Today I’m absolutely thrilled to welcome New York Times Bestselling author Cassandra Clare to the blog, in the first of our two-part Shadowhunters interview series! Cassandra is the author of the Shadowhunter Chronicles universe, which encompasses more than two dozen books and short-story collections, four graphic novels, one film, a television series, and so much more!
Oh, and her books all have super awesome, totally kick-ass queer characters in them, fighting demons and saving the world!
Cassandra joins us this afternoon to talk about the her desire to include queer rep in her books– from Magnus and Alec, to Raphael’s on-page asexuality, and more!– as well as the work she’s put in to making sure these queer characters get their time to shine in the hit TV series!
And don’t miss Part Two of our interview… where we talk to the cast and crew of the Freeform Shadowhunters television series! Plus, check the end of the post for your chance to win a little somethin’.
Welcome Cassandra, and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today!
Was it always part of your vision for the Shadowhunters ‘verse to have LGBTQ+ characters there—Magnus, Alec, Raphael, and the rest?
It was always part of my hope that the Shadowhunters world would be diverse, and it was absolutely part of my specific goal to tell a same-sex love story in the first series. I just didn’t know if I would ever be able to write any more books than that first trilogy—it totally depended on if people liked the books, and if they bought them. This was back in 2005, and there were less gay characters in YA. To get a book published with a significant gay character in it was more difficult than it is now. Definitely here were publishers who were pretty clear: “We don’t want this book with a gay character.”
Alec is based on a friend of mine that I had when I was younger, and he committed suicide because it was a shitty time to be a gay kid in America. We both loved reading fantasy books, so for me Alec was in part about giving him the happy ending he didn’t have in the genre that he loved.
I wanted to ask about Raphael. I’m asexual, so I relate to Raphael in a really deep level.
I love Raphael!
Love him so much! I’m so excited to see an ace character in YA, on page rep. Was Raphael asexual from inception, or did he sort of reveal himself to you as you wrote him.
He revealed that to me as the series went on, because originally he wasn’t as significant a character as he became. Raphael was to me a super fascinating figure because he was a trickster figure and he is sometimes of the side of Good… sometimes on the side of Bad, but always on the side of protecting his clan!
But as I got to know Raphael and got closer to him, I think we realize that he has this incredible loyalty, and that’s what I love about him.
When I was writing him, by the time I got to the third book or so, I knew he was ace.
Do you ever get online to see some of the response from fans, who are so excited to see representation on the page… in a book that’s in their school library, even!
Yeah, definitely. It’s its own pleasure to write a diverse world because we live in a diverse world, and what makes characters fascinating are these facets and angles of their personalities. But it’s also really special to go online and see people saying, “I’m a lesbian, and Helen and Elene are really important to me!”
And [SPOILER!] there’s a trans character in an upcoming book—Diana, in the newest book. [/SPOILER] So I’ve gotten a lot of feedback from trans women saying, “Oh it’s really important to me to have a trans character in the Shadowhunters world,” and to really go into detail into what it means to be trans in this magical world and tell her story.
When you made the decision to include queer characters, did you have to create sort of socio-political backstory in the Shadowhunters verse to show that this was accepted? Or did you say, “It is what it is?” and no one bats an eye.
I did have to make the decision when you’re writing a made-up society, How does this society regard this? Is it a non-issue, is this something of an issue? So what I wound up writing was a slightly complicated situation in which, as Isabelle explains, older Shadowhunters can be set in their ways, and can be kinda homophobic. But that’s changing a lot with the younger generation. Same sex marriage is legal for Shadowhunters, and has been for a long time.
The way Alec describes it:
“Iz,” Alec said tiredly. “It’s not like it’s one big bad thing. It’s a lot of little invisible things. When Magnus and I were traveling, and I’d call from the road, Dad never asked how he was. When I get up to talk in Clave meetings, no one listens, and I don’t know if that’s because I’m young or if it’s because of something else. I saw Mom talking to a friend about her grandchildren and the second I walked into the room they shut up. Irina Cartwright told me it was a pity no one would ever inherit my blue eyes now.” He shrugged and looked toward Magnus, who took a hand off the wheel for a moment to place it on Alec’s. “It’s not like a stab wound you can protect me from. It’s a million little paper cuts every day.”
― Cassandra Clare, City of Lost Souls
So I didn’t want to write a world that had no homophobia in it whatsoever, because I felt like that might be something that people couldn’t relate to. But I also didn’t want the entire story to be about the homophobic world. I wanted it to be about Alec—awesome Shadowhunter! Good with his bow! Sometimes he can be kind of a jackass! And a boyfriend who happens to be a warlock and a man.
That kind of on-page rep… there are books now that are about being gay and about being trans, but I think it’s also so important to have books where that’s normalized. Where it’s part of the character, but it’s not everything the character is.
I’ve been told by readers—and I like to go by what readers say!—that they want to see people like me having adventures and kicking ass and doing cool things.
And so I always try to keep that paramount. I want people to read the characters and think “they’re awesome”, and I give them great relationships with other characters so anyone who relates to them knows that they’re loved. Like Raphael, who’s not interested in a sexual relationship, but he has incredibly close and devoted friends.
Yes, this is so important! There’s a stereotype that asexual people are cold, and they’re not.
There’s not a lack of emotion—there’s a lot of emotion, and I try to show that with Raphael. His love and his loyalty are going to his family, his clan, and his friends, and as we go forward in the narrative we see that he’s been friends with Magnus for a long time, and others. He’s a vampire… he’s had friendships lasting hundreds of years.
When they approached you for the television show, were they fully on board with LGBT+ characters, and happy to show Magnus and Alec as you wrote them? Or was there a bit of hesitancy at first?
It was an interesting thing because the showrunner was really hesitant to forefront Alec and Magnus as much as I wanted them to be fore fronted, because I felt like things had changed a lot since I wrote the books in 2005 and I was like, we’re in a place where we can give a lot more time and focus on their relationship without having to worry about the things that I had to worry about back then. Which, when you write kids’ books, is like, “Will they keep you out of libraries and bookstores? Will kids who should be able to read your books not have access to them?”
So with the books, I introduced Magnus and Alec more slowly. With Alec and Magnus, I introduced them with the intention of them being more significant later on. But I started off slow. And now there’s a book just about Magnus, and now we’re going to have a trilogy just about their relationship. So now I’m in a situation where I can do that. I can write queer protagonists in the Shadowhunter world. Which means we have a chance with the TV show to really bring Alec and Magnus in more.
The showrunner has since changed—this was our first season showrunner. He was really reluctant. Alec and Magnus were not in the first three episodes. And I was really unhappy with a show that didn’t portray these characters in the first three episodes. And then they actually hired on a writer who’s gay, and he took on the story line for ‘Malec’. I think the showrunner felt a sense of not knowing how to handle it, so he gladly handed it over.
So literally there was a team doing a track for the show… and then a Malec track!
And because they got a really positive response from that relationship, they’ve been keeping Magnus and Alec central.
I’m really happy that they won a GLAAD award.
That meant that when I brought up Raphael’s asexuality with them, the show writers were on board. They knew he was going to say it, and he did.
Which—I’ve heard about Riverdale, and how they erased Jughead’s asexuality. I was like, “I really hope we don’t do that in the show.”
I only have a small amount of input into the show, so when I get to use my input I’m going to focus on things like that.
So, you hinted about it before, but… a trilogy for Magnus and Alec is coming soon?
This was only recently announced! There’s a series I’m writing called The Eldest Curses, and it’s a series about Magnus and Alec (out May 2018). It’s going to focus specifically on them.
When I was writing the fourth book in the series, City of Fallen Angels, Magnus and Alec took a vacation, and they went to Europe for a bit. And I thought, one day I’m going to come back and do something with this. When characters disappear off the page for a few chapters, you know they were off doing something. So the first book is called The Lost Book of the White, and it’s about where they were during that time period, and also covers the beginning of their relationship, really… the first time they’ve ever been alone together as officially dating boyfriends.
What are some of the other upcoming projects you have in the works—Shadowhunters or not?
I’ve got a lot of upcoming Shadowhunters projects! There’s The Last Hours, which is coming out soon. Just in terms of queer rep, we’re going to have more queer ladies on the page! So there’s a character named Anna Lightwood, she’s one of my favorite ever creations, and she’s a lesbian in England in 1903. She’s super confident, and kinda rakish, and awesome. I hope people love her as much as I do!
The next trilogy I have out is The Wicked Powers, and that’s going to be split between three or four protagonists. Two of them are queer—one bisexual and one gay.
I’m pretty psyched about those. I feel like I’ve gotten to a point in my career where I can be like, “I’m writing a queer protagonist!” and know that they’re going to go on the Bestseller rack with the other books. There’s nothing that differentiates them from any other book I’ve written.
Introducing people to new experiences, and to open up their world-view a little bit.
I hope so! I’m working on writing more ace-spectrum characters too. There’s a demisexual character coming up in a book.
And I work with the fan community a lot. When I have questions, they’re really good about coming back with answers.
The fans definitely are really passionate about the books, and the series, and it seems like they really love Malec!
Absolutely. When they did the movie based on the books, they really didn’t want to include Magnus and Alec. And they mostly didn’t. From the film, we know that Alec is gay, and that’s it. So with the show I really wanted to run this romantic. I mean, there’s so much on the screen that’s subtext between characters—Sherlock and John, there’s subtext but it always stays subtext. So with the show I wanted it to be text, no subtext.
Exactly. These are gay and bisexual men, and they’re going to be who they are. So we got this really really romantic scene, and for some people this was the first time they’d seen this incredibly huge romantic moment focused on a same-sex couple.
It’s really great to give that moment—the big romantic moment of the season!—to them.
Last question: what are you reading and loving right now? What book is on your Kindle right now that you can’t put down?
I was reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, and I’m halfway through If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo. So good! I would definitely recommend both of those, they’re amazing.
Seconding both of those!
Thank you so much, Cassandra, for talking with us today! Can’t wait to see what’s coming up next in the Shadowhunters universe!
If you follow our site, you know that I love giving things away. So I’d love to give away this gorgeous Shadowhunters tote back to one lucky winner… and a couple of rune pins to decorate it with!
There are multiple ways to enter:
- Leave a comment on this post and tell us who your favorite character in the Shadowhunter Chronicles is! (Don’t forget to leave an email!)
- Leave a comment on Part 2 of our interview (with the Shadowhunters cast!)
- Follow us on twitter and retweet our announcement tweet!
So that’s three chances to win! A few rules: must be 18 or older, and have a U.S. shipping address (sorry!). Contest will run until 11:59 PM on September 8, 2017. If selected as the winner, you must respond within 48 hours or another winner will be chosen.
Cassandra Clare was born to American parents in Teheran, Iran and spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her family, including one trek through the Himalayas as a toddler where she spent a month living in her father’s backpack. She lived in France, England and Switzerland before she was ten years old.
Cassie’s first professional writing sale was a short story called “The Girl’s Guide to Defeating the Dark Lord” in a Baen anthology of humor fantasy. Cassie hates working at home alone because she always gets distracted by reality TV shows and the antics of her two cats, so she usually sets out to write in local coffee shops and restaurants. She likes to work in the company of her friends, who see that she sticks to her deadlines.
City of Bones was her first novel.