The Key & the Flame
In this middle-grade fantasy adventure, a gusty girl unlocks a magical universe—and the danger that lies within.
Eleven-year-old Holly Shepard longs for adventure, some escape from her humdrum life. That is precisely what she gets when she is given an old iron key that unlocks a door—in a tree.
Holly crosses the threshold into a stunning and magical medieval world, Anglielle. And as she does so, something unlocks within Holly: a primal, powerful magic. Holly is joined on her journey by two tagalongs—her younger brother Ben, and Everett, an English boy who hungers after Holly’s newfound magic and carries a few secrets of his own.When Ben and Everett are sentenced to death by the royals, whose fear of magic has fueled a violent, systemic slaughter of all enchanted creatures, Holly must save them and find a way back home. But will she be able to muster the courage and rise above her ordinary past to become an extraordinary hero?
What inspired you to become a writer?
It grew organically out of the reading process. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t making up stories. I loved reading from a very young age, and even before I could write, I drew cartoons. The more books I read, the more I wanted to create my own.
Claire 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.
How long do you generally let a story idea ‘marinate’ in your brain before you start the book?
I give it quite a long time—at least several months. I’ll note down an idea and then won’t go back to it until I’m rooting around for something new to write. By that time months have passed, or even years, and I’ll find that note and think, Oh yeah … that was interesting. But all that time I’ve been ruminating about it, and adding things to it.
Do you write as you go or do you have the book all planned out from page 1?
I can’t start unless I know more or less how the story will end. And I have to know what the first few chapters will look like. So I’ll start with a very rough outline, and once I get past the opening, I outline as I go. That way, I know what I’ll be writing about each day, whether it’s the jousting scene, the big feast, or whatever. But I don’t put in too much detail, or that kills it. And I constantly revise the outline as I go along, because some character is bound to go off and do her own thing, and I’ve got no choice but to follow her.
How do you come up with the characters names/personalities?
Names are great fun. The name of Holly, the main character in The Key & the Flame, just came to me whole, and her name is perfect—it relates to trees and the natural world. But a holly is also prickly. Not the easiest of plants to embrace.
I knew I would use a lot of names with Old English, Celtic, and Nordic origins in this book, so I visited online databases to find those kinds of names and printed out pages of them.
Characters’ personalities come from the same place as ideas–amalgams of my experiences, observations, and people I know. I don’t consciously put any particular person in a story, but I always end up seeing bits of people I know in my characters.
Do you have any weird or interesting rituals you do to get into writing mode or while you’re writing?
I have trappings: A cup of coffee; a bulletin board of photos that evoke my settings; favorite quotes tacked up all around. But those are really just props. Once I sit down and start doing it, all that falls away and I’m just in the fictional world.
Where do you write?
My office is in a small spare bedroom full of books and files. I love that it’s on a raised half story, so that my window looks right into the snow crabapple tree. Often a black-capped chickadee or blue jay will knock on the windowsill to let me know I’m not alone. One of my dogs is always curled up behind my chair, so I have to be careful I don’t run over him when I pull away from my desk.
What is your favorite part of the writing/publishing process?
Writing and publishing are such different animals. Writing is a private enterprise; publishing is a public one. When writing, I love the discovery of a new story. You get the idea, you see a thousand different possibilities; the story can become anything. When a scene takes an unexpected turn and suddenly you’re just riding that wave, it’s fantastic. That’s the best.
On the publishing side, I love getting to know other writers and especially my readers. When someone says she’s read your book and is moved by it, you’ve done your job as a writer.
What’s your biggest challenge as a writer? How did you overcome it, or how are you working to overcome it?
Always working on it! I would love it if I didn’t overwrite. The small, spare book is a thing of beauty, like a poem. So much can be said with so few words, but I so rarely trust my own words.
I love anything with chocolate and caramel—Snickers comes to mind. But anyone will tell you I’m a candy hound. There are few kinds I don’t like. Okay, circus peanuts. I’ll never eat one again.
If you were a bird, which one would you be?
I’d be one of the larger parrots, like a hyacinth macaw. I’d love to fly through the jungles and revel in all the bright colors and cool animals.
The blog tour takes a breather tomorrow but roars back with a double on Sunday, April 7! At The Hiding Spot, Claire talks with illustrator Karl Kwasny on how he created the gorgeous cover for The Key & the Flame. And the Girls in the Stacks chat with Claire via podcast. Both posts feature a giveaway, so don’t miss out!
1 signed copy of The Key & the Flame
Open to US only