Navigating the Shadow World: The Unofficial Guide to Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments

Navigating the Shadow World: The Unofficial Guide to Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments

by Liv Spencer


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781770411654
Publisher: ECW Press
Publication date: 07/01/2013
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 1,287,005
Product dimensions: 6.22(w) x 8.84(h) x 0.81(d)
Lexile: NC1290L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Liv Spencer is the author of "Love Bites: The Unofficial Saga of Twilight," "The Miranda Cosgrove and iCarly Spectacular: "Unofficial and Unstoppable," and "Rosewood Confidential: The Unofficial Companion to Pretty Little Liars." She lives in Toronto.

Read an Excerpt

Navigating the Shadow World

The Unofficial Guide to Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments

By Liv Spencer


Copyright © 2013 Liv Spencer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-77090-445-3



Though Cassandra Clare has sold millions of books by spinning fantastic tales that draw from myth and legend, when it comes to actual writing, she is nothing if not a realist. She dismisses moments of golden light inspiration or a romanticized calling. "Inspiration, when it does come, doesn't come from outside of you. It comes from the work that you do, from the process itself," she wrote. She sees writing as a serious commitment, as a series of choices. And it's that hard work and practical dedication that have taken her from a girl who read fantasy novels to a woman who writes them.

Cassie was born Judith Rumelt, July 27, 1973, in Tehran, Iran. She traveled all over the world with her parents, Elizabeth and Richard, and had been a resident of England, France, and Switzerland before she turned 10. As she moved from place to place, sometimes attending school and sometimes being homeschooled, books were her constant companion, and she often found herself dipping into her father's science fiction and fantasy books, though she read in a variety of genres. She was introduced to oral storytelling by her father, who found ways to make stories part of daily life. Cassie recalled, "My father was a great storyteller and he used to be able to bribe me to do whatever he wanted — finish my homework, do the laundry — with stories. It made me realize the great motivational power of fiction!"

She described her younger self as "really, really quiet, which is always a shocker for people who know me now." She elaborated, "I was the quiet kid in the corner, reading a book. In elementary school, I read so much and so often during class that I was actually forbidden from reading books during school hours by my teachers. I've always thought that was something of a counterproductive measure. I mean, shouldn't you want kids to read? Admittedly maybe not during biology class." At age 12, when she got her first computer, she started writing books, experimenting in various genres: "I wrote a terrible vampire novel and a terrible mystery novel and a terrible romance novel and a terrible Arthurian novel," she said.

When Cassie was in high school, the family settled in L.A., where she kept reading and writing. At age 15, to entertain her friends, she even wrote a thousand-page novel called The Beautiful Cassandra, based on the Jane Austen story of the same name. (That story eventually gave her part of her pen name; her adopted last name is her grandmother's middle name, as well as the county in Ireland she came from. Clary's name was also a tribute to the courageous, quick-tempered Irishwoman.) "One of the great joys of being so young and writing for fun is the lack of pressure and the freedom to write whatever you want," said Cassie. She credits a dedicated creative writing class as a huge boost to her development, noting, "It allowed for a lot of personal attention being paid to each student's work and a lot of critique."

Cassandra took more writing classes in college, but they didn't have the same impact, and while she still loved writing, she assumed she wasn't cut out to write fiction. She became a journalist instead, writing for various tabloids and entertainment magazines. She didn't love the subject matter or the hours though, and she found her mind drifting back toward fiction.

Needing a creative outlet after her day job, she returned to the fictional worlds she loved and wrote fan fiction under the name Cassandra Claire. Her Draco trilogy offered an alternate-universe take on Harry Potter, starting with the Boy Who Lived switching bodies with his loathed classmate Draco Malfoy. The series offered a sympathetic hero in the canon's villainous Draco, a characterization that became known as Fanon Draco, or, after a scene Cassie wrote that had the character in tight leather pants, LeatherPants!Draco.

Her fan fiction was enormously popular, but after she published the second book of the Draco trilogy, it also became enormously divisive. Cassandra suffered accusations of plagiarism — namely that she had borrowed expressions, dialogue, and scenes from other books and TV shows without properly crediting them. While fan fiction convention allowed borrowing from other work, it was expected that individual passages would be cited, so original writing and borrowed pieces were distinct. Cassandra hotly contested the accusations, pointing to her opening disclaimers listing works she mentioned or incorporated. She argued that her work was a "pastiche," a form that intentionally imitates other work, and that using others' material made an Easter egg game for her readers, who would try to identify the borrowed passages in the comments after a post. Since she was working as an entertainment journalist during the day, she argued she was well aware of copyright laws, and that one of the reasons she liked fan fiction was that it offered more freedom. After all, fan fiction operates with the intellectual property of others as a foundation, so she saw it as a gray area that supported this particular writing style. Regardless of her defense, after the plagiarism charges, Cassie's account was deleted from, where she had been posting her work. The author refused to let this incident deter her from writing, however, and she found a new home for it on FictionAlley, a Harry Potter fanfic site. There she released the third volume in the Draco trilogy, Draco Veritas. Unfortunately, Cassie has since removed the books, explaining to the Wall Street Journal, "I felt like it was juvenilia."

She created another popular fanfic in The Very Secret Diaries, which gave The Lord of the Rings a Bridget Jones treatment, bringing Bridget's signature style to diary entries written from the point of view of LOTR's major characters. An example from Aragorn's diary: "Day Six: Orcs killed: none. Disappointing. Stubble update: I look rugged and manly. Yes! Keep wanting to drop-kick Gimli. Holding myself back. Still not King." Like the Draco trilogy, The Very Secret Diaries was wildly successful, and, since it appeared at the same time as The Fellowship of the Ring's 2001 theatrical release, it drew many fans who were not fan fiction readers.

These online outlets became a place for the author to hone her fiction writing skills, forcing her to learn by doing and also exposing her to constant feedback from betareaders — the work's first editors, who give it a rigorous once-over before release — and regular online readers. Cassie's return to fiction was also fostered by a part-time job at a children's bookstore, where she found herself revisiting books she loved as a child. Soon her own ideas for novels started bubbling to the surface, and she decided to move to New York City to pursue her dream of writing fiction.


Established in the Big Apple, a city that had always inspired her, Cassie was actively searching her new surroundings for stories. She was energized by the cityscape, and she explained, "New York is such an enormous, vibrant, and dramatic city. It feels like it has a living presence of its own, and that's very magical." Like Clary learning to see the Shadow World beneath the veil of glamour, the author got her first glimpse of a secret world she could create while visiting a tattoo parlor in Greenwich Village with a friend. This parlor had a unique feature: the footprints of all its former tattoo artists on the ceiling in paint. Gazing up at the footprints, Cassie imagined an epic battle between supernatural creatures. Her friend also showed her tattoos based on ancient runes thought to protect the warriors who wore them.

She connected this spark with a love of angel and demon mythology, specifically that of John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost. That heavenly struggle became, the author noted, "the backbone of the world." Since Cassandra wanted to draw on that story as well as other literature and mythologies, she ended up doing extensive research. In this case, that meant everything from demonology to runic languages to location scouting in NYC. "I read all sorts of texts about fallen angels and demons, a lot of faerie lore, and various myths," said Cassandra. "What I discovered was that every culture has its myth of evil spirits or demons. Some are aspects of existing gods, as in Indian and Persian myths, and some are agents of some overwhelming evil force that's locked in a battle with a single god — as in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — while in Native American mythology they personify the destructive aspects of the natural world, like tornadoes and earthquakes. I even tried some demon-summoning spells, but not with any success."

Despite these fantastical influences, Cassandra knew she wanted to keep her story attached to the real world, and she remembered the urban fantasy that had caught her attention as a teen. Cassie told the New Zealand Herald, "When I was growing up in the '80s there was a sort of cult movement of writers who were popularizing this idea that you should bring fantasy into the modern world. For me, that was much more relatable than traditional high fantasy, which was all very medieval with castles and knights. I couldn't connect with that as a 12-year-old girl, but I could connect with the idea of children or teenagers running away from the real modern world to join a semi-magical world." Cassie sees herself as part of an urban fantasy tradition that includes authors such as Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, and Holly Black.

The city that had offered her inspiration would be the gateway to her hidden world. At the 2011 National Book Festival, Cassie explained, "I believe all cities have a shadow self that I love to explore: forgotten buildings, places that nobody goes, cemeteries that have been moved or closed off, ruined old hotels, things like that that have their own spirit and still exist. We don't use them, but I like the idea of the secret society that could see them differently than we do and did use them." But even if her day-to-day life offered inspiration for the setting of her book, she contends that didn't make building the Shadow World easy. "A lot of people feel like urban fantasy is a shortcut that gets you around world-building, because it's set 'in the real world,'" said Cassandra. "But it doesn't really work that way, as I found out. You have to come up with just as consistent an internal cosmology and magic system as you would if you were writing high fantasy."

Cassie spent the better part of three years creating the Shadow World, giving it shape, consistent rules, and populating it with the characters fans have since grown to love. Soon Cassandra realized she had an epic of her own on her hands. She recalled, "The story — really the two main characters, Jace and Clary — came into my head and wanted to be written. I did think, 'This is a big project.' But I love reading epic fantasies and big fat books and so I really wanted to write one. I think you always write what you want to read."

Cassie knew for her that meant a forbidden love story. Explaining what she likes in a romance, Cassie wrote, "I like lots of longing and unrequited love. I like to start a book and not really be sure what's going to happen in the end, if the author's going to mess me around or break my heart." As a writer, the idea of a love triangle was specifically appealing, because, as she explained in an interview with Holly Black, "Love triangles are a fabulous thing for character development because usually in a love triangle if you do it right, the two prongs of the love triangle — your two choices that you can make — represent choosing different kinds of life for yourself."

She also knew she wanted to write for teenagers. In an article on YA fantasy for the Wall Street Journal, Cassie explained, "In young adult fantasy, your protagonist is never merely a bit player: the magical world, newly discovered, is created for them, and they shape the fate of it. From discovery, to confusion, to realization, to control — it's a fast-track through adulthood, with none of adulthood's mundane problems, like refinanced mortgages, taking out the trash, or taxes." It also allowed her to contribute to a genre that had had a huge influence on her, and to tap into the excitement she'd felt as a young reader. She noted, "When I was a teenager, that was the best reading time of my life. It was the time I experienced reading the most intensely and read the most widely and with the most excitement. I wanted a chance to experience that again through writing for teens."

Before she started writing chapter 1, the writer made sure she had everything planned out. While some authors say they like to see where the story takes them, in a world as complex as the Shadow World, it helps to have a plan. On her website, Cassie explained, "I also write better when I'm aware of structure — when I know not only what's going to happen, but when it needs to happen, when clues need to be dropped, and where and when certain things need to be emphasized or de-emphasized. I outline not just the series, but individual books, and not just the individual books, but each chapter, scene by scene. I also outline each character's arc — where they start out, what they want when they start out, where their chief moments of growth/discovery are, and how they end up."

Even with plenty of inspiration, ideas, and a great outline, actually writing proved difficult at first. Cassie wanted every chapter to be perfect before she moved forward, so she wasn't making much progress. "Finally," she said, "I decided to skip the beginning entirely and write through from chapter three, and for whatever reason that worked for me — I was able to work through building the world, and then go back later and establish that world more fully in the beginning, because now I really knew it."


After around a year of writing and revising, Cassandra had 10 chapters and an outline for the three books, and she decided it was time to start looking for a publisher. A common way for authors to connect with publishers is through agents, the talent scouts of the literary world who look for work with promise and bring it forward to publishers. Even finding an agent can be tricky, but Cassie was lucky: she attended a friend's reading at KGB Bar in New York, and that friend introduced Cassie to her agent, Barry Goldblatt, and vouched for Cassie's work. The agent agreed to look at what she had, and on the strength of Cassie's draft, signed her on as a client in early 2004.

Goldblatt, a children's book and YA specialist who represents authors like Holly Black, Libba Bray, Angela Johnson, and Lauren Myracle, worked with Cassie to strengthen her proposal even further, and by late 2004, he was offering it to publishers. In spring 2005, he sold the package to Margaret K. McElderry Books (an imprint of Simon & Schuster) for $75,000. Barry later admitted he'd never sold a trilogy on so little material — a testament to the strength of Cassie's writing and ideas. Rights were also sold to a U.K. publisher, with the first book to be published in July: a rare opportunity for a first-time author. Cassie was very pleased with her agent, telling Blogcritics, "He was all about finding me not just the best deal but the best editor who would help me grow my career."

That editor was Karen Wojtyla, and once Cassie had completed City of Bones in fall 2005, it was up to Karen to work with the author to make it the best possible book. Though the author/editor relationship can sometimes be difficult and requires a lot of trust, Cassandra praised her editor: "She's extremely thorough and very careful, but she's also flexible and happy to compromise, and she has a wicked sense of humor."

Cassie explained the editorial process on her Tumblr: "You don't need to take all your editor's changes, but as someone very smart once said (I think it was Neil Gaiman), if someone tells you what is wrong with your story, they are almost 100% likely to be right that something is wrong, though they may not be right about how to fix it. So if K tells me there's something wrong with the story, I believe her, and I may take her way of fixing it or I might make my own." She also notes that after receiving her edit, she usually cuts around 20,000 words, and then adds another 30,000 to 50,000 words of rewrites in the new draft. Cassie also had the benefit of feedback from her writer friends, like Kelly Link and Holly Black. (See "Words with Friends" on page 23.)


Excerpted from Navigating the Shadow World by Liv Spencer. Copyright © 2013 Liv Spencer. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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