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I have had the wonderful opportunity to do an interview with the author of They Call Me Alexandra Gastone, T.A. Maclagan!  She agreed to answer a few questions about herself and her novel, and if you haven’t read it yet, hopefully you pick up a copy and check it out – it’s an amazing book!

 

About T.A. Maclagan:

T.A. MaclagenT.A. Maclagan is a Kansas girl by birth but now lives in the bush-clad hills of Wellington, New Zealand with her Kiwi husband, son and four pampered cats. With a bachelor’s degree in biology and a Ph.D. in anthropology, she’s studied poison dart frogs in the rainforests of Costa Rica, howler monkeys in Panama and the very exotic and always elusive American farmer. It was as she was writing her ‘just the facts’ dissertation that T.A. felt the call to pursue something more imaginative and discovered a passion for creative writing. They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is her first novel.

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Q. Can you begin by telling us a little bit about yourself?  Where did you grow up?  What did you always want to be when you were little?

A. I grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, Overland Park, KS and Medfield, MA. When I was little, I had an obsession with dolphins and Jacques Cousteau was my hero. I watched all his specials and was utterly fascinated by the ocean. Back then I wanted to be a marine biologist. Then I found horses in my tween years and wanted to be a professional horseperson.

I was an avid reader and daydreamer as a child but I never dreamed of being an author. It was as I was writing my very boring dissertation that I found I needed a creative outlet and tried creative writing. The rest, as they say, is history!

Q. What kinds of things do you like to do in your spare time?

A. I have an almost four-year old boy so I don’t have an abundance of free time but when I do, I love yoga, hiking, and photography. I’m also feeling the call to return to horseback riding but I’m not sure where I’ll be able to fit that in. I could really use more than 24 hours in a day!

Q. It sounds like you’ve been to some really interesting places!  Where is your favorite place to travel?

A. Czech Republic, New Zealand, Australia and Panama are probably my four favorite places so far! From the point of view of a photographer, you can’t go wrong with any of these. I feel very lucky to live in New Zealand because everywhere you look is basically a postcard shot!

Next up, I’d really like to get to Bolivia to see the Salt Flats and to Cambodia for the ruins.

Q. You have a bachelor’s degree in biology and a Ph.D. in anthropology, that’s very impressive.  What types of things have you been doing with your degrees?

A. Yikes! This is a bit sad, but I haven’t done a whole lot with my degrees. I spent 7 years getting my PhD and I only used it for 3 years professionally. I still give an occasional lecture here and there but that’s it. I realized about four years into my PhD that it really wasn’t the right fit for me. I’m one of those people that really struggled to find themselves in their 20s. I’m beyond grateful that I finally found what fulfills me, which is writing.

Q. They Call Me Alexandra Gastone is your first book.  What inspired you to write it?  How long did it take you?

A. I was watching the movie Salt with Angelina Jolie when I got the idea for Alexandra. Angelina plays a Russian sleeper agent and in the movie there’s a flashback to her being trained as a child and then placed in the U.S. at around 8 or 9 years old. That got me thinking about what her life as a teenage sleeper might have been like and from there, Alexandra Gastone was born.

My first draft probably took 4 months to write although that was over a period of more than a year and a half. I wrote the first half and then the Christchurch earthquake in New Zealand happened and I pretty much stopped writing for a year. I was pregnant at the time and everything was pretty dreadful. Our house was broken, I had gestational diabetes and the pregnancy was, in general, quite difficult. I just didn’t have the headspace to write. I picked it back up again when my son was 4 months old.

Q. Who is your favorite character in the book?

A. Lex is definitely my favorite! I love her strength in the face of adversity but also appreciate her vulnerability as well. I think it makes her a believable teenage girl despite the fact she’s a trained spy. Also, I’d personally love to have her skill set and be able to kick butt!

Q. Throughout the book, Alexandra had to be incredibly brave to do the things that she had to do, yet she remained incredibly strong.  Was it difficult to create such a character, who remained believable through all the hardships she had to face?

A. I definitely found it difficult! Lex’s character was probably the one I had to tinker with the most. In my earlier versions she was coming off as quite distant (because she was afraid to connect with people) and not as relatable as you need your main character to be. With the help of my agent, I think I was able to find the right notes to hit as far as making her someone the reader can believe in and connect with.

Q. Did the plot book take any unexpected turns while you were writing it?

A. Yes, definitely! The ending in the book wasn’t what I’d originally envisioned and Lex didn’t have her trusted handler, Varos, in the first draft.

Q. What is your favorite part of the book?  Which part was the hardest part for you to write?

A. My favorite part of the book was also the hardest to write. I really love Lex’s relationships with Grant. Perun has made Alexandra into a bit of a badass but in her relationship with Grant, who’s this sweet, somewhat geeky guy, you can see that’s not who she is down deep. Lex doesn’t revel in being a spy. She craves something more true and more normal.

Q. I have to ask…will there be a sequel to They Call Me Alexandra Gastone?

A. Yes! The plan is for a duology and I’m working on the final book right now.

Q. Are you currently working on any other books?

A. I’m outlining a new standalone thriller and I hope to have the rough draft done by Christmas. Fingers crossed!

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