The Mortal Instruments series has been a blockbuster success—generating three bestsellers, attracting thousands of fans around the world and inspiring a movie adaptation now in the works. But for author Cassandra Clare, the whirlwind of attention and acclaim has come as a complete surprise.

“Everything having to do with [the series’] success is unexpected to me,” Clare says by phone from a retreat in Mexico, where she’s spending a month away from the wintry weather in New York and devoting herself to writing.

A former journalist who worked for several entertainment magazines, Clare moved to New York City in 2004 and began writing the book that would launch her phenomenal urban fantasy series for teens. Originally conceived as a trilogy, The Mortal Instruments debuted with City of Bones in 2007, landing on the bestseller lists and winning several awards (including an American Library Association Teens’ Top Ten Award). Clare’s next two novels, City of Ashes (2008) and City of Glass (2009), garnered just as much positive reaction and even more sales.

On April 5, Mortal Instruments fans will be treated to another thrilling installment—City of Fallen Angels. The fourth entry in the series promises love, blood, betrayal and revenge— not to mention more time with Clary, Simon, Jace and the other characters who keep readers coming back for more.

“Part of what’s gratifying is that the series has been very successful around the world,” Clare says. “It’s been translated into 35 languages now, and I receive more and more communication from people all over the world. I get to travel to places I’ve never been—Italy and Poland and Germany and Australia and New Zealand.”

The series is set in New York City’s Downworld, a place filled with werewolves, vampires and faeries, where 15-year-old Clary is reluctantly at the center of the action. Clary learns that not only is she a Shadowhunter—a demon killer—but she may be the key to destroying rogue Shadowhunter Valentine. As she is drawn into the hunt, her companions include the handsome Shadowhunter Jace and her best friend Simon, a vampire.

Looking back on the series’ beginnings, Clare says the setting was a crucial part of the story. “I had just moved to New York City from Los Angeles, and I knew that I wanted New York City to be the setting, and I wanted it to be almost like a character in the book. My vision going into it was a trilogy loosely structured on Dante’s Inferno,” she says.

Considering her taste for the epic, Clare’s choice of Dante’s 14th-century poem for inspiration isn’t surprising. “I love Jane Austen, I love the Brontës. I love anything epic and gothic and thrilling,” she says.

Clare’s pen name comes from “The Beautiful Cassandra,” a Jane Austen short story. “Jane Austen is my favorite writer, and that’s why I picked the name Cassandra—and also because it’s not just a short story; it’s a short story she wrote when she was 13 or 14 years old, so it’s her teenage work.” Her love for Austen is clearly reflected in her own writing, and one of her current projects is “a non-fantasy, realistic updating of Pride and Prejudice.”

For now, though, the focus is on City of Fallen Angels, which readers are breathlessly awaiting. The contents of the upcoming book are a closely guarded secret, but Clare has some advice for fans when they finally dive into the new book:

“For those who are close readers, when you are reading City of Fallen Angels, you should look out for characters that have appeared in the prequel series before,” she says. “If you have read Clockwork Angel, they’ll pop out at you, and that’s a lot of fun.”

Clockwork Angel, which was released in 2010, is the first entry in The Infernal Devices series, a prequel to The Mortal Instruments.

“I’m pretty compulsive, especially because I’m now writing two series at once, so I outline everything, and I know everything that’s going to happen ahead of time,” Clare explains. “Alternating books keeps me from getting tired of the characters. I write one book in The Mortal Instruments and then one book in The Infernal Devices.”

Writing two series at once has kept the characters fresh, she says. “When I was done with City of Glass, I thought, oh, God, I never want to look at these [characters] again. But after I turned in Clockwork Angel, by then I missed those characters.” Her fans are not at all tired of her characters, and they anxiously await not only the April release of City of Fallen Angels, but the future releases of City of Lost Souls and City of Heavenly Fire, which are expected to mark the end of The Mortal Instruments series.

Fans will also eventually get the chance to see The Mortal Instruments characters on the silver screen. A film adaptation is in production, with actress Lily Collins cast in the role of Clary, and much speculation regarding potential actors to play Jace. So far, Clare has been impressed with the film producers’ interest in her opinions, although she says she has no influence over casting decisions. “I grew up in Hollywood. My grandfather was a movie producer,” says Clare, so the filmmaking process is not exactly a mystery to her. And she’s definitely looking forward to seeing her characters brought to life in cinematic form by director Scott Stewart.

Though Clare may find her success unexpected, her star is still rising. It’s safe to say that whatever her gothic-loving mind dreams up next will be devoured by avid young (and not-so-young) readers the world over.

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