Tracing Cassandra Clare’s fantasy career
A MHERST — Cassandra Clare doesn’t have much time to sit around and think. The wildly popular fantasy author averages more than a book a year, which means she’s always on deadline. Still, she can’t ignore her big 10-year anniversary.
“It’s definitely made me very introspective about my career and what gives it longevity,” Clare said.
In March of 2007, Clare released her debut novel, “City of Bones,” the first in her “Mortal Instruments” series. That book tells the story of a New York City teen named Clary, who discovers that she’s a Shadowhunter, meant to fight evil demons invisible to regular humans, referred to as “mundanes.” She inhabits a world that is realistic and familiar (with a protective mom and a friend in a band) yet steeped in the paranormal. She also learns about family, and, more importantly, how it feels to fall in love.
Clare was in her early 30s and living in Brooklyn when she sold that first book to the Simon & Schuster imprint McElderry Books for a $25,000 advance. It seemed like a lot of money then.
“I certainly didn’t know it was going to be a success,” she says, “and I’ve been surprised ever since.”
A decade after that first release, Clare has put out 15 books in her “Shadowhunters Chronicles” world. She has an international fan base, and there are more than 50 million copies of her novels in print. Her work has also inspired a Hollywood movie and a television series — whose second season will continue next week.
Her most recent novel, released May 23, is “Lord of Shadows,” the second in her “Dark Artifices” trilogy. It is a 699-page tome filled with battles against supernatural creatures, and lots of kissing.
On a recent afternoon in her Amherst writing space, a refurbished barn decorated with all things steampunk, Clare talked about the path of her literary career.
Clare says she wrote her first book on the couch in the apartment she shared with her husband, Joshua Lewis. She wrote during the day and worked nights as a copy editor for the publisher of National Enquirer and Star magazine, where she spent her hours polishing exposés about celebrities like Tom Cruise.
She didn’t even consider leaving that job after she got the book deal. That $25,000 would be doled out over several years. Also, she didn’t know how the novel would do.
“Everyone said, ‘Don’t quit your day job, so I didn’t.’ ”
Her release drew solid sales, boosted by a blurb from Stephenie Meyer, who’s own paranormal romance debut, “Twilight,” was just reaching international juggernaut status. But Clare was still unsure.
She didn’t finally give notice until after her third book. Even then she wondered how long it would all last. She heard that paranormal romances, like hers, were over in the young-adult industry. Dystopian epics like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent” had become the thing. Then it was realistic young adult fiction like “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green.
Clare waited for sales to drop. But they didn’t. Every book in her “Mortal Instruments” series drew huge sales. Fans wept when they met her.
“I would always be like, ‘Stop crying! What can I do?’ ”
In 2010, she began publishing a prequel series for “Mortal Instruments” called “The Infernal Devices.” In 2013, a movie, “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,’’ based on her book, was released.
By then, her readings were too big to be held in local bookstores. For the release of “City of Heavenly Fire,” the final book in her “Mortal Instruments” series, she packed the Wellesley Middle School auditorium for a Wellesley Books event and was interviewed onstage by best-selling author Jodi Picoult, who had become a self-proclaimed Clare fanatic.
Clare’s editor, Karen Wojtyla, who has worked with her since her first book, said the “Shadowhunters” audience has mushroomed for the same reason she was initially drawn to it.
“I bought it before the first book was even completed,” she remembers, struck by how alive the characters felt, despite the supernatural themes. “It’s so real you feel like you could meet these people on the street.”
Wojtyla said that over time she realized that fans felt as if Clare understood them. It only helped that the world of her books looked like theirs. There were gay characters and characters of color. And none of it felt contrived.
“I noticed,’’ she said, that “fans started standing up at Cassie’s events and saying how much it meant to them.”
“The Darkest Part of the Forest” author Holly Black, who collaborates with Clare on a fantasy series called “Magisterium,” agreed.
“I’m always amazed by the fully rendered lives of the minor characters,” Black said, adding that with each book, the world grows.
Clare’s supporters also point to her productivity — that for fans, there’s always more to read. It’s no surprise. She doesn’t really take vacations and almost every day is for writing. Her entire life is devoted to her books.
Her Amherst barn features a long, custom-made table where Clare, Black, and another local author, Kelly Link, meet to do their work. And the steampunk decor, which appears to be her big spend, is also designed to inspire by creating a setting that mirrors that of her books.
On one wall, there’s a restored apothecary with a few drawers labeled with magic potions from her books. On another there’s an antique British phone booth with a mess of wires inside. “It’s going to be a time machine,” Clare says, and based on her tone, it’s something to believe.
Her immersion in the world of Cassandra Clare is complete, even down to the name (her real name is Judith Lewis).
Clare has three more releases this year — two paperback editions and a 10th anniversary edition of “City of Bones” due out in November. Next year she’ll put out “Lost Book of the White,” with coauthor Wesley Chu, along with the first in a new “Last Hours” series.
“Shadowhunters,” the television series based on her books, continues its season two episodes on Freeform on June 5, but she’s minimally involved and is disappointed about it. Clare says the showrunners have their own ideas for the series, but she points to “Game of Thrones” and “Outlander” as programs that have benefited from having the author involved.
“I would love to work on a TV show,” she says. “I want a shot at writing a screenplay.”
It’s more work, but that’s the point.
“She obviously loves it,” Wojtyla said. “If she’s not writing all the time, she’s thinking and investing.”
Clare admits, at her writing table, “Chilling out is not really a thing that I do.”