Zombie Flies, Hub Trees & More: Madeleine Roux Discusses the Influences Behind SALVAGED

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I was riveted to my chair while devouring the recently released science fiction novel Salvaged from New York Times Best Selling Author Madeleine Roux. The book combined hard science fiction with mystery, action, horror and romantic elements in a very effective manner, so I was excited to interview Ms. Roux about her influences and some of the thinking behind the plot and the world building.

The blurb for Salvaged (courtesy of Penguin): A WOMAN ON THE RUN. A CAPTAIN ADRIFT IN SPACE. ONE OF THEM IS INFECTED WITH AN ALIEN PARASITE.

In this dark science fiction thriller, a young woman must confront her past so the human race will have a future.

Rosalyn Devar is on the run from her famous family, the bioengineering job she’s come to hate, and her messed-up life. She’s run all the way to outer space, where she’s taken a position as a “space janitor,” cleaning up ill-fated research expeditions. But no matter how far she goes, Rosalyn can’t escape herself. After too many mistakes on the job, she’s given one last chance: take care of salvaging the Brigantine, a research vessel that has gone dark, with all crew aboard thought dead.

But the Brigantine’s crew are very much alive–if not entirely human. Now Rosalyn is trapped on board, alone with a crew infected by a mysterious parasitic alien. The captain, Edison Aries, seems to still maintain some control over himself and the crew, but he won’t be able to keep fighting much longer. Rosalyn and Edison must find a way to stop the parasite’s onslaught…or it may take over the entire human race.

Veronica Scott for AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE: What were your major influences when writing the book?

MR: The initial idea came from wanting to do a sci-fi retelling of Beauty and the Beast. The bones of the fairytale are still there, even if the story began to evolve away from the inspiration in later parts of the book. One of my favorite writers, Angela Carter, did some incredible things with that fairytale, and I wanted to take my own crack at it. That’s not saying I got anywhere close to her level of genius, but I’m always inspired by her dark, twisted interpretations like the ones found in The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories.

Around the time I had the nascent idea for Salvaged, a friend sent me an article on Hub Trees, and reading about that kicked off the initial research for the book, looking into these tiny, tiny networks of fungus that used vibrations to communicate about environmental conditions, sending messages between trees. There’s also a species of fly, lovingly called Zombie Flies, scientific name Apocephalus borealis, that will take over a host insect and change their behavior. Those two inspirations produced Foxfire, and then I added some more fantastical elements, like the turquoise color and the fact that it’s an alien. But to me those things are still rooted somewhat in reality – there are bioluminescent fungi on Earth, and I just don’t think our first close encounter will be with bipedal aliens. Don’t get me wrong, I love the thought of a stereotypical alien showing up in a saucer, but I’d put my money on our first alien encounter being with something more like a bacteria or fungus.

The third inspiration is partially and maybe arrogantly my own past. It was important to me that Rosalyn was a sexual assault survivor. I think we so rarely have a survivor in a story where they get to be heroic and flawed and also experience healing and love, usually it’s an experience that robs the character of agency, or makes them somehow “broken” or worse, it’s used as an excuse to make that character hardened or more of a bad ass. None of those things ever sit well with me, and I wanted to take my own trauma and give it to a character, and give her what felt like a more realistic path to healing and coping. Survivors of assault deserve to see themselves represented in a sensitive, well-rounded way, and I can only hope I accomplished that in Salvaged.

ASM.: Parts of the book reminded me a little bit of the movie ‘Sunshine Cleaning’ – gory to say the least! What kind of research did you have to do in order to write the cleanup scenes (which were gut wrenching to read but effective!)

MR: I’m a True Crime fanatic so weirdly enough I didn’t have to do that much extra research. I had already read about some pretty upsetting cases that involved heavy, heavy decomposition, so I reread a few book chapters and re-listened to a few podcasts. I’m hesitant to name any cases in particular, because I don’t think it’s respectful to compare actual deceased people to something I needed for narrative purposes in a book. Let’s just say that I looked at some photographs that I would like to scrub completely from my memory.

ASM.: Fair enough! Which was the most difficult character to write and why? 

MR: Probably Piero. There’s a balance you have to hit with a villain that makes their motivations feel realistic and interesting, but you also need the audience to loathe them. I didn’t want to make him one dimensional, but you also never want to feel like you’re justifying why someone behaves badly, you just want it to feel more like an explanation. Hitting that balance was difficult, and just on a more surface level he’s a middle-aged Italian man with a pretty visceral hatred of women, so he’s about as far from me as a character can get.

ASM.: This book seems like a change of pace for you from the Asylum series – do you anticipate writing more science fiction? 

MR: Absolutely! I think when an author publishes their first book there’s an assumption that that’s where they want to live forever, that you’re going to entrench yourself in one area and never shift out of it. For some authors I think that works, and that’s what makes them happy, but writing strictly horror was never my intent. I’ve always loved science fiction, I’ve always wanted to see if I could make my style and interests blend with the parameters of the genre. And I came up writing historical romance, so I often miss getting to do more of that. Branching out now in this stage of my career is about going back to my roots. Salvaged might not seem on its face like a turn in that direction, but it is. Romance is a sizable component of the book, as is world building and a character-driven narrative. I’ve done historical work in Escape From Asylum and the House of Furies series, and more of those elements will be appearing in my future books as well.

ASM.: What tempted you to switch genres? 

MR: The best part of writing a new series or book is the challenge it presents. I like to push myself on one particular aspect of writing in each new project, and sci-fi presented quite a few challenges, and I think it’s tempting for any author to see how their personal voice and thematic interests work in the context of a different genre. To me, romance and horror fit perfectly inside sci-fi for this project, the combination just clicked.

ASM.: Do you write to music or was there a ‘soundtrack’ for this book? 

MR: You know those YouTube videos that have a title as long as a sentence? Ultra Chill Ambient Space Beats To Write To, etc.? Those compilations were a godsend for this project. Whenever I write I need supporting music but nothing with words, it needs to blend into the background and just keep the mood going. I’ve been doing some work for World of Warcraft recently and the ambient region mixes folks have put up on YouTube from the game world were spot on for writing.

ASM.: What’s next for you? 

MR: Another book set in the world of Salvaged but with different characters will be out next year in the fall, and that book is called Reclaimed. My middle grade book for World of Warcraft, The Shining Blade, is out this December, and I’ll have another young adult book dropping in 2020 as well.

ASM.: Is there a TV show or movie you’ve recently binge watched? 

MR: ‘Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance’ consumed my life for a good portion of the summer, I just loved it so much. I’ve also really enjoyed ‘Succession’, and my brother recently got me into ‘Stumptown’.

ASM.: What’s on your To Be Read list? 

MR: Oh boy, it’s embarrassingly long, so I’ll just mention a few. The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal, If It Makes You Happy by Claire Kann, Emily of the New Moon by L.M Montgomery and I’m also planning to re-read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel this winter.

Thanks for the interview and we’ll be looking forward to the next book in the Salvaged universe!

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