My critique partner, Alexandra Ott’s, debut novel is out today, MG Fantasy RULES FOR THIEVES! Eee, exciting. Look at that glossy cover! (And did I mention I had a hand in choosing the title? 😉 )
Twelve-year-old Alli Rosco is smart, resourceful, and totally incapable of keeping her mouth shut. Some of these traits have served her well during her nine years in Azeland’s orphanage, and others have proved more troublesome…but now that she’s escaped to try her luck on the streets, she has bigger problems than extra chores to contend with. Surviving would be hard enough, but after a run-in with one of the city’s Protectors, she’s marked by a curse that’s slowly working its way to her heart. There is a cure, but the cost is astronomical—and seems well out of her reach.
Enter Beck, a boy with a gift for theft and a touch of magic, who seems almost too good to be true. He tells Alli that the legendary Thieves Guild, long thought to be a myth, is real. Even better, Beck is a member and thinks she could be, too. All she has to do is pass the trial that the King of Thieves will assign to her. Join the Guild, collect her yearly reward and buy a cure. Plus, Alli hopes the Guild will be the home—the family—that Alli has always wanted. But when their trial goes wrong, innocent lives are put in danger, and Alli has to decide how much she can sacrifice in order to survive.
Give it some book love, woo! *throws confetti into air*
Publisher: Aladdin/S&S Release Date: June 6, 2017 Genre: Fantasy Ages: 8-12 Pages: 320 ISBN-13: 9781481472746 ISBN-10: 1481472747
I am excited to share the cover reveal for RULES FOR THIEVES, the debut Middle Grade novel by Alexandra Ott. I interviewed her on this blog a little bit back. Did I mention that I am incredibly hyped for this novel, and you should be too? Not that I’m biased by her being my Critique Partner or anything.
Here is the shiny shiny cover in all its bazaar (no pun intended! 😉 ) beauty. I love how it doesn’t give anything away, and yet emphasises the scenery and the fantasy of the novel. And of course, that pendant. So focal. If I’m honest, (being a non-MG writer) I’m rather jealous of MG cover designs at the moment. MG covers are rocking the market!
For seeker Raine Benares, a demon infestation on the Isle of Mid couldn’t come at a worse time. Already fighting the influence of the Saghred, a soul-stealing stone, Raine discovers she is also magically bonded to a dark mage and a white knight, two dangerous and powerful men on opposing sides.
Turns out, the demons want the key to unlock the Saghred. As a seeker, Raine should be able to find it first. As the axis of light and dark powers, she’s a magical cataclysm waiting to happen.
Well, there was certainly demon troubles.
Unfortunately, I just didn’t love THE TROUBLE WITH DEMONS as I did the Raine Benares books #1 and #2. I can’t really pinpoint why. Well, okay, I can think of a couple of reasons.
But first – the good:
I enjoyed the introduction of new types of demons in this novel, and I was intrigued by the way Raine and the Saghred handled them. The threat-level has definitely increased, both internally and externally, and it’s great to read how Raine, despite her new power, struggles with it.
Getting to See More of the Baddies
Because it’s been a while since I’ve been in Raine’s world, I was always going to feel disorientated at characters saying “oh, it’s so-and-so here to do threat to us. Sigh”. However, I didn’t feel like I needed to well know the characters. Sure, it would be a bit awkward to start reading at book #3, but the plot stands-alone in its arc and even the main characters are pretty summarised by Raine when she interacts with them. “Until a week ago, so-and-so did not know…”
So, being faced with some baddies that I’d forgotten about from the first two books, I wasn’t scratching my head and wondering how they fitted in, which is always something I like to read. I wasn’t confused.
You really get inside Raine’s head with the narrative. I guess whilst I didn’t like how plain the language and description was (see below) it well suits Raine’s style of speaking and, well, living. She rough and doesn’t take anything from any of the baddies or the I-know-what’s-best-for-you heroes.
Me – crying over not enjoying a novel I ought to.
And now – what I didn’t enjoy:
Demon-fighting, talking, demon-fighting, talking. My biggest problem with Demons was that I got bored. It felt a samey progression like a) the previous books and b) every other paranormal fantasy. I wanted more from the writing, which felt plain, and more from the plot. The characters did the same thing at each location.
Granted, it’s also a magically enhanced love triangle, as mentioned in the blurb, but character-shipper in me just finds one of the guys irritating whilst the other is the sexy, white-magic guardian every girl wants. #teamMychael
And whilst I loved the flirting (at least, where I felt it between Raine and Mychael), I didn’t feel there was enough of it/in the right place to satisfy. Then after all’s said and done, Raine is contemplating her love life and it just…seemed too arbitrary at the end.
I find more positive points than negatives, but unfortunately, the negatives were what would’ve sold the book for me. It is, unfortunately, about personal taste, and I just didn’t feel that THE TROUBLE WITH DEMONS was my book.
Regrettably, 3/5 steamy cogs. I will be reading on…when I can get my hands on the next novels. I am invested in Raine’s story, and hope I get to see more variety to the description and action in book #4.
Today, I welcome a special guest to my blog: author, Alexandra Ott, who is a member of the Swanky Seventeens group of authors whose debut books are releasing in 2017. Not only that, but Alex is one of my closest Critique Partners, so I am delighted to be chatting to her about her MG Fantasy, RULES FOR THIEVES, a book I had not only the pleasure of reading, but also helping to name!
Coming Summer 2017 from Aladdin (Simon & Schuster)
Twelve-year-old orphan Alli tries to join a legendary band of thieves in order to get the cure for the curse that’s killing her.
Tell us a little about your journey to your publishing deal.
I first wrote Rules for Thieves in the summer of 2012. Revising it took a while because I was in school at the time, but I finally started querying in late 2013. I spent 2014 revising and querying some more. In early 2015, I signed with my agent and went out on submission. We received an offer from Aladdin in the summer of 2015, about three years after I wrote the first draft!
What was the on-submission time like for you?
It actually went by much faster than I thought it would! I knew that the submission process could take a year or more, so I wasn’t expecting to receive an offer so quickly. When my agent first told me there was an offer, I almost didn’t believe it.
What inspired or led you to start writing the plot of RULES FOR THIEVES?
I was inspired by the kinds of stories I loved as a kid. I always really liked heist novels and fantasy books, and I also loved to invent adventure stories and games that I played with my sister. All of those things came together to become Rules for Thieves, which is really an attempt at writing a book I would have loved to read when I was younger.
Has the novel changed much between your first draft and this current draft?
Yes, quite a bit. The first draft was much shorter, and several crucial elements of the book didn’t exist yet. Much of my revision process has been developing and deepening that initial story. I’ve added more than 15,000 words between the first draft and the current one.
What has been the toughest part of writing RULES FOR THIEVES?
The revision process has been a long one, and there were definitely times when I was so tired of reading it again and again that I just wanted to stop working on it. But there was something about this story and these characters that compelled me to keep working—that, and the encouragement of my awesome critique partners. 😉
What is your favourite part of main character, Alli’s personality? Do you think she is like you?
I love how smart and funny Alli is. On the surface, she isn’t much like me at all. She’s snarky, outspoken, impulsive, and daring—all of which I love about her, but none of which is very much like me. But we do have a few things in common, namely impatience and stubbornness!
Why did you decide on a duology, rather than the more common trilogy and stand alones?
I knew early on that it was going to be a series, but I didn’t know how long it was going to be. Eventually, I realized that two books would be the best fit for the story arcs that I have in mind—three books would be stretching the story too thin, and one wasn’t enough to give Alli the resolution that I wanted for her.
Tell us one thing we can look forward to in the sequel.
There’s not much I can share without spoilers, but let’s just say there will be sinister plots and spies and characters who are more than they appear…
Are you more drawn to writing YA or MG and why? RULES FOR THIEVES is MG, but I know you are also working on YA fiction.
I think I’m drawn to both categories equally. I love the sense of adventure and wonder that comes with MG, but I also love going a little older with YA. It’s nice to be able to take a break from one story and work on something that’s completely different. And I love writing both preteen and teenage protagonists—both ages are endlessly fascinating to me and have so much potential for storytelling.
Is this your first novel, or are there some in drawers that you never want to see again?
I have two novel-length manuscripts in drawers, plus some shorter fiction. They were really important manuscripts that taught me how to write, but they’re not ever going to see the light of day!
Hehe, I know the feeling! Thanks for joining me, Alex, and I can’t wait to get my paws on a copy of the finished product!
Interested in learning more about RULES FOR THIEVES or Alex? Check out her updates on social media:
About the Author
Alexandra Ott writes middle grade and young adult fiction. Her debut middle grade fantasy novel Rules for Thieves will be published by Aladdin/S&S in summer 2017.
Alex graduated from the University of Tulsa, where she studied English. She is currently an editorial intern at Entangled Publishing. In her spare time, she plays the flute, eats a lot of chocolate, and reads just about everything. She lives in Oklahoma with her tiny canine overlord. She is repped by Victoria Doherty Munro of Writers House.
Sometimes I take part in the Currently… blog hop series.
The British weather at the moment. It’s glorious and sunny; a good return from Italy, as there’s been a minimal drop in temperature. Indeed, the temperature indoors in Britain matches the air-conned lounges of Italia, so not much change there. But will it last?
THE TROUBLE WITH DEMONS by Lisa Shearin. I love this author’s style and characters, but I’ll admit that I am rubbish at keeping up with these books. I got given the Raine Benares series #1 and #2 and then didn’t read them for ages, then I only recently had the money to buy #3. As far as I am aware (from memory), there are at least 7 books.
Metropolitan Magic online collaborative story. I took a break to think out the layout of these coming POVs, but I think I’ve got over that bump and can’t wait to write more.
If only my serious novel rewriting was going so swimmingly…
I love watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It’s very addictive, as all Netflix shows tend to be, yeah? Apart from that, there’s not much on my virtual to-watch list. My YouTube to-watch list, however…
My plans for next year. I can’t say much, but there will be big things happening, and I have my eyes set on planning. Because planning is so much fun. 🙂
Starting my Masters course. It’s a bit of time away yet, but I’ll be moving to the capital, which of course, is something different for me. And different things have never sat so well.
For a safe and short journey for my holiday in Poland. I’ll be doing some volunteering for a week, then participating in the World Youth Day, which is something I’m definitely nervous about, but also proud I get to be a part of.
Have a good rest of your week. 🙂 Did you post a Currently… post this week? What have you been up to?
No Quick takes Friday today – *gasp* – and I have a valid reason…apart from having been utterly butterly busy today.
What is this mighty fine reason, Alex?
(Image copyright to someone on the Oxford team, I’m sure)
This weekend I’m off home to sunny-ish Oxford for the mercenary Quidditch tournament The Valentine’s Cup. This involves players from any, every, and no team signing up to play in one of sixteen pun-filled teams. (This is Quidditch – we don’t take ourselves so seriously, of course.) After players pay the entry fee and complete the form about their positions and a self-assessment of their abilities, the captains connect up via Skype and hold an auction or bidding for the players with ‘money’ or, rather, points they had equal to start. And a captain, if playing, has to factor in their own price as well.
As you can probably guess, this leads to a lot of squabbling big money battles over the bid players.
By the way: if you’ve got this far, and you’re still wondering what Quidditch is – or, I should say, what the real-life ‘Muggle Quidditch’ sport is – let me redirect you to my first blog post about Quidditch or this about page from the UK’s Quidditch governing body, QuidditchUK. And it is not only for Harry Potter fans! Quidditch is energetic, community-filled, and an exhausting cross between netball and rugby.
Anyway, I love this particular cup, having experienced its auctioned awesomeness last year. Its big twist? Because this is Valentine’s themed, players are auctioned and bought in pairs. I managed to ask one of my Reading Rocs teammates, and we now find ourselves, amusingly enough, on the Paynekillers team, captained by Olivia Payne – my Valentine’s Cup The First pair-mate, or ‘Qualentine’.
I have yet to see how this weekend will actually pan out, though!
Want to follow the goings on in European Quidditch this weekend but won’t be able to make it to a quaint English city? You can catch up with all the action on the Valentine’s Cup Event page. Alternatively, keep an eye on Twitter, where there are many players and Quidditch UK officials – I’d start with hosts @oxfordquidditch, who will no doubt be literally on the ball detailing the weekend, the scores, and the socials, as they pass. If this so catches your fancy – I will be tweeting if I have time and WiFi – you can follow me@Caelestia_Flora.
*bounces off walls* Hullo, readers. D’you remember that Steampunk Spotlight I created, like, a couple of months ago? Well, I have another steampunk author on the wings here – the lovely AG Carpenter. Follow her blog and Twitter for all her updates. What I love best about this interview is actually its length and the depth AG goes into when thinking about steampunk. I particular like her thoughts on the individual versus society and how that is brought into steampunk fiction.
What inspired you to start writing Steampunk novels and novellas?
Comic books. I was reading a lot of graphic novels at the time and really enjoyed Mike Mignola’s HellBoy series, and the dark and disturbing League of Extraordinary Gentlemen by Alan Moore. I didn’t even know what kind of subgenre to put them in, but I was very much in love with the alternate history meets speculative technology aspects of those works and I thought “I could write something like this.” But I hadn’t even heard Steampunk, so I spent five years or so tossing around an “alternative history” idea before one of my beta-readers said “This is probably Steampunk.” Which gave me a specificity in abiding by or breaking all the tropes that have developed within that sub-genre. I love tropes and digging in deep on one or two and then turning them on their heads.
Does your writing process differ between writing Steampunk stories and other speculative stories?
Not really. Ever since I can remember, I’ve been writing speculative fiction, but the “what if?” elements invariably are there to help me highlight some part of the story and the characters. So, when I choose a setting it’s based off ‘what will best highlight this story?’ Sometimes it’s space opera, sometimes it’s straight fantasy, sometimes it’s steampunk.
I have a fondness for Steampunk on a visual level because it has an aesthetic that appeals to me, but not every story works with corsets and cogs.
Alt-history fantasy has expanded into a whole umbrella of genres, including Dieselpunk and Atompunk. What, in your opinion, is a vital attribute of a Steampunk setting or story?
The advent of steam power changed labor in our world in a permanent way. We’ve since moved on to other types of engines and power, but the groundwork was laid in steam. It made agrarian work easier, and enabled a system where things could be mass-produced. Cloth, for example. And carpets. Typewriters, sewing machines, light bulbs. All of these things that needed mass-production in order to survive as household necessities. Steam made available and affordable – a different class of living even for the poverty class.
It also meant a decline in specialty and artisan trades and the training that went along with it. The industrial working class was more utilitarian because anyone could be trained to run a machine. Even a child. So, we gained better living conditions, but lost some of the individuality we’d had previously.
That’s something that Steampunk draws on pretty heavily, I think. The clash of individual against society, the march of progress that is also regressive, the loss of the old ways in the face of a new conformity. These are ideas that Dieselpunk, Cyberpunk, etc build on, but the changes are, in some ways, never going to be as drastic as the advent of steam. (Computers, of course, have drastically changed the way we can interact as individuals. But I’m not entirely certain the changes have improved society to the same extent as we see with the Industrial Age. The improvements are less striking. To me, anyway. I still use a pen and paper to draft parts of my work, so I’m old fashioned in that sense.)
How did you go about building your Steampunk world? Were any aspects stronger/more well formed than others when you started writing?
I started with the basic idea that I was looking at a particular time period (1888. And, yes, for exactly the reason you’re thinking.) And the knowledge that magic had been predominant, but the development of Steam as an energy source was bringing Science back to the foreground.
Then I wrote a story. A really bad draft that was exhilarating at the time, but makes me cringe to look at now. But I knew I had the bones of a story I liked so I started working on it to make it better.
As I went, I started solidifying more about the world. Ireland was never conquered by the English because it was a stronghold of the magic folk and they beat back Crom and his attempts to appropriate Ireland. Crom was afraid of magic and science and had plunged Britain into a sort of dark ages because of it, but traces of that prejudice have remained ingrained on the British folk. And most of the technology used to be driven by springs and magic, but is now being transformed into less refined steam-driven technology.
Each of those little revelations occurred as the story came together, so it wasn’t an immediate vision of the world I was working in. More of a connect-the-dots affair. Which is always fun, because it kept me interested even when I was working on what seemed like the zillionth draft.
Do you participate in other parts of the Steampunk genre/lifestyle or only the writing side of Steampunk?
At this point it’s only the writing side. Because money and I’m not especially crafty. I drool over all the nifty things – laptops and desks and clothes – but it’s not a practical addition to my life at this point.
I can certainly concur with that point! Any advice to readers and/or writers just getting into the Steampunk genre?
When I was first working on the Steampunk Novel I put some of the chapters up for feedback on a particular writing forum. I was feeling my way through writing a novel and refining my storytelling skills and needed some solid critique to help me find the weaknesses in my craft. Which can be a bit of a brutal way to learn how to write fiction, but the publication world is not for the thin-skinned. Some of the comments I got told me that I shouldn’t have magic in a Steampunk story. Or that I needed more of certain tropes. Or that the voice of the story didn’t fit the genre. They wanted more like Peake and Dickens and I’m less wordy and less conversational than either of those, despite loving their work.
I was pretty discouraged for a while and actually put that first novel aside because I thought maybe I couldn’t write in the genre. But I poked around a little more and looked at more examples – and back at the things that had originally inspired me – and eventually I realized that just because Steampunk is a sub-genre and has particular tropes, it doesn’t mean there’s not room for new work. I couldn’t let what someone else expected from me control what I wanted to write.
It’s that whole “To thine own self be true” adage and it’s scary. I’ve come to realize that I will probably always write about magic and really bad things will always happen to my characters and there will always be some doubt about whether or not my characters will make it to the end of the book alive, let alone live happily ever after. But they will be my stories and that is more important than just writing what someone else wants me to write.
So, that’s my advice. If you want to write a specific thing (Steampunk or Contemporary Thriller or whatever) then find out what it’s made of, then write the story you want to write. Even if it doesn’t seem like it hits all the same notes as what has already been written, there is always room for new work. Always.
Magic is awesome, though. 🙂 Tell us a little about your journey to getting an agent.
I started my Agent Quest in December of 2012. Over the next ten months I sent out a lot of queries. A lot. And I got a satisfactory number of partial and full requests, but no offers, just a steady stream of “Not quite right for me.”
In July of 2013 I received an invitation to Revise and Resubmit. I was excited. I got a long email from the agent with notes on things they wanted changed. Some of them I agreed with and some I didn’t, but that’s part of the editorial process. I spent four weeks revising and sent the new MS back.
Then came the rejection. It was not just a rejection, it was detailed and criticized things that had not been brought up previously. Things that had to do with writing style, the voice of the book, and my writing craft in general. I was… gutted. And angry.
I went back through my list of possible agents and found one that I had been hesitant to query because there was this rumor that he didn’t rep fantasy. And there were no guidelines on the single webpage for his agency. But my gut said “This guy.” So I sent just the query and told myself I’d give it another couple of months and then maybe it would be time to move on.
Four minutes later I got a response. Please send me the full manuscript. After I stopped doing my victory-dance-in-my-desk-chair, I sent the MS and settled in for a wait.
About two weeks later I got a phone call in the middle of the afternoon from a number I didn’t recognize. When I answered a cheerful fellow on the other end identified himself as Bob Mecoy and said he’d read my manuscript and loved it. He wanted to know if I could tell him more about the “potential sequels” I’d mentioned in my query. We exchanged a few more emails, had a long phone call about another round of revisions to the novel and suddenly I had an agent.
I know you didn’t ask for advice here, but I will say that if anyone is thinking about finding an agent you really shouldn’t give up. I see stories about folks who turn to self-publishing or the small press route after receiving only a handful of rejections from agents. And those are both valid options for many folks, but if you really think having an agent represent your work is the best option for you, don’t give up on it. You put time and effort into writing your novel, do the same for finding an agent.
SO true. Tell us something interesting about your Novel.
The magic in the Steampunk Novel is essentially energy that is manipulated by sound. But it’s not merely spoken or even sung. It’s an enharmonic manipulation where there is a base tone and a melody tone sung at the same time. (YouTube has some pretty fantastic videos of “throat” or “overtone” singing.)
The fantastic detail of the magic is the use of words in multitone singing, of which I’ve not found any examples in real overtone singing. But the singing itself is absolutely real. (And amazing. Seriously. Check out YouTube.)
Okay. For your pleasure, readers:
Thanks for giving such an insight into your writing processes and steampunk-ness, AG!
A.G. Carpenter writes fiction of (and for) all sorts. Her work has appeared in Daily Science Fiction, Abyss & Apex, Stupefying Stories and Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls. She prefers Die Hard to When Harry Met Sally and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly over Animal House. Her favorite color is black. Repped by Bob Mecoy.