Author Spotlight: Lindsay Smith


Lindsay Smith‘s love of Russian culture has taken her to Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and a reindeer festival in the middle of Siberia. She lives in Washington, DC, where she writes on foreign affairs. SEKRET is her first novel.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Lindsay Smith: Psychic teens in 1960s USSR forced to spy for KGB.

Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write Sekret?

LS: I’ve always wanted to write a book set in Soviet Russia, and when I was brainstorming ideas, I focused on the extreme sense of paranoia the average Russian lived with on a daily basis. They couldn’t share some of their inner thoughts, their criticism, for fear of who might be listening—their minds were the only completely safe place for dissent. Then I thought—what if even that wasn’t a haven? Once I’d solidified the idea of PSYCHIC SPIES, everything else flowed quickly.

Russian music and literature is also a vital part of the story, and I listened to quite a lot of Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky while working on Sekret, though it draws from a number of other musical inspirations, as well!

TPP: What was the hardest part about writing a historical fiction novel?

LS: I struggled most with deciding how strictly I wanted to follow the events of history. I chose the exact year I did, 1963, because it represented the stage in the Cold War when the US and Soviet Union were most equal and most competitive, and had just come down from the extreme tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. But I had to fabricate some of the internal Soviet politics based on what we know was happening at the time, and, of course, add in the psychic angle. On the whole, though, I chose to stick as closely to history as I could while still telling the story I wanted to tell.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

LS: I hope readers can gain some perspective on a time period, culture, and setting very different from their own, and better understand how this era in history reverberates through today’s international politics, as well. My characters live with an insane amount of paranoia that, unfortunately, is still a feature of daily life in many parts of the world, and there are serious consequences that I want readers to grasp.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

So much advice these days deals in absolutes—you must write every day, never use passive voice—but it’s important to look hard at the sound-byte advice you’re given and see through to the larger point it’s trying to make. For instance, it’s important to develop discipline in your writing habits and to make time for your writing, rather than hoping to find it on the sidewalk on your way home, but don’t beat yourself up if life gets in the way. Learn from your mistakes—ignoring your book, having to gut and rewrite a scene (or entire manuscript), flattening a character—and resolve to grow from them.

I wish someone would have told me (repeatedly, if necessary!) the importance of recognizing subjectivity in reviews, editor’s opinions, agent’s opinions, and all the way down the line. Sometimes, yes, it’s your craft that needs work, and never shy away for opportunities to grow and take risks with your storytelling. But understand, too, the peculiarities of personal preference, and stay authentic to the story you need to tell. Your revisions should be about better expressing that core story than chasing a trend or whim.

TPP: If your novel was made into a movie, who could you see cast as Yulia?

LS: I love how prickly, cunning, and resourceful Tatiana Maslany is when portraying her many clones in Orphan Black! I think she could masterfully depict Yulia as she tries to navigate the KGB and its demands on her while trying to accomplish her own, conflicting goals.

To learn more about Lindsay Smith, visit her website!
Click here to read an excerpt from Sekret.

How One Man Successfully Funded His Book With Kickstarter

I’ve always been curious about Kickstarter projects when it comes to literature. I think new approaches to literature in general, particularly ones spurred by the digital age, like online fundraising, self-publishing, and e-readers are all worthy of exploration. Books may be hundreds of years old, but that doesn’t mean it’s too late to change things up.

Not all bookish fundraisers thrive on Kickstarter. That Globe to Globe Hamlet Tour you may have heard about? The fundraiser was cancelled due to lack of backers. To be fair, that particular fundraiser was for a hefty amount for a tour that had never been done before. It was risky to begin with. But other fundraisers are quite successful. Doodler and poet Alan J. Hart created a Kickstarter fundraiser back in April for a children’s book called Everything’s Better With Monkeys. Here’s a video about the project:

Alan wrote the first poem in the book back in 2006, but he has expanded on it since with the encouragement of others. The poems come with illustrations depicting famous paintings, like Grant Wood’s American Gothic or Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory—with monkeys, of course. Here’s example of the type of poetry in the book:

Whistler’s Mother looks so bored
Just sitting in her chair
I think that a baboon or two
Would add the needed flair

That old couple with the pitchfork
Looks quite unhappy too
Adding an orangutan
Is just the thing to do”

I reached out to Alan to conduct an interview about Everything’s Better With Monkeys, which you can read below:


The Poetics Project: First off, I watched the video you posted on your Kickstarter page and thought it was hilarious. Why did you choose to create a video for the project? Do you think the effect of the video would have been different had it been less comedic?

Alan J. Hart: Thanks! Kickstarter offers a really good tutorial for people that want to use the site, and they highly recommend including a video. Projects with videos have a much higher success rate than those without (50% vs. 30%), so I definitely wanted to include one. I think the concept of the video made it more effective. I wanted it to be something that people would not just notice, but get a kick out of and want to show to other people. I heard from a couple of people specifically that they backed the project because they enjoyed the video.

TPP: Were there any other methods you employed to get the word out there?

AJH: Facebook was my main marketing tool. I gave the book it’s own facebook page, and I put up new posts every day on the book’s page, which I also shared on my personal page. I started with a simple announcement of the project, then tried to have a new gimmick every day, teasing some of the art from the book or posting pictures of the monkeys featured in the book. I always included a link to the kickstarter page and encouraged people to share it on their own walls.

I also put all of the relevant information into an e-mail and sent it to everyone I knew who isn’t on facebook or doesn’t use it very often, and encouraged them to back the project and to spread the word to their friends.


Author Spotlight: Ava Dellaira


Ava Dellaira is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she studied poetry. She grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and received her undergraduate degree from the University of Chicago. She believes Love Letters to the Dead began when she bought her second album ever—Nirvana’s In Utero—which she listened to on repeat while filling the pages of her journal. She currently lives in Santa Monica, California, where she works in the film industry and is writing her second novel.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in then words or less.

Ava Dellaira: Laurel’s letters to dead celebrities help her grieve her sister.

Love Letters Cover
Buy the book here:

TPP: What Inspired you to write Love Letters to the Dead?

AD: I moved to Los Angeles several years ago with aspirations of becoming a screenwriter, and I had the good fortune to find a job working for Stephen Chbosky, the author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower. When I got up the courage to give him some of my writing, he told me, “I think you should write a novel.” I’d never actually thought of it before. But that night, on my drive home, the title popped into my head, along with the concept of a girl who deals with her personal grief by writing to famous dead people.

My mother had died suddenly a few years before, and just as writing letters helps Laurel to process her grief over her sister, writing this book also helped me to heal. While Love Letters is definitely a work of fiction, I drew a lot from my own life and from my memories of growing up with my family and friends in Albuquerque, NM. I have a younger sister who I absolutely adore, and my relationship with her was a huge inspiration for the book.

TPP: How was it writing Love Letters to the Dead in epistolary form? What were some advantages and drawbacks you found while writing?

AD: Mostly I loved writing in the epistolary form—it felt intrinsic to the story. Laurel is unable to talk to people in her own life about what she’s gone through, so she turns to famous dead people instead, imagining that they might understand. Letters seemed appropriate for Laurel’s character, because they express the desire to reach out, the hope of being heard. Despite some of the emotions she represses at first, Laurel is someone who wants very deeply to make connections. Her evolving relationships to the people to whom she writes is expressive her emotional growth throughout the book, and as she learns more about them, she also learns more about herself. Ultimately, writing the letters helps Laurel to come to terms with her own story—so that by the end of the book she is able to open up to the actual people in her life.

The most challenging aspect of the format was making sure that each letter moved the narrative forward, and that the story didn’t get bogged down in having Laurel repeat details about her life to each new person to whom she writes. Eventually I figured out that Laurel can describe what she’s going through or feeling without necessarily having to catch someone up on her life, because her letters are about the connection she’s making to a particular person in a particular moment. This decision helped the book to start working more smoothly.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your novel?

AD: Our lives matter. That’s what Laurel writes near at the end of the book, and that’s the message that I hope readers will come away with. We all have the power to make choices about our own lives, whatever their circumstances. It’s easy to feel helpless; we can’t force our parents to be happy together, we can’t always save our friends, we can’t undo our past traumas, and, no matter how desperately we miss him or her, we can’t bring someone back from the dead. But we can heal. That doesn’t mean that the pain or sadness will go away. But acknowledging our feelings, and learning to talk about them, allows us to live through them. We can carve out the paths of our own lives, even when they seem imperfect.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

AD: Find something to write that you love so much, you could imagine living with it forever. A story you know you can be patient with. One that you are open to discovering. Most first drafts need work. A lot of the time second and third and fourth and fifth ones do, too. When I look back at the beginning stages of Love Letters, it doesn’t read like something that would necessarily turn into a novel. It wasn’t “good” right away. But it was something that I knew I would keep working on, because it mattered to me in that place in my heart that makes writing matter to me.

When we are starting out, many of us spend a good amount of time trying to figure out how to write the things that we imagine other people might want to read, or to buy. (I know I did). We focus on figuring out how to “become a writer,” because we all want it so badly. Of course we do. But when you can forget all of that for a moment and focus on telling your own truth, that’s what will sustain you. Be open to being surprised, to showing up at the page and finding out what’s there, that day. Maybe there will be a lot of days where it feels like nothing. But eventually, you will stumble upon a discovery. And maybe many days later, another. Through all of our insecurities, it can be a challenge to find faith in what we are doing. Sometimes we all think we aren’t good enough, or aren’t smart enough, or aren’t something enough. But when you are writing something you feel you have to write, you’ll keep coming back no matter what.

TPP: Name three songs that would be included on a soundtrack to your novel.

AD: “Heart Shaped Box” by Nirvana, “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse, and “Summertime” by Janis Joplin (but it’s so hard to pick just three!)

To learn more about Ava Dellaira, visit her website!
Click here to read an excerpt from Love Letters to the Dead.

Literary Mothers

It’s Mother’s Day. Quickly! Call your mother.

To celebrate, we decided to talk about some of the best and worst mothers in literature.

Best: Molly Weasley from the Harry Potter series. She wasn’t just a mother to the Weasley kids, but she was mother to Harry Potter too. How can you not love a mother who takes care of all the stray orphans floating around in the magical world and kicks ass while doing it?

Worst: Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice. She was nosy, she talked trash on other girls, and while her one goal seemed to be getting her daughters married, she pretty much did the exact opposite and almost prevented two of her daughters from marrying, while helping facilitate her other daughter’s elopement that could ruin the family.


Author Spotlight: Jennifer Donnelly

jenndonnellyNew York Times bestselling author Jennifer Donnelly’s first young adult novel, A Northern Light, was awarded Britain’s prestigious Carnegie Medal, as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction, and a Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Literature. Her second, Revolution, was long-listed for the Carnegie Medal, awarded an Odyssey Honor by the American Library Association, and named Young Adult Book of the Year by the American Booksellers Association. She has also written a picture book for children entitled Humble Pie (illustrated by Caldecott medalist Stephen Gammell), and a series of best- selling novels for adults that include The Tea Rose, The Winter Rose (New York Times Bestseller), and The Wild Rose.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Jennifer Donnelly: Richly imagined. Beguiling. Action-packed. Funny. Touching. Sinister. Suspenseful. Aquariffic.

Deep Blue High Res
Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write Deep Blue?

JD: The dark genius of Alexander McQueen. I saw a retrospective of his work at the Met, and was blown away by it and came home totally inspired to write about the sea. And then, the minute I walked through the door, my husband told me to call my agent, who said that Disney had a project involving mermaids and they wanted me to write it. Totally true story. And to this day, I believe AM sent me a gift from that fabulous catwalk in the sky.

TPP: Was it difficult to create and write this underwater world compared to writing about characters who live on land?

JD: Yes, it was. The mer live, move, and breathe differently than we do, and seeing and experiencing their world, its beauty, and its dangers was a huge challenge, but also a huge thrill and great fun.

TPP: Looking at reviews on Goodreads, a majority of readers loved how empowered the female characters in your novel are. Was that something you set out to do or was it just the way the story wanted to go? How did you balance their empowerment with the other elements of the story like romance?

JD: Female empowerment was definitely a theme that Disney stressed in its outline for the project and one that appealed strongly to me. Making that empowerment genuine—something that the characters earn, not something that’s just bestowed on them—was the challenge. One of the characters, a river witch named Vraja, tells Serafina, a teenage mermaid, that we are not born leaders, we learn to lead. I think that’s a very important message for young readers to hear. It takes trial and error, and falling down, and failure to teach us how to become strong and sure. It’s a tough and painful process, but one we need to go through if we’re to gain confidence in ourselves and our abilities.

There was no conscious balancing act between empowerment and romance, or any other elements. Finding one’s strength, falling in love, suffering setbacks, enduring heartbreak—these are all valid and important parts of a life lived in full, be that life human or mer.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from your book?

JD: I want them to see and value their own abilities, and to believe in themselves. I also want to share with them my love of the oceans and freshwaters, and my conviction that we need to protect these vital, beautiful and fragile ecosystems and their inhabitants.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

JD: Never, never, never give up. Many people can, and will, tell you that it’s hard to become a writer, hard to get published, hard to make a living as a novelist. That’s true, but so what? Everything worth doing well is hard. No one can guarantee that you’ll ever get published, but only one person can guarantee that you won’t—and that’s you. By giving up on yourself. So don’t.

TPP: Name 2-3 songs that would be on the soundtrack for your book (can be songs that inspired the novel).

JD: “Sirens” by Pearl Jam, “Come Down the Coast” by Camper van Beethoven, “Cornflake Girl” by Tori Amos.

To learn more about Jennifer Donnelly, visit her website!

I Strike Thee Quickly with My Light Saber


Don’t you love when two of your favorite things collide to make one super-awesome thing? Peanut butter and chocolate? Amazing. Rum and Coke? Delicious. Bacon and milkshakes? Well, that might be an acquired taste, but you get the idea. Last year I stumbled upon another exciting marriage of two seemingly opposite things: Shakespeare and Star Wars.

Ian Doescher, who in my opinion should be canonized as a saint, has rewritten the Star Wars films in beautiful iambic pentameter. It is truly a unique way to once again enjoy the saga from a galaxy far, far away.

And I haven’t even mentioned the best part. Doescher has provided an educator’s guide on his website. This is a wonderful way to introduce students to Shakespeare in a new and creative way. Of course you are mixing two nerdy things and that might not fly over so well at first, but the beauty of this lesson is how someone can find deeper meaning, compare themes across genres, and use poetic devices within the text. That covers a couple standards. Even students who are not fans of the holy Trilogy will be impressed at how Doescher transformed one medium by using another.

The Educator’s guide has mini lessons on iambic pentameter, themes, and comparisons between Star Wars and some of Shakespeare’s most famous works (including Henry V, Richard III, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar just to name a few). The guide also includes information on Shakespearean devices and how they are used in context. The educator’s guide legitimately turns a novelty quirky book into an awesome Shakespearean introduction for all students.


Author Spotlight: April Wilder


April Wilder’s short fiction has appeared in several literary journals including Zoetrope and McSweeney’s. She is a former James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow from the Institute for Creative Writing in Madison, WI. She holds a BS in math/actuarial science from UCLA, an MFA in fiction from the University of Montana, and a PhD in literature/creative writing from the University of Utah, where she held a Vice Presidential Fellowship (her doctoral studies focused on “narratives of the absurd”). April lives with her daughter in Salt Lake City.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

April Wilder: A collection of tragicomic stories in which people navigate terrains of absurdity.

This Is Not an Accident
Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write This Is Not An Accident?

AW: The inspiration for every story was different. Some stories are me amusing myself (the evaluation form); some are me unpacking an image (Odd stuck in a dollhouse in “Long Dang Life”) or following a character I want to write about. The novella started with a strange walk in the park one day. Usually it’s that I see or overhear something that I can’t shake off, so I try to recycle it (in fiction) instead.

TPP: There’s a fine line between dark humor and depressing. How do you write without crossing that line?

AW: Whether or not a work is “depressing” speaks of a reader’s response, I think, so I don’t have any control over that. Interestingly, readers’ responses (to TINAA) seem to vary a lot depending on age. People under the age of 25 seem much more inclined to find tragedy and hyperbole in the book (and to be upset by it); older folks more comedy and common life.

TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your book?

AW: I think if I had a deep inner motive for writing the book, it might be the desire to expose what in my experience becomes of modern life and the mad, mad human mind when people go around believing stories about themselves and others. I write stories to shake free of stories.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve gotten while writing your novel?

AW: The hard part is just showing up and sitting in the chair every day, so find out if you can do that first. I wish, perhaps, that someone would’ve encouraged me in the beginning to hold on to my work more loosely: at the time I would spend hours combing over and “perfecting” what were fundamentally crappy works to begin with. So play a lot and keep the shredder close. You’ll know when you finally have something worth combing over.

TPP: Name three songs that could be included in a soundtrack to your book (can be songs that inspired portions of your writing).

AW: The Jump off (Lil Kim); Tribute (Tenacious D); The People That We Love (Bush)

To learn more about April Wilder, visit her website!

Author Spotlight: Philip Siegel


Philip Siegel grew up in New Jersey, which he insists is much nicer than certain TV shows would have you believe. He graduated from Northwestern University and promptly moved out to Los Angeles, where he became an NBC Page (proof below). He likes to think that the character of Kenneth on 30 Rock is loosely based on his life rights. Currently, he lives in Chicago and does his best writing sandwiched in between colorful characters on the El.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Philip Siegel: Girl runs a business breaking up couples at her school.

Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write The Break-Up Artist?

PS: A few things. I’d also been interested in a character who breaks up couples, since I was very much a cynic growing up. One of my favorite movies is My Best Friend’s Wedding, and I love the Julia Roberts character – the self-proclaimed “bad guy” who seeks to break up the titular ceremony. The movie had interesting things to say about love and friendship and romance, and it always stuck with me. So all that had been percolating in my mind, and then we come to the final thing. I had a few friends in terrible relationships, but in those situations, it’s hard to say anything. You have to bite your tongue or risk ruining that friendship. Wouldn’t it be so much easier to hire someone to end that relationship?

TPP: Your novel is filled with humor. How do you go about balancing that with the other themes that run throughout the story?

PS: I’m terrible at being serious. I can’t help injecting humor. (Never invite me to a funeral.) When writing, I make sure that humor comes out naturally in the situation, rather than engineering a situation to be funny. If you write a scene or a line just to be funny without moving the story along, your reader won’t be laughing. So while I LOVED coming up with all the witty one-liners these characters say, I never let that take over the plot or characters arcs.

TPP: What do you want readers to take away from you book?

PS: That love does exist, but it’s not meant to be some fairytale. Any meaningful friendship or relationship will be frustrating and boring and confusing at times, but ultimately rewarding. As Becca tells someone, it can’t always be first kisses and warm gooey centers. And that’s okay.

TPP: What advice can you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

PS: I’m going to answer both of your questions with 3 words: Writing is work. Many aspiring writers think of writing as fun, as a hobby. But it’s not fun. It’s hard. Writing first drafts can be a slog, and revising can be worse. Collecting coins is a hobby; writing is work. Think of writing like exercise. The more you do it, the better you get at it. I hate exercising, but I love having exercised. I had always believed writing should be fun, so the moment it got difficult, I would get discouraged and throw it in a drawer. The brilliant ideas in my head never came out right on the page. Now I’ve realized that that’s normal.

TPP: If your book was made into a movie, who would you cast to play Becca?

PS: If I had a time machine, I would go back five or so years and cast Emma Stone. She would kill it as Becca. But looking at teen stars today, I would go with Morgan Saylor. She played Brody’s daughter on Homeland. Even though I couldn’t stand her character on the show, I think Morgan has the look and attitude to make a great Becca.

To learn more about Philip Siegel, visit his website!

Our Favorite Poems for National Poetry Month

It’s our birthday this month. The Poetics Project was started by myself and Melanie Figueroa and launched the 1st of April to celebrate National Poetry Month. Because this blog started out as a community of writer’s sharing poetry in a Facebook group, we thought we’d share some of our favorite poetry with you to celebrate both our blog’s birthday and National Poetry Month.

Amanda’s Favorite Poems

“O Do Not Love Too Long”
By W.B. Yeats

Sweetheart, do not love too long:
I loved long and long,
And grew to be out of fashion
Like an old song.
All through the years of our youth
Neither could have known
Their own thought from the other’s,
We were so much at one.
But O, in a minute she changed—
O do not love too long,
Or you will grow out of fashion
Like an old song.


“Nobody Knows this little Rose”
By Emily Dickinson

Nobody knows this little Rose—
It might a pilgrim be
Did I not take it from the ways
And lift it up to thee.
Only a Bee will miss it—
Only a Butterfly,
Hastening from far journey—
On its breast to lie—
Only a Bird will wonder—
Only a Breeze will sigh—
Ah Little Rose — how easy
For such as thee to die!


“Mr. Darcy Piñata”
By Mark Grist

The reception was without incident
Until, bobbing through the doorway
Came a piñata the shape of Mr. Darcy.

He drifted across to the canapés
Where, dipping occasionally, he melted
The hearts of several young women

Who thought ‘that is not just a Mr. Darcy piñata.
For me he will be different; he will change.
And so they left their clotted boyfriends

For this rugged, frowning effigy.
Laughed coyly over cocktails, suggesting
Weekend breaks, theatre trips and lingerie.

The piñata gave nothing back in dashing fashion.
His narcissism unable to compete with the fact
That he was only a piñata after all.

Unwilling to accept the state of things,
The girls began to scratch at his casing, stealing strips
Of him. Desperate to create a wound that would

Tie the piñata to them after they had gone.
Force him to phone them at 3am for no reason
Other than to recover something of himself.

This was never going to happen. In the end
The piñata sank under their blows.
Shiny wrapped sweets skittered across the floor

Etched deep with words like ‘bastard’ and ‘user’.
The young women snatched these; went back to their tables
Sucking them for years till their sweetness grew bitter.


Author Spotlight: Alexandra Duncan


Alexandra Duncan is a writer and librarian. Her short fiction has been published in several Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy anthologies and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Her first novel, Salvage, is now available from Greenwillow Books. She loves anything that gets her hands dirty – pie-baking, leatherworking, gardening, drawing, and rolling sushi. She lives with her husband and two monstrous, furry cats in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

The Poetics Project: Describe your book in ten words or less.

Alexandra Duncan: Oh no, this is reader payback for writing a 500-page novel, isn’t it? You’re going to make me be succinct. Okay, I’ll try. Thread. Duty. Lemons. Love. Escape. Scavenge. Repair. Storm. Thirst. Searching.

Cover Art - SALVAGE
Buy the book here:

TPP: What inspired you to write Salvage?

AD: I grew up in a small, rural town in North Carolina. My stepfather was a Methodist minister, so my family knew everyone in town and everyone knew us. It was a pretty strict environment, especially for girls. That was my inspiration for Ava’s crewe, the Parastrata. I wrote Salvage for the girl I was at sixteen, someone who didn’t know her own worth beyond how useful she could be to others and didn’t realize she had a choice in deciding the trajectory of her own life.

TPP: Your main character Ava lives in a male-dominated environment. A lot of the reviews on Goodreads have described it as “Feminist Sci-Fi”. When you started writing this novel, did you have that in mind or was it something that came organically with the story?

AD: I didn’t necessarily start out thinking, “I’m going to write a feminist novel!” I started out wanting to tell Ava’s story, and it evolved naturally from there. In some ways, I don’t think I could have written something that wasn’t feminist, though. It would have rubbed me the wrong way on an unconscious level.

TPP: If you did plan it that way, what was the hardest part of writing this empowered female character in a male-dominated environment?

AD: The hardest part actually came later, when Ava has escaped that environment and has to accept help from other people. At its root, feminism is all about agency and self-determination, so if other people help you, does that take away your agency? I mulled over that question for a long time before I decided that trusting people who have earned your confidence isn’t necessarily a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength.

TPP: What do you want your readers to take away from your novel?

AD: I want readers to see that girls and women have an intrinsic, fundamental worth that isn’t tied to our status as mothers, virgins, or helping hands. I want to tell girls that they don’t have to sacrifice themselves to the “greater good” of their family, religion, or community. Yes, we all have an obligation to help each other and make the world a better place, but we can decide for ourselves how best to apply our talents, rather than letting tradition dictate that decision for us.

TPP: What advice would you give aspiring authors? What advice do you wish you would’ve been given?

AD: That’s difficult, because I think each writer needs a different kind of motivation at different points in his or her career. At one point, I needed to hear, “You have to start finishing things!” At another, I needed to hear, “Take a break and come back to this manuscript with fresh eyes.”
The most important thing I’ve learned from the YA writing community as a whole, though, is the importance of supporting each other. Your writing community could be online or in person, a whole forum of writers or one ambitious friend. Any way it comes together, give each other encouragement, constructive criticism, and breakfast foods, whenever possible. Everyone likes breakfast.

TPP: If your book was made into a film, who could you see cast as Ava?

AD: I was really having a hard time with this, because I hardly ever have time to watch TV or see movies. If we could go back in time to the early 2000s, I would pick America Ferrera, but she’s probably not playing teenagers anymore. I was using my husband as a sounding board (thanks, honey!), and he suggested Tatiana Maslany from Orphan Black, which is a BBC America show I’m obsessed with right now. She’s such a chameleon – both physically and as far as acting ability. She would be perfect for someone who changes as much as Ava does over the course of the book.

To learn more about Alexandra Duncan, visit her website! Click here to read an excerpt of Salvage.