by Jessica Corra
Claire Legrand is the author of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, a middle grade adventure arriving in stores on August 28th.
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster–lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does, too.)
But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that Mrs. Cavendish’s children’s home is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out . . . different, or they don’t come out at all.
Doesn’t that sound awesome? Claire sat down with Lucky 13er Jessica Corra for a chat.
Jess: Okay. The only question I HAVE to ask is: do you have any lucky charms or superstitions? So let's get that out of the way before I forget!
Claire: Ooo, yes. I ALWAYS knock on wood when I say something like, "that had better not happen," or "everything's going so well right now." If I spill salt I ALWAYS throw it over my shoulder. As for lucky charms, I have several, but my recent are a pair of unicorns given to me by my agent, Diana Fox. One is sparkly and rainbow-colored; the other is metallic and savagely steampunk; she said they encompass both sides of my personality.
Jess: Which brings me to my first question. Anyone who’s popped by your blog can see right away you have a Thing for unicorns. Why unicorns? Do you plan on ever writing a book that actually has unicorns?
Claire: I've always had a fascination with anything horse -- horses, unicorns, pegasi, unicorned pegasi. A lot of girls are obsessed with such things, I think, but I just never grew out of it. And the various interpretations of unicorns embody everything I love -- sparkly hair, tongue-in-cheek pop culture, magic (and, in my interpretation, ferocious combat skills). And, yes, I do have one totally unicorn-centric story in mind for later, as well as a trilogy in which unicorns are featured. Who doesn't want to read about unicorns?! Uncool people, that's who. (Just kidding, uncool people, I totally love you.)
Jess: You have three completely different books scheduled to release one after another, Cavendish, The Year of Shadows, about a haunted music hall, and Winterspell, a retelling of the Nutcracker, (squee!). How did that happen? Tell us a bit about your publishing adventures, and the various types of books you write. What do you keep coming back to, that we can expect from a Claire Legrand book whether it's about unicorns or faeries?
Claire: Oh, great question! You know, I think that a lot when I look at my books: "Wow, they are SO different from one another." One's a Roald Dahl-esque horror, one's a quasi-contemporary ghost story, one's a wild, sexy fantasy. (And the next few on the docket are all pretty different, too.)
Part of the reason for this happening is purely technical; CAVENDISH was sold as part of a two-book contract, so I therefore needed a second book to fulfill the contract. (It was during this time that I attended a symphony concert and was inspired for THE YEAR OF SHADOWS.) I wanted to go ahead and get my YA career started, and I'd had a Nutcracker re-telling brewing in my head for a while; hence, WINTERSPELL was born and sold on a partial submission -- again, as part of a two book contract. (Can't divulge what book 2 will be yet, though!)
So, the nature of the beast here was that I would have four standalone works, four completely separate concepts. I find a lot of different things fascinating; therefore, I write about a lot of different things.
But they all share certain common elements: strong heroines who are not defined by romance, rich friendships, and lots of dark imagery. I love creepy things; I think all of my books will be quite dark, but, to quote the great Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light." The greater the darkness, the greater the light; the greater the character's tragedy, the greater her catharsis.
All of my books so far (even the planned but unsold ones) have a lot of fantastical elements, whether that's high fantasy or science fiction or somewhere in the middle. I'd love to write a good contemporary or literary novel someday, but my brain is wired for fantasy.
Jess: I know you're terrified of bugs. So, Cavendish has a lot of bugs. Didn't that bother you to write? How did you come up with the concepts in Cavendish?
Claire: It TOTALLY bothered me to write about the bugs in CAVENDISH. I can't handle bugs. Like, at all. In fact, I once went on this road trip with my friend Brittany, all throughout the Deep South. It was a research trip for a trilogy I'm planning. One of our stops was Magnolia Plantation in Charleston, and the gardens were overrun with bugs. We tried to walk through and enjoy the flowers, but these big black bugs -- I don't even know WHAT they were -- kept dive-bombing us. I recorded the whole trip to the plantation for research purposes, and so much of it is just us screaming and running from those stupid bugs.
So, yeah. Bugs. Bugs = NO. And since they do bother me so much, they were really easy to write about. I was able to infuse all my horror and discomfort into Victoria's scenes with them, and I hope it grosses out readers as much as it does me! Ugh, sometimes just thinking about them makes me itch. But they're endearing, in a way. I have a lot of CAVENDISH bugs (from my giveaways) on my desk. They're like pets. Creepy, ugly pets.
I came up with a lot of CAVENDISH by using things from real life -- my fear of bugs, an orphanage I used to live down the street from, my dad's Stepford-esque town. And Victoria's perfectionism/ obsessive need to get good grades. That is so me.
Jess: The voice in Cavendish is delightful! You mentioned Roald Dahl-esque earlier and that certainly suits. Yet the story didn't feel outdated or old-fashioned. How did you balance that? Your voice is so unique; do your other books sound remotely similar?
Claire: Thank you so much! Creating the voice for CAVENDISH was a tricky balancing act, for sure. I didn't want the book dated at ALL; I wanted it to feel accessible and classic whether someone picked it up tomorrow or fifty years from now. So, as much as possible, I avoided mentioning anything that would date it -- technology, pop culture references, current slang, etc. There are cars and computers in CAVENDISH, but they're extremely peripheral. Basically, it was a lot of work to achieve the voice; a lot of careful word choice considerations and a lot of reading passages aloud in my Victoria voice, which is quasi-British and extremely posh. ;)
My voice differs for each book. CAVENDISH is quirky and old-fashioned. THE YEAR OF SHADOWS is much more contemporary; it's also in 1st-person, so there's a whole different flavor just due to the POV alone. WINTERSPELL is more lyrical, Victorian (the era, not the character!), and darker than the MG novels. I would say, though, that none of them are written sparsely. I love beautiful prose and revel in the sound of words on my tongue, so I don't skimp. Reading books like Veronica Roth's DIVERGENT, where the writing IS sparse (in the best of ways), helps me remember the value of being succinct.
Jess: I loved Victoria as a protagonist. She has definite faults and I love that! Yet her faults also turn out to be her biggest strengths. Can you talk about your character development and writing Victoria?
Claire: I love her too. She IS a piece of work, though, isn't she? I even had some feedback while we were out on submission with the manuscript that Victoria was too prickly and difficult a character. But she stayed pretty much intact during revisions, and I'm glad of it. She came to me fully-formed. One day she just popped into my head, prissy and perfectly coiffed, demanding that her story be told. I said to her, "You know, I think you'd be perfect for this creepy orphanage story I want to write." She said, "Would I be the main character?" Me: "You surely would." Victoria: "Everyone would be paying attention to me?" Me: "Sometimes even people you wouldn't want paying attention to you!" Victoria: "It's a deal."
As I wrote, I put a lot of my snotty 12-year-old self into her. I was never a cold-hearted brat like Victoria can be, and I didn't care about my hair being perfect, but I was obsessed with my grades and could be exceptionally bossy if you weren't doing the group project like I thought you should be.
Jess: Without giving anything away, Cavendish has an interesting epilogue. Why did you choose to include it?
Claire: Honestly? The epilogue is my FAVORITE PART. That was another thing that came to me fully-formed from the very beginning. Some of the book was modified during revisions, but not the epilogue. It just felt necessary; it HAD to happen, and it still gives me chills when I read it. I've always liked endings that leave me slightly, deliciously unsettled. So I knew I had to do that with CAVENDISH.
(If you're interested, you can listen to the music I have for the epilogue on my CAVENDISH soundtrack here. It's the last track on the page, called "Charlie Declines." That will give you a little taste of how CAVENDISH concludes.)
Jess: And I did forget to ask, tell us a bit about yourself. :)
Claire: Well, first of all, I get anxious when anyone says "tell us a bit about yourself," haha. I always feel like I should say something clever or creative, and then my mind clams up and I start making high pitched nervous noises kind of like this. But I'm just gonna go with my gut and do a stream of consciousness thing here:
I live in New York, and I don't always like it. I think I would like it more if I lived in a nicer neighborhood, and whenever I think that, I worry that I'm actually snobbier than I'd like to be. I miss Texas, even though parts of it drive me crazy (like the politics and the 108-degree heat). I used to be a musician, but now my trumpets are in my closet at home, probably growing mold demons or something. If I could, I'd eat pizza every day. I'm a super critical reader. I want to wear hats, but they just look bizarre on me. Sometimes I try one on thinking, "THIS will be the one," but it never is. In my next lives, I will be an interior designer, a production designer, a foley artist, a wildlife photographer (this will obviously be a version of myself that does not mind bugs), a psychic, a rich (but charitable!) socialite, a fashion designer. Oh, and a gymnast.
Ta-dah! Wow, I'm sweating now. Also, I tend to make things more difficult than they really are. ;)
Jess: You are plenty clever and creative! Thanks so much for talking with me on behalf of the Luckies.
Jessica Corra believes in magic, chocolate, love, and words. Her debut young adult magical realism, AFTER YOU, releases in Winter 2014 from Dial BFYR.