Photo Content from Claire Legrand
Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now she is a librarian and New York Times bestselling author living in New Jersey.
Her first novel is The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, one of the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2012. She is also the author of The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers; and Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker. Some Kind of Happiness, her middle grade novel about mental illness, family secrets, and the power of storytelling, is a 2017 Edgar Award Nominee. Claire’s latest middle grade novel, Thornlight, is a classic fantasy-adventure and a companion novel to the acclaimed Foxheart, a 2016 Junior Library Guild selection. She is one of the four authors behind The Cabinet of Curiosities, an anthology of dark middle grade short fiction that was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Bank Street Best Book, and among the New York Public Library’s 100 Titles for Reading and Sharing in 2014.
Her young adult horror novel, Sawkill Girls, received five starred reviews. It is also a 2018 Bram Stoker Award finalist and a 2019 Lambda Literary Award finalist.
Furyborn, an epic fantasy novel for young adults, debuted at #4 on the New York Times bestseller list, and is the first book in the Empirium Trilogy. The next book in the series, Kingsbane, was also an instant New York Times bestseller. The final book in the series, Lightbringer, released October 13, 2020.
Greatest thing you learned at school.
One of my greatest academic triumphs came in my senior year pre-calculus class. Math classes were always a struggle for me; so many nights, I would finish my math homework in tears and feeling extremely not smart. I actually had to change my schedule junior year to get out of pre-cal because my course load was so intense that pre-cal made my anxiety untenable. Major swallowing-my-pride moment; all of my friends took pre-cal no problem and went onto calculus our senior year, while I took pre-cal, a year behind them. To say that I was nervous when finally starting pre-cal would be a gross understatement. But my teacher, Ms. Pelletier, was incredible—tough, blisteringly smart, but very fair and supportive if you worked hard. I stayed in her classroom pretty much every day during lunch, working on that day’s homework and asking for help when needed. My hard work paid off; I earned an A in that class. The most important thing I learned from that experience? It’s not only okay, it’s smart to recognize your limits and adjust accordingly. (And huge thanks to Ms. Pelletier, wherever she is, for helping me through that and letting me camp out in her classroom.)
When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved writing. On family trips when I was a kid, I used to listen to music on my little portable CD player, stare out the window, and dream up elaborate adventure stories, full of tragedy and romance. In the woods behind my grandmother’s house, I imagined fantastical worlds and cast my cousins in the roles of various characters. Writing stories felt as natural as breathing and was how I processed the world around me. In elementary school, I decided I wanted to become the youngest person to publish a New York Times-bestselling novel. (Haaaa.) Middle school arrived, and with it, a new love—music. I joined the band and learned to play the trumpet, and that became both my passion and my career dream, until I graduated from high school and came up with a story idea that I couldn’t stop thinking about. I ended up changing my major, moving away from music, and refocusing on writing, and that book I changed my major to write ended up becoming Furyborn, the first book in my bestselling Empirium Trilogy. Long story short: Wee Claire knew she needed to be a writer the way she knew how to breathe. It just took Adult Claire a while to make that dream a reality.
Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book and why? And what is your favorite book outside of your genre?
I don’t have a single all-time favorite book; it’s too hard to pick just one! But one of my all-time favorite books is A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. As a child, awkward, emotional, brave Meg Murry was my idol; as an adult, L’Engle’s clear, vibrant prose and her exploration of the relationship between science and spirituality are huge inspirations. More than any other book I read as a child, that one made me who I am, both as a writer and as a person. One of my favorite books outside the genres I write in is Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. It’s scary, brutal, and disturbing as all heck, and yet somehow it’s a comfort read for me? I think it mostly comes down to Flynn being an incredible writer; I can’t help but become fully immersed in her storytelling. I also love that book’s unflinching exploration of the various kinds of relationships among girls and women, as well as how the resilient narrator Camille processes and comes to terms with her demons.
Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
A few years ago at an event, a young reader came up to my signing table, trembling with nerves, and apologized for the state of her book. She held a copy of my book Some Kind of Happiness, complete with dog-eared pages, creased spine, and worn-out cover. In fact, I was delighted to see such a well-loved copy of one of my books. When I was younger, some of my favorite books looked just like that, because I took them everywhere and read them multiple times. I told the reader as much, and to this day, remembering that exchange warms my heart and reinvigorates my love of writing.
Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
Reading His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman was definitely a life-changing experience. Not only was I utterly gripped by the story of Lyra “Silvertongue” Belacqua (one of my all-time favorite literary heroines) and her journey through multiple worlds, I was also gobsmacked to realize it was possible to write such a staggeringly ambitious story for young readers—and actually get it published. I’m not sure I would have found the courage to write the Empirium Trilogy if I hadn’t read His Dark Materials and felt inspired to tackle my own sprawling story.
Can you tell us when you started EXTASIA, how that came about?
I started writing Extasia a few years ago, inspired by three things: 1) A fascination with the psychology of cults; 2) the connection linking women, nature, and magic; and 3) a brainstorming conversation I had with a friend of mine, during which we discussed the idea of a girl who is the patron saint of rage. As with my previous horror novel, Sawkill Girls, I poured into this book a lot of my real-world fear, anger, and sadness about the cruelties people visit upon their fellow human beings—especially the cruelties thrown at women and girls.
TEN RANDOM FACTS ABOUT EXTASIA
- 1. The original title of Extasia was Not Like the Others, which bugged me for the longest time because it just didn’t feel right. The mystery, beauty, and sinister quality of the final title, Extasia, fits the story so much better.
- 2. While writing one of my favorite—and one of the most important—sequences near the book’s midpoint, I listened (on repeat) to “Caleb’s Seduction” from Mark Korven’s score for the film The VVitch.
- 3. It took five pretty intense rounds of revisions to get Extasia into its final form, and this is my eleventh published novel. To other writers out there—don’t give up! Writing books is a messy process.
- 4. As I do with all of my books, I outlined Extasia pretty extensively using a spreadsheet, planning out every scene from start to finish before I ever started writing the first draft.
- 5. Amity’s cat, Shadow, didn’t show up until maybe the third or fourth round of revisions. Her role is small but crucial.
- 6. One of the most important people in Amity’s life is kindly Elder Peter, and while he was present in the early drafts, his character didn’t become as important, nor as fleshed out, until later rounds of revisions. Again—writing is a messy process. Quite often, at least in my experience, your story doesn’t become truly itself until you’ve rolled up your sleeves and done the really hard work of revisions.
- 7. I wrote the bulk of Extasia’s first draft in less than a month.
- 8. Flowers—particularly, Amity’s garden—play an important role in Extasia, which was important in terms of providing Amity (and the reader) with moments of lightness and beauty amid the story’s many horrors. Amity’s garden was also a bit of wish fulfillment, as I would love to have a garden overflowing with blooms and greenery, but I’ve never had the space for it!
- 9. Crafting the really gross and scary horror scenes was one of my favorite parts of the Extasia writing process. There’s something cathartic about exploring terrifying imagery and scenarios through the eyes of a fictional character. My favorite of these scenes involves fire, a meadow, and a ton of insects.
- 10. Amity and her sister, Blessing, share a bedroom, and on one of the walls is a painted lamb they’ve named Lightluck. I’m weirdly obsessed with this little cute-but-creepy guy and kind of want to commission a piece of Lightluck art from someone. Who wouldn’t want the faded eyes of a creepy painted lamb staring down at them while they work?!
Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from EXTASIA
In Extasia, the main character, Amity, is determined to save her people from whatever evil force is stalking their village and leaving men and boys gruesomely murdered. As she embarks upon this journey, she frequently thinks about the strange, fairy tale-esque stories her mother told her and her younger sister, Blessing, when they were small. She looks to these stories for guidance and, eventually, clues. I loved writing these little vignettes; they become warm (albeit odd) rays of hope for Amity amid the violence and fear taking over her village. In these stories, there are nods to various classic children’s tales, as if Amity’s mother knew fuzzy bits and pieces of those old stories, but not the whole of them, nor their original context, and therefore filled in the gaps with her own ideas and made the stories her own. I’ve reproduced one of these stories below:
Once, there was a lost girl who traveled a long broad road made of polished pink stones. She searched for home, a place she had never been.
The underland, some called it. The great city, said others.
She traveled with three companions. A girl with an aching head. A girl with a tired heart. A girl who feared all she saw. And at the end of the road stood a great black door wedged into the side of a hill.
The girl with the aching head opened the door, hoping that on the other side would be her home, for her feet were sore from walking, and she longed to sleep at last. But on the other side of the door lay a field of fire, so she closed the door at once.
The girl with the tired heart tried the same, but beyond the door was a vast forest so thick they could not press inside it. She too closed the door.
The girl who feared all she saw would not open the door set into the hill.
They begged her to try, but she did not. She sat on the ground and wept, for she knew all their walking had been in vain, that they would never reach the underland.
Then the final girl, the lost girl, opened the door. And beyond it was only more road, and on the far horizon, a speck of darkness that she knew was another door, standing in wait. The girls joined hands and began again.
Meet the Characters
The main character in Extasia is Amity Barrow, who at the beginning of the book is anointed a saint by the elders of her village, the entire population of which is white and devoutly religious. Sainthood is a ceremonial position that is not as nice as it sounds, though stoic, plain Amity has been yearning to be anointed for years. Three other girls in the village are Amity’s closest friends and allies—her younger sister, Blessing, the golden-haired beauty of the family; another saint, red-headed Mercy, who’s constantly snapping with barely restrained anger; and odd, ethereal Saint Silence, ghostly pale with white hair, who holds an important clue in her scattered, dreamy mind and by whom Amity is utterly fascinated.
Your Journey to Publication
When I was in college and changed my major to focus on writing instead of music, I had no idea how difficult it would be to get published. Like a lot of young writers, I was wildly confident in my own abilities and in the appeal of my story—which isn’t a bad thing! You need a bit of ego to push you through the hard work of creating, editing, and selling a book. But the story I was writing was big—too big for a young writer just starting out—and, unsurprisingly, it was therefore a huge mess. While querying agents over the years, I received dozens upon dozens of rejections and eventually had to face reality: this book wasn’t ready, and I needed to put it aside, no matter how heartbreaking that would be. So I did, and I wrote another book that actually got me an agent and a book deal. I kept writing and learning and selling other books—books I’m proud of, books I truly love—but I never forgot that first idea, that huge story that brought me back to my childhood love of writing. I kept going back to it, rethinking it, rewriting it, and finally, twelve years after I first dreamed up the original idea, I sold the book—Furyborn—to an incredibly supportive team at my publisher, Sourcebooks. Two years after that, they published Furyborn, and it became a New York Times bestseller. Two years after that, the third book in the trilogy, Lightbringer, hit the shelves. Sixteen years from inception to completion. A long time, but, hey, life is weird, and publication journeys are even weirder. The moral of this story is, as ever: don’t give up. Create art you’re passionate about, art you can’t stop thinking about, art that scares you and pushes you and lights up your brain. Art like that can change your life.
Writing Behind the Scenes
As a former musician, music has always been and will always be a huge part of my creative process. I make playlists for all of my books, focusing primarily on instrumental film scores. These playlists help me in all kinds of ways—they help me establish the rhythm of a scene or chapter; they help me get into the proper mood for whatever I’m working on that day; and they provide inspiration when I can’t figure out where to go next. I’ve shared a few tracks from my Extasia playlist on Spotify, and the full playlist will be available once the book is out. You can also find playlists for my other published books, and stay updated with playlists for upcoming books, by following me on Spotify.
What is the first job you have had?
A part-time shelver at my local public library.
Best date you've ever had? This wasn’t a romantic date, but a friend date: instead of attending my senior prom, I went to a Texas Rangers baseball game with a big group of friends. That was such a fun night, replete with killer nachos that I’m positive were sadly unavailable at the prom venue.
What is the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning? Food. I’m always really hungry right when I wake up.
What is your most memorable travel experience?
A trip to Washington, D.C. with my family the summer after I graduated from high school—mainly because, on the flight home from that trip, I came up with the idea for the Empirium Trilogy.
Which would you choose, true love with a guarantee of a heart break or have never loved before? True love with a guarantee of heartbreak, 100%. I am a firm believer in the whole “better to have loved and lost…” thing.
When you looked in the mirror first thing this morning, what was the first thing you thought?
Wow, my hair is wild. I look like a Who from Whoville.
What do you usually think about right before falling asleep?
I usually fall asleep while thinking through a meditative exercise that helps quiet my brain and settle any lingering tension from the day.
A lovely, nerdy, sweetheart of a boy named Kevin—my on-again, off-again boyfriend from kindergarten through fifth grade.
Most horrifying dream you have ever had?
As a kid, I was terrified of my extremely intense dance teacher, Miss Karen, and once had a nightmare in which she chased me with a huge knife, this awful, manic smile on her face. Why do our brains do this to us?!
What event in your life would make a good movie?
I will forever remain firmly convinced that my experiences working at a public library would make a fantastic, The Office-esque show or movie. You’d perhaps think libraries would be places of calm, reason, and good behavior—and, well, you would be wrong.
What is one unique thing you are afraid of?
Refrigerator smells. They make me feel panicky and gag. I love leftovers, but I hold my breath while unboxing them and warming them up.
**One of BuzzFeed's Great LGBTQ+ YA novels to Warm up Your Winter**
From New York Times bestselling author Claire Legrand comes a new, bone-chilling YA horror novel about a girl who joins a coven to root out a vicious evil that's stalking her village. Perfect for fans of The Handmaid's Tale and The Grace Year.
Her name is unimportant.
All you must know is that today she will become one of the four saints of Haven. The elders will mark her and place the red hood on her head. With her sisters, she will stand against the evil power that lives beneath the black mountain--an evil which has already killed nine of her village's men.
She will tell no one of the white-eyed beasts that follow her. Or the faceless gray women tall as houses. Or the girls she saw kissing in the elm grove.
Today she will be a saint of Haven. She will rid her family of her mother's shame at last and save her people from destruction. She is not afraid. Are you?
This searing and lyrically written novel by the critically acclaimed author of Sawkill Girls beckons readers to follow its fierce heroine into a world filled with secrets and blood--where the truth is buried in lies and a devastating power waits, seething, for someone brave enough to use it.