THE PJV: Thank you for the interview, Ms. Legrand. I have to start out by saying I’m a big fan of The Nutcracker and when I read the synopsis of your book, I was a little apprehensive. I mean The Nutcracker…but wow. I love when that happens. What inspired you to take this sweet battle of gingerbread men and mice and turn it into the steampunk, dark, young adult novel that it is?
Claire Legrand: The story of The Nutcracker already has quite a bit of darkness to it. I mean, maybe it’s not so obvious when you go see your local dance school’s annual production at city hall or whatever, where everything’s all sparkly tutus and cute little kids dressed up as mice. I mean, let’s think about this—we’ve got a mysterious uncle/godfather who wears a cape and is kind of obsessed with his goddaughter. We’ve got GIANT MICE and a giant, SEVEN-HEADED MOUSE KING (this is in the original fairy tale, by the way). And we’ve got a toy who comes to life—ostensibly to save the day, but really? A toy who comes to life? YOU JUST NEVER KNOW.
So, all things considered, I was really just drawing upon creepiness already present in the story!
Did you find yourself restricted by writing within the confines of the story of The Nutcracker?
Claire Legrand: The great thing about The Nutcracker is that the story is so vague on the details. So Clara gets a nutcracker for Christmas—or finds it, in some productions of the ballet. He comes to life (how?) to fight giant mice (why?), and Clara helps him by delivering the killing blow with her slipper (seems legit). Then, as a reward, he whisks her away to his kingdom where he shows her all manner of wondrous, totally random stuff that doesn’t seem to have anything to do with anything. Then Clara returns home and realizes everything was a dream (or was it?). The original fairy tale by E. T. A. Hoffmann explains things in a little more detail—like why the prince was cursed to be a nutcracker, for example—but still, the story is vague and cryptic in that strange way fairy tales can be. So in fact, I had a lot of room to expand upon the story! Rather than feeling confined by the story I knew, I felt inspired by all my questions about why things happened as they did.
Are there some themes/plotting you knew you had to keep from the original ballet?
Claire Legrand: From the beginning, I knew I wanted to draw upon the bizarre sensual undertones of the original fairy tale to make this a story about Clara accepting her emerging sexuality, desires, and strength. I also knew I wanted to expand upon the strange relationship Clara has with Godfather Drosselmeyer, as that relationship has always fascinated me, even when I was a little kid. I have always loved the scenes in the ballet’s first act that take place at the Christmas party and then afterward during the battle with the mice. I therefore made sure to follow those scenes very closely when writing WINTERSPELL.
My grandmother used to bring me to see The Nutcracker each year. It is one of my fondest childhood memories. So I have to ask – when was it that you first saw the ballet? And what stood out as your favorite part?
Claire Legrand: I first saw The Nutcracker on PBS around the holidays. They used to broadcast a couple different productions every year. The one I loved—and I’ll say this over and over because it is just that good—is the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production, made back in the 80s. It’s dark and strange and sensual, which is exactly what I wanted my own re-imagining of the story to be. Ever since I first started watching the ballet, my favorite scene has been when Godfather Drosselmeyer makes the Christmas tree grow, right before the battle with the mice. The clock chimes midnight, the toys come to life, and the whole ballroom transforms. It’s just so magical and even a bit frightening, and has always filled me with shivery awe.
I really loved what you did with Clara—her multifaceted personality and the changes she went through within the story. How do you write such a complex character? Does she evolve just as you write, or do you have a good grasp on her before you begin?
Claire Legrand: All I knew about Clara before I began writing was that she was going to start out as a rather frustrating character—not really the kick-butt, take-charge heroine we’re used to seeing in YA novels. I knew she would start out with very little confidence, blame herself for things that weren’t her fault, and be ashamed of her body. At the beginning of the book, she’s a pretty broken character—understandably, given what’s happened to her family and the kind of world she lives in. At times, it was painful for me to write her because I so wanted her to stand up for herself already, and let go of her fear! But of course she couldn’t start out that way. She had to start out incomplete and damaged, and then grow from there while on this incredible, terrifying journey. And I’m proud of her; I think the transformation she goes through is pretty staggering.
Nicholas also wasn’t too shabby. I know YA readers put a lot of emphasis on “swoon-worthy” book boyfriends, was there any inspiration to crafting the perfect Prince?
Claire Legrand: Hee hee. Well, to be honest, when I wrote Nicholas, I wasn’t thinking much about whether he was “swoon-worthy” or not. I mean, yeah, I thought his tattoos and the weird metal components throughout his body were weirdly hot in this “bad boy steampunk cyborg” kind of way. But mostly I was just thinking about how messed up this guy was. When Clara frees him from the curse near the beginning of the book (no spoilers; that’s on the book jacket), he has been living as a statue, immobile and trapped, for eighteen years. Before that, he was fighting a war and helping his parents commit genocide against an entire race—granted, this race was killing his own people as well, but still. And he was raised to believe that committing said genocide was a good thing. That the victims deserved it. So it’s understandable that Nicholas has some issues. Some psychological scars, let’s say. I knew when I started developing his character that he was going to be a very gray character, full of dark obsessions and secret hatreds. I knew he wouldn’t always make the right decisions, and that sometimes he would make horrible decisions that would turn some readers irrevocably against him. The thing about Nicholas is . . . he’s so not “the perfect Prince.” But I think that makes him all the more interesting.
Reading about the world of Cane was a big highlight in the book for me. Is there a place in the real world that we can compare it to?
Claire Legrand: Creating the world of Cane was one of the highlights of writing the book for me, so I’m glad you enjoyed reading about it! I’m not sure anywhere in the real world is quite like Cane—and I think we can all be glad for that! It’s a beautiful but very dangerous place, and not so friendly to humans. Lucy Ruth Cummins, the fabulously talented art director at Simon & Schuster who designed WINTERSPELL’s gorgeous cover, described the world of Cane thusly: “Cane was, in its wilderness, Narnia, and its urban center for me was The City of Lost Children.” She also described Clara’s New York City as Gotham City circa Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman. All of this is 100% spot on (because Lucy’s awesome like that). So I’d encourage readers to imagine a landscape like that as they read!
At the end of Winterspell, well let’s just say, I wanted more. Will there be more of Clara’s story?
Claire Legrand: Currently there are no plans for a sequel, but . . . never say never! I love the kingdom of Cane—and there is a lot more going on in that world besides Cane. I’ve imagined other kingdoms as well, with their own stories and own characters. We’ll just have to see!
Thank you so much for your time! Is there anything else you would like the PJV readers to know about?
Claire Legrand: Thank you for the interview! And I’ll just remind everyone that there is a WINTERSPELL prequel e-novella called SUMMERFALL, available now at e-book retailers. You can read it before reading WINTERSPELL; it won’t spoil anything. And actually, the story of SUMMERFALL will be spoiled for you if you read it after reading WINTERSPELL—although I don’t think reading in that order will diminish your enjoyment! I hope you enjoy reading, and thanks for stopping by!
Winterspell by Claire LegrandPublished by Simon and Schuster on 2014-09-30
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Young Adult
Darkly romantic and entirely enchanting, this reimagining of The Nutcracker from Claire Legrand brims with magic, love, and intrigue. New York Times bestselling author Marissa Meyer (Cinder) says “this is not your grandmother’s Nutcracker tale.”After her mother is brutally murdered, seventeen-year-old Clara Stole is determined to find out what happened to her. Her father, a powerful man with little integrity, is a notorious New York City gang lord in the syndicate-turned-empire called Concordia. And he isn’t much help. But there is something even darker than Concordia’s corruption brewing under the surface of the city, something full of vengeance and magic, like the stories Clara’s godfather used to tell her when she was a little girl. Then her father is abducted and her little sister’s life is threatened, and Clara accidentally frees Nicholas from a statue that has been his prison for years. Nicholas is the rightful prince of Cane, a wintry kingdom that exists beyond the city Clara has known her whole life. When Nicholas and Clara journey together to Cane to retrieve her father, Clara encounters Anise, the queen of the faeries, who has ousted the royal family in favor of her own totalitarian, anti-human regime. Clara finds that this new world is not as foreign as she feared, but time is running out for her family, and there is only so much magic can do...
The clock chimes midnight, a curse breaks, and a girl meets a prince . . . but what follows is not all sweetness and sugarplums.
New York City, 1899. Clara Stole, the mayor’s ever-proper daughter, leads a double life. Since her mother’s murder, she has secretly trained in self-defense with the mysterious Drosselmeyer.
Then, on Christmas Eve, disaster strikes.
Her home is destroyed, her father abducted–by beings distinctly not human. To find him, Clara journeys to the war-ravaged land of Cane. Her only companion is the dethroned prince Nicholas, bound by a wicked curse. If they’re to survive, Clara has no choice but to trust him, but his haunted eyes burn with secrets–and a need she can’t define. With the dangerous, seductive faery queen Anise hunting them, Clara soon realizes she won’t leave Cane unscathed–if she leaves at all.
Inspired by The Nutcracker, Winterspell is a dark, timeless fairy tale about love and war, longing and loneliness, and a girl who must learn to live without fear.
10 prize packs/10 winners! The prize packs = finished copy of Winterspell + swag (bookmark, bookplate, character postcards) + map of Cane + Winterspell-themed jewelry. US only.