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Thursday, September 8, 2011

INTERVIEW with Claire Legrand

This week on Inside the Writer’s Notebook, I had the pleasure of interviewing author and fellow Apocalypsies member, Claire Legrand. Her Middle Grade fantasy, THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, (Simon & Schuster BFYR, Fall 2012) puts the “grim” in Brothers Grimm and reveals why social services should pay closer attention to orphanages. Intrigued? Good. Let’s jump right in!!

Give us the dish about your book. What is it about your story that makes it stand out?
My debut is a middle grade dark fairy tale called THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS. It’s about a perfect town with dark secrets, an orphanage run by a Very Bad Lady, and a twelve-year-old perfectionist named Victoria who has to learn to break all the rules in order to save her best friend and set things right.

What makes it stand out? It’s quite dark, in ways that I think might surprise people. When I say “fairy tale,” I say it with all the grisly connotations that implies. And Victoria herself is quite a distinctive heroine, incredibly grown-up in some ways and incredibly immature in others. I’ve never met a character quite like her, and I was sad to finish writing the book and leave her behind. She’s SO much fun to write, one of those characters with a personality that just jumps off the page and says, “This is MY book, and no one else’s.”

What inspired you to write this particular story?
When I was an undergraduate student, I lived down the street from an orphanage. No joke! It totally creeped me out because I never saw anyone moving around on the grounds—no children, no staff members, no visitors, nothing. I’m sure this institution is perfectly legit and harmless…but still. Sometimes there would even be police tape on the side door! One night, a van pulled out of the driveway and started following me and my friend (we had been slowly driving by the main house). We took a very circuitous route to see if they were really following us, and they did follow us, all the way across town to the grocery store, before they eventually turned and left. CREEPY, RIGHT? I knew right then and there that I wanted to write a “creepy orphanage story.” And, voila.

Of all the genres, what do you enjoy most about this one?
I write fantasy + sci-fi (mostly fantasy at this point), and one reason why I love these genres is because the stories within them explore real-world issues in decidedly unreal settings. It’s a way of wiping the slate clean and putting every reader on a level playing field. These aren’t stories about New York with inside jokes that only New Yorkers will get, or what have you. These are stories about places that no one has ever seen, and therefore every reader comes to them with no advantages over any other reader. In fantasy and sci-fi, we can explore very real, very important issues about race, gender, religion, free will, sex, discrimination, war, and any other number of things without the bias of a real-world context. I find that very refreshing, and so full of potential for writers.

I consider middle grade and young adult books more about audiences than genres. I write for these age groups quite simply because books for kids and teens are full of possibilities for imagination, discovery, wonder, and poignancy that, much like in real life, fade or at least change as you get older.

Do you have a playlist that inspired your story? If so, share!!
Yes! I am all about music and playlists when brainstorming projects. I don’t use a lot of “music with words,” though; I use mostly film scores. I think cinematically, so it works out well. I have part of my soundtrack for CAVENDISH up on my blog. Click here to give it a listen!

How much of yourself do you put into your characters?
That really depends on the character. Victoria, in CAVENDISH, is very much like the little domineering perfectionist that I was at age twelve. But I didn’t set out to write her like that. I just knew her and her story, right from the start, and it turns out that we’re similar in some ways. I’m of the opinion that there are little bits and pieces of us in every character we write—or pieces of who we once were, or of who we want to be. The creative process is too personal for that not to happen.

A large aspect of writing YA and MG books is to be relatable to teens. Provide five adjectives to describe your high school experience.
  • Stressful
  • hilarious
  • scary
  • unforgettable
  • pizza-filled
What was your first car?
 A 1994 Mazda Protégé named Sally (as in, Mustang Sally). I thought the poor dear could use an ego boost, bless her little repair shop-loving heart.

In your opinion, what is the BIGGEST misconception about kids/ teenagers?
I often think people underestimate their ability to understand and process tough, real-world issues. Kids and teenagers are a lot smarter and more perceptive than many people give them credit for. They can handle controversy, intelligent discussion, and debate if only given the chance to do so.

If you could go back in time and tell the 15 year-old you one thing, what would it be?
STOP. STRESSING. In ten years, no one will care that you were salutatorian. Promise.

Okay, this is the speed round of random questions, what people are dying to know about you, or maybe just me:
What is your favorite mythical creature and why? UNICORNS. They are so versatile. They can be cuddly, majestic, hilarious, scary, beautiful, and have what are basically giant lethal swords growing out of their heads. I don’t think this requires further explanation.

If you had a super power, what would it be and why? Telekinesis, because I think I might secretly be a lazy person at heart, and it would be awesome to just Accio! stuff all the time.

Are you left-handed or right-handed? Right-handed, but I wish I was ambidextrous, just so I could throw people off. Don’t we all?

Do you write free-hand or type it out on the computer? Definitely on the computer. I’ve tried writing longhand, and it just drives me insane. I physically cannot write fast enough for my brain, which is used to typing speed. I’d love to actually be able to do it, just so I could have some time away from the computer screen every once in a while, but alas, no luck yet.

What is your favorite curse word? Gorram. As in, GORRAM IT. You know. From Firefly. ;)

In your opinion, what is the hardest thing about writing?
Not getting caught up in all the “other stuff.” I recently wrote a post about that on my blog. In this age of social media and online…well…everything, it’s really easy to network with other writers, which is fabulous! But it’s also easy to get bogged down in what others are doing, how others are succeeding where you’re not, how much faster other people are reading than you are, how much more people’s books are selling for than yours did, and all that stuff that can distract you from the real point of all this—writing a fantastic book. Don’t let social media work against you; let it work for you, and no matter what, don’t let it negatively affect your writerly productivity. Achieving that balance of staying connected and keeping your nose to the grindstone is the hardest thing about writing, for me.

Many writers have experienced query rejections. How did you cope?
At first, I printed out all my rejections and kept them in a lovely tin I bought at an antique shop for this express purpose. At some point, I stopped doing that because it was just too much work, not to mention a little disheartening. Honestly, the best way of coping with rejections is continuing to work—reading, writing (on other projects!), and tweaking your query. By the time you start querying, your manuscript should be ready to go, so don’t keep revising it (like I did; bad Claire!). You’ll drive yourself nuts.

A shout out to the hard-working agents: what is the #1 thing you love about your agent? Oh god. Diana Fox is my hero. I love how communicative she is, how smart her editorial suggestions are, and how we can talk about fan fiction, high fashion, and publishing all in one conversation. I also love how I feel totally comfortable sending her random ideas that pop into my head, and how she has so much patience for my tendency toward wordiness. Whoops. That’s way more than one thing. See there? Wordiness. And she loves me anyway. Bless.

When you enter a bookstore next year and see your book on the shelf, what do you think your reaction would be?
It’ll probably go something like this: “HNNNNNNNGGGGGGasdfja;kdf;k.” I might cry. Or experience the urge to vomit. Or take a picture and send it to everyone I know. Or gather all available copies up into a big ol’ bear hug, really skeeving out the employees and patrons. Probably all of the above.

Which author would you LOVE to have read your book?
 Neil Gaiman. Definitely. I adore his writing and his perfectly honed sense of creepitude. Granted, I’d be huddled in a corner scarfing down chocolate and Dorito’s in a sort of nervous conniption fit the whole time it was in his possession, but that would nevertheless be a dream come true. Even with the Dorito’s breath.

Great reaction and an interesting story. Creepy is always a plus. THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS hits bookstores Fall 2012. To learn more about Claire Legrand and her debut novel, follow her on Twitter and check out her blog.

My interview with YA author Jay Krissoff will post next week! Yes, a GUY! OMG! *swoons*



  1. Thanks so much for the interview, Jaime!

  2. What a fun interview! Now I want to follow you into a bookstore when your book is released so I can see that epic reaction.

  3. This sounds fantastic. What a great interview. I'll be looking for this book when it's released.




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