Claudia Gray breaks normal

What’s a person like when she’s a lawyer, journalist, disc jockey, cook, and traveler rolled into one? You have a geek with a cool pseudonym coming up with creatures, figures, and realms of her own so enthralling she’s making fame and money out of it. Meet the best-selling paranormal and science fiction author from New Orleans, Claudia Gray. No, that’s not her real name, but it is real to her as the book characters are to the readers. Claudia Gray is the pen name for Amy Vincent. When asked why the pseudonym, she said because she can! Better stick to it or she’ll feel weird being called by her real name. So, how weird is that? Well, awesomely weird. And one can only imagine how interesting the rest of the conversation went.

Claudia (and we mean, Claudia) flew to the Philippines for a National Book Store book tour and signing event for the first installment of the Firebird series and her latest book,  “A Thousand Pieces of You.” The Firebird is an invention that allows one to travel into multiple dimensions. The story of Marguerite Caine begins when her father, the inventor of Firebird, was murdered and she has to chase the killer and jump through multi-universe. She has to learn how each world works and revisit the people in her life and the other versions of them. Claudia’s book, “Stargazer,” made it to the New York Times list of best-selling children books in 2009.

The Play! pool sat with this energetic, wildly imaginative writer as she spilled out details behind the makings of her latest book. Her inclination toward history, classic and vintage style made up the world of the Evernight series in 2008. She hikes, cooks, and likes anything purple. Not that it makes her any more interesting than she already is. Nah. That makes her very interesting, all right.

Claudia Gray

Claudia Gray

How was the Manila book signing?
It was phenomenal. It was one of the best events I’ve ever had in my life. The fans were so enthusiastic. They brought banners with the character names on them and brought all of their books! It was so wonderful. Our experience was beyond expectations.

Several YA (Young Adult) authors have already visited the Philippines and must have told you about their experiences. Did you expect this kind of reception?
You hope! You can’t expect. In your heart, you’re going to be always like “It’s going to be me in one tumble… we’d be rolling through this empty hall.” I mean, Philippine fans are known for their enthusiasm, for really turning out, and the marketing team, and the NBS (National Book Store), the events they throw are the best events anywhere. I’m not saying this because they brought me here. They are known for that.

How did you get into writing novels?
I always wrote. I mean, always, even as a little kid. Trying to make stories about Superman and Louis Lane but I never seriously pursued it as a career. It just seems very outreach, I guess. You know it’s very hard to believe in yourself for something like that, isn’t it? I mean, sure, if I tell a story everyone would listen to me. No! I became a lawyer and did that for a few years. I became a journalist, did that for a few years. I went to legal marketing which, at no point, dreamed of doing ever. But at that job, I was starting to write a little more seriously. I sort of have the time and mental energy to pursue it. I guess it was just a little less than ten years ago that I decided to try and get serious about it. Then my first book came out about six years ago.

Do you have to give up being a lawyer to be a writer?
I love how you say “have to give up,” instead of “yet to give up.” (Laughs). Technically, I’m still a lawyer. If you have legal training and you pass the bar, you’re always a lawyer. I’m not a member of any bar associations in the States right now but if I were to retest, I could get back in at any point. I have to take some classes though because I’ve forgotten a lot! (Laughs). But the joke is always, why did I leave the law to be a writer? Lawyers never ask. They know why. (Laughs).

Can you see writing as a long-term career?
I hope so! I mean, you can never know. Unless you hit it big like Stephen Meyer, Suzzane Collins, or JK Rowling, you literally almost cannot know more than about two years help. That’s the reality of it. I think I still got another two years, beyond that I can’t tell you. I hope to do this for the rest of my working life. That’s my goal. Even if I get another job, I’d still write. I’d still be working toward it but you can never really assume.

Thousand Pieces of You

How do you draw out inspiration?
It comes from really different places. You don’t necessarily know where ideas are going to come from. Some people think, oh you have one idea, but it’s really a lot of ideas you’ve had to meet each other and get along and click into a plot. The idea, however, for the book “A Thousand Pieces of You,” that was actually one of the more concrete moment. I was on a book tour. It was all over the US with two other authors and it was one of these tours they have you in the mountains, and then the desert, and the beach, all over the place. I didn’t even go home directly from Los Angeles. I left from my end of the tour to Australia. Of course, now even more different from all over Australia and only pushing with me was my publicist. Something in my head got clicking about different worlds, same people. Different worlds. Same people. And it turned into this book about this girl who’s chasing her father’s killer for vengeance but she keeps running into other versions of her family, and other people who mean most to her and see all the different people they could be.

Did you ever have to research to complete this book?
Oh yeah, sure. I mean, to varying degrees. The joke I keep making is, if you have a book where some of it takes place in Russia, and some of it takes place at a deep sea scientific ocean station, to have a really close friend who is a Russian oceanographer!  And I do. (Laughs). So I was able to email her a lot of questions. Honestly, a lot of universities came up with things I’m already interested in. I just picked the dimensions, like where would be the coolest place to go; we’re going there. I’ve already read some things about oceanography so I sort of have an idea about the station. I’ve read a lot about that sort of period of Russian history so putting something like that seems like a very natural thing to do. One then required a little less because it’s a little more futuristic but I visited there often enough to have a rough idea of the geography and if I get anything wrong, well, that’s not how it is in our dimension. Oh that dimension! (Laughs).

But what is more challenging though when writing the book?
One thing I worry a bit with “A Thousand Pieces of You” is that we put so much pressure on female characters especially to be so above it all and awesome all the time. But this book begins with Marguerite in a very difficult place because her father just died. It hasn’t been 48 hours. You know, even then in the editorial note was like, why did she start crying? I was like, will you please think about this? Her dad has died that’s why she starts crying. It’s in present tense so you kind of have to be with her in that place and that her feelings are really raw. She’s really hurting at this moment but she’s trying to get herself together. And they get it. I’m happy that readers seem to be seeing that so far.

Marguerite is in search of her father’s killer but eventually develops feelings for the man behind the killing. Could you tell us more about that?
One that’s different about this book than any other I’ve written which I’ve really enjoyed a lot was there’s no moment where everybody meets anybody. When the book begins, all the people involved have known each other for at least a couple of years, and of course, Marguerite is in her family in her own life. It’s less like, oh look, I already have feelings for Paul. She already had felt that she was beginning to really, really, care about him and then something happened. And so she’s trying to evaluate what she thought she knew of him to what she knows now. Kind of figure out the truth like who can this guy be. Seeing so great here, and something so terrible could happen there, and of course, she meets other versions of him that she has been trying to assess on their own terms. So yeah, it’s not like, oh look she’s falling for the guy who killed her dad because, hello, how messed up would that be? But this is somebody she already trusted and liked and had just begun to think is there something there. Is this something that could happen between us? And then, this happened.

How much of the story is based on real life?
I love the fact that you think my life is that interesting! But wow, it’s so not. (Laughs). No, no, I don’t think so. I mean, I’ve traveled through London a few times and the place of the first scene, I know where that stretch of road is. I know that but other than that, very little, honestly. I did arrange a house swap with somebody who lived in Oakland, California, the bay area where the family lives. It was after I had written the first draft of the book. I was able to go around and know the area and add some local color, but years from now, there is couple of things like, oh I went to this thing, that I went to in San Francisco but it was very minor detail. None of it is, in any way, based on my life.

Thousand Pieces of You

Do you have a literary influence that led you to write in the paranormal, science fiction genre?
Not specifically. I mean, I’ve been a life-long, enormous geek, so I’ve already read science fiction and paranormal. I’ve always seen that stuff was way more interesting than every day. But if there’s one book that influenced this more than any other, it’s probably “A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle. It’s such a good book and I’ve loved that when I was a kid. It’s not like I did things from “A Wrinkle in Time” but you have this girl who lives with two parents for this eccentric scientist that everybody thinks is hot but really brilliant and they do all this work in their home. I think it was really great. I thought that was so cool when I was a kid. I think that feeds into it to some degree. I’ve read it many times during childhood. I read above my grade level.

What’s your writing schedule like?
Honestly, I don’t have a typical day. I live alone. I write at home. I can sort of schedule how I want things to schedule. There are days when I write at home the whole day. There are days when I need to run errands, or I go see friends, or I’m doing work things but through different things, like shipping out books to prize winners. Days are different. I do try to work virtually every day. I think about things every single day even if I’m not writing. It may be morning, or afternoon, or night, or all three. It’s kind of great, actually, not having one specific schedule. But beyond that, who knows, really.

Which point of view do you prefer in your writing style?
I think each story comes to you the way it comes to you and you sort of decide how it’s going to be. My first four books were first person past tense. Then there’s this first person present tense. That one was set in Titanic and that’s the only I deliberately decided it’s going to be in present tense. I didn’t want it to seem like, oh here’s this historical thing that happened way past when. I wanted it to feel you are there. You are there. The water is hitting you this minute. The Spellcaster series is third person past tense, and this is just because that’s how it (“A Thousand Pieces of You”) came out. Each story kind of found its own voice. There are different styles that suit different kinds of stories.

What would you like to work on next?
I would like to work on something that’s third person past tense again. I can’t say anything more about it. (Laughs).

What are your other interests aside from writing?
Well, I love to travel and this has worked out really well. I used to love to go hiking, although now, where I live, it’s really hot and very flat–not such a great hiking territory. I love to cook. I love to go out and eat. New Orleans is a big food city, very known for having really great cuisines. Also, there are a lot of kinds of food where you can’t get anywhere else in the United States. It’s also a very creative city. We have our mardi gras, and carnivals and things like that. People really get into it. A bunch of my friends are in dance troupe. I’m not in one but I’m part of a science fiction group that puts on this big science fiction pink parade. This is a parade when you can make up your own costumes and you do things.

Do you believe in writer’s block?
No, I refuse to believe in it. Seriously, if you externalize a difficult day at writing which is like, I have a writer’s block! It’s like this horrible thing has ascended on you and that you have no power over it that’s really crippling. Or you could say: I’m having a bad day; I’m going to come back to it tomorrow. Then you just keep making progress. You were just having a bad day in terms of relating to it and you get back after a few days and it’s really just fine.

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