I am super thrilled to be a part of the SALVAGE Blog Tour and to be able to share an awesome guest post by Alexandra Duncan about a difficult scene she had to write for SALVAGE. As it is a pivotal scene in the book I can imagine that it had to be just right for it to work in the way the author wanted it to. Which makes it that much more challenging to write.
Whether she succeeded or not, I’ll let you be the judge. How appealing, authentic or engaging romance, love, and especially sex, are in books is something that is completely subjective. As SALVAGE releases in less than a week, you won’t have to wait long to discover the answer for yourself.
I love that SALVAGE has a number of strong messages in addition to being an entertaining story set in a fascinating, if not always desirable, world. If you haven’t yet taken a peek at the book’s description to learn just a bit about it, it is below the post, along with some places to find it online.
And if you haven’t yet “met” the amazing author behind this intriguing story with its stunningly gorgeous cover, her bio and places to find her online are also below. She seems to be quite the dabbler in rather varied interests, all of which sound like they could be a lot of fun.
Anyway… the tour also includes some amazing bookish prizes. Just follow the instructions in the Rafflecopter for a chance to win. And if you’d like to visit the other stops on tour to check out what the participating bloggers have to say about SALVAGE, read a few interviews with the author and take a peek at some of Alexandra Duncan’s other guest posts, the schedule is included at the bottom of this post.
But before all that, let me turn the blog over to Alexandra Duncan so she can share her thoughts on SALVAGE‘s difficult scene.
by Alexandra Duncan
There’s sex in my book.
Not a lot of it, but my main character, Ava, is in love with a boy named Luck and thinks their families want them to get married. So, like a lot of real-life people in love, they have sex. That act is the fulcrum on which the rest of the book turns, and it was also the hardest to write.
I knew I would get heat for including a sex scene in a YA book. I work as a librarian, so I’m no stranger to books being challenged because of their content. The strangest complaint I’ve received so far was from a childless older woman who was so upset that the teenage boys in John Green’s Paper Towns cursed that she wrote down the number of times each curse word was used in the book and presented it to us with great indignation. Statistically, though, it’s sex in YA books that leads to the greatest amount of censorship.
Source: American Library Association
I’m not getting rid of Paper Towns or any other YA books simply because they have some content not everyone likes, but I also have some sympathy for the would-be book censors. Deep down, most of them have good intent – they want to protect children from ideas and experiences they aren’t ready to handle. That’s normal, even admirable.
The problem is that teenagers aren’t children. Adolescence is a time of huge mental and emotional growth when teens need to experiment, engage with new ideas, and explore things that pique their curiosity. Because teens are transitioning into their role as adults, some of those ideas they’re curious about are going to be things they either aren’t actually ready for or that we adults, with our own histories of mistakes and hard lessons learned, would prefer they not do. We don’t want them to get hurt. Books, however, provide a safe space for them explore and gather information about these things without physically engaging in them.
I remember being fifteen and being intensely curious about sex. My hormones were all over the place and it was pretty much all I could think about. But the topic was taboo with adults, who knew something about it, and my classmates and friends were full of bizarre misinformation. (Yes, you really can get pregnant your first time. No, hot tubs will not make you impotent.) Reading gave me an outlet to explore this thing that I wasn’t emotionally ready to do in real life, but that was looming large in my future.
All of this was going through my head when I sat down to write the sex scene in Salvage. I wanted it to be realistic, but not graphic. I wanted to be honest about the awkwardness and discomfort that comes along with your first time, but I didn’t want to give the impression that sex is fundamentally scary, bad, or painful. With the misinformation flying around and lack of sex education in so many schools, I think we YA authors who write books where sex is an integral part of the narrative have an opportunity to weave information about concepts like safe sex, consent, and even basic physiology into our stories. This is especially important for girls, who are often discouraged and shamed not just for being curious about sex, but for wanting to know more about their own bodies. No one told me ahead of time that your period can stop if you’re under extreme stress or how common ovarian cysts are. I left my high school sex ed class with an encyclopedic knowledge of all the world’s STIs, but very little knowledge about my own physiology.
I went back and forth about what to include in the sex scene in Salvage. Where should the description start and stop? I thought about how other YA authors handled these kinds of scenes and remembered a really thoughtful novel called Say the Word, by Jeannine Garsee, in which the sex happens inside a sleeping bag and all the readers really see is a hand flung out ecstatically, a la Titanic. That wasn’t going to work, here, though. This was a scene that was going to change everything my characters knew. It was going to raise questions about pregnancy, purity, and feminine worth, so I couldn’t simply hint at what was happening.
I thought about my own first time, about the anticipation and trepidation, the discomfort and excitement, the rawness of emotion that kind of intimacy brings up. I fixed a line that was TMI, but then it was too vague and confusing. I started again, made the scene quicker, then went back and extended the leadup. Luck ran his fingers through Ava’s hair. Ava circled her arms around Luck. They wrapped their hands around each other. That seemed good.
I sent the manuscript off to my editor, who sent it back to me with the comment, “TOO MANY HANDS!” I re-read what I had written, this time with the benefit of a small break from the scene. She was right. Every third sentence mentioned hands or parts of hands. I started over, moving a conversation the two characters have to a later part of the scene and having Ava focus on her own emotions and how this experience was different from what she had been told to expect. I had it. Everything started to click, and suddenly the pacing came together with the goal I had held onto all along – to be honest and informative without going into overwhelming detail.
I know my book won’t be for everyone, but if it convinces one reader that sex doesn’t determine her worth as a human being, I’ll consider this book worth all the effort that went into it.
Salvage is a thrilling, surprising, and thought-provoking debut novel that will appeal to fans of Across the Universe, by Beth Revis, and The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood. This is literary science fiction with a feminist twist, and it explores themes of choice, agency, rebellion, and family.
Ava, a teenage girl living aboard the male-dominated, conservative deep space merchant ship Parastrata, faces betrayal, banishment, and death. Taking her fate into her own hands, she flees to the Gyre, a floating continent of garbage and scrap in the Pacific Ocean. This is a sweeping and harrowing novel about a girl who can’t read or write or even withstand the forces of gravity. What choices will she make? How will she build a future on an earth ravaged by climate change? Named by the American Booksellers Association as a Spring 2014 Indies Introduce Pick.
Release date: April 1, 2014
Publisher: Greenwillow Books
Formats: Hardcover, audio, eBook
About Alexandra Duncan
Photo credit: Lani Woodland
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 forthcoming from Greenwillow Books in April 2014.
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. Representation by superagent Kate Schafer Testerman of KT Literary.
The tour includes an awesome giveaway for TEN (10) copies of SALVAGE – US only.
Giveaway ends April 5th.
Just enter in the Rafflecopter below…
The Tour Schedule
March 24th – Icey Books – Interview
March 25th – The Eater of Books! – Review
March 26th – Fiktshun – Guest Post
March 27th – Two Chicks on Books – Guest Post
March 28th – Nerdophiles – Review
March 31st – A Book Obsession – Interview
April 1st – Fangirlish – Guest Post
April 2nd – The Book Monsters – Review
April 3rd – Owl Always Be Reading – Review
April 4th – Tales of a Ravenous Reader – Interview