Sometimes minor characters are based on people I know — Simon’s friends Eric, Kirk and Matt are all friends of mine. But I’m not writing a thinly veiled version of my own life. These characters are created to fit the needs of the story and to be very much themselves. Sometimes they incorporate aspects of people I know, or have met, like Simon’s sense of humor or Clary’s artistry. Jace, alas, is definitely not based on anyone real.
As for the places in the books, obviously Idris and environs are entirely made up. Most of the Manhattan locations — the Pandemonium Club, the Institute, Garroway’s Books, The Dumont Hotel,Taki’s, are in real places, but don’t actually exist there. The Marble Cemetery (the City of Bones) does exist in some form, and the Renwick Smallpox Hospital is a real place.
This questions fascinates me because people ask writers this all the time and I’m not sure why. (Google “Did you always know you wanted to be a writer?” and you get 3,000 hits, all interviews with writers.) I think there’s a sense that there comes a moment when you know you are a writer, that it’s something you’re destined to do. Or maybe there’s just a feeling that there could be an interesting story in it. Though there really isn’t for me.
I always loved writing. And reading. Most people who love to write, start with a love of reading. I started writing books when I was about 12. They were all terrible and all in different genres. I wrote a terrible vampire novel and a terrible mystery novel and a terrible romance novel and a terrible Arthurian novel. Then I went to college and I took some writing classes, and I didn’t really enjoy them all that much, and I figured maybe I didn’t want to be a fiction writer. After college I worked as a journalist and I also worked part-time in a children’s bookstore. It was working in the children’s bookstore and starting to re-read the books I’d read when I was a kid that rekindled my desire to write. I started writing again, and went through several different novel ideas before I moved to New York City from Los Angeles, which is what inspired the idea of setting a book in New York and its environs. From that, City of Bones developed. It was the first book I ever sold to a publisher.
At no point during that process do I remember thinking that I had realized I was, or had decided to be, a writer. I liked writing, it was something I always enjoyed, and it seemed logical to try to make a living at it.
I have millions and millions of books that I love. They’re all over my house, getting underfoot, stacking up in piles. There is no way I could recommend them all. However, you can find some great recommendations on my friend Holly Black’s page.
- How do you get inspired to write/stay inspired to finish a book? Do you have a writing routine? A place where you write, or a certain amount of time you write per day?
I believe in inspiration, but I don’t believe it’s that important. People are inspired all the time — by a book, a movie, a snatch of a song, a sunset, an image, whatever. Most of those moments of inspiration never add up to anything beyond a pleasant moment. Inspiration has to be noted, then expanded on and shaped and turned into something interesting or important through lots of hard work — developing a learned set of skills, and applying them, and not expecting it to be easy. To quote Picasso, “Inspiration does exist, but it must find you working.” My much longer essay on this topic, and on the topic of not giving up on your book in the middle, is here.
As for where I write, I have a little office, just big enough to turn around in. One wall is books, the other is my computer, and I keep fan letters and fan art of the characters pinned to the other for encouragement. That’s if I’m writing at home. Usually I write in coffee shops with friends. Since the pandemic, I've made use of this writing hut on occasion, to accommodate friends safely and enjoy the view.
I took some writing classes in college. I majored in English, but a lot of writers don’t. Some major in creative writing, psychology, philosophy, or even math. There are no school or educational requirements for becoming a writer, though you can always choose to take classes if you want to. Mostly what I did that was significant was read a great deal. Stephen King in ON WRITING says to read over 70-80 books a year. That’s a book about every four days. Sounds about right.
A more detailed explanation here.
- What kind of research did you do about the angels, demons and mythical creatures in the Shadowhunter books?
I wanted to make sure the mythology of the series was rooted in world mythology — not just Western religious mythology, though there is a lot of that, given the books’ partial basing on Paradise Lost and The Inferno — so I did a lot of reading up on world mythology, especially anything having to do with good and evil spirits. I wanted to make sure multiple types of demonic myth were present, so you’ll find Japanese, Indian, Tibetan, and other kinds of demons represented (plus the kind I’ve made up.) I read a lot of old “demonologies” — there was a whole time period where scholars were obsessed with listing every kind of demon and mapping Hell. I read up on the mythology of angels and fallen angels. Raziel, for instance, is an angel from the Jewish kabbalistic tradition, who is supposed to have given Adam, in the Garden of Eden, a book of wisdom — he is sometimes called the Angel of Secrets, or Angel of Knowledge. Therefore he seemed the right angel to have given the Gray Book to the first Shadowhunter. Nephilim in mythology are the “offspring” of men an angels, so that’s obviously a myth I adapted a little more freely to make it serve my purposes. And so forth.
I always listen to music when I’m writing. I've made playlists of the songs I listened to while writing each of my books. You can find them below.
The Last Hours
EB White once said: “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better but the frog dies in the process.” The answer is: I don’t really know. I have a lot of funny friends. I am very sarcastic myself. I keep my ears out for funny conversations my friends have and often adapt aspects of them for my books. If you really want to learn how to write humor, there are books out there about it, although I tend to think either you have an ear for what’s funny — which is generally about timing and word choice — or you don’t.
Why not teen books? More seriously, when I started out writing City of Bones, I didn’t think of it 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 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 your choices determine the kind of person you’re going to be rather than reflecting who you already are.
I would and I am! Swordcatcher is a new adult high fantasy I'm writing, and I'm really excited about it. Here's a blurb:
"Here, a boy is born to rule a divided city. A girl is destined to return lost magic to the world. And a prince will betray his people to win a crown. They’ll discover the dark side of themselves and those they love, as their kingdom faces war, plague and the end of hope. But the blackest night comes before the dawn...
It's scheduled to come out in 2021. Stay tuned for more news!
Sorry, guys. My religious views are personal.
I’m represented by Suzie Townsend and Joanna Volpe of New Leaf Literary.
My US publisher is Simon and Schuster. I also have publishers all over the world – just check the spine of your book for the publisher's name!
Yes, I know where the story/book/series is going when I sit down to write it. The plots of both the Mortal Instruments series and the Infernal Devices series rest on a lot of carefully planned misdirection and foreshadowing — both of which are very difficult to do if you don’t already know where you’re going. (Yes, you can go back and rewrite a single book to insert foreshadowing, etc. — but you can’t rewrite books that have already been published). 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.
Now, that doesn’t mean this is the right way to do things — it’s just what works for me. Some people sit down and just wing it; I can’t do that. It also doesn’t mean I never change anything if it isn’t working — I do, and then I adjust my outline accordingly.
For those interested, there’s advice about how to outline a book on my ‘writing advice’ page.
Typos happen. I make errors all the time, but small typographical stuff — letters out of place, commas messed up – are usually production errors. There isn’t anything I personally can do about typos, so if you find one in one of my American or Canadian books, use this page to report it.
I love fanart and feature it here on my website.
I completely support the writing of fanfiction in my fictional universe(s) though for legal reasons I cannot read it myself.