Welcome to Barren Island Books, the author interview series that’s in no way related to a popular music-based radio programme. You know the rules by now: my guests are exiled to a remote island with only five books for company, selected from the categories I give them. It’s up to them to make sure they choose wisely, because they’re going to be stuck with those books for a long, long time …
My interviewee this week is Lexie Dunne, author of fabulous new superhero sci-fi novel Superheroes Anonymous. When she’s not being banished to a desert island, Lexie can be found at www.dunnewriting.com.
Lexie, thanks for joining us. First of all, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself – just so we know who it is we’re sending into exile. Illogical fears, unusual birthmarks, whether you’d rather wrestle a bear or punch a shark, that kind of thing.
Hello! I’m happy to be here, even if it means you’re sending me to a place where I’ll have to build some wifi with a coconut and some tinfoil I sneaked in my bag. Illogical fears? Doll faces. Unusual birthmarks? I have a dragon face on my upper left thigh (my mother has the same mark, but on the opposite leg). As for wrestling a bear or punching a shark, can I abstain from that vote? Because I’m not a very good swimmer, and bears are godless killing machines according to the man where I get all of my news, Mr. Colbert. Could I possibly write in a ballot? Petting a small gaseous dog?
We'll bear it in mind as a possible option for future interviewees. And what about your own work? What are the inspirations behind it? What would make someone else choose it to accompany them into exile?
My work is inspired by Shakespeare. I write exactly like him, it’s rather uncanny. That’s right. Shakespeare and I? Totes bros. He writes about superheroes. I write about superheroes. He writes about masked men and women falling in love. I write about masked men and women falling in love. Last week we had a tea party (he had a nice Earl Grey, I stuck with grain alcohol infused with lavender) and we talked at length about how Lady Macbeth and Gail Godwin? Basically separated at birth.
What would make somebody choose this book to accompany them into exile? Well, the paperback’s out on November 25th, and it makes great kindling. If you have a furnace in your exile, you could even read it. I promise lots of adventures, some snark, great banter, and at least four puns. Why would you ever turn that down? You should totally go and buy it on Amazon or through your preferred retailer now!
Yep, I’m sold. Now, let’s move on to the books you’re going to take to the island with you. First up, it’s your favourite childhood book – perhaps the one that got you interested in reading in the first place, or the one you read over and over when you were young. Which will you choose, and why?
I cannot remember what book got me interested in reading in the first place because frankly, I would’ve been too young (I started reading at eight months; my pronunciation needed a little work, and I always stuck to the important books like Tess of D’Urbervilles, The Art of War, and Winnie the Pooh). I can tell you it wasn’t Hooked on Phonics, though that totally did work for me.
I think I’ll have to pick a book my mom read aloud to all of the Dunne children, which would be Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays. Four Melendys in that book, four Dunne siblings (though they numbered three boys and a girl, and we were the opposite) and they pooled their allowances to let each child have an adventure. Obviously, my siblings and I would never have gotten along well enough for this to happen, but it was fun snuggling up and listening to my mother read it to us in the evenings. People, if you can, read to your kids and read in front of your kids. It’s the best way to ensure they’ll grow up loving the written word.
And when they’re older, they can buy my book. It has superheroes. C’monnnnn.
Next, the book that made the greatest impact on your life. This could be one that inspired you to become a writer, or one that made you look at the world in a whole new way – maybe even one that resulted in real-life romance or adventure.
A teenaged rite of passage in casa Dunne is to be given your first Anne McCaffrey book, which definitely changed my entire life. For years, I consumed every Dragonriders of Pern book I could get my hands on. And even better, it was one of the things my best friend and I first bonded over in high school. That relationship is still going strong something like fifteen years later, even though we live hours away from each other. Heck, we backpacked across Europe together and I got to be her maid of honor (and got an entire room to fist-pump in victory). So I’m going to select Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey for this question.
If all teenagers grew up with Anne McCaffrey then the world would clearly be a better place (says another Pern devotee). For your third book – and you’re probably going to need this one, all alone on a remote island – I’d like you to choose your greatest comfort read. You know, the one you turn to when you’re sad or ill or just need a little pick-me-up.
It is very tempting to pick a book that I find terrible (there are plenty!) and say that it provides comfort to me because at least I’ll always be able to write better than that. But I am trying to craft this public persona of being snarky-if-mostly-positive (do not ask my opinions on killing lady characters for the sole purpose of causing men pain unless you want a capslocked rant with references and footnotes), so I will pick one of my ultimate comfort books, which is The Black Swan by Mercedes Lackey. Or, I should say, the Odette and Odile parts of The Black Swan. Because I’m a chronic rereader, and I reread the parts I like best, and Odile’s journey from a distant person who just needs love to somebody accepted and cherished by her peers is one of the most beautiful transformations I have seen in any book.
Fourthly, it’s your unexpected treasure: a book you didn’t expect to like but did, maybe one outside your usual genre or that you picked up with low expectations but were pleasantly surprised …
I do this thing where I pick up books because I think they look terrible but just interesting enough to be a pleasant train wreck. And I was not altogether impressed with the covers for Patricia Briggs’s Mercy and Alpha & Omega series, so I picked up one as a joke. It turned out that the joke was on me: the book was amazing! I’m usually leery of werewolf books because I think a lot of the time authors just use that excuse to write these ‘guilty pleasure’ societies where the women get dominated, and I get enough of that from TV and every other kind of media I consume, but this particular one managed to subvert my expectations. I tip my hat to Patricia Briggs and select one of her books to carry along, even though I have to confess if I need kindling, that one goes first.
And finally, I’d like you to choose your instant classic – the book you think most deserves to be read and reread by future generations. It’s up to you whether this book is already considered a classic or is something more obscure.
Hands down Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. I haven’t stopped laughing since. It’s a very similar type of humor to Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which I obsessed over in high school, but it’s got some beautiful self-awareness to it. A lot of similar books fall short of the mark, but this one is entirely magical. It’s a book I return to time and again, and even though I never use bookmarks, I have this beautiful old Joker card in there. Sometimes I’ll leave it at a particularly funny passage so I know I’ll be able to come to the book when I’m feeling down and have a good laugh.
Agreed, Good Omens is brilliant – and one you have in common with last week's interviewee, Simon Paul Wilson. Maybe we'll have to exile you to neighbouring islands.
Anyway, we’ll get those five books packaged up ready for your journey. Since we’re not completely heartless here at Barren Island Books, we’ll also let you take one song/piece of music, one film and one other item of your choice into exile with you …
I would like to carry along this vine of this cat saying “Yasssss!”, a copy of “Never Gonna Give You Up” in case I run into somebody else in exile (just because I’m alone doesn’t mean I can’t rickroll somebody), and my dog.
Nice. Now, before we whisk you away, you have one last decision to make: where you want your remote island to be located. You can choose anywhere you like for your exile, in this world or another.
Can I be in Taylor Swift’s Diet Coke commercial? Take a sip and flat-faced kittens appear. It’s pretty much the closest thing you can get to paradise. Barring that, I would like somewhere warm and filled with dragons, please and thank you.
Done and Dunne.* So that’s it, then – you’re ready to go. Thank you for joining us, and enjoy your trip!
* Sorry. Couldn’t resist. Will give you extra wifi coconuts as penance.