Interview with Alexandra Duncan, Author of SALAVAGE (Cassie Boudreaux, Guest Interviewer)

Alexandra Duncan, author of SALVAGE, joins Octavia Books at 5 on Saturday, June 28, 2014; Cassie Boudreaux heads to college this fall to study literature and has a passion for books.

CB:  When did you know that you wanted to be an author? If you were not writing what would you be doing?

AD:  I’ve known I wanted to be an author ever since I was a kid. When I was in fifth grade, our class did an assignment where we wrote stories and had them bound into a book. Mine involved a group of girls spending the night in a supposedly abandoned house full of haunted animatronic dolls. That was when the idea that I could do this writing thing as a career fully came home to me. I loved reading more than anything, and I knew abstractly that authors wrote books, but the idea that authors were real people like me had never fully clicked until that moment.

As for what I would do if I wasn’t writing, I actually have a full-time job in addition to being a writer. I’m a public librarian, which is really awesome and interesting work. I get to help people find answers to questions, read book reviews, and come up with educational programs for the library to host. Also, our children’s librarian lets me play with the puppets sometimes, so I get to pretend I’m Jim Henson.

CB:  If you could work with any other author who would it be? Why?

AD:  What a great question! I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that before. I would love to work with Rae Carson. I respect her talent immensely, and I think we have similar sensibilities as far as including a diverse cast of characters in our work. Plus, she seems like the nicest person on Earth.

CB:  Do any character names in Salvage have meaning behind them? Do any of your characters resemble you?

AD:  I have a lot of fun picking out names for my characters, so all of them have some kind of meaning. For instance, all of the characters aboard the Parastrata have names that are palindromes – the same forwards as they are backwards. It’s part tradition, part superstition aboard Ava’s ship to give everyone names like this so that they don’t get lost, either physically or metaphorically. Of course, that doesn’t always work out.

My favorite name, though, is Perpétue’s. It means “perpetual” or “infinite,” which I think perfectly describes the way she gives love and care to other people. She isn’t afraid to risk everything for the people she loves. I wish I could say I was most like her, but I think Ava and I have the most in common. I grew up in a somewhat isolated and very religious community, and I struggled with a lot of self-doubt when I left it. Many of the things I grew up believing to be fundamentally true turned out to be far more complicated when I encountered them in real life.

CB:  Are there recurring themes in your writing?

AD:  I’ve written short stories in addition to Salvage, and one of the ideas I keep returning to again and again is the concept of having your beliefs challenged and seeing the world in an entirely new way. I think this happens to a lot of us in high school and college. Suddenly, instead of learning about the first Thanksgiving and the Declaration of Independence, you find out about the Trail of Tears and the fact that the Founding Fathers owned slaves.  You start to see your parents not just as your parents, but as flawed human beings with their own foibles and eccentricities. You can’t help but change the way you look at the world the more you learn about it, and you can’t help learning more about it the longer you’re alive. Everyone tries to come up with a way to understand the world and figure out how they fit into it, but life is always throwing curveballs.

CB:  The book has a lot of family interaction, good and bad, do you think family is an important thing?

AD:  Absolutely. Everyone has family. Sometimes it’s the family you’re born into, and other times it’s the family you make for yourself. The people who surround you shape who you are, no matter whether you’re rebelling against them or trying to find a place alongside them.

CB:  What do you think people search for in a book? What is one book you will always recommend to people?

AD:  I know what I search for in a book is a story so good, it makes me forget I’m even reading. I think most people are looking for the same thing – something that will completely transport them. One of the best books I’ve ever read is When You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead. Anyone who is, has been, or will be a 12 year-old girl should read that book. In fact, anyone who knows someone who is, has been, or will be a 12 year-old girl should read that book. It’s a short, beautiful masterpiece, and I don’t use that word lightly.

CB:  Ava has a diminished role, at first, because she is female. Do you think that this is a major problem in today’s society?

AD:  I think it’s a complicated problem that looks a lot different than it did twenty, fifty, or a hundred years ago. Today in the U.S., a young woman can vote, open her own checking account, and, in theory, at least, do any job she’s physically and mentally capable of doing. Unfortunately, she’s still far more likely to be the victim of rape or abuse than a man her same age. She’s still likely to be paid less than her male coworkers for doing the same job for the same amount of time. And things are so much worse for women and girls elsewhere in the world. There are places where girls aren’t allowed to go to school and it’s common to throw acid in a woman’s face if she refuses a man’s marriage proposal. We still have a ton of work to do to make the world better for our sisters, nieces, daughters, mothers, and friends, which is why I set up a page on my web site dedicated to highlighting non-profits and NGOs around the world that help women, girls, and people in general. It’s called A Better World. You can go there for ideas about charities and organizations that you can support, as well as reading and viewing suggestions.

CB:  Will you be writing more books to go with this one?

AD:  There will be a companion novel about Miyole’s adventures as a teenager. We don’t have a release date yet, but hopefully it will be out in Fall 2015.

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