Today, we’re so excited to be talking with T.A. MacLagan about her debut YA release THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE, and we’re offering a giveaway as well! How much better could it get? More on that later…let’s find out a bit about this book, and meet the author.
When your life is a lie, how do you know what’s real?
Alexandra Gastone has a simple plan: graduate high school, get into Princeton, work for the CIA, and serve her great nation.
She was told the plan back when her name was Milena Rokva, back before the real Alexandra and her family were killed in a car crash.
Milena was trained to be a sleeper agent by Perun, a clandestine organization from her true homeland of Olissa. There, Milena learned everything she needed to infiltrate the life of CIA analyst Albert Gastone, Alexandra’s grandfather, and the ranks of America’s top intelligence agency.
For seven years, “Alexandra” has been on standby and life’s been good. Grandpa Albert loves her, and her strategically chosen boyfriend, Grant, is amazing.
But things are about to change. Perun no longer needs her at the CIA in five years’ time. They need her active now.
Between her cover as a high school girl—juggling a homecoming dance, history reports, and an increasingly suspicious boyfriend—and her mission in this high-stakes spy game, the boundaries of her two lives are beginning to blur.
Will she stay true to the country she barely remembers, or has her loyalty shattered along with her identity?
Sounds amazing, right? Right. And amazing just about sums up T.A. MacLagan herself. Born in Kansas, MacLagan now lives a world away in Wellington, New Zealand. She has a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and then went on to pursue a PH.D. in anthropology, studying everything from poison dart frogs in Costa Rica, to howler monkeys in Panama. Wow. And now she’s an author! What will she do next?
I had the chance to ask her a few questions about writing, ALEXANDRA GASTONE, and what’s up next in her life.
GG: Thanks for joining us today! First up, The YA Buccaneers are all about adventure, bravery, and intrigue, so THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE is right up our crow’s nest, so to speak. How did you come up with this great premise?
T.A.M: 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.
GG: I think about that a lot when watching movies….what were these people doing as teenagers? Oh well, too many ideas, too little time. Anyway, I just LOVE the cover of this book. With a lot of the Buccaneers debuting recently and in the near future, we know covers are a big deal. Was this the first cover you were given, or was there a big process?
T.A.G: I’m a book cover aficionado, so thankfully my publisher allowed me to get really involved with conceptualizing the cover. The cover we finally went with was the fourth iteration. The first couple had the same red and black color combo but had Alexandra standing at a distance in a gown (eek!). Alexandra is so not a gown kinda girl. The cover artist then closed in on Alexandra’s face and her heterochromatic eyes and that’s when I started to get really excited about the cover. I knew we were getting close at that point. The rifle sight overlay was the final addition and made the cover perfect in my eyes. With the red and black colors and the rifle sight, the cover practically screams SPY!
If you’re interested in a more lengthy discussion of cover design, I did a whole big write up about the process and what it taught me over on my blog: http://tamaclagan.com/2015/05/26/talking-book-covers-they-call-me-alexandra-gastone/
GG: Fantastic! I’m sure a lot of us are going to check out that post. Speaking of process, what—if anything—has surprised you about the publishing world? Any tips you can give those of us still working on getting published?
T.A.G. Probably my biggest surprise about the publishing world is how long everything takes. Nothing happens quickly. Ever. Patience and perseverance are really the name of the game.
As far as tips go…this is something that I was told four years into my PhD. Program and wish I’d been told at the beginning. It holds true for graduate study as well as writing. If you can think of doing anything else with your life besides being a writer (or an anthropologist as was the case with me in graduate school) then go and do that thing. If you can’t, then be a writer and fight for it until you make it.
GG: Best advice I’ve heard in a long time…and very timely. You have lived a fascinating life so far, and I feel like this must influence your writing quite a bit. Being an anthropologist must give you some insight into people and how we live. Do you feel this background helps with your writing?
T.A.G.: I definitely think it comes in handy! For Alexandra Gastone, she’s from an imaginary country called Olissa. My background in anthropology helped me develop a country, which I think (hope) comes across as very authentic and plausible. I also like to have culturally diverse characters in my book so my background comes in handy when creating characters that are not middle-class and white like myself. After spending 7 years getting my PhD., I only ended up using it professionally for 3, so it’s nice that I can still draw on it with my writing!
GG: Hey! Great idea! My parents would probably be thrilled if I worked more of my music degree into my own writing. Speaking of writing…what do you like to read? Do you have a favorite book for 2015 so far?
T.A.G: I love thrillers and books with lots of action. Some recent thrillers that I loved are Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas and Liars, Inc. by Paula Stokes. Both are buckle your seatbelts fast reads. I also just finished The Red Queen, which I was prepared not to like because of all the hype but I ended up LOVING it. I’ll definitely be reading the rest of that series! I’m a total Victoria Aveyard fangirl now.
GG: I know!!! I thought it was historical, and put off reading it until someone gave me a copy and said she couldn’t put it down. Now, I’m recommending it to everyone! Okay, last question—what are you working on right now? A sequel? Something new? We’re excited to hear!
T.A.G.: I’m currently writing the Alexandra Gastone sequel as well as outlining a standalone YA thriller. Alexandra will be a duology, so all the big questions will get wrapped up in the next book!
If you haven't picked up T.A. MacLagan's book, go get it now! And T.A...thank you so much for this great opportunity to speak with you here at the YA Buccaneers! I’ll be wanting to call you TAG from now on…sorry, but it seems to have worked its way into my vocab now. Watch for a review a bit later on for THEY CALL ME ALEXANDRA GASTONE on my personal blog/Goodreads.
Along with this fabulous interview, T.A. MacLagan is also offering up a $15 Amazon gift card prize during her blog tour this month! Enter below, and maybe you’ll win!
You can find her online at: