Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book love, fanfic, and personal heroes.

My graduate program necessitated a move from my home state of good ol' Pennsylvania to Maryland, where I currently live in an area that's basically a suburb of both Baltimore and D.C. Let me tell you -- I could not be better located. I'm not much of a city girl, but the boyfriend's new job in D.C. has me heading south along the beltway on an ever-more-frequent basis (and, no, not just because his recently-broken ankle has hampered his own ability to travel). D.C. is an amazing city. And while I still haven't quite gotten used to the seemingly random layout of the roads (curse you, diagonals! curse you, GPS that fails to acknowledge one way streets!), the blend of history and the arts that saturates the city promises to keep us busy exploring. Plus, free attractions! Everywhere! Free!

For instance, the National Book Festival: an event that brings brilliant and influential writers into D.C. in a celebration of literature in America. This year's festival is being held on the Mall on September 24-25 and, as if I weren't already itching to go, will include among its visiting authors none other than miss Cassandra Clare. My excitement level? Through the roof.

{Cassandra Clare: bestselling author, fangirl, and one of my personal heroes.}

To explain Cassandra Clare's importance in my life, I must first explain a little about my own writing ambitions. While I first took an interest in writing in first grade, that interest didn't develop into a fully fledged ambition until right around the beginning of middle school, the summer that I discovered fan fiction.

For those not in the know, "fan fiction" is what Lev Grossman describes in this wonderful article from Time as, "what literature might look like if it were reinvented from scratch after a nuclear apocalypse by a band of brilliant pop-culture junkies trapped in a sealed bunker." Fans of books (or movies, or television shows, or etc. etc.) write their own new works or extensions of existing plotlines based on and/or including the characters and events in the original work. Fan fiction is often posted online, especially on dedicated websites like, where whole communities are built around writing, reading, and reviewing the fanfics. The Time article chiefly concerns Harry Potter-based fiction. HP fanfics are numerous and, in my opinion, are what really caused the spike in fan fiction's popularity in general. The long and torturous gap between J.K. Rowling's fourth (and at that time, unarguably best) installment, 2000's Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and 2003's Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix left many fans eager for the continuation of a story that had now become much more mature, complex, and suspenseful. To stave off the long wait, fans - and I'm talking everyone from kids who had never so much as penned a sentence of fiction, to adults who typed away about HP and the gang over coffee on their lunch break - simply decided to continue the story on their own, writing to entertain themselves and others during Rowling's hiatus as they speculated about the future of the Wizarding World and devised creative parodies and alternate reality versions of events to amuse other fans of the series.

This was the environment I stumbled into the summer before sixth grade, when I rolled off my hammock, totally dazed and dazzled after a solid 24 hours of doing nothing but reading GoF in the July heat, and started searching desperately on the web for something to satiate my absolute need for more HP. I discovered fan sites, then fan fiction, and then, before long, a particular fan fiction called Draco Dormiens, by a fanfic writer called Cassandra Clare. She was young, she loved to write, she loved HP, and she ended up penning over the course of about six and half years a trilogy that also included Draco Sinister and Draco Veritas. Reading her remarkably well-written and often funny fanfics (she also has another series of hilarious faux diary entries based on The Lord of the Rings called "The Very Secret Diaries," among other projects) inspired me to start writing again. First it was fan fiction, and then, as I became more confident, original works. I decided I wanted to become a writer. I read the last chapter of Draco Veritas the same week I graduated from high school. In many ways, it felt like I (and my writing) grew up sort of alongside Cassandra Clare. I was appreciative for the inspiration she had given me, and excited when I heard she was working on original books as well, in the hopes of being published "for real."

{Every time I see this in the bookstore, I can't help but get the chills.}

Today, Cassandra Clare is the author of the bestselling Mortal Instruments series, a set of dark, funny, modern, urban fantasy novels for young adults that also includes a new spin-off series set in Victorian London. As if that's not legit enough, the first MI book, City of Bones, is set for a movie release starring Lily Collins and the HP movies' Jamie Campbell Bower. Surreal, right? There are even a few scenes in her professional fiction that are lifted clearly from her fanfiction, making it even more jarring and exciting for those who have followed her since the beginning. It's like a reminder that she was and still is "one of us" - someone who genuinely loves to read and to write, a fan who secretly (or not so secretly) hopes that someday, someone will write fanfics about her books! So now this person who was basically a girl writing some Harry Potter fan fiction to while away the wait is a wildly successful bestselling novelist who is being recognized at the National Book Festival while her books are being turned into films. And you can bet that Mortal Instruments fanfics are floating around out there. Sigh.

In short, I want to be her.

More importantly, though, I can't wait to meet to her in D.C. next month! I'm going to have to ask my mom to ship down my hardback copy of City of Bones for her to sign.

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