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Q&AJul 6, 20235 min

Q&A with Claire Legrand, author of A Crown of Ivy and Glass

Claire Legrand answers our burning questions about her new fantasy novel, A Crown of Ivy and Glass!

By Emily Calkins

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Claire Legrand is the author of children's and young adult literature, including novels and short stories. She is best known for her New York Times bestselling Empirium trilogy. Her new book, A Crown of Ivy and Glass, follows XXXXXXXXXX


Likewise: You've had incredible success writing young adult fiction. Why did you want to write an adult novel this time?

Claire Legrand: When deciding what book to write next, I pay close attention to what my gut tells me: what feels right, what doesn't feel right, what kind of story resonates with me most deeply. Right now, both as a writer and as a reader, I'm most excited about stories for adults. I couldn't tell you why, exactly; I think it's as simple as the fact that tastes and moods change over time. Sometimes you want to watch bonkers action movies; other times, entire months go by when all you want to watch is cozy rom-coms. It's possible that my interest will eventually shift back to writing stories for younger readers, but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

Likewise: Your main character, Gemma, is fascinating and complex, but she's not always likable. What inspired her character?

CL: Gemma is, in part, a tribute to challenging, unlikable heroines like Emma Woodhouse and Amy March (the latter of whom I've always been particularly fond and protective of). At the beginning of the book, Gemma is selfish and spoiled, reveling in her wealth and good looks, but much of that is a façade crafted to hide her true, crushing sadness. She's the only one in her family who can't perform magic, and she lives with chronic pain and debilitating anxiety that often manifests in panic attacks. She's constantly lying to herself and others so she doesn't have to look too hard at how absolutely miserable she is.

And this is the part of her character that's directly inspired by my own experiences living with anxiety and depression, which have become more and more challenging as I've gotten older. The difficult, destructive feelings Gemma experiences are feelings I've experienced as well. Her unfortunate habit of aggressive avoidance as a method of self-preservation is a coping mechanism I lean on too hard, just as she does. Hers is a journey toward acceptance and healing, and like any such journey, it's a messy one. But she does grow tremendously by the end of the book, and even though she lives with mental illness, she's still the hero of her story. She still falls passionately in love, fights evil, and saves the day. Depicting that was very important to me when writing her book, and, in general, the candid discussion of mental health challenges continues to be important as I write the next books in the series. There's no quick fix for Gemma; her problems don't magically disappear. But she does learn how to better manage her mental health, she learns how to live more fully and generously in the world, and through her romance with Talan, she learns how to love and be loved in ways she's never experienced before.

Gemma's not always likable; that's true. But she is capable of extraordinary growth, love, and courage, and isn't that the most important thing? I'll always gravitate toward writing characters like her. They fascinate me, perhaps because I'm likewise fascinated by the "unlikable" qualities of humans in the real world, including myself.

Likewise: A Crown of Ivy and Glass is the first book in a trilogy where each novel is inspired by a different ballet. What is it about classic story ballets that intrigues you?

CL I've always loved ballet—the dancing, of course, but also the music accompanying it. Growing up, Tchaikovsky's ballet scores in particular were in constant rotation, and when you obsess over things like that as a child, they become an immovable piece of your foundation. I swear, there's a section of my brain that's just the Swan Lake score playing on repeat; ballet as an art form is part of my subconscious. I also like the fairy tale-esque quality of classic romantic ballets, many of which are based on fairy tales or pieces of folklore themselves. The story unfolding on stage through dance and music is simple, leaving me a lot of room to play with theme and plot. Each of the books in the Middlemist Trilogy is indeed inspired by a ballet, though none of the books are a direct retelling. A Crown of Ivy and Glass is inspired by Giselle, and books 2 and 3 are inspired by The Firebird and Swan Lake, respectively. Fans of the ballets will notice elements from each work woven into its corresponding book and will, I hope, be as delighted to read the references as I was to write them.

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