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:
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
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!