to tell in those worlds. They had masses of family trees and other characters and new twists on the magic and breathtaking reveals that the world is never going to see and you are never going to get to read and that sucks, and it sucks as well that the response is to heap abuse on the people who are lucky enough to get to write what they love.

I am incredibly privileged and lucky to be able to keep writing Shadowhunter books. I write them because I love them. I love the world, and I intentionally built it to be flexible enough to allow for a range of storytelling. I don’t get bored writing them because they feature enormously different characters, different styles, and focus on different time periods. I am lucky they sell well enough that my publisher wants to continue publishing them because I would write them anyway.

I probably wouldn’t normally answer this sort of ask at all as it is generally more trouble than it is worth, and the people who ought to read the answer, aren’t the people that will. But interestingly I got it at the same time that I found out that LJ Smith was going to publish new installments of The Vampire Diaries using Kindle Worlds. Which is, as far as I can tell, an Amazon self-publishing program set up to allow fanfiction writers to write and sell fanfiction based on Vampire Diaries on Amazon. Why is she doing that? Because Vampire Diaries was a packaged project, which means it belongs entirely to Alloy Entertainment and not to LJ Smith even though she wrote every word of the books that the TVD show was based on. At some point, they fired her from the project and hired another writer. Now she’s continuing the stories in the only way she legally can.

Now, I don’t know anything about the books, or the show, or the author, but a gesture like that — when she’s a big bestseller and could just sell another unrelated series free and clear for a ton of money if she felt like it — indicates that she loves this story she invested in so much she will keep writing it no matter the circumstances. And that is how most of us feel. It is certainly how I feel. If I couldn’t get a publisher to publish TDA or TLH (or TWP when it comes to that) I might self-publish them because without those installments, the Shadowhunters world and story wouldn’t feel finished to me and I would be massively unhappy. Fortunately — again, because I am lucky —I don’t have to do that.

Asker, I doubt you got this far, but if you did: the way you think about publishing and writing is broken. I hope you’ll reconsider it, since it can’t be that much fun for you, and also it is kind of embarrassing to make a lot of assumptions about the motivations of strangers and then turn out to be wrong. Actual readers of mine, who are most of the people reading this tumblr, if you have managed to get this far, all I can say is that I love the series I have coming out as much as the ones I’ve already written. I strive to make each book the best I can make it and I will continue to do that. There is not much point suggesting I go write the books of my heart instead of these when these are the books of my heart. And that is probably all there is to say about that.

Trust teenage girls.
"I’ve put some thought into this question and while I’m not sure if I’m going to get it across clearly, I will try. In regards to the relationship arc in City of Fallen Angels and City of Lost Souls between Clary and Jace: While the notion that love can either raise us or tear us down is significant, how do you reconcile it with a relationship that becomes unhealthy both emotionally and physically? I mean, Jace clearly goes through a lot and while his altered state of mind/being lays the blame for his actions elsewhere, doesn’t the abuse Clary endures in the name of love a little bit perverse? As a somewhat adult (23), who is well adjusted, I accept and understand that the dynamics of a relationship are fluid but in recommending the series to teenagers who are considerably less rational and far more impressionable I worry that they make take the wrong message from the books. At times Jace and Clary’s relationship almost encourages females (or any partner in a relationship, though I would suggest the line of thinking tends to be feminine) to accept abusive tendencies in relationships and fosters the “it’s my fault”/”he didn’t mean to hurt me” lines of reasoning for the sake of love. Jace’s altered state of being reminds me of those who act out of abuse in the throws of addiction, and as such, the altered state allows the abuser an excuse for his actions. I’m not sure if I am reading too much into the dynamic but I am having a hard time reconciling the relationship with the strong and willful nature of Clary, as a heroine… any thoughts?" — (redacted but if you want your name included, asker, drop me a line and I will.)
To address the specific question quickly: Except for the short scene at the end of Lost Souls, Clary does not have a relationship with Jace in City of Fallen Angels or City of Lost Souls at all, healthy or unhealthy. To clarify: Clary isn’t in a relationship with Jace because, as she realizes at the end of COLS, mind-controlled Jace is not Jace. He looks like Jace and professes to love her, but her arc is in realizing that that doesn’t matter, which is actually a mark of realizing what makes a healthy relationship. Clary sees beyond false-Jace’s looks and the feelings that apply to her to the bits that make him a good person and which have been taken from him: his morality and that common characteristic that they share, willfullnessi.e. the exercise of free will. Evil!Jace has no free will, and therefore isn’t Jace. That is not a fact that can be put aside or ignored. Fantasy is magic, which means it de facto explores situations that no one in our world is ever going to find themselves in, and for which there is no analogy. In this story arc Jace really is in a magic mind-control situation; that is not just a metaphor for something else. It’s a thing happening in the books. He has literally become, through magic, a totally different person. Yes, it’s true that there’s always a metaphorical value to a magical world, but a magical world is not only metaphor, or it isn’t actually fantasy.  
The other thing that is interesting about fantasy is that if you do decide to read it metaphorically, its metaphors are often broad enough to be flexibly applied to a range of personal issues going on with individuals. For instance, someone wrote to me and said that the situation with Clary and Jace in CoLS helped them deal with their relationship with a partner suffering from depression; another that it helped them with a family member who had PTSD. Neither situation is what the book is about, but the metaphor was flexible enough for them to find something in it that applied to them personally.  If you do decide to read CoLS as a metaphor for an unhealthy relationship between Clary and Jace, well — Clary’s relationship with mind-controlled Jace indeed isn’t okay and everyone in the book knows it, including Clary. Her decision to go and rescue him is a brave one — and bravery is often willful and reckless, the direct choice to put yourself in the path of danger. She already thinks of  evil! Jace as dangerous. She plays along with his idea that she loves him to get the advantage, but at no point does she ever consider mind-controlled Jace her boyfriend, or skipping off into the sunset with him a viable possibility. The value mind-controlled Jace has that he is the key to getting back real Jace. When it seems that getting back real Jace would be impossible or at to high a cost, she resolves to kill mind-controlled Jace and then actually does it — it’s only luck and magic that keeps Jace alive after she stabs him. 
Why would anyone want to emulate a relationship which everyone in the book thinks is bad, in which the only partner who is happy is mind-controlled, and that ends with the girl stabbing the guy presumably to death because he’s evil? 
Which brings us back to the topic of teenage girls. What happens with Clary and Jace in CoFA and CoLS is thing that will never happen in real life, and teenage girls know that. They are not so stupid that they are going to read about a girl trying to rescue her boyfriend from being mind-controlled and decide that means an unhealthy relationship is desirable any more than they are going to read Lolita and decide they want to go on a road-trip with a middle-aged pedophile. Neither experience is presented as any fun, and while I strongly object to the fundamental idea that teens are parrots who copy any behavior that seems fun, I hope we can at least credit them with not wanting to emulate behavior that is no fun at all.
 For a long time, growing up, I saw these kinds of messages about books being bad for you mainly coming from the far right — messages that said that teenagers shouldn’t be allowed to read books about characters who were gay/did drugs/got pregnant because they would immediately become gay, drug-addicted and pregnant. Now more and more I see this coming from the left as well — people who say that no one should read Laurie Anderson’s Speak because it is about rape and it might be triggering. People who say that my books, or Sarah Rees Brennan’s books, or Holly Black’s books, or Maureen Johnson’s books, shouldn’t be read because they contain gay characters but those characters do not behave in the ways they think gay characters should behave (despite the fact that less than 1% of YA books contain gay characters, so once you start crossing books with gay characters in them off your list because “Alec is shy” — yes, I’ve seen that — you wind up with a smaller and smaller pile of books with any LGBTQ+ representation at all. I’m certainly not saying that I do an A+ perfect job of representing gay characters, but i do think it’s important to try because if no one ever tries, then there are no books with gay characters in them to be bought, and then no one will publish more and further, and they will stop existing. Imperfect representation is a stepping stone to good representation.) People saying that books with unhealthy relationships with them shouldn’t be read even if those relationships are depicted as unhealthy and everyone in the book thinks they’re unhealthy. Because, the argument goes, teenage girls are too impressionable, too stupid, to pick up on subtext, obvious clues, or even things that are outright stated in the text — or too stupid to notice if a writer is being sexist, or ableist, or homophobic. But they’re not. They notice those things; some of the best comments I’ve gotten about problematic issues in my own books have been from teens.
Let’s just keep saying it. Teenage girls are not stupid. They are able to tell reality from fantasy. They are able to understand that when the bad guy does something, it means that thing is not something anyone is cheering them on to emulate (thus an entire generation was able to read Harry Potter without removing their own noses and committing genocide). Despite reading Percy Jackson and The Hunger Games, teenagers have not started killing each other with crossbows or swimming to the bottom of the ocean to see if they can breathe. And speaking of the Hunger Games, Katniss also has a mind-controlled boyfriend who treats her abusively — in fact her puts his hands around her neck and tries to strangle and kill her. Later, he gets cured, and Katniss winds up married to him. If we assume teenagers do not understand context (as Jace in CoFA and CoLS is not Jace at all; Peeta is in fact actually mind controlled, it’s not a metaphor for being on drugs or having anger management issues) then we have to worry about them reading The Hunger Games, too. And then you’ve opened up that big black pit that books disappear into when someone has decided that a book is bad for teenagers: sometimes the locked cabinet in the library, or even the dumpster outside.
 Talking about problematic issues in books is great and necessary, but I am concerned with this new twist on an old idea: that every book that is problematic must be condemned. Literally every book on the face of this earth is problematic: books should not be kept from teenagers because they are problematic, and teenagers should not have what is good for them dictated solely by others. 
If you are not a teenager now, then think of yourself when you were a teenager. Think of the book that kept you company and gave you succor and told you there were other people out there like you and helped you through dark times. Was it problem-free? I doubt it. Mine wasn’t. No book is. But it helped you, maybe saved your life. Now think about the person who wants to protect you from that book. Would you have thanked them?
I wouldn’t.
Trust teenage girls.

The young adult book tropes that ate the world


From some people in the YA field (usually adults), I hear ongoing criticism of certain tropes in YA books. Enough love triangles. Enough falling in love with one person and then another. Enough characters falling in love instantly. Enough characters who can’t figure out what they want. Enough characters who discover they (or their crush) are changing, turning/can turn into a creature both more incredible and horrible than they ever imagined. Enough protagonist complaining/whining about his/her life (though let’s be honest, this criticism is usually directed at the “her” only). Enough conveniently absent parents so the protagonist can be free to have an adventure. Enough what we’ve already seen a hundred times.

But what I’m actually hearing is, enough teenagers.

These tropes in YA are tropes to begin with because they deal so directly and profoundly and metaphorically with the teenage experience. Which is what YA fiction is actually about. And when I hear them criticized so harshly and absolutely, I start to wonder if those critics are just tired of teenagers in general.

I’m not a parent of a teenager yet, so talk to me again in a few years, but I believe that teenagers need those years to get messy, to make mistakes, to fall in love all the time instantly and slowly with him/her, then him/her, to complain, to fight, to struggle for independence but then still need comfort and safety, to live an entire lifetime condensed into a few volatile, fascinating, difficult, beautiful years. That’s how their brains develop. That’s how they figure out who they will be. As adults, I think we need to respect the teenage years and help them live through the experience with as little permanent damage as possible, while still allowing them the experiences themselves. And as readers, I think we need to respect the stories that express those years. Sometimes demanding books that rid themselves of all teenage angst and tropes is like demanding that teens just grow up already and be adults.

To be clear, I think everyone has a right to not like any book for any reason. Reading is personal. And I think criticism is important and done right and received well, the voices can help challenge writers to write new and better things. So I’m not asking for the criticism to stop. I just think it’s worth adding these thoughts to the conversation.

The great thing about rules in writing is they can always be broken. What stopped working, what became hackneyed and overdone, can become fresh and exciting in the right story with the right author and the right reader. So let’s not close any doors on writers. And let’s not send the message to teens that the books they love and the stories that resonate with them have no value or worth. They get that enough from some adults about their very beings.

Sarah Rees Brennan:

*spraypaints in gold on Buckingham Palace*

These are some excellent thoughts on certain stuff that gets dismissed as OBVIOUSLY BAD in YA, and Shannon Hale is very right that a lot of it is teen behaviour—uncertainty and intensity about themselves and romance and life in general. ‘Stories that are meant for you or feature you are junk.’ it’s what people have told all women for centuries, and it says nothing about the stories themselves. When devaluing people, the world devalues and try to take away their stories—mirrors of themselves, promises that they are important, that they can change or escape or be loved or be heroes. It says nothing about the people devalued, and a lot about the world.

It also says that stories are vital, or the world wouldn’t be so afraid of them.”

I have a TRUST TEENAGE GIRLS post to dust off myself. This may give me the impetus to do it.

As an author, how do you deal with readers having unexpectedly strong emotional reactions to your work - if, for example, you hear that a scene you wrote triggered anxiety attacks, or that a reader had a breakdown because of the fate of a character?


If people are reacting strongly to something I wrote, that means I wrote it honestly and well.  I don’t want to hurt anyone, and I don’t revel in causing people pain, but I can’t say “I want to make people happy and joyful and laugh” without “sometimes I will need to make people sad and angry and cry.”

I hope I haven’t triggered any anxiety attacks, but I’m sure I have made some people very unhappy (in the “I liked it and then…” sense, not in the “THIS IS SHIT” sense, although that may have happened too).  It all means I am doing my job correctly.  That is good.

I like to do my job.