BEMIS REVIEWS BOOKS MARCH 2017’S AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT IS PROUD TO PRESENT:
ALEXANDRA OLIVA AUTHOR OF THE LAST ONE
Q: Why did it take Zoo so long to figure out what was really going on after she separated from the group? Do you think she was suffering from something similar to PTSD? Do you believe the other contestants would have believed as she did, that it was all part of the show’s production?
A: In writing The Last One I wanted to explore a character at two opposite extremes of her personality: the bubbly, eager person Zoo is at the beginning of the show versus the broken, hardened version of herself we meet in the first-person narrative. The questions at the heart of the novel are: How and why did she go from one extreme of her personality to the other? Also: Why, in the face of so much evidence to the contrary, does she continue to convince herself that she’s still on the show? Over the course of the book, I hope readers will come to understand that she has her reasons. I don’t believe the others contestants would have reacted the same way Zoo did. That’s one of the reasons I chose her for this role. She has a very specific psychology that I was excited to explore.
Q: You did a very comprehensive job representing customary reality show archetypes. What are your overall impressions of these types of shows and did you draw inspiration from any ones in particular?
A: Thank you. I didn’t draw cast inspiration from any one show in particular, but I did watch a lot of reality television while writing (and procrastinating writing) the book. I couldn’t help but notice how carefully constructed the casts of these show were: majority white, majority male, but with very deliberate nods toward diversity that often seemed to be more about leaning into stereotypes than celebrating differences. The casting of my fictitious show — and the names I gave the contestants — is a deliberate acknowledgment of this. I wanted to explore stereotyping and how some characters embrace how they’re being portrayed while others chaff against it and some don’t even realize they’ve been type-cast at all. Beyond casting, part of the spark behind the idea for this book was realizing how absurd some of these shows are with their carefully crafted challenges and their focus on interpersonal drama. That always drove me crazy — for example, I’ve never been able to get through a whole episode of Survivor. I can’t stand the voting/backstabbing dynamic. I prefer shows where the focus is the cast actually having to learn and use skills.
So when I started writing the book, I loved the idea of exploring the contrast between these faux survival situations and a situation in which someone really does have to fight to survive.
Q: Zoo was someone I felt people would naturally root for. Did you feel when you were writing her character that the majority would choose her as a fan favorite?
A: I wanted Zoo to be someone the editor of the show could easily frame as a fan favorite, but I also wanted her to have a darker, sadder, angrier side that fights its way to the front when things get hard. I honestly wasn’t sure how much readers would root for Zoo since she’s not a traditional heroine, but I wanted to write a character who makes mistakes and who isn’t always kind — that felt more real and interesting to me.
Q: Do you believe that those in the reality competition were better or worse off from being shielded from the horrors of this plague? Do you think their being part of the competition in any way prepared those who survived or do you believe that their experience could have worked against them?
A: This is a tough one to answer. The answer is different for each contestant and would depend a lot on where each contestant would have been — if they weren’t on the show — when things got bad. But I can’t say that I think anyone was better off being on the show when it happened; most were definitely worse off.
Q: When Zoo first meets Brennan, she believes him to be a decoy sent by the competition’s producers to throw her off the competition despite a number of occurrences that might refute this. Zoo continues to remain distrustful of him. Do you believe this quality is a two sided coin working both for and against her simultaneously?
A: Above all else this is a novel about perception: How the characters are perceived by others and themselves; how they perceive the world; how the events on the show are manipulated to affect viewer’s perceptions. Zoo’s reaction to Brennan is an extension of this. She finds a way to fit him into the world-view she’s clinging to. How that affects her is… complicated.
Q: Tracker is easily the most accomplished contestant, the star of the show. What are his true feeling towards Zoo? There was a reference made at the end that sounded much like regret in terms of not reconnecting with her.
A: You’re right, Tracker is very much a loner. He’s there with a mission and knows he has the skills to win, so he doesn’t see the point of being chummy with the other contestants. But characters are more interesting when they have their assumptions challenged, and that’s the role Zoo plays for Tracker. He at first evaluates her — along with everyone else — only in the context of whether or not he thinks they’re competition. But as he realizes there’s a hard-worker with a real desire to learn beneath Zoo’s cheer, he finds himself considering her as more than just another body standing between him and his million dollar prize. Where his feelings go from there, I’ll leave it up to the reader to decide.
About the Author: Alexandra Oliva — Ali, for short — grew up in a tiny town in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. She now lives in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and their brindled mutt, Codex. The Last One is her first novel. You can find her at alexandraoliva.com.
reposted from bemisreviewsbooks.com