The Chandler Legacies author Abdi Nazemian on the power of writing

The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian. Image courtesy Sparkpoint Studio
The Chandler Legacies by Abdi Nazemian. Image courtesy Sparkpoint Studio /

Abdi Nazemian’s latest young adult novel The Chandler Legacies follows five students at an elite boarding school as they join an exclusive society focused on writing called The Circle.

Through The Circle and writing, each of them uncovers truths about themselves and the prestigious institution they attend that will change them forever.

The Chandler Legacies explores the privilege and abuse baked into powerful institutions as well as the close bonds and friendships schools like Chandler create in a moving and intimate novel.

Culturess sat down with Nazemian to discuss his relationship to the novel, his thoughts on the healing power and connectivity of writing as an art form.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Culturess:  You have a diverse and successful writing career across young adult and adult fiction, television, and film. What is it like to write for these different mediums? Do you find that writing prose helps your screenwriting or vice versa?

Abdi Nazemian:  I started my writing career writing television and film. I had almost a decade of experience as a screenwriter before undertaking novels. I definitely think the lessons I learned from screenwriting have served my work as a novelist. I had to develop an ear for dialogue and characters, and I also had to learn structure in an intuitive way.

When I started writing novels, I realized that my preferred way to write was without an outline, and often without any idea of what would happen in the novel outside of a world, theme, or character I was sitting down to explore.

I love writing this way because it allows for so much magic and discovery along the way. But I don’t think I could ever write this way without the innate sense of structure I’ve learned from film and television writing. And now that I’ve written four novels, there are new skills I’ve learned I can bring into my film and television work.

Culturess:  The author’s note at the beginning of the book mentions your personal connection to the story behind The Chandler Legacies. Why did you choose to explore your boarding school past now?

Nazemian:  There are probably many reasons for this. First and foremost is that I feel I have the emotional strength to revisit those difficult experiences now. For so long, I didn’t talk to anyone about so much of what happened to me at boarding school. I suppose I would be afraid it would make me look weak, and I was always taught to hide my vulnerability.

But growing older, and especially being a parent to two amazing kids, has made me far more willing to be vulnerable on the page. I feel a marked shift in my writing starting with Like a Love Story, a shift into vulnerability, and a willingness to write about the things that shaped me in the best and sometimes in the worst ways.

I was also inspired by the brave victims who came forward and forced my own alma mater into commissioning and releasing a report about the history of abuse on campus. Reading the report was a real jolt.

While not entirely surprising, it made me realize how pervasive these issues are and have been, and it inspired me to process it all the only way I know how, which is through storytelling.

Culturess:  Writing about writing is difficult. What choices did you take into consideration when thinking about how to employ writing as a tool in The Chandler Legacies?

Nazemian:  I love this question. I suppose writing about writing is difficult, but it’s also so much fun. I truly believe in writing about what you love most. I wrote my last novel, Like a Love Story, as a love letter to queer activism, the queer community, and the artists who gave me a safe haven when I was young (Madonna!).

I wrote The Chandler Legacies as a love letter to the cathartic, powerful, life-changing act of writing. In my life, writing is how I make sense of the world, how I process my emotions. And I was so excited to tell a story about writing students who are discovering the power of writing.

Only through writing can they understand themselves, and the deeply flawed culture they’re a part of. Only through writing can they get at the truth, and connect to each other.

Writing the writing scenes was a lot of fun, because I got to fill them with thoughts on writing that have helped me along the way, and writing prompts that readers can try. In a way, this is both a novel and a writing reference book.

“Art truly connects us and makes us realize we’re never as alone as we might feel we are.” – Abdi Nazemian

The Chandler Legacies author Abdi Nazemian. Image courtesy Sparkpoint Studio
The Chandler Legacies author Abdi Nazemian. Image courtesy Sparkpoint Studio /

Culturess:  The Chandler Legacies elegantly plays with structure using a prologue and epilogue and a multi-perspective point-of-view. How did you arrive at these choices?

Nazemian:  I wish I had a more artful answer for this, but the truth is that I arrived at these choices through many, many drafts with my editor. I did discover two things early on in the writing process for this book.

The first is that I didn’t want it written entirely in first-person present tense, which is what the vast majority of young adult books (including my own) are written in. There’s a good reason for that, which is that first-person present tense has an immediacy that is perfect for the genre.

But with this one, it didn’t feel right to me. The book wasn’t flowing out of me until I switched to third-person. That change helped me realize this particular story, a story about writing, didn’t need emotional immediacy. It needed a safe distance from the often harrowing emotions being explored.

The prologue and epilogue, written in first person, help with that distance too. They ground the reader in a different time, and immediately cue the reader to the fact that whatever happens next, these characters do have a future beyond what happened at boarding school.

There were many iterations of all this along the way (for example, I toyed with different characters writing that prologue and epilogue) but I feel that we landed on the right choices in the end, and I give all that credit to my amazing and patient editor.

Culturess:  The Chandler Legacies has a broad cast of characters that are richly developed and stand out from each other. How did you arrive at who would be chosen for The Circle? Were any of the characters more challenging or rewarding to write?

Nazemian:  As previously mentioned, I don’t outline when I write a novel. I also don’t think about who the characters might be beforehand. I let them come to me, and speak through me. I started with Ramin, who is the character most similar to myself.

The very first scene I wrote for this book is one of the hazing scenes in Ramin’s basement dorm, which was directly inspired by my own experiences. As I kept writing, it became clear that the first scene was something I needed to build to.

I also realized that a story about a culture of abuse at boarding school needed different perspectives. I wanted characters who were complete insiders, characters who were complete outsiders, and also characters who were a bit of both.

That gave me a chance to explore the school from different viewpoints, and to show how wide-ranging the cultural problems are. I loved writing all the characters. They were all challenging and rewarding in unique ways, and they all taught me so much.

Culturess:  What projects can readers look for next? Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Nazemian:  I’m working on my next novel now. I can’t say too much about it, because it’s still a first draft, and it could change drastically before it’s done. But it’s young adult, it’s queer, it’s Iranian. In other words, it’s from my heart.

…it’s an honor to tell these stories, and I appreciate all the readers out there who let me know when the books move them. One of the things I love most about writing novels is how direct the relationship with readers is.

When a reader understands one of my novels, it feels like they understand me and that’s a healing experience. I hope it’s the same for them, that they feel seen and understood by these books.  Art truly connects us and makes us realize we’re never as alone as we might feel we are.

Next. The Chandler Legacies is a moving and heartfelt boarding school story. dark

Get your copy of The Chandler Legacies wherever books are sold today.