Abdi Nazemian’s latest children’s novel Chandler’s Legacies follows five students from an elite boarding school as they join an exclusive writing-focused society called The Circle.
Through The Circle and writing, each of them discovers truths about themselves and the prestigious institution they attend that will change them forever.
Chandler’s Legacies explores the privileges and abuses embedded in powerful institutions as well as the close bonds and friendships that 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 connectedness of writing as an art form.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Culturess: You have a diverse and successful writing career in young adult and adult fiction, television, and film. What is it like to write for these different mediums? Do you find prose writing helps your screenwriting or vice versa?
Abdi Nazémian: I started my writing career writing for television and film. I had almost a decade of experience as a screenwriter before undertaking novels. I really 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 the structure intuitively.
When I started writing novels, I realized that my favorite way of writing was without a plan, and often without any idea of what would happen in the novel outside of a world, theme or of a 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 that I learned from film and television writing. And now that I’ve written four novels, I’ve learned new skills that I can bring to my film and television work.
Culturess: The author’s note at the beginning of the book mentions your personal connection to the story behind Chandler’s Legacies. Why did you choose to explore your boarding school past now?
Nazimian: There are probably several reasons for this. First and foremost, I feel I have the emotional strength to review those difficult experiences now. For so long, I didn’t tell anyone about what happened to me at residential school. I guess I’d be afraid it would make me look weak, and I’ve always been taught to hide my vulnerability.
But getting older, and especially being the parent of two amazing kids, has made me much more willing to be vulnerable on the page. I feel a marked change in my handwriting from Like a love storya shift to vulnerability and a willingness to write about the things that shaped me best and sometimes worst.
I was also inspired by the brave victims who came forward and forced my own alma mater to commission and publish a report on the history of abuse on campus. Reading the report was a real shock.
While not entirely surprising, it made me realize how pervasive these issues are and have been, and it inspired me to deal with them the only way I know how, which is storytelling.
Culturess: Writing about writing is difficult. What choices did you consider when thinking about how to use writing as a tool for Chandler’s Legacies?
Nazimian: I like this question. I guess writing about writing is hard, but it’s also a lot of fun. I truly believe in writing about what you love the most. I wrote my last novel, Like a love storylike 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 Chandler’s Legacies like a love letter to the cathartic, powerful and 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 the story of writing students discovering the power of writing.
Only by writing can they understand themselves and the deeply flawed culture of which they are a part. Only by writing can they discover the truth and connect with each other.
Writing the writing scenes was a lot of fun, as I was able to fill them with writing thoughts that helped me through the process, and write prompts for readers to try out. It is in a way both a novel and a reference work on writing.
“Art really connects us and makes us realize that we are never as alone as we might feel.” – Abdi Nazémian
Cultures : Chandler’s Legacies elegantly plays with structure using a prologue and epilogue and a multi-perspective point of view. How did you arrive at these choices?
Nazimian: I wish I had a more astute answer to this, but the truth is that I arrived at these choices through many, many drafts with my editor. I discovered two things early in the process of writing this book.
The first is that I didn’t want it to be written entirely in the first person present tense, which is the case with the vast majority of young adult books (including mine). There’s a good reason for that, which is that the first- person’s present tense has perfect immediacy for the genre.
But with this one, it didn’t suit me. The book didn’t flow from me until I switched to third person. This shift helped me realize that this particular story, a story about writing, didn’t need emotional immediacy. He needed a safe distance from the often heartbreaking emotions being explored.
The prologue and epilogue, written in the first person, also help with this distance. They anchor the reader to a different time and immediately point out that whatever happens next, these characters have a future beyond what happened at boarding school.
There have been many iterations of all of this along the way (for example, I played around with different characters while writing this prologue and this epilogue) but I feel like we ultimately made the right choices, and I give all this credit to my amazing and patient editor.
Cultures : Chandler’s Legacies has a large cast of characters that are richly developed and stand out from each other. How did you come up with who would be chosen for The Circle? Were any of the characters more difficult or rewarding to write?
Nazimian: As mentioned before, I don’t describe when I write a novel. I also don’t think about who the characters might be in advance. I let them come to me and talk through me. I started with Ramin, who is the character that most resembles me.
The very first scene I wrote for this book was one of the hazing scenes in Ramin’s basement dorm, directly inspired by my own experiences. As I wrote, it became clear that the first scene was something I had to build.
I also realized that a story about a culture of abuse at boarding school required different perspectives. I wanted characters that were complete insiders, characters that were complete outsiders, and also characters that were a bit of both.
It allowed me to explore the school from different angles and show the extent of cultural issues. I loved writing all the characters. They were all challenging and rewarding in unique ways, and they all taught me a lot.
Culturess: What projects can readers look for next? Would you like to add anything else?
Nazimian: I am currently working on my next novel. I can’t say too much, because it’s still a first draft, and it could change drastically before it’s finished. But it’s young adult, it’s queer, it’s Iranian. In other words, it comes from my heart.
…it’s an honor to tell these stories, and I appreciate all the readers who let me know when the books move them. One of the things I love most about writing novels is the direct relationship with readers.
When a reader understands one of my novels, they feel like they understand me and it’s a healing experience. I hope it is the same for them, that they feel seen and understood by these books. Art truly connects us and makes us realize that we are never as alone as we might feel.
Get your copy of Chandler’s Legacies wherever books are sold today.