Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Cassie Clare shares thoughts on continuing Shadowhunter series

Cassandra Clare, aka our very favorite author (of course), took to Tumblr today to answer a very complicated series of questions about the continuing of her Shadowhunter books and about how people criticize successful authors when they write several books.

So, I've seen these sorts of questions posed before and always wondered how Cassie would react. If I were her, I'd ball up in a little corner and cry for fear that everyone was being mean to me. Something like this:

 Luckily, Cassie is way cooler than I am and shared why she still writes the Shadowhunter books, how she continues to write them without getting tired of them, and how successful authors pour their souls out to create great books. Take a look and let us know what you think about her comments.

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.

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