On fantasy novels and other forms of storytelling

Holly Black and Cassandra Clare during a book signing event in Cebu as part of their King and Queen Tour

Best known for their best-selling fantasy books that cater to the young adult market, American authors Cassandra Clare and Holly Black were recently in the country for a couple of book-signing engagements in Manila and Cebu.

Clare and Black, who also happen to be close friends, signed copies of their latest books, The Wicked King and The Queen of Air and Darkness at SM City Cebu last 9 March and at SM Megamall the following day, 10 March, as part of their “King & Queen Tour.”

In addition to The Wicked King, the sequel to her earlier novel The Cruel Prince which is part of the Folk of the Air series, Black first shot to fame with the three books that collectively comprised the Modern Faerie Tales series.

The 47-year-old New Jersey native went on to write more series of books for children and young adults including The Curse Workers books, The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi) and The Magisterium series which she co-authored with Clare.

Clare’s The Queen of Air and Darkness is her third entry in The Dark Artifices series, which in turn was the sequel to her very popular books under The Mortal Instruments umbrella in The Shadowhunter Chronicles. Based in Massachusetts, this 45-year old lady is also known for her other bestselling series, The Infernal Devices.

In a recent interview, both Black and Clare admitted they had been fans of fantasy books since they were kids.

“My father really loved fantasy books and he had this huge collection of books in our house that I grew up reading,” Black recalled.

“It was almost exactly true for me but in my case, it was my mom and my dad’s friend who first introduced me to these kinds of stories,” Clare added.

As far as writing their own fantasy novels is concerned, both take a different approach to storytelling. “I usually start with creating my characters,” shared Clare. “In this series, I first created the characters of Julian Blackthorn and Emma Carstairs. Once I am very familiar with them, I start to create their relationships with the other characters and eventually build from that.”

In Black’s case, she starts with a basic story premise, an origin story involving a key character. “I then spend time trying to figure out what I wanted the story to sound like. In fantasy, you are only limited by the things you create to make the world feel real but it is important that your characters are grounded in realism and still feel like realistic people,” she further noted.

Being friends, both Clare and Black have had the chance to collaborate on The Magisterium Series. Both are one in pointing out that while writing alone can be quite daunting, telling a story with a co-author is not without its share of challenges.

“Ideally, you are creating a book that neither of you could create on your own. You are bringing something to it and creating something unique. You share ownership and control when you’re collaborating,” Clare mused.

“We bat our ideas back and forth, we argue our conflicts out and figure out a way that would let us both have what we want,” Black chimed in.

The latest books by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
The latest books by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black

As bestselling authors, their books have been adapted for film and television. In Clare’s case, the first book of her Mortal Instruments series, City of Bones, has been brought to the big screen (The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones) in 2013 and was later followed by the hit TV series, Shadowhunters: The Mortal Instruments.

Black, on the other hand, also found big screen success when The Spiderwick Chronicles became a major motion picture in 2008.

Asked if they had any involvement in the adaptation of their films, Clare and Black said their participation was very minimal and usually involves just being consulted about certain aspects.

“Except for some authors like George R.R. Martin in Game of Thrones and J.K. Rowling for the Harry Potter films, most of the time the writer of the source material is not really involved much in the adaptation. With the Mortal Instruments movie, I was a little bit involved in the casting and sort of consulted with the set design when I was brought in and asked what looked right and what looked wrong. But I was not part of the creation of the screenplay or any of the story stuff,” Clare shared.

“With the TV show, I haven’t had any contact with those involved at all but that’s probably because of the way TV shows are made so quickly.”

For The Spiderwick Chronicles, Black revealed that she and her co-author got to see all the screenplays and got to express their inputs.

“But we really were not in any way central to the decision making in that movie. Once they start making it, it’s out of your hands. You’re just going to have the trust those bringing your work to life will stay true to the spirit of the original and do a really good job. In the case of The Spiderwick Chronicles, I really love what they did with the movie.”

But while control is something they have little of when it comes to the film and TV medium, both authors are particularly excited when adapting their books in graphic novel form as Clare has done with The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices, which was also released in manga format.

“For The Mortal Instruments, I worked with an artist and discussed how the book will look like as graphic novel. I will add scenes that sometimes need to be there because of the form of visual storytelling. It’s a collaborative process and I really love it. It’s a lot of fun,” she enthused.

For her part, Black has yet to adapt her books into graphic novel form but she has experienced working on this platform with her original series, The Good Neighbors and Lucifer for DC’s Vertigo line.

“What I really love about this form of storytelling and part of what makes it very challenging is that you have to write very briefly, you have to do a lot with very little language and to me that makes it more fun,” she quipped.

As for the popularity of not only their books but also novels that are also categorized as Young Adult titles, Clare said people can relate to “stories about coming of age.”

“These books focus on that time period when people are trying to be what kind of person they wanted to be as well as the big decisions that they have to make. People can relate to that and I think that’s what makes Young Adult stories enduringly popular,” she concluded.

The Wicked King, The Queen of Art and Darkness and other books by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black are available at National Book Store.