Tiffany Jackson always wanted to be a novelist, but struggled to find a home for what would become her first published book, Allegedly (HarperCollins/Tegen, Jan.). She conceived of the novel for adults, thinking the content was too dark for the teen market, but “stumbled into YA.” In ways, she says, “I’m still stumbling.” While she feels that a lot of her peers are knee-deep in the YA world, she’s “tiptoeing, always asking questions.” Though the content of the novel was made slightly less graphic for YA readers, Jackson notes that her young narrator remained unchanged and that “the story stood on its own.”

Allegedly tells the story of Mary Addison, a black 15-year-old, accused of killing a three-month-old white child; it’s loosely based on the 2012 case of a nine-year-old convicted of murdering a three-month-old in Maine. “I read the article and assumed [it] could never happen,” Jackson says. “Someone else did it. There are always rumored stories of adults forcing kids to murder people because a child would receive a lighter sentence for the crime.” She wondered, “Wouldn’t it be interesting if that had happened in this situation? What would that look like?”

Landing an agent took time, Jackson says, because she “was originally looking for an agent for an adult book.” Once she reconsidered the novels she read as a young adult, she realized Allegedly was YA, and she began the query process again. “I made a goal for myself to query 100 agents, then revisit whether the book was worthy of publishing.” Jackson made it through 25 queries before finding the agent who would represent her: Natalie Lakosil of Bradford Literary Agency. An avid follower of Lakosil’s website Adventures in Agentland, Jackson pitched Lakosil, never expecting that Lakosil would eventually represent her.

Jackson’s editor, Ben Rosenthal, joined the project three months after Allegedly sold to Katherine Tegen Books (her original editor left the publisher). Jackson says that what she loves most about Rosenthal is that he is “very direct,” providing concise notes. “I’m the same way: I want to get to the root of the problem, cutting out fluff. I don’t have time for sugarcoating.” She jokes: “There aren’t a lot of male editors in YA. I’m lucky to have a really cool one.”

Jackson has a background in television, having worked for networks such as National Geographic on Lockdown, a prison subculture series, and having written and directed the short horror film The Field Trip. She says her background “aids her writing, particularly in regard to character development.” She pays close attention to “how characters move and carry themselves,” ensuring her characters “have depth.” Writing Mary, Allegedly’s unreliable protagonist, required Jackson to be on her toes. “You need to be conscious of everything that’s going on [with an unreliable narrator]. It’s almost like watching a horror movie.”

Jackson’s next novel, which will be published in May 2018, is titled Monday’s Not Coming. Like Allegedly, it is loosely inspired by a criminal case. The story is set in D.C., which Jackson considers her second home after attending college there. She is “excited to bring D.C. culture to the scene, especially the vibe of southeast D.C.”