What made you decide to be a writer? How long have you been writing?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved listening to music and making up stories. Stories are how I have always understood and learned about the world, whether they were in musical or literary or cinematic form, so it feels inevitable that I’d end up doing this for a living eventually. I wrote my first book in third grade and kept writing off and on during middle school and high school, but when I joined the band in middle school, my goal in life changed. I wanted to become a professional orchestral trumpet player instead of a writer. It wasn’t until I got the idea for the Empirium Trilogy right after high school that I changed my mind once more and started thinking about pursuing writing seriously. Two years into my musical studies in college, I decided to leave music behind and pursue writing exclusively. My first book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, was published several years later, in 2012.
Where did you go to school?
I attended the University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, where I earned both my undergraduate and graduate degrees (in English literature and library science, respectively).
Did you ever take any writing classes? To be a writer, do you need to study writing in school?
I actually never took a single writing class after my mandatory English classes in high school. Sometimes I wish I’d pursued a writing degree in college simply because I think that would have been a really rewarding experience, but the best way to become a writer is to read a lot and write a lot, neither of which you need to go to school for. If your goal is to become a published fiction writer, neither your readers nor your publishers will care about where you went to school; what they want is to be told a really good story. Consume as many stories as you can and then practice, practice, practice.
Where do you live now?
I live in New Jersey.
Do you have a day job?
At the moment, no; I write full-time. In the past, I’ve worked as a public librarian.
Should I sign up for your newsletter?
Definitely! My newsletter only goes out once a month, unless something special is happening. (For example, sometimes I’ll send out a quick blast if there’s an e-book sale going on.) Since I’m not on social media, subscribing to my newsletter is the best way to stay updated about my books. Via the newsletter, I also share bonus content and hold giveaways exclusively for my subscribers. You’ll be the first to see cover reveals, learn about new books, and hear special announcements.
What’s the best way to contact you?
Professional inquiries for blurbs, foreign rights, and film/TV rights should go through my agent, Victoria Marini at the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. You can also send snail mail via the address on my contact page.
Can I interview you for my book report or school assignment?
Unfortunately, due to my demanding schedule, I can’t help you with your assignment, but I wish you the best of luck with it and hope this FAQs page has been useful!
Who designed and illustrated your website?
My website was designed by the incredible Joelle Reeder of Moxie Design Studios. The beautiful illustrations are by Cynthia Frenette.
About the Empirium Trilogy
What inspired you to write the Empirium Trilogy?
When I was eighteen years old, while on a plane coming back from a family vacation, I listened to Howard Shore’s score for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King on my Walkman (yes, those were still a thing when I was eighteen). I had a vision of a young woman surrounded by a field of fire. The woman was beautiful, angry, sad, and powerful, and I was immediately fascinated by her. Who was she? What kind of power did she have? Who hated her, and who loved her? Why was she so angry? Why was she so sad? As I asked these questions and found the answers, I built the character of Rielle, and the rest of the trilogy and its world grew around her.
Who is your favorite character?
This is a very difficult question to answer, as I’ve spent my entire creative life with the Empirium characters and love all of them for different reasons. Audric is probably the most like me. Rielle, Simon, Remy, and Corien were the most fun to write. Eliana and Ludivine were the most challenging to write.
Will the Empirium Trilogy ever be adapted into a movie or TV show?
I hope so! That really depends upon the success of the series. The more books are sold, the likelier it is that someone will adapt it. Currently there are no adaptation plans in the works, but my fingers are and will remain crossed.
How did you get the Empirium Trilogy published?
I sent query letters to agents for a couple of years, but the original draft of Furyborn was too long and just not good enough to sell, so no one offered me representation. I received many, many rejections. It wasn’t until I gave up on the Empirium Trilogy and drafted and queried The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls instead that I was able to sign with an agent. I kept writing and selling other books while working on the Empirium Trilogy in my spare time. Eventually, after many years and drafts and rewrites, Furyborn was ready. My agent sent it out as a partial submission to several publishers (a partial submission in this case meant the first chapters and an extensive outline). I was very lucky to find the trilogy a wonderful home with my publisher, Sourcebooks Fire—twelve years after I first saw that vision of Rielle and started planning the story.
Will you ever write more books set in the world of Avitas?
Currently there are no plans for more books, but there are definitely many stories in Avitas left to tell. We’ll see what the future brings!
Do you have to read Queen of the Blazing Throne to understand the main story?
No. QotBT takes place during the events of Kingsbane, from the perspective of the young Kirvayan queen Obritsa. The ideal time to read it is between reading Kingsbane and Lightbringer, but if you don’t read it, you’ll still understand everything from the main trilogy.
About Claire's Other Books
Will there be a sequel to The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls? That ending!
I know, the ending is wicked, isn’t it? But, no, there are no plans for a sequel! I like the way the book ends and don’t think I’ll ever write a continuation of that story.
What about Some Kind of Happiness or Sawkill Girls? Will they have sequels?
Sorry, no. Again, I’m really happy with where those stories end and have no desire to write sequels (though it is fun to think about what becomes of Finley and her family, and what happens next on Sawkill Rock).
What about Foxheart? Will it have a sequel?
Not a sequel, but there is a companion novel! It’s called Thornlight, and it’s set in the same world as Foxheart but features different characters. You don’t have to read Foxheart to read and enjoy Thornlight, but I do recommend it.
Will any of your books be made into movies or TV shows?
As an enthusiastic lover of movies and TV shows, I fantasize about this constantly. Nothing is currently in the works, but, again, my fingers are and will remain crossed!
Out of all the books you’ve written, which one is your favorite?
Probably a three-way tie between Some Kind of Happiness, Sawkill Girls, and Lightbringer.
Which was the hardest book to write?
Each book brought its own challenges. The most difficult to write was probably Furyborn, considering it took me twelve years to get right!
Which was the easiest book to write?
Either The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls (I wrote that during my last semester of grad school while I was working and taking a full courseload; it was just so fun) or Some Kind of Happiness (I wrote that first draft in a month). Sometimes stories pour out of me; sometimes they’re more stubborn and require many years and drafts to become a reality.
If I’m new to your books, where’s the best place to start?
That depends. For my middle grade, I’d start with The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls. For my young adult, I’d start with Sawkill Girls. If you prefer short stories, I recommend checking out The Cabinet of Curiosities. It’s an anthology of thirty-six short stories I wrote with three incredibly talented author friends—Stefan Bachmann, Katherine Catmull, and Emma Trevayne. My stories in that collection will give you a good idea of what to expect from my novels.
Will your books be published in my country?
I would love all of my books to be published in every country around the world, but unfortunately that’s beyond my control. The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls has been translated into German and Portuguese, and the Empirium Trilogy is in the process of being translated into several languages. Hopefully more are to come!
Where do you get your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from many places. I spend a lot of time listening to music and daydreaming, and most of my ideas start there. I also like perusing images on Pinterest. And of course, consuming stories in all mediums is also a huge source of inspiration. When a story moves me profoundly, I take that experience to my own writing and think about what I can do to affect my readers in a similar way. Some of the best things you can do to find inspiration as a writer are to be curious, ask questions, learn as much as you can, and remain keenly observant of the world around you.
Do you outline before you start writing?
Always. Inevitably, the outline will end up changing in surprising ways as I draft, but having that blueprint of the story there from the beginning helps me find the courage to get started. Otherwise, the blank page is prohibitively terrifying. I also find it extremely helpful to have a story’s ending in mind from the beginning. Being able to regularly check in with that ending as I work helps ensure that I’m on the right track.
What writing tools do you use?
I use Microsoft Excel to outline in spreadsheet form, Scrivener for drafting and organizing notes, and a combination of Scrivener and Microsoft Word for edits.
How fast do you write?
That depends on the project. I drafted Some Kind of Happiness in a month, but I would say on average most projects take around three to four months to draft (and much longer than that to edit).
How long did it take you to get published?
I started writing the Empirium Trilogy in 2004, started querying it in 2009, and sold my first books (which were not the Empirium Trilogy) in 2011.
Do you have any advice for writers?
Be patient with yourself. Don’t get frustrated when your path doesn’t look like other people’s or doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Read a lot. Write a lot. Take care of yourself—body, mind, and spirit. Don’t focus on your career and ambition at the expensive of health and happiness. Focus on the stories that bring you joy, stories you’re genuinely excited to sit down and work on every day.
What’s harder to write—standalones or series?
Series. There’s something very tidy and satisfying about beginning and ending a story in one book. In my experience, series require more planning, more emotional investment, and more editing.
What’s your favorite thing about writing?
Playing with language and imagery. I love building the texture of a story and exploring how different word choices and sentence structures affect the reading experience.
What’s your least favorite thing about writing?
Writing action scenes or scenes with many characters present. Crafting those scenes takes a lot of time and careful planning, which I find quite challenging.
Can you read my manuscript or query letter?
Unfortunately, no. Due to my demanding writing schedule, I can’t read any unsolicited materials. In fact, I seldom read pages for even my closest friends! I encourage you to find critique partners you can trust and trade manuscripts with them.
What does a typical day of writing look like for you?
That varies. When I'm in the thick of writing a first draft or revising a manuscript with my editor, I structure my day like a typical 9-to-5 workday. I write all morning, take a break for lunch, write in the afternoon, and then put away my work for the evening. When I'm nearing the end of a deadline, I will often work in the evenings as well. Sometimes, though, especially when I'm planning a new project, my workday is much less structured: I spend a lot of time listening to music, daydreaming, jotting down random thoughts. Writing isn't always sitting down and putting pen to paper, although that's of course essential and the only way to actually get a book written. But writing is also filling up your brain with images and ideas and then giving your mind the freedom to play with those ideas, with neither expectations nor structure.