Authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare discuss what it was like to collaborate on their new book, The Iron Trial, the start of the Magisterium series.
Holly: So, Cassie, how has it been working on Magisterium with me? Am I delightful? Am I exasperating?
Cassie: Delightful, of course. The thing is that Holly and I have been writing together for years. We’ve been in the same critique group for about ten years now, which means we’re intimately involved in each other’s books… We also wrote several short stories together, so we knew the actual technical process of writing together would work. Holly is a great person to co-write with because she’s got a real intuitive sense of the inner life of children—of characters in general, really—and that makes for incredibly lively characters that are great to work with. What about me?
Holly: You’re super easy to write with. You have such great insight into friendships. Actually, the thing that’s hardest about writing with you is that my first drafts are a little rough and spare and yours are so polished that it’s intimidating... We’ve evolved a process by which we sit in the same room, passing a computer back and forth. We write from about 300 to 800 words and then hand the computer over. The person receiving the computer writes over those new words—expanding, editing, clarifying—and then writes more words for the other person to write over.
At the end, we hope that achieves prose that feels as though it was written by the same person, an entity that is not quite Holly and not quite Cassie, but hopefully better than both of us individually. Which is not to say we didn’t have some disagreements, right? Which do you think got the most heated?
Cassie: I actually think our most heated arguments were about what the Magisterium wristbands look like. What they were made out of, what their design was. Also, the colors of the uniforms. Basically anything that had to do with clothes or interior decorating because Holly feels strongly about those things. Holly, who would you say is your favorite Magisterium character?
Holly: Callum, because he’s snarky and insecure and angry and braver and better than he knows. And because he’s got a lot of secrets, both ones he knows he’s keeping from the people around him and ones that are still being kept from him. However, I am going to disagree about our most heated argument. I think it was about the magic system. We both come from an adult fantasy reading background and are interested in worldbuilding, so we cared a lot about getting the magic right.
In terms of how we got started—do you want to tell the Magisterium origin story?
Cassie: We were in an airport flying somewhere for a tour. We ended up discussing the hero’s journey arc in contemporary fiction and you said there was something you’d always wanted to see, in fact you’d even predicted it happening in one series, but it hadn’t happened. And I said I’d really like to write a series where that did happen, but I wasn’t sure I had the right middle-grade voice for that.
You pointed out that you had a middle-grade voice, and we realized it would be a great project for co-writing because it would combine a lot of things we both separately like.
Do you have a favorite part in The Iron Trial?
Holly: I think my favorite bit is actually the trials themselves. Callum has been raised by his father, Alastair, to believe that the worst possible fate is to be chosen to be trained as a mage and brought into their tunnels. He’s been instructed on how to fail the trials, however, it turns out that failing is harder than Call originally thought it would be--and that failing as spectacularly as he aims to do gets him a lot of unwanted attention. Plus, I love the trials, which are partially a funny take on standardized testing and partially a weird, impossible, physical gauntlet. What’s your favorite part?
Cassie: I like the part where one of the students has escaped from the school and they all have to go searching for him. And then Call and his friends are attacked by monsters—wolves with the power of Chaos—and the unlikeliest person has to stand up and defend them and turns out to be a hero. I always like a twist.