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Happy Monday Everyone! I hope you had a great weekend and that many of you got Friday off. Anna Li and I had a three day weekend and it was nice.

Thanks to all of you who were part of my being blitzed on Wednesday. Last week was one of those hard weeks and all the sweet comments lifted my heart up. And don't forget to enter the contest for a query critique by Tina Wexlter if it would help you. I'm picking the winner by random.org.

I have one winner to announce. The winner of DEAR KILLER is Medeia Sharif!

Congrats! E-mail me your address so I can send you your book. Please e-mail me by the end of Wednesday or I'll have to pick another winner.

Today I’m thrilled to have debut author Alexandra Duncan here to share about SALVAGE, her YA sci-fi story that released on April 1, 2014. I first heard about this through a recommendation I read by Rae Carson, another favorite author of mine, and knew I had to read this. It’s a fantastic story with a contemporary feel to it in terms of Ava’s emotional growth through the story. The world building is amazing with completely different worlds and societies on the space ship where we meet Ava and then on Earth. And I loved how the story explored the different roles women have in different societies. I couldn’t put this down. Loved it!

Here’s a description from Goodreads:

Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean, in this thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood.

Hi, Alexandra! Thanks so much for joining us.

1. Tell us about yourself and how you became a writer.

I’ve wanted to be a writer since before I could spell. When I was a kid, I would draw pictures in a notebook and then beg any handy adults to write down the stories I made up. After college, I started out writing short stories. About two years after I sold my first story, I took a deep breath and jumped into the novel pool. Today I work as a librarian and write whenever I’m not wrangling books. Salvage is my first novel.

2. I know other authors who started writing short stories. Where did you get the inspiration for SALVAGE?

As strange as it sounds, a lot of the inspiration came from my own life. I grew up in a small church in rural North Carolina where there were very strict expectations about behavior for girls and women. That close-knit society where everyone knew everything about everyone inspired the merchant crews in Salvage. A lot of my version of future Earth came from traveling in Haiti and Nicaragua as a teenager and seeing people making a living from what others had thrown away.

3. So interesting how you drew from your own life and travel experiences. I loved your world building and the different roles women have in different societies that you explore through your story. Share about your world building process and your decisions on creating the different societies in your story.

World building is a two-way street. Sometimes you drop something into the plot or description just because you think it’s neat, and then it becomes a bigger part of the narrative. For example, at one point I thought, “Oh it would be cool if these characters wore metal jewelry.” But then I reasoned that it wouldn’t make sense for them to wear metal jewelry all the time. It would get in the way of their work. So maybe they only wear metal jewelry on special occasions, like weddings. And they wouldn’t choose something incredibly difficult to come by for such a common celebration, so they must have metal lying around. Maybe that metal is part of the cargo they’re shipping to other planets. It would be heavy to wear, though, and that made me start thinking about the difference in gravity on Earth versus other planets or ships, which turned out to be a major plot point.

It can also run the other way, too, though. For example, I knew that I wanted Mumbai to be a major setting in the book, but I had established that the Earth’s sea levels had risen enough to cover whole island nations. How could Mumbai still be around when it’s a coastal city? A massive seawall with a system of pumps would work. But it would have to have been developed when the water first started rising, which might indicate that India was both technologically advanced and ecologically conscious enough to realize what was happening and act in time to save its coastal cities. If you extended those attributes out many years into the future, you might reach a highly technologically advanced society where combustion engines are illegal and people have adopted trains, bicycles, horses, and pack elephants as means of travel.

4. What you shared shows some of the reasoning that has to go into world building so it makes sense. One of the many things you did well was show how Ava would realistically view all the new technology she was exposed to once she got to Earth. How did you get that so right? And she has a distinctive way of speaking from her life on the ship that’s really different from people on Earth. What made you decide to have her speak differently and what the process of creating the different dialect?

Some of Ava’s reactions to new technology on Earth came from my own feelings on visiting large cities
or traveling outside the U.S. for the first time. It’s utterly overwhelming to come from a place where, at most, you see two or three hundred people gathered together, and then go to a major city like Port au Prince or New York. In college, I studied abroad in Spain and passed through the Munich airport on my way to Madrid. At the time, self-flushing toilets were a new thing that hadn’t reached the U.S. yet (or at least not the medium-sized city where I lived) and I remember seeing one and thinking, “This place is like The Future!”

As far as Ava’s speech, I’ve always been really interested in linguistics and things like pidgin languages and creoles. Part of that likely came from being exposed to Spanish, Latin, and Haitian Creole as a teenager. I visited Gibraltar on that same study abroad trip I mentioned before, which is a British territory in the south of Spain. The people there have a language that’s truly a combination of English and Spanish, nothing like the jokes we make about “Spanglish” in the U.S. It’s so entirely its own thing that even though I speak both of those languages separately, I couldn’t understand some of the people there. It was a mind-blowing example of how language is alive.

Several years after that trip, I read a short story called “The Fishie,” by Philip Raines and Harvey Welles in The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. (Which is the greatest literary magazine on Earth, as far as I’m concerned.) It’s stunning. The authors basically made up a pidgin and wrote the story entirely in their invented language. Once you read for a few pages and begin to recognize the patterns and context clues, you can grasp what’s happening, but you have to work at it. I thought that was an amazing way of conveying the foreignness of a culture. I wanted to try my own, more accessible version of that technique in Salvage.

5. I read that you only wrote short stories before writing SALVAGE. What were some of the challenges you faced in making the leap to writing a novel? 

Writing a novel requires a whole different type of mental architecture than writing a short story. With a short story, I can hold the whole plot in my head and trust myself not to forget any part of it, because it usually only takes a month or two to draft. With a novel, I find myself going back over what I’ve written multiple times to make sure I’ve connected all the loose strands. I take more notes and write rough plot outlines, because the drafting process takes closer to a year to a year and a half. I actually wrote a 30,000-plus word novella called “Rampion” before beginning work on Salvage to prove to myself that I could handle something longer than a short story. I was intimidated at first, but it turned out to be something I could do.

6. Yes, I have to go back and reread parts of my story all the time too. Your agent is Kate Schafer Testerman. How did she become your agent and what was your road to publication like?

I feel so lucky that Kate is my agent. After I wrote Salvage, I wasn’t shopping it around very extensively, in part because a different agent had read my short stories and expressed interest in my novel before it was finished, and also in part because I was nervous. I had a friend who was one of Kate’s clients, though, and she happened to mention what I was working on to Kate. Kate was interested, so we started talking, and it all clicked. I still worry that she doesn’t know how truly excited I was when she called to tell me Salvage had sold to Greenwillow. I had the flu, and even though I had to lean against the wall to keep from falling down out of pure excitement and disbelief when she told me, I think I sounded strangely calm and quiet. Too much NyQuil will do that to you.

7. Awesome how that worked out for you. Reflecting back on the year leading up to your book release, what advice do you have for aspiring authors as they plan for their debut year?

Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, either from your agent and editor, or from any writer friends you have. No one’s debut year is exactly the same, so don’t feel bad about admitting that you don’t know where to go to order bookmarks or who is going to be contacting your local bookstore about a signing.

8. Great advice to go to others for advice. I know you’re a librarian too. How do you recommend debut authors connect with librarians with the hope of getting the library to purchase their book? And do you have any MG and/or YA librarian blogs you’d recommend we follow?

Every library system is a little bit different, but in general, two good things to know are 1) libraries don’t have much money, and 2) librarians usually have a selection policy they have to follow when buying books for their collection. Often that policy says they can only buy books that have received positive critical reviews from an industry source like PW, Booklist, VOYA, or School Library Journal. However, the policy will sometimes allow a loophole for local authors who don’t have those reviews. If a librarian doesn’t commit to buying your book immediately, don’t freak out. She likely has to check review sources and make sure she has the money to buy it.

A good way to connect with your local librarian is to e-mail the person in charge of YA purchasing, introduce yourself, and arrange a time to meet her. That will help you avoid the awkwardness of showing up unannounced and finding that she’s on her way to a meeting or swamped with other duties. When you show up, bring some bookmarks. We librarians love bookmarks, because we can give them away to our patrons. Make sure to mention the name of your publisher and where the librarian can find critical reviews. Keep it simple and friendly.

My blog-reading habits are all over the place. Because I’m a librarian, I get a lot of my YA book news from places like Booklist, VOYA, and School Library Journal, but I’m also addicted to Goodreads, Beth Revis’s wonderful blog, and EpicReads. My favorite librarian blog has nothing to do with YA. It’s Awful Library Books, which is all about the terrible books librarians find when they’re weeding, i.e. clearing outdated books from their collections. It sometimes skews a little adult, but it’s mostly things like Latawnya the Naughty Horse Learns to Say “No” to Drugs and Be Bold with Bananas. Maybe stay away if you have an aversion to late-‘70s Burt Reynolds’s chest hair, though.

9. Thanks for the tips on librarians. They are so important to connect to. What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on a companion novel to Salvage which follows a teenage Miyole on her adventures in deep space.

Thanks for sharing all your advice, Alexandra. You can find Alexandra at her website, Twitter, Facebook, and Goodreads.

Alexandra has generously offered a copy of SALVAGE for a giveaway. To enter, all you need to do is be a follower (just click the follow button if you’re not a follower) and leave a comment through May 3rd. I’ll announce the winner on May 5th. If your e-mail is not on your Google Profile, please leave it in the comments.

If you mention this contest on Twitter, Facebook, or your blog, mention this in the comments and I'll give you an extra entry. You must be 13 or older to enter. This is for US & Canada only.

Here’s what’s coming up:

On Wednesday Rory Shay will be sharing a guest post on persistence on the path to publication and giving away a copy of ELECTED, her new YA sci-fi story.

Next Monday, I’m interviewing Dianne Salerni and giving away a copy of THE EIGHTH DAY, her new middle grade fantasy. This is a fantastic, well-plotted story that I couldn’t put down.

Next Wednesday I’ll have a guest post by Holly Webb and a giveaway of ROSE AND THE LOST PRINCESS, her MG fantasy.

Next Saturday I’ll be participating in the Amazing Book Giveaway Hop. I’ll have lots of great choices for you.

And don’t forget Casey’s Agent Spotlights.

Hope to see you on Wednesday!


S.P. Bowers said...

Sounds like an amazing book. Definitely going to have to read it.

Unknown said...

Congrats to Alexandra on her debut book - it sounds original and exciting! She's one of the only ones I know to have gotten an agent with her first novel, but I imagine the short stories and novella helped prepare her. Wishing her much success! :)

mshatch said...

I like the sound of Salvage and I always like hearing how writers make the transition to author - great interview and congrats to Alexandra!

Bish Denham said...

This definitely sounds like a book I could sink my teeth into. When I read about part of it taking place on the gyre (great garbage patch) in the Pacific I was hooked.

Old Kitty said...

Yay for librarians! :-) Lovely to meet you Alexandra and all the best with your book! Take care

Beth said...

Great interview. I loved reading about everything that Alexandra puts into world building. And now I'm intrigued about "The Fishie"!

Kristin Lenz said...

Congrats on your debut, Alexandra. The world building info was interesting, and I like how your sense of humor shines through in your answers!

Donna K. Weaver said...

Squeee! A new YA SciFi. Adding to my TBR list! Congrats.

And congrats to Medeia!

MarcyKate said...

I've heard so many wonderful things about this book - can't wait to read it! And great librarian connection tips too :)

Jemi Fraser said...

Sounds fabulous! I love how thinking about jewelry led to a gravity plot point :)

Sorry I missed the blitz on Wednesday - life was pretty chaotic last week, but I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

L. Diane Wolfe said...

She had some good tips on dealing with librarians. I wonder where she's from in NC?

Barbara Watson said...

Love the premise of this book and the library tips.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I love the premise of Salvage and the way she did the world building.

~Sia McKye~ said...

Thought provoking post. I enjoy seeing how authors build a world with a slightly different set of focus lenses. Familiar yet just enough differences to make it new. I appreciated how Alexandra applied logic to different aspects of the world with questions--if I do this then it would mean that this would have to be in place first. Carrying it out to it's logical conclusion. By doing that she was able to eliminate the unworkable and accentuate fascinating tidbits to the plot.

Some good advice in approaching librarians, regardless of the genre they buy, and explaining why your book might not be picked up the first approach.

As a reader, I like the premise of Salvage. Congratulations Alexandra on your new release and wishing you the best on the next!

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Chenise Jones said...

World building is one of my favourite elements of books so it's great to see how much research and consideration were spent on Salvage's! Definitely looking forward to reading this!

Jenni said...

This sounds like an amazing book! I loved reading about Alexandra's world building and the behind-the-scene look at how librarians acquire books. Thanks for a great interview, Natalie!

Joshua David Bellin, Sci-Fi Author said...

One of the books I've most been looking forward to this year! I'll be tweeting about the interview and giveaway as well.

cleemckenzie said...

How interesting where her inspiration came from. I'm always fascinated by this part of the writing process.

Congrats to Medeia!

Stephen Tremp said...

It's great to meet Alexandra and good luck with Salvage! Now that is some very interesting inspiration to see how resourceful people can be with stuff others discard.

PK HREZO said...

So much great info! Thanks Alexandra and Natalie! It sounds like such a great read.

Karen Lange said...

Congrats to Alexandra! Wishing her all the best. Appreciate the insight and advice. :)

Passing on the giveaway for now. Happy writing!

Christine Rains said...

Congrats, Alexandra! Great interview. One of the biggest things I had to learn was not to be afraid to ask for advice and help. I've become a much better writer because I do so now.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Congratulations, Alexander! I'm sure your agent has since forgiven the NyQuil moment.

Margo Berendsen said...

Loved hearing about the interesting origins of this book... hope I win (of course!) the Pacific gyre and space? Amazing. Cracked up over the blog about the librarians weeding out old books...

Andrea Mack said...

So interesting to hear how the manuscript turned into a book. I'll definitely be looking for this one.

Denise Covey said...

Hi Natalie! Hi Alexandra! Aren't covers getting so delicious these days! Beautiful. Like the sound of the story and enjoyed the interview. I also write/publish short stories while I wait for my novel to be polished.

Leslie S. Rose said...

YAY for Medeia. My sci fi antenna are buzzing - Must read SALVAGE.

pandas4vic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
pandas4vic said...

Great interview! Thanks, Alexandra. I especially like your comment about asking for advice. I will do that!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the interview. I especially like what she says about World Building. Congratulations, Alexandra!

Krysten Lindsay Hager said...

Great tips on approaching libraries! Congrats on the new book!

Anita Saxena said...

What an interesting interview! Alexandra seems like someone who can never run out of fascinating stories to tell. Looking forward to reading SALVAGE.

Anonymous said...

I look forward to this book! Also, Alexandra has a really personable feel in this interview! I like it.

Danielle H. said...

I can't wait to read this book. Your background as a child sounds fascinating. Thank you for sharing. I have posted the giveaway on Facebook.
Congratulations on your novel leap!

Mikky said...

I've been wanting to read this book! Great interview & Thanks for the giveaway!!
I shared via:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/xMikkyMouse/status/458607787736440833
FB: https://www.facebook.com/xMikky/posts/485007771598721?stream_ref=10

Mikky said...

I forgot to mention my Email: mikaella08 AT hotmail DOT com

David P. King said...

I've heard of this book, and I'm in need of a sci-fi fix. This might be the cure all I need. Good to meet you, Alexandra! :)

Katie Bucklein said...

I love her tips on world-building! It's one of my favorite things to do when it comes to plotting books. Great interview =)

I did mention it on Twitter: https://twitter.com/katebucklein/status/458664329408036864 And my email is ktbucklein(at)gmail(dot)com

Crystal Collier said...

I think stories that stem from life tend to carry an emotional depth that others don't quite reach. Great interview!

E.G. Moore said...

Salvage sounds right up my alley!


Stephanie Garber said...

Great interview--I really liked the tips on world building. I was intrigued by this book before, but now I am going to read it for sure. Thanks so much Alexandra and Natalie!

Carl Scott said...

Sounds good to me. I like Beth Revis too, but once you start referencing Margaret Atwood I'm all in. She's a hero of mine. Thanks for the chance to win a copy of Salvage. carlscott(at)prodigy(dot)net(dot)mx

I also tweeted a link to this post: https://twitter.com/carlrscott/status/458762705306808320

Tammy Theriault said...

Alexandra not only looks like a gem but talks like a gem!!

Anonymous said...

Salvage sounds like an amazing story. I'd love to read it. sharif(at)sharifwrites(dot)com

And I'm thrilled I won Dear Killer.

Jocelyn Rish said...

I just finished reading The 100, so I'm in space-station-to-Earth mode, so this seems like a great book to read while I'm in the sci-fi mood. I love her story about a random thing ending up becoming a big part of world building because I had a few things like that in my WIP, too I just dropped something small in that became something so important later - I guess your subconscious is always working behind the scenes. :-)

Nicole said...

This sounds right up my alley! Thanks for the interview. It was fun to read about its (and your!) journey to publication.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

I've heard good things about this one! Thanks for the giveaway

Bluerose said...

I've been curious about this one!

I tweeted: https://twitter.com/BluerosesHeart/status/461525738907516931

bluerosesheart at yahoo dot com

Unknown said...

Sounds great & the book is now on my reading list!

Layla said...


Erica said...

I would totally love to enter!

thebookcellarx @ gmail.com