With more than 22 millioncopies in print worldwide of her two fantasy series, The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices,author Cassandra Clare might be considered an expert on fiction that appeals to teens.
Clare, 39, whose final book in the Devices trilogy, Clockwork Princess, will be released Tuesday, says "there's no magic formula."
But what she's doing — imagining a secret society of young demon hunters, known as Shadowhunters, in a world of vampires, werewolves and warlocks — is working like magic both in bookstores and Hollywood.
The film adaptation of the first book in Clare's first series, The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, starring Lily Collins and Jamie Campbell Bower, will hit theaters Aug. 23.
Her second series, The Infernal Devices, a prequel to the first, also has been optioned for a possible series of films. (The title refers to an army of automatons out to destroy the Shadowhunters.)
And if that's not enough, Clare and Holly Black (co-author of The Spiderwick Chronicles) are collaborating on another series, Magisterium, aimed at middle schoolers and set in a world of dark magicians where child apprentices train to be warriors. The Iron Trail, the first of five books, is to be released in September 2014. It too has been optioned, and Clare has been signed to write her first screenplay.
Clare, a former writer for The Hollywood Reporter who lives in Amherst, Mass., says there's no simple explanation for her popularity, but she suggests that it has to do with her characters, often strong females, "whom my readers can relate to."
She says that "readers may suspend their disbelief when it comes to the fantasy and the magic, but they need to believe in the characters — teenagers who have some of the same concerns that they do."
Romance is a big part of both series. The first is set in contemporary New York; the second is set mostly in Victorian England.
She likes to mix "the real and the unreal, the famous and the forgotten" in her fiction. For example, in Clockwork Princess, an aesthetic werewolf named WoolseyScott lives in London at No. 16 Cheyne Walk, which, in real life, was once shared by writer Algernon Charles Swinburne and poet/painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Like Scott, she notes, Swinburne and Rossetti were members of "the aesthetic movement," which valued aesthetics in arts over political or social themes, but they were not werewolves — or, as she puts it, "proved not to be werewolves."
Clare cites several factors that explain why fantasy fiction aimed at teens has become so popular on page and screen:
- In a technological age "filled with computers and gadgets, readers yearn for some magic."
- As a genre, young-adult fiction is "genre-busting." Adult fiction, she says, tends to be labeled "either romance or sci-fi or historical fiction or literature. They're in different sections of bookstores. But YA novels, whether it's Twilight or The Hunger Games, combine all or most of those elements." Clare says her own series are a "combination of urban fantasy, adventure and romance."
- The generation of readers who grew up on Harry Potter, "the first big teen sensation, feel connected by what they read. They want to share their experiences, usually online …. I think you find a big overlap between kids who are into fantasy and sci-fi and kids who build their own online communities."
Clare isn't revealing much about Clockwork Princess but promises to resolve the series' love triangle involving heroine Tessa Gray, who's engaged to one boy but drawn to another, in "a way that no one has predicted yet."
As for her Instruments series' sixth and final book, City of Heavenly Fire, to be released a year from now, she says to expect "a hard-fought battle and a lot of epic romance."
Remember, the final installment of The Infernal Devices series will be in stores in just six days.