Sunday, March 14, 2021

Alexandra Oliva

photo: Folrev Photography
Born and raised in upstate New York, Alexandra Oliva is the author of The Last One. She has a BA in history from Yale University and an MFA in creative writing from The New School. She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband, dog, and young son.

Oliva's new novel is Forget Me Not.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

At its core, Forget Me Not is about memory: the memories we cling to and the memories we can’t escape. My working title for the book was Remember This, but in talking titles with my publishing team, we realized that not only did a near-future thriller need a punchier title, but the real heart of the novel was less about the things we want to remember than it was about the things—and people—we are unable to forget. It was a subtle but important shift in tone that I think the title Forget Me Not captures beautifully. So I would say the title does a good bit of work, especially when combined with the creepily stunning cover art.

What's in a name?

My main character grew up without a name in a walled-off rural property. After she breaks out of the property and emerges into the modern world at the age of twelve, she chooses her own name: Linda Russell. The choice is intentionally bland on my part. As a writer, I’m especially interested in contradiction, and I loved the idea of a woman who has such a strange, creepy background—and who is absolutely hounded by strangers on social media because of that background—having a mundane name that practically begs people not to notice her.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Very! When I was young, I was obsessed with overt genre novels; it was a rare book set in the real world that could hold my attention, and I don’t think I ever wrote anything that wasn’t clearly science-fiction or fantasy unless it was for a school assignment. Forget Me Not definitely has roots in my love of genre—it’s set a few years in the future and includes a high-fantasy virtual reality game that I had way too much fun writing, but it’s also very much grounded in real life and my own experiences. I think teenager-me would be a little annoyed that it wasn’t set in space or a medieval-inspired fantasy realm, but I also think she would be proud of the quality of the prose and how I pulled off some of the plot twists.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are much, much harder for me to write than endings. With Forget Me Not, I knew the last line of the novel years before I actually wrote it. Finally getting to type those words felt like a reward for making it that far. Conversely, it took me at least a year to really find my footing in the novel; I kept starting it in the wrong time and place. Even once I got going, it took me a bunch of rounds of revision to get the pacing right—this story has a lot of plot elements, and it was a challenge to figure out how to introduce them all in an intriguing-but-not-overwhelming manner. The ending, on the other hand, pretty much just flowed.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

My main character, Linda, is rooted in my socially anxious side. A lot of the discomfort she feels moving through the world is just a mild exaggeration of how I usually feel. Conversely, the character whose appearance in the story disrupts her life, a computer scientist named Anvi, is a much more outgoing and seemingly confident woman, and she is rooted in my more gregarious side. They’re both fully realized, complex characters in their own right, of course, but I really enjoyed embracing these seemingly incompatible sides of my own personality, rooting a character in each, and then moving them toward each other over the course of the story—Linda finding her confidence, Anvi revealing her insecurities.
Visit Alexandra Oliva's website.

The Page 69 Test: The Last One.

Coffee with a Canine: Alexandra Oliva & Codex.

The Page 69 Test: Forget Me Not.

--Marshal Zeringue