Alexandra Oliva's thriller
The Last One!
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Alexandra Oliva's thriller
The Last One!
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If you love dystopia with a splash of horror, then Alexandra Oliva's reality-show-turned-survivalist-apocalypse The Last One is the book for you.
"Maybe I'm not even going east. Maybe sunrise and sunset have been reduced to parlor tricks. Maybe my compass is rigged, and my magnetic north is really a remote-controlled signal easing me into an oblivious spiral.
Maybe I'll never make it home."
It begins with a reality TV show. Twelve contestants are sent into the woods to face challenges that will test the limits of their endurance. While they are out there, something terrible happens—but how widespread is the destruction, and has it occurred naturally or is it man-made? Cut off from society, the contestants know nothing of it. When one of them—a young woman the show's producers call Zoo—stumbles across the devastation, she can imagine only that it is part of the game.
I recently got the chance to chat with Alexandra Oliva about her novel, The Last One, the first book I read in 2018. And what a read it was! Equal parts clever and harrowing, The Last One tells the story of a reality show on the eve of a catastrophe, and bends the perception of reality for character and reader alike. Please join me in the first installment of a series of author interviews and welcome Alexandra.
Grete: So I guess the obvious first question is, what's your favorite reality show?
Alexandra: The Great British Baking Show, hands down. I love how non-confrontational and sincere it is—while still being oddly intense. Plus, the other day I walked into a local bakery and I got to be like, "A princess torte! I know what that is!" I used to be really into a bunch of survivalist shows—my favorite was a Discovery Channel show called The Colony—but I'm kinda over those now. After designing my own show for this book, I was ready to move on to other things.
G: Rewrites and redevelopment are part of a writer's reality. During the course of writing the book, did any of the characters end up vastly different from how you first imagined them?
A: Brennan gained a lot of depth over the course of revisions. Although his scenes are all written from Zoo's perspective, I needed to make sure everything he said and did made sense, so I had to imagine every scene from his perspective as well. The ending of the book was pretty tricky to write, and deepening my understanding of his character and his perspective was key to getting it right.
G: Who surprised you the most?
A: Exorcist—simply by being in the book. When I was designing my cast for the show, I knew I needed a wild card character, but I wasn't sure who he was going to be. Then I came across a book someone had left on the sidewalk; it was an exorcist's memoir. I was like—yes, that's my wild card right there. I never actually read the book I found, but that's where Exorcist got his start, and I'm so glad things happened that way. Writing Exorcist and his antics was incredibly fun, and it provided a nice counterbalance to getting lost in some of the darker parts of the book.
G: Who is your favorite character in The Last One?
A: I identify most strongly with my main character, Zoo, but I also have a special place in my heart for Engineer. He's so sincere and well-meaning, and his reasons for going on the show are just so pure.
G: Naturally I now have to ask: If pressed, which one would you vote off the island?
A: If I were a contestant on the show, I would want Exorcist gone ASAP. He'd annoy the hell out of me. If I were making the show, I'd get rid of Biology because she ends up being more bland than the producers had hoped.
G: I found the double narrative structure of The Last One especially engaging. How did you select this story-telling method? Did you try to tell the story a different way originally?
A: Thanks! I had the idea for The Last One while I was revising and trying to find representation for another project, so even though I knew I wanted it to be a novel, I started out by writing it as a short story. The short story was essentially a condensed version of Zoo/Mae's journey home after everything went to hell. For the novel, I loved the idea of weaving in a narrative of the show itself with an expanded version of the narrative I already had. I think I found this so appealing in large part because it allowed me to explore two extremes of Zoo's personality—the bubbly animal-lover cast on the show for her chipperness and the hardened, struggling survivor who's just trying to make it home. How—why?—did she shift from one extreme to the other? To me, that question forms the heart of the novel.
G: What was the craziest research you did for this novel?
A: A two-week-long wilderness survival course in Utah. It was so intense, I lost nearly twenty pounds over just those fourteen days. More importantly, I learned about bow drills, skinning animals, and what it feels like to be starving and exhausted and to have to just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
(Want to know more about Alexandra's wilderness survival experience? Check out her essay on LitHub and Waterstones blog post!)
G: There is understandably some harsh material in this book. Were you afraid you might lose readers because of any of it? Have you gotten any flack in response?
A: I didn't think about the book's audience much at all, honestly—at least not until after the book was sold. Then I was worried I might be asked to change things to make the story more palatable to a wider audience. I wasn't worried about any of the gruesome stuff—plenty of fiction contains horrific scenes—but my main character is an atheist who doesn't come to believe in God, and in a wider sense the book is an exploration of the blindness of chosen belief, and there are plenty of people who have a problem with this (just look at my one-star reader reviews). Thankfully, my editor wasn't one of them. That part of the book is very important to me, and if some people decide my writing's not for them because of it, I'm okay with that. Not every book is for every person.
G: What strategies would you most recommend to a new or up-and-coming author?
A: Take a deep breath, enjoy the highs, and try not to take the lows personally.
G: What was the most difficult aspect of getting The Last One published?
A: Probably the nine years of rejection that I went through with two other novels before I wrote The Last One and met my agent. It's so hard to accrue rejection after rejection and it's even harder to put a 100,000+ word project into a drawer to never be seen again, even if the reason you're doing it is because you know you can do better. I'm glad I went through all that, though—my practice novels (as I now like to call them) were key stepping stones to my finally being able to write a novel worthy of being published.
G: And finally, because I'm always on the lookout for an excellent read: Can you tell me about your favorite book? Why is it your favorite?
A: I love too many books to pick a favorite, but I recently read The Power by Naomi Alderman, and I highly recommend it. It's a fantastically ambitious novel about what might happen if girls worldwide suddenly gained a huge amount of power—the ability to discharge electric shocks. It's a premise that could easily get out of hand or come across as campy, but Alderman executes it so incredibly well. It's awe-inspiring, really.
Alexandra, thank you for letting me pick your brains about a book I enjoyed so much! I wish you all the luck on your next project.
If you are interested in purchasing The Last One, please visit
Oh my gawd, I read so many books last year...
Way more than I normally do. Which is on top of the fanfic I also read, so if you think about it, this is probably just half of the total.
But ANYWAY I have recs for you!
(Note: If a book I read last year was not recced, it doesn't mean I didn't like it. I liked a LOT of books on my list last year. It just means I had to choose one for each rec category.)
My recs of what I read in 2017 (aka, The Year of World Craziness):
If you like...
May I please direct you to: Uncommonly Tidy Poltergeists by Angel Martinez
My thoughts: This was delightful. An easygoing read featuring a little bit of otherworldliness, a little bit of fumbling, a lot of lovely description, and a main character who is asexual. A cozy nighttime snugglebook, pairs well with a cup of cocoa.
May I please direct you to: The Call by Peadar O'Guilin
My thoughts: Arrrrrggggh, my FAVORITE type of horror: the kind that comes out of your dreaming subconscious. This is a YA about fairies. Real fairies. We're talking Rawhead and Bloody Bones here.
May I please direct you to: Fifty Shames of Earl Grey by Fanny Merkin (aka, Andrew Shaffer)
My thoughts: Oh lordy, this book. I read it on a plane. I was lucky no one badgered me to stop snort-laughing.
(TIP: Follow this guy's social media. He's hilarious.)
May I please direct you to: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo
My thoughts: Wahoo, a heist book! It's rare that I like every single character, but I liked Every. Single. Character. The pacing is excellent, the story engrossing, the magical element ingenious, and the resolution well-executed. Of course, now I need to read the sequel...
**BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR**
It is with wild excitement and great joy that I direct you to:
Red Rising and the sequel, Golden Son by Pierce Brown
My thoughts: HOT DAMN. Holy shit. So, Dune has a baby with Gladiator and then, being conscientious parents, immediately volunteers it as tribute. Best thing I have read in years. My reading goal this year is not to read 30 books, but to make 30 people read these books. Flawed and complicated characters, fantastic plotting, a HUGE scope, a well-executed cause-and-effect of action and motivation, and lo and behold... the sequel was just as good! Warning: after the first 1/3 of either of these books, I had to stop reading at bedtime; the tension just kept hyping me up!
So that's it from me for 2017. Let me know what books you liked in your reading year and, most importantly, read on, my friends!
I just bought this: How to Write a Book Proposal.
The story of how I got my agent is pretty unusual. I was straight out of my Masters degree, and feeling for the first time that actually selling what I wanted to write was possible.
(I went abroad and into some niiiiice debt for my degree. I love ya, America, but sometimes your educational system gets really snobby about what is acceptable reading fodder. The Great American Novel is not actually what everyone wants to read, ye ken? It's not actually the highest selling genre either, and it doesn't make you an amazing writer just because you wrote it. Thanks for brainwashing and demoralizing writer-hopefuls for years, but it's time to end that shit. You know how people always go, "But what are you going to DO with your writing degree?" It's time we all start answering, "Well, I am going to WRITE." /rocketscience)
ANYWAY. I first spoke to my agent because I was suddenly optimistic! OMG, you mean people will actually buy my romance and horror? I HAVE SO MANY QUESTIONS. I turned to a friend and writing buddy, Diana Copland, and with much apology and profuse promises that I wouldn't poach her agent, I asked Diana if she could get me in touch with said agent so I could grill her about the publishing industry.
Saritza Hernandez, kind soul that she is, let me yammer at her for a good hour with all my "HOW" and "WHATSIT" and "WHEN" and "WHEREFORE" and "I LIKE WRITING SLASH" and "AND SOMETIMES ALSO THE HORROR KIND". She answered everything in great detail, thereby making me even more optimistic. She put it within reach, which for years I had been taught to believe was a pipe dream.
She asked what I was working on.
I said I had a second-person POV male/male romance short story.
She said, "Diana highly recommends your writing."
I blubbered around a bit and probably made little sense but I know I said thank you.
She said, "I'm not accepting submissions right now, but why don't you send me the story anyway?"
Look, I get it. I get that I did not match up with my agent in the usual way. And I REALLY get it now, when I find that I have no experience writing a pitch. Point in fact, I'm about to start pitching my next project as a thriller series, and I'm like, shitshitshit, synopsis, is this a good synopsis? What the hell do you mean, 1-2 pages? Effing log lines, IT'S ONLY ONE LINE HOW CAN IT BE STOMPING ON MY HEAD LIKE GODZILLA? But I like all my characters, I can't just describe two! How does this make no sense to you?? It makes perfect sense, you just have to read the novel!!
Hence, the purchase.
My match with my agent was primarily through networking. A very important part of marketing, that, and one that I still have to practice. But I unknowingly sidestepped so many horror stories: authors who went through four agents, authors whose book deals folded right at publishing, authors who got scammed out of their burgeoning baby manuscripts. Looking back, it's frightening: I never saw what I was being spared. Complete fool's luck. I count myself extremely lucky and privileged to have found Saritza the way I did.
Now I have to pick up the slack of my good fortune. Buckle down. Learn a thing or sixty.
But hey, maybe this research will balance out the file the NSA has, documenting all my inquiries into scalpels, landmines, plagues, psychoses, handguns, the FDA, and the city of San Francisco. >_>
Congratulations to Carly Rose, who won a free copy of One Door Closes, and arella, who won a gift certificate to Amazon!
Thank you to everyone who entered the giveaway. ^_^ Your support is amazing. Happy reading!
Let's get this going right.
The Hall of Fame: responses to the news about One Door Closes and subscribing to the newsletter:
Best Use of Imagery
"My lady, I humbly accept your invitation with the most profound sincerity and gratitude. Madam author, I shall await your future works of literature with much titillating anticipation, like that of a bull moose in the early whisper of spring awaiting a female. Or that of a Wal-Mart shopper on payday waiting for his meth dealer to call him back. Magnanimously, Your loyal supporter"
"Dear pretentious author aka Mz. Lindsey, I stumbled upon your site by chance, or maybe just bad luck, and I just have to say this: you are my new least favorite author. I can't wait to send you hate letter after hate letter detailing everything that I think is wrong with your books and your website. The appalling forest scene (who needs trees, anyway?) and the egregious cursive. My eyes are watering as I type this. And no, to answer your dismal question, I do NOT want to be a part of your "newsletter." Sincerely, your least favorite fan"
(J, you are my favorite troll... ^_^)
Win a spot in the Hall of Fame!
Comment below, or here.
I'm looking to expand my reading list. Please tell me your favorite book and why (briefly!). ^__^
In fact, hell, let's make it your favorite book of all time AND your favorite recent book. If they are one and the same, awesomesauce! I just know it can be tough to narrow it down to just one...
*does not have more than one favorite book, no sir* >.>
In case anyone's curious:
My favorite book of all time is Lord of the Flies by William Golding, because it is a book I can read again and again, and always find something I never saw before. The psychology of it is both amazing and terrifying. Best book I have ever read.
My favorite recent book is World War Z by Max Brooks, because the approach is fresh, and it thoroughly explores aspects that I have barely seen in the zombie apocalypse genre, including ecology, economics, and long term societal effects. It's amazing!
Hello! My name is Grete and welcome to my writing blog! I am a writer or romance, horror, and general observation