Interview with Alexandra Bracken

Posted by Goodreads on July 16, 2018
Set five years after the events of the original The Darkest Minds trilogy, The Darkest Legacy follows the story of Suzume "Zu" Kimura. Growing up, Zu was once imprisoned in a government-sanctioned "rehabilitation camp" as one of many Psi (children with "psionic" abilities). These brutal camps have since been destroyed, but fear and prejudice against the Psi remain.

A familiar face to longtime fans, Zu carries the next phase of the series by becoming a Psi spokesperson. Tasked with fighting a tide of growing discrimination and untangling a web of deadly conspiracies, Zu definitely has her work cut out for her. Here, New York Times-bestselling author Alexandra Bracken shares her thoughts on what's next for her beloved series, her experience with the upcoming film adaptation, and more.

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Goodreads: What can fans expect from this new arc in The Darkest Minds series?

Alexandra Bracken: The kernel of what eventually became The Darkest Legacy has been floating around my mind since 2015 or so, when I finished the last of the novellas, Beyond the Night. There was one plotline in the novella that I reeeeaaally wanted to explore but couldn't within that limited page count and story scope. Even with that wisp of an idea, it took me a long time to shape the story into something that would feel familiar to readers who loved the original series but would also take them (and the world of the books!) in a new, unexpected direction.

The Darkest Legacy is a direct continuation of The Darkest Minds' story line. You get to see what the original cast has been up to and how their world has—and hasn't—changed. Rather than jump back into Ruby's point of view, Zu takes over as our narrator and has a lot to say. While the original trilogy fits into the "We Must Save Our World from the Government" dystopian format, The Darkest Legacy is more of a thriller with dystopian elements.

GR: What can you tell us about the series' new main character, Zu Kimura?

AB: Zu is still the empathetic and intuitive person readers will remember from the original trilogy, but I felt like I never fully got to explore how tough she is after everything life has put her through. Because she was the youngest member of the original crew, she experienced the events of the original trilogy through a different lens. She was treated a bit differently—she wasn't babied, exactly, but was definitely the kid sister of the group, and she struggled to break out of that pattern. I'm grateful to have the opportunity to explore her different strengths and give her the spotlight she deserves. As important as Liam, Ruby, Chubs, and the others are to her, I wanted her out from their shadow. This is very much her book in that they play supporting roles rather than main ones. On the selfish author side, it was so fun and interesting to write her take on the other characters and their many relationship dynamics!

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GR: Why did you choose to tell this story from Zu's point of view?

AB: This story wasn't working—like, at all—until I figured out that Zu needed to narrate it. In retrospect, it's a total d'oh moment, because of course she's the best and only choice…but it really wasn't obvious, at least during my brainstorming period. Like I mentioned before, I had a very general sense of what I wanted the story to be but had always intended to set it in the far future with a new character as the narrator.

So much of this story is centered on the idea of how we choose to use our voices and our inherent power to make change, and Zu's arc in the trilogy dovetails with that perfectly. Zu's silence in the series was the way her trauma manifested; as she explains in The Darkest Legacy, making that decision was the one small way she found to control her life when the world was at its most chaotic and dangerous. Now that she's older, she's actively using her voice as a spokesperson for the government to promote their various Psi policies—but Zu finds she may not be fighting for the right things or speaking up for those who need her voice most.

You know, the primary reason I told readers I wasn't 100 percent sure I'd be able to return to this world was because it was so closely associated with Ruby and her arc for me. Ultimately, though, it was really exciting to explore their world and be inside of someone else's head for a while. Ruby's mind could be a dark, aching place to inhabit, in a way Zu's isn't. So much of Ruby's arc was focused on learning how to control her ability and, later, the morality of using it, but Zu loves her power and is in full control with it. That said, there are some similarities and echoes between their experiences that I think readers will catch…

GR: Tell us about your writing journey with The Darkest Minds series. What were some of your biggest challenges?

AB: Both The Darkest Minds and The Darkest Legacy had this feeling of being so easy and right once I figured out what the emotional arc of each book was. But in terms of the overall writing experience of both, that's pretty much where the similarities end. The first three books always had to go through at least two really tough rounds of what I call foundation edits—the kinds of changes that pull out the guts of a book and shift the story structure or character arcs in a big way. I would rewrite whole sections of those books over and over again, trying to figure out why they weren't working. I think the beginning of The Darkest Minds was rewritten about six times before I landed on the opening in the book!

To be really honest, I went through a bit of a crisis of confidence with my writing in 2016, and the only way I was able to rebound from that was working hard to better understand story structure and how all of a story's many pieces fit together. I considered myself a pretty intuitive "pantser" before, but it gave me this lingering feeling of never being fully in control of the story. Now I'm an extreme plotter, and I feel more in command of the many moving parts of my books. It made writing and revising The Darkest Legacy and its many mysteries feel joyful rather than frustrating.

On a different note, I wrote The Darkest Minds in 2010-2011, and it was published in 2012. To put it simply, the book is very much a product of that time. There's a lot that I could and should have done better, especially with the representation in all three books. I'm a lot more conscientious about what I write now and exercise my due diligence with portraying characters outside of my own experiences. For example, I worked with a Japanese American sensitivity reader on The Darkest Legacy to make sure I hadn't stumbled into any microaggressions or unintentionally portrayed Zu in a way that might be harmful to readers.

I'm so grateful for the sensitivity readers, authors, and book readers in our community who are willing to speak up and point out privilege blind spots. They are doing the hard work of building a more inclusive and diverse community for all of us, and I feel like they don't get nearly enough credit for both the time and energy they put into helping us all. Thanks to them, I've learned so much over the last five years, and I'll keep pushing myself to do better and better with each book.

GR: The Darkest Minds is about to hit movie theaters this August. How do you feel about your series coming to life on screen?

AB: The whole experience has been pretty surreal! That's the best word I can use to describe it. I was definitely in the camp of believing the movie would never happen because it's the kind of thing that only happens in dreams. I'm not kidding when I say that I was genuinely shocked when it was finally green-lit six years after it was initially optioned. Shocked, but grateful. It's given this series a second life. In addition to bringing the old fandom back together, it's introduced these characters to a whole new group of readers.

I'm totally new to the Hollywood experience and learned a few things very quickly, including what it feels like to relinquish full control of your story to a whole team of people. While I wasn't really involved with the production and filming, I found it super interesting to see what aspects of the story the screenwriter, the director, the cast, and the crew teased out of the book. Different aspects of the story resonated with all of them, and I loved seeing their spin on my ideas. The film is definitely a collaboration of many minds and ideas, but it still manages to be faithful to the world and the heart of the story. I'm excited for everyone to see the film and get their take on it! It's fun and intense, and I lowkey felt like I was having an out-of-body experience watching it on the big screen!

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GR: What do you hope readers will take away from The Darkest Legacy?

AB: As Zu says in the book, "Question everything—even yourself." I think we have a duty to interrogate our own beliefs and figure out what matters most to us and how we can support others who are in danger or need. The Darkest Minds grew out of the feelings of powerlessness that I experienced as a teen growing up in the post-9/11 world. I let myself believe the adults who said, "You'll understand this when you're older" and that I didn't have any kind of power to make a meaningful impact on the world. The literal powers the kids have in The Darkest Minds were really meant to represent the power and energy young people carry in them to make change. The current generation of teens is so savvy and impressive; they use social media as a tool for their activism, and it's been incredible to watch and support them as they go out and try to change the world.

Somewhat similarly, The Darkest Legacy is a meditation on our own polarized world and grew out of my observations during this last volatile election cycle. Readers will notice some similarities and parallels with our world, but, unfortunately, I think they're also going to notice some unintentional and growing parallels as time goes on. The world of The Darkest Minds series is often gray—there are things that are obviously good and obviously horrifying, but I try to leave it up to readers to decide what to believe and which characters have the right of it. That's very much true in The Darkest Legacy, too. There are several different ideas on how the Psi can move forward and many different arguments to be made. But equally important is the idea that you don't have to fall in line or agree with any of them—you can make your own way forward.

GR: What writing projects are you currently working on?

AB: I'm working on the last few passes of the sequel to my middle-grade book, The Dreadful Tale of Prosper Redding, which is called The Last Life of Prince Alastor. It's the story of Prosper Redding, the outcast of a Kennedy-like family who has a terrible secret: They owe all of their wealth and luck to a deal their ancestors made with a demon. I pitch it as being like Hocus Pocus meets The Spiderwick Chronicles—it's best read in the fall with a pumpkin spice-scented candle burning beside you.

I'm also working on a new YA series—but it's way too soon to talk about that!

GR: What YA books would you recommend to our readers?

AB: If you're in the mood for compelling sci-fi thrillers that'll send your pulse racing, check out Erin Bowman's upcoming Contagion and Cindy Pon's Want, which is out now.

Feeling like you want some swoony and sweet romance? I love Jenn Bennett's books, especially her most recent one, Starry Eyes. (Alex, Approximately is also great, and not just because of the A+ character name!) Be sure to also check out Maurene Goo's The Way You Make Me Feel and I Believe in a Thing Called Love.

For fans of fantasy: Susan Dennard's The Witchlands series (beginning with Truthwitch) just keeps getting better with each book. I also loved Zoraida Cordova's Labyrinth Lost and am so looking forward to finally being able to dive into Bruja Born now that I'm free of deadlines. I just finished Tomi Adeyemi's epic Children of Blood and Bone and am impatiently awaiting Holly Black's The Wicked King after devouring The Cruel Prince.

GR: What books are up next on your Want to Read shelf?

AB: So many! BookCon added a small mountain of ARCs [advance review copies] to my nightstand, but they'll have to wait because I'm still catching up on 2017 and early 2018 releases! Here's what's on my YA to-read list: Sky in the Deep by Adrienne Young, Warcross by Marie Lu, Love, Hate, & Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, Dear Martin by Nic Stone, The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw, Scythe by Neal Shusterman, and A Reaper at the Gates by Sabaa Tahir.

Alexandra Bracken's The Darkest Legacy will be available on July 31. Don't forget to add it to your Want to Read shelf! Be sure to also read more of our exclusive author interviews, and get more great book recommendations.

Comments Showing 1-5 of 5 (5 new)

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message 1: by Shar (new)

Shar Achilles Yes, that was satisfying.

message 2: by fallingseasy (new)

fallingseasy New YA series? I'm so ready to her to destroy my heart again :')

message 3: by Serena (new)

Serena Alvarez I'm so relieved she approves of the movie. I've been so nervous about it, but now I'm more excited than anything, and I can't wait for her new YA series

message 4: by Brig (new)

Brig I'm So excited for the darkest legacy! I'm going to pre-order it as soon as I get the chance!

message 5: by Angie (new)

Angie Dokos Yay!! I can’t wait!!

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