Gather around, friends. We are so pleased to welcome one of our favorite people to the blog today, the magical Claire LeGrand, author of The Year of Shadows. It’s a lovely middle grade ghost story that will be out in stores tomorrow!
Claire’s here as part of the official YOS blog tour, and she’s joined by her editor Zareen Jaffery from Simon and Shuster BFYR (who just visited us last week!) for a Author-Editor Interview. Claire and Zareen ask each other questions about their careers, their daily lives, inspiration, ghosts, and so much more.
We’re also giving away a beautiful finished hardcover of the book, so read on!
CLAIRE interviews ZAREEN
Claire: First of all, hi, Zareen!
Zareen: Hi, Claire! (And Wendy! And blog readers!)
C: Can you tell us a little about you as an editor? What made you decide to pursue this as a career?
Z: When I was about ten years old, I decided I wanted to work with books. Specifically, at the place where books are made, not the library. (Which was the only other context I had for where books came from!) Of course, I had no idea what “working with books at the place where books are made” really meant, and it was really only one of many career-crushes I’d have through my teen years. But when I graduated college, despite getting a degree in journalism, I knew being an editor in book publishing was my dream. Even then, I still had very little idea of what the actual job entailed beyond reading books, offering critiques. And I didn’t at that point realize my true love was children’s books! That came a couple years in to my publishing career, after I’d tried my hand at editing genre fiction, women’s fiction, narrative non-fiction, literary fiction, business books, cookbooks. But while I was working on those books, I realized I was gravitating towards reading children’s books on my own time. My favorite authors became Laurie Halse Anderson, Louise Rennison, Pete Hautman, JK Rowling, Philip Pullman. I knew I needed to transition over to working in the children’s division, and luckily enough, an opportunity came my way. And I couldn’t be more grateful. This is a dream job, for sure.
C: The more I learn about editors, the more impressed and fascinated I become. Y’all do so much for your authors! *bows down, full of eternal gratitude* Tell us about A Day in the Life of Editor Zareen. What is a typical workday like for you?
Z: Aww, thanks! We get a kick out of working with authors. It’s a thrill for us, too, to have a hand in making these stories come to life. There really isn’t any typical day for an editor—at least not as I’ve experienced so far, having worked at four publishers, two of which are “big five” publishers. There are days that are full of meetings, days I spend most of my time reading and answering emails and attempting to read submissions, days I work from home to get an edit done. An editor is a book’s point-person for all the in-house departments. Questions about marketing, publicity, sales, design, production, are all routed through the editor—and multiply that times the number of books an editor is working on at any given time (I have between 15 and 20 original books a year, not including reprints).
My favorite part of my job is acquiring books I love by debut authors. Being able to sign a writer’s first book is a thrill I’ll never get over. It feels like you’re making someone’s dream come true.
C: Let’s talk about The Year of Shadows. In five words, how would you describe this book?
Z: There is no way I can describe this book in five words! Can I just say AMAZING times five? Okay, fine, I’ll attempt this, but it will be a really pale representation of all the awesomeness in the novel. Honest, heartfelt, friendship, ghosts, cat.
C: I think Igor would be offended to be listed last. Unless he decides you saved the best for last, in which case he would allow you to scratch behind his ears for five whole minutes. In what ways do you see The Year of Shadows as different or similar from my first book?
Z: I’ll start with what they have in common. Both feature strong heroines (hooray Victoria and Olivia!). Both illustrate the beauty of unlikely friendships, and the value in looking beyond first impressions. Nothing is as it first seems in both Cavendish and The Year of Shadows. They differ in their tone and style. Cavendish feels more arch and shiny, though there are sweet moments between Victoria and Lawrence. The Year of Shadows feels more lived-in, and real. From Olivia’s family struggles to her emotional journey—she seems like a girl I would know and want to give a big hug (though she would probably push me away.) I’d be scared to hug Victoria for fear of wrinkling her blouse.
C: Hee! She would totally be horrified by hug wrinkles. Who is your favorite character and what’s your favorite scene in The Year of Shadows? No spoilers, please! ;)
Z: Why are you asking me impossible questions? Is this a punishment for something?! If pressed, I would say Henry Page. Favorite scene is that one at the end where that thing happens, and Olivia goes to that place and learns that thing that she didn’t know, and she cries when she gets back (I cried, too). I can’t say anything more than that.
C: That’s my favorite scene, too! In The Year of Shadows, the four main ghosts are stuck as ghosts because they have lost their anchors — the physical objects that tie them to the world of the Living. If they can’t reunite with their anchors, their souls remain incomplete, and they’re incapable of moving on to the world of the Dead. What might your anchor be? Maybe a special keepsake or trinket that is especially precious to you?
Z: There isn’t any physical object that I own that it would devastate me to lose forever, so my anchors would have to be people. I am blessed to have many loved ones whom I’d consider anchors.
C: And last but not least: Do you believe in ghosts?
Z: Only when I’m at my parent’s house in Connecticut and hear creaking pipes and groaning floorboards in the middle of the night!
ZAREEN interviews CLAIRE
Zareen: Hi, Claire!
Claire: Hello! *hugs Zareen* (FYI: I am totally a hugger, so, readers, if you haven’t met me yet, and one day we do meet (oh frabjous day!) and I give you an earnest but awkward hug, please forgive me. And if we have already met, well . . . you know what I’m talking about.)
Z: As you know, I have so much love for The Year of Shadows. It feels to me like a much more personal book than the equally fabulous, but stylistic different, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. Are there elements of The Year of Shadows that feel particularly personal to you?
C: You are so right: The Year of Shadows was a tremendously personal book to write, and sometimes, even now, after spending long months writing, revising, and promoting it, certain passages can be difficult to read because they came from such an emotional place. For example, any passage wherein Olivia describes the orchestra performing stabs my heart. I so miss performing in ensembles with my friends, and I envy Olivia that, even though she’s not a musician herself, she gets to grow up surrounded by a family of musicians. (Of course, she doesn’t realize how lucky she is in that respect, at least not at first.)
Also, Olivia thinks a lot about death and the afterlife and loss, thanks to her mom leaving and her friendship with the ghosts of Emerson Hall. Describing Olivia’s preoccupation with these dark topics was easy for me to do, since I wrote and revised The Year of Shadows during a difficult time, personally.
Z: Music has been a part of your life for so long. What was it like to write a character who is, in part, resentful of her father’s love of music?
C: What a fantastic question! (Isn’t she smart?) On the one hand, it was easy to write about Olivia’s bitterness toward music because, as a former musician myself, I could easily recall days when music frustrated me, or days when I felt artistically inadequate, or days when I resented music for consuming so much of my life.
On the other hand, describing Olivia’s anger became uncomfortable at times. Her father has an obsessive personality, pouring so much of himself into his job as a conductor and into his love of music that he ends up neglecting his loved ones. I can recognize some of myself in those tendencies; there have been stretches of time where I become so consumed in my work—whether that’s writing or music—that I don’t spend as much time with friends and family as I should. Part of that is unavoidable; but part of it is because I forget to step back and look at the bigger picture of my life. I can imagine that some of my friends and family have felt bursts of frustration and resentment similar to Olivia’s during period when I made myself unavailable to them.
Z: What role does music play in your inspiration and writing process?
C: Music is probably the single most important part of my writing process. I use it to brainstorm everything from settings to characters to set pieces. I make playlists for each book project, assigning songs and instrumental pieces to characters and scenes. Before I even start writing a new project, I have to have some kind of musical foundation set up and ready to go, clearly establishing the tone I want to convey. Also, one of my go-to methods for unwinding what I like to call “plot knots” is going on a walk or a drive and letting my mind wander to music. If I had to write without music as a component, it would be a huge struggle.
Z: You write middle grade characters so well—as if the experience is a vivid part of your memory. What made you gravitate towards writing middle grade fiction?
C: There’s something special about the middle grade age range, something bittersweet and powerful. Middle grade readers are teetering on the fence between childhood and adolescence. They’re young enough to not be as jaded and cynical as their teenaged selves will become, and they’re not yet ruled by hormones. Their imaginations are still alive and kicking, though they’re getting a little too old to play pretend, even though they may really want to—but it’s not cool to do that anymore, you see, at least not in public. Some days they’re still as breathless and enthusiastic as they were as younger children; other days, they’re more guarded, and surprisingly adult. This dichotomy fascinates me; I remember feeling it profoundly when I was that age. It’s such a confusing time, so full of surprises and self-discovery. There is a kind of purity in those years—not pure as in innocent or untarnished, but rather pure as in undiluted, wide-eyed, raw. During those years, you realize just how big the world is for the first time, and you wonder how you’re supposed to fit in it when you can barely figure out how to fit into your own world.
Z: Both The Year of Shadows and The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls have some seriously frightening moments. What is your scariest memory from your childhood?
C: This is going to sound strange, but I used to have this recurring nightmare that I can still remember vividly. I would be falling in slow motion through a dark, never-ending abyss, with objects flying all around me. Some would be moving quickly, others slowly, and others didn’t seem to be moving at all. My heart would be in my throat, and I would be grappling for purchase on something—anything—but I couldn’t find an anchor. I would hear a pounding drumbeat in the distance, unnerving and ineffable, and it increased in volume as I fell. When the drumbeat was at its loudest, I would wake up, covered in sweat, trying to scream for my parents but unable to make a sound.
It was a very Alice in Wonderland kind of dream—beautiful and terrifying and bizarre. I kind of feel like if you distilled all my books down to a single essence, it would be something like that dream.
Z: Who do you relate to more: Olivia from YOS or Victoria from Cavendish?
C: I relate to both of them in such different ways. Victoria is my love of color-coded spreadsheets, my desire to be in control of everything around me, and my twelve-year-old self, obsessing over grades.
Olivia is the part of me that likes to hide, the part of me that can sometimes feel awkward and lonely and weird. She’s the part of me that struggles with depression and with feeling worthy, even when loved ones do everything they can to demonstrate how they value me. Even though that may make her—and me—sound easily breakable, I think there’s a resilience to Olivia with which even unstoppable Victoria can’t compete.
Z: Please tell the world about the book you’re working on next! Winterspell is going to knock teen readers’ socks off.
C: Oh my goodness. Excuse me while I flail for a bit! *flail flail flaillll
Ahem. Anyway, Winterspell is my first young adult novel, and it’s set to release in fall 2014. It’s a re-telling of the ballet The Nutcracker, and it’s dark and twisted and sexy, a full-blown fantasy. It’s the story of Clara Stole, who is caught up in a shadowy world of corrupt politicians in 1899 New York City, until, one fateful Christmas Eve—aghhhh, I shouldn’t say anything else! Let me just leave you with these ten words: Sugar. Swords. Mysterious godfather. Tortured prince. Badass heroine. Faery couture.
About the Author:
Claire Legrand used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a writer, Ms. Legrand can often be found typing with purpose at her keyboard, losing herself in the stacks at her local library, or embarking upon spontaneous adventures to lands unknown. Her first novel is THE CAVENDISH HOME FOR BOYS AND GIRLS, a New York Public Library Best Book for Children in 2012. Her second novel, THE YEAR OF SHADOWS, releases August 27, 2013, with her third novel, WINTERSPELL, to follow in fall 2014.
She is one of the four authors behind THE CABINET OF CURIOSITIES, an anthology of dark middle grade fiction due out in July 2014 from Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins. Claire lives in New Jersey with a dragon and two cats. Visit her at claire-legrand.com and at enterthecabinet.com.
Win a copy of The Year of Shadows!
Thanks to our friends at Simon & Schuster, we’re giving away a beautiful finished copy of this book. All you need to do is leave a comment below telling us why you’re excited to read it, and fill out the Rafflecopter form!
Open to US and Canadian residents aged 18 and older, or 13 and older with parental permission. See the entry form for complete rules.
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