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.