GETTIN’ LUCKY: An Interview with Claire Caterer, author of THE KEY & THE FLAME

Today we’re interviewing Lucky13 author Claire Caterer, whose debut MG novel THE KEY & THE FLAME  hits the shelves this week!Caterer_cover-final

THE KEY & THE FLAME is about eleven-year-old Holly Shepard,  who wants nothing more than to seek adventure outside of her humdrum American life. She gets her chance at last when her family travels to England and Holly receives an unusual gift: an iron key that unlocks a passage to the dangerous kingdom of Anglielle, where magic is outlawed and those who practice magic are hunted. When her friend Everett and brother Ben are captured by Anglielle’s ruthless king, Holly must rescue them. But that means finding—and using—the magic within herself and learning which magical allies she can trust. The Key & the Flame is the first in a brand-new fantasy adventure series for ages 8 and up.

What piece of this story first inspired you? Was it an image, a character, or an idea?
The first thing that came to me was the image of a tree that had stood for so long that it served as a portal to the past—or to a parallel universe. The tree was rooted in multiple areas of spacetime.

What kind of research did you do to write The Key and the Flame? And favorite facts or information uncovered in the research process?
I did a lot of research on the Middle Ages in Britain. My fantasy-world setting isn’t strictly fixed in that time and place, but it was parallel, so I needed it to feel authentic.  I researched everyday life, what life in a castle was like, how it was guarded, and how it might be breached. I also read up on weapons and armor and how to joust.

Your book blends a very relatable Middle American setting with contemporary Oxford, England, and a magical medieval kingdom, Anglielle. Which setting was easiest to write? Your favorite to create?
Certainly the easiest was Middle America. I know the area very well. But it’s not much fun to write for the same reason. I liked the idea of taking my main character from the world she’s very familiar with to a somewhat foreign world in Oxfordshire and then on to an even more ancient, foreign place in Anglielle. I love Anglielle with all its magic, but to me Oxfordshire is almost as magical. I love envisioning the English countryside and Hawkesbury’s enchanted woodlands.

How did you create the authentic medieval-sounding dialogue in your book?
It sounds authentic, but actually, it isn’t. True medieval English would be very difficult for us to understand. But Elizabethan English is much closer to our own speech, and we’ve all heard bits of it from the King James translation of the Bible and in Shakespeare’s plays. I aimed for something in that area, and then toned down some of the thees and thous and forsooths to make it relatable to kids.

How did you decide on a title for your book?
The title was really tough for me. I’m not much good at titles, and I wanted this one to incorporate the element of fire, because it plays a big role in the story. My agent actually came up with The Key & the Flame, and the publisher was very happy with it too, so that stuck.

Your main character is described as: “Holly Shepard, age eleven, her life as dull as the peeling white paint on the back of her split-level house, wished for something extraordinary.” What a wonderful description, one to which so many kids (and adults!) can relate. What’s something extraordinary you have wished for?
In this aspect of Holly, I was directly channeling my younger self. I longed for something extraordinary to happen. Parents love raising their kids in the suburbs because they’re safe and there’s space to play, all of which is wonderful. But nothing much ever happens there. My biggest thrill was when the ice-cream truck stopped on our block.

The Key and The Flame is the first book in a five-part series. What is your process for planning and writing a series? Do you know how the story will end? What are some of the challenges of series writing?
I do know how the story will end. That part came to me early on. It’s especially challenging to have five books in mind, as opposed to two or three, because you have to keep the momentum going and hold the reader’s interest through five different plotlines. I spend a lot of time working on what secrets to reveal when, which plots to contain in a particular book and which are more of a series story arc, and keeping the rules of the fictional world consistent from book to book. My agent, Chris Richman, had me write a series bible. It’s about 80 pages of character descriptions, maps, rules for magic, genealogies, histories, and glossaries. I add to it constantly as I write, and then I use it to check myself. I could get completely buried in just writing the series bible because it’s so much fun. If I had time to kill, I’d make a whole comprehensive index of The Key & the Flame. I’m kind of an information nerd.

And as this community is “All for One and OneFour KidLit,” we’d like to know what two or three books inspired you as a kid:
There were so many! But among them were these:
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl

Thanks for stopping by, Claire, and congrats on your debut! 


image_CatererheadshotClaire M. Caterer was born in Detroit, Michigan, and raised in the suburbs of Kansas City. A writer from the age of five, Claire has published fiction in Woman’s World magazine as well as in Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock mystery magazines. She holds a degree in French from the University of Kansas and spent several years working in New York publishing. Today she is back in the Kansas City metro area, where she writes full time and shares her home with her husband, daughter, two dogs, and a host of imaginary friends. The Key & the Flame is her first novel.

Online you can find out more about Claire and The Key & The Flame here:
Claire’s website

This interview was conducted by OneFour member Rebecca Behrens, and is part of an ongoing series of interviews with The Lucky13s —- YA, MG, and children’s books authors debuting in 2013.

Rebecca Behrens lives in New York, where she works as a production editor. Her favorite things are em-dashes, Central Park, running, and doughnuts. Her MG debut, WHEN AUDREY MET ALICE (Sourcebooks, Winter ’14), tells what happens when a lonely first daughter finds Alice Roosevelt’s diary hidden beneath the floorboards of a White House closet.

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