Q & A with Abdi Nazemian

Book Cover. Five young people in school uniforms sitting or lying on the grass in front of a very sturdy looking set of brick buildings. Female presenting people are in skirts. Other two are in long pants. There is ivy on some of the buildings and trees of various heights along the sidewalk. There are also a few clouds in a light blue sky above the building. The title is in cursives over the bottom portion of the picture. A quote is printed, "Abdi Nazemian is a true artist, writing about beauty, hope, courage, and the most vulnerable parts of being human." Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Times bestselling author of Daisy Jones & the Six.

We’re excited to feature Abdi Nazemian today sharing about his new novel THE CHANDLER LEGACIES that will be releasing on Feb. 15th.

Summary: Beth Kramer is a “townie” who returns to her sophomore year after having endured a year of tension with her roommate, Sarah.

But Sarah Brunson knows there’s more to that story.

Amanda Priya “Spence” Spencer is the privileged daughter of NYC elites, who is reeling from the realization that her family name shielded her from the same fate as Sarah.

Ramin Golafshar arrives at Chandler as a transfer student to escape the dangers of being gay in Iran, only to suffer brutal hazing under the guise of tradition in the boys’ dorms.

And Freddy Bello is the senior who’s no longer sure of his future but knows he has to stand up to his friends after what happened to Ramin.

At Chandler, the elite boarding school, these five teens are brought together in the Circle, a coveted writing group where life-changing friendships are born—and secrets are revealed. Their professor tells them to write their truths. But is the truth enough to change the long-standing culture of abuse at Chandler? And can their friendship survive the fallout?

After reading THE AUTHENTICS and LIKE A LOVE STORY, I’ve been eager to get my hands on this book, but am happy to hear from the author while waiting. He’s quite the busy author/screenwriter/producer and we’re thankful that he took the time to answer our many questions.

CB: You’ve been able to publish three YA novels now. Has your writing process changed much along the way?

AN: I don’t think my actual writing process has changed, but many other elements have emerged to make the process a more fruitful one. I’ve worked with the same incredible editor (Alessandra Balzer at Balzer + Bray) on all three of my YA novels, and the trust we’ve built up with each other in working on these books has been incredibly impactful. She’s guided me into writing books that are more intimate and vulnerable than I would ever have imagined. Another change is the amazing experience I’ve had in the YA book community. The support I’ve received from readers, educators and other authors has really helped me feel less insecure when I’m writing, and has allowed me to take more risks and be more honest on the page, which is what it’s all about.

CB: Along with these YA novels, you’ve also written for both film and television. It’s all storytelling, but what are some of the differences when writing in this particular format?

AN: The biggest difference is that writing a book is a deeply solitary experience. For the bulk of the novel-writing process, I’m literally and emotionally alone. I love it, because it’s a healthy way to excavate what needs to be excavated, and it’s such a pure form of self-expression. Film, and especially television, are incredibly collaborative. There’s very little time spent alone. I spent the bulk of last year in the magical writers’ room of a TV show called Ordinary Joe, and even though we were on Zoom, the hours spent breaking story with other writers was so much fun and so healing, not to mention the laughs and collaboration on set with actors and crew. The truth is I love both jobs equally. Usually, after writing a book, I crave the social aspect of film and television. And after wrapping up work on a TV show, I’m usually ready to hole myself up and write a novel.

CB: COVID has certainly brought about a lot of changes in general, but has the publishing journey been different with this book and its launch?

AN: That’s a hard question to answer at the moment because the launch is still over a month away as I answer these questions, and if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that every day is unpredictable. At this point, I assume all my book events will be virtual. I also assume I won’t be attending any in-person book festivals like I usually would with a book launch. I’ll miss the interaction with readers and other authors, and the sense of community that comes from those gatherings. But I also have been impressed with the way we’ve been able to maintain a sense of community virtually, and nothing creates community like books and all the arts. Hearing from readers during the pandemic gave me such a necessary feeling of connection these last two years.

CB: A writing group seems to be central to the story in The Chandler Legacies. Is there a group that had a big influence on you and your writing?

AN: I was in and out of writing groups for a lot of my early adult years. I often found them very helpful, but somehow they never lasted (same with all the book clubs I was in, sadly). But the biggest influence by far were teachers. The Chandler Legacies is inspired by my own time in boarding school, and by the incredible teachers (one in particular) who saw the writer in me and encouraged me to be creative. I also had incredible teachers in college. I remember one creative assignment in a Beat Generation class I took in college where the teacher asked us to write spontaneously without punctuation, structure or self-editing of any kind. I cherish that one assignment a lot because it’s still how I write. I don’t plot out my books. I don’t self-edit. I do all the structuring in revisions. My writing process is largely about creating conditions that allow me to express myself spontaneously and without fear.

CB: In THE AUTHENTICS, the main character is faced with huge secrets and in LIKE A LOVE STORY deception was involved. The characters in THE CHANDLER LEGACIES also grapple with secrets and the damage they can cause . Do you think there can be healthy secret-keeping in relationships? How important is truth and do you think it conquers all?

AN: Oh wow, this is such a complex question. Well, first of all, secrets are definitely one of the big themes I grapple with in my writing, which obviously means it’s something I grapple with in my life. Growing up, my own history was never shared with me. My parents and the Iranian community believed (and probably still do) that it’s best to protect their kids from the trauma of the past. As a result, I felt very disconnected from my history. Then I realized I was gay at a time when gay life and history were completely unavailable to me (which I write about in Like a Love Story), and I remained closeted from my family until my early twenties. The triple punch of emptiness caused by not knowing my Iranian and my queer history, and also being in the closet, has given me a very strong appreciation of honesty in all aspects of my own life. I’m extremely honest with my husband and children. I’m lucky not to keep secrets from them, but I certainly enter secret worlds. When I’m reading a novel, or writing a novel, or journaling, or taking a walk, I’m in my own universe of thought, and not every bit of that needs to be shared. That said, the circumstances of my life allow me to be honest with those closest to me, but of course there is healthy secret-keeping in other circumstances. Telling the truth can be dangerous. One of many examples is queer people who can’t come out because it could put them in danger. What I hope is that everyone can at the very least be honest with themselves and with those closest to them, but in general I try to steer myself away from fundamentalist beliefs like “truth conquers all” and steer myself toward an understanding that each individual’s life and circumstances requires individual consideration.

CB: What secret, or not so secret, writing goal(s) do you have now? And if you can, let us know what you might be working on now, or if we might expect to see more YA from you.

AB: If I can keep going back and forth from writing books to writing film and television, I’ll be incredibly fulfilled. I suppose my own personal goal is to keep pushing myself to go deeper and stay productive. Like many writers, the blank page both excites and frightens me, and I always fear my creative well will run dry. Every book feels like it might be the last book. I would very much love to see one of my books turned into a film or television series, but that’s out of my control, and it’s not for lack of trying that it hasn’t happened. And I’d love to keep experimenting with new mediums. I’ve been working on a stage musical that was meant to have a workshop before the pandemic, and I’d love to see that move forward. And I wrote a scripted podcast during the pandemic which would be thrilling to see produced. I guess one of my biggest fears is the experience of writing feeling stale to me, and constantly challenging myself with new mediums feels like a great way to keep it challenging. And yes, more YA is on the way. I’m working on my next book and it might be my favorite one yet. And I have a short story I’m very proud of (my first published short story) in an anthology that will be released this June. The story is called Concerto, and it’s in an anthology called Out There: Into The Queer New Yonder.

CB: I’m a children’s librarian so my brain often turns to picture books. Is there a moment in your life that might make an amusing picture book?

AN: I have two kids. They’re ten years old now, but when they were younger and I was reading picture books to them every night, I was obsessed with the idea of writing one. But many people I trust kind of steered me away from the idea for many reasons, one of many being that I have no real skill at drawing and visual art. But also, I did pitch what I thought was a wildly original picture book idea to my editor once, and it turned out she had already published a book that was strikingly similar. It made me realize that maybe I don’t know enough about the landscape to enter it. But never say never. I love picture books so much, and would be honored to write one someday.

CB: No matter what format, I’ll look forward to any book you share. Thanks so much for spending time with us. We look forward to reading THE CHANDLER LEGACIES and many more of your stories in the future.

Photo of author. Smiling man with short hair and narrow face. He's wearing a button down shirt that is open at the neck.
Photo Credit: Marc Ohrem-Leclef

Abdi Nazemian spent his childhood in a series of glamorous locations (Tehran, Paris, Toronto, New York), but could usually be found in his bedroom watching old movies and reading. He currently resides in Los Angeles with his two children and husband, and holds dual citizenship between the United States and Canada.

Abdi has written for three television shows: NBC’s ORDINARY JOE, Fox’s ALMOST FAMILY, and NBC’s THE VILLAGE. He has written four produced films including: THE ARTIST’S WIFE (Strand Releasing, 2020), MENENDEZ: BLOOD BROTHERS (Lifetime, 2017), and THE QUIET (Sony Pictures Classics, 2006). He also wrote, directed and produced the short film REVOLUTION (2012). He is proud to say his words have been spoken by the likes of Carmela Soprano, The Nanny, and The Girl With The Most Cake.

Abdi’s first novel, THE WALK-IN CLOSET, was released in 2015 by Curtis Brown Unlimited, and was awarded Best Debut at the Lambda Literary Awards. He has written three young adult novels, all published by Balzer + Bray: THE AUTHENTICS (2017), LIKE A LOVE STORY (2019), and THE CHANDLER LEGACIES (2022). LIKE A LOVE STORY won a Stonewall Honor and was chosen by Time Magazine as one of the 100 best young adult books of all time.

Abdi is not the inspiration for Madonna’s children’s book “The Adventures of Abdi,” though he will forever insist that he is.

You may find Abdi online at Twitter, Instagram, and his Website.