Today we talk with Trent Reedy about the conclusion of his acclaimed YA trilogy, THE LAST FULL MEASURE, published by Arthur A. Levine Books.
In a YA trilogy like no other, Trent Reedy has raised the most primal questions of our national existence: Do we owe our greatest loyalty to our friends? Our state? Our country? Our party? How do we reconcile our individual rights and common needs? What keeps us all united -- and what happens if we fall apart?
Now, in this third book, the Second Civil War has come to an end in Idaho. The Feds have taken the fight to other fronts, and Danny and his friends are free of U.S. dominance. But that freedom comes with considerable costs, from Danny's disturbing flashbacks to the war, to the Brotherhood of the White Eagle, whose "security" for Freedom Lake looks more like outright thuggery. After Danny makes a shocking discovery about the Brotherhood's final aims, he and his friends lead a group of townspeople on a dangerous journey across a ravaged Idaho, hoping to build a better society of their own, and fulfill the dreams they had in what once was the United States.
Welcome, Trent! First question: If you were stuck on a desert island, who would you want with you: Danny, JoBell, Becca, Sweeney, or Cal? Only pick one!
This is a tough question. I worked with this family of friends for a lot of years, and I’ve come to like them all. But to answer, I will assume within this scenario that they are real people and I am living in their world. In other words, I don’t want to be stuck on an island with any of them explaining why I, the author and creator of their world, put them through so many difficult challenges. I mean, if Cal found out I was responsible for creating all the chaos he and his friends have to deal with, he’d probably beat me unconscious.
I would have to choose Danny, because he’s a tough survivor, and I’d need his help to survive on the island. But I think that would be tough, because Danny suffers a lot through the trilogy. I’d like to remind him that it wasn’t all his fault and spend some time talking about forgiveness.
When you plan a trilogy, how early do you know what the breaks between each book will be? When did you know what very last scene in book 1 would be?
One advantage I had with the Divided We Fall trilogy is that I knew it was a big story that would take three books. This allowed me to pay attention to the overall three-book structure, which I think would be different from writing a fully self contained story in one book and then later writing that book’s sequel.
I structured the Divided We Fall story into three phases.
- The crisis in government, Battle of Boise, and build up to the beginning of armed conflict.
- Daniel Wright and his friends struggling in the resistance in occupied northern Idaho.
- Danny Wright and his friends facing the challenge to survive, out on the road amid a collapsed civilization and dangerous society.
As PFC Wright might say, “I’m not gonna lie,” but I love the ending to the first book. And, as we’re talking about the release of Book 3: The Last Full Measure I’m going to go ahead and spoil the heck out the Divided We Fall ending here. I had the idea for the U.S. President’s total forced broadcast, demand for Idaho’s surrender, and threat of military force from the first time I sketched out the concept for the book. The President demands Idaho National Guard and militia forces surrender and disarm. She orders all Idaho residents to remain in their homes and await further federal instructions. Then Idaho’s power is shut off, leaving Danny and his friends in the dark. Danny picks up his gun and knows the attack is coming. I specifically requested black endpapers and no acknowledgments or other back matter at the end of the story. Just the threat of the coming war, and the same blackness our characters are left in. I feel like it’s the perfect cliffhanger ending for Divided We Fall. The only problem with it was that some readers, especially young readers, had no idea that Book 2: Burning Nation was coming. I heard from a lot of readers demanding more.
Did any characters surprise you over the course of writing the three books? Becca and TJ both surprised me in book 2. (TJ because he was such a jerk in book 1!)
I was a little surprised with TJ. I don’t know if he was as much a jerk as Danny was jealous and worried about his friendship with JoBell. Obviously TJ and Danny didn’t get along. But through the course of the war, TJ takes some major risks. He really shows some courage. I think one of the best Danny/TJ moments is when TJ breaks Danny out of his cell after Danny is tortured. Danny doesn’t even know if TJ is real, and I think it was fun having Danny’s old rival be the guy who saves him.
I also liked PFC Luchen, who starts out as a dumb, goofy kid, but sacrifices himself for the success of his final mission.
I was surprised by how many secondary characters became so important, especially through the course of The Last Full Measure. Dr. Nicole Randal was introduced to the story mostly so Danny and Becca could get antibiotics for JoBell in Burning Nation. She ended up becoming an important part of the lives of Danny and his friends. Sergeant Kemp is surprising for similar reasons. I never really intended for him to become such an important part of the whole story, but he plays a big role in all three books, and he turned out to be a great guy, from the Battle of Boise through The Last Full Measure.
You got to record some voices for the audiobook version - tell us more about that process! (I definitely recognized your voice while listening to Burning Nation!)
Andrew Eiden provides the great main narration and performance, but there are many other voices as newscasters, radio personalities, and social media comments in the media noise segments. I have had a lot of fun these past few years recording various voices for all three audiobooks. My editor, agent, and some other friends from Scholastic have joined us as well. For each book, we would head out to Scholastic Audiobook CentCom in Connecticut and pile into the studio. We had a couple loose page print outs of the book and a spreadsheet of all the different voices. Then we’d do our best trying to bring those characters to life. For all three books I enjoyed playing conservative radio talk show host Buzz Ellison and my editor performed the part of President Laura Griffith. In The Last Full Measure I also had fun voicing one of those very energetic preachers almost screaming over the radio about the end times.
I’m extremely pleased with the way the audiobooks have turned out for all the Divided We Fall books, but especially for The Last Full Measure. The good people in the Scholastic Department of Audiobooks have really worked hard, adding many sound effects, sound treatments, and voices to really bring the stories to life. I listen to a LOT of audiobooks. I’ll probably listen to at least fifty audiobooks this year alone. The Divided We Fall audiobooks are really unique, really fantastic productions.
And...anyone interested in giving the Divided We Fall trilogy a try is welcome to start with the first audiobook for free! Check out the details on the other side of the link.
Everyone go get the audiobook!
I've been waiting for Book 3, The Last Full Measure to come out ever since I finished Book 2. This is a two-part question: First, where does the title of book 3 come from? Second, what can we expect from the THRILLING CONCLUSION to the series? (Can you pull a JK Rowling and tell us what the last word of the book is?)
The Last Full Measure comes from the Civil War and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
It seemed the perfect title for a lot of reasons. A lot of Lincoln’s words and meaning get tangled up and rearranged through the trilogy and especially in The Last Full Measure.
In The Last Full Measure the Second American Civil War widens well beyond the “Idaho Crisis” and well beyond any real hope of peaceful reconciliation. The war becomes widespread and brutal, and the systems of our society begin to collapse. In the chaos that follows, Daniel Wright and his friends struggle to survive while they deal with central questions about life, civilization, and government. What keeps the peace in the United States? Is it only our police force preventing widespread violence and anarchy, or do people also have a common sense of fairness and decency? How do we balance the need for security with the need for freedom? Where do our loyalties lie, and how much should we devote to ourselves, our friends and family, and our government?
They’re big questions, relevant issues that many Americans struggle with today, especially in an election year. I only hope we find better answers than the people in The Last Full Measure.
For readers who love the Divided We Fall trilogy and are sad to see it ending, what books do you recommend they read next?
People who finish The Last Full Measure should go on to read The Hunger Games. One of the reasons I wanted to write a trilogy about a Second American Civil War and the end of the United States is that I loved The Hunger Games trilogy, but I wondered how Panem came to exist. The Hunger Games takes place 74 years after the district uprisings against the Capitol, but that means people had been living in the districts and Capitol system for some years before that uprising. How did the districts get started? How did the United States end? I wrote the Divided We Fall trilogy to be a story that could be the prequel to many dystopian and post-apocalyptic stories, but there are clues in The Last Full Measure that suggest I really had The Hunger Games in mind.
Who were your advisors at VCFA?
I was blessed to work with Rita Williams-Garcia, Jane Kurtz, David Gifaldi, and Margaret Bechard. They were all such premium advisors, very helpful and supportive, now dear friends.
How did attending VCFA affect your writing life?
It’s probably easier to talk about how VCFA did not affect my writing life since it affected almost every aspect of my writing. VC helped me think about writing and revising in ways I had never considered before. In my time working with advisors at the college the quality and quantity of my writing increased dramatically. Quite simply, Vermont College of Fine Arts made it possible for me to live my Dream.
What do you wish you had known before you first set foot on the VCFA campus?
I wish I had known then how incredibly important all my fellow VCFA students would be to me, and I would work even harder to get to know them even more. The Vermont College of Fine Arts adventure was a most special time in my life. I will always treasure the memories of my time there.
Thank you, Trent! Readers can visit Trent online at trentreedy.com to learn more about THE LAST FULL MEASURE as well as his other books!