There are a lot of reasons to read City of Bones, book one of Cassandra Clare's Mortal Instruments trilogy. The young adult urban fantasy is set in New York, a great back drop for all the supernatural elements. The main character, Clary, is a normal teenager when the world she knows it changes. Her mother, an artist with the temperament to match, is attacked by a demon. Clary comes home to find the demon still there and barely survives the encounter.
The story that follows is gripping. The scale is truly epic, the ultimate battle between good and evil. Filled with likeable characters as well as a bad guy you can love to hate; and, my personal favorite, a cat by the name of Chairman Meow. There is humor here as well as heartbreak, sadness and excitement, even love.
Ms. Clare was kind enough to answer some questions about City of Bones as well as her experiences as a newly published author. She even hints at what the future holds for Clary.
Where did you first get the idea for City of Bones?
I got the idea one day when I was walking around the East Village in Manhattan with a friend of mine. She showed me the tattoo parlor where she used to work. They had a tradition there of having their staff step in paint and then track their footprints across the ceiling. It looked to me like some supernatural battle had taken place with people running across the walls and ceiling. I started working from there on a book that centered on tattoo-based magic.
What about young adult urban fantasy, instead of adult, drew you to it?
I didn't originally think of City of Bones as young adult, just as a fantasy novel. The characters simply happened to be teenagers. At some point I was approached by a publisher who was interested in publishing the book, but they wanted me to "age up the characters" and make them adults. I toyed with the idea for a while, but I knew it wouldn't work. I wanted to tell a story about characters at that crucial life stage just between adolescence and adulthood, where every choice seems possible. I knew it had to be a coming-of-age story; that was just how I envisioned it.
When you came up with your story idea did you intend to write a trilogy or did the story just take on a life of its own?
I came up with the idea of a trilogy that was loosely structured on the Divine Comedy – if you look at the titles of each part in City of Bones, you'll see they all have "descent" in them. In City of Ashes, the theme is hell or inferno. The structure is descent, inferno, ascent — it's the hero's voyage into and out of the underworld — so I pictured it in three parts.
City of Bones really does have almost every imaginable supernatural or fantastic creature in it. Did you spend a lot of time researching creatures?
Yes, and that was enormously fun. I read all sorts of texts about fallen angels and demons, a lot of faerie lore, and various myths. 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.
What was the best part for you about working in a world where you could create anything you wanted? Did you find it limiting at all?
Well, I don't think there's ever a situation where you can do anything you want — first you establish the rules of your cosmology and magic system, and then you have to stick to those rules. If it's not limited in some sense, then there aren't enough consequences in the story to keep it interesting.
Do you have a favorite character from your novel? I have to admit that I'm rather partial to Simon myself.
My boyfriend will be happy to hear that. He's convinced Simon is based on him. My favorite character is Magnus. He's so much fun to write. He's always wearing and saying something fabulous and dramatic.
How has your writing group been helpful?
Oh, they're fantastic. I'm lucky to be in a writing group with such amazing people. The first few group meetings I could barely even say anything because I was so overwhelmed. When we had our City of Bones meeting I went home with six copies of the manuscript written over in red ink. I had to lug the ten-pound bag of paper on the train from Boston, but their comments were invaluable.
Do you have any good advice for new writers?
My writing group has been wonderful for me. I'd always recommend joining a critique group where you can get objective feedback. Even something like critters.org online can be really helpful.
What has the publishing process been like for you?
I knew exactly what agent I wanted going in to the whole process, because I knew a few of his clients and they'd recommended him. Barry, my agent, specialized in young adult and knows a huge amount about fantasy, he's really supportive and he was all about finding me not just the best deal but the best editor who would help me grow my career. As for my editor, she's been in the business a long time; she's edited great people like Annette Curtis Klause and Robert Cormier. She's extremely thorough and very careful, but she's also flexible and happy to compromise, and she has a wicked sense of humor.
On your website you said that some of your favorite fantasy is the Narnian chronicles by C.S. Lewis. Which book is your favorite and why?
Oddly, I like The Silver Chair. I'm a sucker for underground empires. I know that I am only one of many who are waiting impatiently for the next book City of Ashes in The Mortal Instruments trilogy due out in April, 2008.
Are there any hints you can give us about what the future holds?
In City of Ashes the kids have to contend with a massacre in the City of Bones — most of the Silent Brothers are murdered — and the theft of the second of the Mortal Instruments. Things heat up in the love triangle department. There are a lot more demons and things get considerably darker, and one of the main three characters — Clary, Simon, and Jace — dies.