At the Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, you will definitely learn your lesson.
Victoria hates nonsense. There is no need for it when your life is perfect. The only smudge on her pristine life is her best friend Lawrence. He is a disaster—lazy and dreamy, shirt always untucked, obsessed with his silly piano. Victoria often wonders why she ever bothered being his friend. (Lawrence does too.)
But then Lawrence goes missing. And he’s not the only one. Victoria soon discovers that The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls is not what it appears to be. Kids go in but come out…different. Or they don’t’ come out at all.
If anyone can sort this out, it’s Victoria—even if it means getting a little messy.
This is the book I recently
had the pleasure of reading devoured. In fact, I devoured every eggy bite then talked incessantly about it to my middle-grade daughter, who then promptly gulped down its contents. Lucky for you, today you’ll get to hear from the author, Claire Legrand, and maybe even win a copy of this creeptastic book! We’re honored to be part of her blog tour for Cavendish and hope you enjoy her visit!
For the writers:
Me: What was your greatest inspiration while writing this novel? Maybe it was a dirty basement? Perhaps a creepy lady in your neighborhood?
Claire: A couple of different things inspired Cavendish. One was this orphanage I lived down the street from in college. It always seemed a bit questionable to me—police caution tape on the doors, a serious lack of inactivity on the grounds, eerily quiet. Oh, and then there was that orphanage van that followed my friend and I all around town until we lost them in a Walmart parking lot. I knew then and there I just had to write a creepy orphanage story!
My dad’s town was also a huge inspiration. I love it there, but in a certain light, if you will, it has a certain Stepford-esque quality. People are very concerned with the superficial, maintaining a certain image, a certain ideal of perfection. I thought, “Let’s put this creepy orphanage and this Stepford-esque town in the same story.” And bam! Cavendish was born.
Oh, and one more piece of inspiration: When I was in elementary school, I took dance for a couple of years. This is particularly mystifying to me as nowadays the closest I come to dance class is blasting The Nutcracker on my stereo and doing really awful “pirouettes” around my apartment. Anyway, my dance teacher was this very kind, very patient woman named Miss Karen. Unfortunately, I once had this very vivid nightmare of Miss Karen chasing me through a house with a kitchen knife, and the image of her smiling, murderous face stuck. So, I based Mrs. Cavendish’s looks on her: dark hair, bright blue eyes, bright red lips. Elegance masking pure evil. (Sorry, Miss Karen! I can’t control my brain when I sleep.)
Me: That’s much worse than the creepy basement I envision while writing! *Shivers* Who was your favorite character to create in Cavendish? Your favorite to torture? (Personally, I liked seeing Victoria get a little messy.)
Claire: Well, I of course loved creating Victoria because, frankly, she was so easy for me to create. She just popped right into my head one day, fully-formed, demanding for her story to be told. And since I was a prickly perfectionist myself at the age of 12, I had a great time writing her. I understood her, probably more than I will understand any other character I write.
But the most fun to write was probably Mrs. Cavendish herself. I absolutely love writing villains, and Mrs. Cavendish is the kind of pure, inexorable evil you just can’t reason with. That was pretty terrifying to experience for both me and Victoria—probably more terrifying for her, as she actually had to battle Mrs. Cavendish, and I just had to sit safely at my computer.
And I agree with you: I also liked seeing Victoria get a little messy. She was my favorite character to torture because she had the farthest to fall. Her life was perfect at the beginning of the story—she was confident, successful, pretty, wealthy, with beautiful, successful parents and a beautiful house and fantastic grades. So orchestrating her fall brought me a sadistic literary delight.
Me: Writing villains is a thrill like no other! *rubs hands together* *laughs maniacally* In Cavendish, Victoria is a bit of a perfectionist. What part do you think that plays in the story and why?
Claire: A bit of a perfectionist? I’d say she’s a perfectionista! Victoria’s perfectionism—including her need to control not only her life, but also everyone else’s—is mirrored in Mrs. Cavendish’s own desire to control the town of Belleville. When Victoria realizes this, it spooks her. She realizes how close she has come to using her intelligence and ambition for evil, as Mrs. Cavendish does, and that gives her a tremendous determination—the same determination that drives her academically, the same determination that prompted her to search for Lawrence in the first place—to not be like Mrs. Cavendish.
Me: Perfectionista it is then! (I don’t know anyone remotely similar to Victoria in my family….nope, not at all!) So…Lawrence, Victoria’s pet project and friend, has a skunk stripe in his hair. What did you feel was the significance in that character trait as you wrote the story?
Claire: Lawrence’s skunkish hair was actually inspired by a dear friend of mine, who started getting these beautiful silver hairs in her thick, black hair when we were in elementary school. I don’t recall people ever making fun of her for it, but it felt appropriate for Lawrence to be ridiculed for his own gray hairs. After all, in Belleville, where physical abnormalities are frowned upon. The fact that Lawrence has that weird silver streak in his hair merely serves as one more element that marks him as abnormal—along with his messy clothes and obsession with his piano over all else.
Me: I loved that about him! Many writers have a favorite snack. Do you prefer to eat chocolate covered beetles or frosted roaches while writing? I’d go with the chocolate – it makes everything taste better!
Claire: Oh, I’m with you there! Chocolate all the way. Chocolate-covered beetles, chocolate frogs, chocolate pretzels . . . mmm . . . if I don’t stop on the way home to get some chocolate chip cookies, it’ll be a miracle!
Me: Is Cavendish your first book? Briefly tell about your path to publication (how many query letters, rejections, how you found your agent, etc.)
Claire: Yes, Cavendish is my first book, and the second book I’ve written overall. I originally started querying agents for the first book I wrote, which was a YA fantasy. I queried for maybe a year or a year and a half or so, and I received many rejections, all of which I keep in a tin for safekeeping. (At one point I considered making some sort of artsy mural out of them, but I never made the time. Probably a good thing!) I also received some requests, one of which was from my current agent, Diana Fox. She loved that story but was absolutely correct when she said that it wasn’t the right time for that mammoth project. I wasn’t ready yet. But she urged me to contact her when I had something else. So, I wrote Cavendish, sent it to her, and received an offer of representation shortly afterward. Diana doesn’t usually represent middle grade, but she loved Cavendish—and I’m so glad she did!
For the parents:
Me: In Cavendish, most of the parents don’t seem to care , or even notice their missing children. Do you think real parents (or even children) can relate to that?
Claire: Without giving anything away, there is a very good (and sinister) reason why the parents of Belleville start forgetting about their children and seem not to care about their disappearances. But, yes, I do think a lot of parents (and children!) can relate to that feeling of being forgotten, discarded, or not living up to someone’s expectations. Children get frustrated with their parents, not able to see how something a parent does is for the best in the long run, and assuming that means the parent doesn’t care about her own wishes. And parents, I’m sure, can feel like their children don’t care about them, especially as middle grade kids grow into teenagers. I also think parents can understand the frustration of hoping your child will do or become one thing, when they instead do or become another thing. Even if that frustration is temporary—and even though I’m sure real parents don’t actually want to send their kid to a Cavendish Home to get some sense knocked into them—I think it’s a sentiment many parents can understand. Unfortunately for the children of Belleville, the presence of Mrs. Cavendish takes these normal, temporary frustrations and turns them into something much more malevolent.
For the teachers/librarians:
Me: What do you think makes Cavendish a unique reading experience?
Claire: Cavendish has a lot of heart, a lot of humor, and a lot of adventure—but it’s also very scary, and I didn’t pull punches when writing it. In other words, the stakes are high for these characters, and not everything turns out okay for the good guys in the end. There is no magic wand that fixes Mrs. Cavendish’s—and Belleville’s—past wrongs. I think kids appreciate that kind of realism and bittersweet victory. They’re smart enough to realize that not everything works out like you’d hope it would in real life, and I think they like seeing that in books. It’s a reminder that, yes, bad things do happen, even when the heroes do emerge victorious in the end, but you can work through those bad things and still have a good life afterward.
Me: I would definitely agree with that! What books would you compare it to? (I couldn’t help but conjure up the same creepy feelings that I got from Coraline and Monster House!)
Claire: Thank you for those wonderful, humbling comparisons! I would compare it to Coraline, for sure, and also to Matilda and Roald Dahl’s works in general. People have also told me it reminds them of Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. These are all creepy, quirky, dark tales of grown-ups being bad and kids banding together to save the day—and that’s what Cavendish is too!
For the readers (the kids/prospective Cavendish residents):
Me: If Victoria had to choose between eating the Cavendish mush for the remainder of her life or being messy, uncivilized and unorganized for one month, which would she choose?
Claire: Ha! Great question. I think that, at the beginning of the story, Victoria would definitely choose eating some stupid mush for the rest of her life. Anything would be better than having to tolerate mess, chaos, and disorganization for a week, much less a month!
But, at the end of Cavendish, I think Victoria would absolutely choose the month of messiness. I’d say she’s learned to tolerate messiness a little better at that point, after everything she and the other kids have been through. Plus, anything messy and unorganized has the added bonus of reminding her of Lawrence. If she just focuses on thinking about Lawrence, she’ll be all right.
Me: I think I loved that the most about Victoria – while she does change and grow during the story, its not some false, impossible transformation, but a more realistic change, one that stays true to her, yet allows her the needed growth, for both the character and the reader. At one point in the story Lawrence has to play a piano made of bugs. He seems only slightly unnerved by it. What would really make him upset? Snakes? Spiders? Cold spaghetti?
Claire: Oh, I think Lawrence was very upset about the bug piano. But Mrs. Cavendish had her hooks in him so deeply at that point that he was too traumatized to show much emotion, almost like he was in shock. I think the thing that scared him most of all was watching Mrs. Cavendish get the better of Victoria. Also, I think he’d be scared of something weird and surprising. Like cabbage. Or maybe butterflies.
Me: Butterflies! Haha!
Well, there you have it! Cavendish is a wonderfully, creeptastic story that you won’t want to miss! To win a hardcover copy of The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers, fill out the form below! Contest is U.S./Canada only. Contest ends September 25th.
Amie Borst and her 12 year old co-author write fairy tales with a twist. Their first book in the Scary Tales series, Cinderskella, is due out Fall 2013 by Jolly Fish Press. You can visit her day or night at http://amie-borst.com