Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls by Claire Legrand! Review, Interview & Giveaway!

UPDATE 9/10/12: Hey, everyone! Claire's blog tour giveaway continues today! Please visit the Rafflecopter link below for a chance to win a hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls!

Contest is U.S./Canada only. Contest ends September 24th

Earlier at YA Confidential. . .

Here at YA Confidential, we never pass up the opportunity to talk shop with published authors, no matter what genre they write in, be it Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Adult Contemporary or Hobo Techno-Thriller (which isn’t a thing yet but is gonna be HUGE just as soon as I figure out the heartline for Rolo “Chewbacca” McHardknuckle, my thriller’s hobo-with-a-heart-of-gold). 

Today, we get to talk to Claire Legrand about her first novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls!

Make sure to check out the rest of the Cavendish Blog Tour here!

Let's meet Claire:

Claire Legrand is a Texan living in New York City. She used to be a musician until she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about the stories in her head. Now a full-time writer, Claire can often be found typing with purpose on her keyboard or spontaneously embarking upon adventures to lands unknown.

The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is her first novel, released August 28 from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.

Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, a ghost story for middle grade readers, comes out August 2013.

Her third novel, Winterspell, a young adult re-telling of The Nutcracker, comes out Fall 2014.

Say hi to Claire at her

blog | twitter | facebook | tumblr | goodreads

I know, I know, she's awesome, amiright?

Now how about this for awesome? You can win a hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers!

Just click the Rafflecopter link below and fill out the form! 

Contest is U.S./Canada only. Contest ends September 24th 

Yeah, it's on upon Donkey Kong around here! Oh, let me get that for you. Seems you got some awesomesauce on your shoulder.

Awesomesauce is only done when tasting it feels like a tickle
I had a chance to read Claire’s book and my review can be summed up in two words:


But just so you don't think I'm being lazy, here are a few more thoughts. 

Victoria is a sassy middle-grader who likes her well-defined world and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. The fact she lets fellow classmate Lawrence into her life has nothing to do with any affection for him (as if!) or his amazing musical skills. No, Lawrence is, quite simply, a project, someone to be improved and one more thing for Victoria to excel at.

But when Lawrence goes missing and all the adults in town start behaving strangely, Victoria refuses to accept the encroaching creepiness. 

Despite the fact that she has problems of her own (she got a B on her report card, y’all!), she decides to confront the forces at the heart of the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls and rescue Lawrence from a fate that may have been lurking for generations.

Victoria’s orderly existence is about to get very, very messy. 

Guise, guise, guise! This is one creeptastic story. And I loved every minute of it. It’s the sort of book you almost want to hold off reading until the weather outside is frosty and the wind is blowing. It’s the literary equivalent of dead leaves scratching against your front door when you’re home alone, the perfect compliment to a creepy Fall. 

But don’t you dare wait to read it! Claire’s super-evocative storytelling will have you reaching for a warm sweater and feeling the chill even if you’re reading Cavendish in the middle of a Georgia summer. 

Claire does an amazing job of letting us get to know Victoria. When things start going sideways, we know her worldview intimately so we know exactly how far from it these events will take her and, consequently, how hard her journey is going to be. 

Also described in delicious detail are Victoria’s buddy Lawrence and Mrs. Cavendish, the terrifying nexus of everything evil in town. Mrs. Cavendish is a heartless, almost unstoppable foe and as her true nature is revealed, I had to do periodic eye-washes to get the grime off my peepers! Lawrence, on the other hand, occupies the other end of the emotional spectrum. He’s so heartbreakingly open with his emotions that you want to jump in and try to help him yourself. All of the characters felt real and alive and, in Victoria’s case in particular, very fresh. 

Characters are important but they’re not everything, of course. Thankfully Claire didn’t skimp on story, either. The discomfort starts early with Victoria trying to keep her orderly world in check. But as the horror builds and she discovers the Cavendish Home has a mysterious hold on the town and its inhabitants, the feeling of doom settles in and doesn’t let up. 

This is a sinister little plot that drives Victoria to the brink of madness and challenges her to prove she’s every bit as clever as she’s constantly reminding people she is. Cavendish is a crawly skin, dark cloud horror story I recommend you read under the covers by flashlight for the full effect. 

Seriously, I LOVED this book! 

Now read the interview below and then do yourself a favor

Get yourself a copy!

Okay, so I contacted Claire about coordinating our sit-down and she asked rather sheepishly if I wouldn’t mind meeting her at a little cafe where she’d just be finishing up a meeting with a colleague. Sure, I thought, no problem.

Then she asked if I had a passport and wouldn’t mind wearing astronaut diapers and then, well, things just got weird.

Turns out Claire likes unicorns. Not in an abstract, “Oh, aren’t they cute,” kind of way. More like, “I’m meeting UNICORN for lunch, he’s my best friend and lives with me when he can get away from his life in Unicornia, where all unicorns come from, and would you mind if we just did the interview there?”

Oh. So it’s like that, is it?

Whevs, I’ll try anything once.

Visiting Unicornia wasn’t half bad, I have to say. Unicorns are a proud and industrious people who have built an amazing culture just off the edge of our own reality. I expected the rainbows and the kissing stars but I was surprised to discover Unicornia looks a lot like Manhattan. Only cleaner. So basically, Toronto.

The only tricky part is getting through Unicornia’s security check which involves a butt-ton of paperwork and hours-long lines. And once you get into a line YOU CANNOT GET OUT OF THE LINE FOR ANY REASON. So, yeah, astronaut diapers.

I may start wearing these ALL THE TIME!
Anywho, it took me a while to find the cafe. Partly because the address was 33 Snort-Giggle Parkway, just next to Squee upon Giggleshire, and partly because unicorn cabbies only accept a toddler’s first burp as legal tender. So I had to hoof it but eventually I found the place and settled into a booth with Claire and her BUFF (Best Unicorn Friend, Forever).

I introduced myself to UNICORN, who wore mirror-shade glasses, an Herm├Ęs scarf, and sported a colossal 5’ corkscrew horn that you would think would get in the way but never did. He threw me a warm smile before returning to his iPhone (Unicornia has had the iPhone 5 since last October which really just proves how magical the place is).

As Claire and I exchanged pleasantries, I noticed other unicorns sneaking glances at us. I assumed this was because Claire’s fantastic book had made her a celebrity here. When one of the admiring unicorns trotted over, I waited for the inevitable autograph request. To my surprise, this young unicorn with purple polka-dot hair clips in her mane addressed UNICORN and not Claire.

“I-I was wondering if-if you might--” but she didn’t get any further because she started crying (Claire handed me an empty cup and said I should catch the tears and drink them the next time I had the flu). She kept sobbing, “I’m so sorry, I never come apart like this.” 

UNICORN lowered his sunglasses, touched his horn to hers and said in a voice as soft as an angel’s fart, “Happens all the time.” With that, he whipped out a signed headshot and tucked it into her Hello Kitty bag before sending her on her way. 

Yeah, apparently UNICORN is some kind of celebrity. 

Claire asked if we should get started and while UNICORN read The Daily Horn, I asked my first question. 

YA Confidential: So, after reading Cavendish, I only want to know one thing. What is wrong with you?! We’re talking creepy bugs, houses with more issues than the Amityville place, and a sense of foreboding you can cut with a knife! Seriously, what is going on in your brain? 

Claire: If I told you all the secrets of my past, Copil, the things that have so warped my brain, I would have to dispose of you. ... Naw, I kid, I kid. No but seriously. Let me stare intensely at you as I say this: I can't tell you. It would cause a rift in the space-time continuum. All of Unicornia would be sucked into a wormhole, on the other side of which is its polar opposite, Hornheinium, where exist evil horse-like creatures with horns growing out of their butts. And trust me, when the Unicorns and the Hornheinies get together, it's the cosmic equivalent of a Yankees-Red Sox playoffs game. 

YAC: Was there ever a Victoria in your life? Was she modeled on someone you knew? 

C: I'm sorry to say this, but there was a Victoria in my life: ME. Victoria is an exaggerated version of my bossy 12-year-old perfectionist self, who was obsessed with grades and rules and lining all my pencils up in neat little lines. I actually have this home video somewhere of me in dance class, pointing and tapping my foot impatiently because my classmates missed their spots in our routine. How I wasn't beaten up more regularly as a child, I don't know. Probably because, unlike Victoria at the beginning of Cavendish, I actually cared about other people. Just a thought, just a thought.

YAC: You seem rather friendly. How did you channel all that snark? 

C: Growing up with a little brother and a boisterous Cajun-Texan-Catholic family with cousins coming out my ears. One has to defend oneself against viciously loving relatives, you know? Also, I used to read so much Harry Potter fanfiction that I have this, like, permanent Alan-Rickman-as-Snape angel on my shoulder, providing witty commentary for real-life situations. It's helpful, but man is he an angsty little grease-toad sometimes.

YAC: On a related note, I love that Lawrence knows the difference between Victoria’s everyday snark and the kind that comes from having a bad day. How did such an emotionally open boy come about? Did you picture him from the very beginning or did he introduce himself during the writing?

C: Oh, how I love Lawrence. Like Victoria, Lawrence was there from the very beginning. I tried to imagine what kind of boy would tolerate a "friend" like Victoria--someone who forced herself upon him "for his own good" and followed him around every day hissing life lessons like an angry, self-righteous goose. The obvious answer was Lawrence Prewitt. He's so comfortable with his talent and his dreaminess, with the fact that he is messy and unorganized and academically negligent. I knew only someone that comfortable in his own skin could tolerate Victoria's controlling nature--and even find it amusing and endearing. It's a whole opposites attract scenario. Lawrence knows Victoria is good for him, despite how overbearing she can be. And he knows he's good for her, too. She, of course, doesn't figure that out until much later. 

At this point we had to take a break because UNICORN felt the feng-shui was all wrong with our booth. Oddly, the booth he chose instead gave the paparazzi gathering outside a cleaner angle. Brilliant camera strobes flashed throughout the rest of the interview. 

YAC: Despite the fact that this is a modern tale and Victoria is described as blond, I couldn’t help but picture an Edward Gorey drawing, with all manner of shadows and lurking mysteries. Tell us a little about your process for world-building and what you envisioned when you wrote Cavendish? 

C: I'm so glad you mentioned Edward Gorey! His illustrations are wonderfully macabre and at the same time so humorous. That's exactly the kind of tone I wanted to create in Cavendish. Like, yeah, all these terrible things are happening, but Victoria still manages to spit out some sass 'n' snark, and her fusty neighbors still brag about their giraffe antiques as though that's something to be proud of. Anyway, as I wrote, I kept certain things in mind: the morbid humor of Edward Gorey art, the dark whimsy of Tim Burton movies, the spooky grandeur of Gothic architecture, the dry wit of Roald Dahl books. I had a weirdly clear vision in mind from the very beginning, actually. My real-life inspirations--an orphanage down the street from me; my dad's affluent town--were so vivid that they sort of came together in my brain totally on their own and created a monster. A weird, creepy monster. Named Cavendish. And now I'm imagining how an orphanage and a town would go about procreating, and it's making me uncomfortable.

YAC: The characters of Jill, Victoria and Lawrence all struggle with identity, who they want to be vs. how they’re perceived. Was this a theme you wanted to explore?

C: Absolutely. All the children in Cavendish--even the ones who don't get snatched away to the Home--are struggling against the confines of a society that tells them they need to be, look, and act a certain way, or they're worthless. Some bow to this pressure and do whatever it takes to maintain this ideal shoved upon them--like Jill, for instance. Some, like Lawrence, cling to their identities despite the danger, and are punished dearly for it. And then there's Victoria, who unknowingly maintains the Belleville ideal just because it's in her nature to obey the rules and respect order--and is perceived by those around her (except for Lawrence) as cold-hearted because of it, even though she's truly not cold-hearted at all. She just wants her world to unfold in a very particular fashion. I think readers young and old can identify with the various children in Cavendish because we all, at some point or another, struggle with personal identity--being ourselves when everything around us tell us to be something else; realizing that who we think we are and how we think we act is not how others perceive us; and the consequences of letting someone else dictate who we're supposed to be. 

YAC: One of my favorite things about the book was the creepy atmosphere, sooo well rendered. What gets you into the creepy mood? Music? Books? Or is this just the way your brain is wired?! 

C: Well, my brain is utterly whackadoodle, yes. But beyond that, music is really inspirational to me, perhaps more than anything else. I listened to a lot of film scores while writing Cavendish (particularly those by Danny Elfman and Dario Marianelli), and a lot of piano music (for Lawrence, of course!). You can check out some samples from my Cavendish playlist on my blog or at three other stops on my tour: The Book Cellar, Good Books and Good Wine, and Novel Sounds. I also find art and photography inspirational, and collected Cavendish-related imagery on my Tumblr as I wrote. You can check that out here! 

I ask Claire to speak up. UNICORN is having an argument with his agent about his fee for a mall opening gig and if you’ve never heard Unicorn use his “Spell of Aggressive Persuasion,” consider yourself lucky. 

YAC: I won’t spoil the creepy page “bling,” but I have to say, it got me a couple times even though I knew they were there. Whose idea was it? And how much input did you have on the illustrations? 

C: That was all Lucy Ruth Cummins! Lucy, Simon & Schuster art director extraordinaire, designed the look and feel of the book, including the "creepy page bling" and the snazzy end papers! Everyone was so open with me during the process of designing and illustrating the book. I helped select the illustrator (the fabulous Sarah Watts) and made notes during revisions of scenes for potential illustrations. Everyone seemed to have a blast! Sarah is the perfect illustrator for Cavendish, and Lucy put so many nice little finishing touches on the book that it really is a work of art. 

YAC: There were a number of movies I kept flashing to as I read this: Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1984, Stepford Wives, The Thing. Do you have some favorite creepy movies and did any of them influence your writing? 

C: Oh my gosh, I LOVE The Thing! The 1980s version anyway, starring Kurt Russell. I haven't seen the really old one. But I only saw it after I'd finished writing Cavendish. Some of my favorite creepy movies are Signs, The Others, and The Ring, all of which are gorgeous movies with distinct color palettes and eerie atmospheres. (I especially love the blue-tinted, harsh, shadowy color palette of The Ring; I imagine the world of Cavendish to be similarly colored.) I also am a huge fan of Tim Burton and Henry Selick's stop-motion animated movies, like The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, and Coraline. In those movies, architectural and physiological proportions are wonky or exaggerated, and people's movements are jerky, almost otherworldly. I imagine Belleville to look and move in a similarly skewed fashion. 

YAC: Roaches make a guest appearance throughout the story. Be honest, did a roach hurt you? 

C: Copil, let me tell you something: I. HATE. ROACHES. I hate all bugs, really; I'm slightly phobic, as a matter of fact. But especially roaches, or anything beetle-like. I think I'd actually rather have to kill a spider than a roach. Because, see, the roaches are fat and juicy, so they'll pop and spew everywhere when you squish them. AND they can fly at you, unpredictably, and their wings make that wet fluttery sound. Oh heaven help me I'm itching just thinking about it. So no, no particular roach ever hurt me, physically. But all roaches, everywhere, have hurt my soul. Just by existing.

YAC: How did the Demon Dazzle come about?

At this, UNICORN perks up and looks over his sunglasses at Claire. They share a giggle before he goes back to checking his Facebook page.

C: Oh, UNICORN. He's such a looker, isn't he? Anyway, when I was in high school band, I was a trumpet player and was therefore surrounded by lots of guys, all the time. We teased each other a lot and, especially once I was section leader and drum major and had to, you know, be a respectable leader, I adopted this glare to keep them in line, where I would raise my left eyebrow and stare this withering stare. They would make fun of me for it, staggering back in horror and saying, "Oh no! It's The Brow!" But I think it really did make their bladders quiver. I knew Victoria needed a similar weapon in her arsenal.

YAC: You mention that the Cavendish Home is bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. Is it a TARDIS? Is Mrs. Cavendish a Time Lord?

Here UNICORN clears his throat and sets his jaw. Claire looks at me nervously and says, “Next question.”

YAC: I genuinely felt cold and colorblind the whole time I was reading this book. Tell us a little about word choice and how you approached language to get such a specific feeling.

C: Word choice was super important to me from the beginning. I knew that the words I chose to tell Victoria's story had to look, sound, even feel a certain way. They had to feel clean yet sinister; proper yet just a little Much like Belleville itself, the language of Cavendish had to be beautiful on the outside and dark and scary on the inside. I emphasized words that felt timeless, and sometimes old-fashioned. I chose a cadence that, when read aloud, would sound just like prim, proper, articulate Victoria with her impeccable diction. Although I considered each word carefully, crafting Cavendish's language was more feeling than science. I knew how Victoria spoke because her character was so clear to me; then I wrote as she would have written.

YAC: You play with such rich imagery. There’s a Forever Wall and a Hall of Heads that are sad, creepy and disturbing. So evocative! Do images like these emerge from the story or do you find yourself writing a story to encompass images like that?

C: The wall and the hanging heads (as well as much of the imagery inside the Home itself) emerged while writing, as my understanding of the Home's physics and layout deepened. That's usually how it works for me, as a writer (and I'm sure it's this way for many other writers, as well): I have a broad understanding of my story world when I begin, but it's when I begin exploring the world along with my characters that I uncover, along with them, its surprises and secret places. I'm not sure I'd ever make any progress on a book if I just sat there imagining all the awesome imagery I wanted to incorporate. And besides, such imagery is more true to the spirit of the book if it comes organically while writing (in my opinion).

YAC: There are some deep, dark ideas here. At one point the Cavendish Home resembles a Soviet-era re-education camp. I never felt you talked down to your middle grade readers. Tell us about what you see when you think of your audience.

C: Kids are so smart. I know everyone says it, but it's true. They're perceptive and sensitive; they see and dissect absolutely everything, and it's all constantly stewing in their mind, assembling and disassembling, sorting itself out. I think the best way to aid this process and foster such critical thinking is to address kids with the same sort of respect and intellectual standards you would an adult. Kids will rise to the occasion; they appreciate feeling like, whatever it is, no matter how tough, we believe they can handle it. So, no, I don't talk down to my readers, and I don't shy away from showing them darkness, cruelty, and evil. They're too smart for me to do that; they'd call me out on it. Plus, I think kids crave darkness in their stories, whether that's literature or film or whatever. Because they know it's out there, and they're desperate to explore and understand it before they actually have to grow up and face it. How do I see my readers? As fierce little dynamite sponges, that's what. 

We have to move again, this time because UNICORN feels the sun has moved out of its optimal range for proper lighting on his mane. He waves goodbye to the paparazzi (who groan in unison).

YAC: It was painful to watch Victoria’s decline. How hard was it to write those scenes? What are you feeling as you write those moments?

C: Rest assured, it was as painful to write Victoria's decline as it was for you to read it. In fact, I honestly felt sluggish and trapped and empty as I wrote them, echoing Victoria's own emotions. Because I understood her so well and so innately--since she is me--it felt like I was really there, experiencing the awful things Mrs. Cavendish throws at her, and struggling to hold on to hope.

YAC: There is a silent musical duet toward the end that brought me to tears. The perfect little moments, are most of them planned? Or pantsed?

C: You know, I would say with this book, the "perfect little moments," as you call them, were about half-and-half. Certain moments, like the horrifying and gruesome scene at the library, were there in my notes from the beginning. But the silent musical duet you're talking about surfaced as I wrote. It felt right, and it was necessary for the next step in Victoria's journey, but I didn't know it until that moment. I love outlining my books; it's often a professional necessity for me at this point. But no matter how detailed the outline, there are always those unplanned moments that rear up and surprise you. Often, these moments end up being some of the book's most memorable.

YAC: Every neighborhood has its version of the Cavendish Home, an ominous and foreboding structure kids dare each other to ding-dong-ditch. Did you live near one of these growing up?

C: Sadly, I did not! I would have loved to, though. I was one of those kids who would play with my loose tooth until it made my gums bleed, just to see how far I could push the pain. I bet if there had been a Cavendish Home on my block, I would have tried to explore it, even if it scared the pants off me. I would have to know. I couldn't just let it sit there, unbothered. Where's the satisfaction in that?

YAC: What did butterscotch ever do to you?! 

C: I tried butterscotch once. It was disgusting. I have no qualms about doing what I did to butterscotch. Butterscotch never did anything good for me. So take that, butterscotch! Just sit there and be revolting.

YAC: Someone recently described a good character arc as letting the character do something at the end that he or she would never have even conceived of doing at the beginning. Victoria certainly goes through a clear and exciting arc. How hard was it to get that right? Any false starts? Moments of doubt?

C: Again--and I'm not sure this will ever happen again, with any other project--Victoria and everything about her was perfectly clear to me from the beginning. I knew her inside and out. I knew her fears and ambitions, where she would start in this story and where she would end up. So, it was actually pretty easy to get her arc right, and I promise I'm not trying to sound like a jerkface when I say that. I did have a few moments of doubt throughout revisions, with all the unwoven threads of my book sitting around me in shambles, but my editor, Zareen Jaffery, is brilliance personified. She helped me get through those awful moments when it seemed like Victoria's story was clear in my head but muddled on the page. Thank GODICORN for editors, amirite?

YAC: Claire, this is the most important question I have for you. Will we get a chance to return to the Cavendish Home?!

C: A lot of readers have asked me this question! At this point, no, there are no plans for a sequel or a spin-off or anything related to the Cavendish Home. But who knows? Maybe someday there will be another story to tell. Victoria's story, I think, is quite finished. But, as she discovers, nothing related to Mrs. Cavendish and her Home is ever completely certain.

As Claire finishes talking, UNICORN coughs politely and says he has to be going. He’s giving the keynote at the annual fundraiser for the Society for the Prevention of Negative Unicorn Stereotypes. Apparently some unicorns get very annoyed at being portrayed as giggly, heart-eyed simpletons. Unicorn puts a powerful hoof on my shoulder and I am instantly reminded he could trample me without breaking a sweat.

“I know you're not like that,” he says with a hint of menace in his voice.

Soooo glad I was still wearing the astronaut diapers.

Then he drops a wad of bills on the table and gallops into the night.

Wow, thanks, Claire! I had a wonderful time reading your book, chatting with you and getting to know UNICORN! Please tell him I really enjoyed meeting him and that I have a new appreciation for the noble majesty of his kind!

And thanks to everyone for joining us today!

Remember to click on the Rafflecopter link above for a chance to win a signed hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls!


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