Thank you so much for sharing your book with me and agreeing to do a Q&A for my readers.
Give us a quick summary of your book.
Legacy is set in the 1990s in the Pacific Northwest against the backdrop of the punk and environmental movements. Ever since Alison’s golden-boy older brother Andy was killed in a drunk driving accident, her life’s been pretty rough. Her mom is in perpetual mourning, her dad left, and thanks to Andy’s hard-partying friends at school, her reputation is trashed. She’d been hoping to spend he senior year taking the path of least resistance, hanging out with her punk-rocker boyfriend Jeff and biding her time, but a massive fight with her mom pushes her over the edge, and she runs away with Jeff and his friend Dirtrat to join a Free State—an encampment of young people in the forest, protecting old-growth trees from being cut down by loggers.
As Alison builds a new (if temporary) life in the forest, she finds her own voice—and realizes she might be more powerful than she thought. As her relationship to the forest—and the threat to it grows—Alison has to decide what she’s willing to put on the line to fight for what she believes in.
What was your process as your wrote Legacy and worked to get it published?
The idea for Legacy came to me when I was working on my last book, Karma For Beginners, and as soon as Karma was out in the world I wrote the first fifty pages and the outline of Legacy. I was lucky that I had an editor I loved who I’d worked with on my two previous books, and she bought Legacy off the proposal. Then I had to write it!
After the first draft, we had a conversation about updating the book to set it in the present day. I thought that was an interesting idea, and might allow me to grapple with current environmental issues more closely. I went deep into research—I’m a research nerd and very cmomitted to grounding things in the real world--and what I found there really changed the book. After 9/11, the federal government cracked down incredibly harshly on the direct-action environmental movement, branding them as “terrorists” even though the movement has a deep, clear commitment to nonviolence. There were some offshoot, minority factions that conducted vandalism, and the authorities put the whole thing under one umbrella and came down incredibly hard on what was essentially a group of kids. It was called the “Green Scare” and more info can be found on it here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Scare
After this extreme action by the authorities, the movement was profoundly changed—and setting the book in the present day would mean changing the story profoundly too. I did a draft of Legacy that changed the plot to reflect what these kids would have been going through and who they would have been if the events in it were taking place now.
I was never happy with that draft, though---the book really wanted to be set in the 90s. The events I wanted to write about were specific to that time and place, and changing the setting shifted the focus of the book. And the 90s were an incredible time for rebel culture and for girls—I wanted to write a young female character finding herself in the context of the culture of that time. Eventually my editor and I agreed that I would overhaul the book and set it back in the 90s—which was absolutely the right decision for the book, and everything flowed from there. (And now its coming out at a moment when the 90s have become cool again and people are keyed in to the amazing alternative culture of that period—so the timing works great!)
How long did it take you to get this book published, from its initial conception to the release date?
Like I said, I was lucky to have an easy journey to publication with this one, because I continued to work with the same editor I’d met on my first book. I work in other creative fields too (I’m a playwright, filmmaker, and TV writer) so I have a lot of familiarity with the hustle, hard work and patience it can take to get a project made and out there in the world, but it was pretty simple with this book.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome in completing your book?
When I was in the weeds with the present-day draft, I definitely got frustrated. I had gone all-in to this new idea of the book, and I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working, why I couldn’t make it what I wanted it to be. I wrestled and wrestled with it and definitely had some doubts about my own ability as a writer, and about the basic story’s ability to hold the new political and philosophical issues that a present-day update required me to grapple with. Once I figured out that I needed to set it back in the 90s, though, everything just clicked and it flowed from there. That detour taught me a lot—including the importance of trusting your original idea, and that sometimes when you’re really frustrated and in the weeds, it’s because there’s a central part of your idea that you aren’t being true to.
What other books and authors inspire you?
I’m inspired by so many writers and artists in all forms. Truthfully, I don’t read enough books. I love to read, but I’ve got so many projects going (and I have a kid) that often I don’t have time to kick back with a book. In the YA world, Emily Ziff Griffin’s Light Years is definitely on my list though—she’s brilliant, and the book sounds exactly up my alley, in that it uses the YA medium to take on some really big, pressing stuff and never talks down to its readers. As a playwright, screenwriter, actor, director and TV creator, I’m obsessed with character—so anything that goes deep into character and shows us the ways in which character interacts with the larger world lights me up.
Legacy takes place in Washington State in the 1990s. What made you choose that specific time and place to for your story?
I wanted to write about the direct-action environmental movement of the 90s, and most of that action went down in the old-growth forests of the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. Northern California is also totally breathtaking—I’ve been to the ancient redwoods many times, and it’s almost impossible to describe their beauty and power in words—and there was a lot of great history in that area too. But I lived in Olympia, Washington, briefly in the late 90s, and I knew that land the best. I love to write from a real felt sense of place, and so I decided to set the story near a place I had actually lived. I also was struck, when I lived in Olympia, by the rainy darkness of the Pacific Northwest—contrasted with the gorgeous, lush green—and how that environment affects how people feel as they move through their lives.
Environmentalism is a huge part of your story. Is that something that is close to your heart?
It’s not just close to my heart—it should be close to everyone’s heart. We only have one planet. The planet sustains us. We can’t live without clean air, clean food, and clean water. And all of those things are profoundly threatened. If we continue on the path we’re on, without switching to renewable energy and sustainable agriculture, we are going to have a literally unlivable planet within a hundred years. Wild, untouched forest and intact ecosystems are necessary for clean air, clean water, combating pollution and maintaining a planet that supports life. These forests took hundreds—sometimes thousands—of years to develop and grow. They don’t just grow back overnight. The level of environmental destruction that’s happening can be really overwhelming, and it can feel really easy to brush it off, think we can worry about it in the future, decide its not that bad, or get paralyzed by the idea that it’s too big for us to do anything about. I get it. But we all have to go through the journey that Alison goes through—we all need to realize that we can do something, even if we can’t fix it all by ourselves—and that it’s actually crucial to our own survival that we do it.
Are there any characters in your book that were inspired by real life people?
In all my characters, I blend aspects of myself and of real people I know, and then I add fictionalization to create a real three dimensional human being. All the activist characters in this book were inspired by a sort of blend of activists and punks I hung around with in Minneapolis and Olympia—as well as while traveling—in the late 90s. And there is one who’s more specific--the character of Aaron was inspired by a dear friend I’ve known for years, a beautiful and courageous activist and healer a few years older than me, who had a big impact on me when I was 19.
What is the first book that made you cry?
I read S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders” literally 35 times between sixth and ninth grade. That’s the one. That book is exquisite.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
I’m pretty disciplined as a writer, but when I’m on a deadline, I have to put my phone out of reach and deny myself access to facebook. Facebook is the worst time suck of all.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers looking to publish their first novel?
Keep writing. And make the work excellent. When you think you’re ready to put it out there, get feedback from professional writers and/or coaches to really get it in shape first. The three most beautiful words in the English language, next to “I love you,” are “I don’t know.” Get comfortable identifying what you don’t know, that you want to know, and then find the people who know those things and learn from them. Mentors are everything. Creative community is everything. Give yourself a writing community—even if its just online. Find readers you trust and share your work and revise, revise, revise.
I also have a ton of tools available to writers on my website—www.jessicacblank.com. You’ll find a bunch of resources there, and I’m about to launch an online course that includes the full methodology I’ve been using to coach my private clients into published novels, Sundance-supported films, and TV sales for over a decade. You can find that one at https://jessicacblank.teachable.com/p/character-based-story-structure