The Year of Shadows Blog Tour, Day 5: Claire Abducts Steph! (But It’s Okay, There Are Scones)
“Do you think what we’re about to do could qualify as a criminal act?” I ask the cat sitting beside me. As I’m sitting on a bench on a crowded street, this attracts no fewer than a dozen “Stay away from the crazy lady” stares.
I wonder what they’d think if they knew that not only am I talking to the cat, but that he can talk back, aaaand that he isn’t strictly real.
(You think I’m crazy now too, don’t you? Would it help if I explained that I’m an author, and that my name is Claire Legrand, and point out that I also post the occasional illustrated rambling on my blog starring purple-haired UNICORN, who may or may not be my BFF? Ah. Okay. I see you understand now. We’ll carry on.)
The cat—whose name, by the way, is Igor—stares at me unblinkingly. I’m reminded that cats really freak me out, and wonder why I decided to make Igor a cat instead of a dog. And then, since Igor is a figment of my imagination come to life through my ~*MAGICAL AUTHOR POWERS*~, his eyes narrow.
Excuse me, he says, in a voice and accent reminiscent of Cary Grant’s, but did you just wish I were a dog?
“No. Absolutely not.”
You can’t lie to me. I am you, in this sick and twisted way that disturbs me if I think about it too hard. Or perhaps you’re fond of lying to yourself? Which seems rather self-destructive. Then he starts using his paws to clean his face, all while continuing to stare at me.
Seriously. Cats are CREEPY.
“I’m for real here,” I insist. “Are we criminals?”
Pet, I am innocent in this matter. What you’re about to do rests entirely on you.
I look up and smile to see Stephanie Sinclair,
hapless victim blogger extraordinaire of Cuddlebuggery fame, approaching.
“Hi Steph!” We hug, and then I immediately guide her off the street into an alleyway full of shadows. (Get it? Shadows? As in, The Year of Shadows? As in, the book this blog tour is promoting? …Maybe I should stop with the running commentary.)
Steph looks understandably confused as we crouch behind a Dumpster. “Uh… where are we going? And what are we doing?”
“We’re going to have our interview, silly.”
“Um. Not by a Dumpster we’re not.”
Oh, that Steph. Such sass! “I knew I liked you,” I say approvingly.
“That’s great, and I like you too, but—”
“Trust me.” I feel something tickling my hair and reach up to pluck out a large black beetle with ten legs and clicking eyes. Steph shrieks. Igor, who has followed us, immediately pounces on the beetle and tears it to shreds.
“Was that thing from the Dumpster?” Steph asks, obviously a little grossed out.
“Nah. It was from Cavendish.”
I shrug. “I have magical powers. Now, Steph—”
“Is that—?” Steph stares at Igor. “Is that Igor? From The Year of Shadows?”
Igor gently butts his head into her leg. The one and only, love. Now, give us a good scratch.
“Oh my god.” Now Steph’s staring at me. “Did he just talk to me?”
“Duh. Magical powers, remember? Now, grab my hand. I’m about to abduct you.”
“I kid, I kid… kind of. Just trust me. Come on, wouldn’t you grab Dumbledore’s hand if he showed up and was all like, ‘Hello, Ms. Sinclair, come join me at Hogwarts’? Come on, grab my hand.”
“Sweetie, you’re no Dumbledore.”
“Well, thank goodness for that. I could never pull off his beard. Hurry, grab my hand!”
She does—which in my opinion displays a remarkable amount of trust on her part—and immediately my ~*MAGICAL AUTHOR POWERS*~ whisk us inside my brainspace. (It’s kind of weird, I admit, Steph and I, existing inside my brain. It’s kind of like a mind meld, but not. Don’t think about the logic too much.)
Once inside, we screech to a halt outside a beat-up tea shop painted bright yellow. The shop boasts a bright orange door and blue lamps shining in the windows, and above the door, swirly black letters spell out THE HAPPY PLACE. Across the street, a dilapidated music hall looms in a cloud of fog.
“Is this? Is that?” Steph whirls around, pointing at the tea shop and the hall. “Is this The Happy Place? From The Year of Shadows? And is that… Emerson Hall?” She’s squeaking now. In the range of dog whistles and, like, I don’t know, ultrasonic spy stuff or whatever.
“Yep!” I say. “Welcome to my brain. I thought The Happy Place might be the best location for our interview.”
Steph grins like crazy. “This is the BEST.”
“IKR? ~*MAGICAL AUTHOR POWERS*~ are the bomb diggity.”
Steph puts a pitying hand on my arm. “Oh, Claire. I’m not sure people say that anymore. Also, do you have to, like, flail your arms when you say magical author powers?”
“It’s not magical author powers, Steph. It’s ~*MAGICAL AUTHOR POWERS*~.”
Igor is glaring up at me from the sidewalk. You look like an idiot.
“Yeah, well you lick your butt.”
“Friends!” An older man—balding, dishtowel over his shoulder, fake (and not very good) British accent—bursts out of The Happy Place and ushers us through the door. “Welcome, weary travelers! Do take your seats and forsooth, I shall soon present you with today’s selections!” Then he bends over and whispers in Steph’s ear, “The raspberry scones are jolly good today, I must say.”
Steph watches him bustle away, bouncing up and down in her seat. “Was that Mr. Barsky?!”
Igor lifts one of his cat eyebrows and jumps onto the table like he owns the place. Don’t use slang, sweetheart, you can’t pull it off.
“Er… I mean, yeah, that was Mr. Barsky!”
Steph takes out her notebook and pen. “This. Is. So. Cool. Can all authors do this?”
“Totes—I mean, uh-huh! But it can be a dangerous, addictive thing. You’ve gotta pace yourself.” I lean closer, open my eyes wide. “With great power… comes great responsibility.”
Steph giggles and orders a mint tea and raspberry scone from Mrs. Barsky. Igor bats at Mrs. Barsky’s piles of blue necklaces, and she coos and takes him to the kitchen to get a snack. He sends me this smug look over her shoulder. What a spoiled little monster.
“So,” I say, “shall we begin the interview?”
“Sure!” Steph can’t stop smiling and seems super hyper, like she can’t sit still. I understand. The process of getting sucked into someone else’s brainspace can have unpredictable side effects. (Seriously, the logic, just don’t even try.)
“Here’s my first question,” says Steph. “The Year of Shadows tells the story of Olivia Stellatella, the daughter of the city orchestra’s Maestro, who is dealing with a lot of difficulties. You’ve managed to weave together paranormal elements with both serious issues and heart-warming moments. Was there anything in particular that inspired this story?”
I take a sip of my orange juice and try to clamp down on my inner music nerd, which always perks up at questions like this.
“I’ve been a musician for most of my life,” I say. “From sixth grade through my second year of college, I studied music and intended to play the trumpet professionally. Obviously that didn’t happen; in fact, I haven’t played my trumpets in seven years! But music has remained a significant part of my life. A few years ago, after I had stopped playing the trumpet and was searching for inspiration for my second middle grade book, I attended a Dallas Symphony Orchestra concert. During some Mozart piece, the title of which I can’t remember, my mind wandered, and a vision popped into my head: A young girl, crawling through the symphony hall’s twisty backstage passages, searching for ghosts with a cat at her side. I immediately wanted to know this girl’s story; thus, Olivia was born.”
“And by the way,” says a man with sandy brown hair, gulping his coffee on the way out the door, “the trumpet is the best instrument. Don’t you agree, Miss…?”
He tilts his head at Steph, flashes her a charming smile. He’s wearing rumpled, artfully messy clothes, and has that easy, cool-without-trying style. An instrument bag is slung over his shoulder.
“Sinclair,” she squeaks, blushing. “But call me Steph. I mean, you know, if you want. Um. You play trumpet in the City Philharmonic, right? In The Year of Shadows? You’re Richard Ashley?”
“That’s me.” Richard winks at her. “You gonna be around here often from now on? Because there’s this great Italian restaurant up—”
“Okay, okay,” I say, shoving him away, “no hitting on the real humans, fictional dude.”
“Anyway,” I say, after Steph has stopped dreamily watching Richard cross the street to Emerson Hall, “something else influenced the writing of The Year of Shadows, something I could never have anticipated. Just after Christmas 2011, I learned that my mom had been diagnosed with cancer. I was terrified, furious, confused. As Mom went through surgery and began her grueling chemotherapy and radiation treatments, my brother and I struggled with some understandably horrible emotions. We didn’t understand why this was happening to our mom. We were uncertain about and afraid of the future. We were angry—at the universe, at God, at biology, at whatever. Thankfully, Mom is doing just fine now, but since I was drafting and revising The Year of Shadows during this period, much of my own feelings of grief and loss influenced my writing of Olivia. Olivia has a fascination with and fear of death. She draws morbid pictures in her sketchbook and retreats into feelings of anger and confusion when her world begins to fall apart. Between my mom’s ordeal and my musical past, not to mention how deeply I felt Olivia’s pain, The Year of Shadows is an incredibly personal book for me.”
After that, Steph hugs me and graciously offers a bite of her scone. Mr. Barsky was right: The raspberry scones are really good today. In fact, we order some more. Like, a dozen more. (What? Interviewing is hard work.)
As we chat and munch, I pull another beetle or two from my hair, which sends Igor running out from the kitchen with milk on his whiskers. He can’t resist beetle snacks, the fuzzy little weirdo.
Steph glances at my hair fearfully. “Uh, speaking of… From cockroaches to ghosts, it seems your only mission in life is to make us cower under our beds. How did your writing experience for The Year of Shadows differ from Cavendish, your debut novel?”
“Guilty as charged!” I say. (Maybe a little too gleefulIy?… Nah!) “It’s true: I really love freaking people out. The darker and twistier, the better! As I said above, The Year of Shadows is a very personal book, much more so than Cavendish. It was also much more difficult to write because of that. In addition, the plot, characters, and emotional issues addressed in The Year of Shadows are much more complex and less straightforward than those in Cavendish. That combination of factors made writing and revising this book quite the challenge! But I learned a lot during that time, and I feel like the work I put into bringing Olivia’s story to life helped me grow tremendously as a writer. Also, I have to say that writing The Year of Shadows wasn’t nearly as frightening an experience as writing Cavendish could be. I mean, you try writing about evil, invincible, clicking bugs in a dark house in the middle of the night. Imagine doing that, and tell me you don’t want to take a long, hot shower, like, RIGHT. NOW.”
I gulp down the rest of my OJ and hold up my glass to Mrs. Barsky, who gives me an exasperated look. “Just because you created me,” she says, “doesn’t mean you can just order me around.”
I bat my eyelashes at her. “Pleeeeeeease? I can haz more OJ?”
Igor sneezes on my hand. You can if you never say can haz again.
For some reason, that cracks me and Steph UP. You know, a CAT telling me I can’t say CAN HAZ? I laugh so hard I spill my fresh glass of orange juice all over myself, which makes me wonder: If we’re inside my brain right now, did I just stain a dendrite or something?
Igor watches us with disgust. Next question.
Steph wipes her eyes and manages to get control of her gigglebox. (Not sure what that is, really, but just go with it.) “You touched on a lot of big topics in The Year of Shadows: death and the afterlife, strained family relationships, financial crisis and loneliness just to name a few. When writing, did you have any particular message in mind for readers?”
Now, when people ask me about “message” I tend to get philosophical, so I manifest a beret and pointy mustache and a copy of The New Yorker and pretend to be erudite.
“The word ‘message’ is a tricky one,” I say, “especially in the context of middle grade books, where I think it can be easy to slip into sermon mode and favor messages or moral platitudes over content. I prefer to think of ideas rather than messages, and some ideas I wanted to introduce in The Year of Shadows were the importance of friendship, family, and forgiveness. At the beginning of the book, Olivia’s family is broken, as are most of her other relationships. But she ends up forming a kind of new family—with Mr. and Mrs. Barsky, with Richard Ashley the trumpet player, with Henry and Joan from school, and even with the ghosts that haunt Emerson Hall. Family isn’t always about blood; sometimes it’s about who is there for you when you need it most.”
Igor rolls over right in the middle of the table. It’s also about who is there for you when you need your belly scratched.
Steph, the enabler, immediately acquiesces, and Igor looks up at me with his eyes half shut. You may have just been replaced, O Beetle-Ridden One.
I roll my eyes and finish my answer. “I also wanted to illustrate how isolating yourself to escape your problems (as Olivia does) can be a temporary stopgap but isn’t feasible in the long term. Olivia demonstrates courage and emotional fortitude that are entirely her own, but she also learns that it’s okay to lean on others and draw strength from them.”
As Steph scribbles in her notebook, we both shiver as the door opens and a rush of cold washes over us. But it isn’t the cold from outside; it’s ghost cold.
We look up to see a girl with dark hair, a boy with red hair, and a group of four ghosts running into the shop. The girl and the boy carry huge stacks of bright yellow fliers, and one of the ghosts is so dark you can’t even see his face.
Steph’s jaw drops, her eyes sparkling. “Ohmygodit’sOliviaandHenry!!!”
Igor’s ears flatten, and he jumps off the table. Never mind what I said before. She squeals too much.
Olivia rushes to the counter and jumps up on a stool. We can see her sketchpad poking out of her backpack. Igor jumps into her arms and settles there, purring, and I know we’ve lost him for the day. He belongs to Olivia through and through.
Steph smiles fondly at them. “Do you think we could look through her sketchpad?”
“Nah,” I say. “She’s really private about that.”
“Do you share any traits in common with your characters?” Steph asks. “For example, do you have similar artist abilities as Olivia?”
“Oh, Olivia is a much better artist than I’ll ever be,” I say, and as I watch Olivia trying to smile as Mr. Barsky and Henry laugh about some joke, my heart aches. Her smile looks broken, like she’s forgotten how to do it. “Although I must tell you that I was obsessed with drawing horses/unicorns/pegasuses(pegasi?)/alicorns/etc. back in the day. I wasn’t completely horrible, but I wasn’t great or anything. Here, let me show you.”
I manifest one of my old unicorn drawings with my brain so Steph can see.
“Pretty!” she says, and snaps a picture with her phone for the blog.
“I’m a lot like Olivia in other ways, though,” I say, vanishing the unicorn drawing with an awkward wink. “I admire her sarcasm, for one; she always seems to have a good comeback, the kind of comebacks I think up long after the confrontation in which it would have been appropriate to use them. Her feelings of anger, loneliness, awkwardness, and confusion were emotions I also felt as a twelve-year-old girl struggling to find her way in the world — and emotions I sometimes even feel now, at twenty-seven! In fact, I think a lot of readers will recognize themselves in Olivia. Maybe they, too, have endured hard times, during which they felt angry, lost, and confused. Maybe they didn’t have ghosts to help them work through those emotions, like Olivia does, but maybe they were lucky enough to have some great people around them, like Olivia does—like Henry, Mr. and Mrs. Barsky, and Richard Ashley. I’m also a little bit like Henry, in that I like to get my music nerd on and deeply appreciate labeled folders.”
“Speaking of art,” Steph says, rubbing the goose bumps on her arms (the ghosts are lounging on the ceiling fans), “the artwork in the novel is incredible! Did you have any input on which scenes were chosen to be illustrated?”
“Isn’t the art absolutely fantastic?” I say. “Karl Kwasny, the illustrator, is insanely talented. His illustrations combined with the impeccable stylistic eye of Lucy Ruth Cummins, art director at Simon & Schuster, turned The Year of Shadows into a beautiful book. And, yes, I did have input into which scenes were chosen to be illustrated! During copy edits, I made special note of scenes I thought would look gorgeous illustrated, and Karl and Lucy took that into consideration when making their final choices. Simon & Schuster has always asked me for my input on covers, illustrations, etc., and I’m so grateful for that!”
(Be sure to check out my interview with Karl on Thursday, September 5 at The Compulsive Reader and get a peek at some of the gorgeous finished illustrations!)
“Mr. B? Mrs. B?”
We hear Olivia speak, and look up. She looks uncomfortable, like she always does when she needs to ask for help. She’s getting better at that, though. “Can you put up some of these fliers for us?”
“It’s about Emerson Hall,” Henry adds. “We’d really appreciate it. Oh, and Olivia made them! See? She did a border and everything.”
“Olivia’s a talented artist,” Mrs. Barsky says, beaming.
Olivia looks at the floor. “Yeah. Okay. Um. Thanks, Mrs. B. I’ll be in tomorrow at 3:30, okay?”
They head back for the door, and two of the ghosts stop to stare at Steph—a girl and a boy. Their eyes and mouth are like giant black hurricanes in a sea of smoke.
“H-hi,” Steph stammers, braving a smile. It’s pretty impressive, considering I’m sure she’s never seen a ghost this close before. “Tillie? Jax? I’m Steph.”
“You’re new,” says Tillie, her braids floating about her head.
“Never seen her before,” says Jax, holding out his hand.
Olivia hurries by, rolling her eyes. “Come on, guys. We’ve got work to do.” The ghosts sweep out after her and Henry, and I can hear Olivia muttering to them, “Remember what I told you about Claire? Don’t say hi to her unless you want to spend fifteen minutes listening to her go on and on about unicorns and Star Trek.”
“That was just a weird thing for her to say,” I observe. “Who doesn’t want to talk about unicorns and Star Trek for fifteen minutes straight?”
Steph appears to be focusing on her notebook like it contains pictures of Richard Ashley or something. “Um… yeah, er, who wouldn’t want to talk about that? Anyway, so… When Olivia and Henry agree to help the ghosts who haunt the concert hall, they are told that they would have to ‘share’ their bodies and minds with each ghost. This part was described so well. Perhaps a little too well. What do you have to say for yourself, Legrand?”
“Well, again, I love the dark and twisty and spend a lot of time thinking about such things.” I smile brightly at Steph, but she appears to be inching away from me? Whyever would she do such a thing?
Because you’re disturbing sometimes, Igor yowls from outside, in Olivia’s arms. That’s why.
Considering this a compliment, I smile to myself, which unfortunately Steph seems to interpret as a sign that I’m conjuring up diabolical schemes. “In all seriousness, though, figuring out the logic of Olivia and Henry ‘sharing’ with the ghosts, and how they would interact with each other’s minds and memories while in that state, was a tricky process—especially since this is a book for younger readers, so such logic needs to be especially clear. Thankfully, my editor, Zareen Jaffery, is nothing short of brilliant and helped me whip those sections into shape like the wizard she is.”
As soon as I say the word “wizard,” the world around us shifts. The first thing Steph does is secure the remaining scones, and I feel my admiration for her increase tenfold.
“Whoa,” she says, eyes wide. “What was that?”
“I brought us full circle: Back at the Dumpster, I mentioned Dumbledore, and just now, I described Zareen as a wizard, and Dumbledore’s a wizard, so the conversation has come full circle, and now my brainspace is about to collapse in on itself.”
Steph shrieks, “What?!”
“Nah, I kid, I kid. But it is about to eject you.”
“That makes absolutely no sense.”
“Steph.” I take her hand and wave good-bye to the Barskys. “Don’t try to understand the paradoxes of ~*MAGICAL AUTHOR POWERS~*. Just accept them. And put the scones in your bag, there you go. You wouldn’t want to waste them.”
Steph quickly does so, and then pauses as the world begins to shimmer around us. “Wait… if we’re in your brainspace, and I’ve been eating these scones… was I truly eating…?”
“My synapses? Neurons? Chunks of my amygdala?” I shrug. “Dunno. I don’t feel damaged or anything.”
With that, we land back in the alleyway with a bang, right by the Dumpster. Steph is smiling and shaking her head. “You’re gross, you know that?”
“So I’ve been told.”
“If your amygdala starts hurting, you’ll let me know?”
“Sure thing. You got everything you needed for the interview?”
“Yep!” Steph gives me a warm hug, and my heart grows three sizes. We’ve bonded today, me and Steph. (I can just hear Igor now: If by “bonded” you mean you’ve given her sufficient cause to commit you, then I agree.) “And hey, uh, if Richard Ashley gives you his number… ”
I sigh. How many times I’ve been through this with starry-eyed readers, I can’t even tell you. Surprisingly, more brainspace visitors seem to dig Richard Ashley than even Nicholas from Winterspell, which never computed to me until I realized: It’s the musician thing. Gets ’em every time.
“Steph. Seriously. He’s fictional.” I pause. “But maybe we can do this again soon, and I’ll have Richard meet us there?”
Steph squeals and hugs me, and I feel satisfied knowing I’ve facilitated yet another unrealistic crush on a hot fictional dude.
As we part ways, Steph slaps a hand to her forehead. “Oh! I almost forgot. One last question: Zombies or unicorns?”
I pretend to consider this carefully. “Zombies,” I say. “Definitely. I love their beautiful skin and how they smell so great. I love how they eat people’s brains and have such mellifluous voices, and I especially love their lack of long, sparkly tails. And also how—you know what? No. I can’t maintain this charade. UNICORNS ALL THE WAY.”
We want to give a huge thank you to Claire Legrand for the interview. You’re brain is made of Awesomesauce.
Don’t forget to check out The Year of Shadows, releasing August 27th 2013!
Olivia Stellatella is having a rough year.
Her mother left, her neglectful father — the maestro of a failing orchestra — has moved her and her grandmother into his dark, broken-down concert hall to save money, and her only friend is Igor, an ornery stray cat.
Just when she thinks life couldn’t get any weirder, she meets four ghosts who haunt the hall. They need Olivia’s help — if the hall is torn down, they’ll be stuck as ghosts forever, never able to move on.
Olivia has to do the impossible for her shadowy new friends: Save the concert hall. But helping the dead has powerful consequences for the living… and soon it’s not just the concert hall that needs saving.
Check out the rest of the Blog Tour here!
Claire is giving away one beautiful, signed hardcover copy of The Year of Shadows to one lucky winner!
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