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Hometown girl achieves success in New York
Claire Legrand is living her dream as a fulltime writer, but the Lewisville native said the road she took to get there wasn't always what she expected.
"The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls," Legrand's debut novel was released in August. It tells the story of Victoria, a resident of the home, who hates nonsense. She lives a perfect life - except for her best friend Lawrence, who is a complete disaster. One day, Lawrence disappears and Victoria soon finds out that he's not the only one. She learns that at the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls children go in but come out different - or don't come out at all. Legrand described it as "a dark fairy tale for middle grade readers."
"When I lived in Denton between 2004-2008, I lived down the street from an orphanage. I always drove by it and wondered what kind of things were going on. It wasn't a very active orphanage, but one night as I was driving by with a friend, a van pulled out and started following us," Legrand said. "It followed us all around Denton, and we started getting creeped out because it was nighttime and this van was following us. It eventually turned away, but after that night I decided I wanted to write a story about the orphanage."
Legrand began writing her novel while in graduate school at the University of North Texas. In four months - from August to December 2010 - she finished the novel. She said after completing it, everything happened really fast.
"I spent the holidays revising the book. Then I sent it to Diana Fox, my agent. Around February 2011, I signed with her and for the next few weeks continued revising the book," Legrand said. "It was sold in an auction in a matter of days, which was really surprising. Usually, the selling process for a novel doesn't always go that fast. This particular book happened very quickly, but I had spent the previous five years working on another book."
Legrand's first attempt at writing a novel began after a hiatus from writing. When she was younger, she wrote short stories for fun. She said she was obsessed with horses, and wrote many stories for school.
"I got compliments on my writing, and teachers could tell that I loved writing and was good at it," Legrand said. "In middle school and high school, I didn't write a lot because I was really involved in band, and it took up a lot of time."
The Lewisville High School graduate went on to study music at UNT. She wanted to be a professional trumpet player. While in college she took music classes, but at the same time started coming up with story ideas.
"I knew I needed to go back to writing," Legrand said. "I started writing novels and sent out my first novel to literary agents, but that one didn't get me an agent."
Legrand began planning her first novel in 2006 when she was 20 years old. She spent three years planning and writing it. She then sent out query letters to different literary agents. In 2010, Fox responded to her letter requesting she write something else. That something else became her debut novel.
"Cavendish was what got me an agent, but it took a lot of work to find the right agent for me," Legrand said. "I used a directory filled with certified agents and Googled literary agents to find one who suited me. I searched by genre because I wanted an agent who worked with the type of books I write."
Legrand said she also took to social media - specifically Twitter - to help her career.
"I began following other authors, agents and others in the publishing industry," Legrand said. "I was watching their tweets to see if our personalities would match."
A change of scenery
Nearly a year ago, Legrand packed her essentials and moved more than 1,500 miles away to New York City.
"As an author, I didn't have to be here, but living in New York was something I've always wanted to do. One of my favorite television shows was 'Friends,' and I've always been fascinated with New York," Legrand said. "I thought what better time to try it than the first year my book is out? It's been an adventure, and it's a big adjustment. I went through quite a change in environment, but it's been really fun. I enjoy getting to interact with my agent and publishers now that we're in the same city."
Legrand said the move to New York was very "involved." She visited the city a few times, so she thought she knew a little about what to expect - but she came to find out that visits don't tell how it is to live there.
"I flew up here to look for an apartment and spent a couple weeks here. I had to hire a broker because it's super competitive here. There's such a high demand for living spaces. When I finally found a place, I had to pay a brokers fee and the deposit. It was a huge expense and very stressful, but I felt like a super hero after I managed it. I also had to hire movers because I live in a fifth floor walkup. Moving here is doable, but you have to be prepared to spend a lot of money, and I had to weed out a lot of my stuff."
Even with all the stress and work it took to get there, Legrand said living in New York is "definitely worth it."
"There's so much to do here. It's hard when you don't have a ton of money to spend, and I would love to see shows every week - but there's also a lot of free things to do," Legrand said. "I love central park, Shakespeare in the park and going to museums and street fairs. The culture, diversity and food here is amazing."
Looking ahead to the future, Legrand hopes to spend her whole life writing. She said she always wants to be working on the next novel and to be read by many generations.
"Goals change as you go through life. First my goal was to get an agent, then be published and then become fulltime writer. I've achieved all those," Legrand said. "My goal right now is to sell something else in 2013. I like to write dark, complex stories that stand the test of time. I write what I like to read."
Legrand said she would also like to revisit her first novel, which was never published.
"I would like to revise that to make it sell, and I want to make it a trilogy. It's the story of my heart, and it would be fun for me to finish. I also think it would be successful," Legrand said. "I write stories that people will love, and I also have plans to write for every age from middle grade to adult."
Currently, Legrand is in the final stages of editing her second novel, "The Year of Shadows," which will be released August 2013. Like the first novel, it will be marketed for middle school ages. The novel is a ghost story, but Legrand said it's not as "creepy" as her debut.
"It takes place in a haunted symphony hall. It was fun to write about because I got to draw on my past as a musician," Legrand said. "In the novel, Olivia is the daughter of an orchestra conductor. The family is very poor and had to sell everything they owned to keep her father's orchestra from going bankrupt. They live in the backstage rooms. Then Olivia discovers ghosts in the hall."
Olivia begins working with the "good" ghosts to help save the orchestra, but the "bad" ghosts try to sabotage their work.
"It's about a family coming together and healing," Legrand said. "It deals with grief, loss, personal stress and feeling like outsider. I think lots of kids will understand what it means."
Legrand's third novel, "Winterspell" will be released in the fall of 2014. It is a young adult novel that retells the story of "The Nutcracker" ballet.
"It is told as a dark romantic fantasy. I've always loved the ballet and the story, but I wanted to beef up the narrative art," Legrand said. "I wanted to make it a dark, complex fantasy version of the original. It's exciting and strange."
Legrand is also writing her fourth novel set to be released in 2015. She said it would be a young adult novel.
"I sold all four novels at the same time so I have certain deadlines to meet," Legrand said. "All four books are standalone novels, and that's unusual because usually if you sell multiple novels to a publisher, it's a series, but I like the diversity."
When she's not writing or revising her novels, one of Legrand's favorite hobbies is reading. She enjoys Neil Gaiman, who writes graphic and adult and middle grade novels. She said she loves J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series.
"Harry Potter was what got me back into reading," Legrand said. "Some of my other favorite authors are Philip Pullman, Madeleine L'Engle and Kristin Cashore. Kristin's novels feature strong heroines, and I think it's important to write about strong girls.
Legrand said her best advice for aspiring writers is to "read, read and read."
"That one piece is the most important one. You should read a lot and read widely, including all different age groups, authors and genres," Legrand said. "As I started to read more, I learned what worked and what didn't. If I liked what an author did I would think about how I could do that too? Reading teaches you so much, and it's an important tool. You don't have to get a writing degree to be a writer, but you have to read."
Next to reading, Legrand said writing a lot is key to becoming a better writer.
"The more you write, the better writer you will become," Legrand said. "Also, if you're an aspiring writer of children and young adult novels, you should get on Twitter and learn about the industry. It's an amazing resource, and you can find wonderful bloggers there as well. Also, aspiring writers are more than welcome to contact me, and I'd be happy to help them."
Down the road, Legrand said she thinks about moving out of the city but staying in New York. She said she doesn't exactly know where life will take her but as long as she's writing, she's at home.
For information visit www.claire-legrand.com or follow her on Twitter @clairelegrand or Facebook at clairelegrandwriter.
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