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Turning Points: Guest Post by Claire Legrand (+Giveaway)

The Turning Points blog series is back with more guest posts! I’ve asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is debut author Claire Legrand revealing hers…

Guest post by Claire Legrand

My turning point didn’t come when I wrote the book that got me a publishing contract.

It came with the book I had to let go.

First of all, I have to say as a disclaimer that I’ve already told this story in bits and pieces on my blog. But the more I talk about it, the stronger I feel, the more encouraged, the more determined. So, here it is again:

I still remember how the idea for that story—the one I had to let go—came to me. The summer after I graduated from high school, I visited Washington, D.C., with my family. On the flight home, while staring out the window and daydreaming, I had a vision. Calling it that makes me want to roll my eyes, but it happened. An image popped into my head, one I had to explore.

It would later become one of the final scenes in the final book of a trilogy that I have yet to write.

Two years later, halfway through my undergraduate degree, I changed my major and left music behind, at least in a professional sense. Part of the impetus behind this decision was that vision that wouldn’t leave me. The story of it haunted me, begging for existence. I changed my major rather listlessly to English literature. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, at that point. But I knew I was going to write this book.

I spent the next two years brainstorming. I scribbled aimlessly in notebooks and wrote fan-fiction for characters that have yet to see the light of day. I composed glossaries and encyclopedic essays, designed clothing, and dreamed up spectacularly elaborate fictional histories, maps, wars.

In 2008, I finally started writing. I still remember the feeling of sitting down that first day and typing the word “Prologue,” my fingers shaking. (Yes, prologue! Haters to the left.)

This was the beginning of the book that would get me published. I just knew it.

Funny how things so seldom work out the way we thought they would.

I finished that first bloated, ridiculous, beautiful first draft about a year and a half later, in the summer of 2009. Immediately, I started querying this book that was approximately 200,000 words too long. (Yes.)

Part of me was very practical about this whole process, this dream of being a published author. I was in graduate school, after all; I would earn my librarian degree, I would have a back-up plan. Not that I would need it. This mammoth book would be my ticket to the big time.

How could I have possibly thought such a thing?

I think a lot of it stemmed from fear. It was like I knew, somewhere deep and unacknowledged in my gut, that this wasn’t going to work like I hoped. That I needed to do more research, take time to learn the craft. I scorned words like “craft” and “process” because I was confident that I somehow knew it all innately. That sounds like arrogance, but really, truly, it was fear. Fear that, if I took that extra time to research and plan and hone, the window of opportunity would close for some reason. Fear that, at any moment, someone would pop up, point and jeer, and say that I wasn’t good enough.

I therefore rushed into things way too fast, before my poor, bursting book was even halfway ready.

I queried, and queried, and queried. My original query letter was two pages long. Two pages long! I didn’t include the word count. I didn’t do anything that I was supposed to. Somehow, miraculously, I still managed to get requests, and my rejections were always kind (bless the hearts of those nice agents who could have laughed me into smithereens, but didn’t). However, they were still rejections. These requests never panned out.

Until this one, about six months after I started querying. They say it only takes one.

They’re right. Well, sort of.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Diana Fox, exactly, but somehow I ended up at her blog in November 2009. She was going to attend a conference near me in the spring, and I thought, “How fortuitous!” I sent her my query and the first few pages of my prologue. A couple of weeks later, she requested my full manuscript.

And it was a fortuitous thing that I didn’t say how long my book was in that query, and that Diana requested it anyway. That she didn’t open up the Word document, curse, laugh, and send it back to me with a standard rejection.

In February 2010, I checked in with her. In response, I received the longest, most thoughtful email I had yet received from any agent. She had read my book. She liked many things about it, she said, but lots of things still needed work. Perhaps we could talk about it over coffee at the conference in April? I agreed. I probably danced a happy dance of some kind.

April 2010. I went to the conference, all dressed up and sweating profusely. God, I was nervous. This would be, I was convinced, The Day. Sure, Diana had some reservations about my book, but if she saw me in person, if she heard my passion firsthand, she would change her mind. Maybe we could talk revisions, with the promise of representation afterward. Maybe! Maybe!

But a voice kept whispering in the back of my mind, “You know that’s not going to happen, Claire.”

The voice was right. That didn’t happen.

What did happen was that Diana and I sat on the poolside patio of her hotel and chatted about—well, everything: writing, books, my book in particular, life—for three or four hours. I nodded and smiled and said, “Uh-huh” and admitted numbly that no, I hadn’t read that book . . . or that book . . . or that book. I took notes. More sweating.

She did not offer me representation. She did, however, tell me to stay in touch.

“Stay in touch.” The three most evil words since “It’s not you . . . ”

Later, when I got home, I cried as hard as I did when my parents told me they were getting a divorce, as hard as I did the first time someone broke my heart.

I cried because it had finally hit me: how much work I needed to do, how much time I had wasted, how this was the end. I would have to stick my characters in a drawer somewhere until neglect eradicated them.

I cried because Diana had been so ruthlessly honest, and yet so kind. She loved it, but not enough. I had been so close.

A couple of days later, I started revisions, struggling to incorporate everything Diana had suggested, not pausing for one second to think that rushing into this wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I plowed through, revising and re-writing and re-thinking.

It still wasn’t good enough, though. I wasn’t good enough. Not only was I not living up to my own standards, I was also letting my characters down. I wanted to be good enough for them because the feeling of them in my chest was like solid, warm little knots, made up of me and embedded in me and breathing through me.

But I wasn’t. Every query ultimately led to a rejection. So, I put my first book away—and that right there, that decision—changed everything. I put one book away, and I started another one.

This book was something different. This was not a story requiring glossaries, prologues, and an encyclopedia. It was fun, it was creepy, and it cleansed me. For so long, I had been stuck stubbornly trying to hammer out this story that was too big for me. I had focused on it at the expense of all else—reading, researching the industry I so desperately longed to be a part of, developing relationships with other authors.

My turning point came when I realized all this, and took steps to fix it.

When I said good-bye to the book of my heart and started a new book, a step I had never imagined I could stomach taking.

When I admitted that I had work to do, and did it.

That’s when everything changed.

I finished this book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and sent it to Diana, with whom I had stayed in casual contact. She requested it, and by the time all was said and done, she had offered me representation, as had two other agents.

I chose to sign with Diana. A couple of weeks later, we started submitting to editors. A couple of days later, we had our first offer, and we ended up selling the book to my brilliant editor Zareen Jaffery at Simon & Schuster.

I like to think that that first book, the book of my heart, was the hand scrabbling resolutely at the door to the publishing industry. It left behind some blood, some fingernail splinters. But it wedged that door open a smidge, just enough for my Cavendish-shaped foot to slip in and open it fully.

What will happen to that first book? I honestly don’t know. I know that I think about it often. I know that I’ve re-written the prologue, that I’ve re-tooled much of my world-building. I know that, when Diana speaks of it, it is with genuine enthusiasm, and I know what couple she ’ships (an aside: there are many awesome pairings to choose from; I’m just saying). I know that I will return to it, someday.

I also know that, without that first book, without the vision on that plane, I might not have started writing again. You know, I might not even have changed my major. My ambition in life might still be to play in the New York Philharmonic, and I might be spending money on mouthpieces and piccolo trumpets instead of books and printer cartridges and BEA.

We all need that first book, that book of the heart. This isn’t to say that all the books we write aren’t from the heart. But there is always that one book that gets us started, that inspires and propels us. We all need that book—to write it, to slave over it, to get it out of our systems.

Sometimes we even need to let that book go. I know I did.

But whether that book gets published or sits in a drawer, whether it becomes a best-seller or not, whether people love it or hate it, it is the book that made me dream.

And that, the dreaming, is what makes all the difference.

Claire Legrand is a full-time writer and former librarian living in New York City (although she will always be a Texan at heart!). Her first novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, will release on August 28, 2012, from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, is due out August 2013, and her third novel, a re-telling of The Nutcracker called Winterspell, is due out the following year, both from S&S BFYR.

Links: blog | twitter | facebook | goodreads | tumblr

The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to the winner: Hannah Jones!

There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

48 thoughts on “Turning Points: Guest Post by Claire Legrand (+Giveaway)

  1. This was beautiful and inspiring, thank you. I’ve read the snippets of Claire’s story on her lovely blog – not to mention sharing her enthusiasm for unicorns – and it’s something else to read it here. I so admire her determination, her persistence, her hard work and her dreaming. I think everyone needs that, particularly aspiring writers like me. I’ve been waiting like an eager beaver for all three of her books for a while now, so thank you for the giveaway! Again, thank you. xx

  2. How much do I LOVE Claire Legrand? SO MUCH. She is one of those insanely amazing people you just feel better for knowing at all, and you know she’s going to be Someone. :squishes Claire: Love this post, love this blog, and what a great way to kick off the new set of posts!

    • And I meant to add that I too had that first book I wrote with such ZEAL and loved SO HARD and rewrote completely and … put all versions in a drawer. Yep.🙂

  3. Oh, Claire, I love this entry, and I empathized with it so much. (And if it helps at all, I had to let go of about eight books before my first published book, including one book that had won me an agent but never got a sale. But I learned something from every single one of them.)

    I can’t wait to read CAVENDISH!

    (And Nova, I tweeted about this entry as well!🙂 )

  4. I adore these Turning Points posts. It’s so inspiring to hear how other authors have persevered to achieve their goals. I can only imagine how difficult it was to let that first novel go. I’m so happy that you were able to move on though, because I can’t wait to read The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls!

  5. This post is so inspirational to me because I too have done what you did. I decided that I was going to write the next greatest children’s story and I didn’t need to do anything else. I would write it and then I would have a book deal and everything would be unicorns and happiness. My first 3 children’s books have yet to see the light of day. I’ve submitted the first 2 and been rejected for both. The third one I never finished. I have a lot of emotions/hopes/fears wrapped up in those 3 little stories. Like you, I’ve had to put them away and move on to something else. We’ll see where this one takes me.

  6. That first novel is always so tough to let go. It’s akin to seeing your children off when they get older. Knowing when to let go really is an art! I’m definitely in need of reading this book. What a wonderful post. Thanks for sharing!

  7. What a great post. I myself am working on finding representation for my first book, and while it’s still very early in the game for me (only a few weeks so far of querying and rejections), I know I must keep in mind that this might not be THE book, but maybe the next one or the next one will. Thank you so much for sharing this story with us all! =)

  8. Oh, what a wonderful post! I’ve had a somewhat similar experience (although I’m still in revisions with that second book at the moment), so I love to see posts like these. And I’ve had my eye on CAVENDISH since I saw a logline for it in a pitch contest ages ago, so I absolutely can’t wait to read it!

  9. I love this post. Seriously. Thanks so much to Nova for hosting and to Claire for sharing this story (I’m extra-excited to read Cavendish now)!

  10. Omg, loves you both.❤ thank you for this awesome guest post and for the giveaway😀 I cannot wait to read this book. It seems so so so good🙂❤
    Love, Carina

  11. Claire, it must be hard to let go of that first story of the heart, but it must also be good to know that you have plenty more stories just waiting to be written. Happy writing (and reading)!

  12. What a beautiful, beautiful post!
    “ is the book that made me dream” – wow, people rarely talk about those first books that were written outta so much love and dreams, just because they are gathering dust somewhere right now, but they ARE so important. Because that’s where the dreams began.
    I can tell you how reading this post is making me feel. My first book doesn’t feel worthless any more.

  13. i’ve read bits and pieces of this story on claire’s blog, but seeing it as a whole is lovely. i adore the way she phrases things and her outlook on life is so positive. the book of my heart is too in its rightful place in a drawer and i’m enjoying the dreaming and writing that’s come after.

  14. Well said! Dreaming is EXACTLY what makes the difference! Reading this post made me really sad and i admit i teared up a bit. But when i got to the end of it i felt so inspired to achieve my own goals.🙂 So thank you for that and for this post and this giveaway.🙂

  15. Oh, Claire! What a wonderful post. It scares me a bit — I’m about to release my first novel and am afraid no other story will ever capture my heart quite the same way this one has. I keep writing my books though because it is the one that let me dream🙂 Well said.

  16. Wow. I’ve loved reading all of posts in the Turning Points series, and have found them to be inspirational. But, I must say, this one is exceptional and really hits close to my heart! I basically have a ritual now that when I sit down to write I squeeze my eyes tight and say, “This is not a practice novel. This is not a practice nove. Please don’t let this be a practice novel.” I really hope that it isn’t a practice novel, BUT I know that if it turns out to be own, I WILL write another and another, until I get it write.

    Thank you, Claire, for sharing your story! Thank you, Nova, for creating this series and for just being awesome in general!

  17. Claire, thank you for telling your moving story. I am trying to publish my first novel. I hope it doesn’t end up like the book of your heart, but if it does, I’ll know it’s to make way for an even better novel.

    Clair and Nova: best of luck in both of your writings!

  18. Loved reading this–thanks! My “book of my heart” wasn’t my first novel or the one that started my love affair with writing, but it is the one that made me stretch and grow and try something far bigger than I thought I was ready for. Maybe it will be published one day, but it was worth writing, regardless.🙂

  19. I really enjoyed this! I can relate to it as well. My first book was a 175k word fantasy that I loved but had to let go. I was so sure it was going to take the publishing world by storm. Ha!
    I think learning to let go was one of the most important lessons I had to learn.

  20. I liked how this book made you dream🙂 Sounds like a good read! Thank you!!

  21. This was such a nice and inspiring post. It’s hard to give up on a piece of writing you’ve worked so hard on, but it sometimes leads you to something you’re more passionate about for the time being.

  22. This is such a wonderful post! I’m in the middle of writing my first novel, which I will self publish later on this year. It’s such an emotional journey for me, and I’m not sure I can stomach the idea that my novel may not be publishable after working 5 years on it. I’m praying all goes well, but I’m excited that my next novels will only improve! This is such an inspirational post, and I look forward to reading Cavendish very soon!

  23. Holy crap, this story could be mine! I worked for years on a way-too-long book, until I finally accepted the realities of the publishing industry. When I put it away and started something brand new, THAT was the book that got me an agent.

    But amazingly enough, that new book AND a totally reworked-with-research-and-knowledge-and-experience brand-new version of that first book? Are both coming out in 2013.

    Seriously, this was so, so good to read. It’s good knowing I wasn’t alone!

  24. I really love reading this story! I have no aspirations to be a writer but I still hink it’s really admirable and inspiring. I’m curious to see what will happen to her first book. I’m really excited for Cavendish & all her upcoming books.

  25. This was exactly what I needed to read right now, thanks🙂 *thinks of own evergrowing story made of heart- and soulfibres, currently hiding somewhere in the shadowpart of my mind*

  26. What a powerful story that you shared!!😀 I connected with it on so many levels. Especially with the struggle to set aside that initial story that must wait to be finished until the author is better prepared to tackle its completion. It must be some sort of right of passage for all writers.

  27. Damn. This is so true and pretty much how I felt with that first book (and then the second). I do not, however, want to revisit that first book (too painful and horrible), the second one, yes. I’m on sub with my third and am writing my fifth, and have felt those “solid, warm little knots embedded and breathing through me”. Perfect! Look forward to your book!

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