Jill Leach-Klajic is best known around Santa Clarita for serving as a councilwoman in the 1990s, advocating for Elsmere Canyon and working as a marketing director for elder care.
Nowadays, Klajic has retired to Columbia, Calif. and is premiering her first novel.
Entitled “With Dignity,” this fiction story has roots in Klajic’s family history, set in Beckett Mountain, Arkansas where she was born and based on real events from her sister’s life.
“It is a family story that was never told or talked about,” Klajic said.
When she was 11 years old, Klajic found a suicide note in an old wallet written by her brother-in-law to her sister. After asking her sister about it later, she was touched by the events surrounding his death and the impact it had on her sister.
“That story was in my head the rest of my life,” she said. “That’s the story I had in my heart, that’s the story I had to tell.”
The very earliest draft of the novel was written in 1982 when Klajic was a member of a local Thursday night writers group. With the group’s encouragement, Klajic hand wrote her entire novel on a yellow pad during late nights and free moments she had while raising her five children.
After completing the draft, Klajic was swept up in the incorporation of Santa Clarita and her new role as a councilmember, so the yellow pad was tucked away in a drawer for years. It was not until she retired and moved away that she found time to get back to pursuing the book.
Since writing it over the course of several decades, Klajic’s life experiences lent themselves to the growth of the book, she said.
The novel is set in 1916, a different period than the events it was based on, which required some in-depth research on Klajic’s part.
Having grown up listening to her father tell vivid stories of life in Arkansas, Klajic knew she wanted to share that world in her novel but needed to be true to the time, setting and customs.
On two separate occasions, Klajic went back to the small Arkansas town to visit relatives and hear about farm life and her family during that period. To choose the names for the characters, she visited her family’s cemetery and scrambled the names on the tombstones.
The themes of faith and family are evident in the book and tie into a value of traditionalism that are less prevalent in present day, Klajic said.
“I miss that. I think our society misses that,” she said.
Santa Clarita community members are invited to a meet and greet and book signing for “With Dignity” at Barnes & Noble in Valencia on Friday, Aug. 25 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Visit writingwithdignity.com, Barnes & Noble or Amazon to buy the book for $22.50 for paperback or $26.50 for hardcover.
Klajic has three more books in the works, all of which are fiction but based on true stories.
She plans to write them in between traveling with her husband and spending time with her grandchildren.