Jeneé Osterheldt

Author Cassandra Clare sheds light on her Shadowhunters in the new ‘Lady Midnight’

In “Lady Midnight” Emma Carstairs might be author Cassandra Clare’s strongest Shadowhunter heroine yet.
In “Lady Midnight” Emma Carstairs might be author Cassandra Clare’s strongest Shadowhunter heroine yet. The Kansas City Star

Shadowhunters may slay demons in the dark, but that’s not why we show them love.

The half-angel, half-human warriors in Cassandra Clare’s best-selling fantasy books also take on the real world: being different, taking a stand and navigating the complicated layers of love. And it’s not strange for the ladies to save the day: Clary Fairchild, Tessa Gray and now, in the new “Lady Midnight,” Emma Carstairs.

The novel hit shelves this week, and Clare’s book tour stops Tuesday in Kansas City.

In “Lady Midnight,” the start of her third Shadowhunter series, Emma’s parents were murdered so she lives with the Blackthorn family in Los Angeles and fights demons with their son Julian — who has his own share of troubles.

“Emma is a very different kind of heroine than Clary and Tessa,” Clare says. “She is tough from the beginning. She has always been a Shadowhunter, and I hope readers will love the Blackthorns. I’m an only child and wanted to write the dynamics of a big family.”

As Emma and Julian probe her parents’ murder, more secrets unfold and the teens find themselves looking at their government critically.

“I wanted to take a darker turn with this series,” Clare says. “How do you turn a blind eye to the government doing bad things? The kids are going to have to fight a war on both fronts, a war against the exterior evils and a war against the way their own world works.

“I hope kids come out of this thinking about what it means when a law is bad. What does it mean when the people who are supposed to take care of you and look out for you are actually hurting you?”

The newest book is the introduction to “The Dark Artifices” trilogy, a sequel to “The Mortal Instruments,” the six-book series that captivated readers to the tune of 36 million copies sold and counting. Twi-hard fans note: Stephenie Meyer is a fan of these books.

 ‘The Mortal Instruments’ series is a story world that I love to live in,” Meyer once said.

Me, too. As a mixed woman, I’m drawn to young adult fantasy like J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter,” Rick Riordan’s “The Red Pyramid” and Clare’s ever-expanding collection because the stories often tackle identity issues and the hardship of straddling opposing worlds.

But these books gain mass fandoms because no matter who you are and where you come from, we all struggle with otherness. Fantasy books deal with differences in a way that is strong and well, magical.

I have more ideas than I can write. I love world-building and magic systems and thinking of new challenges for them to face and turn things on their head.

Author Cassandra Clare

Clare makes it easy to see yourself in her half-angels, warlocks, faeries, vampires, werewolves and hybrids. She’s always thinking about the diversity. As she builds her worlds, she thinks about the people in her life. So she created a biracial werewolf teen girl, mixed with black and white. There was a Latino vampire leader, an in-the-closet Shadowhunter teen boy and a half-Dutch, half-Indonesian warlock.

“When I first started out there wasn’t this big conversation about diversity that there is now, but it was important to me,” Clare told me over the land-line phone in her Massachusetts home.

“Fantasy offers you a metaphor for life, and that is really what it meant to me as a kid. I was Jewish and I could never find Jewish characters in fantasy, but I found connectivity in characters who were different. One of my best friends is biracial. Another friend is Asian. I wanted to create characters to reflect them.

“I get letters from kids who want to see Shadowhunters like themselves. They say ‘I’m depressed, I want to see that.’ Or ‘I am Latina, I want to see that.’ Or ‘I am autistic, I want to see that.’ I want everyone to see themselves.”

In the future, “The Dark Artifices” will introduce a transgender Shadowhunter, and by the time we read her fifth series, “The Wicked Powers,” a black Shadowhunter will have a leading storyline.

But right now we have a bunch of new angel-warriors to meet in “Lady Midnight.” There’s Cristina, a Mexican Shadowhunter. Dru proves that full-figured girls are athletic and apt warriors, too. And Ty is autistic but one of the most brilliant Shadowhunters yet. There are issues of forbidden love, body image, safe sex, mental illness, classism, special needs and general family dysfunction.

Her storytelling is just as layered as the worlds she creates. It goes way beyond fancy weaponry, hot bodies and killer fight moves.

And maybe that’s why the big and little screen adaptations of Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments” fall flat. The 2013 movie, “City of Bones,” tanked so hard they had to scrap the sequels. The Freeform (formerly ABC Family) series, “Shadowhunters,” starring Lee’s Summit’s own Katherine McNamara, is faring a little better. It’s holding a steady audience and trends every Tuesday on Twitter. On Monday it was renewed for a second season. But much like Charlaine Harris fans were split about HBO’s “True Blood,” Clare’s fans are torn over the new TV show.

She wants fans to keep the peace. It’s not a competition. Fans of the books can like the show or not. How they feel about it doesn’t make them any more or less a part of the fandom.

“Fantasy, in a lot of ways, is the hardest genre to adapt,” she says. “Some of our biggest successes have been fantasy, but it is incredibly hard and rare unless you have people working with the material who are super-saturated in the material and the fantasy world like ‘Lord of the Rings’ or ‘Game of Thrones.’

“I think a lot of people don’t realize how little control the authors have over the adaptations, unless you are a screenwriter in the Writers Guild like Suzanne Collins (“The Hunger Games”). I’ve spoken to her, and she’s been very nice to me. Getting into the Writers Guild is super tough, but I am working with my agent and I would love to one day do my own show.”

How would she find the time? In just 10 years, she’s written 10 books split into three series under the Shadowhunter umbrella. When it’s all done, she will have written five series. Not to mention the short story collections or the “Magisterium” series she co-writes with her good friend Holly Black.

“I have more ideas than I can write,” Clare says. “I love world-building and magic systems and thinking of new challenges for them to face and turn things on their head. But I do have an assistant that helps me keep track of family trees, maps and character details.”

Clare doesn’t write in the silence of an office. She creates her mystical adventures in Massachusetts coffee shops.

“I have a really close group of writing friends who live nearby me, like Holly Black, Kelly Link and Maureen Johnson. We get together and write. It helps me to have other people around when I am stuck; I can stop and say so. We share perspectives. And I help them, too. It’s an even exchange.”

She’s built her own scribe squad — and perhaps that stems from her fan-fiction roots.

“I was straight out of college when I started fan fiction,” she says. “It’s common for that late high school and college age group. It’s a time period when you are learning what kind of writer you want to be, when you are influenced by the books you love and it’s one way of engaging them. So many writers come out of it. You get feedback and you are a part of a writing community. It’s really important.”

But like many great successes, Clare is not without controversy. She’s been targeted by online bullies, and author Sherrilyn Kenyon accused her of trademark and copyright infringement. She claims Clare’s material overlaps too closely with her “Dark-Hunter” books because both use magical properties to help battle evil and protect mankind.

Is she for real? She might as well sue every fantasy book author.

“My ideas come out of my head and heart and are original to me,” Clare says. “But I absolutely use tropes of our genre. … My friend once said there is a big pot of ideas about fantasy and we all take from the pot. We all put into the pot. The crime is pretending the pot doesn’t exist.”

Despite the dark forces against her, Clare continues to work her magic in the literary world.

Cassandra Clare in KC

Meet best-selling author Cassandra Clare when her “Lady Midnight” book tour stops in Kansas City at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Plaza Library, 4801 Main St. Hosted by Rainy Day Books and the Kansas City Public Library, Clare will discuss her work, answer questions and sign books, too. It’s free but important to RSVP at kclibrary.org.

Did you know?

Clare’s literary heroes: J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and Jane Austen. “My pen name comes from Jane Austen’s ‘The Beautifull Cassandra.’ ”

Cassie paparazzi: “I worked for The Hollywood Reporter for a couple of years and it was fun. All writing helps. Nonfiction helps fiction, fiction helps nonfiction.” But she didn’t like the tabloid stories, like Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah’s couch. “It made me want to escape into a fantasy world. I was like, ‘This is not what I want to do.’ 

Her favorite character: Magnus Bane, the high warlock of Brooklyn. “He has been alive for a long time, and when we first meet him, it seems like he doesn’t care about anything. But he really has become the moral center.” She loves him so much that he has a short collection of stories, “The Bane Chronicles.”

Her must read: “If You Could Be Mine” by Sara Farizan. “It’s about two girls who are in love in modern Tehran. I was born in Tehran and I am totally fascinated by this story about young gay kids in such a repressive culture. You don’t see a story like this very often.”

Deadpool’s girlfriend reads Clare: Morena Baccarin, the brilliant and beautiful actress who plays Vanessa in “Deadpool,” is narrating the “Lady Midnight” audiobook.

The Shadowhunter Chronicles

▪ “The Mortal Instruments”: A six-book series about Clary Fairchild, who learns she is a half-angel and can see what her friends in New York can’t — demons, vampires and things. The first book was a 2013 movie. Now you can watch Katherine McNamara of Lee’s Summit play Clary on “Shadowhunters” at 8 p.m. Tuesdays on Freeform (formerly ABC Family).

▪ “The Infernal Devices”: In this prequel trilogy to “The Mortal Instruments,” Tessa Gray finds out she has the power to transform into other people. There’s a love triangle, too.

▪ “The Dark Artifices”: In this soon-to-be trilogy, not only do you get to know Emma Carstairs and the Blackthorn family, and explore forbidden love and the evils of the Shadowhunter government, all of your old favorites like Clary and Jace, Tessa and Jem and Magnus Bane make appearances.

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